It’s July, and I’m on vacation. My partner and I are spending a week with friends at their cottage – known as a camp in this part of the province — on an island in the mid-north of Ontario. We’re surrounded by pine trees, rocks and water, there’s a sauna if we’re so inclined, and there are lots of spots both inside and out for lolling about, reading or socializing. What we don’t have is reliable internet access, which means I will have no choice but to power down and actually take a break, and I am very glad for that. It’s been a long winter and spring of hard work, and I’m ready to relax for a few days.
I’ll admit that I am a bit of a lazy reader and pretty much stick to mysteries and political thrillers (suggestions always welcome!). My excuse is that I do a lot of serious reading during the day as part of my work, so I’m ready for something lighter in my off-hours. There’s also the reality that, unless I am on vacation, my only time to read is when I crawl into bed at night, at which point I’m lucky if I can keep my eyes open for 10 minutes. This does not really create fertile ground for serious reading. (Mind you, the insomnia of advancing age opens up a whole new reading time from 2:45 – 3:45 a.m., but at that point my sole focus is on falling back to sleep, so I don’t want to tackle anything of real interest then, either.)
I’ve brought The Overstory by Richard Powers on this trip. It’s well outside my usual comfort zone, but was suggested by a friend after we saw the film How to Blow Up a Pipeline (which I highly recommend). My partner has already read and enjoyed it, although he cautioned me that it is a “serious” book in tones that sound like he thinks I might not be up to the task. I hope to prove him wrong, but I do have a few mysteries tucked away on my tablet just in case — and for the inevitable middle of the night reading.
We tend to occupy ourselves individually during much of the day when we are at camp, but 5 pm always finds us gathered on the deck for cocktails, snacks and conversation before settling in around the kitchen table for dinner and an evening of game playing.
This year, we have sworn we will eat and drink in some moderation, a commitment I’m not sure I can keep. (I’ve brought along a couple of bags of potato chips as well as some frozen cookie dough for any emergencies that might arise. And, because I wanted to cover every possible drinking desire, I have a wide array of alcohol. Not that we have to drink it all, of course, but who wants to lug full liquor bottles back across the lake when we leave?)
On the subject of cocktails, it’s been a long time since I have shared a recipe for one. Bourbon always seems like a summer drink to me; perhaps because it’s made in the southern United States; 95% of all bourbon is produced in Kentucky. Although I have spent almost no time in that part of the U.S., I associate bourbon with what are no doubt highly romanticized notions of southern gentility, imagining myself whiling away a late afternoon in a rocking chair on a large porch, shaded from the heat of the day by, perhaps, a Kentucky coffee tree, while sipping on a whiskey sour or mint julep.
When my partner and I were in the Yukon last fall, we had a fantastic meal at the Smoke ‘n Sow, a southern-style BBQ restaurant on the outskirts of Whitehorse. We rolled our way home after enjoying ribs, pulled pork, coleslaw, “white trash mac and cheese,” and Buffalo brussels sprouts, all of which were delicious and helped me soak up the two maple bourbon smashes I enjoyed before the meal. I’ve played around with some recipes for this cocktail since getting home and, after exhaustive testing, have concluded this is the closest to what I enjoyed in Whitehorse.
For two cocktails (why stop at one?): mix together in a blender 4 ounces bourbon, 2 ounces freshly squeezed orange juice (this is critical—commercial orange juice just won’t give you the same kind of flavour pop), 2 ounces freshly squeezed lime juice (ditto), 1 ounce dark maple syrup and 6 ice cubes. Blend till ice is crushed and drink is frothy. Pour over ice cubes and top with club soda to taste. If you want an extra hit of flavour, stir in an ounce of ginger lemonade concentrate.
I’m headed back to the Yukon in September and already know I’ll be enjoying a maple bourbon smash—or maybe two – when I make a second visit to the Smoke ‘n Sow. What could be better than some bourbon and BBQ when surrounded by all those mountains?