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

Drink of the Week: Amaretto Sour

A change in the weather calls for a change in cocktails, from tall to short, and from light to dark. My gig as a judge at the Luxardo Maraschino cocktail competition earlier this week at Raw Bar by Duncan Ly provided me with the inspiration for just such a drink: an Amaretto Sour.

Smooth, sweet and Amaretto Sour.

Smooth, sweet and Amaretto Sour.

As I’ve mentioned ad nauseum, I really love sours, so I was excited to see that all of Luxardo’s liqueurs were in play for the competition, including amaretto. Some say amaretto is so 1980s, but I say, wait a minute! It really helps to mix it with something beyond Coke; for example, bourbon, lemon juice and an egg white.

Isn't that a cool bottle?

Isn’t that a cool bottle?

In fact, One of my favourite cocktails from the competition was a twist on a sour, using amaretto and maraschino liqueur, by Tony Migliarese from Cilantro. I didn’t manage to get his recipe, but I did come home with a bottle of amaretto. Then, I turned to The Google and found this great recipe online.

Amaretto Sour

  • 1.5 oz Luxardo Amaretto
  • .75 oz bourbon (I used Knob Creek)
  • 1 oz fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tsp “English” simple syrup (2 parts sugar, 1 part water)
  • .5 oz egg white, beaten
  • Garnish: lemon twist and brandied cherries

Method: Combine ingredients in a cocktail shaker and dry shake. Add ice and shake again to chill. Strain into an old fashioned glass filled with ice. Garnish with a lemon twist and brandied cherries.

– Recipe comes courtesy of Portland mixologist Jeffrey Morgenthaler, as contributed to Liquor.com.

Drink of the Week: Tiki-la Zombie

Both tiki drinks and zombies have been, um, on the brain lately. Tiki cocktails because I’m writing about their resurgence in my Calgary Herald column next week; zombies because season 5 of The Walking Dead just started (also, zombies have taken over our neighbourhood in the run up to Oct. 31). So, today being Halloween and all, I thought I would combine the two forces. Behold: a tiki zombie cocktail made with tequila (not rum). Hence the name.

Drink this Halloween cocktail too fast and you might get a brain freeze.

Drink this Halloween cocktail too fast and you might get a brain freeze.

Really, this drink is just a glorified tequila sunrise (it’s actually tastier than that, with bonus lime and mint, and agave syrup instead of grenadine). I chose it because it came up as a “Day of the Dead” cocktail in a Google search and it’s the right colour (orange). Oddly, it didn’t have a name, but when I put it in the awesome $1.50 Dollarama skeleton mug and added the garnish, it took on the appearance of a tequila tiki drink. So, Tiki-la Zombie.

Wanted: a mini umbrella and a swirly straw.

Wanted: a mini umbrella and a swirly straw.

Tiki-la Zombie

  • 2 oz Cazadores tequila
  • 2 oz blood orange juice
  • 1/2 oz lime juice
  • 1/2 oz agave syrup
  • 8 mint leaves

Method: Combine ingredients in a cocktail shaker, shake with ice and then strain into a skeleton mug. Garnish with a mint sprig atop an orange wheel.

Beware of toxic creature!

Back when I was writing about homestyle and interior design for the Calgary Herald, I never dreamed I would one day turn into the kind of person who buys a throwaway “Beware of Toxic Creature” sign from Dollarama. Motherhood has led me down the road of chintzy holiday decorating; more specifically, pleas from my daughter swayed me to succumb.

Avery also bought a toxic creature to accompany the sign. It's on her head.

Avery also bought a toxic creature to accompany the sign. It’s on her head.

Avery: “Mommy, can we go to the dollar store this weekend to buy Halloween decorations? Please?”

Me: Protracted, awkward silence.

Avery: “I’ll spend my own money.”

Me: Sigh. “Oh, alright…”

It’s not that I’m a Halloweenie, I just don’t see the point of hanging up a bunch of cheap caution tape, fake spider webs and sock ghosts that are just going to blow away and get wrecked. Yes, it brings the children joy to admire these trinkets and those of the neighbours, but here’s an idea: What if we just carve pumpkins! Isn’t that enough? Do we really have to invest in a life-size coffin and skeleton to get into the spirit of the holiday?

Stumbled across this gem    on an evening walk.

Stumbled across this gem on an evening walk.

This over-the-top love affair with Halloween kitsch is new, and it’s but one way the holiday has changed since I was a kid. Now, everywhere you go you see faux skeletons bursting out of graves, animatronic witches stirring pots, and creepy zombie girls holding a brain to their mouth while they sing Ring  Around the Rosie. In my neighbourhood, it’s a thing, and it gains momentum every year. All of the above frights are stationed outside of homes within a one-block radius. It kind of puts our dollar store display to shame.

Behold: Zombie girl!

Behold: Zombie girl!

It’s also, I don’t know, terrifying if you’re a little kid just trying to get some candy. When Avery was two she ran home crying from the house at the end of our block after the motion-activated skeleton came to life when she got into range of the front door.

Bursting out of a grave near us.

Bursting out of a grave near us.

One of the nearby homes that goes all-out is owned by a bachelor who doesn’t even have kids! His yard has morphed into a cemetery, and it’s watched over by a table peopled with Halloween horror hall-of-famers including Freddy Krueger,  Jason and Ghostface from the Scream movies. It’s a miracle Avery and especially Bennett will even walk by on Halloween night. (Storing this crap for the other 51 weeks of the year would be the other miracle.)

Jason, Scream mask guy and Freddy Kreuger hold court at The Zang, a neighbourhood home that goes all-out for Halloween.

Jason, Scream mask guy and Freddy Kreuger hold court at The Zang, a neighbourhood home that goes all-out for Halloween.

When I was young, I’m pretty sure homes weren’t decked out with tombstones and tarantulas. There were carved pumpkins. So what’s changed? Mainly, Halloween has become a big commercial holiday — spending is expected to reach $7.4-billion this year, and I’m pretty sure it’s not all being dropped on candy and costumes (actually, $350-million will be spent on pet costumes, but I think I’ll save that topic for another post).

In the meantime, I’ll cringe inwardly at the tacky scene our front porch has become, but outwardly, I’ll smile every time Avery runs outside to adjust a spider web and ghost. I’m also content in the knowledge Avery only spent $7 at Dollarama (as opposed to $160 on the Rosemary Zombie Girl). True, she’ll have to buy some replacement props next year, but I’m okay with that.

Drink of the Week: French 68

Bar C in Calgary makes great cocktails and this week they’re shaking them for charity. Since Tuesday, the 17th Avenue eatery and cocktail lounge has been donating the proceeds from sales of a daily featured cocktail to a local charity chosen by the customer from six options: Making Changes, The Mustard Seed, Inn from the Cold, Calgary Humane Society, CUPS, and Big Brothers & Big Sisters Calgary.

Why the generous heart? It’s Bar C’s second anniversary and the restaurant wants to thank Calgarians for their patronage while at the same time giving back to the community. Cocktails for Charity is the result.

Today’s featured cocktail is a French 68, a bubbly sip rendered delicious by the mingling of sweet blood orange syrup with bitter Campari and savoury Hendricks Gin. Three dashes of lavender bitters finish the drink with a floral flourish. Enjoy, and remember to savour this one as you toast the weekend and — if you’re imbibing at Bar C — the charity of your choice.

Today's featured drink during Cocktails for Charity week at Bar C is the bubbly French 68.

Today’s Cocktails for Charity featured drink at Bar C is the bubbly French 68.

French 68

  • 100 mL prosecco
  • 1 oz blood orange syrup*
  • 1/2 oz Campari
  • 1 oz Hendricks Gin
  • 3 dashes Scrappy’s lavender bitters

Method: Chill martini glass. Pour syrup, Campari, and Hendricks gin into shaker over ice. Shake and strain into glass. Top with prosecco. Finish with Scrappy’s bitters. Garnish with a lemon twist.

*Blood Orange Syrup

  • 1/3 L of blood orange purée
  • 1-1/4 cups sugar
  • 1-1/4 cups water
  • 8 sprigs rosemary

Method: Remove rosemary leaves from stalk and chop finely. Bring sugar and water to a boil. Add rosemary. Simmer until sugar well dissolved. Remove from heat and add blood orange purée.

– Recipes courtesy Bar C

Top activities in Red Deer with kids

It used to be a joke amongst my co-workers at the Calgary Herald: Whenever I was heading to Red Deer for the weekend with Blake and the kids (my in-laws live there) they’d ask what we had planned. “Oh you know,” I’d reply all Cowtown-snobby, “Dinner at Olive Garden!” I am not even sure whether Red Deer has an Olive Garden, but my point was there wasn’t a whole lot to do there besides eat at chain restaurants. Of course, that was back when the kids were wee and we didn’t get out much — even in Calgary.

Now that they’re bigger and spend at least a week in Red Deer every summer with their grandparents, I realize there’s quite a lot to do in Red Deer with kids. It’s a smaller, more contained version of Calgary, where activities cost less, venues are less crowded, and destinations are less than a 15-minute drive away. (It can even be more fun for adults… there’s exactly one big cinema, but we watched Gone Girl in a half-empty theatre a week after its release. Try doing that in Calgary!)

I’m not suggesting you spend your next family holiday in Red Deer, but should you happen to find yourself passing through or visiting with the littles, you may want to check out some of Avery’s and Bennett’s favourite spots:

Rotary Park

Bennett loves climbing the hill at Rotary Park to see the "mushroom" (a green water tower) across the valley.

Bennett loves climbing the hill at Rotary Park to see the “mushroom” (a green water tower) across the valley.

It seems every small town and city has a Rotary Park, including Red Deer. They are usually great community gathering spots and Red Deer’s park goes one step farther by offering hiking paths up a hill to a viewpoint, and then down through a forested wood and over bridges that span a meandering stream. It was especially lovely on a Thanksgiving weekend day with the fall colours.

Nature trails at Rotary Park. (Bennett is so over playground equipment and prefers  hiking where possible.)

Nature trails at Rotary Park. (Bennett is so over playground equipment and prefers hiking where possible.)

The Collicut Centre

The kids can do laps on the water slide while one parent (pick me!) relaxes in the hot tub.

The kids do laps on the water slide while one parent (pick me!) relaxes in the hot tub.

This is Red Deer’s version of Southland Leisure Centre. The Collicut Centre has a wave pool, kiddie water park, lazy river and a water slide, plus hot tubs, with the added bonus I don’t worry my kids will drown as it’s also crawling with lifeguards.  There’s also a gym, so some Sunday mornings Blake and I will go work out, then return for “Twonie Sunday” when it costs just $2 each to visit the water park between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m.

Sunnybrook Farm

Avery and Bennett pet a furry donkey at Sunnybrook Farm.

Avery and Bennett pet an ewok-like donkey at Sunnybrook Farm.

I have never been to this much-ballyhooed farm/museum, but Grandma takes the kids to Sunnybrook Farm regularly between May and September to see the baby animals including lambs, calves and kids. There are also chickens (Bennett’s faves), kittens and a cow-milking station where Avery can play Little House on the Prairie. The kids spend hours here and admission is by donation.

Avery milks a pretend cow at Sunnybrook Farm in Red Deer.

Avery pretend milks a pretend cow at Sunnybrook Farm in Red Deer.

Three Mile Bend

Scenery at Three Mile Bend.

Scenery at Three Mile Bend.

Three Mile Bend is a 55-hectare natural area of forest, muskeg and ponds adjacent to the Red Deer River. It’s also a fantastic off-leash dog park. Piper loved running ahead on the trails while Blake, Bennett and I followed behind.

I could go on, but why list every single family-friendly attraction in one blog post, when I could milk this over many entries? Since we have family in Red Deer, we’ll be back, so I’ll write more later.