Adventures of an undomesticated man

I’m not what one would call an accomplished cook. In fact, given my love of understatement, one could assume (correctly) from this that I’m probably not very good.

I’m alright, to be sure- not an expert, but not completely useless. I can make a few dishes without consulting recipe cards, but for the most part, I’m not experienced when it comes to making food. I’m a novice who’d like to get better, but without a lot of motivation to do so at the moment.

That said, potlucks are a bit of an adventure for me. I’ve got the one pasta dish I make for most everything, since it’s verstaile enough to count as either a salad or a main course, depending on your taste at the time. Desserts I usually leave for Dennis, he has a defter touch in cooking than I do, and is more adventurous in what he makes. Jambalaya and quiche are among his staples when he cooks.

We do potlucks occasionally at work- we had one themed one a while back, where we were told to make something befitting our cultural heritage.

This, as you can imagine, was a struggle for me- not only did I have to make something, but it had to be somewhat aligned with who I was. My history is half Canadian (Dad’s family was here long enough to be Loyalists, for those of you who recall your junior high history), with  of British and German on Mom’s side.

Looking down the list, I saw we were lacking desserts as well. So I was stuck: I couldn’t really make my pasta and have it be completely accurate, and there was a need for something sweet.

My inspiration then struck: Nanaimo bars. Canadian (kind of), something I like, and something I can make from a mix (which I’d done before). Easy peasy.

So, I’m out the night before, prowling through grocery aisles for the box that would allow the baking novice to practice his craft. A funny thing happened on the way to inevitable success, though: I couldn’t find the mix.

This flummoxed me. I KNEW I’d seen a nanaimo bar mix before, one I’d used a few years back when I needed to make a dessert for something. The baking aisle brought me no relief, so I went to check another store, to be sure I hadn’t completely lost my marbles. No dice.

Staring blankly at the cake mixes in Superstore, I improvised. My phone came out, even as I combed the shelves to be sure I hadn’t missed it. Novice though I may be, I was determined to do this- one way or another. It may not have been a good idea, but it was the only one I had.

“Dennis, I need a recipe.”

He was probably confused by my call, but he found a recipe, and faithfully ran down the list with me, as I marvelled at just how many different things went into things made from scratch. A couple of things that the novice didn’t know about, I guessed on (“It doesn’t say ‘vanilla’ custard powder…” “what kind of cream?”), and I filled a basket with things that you don’t see a lot of in a bachelor’s house, but that I recognized from my mother’s cupboard.

I came home, and laid the elements out, grabbing a printed recipe from Dennis. It had the layers made and added seperately, which makes sense.

I may not be much in the kitchen, but I do remember certain principles from my parents that helped me here: measurements don’t need to be exact, and you can’t be afraid to change it up if something wasn’t working. I ended up using more butter and cocoa and less coconuts and almonds on the lowest layer (which was crumbly on the first go, I had to add to it), and doubled the amounts on the top layer (remembering faintly something my mother or someone else had said about making nanaimo bars: the recipe NEVER has enough chocolate for the top).

A few hours later, they were mostly ready- with the touches of a first-timer (the middle layer hadn’t hardened quite enough before I’d added the top, so they were quite messy), but they tasted wonderful. They were a hit at work, and not everyone believed this was my first time making them, or my story about having found the recipe last minute. Dennis can vouch for me, though, he was there, and was an invaluable aid.

I don’t really have anything to tie it off, but I thought this was a good story. Unless the idea of me being able to make a dessert terrifies you, I guess that’s something.


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