Monthly Archives: March 2013

Drink of the Week: Kentucky Snowbird

Let’s drink some bourbon and toast the southern U.S., which has been my gracious host this week. We’ve been to Arkansas and all over Tennessee and I am loving the southern food and hospitality — and spirits.

We haven’t been up to Kentucky but before the trip I attended a bourbon cocktail class in Calgary hosted by Wade Sirois of Crowbar, the pop-up cocktail lounge. I spent an evening with some fellow cocktail enthusiasts sampling different brands of bourbon, stirring a Manhattan and learning how to make a Kentucky Snowbird. I’ll be writing about the class in an upcoming Calgary Herald column (April 13).

Sorry this photo is lopsided. The photographer had been drinking bourbon.

Sorry this photo is lopsided. The photographer had been drinking bourbon.

My favourite drink from the evening was the Kentucky Snowbird, a bitter-sweet yet strong drink that combines three unlikely ingredients: bourbon, Aperol and Cointreau. The bourbon is sweet enough to soften the bitter Italian aperitif, and the Cointreau adds a lovely hint of orange (as do the bitters). It’s definitely a sipper, best enjoyed while sitting in a rocking chair on a porch somewhere in Kentucky.

Kentucky Snowbird

  • 1-1/2 oz bourbon
  • 1/2 oz Aperol
  • 1/2 Cointreau
  • 2 dashes orange bitters
  • orange for flaming orange twist

Put ice in a rocks glass for chilling. Put liquors and bitters in a mixing glass. Add ice and stir for 10-15 seconds. Dump the ice from the chilled rocks glass, and then strain the cocktail from the mixing glass into the rocks glass. Flame an orange twist over the cocktail, squeeze it over the drink, run it around the glass rim and then drop it into the cocktail.

— Recipe courtesy Wade Sirois, Crowbar

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“The plane is overweight”

They say the glory days of airline travel are long gone, and after our trying transit through the Houston International Airport yesterday I have to agree.

Overweight flights - a new American epidemic?

Overweight flights – a new American epidemic?

After a 90 minute delay (reason unspecified) we boarded our 50-passenger United Airlines flight to Little Rock, Ark. They promised we’d be underway as soon as possible, and apologized again for the delay, but the airplane remained motionless on the tarmac and the minutes dragged on. Bennett — exhausted from our 4 a.m. wake-up, the four-hour flight to Houston from Calgary, and the three-hour layover — fell asleep with his head on my lap. We waited. I fantasized that if the plane took off right then he would sleep the whole way. Ha!

After about 20 minutes, an announcement:

“We’re real sorry folks, but it looks like this airplane is overweight. By law we cannot take off until three passengers volunteer to get off the flight. We can offer a $500 travel voucher for each volunteer.”

Initially I thought our fellow passengers would come to fisticuffs over this appealing incentive, but when they found out there wasn’t any availability on later flights to Little Rock that day or the following day, only one lady came forward. In fact, United’s offer — in addition to the $500 — was to fly the people to Memphis, Tenn. and then bus them two hours to Little Rock. Graceland aside, who’s going to volunteer for that?

At this point there was much under-the-breath grumbling about an airline that flies planes that aren’t able to carry the same number of people as seats. I mean, isn’t that kind of an obvious design flaw (or has the American obesity epidemic gotten that bad)? What was more frightening was wondering what would happen if an overweight plane took off. Would we fall out of the sky over Texarkana like a doomed Aeroflot jet?

Five minutes later, another announcement:

“I am sorry, but we really can’t fly an overweight plane. If we don’t get two more volunteers we’re going to have to choose people at random to get off the plane. I know, it’s pathetic. It’s shameful. But that’s the reality.”

Well, here’s a reality check, United: Get your shit together. If there’s a good chance your plane will be too fat to fly, don’t sell as many seats. It’s shocking the flying public puts up with being treated with such disrespect. We already deal with unfriendly flight attendants and nickle-and-diming for everything from in-flight snacks and entertainment to checked baggage, and now this. We all just showed up with our paid-for plane tickets expecting to receive decent service and a flight to our destination. No one thought the day would turn into a waiting-game nightmare, with an airline threatening to pick two innocents at random and then doom them to a day from hell flying to Tennessee to get to Arkansas. Pathetic and shameful, yes — at least the announcer-guy had the balls to speak the truth.

When still, after another 15 minutes, there were no takers, another announcement.

“We’ve just received word from United that we can offer $700 for the volunteers. Plus we’ll pay for your overnight and meals in Houston. Please, folks. By law we cannot fly an overweight plane.”

Well, it must’ve been the extra two hundie because United got it’s saccrificial lambs. And we finally got the hell outta Houston. Of course, poetically, Bennett woke up right as the plane started taxiing to take off. The combination of being over-tired and slightly disoriented threw him into tantrum mode for a good 15 minutes. Normally, I would have been mortified but this time I didn’t care — after all, everyone had been given the chance to get off the flight for $700.

What about you? Any United or other airline horror stories?

Drink of the Week: Coconut-chili margarita

I am always on the hunt for a good margarita, which is why I love Anejo. Calgary’s new-ish Mexican restaurant (#2, 2116 – 4 St. S.W.) is a stylish taqueria that claims to have the best margaritas in YYC. Take it from me: they are good. Now, imagine your favourite classic marg with a kick — and a whisper of coconut — and you’ve got yourself a coconut-chili margarita.

This amazing creation has been margarita-of-the-month at Anejo all March so if you want to try one there — tick-tock — you’d better hurry. I was able to sample this zesty and tropical twist on my go-to summer sip last week during a lovely media dinner hosted by Tourism Victoria. Doesn’t my cocktail look fetching in front of the beautiful flower arrangement shipped in from Victoria?

This drink is awesome and I love that it's rimmed with coconut flakes!

This drink is awesome and I love that it’s rimmed with coconut flakes!

The only drawback is the tiny rocks glass it’s served in — you will be wishing for one of those fishbowl-sized Mexican margarita glasses!

Coconut-chili margarita

  • 1 oz Cazadores blanco tequila
  • 1/2 oz triple sec
  • 3/4 oz fresh lime juice
  • 1/4 oz fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 oz habanero coconut syrup
  • Coconut sugar rim

Rim a rocks glass with a mix of sugar and coconut flakes, then fill it with ice. In a shaker combine tequila, triple sec, lime and lemon juice, and coconut syrup, and then shake with ice. Strain into the rocks glass.

— Recipe courtesy Jeff Hines, Anjeo

My family-travel bucket-list

As I write this post we are five days away from a spring break trip to beautiful… Arkansas! I never dreamed I’d be packing our bags for the Natural State for the fourth time in seven years, but that’s what you do when Grammy lives near Hot Springs (Bill Clinton’s boyhood home, FYI).

Besides, the kiddos are excited about visiting the Arkansas Alligator Farm, where they can “pet a real live alligator.” Bennett is especially thrilled we are flying to Easter and is looking forward to all the eggs because when they hatch he’ll have baby bunnies (I know, so cute, right?). Perhaps he recalls how, during our visit three years ago, his second cousin Jackson received a real live bunny from the Easter Bunny on Easter Sunday.

Three years ago this little bunny hopped over for some Easter fun.

Three years ago cousin Jackson’s little bunny hopped over for some Easter fun.

Anyway, Arkansas it is. Before we had kids my husband and I fantasized about all the amazing trips we’d take as a family. We wouldn’t be like those lame-os who go to all-inclusives or opt for the safety of Hawaii or surprise their kids with a trip  to Disneyland. No, we’d be jetting off to Australia to rehabilitate koala bears, schussing in Zermatt and trekking to Everest base camp (evidently, in our travel fantasies we were also rolling around in fat stacks like Scrooge McDuck). Arkansas was definitely not on our family-travel bucket-list.

But the reality is that travel with young kids can be trying, especially when one of them has autism (it’s difficult enough when the kids are both typical). Truthfully, some days I’m amazed we ever leave town. But we do, though our destinations are the very places we used to scoff at: all-inclusives in Mexico, Maui and yes, Arkansas. But hey, at least we are getting out there and seeing new places!

I came across a beautiful Vancouver Sun photo gallery earlier this week: 15 places to see before you die. I scrolled through it and felt that old wanderlust creeping up as images of Petra in Jordan, the Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia and Pammukale hot springs in Turkey filled my iPad screen. A couple days later I read a story on making a parenting bucket list, about one mom’s parenting resolutions to her children. It got me thinking I should make a family-travel bucket-list, filled with trips we could realistically take in the foreseeable future that are bucket-list worthy for our travel style. No, not a trek to Everest base camp, but something adventurous and cool, like sea kayaking in the Sea of Cortez.

What adventures await our family of four?

What adventures await our family of four?

Avery went through a similar bucket-list exercise last year but, being six at the time, included things like “Climb a mountain (the highest one)” and “Go to Mexico and dance on a table.” So, in an effort to keep this list somewhat grounded, here goes…

Our Family-Travel Bucket-List:

  1. Raft through the Grand Canyon
  2. Go backcountry camping and swim in an alpine lake
  3. Visit Costa Rica and zipline through the rainforest canopy
  4. Go on a family African safari
  5. Climb a mountain together (not Everest; maybe a Colorado 14-er?)
  6. Sail around the Caribbean
  7. Go on a train journey like the Rocky Mountaineer
  8. Sea kayak in the Sea of Cortez
  9. Ski on a glacier somewhere (Alaska? Heli- or cat-skiing?)
  10. Road trip to Walley World (or, ahem, maybe even Disneyland), stopping in all the beautiful U.S. southwest national parks along the way.

How close are we to actually achieving any of these? Well, we recently returned from a trip to Arizona that saw us hiking in Sedona, exploring underground caverns and horseback riding at a dude ranch. It’s fair to say we’re on our way…

Hiking the Bell Rock trail in Sedona, Ariz. is a baby step toward realizing the travel dreams on our family-travel bucket-list.

Hiking the Bell Rock trail in Sedona, Ariz. is a baby step toward realizing the travel dreams on our family-travel bucket-list.

My kid’s school needs a new playground

For the past 18 months I have been part of a playground committee that is raising money for a new playground at my daughter’s elementary school. It’s a very worthwhile project — no one can deny the importance of a playground or the role it plays in child development — but the process of getting a new one is, frankly, brutal.

Peeling paint adds to our school playground's woes.

Peeling paint adds to our school playground’s woes. This old play structure is scheduled to be removed so we need to raise $$ for a new one!

I wrote about our struggles in a column for the Calgary Herald that went up online on Thursday. It appears in the print edition (Weekend Life section) of Saturday’s paper. You never know what the response to this kind of story will be. Would I come across as a big whiner? Would people be sympathetic to our plight and dig deep to donate thousands of dollars? Or would they tell me to take a reality pill, shelve our extensive (and costly) naturalization and play structure plans, and spend money on soccer balls instead?

Most of the feedback I have received has been supportive. I’ve gotten e-mails from  fellow moms who are on playground committees at other schools (and thus going through the same trials and tribulations) telling me to hang in there. Other readers have been shocked to find out that, 1. New playgrounds are very expensive, and 2. It’s up to parent groups to raise funds to pay for them, as the cost is not government- or school board-funded.

There have also been comments implying that school playgrounds are unnecessary extras. One reader suggested we take out the play structure and buy balls for the kids to chase around. “Way more fun than swinging, climbing, and sliding,” he wrote on the Herald website. “Get them playing pick-up sports.” Another reader wrote: “You want a 270 thousand dollar playground — that’s going to take a lot of effort and a lot of gin. A playground area is nice, it’s not a necessity.”

I like her idea about more gin, but I disagree with her comment that a playground is not a necessity. While organized sports promote teamwork and certainly have their place, a playground is a gathering place where children can engage in creative play that is not directed by adults. As structured activities take over our busy lives, this kind of unstructured play time is crucial to child development but is sorely missing.

Our future play park will have both an interesting play structure, as well as elements such as boulders, logs, trees and stumps  that can be incorporated into imaginative games at recess — and, after school hours, by all the kids in the community. It’s worth noting that naturalized playgrounds like the one we have planned are gaining momentum as educators realize the limitations of lone play structures.

My sincere hope is that we can raise enough money to see our play park become a reality. What do you think? Are we out to lunch or should we keep the dream alive over more G&Ts?

Drink of the Week: Moscow Mule

I know that St. Patrick’s Day is this weekend, but I’m not going to insult you by blogging about some kind of green cocktail or — worse — green beer. Instead I will wow you with a Moscow Mule and, if colour is really a consideration for your Sunday night festivities, I suppose a couple drops of Green No. 3 would do the trick.

Last weekend my husband and I and another couple attended Crowbar, a pop-up cocktail lounge. Crowbar is the brainchild of local foodie Wade Sirois, of Forage and Infuse Catering; every couple months he organizes an evening of craft and classic cocktails, plus some appetizers and small plates, in a different location. The pop-up lounge is a spin-off of the pop-up trend that has seen everything from restaurants to ice skating rinks appear overnight in surprising venues in cities around North America and abroad.

Blake and I attended our first Crowbar at the Art Gallery of Calgary last spring. I wrote about it for the Calgary Herald. Photo by Christina Ryan.

Blake and I attended our first Crowbar at the Art Gallery of Calgary last spring. I wrote about it for the Calgary Herald. Photo by Christina Ryan.

This Crowbar took place inside Calgary’s National Music Centre and so, fittingly, featured live jazz by Johnny Summers. We had a great night listening to music and sampling diverse drinks. The men loved Remember the Maine, a barrel-aged cocktail not unlike a Manhattan, made with whiskey, sweet vermouth, cherry mariner and absinthe. The Planter’s Punch was delish; the exotic Pegu Club Cocktail (gin, Cointreau, lime juice, bitters) was too, but if I’m drinking cocktails all night, give me a Moscow Mule. Its mix of vodka, ginger beer and lime is refreshing, balanced and not too boozy. Happy St. Parick’s Day!

While I liked most of the drinks on the menu, the Moscow Mule is one you could drink all night (an important consideration for St. Pattie's Day).

I liked most of the drinks on the menu, but the Moscow Mule is one I could drink all night (an important consideration for St. Pattie’s Day).

Moscow Mule

  • 2 oz Square One vodka
  • Lime wedge (1/8 of lime)
  • Top with Fentiman’s ginger beer

Pour vodka over ice in a copper mug. Squeeze lime wedge in and drop the wedge into the mug. Top with ginger beer. Replica mugs available from The Crafty Bartender out of Toronto.

— Recipe courtesy Wade Sirois

Drink of the Week? Flavoured vodka smackdown!

I must start this post with a disclaimer: I do not like flavoured vodka. And yet, I keep finding myself in possession of mini bottles of it. This past weekend, for example, the swag bags from a corporate event I attended included no less that four bottles of UV Cake vodka. Yes, the vodka people have decided that it’s not enough to wreck the spirit with hints of bacon, cotton candy, salmon or even bubble gum, they have to push it beyond redemption by bottling it with a chemical flavour that approximates white cake.

Not one to let even the unworthiest booze go to waste, I set about searching the liquor cabinet for more flavoured vodkas because an idea was percolating: a flavoured vodka smackdown! Over the years I have collected many mini bottles (please note I do not pilfer hotel minibars or the airplane trolley for them; they arrive in the form of free samples or swag) including a mini of Skyy Infusions Grape, Smirnoff Grape and Absolut Orient Apple.

I decided to pit orient apple against cake, and sought out recipes that would highlight the charms of each, so it would be a fair competition.

It's Absolut Orient Apple vs. UV Cake vodka (the UV stands for "utterly vile").

It’s Absolut Orient Apple vs. UV Cake vodka (UV stands for “utterly vile”).

Evidently the folks who cooked up UV Cake (and I use the term “cooked” because this chemical disaster tastes like it was brewed, Breaking Bad-style, in a mobile RV somewhere in New Mexico) didn’t realize it would mix well with absolutely nothing. Recipes featuring cake vodka include a Cake Beer Float (mixed with root beer), Cake Dreamsicle (mixed with Sprite and orange soda) and Cream Cake Soda (mixed with ginger ale). Since we have ginger ale on hand, I went with the Cream Cake Soda (1 part UV Cake vodka, 2 parts ginger ale). I took one sip, vomited in my mouth, then poured the rest down the drain.

Absolut Orient Apple, which sounds infinitely more sophisticated than cake vodka (there was no bias in this competition), had recipes to match. There’s an Apple Crush (shaken with scotch, apple juice and Benedictine), Apple Vermont (with maple syrup and bitters) and my favourite for spring, the Absolut Ginger Smash (built with mint, lemons and ginger ale). The trick to this cocktail is in the execution. I accidentally muddled the lemon’s pith, which added a bitter taste to the drink, so muddle lightly. While I didn’t really like this drink, it suffices if you come across a bottle of Absolut Orient Apple and don’t mind wasting your lemons and mint. It’s also at least drinkable (I didn’t vomit in my mouth), and thus wins the smackdown. Cheers!

Far from a smash hit, this drink is potable in a pinch.

Far from a smash hit, this drink is potable in a pinch.

Absolut Ginger Smash

  • 2 oz Absolut Orient Apple
  • 4-6 mint leaves
  • 2 lemon slices
  • Top ginger ale

Muddle mint leaves and lemon slices in a rocks glass. Fill glass with ice. Add vodka then top with ginger ale and stir.

— Recipe courtesy absolutdrinks.com