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Nocino

Nocino in Brandy
Nocino in Brandy

Recipe and photos by Gayle Hurmuses

Nocino is a fabulous digestif, a traditional Italian bitter made from unripe walnuts (any type) that can be made into a lovely liqueur given the right treatment.

The articles I read before making last year’s batch suggested that it would be gone before the year of proper aging was complete and the authors were right. The first few tastes were much like Fernet Branca, but over time it mellowed nicely into something much more subtle and compelling.

Traditionally, the latest date to make Nocino is June 24. Thanks to a late winter in BC, we’re weeks behind, and in late June, the walnuts were still barely marble-sized. They’re nice and plump today however, and the shells have not yet begun to form, so it’s a perfect time to begin. From the look of the fruits there are still a few more days to go before it’s no longer possible.

This recipe will give wonderful results. You may not want to share. I didn’t. O:-)

Walnuts for Nocino

Centennial Park Cob Oven in Duncan, BC

One of the great assets of the Cowichan Valley is the Centennial Park Cob KitchenIt’s a beautiful Cob pizza oven and cooktop available to the community.
The Cob Kitchen can be used by individuals for family use, community organizations who wish to host an event or program, or by local businesses.  One local baker uses this kitchen to bake products to be delivered to her customers. 
Requirements are: Completion of a 1 hour hands-on training, a registration form, a small insurance fee, and a donation.
As the time of this post, there are two Cob Kitchen trainings coming up!
  • Monday June 19, 2017, from 10 – 11 am: 3 spots open
  • Monday June 26, 2017 from 1 – 2 pm: 3 spots open
Bookings may be made through their website at this page.
More than merely a kitchen, the Cob Oven is also a community art project, featuring work by: Maynard JohnnyNan GoodshipPat Amos, and Sarah Way.
Cowichan Community Kitchen in Use
Cowichan Community Kitchen in Use

The Cob Kitchen is sponsored by  the BC Arts Council, Peninsula Co-op, City of Duncan, and Matrix Marble and Stone. It is a project of Cowichan Community Kitchen, a local agency that helps families learn to plan, budget and cook at their partner facilities, and bring meals home for the family.

Operated at five locations throughout the valley (including the Cob Kitchen), the Cowichan Community Kitchens provides valuable services to the community in the Cowichan Valley Regional District. 

Cowichan Community Kitchens is sponsored by:St. John’s Anglican Church, Duncan, St. John’s Anglican Church, Cobble Hill, Lake Cowichan Community Hall, Warmland House, True Grain Bakery – Cowichan Bay, Valley Floors, Webtec, North Cowichan, Rotary. CVRD Area C, Cobble Hill, CVRD Area D, Cowichan Bay, CVRD Area F, Honeymoon Bay, City of Duncan, Jackson on the Moon, and an anonymous donor.

Duck Confit

Duck confit in jar
Duck confit in jar

Duck confit may seem decadent, but the process doesn’t leave the meat fattier than it began.  You’re  going to have mere slivers of the meat, and you’re not going to drink the fat.

I won’t be serving an entire duck leg or wing for each person. The pieces will be deboned, and the meat will be used as an accent…almost as a seasoning to the dishes it’s used in. I truly do get 10 or more dishes from the two legs and wings of an 11lb duck.

Mind you, it was a very happy, exceptionally lean, free-range duck, from neighbours at Legacy Farm. There was little waste on this bird .

Because the duck used was truly free range, it was almost entirely without fat. Even after rendering the skin from the breasts, which was used for another purpose, there was only a small amount of fat, and there was none at all clinging to the bird.

With no duck fat for sale locally, butter was the only solution. It proved to be a delicious problem.

Mein Gout

Over the past  year, I’ve realized that the occasional pain in my right leg and foot that has been with me since my early 20’s is most likely to be gout. The symptoms fit, and are exacerbated when I eat the trigger foods.

It began as a tingling in the toes of my right foot, and soreness in my knee, with occasional shooting pain up the leg. Sometimes I’d have a bunion on my big toe, but I’d tended to blame it on 4″ heels, rather than on diet.  I’d mentioned the pains to my doctor, but she was unconcerned. That I missed the similarity to what had happened to my father’s feet is doubtless a testament to denial.

I began to suspect gout last year when working at a wine show. I’d bought very well-fitting “sensible shoes” in advance specifically to be comfortable throughout long days on my feet.  They were just a bit loose when purchased, but I was expecting to wear thicker tights with them at the show. On my first shift, the shoes were painfully tight by the end of the day, so I looked up possible causes, finding gout at the top of the list.

This has happened before with my shoes, and gout runs in the family, so it should have been a suspect sooner, but I’d always blamed it on not taking enough care when buying shoes. I’ve experienced tingling foot pain and occasional shooting pain in my right leg, but my former doctor had never thought much of it when I’ve raised the issue.

I’ve generally been pretty fit, and thought my diet, which is well-balanced, was good. A bit high in animal fats perhaps, but well in line with my mostly Mediterranean heritage.  It may be a mostly healthy diet, but not apparently, for me. Sadly, it seems that now, many of my favourite things are verböten.

While not specifically life-threatening, gout can impede general health a great deal, and as a form of arthritis can be extremely painful. Arthritis also runs in the family on the other side. I’ll go to the doctor to confirm, but meanwhile, it seems prudent to proceed as if it’s a fact.

It’s not so much a resolution as an imperative.

On the sad side: Less butter and heavy cream in sauces, lower fat milk, no chicken livers, no anchovies, which I have only just begun to enjoy, nor turkey, goose, scallops, salmon, beer, (which both has purines and makes them harder to break down) and alcohol in general is to be taken in extreme moderation. Sadly, beef and pork are preferable for the gout, than lamb, which I prefer. Meat in general, even the “good” ones, should be eaten in extreme moderation.

On the positive side: Lobster, crab, and shrimp are all okay, and so are chicken and duck. No tuna (which I love, but is endangered, so this takes some of the sting of that part out), no sugary pop, and not much sugar in general, which I already don’t care for, and I have no complaints about an excuse to avoid steak and kidney pie. Fortunately, while asparagus, cauliflower, spinach, and mushrooms are also high in purines, at least being veggies, they are thankfully less of a risk overall. Also fortunately, I have long been working towards a “Third Plate” approach, which lends itself to a low purine diet.

For this year (anticipating confirmation from my doctor), I’ll be doing my best to cook within the limitations of a low-purine and purine-clearing diet…while continuing to make mind-bendingly delicious foods that occasionally score high on the hedonism index …but I’ll try within that to use those ingredients that most closely fit my culinary needs, while also being least detrimental from the gout-y perspective.

This very complete chart, and the excellent website it comes from, is going to get some use and I’ll be googling other people’s recipes to try and to share as well as inventing my own.  Either way, the year has begun with a personal challenge. Not one of my choosing, but accepted nonetheless.

I see more beans and vegetables in my future…meat more as a garnish or enhancement than as a cut. More chili and cornbread, dal and rice, more spanakopita, and duck.

Last night’s dinner involved the use of small amounts of duck confit (perhaps 1 oz per serving), cooked with a reduction of light cream and mushrooms, served over penne. The confit had already been seasoned when cooked with thyme and garlic, so there was no need to add anything in that way. It was a simple and satisfying meal that had only a small and measured amount of decadence.

Some of the recipes may not look entirely gout friendly, the confit for example, but they’ll nevertheless reflect a new approach to moderation disguised as excess. In the case of the confit, the fats are used to cook/condition the meat and to preserve, but is not absorbed by the meat…which as above, I use only in small amounts to flavour dishes.

Given my propensity to denial, and their general suitability to the gout diet, Egyptian foods are likely to make an appearance.
O:-)

Larry Fiege of Fiege’s Farm, talking about BC Big Leaf Maple Syrup

Photo and Interview by Gayle Hurmuses, with additional questions from Tilman Hainle.

Growing up in BC, I always wondered why only eastern maples could be tapped for syrup. I discovered this year that others had taken that on and begun tapping and boiling down the sap of the Big Leaf Maple which grows vigorously throughout the province.

The conditions make it difficult or impossible to produce Big Leaf Maple Syrup on a scale that makes it profitable, but a small group of local farmers make it for an equally small segment of dedicated fans.

Larry Fiege is one of those farmers and he recently introduced me to the fact of BC maple syrup’s unique and fascinating flavour…his syrup is lovely, with caramel notes, and a rich, full flavour…more aromatic than the many  excellent eastern maple syrups I’ve had.

It’s a capricious practice, the conditions aren’t always right, and the yields are unpredictable and often low…but the flavour is outstanding and unique…always lovely, but  as variable as west coast weather.

Other stories on Eatin’s Canada about Maple Syrup:

Sugarbush Sugarshack
Maple syrup – The essence of spring

Marilyn Venturi – Venturi-Schulze Wines & Balsamico di Cowichan Valley


Marilyn Venturi, of Venturi Schulze Vineyards in The Wine Islands, relating the story of the development of the vineyard, and their line of “Balsamico di Cowichan Valley” which they produce in both open and closed cask versions.

Both their exceptional wines and their balsamic vinegars are the very definition of organic, and “artisanally produced”.

The very precious open cask version of their balsamic produces only 12 litres per year, the closed cask version, which is also quite spectacular, is produced in somewhat larger numbers and sold in hand-painted bottles.

Tilman Hainle on the 1970’s renaissance in BC wines

Interview with winery consultant Tilman Hainle on the 1970’s renaissance in BC wines, the establishment of Hainle Estate Winery, being Canada’s first vintner of ice wines and organic wines, first winery lounge operator, and on becoming a consultant to wineries around the world.

This is the first of a two-part interview. Click here for Part Two: Tilman Hainle on consulting, the future of BC wine, and its still untapped potential