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Tourment D’Amour – Love’s Agony or the tart that ended it all

With all the flavours of Guadeloupe like rum, lime, vanilla and coconut, this is a tart to make on a cloudy November day.

 Tourment d’amour, a tart-like cake that translates into the “agony of love,” has a back story that goes something like this.  A Guadeloupe island woman with a French flair invents the best tart you’ve ever tasted in anticipation of her lover’s safe return from sea. Dude is a bit late showing up from his fishing to eat this world-ending tart so she freaked and took her own life when he didn’t arrive on the day he said he would. He shows up, finds her a goner and an even bigger tragedy, the tart very stale. Although the story is sad, the treat is anything but. I made it for the Handyman husband. He was in luck as was I. He arrived home from the hardware store just as they were coming out of the oven. No Tourment… just the love.

Guadeloupe is a French island so while the flavours (vanilla, coconut, lime and rum) are pure Caribbean, the base components (pâte brisée pastry, pastry cream, and Genoise sponge cake) are classic French. For that reason, the recipe is mildly challenging, but like the story goes, sometimes love hurts a bit. The end product is a sweet, tropical treat encased in a flaky pastry crust—with a creamy coconut jam center.

Makes seven to eight 4 ½-inch tarts

Coconut Jam ingredients

Coconut Jam:
½ cup sugar
⅓ cup coconut water
1¼ cup shredded coconut
½ tablespoon vanilla extract

Pastry dough ingredients

Short Crust Pastry Dough (Pâte Brisée):
1½ cups all-purpose flour
3½ ounces unsalted butter, cold and cut into small pieces
Pinch of salt
Ice water

Pastry cream ingredients

Pastry Cream:
2 cups milk
½ vanilla bean, cut lengthwise and seeds scraped out
¾ cup sugar, divided roughly in half
⅓ cup cornstarch
2 eggs
½ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon grated nutmeg
2 tablespoons rum

Genoise ingredients

Genoise Sponge Cake
1 cup flour, sifted
⅔ cup sugar
4 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons butter, melted
Zest of one lime

Directions

Coconut Jam

 Add sugar and coconut water to a small saucepan. Bring to a boil, and then stir in coconut and vanilla. Set aside and allow to cool.

Short Crust Pastry Dough

 Sift flour and salt into to the bowl of a food processor. Add butter and pulse until mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Add one to three tablespoons of ice water, and pulse until it comes together (dough should stick together when you pinch it with your fingers). Wrap with plastic and chill for at least an hour. Meanwhile, butter and flour seven to eight 4 ½-inch pans and then set aside.

On a lightly floured surface, roll chilled dough out with a rolling pin to about ⅛-inch thick. With a fork, make small holes in the dough. Cut the dough into circles a about an inch wider than the pans, and then carefully transfer the circles to the pans, lightly pressing the dough into the edges. Roll a rolling pin over the top of the pans to remove any excess dough. Chill for at least 30 minutes.

To blind bake: Preheat oven to 350° F. Add coffee filters or parchment circles to the pans and fill with pie weights (to prevent dough from puffing up). Place tart pans on a baking sheet and bake for 15 to 20 minutes until lightly golden. Remove pie weights and papers, and set aside.

Pastry Cream 

In a medium sauce pan, add milk, half the sugar, and vanilla bean seeds and pod, and then simmer on low. Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, whisk eggs, remaining sugar, and cornstarch until the mixture becomes pale yellow in color and ribbons when you drop a spoonful of it back into the bowl.

Once milk begins to boil, remove vanilla bean pod with a slotted spoon and then pour about a third of it into the egg mixture, stirring constantly. (This step is important to a good pastry cream. By tempering the egg mixture with this small amount of warm milk you will avoid having the eggs scramble.) Add mixture back into the sauce pan and continue to whisk until it starts to boil. Stir in cinnamon, nutmeg and rum. Place in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap that touches the surface of the pastry cream and refrigerate until ready to assemble the tarts.

Genoise Sponge Cake

 In a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, add eggs and sugar and mix on high speed for 10 minutes. Reduce to medium and mix for another 10 minutes. Stir in lime zest. Remove bowl from mixer and fold in sifted flour. Carefully fold in melted butter and vanilla extract until incorporated (do not over mix).

Some assembly required

Preheat oven to 350° F. Place pastry cream back into a stand mixer fitter with a paddle and beat until smooth again. Spoon equal amounts of coconut jam onto the bottom of each tart shell.

Divide pastry cream evenly among tarts, smoothing it overtop the jam.

Then spoon cake batter on top, completely covering the pastry cream.

Bake immediately (so you don’t lose the airy quality of the batter) for 25 to 30 minutes (rotating pans halfway through) until cake topping is lightly browned.

Just saying, I think if it were me I would have waited 10 minutes and eaten them all myself.

Gone girl – An ode to an extraordinary chicken

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Maria  2016-2018

Maria was an ordinary chicken. Maria was an extraordinary chicken.

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Maria’s ginormous egg and an average Gretel-sized egg

Maria laid a lot of eggs like any good hen. She lay mondo eggs and would take some time to go about this.

IMG_5726.jpgUnlike Gretel and Leisel who quietly and quickly laid their eggs on the straw in their egg boxes early every morning, she chose to lay them out of the safety of her run and in the “wild” when they were let out to free range. She would often be gone for more than an hour.

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Egg cache number 1

Busy with our raspberry farm, it took a dedicated summer visitor Chris to hunt for and find Maria’s secret nest. Once a cache was discovered she would find a new spot and start over.

Very much unlike Leisel and Gretel, who craved attention, Maria shunned the paparazzi.

Unlike Gretel and Leisel, Maria would not and could not be picked up and was proud of this. She was standoffish and very, very large.

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Give your head a shake. I will not be your Instagram prop.

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Although pals with the other girls during the daily camp-out at the back door where treats where often dispersed, at other times Maria was a loner.

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Maria was not lonely, she just liked her own company and at times, I feel felt a bit superior.

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She didn’t understand the girls who conformed to the egg-laying box routine and would often question them about it.

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She couldn’t relate to their willingness to be apart of the whole social media scene which she openly disdained while secretly feeling much fancier than the other two and far more photogenic.

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This is the last photo of Maria. Taken on the very morning of her demise.

Gretel and Leisel, although conformists and social media early adopters did understand a key chicken survival lesson, there is safety in numbers. Free ranging comes with risks which were lessened by our rows upon rows of raspberry canes providing cover and making predator swoop attacks difficult and by having a pal to call an alert.

When we returned from the farmer’s market and checked on the girls, a small pile of fluffy breast feathers in one of the yard’s few open spots was all that was left of Maria. A hawk or an eagle are the most likely culprits that permanently solved a lovely problem like Maria.

Survived by her occasional friends Gretel and Liesel and greatly mourned by her human friends, Maria will be missed although her eggs won’t be as we could rarely find them. Maria was an ordinary chicken, Maria was an extraordinary chicken.

October in Naramata — The year’s last smile

“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!”
Rainbow Rowell, Attachments

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Summerland orchard in a blaze of glory

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View from the Kettle Valley Rail Trail

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Toward Munson Mountain on the Naramata Bench

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Evening light 

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Next-door neighbour

 

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Vineyards of Naramata Bench

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Malbec at harvest time

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Vineyard rows

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Sumac and Giant’s Head

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Rock Oven Vineyard

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Painted Rock view

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Fall sunset over Okanagan Lake

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Manitou Beach sunset, Naramata

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Atop Munson Mountain overlooking Penticton

Harvest

 

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Legend Distilling

 

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Bella Homestead

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Chute Lake Road after the fires 

 

 

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Naramata Sunset

Sink or swim – Canadian team prepares to swim North America’s equivalent of the English Channel

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The next act of the English Channel swim relay team, the Crazy Canucks is a swim that is comparable in length , conditions, difficulty and challenge and all a bit closer to home. The Crazy Canucks are taking on the Catalina Island Channel on lucky Friday, September 13, 2019.

First swum in 1927, on the heels of the intense publicity from Gertrude Ederle’s  swim of the English Channel in 1926, Catalina also has a long and storied history in marathon swimming history and brings with it its own set of unique challenges that make it a worthy goal to be respected and tackled with solid preparation. Our swim will be overseen by the Catalina Channel Swimming Federation, our pilot boat the Bottomscratcher  could not have a better name and our main kayak guide is my brother Dean Dogherty, who competes internationally in outrigger canoes.

We are going for a record that we are keeping on the down low at the moment but it could add to the fun of the achievement.

 

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Four English Channel team veterans will be joined by two new swimmers to make up the team of six.

The challenges of cold water, high winds and waves we faced in the English Channel, the seasickness that struck down half our team to varying degrees from violent to mild and stings from jellyfish are all Catalina possibilities. In addition we face two more. The Pacific Ocean swim starts at near midnight to avoid the winds that kick up in the afternoons. Pitch black conditions can bring on vertigo as the black sea and sky merge together to cause confusion and add to the stress of swimming in a large ocean. On the plus side, many swimmers report swimming through magical bioluminescence. The other factor involving sea life with many sharp teeth is not to be mentioned by name….Voldemort, Voldemort, Voldermort. The positive side of this equation are dolphins which will all be on the look-out for.

Here are thoughts from the team as we prepare.

John Ostrom

“I’ve swum my whole life and I enjoy it most when I’m in shape and feel powerful in the water…Open water is interesting to me because I grew up on the ocean (Prince Rupert) and always feel it’s a bit mysterious. I don’t really fear the ocean but am always curious about it. Swimming in some ways allows me to become closer to nature.”

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John, in the dingy, heading back to the Viking Princess after touching France.

“The epic nature of the swim and doing it as a team appeal the most. I am not super keen about swimming at night (me neither) and I’m going to have to put images of sharks and squid lurking below out of my mind!” (Guess he didn’t get the memo re that which shall not be named.)

“I am very happy about the English Channel swim and how everything worked for us so well. Of course I am very proud to have been the “finisher” that touched France.  Having done that channel I know we will also do Catalina the same way with a very competent group.”

Chris Lough

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Chris mid-Channel

“I swim three to four times a week year-round,” says Chris. “I spent all my summers in Quebec and played in the water for hours a day. Open water is just a return to the joys of those childhood times for me.”

As for the challenge ahead, Chris says, “Swimming in the dark and the unknown potential for larger “fish” ups the excitement.” (See, he got the memo…)

As for the English Channel, Chris says he has nothing but fond memories. The only thing he would change is his approach to dealing with the nausea.

Chris is preparing by swimming four times a week and working up to cold water swims in the spring as well as some night swims and increasing his distances as our swim draws near.

Janet Robertson

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Janet watching as the sun rose on the Channel before her turn in the drink.

“I like the feeling of moving through the water both in the pool and in the lake. I believe in balance in life – swimming is part of that balance. Open water swimming is freeing and meditative – I can find my zen. I lose all that life throws at me when I’m in the water…so freeing.”

Janet’s approach is to try to minimize the build up talk as this makes her nervous.
“Night swimming will be very important to the success of the swim so I think we should plan a swim camp with that as a focus.

“I am proud to have done the English Channel. I had to dig deep quite a few times to reach the group goal. I wasn’t going to let the group down. I will take everything from the English Channel to Catalina, except, hopefully, the sea sickness. Who knew I would consider doing either the Channel or Catalina. Butterflies reign supreme as well as deep breaths.”

Elaine Davidson

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On the way back to England after our team swam more than 50 kilometres to reach France in some gnarly conditions. The grin says it all.

As idea originator and the team captain of both swims I am fully in. For me it’s all about something I love doing more than anything else, talking five and now seven people into joining in on the adventure and working toward a crazy goal that will change our lives or at the very least give us some pretty unique experiences.

In water, all is possible. As T.H. White says, “There is practically no difference between flying in the water and flying in the air…It is like the dreams people have.” When you swim, you feel your body for what it mostly is – water. When you enter the water you dive through the surface into a new world. You are in nature, part of it, in a far more complete and intense way than on dry land. To get that feeling utterly and completely you need to be in a river, lake or the ocean.

The swimming training is important, sure. The mental training of swimming in cold water, in the waves and wind and at night are the most important. My training goals are to be prepared physically and mentally tough.

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Dean, doing his thing in Kelowna this summer.

I am also beyond proud to swim with this team which comprises four long-time friends, my cousin Peter who is a Canuck( but lives most of the year in Australia) and embodies for me my dad’s spirit and a new enthusiastic swim pal Janice who is up for anything. Making the team even more special is my brother Dean who will be beside us in that big ocean in a kayak making it feel a little less big. We will swim between the Bottomscratcher and the kayak which will both be lighted to keep us on track in the pitch black.

Janice Johnston

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Jan horsing around after a lake session this summer in Skaha.

“I love to swim in open water because I find it both relaxing and challenging. Swimming to me is like walking, you don’t have to think about it. The challenge comes to get faster and add some distance. There is such a great freedom and being close to nature when you swim in open water plus I REALLY DON’T LIKE FLIP TURNS! I didn’t swim competitively as a young person but I have embraced swimming as an adult. I even became a lifeguard at age 51.”

Jan says she is looking forward to meeting her new team mates. “I think it’s going to be amazing to swim in the ocean at night (maybe even scary) but that is part of the challenge. I am really hoping not to get sea sick during my leg of the race.”

She is a firm proponent of our post-swim tradition of doing in-water handstands and sharing liquorice on shore.

Peter Sinclair

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My cousin Peter, far left, pictured with a relay team that swam 16 kilometres across Lake Rosseau.

Peter, who swims every day,  has spent this past summer taking dips in Elk Lake in Victoria, Lake Ontario in Toronto and Lake Rosseau in Muskoka. “In Australia, I get to swim in the ocean a lot which is really fantastic, conditions are different every day. Variety is fantastic.

“I am looking forward to meeting all the team members and their families, taking the boat to Catalina, where I’ve never been before and of course the swim itself. I’m maybe a little nervous about the temperature of the water.”

The English Channel and Catalina Channel are two of the marathon swims that make up the triple crown of swimming. The third is the swim around Manhattan. There are fewer than 200 relay teams that have swum Catalina and even fewer than that 200 number that have swum the English Channel.

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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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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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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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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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