Sunshine in a jar

I remember a song when I was a kid about swinging on a star and carrying moonbeams in a jar.

I always wanted to do those things Bing Crosby sang about, but I never even managed to find a firefly much less a moonbeam.

One thing I did discover though, was how to capture sunshine in a jar.

My mom didn’t do much canning, and I quickly lost the sense of magic at harvesting the vegetable garden when I was young. It was more work, in my opinion. 

Mom used to blanch snow peas and beans and freeze them, and I helped. It was my job to take the straw that came in the package with the special plastic bags and suck the air out of the bag to ensure the veggies didn’t get freezer burn.

Have you ever tasted green bean air? As a kid would say, “It’s gross!”

Luckily, as I got older, my horizons were broadened. In one of my first university jobs, I worked at a beautiful neighbourhood restaurant.

The woman who owned it was from Turkey, and many of her traditional recipes were on the menu. One of my favourites was the ricotta cheesecake she made and served with homemade apricot sauce. 

Coming into my second summer working there, I asked if I could help her make the apricot sauce, as I was intrigued by the taste. As I learned her secrets, I became hooked.

That Sunday was my initiation as a domestic geek. My passion for food came full circle from the garden to the dinner table and finishing with canning jars.

Over the years, I have made all kinds of fruit jams and jellies:

  • Chokecherry
  • Crab apple
  • Peach
  • Plum
  • Raspberry.

I have made chutneys, ketchups and hot sauces. I’ve poached pears, cherries and peaches (in wine, even)
and pickled:

  • Cucumbers
  • Tomatoes
  • Beets
  • Carrots
  • Beans
  • Even baby peaches.

But my all-time favourite item in our pantry is still apricot jam. 

Homemade preserves do take time and they have to be made safely so they keep properly. The flavours are more than worth the effort if you ask me.

When you capture the ripe flavours of fresh fruit, it’s like taking yourself back to the heat and abundance of summer.

The fresh crunch of a pickled cucumber or carrot can be like just picked from the garden, and a spoonful of jam can make you remember having the juice of the fruit running down your chin when you bit into it.

Apricots are the perfect balance of tangy and sweet. They have a rich texture, especially when cooked, but they are not overwhelming with that bit of acidity. That apricot sauce of long ago with the cheesecake was a perfect combination in my mind. 

A homemade apricot pie I tasted one year at the Wauconda Sock Hop with a scoop of vanilla ice cream was just as delicious. I was quite chuffed to get the 80-year-old baker’s recipe the next summer when we went back for more dancing – and more pie.

I hope you’ll take some time this summer to put away a bit of the flavour of the season. Freeze some fruit to bake with later or try some jam.

Freezer jam is a great way to start – look for freezer jam pectin where you find canning supplies (I get it at Home Hardware.) If you’d like more tips, send me an email; I’d be happy to share what I know.

When the winds blow cold again and the snow flies, you will be glad when you bring back some of the sunshine from summer, like a magic moonbeam.

You might even feel like you’re swinging on a star.  

The joys of camping

We took our annual camping trip this past week.

It has been our tradition the last 10 years to go to the Cascades and camp at a family campground on a small lake in Washington.

We can sit on the dock or swim or paddle on our boards during the day and then lounge at our campsite with the lake view and starry sky after a delicious dinner. 

This year, many traditions have not been possible; this was another experience we had to adapt. 

We booked a spot in the Shuswap, hoping to keep up our lake time and still have good weather. Good food would be even easier, I mused, without the limitations of transporting fresh items across the border.

We left home with a positive attitude. 

Full disclosure: when I say “camping” I mean with a camper trailer. Our 13-foot, 1973 Trav-L-mate is considered vintage, but it does have the comforts of home.

Hubby and I decided we just aren’t willing to sleep on the ground any more or end up with everything wet if it rains. As a bonus, we have more capacity for cooking and a few other creature comforts. 

By current standards we seem to fall somewhere in the middle of the camping population. There are still plenty of tenters out there, bless their hearts, though many folks go for a much more cozy kind of vibe with 20-40 feet of trailer complete with air conditioning, television and all the appliances of home. 

Our philosophy on camping is the same as it is with the rest of life: whichever way you approach an experience, you get the most out of it if you embrace it. Otherwise, why bother? There is no need to suffer unnecessarily. 

Any regular reader of this column will know that I come by my Gourmande title honestly – food in all its forms has long been a priority in my life and having married a chef I eat very well.

That doesn’t mean we never eat burgers or poutine. We do like to try new things too though, and camping is a fun time to do that.

This year our efforts included these delights:

  • Shrimp n’ grits – this is a practical camping meal as it uses few dishes and cooks quickly. We had shrimp and spicy sausage with a few veggies, all cooked on the grill. Grits (recipe link) is a sort of creamy, soft base for the stronger spicy flavours.
  • Flatbread – we did thin flatbread cooked on lake stones on the grill to be funky, but we have done pizza many times too, with a baking stone. It’s not hard, and lots of fun. Recipe link.
  • S’mores from scratch – we went all out this time, but any one of these steps takes your s’mores experience to a whole new level. Homemade biscuits, homemade marshmallows (with toasted coconut just to be decadent), homemade chocolate ganache – instead of chocolate pieces because it’s already soft – and some caramel sauce too, just in case (wink wink)

By this point, you might be shaking your head and thinking we should stay home and cook, leaving the real campers to enjoy their hot dogs cooked over the fire. Or perhaps you’re like Jim Gaffigan the comedian, not understanding why anyone would go camping at all

We might have had folks like that across from us on this trip. We noticed the Skip the Dishes delivery vehicle pull up to their site just as we were pouring the wine to go with our flatbread, barbecue tri-tip roast and herb butter baby potatoes and zucchini. I suppose they felt they were suffering by having to cook anything at all. 

I’d love to hear where you stand on this issue. You can’t leave comments here, but I invite you to visit my Happy Gourmande Facebook page. Let me know what your favourite camp food is, maybe share a recipe, or feel free to vent about how camping is not your thing.

One last bit of advice for you: if you head out to the Shuswap for a dose of the great outdoors, don’t forget your bug spray. We weren’t the only ones feasting in the forest. 

The original cool: ice cream

The quintessential treat of summer is a frozen one.

Nowadays, there are many variations on this theme, what with global eating trends and dietary restrictions being so common. Originally though, everyone knew it as “cream ice” or “iced cream.” 

No one knows for sure exactly where it was first served, but ice cream has had universal appeal going back as far as the third century B.C. in China.

There are a few legends, all involving famous people, recounting how ice cream’s popularity grew. You can take your pick:

  • Emperor Nero of Rome had snow brought from the Apennine Mountains and had a sorbet-style dessert made with honey and wine
  • Marco Polo brought frozen desserts to Italy (the first gelato?). Then, Catherine de Medici took them to France when she married the Duke of Orleans
  • King Charles I of England gave his royal ice cream maker a lifetime pension to ensure his recipe was kept secret

Frozen foods were a challenge before refrigeration. If you didn’t live where there was ice or snow year-round, you had to cut pieces from a lake or pond and store it in straw-lined ice houses or in the ground.

The first ice cream makers, called churns, used salt to help keep the product frozen. (This is a great science demonstration of an endothermic reaction for the kids, with a delicious reward at the end.)

It wasn’t until the 17th century that ice cream became generally known in Europe, but it was another 200 years before the middle classes would afford it.

The first ice cream stand was outside a tube station in London in 1851, using an ice well with chunks of ice to keep the product frozen. 

Agnes Marshall, a cookbook author and teacher in England, did much to popularize ice cream. She even invented the cone, or “cornet” as she called it. Her first ones were made with almonds and baked in the oven (like tuiles).

In America, it was the Quakers who arrived with ice cream recipes in 1745. It was popular in the colonial era, culminating with being featured at the World’s Fair in 1904 and being served in cones.

Once refrigeration became more affordable, ice cream exploded as a treat worldwide. As with most foods, variety became an added motivator for people to enjoy it more often. Soft serve ice cream added more air to the mix, making it more profitable as well as lighter. 

Now, you can get gelato in many more places than Italy, and flavours of ice cream have gone far beyond chocolate, strawberry, and vanilla.

Local ice cream parlours offer waffle cones, ice cream sundaes and even specialties like affogato (ice cream with a shot of espresso poured over it – what’s not to like with that combination?) 

But perhaps you want to be a piece of history, and contribute to the original ideas out there?

With all our delicious fresh fruit, you might just want to throw some softened ice cream in a large bowl and mix in pieces of your favourites.

Feel free to add a bit of chopped chocolate or toasted nuts or coconut or caramel sauce… you get the idea.
Re-freeze and voilà, your customized flavour. 

If you’d like to try a recipe from scratch, here are a few places to start. The “no churn” recipes don’t require an ice cream machine, just a loaf pan or Tupperware-style container to put in the freezer.

Of course you can always add your own touch of flavour as well (like cinnamon berry or vanilla almond or…)

Egg free vanilla recipe 

Vegan coconut recipe

Berry no churn recipe

Exotic gourmet flavours

Authentic gelato (with instructions either by hand or machine) 

So, if you’re having a tough day, stop and breathe. Then remember, as Charles Schultz said:

Life is like an ice cream cone
you have to lick it one day at a time.

Old-fashioned summer fun

This summer is full of what we didn’t expect and absent of what we normally expect for the season.

Even the weather has been cool and rainy.

But amidst the craziness that has become 2020, there are chances to have some good old-fashioned fun.

Have you been to the drive-in movies yet this year? There are two choices in the Okanagan this summer.  

In Kelowna, there is Outside Cinema. They have films on Fridays and Saturday nights, generally one of those being a kid-friendly film. Or you can go classic and visit the Starlight Drive-In outside Enderby. It’s the largest screen in North America, currently running some great classic favourites in their usual double-feature format. 

Both places are selling tickets online for carloads of two to six people. Outside Cinema has no concession, but Starlight does, with safety protocols and the lowest prices of any theatre around.

Please support them if you go. And bring a boombox radio that receives an FM signal if you don’t want to use your car battery (an app won’t work to receive the soundtrack).

Perhaps you would prefer a daytime activity… how about a walk or a bike ride? The Myra Canyon Trestles are open again in Kelowna. The 12 kilometres of trail allows numerous views and historical signage for reference.

Please remember to use standard trail protocols for safety. Dogs on leash are allowed, but I’d recommend only taking furry friends on a cooler day as it can get hot up there.

If you need something for the kids to do and they like acting, singing and/or dancing, a great opportunity is the roster of kids’ classes at Kelowna Actor’s Studio.

They have postponed their live shows till next year, but have implemented numerous protocols to make workshops safe for kids. 

When all else fails, our region is a wonderful place for a picnic. I mentioned picnics a few weeks ago (scroll down if you missed it). Some of my favourite picnic spots:

  • At Okanagan Falls on the shores of Skaha Lake. You can stop for ice cream at Tickleberry’s after.
  • South of Summerland, Sun-Oka Beach Provincial Park has a number of picnic tables, plenty of grass and even a dog beach.
  • On the Westside, Gellatly Nut Farm has lovely shade trees to sit under and a tranquil setting by Okanagan Lake.
  • In Lake Country, Kaloya Park is an idyllic little spot on the shores of Kalamalka Lake. (Note: this one can get busy and it isn’t as big as other areas.)
  • In Kelowna, the whole stretch of lakefront from City Park through to the Rotary Marsh Park is beautiful, with plenty of parking and spots to stop for a snack that you bring or buy.

If you’re looking for places to pick up goodies to go, or other summertime treats to enjoy, check out fellow columnist Allison Markin with her Okanagan Taste ideas.

Make some time this summer to get out and enjoy. It is important that we remember how to stay safe and respect others in this time even more than usual. Some of how we can do that is to enjoy the space and breathe deep in the sunshine.

It will help us all get through this far-from-normal summer.

More Happy Gourmand articles

About the Author

Kristin Peturson-Laprise is a customer experience specialist by trade, which means she is someone passionate about people having a good time. 

Her company, Wow Service Mentor, helps businesses enhance their customer experience through hands-on training, service programs, and special event coordination.

Kristin enjoys her own experiences too, and that is what she writes about in this column. She and her husband Martin Laprise (also known as Chef Martin, of The Chef Instead) love to share their passion for food and entertaining.  

Kristin says:

"Wikipedia lists a gourmand as a person who takes great pleasure in food. I have taken the concept of gourmandise, or enjoying something to the fullest, in all parts of my life. I love to grow and cook food, and I loved wine enough to become a Sommelier. I call a meal a success when I can convey that 'sense of place' from where the food has come . . . the French call that terroir, but I just call it the full experience. It might mean tasting the flavours of my own garden, or transporting everyone at the table to a faraway place, reminiscent of travels or dreams we have had."


E-mail Kristin at:  [email protected]

Check out her website here:  www.wowservicementor.com


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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