We the North celebrate! 

How sweet it is this Canada Day

click to enlarge IMAGE COURTESY OF CANADA POST - true north strong and free "Sweet Canada" is Canada Post's recent collection of stamps featuring five classic Canuck desserts.
  • image courtesy of canada post
  • true north strong and free "Sweet Canada" is Canada Post's recent collection of stamps featuring five classic Canuck desserts.

Hello, Raptors! We the North are so proud of you for delivering what might be the best lead-up ever to Canada Day. But really, besides the Raptors' historic win, there's so much to feel good about in this fine country of ours.

For starters, basketball was "invented" by a True Northerner—James Naismith, a hearty Canadian from Almonte, a tiny speck of a town near Ottawa. A phys ed instructor at Massachusetts' Springfield College in 1891, he grabbed a couple of old-fashioned, round, wooden peach baskets for goals, and a ball, and set up the first game of basketball in the college gym to keep his students active in winter.

For our collective 152nd birthday party this July 1—whew, that's a lot of candles!—Whistlerites will be nailing the feel-good vibe starting with the Canada Day pancake breakfast at Olympic Plaza, followed by the traditional parade through the village. Unlike the Raptors' victory parade, "The Wild West Coast" is the theme this year, which should inspire a lot of cool costumes.

Speaking of the Wild West Coast, I'm not sure if they intended it as a Canada Day prelude, but a few months ago Canada Post came up with its own feel-good idea that suits any Canada Day party. It also generated a little unexpected controversy here in the Wild West.

"Sweet Canada" is the name of the post office's recent collection of stamps featuring five classic desserts from across the country. There's an all-time prairie fave, a slice of Saskatoon berry pie; the Ontario classic—a nice fat butter tart; a cast iron frying pan filled with blueberry grunt, which could be the official dessert of any Maritime province (its name comes from the "grunting" sound the blueberries make as they bubble and steam under the dumplings); sugar pie, a Québécois favourite; and, finally, a slice of our own Wild West Coast sweetness and one of my all-time favourites, Nanaimo bars.

With a nod to the stamps and our own local parade, here's all you need to make your own authentic Nanaimo bars. This recipe, below, is the official one from the City of Nanaimo—where else? It's originally from Joyce Hardcastle, a long-time Nanaimo resident who won the judges' hearts when the city ran a competition in 1986 looking for the perfect Nanaimo bar.

Not that Nanaimo bars themselves could ever be controversial, but the stamp intended to honour them was. More than a few eyebrows went up, including Joyce's, and those of Port Coquitlam MLA, Mike Farnworth, who Tweeted a pointed, "That is definitely NOT a Nanaimo bar." when he saw the stamp.

Look closely, and you'll agree. The famous bar looks more like a piece of cake. In fact, some people point out it's amazingly similar to the Nanaimo bar cheesecake on Kraft Foods' website. You can easily picture such a faker getting involved, since the illustration was created by a food painter in South Carolina, who, understandably, may never have seen a real live Nanaimo bar. Plunk "Nanaimo bar" into your search engine and a piece of cheesecake comes up before you can say "NBA champs."

According to the Vancouver Sun, Joyce admits to letting out a bit of a gasp when she first saw the great Nanaimo bar pretender. "They should have more bottom," she said. Indeed.

Joyce's recipe isn't exactly the same as one used for years by my mom, who's also named Joyce. For instance, we use walnuts instead of almonds and unsweetened chocolate instead of semi-sweet. But otherwise it's nearly identical, so I'm sure it will be delicious. Besides, I always defer to authenticity, as maybe Canada Post does not, which begs a polite Canuck Q, why the heck wasn't a Canadian artist used for those stamps, anyway?

Besides the advice from Nanaimo's Joyce, my mom, Joyce, offers this tip: "Really, really cream the butter and sugar in that middle layer," says mom. "You've got to really work it—you don't want it sugary." Or too thick, overwhelming a wee bottom.

Nanaimo bars straight from Nanaimo

Bottom layer:

1/2 cup unsalted butter (European style cultured)
1/4 cup sugar
5 tbsp. cocoa
1 egg beaten
1 3/4 cups graham wafer crumbs
1/2 cup finely chopped almonds
1 cup coconut

Melt first three ingredients in top of double boiler. Add egg and stir to cook and thicken. Remove from heat. Stir in crumbs, coconut, and nuts. Press firmly into an ungreased 8" x 8" pan.

Second layer:

1/2 cup unsalted butter
2 tbsp. and 2 tsp. cream
2 tbsp. vanilla custard powder
2 cups icing sugar

Cream butter, cream, custard powder, and icing sugar together well. Beat until light. Spread over bottom layer.

Third layer:

4 squares semi-sweet chocolate (1 oz. each)
2 tbsp. unsalted butter

Melt chocolate and butter over low heat. Cool. Once cool, but still liquid, pour over second layer and chill in refrigerator.

Personally, I think we should all make every one of the made-in-Canada sweet treats featured in those stamps and share them far and wide on Canada Day. You could even try a peach cobbler in the name of basketball's origins and our latest homegrown heroes.

As for bottoms, they eventually cut them out of those old-fashioned peach baskets so the balls would fall through and they could stop climbing a ladder to fetch them.

We the Smart.

Glenda Bartosh is an award-winning journalist who was a Grade 9 basketball nut. She never gets tired of Nanaimo bars.

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