Monthly Archives: November 2012

Drink of the Week: Mint Julep

Yes, it is totally the wrong time of year for this minty spring sip. However, since I was lucky enough to sample a lovely, strong version of the Mint Julep at Booker’s Crab Shack during a recent TMAC (Travel Media Association of Canada) meetup, I wanted to share it now instead of saving it for Derby Day.

Besides, bourbon is a nice, dark fall spirit, and I’m taking a gamble that the star ingredient, mint (which is joyously available in Calgary all year long), will evoke images of candy canes, not Kentucky blue grass. It’s a stiff sip and somewhat of an acquired taste, but stick with it — as the ice melts and dilutes the bourbon, you will find your minty-sweet happy place.

The taste of boozy candy cane in a glass? You decide.

Mint Julep

  • 2 oz Maker’s Mark bourbon
  • 1/2 oz mint simple syrup*
  • Crushed ice
  • Mint sprig garnish

Pack a julep cup with crushed ice. Add bourbon and simple syrup, then swizzle a straw around in the ice to mix. Slap a mint sprig against your hand to release the essence, then poke the stem into the ice-hole where your straw was, as a garnish. Poke a new hole with the straw and serve. (This sounds like a lot of work and just the kind of task your seven-year-old will want to help with. Be sure and supervise or she might get a little sippy with your julep.)

*Mint simple syrup

  • 2 bunches mint, stems removed, set aside enough sprigs for garnishes
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 cup water

Combine sugar and water and heat until the sugar is dissolved (be careful not to bring to a boil). Pour the syrup over the mint leaves in a bowl and let steep for 20 minutes. Using a fine strainer, remove mint from syrup, then cool syrup and refrigerate (discard the mint).

— Recipe courtesy Booker’s Crab Shack

Drink of the Week: Gibson’s Maple Lemonade

The 100th annual Grey Cup takes place this Sunday (go Stampeders!) and if you’re looking to drink something more refined than a pint of beer, I’ve got just the cocktail for you. I was fortunate to receive a bottle of Gibson’s Finest 100th Grey Cup Limited Edition Canadian whiskey in the mail along with some recipes.

It’s sweet, tastes of maple and has been made special for the Grey Cup. Yum.

So for the past couple months I have been trying it in various drinks including a whiskey sour and a fizzy number called the Gibson’s Blueberry Pancake — the whiskey’s hint of maple lends itself to cocktails with citrus and other fuit. But ultimately I think the drink to mix up on Grey Cup Sunday — just the right combo of patriotism and whiskey — is the Gibson’s Maple Lemonade.

It’s pretty, patriotic and will help you cheer for your team. Go Stampeders!

True, lemonade and raspberries aren’t exactly seasonal come November, but they’ll lighten the mood should your team (the Argos) be losing. And the maple syrup and whiskey add just the right amount of sweetness and warmth on a cold fall night.

Gibson’s Maple Lemonade

  • 1 oz Gibson’s Finest 100th Grey Cup Limited Edition Canadian whiskey
  • 2-3 oz lemonade, to taste (I made my own using 1 part lemon juice, 1 part simple syrup and 1 part water. Yum.)
  • 1 tbsp fresh raspberries (I used strawberries)
  • 1 tsp maple syrup (as in 100 percent pure maple; not Aunt Jemima)

Muddle the berries and maple syrup at the bottom of a shaker, then add the whiskey and lemonade and shake. Pour contents into an ice filled rocks glass and garnish with a lemon wedge.

— Recipe courtesy Ginson’s Finest Canadian Whiskey

The taste of victory and, well, boozy maple lemonade in a glass.

A year of blogging

Today is not only American Thanksgiving (happy turkey day!), it marks the one year anniversary since I started blogging. I began Drink – Play – Love as a way to share parenting, travel and cocktail adventures; to tell the weird and wonderful family stories (Sea Monkeys) and drink recipes (Daisy Duke) that would probably never make it to print in one of my other writing outlets.

So far I’ve written about Bennett’s autism and genetic condition, our fundraising campaign for his school and our amazing trip to Tanzania. On a humourous note I chronicled Bennett’s war against his underpants, our misadventures in Ixtapa and a playground fundrasier that went off the rails after party-goers drank too much rum punch.

The stories that have resonated most with readers? Personal ones like Avery’s bucket list and my rant against back-to-school shopping.

I am still having fun with Drink – Play – Love and I hope you are enjoying it. Please let me know what you think!

Art is the latest “pop-up” trend

The phenomenon of pop-ups has taken off in North America, coming to Calgary in the form of a restaurant (Charpop), a lounge (Crowbar) and even a pop-up furniture and accessories store (Sit).

Wildlife painted on a utility box greets cars entering Inglewood on 9 Ave. S.E. from downtown Calgary.

But the pop-up’s latest incarnation delivers it to the masses in an esthetically pleasing format: public art. Pop-up art falls into the category of urban intervention, where designers and street artists are starting to look at urban landscapes as something more than just utilitarian. In some cities guerilla swings have popped up by bus stops, giving commuters something to do while they wait, for example. Pop-up art, by contrast, gives passersby something to look at and appreciate while they walk or drive in the city. It pretties up the streetscape.

I first noticed pop-up art on some older buildings in the East Village, where a sort of upscale grafiti-style street art injected colour into the otherwise bleak (especially in winter) landscape.

This stop sign sports a knitted cozy.

The trend has now migrated east into Inglewood. I’ve spotted several “stop-sign cozies” warming up the cold sliver poles — a practice known as “yarnbombing.” The neighbourhood’s grey utility boxes have also turned into three-dimensional works of art as artists paint them with city scenes and pictures of wildlife you’re likely to spot while walking along the Bow River or visiting the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary (deer, geese and even a Richardson’s ground squirrel).

The best addition to the hood — in my opinion — is a gorgeous mural covering what was once plain beige concrete supporting a train underpass that leads from the bus depot in Victoria Park under the railway tracks to 9 Avenue by Fort Calgary. Instead of a dingy underpass car passengers now marvel at a kaleidoscope of colours depicting a bird, a woman and a whole lot of flowing shapes and swirls.

This underpass is way prettier thanks to a gorgeous mural painted this past summer.

Personally, I love this trend. I think it’s a great way to beautify community spaces and bring interest to tableaux that would otherwise remain utilitarian, ugly and add nothing to the urban environment.

How about you? Have you noticed any pop-up art in your neighbourhood? Do you like it?

Drink of the Week: Hashtag Boom (#Boom)

Bourbon is super trendy right now and I had the chance to sample several bourbon cocktails at a small competition held at Vine Arts wine and spirits shop this past Sunday evening.

The event was sponsored by Beam Global. Competitors from six Calgary restaurants and lounges were asked to create an original cocktail using a product under the Beam umbrella, ranging from bourbons to a rum (Curzan Black Strap Rum),  cognac (Courvousier VS) and even a single malt scotch (Laphroaig).

Franz Swinton creates an original cocktail at Vine Arts.

You’d expect competition to be stiff with talent from Anejo, Cilantro, Milk Tiger Lounge, Ox and Angela, Raw Bar and Taste all wooing our taste buds — and it was. I was impressed with Franz Swinton (representing Anejo), who managed to create a delicious and smoky number by combining scotch and tequila with sweet milk, cinnamon and star anise.

Everyone loved this tart yet peachy-sweet creation from Matt LaRocque at Taste.

On our way out we were asked to vote on our favourite cocktail. I quite fancied the Pulque Sazerac from Cilantro, but I also liked the winning cocktail from Taste. Hashtag Boom (#Boom) mixes Knob Creek bourbon with a homemade red pepper simple syrup, lemon juice and ginger beer. The result is a tart-meets-spicy-meets-peachy-sweet liquid taste explosion. #Boom will be available at Taste for the next month. Or, you can make the cocktail at home:

Hashtag Boom (#Boom)

  • 1-1/2 oz Knob Creek bourbon
  • 1 oz Red Pepper Gastrique (see recipe, below)
  • 1/2 oz lemon juice
  • Fentiman’s Ginger Beer
  • 3 dashes Fee Brother’s Peach Bitters

In lieu of a kimchi praline garnish you could always just use a lemon wedge.

Shake bourbon, gastrique and lemon juice in a cocktail shaker full of ice. Strain ingredients into a rocks glass, and proceed to fill glass to the top with ice. Top drink with ginger beer, and add three dashes of peach bitters. Garnish with a kimchi praline (or even just a lemon wedge).

Red Pepper Gastrique

  • 3 oz red peppers
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 oz red wine vinegar
  • 2 oz white vinegar
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Boil sugar, water and vinegars together. Reduce heat and add peppers. Puree and strain (consistency should be able to coat the back of a spoon). If too thick, thin with a little hot water.

— Recipe courtesy Matt LaRocque, Taste

Our Sea-Monkeys experiment

Remember Sea-Monkeys? When I was a kid every comic book featured an ad on the back cover selling kits that promised to get you growing these prehistoric krill-like creatures from the comfort of your home. I never asked my parents to buy me sea-monkeys — like magic sand, I figured the product would only disappoint. Look at the drawings of them: as if you’ll grow a weird amphibious family that lives in a castle.

Creepy, right? But weirdly I could not resist.

So when Avery came home from school clutching a Scholastic book order form, with a picture of the Sea Creatures kit circled, I rolled my eyes. I mean, kudos to the Sea-Monkeys marketing team for successfully rebranding the critters by calling them by their scientific name, “triops,” and packaging them in a box that sells them as Sea Creatures (the monkeys moniker always seemed a bit creepy). But still, I felt it would be $12.99 of Avery’s allowance money down the drain. Would they even hatch? What was their lifespan (translation: how long would they clutter up our kitchen island)? I knew it wouldn’t end well. (But at least she wasn’t asking for a pair of x-ray glasses, a gimmick coveted by her daddy back in his comic book-reading days.)

Look closely and you will see our first triops hatchling. The castle is not included in the kit.

In the name of science we relented and, two weeks later, Avery brought home her kit. A couple days after we released eggs to water, there it was — almost invisible to the naked eye — our first baby triops. A few days on we counted four. Then, sadly, we experienced a die-off and our numbers dropped to two (we think the larger ones cannibalized the babies). The remaining sea creatures seemed to flourish in the tropical environment we created, thanks to an incubator-like lightbulb set up by the little dish. At first Avery doted on them, mixing up food and suctioning dirty water out of their bowl. She also watched them zip around the dish and even drew pictures of triops. It was love for about a day.

Avery cleans out the triops dish, a gesture in vain as they would all be dead by morning.

This triops is in a way cleaner bowl than ours.

Then guess who took over triops duty? Yes. The parents. We watched in dismay as the dish became ever-cloudier and its occupants harder to see. Triops are not cute. Their name comes from the Greek word meaning “three eyes” (which would totally have made a scarier Greek monster than a cyclops) and if you look closely you will see two black eyes plus a black spot above the eyes on a large head that sits atop a shrimp-like body. They are fascinating partly because they look so weird.

Triop, I love you.

Despite our best efforts the oldest triops died last week. Avery didn’t take it well and pretty much cried all morning after I shared the news. I Googled “triops lifespan” (on average two weeks) and realized the second triops had maybe three or four good days left. Cue sad music.

Monday night our last Sea-Monkey was swimming frenetically around the dish, living it up amongst the triops food and accumulated debris. By Tuesday morning it was floating lifeless at the bottom of the container. Avery just kind of shrugged in acceptance (now that she’s a circle-of-life veteran) and then asked, “When can we hatch the rest of the eggs?”

A true scientist is born. (And yes, those kits are well worth $12.99.)

Confessions from storytime

In his 2008 book Under Pressure: Putting the Child Back in Childhood, author Carl Honore writes about the moment he realized he needed to slow down while parenting. During bedtime story he was skipping pages and shortening sentences in an effort to rush through the book and turn out the light faster (and, presumably, move on to that cherished window between kid-bedtime and parent-bedtime).

Other parents are finding storytime a drag, too. A recent Disney survey found that though half of UK parents surveyed think storytime is time well spent with their kids, only a third read to them every day. The rest are pleading “too busy.”

Based on my own experience though, I am guessing that what Honore probably didn’t count on — and what the survey didn’t ask about — was a child’s need to have the same story read over and over and over and over again. It is really annoying and enough to put even the most well-intentioned parent off of storytime for good. That, dear reader, is my reality.

My shortened version of Goodnight Moon: Goodnight everybody! The end.

We all know that reading to kids is important. It’s a great way to promote literacy and storytelling. It’s also a nice time at the end of the day to cuddle and bond. I just don’t like reading the same book every night for months. When Avery was little she would go choose a bedtime story from the bookshelf and I would repeat this mantra: “Anything but Goodnight Moon, anything but Goodnight Moon, anything but Goodnight Moon.” And then she would bring over — wait for it — Goodnight Moon for what felt like the 1,000th reading. Goodnight Nobody? What does that even mean??

My favourite kids’ story ever. I didn’t minding reading it 150 times.

Fortunately Avery can now read on her own so I am left to struggle through storytime only with Bennett. At the end of the summer he was on a Flap Your Wings tear. It’s a hilarious book about Mr. and Mrs. Bird, in which they hatch and raise a crocodile baby, then try to teach it how to fly. I really loved that book, and watching Bennett get excited every time on the page where the egg hatches to reveal a baby crocodile was priceless. “That’s not a baby bird!!” he would exclaim.

Read this book for what feels like the 1,000th time? I cannot, I cannot, I cannot.

Sadly, not all children’s books are created equal. He has now moved on to The Little Engine That Could, which is supposed to teach kids that success and reward come from trying hard. It’s a great lesson delivered in a painful format. There’s an annoying train filled with crap toys (a creepy toy clown) and food (spinach and peppermint drops) that breaks down. The clown ominously comes to life and begs a bunch of passing engines to haul the toys and food over the mountain so the train can deliver the goods to the waiting children, etc.

Since I’ve read the story so many times, Bennett has memorized the entire book. This means that if I try to skip pages or shorten sentences, he calls me on it. “No Mommy,” he’ll stop me. “Read it again.” So my eyes glaze over and I stifle another yawn and I summon my Little Blue Engine voice and also the will to go on: “I think I can! I think I can! I think I can!”

Every night I suggest different stories to Bennett. “How about Mortimer? We haven’t read that in awhile. What about The Cat in the Hat?”

Bennett: “Mommy, how about The Little Engine That Could?”

Me: “I cannot. I cannot. I cannot.”

How about you? Which bedtime stories are you tired of reading over and over and over and over again?