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

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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.

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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.

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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

Pender Island – a magical weekend getaway.

I always love escaping the city’s hustle and bustle so I thought that we’d have fun with good company, good food & wine and perhaps a little quiet. We were invited to join our friends at their cabin on North Pender Island. This cabin has been in the family since our friend was six years of age. What I didn’t know is that we were en route to somewhere magical.

The first magic? Orcas / killer whales diving around us just as the sun was setting on the BC Ferry ride. The BC Ferry ride from Tsawwassen (in Vancouver) is approximately a 2 hour trip to the Island ferry terminal called Otter Bay. You are required to be at the Vancouver terminal 40 minutes prior. It is way more relaxing to take your car onto the ferry and relax rather than drive for hours and arrive exhausted. This method of transport for a weekend away does not exist in Sydney, Australia. We booked an evening journey hoping that it would coincide with kid’s being asleep for all or most of it.

Pender Island is one of the smallest islands in the group of Southern Gulf Islands with a population of 2,200. It is also known as the Hawaii of Canada with a sub-mediteranean climate. The Gulf Islands are in the Strait of Georgia, between Vancouver Island and the mainland of British Columbia, Canada.

Firstly, my idea of a cabin was perhaps a basic square-shaped cedar log house, you know like those cute ones you’ve seen in a movie; one room, a fireplace with perhaps a small kitchen and bathroom to get you by in the middle of the forest. I was actually looking forward to an adventure of roughing it like a castaway on an Island. Boy, was I wrong!  We were surprised on our arrival to be greeted by this luxurious cabin with stylish finishes mixed with the warmth and character of wooden beams. I did discover though, that originally there was a cabin not too dissimilar to my vision which had been moved by crane to make way for this newly evolved modern form. Perfectly comfortable, our friend’s father even demands to stay in there whenever he visits! A welcome celebratory wine or two was opened, photos of the cabin’s history were viewed with childhood memories shared and without realising it was 1am and we headed off to bed as the kids would be up at dawn.

Magic in the morning…on waking, we were in the presence of the most nonchalant baby deer grazing on the clover and flowers right outside the window. What really struck a chord with me was the peaceful surrounds of the forest. We were sitting in this beautiful light filled home, with serenity that I yearn for and hardly remember savouring for a long time (okay, excluding noise from children). We forget that our concept of silence usually includes white noise in the background; the hum of traffic, the sound of appliances, machinery, something buzzing constantly. I think here, you just enjoy one’s solitude.

After a breakfast of home made granola and muffins (see previous recipe posted), berries and coffee we headed off to the Pender Island Farmers’ Market.

These are open every Saturday and what impressed me was the serious and committed following for George and Kelly’s produce. This was the only stall with a queue; everyone wanting the pick of the crop! We loved the tayberries, as well as many other items, but they were something I had never tried before.

There are a few artisan bread stands which sell beautiful hand-made sourdoughs, rye and grainy loaves which I adore. Fresh fettucine seemed to be hiding under the table of the ‘felts lady’ – it took me a while to find it as she has her hand in arts, crafts and pasta some would think an odd combination, however it was delicious and so fresh.

If I hadn’t eaten breakfast, I probably would have been tempted by the polish lady selling a selection of homemade european cakes and she was happy to do taste tests!

My husband and son stationed themselves at the preserves lady’s stand staring out the bacon jam! What a concept my husband exclaimed excitedly.

As well as the passionate producers, there were a number of designers of arts, crafts and jewellery. One of the better known artists on the Island is Frank Ducote who thoughtfully gave my son a card signed with one of his works designed in honour of the late writer and illustrator Maurice Sendak of Where the Wild Things are which is one of his favourite bedtime books.

There is an Art Festival running on Pender Island presently with Frank Ducote and many others featuring heavily. More on Frank Ducote can be viewed on www.bloodstargallery.com/fducote.php 

Back at the cabin, fresh pasta for lunch and everyone was happy. Then onto the next activity…more magic or treasure? Our friends took us to this private beach they called ‘Chinaman’s beach’ (I cannot reveal the location – it’s secret!) and we learnt there was real treasure to be found on it. Over a period of time, pieces of fine blue china have been washing up on the shores and although they are only the size of a fingernail there is quite a collection they have found. Each piece of the puzzle revealing a different design; another clue to perhaps unlocking the mystery of a shipwreck perhaps? Our friends almost had me believe it may be from the Titanic, but I am not so sure it made all the way from Newfoundland, Canada to the shores of Gulf Islands.

The children enjoyed looking for crabs more than the treasure so we were all happy.

Back to the cabin, and where would we be without a barbecue? Contentment is sometimes so easy to attain; on this occasion it was a juicy hamburger, fresh cut chips from hand picked potatoes, some bubbles and smiling kids. Now that’s magic!

An evening of poker, wine and a dessert of ‘chocolate dirt’ and ice-cream (secret recipe from a friend of our friend and it’s incredibly good) was really a divine way to end the day.

Next morning, a hike to Fern Tree Gully which is a heavenly bed of ferns in a rainforest environment. The air was so fresh you could taste it, and the smell of cedar was invigorating. This I tell you was better than any hangover cure and that’s magic too!

On our travels we saw the monstrous Cedar and Douglas Fir trees, giant-sized slugs (I had to mention as I had never seen anything like them and they were in camouflaged colours too!), and heard some sheep in the distance from a farm nearby.

Lunch time was a sumptuous selection of produce from the Farmers’ Market and our friends vegetable garden at the cabin. We all ate very well, with flavour and abundance from all the fresh food. Then off to the next adventure.

We drove to Hope Bay, which is on the southern part of the Island. A quaint area with an art gallery, a gift shop, a cafe/restaurant and few other small stores with the backdrop of the water. The children caught some jellyfish in their nets, we snacked on some fries from ‘The Cafe at Hope Bay‘ – 4301 Bedwell Harbour Road, British Columbia. It has a good selection of dishes on the menu and changes between lunch and dinner. It would certainly make for a romantic setting on an evening out.

We also visited another beach which has been washing up a few recently discovered pieces of blue china too. I saw my first Arbutus tree, bright flaming orange their trunks were and they had an Aussie blue gum type of feel about them too. Another magical spot where we searched for more treasure, spotted crabs and generally soaked up the tranquil beauty and views in this secluded spot.

Can you spot the seal? We saw a little something moving in the distance…

Like sands through the hourglass, our restful time is coming to an end, or should I say a close for now because I do hope we return. This Island is magnificent in so many ways as it offered us the creature comforts we enjoy while away; good food, good wine, good beds and good views and the peace and quiet that you could only imagine was 100 years ago  in a far away land from what we know today.

We have all had a truly fun and magical weekend. When the weather forecast for Vancouver this weekend was doom and gloom, we were blessed with sunny, breezy days.

Our friends were the perfect hosts, company and entertainment for our little one with many games and activities planned. It will be recorded as one of our most memorable and delightful experiences that we have had here in British Columbia. For more on Pender Island with accommodation available please see this website Chamber of Commerce.

Pender Island has it all…the sub-mediterranean climate, the coves, beaches, rainforest, small mountains, lakes and open farmland.  I highly recommend this Island (ssh, don’t tell too many people) as a getaway for all people; families, couples, singles that are seeking a weekend getaway or longer that offers so much more including a little bit of magic.

For now so long Pender, I am so thankful we were introduced to you and we hope to return again.

On the move muffins

Sometimes when life is busy, its great to get away for the weekend to peaceful surrounds. We were invited to go our friend’s cabin on Pender Island which is one of the Southern Gulf Islands located along the Pacific coast of British Columbia, Canada.

Of course, the first thought apart from the excitement of arriving there and participating in many outdoor activities such as hiking, beach time, fresh produce markets and games was what delicious treats could I make for us all?  I decided on some easily transportable goodies like my favourite muffins which are a little healthy, a little naughty and give you an energy boost when you need it. I am also making the most of local seasonal produce available at present, like sweet BC raspberries and blueberries.

The mini-muffins are easy for kids and easy to have one, two or more! We all love them and they work out every time. Fingers crossed they are a hit with our friends and their children too.

On the move muffins (makes approximately 45 mini-muffins)

Ingredients 

1 cup plain flour

1 cup whole wheat flour

3 tsp baking powder

Pinch of salt

1 tsp mixed spice

1 tsp cinnamon

1/2 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup carrot

1/2 cup apple

1 cup finely chopped walnuts

1 cup mixed raspberries and blueberries

1 tsp vanilla extract

2 eggs

1/3 cup vegetable oil

1/3 cup 100% pure maple syrup

1/2 cup yoghurt (I use a peach variety)

rolled oats and icing sugar to decorate

Method

1. Preheat oven to 355 F / 180 C and grease two 24 mini-muffin pans well.

2. Sift flours, baking powder, salt, mixed spice, cinnamon into a large bowl. Add sugar and mix, then carrot, apple and walnuts and mix very well ensuring ingredients are evenly distributed.

3. In a separate bowl, beat the eggs, oil and vanilla together for a minute or two and slowly pour in maple syrup while beating for another minute.

4. Add to the dry ingredients carefully folding in and then add the berries and yoghurt without over-mixing.

5. Spoon one to two teaspoons of the mixture for each muffin in the pans. You can decorate by sprinkling a few rolled oats on the top and bake for 12-15 minutes in a standard oven (or until skewer comes out clean).  Pop out of the pans after standing for 10 minutes and dust with icing sugar.

Please note: I prefer to enjoy these more in mini-muffin pans, however you can cook in the larger deep muffin pans for approximately 35 minutes. (Ensure you line the large ones with baking paper to remove easily).