Monthly Archives: February 2014

Drink of the Week: Fat Tire amber ale

I have been drinking Fat Tire, an amber ale made by craft brewer New Belgium from Fort Collins, Colo., since about 1994. The problem is that when I moved to Calgary in 1996 I was no longer able to obtain my favourite beer, except during the odd road trip south to Montana. There I would buy a couple six packs for, like, $8, drive them back to Canada and then parcel them out stingily over the next several months like a reluctant hoarder forced to purge her beer fridge.

All hail Fat Tire! My favourite amber ale from my home state is now available in my home province.

All hail Fat Tire! My fave amber ale from my home state is now available in my home province. What took you so long? Image courtesy New Belgium Brewing Company.

Alas, as the years went by my dedication to Fat Tire wavered. I found myself drinking brown ales and wheat ales and even (gasp!) lesser lagers. Sure, I still ordered Fat Tire when we were south of the border and it was on tap, but I was no longer insistent about bringing it back to Canada.

So I was super excited to hear the good news that Fat Tire was coming to Alberta starting Feb. 24. I rushed over to Zyn on the 25th and was delighted to be greeted by this awesome Fat Tire display:

Sharing my Fat Tire excitement on social media.

Sharing my Fat Tire excitement on social media.

The bad news is that in Calgary, a couple six packs of Fat Tire cost, like, $38. The question then becomes, is it worth it? Well, I still really love the taste of this beer.  However, now that there are so many other great craft beers out there, it no longer knocks my socks off  like it used to. Maybe part of its appeal was the “forbidden fruit” factor — how something unattainable becomes more desirable? Now that I can get it here, the reality of its high-tax Canadian price tag brings it down to Earth. Bottom line: Fat Tire is still a great amber ale. Try it. If you like it, Montana is just a three-hour drive south.

The boy can ski

You’d think my best memory of Family Day weekend would be the epic Fernie powder. Nope — it was watching Bennett finally link turns as he skied down Meadow, a green run off Deer Chair, following behind Blake with a huge smile on his face. It’s official: the boy can ski.

Bennett is excited and proud to be skiing!

Bennett is excited and proud to be skiing! Photo by Kevin Turner, taken at Fernie.

It’s been a long and slippery road getting Bennett on sticks. We began the journey two years ago, by making him put on ski boots and ride the magic carpet. We knew then that we couldn’t rush him into it; that he had neither the strength nor the co-ordination to master the snow plow wedge, or to steer himself, so we bided our time.

Look ma, no hands!

Bennett rides the Mini Moose at Fernie in 2012.

Last season we enrolled him in two private lessons at Canada Olympic Park, followed by a ski-and-play lesson at Fernie, for a learn-to-ski series I was writing for He learned about pizzas and French fries, and seemed to enjoy skiing, but he had no focus. After lessons when I tried to ski with him he gazed off in every direction but straight ahead, oblivious to my calls of, “Pizza! Pizza! Bennett, stop!” What’s more, after a couple trips up the magic carpet he would declare, “All done with skiing!”

The snow plow is painful enough with skis -- let's please not do it while parenting.

“Hmmm, what’s that on the ground?” Bennett wonders, looking every which way but straight ahead in 2013.

When your child had a disability it can take a long time for him to learn something that other children master in a day or a week or — as is the case with skiing — a season. Knowing it could take a long time, but committed to the idea of our family being able to ski together one day, we persevered. This year we enrolled Bennett in the Canadian Association for Disabled Skiing (CADS) program that runs over eight weeks at COP and that I wrote about for the Calgary Herald.

For the past six weeks his volunteer instructors have been getting him out, attaching a ski bra (a.k.a. edge-wedgie, which holds his ski tips together and makes it a lot easier for him to make a snow plow) to his skis’ tips and having him do laps on the magic carpet. After each lesson they would report that he was just going straight down with no pizzas, or he wasn’t into it, or he was too cold. When I snuck out to observe him he was in Lala Land, chewing on his mitten and not paying any attention. “What’s the point of this?” I was beginning to wonder. I felt like I was feeding my dream instead of attending to Bennett’s wishes (namely, to warm up and eat potato chips in the lodge).

COP ski lessons with CADS Calgary.

COP ski lessons with CADS Calgary.

But then in Fernie last weekend it all seemed to click. Instead of me skiing backwards down the hill facing Bennett, I turned around and told him to follow me down Elk from the top of the Mighty Moose poma… and he did. I told him to turn when I turned (and I yelled, “Turn!” every time I turned)… and he did. I told him, “Okay, we’re going to ski through those four coloured arches,”… and he followed me through them. He even stopped when I said, “Stop!” without running into me. (He still needs an edgie-wedgie, but I’m okay with that.)

So when Blake suggested we take him up the Deer Chair, I thought, “Why not?” With both of us there we could surely intercept him should he go careening out of control toward the trees, another skier or a chairlift tower. But here’s the thing: he maintained a controlled wedge while following behind Blake. He linked his turns. He stayed focused — it was as though needed a longer, more challenging run to stay on task. He even managed quite a long traverse across the slope back to the base. And the best part? Bennett smiled the whole time. Instead of declaring he was “all done,” he wanted to go up Deer Chair again (in itself an exciting journey) and again and again. Forget that powder waiting up in Currie Bowl — I’d rather ski Deer Trail with Bennett.

Drink of the Week: Campari Orange Passion

It’s Valentine’s Day — time to toast love! Now, before you uncork a bottle of Piper-Heidsieck to make a champagne cocktail, or shake up a ruby-red High Stick Cosmo, let me win you over with a bitter Heart Day tipple: the Campari Orange Passion.

Off-putting at first sip, this bitter-sweet number grows on you after several hearty swallow -- kind of like a bad date after three drinks.

Off-putting at first sip, this bitter-sweet number grows on you after several hearty swallows — kind of like a bad date after three drinks. Image courtesy Campari.

If you’re thinking, “Why on Earth would I make a bitter, lip-puckering cocktail on February 14th?” please hear me out. For starters, lip puckering usually leads to kissing. Second, the drink’s Campari  — a bitter, orange-flavoured Italian aperitif — being somewhat palate-contrary, will have you sipping the drink slowly. This leads to my third point: the cocktail will endear itself to you as the crushed ice melts and dilutes all that bitterness (see photo caption for more). (Confession: as soon as my drink reached the right dilution, I chugalugged it. Oops.) Finally, note the lovely heart-warming hue.

Perhaps sensing that the majority of cocktail drinkers aren’t exactly sure what to mix with their Campari, the brand has come out with a cocktail calendar with Campari drink suggestions for every month of the year. The Campari Orange Passion is for February, natch.

Campari Orange Passion

  • 1 part Campari
  • 2 slices orange
  • 1 tsp brown sugar
  • 2 parts freshly squeezed orange juice
  • Crushed ice
  • Cherry garnish

Prepare the drink in a tall glass. Place orange slices and brown sugar in the glass and crush to a pulp. Add crushed ice. Add the Campari and orange juice and gently stir. Garnish with a red cherry.

— Recipe courtesy Campari

Life according to the schedule

When I was a teenager and into early adulthood I was a maker of lists. Grocery lists for the store, homework priority lists, bulleted resolutions every New Years Day, and even “Lists of Men” in university (guys I thought were hot, in order of their hotness). Making lists made me feel on top of things and in control during a fairly chaotic time in my life: the transition from child to independent adult.

Now that I’m a grown-up I make far fewer lists. I still write down daily work-related tasks like interviews and blocks of time for writing, and about once a month I put effort into the Superstore list, but for the most part, life is so predictable I know what’s coming next and what chores I need to complete so there’s no need to write it all down.

The irony is that just as I have become liberated from schedules, Bennett has become a slave to them. We are now the owners of three sets of visual schedules that help our autistic son do everything from choose an activity during free play, to put his pyjamas on at bedtime.

The orange strip shows the get-dressed task in order from first (go upstairs) to last (put on socks). Breaking "get dressed" into four separate tasks (underpants, pants, shirt, socks) helps Bennett remember every item and the order they go on.

The orange strip shows the get-dressed task in order from first (go upstairs) to last (put on socks). Breaking “get dressed” into four separate tasks (underpants, pants, shirt, socks) helps Bennett remember every item and the order they go on.

Many kids and adults with autism benefit from visual schedules. These are binders filled with little pictures of things my son might do during the course of the day. The idea is to plot tasks out for him visually on a velcro strip so there won’t be any surprises and to ease transitions between activities. Since he can’t yet read, pictures work best.

The idea of the visual schedule was introduced last year when Bennett was in the Specialized Autism Services program through Renfrew, his school. His aides used an activity schedule to direct his play and get him doing things related to the speech, fine motor, gross motor and behaviour goals in his Individual Program Plan. The teachers at his school also use them in the classroom. You can’t just tell Bennett, “Now we’re going to do a craft,” because he’ll say, “No, I don’t want to.” But if you show him a schedule with the craft icon, he’ll do it. The schedule was like gospel.

Bennett brushes his teeth on cure from the schedule.

Bennett brushes his teeth on cue from the schedule.

I started using one in the mornings for getting dressed, and in the evenings for bedtime, to motivate him to brush his teeth, put on his pants, etc., without having to constantly nag him. With the schedule to refer to, he knew what was expected of him.

Happy, happy, joy, joy, right? Well, kind of, sort of, not really. Life under the rule of Bennett’s schedule is constricting. The older he gets, the more he gets set in his ways. We are now at the mercy of, and rely on, the schedules. They really are like gospel in that if we don’t follow them, behaviour hell breaks loose.

For example, Bennett is currently obsessed with the cartoon Super Why. In the fall he got in the habit of watching Super Why once in the morning and again before dinner. The problem was he would watch only the same two episodes over and over again. I could suggest different episodes, but no. Following the advice of his school psychologist I finally resorted to creating a Super Why schedule. I printed off images that represent every episode of Super Why and I cut them out into little schedule squares. Now, I give him two different Super Why choices to choose between. The strategy worked to get him watching different episodes, but I fear he’ll be watching Super Why FOREVER (case in point: he wants to go as Whyatt from Super Why for Halloween, a holiday that’s eight months away!). If there’s no Super Why, if for some ungodly reason Netflix is NOT WORKING, Bennett turns into Linda Blair from The Exorcist.

Yes, we now have a schedule exclusively for Super Why.

Yes, we now have a schedule exclusively for Super Why.

Other routines he’s stuck in (but that we don’t have a visual schedule for) include: eating cheesy eggs for breakfast every Saturday morning, watching Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat every Saturday afternoon, and playing hide-and-seek every night after dinner. He starts planning the weekend on Thursday, trying to get me to commit to cheesy eggs and Joseph well in advance. It limits our ability to be spontaneous (pancakes for breakfast? Forget it!). It’s also exhausting. I would love to be able to tell him to go get dressed and have him run off and do what he’s told, just like that. (The one saving grace is when we travel we leave the schedules at home — outside of the ordinary, his need for routine lessens considerably.)

But for Bennett at home, these routines and rituals are a life-saver. I can’t imagine what it must be like to be inside his brain. I think that to him, the world must be a confusing, overwhelming place filled with words, body language and nuance he just doesn’t understand. I sometimes think that when I open my mouth and tell him a bunch of stuff all at once, he hears the woman from the Charlie Brown telephone, “Wha-wha-wha-wha-wha-wha…” So those simple pictures on a velcro strip translate the hieroglyphics of the spoken word into commands he can understand. Like my adolescent and young adult lists, Bennett’s visual schedules bring order to his world.

Drink of the Week: High Stick Cosmo

Usually when bottles arrive at my doorstep they are shaped like bottles. Not so my new “bottle” of High Stick Vodka, a Canadian wheat vodka packaged in a cylinder of hand-blown glass shaped like a hockey stick. Arriving at Alberta liquor stores just in time for the Olympics, this newcomer in what some might argue is an over-saturated vodka market aims to be “perfect in an ice-cold shooter or mixed as a martini, Bloody Mary or a White Russian.”

High Stick Vodka gives new meaning to the phrase, "He shoots, he scores!"

High Stick Vodka gives new meaning to the phrase, “He shoots, he scores!”

Let’s be honest though. Vodka is vodka, right? It may be made from all-natural ingredients and filtered 18 times (!) in an artisan distillery, but the reason we’re going to buy High Stick Vodka is because we’re Canadian and it comes in an almost life-size glass hockey stick. It’s freakin’ cool. In fact, it’s “mount as the centrepiece on the top shelf of my home bar” cool. Or, “throw an Olympics bash and do shooters from the end of the hockey stick” cool. Forget about that other vodka in the skull — this one comes in a hockey stick!!

Since shooters won’t appeal to everyone at your Glad I’m Not In Sochi Party, why not shake up some Cosmos? They’re boozy, yummy and festive and happen to be just the right colour to cheer on Canada. Now, if only someone would make a sombrero-shaped tequila bottle…

A Cosmo tasty and red. Important considerations when cheering on Team Canada.

A Cosmo is tasty, and red. Important considerations when cheering on Team Canada at the Olympics.

High Stick Cosmo

  • 1-1/2 oz High Stick Vodka
  • 1/2 oz Cointreau
  • 3/4 oz cranberry juice (since there are now, like, 45 different kinds of cranberry juice, I accidentally purchased one with lime)
  • 1/4 to 1/2 oz lime, to taste (I only used 1/4 oz, see above bullet)
  • Orange twist garnish

In a cocktail shaker filled with ice combine all ingredients and shake. Fine strain into a chilled martini glass and garnish with the orange twist.