CBC Radio West with Sarah Penton
CBC Radio West with Sarah Penton
Tuesday, July 30th, 2019 at 54:56 minutes
Kate Armstrong on Memorable Meals segment
Sarah: Well, it’s time to talk food here on Radio West. Every week at this time, we use food as a reason to get to know someone a little more. Today’s guest is Kate Armstrong. We first met Kate a couple of weeks ago on the program. She’s the author of The Stone Frigate: The Royal Military College’s First Female Cadet Speaks Out. Kate worked as a military officer, rising to the rank of Captain in the Armed Forces. She also worked as an electricity trader before moving to Nelson to become an author. Her book, The Stone Frigate, is about her journey through the male dominated culture of the Armed Forces and looks at why women are not making as much progress toward equity as many would like to think. And while Kate’s book tackles difficult topics, she has a delightful sense of humour. Here is Kate Armstrong’s most memorable meal.
Kate: My story starts in Vancouver. I used to live in a condo in Yaletown and walk to work along city streets to a corporate job in an office tower right downtown. In the morning, I would pick up coffee and something to eat at JJ Bean on the way to work, at noon I’d buy my lunch somewhere, and on the way home I would choose take-out of whatever we felt like eating for dinner that night – sushi, pho, Italian, we had choice of pretty much every culture in the city. I knew how to cook but was choosing not to cook, at least that’s what I told myself – I was too busy and take out had the bonus of no dishes. At the time, I didn’t really consider that I had virtually outsourced all aspects of the growing, harvesting, and preserving of everything I ate.
In the fall of 2015, my husband, Rick, and I decided we wanted a simpler lifestyle, sold our condo, and moved to Nelson BC. We bought an acreage on a country road about 10 kms outside of town. One of the couples we’ve met in our neighbourhood, Jen and Dave, have become close friends with us, and a certain dinner at their house is my Memorable Meal.
Jen and Dave have this impressive labyrinth of food producing gardens on their property – complete with chickens for fresh eggs and they occasionally even talk about getting a goat. So, we arrived for dinner – this was summer 2016 and I still remember the meal – they served homemade bread from sourdough starter that originally came to them from friends living in Squamish, a salad harvested from their garden and artfully served in chopped rows of vegetables garnished with boiled eggs and nasturtiums, and a beef brisket with chimi-churri sauce made from Jen’s garden cilantro. I brought a homemade apple pie and ice cream for dessert. The flavours in the meal were astounding – nothing tastes as good as homegrown food: fresh tomatoes, carrots, pea pods, a mix of different greens. During the evening, we talked about gardening and food and something called permaculture – which I had never even heard of before moving to Nelson and it had recently captured my interest. Permaculture is all about sustainable gardening in relationship with the local ecosystem – I think of it as organic farming turned into an Olympic Sport.
I came home from that dinner totally inspired. Pretty soon, Rick had built a greenhouse and raised garden beds for me. I did research on how to develop good soil and started serious composting. I got plant starts from my gardening neighbours and organic seeds and had this vision of growing most of our food. Soon I was making sourdough bread from the starter Jen had given me, I had batches of kombucha brewing, was making jam from local fruits, pickling cucumbers, pickling beets, pickling carrots from the garden, canning fresh salsa from our tomato crop, preserving herbs and making tea mixes from mint and dried fruit combinations – I was succeeding in some things and failing at other stuff. Still, I held onto this grand vision of expanding our garden. Last year, we took out a bunch of trees that were shading the old garden bed on our property. Rick bucked and split the wood to dry as winter fuel for our woodstove. We had agreed that it was enough to clear the trees in one year and then build out the new garden area supposedly this year.
I guess this is the time to admit that I have a complex sense of competition in me. I don’t necessarily need to win, and I don’t even always want to win, but I definitely don’t like losing or feeling left behind. In Nelson, that’s a tall order when it comes to gardening ambitions and creative food sourcing.
In the midst of all this, I was writing my memoir and eventually landed a book deal with my publisher Dundurn Press. One night, well into the publishing process, I was doing dishes – because I haven’t had a dishwasher since Yaletown – and I looked out through my kitchen window over the sink onto the area cleared for my future permaculture garden and I felt behind. A sense of anxiety overcame me, and I just knew … I didn’t have time to be so fully vested in planning our garden and caring for it all season and then harvesting and preserving and all that goes along with it. I realized that I had gone full swing of the pendulum from rarely cooking when we lived in the city to making 95% of our meals from scratch using whole, fresh, and mostly organic ingredients. I felt proud of myself for that. I made eye contact with my reflection in the kitchen window and said out loud to myself: “But you don’t have GROW all of our own food too, you know!”
In that moment, I let myself off the hook. I gave myself permission to keep doing whatever I have time to do, as long as I was enjoying doing it, and to outsource the rest – luckily for me, Nelson has two incredible summer farmer’s markets every week, a goldmine of a store called Organic Matters, our Kootenay Co-op, and all the other regular grocery stores – and, every so often, we jump at the chance to share a meal with Jen and Dave from their amazing garden. I’ve accepted that my permaculture garden presently lives amongst my future ambitions. Thanks for listening!
Sarah: So, that was Nelson author Kate Armstrong’s most memorable meal. Kate’s book, The Stone Frigate: The Royal Military College’s First Female Cadet Speaks Outis out now. And for dessert, Kate has chosen a song for us. This is Pretty Shining People by George Ezra. Kate says it goes well with making a lifestyle change.
Sarah: Thanks for the suggestion, Kate. That is George Ezra’s Pretty Shining People. I think it’s currently my new favourite song!