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.

Drink of the Week: Rodney’s Signature Caesar

I finally made it to Rodney’s Oyster House to celebrate the restaurant’s second anniversary in Calgary. There were fresh oysters, delicious clam chowder and yummy crab cakes. And you know what tastes great with seafood? Caesars.

I hadn’t really thought about this before, but drinking a Caesar is basically like adding vodka to shrimp cocktail sauce, pouring in some spices and briny shellfish water, and swallowing it. It sounds kind of gross, but it’s so good!

Can we all just agree that the best thing about a Caesar is the meal-like garnish? Image courtesy Rodney's Oyster House.

Can we all just agree that the best thing about a Caesar is the meal-like garnish? Image by LOVE BITES Food Photography.

Rodney’s Signature Caesar is solid. They use Walter Caesar Mix, which is an all-natural, made-in-Canada alternative to Mott’s Clamato. They also make a nice and spicy Back from Hell sauce that replaces Tabasco. It comes together in a light, refreshing cocktail that’s a perfect accompaniment to raw oysters.

Need a date-night idea for Valentine’s Day? Rodney’s is hosting a “Couple’s Therapy” event where loving participants can learn how to open up oysters together using a traditional shucking knife. They get to suck down the spoils — widely recognized as an aphrodisiac — in between sips of bubbles or beer. Or, make your own romance at home with the below Caesar recipe…

Rodney’s Signature Caesar

  • 1.5 oz Stoli vodka
  • Walter Caesar Mix
  • Worcestershire sauce (to taste)
  • 2-3 dashes Back from Hell Sauce (Rodney’s signature hot sauce). Or sub in Tabasco.
  • Squeeze of fresh lemon juice
  • Celery salt rim
  • Garnish: One wild gulf shrimp, one spicy bean, lemon wheel, lime wheel and a pinch of freshly grated horse radish.

Method: Rim a small mason jar or rocks glass with celery salt and then build the drink over ice.

— Recipe courtesy Rodney’s Calgary

Drink of the Week: Burnt Cherry Manhattan

Smoking drinks is a big thing right now. First bartenders were mixing peated scotch or smoky mezcal into cocktails for that campfire flavour; now they are adding actual smoke with a machine that lights flavoured wood such as cedar chips afire, then pumps the smoke into a glass dome (under which the cocktail is situated) through a hose. It’s like bell jars have been waiting decades to make a comeback, and now enterprising bartenders are facilitating their wish. It makes for an entertaining performance at the bar.

Bartender Austin Purvis reveals his Burnt Cherry Manhattan after a round of smoking at The Guild.

The Guild bartender Austin Purvis reveals his Burnt Cherry Manhattan after a round of smoking.

I first saw David Bain do this neat trick with a rum drink during a Mount Gay competition a couple years ago. More recently, I’ve watched Franz Swinton smoke his Good Morning Vietnam at Raw Bar, and Austin Purvis smolder his Burnt Cherry Manhattan at The Guild.

The taste of smoky fruit is awesome in this spicy, slightly bitter Manhattan (I’m a  big fan of the Sonoma Country rye), but quite frankly, while it’s fun to watch a bartender imbue a drink with a smoky bouquet, it seems like a lot of work and equipment. Where does one even purchase a bell jar? Or a smoking machine? I wouldn’t necessarily try it at home. And evidently, you can buy a smoky spray to spritz on your cocktail. That sounds like a safer bet!

A Burnt Cherry Manhattan from The Guild. There are easier ways t smoke a drink...

A Burnt Cherry Manhattan from The Guild.

Burnt Cherry Manhattan

  • 1 blackened cherry
  • Orange rind cheek
  • 2 oz Sonoma County Distilling cask strength rye whiskey
  • 0.25 oz Amaro Averna
  • 0.25 oz Chambord
  • Splash blackberry pok pok (drinking vinegar)
  • 2 dashes Angostura bitters
  • Squeeze fresh orange
  • 1 dash Bitter Truth bitters
  • Garnish: Bourbon cherry

Method: In a mixing glass, muddle the blackened cherry and orange rind with the rye whiskey. Add the remaining ingredients, plus ice, and stir until well chilled. Fine strain into a rocks glass over two fresh ice cubes. Smoke the glass under a bell jar to infuse a smoky flavour. Garnish with a skewered bourbon cherry.

— Recipe courtesy Austin Purvis, The Guild

Why I’ll miss Fernie

We listed our Fernie condo over the Christmas holidays. For 10 years it’s been our mountain retreat in summer and winter; during every three-hour drive I’ve sighed audibly as our car spirited us from Calgary to our happy place.

Fernie is where both of our children learned to ski. It’s the place we spent perfect summer days at Surveyor’s Lake. It’s the site of multiple hikes and even a mountain summit. I could wax nostalgic for hours, but we are ready to move on. It’s time for some new adventures, and I feel happy at the thought that perhaps another family will buy our condo and fall in love with this cool mountain town, its challenging ski hill and its many hiking and mountain biking trails.

In honour of a decade spent in Fernie, I’ve listed — in no particular order — all the things that make it a special place to spend a winter day (or evening).

3 p.m. powder off Deer Chair

This isn’t a regular occurrence, but for some reason on this particular Monday afternoon, after a dump, my daughter and I found endless stashes of untracked powder on either side of, and just below, the terrain park. It was basically a virgin field on a green run, which is perfect for a newbie powder hound like Avery.

Just shreddin' off Deer chair.

Just shreddin’ off Deer chair.

Hike to pow on a Sunday afternoon

Sometimes, timing is everything. That was certainly the case this past Sunday, when a friend and I noticed they had just opened Upper Lizard Bowl, allowing skiers to hike up to access the yet-to-be-skied snow field directly under the fearsome cliff walls of the Lizard Range (these slopes are often closed as regular blasting triggers avalanches that sweep the unblemished surface below). This made my last run of the weekend epic.

Look, Ma! We hiked up all this way!

Look, Ma! We hiked up all this way!

It's 20 minutes hiking up and exactly 36 seconds skiing down. But its worth it!

It’s 20 minutes hiking up and exactly 36 seconds skiing down. But worth it!

A small ski village means you run into friends

Back when I skied Vail, the resort was so vast and the village so large, I had no hope of meeting up with friends unless I showed up at the top of Chair 11 at 11 a.m. (a rendezvous colloquially known as 11 at 11 or “11:11”). Also, there were chalkboards at each lift for scrawling messages (this was before iPhones). At Fernie Alpine Resort, wait five minutes and a Califernian whom you know will ski by.

Just hangin' in the village with my buds...

Just hangin’ in the village with my buds…

There’s no lack of apres-ski options…

Not many ski resorts boast frozen vodka Ice Bars, like the one in Cirque restaurant inside the Lizard Creek Lodge. Or patios like the one at The Griz Bar, where you can place your Caesar in such a way it looks possible to ski down the straw from the hill. Between the mountain and the town there are over 20 bars — Fernie really takes hydration seriously!

Behold the Ice Bar!

Behold the Ice Bar!

All hail Caesar!

All hail Caesar!

Sometimes you’re the only person in a giant bowl

This was my view in Cedar Bowl on the weekend. There was only one other person skiing in the vicinity. It kind of baffles me, actually. Here you’ve got a resort with a much larger snow base and better conditions than most Alberta hills, but because it’s a farther drive there are way fewer skiers. That alone makes it worth the extra miles.

Little known fact: If you look up at the treelike from a steep run you can feel the Earth turning.

Little known fact: If you look up at the treeline from a steep run you can feel the Earth turning.

Did I mention the views?

Those crazy jagged, cliffy mountains again. Fernie has one of the most comprehensive avalanche programs in North America. On almost every morning after a snowfall you can hear the team blasting. Some mornings, they drop charges from a helicopter. It’s fair to say the scenery comes at a cost (but again, it’s worth it!).

Morning light in Lizard Bowl.

Morning light in Lizard Bowl.

They have an adaptive ski program

For $20, we can drop off Bennett with two volunteer instructors every Sunday afternoon for a private ski lesson that includes a lift ticket. How cool is that?

Volunteer instructors help Bennett ski to the chairlift.

Volunteer instructors with the Fernie Adaptive Ski Program help Bennett.

Watching the mayhem when the Curry Bowl sign line comes down is the best thing ever!

This might be your one chance to ski in a Chinese downhill over fresh snow.

The throng gathers at the top of Currie Bowl on a powder morning, waiting for the sign line to come down.

The throng gathers at the top of Currie Bowl on a powder morning, waiting for the sign line to come down.

The cat skiing at nearby Island Lake Lodge is amazing

One of the coolest story assignments I’ve had in recent years involved cat skiing at Island Lake with Blake and rekindling our love affair with snow. If you’re an avid skier, this experience is a must.

Blake chases me through the powder at Island Lake Lodge.

Blake chases me through the powder at Island Lake Lodge. Photo by Nick Nault.

Fernie also has the best sushi in Calgary!

I wrote a story some years back about the town’s growing food scene. Restaurants have come and gone since then, but Yamagoya stays strong and makes a West Fernie roll like nobody’s business. And make sure you stop in at Big Bang Bagels and order the Switchback Salmon sandwich.

We've spent many nights eating delicious rolls and drinking biggie beers at Yamagoya.

We’ve spent many nights eating delicious rolls, drinking biggie beers and laughing our heads off at Yamagoya.

The town is adorable

What was once a mining town has turned to tourism. The historic buildings now house boutiques, gear shops, restaurants and bars.

Downtown Fernie had charm galore, and some cute boutiques and great restaurants.

Not only does downtown Fernie have a gorgeous setting, it has charm galore, with cute boutiques and great restaurants.

Moving on doesn’t mean never coming back. Even after the condo sells, I know we’ll still be regular visitors to this piece of Kootenay paradise.

Drink of the Week: The Sawback

Chili and pineapples kind of go together. The tropical combo of spice and tart-sweet citrus also generates heat, making it the perfect thing to drink during a cold snap. That was the thinking when my husband ordered The Sawback at Park Distillery in Banff last weekend. He was intrigued by the idea of chili-flavoured vodka and quite liked the cocktail, which is named for a hiking trail that travels 74 kilometres between Banff and Lake Louise along the rugged Sawback range.

Blake loved The Sawback cocktail at Park Distillery in Banff.

Blake loved The Sawback cocktail at Park Distillery in Banff.

It was our first visit to Park and we liked everything about it. It’s kid-friendly, has great campfire-infused food (delicious rotisserie chicken and cheesy fries served in camp mugs!) and the cocktails are made with spirits crafted in-house. Park makes a white (un-aged) rye whiskey, an alpine gin and four flavours of vodka. If you haven’t been, go west to check it out. In the meantime, shake up The Sawback at home.

This yummy spicy vodka number from Park Distillery in Banff is just the thing to transport you vicariously someplace warm.

This yummy spicy vodka number from Park Distillery in Banff is just the thing to transport you — vicariously — someplace warm.

The Sawback

  • 1.5 oz Park Chili Vodka
  • 0.5 oz triple sec
  • 1.75 oz pineapple juice
  • 1 oz lime juice
  • 0.75 oz agave nectar
  • Garnish: Pineapple wedge and palm frond
  • Glass: Rocks

Method: Combine ingredients in a cocktail shaker and shake with ice. Strain into a rocks glass over fresh ice. Garnish with a pineapple wedge and palm frond, if handy.

— Recipe courtesy Park Distillery