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Life in a slow place that quickly steals your heart.

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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?

Lavender harvesting with every bee in Naramata

IMG_9306.JPGHarvesting lavender…those words together sound pretty idyllic. Even in the heat and smoke from Okanagan fires it is a pretty amazing way to spend a morning. It is the only farm work I’ve done where you come home hot, dirty and sore but smelling better than when you started.

In movie speak It’s The Colour of Purple, Scent of a Woman and Attack of the Killer Bees all rolled into one. The glorious purpleness of the fields, the clean, stringent and all encompassing lavender aroma and the buzzing of a zillion bees make the time spent at Forest Greenman Lavender Farm in Naramata an intense sensory experience. This photo essay captures the sights of the morning…your imagination will have to fill in the rest.

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The bunches are left to dry in the sun before being collected to hang to dry.
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Farm owner Doug hams it up while Brian does all the work.
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It was about 30 degrees by quitting time.
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A neighbour, aptly named Harvest, dropped by to help.
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Doug felt the bee population had never been as high. Two harvesters got stung, an occupational hazard.

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It takes several passes with a scythe to collect enough lavender to make a big fat bunch.
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The bees were everywhere. They seem to move along as you work and only sting if they get caught up while you are gathering the stocks or while transporting the bundles.

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It’s the last year of Forest Greenman Lavender Farm for Doug and Karolina as they have sold the farm. Be sure to drop by this season to get your aromatherapy.  It’s not the last year for lavender though as the couple have a new venture in the wings involving this amazing plant.
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Some of the lavender we harvested will be distilled for its essential oils.
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Some will be sold in dried bunches.
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The lavender fields are rimmed with lovely fruit trees.
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This old Massey-Fergus is a beauty.
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These are special cherries, Balatons. I traded my labour for some to make the best jam in the world.

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A few bunches came home with me!
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Thanks Doug and Karolina for letting me pitch in.

The great chicken coop escape

 

IMG_8268.jpgThe girlies would tell you this tale if they could but their typing is hunt and peck at best and would take far too long. I think the whole event confuses them as well. An aside… Did you know chickens have a great memory and can differentiate between more than 100 human or animal faces. They love to play, they dream (about eating millions of bugs?), they mourn for each other and they feel pain and distress. They also make great moms — they talk to their chicks while still in the egg and turn the eggs about 50 times a day.

IMG_8288.jpgA week into chicken husbandry I am still getting up at 6 a.m. to check on them. In my pjs, no coffee on board, I duck into their coop to change the water and hear the run latch gently click shut with me inside.

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The run is some distance from the house and the sleeping Handyman who decidedly  does not wake up at 6 a.m.

Three old ladies stuck in a lavatory”

The old weird song lyrics start going through my head…

Oh, dear, what can the matter be
Three old ladies locked in the lavatory
They were there from Monday to Saturday
Nobody knew they were there

I try using a stick to poke through the hardware cloth and lift the latch up.

The first one’s name was Elizabeth Porter
She went in to be rid of some overdue water
And she stayed there far more than she ought to
And nobody knew she was there.

Maria and The Baroness are watching me curiously. (Re side note…they are smarter than you think.) I then try pushing the hardware cloth out, with a fair bit of force, in several spots. The Handyman is really good at building things and the coop is racoon-proof, or so we thought.

The second one’s name was Elizabeth Pomphrey
She went in and made herself comfy
Then she said: “Girls, I can’t get my bum free.”
And nobody knew she was there

After only a week with my new pals we aren’t super comfortable with each other. They are eyeing me suspiciously and making low murmuring sounds. Another aside…Researchers have shown that there are at least 24 different sounds chickens make and maybe as many as 30. While chickens don’t have nearly the vocabulary that us humans have, and their chicken brains don’t allow for abstract and deep conversations, they are still a very vocal and conversational critter.

I finally hit on the solution and break a few zip ties that are securing a set of overlapping panels of the hardware cloth and make my great escape. Coffee!

The last one’s name was Elizabeth Carter
She was known as a world renowned farter
She went in and played a sonata
And nobody knew she was there.

Later that day The Handyman installed a rope gizmo allowing the latch to be opened from the inside as well.

 

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The day after the escape from the coop I woke at 6 to find the nesting box door hanging open. I ran to the coop expecting it to be empty or a scene of indescribable carnage but found the girlies milling about in the run, all feathers accounted for. The new bungee addition makes the coop really racoon proof.

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Chicken TV

Because chickens are clever creatures, each occupying a different role in the pecking order, keeping them in your backyard gives you a chance to see the individual personalities and quirks. Maria is fascinated by holes of any kind. She is also the boss.

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Here she is sorting out the perfect spot for a dustbath. Distracted momentarily, The Baroness steals her spot… not for long. After a dust up Maria reclaims her throne.

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The girls and The Handyman

Despite being told I am the chicken lady and in sole charge, I catch The Handyman letting the girls out when he is working on the farm…and he talks to them and makes a special clucking noise. The exercise king, here he is taking them on a little jog…which is funny itself. Something about chickens running cracks me up.

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A taste of country life

I love our chickens. Who would have thought it. They are curious, interesting, sweet creatures who demand little and give us eggs daily. I feel good about giving them great food, room to roam and a nice, cruelty-free life.

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Hens with Benefits

They give us breakfast in return and lovely fluffy cakes.IMG_8150.jpg

A bit of morning magic

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Columbines after the rain

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Secret garden entrance

 

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Potager

 

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Raspberry farm

 

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Statue is called #4 with tree fort in the background

 

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Raspberries…soon

 

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Chives

 

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Hyper local, hyper fresh, hyper delicious Urtica Eatery at Legend Distilling

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Photo: Cedar Photography

Chef Josh Bender and his new restaurant Urtica Eatery at Legend Distilling in Naramata are taking eating local and sustainable to a whole new level. He grows or forages as many of the vegetables and herbs as he can and sources the rest from neighbouring farms. In addition to lovely local fruit the Valley is known for world-wide, Chef Josh serves only sustainably farmed meats, seafood, dairy and eggs.

After a busy day serving guests at Urtica, Chef Josh unwinds at his Naramata property by tending his 12 garden beds and 100 containers of vegetables and herbs and the containers he has planted at the restaurant itself.

“I cooked as a kid,” he says as he offers me a first dish of roasted beets with cumin yogurt, nettle pesto, pumpkin seeds, orange and wild fennel.

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Urtica, Chef Josh tells me, is latin for the stinging nettles he used in the most amazing tasting pesto I’ve ever had. “It’s my favourite wild edible and its a super food for plants as well. I ferment tons of it to feed to my vegetables. I love foraging for it.”

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“My mother had a big part in my cooking,” he says. “She was my first teacher and I was lucky to grow up surrounded by nature. Blackberries lined our two-acre property in Langley where we had a creek you could walk along for miles in the forest.”

Josh, a guy of few words, describes his Urtica menu as comfort food with a twist which is better tasted than explained in any case. Who needs words? The beet cured organic spring salmon with cucumber carpaccio, radishes, whipped goat cheese and olive crumb was as fresh, bright and luxuriously creamy tasting as it looked on the plate. Each bite was a pleasure and the flavours and textures worked beautifully together.

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Other choices on the ever-changing seasonal menu included a roasted carrot hummus with pita, dandelion honey ricotta, hazelnuts and chili oil, mushroom bruschetta with local cultivated oyster mushroom, herbed ricotta and aged balsamic and a farm kale salad with Upper Bench King Cole cheese, honey walnuts, apple chips, pickled onion and anchovy dressing. A selection of focaccia sandwiches included a buttermilk poached chicken with slab bacon, spring greens, tomato, pickled onion and caramelized onion mayo. A braised beef neck melt and goat cheese & beet were also tempting. The featured entree was a vegetable curry stew served with kale chips, spiced yogurt and pita.

“Urtica is a dream come true for me,” says Josh who put his culinary degree to work for him in various restaurants for the past eight years. “I knew since I was 16 that cooking is the only thing I want to do. I’m coming at this out of a place of love versus building a brand. I want to make good food and be happy with what I do. I’m lucky not to be ‘working for the man’ but able to pursue my passion and learn more and more as I go.

“I am making food that I would be happy to feed my family. Food that is sustainably farmed that is good for you.”

Urtica aligns perfectly with Naramata’s status as an international Cittaslow member town. Cittaslow is an organisation founded in Italy and inspired by the slow food movement. Cittaslow’s goals include improving the quality of life in towns by slowing down its overall pace.

Talking about slow, the view on Legend’s patio makes the dining experience one you want to linger over. I paired my lunch with a refreshing summer cocktail, the new Legendary Cup featuring their just released Amaro.

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Urtica Eatery is serving lunch Tuesday through Sunday 11:30am – 3:30 pm and beginning today dinner service Wednesday through Saturday 5-8 pm.

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Chef Josh Bender, a Naramatian, grows much of his own produce and forages for ingredients such as the nettle his restaurant is named after. Photo: Cedar Photography

Naramata Cider Company Rest Easy pork chops in a cream sauce

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The secret ingredient — Cider Maker’s Select … Rest Easy from the Naramata Cider Company

Seasoned with garlic cloves and shallots, this easy to make pork chops recipe is elevated into the stratosphere with its apple and blackberry hard cider and velvety cream sauce. Adapted from blogger queen of France’s Mimi Thorisson’s new cookbook, French Country Cooking, the recipe takes less than a half hour to prepare.

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Keeping it local…all the ingredients were sourced in the Okanagan Valley including the Naramata Cider Company Rest Easy, lovely thick pork chops from T-Bones in Penticton, cream from D Dutchman Dairy and vegetables from my garden and the Penticton Farmer’s Market.

Ingredients

  • 4 bone-in pork chops, 2.5 cm thick
  • fine sea salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 4 shallots, thinly sliced
  • 2 garlic cloves, unpeeled and smashed
  • 8 sage leaves
  • 2/3 cup Rest Easy Naramata Cider Company apple and blackberry cider
  • 3 tablespoons heavy cream

IMG_6972.jpgDirections

Preheat oven to 325F

Score the pork chops on both sides and season all over with salt and pepper.

In a large saute pan, heat the butter over medium-high heat. Add the shallots and cook for 3 minutes. Add the pork chops and garlic cloves, reduce the heat to medium and cook just until the juices run clear (about 7 minutes per side).

Transfer the pork chops to an ovenproof dish, put the sage leaves on top and spoon the pan drippings over all. Put in the oven to keep warm.

Increase the heat under the pan to high and pour in the cider. Boil for 2 minutes to reduce. Add the heavy cream, stir until thickened and remove from the heat.

Pour the sauce on top of the chops and serve. Pair with the remaining cider!

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Chicks are hip – the revival of back-yard chickens

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Meet The Baroness … a Black Sex Link in her laying prime

Ordered on Black Friday as my Christmas present I had to wait months for my May Christmas morning chicken delivery which I anticipated with almost ponyesque excitement.

My grandmother would be astonished to know how eagerly anticipated my chickens were. “In my day they were meat and eggs and they would never be named,” I hear her say in my head as she long since gone. She would also be very perplexed that I am RENTING my two laying hens from Rentthechicken. com and have read up on all the treats I can feed them such as a half a watermelon, which now on the grocery list.

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Maria sticking her neck out for treats.

Chickens seem to be a perfect convergence of the economic, environmental, foodie and emotional matters of the moment, plus, in the past few years, they have undergone an image rehabilitation so amazing that it should be studied by social media experts. Why do posts of a grinning person holding a garden variety chicken get thousands of likes?

Now that my chickens have arrived I am the object of more pure envy than I have ever experienced in my life. (I kind of like it.) I can’t count the number of friends that want to know all about chicken raising before they decided to give it a shot. I’m thinking of charging an admission fee to see them.

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They forage for food all day long!

Until the nineteen-fifties, it was common to keep a few chickens around. They were cheap and easy to raise. Some table scraps and bugs, a coop and you were good to go.  A hundred years ago, a chick cost about fifteen cents and a laying hen a few dollars. A hen in her prime, which lasts two or three years, could produce an egg every day or two in the laying season, and once she stopped laying she could be cooked.

Then came urbanization, the supermarket, the egg cholesterol scare, giant egg farms and you know the rest and all the horrible images of tens of thousands of birds crammed into a giant industrialized egg laying factories. (After hanging out with these friendly, curious and surprising un-bird brained creatures I feel even more strongly about giving them a nice life…)

Renting the girls will give me a good taste of what’s involved in chicken husbandry without worry about wintering them over or fully committing to the idea. I can adopt them permanently if I get attached or request the same pair again next summer.

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My first two eggs.

Here are some observations after a couple of days of chickening.

  1. They are friendly…at least they seem so once they established that every time they see me I’m holding out some scratch, freeze-dried mealy worms, prize dandelion leaves, grapes, a bit of toast or to-die-for apparently…tattertots.
  2. Chickens make a wide-range of cool noises from a sort of purring sound to a happy cackle after egg-laying that I interpreted as I MADE EGG!!!!! But research says the egg-song made a distance away from the just laid nice warm egg is to distract predators from the bounty.
  3. There is a pecking order and a bit of squabbling between the ladies. The Baroness took a good peck to the neck over a grape squabble but shook it off like a prize fighter.
  4. Their legs and feet are kind of creepy and dinosaur looking and their toes are very flexible.
  5. Finding the first set of eggs was pretty cool, OK really cool, cooler than it should have been, but really, really cool.
  6. I’m losing sleep. I get up with the chickens to make sure they are OK. I imagine I will chill out soon. I had a reason to worry this morning. The door to the nesting area of their coop was wide open this morning and I had spotted a racoon in the hood last evening. It’s like the racoon was pulling up at a drive-through…just checking for his egg McMuffin. The girlies were OK but the nesting box is getting a second latch today.
  7. I like them!
  8. I was shown how to pick them up so I can have one of those Instagram grinning-person-holding-a-chicken photos but haven’t gotten up the nerve yet.
  9. You haven’t lived, if you are chicken, until you have had a dust bath. They really, really, really like it and fling dirt around, loll around, flap wings…
  10. Still not sure if chickens have lips.
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Maria was shy at first but is coming out of her shell.
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Egg salad sandwich in the making.
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Omelette with fresh herbs from the garden and Upper Bench Winery & Creamery Brie.
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Marie from Rent The Chicken in Kamloops letting the girls out with The Handyman looking on.
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Hand feeding. I’m working on getting them to come when called, “chick, chick, chick, chick” so I can let them do some free-ranging.

Helo happiness

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A long standing tradition in Naramata, almost every Easter a helicopter is enlisted to drop eggs onto Manitou Park for kids by our regional district. The kids come dressed up in costume or in their Easter finest. To prevent any eggcidents, the eggs are hollow plastic ones that when gathered up are exchanged for chocolate. The weather is also part of this tradition. It’s been a blue sky day for every egg drop I’ve attended and this year was no exception.

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Chocolate rain about to commence

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Mad scramble

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Never give up.
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Amidst all the chaos.

A lullaby to sleeping vines

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Naramata Bench vines lie sleeping under a blanket of snow
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Vineyard workers rest along with the vines
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Insulating snow helps protect the dormant vines
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Bud break is a few months away
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Rare sunny day in winter in the Valley
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Short days as the sun starts to set in the late afternoon over Okanagan Lake

A Calgary Highlander plays a mournful lullaby at Legend Distilling on the Naramata Bench.

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