Monthly Archives: March 2016

Island time

I’ll never forget my first snorkelling trip, to Buck Island off of St. Croix, when I was 12. We saw a number of tropical fish and even barracudas knifing through the turquoise Caribbean waters. It was spectacular. I’m pretty sure my daughter Avery will always remember her first time donning a mask and fins in an ocean aquarium during an excursion to the Belize Barrier Reef from our base on Ambergris Caye.

Bennett and Avery take a break from the sea on a snorkelling excursion to the Belize Barrier Reef.

Bennett and Avery take a break from the sea on a snorkelling excursion to the Belize Barrier Reef.

She saw electric blue damsel fish, orange and white longspine squirrelfish, yellow and white striped French grunts, giant brain coral and purple sea fans (an underwater camera would’ve come in handy!). And, with her little brother Bennett doggie paddling beside her in a life jacket (without a mask and snorkel — he’s not quite ready), she watched a nurse shark and eagle ray swim below her, followed by a green sea turtle. It was neat for me to see those critters, too, but it was more of a thrill to watch the kids’ jubilant reactions to a day spent offshore with Suya Tours.

The sea life just offshore Ambergris Caye is incredible. Snorkellers

The sea life that inhabits the warm, clear water just offshore Ambergris Caye is incredible. It’s the best snorkelling I’ve done in a long time.

The marine life is just one part of our visit to Ambergris Caye, one of the islands off the coast of Belize. In the coming days we’ll be exploring the town of San Pedro and the nearby Mayan ruins, and sampling more tasty island cuisine. When you’re staying beachside, however, the clear water is always beckoning, be it ocean or pool.

Bennett, Avery and Blake kayak off the dock on Ambergris Caye, Belize.

Bennett, Avery and Blake kayak off the dock on Ambergris Caye, Belize.

On “island time,” the kids are in the pool by 8 a.m. and pretty much stay in the water until 6 p.m., with mandatory down-time out of the sun for a couple hours over lunch. Overall, life is pretty beachy!

Just chillin' on the patio and contemplating... Beach or pool?

Just chillin’ on the patio and contemplating… Beach or pool?

Drink of the Week: Aeronautics

Alloy is an oft-overlooked oasis of dining awesomeness in the city’s southeast. It’s just a five-minute drive from Inglewood to the industrial park that houses Alloy, a fact that always makes me scratch my head over why we don’t dine there more often. Now we have another reason to visit: cocktails.

Alloy has given its bar a makeover and a new name — Back Bar — and brought in former Candela bartender Jake Hewitt to create a bar menu. The result is a small list that takes classics and gives them a modern twist. Do try the Smoked Old Fashioned, The Pullman (like a Sidecar, with rum) and the Aeronautics, which is Hewitt’s take on an Aviation. I couldn’t resist the colour of this gin-forward but well-balanced spring sip. The bar snacks, specifically the pulled pork belly slider, are delicious, too!

This gorgeous purple drink is Bar Bar's take on an Aviation cocktail.

This gorgeous purple drink is Back Bar’s take on an Aviation cocktail.

Aeronautics

  • 1-1/2 oz Tanqueray gin
  • 1/4 oz Giffard’s Creme de Violette
  • 1/4 oz Ginja cherry liqueur
  • 2 lemon wedges, squeezed
  • Garnish: lemon twist

Method: Combine ingredients in a mixing glass. Add ice and stir until drink is well chilled. Strain into a coupe glass. Rim the glass with expressed lemon disk, then twist over drink and drop in.

— Recipe courtesy Jake Hewitt, Back Bar at Alloy

Palm Springs’ remarkable makeover

It’s hard to know what to expect from a destination when you’ve visited only once before, for a shopping day trip, when you were 15. My memories of Palm Springs were, like the opening sequence of Miami Vice, a montage of palm trees, pastels, highways and (unlike in Florida) desert scrub.

At least one memory of Palm Springs reflects its new reality: palm trees!

At least one memory of Palm Springs reflects its new reality: palm trees!

I had heard the Southern California city, just a two-hour drive east of Los Angeles, had undergone a transformation in the past decade, thanks in large part to the annual Coachella music festival and the hip, young demographic associated with it.

Canadian transplant Jaime Kowal, who owns several businesses in the trendy Uptown Design District, relocated to Palm Springs from Vancouver because she saw its potential. Yes, it still reels in what the town jokingly calls “gays and greys” (referring to the LGBT visitors and golf-loving retirees that flock there), but Palm Springs also appeals to younger couples and even families — I have friends who have taken the kids and had a blast.

My husband Blake and I visited on a working holiday — I’m writing some Palm Springs stories for WestJet Magazine — and, as if to prove its new versatility, the city delivered five holidays in one.

The Spa Holiday

If you want a massage, facial, wrap, pedicure, mud bath — or even a spiritual healing session with a shaman — Palm Springs is your place. I spent a morning at Two Bunch Palms in Desert Hot Springs stewing naked in a warm bath of mud and wondering what had possessed me to submerge my birthday suit in a mixture of peat and mineral-rich clay. After a nice long shower and anti-inflammatory arnica wrap, I relaxed in the hot springs Grotto and contemplated joining a yoga class or meditation session.

Soaking in a mud bath at Two Bunch Palms.

Soaking in a mud bath at Two Bunch Palms.

The Active Holiday

While I was spa-ing, Blake was pedalling over 30 kilometres on a mountain bike ride in Palm Desert. The following day, we drove the hour to Joshua Tree National Park and explored a piece of this famous natural landscape. We vowed to return and camp there among its awesome rocks with the kids.

Acres of rocks, cacti and Joshua trees all to myself at Joshua Tree National Park.

Acres of rocks, cacti and Joshua trees all to myself at Joshua Tree National Park.

The Drink-Beer-in-the-Pool Holiday

You don’t have to fly to an all-inclusive resort in Mexico to do this. Blake and I managed to imbibe a selection of American microbrews from the comfort of our weekend vacation house, The Junipero. It’s not a hotel, per se; it’s more like a dedicated short-term vacation rental property complete with all the amenities including a BBQ, fridge, coffee, comfy bed and, most importantly, swimming pool. You can book the main house, or one of three bungalows.

Every afternoon we hit the pool at The Junipero Palm Springs. With beer.

Every afternoon we hit the pool at The Junipero Palm Springs. With beer.

The Foodie Holiday

I think I gained five pounds while eating my way from south Palm Springs north to the Uptown Design District. We hit institutions such as King’s Highway Diner at the Ace Hotel, Tropicale and Cheeky’s, and we tried some new spots like Eight4Nine.

The ahi poke at Eight4Nine beats the Hawaiian deli equivalent any day! The shrimp crackers were a nice touch, too.

The ahi poke at Eight4Nine beats the Hawaiian deli equivalent any day! The shrimp crackers were a nice touch.

The Shopping Holiday

I’m no longer 15, so I didn’t hit the mall for clothes. Instead, I browsed the vintage, mid-century modern and modern boutiques and galleries that make up the revitalized Uptown and ogled eye candy from retro flower lapel pins and cheesy pink flamingo lawn ornaments to funky wall clocks and bronze ashtrays.

I loved the cool wall art in Just Modern.

I loved the cool wall art in Just Modern.