When I stepped out into the dark night to walk my dog on the first evening of this New Year – there was a magnificent Barred owl sitting in the linden tree in my front yard. I stood on the front steps, stock-still, watching. My daughter, several paces ahead of me, turned to see why I wasn’t coming. I motioned silently towards the tree. She froze too. So there we stood – the three of us including the dog – transfixed by an owl.
A moment later, the owl took flight. It swooped down towards the road beyond us – coming surprisingly close to the pavement before it lifted back up and flew off with just the faintest whoosh of its almost silent wing beat, into the inky black sky. If my daughter hadn’t been with me, I might have thought I’d dreamt the whole thing. If I’d stepped out the door one minute later, I might have missed it. Owl spotting is a lucky kind of business.
It seemed like an omen – an auspicious start to the New Year. And I’ve been thinking about it ever since.
An owl has appeared at every critical juncture in my life. When I moved to Melbourne, Australia – a tiny Southern Boobook owl came and sat on the overhead wires along the abandoned railway-line-turned-recreation-path, directly across from my home. It stayed for weeks, softly hooting well into the night. When I moved to Brisbane, a family of Tawny Frogmouth owls inhabited a tree along my walking route. They were there for months. Not long after they flew away one-by-one, I flew away too. When I moved to my neighbourhood in Kingston, I wasn’t surprised when Barred owls started making regular appearances. And this past autumn, when I visited Killarney Provincial Park after a 34 year absence – an owl came and serenaded me all night long – hooting until the dawn chorus started up and the day began.
So perhaps it’s not surprising that I am completely smitten with owls and a night owl myself. This year I’ve been watching the dark, winter night skies, thinking about how I’ve finally learned to love winter. Perhaps it’s the incurable romantic in me, but I love to see snow falling and waking up to a fresh, clean, white world. And I like the long evenings by the fire, snugged up reading, or catching up on all the films I’ve missed.
I like the seasonal change in cooking too. This year I’ve been making lots of hearty soups. This Thai Red Lentil Soup is one of my new favourites. It’s thick and hearty, easy to make, inexpensive, vegan, and extremely tasty. Make sure you use red lentils – I’ve tried it with other kinds and it doesn’t work as well. Red lentils cook down to a much softer consistency because they have the husk removed.
From a nutritional point of view – lentils are high in protein, fibre, folate, vitamin B1, and minerals. Health magazine named lentils as one of the five healthiest foods on the planet. Combined with a grain – lentils form a complete protein – so serve your soup with a good multigrain bread.
One last remarkable lentil fact – Canada is one of the largest primary producers of lentils and the largest export producer of lentils in the world. Buying Canadian lentils helps Canadian farmers!
Thai Red Lentil Soup
1 onion, finely diced
1 tbsp olive oil
1- 2 tbsp Thai red curry paste
5 cups vegetarian stock
2 1/4 cups red lentils, well rinsed
1 400 ml can coconut milk
Thai sweet chilli sauce for garnish
One bunch of fresh cilantro for garnish, washed, stems removed and chopped (optional)
In a saucepan, sauté the onion in olive oil until the onion is soft. Add curry paste and stir well. Add the lentils and stock and bring to the boil. Reduce heat to simmer and cook for about 20 minutes or until the lentils are soft. Stir in the coconut milk. Ladle into bowls and garnish with a swirl of Thai sweet chilli sauce (don’t skip this step – it enhances the taste so much) and chopped cilantro if desired.