Cooking will keep us together

Valentine's food date ideas

To paraphrase a classic hit from Captain and Tennille, “food” will keep us together. And love does enter through the nose, to paraphrase Shakespeare’s Love’s Labour’s Lost and at the same time steal a line from TV’s Frasier.

But enough with clichés. You’re probably wondering what to do with your beloved or your BFF(s) as Valentine’s Day approaches. If V-Day is already booked (see the events list below for ideas if not), consider a food-themed learning experience for sometime in 2020.

How about the gift that keeps on giving, the whole year – a garden?

Okanagan Seed Savers recently launched its regional Seedy Saturday and Sundays, with events planned from Cawston to Enderby and many points between. Make a day of it to:

  • buy, donate, or trade heirloom seeds; 
  • participate in the garden tool swap table for unwanted but useable implements;
  • browse and buy handcrafted crafts, food, snacks, and beverages;
  • learn about gardening, seed saving, permaculture, fermented food, and food security from local experts.

It might not be the most romantic idea, but it’s interactive, will make you feel like you’re doing something good for the world, and when your veggies pop up later this year you can reminisce while cooking up a fresh, hand-harvested dinner together.

No garden? Take in a class at The Okanagan Table in Kelowna. Better yet, Thursday Suppers have just begun: three-course interactive dinners with Chef Rod Butters. You watch while he cooks, and you leave with a signed copy of his cookbook. The Demo and Dine series is an option to learn everything from knife skills to gnocchi and more, with a partner or some pals, or on your own for a future date night surprise.

The Chef Instead will come to you for a cooking class. Heading up a ski hill? Book Chef Martin Laprise for an après-ski dinner. 

Speaking of winter… if you’d rather wait until warmer weather for a night out, a couple of recommendations to book now and present in a suitably romantic card this weekend.

Hester Creek’s cooking classes are already sold out until May, and they aren’t so much a class, but rather a gathering of a dozen new friends having a good time while watching a chef in action. 

You’ll find Chef Chris Van Hooydonk and his team from Backyard Farm at a number of winery events, but also at his own Chef’s Table for multi-course demos and workshops.

Plenty of options to show you care at anytime in 2020.


Feb. 13, Penticton: The BC VQA shop hosts For the Love of Food and Wine, a sensory experience with food pairings from The Chef Instead. 

Feb. 14, Kaleden: Flambe Catering and Oliver’s Covert Farms Family Estate team up for a gourmet Valentine’s dinner at the historic 1912. 

Feb. 14 – 17, Oliver: Road 13 features a “Sweetheart Flight” of five wines paired with cheese and chocolates.

Feb. 14 – 16, Oliver: VinAmité has special Valentine’s pairings with a selection of six cheese crostinis to indulge the senses. Reservations required, call at 250-498-2234 or 250-535-1323.

Feb. 13 – 16, Penticton: Take your beloved or your BFF to Love, Wine & Chocolate at Township 7, featuring Maison Mulnati treats. 

Feb. 15 and 16, Okanagan Falls: See Ya Later Ranch hosts Family Day, with tasting fees donated to the SPCA and homemade stew for purchase.

Feb. 21, Kelowna: Join the Icewine Celebration at Summerhill Pyramid Winery.


A night out at Dine Around

If you’re feeling the winter blues or need an economical night out thanks to the arrival of holiday bills, you’re in luck.

Dine Around Thompson Okanagan covers select restaurants across the region from Osoyoos to Vernon, reaching to Kamloops, and offers set menus from $15 to $45. An excellent value in many cases, and an opportunity to support local businesses in a slow season.

Why wait for a swamped Valentine’s Day? Show your beloved – your friends, your family, or maybe just yourself – a good time now while it’s quiet and relaxed.

There are dozens of choices to peruse at dinearound.ca. I recently visited three.

The Bear, The Fish, The Root & The Berry, Osoyoos

Located in Spirit Ridge Resort, eight of my friends joined me for their $25 lunch menu, which is a total bargain. Billed as modern cuisine inspired by the Indigenous roots of the region, start with a soup or salad, then a choice of three mains (Arctic char, steak, or chicken), and one of two desserts. 

I opted for the fresh Greens N’ Things to start, but the star for me was the fried chicken with warm potato salad. It was some chicken, and if fried chicken is your thing, skip the fast food versions and go for this. I cleansed my palate with the CH-CH-CH-CH-CH-CH-Cherry bomb tri of sorbets.

It was my first visit, but won’t be my last.

Chaos Bistro at Ex Nihilo Vineyards, Lake Country

Five years ago I enjoyed a wood-fired pizza on their sunny patio. Since then a barrel room has been converted to a casually upscale dining and lounge space. Well worthy of the corkscrew drive to get there.

For $45, you’ll experience an exquisite menu. Three choices for your first course, I went with the decadent chicken liver and foie gras parfait. The duck fat fried toast with it? Divine.

Mains include a winter vegetable plate or an elk osso-bucco, but I chose the Arctic char filet on bed of beetroot risotto. Remember the Seinfeld episode with George’s date and her risotto? That was me. Good thing I was solo. Dessert is a rich dark chocolate fondant with caramel air. 

Make this a date night during Dine Around with a reservation and find a designated driver so you can enjoy the wines of Ex Nihilo.

19 Okanagan Grill + Bar at the Two Eagles Golf Course, West Kelowna

For years I’ve been told to get to 19. I don’t golf, and the atmosphere is definitely a golf course lounge (patio season will be stunning), but I am kicking myself that it took me so long to get there.

The Dine Around menu is extensive with $25, $35, and $45 choices. A deliberate choice as my foodie parents came with me and I wanted many options.

Three starters, so we each chose a different one. My mom loved her short rib steamed buns, which she followed with the prawn and scallop embrace, also a winner. My dad indulged in lobster mac ‘n’ cheese, which had huge chunks of lobster.

And as for me? This is my new steak place. Hands down one of the best I’ve had anywhere – beef tenderloin on a bed of wild mushrooms, potatoes, caramelized onions, walnuts, and Danish blue cheese.

We barely had room for dessert, but I still wolfed down a peanut butter chocolate torte.

Next up? Back the gym. Dine Around runs until Feb 2.


Stay tuned for a preview of the best events coming in 2020 in a future column.

Something to warm you up


There are many ways to warm up in this unseasonably cold weather, which looks to settle upon the Okanagan for a while yet. Tea, coffee, soup in a mug… or maybe something a bit different?

Give your après-ski tradition a twist with these suggestions.

Personally, I still have the last of my seasonal eggnog in the fridge. I’ve been adding it to my coffee in the morning, but the last drops will likely be turned into something else before the last bits of the holiday season are put away: half eggnog, half hot cocoa, and if the mood strikes, a shot of coffee liqueur such as Blasted Brew from Legend Distilling.

A hot gin and tonic might replace the traditional hot toddy or hot buttered rum. The trick is using tonic syrup, not actual tonic; you can find syrup at many local distilleries. An ounce and half of syrup, equal parts gin (more or less), top with hot water, a cinnamon stick, and a couple of lemon slices. 

Speaking of hot toddies, give it a twist with a chai hot toddy. Strong chai tea, warm milk, spiced rum, and add vanilla or honey if you need added sweetness.

A few years ago some friends and I came up with the term “alchocolate”: the combo of hot chocolate and a libation, or combo of libations. Common additions are kirsch, peppermint schnapps, or Frangelico. Why not a vanilla or “birthday cake” version? Vanilla vodka, whipped cream, and sprinkles on top. Leave out the vodka and just use good vanilla for a non-boozy option.

And red wine hot chocolate is a thing now. Melt good quality chocolate (milk or dark), with milk or half-and-half in a pot over medium heat, add a red wine (dry or fruity, your choice), and sugar to taste if you wish. 

I found something recently while googling what to do with the pumpkin puree that wasn’t used during the holidays: the Prince Pum King. It’s an ounce of Drambuie, steamed whole milk, an ounce and a half of pumpkin puree (not the pie filling), a dash of cinnamon and nutmeg. Warm it all together, strain, then add the Drambuie. Practising dry January? Skip the Drambuie and add dark honey and a drop of almond extract.

Also for the non-imbibers, combine apple cider, ginger ale, apple slices and a cinnamon stick for garnish, and you’ve got Apple Pie Punch. For the kids, turn this into an apple pie float with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top.


Stay tuned for a preview of the best events coming in 2020 in a future column.

Wine from Down Under

Connecting to wine down under

I had several ideas for this column on the first day of 2020.


Make resolutions such as taking a cooking class or indulging in a chef demo at The Okanagan Table in Kelowna, at Hester Creek or Backyard Farms Chef’s Table in Oliver, or at Mission Hill in West Kelowna.

Or simply try a new restaurant or cuisine this year, choosing local spots that support farmers, growers, and suppliers from the Okanagan and British Columbia. Hint, look for the Buy BC logo.


Raising a glass to the many wineries, breweries, cideries, and distillers who give back to their communities in ways both big and small. Stay tuned.

Given the devastation down under, I decided to go with IDEA THREE: start the year by buying a bottle of Australian wine.

Maybe not one from a large producer, but seek out – from your favourite independent wine shop or ask the knowledgeable staff at government stores for suggestions – a bottle from a smaller winery that has somehow found its way to Canada, especially if it’s from the Adelaide Hills area.

News reports indicate that it will take years for this region to recover, as an estimated one-third of the vines have burned.

Imagine the impact that would have in our province. And the damage isn’t restricted to grapes, but orchards, livestock, equipment, and surely, culinary tourism.

Worry is spreading to other wine regions including the Hunter and Yarra valleys, both of which I have visited.

My fondest memories are of wineries opening their cellars and private rooms to my family (my brother and sister-in-law’s dog included), so we could compare notes and enjoy long pours.

One winery dropped an open bottle of rosé into my purse at the end of the day so we could finish it at home.

If you have been in a tasting room in Canada, there is a decent chance that somebody who had a part in making the drink in your glass picked up some tips in Australia.

They might have studied some aspect of the wine industry, working a harvest, or experiencing beers, spirits, or ciders from the other side of the world. And there are many winemakers here who came from Australia to pursue their careers in the Okanagan.

The wine industry there has many similarities in production to us here. Find a bottle of Aussie shiraz, cabernet sauvignon, pinot noir, chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, or semillon and taste it next to a corresponding bottle from B.C.

Then take a picture, post it, tag the Australian winery, and send them some wine love from Canada.


Stay tuned for a preview of the best events coming in 2020 in a future column.

More Okanagan Taste articles

About the Author

A creative thinker with more than two decades of experience in communications, Allison is an early adopter of social and digital media, bringing years of work in traditional media to the new frontier of digital engagement marketing through her company, All She Wrote.

She is the winner of the Thompson Okanagan Tourism Association's 2011 and 2012 awards for Social Media Initiative, an International LERN award for marketing, and the 2014 Penticton Chamber of Commerce Business Excellence Award for Hospitality/Tourism.

Allison has amassed a following on multiple social networks of more than 30,000, frequently writes and about social media, food and libations as well as travel and events, and through her networks, she led a successful bid to bring the Wine Bloggers Conference to Penticton in June 2013, one of the largest social media wine events in the world, generating 31 million social media impressions, $1 million in earned media, and an estimated ongoing economic impact of $2 million.

In 2014, she held the first Canadian Wine Tourism Summit to spark conversation about the potential for wine tourism in Canada as a year-round economic driver.

Allison contributes epicurean content to several publications, has been a judge for several wine and food competitions, and has earned her advanced certificate from the Wine and Spirit Education Trust.

In her spare time, she has deep, meaningful conversations with her cats.

She can be reached at [email protected]

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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