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Life in a slow place that quickly steals your heart.

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Forage

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

Raincouver morphs into Lotusland when the sun shines

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View from a Coal Harbour condo

When the sun shines on Vancouver there is no way to downplay the city’s natural beauty. No hard-bitten cynic hepped up about its high-cost of real estate can withstand the onslaught of the views of the north shore mountains, English Bay, a rain forest and the view of snow-capped Mount Baker in the sun. The cynics can go to town during a January rainy spell.

IMG_8362I love living in the country surrounded by nature where you can see the stars and the only ambient sounds are made by wildlife. However, a long weekend in a city packed with shopping, restaurants and entertainment is a needed adrenaline boost from time-to-time. Why not spend that long weekend in arguably the best city in the world which happens to be only a five-hour drive away?

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Vancouver has great coffee and a great coffee scene. I’m in.

Our weekend centred around the West End where my daughter has recently moved from Calgary and where my brother, his wife and family live.

The West End is a champ. The neighbourhood has been named the best in the country in the annual Great Places in Canada contest. It’s known for its beaches, proximity to Stanley Park and a high-density, walkable lifestyle with treed promenades. Originally a forested wilderness, the area was purchased in 1862 by John Morton, Samuel Brighouse and William Hailstone, three men known as the Three Greenhorns because people thought they paid too much for the land. Last laugh is on them eh?

The hood became home to richest railroad families and a lot of nice architecture survives from that era including Roedde House which is now a museum. The house is haunted by two daughters named Anna that met untimely deaths…one by eating poison berries and another killed by a patient while working as a nurse at St. Paul’s Hospital.

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Roedde House where it is forbidden to say the name “Anna” out loud.

 

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I made sure to photograph the gazebo to give The Handyman a new project.

Breakfast at the Greenhorn Espresso Cafe is the essence of the West End distilled in big, frothy cup. Named after the area’s original owners, it’s in a heritage home and offers a variety of cozy modern seating with views of the passing sidewalk scene. This hidden treasure is a two-minute walk from my daughter’s apartment and is already her new local.

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My homemade granola was served with yogurt, vanilla spiced pear and seasonal fruit

After my post about Paris chocolate shops and bakeries, a trip to Ladurée’s first Canadian location was on the list.

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Happily, the shop’s window resembles it’s Paris counterpart.

A modest selection of Citron, Caramel Fleur de Sel and Café macarons, at $3 each, were packaged beautifully in a keepsake box for us. The melt-in-your-mouth flavour explosions are actually made in Paris and flown to Vancouver.

It was a day made for window shopping and strolling. Spring rains and recent warm weather brought out every scented bloom in the West End.

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My son’s fiancé Kate sports a living chapeau

Billed as the home of the bison burger, Timber has been “givin’er since 2015” and it’s fun uber Canadian atmosphere had us at Deaner the taxidermy beaver that sits proudly in the window.

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Deaner at Timber
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Bison burger

When in Rome, or Canada as the case may be, it’s best to order the house specialty which most of our party did. In a very ungourmet way, I went comfort food with mac and cheese with house-made sriracha ketchup with smoked pork crackling served by a plaid-shirted waiter. It blew my socks off. I’m going back.

By happenstance, we ended up chef Chris Whittaker’s adjacent restaurant, Forage, for dinner.

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The farm-to-table restaurant has a clean, modern look. We chose to sit outside at a relaxed picnic table set-up and were encouraged to order a variety of menu items to try and share, tapas-style. If you go, there is one must-order. Chef Whittaker’s seafood chowder, chicharron, quails egg is the bomb and its a double winner of the Chowder Chowdown at the Vancouver Aquarium. Because the chowder won, it’s “secret” recipe has been published although it looks like it would be tricky to make at home.

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Forage’s award-winning seafood chowder was indescribably delicious
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Conifer gnocchi in brown butter

Chef Whittaker is a bee-keeper at home and works with small lot farmers taking his role seriously as promoting the sustainability of our food system. All well and good but we would go back because everything tasted so good, the atmosphere was the right mix of casual and the staff fun and welcoming.

Although it looks like we ate our way through our West End weekend, we had a mission. We  were carbo loading for our Sunday race. A great representation of the family ran either the marathon, half-marathon or 8 km BMO Vancouver Marathon. We joined about 16,500 in the race’s 45th edition and burned off a few of those calories.

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Still sunny.

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