Monthly Archives: March 2012

Drink of the Week: Mango Daiquiri

I’m not sure whether a mango daiquiri will be on the menu at our Ixtapa hotel, but I sure liked this one from Barbados. I know, it’s blended (a no-no, in mixology circles), but the fact it uses fresh mango kind of necessitates a blender. Plus all that blending sure makes it photogenic:

No umbrella, but you get the picture. Me, a swim-up bar at sunset, and a mango daiquiri.

See the beads of condensation on the glass? It’s cold, which is what you want when it’s 32C in the sun. It also has that balance of tart and sweet that I love. I’m sorry, margarita, but sometimes a gal needs to order something girlier — and a wee bit sweeter — at the swim-up bar.

Mango Daiquiri

  • 1  diced mango
  • 4 oz water
  • 2-1/2 oz simple syrup
  • 1-1/2 oz dark rum
  • Scoop ice

Blend ingredients together in a blender. Pour into a hurricane glass, garnish with a mini umbrella and serve.

— Recipe courtesy Tramayne Primus, Hilton Barbados

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On our decision to take the kids to Mexico

Poor Mexico. It’s been getting a lot of bad press lately, what with the escalating violence caused by its ongoing internal war on drugs. People have been killed in Acapulco (once a tourist Mecca), a Canadian woman was badly beaten in Mazatlan earlier this year and a freak explosion at a Cancun resort in 2010 killed five Canadians. Out of the above headlines, only the first is related to the country’s drug war problem. The latter two were bad timing and luck.

Still, the country’s violence has been enough for the Government of Canada to issue a warning about travel to Mexico, urging Canadians to exercise a “high degree of caution” when visiting Mexico, formerly known for its welcoming people, tasty food and deliciously dangerous margaritas. I mean, if you need an argument for visiting Mexico, the national cocktail is a really good reason.

Sip on a margarita and forget all about your -- and Mexico's -- problems.

So, keeping all this in mind, we decided that, for the average Canadian family visiting a safe tourist destination (Ixtapa) and mostly staying put at an all-inclusive resort, the risk of something happening to us while away seemed remote. (I think driving down Deerfoot Trail after a spring snow storm poses more danger.) And yet, you’d think we were taking the kids on holiday to Afghanistan for all the shock and awe surrounding this decision.

We were planning a spring break trip with some friends of ours and they let it be known that Mexico was off the table — they couldn’t believe we’d take our kids there. Even my mom, who joined us last year in Puerto Vallarta, said: “If you decide to go to Mexico, I don’t want to know.” Please don’t read this, Mom.

Here I am with Bennett at the beach in Puerto Vallarta last year, with nary a drug lord -- or souvenir salesperson -- in sight.

It’s a hot topic in the travel blogosphere, where writers are weighing in on whether taking the kids to Mexico is a good idea and offering tips if you decide to head south of the U.S. border. Namely:

  1. Lock up valuables and passports in your room safe, and only carry enough cash for the day’s excursion.
  2. Book excursions through the hotel.
  3. Don’t leave the compound at night.
  4. Beware buying an ugly gold embroidered Aztec-design rug from a beach vendor after drinking five margaritas.
  5. If you eat too many spicy street tacos, make sure there’s a bano nearby.
  6. Never, ever sit through the resort’s evening entertainment/song-and-dance routine or the bad performance will haunt you forever.

That about covers it. So, wish us a a safe trip down to Ixtapa. We’ll try and come back with a bottle of Casa Herradura tequila and only one gold Aztec rug.

Would you bring your kids to Mexico?

Attention-seeking kids and the digital era

There’s a line from the original Cat in the Hat book that my husband and I recite whenever one of our children wants us to watch what they are doing — however silly, and however many times we’ve seen it done before.

“Look at me! Look at me! Look at me now!”

It’s the part in the book where the Cat in the Hat is balancing on the ball, holding up a bunch of stuff — including the fish bowl — and he wants Sally and her brother to watch him add more items. For a cat on a ball, it’s impressive, but with our kids, they aren’t balancing dishes and cake and a boat and a rake. No, they want us to watch them do mundane things, like dance to Thriller, or run around the house in their underpants, or solve an alphabet puzzle. That was exciting stuff when they were two; at ages six and four, not so much.

Still, as dutiful parents, we watch, and take pictures, and sometimes even record video.

"Look at me! In the bathtub! With a bubble face!" Every moment of childhood is now easily captured, thanks to camera phones.

So, it’s no wonder our daughter has decided that filmed evidence conveys merit, and she has taken it one step further. She has recently started asking us to take pictures of her creations, no matter how ridiculous they are. Behold her squishie pyramid:

Awwww, a squishie pyramid! Just one example of how every facet of childhood, no matter how mundane, is in danger of being recorded for posterity.

Yes, it’s eight squishies stacked into a little pyramid. When she asked me to take a picture of this, I laughed.

Me: “Seriously? I’m not taking a picture of that.”

Avery: “Why not? It’s a squishie pyramid. Aren’t they cute?”

Blake: “You should take a picture of it, and then blog about all the lame things kids want their parents to take pictures of.”

And so I did. Sigh. But it got me thinking. When I was a kid my parents pulled out the camera, sure — on family vacations and at birthdays and Christmastime. But there were long stretches that zoomed by, unrecorded. Like a Super 8 film that goes splotchy in parts, my memory is the imperfect lens through which I view most of my childhood. It’s not a bad thing, really, and lets me look back at the era in awe and wonder.

I often wonder if today’s new standard of recording every accomplishment, however insignificant (example: the squishie pyramid), isn’t somehow cheapening our kids’ important milestones. I also wonder if we’re raising a self-absorbed generation that’s going to think it’s amazing for just flashing a smile. Shouldn’t things should be recorded for a reason, not just because they are? My daughter may well look back on this and say: “Why did you blog about my squishie pyramid, but not my solo in the spring choir performance?” Exactly.

How about you? Do you find yourself grabbing for the camera every time your kid strikes a pose, or builds something with Lego? Is this a good thing, or not?

Drink of the Week: Raspberry Mojito

It’s officially spring, which means we can start making cocktails with mint. A friend just informed me you can purchase seeds for “mojito mint” — as opposed to regular mint — so I’m thinking that planting a large container of mint with the kids will be an upcoming project. I love mojiitos because they’re refreshing, delicious and versatile — you can muddle different berries (strawberries, etc.) with the mint for a seasonal twist. Mojito party to follow later this spring.

I was in Banff on the weekend for a professional development workshop with TMAC Alberta. After eight hours of learning about social media, how to write travel pitches and take great photos, it was time for a cocktail at Earl’s. I wrote a column last June about how Earl’s has undergone a cocktail makeover by trading out their mixes for fresh ingredients, so I was eager to sample one. I ordered the Raspberry Mojito:

This drink is pretty and tasty too. But I would either make it using more rum, or serve it in a smaller glass. Hello, spring!

Lovely, isn’t it? It tasted good too — a nice balance between sweet (simple syrup) and sour (fresh lime juice). You could also taste the muddled mint and fresh raspberries. The only thing I didn’t like was the fact you couldn’t taste the rum, which meant I drank it way too fast. I would either increase the amount of rum to 2 oz, or make it in a shorter glass.

Earl’s Raspberry Mojito in Banff

  • 1 oz light rum
  • 1 oz fresh lime juice
  • 1 oz simple syrup*
  • 10 mint leaves
  • Handful fresh (or frozen) raspberries
  • Top with soda water
  • Lime wedge garnish

Muddle the rum, lime juice, simple syrup, mint and raspberries in the base of a Collins glass. Fill half way with ice, then add half the soda water. Stir to bring up the mint and raspberries (so they won’t clog your straw), then top with more ice and soda. Serve with a straw.

*To make simple syrup, heat equal parts sugar and water on the stove in a saucepan until the sugar is dissolved. Cool and refrigerate.

— Recipe courtesy Earl’s in Banff

A Banff institution: the Grizzly House

Four decades worth of grease build-up coats every surface, your eyes sting from the smoke an hour after stepping through its iconic A-frame entrance, and you may receive a phone call from a stranger asking whether you’re wearing panties immediately after being seated — but don’t let those small details dissuade you from visiting the Grizzly House restaurant in Banff. At least once.

You can't walk down Banff Avenue without noticing this restaurant and wondering what it's like inside. Hint: there's a wood-carved bear, a disco ball and a "private room" in the back.

I’ve been visiting Banff for 15 years and had never eaten there until this past weekend. We’d given it a miss for several reasons. First of all it’s pricey — the complete fondue dinners cost over $40 per person, depending on what kind of meat you order. Also it’s fondue (yes, I’m a child of the 70s, but that doesn’t mean my palate is trapped in that decade). Plus you have to cook your own meat on hot stones (more on that later), which can be a lot of work.

Finally, the place really, really smells. This means your clothes will reek for days from the plumes of cooking-meat smoke that hover permanently in the air. Imagine if a stinky-cheese bomb exploded on an exotic wildlife farm and the ostriches, gators, snakes, sharks, wild boars and lobsters all went up in smoke at the same time. That’s what the Grizzly House smells like. Hence the burning eyes.

But let’s get past all that because I haven’t had this much fun at a restaurant dinner in years.

The Grizzly House owner is every bit as vintage as the decor inside his decades-old establishment. I think he still likes to party, too.

“It’s not fine dining — it’s fun dining,” said Gizzly House owner Peter Steiner, who was sitting outside of his restaurant smoking a pipe and clad in a fur cap. Steiner opened the Grizzly House in 1967 as a disco dance hall — the original disco ball is still hanging from the ceiling, though the bottom is dented from repetitive falls. Soon after the club began serving fondue and hasn’t changed its menu since. The restaurant still plays non-stop 70s music, though thankfully the disco ball remained motionless through the duration of our meal.

Another holdover from the era are the telephones at each table. “Back then a disco hall in Banff was a meat market,” said Steiner. “I thought phones would be a good way for introductions, and save guys from having to buy a girl a drink.” Now referred to as “swinger” or “hook-up” conduits, the phones add a level of hilarity to the meal, especially after several glasses of wine.

Equally as entertaining was our waiter Billy, who, with his chiseled face and blond hair swept back into a ponytail, looked like he’d stepped straight from the cover of a Harlequin romance novel. Billy had an uncanny knack for adding a layer of innuendo to his dinner announcements, making the meal instructions sound suggestive and kinda dirty. We were told to keep our hot rock moist at all times by buttering it in slow, rythmic circles, for example.

Lobster and steak doesn't cook itself. Raw meat at Banff's former No. 1 "meat market".

Harlequin Billy also confirmed the existence of a private dining room (a.k.a. “secret sex room”), complete with an oval mirror oddly placed at crotch level. Its purpose, back in the day? “Every once in a while you just want to confirm your ‘friendship’ before you get home” with your new date, explained Billy. Yes, the Grizzly House earns its tagline: “For Lovers & Hedonists.”

Fortunately, no one (to my knowledge) ended up in the Grizzly House back room that night, but I can’t confirm what happened at Aurora nightclub later. I had to drive back to Calgary with a belly full of cheese — squinting all the way, post-smoke — in a car that smelled like an exploded exotic wildlife farm.

Drink of the Week: Toreador

It’s official — we’re going to Mexico for spring break, baby! We booked a week at the all-inclusive Sunscape Dorado in Ixtapa! Woot! The fares came down a bit and we pounced. So to celebrate, a Toreador cocktail. Now, I had never heard of this drink until I was paging through Simon Difford’s Cocktails Made Easy (yet again) and noticed I had all three ingredients on hand: tequila, apricot brandy and lime juice.

It’s like a margarita — and is said to even pre-date Mexico’s iconic cocktail — but one with a sweeter, fruitier flavour thanks to the Bols apricot liqueur. Though I liked it, I will be ordering traditional margaritas while south of the U.S. border. Ole!

Its name is Spanish for "margarita with apricot brandy." Not really, but I thought that sounded about right.

Toreador

  • 2 oz tequila
  • 1 oz Bols apricot brandy liqueur
  • 1 oz freshly squeezed lime juice
  • Lime wedge garnish

Shake all ingredients with ice and strain into a rocks glass. Garnish with a lime wedge.

— Recipe courtesy Cocktails Made Easy

Polar Peak: new terrain at Fernie ski resort

The sign would scare away all but the most determined skiers:

Beginners dare not ski the peak, for fear of an early end to their schussing career (at the bottom of a cliff).

“EXPERTS ONLY!! Be honest. Are you really an expert! Fast & grippy surface. If you fall long slides over cliffs possible. PLAY SAFE”

I read it, then followed my husband over the drop, through some hard bumps and onto the slick, crusted surface of Mama Bear, one of the new double-black runs off of Polar Peak at Fernie Alpine Resort.

I wish I could say I rocked the peak and carved graceful jump-turns down the long, steep run. Instead, I was too concerned about keeping an edge on the chalky snow, and digging in on each turn so my skis wouldn’t go skittering down the face. Regardless, we enjoyed the new terrain and skied down to the Polar Peak triple chair to brave the wind for another run.

The new Polar Peak chair takes skiers over rime-encrusted outcrops to the top of Polar Peak, elevation 7,000 metres, where 22 new runs await.

Polar Peak opened in mid-January, bestowing on Fernie the coveted title of “biggest vertical drop” in the Canadian Rockies. At 3,550 feet, that’s more vert than Lake Louise or Sunshine. The chair also opened up 22 new highly-exposed, mostly expert, mostly double-black runs on a hill already famous for its steep expert terrain and huge powder dumps. Polar Peak is like the slippery icing on Fernie’s already perfect snow cake.

The views from the top are stellar too. From the tiny plateau where skiers exit the lift we could see the town of Fernie, all the way down the spine of the Lizard Range, and into the Columbia Valley. Sublime.

From the top you can see over into the Columbia Valley. That's Lake Koocanusa in the distance.

The only drawback? Polar Peak is often closed. It didn’t open until 2:30 p.m. on Saturday because of high winds, and then it was only loading at half capacity. As the patroller at the top put it: “We don’t want skiers’ chairlifts to get blown into a tower.”  The top is also regularly shrouded in powder-producing clouds, which means low visibility. Theoretically, inexperienced or disoriented skiers could make a wrong turn and fall off a cliff (hence the sign), though I really doubt that would ever happen given the roving patroller on duty.

On our second run we hopped over to Spirit Bear, a narrower chute that met my skis with more wind-hardened snow.

Don't look down! The Polar Peak chutes are vertigo-inducing steep.

Thankfully, I didn’t wipe out and slide 500 feet to the bottom (as predicted if you catch an edge), but I was happy to have my peak experience and then hit Currie Powder, where the glades pampered my bruised skis with perfect, packed-powder conditions. Sure, I’ll ski the peak again, but I’ll always return to my favourite Fernie runs.