Monthly Archives: February 2012

And the Oscar goes to … I couldn’t care less

I can’t recall the precise moment I stopped caring about the Oscars. It was sometime after I had kids and long after I last tuned in for the entire ceremony, back in 1999 when Gwyneth Paltrow won best actress for her role in Shakespeare in Love. The truth is, I’m so busy reading The Cat in the Hat and watching Toy Story 3 every Saturday afternoon, I just can’t keep up with all the moving adult dramas and the up-and-coming starlets and the obscure nomination categories (sound editing? I mean, really?). The only Oscar-nominated movie I’ve even seen this year is The Help and I went only because I’d read the book.

Part of me wishes I’d spent January and February rushing out to watch The Descendants and Tree of Life and Midnight in Paris. Instead, I made it to one matinee, the digitally remastered Beauty and the Beast. In 3-D! It’s the kind of movie you take a six-year-old to see, and though Belle does a wonderful turn as an ingenue who brushes off the village brute’s advances and instead falls for a Beast (who happens to be a prince!), you kind of know going in she’s not going to be nominated for best actress.

It's a gooder, but definitely not Oscar-worthy.

So tonight, instead of tuning in to the Oscars, I’m planning a date with Phil Keoghan, of The Amazing Race. I may not have time for the best of Hollywood’s big screen offerings, but I always find time for an Emmy-winning reality TV show.

Forget the Oscars, I'm tuning in to The Amazing Race!

Drink of the week: Prickly Pear Margarita

Prickly pears are a big deal in Arizona. They are not, as you might guess, pears with a spiky skin, but rather a kind of cactus that flowers every spring before growing a red fruit that can be harvested and turned into a syrup. It’s this bright purple-red syrup that then gets drizzled over pancakes, added to salsas and used as a key ingredient in the state’s go-to cocktail, the prickly pear margarita.

Don't let the garish colour disuade you. This really is a great drink!

I sampled my first prickly pear margarita at Serrano’s Mexican restaurant in Chandler, a community in the greater Phoenix area. I liked it so much I immediately bought a 12 oz bottle of Cheri’s Desert Harvest Prickly Pear Cactus Syrup (you can buy it online). On its own the syrup is sweet but with a tart taste and an unusual flavour that can only be described as rather cactusy.

You can't make a prickly pear margarita without a bottle of this syrup, available online or everywhere in Arizona.

Upon my return to Calgary I shook up a couple of prickly pear margaritas in honour of National Margarita Day (Feb. 22, yes it’s for real). If you can get past the shocking neon colour this is a really great drink, as you’re basically subbing in the prickly pear syrup for agave nectar or simple syrup. It adds a nice flavour and gives me yet another way to enjoy my favourite cocktail. I hope you like it!

Prickly Pear Margarita

  • 1.5 oz tequila
  • 1/2 oz Cointreau
  • 1 oz fresh-squeezed lime juice
  • 1 oz prickly pear syrup

Shake all ingredients with ice and then strain into a margarita glass filled with crushed ice. Rim the glass with salt, if desired, and garnish with a lime wedge.

— Recipe by me!

Back in the saddle: Horseback riding in Arizona

It had been nine years since I last sat astride a horse when I pulled myself onto Copper — my trusty steed for 90 minutes — at the Koli Equestrian Centre, part of the Sheraton Wild Horse Pass Resort & Spa on the Gila River Indian Reservation in Chandler, Ariz. last weekend. It had been three years since Avery “rode” a horse, and Cannonball Bob would be the first horse she attempted to rein herself.

We were in Chandler, Mesa and Tempe (all part of greater Phoenix) as part of a Sunny Arizona media trip. We’d bounced around at Jump Street (a giant indoor tampoline park), held sea stars at the Sea Life Aquarium and fed stingrays at the Phoenix Zoo. But Avery was most excited to ride a horse in Arizona’s Sonoran Desert. All by herself!

Copper is ready to roll out.

Guide Emmett Miguel led us out of the corral and it quickly became apparent this would not be like most trail rides. You know, the kind where your horse’s head is smooshed up against the tail of the horse in front of you. Instead, we rode side by side; or, more truthfully, Miguel, myself and two other riders flanked out in front, with Avery trailing far behind on Cannonball Bob.

Possibly the biggest misnomer in Arizona's horse history, Cannonball Bob was, in reality, about as fast as a hand-thrown paper airplane.

At 17, Bob was the oldest horse in the stable and thus deemed safest for a six-year-old greenhorn like Avery. He plodded along, following us at great distance. The reins sat limp in Avery’s hands — though she’d been given instructions on how to use them, she just let her mount do his thing. Which he did. Verrrry. Sloooowly. Every now and then Miguel would ride back and encourage Bob to pick up his pace.

Given Bob’s glacial walk, we probably didn’t cover quite as much ground as a typical 90 minute ride, but it was still enough to see three coyotes, two jack rabbits, four wild horses (it isn’t called Wild Horse Pass for nothing), a circling hawk and some Saguaro cactuses (yes, it’s cactuses, unless you’re Latin) in the distance. As we rode along dusty trails and across parched desert flecked with sage bushes, Miguel recounted bits of native folklore, including the tale of how coyote convinced roadrunner to ride across the river on his back (and guess who ended up in coyote’s belly?): “That coyote, he’s a trickster. He’ll pretend he’s your friend, but he’s not.” “A roadrunner is a messenger. If you see one, turn your hat around backwards so it will be a good message.” And finally, “If a hawk crosses your path, it’s a warning.”

This part of the Sonoran Desert is pretty bleak. I expected Copper to stumble across skeletal remains at any moment (maybe that's why the hawk was circling?).

Right on cue, a hawk crossed our path. I’m pretty sure his warning was this: Beware sore legs and a sore bum after horseback riding. And: beware a very thirsty six-year-old after a 90-minute inaugural ride. And also: beware a sunburn. Noted. And so worth it.