Mid-Week Tangent: Cinnamon Bun Woes

Oh friends, you know that expression “fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me”? Well, shame on me this week. After my National Donut Day fail, I gave our local coffee shop another chance with it’s Sticky Bun Saturdays and I’m here to tell you that I am officially throwing in the towel on Ratio Coffee‘s pastries. It is a sad moment for me, partly because I was duped not once but twice, but also because I so badly wanted to have a local pastry hotspot. Alas, I will keep looking. In the meantime, join me in my cinnamon bun woes.

Okay it’s a terrible picture, I know, but it doesn’t even look promising.

Where: Ratio Coffee, Vernon BC

Price: about $4.50 for one “sticky” bun (i.e. pretty pricey)

The Low Down:  Okay, here’s the thing: the cardinal rule of a sticky bun is that if you want to call it a sticky bun, then it absolutely must be sticky. This is non-negotiable.  If you have a tiny ribbon of non-sticky cinnamon running through incredibly thick layers of dough, then call it a cinnamon ribbon bun and call it a day.  This is a cinnamon ribbon bun at best.

I know I sound critical, but cinnamon buns and sticky buns are a personal fave, and what makes them delicious is all that sticky goodness. My dream cinnamon bun is ultra moist, with thin layers of dough that are basically just a vehicle for masses of buttery cinnamon-sugar filling that oozes out both the top and bottom. And if you’re going to call something a sticky bun, that oozing-out-the-bottom factor is absolutely paramount.  Paramount.

This “sticky bun” only leaves up to half it’s name: bun. Oh there is dough, friends. There is so very much dough. To be honest, the dough is perfectly fine. It’s brioche like and quite tasty.  But no one, and I mean no one, buys a sticky bun for the dough. You buy it for the sticky filling. In this bun, there was none (rhyme unintended but delightful nonetheless). I wish I had taken a picture of the barely-there ribbon of cinnamon that ran through this bun. I mean, it was less visible than the streusel ribbon in a coffee cake. Unacceptable.

The saving grace for this bun was the frosting, which my partner loved with all his heart. I had a more measured reaction. It was good in that it was frosting, but it was by no means incredible frosting, and there was certainly not enough of it. That said, it was absolutely critical to balance out the sheer volume of dough in this bun. Without the frosting, I probably wouldn’t have eaten my half of the bun at all. That, in itself, is a sad testament to just how disappointing this bun was.

Here’s the long and short of it: I absolutely do not recommend this sticky bun, but if you choose not to heed my warning, at the very least make sure you pay for the frosting.

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Mid-Week Tangent: national donut day fail

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in the last year, it’s that there is a day for every damn thing on this planet.For those of you who didn’t know, last Friday was national donut day. National Donut Day is apparently so worthy of celebration that it gets two days. That’s right. When this past donut day rolled around, I thought to myself ‘I’m fairly sure we’ve already had one of these this year.’ Sure enough, Google revealed that June and November feature National Donut Days (if you’re curious as to why, check out this article).

That’s all a bit of an aside, though. I had no idea it was actually national donut day when we opted to check out the donuts at a local coffee shop. Every Friday is donut day at this coffee shop, and we just happened to remember that as we were driving home from our Friday morning hike (balance, y’all).  When I found out later that it was National Donut Day, I convinced myself that our buying donuts by pure chance might somehow mean that we’d  stumbled upon a mecca for amazing donuts. You see, ever since leaving Vancouver, I have missed my beloved apple fritters from Breka so very much.  And the dulce de leche donuts from Breka. And the occasional glazed old fashioned from Lucky’s Donuts. The Okanagan is wonderful in many ways, but so far it is not so wonderful when it comes to bakeries.

Alas, despite our high hopes, unfortunately, we were wrong. We had not stumbled upon a donut mecca.

Looks so promising doesn’t it?

Where: Ratio Coffee

What we Had: lemon thyme for me, cinnamon sugar for my partner in crime

The Verdict:  I didn’t try the cinnamon sugar because, to me, a donut without some form of glaze isn’t even worth eating. According to my better half it wasn’t that great.

My lemon thyme donut was a big disappointment in the actual donut department. The dough was tough. If I’m going to eat a yeast donut (my preference is always cake donuts), I want it to be light as air, fluffy, ultra pillowy soft, but with a slight crunch to the outer edges. This donut was all chew. It had an odd stretch to it when I tried to tear it apart, as though the dough had been overworked, and the outer edges had no delightful deep fried crust. It was the kind of donut that made me regret wasting calories on it (i.e. the worst kind of donut).

The one saving grace for this donut was the glaze, which was quite heavenly. It was supremely tart from the lemon and had the essence of thyme without being overwhelming. I’m usually not one to go with herbs in my baked goods because if they are overdone it’s just a big old mess, but this glaze got it right. I am not going to lie: I basically ripped the bottom of the donut off this bad boy and ate a thin layer of the donut with the glaze. Had this been my entire donut experience, I would have been a happy camper. But alas, it was not.

And so our national donut day chance experiment with Ratio Coffee donuts was a big old fail. I’m not tempted to try their donuts again, but I am willing to give them a chance on their sticky bun Saturdays because, well, sticky buns are life.  But as far as winning donuts in the Okanagan go, I’m still on the hunt.

Mid-Week Tangent: Cider Wednesdays

Lately, mid-week has become a time for Wine Wednesdays (see here, here, here and here), where I write about my experiences at local wineries.  Today, I’m shifting gears ever-so-slightly and focusing on cider. It doesn’t have quite the same alliterative ring to it, but I’m going to own it nonetheless.

I’ve found that people’s stance on cider varies wildly. Some love the overly sweet, mass-produced ciders we find at the local liquor store. Others hate cider precisely because of those mass-produced, overly sweetened ciders. In other words, our views on cider can be complicated. Also, for those of you who do love the sweet ciders, I’m sorry but this post is not going to be for you. I mean, you still might like the post, but you won’t like the ciders I discuss. For everyone else who loves ultra dry ciders, this post and the ciders described within it are for you. Here we go!

Region: north okanagan

Cidery:  BX Press Cidery & Orchard (Vernon, BC)

Varieties:  Prospector & Bandit

Price Point: $8-9 bucks per 500 mL bottle

Brief and non-technical Tasting Notes:  Let me start off by saying that I love every single cider I’ve ever tasted at BX, with the exception of one. So in choosing two to highlight, I am by no means saying that the others aren’t worth it. They have many seasonal offerings which are either done til next year (their winter seasonal offerings) or which are not yet ready (summer offerings); today’s two ciders are my two personal favourites among the mix of ciders currently available.

The Prospector: Being a fan of tart white wines and sour ales, this slightly tart and ultra dry cider has been a personal fave since the first time I tried it. It mixes apples and crab-apples and, while I can’t definitively say it’s the crab apples that gives the cider its tartness, I definitely assume that it’s part of the magic. This is super, crazy refreshing on a hot day and I consider it to be a worthy replacement for any beer.

The Bandit: Right at the onset I said that sweet cider lovers would find nothing here, and I was sort of wrong. The Bandit is apple cider blended with real cherry juice. While I wouldn’t characterize the cider as ‘sweet’, it’s certainly the sweetest of the ciders I’ve tried at BX. That said, it’s still refreshing and not at all cloying and it goes brilliantly well with potato chips for reasons I don’t quite understand. If you aren’t really into ciders, trust me when I say this will be your gateway cider.

Cidery Vibes:  Cidery vibes are super important yet underrated. This is the feeling that you get when you walk into a space, and is influenced by things such as: aesthetics, decor, set up, staff friendliness and knowledge, sampling protocol (free vs. fees, sampling variety, etc.), snobbiness vs. accessibility, etc.).

The BX doesn’t just have a tasting room, they have a full-on tasting experience. They do a whole presentation along with their tastings. While some people might just want the cider, I appreciate that this makes trying their ciders more of an outing than a five minute sampling. Plus, there are some really cool stories about the region and cidery’s history, including harrowing tales of a gold thief and prison escape. Bonus points: their visual aids are (professionally) drawn on cardboard. It feels homey and quaint and personal. It does not hurt that you get anywhere from 3-6 sizeable cider tastings to accompany the story.

You will sit at large communal tables, which means getting to know a bit about some other people. That’s not everyone’s thing, but there’s not a ton of time for small talk so I’ve never found it to be awkward (and I am not one for small talk with strangers). You may have to wait for the tasting because it comes with a story, but it’s never more than 15 minutes and there’s orchards to be viewed and a little shop with quaint decor that will keep you distracted.

Tastings are by donation, which is a lovely thing these days. Apparently they tried to implement a tasting fee earlier this year, but it felt wrong to them. I like that they are honouring who they are, and I imagine people are actually more generous when they aren’t forced to pay. Or at least I am.

This is a brilliant place to stop and visit when the hankering for cider strikes, or a fantastic place to go if you’re not sure you even like cider yet. No matter what, go check it out. It’s fun, it’s informative and, most importantly, it’s delicious. Cider on, my friends.

*It probably goes without saying, but I have received no compensation for writing this. BX has no idea who I am, nor do I have a followership on this blog that would inspire anyway to pay me for writing nice things about them.

Mid-Week Tangent: my love for ice cream DOES have limits

When we told people we were going to Portland a couple weeks ago, almost everyone told us that we absolutely had to go to Salt and Straw. As a passionate lover of ice cream, I gladly accepted a recommendation. I’ve heard of Salt and Straw before and figured it couldn’t hurt to try it.

After 2.5 days of wandering, eating and drinking our way through PDX, it was time to give Salt & Straw a try. And so, on our last day in town, which wasn’t even a full day in that would had to leave for the airport mid-afternoon, I dragged my poor better all the way to Nob Hill (i.e. up a giant hill from our downtown hotel…in 30+ degree heat) for the sole purpose of checking out Salt & Straw.

We got there around 12:30 and headed straight inside where there appeared to be a small line (I couldn’t actually tell if the people hovering were in line and just not paying attention to the fact that the line had moved up, or just  milling about).  I figured we should strike while the ice cream iron was hot (i.e. while the line was short), but my partner reminded me that we hadn’t eaten lunch yet and should probably do that first. Personally, I don’t subscribe to only eating dessert after a proper meal, but I’d also eaten no actual, healthy food in three days so I conceded for once.

That was where I made my mistake. Had I gone for my usual footloose and fancy free “eat dessert whenever the hell you feel like it” approach, I would be writing about their ice cream, rather than rambling on about the limits to my love for ice cream. Instead, we ate a sensible lunch (salad, no less!) and returned almost two hours later to find that the line for ice cream had extended to outside the shop, snaking itself around the corner and doubling over itself into two rows.

I still stand by my initial thought which was ‘Good God, all this for ice cream?!?! It cannot be that good.’ I was eyeing up the ice cream of those sitting outside, those who hadn’t foolishly arrived at 2:30pm on a hot, sunny Sunday, which also happened to be Mother’s Day. It looked, dare I say, like any other ice cream. People were oohing and ahhhing over it, but wouldn’t you do the same if you’d just waited in line for the better part of an hour? I know I would, if only just to prove it hadn’t been a total waste of my time.

Alas, we got in line anyway, and I was doing the mental math on how long it would take to serve the scores of people ahead of us, most of whom I imagined greedily sampling every flavour under the sun before hemming and hawing over their final choice as if an ice cream choice ever has any real consequence (and I say this as an ice cream obsessive). My mental math, and the fact that we hadn’t advanced at all in five minutes, was telling me that this was easily an hour-long line up.

It was at this point that I was faced with a dilemma: do I suck it up and waste my last hours in Portland waiting in line for ice cream that, quite likely, is overhyped and merely good, or do I walk away never knowing if this was the one ice cream shop whose ice cream isn’t highly overrated?  You can tell the title of this post that my choice was to walk away. Because even though I love ice cream probably more than any other confection, and even though a good ice cream is such a magically wondrous delight, and even though I live to write posts about any ice cream experience good or bad, apparently there is a limit to my love for ice cream.

That limit is a one hour line.

Mid-Week(ish) Tangent: Wine Thursdays

Wine Thursdays just doesn’t have the same ring to it as Wine Wednesdays, but sometimes I just can’t get my act together on the right day, so this is what I have to offer you. But it’s a special one, because it’s about a varietal that’s lesser known and lesser made here in the Okanagan. How exciting! If you’ve missed previous Wine Wednesday posts, you can find them here, here and here.

Let’s get wining!

Region: Golden Mile

Winery: Stoneboat

Varietal: Pinotage

Price Point: $25 or $36 depending on whether you go with the regular or reserve (including tax).

Brief and non-technical Tasting Notes: It’s not very often that we get to sample completely new-to-us varietals here in the Okanagan, at least among red wines. There’s a pretty standard set of reds that are produced here. You know how it is: temperatures in a region tend to favour certain wines so that’s what gets produced. The pinotage, though, was totally new to me. Our tasting room host filled us in on its long history in South Africa, and there’s also a pretty great little article about the pinotage that you can find here.

Sorry, that was a lot of rambling that had nothing to do with the taste. The pinotage has similarities to pinot noir, which is a part of its grape make-up, but also has an interesting richness and depth that you don’t get from pinot noir alone.  It had a familiar taste to it, almost like drinking a meritage or perhaps a syrah blend, but also the lovely fruitiness of a pinot.  In a word, it was delicious. In several words, you should try it because it’s damn good.

Winery Vibes:  Winery vibes are super important yet underrated. This is the feeling that you get when you walk into a space, and is influenced by things such as: aesthetics, decor, set up, staff friendliness and knowledge, sampling protocol (free vs. fees, sampling variety, etc.), snobbiness vs. accessibility, etc.

Stoneboat is an unassuming little shop on the outside, but with a quaint and modern feel inside.  It doesn’t have the stunning vista views of some of its Okanagan counterparts. You won’t be up on a hillside staring down at a lake or miles of vines. But we are not really at the winery for the views, are we? That’s merely a plus.

Inside, you’ll find lots of stone, wood and glass, and even a grand piano that is sometimes put to use but (thankfully) not while we were there. It’s a small space and I imagine that it would be impossible to carry on a conversation with a piano playing in the background. Our wine room host was just setting up for the day when we arrived but, unlike a few of the wineries we’d visited, she still had everything opened for us to start tasting. Although they make sparkling and whites, she respected our desire to focus on reds. I also appreciate this as some wineries will essentially force you to taste their whites as well.

Overall the tasting experience was sound. We learned something about a new varietal, pours were reasonably sized, and there was a good selection of wines available for tasting (I believe we had a rose, two pinots and two pinotages, and there were additional whites open as well). There was no talk of a tasting fee, though it might exist, and it didn’t really matter since we walked away with five bottles and our fee would have been waved anyway.  Still, I appreciate the few wineries where it isn’t the first thing that gets mentioned to you when you arrive. I mean, we were greeted with a small pour of sparkling wine and that’s pretty much the way I want to be welcomed at any winery.

The long and the short of it is that you’ll find friendly and knowledgeable staff, and perhaps even a new variety you haven’t tasted elsewhere in the Okanagan. Check it out. And if you do, do not leave without tasting the pinotage. I promise you will not regret it.

 

*It probably goes without saying, but I have received no compensation for writing this. Stoneboat has no idea who I am, nor do I have a followership on this blog that would inspire anyway to pay me for writing nice things about them.

Mid-Week Tangent: the gelato bar of my dreams

I have written about QB Gelato not once but twice. It is that good. Seriously, if you live in the Okanagan or are passing through the Okanagan at any point this summer, you must go.  We stop any time we are passing through town and I never regret shelling out inordinate amounts of money (full disclosure, a pint is $18) for a little bit of gelato joy.

On my last visit, I decided to branch out from my usual two flavour cup to test out their gelato bars. These are small-batch house made logs of heaven. Yikes, I’m sorry, using the term “logs” doesn’t make these sound appealing in the slightest…but to me they look more like a log than a bar.  Semantics aside, they are the best gelato bar/logs that you will ever eat in your entire life, bar none (come on, that was a good pun).

Anatomy of a Life-Changing Gelato Bar

Like most of my food photos, this picture just does not do justice to the bar itself. For one, it makes it seem like the smallest bar ever. I also fear it looks ultra boring. Let me spare you those concerns: this gelato bar is sizeable and spectacular. Now let me tell you why:

1. Life Changing Ultra Thick Chocolate Coating: In my opinion, most ice cream bars have woefully thin chocolate coatings. Even worse, many don’t use actual chocolate. Ever notice products that say “chocolatey coating”?That’s your sign that it’s not even real chocolate. Not so for this bar. This bar is drenched in Valrhona milk chocolate. Like drenched. It provides a satisfying snap to the bar, and provides the ultimate balance to the gelato center and salted peanut caramel. Trust me when I say the first and last bites (where you’ll get the maximum chocolate coating) will be your best.

2. Life changing vanilla gelato centre: Vanilla gelato would never be my first flavour choice. Ever. This is actually fior di latte gelato, which is even more neutral than something like a vanilla bean gelato. Lest you think this makes the centre boring, let me assure you it does not. With the richness of the chocolate and the boldness of the salted peanut caramel, this simple yet perfectly smooth and creamy gelato is exactly the centrepiece this bar needs to shine. This gelato bar doesn’t need a fancy flavoured centre. It’s rocking a plain centre and pulling it off flawlessly.

3. Life changing salted peanut caramel: I don’t even like peanuts. In fact, I consider them a waste of a nut. Normally I’d say give me a pecan or cashew or almond, or virtually any other nut.  However, somehow here the peanut is perfection. Their crunch holds up even when bathed in a sea of the most well-balanced salted caramel you can imagine. To be fair, I am always a fan of any salted caramel, even mediocre salted caramel, but I am extra appreciative of a caramel that retains its gooeyness in a frozen treat without becoming the kind of caramel that threatens to extract your teeth. And, while it looks as though there’s barely any caramel at the base of this bar, it is actually far thicker than the picture suggests. It is the perfect ratio of caramel and peanut to gelato. There is no other word for it: perfect. Did you catch that? Perfect.

If you aren’t already Google mapping just how far QB Gelato is from your house, you are already behind the eight ball. Get on it. It might be a $6-8 bar (honestly, I didn’t even look at the price), but it is worth each and every hard-earned dollar. My only regret was not buying a half dozen to squirrel away in my freezer for future indulgences.

Perfect.

 

 

Mid-Week Tangent: epic cinnamon bun fail

I don’t talk about cinnamon buns often, but a well-crafted cinnamon bun, heavily laden with cream cheese frosting, is one of life’s great pleasures as far as I’m concerned. I rarely eat them these days. Over the years, I’ve developed a fairly discerning eye when it comes to cinnamon buns and I can usually spot a crappy or mediocre cinnamon bun a mile away. I don’t even bother. If it’s not going to be great, it’s not happening. As a result, I almost never eat them. It’s sad, isn’t it?

This weekend, as we were making our way through an impromptu self-guided wine tour around Kelowna and West Kelowna, we stopped in at Bliss Bakery, a bakery we’ve visited before and at which we’ve enjoyed a trail bar and a midnight mint brownie in the past. This time around, I spotted a treat that had eluded me at our last visit (i.e. they had run out): the “cinny bun” (their name, not my affectionate abbreviation, I assure you).

The Cinny Bun is a beast to behold, a positively enormous cinnamon bun (I’m talking 5 inches by 5 inches), with a heavy layer of frosting, and a truly impressive weight for a yeasted baked good (sadly, I didn’t think to weigh it on my kitchen scale until it was too late). The second I saw it, I knew I had to have it.

Or so I thought…

Onward we went with our day, visiting winery after winery, all the while I was dreaming of getting home and digging into that cinnamon bun. I even turned down appetizers and dessert at dinner because I wanted to leave room to devour that glorious combination of soft dough, swirls of cinnamon and globs of frosting (okay, globs was perhaps not the most appetizing word to have used there…). I’m not joking. This cinny bun occupied a lot of my thoughts throughout the afternoon and early evening.

And then, later that night, finally at home and settled on the couch, I brought out the Cinny Bun. As I went to tear off a piece, I experienced my first early warning signals: the dough felt dry. Very dry. Crumbly actually. I was willing to give it the benefit of the doubt, though.  I mean, I have so rarely been fooled by a cinnamon bun’s appearance.  Perhaps it was just the outer edge that was dry. After all, it had sat in the trunk all day (though in a sealed take out container). I took another bite. Ugh. Still DRY. I decided to dig deeper into the middle, but no matter how far into the center I got, it was still dry, dry, dry. And I’m talking bordering on baked-several-days-ago-stale dry.  Even where there was cinnamon swirl. Cinnamon swirl is a moist-maker! How could it still be dry?!?

The only, and I mean only, redeeming quality of the cinny bun was its frosting, which wasn’t even the best frosting, but at least provided a semblance of moisture to the very top of the bun. In fact, the frosting and cinny bun dough in direct contact with the frosting, was all that I ate. The rest of the cinnny bun went exactly where it belonged, in the trash, a sad reminder of five bucks wasted and the fact that looks can be deceiving, size doesn’t always matter, and even a solid layer of frosting can’t save a bad baked good.

Sorry, cinny bun, but you were not good. I’m reminded of that old expression: fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice shame on me. This was a big shame on me. I know better than this. I know that a truly fantastic cinnamon bun is few and far between. Next time I will be wiser.