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naramata-blend

Life in a slow place that quickly steals your heart.

Vanilla Naramata pears in orange wine syrup with gingerbread and whip cream

 

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Naramata pears and a lovely Chardonnay from Naramata Bench winery Singletree make a poached pear dessert that is both elegant and easy to make.

The aromas of pears poaching in fresh orange juice, orange zest, vanilla beans, Chardonnay and just-picked Naramata pears smells like fall preserving at its best. Add in the ginger and cinnamon scents coming from the gingerbread in the oven and you have an irresistible combination.

This poached pear recipe uses 24 pears and makes four freezer bags worth of desserts that can be thawed, warmed and served with my gingerbread, a sponge cake, or with sweetened mascarpone cheese, candied almonds, over ice cream or simply on its own.

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Best served with warm pears and warm gingerbread. Spoon some of the poaching syrup over the gingerbread and add a dollop of whip cream.

Vanilla Naramata pears in orange wine syrup

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Use local organic pears if you are lucky to live where they grow.

Ingredients

  • 24 small to medium just-ripe pears
  • 4 cups (1 litre) Singletree Chardonnay or a dry, light wine like a Pinot Blanc
  • 2 tbsp grated orange rind
  • 2 cups freshly-squeezed orange juice
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 vanilla bean, cut into four pieces
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Vanilla beans are like gold these days Each bean was $9.

Instructions

Wash pears and peel leaving the core and stem intact. Immerse in ascorbic acid water (I used Fruitfresh) to keep the pears from turning brown.

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In a large heavy-bottomed saucepan, combine the wine, orange rind, juice and sugar. Bring to a gentle boil over high heat, stirring occasionally. Reduce heat, add vanilla pieces and gently boil for 5 minutes. Using tongs or a slotted spoon, ease pears gently into the syrup. Cover and simmer for 8 to 10 minutes, gently rolling pears over a couple of times. Pears should not be soft but should show some resistance. Remove saucepan from heat and let cool.

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_MG_5161.jpgPack 6 pears and 1 piece of vanilla bean into a freezer bag and cover with 2 cups of syrup. Squeeze out air, seal and place on a baking sheet so pears remain in a single layer in the bag. Freeze. Remove from baking sheets once frozen hard.

Gingerbread

This traditional gingerbread fills the kitchen with its spices. It freezes well if wrapped and sealed in an airtight bag.

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Ingredients

  • 2 1/3 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 3/4 cup dark molasses
  • 1/2 cup hot water
  • 1/2 cup applesauce
  • 1 farm-fresh egg (from your own chickens if you have them!)
  • 1/2 cup softened butter

Directions

Pre-heat oven to 350F and butter a 9 x 5 inch loaf pan.

In the bowl of a mixer, sift together flour, sugar, baking soda, ginger, cinnamon and salt.

In another bowl, combine molasses, hot water and applesauce. Using mixer on low speed, pour molasses mixture into the dry ingredients all at once and beat. Add egg and butter and beat until combined. Increase speed to medium and beat for 2 minutes.

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Scrape the batter into the prepared loaf pan and bake in pre-heated for 55 minutes to one hour, or until toothpick inserted in the centre of the loaf comes out clean. Let cool for 15 minutes, remove from pan and serve with a vanilla Naramata pear in orange wine syrup and a dollop of whip cream.

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Naramata Chocolate Factory – the serious business of selling serious pleasure

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Vegan coconut sea salt dark chocolate coco rolled truffles

The Golden Ticket

I won a golden ticket to spend the day with owner, founder and Chocolatier Heather Michelle Wilson at the Naramata Chocolate Factory, enveloped in the aromas of warm tempering dark chocolate and raspberry brownies and toffee macadamia nut cookies baking in the oven.

Within five minutes of my arrival, disaster, a tray of truffles awaiting filling slipped off the counter and onto her commercial kitchen’s beautifully clean floor. Always helpful, I gathered chocolate for disposal and it took every ounce of self-discipline I possessed not to take a page out of Lucy’s most famous scene and stuff the broken bits into my mouth. Heather, seeing my pained look, laughed and offered me a just-made truffle from a box. There is nothing better than a new friend, unless it is a friend with chocolate.

At a crossroad in her life in Australia last year while on a wine touring holiday, a friend suggested, “You should open a nougat factory.” She replied, “What is that… nouga? He didn’t pronounce the “t” in his Aussie accent. Oh you mean that stuff that goes in Toblerone? Maybe Australians like to eat nougat but nobody wants that. If I were to open a factory it would be a chocolate factory. My life is already devoted to chocolate. I may as well learn how to make it.” Heather was working in the wine industry at the time and was ready to take her business degree and sales acumen and start her own project. When lightening strikes, Heather doesn’t hesitate. She threw herself into studying chocolate making in Melbourne under a prestigious chocolatier and came home and launched her ethical, local, artisan chocolate business and we are all the happier for it.

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Chocolatier Heather Michelle Wilson

What the heck is it with people and chocolate?

It’s a thing alright. Here is a crazy fact. Every 10 years or so a typical adult eats their own body weight in chocolate. My husband is not typical. He is on a five-year cycle and it looks like I will be soon catching up to him with my Naramata Chocolate Factory discovery.

There is actually a boat load of chocolate science that has to do with Dr. Feel-Good chemicals the cacao bean contains such as anandamide (similar to anandamide THC). There is also lots of anecdotal evidence that chocoholics live longer. I believe it. Take Jeanne Calment, who lived to be 122 and ate two pounds of chocolate a week. Scientists and Heather are also saying that chocolate is good for you. It comes from a plant for starters. A British Medical Journal published review found that the highest levels of chocolate consumption were associated with a 37 per cent reduction in cardiovascular disease and a 29 per cent reduction in stroke.

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Truffles!

Why artisan chocolate?

If you are going to eat chocolate, eat great chocolate. Mass-produced chocolate in all those chocolate bars at the store like many convenience foods today are full of preservatives, high in sugar and a lot of mystery ingredients such as wax. Heather’s creations are made with the highest quality Belgian chocolate that is certified as ethically sourced and filled with wonderful local ingredients like our raspberries. She avoids plastic packaging and sells her chocolate in cute recycled paper containers and paper bags.

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Her chocolate bars are wrapped in the pages of second-hand copies of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory for a fun touch.

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Heather is also making vegan and gluten-free products to cater to these growing markets.

Heather hit the ground running and is now working at 100 per cent capacity with the help of her new assistant manager and cookie baker Deb Staples and several part-time helpers. Her delicious treats can now be found at the Naramata, Penticton and Summerland farmer’s markets, through partnerships with wineries such as Origin which sell her Cherry Noir confection that is a cherry and red wine chocolate made with Origins’ Pinot Noir and at Mile Zero Wine Bar. More winery and restaurant partnerships are in the works as are online sales through her website naramatachocolate.com as well as a subscription box.

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Former Oil and Gas Engineer Deb Staples, the factory’s assistant manager and chief cookie baker and founder, owner, Chocolatier Heather Michelle Wilson at the Penticton Farmer’s Market.

“I am a product of a long tradition of makers in my family,” says Heather. My grandparents grew and canned much of what they ate. I love this tradition and feel strongly about shopping local, making things ourselves and I place a lot of value on the art of making something by hand.”

She combines her life-long love affair with chocolate with a pragmatic side that includes her Ontario business degree (where she spent all her free time experimenting with vegan baking, protein-packed baking and just plain old-fashioned tasty baking) and career experience in books and wine sales.

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Naramata Farmer’s Market

“I am having the most fun,” she says. “I really like seeing results and I love talking to people. How rewarding is it to hear, ‘That is the best brownie I’ve ever had in my entire life,’ which I’ve heard more than once from market customers?”

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Those raspberry brownies, just out of the oven and Deb making toffee macadamia nut cookies.
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These golden beauties are filled with sparking wine ganache.
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Market display.
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Vegan toasted coconut sea salt dark chocolate rolled truffles.
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Tempering chocolate is not for the faint of heart. Perfectly tempered, these chocolates are shinney and have a lovely snap.
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Nine out of 10 people like chocolate. The tenth person always lies.
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“Eat more chocolate,” says Heather. “OK,” I say.

Black tea with lemon cake

This cake is a sunny little gem to serve on a hot summer day. It’s dressed up for a party with candied lemon, a rich buttercream flecked with vanilla bean and the surprise of a hit of flavour in the black tea buttercream filling. I’ll have an iced black tea with lemon and lots of ice in a frosty glass to go with it please.

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There are five steps to making this triple layer six-inch cake: candied lemons, lemon butter cake, Swiss meringue buttercream, black tea buttercream and vanilla bean buttercream.

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Candied lemon ingredients

  • 2 lemons, thinly sliced and seeded
  • 1 1/2 cup sugar

Directions

Prepare an ice bath and set it aside.

Place 1 1/2 cups of water in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Blanch the lemon slices in the boiling water for about a minute, then use a slotted spoon to transfer them to the ice bath.

Reduce the heat to bring the water to a simmer. Add the sugar and stir to dissolved. Return the blanched lemons to the pan and simmer for about 30 minutes. Place the lemons on a wire rack to drain. Let them dry completely on a piece of parchment pater for 2 to 4 hours, or overnight.

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Lemon butter cake ingredients

  • 2 1/4 cups cake flour
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons finely grated lemon zest
  • 3/4 cup room temperature unsalted butter
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 4 large egg yolks (thanks to my chickens!)
  • 1 cup buttermilk

Directions

Pre-heat the oven to 350 F. Grease and flour three 6-inch cake pans and set aside.

Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt and set aside.

Place the sugar and lemon zest in a small bowl and rub them together with your fingers until fragrant.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium speed until smooth. Add the sugar mixture and mix on medium-high until the butter is light and fluffy, 3 to 5 minutes. Stop the mixer and scrape down the bowl.

Turn the mixer to medium-low and add the vanilla and egg yolks, one at a time. Scrape the bowl.

Turn the mixer to low and add the flour mixture in three batches, alternating with the buttermilk, beginning and ending with the flour mixture. Mix on medium for no more than 30 seconds after the last bits of flour are incorporated.

Evenly divide batter among the three pans and bake for 22 to 24 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the centre of the cakes comes out clean. Let them cool on a wire rack for 10 to 15 minutes before removing from the pans.

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Black tea infusion

  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 5 black tea bags

Directions

Place one cup of water and the sugar in a saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to maintain a simmer and add the tea bags. Simmer for about 8 minutes. Remove the tea bags and continue to cook until the syrup has reduced to about 1/4 cup, 20 to 30 minutes. Remove from heat and cool. You will be adding 3 tablespoons of this infusion to some Swiss meringue buttercream to make the filling.

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Vanilla Swiss meringue buttercream

  • 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons egg whites
  • 1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
  • 2 cups unsalted butter (very important that it be at room temperature or it won’t combine properly) cubed
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Directions
Place the egg whites and sugar in the bowl of a stand-mixer. Whisk them together by hand to combine. Make a double boiler by filling a medium pot filled with water over medium-high heat. Place the mixer bowl on top of the pot. The bottom of the pot should not touch the water.

Whisk intermittently and heat the egg mixture to 160F (candy thermometer) or until it is hot to the touch. Carefully fit the mixer bowl onto the stand mixer and whip with the wire attachment on high speed for 8 to 10 minutes, until it holds medium-stiff peaks. The bowl should be back to room temperature at this point. Stop the mixer and swap out the whisk attachment for the paddle.

With the mixer on low, add the cubed butter, a few tablespoons at a time then the vanilla. Once incorporated, turn up the mixer speed to medium-high and beat until the buttercream is silky smooth, 3 to 5 minutes.

Black tea buttercream

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix 1 1/2 cups of the buttercream until silky smooth. Add 3 tablespoons of the black tea infusion and mix until combined. Transfer to a separate bowl and set aside. Wipe out the mixer bowl.

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Vanilla bean buttercream

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, mix the remaining Swiss meringue buttercream with 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla bean paste.

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Talk about sticker shock. Vanilla is going up in price and vanilla bean paste is expensive but goes a long way and can easily replace vanilla beans in your recipes.

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Some assembly required

Level your cakes and choose a layer for the bottom. Spread on half of the black tea buttercream with an offset spatula. Top with the next layer of cake and repeat with the remainder of the black tea buttercream, ending with the third layer. Frost the cake with the vanilla bean buttercream and decorate with candied lemons.

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“Dark” side of Amsterdam’s bike culture

IMG_4933.jpgOh yes, there is a dark side to all those uber-fit, uber-green Amsterdammers and their bikes. With more a million bikes in the city, more than one per person, bike theft is a big deal. Every year more than 54,000 bikes are stolen and the canals are dredged regularly to haul more than 15,000 bikes back to dry land.

IMG_5025.jpg Arguably a small price to pay for this environmentally-friendly and healthy mode of transportation? For sure.

The real dark side is the danger they present to the pedestrian tourist.

In Amsterdam, over 60% of trips are made by bike in the inner city and 40% of trips are made by bike overall in the greater city area. These trips are made by busy Amsterdammers on their way to work after dropping off their children at day care while talking on phones, talking to other cyclists, balancing groceries, briefcases and all manner of things and looking impossibly stylish while doing so.

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Notice… no helmets. They just aren’t cool and Amsterdammers are so confident in their bike skills that they don’t feel them to be necessary, even for their children.

As is common in Dutch cities, Amsterdam has a wide net of traffic-calmed streets and world-class facilities for cyclists. All around are bike paths and bike racks and several guarded bike parking stations crammed with more bikes than you can imagine (Fietsenstalling) which can be used for a nominal fee. 

Amsterdam’s small size, the 400 km of bike paths, the flat terrain, and the arguable inconvenience of driving an automobile: driving a car is discouraged, parking fees are expensive, and many streets are closed to cars or are one-way for motor vehicle traffic (but not for cyclists, note to pedestrians). Amsterdam’s bike paths (Fietspad) are red in colour, in order to differentiate them from both the road ways and footpaths.

Fresh-off the plane visitors to Amsterdam must quickly learn to stay out of the Fietspads and to look all ways before navigating across streets. Amsterdammers just want to do their thing, get to work, buy tulips, go to the bar for an Amstel, eat waffles, look amazingly well-dressed and so Euro and not have to cope with the many, many, many visitors and their lack of bike lane etiquette.

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First morning in Amsterdam, everyone is asleep but I need a coffee and it’s bike rush hour. The lovely house we were staying in is near Vondelpark, a popular cycle route into the city and I need to cross one road at the entrance to the park to get to the caffeine. Bikes are streaming by with no break and I wait for my chance to cross and wait and wait and wait. An Amsterdam pedestrian just goes for it and the bikes stop. Too chicken to do the same I wait some more until a sympathetic cyclists stops and motions me across. I won’t even talk about the return trip but the coffee made me less hurried.

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Many tourists discover Amsterdam by bike, as it is the typical Dutch way to get around the city but even that takes some guts. To blend in with the bike traffic flow bring your A game. 

These guys have mad skills. Picture the tallest, handsomest blond dad you have ever seen riding to work propping up his adorable napping baby’s head with one hand as he deftly navigates a bridge ramp and makes a sharp right.

 

Manic in Greece’s deep and wild Mani

 

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Sunrise view from the Maina house. This seven-storey tower in the abandoned village of Exo Nyfi is one of the tallest in the Deep Mani in Greece’s Peloponnese.

The deep and wild Mani’s history is like no other. Even for most Greeks, the Mani is considered a remote and mysterious region, a step into another world. A 75k-long peninsula, with a spine formed by the rugged Taygetus mountain range, it is inhabited by a proud warrior people, direct descendants of the ancient Spartans. For centuries, the Maniots fended off the Turks, while the rest of Greece was absorbed into the Ottoman Empire. Still today, the Maniot flag bears the words “Victory or Death,” as opposed to “Freedom or Death,” which is used in the rest of the country. Because, throughout the course of history, the Mani has never lost its freedom. Empty, ghostly hill towns cling onto distant ridges, still fortified against centuries-old threats.

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Into this land of more than 800 towers and six castles, bumbled four confident Canadian travellers with lots of wildlife encounters, including meet and greets with numerous bears, under their belts.

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Entrance to the village of Exo Nyfi.

After some tricky navigation and help from non-English speaking Greeks, we arrive at the abandoned village of Exo Nyfi in the most remote part of the Mani, termed the Deep Mani, unload our luggage and begin to look for the tower house called Maina that will be our home for a week.

Maina, a tower house dating from the 18th century, is perched on a hill with views over the countryside. The dilapidated building adjacent to a tower from the 16th century has been renovated and expanded by an annex. The project received an honorable mention in the 2015 Domes Awards 13 best built works in Greece of 2010-2014.

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Sounds cool right? We were pretty excited to see this unique house in this otherworldly part of Greece.

“Oh la, la! Oh la, la! There is a snake! I can’t stay here. Back to the car. Oh la, la!,” screams Patricia, the organizer of the home exchange that brought us to Maina. The colourful and possibly poisonous snake was shooed from the stone steps into the bushes and our life-long snake-fearing friend bravely calmed enough to complete the climb to the house. And so the mania begins.

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The scene of the crime…two crimes.

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Cool side note … In this village of Exo Nyfi John Kassavetis shot his film The Tempest (not a great movie…but fun to watch while we were there).

The original building was maintained as a long narrow volume, which unfolds perpendicularly to the topographic contour lines of hillside, as do the other houses in the settlement, looking out to the sea and the east. There is a new addition that comprises a second long narrow volume added to this old building, maintaining the same vertical relationships with the landscape relief. All three levels of the residence constitute single spaces, while the suitable placement of openings ensure natural light and ventilation during the hot Mani summers.

Once settled in with our bottled water to drink, beds selected and dinner cooked we called it an early night which was easy to do in the completely dark, completely quiet house with its lack of any neighbours.

Early in the morning I awake to something very creepy crawling over my legs and I  jump out of bed.  I make coffee and enjoy a sunrise on the patio overlooking the sea listening to the birds, the odd dog barking, goat bells tinkling and the braying of a donkey echoing off the rocky hills that form part of the house and enjoy reading the famous Mani, Travels in the Southern Peloponnese by Patrick Leigh Fermor.

When making up the bed I find this… well this is the much shrunken corpse after I smashed the shit out of it with a shoe.

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I later learn my billionopede is a scolopendra cingulata and lives in mountainous Mediterranean regions. It is often found under stones, rocks and fallen tree trunks where it rests during the day, only to come out at nighttime to feed.

Voracious feeders, they eat cricket, worms, spiders and moths, and have been known to devour young mice. They are not terribly sociable creatures and have been known to partake of a little cannibalism, occasionally eating each other.

Officially classified as centipedes, they have long bodies containing many flattened segments. They grow to 10 – 15 cm long (4″ – 6″) (although I’m sure my guy was 10″ when it was alive) and can live for up to an incredible seven years.

All interesting until I learn that it’s bite is extremely poisonous and can actually kill people. “Oh la, la.”

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Views of  tower villages… the Maniots waged long wars with the occupants of neighbouring towers while we only did battle with insect and reptile occupants of our tower.

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These severe, tall stone towers of Mani stand out against the limestone landscapes  and have become symbol of Mani’s fierce past and its fight for freedom.

 

Any thoughts of peaceful deep sleep in the deep Mani went out the window. Wearing sweat pants and a hoodie I did a strip search of the bed on the second night. Nothing… “OK, I can do this.” Had to take a second look and found this guy on the outside of the comforter (not aptly named). Another shoe smashing put paid to the scorpion. Unruffled husband says, “It wasn’t inside the bed, well at least not yet.”

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A fourth encounter with a hatch of a million flying ants in the downstairs house is barely worth a mention.

 

All disturbing but then there was this cure to the mania (The words Mania and Manic actually originate from Mani and it’s people)…

 

Less than a five-minute drive from Maina we found the most incredible beach boasting two tavernas whose owners happily delivered cold Greek beers to the beach. We were the only people at this beach which was the most incredible place to swim imaginable. “Have you ever seen anything like this?”, I ask my husband. “Yes, in a magazine.”

The Mani, this relatively unexplored part of Greece consists of 250 sun lit villages and sites with plenty of olive trees and cactuses. It is also about the beaches.

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View of a cool rock formation from one of the houses’ many patios.
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Sunset over “our” tower which we eventually grew to love.
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The tower itself has been stabilized with the hope of one day restoring it as well.
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This hedonistic beach was worth a few bugs.

All over the Mani you will find amazing beaches, all of them quiet and unspoiled. An ocean swimmer’s paradise of pebble, rock or sand beaches with crystalline, shallow waters of the bluest of blues.

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Koffie in Amsterdam

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This cafe, located near Anne Frank’s house, has been a coffee shop for hundreds of years.

When you talk of coffeeshops in Amsterdam it’s not about the coffee but the weed. Amsterdam coffeeshops are local legal dispensaries for marijuana, especially in the Red Light District where most of the 250 such shops are located.

I, on the other hand, went in search of the caffeinated fix. This little photo essay about Amsterdam’s Koffiehuis or cafes will give you a little snippet of the experience. Although not particularly known for their great coffee, the Dutch know a thing or two about presentation. The little cups usually accompanied by a treat and a glass of water are served in lovely cafes where you can linger and people watch.

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What better time of the year than Spring to linger at a cafe where everyone is basking in the sun after a long grey winter.

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The pastries are beautifully presented as well.

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A perfect chocolate on a Delft blue plate is too pretty to eat.

 

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Canal-side.

 

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Another cafe view
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The Dutch are known for their hot chocolate. I bought this mug from a cafe in Delft. I wish I had the hot chocolate in it right now as well.
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Coffee with a blossoming view near Vondel Park.

Naramata Bench Honey Lime Tartlets

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The honey for these deliciously sweet and tangy tarts is as local as I can get it. It comes from Tim Bouwmeester, owner/operator of Desert Flower Honey on the Naramata Bench (next to Hillside Winery). Buying local is always a good thing. Buying honey locally is an even better thing.

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Bit of a honey rant

Most honey comes from China, where beekeepers are notorious for keeping their bees healthy with antibiotics banned in North America because they seep into honey and contaminate it; packers there learn to mask the acrid notes of poor quality product by mixing in sugar or corn-based syrups to fake good taste.

None of this is on the label. Rarely will a jar of honey say “Made in China.” Instead, Chinese honey sold in North America is more likely to be stamped as Indonesian, Malaysian or Taiwanese, due to a growing multimillion dollar laundering system designed to keep the endless supply of cheap and often contaminated Chinese honey moving into North America, where tariffs have been implemented to staunch the flow and protect its own struggling industry.

All the more reason to pick up some local honey next time you are at the farmer’s market.

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The recipe is in three parts: Pastry to make the crusts, the filling and whipped cream for topping the tarts.

Pastry ingredients

You will need eight 3 3/4-inch mini tart pans with removable bottoms.

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 6 Tbsp. cold unsalted butter cut into 1/2″ pieces
  • 2 Tbsp. sugar
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 Tbsp. ice water

IMG_4861.jpgDirections

Preheat oven to 375 F. Combine flour, butter, sugar and salt in a food processor and pulse until the mixture resembles pea-sized balls. Add egg yolk and ice water and pulse just until the mixture comes together and forms a ball. Don’t overdo it or your pastry will be tough.

Divide the dough into eight small balls and roll each out into a circle with a rolling pin on a lightly floured board. Place your rolled out circles inside the tart pans and using your fingers press the dough up the sides of the eight 3  3/4-inch pans. Place the pans on a cookie sheet and bake about 12 minutes until golden brown. Cool on a wire rack.

IMG_4859.jpgFilling ingredients

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 Tbsp. corn starch
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 tsp. lime zest
  • 1/2 cup fresh squeezed lime juice
  • 3 Tbsp. unsalted butter cut up
  • 1 Tbsp. local honey
  • 1 cup sour cream

Directions

In a medium saucepan stir together the sugar and cornstarch. Whisk in the heavy cream, lime zest and lime juice. Cook and stir over medium heat until gently boiling. Cook and stir another few minutes until thickened. Remove from heat and stir in the butter and honey until the butter is melted. Stir in the sour cream. Spoon filling into baked tart shells. Chill at least an hour.

Whipped Cream ingredients and directions

Makes about 4 cups. (Halve the recipe by reducing the cream to one cup leaving all the other ingredients the same if you only want enough to finish off these tartlets.)

  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 1/4 cup icing sifted icing sugar
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • dash of salt

Add all ingredients to a mixing bowl with the whip attachment and beat on medium until soft peaks form.

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Some assembly required

Either add a spoonful of whipping cream to the top of tarts or fill a pastry bag and pipe the whipped cream on for a fancier tart. Garnish with some lime zest.

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Life changing brownies

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Hyperbole? Nope. This is hands down the best recipe for rich, chocolatey, gooey brownies with the classic crackly brownie crust that makes a brownie a brownie. Simple to make, the secret lies in the ingredients, the careful whisking and folding and the bake.

Like all baking, top quality ingredients are key. Don’t skimp and use everyday chocolate chips. It’s about 11 ounces (325 grams) of the highest quality of dark chocolate you can find, a cup of butter, five farm fresh eggs and a dash of espresso. What is not added is important too including no baking powder or baking soda.

They have a good bit of height given that they don’t have any leavening agents, so they aren’t thin, gooey and smooshed like some brownies (this is a good thing). They have substance and heft when you bite into them.

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Ingredients

  • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 2 tablespoons dark unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 11 ounces dark chocolate (60 to 72 per cent cacao) coarsely chopped (I use Lindt)
  • 1 cup unsalted butter cubed
  • 1 teaspoon instant espresso powder
  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
  • 5 large free-range eggs, at room temperature (important)
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Directions

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter a 9 by 13 inch glass or light-coloured metal baking pan.

In a bowl, sieve together flour, salt and cocoa powder and then whisk together.

Put the chocolate, butter and instant espresso powder in a large non-reactive metal bowl and set over a saucepan of simmering water, stirring occasionally, until melted and smooth. Turn off the heat but keep the bowl over the water and add the sugars. Whisk until combined, then remove the bowl from the pan.

Add the room temperature eggs and whisk until combined. Add the vanilla and stir. Do not overheat the batter or the brownies will be more cakey than gooey.

Sprinkle the flour mixture over the chocolate mixture. Using a spatula (not the whisk), gently fold the four mixture into the chocolate until just a big of the flour is visible. It is important not to overmix.

Pour the batter into the pan and smooth the top. Bake in the centre of the oven for 30 minutes rotating your pan half way through. Insert a toothpick into the centre to check for doneness. It should come out with a few moist crumbs sticking to it. An over-baked brownie won’t be a gooey one so carefully monitor the baking time.

Let the brownies cool. OK, maybe skip this step if you can’t wait.

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Sweet salty chocolate cake with an almond bark crown and a secret sauce

IMG_4647.jpgThis rich and satisfying little chocolate cake has a secret sauce that makes it unforgettable. The salty component of this beauty comes from tamari (Japanese) soy sauce and it’s in the cake batter and the crunchy almond topper. Easy to make, this six-inch cake is perfect for eight small slices or four huge ones.

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  1. Tamari almonds
  • 2 cups raw almonds
  • 1 tbsp tamari or Japanese soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp neutral oil, eg grapeseed

Preheat oven to 350°F. Place almonds on a baking tray. Pour over tamari or Japanese soy sauce and oil and mix through evenly. Spread almonds evenly in dish and roast until fragrant and crisp, about 15 minutes. Cool before storing in a sealed jar. They will keep for several weeks.

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2. Chocolate Cake

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3 tbsp cocoa powder sifted
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 tbsp tamari soy sauce
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup milk

Directions

With the rack in the middle position, preheat the oven to 350F. Butter the sides of a 6-inch springform or cake ring and line the bottom with parchment paper.

In a bowl, whisk together the egg, sugar, oil, soy sauce and vanilla. Stir in the dry ingredients alternately with the milk until smooth. Spoon into the prepared pan.

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IMG_4616.jpgBake for 35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean. Let cool for 15 minutes. Unmould and let cool completely on a wire rack. Clean the ring or springform ring.

3. Almond Crisp

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Ingredients

  • 1 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 2 tbsp brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp all-purpose flour
  • 2 tbsp tamari almonds, coarsely chopped from step 1

Directions

Line a baking sheet with a silicone mat or parchment paper. Place the ring of the springform pan on the prepared sheet.

In a saucepan over medium-high heat, melt the butter with the brown sugar and soy sauce. Simmer for 30 seconds and remove from the heat. Stir in the flour. Working quickly, pour into the ring and spread into a thin layer. Sprinkle with the almonds.

Bake for 10 minutes in a 350F oven. Let cool completely on the baking sheet, then unmould.

4. Ganache

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Ingredients

  • 170 grams good quality dark chocolate, chopped
  • 2/3 cup 35% heavy cream
  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter, softened

Directions

Place the chocolate in a bowl. In a saucepan, bring the cream to a boil. Pour over the chocolate and let melt for one minute without stirring. Using a whisk, stir until smooth. Stir in the butter. Cover and refrigerate for a half hour or until the ganache is spreadable.

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Some Assembly Required

Slice the cake in half horizontally to obtain two layers. Spread the ganache onto each layer and stack them. Top with the almond crisp.

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