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!

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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.

Drink of the Week: Tequila Sunrise

I thought a Tequila Sunrise was an appropriate drink this week since the sun has set on my Calgary winter and I am in Arizona looking forward to many desert sunrises (well, four of them, anyway). And for some reason, to me, nothing says parched earth and saguaro cacti quite like tequila (the Sonoran Desert, after all, extends from Mexico north to Arizona).

Pretty and potent, just like the Sonoran Desert.

A Tequila Sunrise won’t knock your socks off, but with a generous tequila pour, it gets the job done. And let it be known my week has been particularly trying, what with three deadlines in three days and a sick six-year-old at home for two of those days. So I can use a stiff drink, but one that’s entirely drinkable, and O.J. mixed with tequila is definitely that.

I modified my recipe from GroupRecipes and used pomegranate juice instead of grenadine, which makes it a bit tart and more ruby-hued than pink. I hope you enjoy one tonight — or tomorrow, at sunrise. Me? I’ll be down at the cantina, knocking one back, followed by a prickly pear margarita.

Tequila Sunrise

  • 2 oz tequila
  • 3 oz fresh-squeezed orange juice
  • 3/4 oz pomegranate juice (or grenadine syrup)

Shake the tequila and orange juice with ice and then strain into an ice-filled glass. Pour the pomegranate juice in along the glass’s edge, so it bleeds down the side. Garnish with an orange wedge.

— Recipe modified from GroupRecipes

STFU, Parents! What not to share

Blogging about my life and kids and travels has got me thinking: what are the boundaries for sharing personal information on the web? Then I came across this On Parenting blog on the topic that featured an interview with the STFU, Parents founder.

For those not familiar with STFU, Parents, it’s a blog site that mocks all the redonkulous birth, baby and kid posts that parents share with the world. In the interview, the site’s founder (who wants to remain anonymous), said the line between sharing and over-sharing has become fuzzy. The more people become familiar with social media, the less they think about what’s appropriate to put “out there.”

While it’s probably OK to post a video of your live birth on your personal blog, you may be crossing the line by posting it to Facebook, where your junior high school science teacher could stumble across it. Do you really want Mr. Milavec to see all that? As I write this I realize I may have been guilty of over-sharing in my daughter’s birth announcement, which included this photo:

I crossed the line with this picture of my kid. In my uterus. Sorry about that.

Yes, this is Avery at about 34 weeks gestation, inside my uterus! At the time, nobody was really sharing in-utero photos, but there I was, grossing out my co-workers and acquaintances when this picture landed in their in-box. After hearing through the grapevine that some people thought our birth announcement was “kinda weird,” I have tried hard to keep my Facebook shares under control. Fortunately, as I am not in possession of video footage of either c-section, breastfeeding b-roll, or photographic evidence of potty training success, I have found it easy to STFU about all that private stuff. Now, if only the rest of the parents out there would STFU too.

How about you? Have you ever over-shared parenting milestones on Facebook? Do your friends?

Going to the (howling) dogs

It’s official: we’ve gone to the dogs. The Howling Dog Tours of Canmore, anyway; the ones that pull you in a sled along trails at breakneck speed, which for an Alaskan husky tops out at about 25 km/hr downhill. The kids giggled down every bumpy hill, I laughed with them snug under several blankets and Blake helped our musher, Brock, drive the sled along a snow-packed service road in Spray Valley Provincial Park.

Musher Brock snaps our picture on the trail. Don't we look cozy?

I had my doubts about how the afternoon would turn out, especially when Bennett started saying, “No dog sled, Mommy,” in the van on the way to the staging area. Once there he sat down in the snow and, to my horror, started eating it. “Don’t eat that snow!” one of the guides yelled at him. (Bennett’s bit wasn’t yellow, I don’t think). I also worried when Brock introduced our first two sled dogs as “Cadaver” and “Screamer” — fortunately I misheard him on the first dog’s name (it was actually “Cadabra,” as in “Abra”).

At this point Bennett warmed up to the seven friendly dogs that pulled our sled, and he didn’t even mind when they began barking ballistically right before we screamed out onto the trail.

Cadabra and Screamer get some pets from the kids.

We loved the two-hour tour and highly recommend. Here are five reasons you should go to the dogs too:

  1. The sight of happy dogs playfully nipping at one another as they pull a heavy sled will lift your spirit. They love to run!
  2. The smiles on your kids’ faces as the sled tears down hills and around bends … And subsequent smiles when they pet the dogs and feed them treats afterwards. We were amazed by how friendly the dogs are — and how good they are with little kids.
  3. You’ll feel slightly patriotic whizzing through a forest in the Frozen North while sitting in a sled pulled by huskies. All you need is a bear skin to exchange for a Hudson’s Bay blanket at the trading post. 
  4. The scenery is pretty awesome. Look up and you’ll see the jagged peaks of the Canadian Rockies scratching the sky above the treetops. Our guide said he’s seen wildlife along the trail, too — moose, deer and elk. 
  5. It’s a fun way to embrace winter. You don’t notice the cold or count the minutes you’re outside because you’re having so much fun.

Drink of the Week: Cran-Pomegranate Daiquiri

Today I looked into my liquor cabinet and saw a lot of dark rum. A glance in the fridge revealed fresh limes, simple syrup and a new jug of reduced-sugar Cran-Pomegranate juice. I had the makings of a winter daiquiri! I cribbed from a couple online recipes and, with a dash of orange bitters and a sprinkle of frozen pomegranate seeds, came up with this beauty:

Like a rum punch, only sweeter and berrier.

It’s rather like a rum punch, only sweeter. I love the colour and the fact the fruit ingredients (save the limes) are fall-early winter seasonal. Combined with dark rum, it makes a nice winter drink.

Cran-Pomegranate Daiquiri

  • 1-3/4 oz dark rum
  • 1 oz reduced sugar cran-pomegranate cocktail
  • 3/4 oz fresh-squeezed lime juice
  • 1/2 oz simple syrup*
  • 1-2 dashes orange bitters
  • Pomegranate seeds garnish

Combine ingredients in a cocktail shaker and shake with ice. Strain into a rocks glass filled with ice and garnish with pomegranate seeds. *To make simple syrup combine equal parts water and sugar in a saucepan over low heat until the sugar is dissolved. Cool and refrigerate.

— Recipe by me!