Happy hour in the Bugaboos

Happy hour after heli-hiking goes something like this: Grab a beer from the bar at the Canadian Mountain Holidays (CMH) Bugaboos Lodge, take it to the rooftop hot tub to enjoy with a view of the mountains, and then — at 5:30, or sometime before dinner — order The 5:30 cocktail.

Bartender Rob Vinson shakes his version of a Sidecar with pear brandy instead of cognac and lime juice rather than lemon. You wouldn’t think that a bunch of hikers would be ordering cocktails in the backcountry of British Columbia, but the surprising thing about heli-hiking — using a Bell 212 helicopter to access alpine ridges for hiking that would otherwise remain inaccessible — is it empowers you to try new things, whether it’s a via ferrata, or a dry, citrusy and strong sipper at day’s end. And if you line up your glass just right, the impressive Houndstooth Spire makes a great garnish!

The 5:30 is a twist on a Sidecar, with pear brandy instead of cognac. It's just the thing to take you away after a day hiking from the whirly bird.

The 5:30 is a twist on a Sidecar, with pear brandy instead of cognac. It’s just the thing to take you away after a day hiking from a whirly bird.

The 5:30

  • 1 oz Okanagan Spirits Poire Williams (Pear Brandy)
  • 1 oz Cointreau
  • 1/2 lime, muddled

Method: Muddle half a lime in the base of a cocktail shaker. Add pear brandy, Cointreau and ice, shake. Double strain into a chilled martini glass.

— Cocktail courtesy Rob Vinson, bartender at CMH Bugaboos

Blueberry Gincident

Yahoo! The Calgary Stampede is here for the next 10 days. It’s a time of dressing western to day drink on sunny patios or inside hot tents. You could stick with beer, but if you have access to fresh BC blueberries and Parlour Gin from Eau Claire Distillery, this Blueberry Gincident cocktail is just the thing to cool you down while simultaneously firing you up for the rodeo.

The folks from the BC Blueberry Council were in town earlier this week to promote the province’s berry bounty, which is in stores right now. They dropped off a ton of berries, so I juiced some, added local gin, lemon juice and simple syrup, and topped it off with soda water. The resulting cocktail is berry sweet, tart and refreshing. Drink in moderation to avoid a “gincident.” Giddy up!

Cool down during Stampede week with this refreshing gin and blueberry juice cocktail.

Cool down during Stampede week with this refreshing gin and blueberry juice cocktail.

Blueberry Gincident

  • 1.5 oz Parlour Gin
  • 1 oz fresh blueberry juice
  • 0.75 oz fresh lemon juice
  • 0.75 oz simple syrup (1:1 sugar to water)
  • Top soda water
  • Garnish: Mint sprig

Method: In a shaker combine gin, juices and syrup. Shake, then strain into a tall glass with ice. Top with soda water (about 1-2 oz, no more) and garnish with a mint sprig.

Aperol Sour

I’ve been enjoying Aperol this summer. It’s a bitter orange Italian aperitif that is best known in the Aperol Spritz (Aperol floated in Prosecco). Since Aperol is a gorgeous red-orange colour, I thought it would be nice in a cocktail on Canada Day.

Last summer Cilantro made the most amazing No. 3 Aperol Sour, which I wrote about for Avenue Magazine. Using that recipe as a guide, I made what I’m calling just an Aperol Sour. It’s light, sweet, tart and slightly bitter, and the most amazing shade of red. Happy Canada Day!

Canada Day calls for a red and white cocktail. The Aperol Sour is perfect!

Canada Day calls for a red and white cocktail. The Aperol Sour is perfect!

Aperol Sour

  • 1 oz gin
  • 1 oz Aperol
  • 3/4 oz lemon-lime juice (fresh lemon and lime juice, combined)
  • 1/2 oz simple syrup (1:1 sugar to water)
  • 1/2 oz egg white
  • Garnish: 3 dashes Angostura bitters

Method: In a cocktail shaker combine gin, Aperol, citrus, syrup and egg white. Add ice and shake vigorously for 30 seconds. Strain into a coupe and garnish with Angostura bitters. If you’re a pro, shape them into a maple leaf!

A few good drivers

There’s a legion of support staff that help Bennett each and every day. Most of them work in special education at Bennett’s school — they are teachers, education assistants and therapists. They help him focus in class, support him in play with his peers and teach him prepositions or how to dribble a basketball.

Outside of school Bennett’s world expands to include doctors, specialists, babysitters and respite workers, swim instructors, volunteer adaptive ski instructors and soon, camp counsellors. They all do a small job in helping Bennett function and integrate into the larger world, by prescribing medicine, building his confidence on skis or helping him have an incredible summer filled with games, hiking and swimming.

And then there are the trusty folks who act as his conduits between his two worlds: the bus drivers who get Bennett to and from school safely every day.

Bennett rides the bus to school and has since her was three.

Bennett rides the bus to school and has since he was three.

Bennett has been riding a bus to school since he started at Renfrew at the age of three. We’ve had many different bus drivers over the years — and some repeat drivers — and they always greet Bennett with a smile in the morning and send him off with a wave in the afternoon. They patiently wait while Bennett dawdles his way to the bus, and drags his feet getting off after school (he doesn’t want to stop watching the TV screen!).

But I never really stopped to think about what the job might be like for them until I read Craig Davidson’s book, Precious Cargo: My Year Driving the Kids on School Bus 3077, this spring. The book chronicles his experience driving a busette of differently-abled junior high and high school kids in Calgary. Davidson, who previously had no experience with people with special needs, finds himself leaning to operate a wheel chair lift on the bus, getting to know his charges through daily conversations and banter, and even defending them against a high school bully and the bully’s father. He learns a lot about himself along the way. It’s a great book: serious and poignant, but with hilarious bits, too.

Precious Cargo

I got to thinking — after a note home about a month ago informing me that Bennett had been hitting another boy on his morning bus — these wonderful Renfrew drivers really must be a special breed. The kids at Bennett’s school range in age from three to 12, and even greater is their range of conditions, from autism to cerebral palsy to Down Syndrome. The drivers likely endure tantrums, screaming or even children who unbuckle and get loose inside the bus while it’s hurtling down Deerfoot Trail! And they have to know how to handle all of these situations, including my eight-year-old with loose fists after the morning commute! Yet despite what must be a lot of stress, plus driving in Calgary rush hour traffic (arguably more stressful), they always greet the kids with a big smile and are still smiling at the end of the day.

Their patience and dedication helps Bennett’s life run smoothly — and by proxy, ours — and I can’t imagine how we’d keep all the balls in the air if that bus with the rainbow didn’t pull up at 8:15 every morning. Thanks for driving my precious cargo!

Tequila Pineapple Fizz

Pineapple and basil go well together in a tart and savoury flavour combo that cries out for cocktail experimentation. So I made this drink, which is like the love child of a mojito and a gin fizz, with basil instead of mint and tequila rather than gin. A squeeze of lime tones down the pineapple’s sweetness and a touch of agave syrup takes away the spirit’s bite. Lengthen it with soda water and you’ve got a pretty, refreshing summer sip. Enjoy!

What to do with all that fresh basil from the garden? Just add tequila, pineapple juice and a splash of soda.

What to do with all that fresh basil from the garden? Just add tequila, pineapple juice and a splash of soda.

Tequila Pineapple Fizz

  • 1.5 oz Espolon tequila
  • 1 oz fresh pineapple juice
  • 0.5 oz fresh lime juice
  • 1 tsp. agave nectar
  • 5 large basil leaves
  • Top soda water
  • Garnish: Basil sprig

Method: In the base of a cocktail shaker, muddle basil gently with tequila, pineapple juice, lime juice and agave nectar. Add ice and shake. Pour into a Collins glass, add ice then top with soda water (about 1 oz). Stir and garnish with a fresh basil sprig.

Dinosaur fun in Alberta

“If most of the big dinosaurs like T-Rex lived during the Cretaceous Period, why didn’t they call it Cretaceous Park?” I asked, pondering all-things-dino inside the visitor centre at Dinosaur Provincial Park.

“Because Jurassic Park sounds better,” deadpanned Blake. Avery agreed, and soon found more evidence that Hollywood embellishes its movies: the giant, terrifying Mosasaurus sea dino from Jurassic World was, in real life, only about 40 feet long (still huge), but nowhere near the 100+ feet depicted in the blockbuster.

It had been four years since our family had done anything remotely dinosaur-y in Alberta, so when an opportunity arose to try comfort camping in Dinosaur Provincial Park, we didn’t hesitate.

Centrosaur Quarry Hike at Dinosaur Provincial Park.

Centrosaur Quarry Hike at Dinosaur Provincial Park.

The park, located just a half hour north-east of Brooks, is stunning. Its five interpretive trails meander through the surreal hoodoo- and coulee-ridden landscape, and also through a grove of ancient cottonwood trees. Plus, as part of a story for the Calgary Herald, running this weekend, we got to experience the Centrosaurus Quarry Hike with a guide who not only informed us of the truth about Mosasaurs, but helped us learn to spot fossils in the extensive bone bed.

Guide Jarrid Jenkins educates us about Centrosaurs and their fossilized remains.

Guide Jarrid Jenkins educates us about Centrosaurs and their fossilized remains.

The kids loved the park and we decided to return to dinosaur country a few weeks later, on Father’s Day, to visit the Royal Tyrrell Museum in Drumheller and search for fossils there. The museum is fantastic, weaving a tale of the province’s geological history — that included tons of dinos during the Cretaceous Period — with awesome dinosaur skeleton displays created from original fossils and some casts.

Bennett and Avery don't quite measure up to this T-Rex leg inside the Royal Tyrrell Museum.

The kids don’t quite measure up to this T-Rex leg inside the Royal Tyrrell Museum.

Afterward, we put our new fossil-hunting skills to the test on the short interpretive trail adjacent to the museum, and were soon rewarded with a huge discovery. Blake likes to travel off-path, along gullies that churn with water after rainstorms, where the most erosion occurs that can reveal new fossils. Sure enough, I stumbled upon something sizeable: I like to think it’s part of a head or pelvis.

Avery's hand next to the dinosaur fossil for scale.

Avery’s hand next to the dinosaur fossil, for scale.

And, like the budding palaeontologists we’re becoming, we reported our “find” to the front desk after the walk. We also left it there for other families to discover. Thanks for the awesome dino double-header, badlands — we’ll be back soon!

Avery and Blake hiking in the badlands near the Royal Tyrrell Museum.

Avery and Blake hiking in the badlands near the Royal Tyrrell Museum.

Tequila Negroni

Alas, Negroni week came and went in Calgary and I drank nary a one. But my success with the Smoky Hot Pepper Negroni earlier this spring inspired me to try a similar recipe with tequila.

I used Roca Patron Reposado as a base; it’s a smooth tequila with sweet notes of roasted agave. To that I added a bar spoon of agave nectar for sweetness, then used Aperol, which isn’t quite as bitter as Campari, along with La Quintinye Vermouth Royal. The end result is a spirit-forward cocktail that’s beautifully balanced between bitter, sweet and strong. It’s also super easy to make! My taster/hubby loved it and declared he would like a few this Father’s Day.

This Tequila Negroni is spirit forward -- perfect for Father's Day.

This Tequila Negroni is spirit forward — perfect for Father’s Day.

Tequila Negroni

  • 1 oz Roca Patron Reposado
  • 1 oz La Quintinye Vermouth Royale
  • 3/4 oz Aperol
  • 1 barspoon agave nectar
  • Garnish: Orange twist

Method: Combine ingredients in a mixing glass and add ice. Stir until the drink is well chilled, then strain into a rocks glass over a large cube of ice. Garnish with an orange twist.