Monthly Archives: October 2013

Drink of the Week: Vampiro

Halloween night deserves a good red cocktail that looks like blood in a glass. While paging through Simon Difford’s Cocktails Made Easy, I came upon just the drink: a Vampiro (Spanish for ‘vampire’). Evidently this tequila version of a Bloody Mary is Mexico’s national drink (further proof that Mexico is awesome!).

This blood-red drink is just what the Count ordered.

The Vampiro, a blood-red drink, is just right for Halloween.

The good news is it doesn’t taste like blood but — as with all tequila drinks that include lime — like a spicy twist on a margarita, with a hint of tomato juice that’s  lovely with the lime and orange. I particularly like its spice factor, and even rimmed my glass with celery salt to enhance the drink’s savoury flavour. Not too sweet, not too strong and perfectly red — just what Dracula ordered.

Go ahead -- drain that glass.

Go ahead — drain that glass.

Vampiro

  • 2 oz Don Julio reposado tequila
  • 1 oz pressed tomato juice (I actually used a lemon press to juice a tomato. I then fine-strained the juice to remove the seeds and some pulp.)
  • 1 oz freshly squeezed orange juice
  • 1 oz freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 1/2 oz grenadine syrup (while I think it would taste better with plain simple syrup, the grenadine enhances the colour)
  • 7 drops hot pepper sauce (I used Tabasco)
  • 1 pinch celery salt
  • 1 pinch freshly ground pepper
  • Lime round garnish

Rim an old-fashioned or rocks glass with celery salt, then fill with ice. Shake all ingredients together with ice and then strain into the glass. Garnish with a lime round.

— Recipe adapted from Cocktails Made Easy

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Zombies rule

To say that I am late to the zombie party is an understatement. I didn’t watch my first zombie movie, Shaun of the Dead, until a couple months ago (it came out in 2004). And just this week, in honour of Halloween, my husband and I started watching The Walking Dead (season 4 started up earlier this month), an AMC series that pits human survivors against a lot of zombies.

Run! Zombies! Oh wait nevermind… they are so slow!

Run! Zombies! Oh wait nevermind… they are so slow!

Now that I’ve entered the weird world of zombies, I am hooked. Yes, it’s a bit of a mental stretch to watch a show about zombies — we all know that zombies aren’t real and it boggles to think that the military and police wouldn’t be able to bring down the zombies with all that ammo — and you’d think it would be cheesy. I mean, zombies? Seriously? But I will say this: The Walking Dead is compelling.

After trying to get into acclaimed series like House of Cards and Orange is the New Black (neither of which had me caring much about what happened next), it’s so nice to watch a show where you really want to find out who lives, who gets gobbled up in a surprise attack, or whether redneck Merle cuts off his own hand-cuffed hand before the zombies break down the door.

After every episode Blake and I have conversations like this:

Me: I don’t see how those zombies could’ve snuck up on camp without everyone hearing them. They shuffle loudly and they’re always kind of moaning.

Blake: I know, and they’re uncoordinated and bump into things. But at least they’re easy to kill.

So. Very. Hungry. Zombies have an insatiable hunger for raw meat.

So. Very. Hungry. Zombies have an insatiable hunger for raw meat.

We haven’t talked this much about a TV show since trying to guess what would happen next on Lost. We discuss zombie theory, and marvel that all zombie shows seem to follow certain zombie rules:

  1. There’s always some virus that infects and kills humans on an apocalyptic scale;
  2. The dead then come back to life as zombies;
  3. Zombies walk slowly and incoherently as if in a stupor;
  4. The zombies feed on humans, thus making more zombies from the carcasses (zombies can also feed on animals like horses, but evidently the infection doesn’t cross over to other species, e.g., there are no zombie horses);
  5. Surviving humans can only kill a zombie by bashing its head in or burning it.

Blake: Wouldn’t a zombie eventually starve to death if it couldn’t find food?

Me: I think they just go into some kind of quasi-hibernation until they smell fresh meat.

Some argue the recent spate of zombie shows reflects societal fears of contagion, weaponized viruses and civil collapse. Perhaps. But I think we continue watching because despite all their failings and grotesque, decaying appearance, zombies are more likeable than other monsters of the imagination. They’re slower, stupider versions of humans. They’re not sneaky like werewolves or cunning like vampires. And should you find yourself in a crowd of them, all you have to do is stagger around like a drunk to blend in. As an apocalypse survivor, you might just stand a chance against a zombie.

Drink of the Week: Brandy Flip

Short, cool days make me crave short, strong drinks, like the Brandy Flip. It also helps that I’m researching this particular libation for my March Avenue magazine column, so I decided to make one in the name of journalistic inquiry.

The nutmeg makes a pretty and fragrant garnish on a brandy flip.

The nutmeg makes a pretty and fragrant garnish on a brandy flip.

This drink could be mistaken for eggnog, what with the booze and cream and sugar and egg. And it is rather like a single serving of nog, but it exclusively uses brandy (or even better, cognac) rather than bourbon or rum. And though some brandy flip recipes omit the egg, let’s be honest — do you really want to shake a whole egg (including the yolk!) into your cocktail without a dairy buffer? Adding cream or milk smooths out the drink.

The end result is a strong fireside sip with all the charm of eggnog, but without its baggage (mainly, the name). In a word, you’ll flip for it. (Sorry.)

I prefer cognac in my brandy flip.

I prefer cognac in my brandy flip.

Brandy Flip

  • 1-1/2 oz Remy Martin VSOP cognac
  • 1/3 oz simple syrup
  • 1/3 oz cream (I used 2% milk = fewer calories)
  • 1 fresh whole egg
  • Nutmeg ganish

Vigorously shake all ingredients with ice then double strain into a chilled martini glass. Sprinkle nutmeg on top for garnish.

Drink of the Week: Tomatini

I spent a lunch hour earlier this week at a vodka tasting with Bob Nolet, an 11th generation distiller from Holland who’s best known in Canada for producing Ketel One vodka. I know what you’re thinking: “Vodka for lunch? How Mad Men. Sign me up!” Believe me, there was a little bit of that going on — especially since I tasted three different vodkas and got halfway through a vodka cocktail before any food arrived. Plus, Nolet was accompanied by Jenner Cormier, a Ketel One spokesman/bartender who just won the World Class Canada Bartender of the Year title. He is also easy on the eyes in a Don Draper kind of way.

Over the course of the tasting Nolet and Cormier sold me on the charms of this small-batch, pot-stilled spirit and I was eager to try it at home by shaking up some fall cocktails. Intrigued by the idea of muddling a tomato (a first for me), I opted for the Tomatini, created for Ketel One by a bartender from Dubai.

A vodka drink with muddled tomato and white balsamic vinegar.

A vodka drink with muddled tomato and white balsamic vinegar.

As I measured white balsamic vinegar and vodka into my cocktail shaker I imagined that the end result would taste of boozy gazpacho, a tonic both strong and savoury. Alas, no. The recipe also calls for sugar syrup so, in combination with the vinegar and tomato (remember: it’s a fruit), my drink was too sweet for my liking and I recalled Nolet’s and Cormier’s words of caution: that cocktails from Asia and the Middle East (e.g. Dubai) are often sweeter. Doh!

I quickly dispatched the Tomatini and used the lovely Ketel One to muddle up my favourite vodka cocktail, a Dawa. But in the spirit of fall, I bring you the Tomatini (feel free to adjust the sugar and vinegar according to taste).

My attempt at the Tomatini doesn't look quite as nice, does it?

My attempt at the Tomatini doesn’t look quite as nice, does it?

Ketel One Tomatini

  • 1.5 oz Ketel One Vodka
  • 1/3 oz white balsamic vinegar
  • 1/4 oz simple syrup*
  • 1 ripe red tomato
  • Pepper Grinder

Cut the tomato into 8-10 chunks and muddle in a cocktail shaker. Add the balance of ingredients with lots of ice. Shake vigorously and strain into a martini glass. Garnish with black pepper.  

*To make simple syrup, add 2 parts of sugar and 1 part of water to a small saucepan.  (1 cup of sugar and 1/2 cup of water is a good starting point). Gently heat until it starts to boil, stirring until the sugar is completely dissolved. Cool and refrigerate. 

— Recipe created by Jimmy Barrat, Zuma Restaurant, Dubai

Who knew it’s called Chi-Town?

The great thing about visiting a city for the first time is that everything is new. Every street leads to place you’ve never been before, whether it’s a famous monument, a hip restaurant or an urban beach. Such was our 48 hours in Chicago, an American metropolis that’s been on our “U.S. cities to visit” list for years.

Chicago surprised and delighted in so many ways, but the highlight for me was its built environment.

Chicago surprised and delighted in so many ways, but the highlight for me was its built environment. Here’s the view from the 96th floor of the John Hancock building.

You also learn little tidbits about your destination that make it real, like the fact that Chicago’s nickname is Chi-Town (who knew?), or that Bears fans wear the coolest scarfs to home games, or that Chicago suburb Oak Park boasts both Frank Lloyd Wright’s home and studio and Ernest Hemingway’s childhood home.

Other than expecting wind and deep dish pizza I didn’t really know what Chicago was all about until we tromped out of the ‘L’ at the Loop and found Hotel Monaco, our home for two days. It was late and all the buildings along Chicago River were lit up including the gothic-topped Tribune Tower and its contemporary neighbour the Trump Tower Chicago. I’m a sometimes-arichtecture fan and this was a wow moment, to be followed by many more over the next two days. Here are our Chi-Town highlights.

1. All the tall buildings

It’s staggering to look up on holiday and realize that probably half of the skyscrapers are taller than your city’s tallest building. And yet that happened around every corner in Chicago, where the Willis Tower, John Hancock building and Trump Tower all top 90 stories. (That’s almost twice as high as the Bow, in case you were wondering.) But it’s not just the size that’s so impressive as the design. No boring modernist rectangles, these. I was particularly taken with the Tribune Tower, an art deco beauty with a gothic top that includes flying buttresses. A close second was the Carbide and Carbon building, an art deco masterpiece that looks like a stylized bottle of champagne.

I love art deco and I also love that the Chicago Tribune resides in a statement building.

Maybe it’s just me, but the Tribune Tower has Gotham City written all over it.

2. Cloud Gate

We spent a long time enchanted by Cloud Gate, an elliptical “bean” sculpture by artist Anish Kapoor that captures your attention as you walk around it and see the city (and yourself below it) reflected at various angles on its mirror-like surface.

Blake pauses in front of Cloud Gate in Millennium Park, alongside his Divvy Bike.

Blake pauses in front of Cloud Gate in Millennium Park, alongside his Divvy Bike.

3. DIVY bikes

It seems you’re not truly a modern city these days unless you have a bike sharing system. Chicago’s Divvy Bikes, with 4,000 bicycles located at 400 stations across the city, make it easy to explore this large, flat metropolis. We hopped on at Oak Beach and rode south past Navy Pier to Millennium Park before heading over to Frontera Grill for lunch.

4. Oh yeah, and there’s a beach

Yes, Chicago has beaches. While they certainly wouldn’t be tempting on a January day, we saw people playing beach volleyball and even swimming in Lake Michigan on a balmy October Saturday. Right downtown! There are even waves.

A lovely beach in downtown Chicago.

A lovely beach in downtown Chicago.

5. The food & drinks

While I wouldn’t go so far as to say I’m a fan of Chicago deep dish (I prefer the artisan thin-crust pies that Calgary’s Una and Without Papers make), I was impressed with the diversity and creativity of Chi-Town’s food and cocktails. I had a delicious mole enchilada and a whiskey barrel-aged mezcal negroni at Frontera Grill, and we sipped a ginny number called The Lake Effect and nibbled on a plate of duck tongues, followed by delicious grilled baby octopus at Girl and the Goat.

Admittedly, 48 hours was barely enough time to experience all that Chicago has to offer, but our weekend jaunt left me wanting more. I’ll be back to Chi-Town!

Drink of the Week: Mai Tai (with a side of lobster)

It’s not often I get to sample the taste of Hawaii and Nova Scotia at the same time, but the planets aligned in such a way last week. Or shall I say, Earls Restaurant Shepard Flats, the chain’s newest Calgary location, flew in a slew of Nova Scotia lobsters in advance of its annual three-day Lobster feast, and I was lucky to shell and eat one of the critters. I also got to sample from Earls’ cocktail menu, which features classics like the margarita and Moscow mule, all mixed with fresh juices and house-made syrups. I opted for the Mai Tai, a yummy, rummy number with a unique flavour thanks to its almond syrup.

Earls' Mai Tai, a tart and tropical classic cocktail, pairs nicely with shellfish.

Earls’ Mai Tai, a tart and tropical classic cocktail, pairs nicely with shellfish.

First, I love the glass. The restaurant has sourced tiki-style rocks glasses for this drink, which I think is very cool. Second, this cocktail is seriously delicious. I have always been wary of Mai Tais (perhaps I remember those too-sweet versions served at Waikiki bars during happy hour?), but I loved this drink’s simplicity: it’s just rum, triple sec and lime juice, with almond syrup that adds a distinct toasty flavour to the perfectly balanced combo of sour, sweet and strong. I managed to save some in my glass for when my 1-1/2 lb. lobster arrived.

It's a little disconcerting to dismember a whole lobster, but I got the hang of it in a hurry. Omyomyom.

It’s a little disconcerting to dismember a whole lobster, but I got the hang of it in a hurry. Omyomyom.

Earls’ “A Lobster of a Feast” takes place in Calgary October 3-5. The restaurant chain flies in thousands of live Atlantic lobster, boils them and serves them with prawns, grilled corn on the cob, fingerling potatoes and sourdough bread that’s baked in-house (ideal for dipping into the Chardonnay-butter sauce). Oh, and it only costs $25. Nice. If you miss the lobster event you can just go for the Mai Tais — they’re on the menu all year.

Mai Tai

  • 1-1/2 oz Appleton VX rum
  • 1/2 oz Triple Sec
  • 1 oz lime juice
  • 3/4 oz toasted almond syrup (or use orgeat syrup, available at the Cookbook Company in Calgary)

In a shaker combine the rum, triple sec, lime juice and toasted almond syrup. Add ice and shake vigorously to combine ingredients. Strain over fresh ice into a rocks glass. Garnish with a pineapple chunk, mint sprig and a skewered cherry. Add a straw, if desired.

— Recipe courtesy Cameron Bogue, Earls

It’s official: we built a playground!

For the past two years I have dedicated my spare time to helping a group of local moms plan, fundraise for and — finally — build a new playground and naturalization area at the local elementary school. Five out of six of us have children attending the school and we found ourselves in a “You need to do this or the children won’t have a playground,” situation. Yes, we were all somewhat guilted into volunteering for what turned into A BEAST.

Before:

This was taken three weeks ago, when a crane was off-loading the equipment.

This was taken three weeks ago, when a crane was off-loading the new equipment.

After:

Our kids' new play park, complete with picnic tables, play equipment and a naturalization area intended to foster creative play.

Our kids’ new play park, complete with picnic tables, play equipment and a naturalization area intended to foster creative play.

We could have just taken the easy way out and ordered ugly Blue Imp equipment from the blinged-out dude who showed up at the school with a brochure one day back in 2011.  We could have just pointed to page 49 and said, “Yes, we’ll take the cheap-looking apparatus with the super lame short slides,” and then put everything in the same place as the old playground. But no. We had dreams of something grander; a vision that could only be realized slowly, over long periods of time at many meetings during which gin and tonics were liberally consumed — a never-before-been-assembled-colossal-play-structure-from-Germany kind of dream, along with a forest of trees and a ginormous donor pathway.

Before:

A volunteer toils away on a donor pathway, which turns out to be much harder to execute than originally thought.

A volunteer toils away on the donor pathway, which turns out to be much harder to execute than originally thought.

After:

Many thanks to the community and corporate donors who made the playground (and pathway!) possible.

Many thanks to the community and corporate donors who made the playground (and pathway!) possible.

Our brick:

I also love that we have a donor brick in the pathway! A very cool (and affordable) way for families to get involved and take ownership of the new park.

I also love that we have a donor brick! A very cool (and affordable) way for families to get involved and take ownership of the new park.

I was going to blog about our struggles trying to get ‘er done on time and on budget, with our sanity miraculously intact. But now, in hindsight, what’s the point? Does the world really need to know about the crazy porta-potty lady? Or the 11th-hour “crowsnest” fix? No.

Though it caused us many headaches (and much pillow-screaming), in the end it paid off to dream big. We have a spectacular new playground that is a huge improvement over the dumpy old equipment. What’s more, we have trees, a stone amphitheatre, picnic tables, benches and a beautiful donor pathway. Did I mention the warm-fuzzy feeling I got when I watched my kids play on the new equipment at the grand opening party this past weekend?

Happy kids:

Bennett leads the troop across the rope bridge at the new playground.

Bennett leads the troops across the rope bridge at the new playground.

Avery takes a rest on the rope bridge.

Avery takes a rest on the rope bridge.

It was also so nice and affirming to hear the words of thanks and congratulations spoken by many community members and school parents on opening day. Mayor Nenshi even came by to officially open the playground, talk about the importance of play and lead the kids in reciting a playground pledge.

Mayor Nenshi has the children pledge they'll have fun -- and keep the playground free of litter and weeds!

Mayor Nenshi has the children pledge they’ll have fun — and keep the playground free of litter and weeds!

I know I complained about the project when we were in the trenches, but it feels great to see a project like this come to fruition. As Nenshi said, we’re starting the second century of playgrounds in Calgary with this brand new play park at Colonel Walker School!