Wining and Dining in the Okanagan Valley

Ok… over to my again husband to recount our recent trip.

This trip to the spiritual home of BC wines was highly anticipated on many fronts. Firstly we relished the opportunity to learn more about the wines we were savouring in Vancouver, secondly we hoped to discover a few more fine examples of Okanagan golden goodness and lastly we longed for a good

Oliver Road 18

The vista from Road 18 vineyard in Oliver

old fashion road trip. I think Canadians and Aussies definitely share a common enthusiasm for long, meandering drives to wonderful destinations. Our countries are decorated with natural beauty but in both cases it can take a mighty long time to get there. You can lament this situation or just strap yourself into a trusty vehicle, turn up the stereo and enjoy the ride. Equally, what better way to see a new country than from the vantage of a road trip and what better time of the year to do it in, than Fall.

The Okanagan Wine Country is about 5-6 hours north east of Vancouver and the Zielinski’s opted for a timeless classic in the form of a Volkswagen Westfalia. This van rolled off the production line in 1986, so it was a vintage VW but had been lovingly maintained all those years so was still highly reliable (we hoped…)  It came with it’s own fridge, cooktop, double bed and a top speed, on the downhill, of 110km/h. Having this chariot chug us down the highway added a deft touch of romanticism to our trip.

Our steed, the Westfalia

The 26 year old Volkswagen Westfalia, sure wasn’t the fastest way to get somewhere but definitely the most fun

Naramata DSC_1174

This is the heart of some of the best vineyards to visit

The drive up was beautiful and even swept us pass Hope, BC the setting for the legendary Sylvester Stallone film “Rambo, First Blood”. We took a pre-planned pit stop at a roadside fruit and veg store to feed one of our touring party’s growing  addiction for pumpkin and gourds. These were critical components to the upcoming Halloween festival. We spied a slinking wolf on the way up and arrived in Naramata in the early evening.

 

Here we met the lovely and gregarious Renee who ran a delightfully unique B&B – Robinson Bed and Beach. Her links to the area were indisputable as her grandfather was one of the first to settle in the area and built the Heritage Inn. The B&B had a moose head proudly on display that apparently fed Renee’s relatives for two years during one particular lean period. It’s difficult to describe the B&B in words other than to say eclectic would be high on the list. It was perfectly placed on the shores of Lake Skaha, so the sunrises were breathtaking. The view was enhanced further by the jumping into the outdoor Jacuzzi with a coffee or wine depending on the time of day.

Now, back to the main purpose of our trip – wine tasting. Obviously everyone was looking forward to this, especially our hosts who were itching to introduce us to some fine wineries. The only tragedy we struck was my wife learning 3 days before we left that she was 5 weeks pregnant with our second child. Devastation at not wanting to drink wine due to the incessant nausea countered by joy of knowing we were growing a second child would describe her mental state. So I took it graciously upon myself to taste and drink for the two of us. Almost all of us thought this was very selfless of me.

All 3 days of our Okanagan visit involved a very similar routine. We set out mid morning after a quick Jacuzzi by the Lake, carefully keeping an eye out for the legendary Okopogo.

Lake DSC_1190

Never tire of this view of Lake Skaha from our B&B

We would then hit a few wineries before lunch and before our kids self destructed. Then we would visit a few more vineyards in the afternoon (mainly G and I) whilst the ladies would corral the kids back to the B&B for some entertainment. Perhaps the greatest challenge during the weekend was entertaining the 3 kids whilst we tasted.  My memory of all the wines we tasted and vineyards we visited is limited but my general impressions were that the region is truly breathtaking. It rivals and tops many of the wine areas I have been lucky to visit so far. I would rank it above the Hunter Valley, Clare Valley, Napa and it would be on par with the Dordogne, France. Whilst in terms of its wines this region is an infant in comparison since most vineyards are 20 years or less old.

The Okanagan

Quite simply … Okanagan Gold

There were definitely many standouts however, they are probably a little over priced and I was a little frustrated by the tasting fees which appeared almost mandatory at every place, even the small vineyards. I know this is standard practice in the States but it doesn’t sit very well with me as tasting the product is part of doing business. Anyhow this aspect didn’t detract greatly from our experience. We even visited a wonderful cheese farm, a vineyard, Elephant Island, that made wines from plums, raspberries, blackberries, apples and peaches. This probably harks from the time that the Okanagan was overrun with plenty of orchards. Some 15 years ago there was a shift from orchards to vineyards as everyone eyed the potential for more money from selling bottles of wines rather than boxes of apples. I am sure glad they did as the region is spectacular.

OK, so what wines stood out I hear you plead. Definite highlights included the Burrowing Owl in Oliver, Quail’s Gate in Kelowna and in Narramatta I loved La Frenz, Red Rooster, Wan Westen and Poplar Grove. The most epic and Napa like vineyard was undoubtedly Mission Hill in Kelowna. This is a monument to largeness. Epic! Mammoth! Gargantuan! All these descriptors aptly provide a snapshot to this place.

Mission Hill1DSC_1284

Understated? The entry into Mission Hill

It is framed with massive marble and stone arches, roman-like pillars and amphitheatres which funnily enough provided the kids with so much fun as they rolled down them a million times. This was where our trip concluded. We sadly filed back into the Westfalia and braced ourselves for the long car trip home. We three were happier for the amazing landscapes, food, wine and friends we enjoyed for Thanksgiving 2012.

Thanksgiving Colour

Happy Thanksgiving 2012

Good Places To Eat

1. The Bench Market – known for their delectable Eggs Bennie

2. The Patio @ Lake Breeze Winery – relaxed atmosphere couple with a great food and a spectacular view

3. Burrowing Owl – For a beautiful dining experience where the matching wines are as great as the dishes

Destination: Toronto, Ontario

In just under three hours we drove from Grand Bend to Toronto and I have to say Google maps was spot on with the timing. We had chosen to drive back on the Civic holiday and almost everyone who we spoke with from Toronto said we were in for a long journey back; at least 4-5 hours so I guess we were lucky.

We were meeting a longtime friend in Toronto and her boys for a week in the controversially named neighbourhood of “The beaches” or “The Beach” east side of the city where she grew up and still resides. It was mid-afternoon and she greeted us in her usual style over a cool, crisp glass of white wine. I believe it was a gewürztraminer  and the first time I tasted a gewurz was four years ago with her in the Niagara on the lake area vineyards.

I finally introduced my son to her sons and it was a wonderful feeling to see them unite. The boys were still on holidays so it worked out perfectly. We enjoyed some beach fun,  another beautiful freshwater lake beach. Pictured is a lifeguard from Woodbine Beach on Lake Ontario.

My friend’s local cafe ‘Lazy Daisy’s’ www.lazydaisyscafe.ca located at 1515 Gerrard Street, Toronto, Ontario, became our local favourite over the course of the week. Each morning we ordered a delicious coffee which is a challenge to find anywhere in Canada, but they do exist! This homely place which has been described in reviews as ‘farmhouse chic’ reminiscent of her childhood days on her family’s farm. The menu provides a large selection of healthy options using fresh local produce and sweet treats that tasted more wholesome than naughty too.  We loved the blueberry cornmeal muffin, cooked beautifully and the right size for the three of us to share a couple of bites with our coffee. We must have worked our way through a good proportion of the sandwich menu with favourites like the Coronation Chicken, Veggie Patch wrap and Farmer’s Club with mouth-watering Egli’s smoked bacon and garlic aioli which would please most I suspect.

The owner has catered to kids with books, a train table, comfy seats and colouring in sheets with a wall of fame for the youngsters (if they are worthy) to put their finished art up on.

As my world revolves around delicious food much of the time, a trip to St Lawrence food markets –www.stlawrencemarket.com was in order. It is somewhat an escape from the hustle and bustle of downtown Toronto with like-minded people gazing at the endless treasure trove…a foodie’s heaven.

The number of food markets I have visited on my travels has really clocked up over the years. I would have to say that this one was serendipitous.

There were so many specialty ingredients and produce items you could source in the realms of this grand building. The selection of smoked meats, cheeses from around the world, seafood, wines, produce, ice-wines, truffled products, rainbow coloured pasta, tomahawk steaks from Alberta, baked goods galore was mind-blowing. It hardly does it justice, but I guarantee it is a must do, must see for yourself experience! After wearing ourselves out in the market, my friend took us to a restaurant she knew well from trips with her parents as a child. An institution which has been running for over a quarter of a century; Paddington’s Pump – St Lawrence Market, 93 Front Street E, Toronto sure packs a punch with its ‘Oink on a Kaiser’. It is the most bacon I have ever seen on a bun!

Ok, so moving on…I must note that the days have passed where I used to spend hours shopping in gorgeous boutiques and finishing with a good wine while taking great pleasure in my purchases. I am lucky these days if I can enjoy one or two stores at a time with a little boy in tow, but a girl can fantasize right?

A streetcar ride up Queen Street and I had to ask my girlfriend what area we were in at some point; she said ‘Queen West’, only one of Toronto’s coolest neighbourhoods and shopping districts. I so wanted to jump off right there and then and while away the hours with all my favourite things; fashion, art-design, patisserie and wine.

Before I could think about it a moment longer we were somewhere else, however this is moving to the top of my list next time I visit Toronto.

An area we spent time in together was a good compromise as I was able to step into some unique stores where there was something for everyone in Roncesvalles Village which is an area located east of High Park and north of Lake Ontario. Toronto is one of the most culturally diverse cities in the world and this part of the city is better known as the Polish community’s centre. We were funnily enough heading to lunch at Cafe Polonez – 195 Roncesvalles Ave, Toronto.

Superb! Between us, we ordered:-

Traditional Beetroot soup with dumplings (Barszcz czerwony z uszkami), which is Borscht consommé with a choice of mushroom or meat dumplings.

Pierogies (rozne nadzienia), homemade boiled dumplings served with side of sour cream and fried onions & pork; we chose the sauerkraut and mushroom, minced pork, cheddar and potato ones.

Polish Schnitzel (kotlet schabowy), plain cutlet served with potatoes and a bouquet of salads.

If I had the stomach the size of four people, I would’ve also ordered the cabbage rolls (golabki), polish sausage (kielbasa z frykami) and Goulash (gulasz wieprzowy) too!

How does the Polish proverb go? “A good appetite needs no sauce”.

My friend and her boys are so fortunate they have a wide selection of top quality Polish food on their doorstep and this is the advantage of living in a city steeped with multiple cultures and heritage.

We girls had to have a night out together to catch up. My friend booked tickets to see The Temper Trap in concert who were touring in Toronto coincidentally when we were there. They are an Australian band and had global success after releasing ‘Sweet Disposition’ which played at my wedding so it’s pretty special. The concert venue was the ‘Kool Haus’ in the Guvernment Entertainment Complex – 132 Queens Quay East, Toronto. It was a really cool space and relaxed enough for us to enjoy our vodkas and catch up over some music from home.

Dinner beforehand was a few minutes away from the venue at Against the Grain Urban Tavern – 25 Dockside Drive. When I spotted the Hendrick’s Gin that put a smile on my face and we tried the barman’s cocktail with a rosemary infused sugar syrup in it which took it to a new level for me! We ordered the fish ceviche soft tacos which were amazingly good. We were seated right on the harbour front which gave me a taste for more seafood so we both chose the Urban lobster roll with a cold glass of Niagara riesling.

I am not sure if I am saving the best till last, because the entire week was special seeing my girlfriend and her boys. However, when we were offered a date night; that is my husband and I, we jumped at the chance and booked a restaurant she recommended from a choice of a few. Given I am reading the 100 Mile Diet at present, I wanted to dine at a restaurant that focuses on locally sourced produce and more importantly we were enthusiastic to try Caribou, Elk or something that may be a rarer find on the West Coast. We dined at Globe Bistro – www.globebistro.com 124 Danforth Avenue, Toronto. To our delight, we were fortunate to enjoy the taste of Elk (a first for us) along with a duck dish, a selection of freshly shucked Malpeque (Prince Edward Island) oysters and a host of freshly picked ingredients from Ontario’s best farms on each plate. The restaurant had soft lighting with elegant chic furnishings as well as a friendly and discreet waiter who seemed to only appear with a smile whenever we needed anything leaving us to immerse ourselves in the ambient vibe.

I know my pattern of storytelling often skews towards food, but all in all the week was about seeing a very dear friend and her family at home in Toronto, meeting friends and family members.  It was a memorable time and I will miss them…until next trip of course!

“Flatiron Building” – Historic landmark of Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

Roasted granola

Thank you to my favourite Australian magazine, delicious. as while reading the June issue I stumbled across the ‘Australian Flavours’ story on The Grounds in Alexandria, Sydney.

The Grounds is a recently opened industrial chic space set in a former pie factory which is a cafe providing house-roasted coffee, freshly baked bread and pastries and kitchen garden all in one. I miss brunch and coffee at places like this back home in Sydney, although I’m sure it won’t be going anywhere for a while.

I had to make the ‘roasted granola’ on page 88 from their recipe selection published which I adapted slightly with a more Canadian influence. I substituted sunflower oil for an organic virgin coconut oil to increase the flavour and health benefits. I prefer to use all organic products so the apricot was darker dried unsulphured apricots I also used half the amount of walnuts, no pepitas just sunflower seeds and more maple syrup and a little Fraser Valley blueberry honey. It was an easy transportable and sustaining breakfast we could enjoy at the cabin on Pender Island which was received well by all. This recipe will become one of my favourites.

Roasted Granola (makes about 15 serves).

Ingredients

1/2 cup (35g) shredded coconut

1/2 cup (125ml) virgin coconut oil

40g unsalted butter (I used Fraser Valley butter)

1/4 cup maple syrup

1 Tablespoon Fraser Valley blueberry honey

1 tsp ground cinnamon

500g rolled oats

1/2 cup sunflower seeds (recipe also calls for 1/2 cup of pepitas)

1 cup (160g) almonds

1/2 cup (100g) walnuts, halved

1/2 cup (85g) raisins

1/2 cup (110g) dried apricot, thinly sliced

Method

1. Preheat oven to 266 F / 130 C. Stir in coconut, oil, butter, syrup, honey and cinnamon in a small saucepan over low heat for a few minutes until combined.

2. Scatter oats, seeds and nuts on a baking tray and pour over syrup, stirring well to coat.

3. Roast for 1 hour, stirring every 15 minutes. Add fruit and cook for a further 30 minutes or until crisp. Remove and cool. Store in an airtight container for up to 1 month.

Serving suggestion:- Taeberries and creamy yoghurt.  I discovered Taeberries at the local farmer’s markets on Pender Island, a blackberry-raspberry cross (similar to Loganberry). They are high in vitamin C and fibre and are a tangy sweet flavour.

Next, I will try to do Pender Island justice by writing about our weekend away at our friends’ cabin.

Enjoy!

My hale and hearty kale super summer recipes – Part 3

My husband and I have an exercise routine in the morning that usually consists of running around our sofa ten times to catch my son just to change him when he is waken up…its just a big game to him. Then after breakfast, one of us need to run around the sofa another ten times just to change his nappy/diaper. Let me emphasise that this is before the real activity starts! For example, Saturday mornings involve approximately 20 laps around the sofa, followed by soccer and then swimming. This might put the little guy’s energy at bay for say half the day, but then there is the entire afternoon remaining!

So, sometimes my only remedy is to put my faith in food to deliver abundant energy sources and the addition of a little coffee (as you might have read from an earlier post).

For those days when you need to load up on energy stores or a little comfort in a hearty meal, here is a fiery dish to get your day underway.

The first is inspired by one of the best breakfasts I have had…ooh, going back about sixteen years or 5,840 breakfasts ago! It was in Budapest, Hungary and I was invited to a friend of a friend’s home for breakfast/brunch. It was a typical hungarian spread; crusty bread, scrambled eggs with the flavours of paprika, peppers, salami, tomatoes or should I say lecsó. Lecsó is a hot and spicy dish of tomatoes, peppers, onions, paprika, garlic, sugar, salt and there are many varieties. I was in heaven and this was so exotic compared to anything I had enjoyed for breakfast back home that it made an impression needless to say. It is though rather simple and really hits the spot.

I will just note though, that my breakfast is the ‘healthy version’ as the condition of my arteries is more important to me than it ever was in my early twenties! I have included something called ‘bacon dust’ in my recipe which all credit for this idea goes to Valli Little, Food Director of delicious. magazine again because she is well – AWESOME!

The other recipe is a no fuss canapé for summer entertaining. They are not only beautiful to look at but are light and almost guilt-free. You can prepare them ahead of time and serve them at room temperature or simply re-heat slightly for a crisper texture.

4. Kale lecsó and scrambled eggs (serves 4).

Ingredients

Lecsó (This can be pre-prepared a day or two in advance and warmed up. It is best to add the kale fresh though).

1 bunch kale (stems removed)

2 rashers of bacon with fat removed and cut into small pieces

1/2 small brown onion sliced

1-2 peppers (yellow and orange) sliced finely

2 ripe roma tomatoes finely chopped

3 tablespoons of tomato puree

1 garlic clove crushed

2.5 teaspoons of sweet paprika

1 teaspoon of sugar

4 pinches of salt

1 tablespoon of water

Scrambled eggs

6 large eggs

2 rashers of bacon

1/4 cup milk

1 tablespoon butter

Sourdough bread

olive oil

Method

1. Wash kale and leave to soak in warm water with some lemon juice. After 10 minutes remove and dry.

2. Add bacon to frying pan for a few minutes to soften on medium heat. Add onions and peppers for 15 minutes on low heat.

3. Add chopped tomatoes, tomato puree, garlic sugar, salt, paprika and cook over medium heat until peppers are soft and tender. Add a the water if a little dry before peppers are soft.

4. Add kale leaves to frying pan to soften for a few minutes, remove from heat and set aside.

Scrambled eggs

1. Place two rashers of bacon in frying pan on medium heat until crispy. Dry on paper towel to remove all moisture.

2. Place bacon in food processor until it resembles a fine consistency or dust.

3. Crack six eggs into a bowl and whisk lightly adding milk half way through.

4. Place butter into clean frying pan on low-medium heat.

5. Add eggs to pan and start with a wooden spatula, gently push outside edges into centre   until you start to see eggs looking creamy and thickening (approx 3 minutes). In the last minute, break up carefully and remove from heat.

6. Serve eggs with sprinkled bacon dust on top, kale lecsó on the side with lightly toasted sourdough bread. Drizzle some good quality extra virgin olive oil on warm lecsó.

5. Potato and kale nests with smoked salmon  (makes 24).

Ingredients

250gm white or yukon gold (starchy varieties) potatoes peeled

12 leaves of kale

1 egg

40gm butter, melted and cooled.

1/3 cup good quality mayonnaise (I use an organic whole egg variety)

1/3 cup light/fat free sour cream

2 tablespoons fresh dill

150gm cold smoked (lox) sockeye salmon

half lemon

sea salt and cracked black pepper

olive oil spray

dill fronds or coriander leaves to garnish

Method

1. Preheat oven to 390F/200C. Lightly grease a 24 capacity mini muffin tray with olive oil spray.

2. Using a mandolin, thinly slice potatoes (please watch fingers!) and then finely cut small matchstick size; about 4mm thick and 6-7cm in length. They certainly don’t need to be perfect match sticks, I just stack my slices and then cut lengthways into the strips.

3. Chiffonade the washed kale leaves and blanch them in almost boiled water for 15 seconds and then place in cold water, drain and dry with paper towel.

4. Place in a large bowl the egg, butter, potato and combine well adding some salt and pepper to taste. Add kale at end.

5. Press approximately a tablespoon into muffin tin to create a nest and bake for 25 minutes or until golden. Allow to cool.

6. Combine sour cream, mayonnaise and chopped dill in a bowl. Squeeze juice of half a lemon over salmon.

7. Spoon a small amount onto nests and top with smoked salmon. Garnish with coriander leaves or dill fronds.

Enjoy!