Local Lentils

rashleigh combine lentils

courtesy of the Peninsula News Review

Until recently, I had never cooked with lentils.  I’d eaten them a few times – travelling in Europe, at a local restaurant that specializes in Moroccan style food, in a casserole at a pot luck dinner once.  I associated them with Middle Eastern cooking, vegetarian food, and “healthy” diets.  I most certainly did not think of them as an option for a locavore in southern BC, nor for an enthusiastically omnivorous family.

So when a local farmer who I’ve known since high school put a sign on his road frontage advertising “Lentils – $2/lb”, I was taken aback, to say the least.  And not just for all the aforementioned reasons, but because Bryce, who I’ve known since high school, grew up on a conventional beef/dairy farm, large by local standards, and when he eventually took it over, phased out the dairy operation, bought a bunch of John Deeres and associated gadgets and got busy building a busy tractor service – hay, cultivating, brush cutting, whatever.  He was to my mind a classic meat eating big ag kind of guy.

There were clues that I might be type casting him too narrowly; the family farm, which he’d co-inherited with his siblings, had to be sold to pay out the non-farming ones, and he bought a 5 acre parcel with a nice house and a stunning view – but which was, after his 170 acre place, pretty small for a meat eating big ag kind of guy.  It didn’t take long for him to build a tractor servicing shed (green), and the big field that comprised most of his property seemed to function mainly as a tractor display case in the beginning.  But pretty soon a few A frame structures appeared, with electric netting around him, and it became obvious that he’d branched into pastured turkeys.  And then his son, away at ag college in Alberta, came home with a friend, excited about a combine harvester he thought the farm should buy.

Now, you have to understand that here on the Island, we have a tiny resurgence of grain growing going on, but I mean tiny.  Not the kind of producton level that I would have thought needs a Prairies sized piece of equipment.  But tractor equipment being for Bryce what motor cars were for Toad (Wind in the Willows), it didn’t take much to convince him to head back to Alberta with his son and friend to visit the friend’s family operation.  He was hooked.  He and Pete helped with the harvest there to learn how to operate the combine, and then they brought it home – an odyssey in itself as it barely conforms to the maximum width that can go on the road – the tunnels and passes through the Rockies were something else, I’m told.  They also packed some lentil seed inside the machine, safe from the snow and weather – a crop the Alberta family had convinced Bryce to try.

Bryce worked up his pasture and sowed some seed, which grew easily, and harvested it with his new combine. As part of the learning curve he had to invest in a cleaning and grading machine, but by then he was convinced this was a crop that could do well here, if he could develop a market for it.  He’s pretty business savvy, so it didn’t surprise me to know that he’d already lined up a few restaurants for regular orders, and that this roadside sign of his was just a way of making some gravy off the surplus.

It was hubby’s birthday a few weeks ago, and his main gift was a cookbook “Mediterranean Slow Cooker”.  As I was driving past Bryce’s small farm one day it occurred to me that the perfect add-on gift would be a pound of lentils, so I stopped in.  Bryce and his crew were on coffee break, so I joined the crowd in the tiny office and they all told me about how great lentils were and how easy they were to cook with, and how much they enjoyed them – apparently Bryce’s wife even put them in lasagne – though Bryce did allow that lentils once or twice a week was about his limit.  Bryce is passionate about local food.  He’s Island born and bred and he believes the Island should be far more self sustaining in terms of food than it currently is.  He is knowledgeable about virtually all aspects of food production here – and having been one himself, he’s not about to cast stones at how the conventional farmers do things, but rather focusses on the need for innovation, diversity, thinking outside the box.  From this guy who I had cast as big ag, I heard the words “I haven’t begun to tap the possibilities on my tiny five acres”.  He’s doing pastured eggs, pastured turkey, lentils,  and u-pick raspberries right now.  Through his custom combine work for a couple of people growing wheat and barley, he’s also selling straw, which believe it or not has been a rare commodity here – two years ago, it was selling at the feed store for $20/bale.  Bryce is making a nice profit this year on $5/bale, because unlike the feed store, he hasn’t shipped it in from Alberta.  I mentioned Joel Salatin and his stacking principles, and learned that Bryce is a huge fan and would have been at the same workshop as me last June but was ill.

Lentils were one of the first crops cultivated by humans.  They come in a variety of colours (Bryce grows red lentils), but are all similar.  According to Wikipedia, they are high in protein, and are used world wide for that reason.  If sprouted, they also provide all the essential amino acids. They are high in fibre, folate and vitamin B1.  All of which explains why I associated them with vegetarianism and healthy diets.  This made them sound like they would taste like Popeye’s spinach, but I was committed to buying them – if only because Bryce had mentioned that he’d sprouted some and fed them to his turkeys, who loved them.  I figured if we hated them, we could do the same and give them to our chickens.

There are lots of red lentil recipes on the web, you can google for one that meets your tastes.  We tried the Red Lentil Soup recipe from the new cookbook , which included tomatoes and a sweet potato and it was delicious, though we overcooked it slightly and it was more like porridge in consistency, which I have since learned is something red lentils in particular are prone to doing.  I do urge you to give them a try, you’ll be pleasantly surprised.  And if you need any further recommendation, our teen girls, one of them pretty picky, both gave the porridgey soup we made a firm thumbs up. As Bryce himself is fond of saying – “it doesn’t get better than that”.

Was this post about lentils or my lentil growing farmer?  Well, that’s the thing about buying local.  You’re getting both a product and a relationship.  There are stories and faces behind all the food we eat, no matter where it comes from.  Buying that small bag of lentils from Bryce was a 20 minute stop.  I could have whipped in and out, but that’s not getting to know your food.  I’m not saying it takes that long to buy local food every time, but if this is a first visit or a new product, make sure you’re not rushing the process.  (of course, that can work two ways – if the farmer is hopping from foot to foot waiting for you to pay and go, so she can get back to weeding or something, take the hint).  In the case of my lentil purchase, I really felt I got my money’s worth, out of the conversation alone.  If you’d like to see the face behind my lentils, check out the videos on the Saanichton Farm website.

Harvest Feast

courtesy of Bob Thompson, Rambling Feats Communications

Dinner for 300 people, are you up for it?  We’re getting ready locally for the feast of feasts.  Tons to do at a busy time of year, but it’s so worth it…

All food for the Feast is grown within 20 km of here, except the dairy and the cranberries, both of which do at least come from the Island, so are well within the 100 mile zone.  Actually the tea and coffee are not local either, though the herbal tea is, and the coffee is organic, fair trade, locally roasted.  I guess sugar isn’t local either, and there’s plenty in the pies….ok, enough, you get that it’s as local as we can make it, right?

I love this Feast, love what it celebrates, love the food, love the way it brings the community together.  Here’s a great article about it from the local rag.  The picture shows some of the Ag society members serving dessert last year (they guy in the check shirt serving blueberry crisp is my brother, who enjoys this feast as much as I do).   If you want a glimpse of the menu for this year, check out this link.

Yours truly will be helping out, as I did last year, with veggie prep at a local catering company’s kitchen the day before and helping break down tables and sort compost, pig scraps etc after the dinner.  Fun huh?  I’m happy to do it.   Last year, I got to take home a couple of quarts of leftover salmon chowder – my price went far above rubies with my husband over that one!

Summer supper

We’re getting some hot days at last up here in the PNW, and enjoying them (it’s the novelty :)).  While it’s been warm enough most nights for the past few weeks to eat outside, deciding what to cook in order to minimize the amount of heat generated in the house is still a pretty new thing this season.  Friday was one of those days.  I had a day off, but had a ton of stuff to do around the place, and didn’t want to spend half the day coming up with a good meal.  On the other hand, I had a day off, and I wanted to end it with…a good meal.  What to do?

Homemade pizza!  We had all the fixings easily to hand, so I threw the bread machine on at 4pm, and left it to do it’s stuff.  At 530, the dough was ready.  I chopped up the onion my neighbour passed over the fence the day before, sauteed the white part and chopped the green for garnish.  Sauteed the red pepper that came from the local greenhouse grower that sells at the farmers market.  Diced some leftover ham (from the last ham in my freezer from the side of pork we bought last year), chopped up some garlic scapes, added them to the sautee pan.  A few spoonfuls from the jar of tomato sauce were spread on the dough, we grated some cheddar and mozza (from BC companies, but not terribly local otherwise), threw it all together and put it in the oven.  Where, by the way, I had placed the frozen meat pie made by a friend who sells them at the market (this is her home business – she makes pies, meat and fruit, for you to bake at home) in the preheating oven to start baking.  Because I used a slightly cooler oven (about 375 F), I cooked the pizza about 20 min, so that I wouldn’t overbrown the pie, and left the pie in for another 20 min while we ate.  Thanks to this forethought, on Saturday, we didn’t have to turn the oven on at all, nor did anyone have to cook – win/win!

We have salad pretty much every night through the summer months, and this year have been having it entirely out of our garden.  This one has some baby chard, the last of the romaine lettuce, which is bolting, but which served me well for 2 months, some chopped cuke (ok, not out of my garden, but from my neighbour), radishes, and some chives.  And as a garnish, 6 baby carrots from the thinning I did while dinner was in the oven.

We learned in Europe last summer that the only dressing a good salad needs is olive oil and balsamic vinegar.  Now, we often just place the two bottles on the table and add a bit of each to our salad as we did in Europe, but if there’s time, we’ll make up a small batch of vinaigrette, which is what you see here.  Making our own dressing has really cut down on junk in the fridge door, given us more space on the pantry shelves (this was something we used to buy on sale and store), and has a whole lot less additives.  Saves money, and stops plastic going in the landfill.  We feel OK buying really good olive oil and balsamic vinegar to use just for this purpose, since both have great shelf life compared to a bottle of prepared dressing.  I admit I do still hanker after a creamy caesar dressing occasionally, but those can be made too it turns out…

Dinner together is always a time when we chat and share our day.  While we might admonish one of the girls about some flagrant table manner misdemeanour, we avoid picking on the small stuff while at the table, and focus on just enjoying the time and the food together.  Especially in the summer, when we’re sitting outside like this, we tend to linger after we’ve eaten,  perhaps a second glass of wine on the go (for some of us!).  Even in the winter, we don’t usually rush through the meal, but take our time.  We do have activities that force us out the door right after dinner, but I would say 6 out of 7 nights will find all four of us at the table.  Stuck in my mind is the memory of a friend of ours who came to pick up eggs at dinner one night several months ago (we eat a bit later than most folks to accomodate our work schedules), and on seeing us all round the table, commented that it was something that never happened at their house.  With 4 kids, all in different activities, himself a competitive rower and his wife a Wolf Cub and Girl Guide leader, he said dinner was more like a race to ingest nutritious material than what he saw before him.

We all make lifestyle choices that suit ourselves and our families.  One style is not necessarily more right than another.  Our friends are active, fit (fitter than me, for sure), and healthy.  Sometimes I envy their energy levels and vitality, but when he made that comment, I saw the look in his eye, and I know he sometimes envied us too, and it made me realize that what we have is pretty great too.

Jam Session

The girls have been helping me with jam and canning the last couple of years, but this was the first year where I really stepped back and just kept an eye on things.  Which meant I got to take pictures of the process.

I follow the instructions from Bernardin, the Canadian answer to the Ball Company.  I use regular pectin and white sugar.  I know, I know.  But remember that I’m fulfilling two purposes today – I’m stocking my larder with homemade jam for the winter, but I’m also training my girls to be able to this themselves, someday for their own larders.  I want guaranteed success at this stage, not the up and down results of experimentation.  And some of what they learned today made them ask questions about the ingredients.  Hands on is the best way to learn.

Washed berries

taking turns mashing the berries

Really, they love each other

Wow Mum, there’s a lot of sugar in jam! Yup…

Rolling boil for a full minute, are you serious?

Does finger tight mean your fingers or mine?

Science at work, creating a vacuum

10 jars of jam, 1 didn’t seal, guess we’ll just have to eat it!

Summer Barbeque “Wet” Coast Style

Monday was the start of our summer barbeque season.  Invitations went out last week, and while the forecast didn’t promise sun,  it didn’t mention rain either.  By Monday, that had changed – rain was a given, possibly high winds and even a chance of lightning.   We were undaunted, spurred on by the fact that the party would be standing room only in our smallish home if we crowded all our guests inside.  Fortunately, seasoned campers that we are, a solution was at hand. 

These apple trees are about 100 years old, hollow to the core.  Those are my teenagers up the ladders.  Their Dad is supervising, from solid ground you notice, having sent the expendable troops into danger.  However, all was well, and we were ready when guest began arriving.  For the first couple of hours, the worst that happened was the occasional sprinkle of rain.

Before the meal, the appetizers were a huge bowl of Okanagan cherries (the kids commandeered it), and 2 dozen devilled eggs – Random Photographer does a mean batch of these (and had the sense to save 4 for family later).  We provided locally grown grass fed beef burgers, locally made weiners for hot dogs, homegrown lettuce, local hothouse tomatoes.  Guests provided:  a salmon one of them caught that morning off the west coast of the Island (that was soooo good), another family brought sausages made from their own pigs, and another brought a marvelous chicken noodle salad, made with one of our chickens.  Dessert was a homemade, homegrown rhubarb crisp, local strawberries and ice cream and a homemade chocolate cake.  I think you could say we ate well.

Not long after everyone finished eating, the rain started to get serious.  The kids went inside – the 6 boys to watch a movie (the new Muppet Movie, which I’d borrowed from the library – I can guarantee there are laugh out loud moments, because I heard them from outside).  the four eldest girls (who are the reason the rest of us are friends – the girls all started in kindergarten together and are entering grade 12 in the fall) disappeared to talk the way teen girls do, and the middle group, more girls – pulled out a bunch of board games and spread themselves out in the living room.  Which meant that all the adults had room to relax under the tarp outside, tea and coffee in hand.

For our barbeques, especially larger ones like this (we had 28 guests – 15 kids, 13 adults), we ask people to bring their own dishes, as we don’t have enough to go around.  Having learned last year that some people interpret this as paper plates and plastic cutlery, I added in the invite that my garbage was full (actually true), and they would need a plan to take any paper plates home again.  I think the two families who did bring paper stuff were a bit surprised that I meant it.  Now they know.  It just makes so much sense – they can wash them and pack them in my kitchen, and it saves a bunch of garbage.  I also don’t provide paper napkins – I have a stack of cheap cloth ones (and these are not hard to make, either).

There has been a fire ban in place here since May 1st (with this never ending damp weather?), and this has been consistent over the last few years, so my husband bought a gas campfire a few years ago.  It runs off the propane bottle for the bbq, and is very efficient.  I would far rather have a regular campfire, which would also be more resource wise, but this is still pretty good.  The dog has to be held the whole time, since she has no idea that her tail is part of her until she sweeps it through the flames.  Speaking from experience.

Did I mention that in my optimism for this event, I planned a water fight (bring your own water gun)?  The boys went at it with great enthusiasm – in the rain.  This is the youngest member of our group (age 7) warming up after.   It was a great evening.  Good food, good friends, a campfire.  The lightning never materialized, there was barely any clean up, and the best part is:  there are leftovers!  Even in the rain, it’s a good way to start the summer.