Monthly Archives: April 2013

Drink of the Week: Bourbon Lemonade

I was lucky to attend the opening of the new National on 10th, a giant beer-hall cousin of the popular National on 17th. It’s a lovely space with high ceilings, communal tables and a great selection of beer.

Another new beer hall in Calgary? Yup, raise a stein (er, mason jar) to National on 10th

Another new beer hall in Calgary? Yup, raise a stein (er, mason jar) to National on 10th.

The question is not whether Calgary really needs another beer hall; rather, does the city need a Bourbon Room? I’d say the answer is, but of course! You see, while the keg party rages around communal tables downstairs in the new National, select Calgarians will be sipping Kentucky’s finest upstairs. The highly-anticipated Bourbon Room is scheduled to open next week.

It’s a small, dimly-lit space filled with retro red leather chairs and banquettes, with black and white (female) nude portraits hanging on the walls. My guide on the private tour, Stephen Phipps, cocktail guru for the Concorde Group (that owns National), wouldn’t let me take pictures (sorry!), but painted a picture of what the bourbon-swilling clientele can expect (sorry again, ladies, no male nudes, but Phipps hinted he may tend bar naked).

There will be over 40 different kinds of bourbon behind the bar, including some not available for purchase in Canada. The Bourbon Room is meant to be a mellow place where the lucky few can relax and engage in conversation. No iPhones allowed, in other words. (If you want to join the party, it’s happening downstairs in the beer hall.) Access will be by invite only. “It’s going to be exclusive,” says Phipps.

So, if you like to sip bourbon in an intimate setting, best to figure out how to land your name on the Bourbon Room list. And if that fails you can always order a bourbon lemonade downstairs.

Try this tasty cocktail at National on 10th (or just drink beer).

Try this tasty cocktail at National on 10th.

Bourbon Lemonade

  • 3 oz homemade lemonade (fresh lemon juice, water, honey)
  • 1 oz fresh strawberry puree
  • 1-1/2 oz bourbon

Put everybody in a mason jar, add ice, screw on the lid, shake it up and you’re good to go!

— Recipe courtesy Stephen Phipps, Concorde Group

Life with baby, er, puppy

I finally understand what all those dog owners were warning me about when I naively told them we were getting a puppy. “That’s great!” they’d say (they love to spread the dogspel), followed by an earnest, “You know, puppies are a lot of work.”

Goofing around at 7 weeks old.

Goofing around at 7 weeks old.

“Ha!” I’d scoff to myself. “How hard can it be?” You train ’em up and then you’re gold. As with parenting, I knew everything about dogs before I had one. I was the judgemental dog-less adult watching neighbourhood canines pull at their leashes, jump up on strangers and sniff crotches with abandon. Horrors! My dog would never do anything like that.

Well, not yet, anyway. Instead, Piper pees on the floor at least twice a day; tries to chew anything wooden in the house such as chair legs; has a penchant for nipping at hair, necklaces and fingers; and tears around the yard going ADHD on the rocks, wood chips and leaf mulch. You know how when you name your kid you make sure the name won’t rhyme with anything negative, like how Garth rhymes with barf? We forgot to do that test with Piper (hyper).

Also, Piper is like a baby in that we are now “sleep training” her. We put her in her kennel at 10 p.m., she whines and yelps for about five minutes until she falls asleep. Then, we set the alarm for 2:30 to take Piper (diaper) outside to go pee and poo. You have to actually say “Go pee” and “Go poo” and then give her a treat right after so she doesn’t take her time (because you’re standing there in the middle of the night shivering like an idiot, wondering why you decided to complicate your life by getting a puppy). After the pee break I put her back in the kennel (more crying) and then she wakes up at 5 a.m. and wants to watch Treehouse.

We had to roll up the area rug after Piper peed on it for the third time.

We had to roll up the area rug after Piper peed on it for the third time.

One day last week a dog-less neighbourhood friend popped over to see the puppy. I answered the door looking like a wreck — I hadn’t showered, there were dishes piled up in the sink and dog toys were strewn randomly around the living room. You’d think I’d had a newborn and wasn’t ready for company yet. In reality, she was our third puppy guest. “Everyone wants to see a puppy,” she said. “Too bad they don’t bring a baby gift and a casserole with them.” You got that right.

Well, our neighbours to the west (black lab owners) must have gotten the memo, because they showed up on the weekend with a gift bag full of dog toys for Piper and a bottle of wine for us. Needless to say I was happy to discover that, much like with parenting children, wine also helps new dog-parents cope with a puppy. Cheers to that!

Just what every new dog owner wants (but doesn't get): chew toys and a bottle of wine.

Just what every new dog owner wants (but doesn’t usually get): chew toys and a bottle of wine.

Drink of the Week: Income Tax cocktail

If you’re like me and your taxes are filed, you are no doubt doing the happy dance this weekend. True, the deadline isn’t until April 30, but wouldn’t you rather “get ‘er done” early and then toast your efforts with an Income Tax cocktail*?

Here's a cocktail you'll want to spend your return on.

Here’s a cocktail you’ll want to spend your return on.

Yes, such a drink really exists. What’s even more intriguing? It’s a cocktail that’s been around for a century. I can see why: it’s basically a martini sweetened by a bit of orange juice, and spiced with a couple dashes of Angostura bitters. It’s strong, yes, but that’s a good thing whether you’re celebrating a big return, or drowning your sorrows over all the money you owe the Feds. So drink up!

Income Tax cocktail

  • 1-1/2 oz Beefeater gin
  • 3/4 oz dry vermouth
  • 3/4 oz sweet vermouth
  • 3/4 oz orange juice
  • 2 dashes Angostura bitters
  • Orange curl garnish

Shake ingredients with ice then strain into a coupe glass. Garnish with an orange curl.

— Recipe courtesy Wade Sirois, Crowbar

*I originally blogged this drink last April, but it’s so good (and timely) I wanted to share it again. Enjoy!

It’s Renfrew for Grade 1!

We recently found out that Bennett has been offered a spot at Renfrew for Grade  1 and we are over the moon! Our son has autism and has been attending Renfrew Educational Services — which has an integrated special needs preschool/kindergarten program in addition to a special needs grades (1 to 6) program — since he turned three. I knew there was a possibility he wouldn’t get a placement for the 2013-14 school year (there are only 12 spots in the Grade 1 class at the main centre), so we had been looking at other schools since December, including an autism school and a Calgary Board of Education designated special needs school. While these options both had much to recommend them, they didn’t give me the same warm-fuzzy feeling as Renfrew.

Bennett has spent three great years at Renfrew. Here's to more!

Bennett has spent three great years at Renfrew. Here’s to many more!

I love Renfrew’s bright, cheerful classrooms, play-based learning style and friendly staff. Everyone at the Janice McTighe Centre knows Bennett and greets him each day with a smile and lots of love. My wish for Bennett to continue at Renfrew also has a lot to do with the progress he’s made over the last three years; he clearly thrives there. And he loves going to school — the highlight of his day is when the bus pulls up in front of our house.

Bennett loves riding the bus by himself. What a big boy!

Bennett loves riding the bus by himself. What a big boy!

When Bennett started Renfrew preschool just after his third birthday he was basically non-verbal, with poor social, play and gross motor skills, and severely delayed fine motor skills. With help from his teachers and aides, and the therapists at Renfrew, Bennett is now talking, playing with school friends and making huge strides with both gross motor and fine motor tasks (he can now , for the most part, dress himself — hooray!).

In Grade 1 Bennett will still have an IPP (Individual Program Plan with specific goals) and continue to work with speech, occupational, physical and behavioural therapists at school to achieve those goals. His classroom will have centres (like in kindergarten), but the teacher and aides will break the children into skill-appropriate groups and work on letters, numbers and other Grade 1 concepts. For Bennett, it’s the best of both worlds (play and therapy meet elementary “academia”).

Bennett loves fun school activities like cookie decorating.

Bennett loves fun school activities like cookie decorating.

When I told one of the teachers at my daughter’s school that Bennett would be attending Renfrew for Grade 1 her comment surprised me. “Good for you for keeping him there.” “What do you mean?” I asked. “Why wouldn’t I want to keep him there? It’s such a great school.” She went on to tell me that in her experience, many parents choose to “mainstream” their special needs children and that there’s a perceived stigma associated with a special needs school, and special education in general. This surprised me.

I get that inclusion has its advantages — in a regular classroom Bennett could model typical kids and they could learn about difference and acceptance. But I think inclusion only works if your kid is ready for that kind of transition and if the school can meet his needs (see below). However, I find the notion that there’s a stigma associated with a special needs school both disturbing and unfortunate.

I know Bennett, and while it would perhaps help me feel more “normal” to pretend everything’s hunky-dory by integrating him into our community school, it would be a grave disservice to him. My son thrives in a small classroom (1:4 ratio) with trained and dedicated staff , and I fear he would be utterly lost in a classroom with 19 other loud, typical kids, with no guarantee of an aide. As one paper argued, public schools often don’t have the resources, training or supports to teach kids with special needs. So why would I put my perceptions about what other people think (who cares, anyway?) ahead of Bennett’s best interests? That there might be parents out there making that choice for that reason makes me sad.

In making a decision like this I think you have to tune in to the needs of your child and let that guide your decision. If, in a couple of years, Bennett is ready to transition to the community school, then we will reassess. In the meantime, Bennett and I will both continue to do the happy dance every day when the Renfrew bus comes to get him.

Drink of the Week: Pimm’s No. 1 Cup

I sometimes have to remind myself I have a pretty good job. When other people are sitting in sterile office buildings creating Excel spreadsheets, I am mixing a drink at 2 p.m. all in the name of research.

Just this week I was writing about one of my favourite warm-weather cocktails, the Pimm’s No. 1 Cup, for an upcoming issue of Avenue magazine. As I sat there trying to remember the taste of the drink, I kept thinking, “You know, I haven’t had one in awhile. Maybe I should make one.” I had all the ingredients on hand and, suddenly, it was Pimm’s o’clock!

Mmmm...liquid boozy fruit salad with ginger spice...

Mmmm…liquid boozy fruit salad with ginger spice…

I muddled a couple cucumber rounds with two strawberries, some mint and Pimm’s, topped it off with ginger ale and soon after I was drinking a medicinal, boozy fruit salad and coming up with clever things to write (spoiler alert), like “keep your striped tie knotted and blazer buttoned while cheering on your crew from the boathouse.” Huh? Trust me, it makes sense — you’ll just have to read my story (August issue).

They say many writers, such as Ernest Hemingway, gained their inspiration honestly — from looking down into the bottom of a bottle. After my afternoon Pimm’s Cup, I concur.

Pimm’s No. 1 Cup

  • 1 part Pimm’s No. 1
  • 2 cucumber rounds
  • 2 strawberries, diced
  • 6-8 mint leaves
  • Top 2-3 parts ginger ale

Muddle all ingredients except the ginger ale in the bottom of a rocks glass or tumbler. Add ice and then top with ginger ale. Stir to bring up the mint, cukes and strawberries from the bottom of the glass. Serve. Repeat.

Piper the puppy (and other dog names)

Last fall I blogged about how we’re getting a puppy. That day is about to come.

Our puppy was born on Feb. 23rd and the breeder has been e-mailing weekly updates and photos, so we can see how the pups grow from tiny, almost-hairless critters into pudgy, cute fur-balls. Our orange and white fur-ball arrives on Saturday and we’re going to call her Piper.

Naming a puppy is a lot easer than naming a baby!

Naming a puppy is a lot easer than naming a baby!

I have to say that naming a dog is much easier than naming a baby, probably because when the dog grows up, even if she hates her name, she’ll have no way of telling you. You could name her Helga or Mildred or Bonehead and the poor thing would still wag her tail happily every time you called her over.

But Blake and I didn’t want a dog name that was mean (see above) too human (like Maggie or Annie) or too childish (Princess, Lady). To us, Piper feels just right. It’s cute; a name that both conveys excitement, and is easy for Bennett to pronounce.

What I didn’t know is there’s a Top 50 list of the most popular dog names in the English-speaking world. As you can imagine, I immediately scoured it, expecting to find Piper right up there with other female dog names like Bella, Daisy and Ginger. Nope — Piper didn’t make the cut. You’ll find Zoe, Missy, Sheba and Bear (I have known dogs with all of these names), but no Piper. And I have to say, I feel pretty good about that!

When we named Avery we thought we were being so original, but now that name has crept into the Canadian top 20, at No. 15. (We did well with Bennett — it’s No. 159 on the Canadian list; less popular than Muhammed, Santiago and even Damian.) Our betta fish’s name is also original, if childish: Blue-blue (so named in honour of the blue soother given up at age four in exchange for the fish). So it feels like we’re on a roll, name-wise.

But really, what does name popularity matter? As long as you like the name it’s all good. Welcome to Calgary, Piper!

Off to the races!

When I was a kid I was obsessed with the Black Stallion series of books. I wanted to be Alec Ramsay and grow up to be a horse jockey and ride an Arabian in the Kentucky Derby. My dad told me that if I was still desperate for a horse by age 14 he’d consider letting me get one; of course (as he knew), by then I’d shelved the Black Stallion books and was busy eyeing up C. Thomas Howell and Rob Lowe on the pages of Tiger Beat magazine.

At any rate, I never got a horse. I now horseback ride maybe once a year, and I had never been to the Kentucky Derby, or any other horse race, for the matter — the Chucks at the Calgary Stampede don’t count — until last weekend.

And they're off! It's pretty exciting watching the horses start from the gate. I love that we could watch from the rail.

And they’re off! It’s pretty exciting watching the horses start from the gate. I love that we could watch from the rail and that, inexplicably, there’s a tractor in the field.

Horse racing is a big deal in the southern U.S. This time of year everyone is gearing up for the Derby, even the horsey folks in Arkansas. For fun on the weekend people head to Oaklawn Park Race Track in Hot Springs, where you can eat corn beef sandwiches, drink cold beer and bet on the horses.

We went on a gloomy Saturday with my sister Leslie and my brother-in-law Kyle, who were also visiting for Easter. To make the most of our Oaklawn experience, my mom, a horse-races regular, had sent us with “Rick Lee’s Oaklawn Park selections and analysis” from the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, and also some guy named Terry’s picks, that she printed off the Internet. We had no idea who Terry was, but horse betting baffled us, and we needed guidance in order to lose our money properly.

Between the four of us were down about $20 on the day. Not bad, right?

Between the four of us were down about $20 on the day. Not bad, right?

The tricky thing about putting money on a horse is there is really no good way to predict a winner. Bluesie Brown might be favoured to win the first race, for example, but perhaps she ate too many sugar cubes last night and is feeling sluggish, or maybe Berry, her jockey, went out on a bender and is in no condition to ride. And there’s always the possibility that Little Frilly will “become a logical threat if able to hold form or improve for new trainer Jack Frost,” but then again she might lose it in the homestretch. You just never know. Plus it had been raining so the track was what they call “sloppy.” A game changer.

Some betters liked to wait until the horses were paraded past the grandstand prior to post time. This way, they could see if a favoured horse seemed skittish, or if an underdog was showing well. Or, they could pick a horse based on the rider’s silks.

Love these Texas longhorn silks -- nice!

Love these Texas longhorn silks — nice! Unfortunately, they didn’t seem to help No. 8’s performance.

In the end I came up with a process of triangulating Terry’s, Rick Lee’s and Oaklawn’s picks, and then going with the horse whose name resonated with me. Oddly, it kind of worked (also, I was placing the bet with the lowest risk — $2 across on my horse, which means I’d likely get something if my horse were to win, place or show, depending on the odds). Little Frilly won the first race, Beer Garden placed for me in the second race, Perdido Pass took the third, Would You placed in the fifth and Adaya showed in the sixth. My big disappointment was Runaway Crypto, who evidently does not run well on a sloppy track.

Blake seemed to have no luck picking horses, while Leslie’s technique, to “double down” on two different horses, worked better than Kyle’s “Texas hold ’em” style of bet (to bet $2 on every horse to win, which actually isn’t allowed. Also, I made up that name).

In the end it wasn’t about the money we won (or, ahem, lost, which was about $20 on the day), it was the fun of betting, watching the race, cheering our horses down the homestretch and seeing a photo finish. And also, our new, southern tradition of toasting our picks by giving a holler, “Woohoo!” followed by a swaller of beer. Mmmm, mmmm … ya’ll.

A photo finish between two horses (sadly, not one I had placed money on).

A photo finish between two horses (sadly, not one I had placed money on).