“October, baptize me with leaves! Swaddle me in corduroy and nurse me with split pea soup. October, tuck tiny candy bars in my pockets and carve my smile into a thousand pumpkins. O autumn! O teakettle! O grace!”
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
“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?”
Noted Naramata artist Dennis Evans unveiled his latest work at an exhibition entitled Messengers last evening. Hauntingly beautiful, Evans has captured the unique resonance of Naramata in these 14 major works.
“When the iconic jazz saxophonist and composer, John Coltrane, visited Nagasaki, his guide found him on the train playing a flute,” Evans says. “The man asked Coltrane, ‘why are you playing the flute?’ He answered, ‘I’m trying to find the sound of Nagasaki.”
Evans has found the sound of Naramata and its sacred resonance in this body of work. Anchored by his Celtic ancestry, the artist has imbedded Celtic images into his landscape paintings.
“It’s my way of communicating a special resonance with the land and communicating this connection to the viewer,” he says. “It’s an invitation to the viewer to meditate on the universal bond between nature and humanity and what we define as our sense of place.”
The Celtic symbol appears in sharp focus in some works or it subtly emerges or recedes into the landscape in others. The symbols connect with the sky, the earth and everything in between. Evans says the image is intended to highlight the non-physical aspect of the landscape or the landscape whispering to the painter.
Messengers is Evans’ second instalment in his quest to capture, visually, the unique resonance of a particular place. It follows on from Songs in the Landscape which also exhibited at Leir House in the fall of 2016.
A life-long artist, Dennis has the good fortune or as he would interpret it, fate, to end up in a place that speaks to him. Having moved from Calgary to Naramata a decade ago, he says,” I am much more connected to the landscape here. Pretty much all my landscapes are within walking distance of the studio. I have enough inspiration in Naramata to last a lifetime.”
What’s special about Naramata? “We didn’t really know how amazing it really is until we landed here,” says Dennis. “It has an aura about it. I don’t know if it is because it’s isolated being at the end of the road as it is. It was also special to the First Nations people. They didn’t live here but came to the area for their ceremonies. It’s also home to a proportionally large number of artists, which must be for a reason, and home to an incredible concentration of unique individuals.”
Messengers will be exhibited at Leir House in Penticton until February 16th and most of the works are for sale.
Evans’ wife Patricia Evans read some of her poetry at the opening including this piece which perfectly suited the ambiance created by the art, music, hospitality and the warmth of the historic Leir House:
Unravel the sunset.
Watch its colours rain down,
holding close, the sacred.
Spirits from the land call to the sun.
We, descendants of the stars,
need hearing aids.
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?
2. We Love our Public Art
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
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.
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.
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.”
Thanks to Preserved Light for collaborating with me on this post!
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.
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…
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…
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…)
I also wonder if we should add Please Drive Carefully to our Village sign?
We 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Covered 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.
It’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.
Take just picked raspberries from our Naramata berry farm and a craft-distilled slowly infused Farm Berry Vodka from our neighbour Legend Distilling and bottle it. Think toast on a cold January morning in front of a fire slathered with the colours and aromas of a hot summer day – elegant and not oversweet.
This easy jam recipe can be adapted for ingredients you have easy access to if you don’t happen to own a berry farm or live near a distillery. There is no substitute for the Wine Glass Writer pens I used to mark the jars with, however. They are invaluable for canning, as I like to re-use jars and scrubbing sticky labels off is an unnecessary and annoying step. The writers are fun to use and lets you be creative, jazzing up and customizing your jars.
Adding a soupçon of a summer wine like rosé or a fruit-infused spirit like Legend’s Slowpoke Farm Berry Vodka plays well with the beautifully ripe fruit. Legend’s limited release handmade vodka – slowly infused with the best local fruits, is the distillery’s tribute to those who value the slow and steady – acknowledging that all great things come to those who wait.
The berries in Legend’s Slowpoke come from our farm, which is a cool fact I brag about a lot. I think this makes the jam especially nice. Our berries are hand picked in the mornings and delivered to the distillery that same afternoon. Distiller Doug Lennie does his magic and now I’m adding this infusion into more fresh picked berries with some sugar and a dash of lemon juice. It’s like raspberry essence distilled, given a kick and married with yet more raspberries.
I like using a touch of alcohol in sweet preserves to give them a certain je ne sais quoi. It elevates a nice jam to an extraordinary one. A half cup for the jam, a small glass for me…
Like all cooking and baking, the end results are always, always about using the best quality ingredients you can source. Pick your own raspberries, buy them from a local farmer at the market, buy organic ones from the supermarket or as a last resort, use top quality frozen berries. Choose a hand-crafted spirit or a nice bottle of rosé.
Legend Raspberry Jam Recipe
Makes about 12 small jars (125 ml) of jam or six to eight larger jars.
1. In a large mixing bowl, combine all ingredients. Using your hands, crush the raspberries until completely broken down.
2. Transfer the raspberry mixture to a large saucepan and bring it to a boil over high heat, stirring often with a wooden spoon. Reduce the heat to medium-high and continue to stir until the jam has thickened, about 12 minutes. During this 12 minutes, I like to ladle about the half the jam mixture through a sieve placed over the boiling jam to remove some of the raspberry seeds.
3. Transfer the jam to a sterile airtight container and let it cool to room temperature. Store in the refrigerator and use within a month.
4. If you wish to store the jam for up to a year as I do, follow these canning instructions.
To check if the jam has set, place a teaspoon of jam onto a chilled plate and place in the freezer for a few minutes. Using your finger, push through the jam. If it wrinkles, it has set; if not, cook the jam for an additional minute or two.
Fill your jars
It has to be tasted to be believed. This rustic-looking cake belies its simple appearance. It is a toothsome combination of ingredients such as cocoa, cinnamon, fresh-ground nutmeg made light and moist with fresh eggs, butter, grapeseed oil and buttermilk. The smell from the oven is as enticing as it gets. Take it up a notch by soaking the cakes in a glaze made with peach jam and spices. Blow it into orbit with a fluffy caramel cream cheese frosting and give it some delicious crunch with rosemary toasted pine nuts and fresh summer flavours with dynamite organic peaches from Naramata’s T NT Farm and you have something worth the afternoon it will take you to bake it and a run-on sentence worth running on about.
This amazing creation, which I Naramatified, is from British Columbian Tessa Huff and her spectacular Layered cookbook. In a Julie and Julia type scenario I’ve been baking my way through her cake cookbook, adding a few custom touches here and there and sourcing my ingredients locally. This recipe gets a 12 out 10. Enough hyperbole…let’s get cracking. There are six separate recipes to tackle…none of them hard: Spice cake, peach glaze, rosemary pine nuts, salted caramel sauce and Swiss meringue buttercream. You will need a two 8-inch cake pans for this beauty that serves 12 to 15 peeps.
Spice Cake ingredients
Preheat the oven to 350F, grease and flour two 8-inch cake pans and line with parchment rounds.
Sift together the flour, cocoa powder, cinnamon, baking powder, ginger, baking soda, salt, nutmeg and cloves and set aside.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle, beat the butter on medium. Add the oil and sugar. Turn the mixer to medium high and mix for 3 minutes. Turn mixer to low, add the vanilla and eggs, one at a time. Scrape down the bowl.
Turn mixer to low and add the flour mixture alternating with the buttermilk in three batches. Only mix for 30 seconds or until just combined.
Divide the batter between the prepared pans and bake for 25 to 28 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the centre of the cakes comes out clean. While the cakes are baking work on the peach glaze as you will need to spread it over the cakes as soon as they come out of the oven.
Peach glaze ingredients
Combine the jam, cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg in a saucepan. Heat over medium until the jam melts…five minutes or so. Strain the mixture through a fine sieve set over a bowl to remove any solids. Evenly pour the warm peach glaze over the top of the two cakes just after they come out of the oven. Let them cool completely on a wire rack before removing the cakes from their pans. Do not turn the cakes upside down to remove as the tops will be sticky. Rather pry them up with the parchment or a lifter.
Rosemary pine nuts ingredients
Heat a heavy-bottomed skillet over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to medium and dry-roast the nuts for about three minutes. Add the honey, rosemary and salt and stir until nuts are evenly coated. Cook, stirring for another 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and spread on piece of parchment paper to cool and dry … about 10 minutes.
Salted caramel sauce ingredients
Place the sugar, corn syrup and 2 tablespoons of water in a heavy-bottomed small saucepan. Stir. Heat over high heat, stirring occasionally swirling the pan, until in turns a medium golden amber colour…8 to 10 minutes. The sugar mixture will begin to rapidly boil before slowing down and darkening in colour. Remove from the heat and whisk in the cream. Be careful as it will foam up and sputter. Add the butter and stir until melted. Add the salt and vanilla and stir. Pour into heat-safe container and let if cool or refrigerate. It will thicken as it cools.
Vanilla swiss meringue buttercream
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.
Caramel Cream Cheese Frosting ingredients
In the bowl of stand mixer with the paddle, beat the cream cheese on medium until smooth, add the buttercream and caramel sauce and mix until combined.
Some assembly required
Level the layers. Place a layer on a cake plate and spread half of the frosting over it. Top with the next layer of cake and frost the top with the remaining frosting. Arrange peach slices from one or two peaches on top (I resorted to frozen peaches from T NT as it will be August before nice new fresh ones are ready) and garnish with a generous handful of the rosemary pine nuts.