Monthly Archives: April 2015

Drink of the Week: Earls Bees Knees

Ever since the bar at Earls switched over to fresh herbs, juices and house made syrups back in 2011, I have been a big fan of their cocktails. Beverage director Cameron Bogue refreshes the list every four months or so, and I had the opportunity to sample a selection of their summer sips at Earls Tin Palace in Mission last week.

The menu includes a great mix of classics such as a margarita, amaretto sour and even a re-imagined pina colada (with fresh watermelon). But it was the light, lemony taste of the Bees Knees, sweetened with honey and Cointreau, that seemed the most apropos for spring. And that glass! Too cute, and its contents are tasty to boot. You might say it’s the bee’s knees (sorry).

I love this spring cocktail. Gin, lemon juice and honey suits the season.

I love this spring cocktail. Gin, lemon juice and honey suits the season, plus the Cointreau is a nice touch. And how cute is that glass?

Earls Bees Knees

  • 3/4 oz honey syrup
  • 1 oz fresh lemon juice
  • 3/4 oz Hendricks gin
  • 3/4 oz Cointreau
  • 3 dashes Angostura bitters
  • Garnish: Lemon zest and a wooden honey dipper

Method: Measure all ingredients (except garnish) into a mixing glass and fill with ice. Top the mixing glass with a stainless steel shaking tin. Shake ingredients vigorously 12 times to mix. Strain the cocktail into a honey bear jar over fresh ice. Garnish with a lemon zest and a wooden honey dipper.

— Recipe courtesy Earls

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Selling Girl Guide cookies

The reason we didn’t want Avery to join Sparks back in kindergarten, or Brownies in grade two, came down to cookies. Essentially, we didn’t want to spend Saturdays sitting outside of Walmart trying to sell chocolate mint cookies or the lesser chocolate and vanilla sandwich cookies to people who had probably just bought a bunch of junk food in the store. (Note: America has waaay better Girl Scout cookies than Canada. I craved Samoas and Trefoils as a child.)

We finally caved and let her join up as a Brownie last year. She graduated to Girl Guide at the start of grade four (I still call it Brownies though. I just can’t get my head around “Girl Guides” — who is she guiding, exactly?). Instead of hawking $5 boxes of cookies at the mall, she sells them door-to-door. And by she I mean we. I hold the case of cookies and she negotiates the transaction.

Wouldn't you buy a box of cookies from this Girl Guide?

Wouldn’t you buy a box of cookies from this Girl Guide?

Avery: “I’m selling Girl Guide cookies. Five dollars a box. I only have four boxes left.”

Customer: “What kind are they?”

Avery: “The sandwich kind.”

Customer: “Oh, too bad. I like the mint ones.”

We get that every third house. Everyone likes the mint ones. I have yet to meet anyone who would rather trough on the sandwich kind. Dear Girl Guides: it’s time to retire the sandwich cookies. (Why not just sell the mint ones all year? Or better yet, imagine how well those Girl Scout shortbread Trefoils and caramel-chocolate-coconut Samoas would sell here. It’s criminal we don’t have more options. Truly.)

Because spring is the season for the sandwich cookies — and because I’d already seen Facebook posts from parents of cookie selling competitors, trying to unload their boxes to other parents at school pick-up — I knew Avery and I needed a strategy to get rid of our case.

Using social media to sell sugary goodness. Genius!

Using social media to sell sugary goodness. Genius!

The plan: Pick a nice hockey playoff evening when the Flames were playing and go door-to-door before the puck dropped in the hope that anyone not at a bar would be in the market for munchies while they watched the game on TV.

Day 1 (Game 2/Away): We sold a case in five minutes! Our neighbour and his friend purchased eight (8!) boxes, and another neighbour snapped up the remaining four. Wow, cookie selling is EASY! Imagine if we had more cases, we could’ve sold them all! So, I emailed the Girl Guide leader and asked for another case.

Day 2 (Game 4/Home): Where is everyone? They either think we’re door knocking for the Alberta election, they’re at a bar, or they’re at the game. One woman (who I know is home because I saw her go in the front door when we were half a block away) just ignores the doorbell. Another man answers, takes one look at the Girl Guide box, and tells us no thanks, he still has half a box of the mint cookies left over from December. WTF? Those are the good ones! Evidently, his two kids aren’t allowed to eat cookies.

We make our way down the street, practically begging people to take them off our hands.

Lady: “I’ll go see if I can scrounge up some change.” She returns with eight quarters and three loonies. “I raided the loose change drawer because we’re almost through the two boxes we bought from another girl earlier this week.”

At least someone likes the sandwich kind.

Avery: “Oh, really?” (Wondering who beat her to this street.)

Lady: “She had a big wagon of cookies.”

Ah, the cookie wagon. It takes dedication to haul cases of sandwich cookies around in a wagon. And possibly all day to sell them.

Finally, a reprieve. With only two boxes left to sell Avery rings one more doorbell. The man who answers takes one look at Avery, all dressed up in her shirt and kerchief, holding a case of cookies, and his hand dives into his pocket for money. When it surfaces empty-handed he checks his wallet, despairing that there’s no cash. But then he remembers his wallet’s secret cash stash, pulls out a ten dollar bill, and buys the two remaining boxes.

Selling the lesser sandwich cookies? Not as hard as I’d imagined.

Pineapple-Red Pepper Margarita

What to do with an over-ripe pineapple? Muddle it in to a margarita. In theory, anyway. In reality, it’s very hard to strain the drink with all that pineapple pulp plugging up the shaker holes. But no matter — it’s worth the effort.

The pineapple adds a touch of tropical sweetness, while the red pepper gives this twist on a margarita a savoury kick. It’s a nice mash-up of one of my favourite cocktails. Cheers!

It's sweet and spicy with a kick. You'll love this twist on a margarita.

It’s sweet and spicy with a kick. You’ll love this twist on a margarita.

Pineapple-Red Pepper Margarita

  • 4 pineapple chunks
  • 4 pieces red pepper
  • 2 oz tequila
  • .5 oz Cointreau
  • 1 barspoon agave syrup
  • 1 oz lime juice
  • Salted rim
  • Garnish: pineapple chunk and red pepper crescent

Method: Rim a margarita glass with salt, then fill with crushed ice. Muddle pineapple and red pepper in the base of a cocktail shaker. Add tequila, Cointreau, agave syrup and lime juice plus ice and shake. Strain into the margarita glass and garnish with a pineapple wedge and red pepper crescent.

Dear Diary…

I picked up a pen on October 7, 1984,and wrote the words “Dear Diary.” I didn’t stop writing about life’s highs and lows, friendship triumphs and betrayals, love found and lost and found again — all penned in looping teenage girl cursive — until sometime in my late 20s.

My diary, circa 1990.

My diary, circa 1990.

 

Dear Diary, In 25 years I will laugh at this entry!  P.S. That relationship didn't last another month!

Dear Diary, In 25 years I will laugh at this entry!

By then, with a husband and a house and a blossoming writing career, life became predictable enough that I no longer needed to use blank lined pages as a sounding board for my deepest thoughts and dreams. I put down that pen and the privacy of a diary, and took to a keyboard, typing stories of my trips and travails for the general public as a journalist.

And then, after I left the Calgary Herald in 2011, I started this blog as a way to record bits of the next chapter of my life: the one about raising kids. Blogging is easier than writing — my hand never cramps — and I can add pictures too! It’s like a scrapbook journal. I like to think that Avery and Bennett will read these posts and remember their milestones and laugh at all the crazy things they did.

The modern journal.

The modern journal.

But it’s not always light and cheery. Parenting has its dark moments, especially when raising a child with special needs. I’ve “put it all out there” a couple times in parenting posts and stories about my son and our family’s struggles with his genetic condition and autism. I know this open talk of our sadness, and subsequent coming to terms with our new normal, can seem foreign to people. Sometimes they use words like “brave” or “honest” to describe my words.

The words are honest in the same way my teenage rants were honest in the late 80s. They are brave only in the sense I am writing them knowing that thousands of people will find my “modern journal” and read it cover to cover. I have another word for it, one that’s now backed by research: therapy.

It turns out a Clarkson University professor has written a paper on how mothers raising a child with autism can manage stress through emotional disclosure in journal writing. The article appears in the December 2014 issue of the Journal for Autism and Developmental Disorders.

“If people can really comprehend what’s happening to them, if they find meaning in it and find tools for managing it, they are healthy and resilient,” said author Rondalyn V. Whitney, the director and founding chair of Clarkson’s occupational therapy program, in a news release about the paper. “Journal writing is one of their tools in their toolkit, and it helps them find meaningful coping strategies.”

I’m not sure that writing about Bennett helps me find coping strategies, but it does put our challenges into perspective and help me see them in a new light. I also think it’s important to share our struggles, so that others can come one step closer to understanding what we’re going through. I’m not one to beat the disability drum, but I think we can learn valuable lessons from children and adults with differences. As I wrote in a Today’s Parent story this month:

“I wonder at times if I’ve become a better person because of his autism, and I think I have—I’m more patient than I ever thought possible and I’m continually amazed by my perseverance and my ability to adapt to a new normal every few months as behaviours come and go.”

Maybe everyone should have a little Bennett in their lives, I think. And so I write. Because life is no longer as stable and predictable as it was when I was 28, and my keyboard and a blank screen — and you, my readers — have become my new sounding board.

Drink of the Week: Pina Colada

I’m still on tropics time and wanted to reintroduce your taste buds to a smooth and creamy classic: the Pina Colada. Banish from your memory the frozen Bacardi pre-mixed Pina Colada canisters popular in the ’80s. Those blended abominations were too sweet and tasted of artificial coconut.

The real deal, however, made with coconut cream, pineapple juice and rum, is delightful, especially if you’re enjoying it al fresco in Costa Rica. Oh, and the climate there is perfect for a blended, boozy coconut-flavoured slushie. We enjoyed this drink on the patio at Gingerbread restaurant in Nuevo Arenal. I didn’t get their recipe, but I searched up a great one, below.

Yes, I like Pina Coladas. Getting caught in the rain, not so much...

Yes, I like Pina Coladas. Getting caught in the rain? Not so much…

Pina Colada

  • 1-1/2 oz coconut cream
  • 1-1/2 oz pineapple juice
  • 1 oz aged rum
  • 1 oz coconut rum
  • Splash coconut milk (optional)
  • Garnish: Pineapple wedge

Method: Combine all ingredients (except garnish) in a blender. Add 1 cup of ice and blend until smooth. Pour contents into a hurricane glass and garnish with a pineapple wedge.

— Recipe courtesy Epicurious

5 things Costa Rica taught me about parenting

We’re back from Costa Rica and I hope the pura vida philosophy will stay with us at least until the leaves come out and Calgary begins to resemble a habitable city instead of a brown and barren wasteland. The shock of re-entry is hard, but we bring with us precious memories of time spent exploring the jungle and jumping waves at the beach.

Another beautiful Costa Rica sunset.

Another beautiful Costa Rica sunset.

This was the first off-resort holiday we’ve done to a developing country with kids in tow, and I’m still surprised by how much I enjoyed it. I suppose I thought there would be more fighting, tantrums, ethnic food aversion, resistance to planned activities or utterances of “I’m bored.” Instead I can honestly say it was the best family vacation so far. It also taught me some things about the kids and our relationship; nuggets I’ll try and hold onto as the sounds of the jungle fade.

1. “Sometimes it’s better to be in the moment than to take a picture.”

Avery said this to me one night at Playa Grande after we’d watched the setting sun bleed the sky ridiculous shades of orange, pink and purple. She’d struck up a conversation with an American photographer (who also surfed, natch) currently living in Barcelona, who comes to Costa Rica every year. As we all took endless pictures of the glorious sunset, Avery asked him why he didn’t have his camera. His response obviously resonated with her, and it’s so true. Sometimes you just need to be present with kids and family, instead of recording life on an iPhone.

2. Your kids are more capable than you think

After Avery caught her seventh gecko all I could think was, “Where on earth did she learn to do that?” Goodness knows I have never caught a lizard (nor been inclined to even try). Ditto for fishing. Blake gave her a quick lesson in casting, they found bait the bass liked (bread), and then it was off to the races. Out to the pond Avery tromped every morning, reeling in fish all by herself.

And then there was Bennett, who constantly asks for my help with his shoes in Calgary. Suddenly in Costa Rica, when there were peacocks and chickens to chase around the yard, he became adept at putting on his own shoes in under 20 seconds. And when it came to the waves at the beach, he soon proved he could stand his ground and “body surf” with the rest of us rather than being carried off to sea.

3. “The fine details of nature are everywhere, you just have to notice them,” said Avery.

Or, have a child with you to point them out. I might not have noticed the fire flies that first night if Bennett hadn’t pointed into the night and said, “What’s that?” I squinted into the inky darkness. “What’s what?” I asked. “What’s that glowing, Mommy?” And then I saw the fire flies, the same way I saw a trail created by leaf cutter ants that Avery pointed out, and a tiny red blue jean frog she spotted hopping through the leaf litter. Children are like fairies that way. It’s as though they still believe in magic and notice the wonders that old eyes takes for granted.

Avery even noticed things about the butterflies I would have overlooked.

Avery even noticed things about the butterflies I would have overlooked.

4. The kids will be alright

Not an hour after we’d arrived at Villa Encantada, Bennett promptly stepped backwards off a ledge at the pool and completely scraped up both arms. A few days later he rammed into Avery on the waterslide and she bonked her head on the concrete. In both instances I immediately envisioned broken bones and concussions, when in reality they were the small scrapes and goose eggs of childhood.

One evening we ventured out for an adult dinner and left the oldest child, our friends’ son (age 13) in charge as a babysitter. I fretted a bit on the drive to the restaurant — What if there was a fire? What if an escaped lunatic descended on the villa while we were gone? What if they all got abducted like that British girl vacationing in Portugal? We returned to a quiet house where the only mishap had been Avery scraping her heel on the staircase. Note to this mommy: breathe, stop worrying and enjoy your night out. If they can fly solo in Costa Rica, the kids should be alright everywhere else.

5. Enjoy your littles. They’re going to be big soon.

How many more years will Avery beg us to go tide pool exploring with her, or come running to us to show us every caught frog and gecko? And how much longer will Bennett seek my reassurance about night sounds, or crawl into bed with me to cuddle as dawn breaks? They will always be precious, but there’s something so sweet and endearing about them right now. At age nine and seven. And I vow to soak it all up.

Love. These. Two.

Love. These. Two.

Drink of the Week: Pura Vida

Not only is “pura vida” (pure life) a greeting and way of life in Costa Rica, it’s also a fruity tropical cocktail. My friend spotted it on the menu at RipJack restaurant on Playa Grande, and he couldn’t resist ordering a Pura Vida to complete his holiday experience.

The Pura Vida cocktail is fruity and made with Cacique Guaro, which is a local spirit made from distilled sugar cane.

The Pura Vida cocktail is fruity and includes Cacique Guaro, which is a local spirit made from distilled sugar cane.

We all liked the drink’s presentation and agreed that the mason jar made it look less girly (it’s pink in hue and has a star fruit garnish). That certainly didn’t stop my friend from guzzling it down after everyone enjoyed a sip.

You can’t really taste the main spirit, Cacique Guaro (a local rum-like liquor made from distilled sugar cane), but in a smokin’ hot climate that’s not the point. You just want icy, fizzy refreshment — and perhaps a happy hour buzz — and the chilled orange and mixed fruit juice delivers. As they say in Costa Rica, “Pura Vida!”

Pura Vida

  • 1-1/2 oz Cacique Guaro
  • Splash grenadine
  • 1/2 oz orange juice
  • 1/2 oz mixed fruit juice (such as Dos Pinos brand)
  • Top Sprite
  • Garnish: star fruit and lime wedge

Method: Into a mason jar add Cacique Guaro and grenadine. Fill glass with ice and add juices and Sprite. Stir, and garnish with star fruit and lime wedge.

— Recipe courtesy RipJack