Article by Alison Cole, recipe by RawRose, used with permission.
As innocuous as it may seem, the little gray kernel of a beautiful yellow flower actually leads as a super food when it comes to boasting high nutritive values as well as being a convenient and tasty snack. That’s right, the sunflower seed is all that and deserves some attention when considering the addition of health benefits to one’s diet, packing in vitamins, protein, and more.
This gift from the sunflower is one of the first plants to be ever cultivated in the United States, and today the world’s leading suppliers of the sunflower seed include the Russian Federation, Peru, Argentina, Spain, France and China. Sunflower oil is one of the most popular oils in the world, and the seeds themselves are easily available and very affordable.
When examining the nutritional worth of the sunflower seed, it has many benefits to offer. Sunflower seeds provide an excellent source of vitamin E, which is the body’s principle fat soluble antioxidant. The seeds also provide linoleic acid (an essential fatty acid), and some amino acids, especially including tryptophan. Tryptophan aids in creating the neurotransmitter serotonin, which transmits nerve impulses to regulate mood, appetite and sleep and to improve memory and learning.
Sunflower seeds are also rich in phytosterols, which lower LDL cholesterol in the body, and several B vitamins. And if that weren’t enough, these powerhouse particles additionally provide an excellent source of fiber, as well as protein, with 7 grams of protein in a small ¼ cup serving. There are many reasons to eat these tasty morsels, nutrition-wise alone!
As with nuts and other seeds, because sunflower seeds are high in fat, they are prone to rancidity, so it is best to store the dehulled seeds in an airtight container in the refrigerator. They can also be stored in the freezer if you prefer. Whole seeds (with the shell) may be stored at room temperature in a container, without the risk of going rancid.
The most simple (and perhaps enjoyable) way to eat sunflower seeds is straight from the package, whether you are dehulling them in your mouth or have purchased the seeds already without shells. You can also garnish your salads and cereals with them, or use them in recipes to make delightful desserts, dips and pâtés.
Story and photographs by JP Campbell, voiceover by Lew Williams.
Winter arrived early and stayed. Now it’s March and even in this deep freeze the longer days hint at the Spring to come.
I embrace Winter if only to maintain sanity. Life in a little old cottage on the Gatineau river can be a challenge. What lies just, just, around the corner, though, has become my favourite time of the year. The sun will be bright. Temperatures will hover above zero by noon and just dip down to freezing at night. It is sugarbush season.
Every Canadian knows Maple syrup. Commercial syrup operations are even popular tourist destinations. Eggs, pancakes, and sausages come slathered in golden sweetness. In my part of the world, West Quebec, sleigh rides and minstrels are often part of the scene. It’s a lovely little escape for my urban friends. My sugarbush season is different and the result of a challenge.
I had been given an unlabelled bottle of syrup by my friend Ian. It was dark, smooth, and the sweetness seemed simply part of the whole experience. I had to have more. Where could I get it?
“Well, if you want a supply you can come and help work in the bush” he smiled. He knew he had my attention as he sketched out a map on a napkin.
The next afternoon I was on my way. Hidden between the highway and river is a century old farm owned by Don. Around the farm are hundreds of hilly acres covered with Acer saccharum the sugar maple. My host just smiled and nodded when I introduced myself as Ian’s friend and we slowly walked ten minutes up a skido-packed trail from the farm yard to the top of a hill. Running around us and playing in the snow were several of the setters Don raises and trains. I was not going to see a typical commercial operation.
Nestled in a small clearing, picnic tables, snow shoes and pails surround the cabane à sucre. Don supervises the sugarbush as a co-op of family and friends with Ian as his lieutenant. It’s a pretty traditional setup. The surrounding trees are tapped. The sap is collected and brought back to the shack to be boiled down. In the furthest parts of the woods the pails of sap are ferried by skido and trailer. There are no gravity fed tubes running through the forest here. Don pointed to some snowshoes, handed me a pail and told me to start collecting right on the nearby hill. With a wave and a promise to return he headed off.
The trees had already been tapped. I noticed that the older trees with a substantial girth often had two taps and their buckets attached. I started to empty the buckets into my pail immediately. I was about to learn my first sugarbush lesson. If you’re collecting the liquid gold on a hillside start at the bottom and work your way up! Not only is it easier to carry the soon heavy pail it is also easier to manoeuvre with said pail on showshoes. It’s a mistake you don’t repeat.
I returned to the shack with minimal spillage sweating from my labour and from having worn too many layers of clothing. Don had returned with Ian and was waiting to add my pail to the holding tank. I promised to be back the next afternoon.
It was the next day that had me hooked. There was no sign of life at the farm or in the bush with the exception of a setter who followed me along the trail. At the cabane there was evidence of a party around the barbeque pit. Snowshoes on I slowly began emptying buckets. The sun beamed down through the branches bright and warm. Jay was called and disappeared.
I suppose I must have been twenty trees along my way when I heard a sound. I stopped. Ping. Long pause. Ping. Sap was falling into the first bucket I had emptied. It was the only sound in the woods.
I returned everyday. I stacked wood and stoked the boiler. I met my co-workers and had post-collection wine with friends. On the weekends whole families showed up and the hills were filled with the sounds of laughing children. When the season ended there was a party in the barn where everyone ate and drank and the music was live and real.
I remind myself the season is just a few weeks away. The cold snap has to end. This year I will return to collect the sap and, perhaps, have the opportunity to learn more about the boiling down process.
On alternate Fridays I load myself up in the car and begin the anywhere from 2 o 3 ½ hour drive toLondon where my 10 year old daughter lives with her mother.
One Friday, about 4 years ago the weather was terrible – cold, snowing and windy. On days like that I have a backup plan, which is to stay in London in a hotel where my daughter and I spend the weekend going to movies, eating out, attending concerts or sporting events.
That Saturday, we had dinner out at a mom and pop restaurant downtown. The special that night was BBQ baby back ribs. I ordered those with a salad and a pint of their house draft. My daughter ordered a grilled cheese sandwich and fries. I offered her a rib when the plate arrived. She looked at me with that quizzical expression a child gives you when they know you’re trying to give them medicine but you’re telling them it’s a gummy bear.
“I don’t think I’ll like those,” she said, taking a bite of her sandwich.
“Try one,” I said, “You won’t know till you taste it.”
“But just one. If I give it back, will that be ok?”
She took one bite and her eyes opened like she had tasted the food of the gods.
She ate the rack of ribs. I got the grilled cheese sandwich.
“Daddy, can you make those?” I honestly had no idea. Up to that point I was not a big fan of ribs, but for $9.99 with a salad, it was a good deal. I blame my mother. Her idea was to cut the racks into single pieces and boil them for at least 3 hours before covering them in spaghetti sauce and cooking them in the oven for another hour. I’m sure there was flavour there somewhere.
So when my daughter asked if I could do something, as a good dad, I took up the challenge, if only to see what I could do for my little girl and if i could cook more than burgers and chicken for her.
Given my past experiences with ribs, namely boiling and baking, it seemed to make sense to add flavour right to the meat and cook it into the flesh. Checking the grocery store, there were a variety of pre-made rib rubs and sauces, all seemed to have the same ingredients, and I thought about making my own rubs and marinades and testing what flavours complimented the meats well.
Some worked: curry/pineapple/apple was a hit; some didn’t: lemon/honey mustard. But it was fun every two weeks to drop two racks of ribs at dinner and ask, “Which is better, a or b?”
Usually we could tell by which rack was done first, but sometimes the runner up was deemed more creative and original. Then at the end of that summer, we went to the Oshawa Ribfest and we were introduced to a whole new beast: the smoked rib.
Flavors, layers, textures; I tried my best to decode everything I was tasting, only to ponder, “How on earth can I do this at home?”
I managed to catch the ear of a Pitmaster to compliment him on his product. When I asked him how I could do this, he said the four words I’ve since lived my life by when it comes to the BBQ:
I began pricing various BBQ’s and realized I didn’t have the money in the budget to purchase one of those gigantic smokers the Pitmaster used; nor did we have the space on the deck for one of those giant oil drum smokers. For a while we experimented with the gas grill, they were cooked. But gas vs wood is kind of like water vs wine. Sure, it’ll hydrate you, but the end result is just not the same.
Then one day my (then) partner said, “I think I found a smoker for you.” We headed over the next day. It was small, maybe room for 5 trimmed racks of ribs, or 3 whole chickens. It didn’t have an offset smoker box, so it meant only being able to utilize half the cooking space. But it would do the job. We plunked down the $150 and brought it You know that expression ‘you have to break a few eggs to make an omelette’? I had my own. ‘You gotta ruin some ribs to make a masterpiece.’
Rack after rack came off the grill dried out and flavorless. Shreds of pork peeled away like strips of jerkey. Everyone was polite. But I didn’t like them. Then one Saturday, I found the right combination of spices, water, smoke and temperature, and I discovered the secret ingredient.
Forget they’re there.
The problem was that I kept looking at them every few minutes, asking myself, “Is there enough smoke? Is there enough water? Are the coals burning in the right direction?” Every time I opened the lid, all that magic was being undone. Imagine biking up a hill, and you stop peddling every 20 seconds or so. remember how hard it was to get the bike going again. It was the same with the BBQ. The process had to start all over again.
So now I close the lid, go play with the kid, read a book, watch a movie, take the dog for a walk. Do anything but check on the food. It’s doing just fine on its own. That night at dinner, we had a hit.
Now that I had winner smoked ribs, it was time to fine tune the recipe. We’ve cooked dozens of ribs and countless other meals on this little smoker over the last three years. My daughter is more an active part of cooking now. We’ll go to the bulk store and she will pick out spices and mix them to see what the best flavour combinations will be.
Daddy/daughter time used to be in a movie theatre or restaurant. Now, it’s in our restaurant. And I think we’re ok with that.