Karen Humphrey: Fresh and Fearless


A Day in Saskatoon With Love Your Lentils

food, sightseeing, and the ever-popular Chef Michael Smith

In June, I was invited to join the lovely people from Lentils.ca, the Saskatchewan Pulse Growers, winners of the Love Your Lentils contest, and Chef Michael Smith in Saskatoon for a fantastic day of seeing the city, learning about lentils, and sampling some of the best food the city of Saskatoon has to offer.

Every year Lentils.ca holds a contest to see who can come up with the best dish featuring lentils. Michael Smith and his team recipe test the top 10, and winners are announced. It's a pretty great way to get the word out about an ingredient that we grow right here in Canada and a lot of people don't know much about. Lentils are known as pulse, or seeds of the lentil plant. We often tend to group them with dried beans, but fortunately lentils don't need a long pre-soaking before cooking like beans do.They are much faster to prepare, especially the split versions! Often lentils are viewed as exotic, and Lentils.ca are trying to change that because when we grow this many in our own country, we should take advantage of the health and economic benefits! (check out the great recipes at Lentils.ca)

The first stop of our day was at the Saskatoon Farmers' Market where you can find vendors selling everything from fresh meats to produce, home made jams, baby food, and fresh baked goods. We couldn't help but make a stop at the Prairie Pie Company and sample their fresh berry smoothies. It was refreshing to see that I'm not the only person who takes photos of my food! Besides, it's never too early for pie, right? (That's Chef Michael Smith, by the way. He loves to tweet.)

Photo by David Stobbe at StobbePhoto.ca

We wandered, sampled, and chatted with the vendors. I wanted to buy all kinds of things and bring them home but I don't think they would've survived a plane flight.

The next stop was Saskatoon's Western Development Museum. If you've never visited the museum before, they boast a fantastic 1910 Boomtown exhibit which is an indoor replication of a Saskatchewan town in the early 1900s. When I first visited the museum as a 14-year-old, I enjoyed it but didn't really appreciate the history until this visit over 20 years later. My grandmother immigrated from Russia to Canada very close to this time period as a young woman in her twenties and settled in Saskatchewan to start a family. I have always considered myself lucky to have farming in my history as it's taught me a lot about where food comes from, but to go back and see the source was very humbling.

Soon we were hungry again, and it was off to Calories restaurant for lunch and, what else but some lentil dishes?

Photo by David Stobbe at StobbePhoto.ca

On the way, I got to chat up Davene, one of the winners of the Love Your Lentils contest. Her winning dish, Canadiana baked beans, is a twist on traditional baked beans but uses lentils instead. As Michael Smith noted, it's a great idea that is pretty obvious—who doesn't like baked beans, right?

Davene writes at the blog Eclectic Kitchen and told me how she came across the contest online and noticed that she only had a week to create something to enter, but decided to just go for it. What could go wrong? Davene's blog is about good food being evolved into something tasty, and was started so that she could share her recipes with friends and family. I'd say winning a nation-wide contest and being given a thumbs up by Michael Smith really is a fantastic blogging beginning, wouldn't you?

Once we were fortified with food and drink, we took off to learn more about lentils. How are they grown? What kinds are there?

Photo by David Stobbe at StobbePhoto.ca

Did you know that lentils grow in pods? Or that Canada is a leading world lentil producer, especially in Saskatchewan? It's interesting to actually see the plants, talk to the farmers, and realize that we have something very special right here in Canada. I had no idea there were so many kinds, or how they were produced. Lentils even give back to the soil, as they actually put nitrogen back into the soil.

Photo by David Stobbe at StobbePhoto.ca

All that lentil talk soon made us thirsty so we were off to visit the Lucky Bastard Distillery to sample some vodka, gin, and specialty liqueurs. The story behind The Lucky Bastard is really awesome; man wins lottery, and opens distillery! How cool is that? Again, I wanted to stuff my suitcase full of their amazing products but I didn't think they'd surivive my flight. I can't even find their wonderful spirits in BC, so that alone is a reason to travel back to Saskatoon.

Photo by David Stobbe at StobbePhoto.ca

Eventually it was time to eat again (why do I always feel like I'm eating non stop on these trips?) and we found ourselves at the beautiful Boffins Club where we were served the winning lentil dishes created by Davene and Michael, along with succulent duck, wine, and so much I could barely move by the end. The dishes were amazing, and I can see how both Davene and MIchael won the contest! Lentils are far more than some sort of health food, they are, quite simply, really tasty. However for me, the best part of that evening was still to come; I happened to sit down at an empty part of the table and at first thought that I'd be on my own with nobody to converse with, so I almost moved. I was assured that someone would likely sit with me, and at the very last minute decided to stay.

Photo by David Stobbe at StobbePhoto.ca

No sooner did I take a sip of water and collect my thoughts than who else but Chef Michael Smith joins me, and I have to tell you, having dinner conversation about kids, real food in schools, and cooking made that dinner one of the most inspiring and amazing experiences I've had in a very long time. I came away with new resolve to advocate for real food at school, to pick up my blog at Chasing Tomatoes, and to really truly do what I love. As a blogger, I had been struggling for a long time trying to find writing inspiration and this one dinner provided that in spades. Sometimes, you find inspiration when you least expect it. I happened to find it eating lentils with a really fantastic Chef.

Disclosure: Thank you so much to the Saskatchewan Pulse Growers, and Lentils Canada for inviting me to be part of such a wonderful day. They very kindly covered all my expenses and made it a wonderful weekend!