Grainews: First We Eat – Beginnings

Grainews

I was an Air Force brat, born on a French airbase, raised on bases in Manitoba, northern Alberta, Quebec, Vancouver Island. In 1973, after my dad had mustered out and went on to earn a degree and teaching certificate, my grandparents were deciding to retire from farming. Teaching did not agree with Dad, and when my grandparents asked, he decided he’d take up farming with Mom.

I was dragged, a very cranky and resentful 15-year-old, from our cozy Fraser Valley home to a crazy-quilt of a farmhouse near the “little” sand hills west of Saskatoon. I hated it, hated the flatland, and started counting the days. As soon as I graduated from high school, I hightailed it out of there for the west coast.

Flash forward some 30 years. My folks have had enough of dryland farming and are retiring. Most of the land’s been sold off, but what’s left of our place, once a stopping-off spot on the Battleford Trail, comes to me. After many years in Calgary, my own kids grown, I come home, and – much to my surprise – it feels like… home!

Flash back to Vancouver, when this 18-year-old kid got off the bus from Saskatoon and started making a life. I tried college but it wasn’t for me. Instead, cooking school. I’d been cooking since I was 5; in the farmhouse kitchen that’s now mine, my grandmother had shown me how to stretch strudel dough and my mother had consigned making nightly suppers to my teenaged greenhorn’s hands, with predictable results: for months we ate raw meat and burnt vegetables, alternating with raw vegetables and burnt meat. By the time I left home, I’d figured out the timing, and by the 1980s, I was turning into a culinary professional.

Cooking school led to a career as a chef, a restaurateur, a caterer, and, for many years, a cooking instructor, and somewhere along the line, I stated writing about food and cooking. My column, “The Curious Cook,” ran in the Calgary Herald for eight years; many of the columns and the hundreds of feature stories I wrote on food, cooking and the people involved were picked up by other newspapers across the country. I married, raised two sons, taught them – and thousands of Albertans – the nuts and bolts of cooking. I wrote three cookbooks and co-wrote several others. My guide to sourcing ingredients in the Calgary area, Shoptalk, was a local best seller, and my final food book, Foodshed: an Edible Alberta Alphabet, about food politics, farmers, growers and producers, won several national and international awards.

But that was then, and this is now.

Since “coming home,” I’ve devoted most of my writing energies to my real passion, poetry and fiction, with a couple books to my credit and more in the works. I also made a dear and valued friend in Saskatoon’s eminent food writer, Amy Jo Ehman, who’s been writing this column for a number of years. It’s through her that I’m taking over. In a very real sense, by writing about food for a farm-based audience, once again I’m coming home. And it’s great to be here. I look forward to being your go-to source for stories, information, facts and trivia on food, prairie-style, always with a recipe, for the next while.

MFK Fisher, the American food writer, wrote in 1943 in The Gastronomical Me, “First we eat, then we do everything else.” Next time, I’ll beef about overstuffed freezers, but first, let’s eat a yummy, messy chicken recipe I learned to make as a young mother.

Darl’s Honey Lemon Chicken
25 years ago, my then-husband brought home a cookbook featuring a version of honey lemon chicken credited to the Calgary Flames’ firecracker, Theoren Fleury, my eldest son’s favourite hockey player. “Make that one, please, Mom,” my son pleaded, so I changed the white meat to dark, swapped the deep fryer for an oven, and made my son happy. Serves a pack of growing kids
¼ cup melted honey
1/3 cup lemon juice
¾ tsp. dried thyme
6-8 cloves garlic, minced
4 Tbsp. coarse-grained mustard
1 Tbsp. olive oil
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
12 chicken thighs and drumsticks

Mix together everything but the chicken and dizzle the resulting paste over the chicken, spreading it evenly on all sides. Lay the chicken on a parchment-lined baking tray in a single layer and bake, uncovered, at 375 F, until the chicken is tender and the juices run clear, about 60-90 minutes, depending on the size of the legs. Turn once or twice to evenly brown all surfaces.

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