Drink of the Week: Aperol Spritz (à la Adriatic)

When I first wrote about this drink back in 2012 it wasn’t yet a thing. Now, the Aperol Spritz is having a moment, both here in Canada and across the pond in Italy, Slovenia and Croatia.

Cheers to Europe! Who knew the Aperol Spritz was so popular across the pond? I’m sipping this one outside the walls of Dubrovnik at cliffside bar Buza 1.

My husband and I have just returned from a trip to Europe, where we drank beer, wine and our share of Aperol Spritzes. I first spotted the gorgeous, topaz-hued drink in Venice, where happy-hour tipplers were getting their aperitif on at outdoor cafe-style bars (not that surprising, since Aperol, a bitter orange and herbal spirit, is made in Italy).

Just a couple glasses of Aperol awesomeness in Venice.

We travelled on to Slovenia, where prices on the cocktail dropped from 4 euros to 2.5 euros (woot!) at trendy patios along the Ljubljanica River in Ljubljana (try saying that fast five times in a row). Farther south in Croatia, in both Split and Dubrovnik, the drink was as hot as ever.

Nectar of the emperors? An Aperol Spritz inside Roman emperor Diocletian’s palace in Split, Croatia.

If you haven’t had one yet, you’ve got to try this drink. It’s so simple — really nothing more than sparkling white wine or Prosecco bitter oranged-up with Aperol, and diluted with a splash of sparkling water. It’s also refreshing, delicious and beautiful to behold. Drinking one on a Calgary patio — or next to the walls of Dubrovnik — will make you feel très chic all summer long.

Aperol Spritz (à la Adriatic)

  • 1.5 oz Aperol
  • 3-4 oz sparkling white wine or Prosecco
  • Splash sparkling water (not soda water!)
  • Garnish: half an orange wheel

Method: Build over ice in a wine glass and garnish with an orange wedge.

— Recipe courtesy the nice bartender at Buza 1 Bar, Dubrovnik

Drink of the Week: Cinnamon Smoke

Sometimes you just want the taste of breakfast in your cocktail: cinnamon, vanilla, OJ, a squeeze of lemon, and the smoky essence of the griddle. I got to thinking about the amazing oatmeal I ate for breakfast on Islay — giant bowls of creamy cinnamon goodness that the innkeeper offered to fortify with a tot of whisky — and decided to deconstruct it into a cocktail. I took the island’s smoky whisky (Laphroaig) and combined it with spicy rye, citrus, cinnamon and vanilla. (If you wanted it a bit frothy, you could shake in an egg white.) It’s pretty delicious, but I wouldn’t necessarily drink it before noon!

Penicillin (the cocktail) had a rendezvous with orange liqueur and the spice rack and created Cinnamon Smoke.

Cinnamon Smoke

  • 1.25 oz Sonoma County Rye
  • 0.25 oz Laphroaig 15
  • 0.5 oz Grand Marnier
  • 1 oz fresh lemon juice
  • 0.5 oz cinnamon-vanilla simple syrup*
  • Garnish: cinnamon stick

Method: Combine ingredients in a cocktail shaker and shake with ice. Strain over fresh ice into a rocks glass and garnish with a cinnamon stick.

*Cinnamon-Vanilla Syrup

  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1/2 vanilla bean

Method: Combine sugar and water in a saucepan and heat until sugar is dissolved. Add cinnamon and vanilla bean and simmer for 5-10 minutes. Let cool. Remove cinnamon stick and vanilla bean and store the syrup in the fridge.

Drink of the Week: Zakko Churro

The best twist on a mezcalgarita I’ve had in awhile is the Zakko Churro cocktail. I discovered it at Model Milk during their weekly Sunday Supper. It was created to reflect last week’s theme: Mexican food.

Model Milk hosts a Sunday Supper with a different theme every week. It costs $40 per person and includes starters, main and dessert.

Model Milk hosts a Sunday Supper with a different theme each week. It costs $40 per person and includes starters, main and dessert.

Imagine combining a margarita with the sweet cinnamon goodness of a churro, then adding a smoky hit, and you’ve got the Zakko Churro, so named for its inventor, Zakk MacDonald, and its muse, a churro. It features mezcal instead of tequila (hence the smoky flavour), pear liqueur rather than triple sec for a fruity taste of winter, lime juice and just a dollop of cinnamon syrup. Delicious!

Smoky mezcal, lime juice and cinnamon syrup turn into a liquid churro at Model Milk.

Smoky mezcal, lime juice, pear liqueur and cinnamon syrup turn into a liquid churro at Model Milk.

Zakko Churro

  • 1.5 oz mezcal
  • 0.5 oz pear liqueur
  • 1 oz fresh lime juice
  • 0.5 oz cinnamon syrup*

Method: Rim a rocks glass with cinnamon-sugar, set aside. Combine ingredients in a cocktail shaker and shake with ice. Strain over fresh ice into the rocks glass.

— Recipe courtesy Zakk MacDonald, Model Milk

*Cinnamon Syrup

  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cinnamon stick

Method: Combine sugar and water in a sauce pan and heat until sugar is dissolved. Add cinnamon stick and simmer for five minutes. Remove from heat and let cool. Remove cinnamon stick and store syrup in the fridge.

Ode to Bennett on Rare Disease Day 2017

The last day of February every year is Rare Disease Day. Though technically Bennett doesn’t have a “disease,” his genetic condition, Chromosome 18 Deletion Syndrome, is very rare and impacts him and our family like a chronic disease, one we will live with forever that can’t ever be cured, only managed.

The Boy Band called -- they want Bennett to join.

The Boy Band called — they want Bennett to join.

We’re fortunate he doesn’t have any of the health complications that are associated with the condition, from congenital heart disease to growth hormone deficiency. But he does have delayed development and cognitive impairment along with an autism diagnosis.

Still, in spite of these challenges, this is a kid who loves life when things are going his way. He’ll hike up a mountain without complaint, swim till he’s water-logged and delight in travels that take him to jungles, desserts and world-famous zoos.

Bennett has taught us so much about what it means to love unconditionally, and to see the ability in disability. We’re proud of his many accomplishments over the years, and we know he’ll continue to surprise us and make us laugh along the way. They say the struggle ends when gratitude begins. So, instead of getting bogged down in the challenges involved in raising a child with special needs, I try and see Bennett’s differences in a positive way. This poem is a good start:

Here’s to the the kids who are different,

The kids who don’t always get A’s,

The kids who have ears twice the size of their peers,

And noses that go on for days …

Here’s to the kids who are different,

The kids they call crazy or dumb,

The kids who don’t fit, with the guts and the grit,

Who dance to a different drum …

Here’s to the kids who are different,

The kids with the mischievous streak,

For when they have grown, as history’s shown,

It’s their difference that makes them unique.

— Digby Chelsea Wolfe

Here’s to you, Bennett. You’re a rare kid who dances to a different beat. And we’re happy to keep dancing with you. xoxo

With Bennett, the journey is as exciting as the destination.

With Bennett, the journey is as exciting as the destination.

Drink of the Week: Elle

Every Oscars party needs a little bubbly to help ease the way through the many boring parts of the awards show. This drink, created to toast French actress Isabelle Huppert — who’s nominated for best actress for her role in Elle — is just the thing: it’s light, audacious and leads to fun.

And, apropos of Huppert, it features French spirits. There’s the sweet orange kiss of Cointreau, plus some fizz from the Piper-Heidsieck Rosé Sauvage (rosé Champagne = genius!). Piper-Heidsieck happens to be the official champagne of the Academy Awards, so there’s no better time to pop the cork on a bottle. And the winner is…

The Elle: a classy, bubbly drink for your Oscars party.

Elle: a classy, bubbly drink for your Oscars party.

Elle

  • Plain ice cubes
  • 2 dashes orange bitters
  • 0.5 oz Cointreau
  • 3.5-4 oz Piper Heidsieck Rosé Sauvage
  • Zest of pomelo or blood orange
  • Garnish: 2-3 blackberries

Method: Build the drink in a rocks glass over ice and garnish with blackberries.

— Recipe courtesy Piper Heidsieck

Drink of the Week: Duchess of Clynelish

Competing in a cocktail competition takes a lot of courage; winning one requires the right combination of showmanship, presentation, talent and playing to the judges’ taste preferences. I’ve judged a few over the years and I’m always blown away by the work that goes into each entry, and by the pressure on competitors.

One of the biggest competitions on the planet is World Class, hosted annually by Diageo, an alcohol brand conglomerate that owns spirit labels from Crown Royal to Johnnie Walker. Ewan Morgan, Diageo’s Master of Whisky, was in Calgary earlier this week for a whisky tasting at Milk Tiger Lounge and to walk aspiring World Class Canada competitors through the application process.

World-class whisky to accompany World Class Canada competition details.

World-class whisky to accompany World Class Canada competition details.

He brought along two World Class Canada winners: Shane Mulvany, a Toronto bartender who won in 2016, and Lauren Mote, a Vancouver bartender and the gal behind Bittered Sling bitters, who took home the top prize for Canada in 2015 (Canadian winners go on to compete in the global final).

I learned a few new things about whisky during the afternoon, but the highlight was getting to sample cocktails created by the World Class Canada winners. Mulvany poured his Masala Chai, a hot cocktail that combines Johnnie Walker Black with chai tea, milk, water and sugar.

And Mote shook up her Duchess of Clynelish (see recipe below, and note I did not get instructions for making the heather & rose syrup). As a fan of Chartreuse, both Yellow and Green, I am always looking for new ways to drink it, and had never tried it with whisky. I loved the play between the Green Chartreuse and ginger beer, and the tartness from the lemon juice, but I would either up the Johnnie Walker Gold amount, or decrease the Green Chartreuse, to help the whisky stand up better to the bossy herbal spirit.

Johnnie Walker meets Green Chartreuse in the Duchess of Clynelish cocktail.

Johnnie Walker meets Green Chartreuse in the Duchess of Clynelish cocktail.

Duchess of Clynelish

  • 1 oz Johnnie Walker Gold Label
  • 1/2 oz Green Chartreuse
  • 3/4 oz lemon juice
  • 3/4 oz heather & rose syrup
  • 2 dashes Western Haskap Bitters
  • Top with ginger beer
  • Garnish: dehydrated lemon wheel dipped in rose sugar

Method: Shake all ingredients, except for ginger beer, with ice. Strain over fresh ice in a Collins glass, and top with ginger beer. Garnish with a dehydrated lemon wheel dipped in rose sugar.

— Recipe courtesy Lauren Mote, World Class Canada Winner 2015

Joshua Tree National Park a must-visit

I’m skeptical the first time I see a Joshua tree.

“Are you sure that’s one?” I question my husband, who’s driving us to Joshua Tree National Park from Palm Springs.”That looks like some kind of giant yucca plant.”

This is what a Joshua tree looks like. Cactus meets palm tree meets Lorax.

This is what a Joshua tree looks like. Cactus-meets-palm tree-meets-fictional Lorax.

The closer we get to the park, the more of these strange trees we see. It becomes obvious that the trees that look like cactus-palm hybrids, reaching toward the heavens with outstretched arms, are indeed Joshua trees. They’re so cool-looking that a national park is named after them. Also, you might have heard of The Joshua Tree, U2’s best-selling album. Evidently, Bono thought that anything that could live in the harsh desert environment and not just survive but thrive, should become the symbol for the band’s fifth musical endeavour, says George Land, community outreach for the park, who guides us around for the day.

“That album really introduced the tree to the world and gave it international notoriety,” says Land.

Almost 30 years after the album’s release, two million visitors come to Joshua Tree National Park each year to see the trees growing on parched ground and in between fantastical clusters of red granite rocks. The park protects a desert ecosystem — the Colorado and Mojave deserts come together here — that spans 800,000 acres (larger than Rhode Island) and is home to 17 different kinds of cacti, plus reptiles, birds and mammals. Even though it’s midday and the sun is beating down a scorching (for February) 29C, we see a jack rabbit hopping through scrub from a distance. But the show-stoppers are the red rocks, and the green-and-gold Dr. Seuss-like trees set against a blue sky.

The gorgeous scenery at Joshua Tree National Park.

That’s me contemplating the scenery at Joshua Tree National Park.

“Supposedly, Joshua Tree has 24 different vortexes,” Land tells us as we drive deeper into the park. “We have long been a destination for artists, musicians, photographers and filmmakers, to come and nurse their muse.”

I’m no stranger to natural places purported to have magical powers or healing properties. While exploring Machu Picchu in Peru, I settled my hands on a wall that celebrity and New Age proponent Shirley MacLaine had, during an earlier visit, declared to be a source of mystical energy. I was in awe of the ancient Incan city, but all I felt was a cold rock. In other words, if it possessed New Age powers, they were lost on me.

In Sedona, Ariz. we visited a few of the supposed vortexes and I waited for a kind of mental calm or spiritual tingling to overcome me. Again, nothing. I saw pretty rocks in a surreal landscape.

If you visit the park in late-February/early-March, you'll see the Joshua trees in full bloom.

If you visit the park in late-February/early-March, you’ll see the Joshua trees in full bloom.

In Joshua Tree, I don’t close my eyes and wait for an epiphany. Instead, I take in the phantasmic sweep of red, rounded rocks erupting out of mountains, and blooming Joshua trees reaching skyward. Perhaps the landscape’s power lies in its ability to bewitch from beauty alone? If that’s the case, the creative souls before me have come by their inspiration honestly.