Monthly Archives: March 2014

5 reasons to visit Sayulita and Punta Mita on the Riviera Nayarit

There’s something about Mexico. Maybe it’s the sun, surf and perfect weather — 28C daily with a slight sea breeze — or maybe it’s the fish tacos and bottomless margaritas. But after only one day on the beach in Sayulita, all of my snow-bound Calgary troubles and kid-shuttling stress melted away like a bowl of helado on the beach.

Stress-free in Punta Mita.

Stress-free in Punta Mita.

It helped that we left the children in Canada; the better to shift gears and get into the groove of our palm-studded Shangri-La. I’ll be writing about Sayulita and Punta Mita, two beach resorts along the Riviera Nayarit (north of Puerto Vallarta), for an upcoming issue of up! magazine. Here are five snapshots of why you should get the heck outta Cowtown and make a beeline for paradise now.

1. The Sunsets

When was the last time you watched a sunset this spectacular?

When was the last time you watched a sunset like this? (They are even better in person!)

Yes, Calgary sometimes has nice sunsets. But not dusks where the whole sky turns orange, pink, purple and finally fades to indigo atop an endless ocean horizon fringed with palm trees. Add in a margarita aguachile from the Four Seasons Punta Mita and you’ve got one heck of a sundowner!

2. The Surf

Punta Mita surfers

The break at Punta Mita, above, is awesome, and all levels of surfers flock to Sayulita for its consistent waves and cool vibe.

I am not a surfer, but I love watching surfers — and those that populate the beaches at Sayulita and Punta Mita know how to rip it! The waves aren’t too big either; they’re perfect for the rest of us to splash around in. There are other water sports galore — we went stand-up paddle boarding, sea kayaking, snorkelling, boom-netting and sailing (below). Blake even rented a surf board for an hour and caught three waves. Nice!

3. The Sailing

I highly recommend booking a day trip to the Marietas Islands.

I highly recommend booking a day trip to the Marietas Islands.

We joined friends from Calgary on a catamaran trip to the Marietas Islands with Ally Cat Sailing Adventures. Though we motored out to the nature preserve in the morning, we sailed back to the marina in the afternoon. Getting out on the water with friends, dance tunes and Coronitas (mini Coronas) is a great way to spend the day.

4. The Swimming

A pool with a view. Those two white guys sat in there all morning. #gringosunburn

A pool with a view. Those two white guys sat in there all morning. #gringosunburn

Who wouldn’t spend all day in the water in a swimming pool that looked this this? Granted, the infinity pool at the Four Seasons Punta Mita doesn’t have a swim-up bar, but still. Water tempts you everywhere along the Riviera Nayarit, what with the balmy weather, hypnotizing waves and shimmering infinity-pool perfection. The only downside is the constant reapplication of sunscreen.

5. The Sauce

A margarita at sunset.

A margarita at sunset.

It’s a matter of debate when in Sayulita and Punta Mita: quench your thirst with a beer, or with a margarita? Since the humid air is so fully loaded with moisture, drinking water is entirely out of the question. Can you guess which drink I ordered?

Art of the Cocktail is coming to Calgary

Two years ago I attended Art of the Cocktail in Victoria. The annual cocktail festival celebrates cocktail culture in B.C.’s capital while educating mixed drink enthusiasts about cocktail trends, spirits and the art of combining ingredients in a shaker. In between spirited sips I learned all about gin and I visited local distillers while enjoying Victoria in early October.

Get ready for drinks shaken and stirred as the Art of the Cocktail (AOTC) comes to Calgary April 5-7. Image courtesy AOTC.

Get ready for drinks shaken and stirred as the Art of the Cocktail (AOTC) comes to Calgary April 5-7. Image courtesy AOTC.

Fast forward a couple years and festival organizers have deemed Calgary cocktail-forward enough to warrant hosting Art of the Cocktail here. Art of the Cocktail: Calgary takes place April 5-7 and promises to entertain, educate and inebriate cocktailians in Cowtown at well known lounges including the Bourbon Room, Milk Tiger, Model Milk and Raw Bar at Hotel Arts. I’ll be reporting on the festival and emerging cocktail trends for the Calgary Herald, as well as judging the Sidecar by Merlet cocktail competition alongside Tony Conigliaro and Luc Merlet on April 7.

The festival isn't all seminars. Be sure to register for boozy events like the Three Martini Lunch at Yellow Door Bistro.

The festival isn’t all seminars. Be sure to register for boozy events like the Three Martini Lunch at Yellow Door Bistro. Image courtesy AOTC.

Check out these events and seminars:

  • The Grand Tasting on April 5 has the most mass appeal as guests are able to try old and new cocktails that feature familiar and unique spirits and liqueurs, that are paired with appetizers from local chefs.
  • There’s a Mad Men-style Three Martini Lunch at Yellow Door Bistro that pairs a trio of gin martinis with three courses between noon and 1:30 p.m. on April 5 (don’t plan to drive afterwards).
  • Not-to-miss seminars include The Next Trend (spoiler alert… vermouth) and, for budding home bartenders, Developing Original Drinks with Tony Conigliaro, both on April 6. If you’re ready to mix drinks with liquid nitrogen then Joshua Groom will show you how during Cocktail FX, which explores liquid molecular gastronomy, on April 7.

Art of the Cocktail Calgary is our city’s chance to showcase its emerging cocktail culture. Sounds like fun, right? Tickets are available here. See you there!



Drink of the Week: Boozy Juice Box

“Have boozy juice box, will travel.” That’s my motto this week as spring break takes me to sunny Mexico. This inventive drink — a perfect hot-weather, tote-along pool companion — comes to us courtesy of the Hotel Arts Group, where I sampled it during Calgary’s Big Taste event at a cocktail dinner hosted by Raw Bar.

This adults-only take on a refreshing juice box features white wine, roasted pineapple and bitters. Chugalug!

This adults-only take on a refreshing juice box features white wine, roasted pineapple and bitters. Chugalug!

Boozy Juice Box is basically a wine cooler made with roasted pineapple- and bitters-infused white wine. The pineapple complements the Pinot Grigio, adding a smoky sweetness, and the bitters give the drink a spicy complexity. At first sip I thought there was more to it than the recipe revealed. The good news is since it’s so simple, it would be a snap to make a large batch for a summer garden party… figuring out the delivery method (a bunch of juice boxes and straws) would be the hard part!

Boozy Juice Box

  • 2 slices grilled pineapple
  • 6 oz Noble Ridge Pinot Grigio
  • 4 dashes Bittermans Boston Bitters
  • Honey to taste

Combine ingredients and marinate overnight in the fridge. Strain into a plastic pouch, add a straw and tote along to the beach or enjoy poolside.

— Recipe courtesy Raw Bar at Hotel Arts

Drink of the Week: Cherry Whiskey Sour

“We make the best cocktails in Calgary,” declared the man tending bar at The Lake House, formerly The Ranche, the Canadian Rocky Mountain Resorts (CRMR) restaurant that has moved to Lake Bonavista in Calgary.

Well then. With confidence like that, I’d be silly not to sample one. He tried to sell me on a sweet lychee martini, but after explaining that I prefer strong, savoury or sour drinks he suggested the cherry whiskey sour. Sign me up!

A lovely cherry whiskey sour from The Lake House. Nice view of Lake Bonavista!

A lovely cherry whiskey sour from The Lake House. Nice view of Lake Bonavista!

I love this drink! It’s simultaneously tart and sweet, with just enough strength that you can taste the bourbon, but not so much that it turns you off (bourbon is so, well, bourbon-y, after all). There’s also a nice cherry flavour from the McGuinness cherry whiskey that rounds out the sweet and balances the lemon juice. You could play around with the drink’s ratios if it suits (see recipe), but I wouldn’t. This drink is awesome as is, and I love that the bartenders don’t even measure out the ingredients — they eyeballed everything except the booze.

The Lake House’s new, renovated space is a huge departure from the heritage home at The Ranche in Fish Creek Provincial Park. The restaurant tries hard to recreate the rustic ambiance of the former venue, with elk antler chandeliers and a large stone and cement fireplace. There’s also a stellar view over Lake Bonavista. I like the long bar too — it’s a lovely spot for a cocktail.

Cherry Whiskey Sour

  • 1 egg white
  • 1-1/2 oz Knob Creek bourbon
  • 1/2 oz McGuinness cherry whiskey
  • 3/4 oz freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1/2 oz brown sugar simple syrup (combine 1 part brown sugar with 1 part water, heat until sugar dissolves, cool and refrigerate)

Vigorously dry shake ingredients in a Boston shaker. Add ice and shake again. Strain into a rocks glass over one large ice cube.  Orange flambé zest garnish (heat an orange peel section with a lighter, squeeze essential oils into drink, drop in peel).

— Recipe courtesy Chris Hanson and Mike Squire

Drink of the Week: Basil Julep

Here’s a cocktail that straddles two seasons extremely well: the Basil Julep. It’s equally adept at warming up the belly in late winter while promising a gentle spring thanks to its fresh basil bouquet.

basil julep

Sweet, strong and fragrant, the basil julep will ease your transition to spring.

I’m the first to admit I’m a late adopter of juleps. The first one I tried, in New Orleans, was a sugary abomination served in a tall glass and topped with soda water. I couldn’t drink it. The second one was so stiff I swear it was straight whiskey with perhaps a sprinkle of sugar and small whiff of mint. I only took a couple of sips. The third time must be the charm because this julep seems to have its proportions figured out. It’s not too sweet, but it does start out quite bourbon-y; fortunately, its strength diminishes gradually as the giant snow cone of ice slowly melts and dilutes the drink. The basil is just right, too. It’s lovely and subtle on the nose with each sip. If this is what spring tastes like — sweet and herbaceous with enough force to make its presence known — bring it!

Mmmm… a bourbon snow cone.

Mmmm… a bourbon snow cone.

Basil Julep

  • 2 large basil leaves, plus one sprig for garnish
  • 1/2 oz simple syrup (heat equal parts sugar and water until sugar is dissolved. Cool and refrigerate)
  • 1-1/2 oz Knob Creek bourbon whiskey

In the base of a cocktail shaker, lightly muddle the basil leaves with the simple syrup. Add the bourbon and stir to combine. Fill a rocks glass with crushed ice and then pour the drink over the ice, straining out the basil. Garnish with the basil sprig.

“Zero googly eye”

What were you scared of when you were little? For me it was the “upside-down tree,” a pine tree outside my bedroom window that had been struck by lightning, making its top look like a tree trunk. For whatever reason, it freaked me out, and I avoided looking out the window at bedtime for fear it would sense my unease, crash through the glass, and use its trunk limbs to pry me from bed. Irrational? Yes. Normal? To a degree.

No, this isn't the upside-down tree from my youth, but it gives you the idea. Creepy, right?

This isn’t the upside-down tree from my youth, but it’s close. Creepy, right?

At some stage most children will have what adults would call an irrational fear. Preschoolers worry there’s a monster in the closet; older children might harbour anxiety about a burglar breaking in. At age four, Avery was scared of the dark to the point of sleeping with her light on every night. I started spritzing her room with “monster spray” before bed while we chanted a mantra that went something like, “Good night, sleep tight, and keep away monsters, spiders, vampires, robots, ogres, dinosaurs and ghosts.” After months of misting her room with nothing more than water, she finally grew out of it.

Evidently it's a real thing.

Evidently monster spray is a real thing.

With Bennett, it’s a bit more challenging. The things that freak him out aren’t zombies or werewolves or Shrek. They’re things that you actually encounter in real life. Two years ago he was terrified of fireplaces. Not gas ones, mind you — real wood-burning fires. During a trip to the Jasper Park Lodge we couldn’t enjoy a cocktail at the Emerald Lounge because of its giant roaring fire. Nope, Bennett wouldn’t set foot in what I consider Alberta’s most welcoming mountain lounge. Then he was scared of diving boards. This made visits to the Talisman Centre problematic as we often had to walk past the dive tank during dive practice to get to the daycare centre (I would carry him while he looked away and moaned).

He’s also scared of our neighbour’s sharpei, as well as the hippos, gorillas and lions at the Calgary Zoo. One time he heard a hippo “roar” in the African Savannah and ran right out of the building forcing Grammie (my mom) to chase him down. Another time I joked with him in the TransAlta Rainforest about seeing a lion in there amongst the apes, forgetting that humour of this kind is lost on a black-and-white autistic thinker. Now, he won’t set foot in either building.

But all of these fears pale in comparison to his ongoing obsessive anxiety over the Googly Eye. Let me explain. Last year in Arizona we visited the Arizona Science Center in Phoenix. In the foyer stood a telescope. Naturally, Avery went over and looked into the eyepiece, not realizing that it was set up to broadcast a magnified image of her eye high up on the science centre wall. So… the first thing Bennett saw when he walked in was a giant green “googly eye” staring at him from above. He turned right around and hightailed it outta there, a stricken look of pure panic on his face.

Avery's all-seeing green "googly eye."

Avery’s all-seeing green “googly eye.”

When Blake caught up to Bennett and asked him what was wrong he said, between sobs, “I saw a GOOGLY EYE! It scared me!” Blake somehow managed to calm him down and talk him into going back into the building. He carried Bennett past the telescope (while he looked away and moaned). For the rest of the trip all Bennett talked about was the googly eye at the science centre. Forget the jeep ride in Sedona and the horseback riding at the dude ranch — his fear of the googly eye was the trip highlight.

Unfortunately, being a black-and-white autistic thinker, Bennett assumed that since the Arizona Science Centre had a googly eye, every science centre IN THE WORLD must surely also have a googly eye, including Telus Spark in Calgary. So imagine his distress when I told him his grade one class was going on a field trip to the science centre.

Bennett: “There’s a googly eye there?”

Me: “No, there’s no googly eye at the Calgary science centre. Just in Arizona.”

Bennett: “I’m worried about the science centre.”

Me: “You don’t have to worry. There’s no googly eye.”

Bennett: “There’s a googly eye there?”

Me: “No. There’s no googly eye. There’s zero googly eye.”

Bennett: “There’s a zero googly eye there?”

Me: “No. Zero means no. No googly eye. Zero googly eye.”

And so it went with me trying to explain the concept of zero while convincing my son that it was safe to go to Telus Spark. This went on for days leading up to the big field trip. Cue screaming into pillow (me).

I also informed his teacher about his anxiety, so she could talk to the class about what they would be seeing and doing at the science centre. At home, I showed him pictures from inside Telus Spark and pointed out that there wasn’t a googly eye ANYWHERE. I also offered to volunteer on field trip day, just in case Bennett refused to go in or we needed to make a quick exit (in case the googly eye telescope was on loan from Phoenix. You never know!).

Yes, it was a lot of work to prepare Bennett for the science centre. But guess what? It paid off. There was “zero googly eye” there and, after he relaxed (he spent the first 30 minutes on googly eye alert), he had a great time.

Bennett tries the climbing wall at Telus Spark.

Bennett tries the climbing wall at Telus Spark.