Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Odds and Sods

Just a little catch up for you of some things in the last few weeks that made me smile.
Firstly, a clip sent to me from Paul Simon's concert in Hyde Park. Yes, he's singing my favourite song 'Under African Skies', though all of the talking and walking around would have driven me crazy.  Despite this, I would have given my eye teeth to be at this concert. There was one point in the spring when I optimistically thought my visa application would go through in time, and I would get to see Paul and the Olympics (guess that didn't happen!). I'll be there soon London, I promise.

Here's a full live version of Under African Skies. 

A Storm Lantern surrounded by summer blooms.

My latest $2 purchase from Front & Company (I figured it was appropriate for next year)

10 cents to every bottle go towards helping those on Vancouver's struggling downtown east side

A pit stop at chef David Hawksworth's Bel Cafe
The Macaron on the left was PB&J....seriously yum.

Wonderful View over Kits Pool

View of the City in the other direction from the Kitsilano Showboat Theatre

Coldwater Road performance at the Kitsilano Showboat Theatre

Check them out and download free music here.

Getting great use out of our monogrammed mugs (from Anthropology)

Where the Green Grass Grows (my favourite tree along Kane Valley Road)

I almost stepped on this rather large guy (he was the length of my finger - it would have made quite the crunch!)

My Percheron friends (they are actually quite snobby and never come to the fence to chat with me). I don't hold it against them.

Don't forget to follow me on Instagram (beyondtheblueumbrella), as there are many more where these came from!

Monday, 30 July 2012

Wine Country.

On Friday morning we snuck away from the ranch for a little adventure in the Okanagan. For those of you not familiar with British Columbia, the Okanagan region is about fours hours northeast of Vancouver in British Columbia's interior. We are particularly lucky in that when driving from the ranch (situated just outside of Merritt), it takes merely an hour to find ourselves in wine country. When most people think of the area, they picture Lake Okanagan. When approaching from Highway 1, your first glimpse of the lake is absolutely breathtaking. It is absolutely gigantic and set amidst rolling hills. As you begin to work your way around the lake, there are small lakeside communities such as Peachland, Summerland, and Naramata, as well as the cities of Penticton, and Kelowna to explore. There are other lakes in the region, but Lake Okanagan is definitely one of the most impressive. The Okanagan region also boasts a dry and sunny climate and is known for it's agriculture. In the early years, this was primarily fruits, but the Okanagan has since made a name for itself in the world of wine.

On this particular day, we headed to the west facing slopes of the lake to visit the boutique wineries on the Naramata Bench. In the summer, these local wineries are in full swing, offering tastings, and welcoming wine tours. Many of them have fantastic restaurants overlooking the lake, giving tourists the opportunity to rest their legs, and sample some of the regional foods with their wine.

We make a few trips up to this area every year, and as a result, have a few favourite wineries that we like to visit. We also attempt to stop in at one or two that we haven't seen before.

The day begins with a light breakfast in Summerland 

Arriving at Poplar Grove Winery

Beautiful Lake views

Too cool for school.

Father and daughter.

Lunch: Mushroom, Green Pea, and Mint Flatbread

Prawn and Scallop Flatbread
Some of our purchases.

Now it was time to hit up one of our 'go-to vineyards'. La Frenz.

The tasting room at La Frenz

My usual purchase.

After visiting a couple of Vineyards, we headed for a walk in Skaha Bluffs Provincial Park.

Less than comforting!

Murphy on the scent.

Some other things to note.

View of the bluffs- A popular climbing destination

Murphy and Dad take a breather and enjoy the view.
The view: A heard of Bighorn sheep in the field below where we were resting

After our hike, we continued along the lake to Okanagan Falls, and then drove back along the opposite side. We took a quick pit stop lakeside for a little R&R.

The perfect spot for an afternoon siesta.

We capped off our day with dinner at the German restaurant, Gasthaus on the Lake. Little did we know, it was Asparagus season, so we didn't leave without our fill of schnitzel and asparagus. The Gasthaus immediately transports you back to Germany with its traditional German Architecture and great interior decor. It also has a fantastic patio, perfect for warm summer evenings such as this one. 
What? There's a Biker Gang behing me??

Walking off the schnitzel lakeside, prior to the journey home.

Wine is one of the most civilized things in the world and one of the most natural things of the world that has been brought to the greatest perfection, and it offers a greater range for enjoyment and appreciation than, possibly, any other purely sensory thing.

-Ernest Hemingway (Death in the Afternoon)

I would have to agree!

Friday, 27 July 2012

Rough start.

Thursday evening was a very late one as we spent a wonderful day in the Okanagan (I will blog about it on Monday), and didn't start the drive back to the ranch until after dinner.
The evening is when I usually sit down to write, but I was exhausted. I had full intentions of writing Friday's blog early Friday morning, but made the first mistake of waking up, grabbing my iphone, and reading my emails (my usual routine). Sitting nicely in my inbox was the MA Student Handbook from the University where I will commence study in September. You can imagine the angst building up inside me as I scrolled through page after page describing my courses, the readings, the methods of assessment, and of course the criteria for marking. I immediately felt a sensation similar to that of being in Elementary school the night before the new school year started with what was always the worst 'Sunday Feeling' (well, it was actually a 'Monday Feeling' due to the Labour Day holiday) of the school year. I think this time it was a combination of nerves, angst, excitement, and insecurity.

This feeling was only compounded when I read my horoscope in the Globe and Mail (the second step to morning routine). Despite reading it quite regularly, I don't usually put much faith in horoscopes (except when convenient), but as you will probably see, I couldn't really ignore this one....gulp. (Aquarius)

So, my day was a bit of a write-off after that.

I did however, drive into Merritt and watch the Opening Ceremony for the London Olympics (yes, all 4 hours of it, bottom glued to a high top at Boston Pizza). I thought it was fabulous (though I am a sucker for great moments in sport). I'll admit, it is not difficult to find me teary eyed while watching events such as this one. 

What did you think? Was it well worth every penny (42 million dollars to be precise)?

The greatest revelation to my day followed the opening ceremonies as I continued to dwell (and laugh) at the incredible ridiculousness of my horoscope. I realised being the nature of a horoscope, this message was not directed solely at me, but also at every person born in February, which means, one in 12 people are supposedly in over their heads, biting off more than they can chew. It supposedly applies to you and I, but also, hypothetically (this is where I somehow linked it to the Olympics- the mind works in mysterious ways), to any Aquarian athlete in today's opening ceremony.  I'd like to think (and I'm certain I'm right), that the athletes I saw parade into the new Olympic park are quite the opposite. They are more prepared for this competition than they will ever be. This is their chance to shine. They have qualified, beaten most odds (and most of their competitors along the way) to earn these spots and the chance to compete on the world's stage. I am beyond excited to spend my next two weeks watching them do this.

I only hope that when September comes, and it's my turn to shine, that I feel as prepared and confident as they do. I'll never know what the future has in store for me but I will take comfort in a truthful quote from one of my favourite athletes...

You miss one hundred percent of the shots you don't take.

(Yes, that was M.J.)

On a lighter note...
(July 26th, 2012- Source: Camperon Spencer/Getty Images Europe)

I'll leave you with my favourite moment from Danny Boyle's masterpiece.

Funny, it seems he's just read that he's bitten off more than he can chew...

Thursday, 26 July 2012

The Thunder Rolls.

This morning we awoke, had our breakfast on the porch, and watched excitedly as the thermometer began to climb. We were quite slow out of the blocks, lazily reading our books, and contemplating a possible trip with the new kayak to the lake later on.

When lunch rolled around, to our dismay, the temperature plateaued, and we sat there as the dark clouds quickly formed over the ranch. As the dog and horses began to stir, we quickly realised we were in for quite a storm.

They were right.

As we huddled inside with the eaves overflowing on the front deck, I decided it would be the perfect day to do some baking. I had wanted to make my special Neiman Marcus cookie recipe, but had left it at home in Vancouver. We had received this recipe in a mother's day cookbook (made by my brother's grade five class) accompanied by a story that someone had paid $250 for it unknowingly, and now wanted to share it with as many people as possible. I have since learned that this was an urban legend, though I could really care less, as it consistently made damn good oatmeal chocolate chip cookies. Having forgotten this recipe at home, I jumped on the computer, in search of something similar. I found our old recipe on a website discussing the urban legend, along with a new recipe claiming to be the Real McCoy. So I tried it. The recipe pulled through, making some fantastic cookies. I used real espresso instead of instant espresso, as we didn't have the latter (though I should have increased the quantity as you couldn't taste the coffee when the cookies were baked). This recipe also did not have the Oatmeal that the original recipe called for, and this was something I missed.

Regardless, these were YUMMY!

The REAL Neiman Marcus Recipe (apparently!)

1/2 Cup Butter (Softened)

1 Cup Light Brown Sugar (I used demerara, as that's all I had)
3 tbsp White Sugar

1 Large Egg (lightly beaten)

2 tsp Vanilla Extract

1 3/4 Cups All Purpose Flour

1/2 tsp Baking Powder

1/2 tsp Baking Soda

1/2 tsp Salt

1 1/2 tsp instant espresso (I used finely ground regular espresso- though would add more next time as the flavour didn't come through in the final product)

1 1/2 Cups Semi Sweet Chocolate chips

*** Preheat Oven to 300 F***

Directions: Mix together butter and sugars using an electric mixer (you can't tell from the photos but my bowl was far too small and I sprayed sugar all over the kitchen! - once you put the egg in, it keeps it together...good to know for next time!)

 Add 1 Large Egg (Farm Fresh of course!) lightly Beaten and Vanilla

Combine dry ingredients, then mix in with wet ingredients.

Stir in instant espresso and Chocolate Chips ( I used Ghiradelli Chocolate- Yum!)

Drop onto lightly greased cookie sheet about 3 inches apart (or use parchment paper like I did)

Use the back of a spoon to flatten dough slightly making round circles

Bake for about twenty minutes (until they are lightly brown around the edges). Bake longer if you like them crispy. It seems longer, but remember, the oven is only at 300.

Place on cooling rack (or better yet, eat hot out of the oven with a big glass of milk!)

Almost like a sign from above, as the cookies came out of the oven, the clouds parted and we were left with a gorgeous evening (now that's a good recipe!).

Off to the lake we went...

Dad in his new Kayak.

Here, now you can pretend you were with us...