Several Okanagan culinary events are scheduled to return this month

Events and optimism

Out of an abundance of hope to go out for some late winter activities, or maybe optimism for an early spring now that there is still a sliver of sunshine in the sky at 5 p.m., here’s an anticipatory list of places to go and things to do till patio season arrives.

That all said, do check or reserve in advance for the latest updates for these events and enjoy safely.

Dine Around: Take advantage of special three-course meals ranging from $15 to $65 throughout the region (and elsewhere, with 100 restaurants participating), until Feb. 6. Recommendations – 19 Okanagan Grill + Bar in West Kelowna; Home Block at CedarCreek Winery or Waterfront Wines Restaurant in Kelowna; The Bear, The Fish, The Root & The Berry in Osoyoos; Time Winery & Kitchen in Penticton; Shaughnessy’s Cove in Summerland.
Details: dinearound.ca/

Okanagan Hot Chocolate Fest: Until Feb. 14, pick from 20 businesses in 25 locations around the valley and head out for hot chocolate, both non-boozy or "alcochocolate" versions, then vote for your favourite. There’s also a colouring contest.
Details: okanaganhotchocolatefest.ca/

Chef’s Dinner Series, Mission Hill in West Kelowna: in addition to a Valentine’s dinner options on Feb. 12 and 14, make a date for wine-paired dinners on Feb. 25 or 26, showcasing Ocean Wise Seafood with a focus on bivalves for those who crave mussels, clams, scallops, and oysters.
Details: missionhillwinery.com/events-calendar/

Fondue for Two, Liquidity Winery in Okanagan Falls: Book a cheese fondue paired with glasses of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, available throughout the month of February from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Wednesdays through Sundays. The winery is also part of Dine Around.
Details: liquiditywines.com/Tasting-Room/Experiences

Love is Blind, Township 7 in Penticton or Langley: Give your blind tasting skills a try with your choice of wine flight – red, white, or mixed – paired with charcuterie and sweet treats. Reserve in advance for Feb. 11, 12, or 13.
Details: township7.com/events/

Build a Board, Road 13 in Oliver: Part of its Sunday workshop series (note, How to Tartare is delicious fun), enjoy a glass of wine while learning how to build the perfect mix of cheese, cured meats, pickles, and chutneys for a charcuterie board.
Details: road13vineyards.com/event/sunday-workshops/

Cooking Classes, The Okanagan Table in Kelowna: Set to return in February, "cheffing" classes range from vegetarian to Italian classics, to French cooking, to canapés and platters. Book now to save your spot, and bring your significant other.
Details: theokanagantablestore.com/catalogue/cooking-classes

Finally, if you really, really want to plan ahead, Noble Ridge in Okanagan Falls has just announced the return of its Vine Dining series, with dinners scheduled for July 15, Aug. 5., and Sept. 10 with Backyard Farms.
Details: nobleridge.com/Wines/Event-Tickets.

Ice wine has come a long way and is worth savouring

Why not icewine?

Maybe you opened a sweeter wine of some kind over the holiday season as a special treat, perhaps a Port or Sauternes.

If you’re lucky, maybe you’ve had a taste of good Aszu from the Tokaji region of Hungary. But if you have a bottle of Canadian icewine on the shelf—better yet local B.C. one (no offense to our compatriots in other provinces)— it might be time to pull the cork as we wade into a murky 2022. Why let it continue to gather dust?

Icewine has been a coveted gift for wine lovers around the world who, up to now, have only heard of this sweet Canadian nectar. Sharing it means appreciating the somewhat intense process to get it in the bottle:

• The grapes must be left on the vine to freeze naturally

• Winemakers, vineyard managers and their friends head out to pick when the temperature is at -8 C or lower.

• These grape gems must be transported as quickly as possible from picking to the press so they remain frozen;

• The water in the grapes freezes, leaving the sugars and a much smaller amount of juice to “harvest.”

So, if you’re mostly camping out at home, buying a bottle at a local wine shop or tasting room (wineries may be on winter hours, check in advance) and hunker down for an evening.

Icewine has come a long way from sticky sweet to now elegantly balanced and intriguing bottles. It can be made from many different of grape varietals, and yes, it can be on the pricey side. But it’s worth savouring, so enjoy.

Ex Nihilo Vineyards 2018 Riesling: This varietal gives this wine an almost refreshing acidity, balanced with the sweetness you’d expect. Peach, pineapple and honey notes. Pair with a panna cotta of your choosing.

Summerhill Pyramid Winery 2015 Pinot Noir: A sip will take you back to summer flavours of strawberries and cherries, but as if they were put together in an exquisite jam. Contrast the sweetness with a selection of aged cheeses.

Grizzli Winery 2014 Sauvignon Blanc: A winner of multiple international awards, the colour is a surprising golden hue and this wine is definitely for dessert. Pair with an apple tart or, as the winery suggests, a fruit trifle.

Bench 1775 2017 Bliss: A blend of Viognier, Gewürztraminer, and Pinot Gris, it’s truly unique. Tropical fruit notes, lemon curd, and baked apple notes. A savoury pairing with soft Camembert, or a sweet pairing with cheesecake.

Gehringer Bothers 2019 Cabernet Franc: If you lean towards Port, give this a try. Flavours of blackberry freezer jam and chocolate covered cherries. Pair with a variety of dark chocolates and roasted nuts.

Soda sipping for New Year’s Eve

Time for soda sipping

Sparkling wine is the typical go-to for those who imbibe to ring in the New Year, and certainly there are many beautiful bottles of B.C. bubbly to select for any celebration, spontaneous occasion, or even a random Wednesday.

But making your own soda at home is trendy, and given the gift of a SodaStream this year, I’ve started researching recipes to explore. No soda maker? Club soda from the store is just fine for these creations too.

You can craft your own yummy infused syrups by first making a simple syrup. Put equal parts granulated sugar and water in a small saucepan over medium heat, stir until the sugar is dissolved. Let it cool and store in a glass jar with a tight lid.

Flavours to add to simple syrup while it’s on the stove, after the sugar is dissolved can include:

• A couple of cinnamon sticks

• A vanilla bean

• Sliced ginger

• Fresh herbs such as few sprigs of mint, basil, rosemary, or thyme, or a few bay leaves.

Add one of the above and simmer for a minute or two, then remove from the heat to steep for a half hour. Cool, remove the flavouring item, and strain.

For fruit flavoured syrups, add your favourite fresh fruit to the syrup, and simmer longer – for ten minutes – till the fruit is broken down, then cool and strain. Best to hunt the internet for a recipe for the fruit of your choice, as water and sugar proportions will need adjusting depending on the fruit.

Not into crafting your own? Find syrups or bitters at your favourite distillery or gourmet shop. Hint: The Okanagan Artisan has a delicious pear and ginger craft cocktail syrup that is addictive.

All of these syrups can be added to bubbly soda for some flavour, but how about a few soda-inspired drinks to give a try this New Years?

A vanilla and Earl Grey soda is made by adding a couple of bags of Earl Grey tea to vanilla simple syrup and letting it simmer together, but not for too long so the tea doesn’t make everything bitter. Pour a quarter cup of syrup into a tall glass, add soda and stir, then top with cream.

Use your simple syrup to make cranberry spritzers for the whole family. A litre from your soda making device, a cup of unsweetened cranberry juice, and a cup of syrup (or less if you don’t have a sweet tooth), mixed in a pitcher. Bonus? The adults can add a shot of vodka to theirs.

If you’re not past your holiday chocolate cravings, put two parts milk and one part cold club soda in a blender. Add a few (or more) squirts of chocolate syrup, fill with ice. Optional: add an ounce of cold brewed espresso or Frangelico. Blend till smooth, pour into glasses, and top with ice cream.

Gone are my days of only adding lemon juice to a can of club soda. Bring on 2022.

Holiday breads from around the world

Holiday bread

For many, one of the main discussions around the kitchen counter at Christmas dinner will be all about the bird. Fresh? Frozen? Brined? Deep-fried?

Or, this year, perhaps: “Where did you find a turkey?!”

Add to that a debate: Why must Brussels sprouts be included every year? Who makes the best gravy? What’s for dessert? And maybe, here in B.C. wine country, what bottles should be chilled or decanted and which ones should be served with what course?

There’s usually little talk about one staple on the table—or served for dessert—unless it’s particularly good or unusual.That staple is bread and it’s always present in some form or another.

This year, why not seek out a loaf, bag of buns or a holiday cake that you’ve never tried?

Hit up a local bakery or give one of these a go in your kitchen. To quote Nelson Mandela, “Let there be work, bread, water and salt for all.”

Stollen—A German creation that is the infinitely more buttery and sugar-dusted version of fruitcake, stollen has a vein of marzipan running through it, and traditionally is left for days or weeks before being served so the flavours can meld together. Pairs well with a fruit flavoured tea.

Bobalki—Slovakian in origin (or Czech, as history would have it), these are round poppyseed-glazed buns that are one or two bites of sweet, slightly nutty heaven. Bring these out at brunch for a quick bite next to your morning eggnog latte or a hazelnut infused hot chocolate.

Challah—Traditional Jewish bread shaped into a loaf, but can be transformed into a heart or another symbol of the season. A light, fluffy, buttery, golden melt-in-your mouth experience with just a hint of sweetness. One of the roots of the statement, “I shouldn’t have filled up on that bread!”

Krendel—Russian Christmas bread that takes the form of a large pretzel, after being rolled like a jellyroll as it is filled with dried fruits. It might be topped with a dusting of sugar or icing. The fruits inside are usually pears, apricots, prunes, and apples might that have been simmered in white wine (or water).

Panettone—Those large boxes contain a towering dome-shaped creation from Italy traditionally with raisins and almonds, plus candied citrus peel and fresh citrus zest. Best when fresh and lightly chewy, but it has a long shelf life. A suggestion from an internet chef? Spread a slice with Nutella and grill.

Fruitcake—Some argue that it’s been around since Roman times. Hopefully the one you find at the back of the pantry is not that old.

Happy holidays.

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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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