Food Matters – Saanichton Farm

All the dry weather this summer has been a mixed blessing for Vancouver Island farmers. Ideal harvest conditions for many crops, but at reduced yields. Any adversity in his fields hasn’t stopped a Saanich Peninsula farmer from growing some unusual crops for this region, as I related to Jo-Ann Roberts this week on CBC Victoria’s All Points West.

Red Lentils

Red Lentils

Let’s start with the unusual crops… like chickpeas for a start, and lentils. I’ll get back to the chickpeas in a bit, but if you remember back in May I talked about a marketing push by Saskatchewan farmers to get us eating more lentils. At that time I found out that red lentils are grown right here on the Saanich Peninsula and I was determined to visit the farm this summer. Turns out I called Bryce Rashleigh of Saanichton Farm at just the right time a couple of weeks ago as he was just completing the harvest of the lentils. Bryce is a third generation farmer, his grandfather came to Canada in 1912 and originally settled in Coombs, then Qualicum Beach and finally to Saanichton in 1957. The farm was originally mixed use, and big on dairy, but like many of the other dairy farms on south Vancouver Island, stopped milking cows and Saanichton turned into primarily a farm that grew hay for horses. Bryce told me it wasn’t until the next generation of Rashleighs that the idea of growing grains and lentils came along when his son went to agricultural college: “I had done grains on the farm up until the early 80s, but then we got totally into dairy. And you just do one thing, we just ordered the grain in from Top Shelf Feed in Duncan, and we sold our combine. But now we’ve come back into the local thing again, and that’s where my son came in, he’s got the knowledge on how to run and fix the machines and I’ve got the knowledge of the farms around here (to rent more land to grow grains). We’ve hooked up with some families in Alberta who have been a great help to us, almost like a sister-city kind of thing, every fall I go back to this little town and I’ve learned more and done more.”

Turkey Chicks

Turkey Chicks

Saanichton Farm is a very busy place. It’s right off of Stelly’s Crossroad, and the first building you see is a large garage, where the many machines used on the farm are repaired and maintained, along with an office where sales of lentils, whole wheat berries and flour is sold. Bryce had just taken a delivery of turkey chicks, so there’s a special enclosure for them, and a larger chicken run. There’s a small hut for packaging of the lentils, and a giant metal and plastic barn containing grain silos, it has a smooth concrete floor where the lentils and other grains are cleaned, sorted and dried before being siloed.

60-year old grain and seed cleaner

60-year old grain and seed cleaner

Bryce showed me a cleaner and sorter he sourced from a Prairie farm, a wood and metal contraption he figures is about 60 years old and still chugging along. Now, I have never actually seen a lentil plant. And since I got to the farm a couple of days after all the lentils have been harvested, I still haven’t seen one. So I asked Bryce to describe the plant to me and how it is harvested: “The plant is a little bush that grows about 8 inches tall. And it’s a huge challenge because you need to have a level field, and have one where the geese and the deer and the rabbits don’t get into, because they’d totally graze it off, AND you need a flat field that doesn’t have rocks, because you don’t want to pick up rocks in your combine. I’m fortunate enough to use some land where the owners have fenced for deer, so I grow some lentils there. When we combine the field the machine removes the lentils from their pods, one or two lentils per pod, and then we run them through a drying and two cleaning processes before we get them into the bags. With the drought this year we’ve seen a lot of lentils and a lot of the chickpeas with just one seed in a pod.”

Sum Total of the Chickpea Harvest

Sum Total of the Chickpea Harvest

This Year's Chickpea Harvest Turned into Cattle Feed

This Year’s Chickpea Harvest Turned into Cattle Feed

The dried red lentils are not the hulled and split red lentils we usually buy, they are whole, but you can see they have a reddish tinge under the green. Now to the chickpeas, another crop we don’t associate with Vancouver Island, Bryce and I picked some out of the fields as we wandered through where they had been grown, but later Bryce showed me his entire 2014 harvest of chickpeas. It fit into a tiny jar in his office. This year there were so many weeds infesting the chickpea field he couldn’t really harvest them properly. So he cut them all down and baled them into those big green marshmallows you see in hayfields, everything in there will ferment and then be suitable cattle feed. In the meantime, some of his neighbours combed the field for these leftovers and managed to make a few meals out of them. Bryce isn’t giving up, though, as he just met a retired businessman in Victoria who used to be the largest chickpea processor in the Prairies. He told Bryce he’ll help him choose proper varieties of seed and advise him on growing, so he’ll try chickpeas again next year.

Jill Rashleigh Bagging Lentils

Jill Rashleigh Bagging Lentils

You might be wondering if it’s worth all the trouble to grow these now non-traditional crops on Vancouver Island, but Bryce really believes it is. He is now growing barley which is being purchased by local brewers to make beer with, and there is even a large malting facility being constructed so the barley doesn’t have to be sent off island for malting, and a new grain mill is also coming on line because there are now enough farmers growing wheat and other grains to justify it being built here. Bryce also grows wheat, but he had to send it to Chilliwack to get milled into flour. He says the pendulum is shifting back to the days of mixed use farms, and there is enough public support: “When I grew up, before my grandpa passed the farm down to my father, we had a real mixed farm. You had your grains, your animals, your vegetable garden. You did it all, and now we’ve simple come back full circle to that way of doing things. It’s all local, and it’s been hugely received by the local community, it’s fun to be a part of it, you meet people who are excited to be buying your product and that makes you excited to grow it for them.”

Lentil and Black Bean Salad

Lentil and Black Bean Salad

Spicy African Lentil Dip

Spicy African Lentil Dip

You’ll find the lentil salad recipe I brought in for Jo-Ann on this page from Saanichton Farm. And here is the link to the African spiced lentil dip from chef Marcus Samuelsson. It makes a lot, so unless you’ve got a big gang of people coming over you might want to cut the quantities in half! Happy cooking…

 

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Food Matters – Fantastic Food Festival Season!

September is often noted as the beginning of a new year. Usually kids are going back to school, vacations have been taken and enjoyed, and it’s a chance to get back into the regular rhythm of life. Unless you’re a big food and wine fan. This week on my Food Matters column on CBC Radio’s All Points West, I provided an overview of some of the celebrations happening up and down the island this month.

chefsurviveI’m still trying to figure out a way to clone myself for a couple of the upcoming weekends, because I really would like to be in two or three places at the same time. I’ve always known September is really the silly season for food and wine festivals but this year I literally have my calendar by my side at all times to figure it all out. It pretty much gets under way starting this weekend. There’s the Chef’s Survival Challenge at Madrona Farm happening on Sunday. The Great Canadian Beer Festival starts here in Victoria tomorrow afternoon and continues on Saturday. Next weekend the fun continues with the Vancouver Island edition of Feast of Fields at Kildara Farms in Sidney, and the following weekend is even busier.

sipnsavourss I’m going to be giving talks or emceeing or attending no fewer than three festivals over the 19th, 20th and 21st in three different locations. Sip and Savour Salt Spring kicks off on Friday night with a series of harvest dinners, I’m attending the one at Stowell Lake Farm featuring the creations of Chef Haidee Hart. On Saturday there is the Salt Spring Saturday Market followed by the Grazing Experience at the Salt Spring Farmers Institute. But I have to miss that in time to get to Nanaimo, where the Old City Quarter Harvest Festival is taking place, lots of food and music there, I’ll be at the Speaker’s Tent at 3:00, and there is also a Seafood Chowder Competition in Nanaimo that afternoon. Sunday I’ll be at the sold-out Flavour, North Island’s Gourmet Picnic at the Coastal Black Estate Winery north of Courtenay and Comox. Also that Sunday there’s another sold-out event, Brewery and The Beast in the Phillip’s Brewery ‘Backyard’…beer and meat is the best way to describe that event.

ApplefestAnd that only takes us up to the third weekend in September….The final weekend starts early on Thursday, for the Vikings ParTEA at the Royal BC Museum. Then there’s the Victoria Wine Festival on Friday the 26th, the Salt Spring Apple Festival on the 28th, which I’ve been to before and really enjoyed. That weekend also kicks off Savour Cowichan. This is a much-expanded version of the Cowichan Wine Festival. This year they are putting a barge off the dock at Mill Bay for a big tasting event on the Friday night. On the 27th there is a big fundraiser barbecue on the barge featuring music from Hayley McLeand and Wide Mouth Mason, and then various events at Cowichan wineries and restaurants continue over the next week.

SipSavourSuppologo300I know, I know, how are you supposed to choose? There are a few determining factors here. Popularity, type, cost, location, and purpose. Popularity: If you want to go to some of the more popular events, you need to get tickets early, not at the last minute. So the Flavour Picnic in the Comox Valley sold out weeks ago, and the Brewery and the Beast event in Victoria is sold out as well. Type: Grazing, or sit-down dinner? Can you take the kids? Cost: Some are free admission, such as the Harvest Festival in Nanaimo, but they can go up to $75 for the Sip, Savour and Support event in Mill Bay, or $95 for the Feast of Fields at Kildara Farm. But also look at what you get for your money. Most of those events that are higher in price are all-inclusive. You don’t have to pay more once you get in for food or beverages and there is usually some form of entertainment as well. The same is usually true of dinners sponsored by winemakers and most wine events. But at the Beer Fest, for example, you’re paying to get in, and then you are buying tokens for your beers and extra for food as well. Location: If you’re going out of town, you might have to arrange for accommodation as well, which may be a little bit easier this time of year, and you don’t want to drink and drive, so you need to plan for public transit, or a taxi, car pooling with a designated driver, or check and see if the event has some sort of shuttle or bus service, like they do with Feast of Fields and Savour Cowichan.

Feast of FieldsPurpose: Are you supporting a charity with your entrance fee? And which one? Again, the higher cost tickets usually do have some sort of charitable component. Feast of Fields is the big fundraiser of the year for FarmFolk/CityFolk, while the Sip, Savour and Support is in aid of the Vancouver Canucks Autism Network. So if that matters to you, have a look at the supporting websites for these events to check out who you are helping…and maybe in the future, you might like to get involved as a volunteer for some of these great events.

Did I miss anything? I’m sure I did. Feel free to post an event in the Comments section below.

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You CAN go back to school!

Write for food, or cash!

Write for food, or cash!

It’s been a difficult summer for public school students in British Columbia because of the ongoing teachers’ strike. I hope both sides can come together and reach a fair and equitable settlement, soon!

That being said, the opportunities for education through the UBC Writing Centre abound, and they all get under way in just a few weeks.

I have three courses beginning near the end of September. You can click on this link to find out more about each of them. Two are basically the same. Food and Travel Writing can be taken in person on eight Monday nights at the UBC Point Grey Campus, or you can take the entire course in a 100% online format. For the online program, each week I give you a set of new readings and assignments. Assignments are reviewed with the same personalized attention I give to my in-person students. These courses are designed to get you familiar with the freelance writing process and how to get published online or in print.

My other online course is all about blogging. It’s called Creating and Sustaining Your Blog. This course is aimed at the actual content of your blog, the writing and photography, rather than the technical ins and outs of  posting. I help you come up with a focus for your content, get you over that initial hump of ‘Who Am I?’ and ‘What is This Blog About?’, help you write your first blog post and plan out the next few as well.

If you have questions about any of these courses, don’t hesitate to drop me a line at don at don genova dot com.

Back to school, heck, yeah!!!

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Food Matters – Cooking with Avocados

Avocado Tree in Hawaii

Avocado Tree in Hawaii

It’s sometimes called the Alligator Pear, because of its shape and rippled skin. But the avocado has no real bite to it, a rather mildly-flavoured fruit that gets consumed on a daily basis around the world. My consumption of avocados has just made a leap as I’ve been cooking my way through a new avocado cookbook written by a Vancouver Island author.

I haven’t always been a big fan of the avocado. I can’t ever remember my mother buying an avocado when I lived at home. Guacamole, the dip featuring most common use of avocado, wasn’t even in my vocabulary. When I finally did taste guacamole, I didn’t really like it. Then I think when I moved to BC and I started eating the ubiquitous California Roll, I started to come around. That being said, it’s my wife who insists on always buying avocados when we’re out shopping, and she is the one who makes the guacamole, or puts it in our salad and sandwiches.

Elizabeth Nyland

Elizabeth Nyland

Cooking with Avocados

Cooking with Avocados

But this week I picked up a new cookbook, simply called Cooking with Avocados, by Elizabeth Nyland of Sidney. You may remember me talking about her first cookbook, Cooking with Coconut Oil, which has been doing very well for her. This book continues her work in bringing more ways to us to use a healthy food. It turns out Elizabeth was not that familiar with avocados earlier in her life, either: “So I think the first time I bought an avocado was when I moved out on my own, probably in my early 20’s. My family didn’t buy them because they could be expensive, and because they were seen as being high in calories, and my father especially didn’t want that.”

In fact, Elizabeth’s grandmother used to tell her father not to eat avocados too often because they were very fattening and even wrote ‘300’ on the skin to remind her of the high calorie content. They may be high in calories, but they are full of good things, too. While 85 percent of the calories in an avocado come from fat, that fat is monounsaturated, just like olive oil, which can help reduce bad cholesterol and increase good cholesterol, they’re known as anti-inflammatories, rich in potassium, B-Vitamins and help to increase your absorption of healthy nutrients. So in doing her research for the cookbook, Elizabeth discovered that you can use avocado as a substitute for butter in many recipes.

The avocado is a fruit you have to think about ahead of time when you want to use one. If they aren’t ripe, just forget about it. But how do you tell if they are ripe? Elizabeth has a great tip. When you buy a few avocados and bring them home, you can flip off the remnant of the stem. If the flesh under the stem looks that perfect shade of avocado green, it’s ready. You can also look at the skin. Bright green, not ripe. In between green and black, probably ripe. Black, forget about it. It’s probably started to rot. A ripe avocado will have just a little bit of give to it when you press it gently near the stem end.

In the cookbook, Elizabeth also shows you how to properly cut and peel an avocado in the book, and here’s a new one for me. Say you just want to use half an avocado. How to keep it from going brown? She says leave it in the skin and put it into a bowl of water to which you have stirred in 1 teaspoon of salt. Put it in the fridge and it will NOT go brown for about 24 hours.

Recipes in Cooking With Avocados cover breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks and desserts. I’ve tried three recipes so far (see photos below), all with great success. You can also watch Elizabeth in action, next Saturday, September 6th at the Victoria Public Market. She’ll be doing a cooking demo there at 12 noon and I am going to be her willing and able assistant…and I think those meatballs are going to make an appearance as well.

 

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Food Matters – Salmon

My first salmon

My first salmon

It’s been a good news and bad news scenario for BC salmon this summer. Sockeye returns to our rivers may be the highest in years, but certain runs may be threatened by the Polley Lake mine tailings spill and dangerously low water levels here on Vancouver Island in the Cowichan River. But so far the fish are there for the eating, so here’s an update on what kind of salmon we can expect over the next few weeks and how to use them.

This morning I talked with Brian Riddell, the president and CEO of the Pacific Salmon Foundation specifically about the Cowichan River. He says it’s not unusual for East Coast Vancouver Island rivers to suffer from low water levels in the summer, but this drought for the Cowichan is more severe than ever. This is a river that supports good returns of Chinook, coho and chum with some pink and steelhead trout as well.

The Foundation is not sounding the alarm bell just yet. Riddell says returning salmon can hold up in Cowichan Bay, sometimes for at least a month, waiting for better water levels, and many of the returning salmon come a little later in the summer. Earlier runs may suffer, and if you get that a couple of years in a row than that can mean drastically reduced returns in the future. Riddell believes that something has to be done now to protect the water flows in the long term. The combination of drought, which may become a yearly occurrence, municipal and industrial use contributes to the reduced summertime flows. Riddell says there is a plan, but it just hasn’t been implemented yet, and it’s unfortunate that an emergency situation like this summer’s drought may be needed to get that plan moving again.

Salmon arriving at BC restaurants

Salmon arriving at BC restaurants

In the meantime, salmon from other runs in BC are returning and being caught in good numbers. I also spoke with Michael Renwick, executive director of the BC Salmon Marketing Council. Large numbers of sockeye salmon have been passing through counting stations and openings have started. There have also been good catches of pink, spring, and some coho. One of the major fish processors he chatted with recently told him that the consumer market for fresh, wild salmon has been very strong, they’ve sold all their catch into that market here and across North America, instead of having to freeze some of that fresh fish.

So now is the time to get out there and buy it! You will notice a wide variation in pricing depending on which kind of salmon you want to get and who you want to buy it from. If those sockeye returns head into record territory, which we will find out about in a few weeks, I would say prices would have to drop since there will be so much of it available. But I picked up a whole sockeye this week for about 6 dollars a pound and a couple of pinks for about half that amount.

Sockeye Salmon fillets (photo by Bettina Harvey)

Sockeye Salmon fillets (photo by Bettina Harvey)

If you have any knife skills at all I recommend you buy whole fish and cut it into fillets or steaks for the barbecue, and if you think a whole fish is too much you can always cut it up and freeze it, or cook it all and use it to make salmon cakes or salads. If you are purchasing whole fish in larger supermarkets the heads are likely cut off, so you can’t look at the eyes…bright, clear eyes being a sign of freshness. So, no head? The fish is likely in a bag, or foam tray with shrink wrap. Pick it up and smell it. If it smells fishy, especially through the plastic, give it a pass. Then poke the flesh with your finger. If it bounces back from your poke, you’ve got a fresh one. If a dent stays in, it’s not so fresh. Poke another one. I bought a whole sockeye and a whole pink salmon (pink is a real bargain) and gave them two different treatments, one grilled, one smoked. Here are some pink salmon recipes from the Pacific Salmon Foundation, and the recipe page from the BC Salmon Marketing Council.

This is one of my all-time favourite recipes for salmon, which I found in a Canadian Homemakers magazine years and years ago. Don’t be put off by the marinade…it looks and smells like tar! But once you cook it, the flavour is divine.

Wild West Salmon

Ingredients:
1 Whole salmon, up to 5 pounds

Marinade:
1 Tablespoon brown sugar
1/2 Cup rye whiskey
1 Tablespoon molasses
1/2 Cup vegetable oil
2 Tablespoons soy sauce
1 Tablespoon each Salt And Freshly Ground Pepper
2 Garlic Cloves — minced

Combine marinade ingredients, mix well and pour into large, flat dish. Remove head, tail and fins from salmon. Run a sharp knife down backbone until salmon opens flat. Place flesh side down in the marinade and refrigerate overnight or for at least a few hours. When ready to grill, remove salmon from marinade and place skin side down on oiled grill. Barbecue until flesh is just opaque and flakes easily, 20-30 minutes or less, depending on the size of the salmon. The backbone and side bones should lift right out of the flesh. I usually serve this with wild rice, or a combination of wild rice and brown rice, and a side vegetable dish. Enjoy!

Ronnie Shewchuk, one of my BBQ gurus...

Ronnie Shewchuk, one of my BBQ gurus…

The second treatment is a very simple recipe from Ron Shewchuk’s great cookbook, Barbecue Secrets Deluxe. Rub the fillet with sesame oil, then sprinkle on salt, pepper and hot pepper flakes to taste, then sprinkle with a light coating of brown sugar, and drizzle with lemon juice.

The salmon went on my Traeger Lil’ Tex pellet smoker for about an hour and a half or two hours at 225F, and came out moist and flavourful. I drizzled some more lemon juice on top when serving.

 

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Food Matters – Tempest in a Teapot

Tea buses at Teafarm

Tea buses at Teafarm

 

It’s a veritable tempest in a teapot. Vancouver Island is brewing up a storm of innovations in tea, even to the point of growing tea bushes in the northern part of the Cowichan Valley.  At the northern end of the Cowichan Valley, just north of Duncan, lies teafarm. This is the place where Victor Vesely and Margit Nelleman, for the past few years, have been growing herbs and flowers that they blend with fair trade and organic teas. But on the farm, they have now planted over 600 tea bushes, which are now starting to produce small amounts of tea leaves. Only the top shoots from each branch get harvested to make tea, although more robust leaves can be harvested for culinary uses.

 

Top tender leaves of bush, ready for harvest

Top tender leaves of bush, ready for harvest

Victor calls the plantings the ‘Tea Experiment’. It is to give people a better idea of how tea is grown, harvested and processed. He also believes there will be a distinct flavour that emerges from this Cowichan Tea, as they call it, because of the indigenous soils and climate conditions, the extremes from 38 degrees Celsius in the summer to minus 15 in the winter. And they can also use the leaves for culinary purposes, he says you can even slice these up and throw them in a stir-fry. A big part of the farm is giving people an experience in the world of tea through tastings and education.

 

 

 

Victor Vesely pouring mint tea, Moroccan-style

Victor Vesely pouring mint tea, Moroccan-style

While I was there Victor did a Moroccan-style mint tea ceremony for me, they have fantastic bushes of mint growing there, so freshly-picked mint, carefully steeped, a bit of sugar added to it and the pouring from a silver teapot from great height, it was a lot of fun. I tasted some other teas as well, and what I’ve become more aware of over the years is the amount of artificial flavours and additives that go into tea, and chemicals that are used in the bags and the packaging. TeaFarm is different, they don’t put any artificial flavours or colourings into their tea, and use all natural ingredients, so if they want to get something a vanilla flavour, they chop up whole vanilla beans to add in, for example.

 

 

Daniela Cubelic of Silk Road Tea

Daniela Cubelic of Silk Road Tea

But they are not the only tea company to take that attitude here on the island. Silk Road Tea here in Victoria has been using that same philosophy in tea for over 20 years now, and company founder Daniela Cubelic continues to innovate in that sustainable, organic direction. A few years ago she helped develop an ingenious new style of cup that easily brews loose-leaf tea with no fuss and no muss, and now Silk Road has just released the first of its teas that actually come in tea bags. Daniela told me she has been getting requests to have her tea available in bags for years, but it took her about 10 years to develop a bag that would meet her standards for quality, flavour and sustainability. The bag material is plant based, the label is not stapled on, so it is one hundred percent compostable. The pyramid shape gives lots of room for the tea to be brewed so the full flavour comes out. Many of the machines that are used for packing tea into bags actually damage the tea, so she has brought specialty machinery right here to Victoria to do the packing in their warehouse facility. So far they are putting ten of Silk Road’s most popular teas into bags.

Cooling Iced Tea

Cooling Iced Tea

If it does get hot again this summer, which I am sure it will, many of the teas from Silk Road and TeaFarm make excellent iced teas. Today I made iced tea  from one of TeaFarm’s Chinese Zodiac blends, Dog; black assam tea with cardamom and vanilla bean, and then their Lemon-Ginger herbal infusion which has lemon grass, lemon balm, lemon verbena, ginger, lemon peel and calendula flowers. I added just a little bit of honey to each and a bit of lemon and orange juices to the Lemon-Ginger tea.

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