Monthly Archives: June 2015

Horsing around in Cochrane

In my head I called my horse The Black Stallion, even though his name was Sisco and he was a gelding. Small details. He gamely followed the portly horse in front of him, who kept bending down to snatch mouthfuls of grass. Way up ahead in the line of mounted Girl Guides, Avery sat confidently astride Princess, beaming with pride when a ranch volunteer told her the pony horse was one of the most difficult to control.

Avery astride Princess at Griffin Valley Ranch.

Avery astride Princess at Griffin Valley Ranch.

And so we hit the trail at Griffin Valley Ranch near Cochrane, Alta. during Avery’s final Girl Guide outing from a year that had her troop snow shoeing, knitting, roller skating, playing laser tag, camping in Dinosaur Provincial Park and selling those lesser sandwich cookies. In all, a great year, ending with what all the girls agreed was the best excursion yet: horseback riding.

Girl Guides and some moms taken in the scenery on a sunny trail ride near Cochrane, Alta.

Girl Guides and some moms take in the scenery on a sunny trail ride near Cochrane.

The ranch is 4,500 acres of scenic meadows, rolling hills and forests. It’s also one of the only places in Canada where you can do unguided trail rides — that is, hire a horse and trot around the ranch on your own if you’re a decent rider. That was always my dream as an equine-obsessed child and, in fact, my home in Evergreen, Colo. had a stable that actually let kids gallop around trails on their own. My mom used to drop me off at Joe’s Stables with my friend Deirdre when we were 11 or 12. We’d run our horses (no helmets) until they lathered and then let them cool down by drinking giardia water from Cub Creek. Ah, the good old days.

Me astride The Black Stallion (a.k.a. Sisco the grumpy gelding).

Me astride The Black Stallion (a.k.a. Sisco the grumpy gelding).

I’m sure Avery would have loved to have galloped or even trotted, a la Costa Rica, but since many of the Girl Guides had never before been on a horse, our guided group stuck with a plodding, single-file walk for the duration of the one-hour ride. Also, about four volunteer riders (all teenage girls, naturally) escorted us and kept Sisco from kicking the newer, younger horses.

It was a great day that not only transported me back to the heady summer days of my free-range horseback-riding youth, but one that nurtured every Girl Guide’s dream of horseback riding A LOT more than once a year. In fact, it was the kind of day that’s a gateway to falling down the rabbit hole of horse lessons and, eventually, horse ownership. Because on the car ride home Avery and her two friends casually mentioned that Griffin Valley Ranch runs horse camps all summer. #Doh

Future equestrians pose with their Girl Guide leader.

Future equestrians pose with their Girl Guide leader.



Drink of the Week: Tequila Negroni

It’s Negroni Week once again, with local bars offering up their twists on this classic cocktail through June 7, and a portion of the proceeds from each cocktail sale donated to a local charity.

Switch out the gin and stir in tequila for a fun twist on a classic Negroni.

Switch out the gin and stir in tequila for a fun twist on a classic Negroni.

Participating Calgary restaurants include Anju (donating to Alberta Children’s Hospital Foundation), Black Betty Burger & Winebar (Oneball), Milk Tiger Lounge (Canadian Mental Health Association), Ox and Angela (AARCs), Proof Cocktail Bar (Calgary Drop in Center), Raw Bar by Duncan Ly (Meal Share), The Living Room (The Nathan O’Brian Foundation) and Township 24 bar & Grill (Alberta Institute for Wildlife Conservation). What’s more, Campari will donate $10,000 to the charity chosen by the establishment that raises the most money.

The cool thing about a Negroni, beyond the ruby colour, is the fact you can switch out the gin and end up with a delicious twist. Make it with whisky and it’s a Boulevardier. Stir in tequila and it’s a Tequila Negroni, also called a Tegroni or Agavoni. Since I wrote up the original last year, I decided to try my luck with blanco tequila this year and see how I liked it.

(Bitter Campari face) Yum! (Pucker) I still think this drink is an acquired taste, no matter what spirit you use. But here are some tips: Squeeze in a bit of fresh, sweet orange juice to soften it, and pack your glass with ice so the bitterness will gradually lessen as you sip the drink. In fact, I think I like it with tequila more than gin, as the Campari needs something stronger to stand up to it. Cheers!

Tequila Negroni

  • 1 oz blanco tequila (I used Casamigos)
  • 1 oz sweet vermouth such as Carpano Antica
  • 1 oz Campari
  • 2 dashes orange bitters
  • Squeeze fresh orange juice (optional)
  • Garnish: Orange wheel

Method: Into a rocks glass packed with ice add all ingredients. Stir about 30 times to chill, and garnish with an orange wheel.

5 things Glasgow taught me about Scotland

Cities give us great insight into the host country. You hear the collective expressions, get a sense of the style, a feel for the people and an idea of the things citizens hold dear. And so it was in Glasgow.

Having never been to Scotland, I really had no idea what to expect. Prior to departure, friends who’d been there expressed grave disappointment I wasn’t going to Edinburgh; even in Glasgow, other tourists urged me to make the trip north. Well, this Edinburgh must be quite amazing because I really, really liked Glasgow. The architecture, the pedestrian streets, the food, the cocktails, the people. Maybe it’s because it’s Old World and my modern-city self craves heritage and gothic spires? No matter. I think Glasgow is beautiful and hip, and my short stay was a great education and introduction to all-things-Scottish (tip: sign up for Glasgow’s hop on-hop off bus tour if you’re short on time). Here’s what I learned.

1. They really do say ‘wee’

As in, “Fancy a wee dram?” “Here’s our wee cocktail list.” “Did you see the wee cows?” Everything is wee, even when it’s giant. Well, okay, the drams are wee, but then you end up having, like, four, so it goes from wee to big (hangover) in no time. I think they say wee — especially in relation to food and drink — so they won’t feel guilty about packing away shamefully large portions. A case in point: here’s my “wee bowl of porridge.”

Served in a giant bowl with a giant spoon, my porridge is actually anti-wee. Also, delicious.

Served in a giant bowl with a giant spoon, my porridge is actually anti-wee. But it’s also delicious.

2. Scotch is a thing

Well, duh, right? (But evidently there are some Scots who don’t like whisky, though never have I seen so many bars with such great selections.) The dram is a social convention, something to share over conversation with friends. Scotland also happens to have a staggering number of distilleries, about 98. Glengoyne is relatively close to Glasgow and it’s worth a visit to get an overview of the distilling process, and to sample some wee drams.

Part of the whisky selection at Ubiquitous Chip down Ashton Lane in Glasgow.

Part of the whisky selection at Ubiquitous Chip, down Ashton Lane in Glasgow.

3. OMG: #Plaid!

I kind of thought that kilts were something people with Scottish heritage wore at special events to stand out from the crowd. In Scotland, they wear plaid daily, with pride. Tour guides at Glengoyne sport plaid trousers, bagpipe-playing buskers work pedestrian malls dressed in plaid kilts, and stylish hipster Glaswegians wrap wool plaid scarves around their necks — in May!. Naturally, I returned to Canada with some plaid (and I’m not even Scottish).

Nothing says Scotland like kilt-wearing bagpipe buskers.

Nothing says Scotland like kilt-wearing bagpipe buskers.

4. It’s a pretty Hogwartsy place

Even though the Harry Potter movies were not filmed at the University of Glasgow, you’ll swear you’ve walked on set while wandering through the campus. A short walk away is Ashton Lane, a hidden alleyway lit with fairy lights and packed with pubs and cafes, that was supposedly author J.K. Rowling’s inspiration for Diagon Alley. Other parts of Scotland were featured in the films, including Glenfinnan Viaduct and Glencoe. It all conspires to give the city — and country — a magical feel, like anything could happen… or maybe that’s just the wee dram talking.

Seriously, doesn't this school look like Hogwarts?

Seriously, doesn’t this school look like Hogwarts?

5. Public spaces are gathering places

It helped that the day I toured Glasgow was a public holiday (and the weather was nice, for Scotland = not raining), but still, every green space I walked through, from the Glasgow Botanic Gardens to Kelvingrove Park, was abustle with individuals, couples and families taking some air. The Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, one of the country’s most popular free attractions, was also filled with locals contemplating art until staff kicked us all out at closing time. Maybe — since it rains 200 days a year — sunny days just bring everyone outside, but I like to think my experience illustrates Glasgow’s vibrancy and its residents’ appreciation for the city’s beauty and treasures. At any rate, I’ll certainly be back to Scotland for another wee visit.

Glaswegians enjoy a midday stroll through the Glasgow Botanic Gardens. which are blooming with tulips in May.

Glaswegians enjoy a midday stroll through the Glasgow Botanic Gardens.