Drink of the Week: Buckskin Sour

It’s fair to say the secret’s out on The Nash, the new Michael Noble restaurant that opened in Inglewood late last month. Every time I’ve driven by it’s been packed, and last week when I met girlfriends there it was abustle — all tables taken, and standing room only in the 50-seat Off Cut Bar. The new foodie hub is bringing late-night traffic to Calgary’s east end and it’s great news for my ‘hood.

Chef Michael Noble's eagerly antcipated restaurant and bar are now open in Inglewood, Calgary.

Chef Michael Noble’s eagerly anticipated The Nash Restaurant and Off Cut Bar are now open in Inglewood, Calgary.

What’s even more exciting for me — and for Calgarians who like a classy watering hole — are the fantastic cocktails being shaken and stirred at Off Cut. I’ve been slowly working my way through the list and have enjoyed every cocktail I’ve tried thus far. I love the strength of the bourbon-based Quarter Horse, the tart-yet-light grape (pisco) essence of the Sundance Saloon, and the bitter wholesomeness of the new Cynar Flip. My friends and I also love the New Orleans Ginn Fizz (one pal even asked if I could pretty please get the recipe and then make her one every Friday at 4:30 p.m.); however, it’s reviled by the bartenders, who need a full two minutes to shake it, so sadly, it’s coming off the menu.

The Nash cocktails are a pleasing mix of

The Nash’s liquid pleasures are a mix of craft and classic cocktails. Pictured above are descriptions of six sips whose names hold historic significance.

But if I have to pick one drink that’s my favourite, it’s the Buckskin Sour, a smooth, herbal gin-and-Lillet delight that’s not unlike a Corpse Reviver No. 2 in sour form, but with cardamom syrup instead of Cointreau. The drink is named for the buckskin-coloured horses that used to be frequent visitors to Calgary’s East End Livery, located next door to The Nash. The horse-cocktail connection makes me think of that old saying, “You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink,” with a notable twist: You can lead Calgarians to these cocktails, but making them drink shouldn’t be a problem!

The Buckskin Sour isn't just beautiful in the glass, it's delicious to drink.

The Buckskin Sour isn’t just beautiful in the glass — it’s delicious to drink too.

Buckskin Sour

  • 1.5 oz Ungava gin
  • .5 oz Lillet
  • .75 lemon juice
  • .75 house-made salted cardamom cordial
  • Egg white
  • Garnish: 3 dashes Bittered Sling Grapefruit & Hops bitters

Method: Shake all ingredients except bitters with ice and serve straight up in a coupe. Garnish with three dashes of bitters, then draw hearts by swiping a toothpick through them.

– Recipe courtesy Christie MacKay, general manager, The Nash

Dallas with kids

Our family flew to Dallas for U.S. Thanksgiving to visit my sister Leslie and brother-in-law Kyle who live there. Blake had never experienced Thanksgiving, American-style, and I was eager to return to my birth state (truth) and see how Dallas had changed since I was last there (in, um, 1991).

Posing outside the Perot Museum in Dallas. As in Ross Perot. Remember him?

Posing outside the Perot Museum in Dallas. As in Ross Perot. Remember him?

We prepped Bennett with a social story called My Trip to Dallas, that included pictures of all the places we might go and the things we might do. Our agenda didn’t include much beyond turkey and a Black Friday sale or two, but here are a few of the highlights.

1. Planetarium show 

Kyle works at the Perot (as in Ross) Museum of Nature and Science where he does educational outreach and planetarium shows for school groups inside a portable Nomad Dome planetarium. We were treated to a private show and got lost in space as Kyle zipped us from our night sky and solar system, to the Milky Way, and then to the far reaches of the universe, where we felt pretty insignificant. Just today Avery recalled the experience when we looked up and saw a half moon on the walk to school. “I felt pretty small inside Kyle’s planetarium,” she said.

This portable planetarium can take you to the far reaches of the universe, with the bonus that you can transport it anywhere around the world. Photo courtesy Kyle Doane.

This portable planetarium can take you to the far reaches of the universe, with the bonus that you can transport it anywhere in the world. Photo courtesy Kyle Doane.

2. The rest of the museum

The Perot Museum is a beautiful facility that just opened two years ago. It’s basically a science centre-meets-natural history museum so there’s tons for kids to do and ogle. We hung out in the hand’s-on children’s museum, then Avery and Bennett raced a (virtual) cheetah inside the sports hall (the cheetah was like a blur whizzing past — blink and you missed it). We ascended the building’s gazillion escalators and then worked our way down the museum portion through the dinosaur exhibits and the gems and minerals hall (because my husband is a geologist). There was even a singing cartoon video about oil extraction that would make Jed Clampett, and visiting Albertans, proud.

Avery and Bennett get ready to race a cheetah inside the sports hall.

Avery and Bennett get ready to race a cheetah inside the sports hall.

3. Dallas decorates for Christmas

Walking around Dallas after dark was like attending ZooLights for free (minus the animal shapes). Many homes actually pay companies to come and wrap giant oak trees in lights, and encase entire hedges in a kind of light netting. It was all very fancy, and I can’t imagine what this would cost (if you have to ask, you clearly can’t afford it), but it was great light candy.

American pride extends to the holiday lights in Dallas. It's all very tasteful and this clearly wasn't Clark Griswold's neighbourhood.

American pride extends to the holiday lights in Dallas. It’s all very tasteful, even if some of the homes are a bit too faux Versailles villa for my liking.

4. Spending time with family

The kids loved hanging out at Auntie and Uncle’s house, swinging in the funky hammock-style swings in the backyard, whacking open a piñata for Kyle’s birthday, and chasing the animals around mercilessly (Bennett). It brought into focus the meaning of the holiday — giving thanks for food and family, spending quality time with loved ones, and then trampling strangers to get a good deal at Walmart the next day.

Bennett and Avery deliver a birthday cake to Uncle Kyle for Thanksgiving dessert.

Bennett and Avery deliver a birthday cake to Uncle Kyle.

The gals enjoy an evening stroll along Turtle Creek in Dallas.

The gals enjoy an evening stroll along Turtle Creek in Dallas.

Lockdown practice

Today, nearly two years after a gunman killed 20 children at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, my daughter’s elementary school in Calgary will practice a lockdown drill. The point of this kind of drill is to teach students and teachers what to do — lock classroom doors, hide, be quiet — in case a disturbed person decides to harm innocent children or their educators inside our neighbourhood school. A constable will be supporting teachers and children with this procedure.

Avery's school is having lockdown practice tomorrow.

Avery’s school is having lockdown practice today.

I asked Avery why they were having lockdown practice. “It’s in case someone comes into the school who shouldn’t be there, or if a wild animal gets in, like a deer. Even though they look nice and tame they’re still wild and could hurt someone,” she said, illustrating the beautiful naiveté of a nine-year-old.

When I was a kid, we didn’t have “Lockdown Practice” at school. My biggest school worries, after securing a good seat on the bus, were not getting picked last at dodge ball and beating Kim Van Eeckhout at death circles on the 1-2-3 bars (where you spin around backwards by your knees for a full revolution without touching your hands to the bar). Oh, and I wasn’t supposed to buy lickum stickers from strangers that showed up at the playground because they might be laced with some kind of poison (a parental euphemism for LSD). It never crossed my mind that someone with a gun would walk into the school and start picking off little kids.

The closest I ever got to “lockdown” was vicariously — through the stories my mom would tell me about the regular tornado drills she and her classmates practiced during elementary school after the air siren started blaring. She grew up in Kansas where, evidently, Wizard-of-Oz-calibre tornados blew through almost weekly.

My mom had to regularly hunker under her desk during regular tornado drills in the 1940s and 50s.

My mom had to hunker under her school desk during regular tornado drills in Kansas during the 1940s and 50s.

I listened to these tales with wonder and envy. Hiding under a desk seemed way more exciting than simply exiting the building like we did during the annual school fire drill.

As I entered junior high, with the spectre of the cold war looming larger than ever, I wondered why we never had Nuclear War drills (it was 1983 — remember The Day After?).

Pretty sure the kid wouldn't be winking and thumbs-upping in real life.

I’m pretty sure this kid wouldn’t be winking and thumbs-upping if this happened in real life.

I never thought I’d be nostalgic for the U.S.S.R, but the iron curtain of the 80s seems to make a friendlier foe than the lone gunman of today. I guess we always suspected the Russians would never push the big red button — they were commies but they fought fair, right? (Surely that explains the lack of World War III lockdown practices?)

In contrast, today’s madman — or bullied, misunderstood youth — can show up anywhere, at any time, and wreak soul-wrenching devastation on the relative peace that described life before his appearance.

I’m sad that this is the reality for my daughter. I’m glad she doesn’t know the real reason they’re going through this drill, but my heart still hurts. As much as I hate the thought of her and her grade four classmates silently locking themselves in Room 13 for an hour this morning — and I loathe the reason they’re doing it — I’d rather her school is prepared in the unlikely event that something akin to the Sandy Hook tragedy should happen here at home.


Le Cointreau Au Debut

Earlier this summer Cointreau came to Calgary to host a cocktail competition as part of the French spirit’s cross-Canada tour to crown “Mademoiselle Cointreau-Canada.” Model Milk’s Madeleine MacDonald won with her inventive and delicious In Memoir cocktail.

The tour had previously been to Vancouver (two winners), and then continued on to Toronto (four winners) and Montreal (three winners). In total, 10 outstanding mademoiselle bartenders won a trip to France to visit the Cointreau Distillery in Angers. Fast forward two months and those liquid chefs, including MacDonald, were pitted against one other in the Mademoiselle Cointreau finale, held at Revival Bar in Toronto on Monday night.

Rachel Osborne readies the bar for her Cointreau-cherry juice cocktail on Monday night at Revival Bar in Toronto.

Competitor Rachel Osborne readies the bar Monday night at Revival Bar in Toronto while emcees Dee Brun (Cocktail Deeva) and Lolitta Dandoy look on.

I was asked to judge this competition alongside Alfred Cointreau (the great-great-grandson of founder Edouard Cointreau), Nishan Nepulangoda (bartender at Blowfish in Toronto) and Fanny Gauthier (owner of Ateliers & Saveurs in Montreal).

As we sipped our way through the cocktails, the calibre of the finalists became apparent. My favourite cocktail for taste was the Femme Fatale, a perfectly balanced sour from Bar Isabel bartender Leah Mucci. However, we based our marks on not only the drink’s taste and balance, but on the cocktail’s name and story, originality and inspiration, presentation, and execution.

Leah Mucci affixes a mint leaf and candied kumquat garnish to her Femme Fatale cocktail, a sublime twist on a sour.

Leah Mucci affixes a mint leaf and candied kumquat garnish to her Femme Fatale cocktail, a sublime twist on a sour.

By far the best story of the evening came from winner Rachel Osborne of Philemon Bar in Montreal. Hers was a tale of beginnings and perfect endings; of Cointreau’s start as a distillery making cherry liqueur, to her own start as a bartender at age 12 creating coconut cocktails for her mother. The perfect ending, of course, was how the two beginnings came together — cherry juice shaken with Cointreau and topped with coconut foam. It also helped that the drink was delicious and beautifully presented and executed. For her effort Osborne wins a trip to Miami to meet the city’s top mixologists, and the title of Mademoiselle Cointreau-Canada. Congrats!

Winning cocktail Le Cointreau Au Debut is a pleasing mix of Cointreau and cherry juice by Montreal bartender Rachel Osborne.

Winning cocktail Le Cointreau Au Debut is a pleasing mix of Cointreau and cherry juice by bartender Rachel Osborne. Extra points for presentation!

Le Cointreau Au Debut

  • 1-1/2 oz Cointreau
  • 2 oz cherry juice (fresh juice with a small amount of citric acid to make it more sour)
  • Foam of coconut milk with lavender-infused cane sugar simple syrup (you may have to travel to Montreal and hunt down Osborne for this)
  • Garnish: Dried lavender and a spray of liquid fleur de sel (hand-harvested sea salt) mixed with a small amount of cherry juice for colour.

Method: Combine Cointreau and cherry juice in a shaker with ice and give a short shake (you don’t want too much dilution). Make the foam in a syphon (or go foamless — the foam sort of got in the way of the main event, the Cointreau cherry juice, in my opinion). Strain into a highball glass with ice and top with the coconut foam. Sprinkle on the dried lavender and spritz with the sea salt-cherry juice mixture.

– Recipe by Rachel Osborne, Philemon Bar, Montreal

Charlotte’s Web brought to life

When Avery was in grade one I read her Charlotte’s Web as a bedtime story over the course of several weeks. I loved sharing this classic children’s story about friendship with my daughter, and watching her excitement at Wilbur the pig’s triumph (escaping the axe, thanks to the web-spinning efforts of his spider friend), as well as her sadness over Charlotte’s inevitable death (though Avery was happy three of Charlotte’s spider babies decided to live in the Zuckermans’ barn).

Charlottes Web is running at Alberta Theatre Projects through Dec. 31, 2014.

Charlotte’s Web is running through Dec. 31, 2014.

So it was especially satisfying to sit beside Avery and her classmates on a school field trip this week and watch the tale come to life through Alberta Theatre Projects’ production of Charlotte’s Web (running through December 31). What made the experience even more enjoyable was the fact that one of her grade four classmates from Colonel Walker School, RubyJune Bishop, plays Fern Arable, and RubyJune’s parents star in the production as well.

Fern Arable (played by RubyJune Bishop) talks to Wilbur (played by Guillermo Urra). Photo by Calgary Sun.

Fern Arable (played by RubyJune Bishop) talks to Wilbur (played by Guillermo Urra) during a production of Charlotte’s Web. Photo by Calgary Sun.

It was Avery’s first time watching live theatre and she was captivated from the beginning, and even more so when Charlotte, played by the enchanting Manon Beaudoin, first descended down to her web from the barn rafters.

From her web, Charlotte talks to Wilbur for the first time. Photo by Crystal Schick, Calgary Herald.

From her web, Charlotte talks to Wilbur for the first time. Photo by Crystal Schick, Calgary Herald.

“I really like this Mommy!” Avery whispered to me as Charlotte spun mesmerizing circles around her web, spelling the words “Some Pig,” “Terrific,” “Radiant” and “Humble” to describe her bovine friend to save his life while her own was slipping away. Avery also loved “Uncle,” the fat, cowboy-hat wearing, Texan-inspired pig that threatens to take first prize at the fair.

After the performance there was a question-and-answer session between the audience and the actors (the theatre was full of school groups that day). Though the education outreach coordinator never called on anyone from Colonel Walker School, other children asked some great, totally kid, questions:

Avery strains to have her hand noticed during a Q&A session with the Charlotte's Web cast.

Avery strains to have her hand noticed during a Q&A session with the Charlotte’s Web cast.

“Does anyone ever step on your tail?” one student asked Templeton (the rat). “All the time,” he replied.

“Isn’t it scary spinning from that cable?” another asked Charlotte. “At first it was, yes,” she said.  “But then I got used to it. It’s really fun.”

“What’s your favourite part of the play?” someone asked Wilbur. “When I first meet Charlotte and when I do my ‘Radiant’ dance,” he said. This is where he executes the Charleston, the robot and then moon walks to prove that he is, indeed, radiant. It’s one of many funny moments.

“Why did Alberta Theatre Projects choose to do Charlotte’s Web out of all the classic children’s stories?” asked another student. “It reflects our values,” replied the education outreach coordinator.

It is a well done, heart warming story of friendship. And Avery was especially proud to see her friend RubyJune do such an amazing job.


Strega Sour and other Whistler Cornucopia adventures

I spent last weekend in Whistler at Cornucopia, a 10-day festival that celebrates all-things-food-and-drink in the mountain town known for its bacchanalian vibe come ski season. I had heard stories of great Cornucopia parties involving vodka shots in an ice room and seminars featuring 10 whiskey samples, and was eager to see if the festival lived up to the hype. I wasn’t disappointed.

I’ll be sharing some snapshots of Cornucopia in a couple of publications in the coming weeks and months. In the meantime, here’s a rundown of how Party Night No. 1 played out…

1. Cocktails and dinner at Alta Bistro. Yes, please! I tried the cocktail special, a Strega Sour. Strega is an Italian liqueur with 70 herbal ingredients including saffron, fennel and mint (as I’ve come to learn, the Italians can make booze out of pretty much anything). Alta mixed the Strega with gin, lemon, honey syrup and an egg white to make a light and well-balanced sour with just a hint of liquorice (from the fennel). Everyone loved it.

I loved this Strega Sour from Alta Bistro in Whistler.

I loved this Strega Sour from Alta Bistro in Whistler.

Strega Sour

  • 1-1/2 oz Boomsa gin
  • 1/2 oz Strega
  • 3/4 oz honey syrup (1:1 honey-to-water ratio)
  • 1 oz fresh lemon juice
  • 1 oz egg white
  • Nasturtium leaf garnish

Method: Combine ingredients in a cocktail shaker and dry shake. Add ice and shake again. Fine strain into a coupe glass and garnish with a nasturtium leaf (if in season).

– Recipe courtesy Alta Bistro, Whistler

2. Belvedere Ice Room at Bearfoot Bistro. This is just what you need after cocktails and wine at dinner. In the corner of the bar is a Belvedere-sponsored freezer room with walls of ice into which are carved niches that house over 40 bottles of different brands of premium vodka. To go inside the freezing space (it’s kept chilled at -25C) for a private vodka tasting you don a Canada Goose jacket (they’re rated for something like -100C, so you’re actually kind of hot), and send up a prayer that you don’t pass out after four vodka shots in five minutes (and get left inside the freezer overnight). The theory behind the room is that the cold tamps down the alcohol’s heat so you can actually taste the vodka flavours. Like kids in a dangerous candy shop, we tried regular, cherry, grape and salted caramel.

If you like vodka, this is the room for you.

If you like vodka, this is the room for you.

3. And then there was the bobsled. Bearfoot Bistro’s owner, Andre Saint-Jacques, keeps a bobsled suspended from the ceiling in the restaurant’s wine cellar. Naturally, we found ourselves wandering about down there after four shots of vodka. We asked Andre if we could get into the bobsled and the next thing we knew, he was lowering it down using some kind of hydraulic system. We piled in for a very strange photo op.

Piling into the Bearfoot Bistro bobsled. That's owner Andre Saint-Jacques at the back left.

The Bearfoot Bistro bobsled. That’s owner Andre Saint-Jacques at the back left.

Ah Whistler, the party carries on no matter the season! And, if you love skiing, you’re in luck — Whistler Blackcomb opens for the 2014-15 ski season November 22.

Drink of the Week: CC 100% Rye Whiskey Sour

“Sours month” continues here where I try one of my all-time favourites, the whiskey sour, but using a new 100% rye whiskey from Canadian Club. This robust and rye-forward (read: spicy) Canadian Club Chairman’s Select is made from single grain rye. This is a departure from traditional whiskies, which typically have mash bills weighted toward wheat or corn. Chairman’s Select is distilled in Calgary at Alberta Distillers, aged in bourbon barrels and bottled in Walkerville, Ontario. It’s nice on its own but I prefer whiskey in a cocktail, such as the CC 100% Rye Whiskey Sour. It’s delightful, but suffers from the same problem as all sours: you will drink it too quickly and want another one right away.

Doesn't the piano evoke and old-school bar? (It's in my kitchen.)

Doesn’t the piano evoke and old-school bar? (It’s in my kitchen.)

Canadian Club 100% Rye Whiskey Sour

  • 1-1/2 oz Canadian Club Chairman’s Select 100% Rye
  • 1/4 egg white
  • 1 oz fresh lemon juice
  • 1 oz elderflower and ginger syrup (I used 1/2 oz St-Germain and 1/2 oz ginger syrup)
  • 1 dash black walnut bitters

Method: Shake all ingredients vigorously without ice for 10 seconds. Add cracked (or cubed) ice and re-shake for another 10 seconds minimum. Serve straight up with no ice into a chilled cocktail glass (champagne or cocktail coupe) with fine strainer (e.g. tea strainer).

– Recipe courtesy Canadian Club