Monday, March 20, 2017

Nunaversary: Part 4 - Tastes of the North

As a self-identified foodaholic, where do I begin to explain the various amazing foods of the North, and the foods of people from all over, who are currently living in the North. 

I would like to start by introducing my first experience with country food in Rankin Inlet. I was invited to a celebration and of course traditional country food was being served. I wanted to try everything as soon as I arrived however, that is not respectful. The unfortunate thing happened, I had to leave for another commitment, and I never got to try this amazing set up. I had to leave, and forever I am sad for missing out on something so hearty, and so very special. 

From that experience, I promised myself to never miss out on any event where food was involved. This caribou stew and bannock was offered during Nunavut Day celebrations in Rankin.

I would say that there is more access to a variety of country foods in Iqaluit simply because it is a bigger place with many hunters shipping their meat around, plus the country food stores which act as a local distributor as well. 

Below is a fish called turbot (Greenlanding Halbut) and again, one of the most interesting and delicious fish I have tried. I love all fish, but turbot is creamy and very buttery in flavour. 

I have also purchased and made seal for my parents and brother's family down south, and they loved it! I would say, seal meat taste like liver and onions, however, when made in a stew it is amazing. I prefer the lean parts however, the fat (blubber) is also very tasty. 

Warning about eating seal meat for the first time: it is very saturated with iron, and eating too much of it all at once can get you a bit dizzy and light headed. My brother got the meat sweats just after his 3rd plate of seal stew :) I was one proud sister ! 

Eating out on the land, everything seems to taste better. Even baked beans and chilly, anything. This was a photo from my trip out to the flow edge, but the edge was too far for a one day trip. Only those who camped over night got to see it the next day.

Country food can be consumed cooked or raw. I prefer caribou and muskox cooked but seal I can have raw or cooked, and muqta (skin of beluga, narwhal, and whale) I love raw, just like sashimi. Char, I can eat raw, dried or cooked. Raw and dried is probably my most favourite way.

Here a friend is teaching me how to make pitsi - tried char. I wanted to eat the char raw as I was preparing it. So very soft and yum! But I persisted and attempted to finish what I have set out to do -make pitsi. 

Once the fish is cleaned and cut up properly, it is put out to dry. The longer you leave it out the dryer it gets, however, watch out for flies and maggots. Make sure you eat the pitsi before they do :)

Clam digging happens during the end of the summer, once the water and air is very cold. Unfortunately, I have terrible joint pains, and so I was unable to help with much of the diffing, but I got very good at spotting them :) 

While I take pride in being a nurse by trade, and that nothing even potentially gross phases me, clams do. I find them the most unappealing creatures but they do taste yummy. As an initiation, of course I had to eat my very first clam raw. It turns out that they hold a worm inside. When eating raw, you MUST remove the worm - it's a long thin white thing. Then you are good to eat raw. However, when you cook clams, all is safe to eat :) 

For those who know me, while I love all foods, dessert is my most favourite food, though lacks nutrition. This was my dessert on a semi-blizzard day, it was a Sunday, and I felt like going to see a movie and having lunch alone. Not sure if it was out of sympathy or just extra time on the chefs hand, but this was my one and only special dessert in Iqaluit. Others were still yummy but not as dressed up :)

Home made caribou sub on home made bannik and home made desserts you can buy from people in Rankin :)

While 2 Ocean's is a yummy wine, what lies behind it is even more amazing. That is a smoked char in a home made smoker, with maple syrup or honey if I remember correctly. It was my only 1 time try, never again I have had something that amazing, and the taste forever lingers.

In Rankin, we had some great time getting together with the midwifes - mostly for food and card games. It feels so long ago now.

Breakfast burritos on the land - just some of the fancy feasts we had while living in Rankin. The food was also lovely in Iqaluit during our outings, but special thanks to Rankin chefs who would cook up a feast before heading out.  

Special celebration in town - Rosh Hashana in Rankin

Char in Rankin

I turned a year wiser in Rankin - and had an amazing char dinner with cake and friends :)

At my Iqaluit office, I quickly learned that there are monthly potlucks which started me on a path of cooking/making various shared foods - and slowly running out of ideas at times. This was a Halloween themed guacamole dip, while very yummy, not sure how appetizing though.

Have you ever tried eating burger cup cakes - your brain gets confused.

And if potlucks are a thing at work, then I quickly learned they were a thing in Iqaluit all the time. I have attended many dinners and enjoyed so many delicious food, I made the decision, in order to give thanks to everyone, I would host thanksgiving. This experience made me realize that I will never probably host it again. Thought I was pretty proud of the result. And of course everyone dressed up the bird with their contribution of a side :) 

Eating on the land is never an issue in Iqaluit thanks to BBQs set up around town.

When being out on the land for a while, ski or snowmobile, you perspire a ton. But since it is so cold out, you don't always crave water to drink. I love having something warm like tea, but this could further dehydrate you. So, to supplement my water loss I have started chewing on icicles just to keep it entertaining and trick my body accepting more fluids. 

During the spring and summer months there are many things you can eat on the land. Berries are very delicious and most of them are safe to ear. Cloud berries are new to me as it is not something we had growing up in Europe or southern Canada. I found out that it is also common in Newfoundland and maybe the east coast.

The one and only cloud berry of 2016, I found just outside of Rankin.

Blueberries are everywhere, and during a summer hike, I rather just craze on berries then hike :)

I have been very fortunate to experience a few farmer's markets in Iqaluit. I have volunteered at every market in 2016 and now in 2017. I never knew how much I love playing with food till I had the opportunity to volunteer at these events. I think now I have a better understanding why mom and dad love their veggie garden so much - not sure if I'm ready for the entire growing process but for now I really enjoy the markets and try to help out any chance I get.

Overall, I would have to say that my food intake has not only increased but the quality of it and the variety of the foods I eat are very delicious and exciting. 

Thanks to very knowledgeable and conscious friends, they have shared their views on food which has helped me to eat more fresh produce and cook from scratch rather than save time and use pre-made stuff. I love food and I love cooking food. 

Lack of access to healthy foods in the north is a serious and real issue in Nunavut. The price of food is probably the largest issue that people face. Most of the more affordable food is probably bad for you but families struggle to afford healthy meals. 

For me, I am fortunate and thankful to my heritage, root vegetables are a large part of my diet. I can cook stews with just about any vegetable even if expired. I eat a lot of vegetables as per my Eastern Euro culture. However, I am also very fortunate that I can afford it. I have been able to incorporate country food in my diet as well, so I have increased my options this way. 

But in a culture that depends on nourishment from sea mammals for many generations and now there is a lack of easy access to these foods - and the affordability of crappy food - creates a dangerous and unhealthy mix of struggles for local people. 

It is very ironic, and at times strange to know, that for me living in Nunavut has bettered my experience and relationship with food, while many people around me struggle every day with hunger. I make it my goal to contribute to local culture by continuing to buy local game, learn how to make local food, and share as much as I can with dear friends - in hopes for the ripple effect. 

Only one more blog entry left in this 5 part series - and it is the fifth and final sense: to feel.

I thought to myself: how on earth will I explain the feel of the arctic. I mean I can explain that the water is cold, and the snow is cold, and dogs and fur is soft, and bumpy rides are ouch - but how would I capture the real 'feel' of the north. 

Well, stick around and read on! The final Nunaversary entry, Part 5: Things to do above the 60th Parallel - which really is another way of saying, activities which makes you come alive above the 60th parallel.

Feel me?

- R :)

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Nunaversary: Part 3 - Sounds of the North

The first two Nunaversary entries focused on introducing Nunavut through descriptions of the sights and smells (or as I explained, fragrances) of the north. However, there is more to what you see and smell up here. 

The north comes with sounds, very unique to living up here. First, mother nature sounds very different in the spring and summer when the ice is melting and large boulder ice cubes race down the river. Compared to winter blizzards which shake the windows and doors when reaching 70 plus kilometers per hour. In my experience, this first year has given me a taste of each season and the corresponding sounds which by now (in my second year living up here) has become more familiar - though, I would say I'm still learning. 

Here are a few descriptions which I think are important to highlight as they have captured my heart while living in the north: 

Near Iqaluit located Sylvia Grinnelle park where a river cuts through. Each winter, this river freezes over completely, making it a wonderful cross country and dog sledding path. However, each spring (the photo below was taken mid to late May) the river thaws and the ice starts to break up. 

The below images was from an outing which was planned for a snow mobile ride to a cabin but the bay was too flooded and with many cracks too risky to jump. So, our group decided to turn around and camp out at Sylvia G. 

Our timing was spot on. The river ice was fully breaking up. It was my first time seeing the river break and the ice race down the river. I absolutely loved hearing the ice break on top of each other. Large boulder ice cubes were fighting each other as the river water pushed against them. The cracking, the friction among the ice was something I have never heard before. To me this was very special to witness and hear. 

Breaking large ice bergs with your feet sounds much less intimidating compared to ice crushing together. When you kick your heel into the side of a berg, it actually sounds very gentle and sparkly. The small long pieces break off in a perfect orderly patters as they gently clink together like glass. Very cool to hear, and very neat to see such perfect long patterns created in the ice as it melts under the spring hot sun.  It is very hot come spring and much of the snow melts within just a week or two. 

Blizzards are again something very unique to the north. Hearing them for the first time was something else for me. Something very scary to hear. 

As an urban nomad, I am used to seeing nature intertwined among city dwellers or among highways while you drive to the surf. However, this was my very first time living in a place where mother nature called the shots on when you work, and when you stay at home to keep safe. 

Below is the view from my work window - and this blizzard started during work hours. The wind was coming from north, and blew directly into my window. This had to be my most terrifying experience. I only live 10 steps away from work, but I really did not know how it would work out on my walk home. 

Once in my apartment, the blizzard kept roaring. This time however, the wind blew by my window, so I felt less threatened. Though the apartment would vibrate with each gust of wind hitting it. I felt a bit better watching the wind just blow by. It looked like as if someone recorded snow flakes fly by, at times faster and then slower. It did not seem real the first time experiencing a blizzard. 

By blizzard number 4ish, and lasting up to 3 days - I experienced the other issue(s) of blizzards: cabin fever. I needed to leave the apartment and get food and get fresh air. Some people spend time walking around inside the apartment building however, that would not suffice someone like me - who needs fresh air every day. So, I dressed up, and headed into the blizzard. A home made playground became my entertainment on the way to shopping. While having fun and walking to the shop I realized that the only thing intimidating about a blizzard is the sound.  It is loud, deep and comes in gusts. Otherwise, it felt warmer when walking, due to the cloud cover. When you have clear skies, the sun is the best part however, the air will be much much colder. 

Animal sounds were much more common near Rankin Inlet.

I was very fortunate to see the caribou migrate while living in Rankin. Among gun shots you would also hear male caribou calls. They were mostly walking and keeping quiet while this photo was taken. However, if you look carefully, behind the rock is a hunter.

Snow geese also have their own unique calls and we heard them while camping just outside of Rankin.

Sik sik are very funny looking and fat little ground mouse. They too use a special call among them which is funny to hear - especially just outside my window.

Dogs can be heard in most communities I have visited so far. But the howls of Inuit sled dogs are something very magical. Especially when the Aurora is out and dancing.

Music in the North 

I really enjoy listening to traditional Inuit music/songs - especially throat singing. However, square dancing is also very popular among the Inuit and therefore, I dance along and listen to pretty much anything that plays on the radio - CBC1 and CBC2. 

But like among siblings, there is always a favourite - band that is. Meet the Jerry Cans. It is a mix of throat singing, Inuktitut folks songs and lots lots lots of square dance rhythm. I dance until the band plays, and that is a work out on its own. I don't quite understand how the band can play night after night such high energy songs - but please keep them coming!! 

The Jerry Cans

The Jerry Cans CD was my very first purchase when arriving to Rankin Inlet. I have not stopped listening to them since.... and their new album is just as fantastic! I don't speak Inuktitut but I am pretty certain I can sing every song on their albums. 

I was introduced to Elisapie Isaac in Iqaluit by some of my francophone friends. Her voice is very sweet and I'm sure her lyrics speak to the soul. She is one of the only singers who can sing in 3 languages: French, English and Inuktitut. Very powerful music. 

Back to my Rankin days, along with buying the Jerry Cans CD, I also grabbed a CD by Beatrice Deer called - Fox. It is a mix of throat singing and indi-pop music which to those who are familiar with this genre know how amazing it is! Well, try listening with throat singing in the mix. I would have to say that Beatrice is my number 1 like, then Jerry Cans, and then Elisapie - though all three artists have such unique sounds, I would say they are equally the best!  

I had the pleasure of meeting Beatrice in person during a fundraiser event in Iqaluit, Feb 2017. 
(Puppy Love 2017)

Rankin Inlet Family Day 2016 

Local talents are everywhere - and while living in Rankin, I had the pleasure of meeting Nelson Tagoona   (listen to him at 2:50 in this interview) 

In high school, I was a HUGE Rahzel fan, beatboxer, and to me Nelson captures Rahzels' talent and combined with traditional throat singing (traditionally a female talent) and makes it his own, and while listening to him I felt like I was 15 again at the Guelph Hillside Festival concert stage where I fell in love with Rahzel for the very first time. 

Since my teenage years, as a synchronized swimming coach, I also choreographed a duet routine to Rahzel and Beastie Boys music, just so you get the sense how much I love this type of sound. 

Agaaqtoq - A. Eetuk from Arviat is another local talent who I met in Rankin Inlet - and again his Inuktitut music is both modern but very traditional.

Kathleen Merritt - Ice lines & seal skin: Iva music performs Inuit throat singing and poetry fused with Celtic influenced folk music - bridging sounds from both her Inuit and Irish roots.

Oh my little heart - again, while in Rankin, I met Kathleen, heard her sweet voice and throat singing and instantly fell in love with her and her band's sound. 

You have to buy her CD and hear the magic. 

Mahaha Comedy Night
Elvira Kurt performing during a blizzard in 2016

All female comedy show rocked the Frobs on this night. However, most Mahaha nights are solid and filled with laughter.

Iqaluit Alianait - festival of the sounds

End of June, early July is another tourist attraction in Iqaluit - festival season!!! 

For an entire week, day and night, there are performances from all across the globe - Greenland, Mongolia, Europe, and performing arts also includes theater. 

Among nature and art, there's also the sounds of engineering. Planes of all sizes take off and land directly next to my office. Below is a photo of a Hercules CC-130J cargo craft. Below the herc, I believe, is a CF18 hornet - though I could be wrong. Did I mention I wanted to be a pilot in my teenage years.

I sometimes have to stop and exhale slowly (being in the present) to appreciate my current experiences. These sounds, and sights, have been so enriching and nourishing to my core. I have been on a long road of hard work, never looking up and around.

My first year in Nunavut was not just experiences, but a form of re-birth into a world I have never known. As if I never knew this much magic can exist, compact, in a place so far far away, but still on planet Earth.

But my experiences do not stop here - as there are more adventures ahead which worth mentioning.

Next up - Part 4 - Taste of the North ...

- R