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Happy Summer Solstice

This is it. The longest day of the year. It was hit and miss for sunshine here but I managed a few candid shots…

The first peek at my inaugural chocolate Lily of the season – ta da!


Our Mexican yoyo bird chimed his heart out this morning in the summer breeze …

I never get tired of our view…


Ella is ready – “for a walk? Yes please!”


It might not be our usual decadent summer this year, but it was another day above the dirt for me, as the saying goes, and that’s good whatever the weather. 

A Taste of Place 

We had the good fortune of a day off this past weekend and so we took full advantage. It’s a bit early to celebrate the bounty of the region but we did our best. 

The best place to start is you want a taste of fresh local food is a farmers market. My favourite in our region is the Penticton market, a sprawling conglomeration of farm booths, food trucks, craft vendors and even a bit of kitsch. Being able to wander Main Street amongst the families with dogs and children while being serenaded by the many buskers along the way is a special experience. I love the chance to enjoy my coffee in a ceramic mug too – local roasters Cherry Hill offer freshly brewed java and you just deposit the mug in one of the bins they provide en route.

I brought my travel mug this time, but another great environmental gesture is their innovative “stir sticks” – biodegradable and low cost!

There is plenty of sustenance to be had – we each got a muffin from Brodo Kitchen and some fresh-picked strawberries (“picked last night” he told us). The fruit galette we got at Joy Road Catering we wanted to save for later, but we also could have munched on Thai food, crepes, tacos, or any one of a myriad of pastry choices. 

This early in the summer the fruits and veggies are not as plentiful of course. However there are plenty of booths offering flower bouquets, homemade preserves, honey, eggs, and even frozen meat from the farm. 

There is something both strong and delicate about fresh seasonal blossoms….

These guys weren’t kidding – you can take home your own guava tree! How cool is that?


Another wing of the market has crafts and artistic products as well as goods sold by what I call “hawkers”. These items are no so much “as seen on TV”, as they are nifty inventions or natural alternatives for household or body maintenance. I feel like I’m at the county fair when I walk this section; it’s entertaining. 

I thought this artist’s commentary was well done – sometimes we don’t recognize just how much heart and soul goes into someone’s creative efforts.


This fellow might be working to expand his demographic- he offers bat boxes for the adventurous, bird houses for the artsy folk, and even redneck bird feeders!

 

Once we had our fill of the market fun, we mosied up the road for some wine. After all, when in Rome – or wine country … We didn’t have much time but I had pre-ordered some wines in the spring. I took a bunch of scenic photos and a few pages of notes, so that will be in a soon-to-be released post. 

Here’s hoping you make time to taste the flavours of where you are this weekend. 

Occupational Hazards

I work with food and wine. Much of why I do is because it is a passion to share good food and drink with others. I love to see people enjoying time around a table for a meal.

In the summer season much of what I do is helping cater large events, like weddings and corporate appreciation events. This is not a cozy dinner party, unless you can imagine fitting 150 people in your dining room. On top of that, we prepare fresh food on site from scratch and my hubbie (the chef) cooks slow food – southern style BBQ meat.

a wedding buffet at Ancient Hills Winery, in Lake Country

wedding dinner at Okanagan Centre Hall in Lake Country

These events work out to about a 14 hour day, usually. Much of it is outside in the elements, since we live in a piece of Paradise – the Okanagan. Who wouldn’t want to celebrate an event in the summer here?

wedding ceremony at Silver Sage Stables in Lavington

a private wedding and reception lakeside in Coldstream

wedding reception on the crush pad at La Stella Winery in the South Okanagan

private wedding and reception by the lake on the Westside

I don’t tell you all this to make me sound special – my work day in the catering world is a variation on the work day most people spend if they work in the restaurant industry. The irony is, at the end of those work days I don’t feel much like eating or drinking any of the fine food we prepared. I taste of course, all day long, but by the end of service when there is time to eat, I’m tired and just want to wrap up. (I also feel like if I sit down I might not get up again.)

Tomorrow is the first wedding of the season. Today I’ve got my ducks in a row, getting platters ready and double-checking all the little details. I planned out my layers of clothes to wear in our less-spectacular-than-usual spring weather. I have snacks loaded in my bag: a banana, energy bar, nuts and raisins, and lots of water. I’m good to go!

Every occupation has its hazards. I can be grateful that mine are only that my feet hurt, my muscles are tired and I don’t have the energy to eat wonderful food for a day. There is no need to feel sorry for me, that’s for sure. On top of it all, I get to share in the joy of some momentous occasions. That is worth missing a meal in my book. I go to bed knowing that I have helped make great memories.

 

 

Get right in it!

One of the things I love about cooking is the hands-on approach. You have to touch the food, feel how it behaves as you mix it, taste it as you transform it. Cooking is a never-ending discovery of sensations.

As I was making Peanut Butter Criss Cross Cookies this afternoon it occurred to me that Spring Break started this weekend in the Okanagan. With apologies to anyone allergic to nuts, I thought what a great recipe this would be for kids to make.


Cookies are always a good thing to start with for a young cook and who doesn’t want to get their hands right in the bowl?! Squishing the dough between my hands as I made balls to be “criss-crossed” with a fork took me back to my childhood. There was a delicious sense of abandon at being able to get messy on purpose.

Okay, the secret is out – I live a double life. I love to be a girl, dressing up and being feminine and soft and delicate; I also love getting down and dirty in the kitchen and the garden. Is that bad? I don’t think so – the opposite nature of the two sides has helped me find a balance in my life, and feeling food and the earth it grows in keeps me connected to the universe.

So I suppose as much as the big kid in me just thinks kids would love messing around, I also believe it gives them roots in the world and connects them to something bigger than just us.

It’s not quite warm enough to muck in the dirt yet (although jumping in puddles is a highly underrated activity, especially with good gumboots). But at least you can get in a bowl of cookie dough and feel the inner peace that comes from creating something.

Happy Spring Break!

Let’s Talk Turkey

This is a guest post by my husband, Chef Martin Laprise. Martin offers many of these tips at his festive season dinner parties and they are always met with lots of grateful thanks and visions of light bulbs over the head. I hope they offer you some assistance in enjoying the holidays as much as possible and not stressing out 🙂

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Cooking a holiday feast is always a lot of pressure for the cook. There are lots of dishes to prepare for this dinner, and everyone expects it all to arrive at the table hot and beautiful. I have news for you – this takes practice, and just like the girls on the covers of magazines are retouched, so are the turkeys! So set yourself up for success with these few pointers:

  • Brining your turkey adds moisture, so if you are worried about a dry bird, use this technique before you cook (usually overnight for a turkey). There are lots of great recipes on the internet for brines – choose the one you like. NOTE: basting your turkey will NOT make it more moist. I don’t care what Gramma told you. Once the meat starts to cook, no moisture will go in. This is not my opinion, it’s a scientific fact.
  • If you want a beautiful turkey to present on your table, start out with it covered in foil paper. You can always make it darker at the end of the cooking with a blow torch (like the magazine people do), but if it gets too dark, you’re stuck. Also, during the cooking time rotate the turkey at least 3 times (make sure it completes a whole circle) – even if you are using a convection oven. This will help it to cook evenly.
  • To make a stress free gravy, buy an extra turkey leg and make the gravy with that while your turkey finishes cooking. Brown the leg really well, make a stock, thicken with flour and voila! Awesome gravy that didn’t have to happen at the last minute.
  • If you want a stuffing recipe, you can check out the one I put up on my website for Thanksgiving turkey – it works great at Christmas too.

If you would like more cooking tips from a handsome Okanagan chef, book me for a dinner in your home. I will come to your house with the ingredients and cook everything from scratch. You can watch and ask as many questions as you like 🙂 Feel free to send me an email to arrange a booking. To see more of what I do, check out my website at www.thechefinstead.ca

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