Visiting with my mother is an all-food-all-the-time experience.
Anna Betnaza is the original tree-hugging, crunchy-granola foodie. At her house we can eat from morning-to-night without fear of gaining a pound.
My mother has been ahead of her time since the minute she was born in the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains in Poland. She arrived in Canada, at the age of three, on October 29, 1929, the day the stock market crashed. She was raised on a homestead in Northern Alberta.
She left home at 18 becoming a Licensed Nursing Aide, in the late 40s that was one step away from Registered Nurse. A career woman, she invested her money, when only rich old guys knew about making money with money. “I would have been a millionaire if I didn’t get married,” she told me this week.
Married at 30, she raised four children and used her investments to leverage the family into home ownership. My dad’s contribution to the beginning of the relationship, a hi-fi and a bunch of opera records. He was lucky to find her and lucky that she kept him around until he died.
My mother believes in the power of healthful eating. The book Sugar Blues by William Dufty, first published in 1975, sits on the mantle like an honoured household bible.
She grew suspicious of the medical establishment while working in the hospital and at the same time an elderly neighbour began introducing her to the powers of natural food. In the 60s she was sending me off to school with her signature sandwich. A large round rye crisp, snapped in half, sort of, over her knee, smeared with farm fresh butter, honey and unsalted sunflower seeds, wrapped in wax paper and secured with a rubber band and packed in a very large brown Safeway grocery bag. I was horrified. The sandwich of the day was roast beef, iceberg lettuce, tomato, mayonnaise, French’s mustard, salt and pepper on Wonder Bread.
She became a Master Herbalist in 1984 and in 1992 she published her first book, Eat Anna’s Way, chronicling her food philosophy that we are what we eat. A philosophy and a practice that I have tested and retested and continually find a winner, five years into a lifestyle where we spend most of our time sitting on our butts behind a steering wheel.
Popular recipes today, such as no-dairy-ice-cream made with frozen bananas and fruit and a handful of unsalted sunflower seeds for crunchy texture, whirled together in a food processor, were in my mother’s book more than 20 years ago.
She’s working on her sequel Anna’s Remedies where she’s explaining each of the body’s systems and how food can affect and protect them.
This is the first time our loads have taken us past her front door. She lives between the Monashee and the Selkirk Mountains in southern British Columbia. It’s not easy to get here. The roads are narrow, perched precariously on the edge of a mountain with deep lakes waiting below for any misjudgements. The main highway into her town has a 10 percent grade.
We arrived just in time. Her garden is spitting out the last of its yearly bounty. Sweet and crunchy cucumbers, juicy scarlet tomatoes, warm by the sun. Baseball bat-sized zucchini that she slices into one-and-a-half inch steaks and brushes with olive oil and sprinkles a custom-made mixture of sea salt and dulse or sea lettuce and bakes until warmed through but still requiring a knife to cut. Meaty and delicious.
She’s been preparing and storing in her freezer our “old country” favorites waiting for MacGyver and me, mostly MacGyver, I think, because he fixes things. The number one treat is perohy, which is the Ukrainian word for the Polish perogies, and pronounced per-oh-hey, filled with farmer’s pot cheese, never potato and cheddar. She makes the dough with whole grain spelt flour, which gives the dumpling a texture and a little chew and tops it with sour cream. There’s also cabbage rolls and sauerkraut and her new version of beet pickles. She roasts the beets and tosses them with olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
In three days, three of us, and my mother’s largely a vegetarian, except for occasional fish and chips at the local food truck and nibbles of meat when we’re around, have consumed — because it always seems to be both a sprint and a marathon — ten large cabbage rolls, each!, two containers of perohy requiring a 750 gram (two pint) container of sour cream, a three-pound Saltspring Island lamb roast, three eight-inch long buffalo sausages, one dozen organic, free-run eggs, two loaves of spelt bread, four peaches, eight large cucumbers, ten tomatoes, two zucchinis measuring a foot long and three inches in diameter, two pounds of homemade, fermented-in-salt sauerkraut, one pound of garlic sausage and three large homemade apple-cinnamon pies, all created without sugar, one with raisins and each slice with a large dollop of unsweetened, freshly whipped cream, 950ml (four cups).
My mother is not the classic cook, following a recipe, worrying about presentation. In fact, she never called us to dinner, a habit MacGyver is still getting used to. She feeds people good food. It’s our job to turn up at the right time and eat it.
She is all about the ingredients. If the ingredients are good, meaning fresh and unprocessed, they don’t need much preparation. She makes wicked soups and chowders and salads.
Sashaying around in her size 4-6 designer jeans, her diet is largely brown rice, bean-based stews, steamed vegetables, salad greens and fruits. Up to the end of July she spent $930 on food this year. We’ve spent about $8,500. And we always say that we eat better in the truck because we’re eating Anna’s Way.