Monthly Archives: May 2012

Playground plans derailed by rum punch

As a parent of a school-age child you often find yourself roped into school-related volunteering. It’s always for a good cause but it’s time-consuming and more work than you thought it would be when another mom, or the smiling principal, strong-armed you onto the team.

And so for the last several months myself and three other Grade 1 moms have been spearheading a new playground at our kids’ school. The current playground is more ashphalt than parkland. It has no trees for shade, nowhere to sit, is riddled with ankle hazards (gopher holes) and has a rather ghetto/penitentiary-like feel to it, what with the net-less basketball hoops and in-need-of-paint exterior of the school’s 1960s-era addition. Plus the equipment has reached its best-before date and is deemed unsafe by the Calgary Board of Education.

Peeling paint adds to the school playground’s woes.

Before you wonder what I’m complaining about and how rum punch could sabotage the process, let me tell you that designing and building a new playground is not about flipping through a Little Tykes brochure and ordering equipment. No. It’s about engaging the community, parents, teachers and students in the process. It’s about working with a landscape architect to naturalize the space so it no longer looks like a prison yard. You want a play area the kids will love and the community can be proud of; not one that invites vandals with spray paint at 3 a.m.

Building a new playground also requires a lot of money. Like, hundreds of thousands of dollars. So, this year our school’s Kitchen Party fundraiser was dedicated to the new playground. We on the playground committee thought this would be a perfect time to have our captive audience fill out playground surveys, plot dots on a playground map and leave the party with brochures to bring to their employers to hit up for cash.

Revellers would’ve plotted dots on a playground map and filled out surveys had the Mardi Gras-themed party not served up nine gallons of rum punch.

I think all of that would have happened, if it hadn’t been for the rum punch. Several months ago Kitchen Party organizers asked me if I could make a signature cocktail for the event; something festive that nodded to New Orleans and Mardi Gras. I love rum punch so this was a no-brainer. I also make it really strong, like they do in Barbados, home of Mount Gay rum (Select Wines & Spirits donated a case of Mount Gay Eclipse to our cause).

Revellers in line for rum punch.

What ended up happening was this: everyone drank a lot of rum punch. Then everyone lined up for tequila shooters. No one filled out surveys. No one plotted dots on a map or walked away with a colour brochure to ask their employer for a cash donation. Instead, sombreros were worn and we danced the night away.

Sombreros happen when you drink rum punch.

But everyone in attendance sure spent a lot on booze, and that night, for the first time, I was having a blast on the playground committee. If it takes a village to raise a child, it requires an inebriated one to raise money for a new playground.

Drink of the Week: Pineapple Ginger Margarita

The good folks at Earls sent me a care package a couple weeks ago: all the ingredients I needed to make a Pineapple Ginger Margarita, including half a pineapple and some house-made ginger syrup. I tried the drink almost immediately (if you don’t already know, I really like margaritas), but I had to resist blogging about it until now as Cinco de Mayo was earlier this month (and my DOTW on May 4 was — you guessed it — a classic margarita).

This cocktail is fantastic. Its inspiration comes from markets in Latin America where tropical fruit is served fresh with salt and chili powder, tantalizing your sweet, salty and spicy senses. They’ve transported the markets to your margarita by  rimming the glass with the sugar-salt-chili mixture, muddling pineapple to get a hit of sweet juice, and creating a delicious ginger syrup that adds a spicy kick. But you can still taste the lime and tequila, so you’re in familiar territory and will recognize it as a margarita hybrid. Yum.

Pineapple and ginger never tasted so good! Photo courtesy Earls.

Earls Pineapple Ginger Margarita

  • 1 oz ginger syrup (see recipe below)
  • 1 oz fresh lime juice
  • 4-5 fresh pineapple chunks (approx 1 oz)
  • 2 oz El Jimador Blanco tequila
  • Pineapple chunk garnish

Into a mixing glass, measure ginger syrup, lime juice, pineapple chunks and El Jimador Blanco. Using a pestle or back of a wooden spoon muddle until juice has escaped from the pineapple. Fill mixing glass with ice, top with a stainless steel shaking tin and shake vigorously 12 times to mix ingredients. Strain over fresh ice into a double rocks glass with a half rim of sweet & spicy rim mix (see recipe below). Garnish with a fresh pineapple chunk, with the top dipped in sweet & spicy rim mix.

Ginger syrup

  • 1-1/2 cups water
  • 8 oz ginger sliced into 1/4-inch coins, do not peel
  • 1-1/2 cups sugar
  • 5 oz honey

In a medium saucepan bring water, ginger, sugar and honey to a simmer. Immediately remove from heat as soon as sugar has dissolved. Puree, using a handheld blender. Strain through a fine mesh sieve into an appropriately sized container with lid, discard ginger pulp. Allow to cool uncovered to room temperature. Cover and refrigerate up to a maximum of nine days.

Sweet & spricy rim mix

  • 3 parts sugar
  • 1 part salt
  • Dash cayenne pepper

Toss together.

— Recipe courtesy Earls

Nurturing a love of gardening in kids

I have never been much of a gardener. And when I use the term “gardener,” I mean it in the traditional, vegetable sense — someone who grows things like cucumbers and lettuce for consumption. Though we grew a zucchini to gold-ribbon-winning size during our first summer of marriage, the tomatoes and carrots and strawberries we have attempted to nurture in subsequent years have failed to thrive.

Fortunately, we have fared much better planting annuals into containers, and raising children to help with this yearly task.

A pot of dirt itches for little hands.

I’ll admit when they were younger I was loathe to involve the kids in anything involving dirt and water. It was a huge, messy, Jackson Pollock-inspired brown splat-down on the patio after the petunias found a home. But now that Avery can submerge a marigold into soil without prematurely dead-heading it, and Bennett can use a small watering can to water mostly plants (with only the occasional drenching of Crocs and concrete), it’s almost a pleasant experience.

Gardening gloves at least keep the dirt out from under fingernails.

Not only are you beautifying the yard, you’re teaching your children about caring for something. And if they help plant the flowers, you’ll get buy-in — they’ll help water them and dead-head them too.

The best part about planting is watering the end result.

Still, you need to supervise this whole process, or you may end up with all 24 marigolds in one tiny pot, or your son might unceremoniously “plant” a four-pack of snap dragons inside the potting soil bag, or the hose will likely stay on and dribble water onto the wood chips for 30 minutes. (To put these hijinks out of your mind, I highly recommend planting a container with mint. One word: mojitos.)

I’ve been doing the annual flower plant with kids now for six seasons and suggest the following tips to keep them engaged (and you sane):

  • Let them water. So your two-year-old waters the lawn and the rocks. As long as he’s not dumping the can over your head, it’s all good.
  • Let them get their hands dirty. Plan ahead and dress the kids in play clothes and have them wear gardening gloves. They will love it and you won’t worry about them ruining an outfit or catching some weird soil bacteria.
  • Along those lines: banish the mess from your mind. There will be A LOT of loose soil that becomes mud on the patio or deck. Chill. Mix another mojito. You can sweep up the dirt after it dries.

Now, doesn’t that look nice? Do your kids help you “garden”? Do you prefer the process or the end result?

Our gallery wall

My friend and professional photographer Jess Harcombe Fleming took some great candid and posed pictures of our family at Pearce Estate Park and in Fish Creek Provincial Park over two days last fall. Ever since she delivered the prints to our house I’ve been meaning to frame them for a gallery wall.

I finally had an opportunity this weekend. Blake and the kids cleared out to Red Deer and I began crossing things off the never-ending to-do list, including this daunting project.

I’ve always wanted to showcase our best family pictures on a gallery wall. I think I need to add some more in different sizes, from different times and places.

Now, my apologies in advance to my husband. Building a gallery wall is niggly and exacting work, and so there are now many little unsuccessful nail hole attempts hiding behind each photograph. But no one can see them and the end result is a nice start, don’t you think?

The view going up the stairs. Wait a minute … who’s that kid at the top??

I was all set to call it an evening, when this framed photo at the top of the stairs caught my eye:

Sorry boy from Peru, we are going to take you down now.

No, we did not adopt a kid from Peru. This picture was taken years ago near Cuzco and since we had to pay someone for the privelege of capturing the boy on film, he ended up framed and mounted on our wall. Sorry, muchacho, your days as art are over.

Do you have a gallery wall? Is it themed (family, travel) or random?

Drink of the Week: Whiskey Sour

Tourism BC hosted a dinner at Model Milk last month for Calgary-area travel writers, the idea being to inspire us to visit our beautiful neighbour to the west. It worked. After an amazing meal spent chatting with the folks who represent different parts of the province, we had visions of ourselves chilling in Lotusland, cavorting on Vancouver Island or wine touring in the Okanagan. To seal the deal, there were cocktails by bartender Stephen Phipps.

I especially liked the whiskey sour. I am partial to sours, as I wrote in a previous blog; now, I like them with whiskey. I am not what you’d call a whiskey drinker, so this surprises me, but maybe it had something to do with the Forty Creek rye whiskey used in the drink. Or the red wine and black pepper syrup (Phipps is keeping that recipe under his hat). Or that hint of sweet maple syrup on the finish. Yum. I’ll be back for another.

Smooth, yummy and delightful whiskey sour. Thanks Model Milk!

Whiskey Sour

  • 2 oz Forty Creek Rye Whiskey
  • 1 oz red wine and black pepper syrup
  • 1 oz fresh lemon juice
  • 1 egg white
  • Touch of Quebec maple syrup
 Add all ingredients to a mixing glass and dry shake. Add ice and shake vigorously then double strain into a chilled glass. Garnish with a wink and a smile.
— Courtesy, Stephen Phipps, Model Milk

Fine dining in Banff, with children

Should children be present at a dinner that involves horseradish-crusted lamb shank and white tablecloths? My gut tells me no on this one, and yet, there we were at a fancy round table inside the Terrace Dining Room at the Banff Park Lodge, contemplating whether to order seared scallops with crepes or sablefish a la shrimp. Avery and Bennett, being kids, just wanted French fries.

Bennettt: “Mommy, I won’t eat my fries unless I like the presentation! Now, where’s that tablecloth so I can wipe the ketchup off my face?”

Normally I would leave the kids at home for this type of meal, but we were in Banff for the Rocky Mountain Wine & Food festival, and fancy dinner for the family was on the itinerary. The waitress brought paper and crayons, and Bennett promptly scribbled orange and blue onto the tablecloth (look really hard in the above snap and you’ll be able to see it). After colouring for approximately 30 seconds he asked Blake, “Daddy, where’s iPhone?”

After a palate-cleansing granita, Avery gets back to more interesting pursuits.

In situations like these, it pays to have an iPhone. Better to let the kids zone out playing Angry Birds than repeatedly ask, “When is our food going to come?” or, more to the point, “Where is French fries?” Valid questions, Avery and Bennett (appetizers really do prolong the dining experience when kids are along. And not in a good way). Inexplicably, when the waitress asked me whether I wanted the kids’ meals to come out early or with our entrees, I decided we should all eat together. Parenting fail.

The best part of the dinner was when our server finally brought out the children’s orders. Truly, I have never seen fries served in a separate white porcelain bowl, nor steamed veggies arranged just so, with dipping sauce in a little metal tin. The artistry of their dishes was lost on my kids, who immediately smeared ketchup all over their plates and faces. I cringed inwardly and took a silent moment to appraise my own entree:

Lamb shank on a bed of risotto. Yum.

The dinner was a success, but I’m not sure we’ll be making a reservation for four at Rouge anytime soon — I don’t think they serve fries.

Do you take your little kids out for fancy meals? Success or failure?

No gift bag left behind?

Back when my eldest was a toddler and took no interest in her birthday party beyond the cake, I vowed I would never adopt what I viewed as unsavoury kids’ birthday party practices. Namely:

  1. Outsourcing
  2. Inviting a number of children greater than my child’s age
  3. Gift bags

This past Friday, at our daughter’s seventh birthday celebration, I realized I have broken all of my party promises. We let Avery invite nine friends to a gymnastics bithday party at the Flip Factory and handed out goody bags when it was over. These slips aren’t really a big deal since outsourcing a party is arguably easier than hosting it in-house (the entertainment is taken care of and the mess is minimized). And really, what’s a couple more friends when there’s a huge gym to run around in?

Gymnastics for an hour followed by pizza, cake, presents and gift bags.

Which brings us to gift bags. Even though a parenting trend prediction for 2012 suggested gift bags were on the way out, it’s daunting to defy party tradition and forego the little party thank-yous, especially when six- and seven-year-old girls covet them. So I stocked up on craft graft from Michaels and Jolly Ranchers from Dollarama and put together what I thought was a pretty kick-ass gift bag:

If China didn’t exist, neither would gift bags.

And yet. One little girl left her gift bag behind. Did she deem the contents unworthy? Had she and her parents vowed to eschew the tradition of gross birthday over-consumption by just saying no to the loot bag? Or did she simply forget to take her gift bag home with her?

Gift bag left behind.

I’ll never know the reason the yellow bag stayed at the Flip Factory that evening. But I like to think that, in Grade 1, my daughter’s friend took a look inside and thought, “Do I really need some lame Made-in-China crafts and teeth-rotting candy?” And then left the gift bag behind.

Should gift bags go the way of the dinosaurs or should we embrace them? Thoughts?