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naramata-blend

Life in a slow place that quickly steals your heart.

Five Naramata secrets too good to keep

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Photo by Preserved Light

1.Where the Universe Aligns

For a fleeting time every June, around the time of the summer solstice, the setting sun lines up to shine its dying rays through the Kettle Valley Railway’s Little Tunnel, above the Village of Naramata. Photogenic on any day of the year, this tunnel engineered by Andrew McCulloch more than 100 years was blasted out of a rock cliff that hangs dramatically over the Okanagan Lake.

The summer solstice,  June 21st, is the longest days of the year for anyone living north of the equator and marks the beginning of summer. If pagan rituals are your thing, how cool would hiking up (or driving) to the tunnel to mark the occasion be?

No one really knows why Stonehenge was built some 5,000 years ago. But one possibility is that it was used to mark solstices and equinoxes. That’s because during the summer solstice, the sun rises just over the structure’s Heel Stone and hits the Altar Stone dead centre. I wonder if McCulloch knew about the solstice magic he created?  Bring your camera. Preserved Light‘s Caillum Smith often offers photography workshops at Little Tunnel during the solstice.  If you go, don’t touch the tunnel walls when the sun’s rays pierce through it as you will likely be transported through the stone and back in time and find yourself in the middle of the Battle of Culloden. Right?

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The views from the Kettle Valley Rail Trail, called the KVR by locals, are so stunning that I can still conjure up the feeling I had when first gob-smacked by them. The KVR is a notable part of the Trans Canada Trail.

2. We Love our Public Art 

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Photo by Preserved Light

 

Although I don’t want to reveal the exact location of this amazing art to help preserve it, Naramata has some very special rocks.  Some of the most intriguing images of Canadian rock art or pictographs are painted on cliffs in interior British Columbia. The Okanagan Valley of British Columbia was the traditional territory of the Interior Salish peoples, hunters and gatherers who followed a seasonal migration. Their material culture was simple and easily transportable, and they had very little impact on their environment. They did leave behind one sign of their presence however – their paintings on stone, or pictographs.

Painted in red ochres, iron oxides mixed with clay, the designs were applied with fingers or sticks and were thought to be painted by teenagers as part of their puberty rituals or by adults painting images from dreams.

3. We Aren’t Afraid of the Dark

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Photo taken in my very dark yard.

A big part of the appeal of Naramata is what we don’t have such as no fast-food outlets, no traffic lights, no industrial development and very few streetlights. It’s dark at night, inky black in some spots and this is rare today and valuable.

Star gazing, Northern Lights watching and awareness of the phases of the moon are a special part of life here and should not be undervalued according to Elizabeth Griffin, Visiting Astronomer at the NRC, and also Member of the Light Pollution Committee, Royal Astronomical Society of Canada – Victoria Centre. “Light pollution affects astronomy in a big way. Stars are faint and distant and the scattered light from our cities makes them hard to see. Observation now requires costly equipment in remote locations,” she says. “All this light is bad for us as well. We don’t sleep as well when its not dark meaning we have less melatonin that we need to repair our bodies. Light pollution damages sensitive eco-systems like those of insects and birds, and eventually damages the whole bio-system upon which we depend for food.”

(This helps explain why our guests from urban areas talk about how well they sleep here…)

Dr. Griffin tells me a story passed on by the director of the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles. “There was a significant earthquake in 1980 in the LA area and it disrupted electrical cables plunging LA into darkness. The switchboard at the observatory became jammed with calls by people reporting that they had seen something unusual. It turns out that they were able to see the Milky Way for the first time. There is something so sad about that.”

We can see the Milky Way here and many other constellations and planets by lying on our backs on our lawn and gazing up. “You are lucky,” says Dr. Griffin. “Municipalities are doing quite a lot like ensuring street lights are angled down and shutting off sport’s field lights at night but there are no laws regulating the use of domestic lights. All we can do is try to educate people that all this light is damaging and unnecessary and that they are missing out on something special.

“The Okanagan is good for star watching,” adds Dr. Griffin. “You are relatively sparsely populated there and there are a lot of pockets behind the mountains where you are quite well shielded from lights.”

Along with embracing the darkness, Naramatians are also treated to quiet that allows us to hear birds and wildlife. My current favourite thing is opening my deck door early in the morning to listen to a pair of owls talking to each other. Also part and parcel of life in our Village are the wonderful scents of sage and pine that are released in summer evenings on hot days.

 

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A requirement to see and photograph the Northern Lights is darkness. Photo by Preserved Light

4. We Let it All Slip Slide Away

There is a little-known spot on Naramata Creek where a waterfall has some chutes and pools suitable for a little sliding.  Tucked away up Arawana, an old forest service road, and along a trail, these rock slides provide a bit of cool fun.

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Photo by Preserved Light

 

5. We are Internationally Recognized for our Slow Pace of Life

Naramata is one of only three Canadian communities with a special status as a “slow city” bestowed on us by Cittaslow, an international organization formed in Orvieto Italy in 1999.  We join Cowichan Bay and Wolfville as places where the pace of life is a bit more human.

To quote from the charmingly translated Italian on the Cittaslow website, “A Cittaslow place is motivated by curious people of a recovered time, where man is still protagonist of the slow and healthy succession of seasons, respectful of citizens’ health, the authenticity of products and good food, rich of fascinating craft traditions, of valuable works of art, squares, theatres, shops, cafes and restaurants. These are places of the spirit and unspoiled landscapes characterized by spontaneity of religious rites and respect the traditions of the joy of slow and quiet living.”

As a way of celebrating our Cittaslow status, Naramata holds a harvest dinner in the fall. One of the organizers of the dinner, Miranda Halladay, said, “ Naramatians have an encyclopedia of reasons why they feel lucky enough to call this place home, covering the spectrum from peacocks (a secret for another day…we have resident peacocks that wander around in our Village) to people. The Cittaslow designation prompts us to think and to talk about these aspects of our community, to protect and foster these elements that are integral to living NaramataSlow.

“Creating and sharing a meal focused on the immense and delicious bounty our community produces with friends, neighbours and visitors alike feels like a natural tradition in the making, and the right way to foster conversation.”

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My photo from the first dinner in 2016 now well on its way to being an annual tradition.
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Photo by Preserved Light

Mallomars or Whippets cookie hack

 

IMG_3984.jpgThis recipe for the humble chocolate-covered marshmallow cookie that has a cult-like following in New York and Quebec is made in three steps: a shortbread cookie base, homemade marshmallow and a chocolate coating. The advantage of making them yourself are their freshness and the quality of the chocolate you can dip them in making them even more addictive than the store-bought versions. If you make them with kids, be warned the marshmallow step can turn into a sticky situation. The recipe makes about two dozen cookies.

A bit of delicious history

Mallomars’ origins are in New Jersey in 1913. Kraft, whose Nabisco division markets Mallomars, says the first buyer was a grocer in West Hoboken, which was consolidated to form Union City in 1925. Their New York-area roots are the reason Mallomars sales are so heavily concentrated in the Northeast.

But they are made in Toronto, the home territory of Whippets, which arouse the kind of passion among Canadians that Mallomars arouse among New Yorkers. Whippets are made by Dare in Montreal.

Part of the cult following of Mallomars are their availability only from October to April as the cookie melts in the summer months. (Maybe just a marketing ploy at this point but it’s their story they are sticking to.) Mallomars get a mention in When Harry Met Sally they are so iconic.

An international treat, a marshmallow topped biscuit dipped in chocolate is sold as chocolate fish in New Zealand, chocolate teacakes in the UK, Konfesksiya in Turkey, Flodebolle in Denmark, Krembo in Israel, Schokokuss in Germany, Brunberg’s Kisses in Finland, Melo-cakes in Belgium. Looks the world knows a good thing when it tastes it.

 

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Shortbread Cookies

Ingredients

  • 3/4 cup (180 ml) unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup (60 ml) sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon (2.5 ml) baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon (1 ml) salt
  • 1/4 cup (60 ml) cold unsalted butter, diced
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 teaspoon (2.5 ml) vanilla extract

Directions

In a food processor, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture has the texture of sand. Add the egg and vanilla. Pulse again until the dough just begins to form. Shape into a disc with your hands and cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.

With the rack in the middle position, preheat the oven to 180 °C (350 °F). Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

On a floured work surface, roll out the dough to about 3-mm (1/8-inch) thick. Cut 30 cookies using a 4 ½-cm (1 ¾-inch) round cookie cutter. )I used a small drinking glass of the right size in place of the cookie cutter.) Place the cookies on the baking sheet.

Bake for about 10 minutes or until lightly browned. Let cool.

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Marshmallow

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon (15 ml) powdered gelatin
  • 1/4 cup (60 ml) water
  • 1/2 cup (125 ml) sugar
  • 1/4 cup (60 ml) light corn syrup (You can substitute golden corn syrup in a pinch as I did…the marshmallow still comes out a nice white colour.)
  • 1/2 teaspoon (2.5 ml) vanilla extract

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Directions

In a small saucepan, sprinkle the gelatin over the water and let bloom for 5 minutes. Add the sugar. Melt over low heat, stirring until the sugar and gelatin have dissolved. Pour into a bowl. Add the corn syrup and vanilla and beat with an electric mixer until soft peaks form, about 10 minutes.

With a pastry bag fitted with a 2-cm (3/4-inch) diameter plain round tip and filled with meringue, top each cookie with a dome of meringue. Work quickly filling the pastry bag and piping as the marshmallow will get hard to work with as it sets.

Let cool for 30 minutes at room temperature.

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Chocolate Coating

Ingredients

  • 8 oz (225 g) good quality dark chocolate (70 per cent) , chopped

Directions

In a bowl, over a double boiler or in the microwave oven, melt 140 g (5 oz) of chocolate. Remove from the double boiler and add the remaining chocolate. Stir until the chocolate is smooth. If necessary, put back over the double boiler for a few seconds if the chocolate does not melt completely. Be careful not to overheat the chocolate, it might bloom when cooled.

Dip the cooled cookies, marshmallow side down, in the chocolate, flip and remove from the chocolate with a fork. Shake to remove any excess chocolate.

Place the cookies on a lightly oiled wire rack or a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Refrigerate for about 30 minutes. Serve at room temperature.

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Milk is the perfect companion for these nostalgic cookies.

 

French buttery, hazelnutty, chocolatey Christmas cookies – Flours de Lin

IMG_3917.jpgThere is no better combination in French baking than a tender butter cookie made with ground almonds, sandwiched with hazelnut spread and dipped in dark chocolate. These Flours de Lin are relatively easy to make and have become a staple in my Christmas baking.  Even if your piping skills aren’t up to scratch they are so tasty it won’t matter.

IMG_3840.jpgCookie Ingredients (makes apex. 20 cookies)

  • Cake flour – 125 grams (1 cup plus 4 teaspoons)
  • Room temperature butter – 150 grams (5 1/4 ounces)
  • Sea salt – 1/8 teaspoon
  • Granulated sugar – 80 grams (1/3 cup)
  • Ground almonds – 60 grams (1/2 cup plus 1 tbs)
  • Egg whites – 30 grams (1 extra-large white less 1 to 2 teaspoons)
  • Vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste – 5 grams (1 teaspoon)

Directions

Line two sheet pans with parchment paper.

Sift the flour into a bowl and set aside. Place the soft butter with the sea salt and sugar in the bowl of a stand-mixer and mix with the paddle attachment for 1 minute on medium speed. (Note…if your butter isn’t soft these cookies will require Popeye muscles to pipe) Add the almond flour, egg whites and vanilla and mix until incorporated. Add the sifted flour and mix for 30 seconds only on low speed. Do not over-mix as it will spoil the delicacy of the cookies.

Scrape the mixture into a pastry bag fitted with a 3/8 inch star tip. Pipe 1 1/2-inch-long flat teardrop cookies onto the parchment-paper-lined sheet plans, leaving 1/2 space in between them and staggering the rows.

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Hold the pastry bag with the tip at a 45-degree angle, close to the sheet pan. Continue to press on the bag and swing the tip toward you while you progressively stop pressing, so that the teardrop ends in a tail.

Let the cookies rest at room temperature for 1 hour. Thirty minutes before baking preheat the oven to 375 F.

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Bake the cookies for 15 minutes, until golden brown. Cool completely.

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Filling and dipping ingredients

  • Hazelnut paste (such as Nutella) – 200 grams (2/3 cup)
  • Good quality dark chocolate – 200 grams (7 ounces)

Assembly directions

Once cool, flip half of the cookies over and pipe a small amount of the hazelnut paste. Top with another cookie and press down lightly to sandwich.

IMG_3878.jpgSlowly melt the dark chocolate over a double boiler. Dip the tail of each cookie into the chocolate and place the cooke on parchment paper. Let the chocolate harden and then store the cookies in an airtight container. Do not refrigerate.

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(You can substitute the hazelnut paste with a chocolate ganache or raspberry jam if you like.)

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Finnish Christmas bread and the most amazing bread-baking smells ever

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Pulla is a traditional Finnish sweet bread that is flavored with the unique scent of cardamon. Your kitchen, whole house actually, will be filled with the scents of yeasty bread-baking with an amazing cardamon finish. It makes a stunning braided loaf, or can be baked into individual rolls for easy eating. Finnish Pulla is very similar to challah, with its eggs, milk and butter additions but interestingly fragrant with a warmth of spices. It’s fascinating how Scandinavians have the tradition of pulling cardamon, a spice native to India, into their bread baking. It was the Vikings who brought back this spice from their plundering expeditions. How cool is that?

This is my dad’s recipe, scrawled rather cryptically on a hard-to-read recipe card. After some code-breaking and further research, here it is. The recipe originated from a Finnish friend of the family who not only made us Pulla but made it at our house, hence my strong scent-filled memories of this wonderful bread.

Side note about Cardamon

Scandinavians not only use cardamon in their breads, but also in mulled wine, cookies, cakes, pastries and meatballs too.  Cardamon, the third most expensive spice after saffron and vanilla beans. My small bottle cost $10.95. It is a part of the ginger family. Indigenous to South India, and according to some accounts to Sri Lanka, Bhutan and Nepal as well, it was brought to Scandinavia by the Vikings, a thousand years ago, from their travels to Turkey. Cardamon appears in written Nordic cookbooks as early as 1300AD.

Side note about Finnish swearing

This recipe makes two braids. One I’m bringing to Master’s Swimming this morning to present to a Finnish swimming mate, Jarkko. Every swim practice I google a Finnish word and try it out on my pal. Today’s is “jumalauta” which translates to holy shit, or God help me, a good word to use after a tough kick set. (Jarkko hates kick.)

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Ingredients

  • 1 13 cups milk, heated to 115°
  • 23 cup sugar
  • 4 tsp ground cardamon
  • 3 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 6 12 cups flour
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt
  • 5 tbsp unsalted butter, cut into 12-inch cubes, at room temperature
  • 1 tbsp heavy cream
  • 2 (14-oz) packages active dry yeast
  • 1 egg yolk
  • Sliced almonds
 Directions
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle, combine milk, sugar, 3 tsp cardamon, and yeast; stir together and let sit until foamy, 10 minutes.
Add eggs; mix to combine. Add flour and salt; mix until a dough forms. Replace paddle with hook attachment; knead dough on medium speed for 2 minutes. While kneading, slowly add butter in batches, mixing until incorporated before adding next batch, 3-4 minutes; continue kneading for 4 minutes more after last of butter is added.
Transfer dough to a greased bowl and cover with plastic wrap; let sit until doubled in size, about 1 hour.
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Risen dough after an hour

 

Punch down dough; cover again with plastic wrap and let sit until fully risen, 30 minutes.
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Who needs a proofing drawer when you have a warm spot in front of the fire.

 

Heat oven to 375°. Transfer dough to a work surface and divide into 2 equal pieces. Set 1 piece aside and divide other piece into 3 equal portions. Roll each portion between your palms and work surface to create a 16-inch rope. Pinch the three strands together and braid ropes together to form a loaf.
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Transfer loaf to a parchment paper–lined baking sheet. Repeat with second dough piece. Cover loaves with plastic wrap and let sit until slightly puffed up, about 20 minutes.
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Whisk together remaining 1 tsp cardamon, cream, and egg yolk in a small bowl; brush over loaves. Sprinkle with almonds.
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Bake, one loaf at a time, until golden brown, 20–25 minutes. Transfer to a rack; let cool 10
minutes before serving. (Pulla makes wonderful toast too.)
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It is all solved by Chocolate Salted Caramel Cake

IMG_3637.jpgWhen you combine vast quantities of Swiss chocolate with Dutch cocoa powder, French fleur de sel, fresh Canadian whipping cream and buttermilk there is no possibility on earth that this little gateau is not going to solve your problems.

The combination of rich chocolate cake, velvety frosting and a hidden layer of salted caramel is a perfect antidote to winter’s grey skies.

A single layer of luscious chocolate cake is carefully cut in half, spread with homemade salted caramel, topped with a chocolate ganache frosting and finished with a gorgeous glacage. An added bonus, the cake can be baked, frosted and frozen ahead of time with only the glacage step required before serving.

This recipe was adapted from the amazing Duchess Bake Shop Cookbook by Giselle Courteau. The shop is located in Edmonton if you get a chance to stop in, and this cake is their number one seller.

Step one

Salted CaramelIMG_3537.jpg

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup whipping cream
  • 1 1/3 cups sugar
  • 3/4 cup plus 2 Tbsp unsalted butter cubed
  • 1/4 cup finely ground almonds
  • 3/4 tsp fleur de sel

IMG_3526.jpgDirections

Heat the cream in a small saucepan on the stove until scalding. Set aside and keep hot as you melt the sugar.

Place about a quarter of the sugar in a wide-bottomed saucepan over medium heat. Gently melt the sugar, swirling the saucepan around occasionally. Do not stir. Once the sugar is almost melted, add another quarter and repeat twice more until all the sugar is completely melted and has turned amber coloured.

Remove from heat and slowly pour in the hot whipping cream mixing with a spoon or spatula until the smooth. Using a fine mesh strainer, immediately strain the caramel into a bowl.

Mix in the butter, ground almonds and fleur de sel into the hot caramel until the butter is melted. For extra smooth caramel, use an immersion blender. Transfer the caramel into jars, let cool and refrigerate until set. It will keep in the fridge for up to two weeks and is an amazing ice cream topper.

Step two

Chocolate Cake

IMG_3547.jpgIngredients

  • 1/2 cup hot brewed coffee
  • 3 Tbsp dark chocolate
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup quality cocoa powder
  • 3/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract or paste

IMG_3562.jpgDirections

Preheat your oven to 325F and line an 8-inch cake pan with parchment paper and spray it with vegetable oil.

In a large bowl, pour the hot coffee over the chocolate, whisking until all the coffee is poured in and the chocolate has completely melted. Set aside.

Sift all the dry ingredients together and set aside.

Whisk the egg, oil, buttermilk and vanilla together in a bowl. Slowly whisk the mixture into the melted chocolate and coffee.

Add the sifted dry ingredients and whisk until the batter comes together. The batter will appear a bit lumpy. Don’t be tempted to overmix.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for about 45 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean.

Cool completely. Run a knife around the edge of the pan and flip the cake out.

Step three

Ganache Frosting

IMG_3569.jpgIngredients

  • 188 grams of good dark chocolate (I love Lindt)
  • 1/2 tsp fleur de sel
  • 2/3 cup whipping cream
  • 2 Tbsp water
  • 1/3 cup plus 1 Tbsp sugar
  • 1 Tbsp light corn syrup
  • 3/4 cup plus 1 Tbsp unsalted butter, room temperature, cubed

Directions

Slowly melt the chocolate over a double boiler. Once the chocolate is melted, add in the fleur de sel. Set aside.

Heat the whipping cream on the stovetop until scalding. Set aside while keeping hot.

Place the water, sugar and corn syrup in a small saucepan over medium heat and cook until the sugar turns amber coloured. Do not stir. Remove from the heat and slowly pour in the hot cream and stir until combined. Pour this mixture over the chocolate and fleur de sel in three parts, mixing until smooth between additions.

Transfer this ganache into a stand mixer bowl and cool to room temperature Ensure both the ganache and butter cubes are at room temperature.

With the mixer on low speed, add the butter cubes to the ganache a few at time until all incorporated then turn the mixer up to medium and beat until the frosting is light and fluffy.

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Step four

Assemble the cake and frost

Using a sharp serrated knife, cut the cake in half horizontally into two layers. Flip the top layer so its cut side is facing up.

If the salted caramel has been in the fridge, warm it in a microwave for a few seconds to soften it slightly. Spread about 1/2 cup of salted caramel over the bottom layer of the cake leaving about 1/2 inch around the edge.

IMG_3589.jpgSpread about 1 cup of the frosting over the caramel, leaving a bit of space around the edges. Place the other cake layer on top, cut side up that your cake will have a flat top and gently press down. Transfer the cake to a turntable and spoon about 2 cups of frosting on top, reserving extra frosting to finish the cake. Spread it evenly over the top and sides of the cake and smooth it out with an offset spatula. The smoother the better as the glacage will show all the imperfections.

Transfer the cake to a flat plate and freeze for at least two hours (or up to a week, if making ahead).

Step five

Glacage

IMG_3597.jpgIngredients

  • 1 cup good dark chocolate
  • 3/4 cup plus 1 Tbsp whipping cream
  • 2 Tbsp water
  • 3 Tbsp light corn syrup

Directions

Slowly melt the dark chocolate over a double boiler. In a saucepan heat the whipping cream, water, and corn syrup until just scalding. Pour the hot cream over the dark chocolate in three parts, mixing in between additions until smooth.

Step six

Final assembly

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Remove the cake from freezer and place it on a flat cooling rick with a pan or foil underneath to catch the drippings. Using a measuring cup or ladle pour the glacage over the top of the cake. Using an offset spatula spread the glacage over the sides, making sure to cover the whole cake. Immediately move the cake to a serving plate using a long offset spatula.

Decorate the cake with the reserved frosting. Pipe five dots on top and a decorative border around the bottom. The cake will keep at room temperature up to four days.

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Dark Lane leading to Strange Garden

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I would live in a house called Strange Garden given half a chance.

How pretentious is it to name your house? Oh, very, so let’s up the ante and choose a latin name.

The Handyman hails from England where house naming is a thing. Think Primrose Cottage, Two Hoots, Crumbledown, Nudgens, Wits End, Tweedledum, or Creeping Snail.

We have neighbours with house names like Ironpost Guest House, Forgotten Hill and the Grape Escape but they are guest houses with a good reason for a name. Also nearby is Rancho Costa Plenty which has been sale for awhile.

We could have chosen another dead language name like Cave Canem (beware of the dog) but that would have dated us our two pals lived to ripe old ages and are now planted in the garden, or Nessum Dorma (none shall sleep) with the idea of discouraging visitors from overstaying.

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A week after our gate and name went up a neighbour pulled his car over to chat and said, “You know, I drive by your gate every day on my way to work and think, seize the day, yup, good idea.”

As hokey as it sounds, it’s become a mantra for our house that is often welcoming visitors with wine, a nap in a tree house and evenings on the deck.

The name of our Village is pretty crazy too when you know its history and it has a lot of letters “a”s … although it doesn’t hold a candle to these English villages of say…

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or my personal favourite, so much so that if we decide to leave Canada and return to the Handyman’s homeland this would be the spot…

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In 1905 Naramata was originally called East Summerland which was too confusing, I guess and a bit dull making us a candidate for sister villagehood with Little Snoring. The postmaster’s wife, Mrs. Gillespie was a bit of a hippie dippie in her day apparently. She was a medium of the American Spiritualistic church and invited some of her gal pals over for a get-together at which she went into a “spiritualist trance.” The spirit of a great Sioux Indian Chief, Big Moose, came to her and spoke of his dearly loved wife calling her Nar-ra-mah-tah, as she was the Smile of Manitou. All and sundry were struck by Mrs. Gillespie’s revelation, a few extra letters were dropped (which was a darn good thing) and here we are. (I wonder if Big Moose every worried about Narramahtah’s faithfulness…)

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The entrancing Anna Gillespie

I also wonder if we should add Please Drive Carefully to our Village sign?

Legendary Naramata Sponge Cake

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This Naramata take on a classic Victoria sponge is two fluffy sponges lightly flavoured with vanilla and almond with a very special sandwiching layer…Legend Raspberry Jam and a healthy dollop of whipping cream.

Here is a Cole’s Notes version of what went into making that legendary jam:

  1. Grow the raspberries on our farm.
  2. Harvest the raspberries at their peak.
  3. Deliver to Legend Distilling.
  4. Legend makes Slowpoke Farm Berry Vodka with them. (Check out my post about how it’s made minus some secrets.)
  5. Make raspberry jam with some more of our farm fresh raspberries and some of Legend’s Slowpoke Farm Berry Vodka made from our raspberries. It’s like raspberries times three.

A limited supply of this special jam is for sale at Legend Distilling  during the Christmas season… You can of course substitute a high-quality raspberry jam but your cake will be slightly less legendary.

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Our recent snow fall has put paid to my fresh raspberry supply so it’s time to bring out the jam.

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CAKE

  • 3/4 cup unsalted butter (soft)
  • 3/4 cup + 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 3 extra-large or large eggs (room temperature)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste
  • 1/4 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1 1/2 cups unbleached self-rising flour

Directions

  1. Preheat your oven to 350°F. Grease and flour two 8″ round cake pans. Cut a round of parchment and fit in the bottom of your pan and grease and flour.
  2. In a medium-sized mixing bowl, beat together the butter and sugar until well combined and smooth.
  3. Beat in the eggs one at a time, scraping the bottom and sides of the bowl after each addition.
  4. Add the extracts.
  5. Add the flour, beating gently just until well combined.
  6. Divide the stiff batter evenly between the cake pans; there’ll be 11 to 12 ounces of batter in each, depending on the size eggs you used.
  7. Bake the cakes for about 20 minutes, or until they start to pull away from the edges of the pans. Remove them from the oven, cool for a couple of minutes, and turn out of the pans onto a rack to cool completely.

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FILLING

  • about 3/4 cup Legend Raspberry Jam
  • 2/3 to 3/4 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar, or to taste

IMG_3264.jpgWhen the cakes are cool, place one layer on a plate. Spread with the Legend jam or a  jam of your choice.

IMG_3268.jpgWhip the cream — 2/3 cup cream makes a medium-thickness layer of filling; 3/4 cup cream, a thick layer. Sprinkle in 2 tablespoons granulated sugar, or to taste, as you whip the cream until it’s quite stiff. Stir in the vanilla at the end.

IMG_3253.jpgIMG_3259.jpgPipe the whipped cream over the jam. You could also spread the whipped cream if you prefer.

IMG_3273.jpgIMG_3277.jpgTop with the second layer of cake.

Sift icing sugar over the top of your cake.

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Refrigerate the cake until you’re ready to serve it. It’ll be at its best within 12 hours; but is still quite good up to 2 or even 3 days later. The difference will be the whipped cream, which will gradually settle/compact. Yield: about 12 servings.

Lynne Cox, Queen of Cold, sends warm wishes for Crazy Canuck Catalina swim

“Congratulations on your English Channel relay last year! ,” says Lynne Cox. That is a tough swim and it must have been fun and challenging to swim the Channel as a team. Your next goal sounds equally challenging.”

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Crazy Canucks are actually a little crazy but Lynne Cox says we can take on our new challenge with confidence. (Jaime was avoiding a jelly fish you can see if you look at about the 1 o’clock position…)
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Our English Channel swim

Even people outside the rather niche open water swimming world recognize the name Lynne Cox. It’s because she is an elite athlete who broke many world records, among them swimming the English Channel at 15, being the first woman to swim across the Cook Strait and working 10 years to get the permission and then swimming across the Bering Strait from Alaska to Russia during the Cold War.

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“When I am swimming I feel like a musician discovering nuances in sound, color, and rhythm. My body is the instrument and the ocean is the symphony. I immerse myself in music and hear and feel the ocean’s movements We create music together. I hear the driving beat of my arms and legs and the song of my breath and bubbles,” Lynne Cox, Swimming in the Sink, An Episode of the Heart.

“The San Pedro Channel – swim from Catalina Island to the California mainland is the place I began my open water swimming career,” she says when I asked her advice on the Crazy Canucks’ next adventure in 2019. “It was as significant as my first kiss. It was where I fell in love with swimming long distances in the open water and the people who make these swims possible.”

That first kiss for Lynne came when she was all of 14 when she made the crossing with three other teenagers. “We felt a small school of fish swimming around us, bumping into our legs and feet. Flying fish the size of mockingbirds were leaping out of the water,” she writes about that historic Catalina swim in her amazing book, Swimming to Antarctica. “They’d emerge from the depths and fly across the air, flapping their fins and sailing across the sky…In the phosphorescent light, they were magically turning iridescent pink, blue, purple, rose and green.”

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Lynne Cox in her element.

Lynne says, “You can expect that your Catalina Channel swim will be exciting. If it isn’t, why do it? You will have an incredible journey, learn lots about yourself and your team, and the Pacific ocean.”

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Charlie, visibly cold after one of her turns in the English Channel.

“The Catalina Channel will be a bit warmer than the English Channel depending on the weather, time of the year and time of day that you swim it,” says Lynne. (See Charlie, it will be OK!) “Weather conditions are usually more stable than the English Channel, so you will have a good chance at getting good conditions.”

 

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Lynne working hard to stay warm.

 

 

 

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Crazy Canucks training fun.

Any advice for us non spring chickens I asked her? “I think you don’t need to be limited in your thinking by your chronological age. People in their 30s can have the bodies and health of 60-year-olds and people in their 60s can have the bodies and health of 30-year-olds. I think it’s great to tackle these swims at any age if you’ve done the preparation and you are in shape.”

 

It was a thrill to be in touch with Lynne and prompted a re-read of her Swimming to Antarctica book and an intense, couldn’t-put-it-down read of her latest book Swimming in the Sink which had some lyrical descriptions of open water swimming.

In the darkness of early morning, my arm strokes jostle millions of plankton. A chemical reaction occurs in their bodies. They turn the black water sparkling phosphorescent blue. I wonder about life, the universe, and my place it it. I feel the warmth in my body, the cold ocean surrounding me, and I watched fish swimming fathoms below me lighting the depths of the universe. I wonder how the stars can burn so bright without losing their heat the frigid heavens.

I watch the rosy sun rise from the dark blue ocean and see it change color and create waving rivers of crimson, orange, yellow, and white light. The onshore breeze wakes the world like a gentle morning kiss. When I train I think about my life, my passions, and what is in my heart. I list the things I do need to do each day and the things I want to do. But I also dream about what I can do, and that makes life rich and exciting. Lynne Cox

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Her books are best read in front of a roaring fire with a hot chocolate. In addition to her mind-blowing swimming firsts she has been the research subject of many scientists trying to make sense of her extraordinary ability to function in water cold enough to actually kill most people.

It was a thrill to read about her English Channel swims as well now knowing what it is like to be in that chilly water myself. How fun was it to read that her boat pilot was our pilot’s dad, Reg Brickell?

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Reg Brickell, Jr., our pilot for the Crazy Canucks English Channel swim was a teenager at the time of Lynne’s English Channel swims. He was actually on his dad’s boat when Lynne made history by making the fastest crossings. (Her first record came when she was only 15.) Lynne wrote about how important her pilot was in her record-breaking crossing with his knowledge of the currents and tides. His son helped us Crazies battle through gale force four winds to accomplish our goal.

 

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Lynne says it will be warmer team! Maybe we will be sunning ourselves on deck when we cross the San Pedro Channel.

 

Harvest with Naramata vineyard pioneer

IMG_3141.jpgWe chat quietly with whomever is closest to us in the row as we bend and search for the attachment points (there is actually a word for these…peduncles) for the gorgeous clusters of Malbec and snip and toss them into the lugs. It’s a glorious 14 degrees with not a cloud in the sky in a beautiful piece of the Naramata Bench called Rock Oven Vineyards perched just above Lake Breeze Winery. If I’m working next to Barry (Irvine), who along with his wife Sue, own the vineyard, I ask him about the grapes we are harvesting, what they will be made into and the Naramata wine industry.

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Malbec (sometimes called Côt and Auxxerois) is from France, where it grows in the Sud-Ouest. The thin-skinned grape is a natural cross of two esoteric varieties that are from Montpellier and Gaillac in the Sud-Ouest. Today the majority of France’s Malbec is found in Cahors, a small town on a switchback river that gently flows towards Bordeaux.

Malbec quickly became common as a blending grape in Bordeaux’s top five wine grapes. However, because of the grapes’ poor resistance to weather and pests, it never surfaced as a top French variety. Instead, it found a new home in Mendoza, Argentina where a nostalgic French botanist planted it by order of the mayor in 1868. It also grows well in our increasingly hot and dry Okanagan climate.

Malbec produces an inky, dark, full-bodied red wine. Expect rich flavours of black cherry, raspberry, blackberry and blueberry. Malbec wines typically have an aroma of leather, spice and herbs. As with all wines, the characteristics of Malbec can be unique to the area in which it’s grown, but it typically has medium ripe tannins with rich acidity and a smoky finish.

The lovely tasting Malbec we are picking will go right to Lake Breeze and will become a Rosé. The 2016 varietal was award-winning and has sold out.

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Barry and Sue Irvine sat on their deck overlooking Okanagan Lake sipping wine almost three decades ago with the founders of Hillside Cellars, Lang Vineyards and Wildgoose discussing the farmgate proposal they spearheaded together that eventually lead to these small producers being allowed to sell their own wine.

“I remember talking to Premier Bill Vander Zalm who said that all the orchards on the Bench would eventually be replaced by vineyards,” says Barry. “I didn’t believe him at the time.”

The Irvines converted their cherry orchards to vines beginning in 1981.

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In more recent years, they have sold off much of their vineyards but are still keeping their hand in with the Malbec we are harvesting and with some unusual Schonberger grapes.

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Barry says that the vines from the grapes we are carefully hand-picking today are the result of at least 10 passes through the vineyards.  The careful tending includes hours and hours spent pruning, tucking, thinning and spraying for mildew throughout the growing season. Vineyard management is not for the faint of heart.

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Fellow harvester John and Barry (right) ready to go at 8:30 in the morning.
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Barry was hard at it long before we arrived lifting the nets that protected the crop from birds, moving the lugs and bins in place and sharpening the pruners.
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Bend, snip, repeat and once two lugs are filled lift (bend your knees) and dump into the big bins.

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On this perfect late fall day it was impossible not to take small breaks to stretch sore backs and soak in the scenery and the enjoy the sun on our faces.
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Views include the Schonberger vines down in the gulley and the hills of the Naramata Bench in one direction…
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…and the lake in the other.

IMG_3172.jpgCovered in dirt from sitting on the ground to reach the low-hanging bunches, sticky from the grape juice, tired and sore we all converge on the last row working side-by-side until the vines are bare of fruit and the bins are heaped.

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IMG_3161.jpgIt’s hard to romanticize harvesting grapes on the Naramata Bench with all the bending and lifting and all the hard work leading up to it but on a day like this with great company, interesting conversation and views so spectacular they don’t look real, it’s impossible not to.

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