Fit Girl’s Guide – Week Two Recap

In a shocking turn of events, I’m delayed writing up my Week Two Recap and it’s already Wed, Oct 31. Halloween! I’m a deer! (If I get a cute picture and not just a poorly lit picture in my office, I’ll post it on the A Flimsy Plan insta.) With this spoooooky season coming to a close, let’s hit up another recap of my Fit Girls journey! (Syntax? What’s syntax? I’m not fixing that sentence!)

Fit Girls Guide Week Two Recap

So, How’s It Going, Erin?

Honestly, Recap Readers? I’m feeling like I maybe cheated myself by not deciding to do the Fit Girl’s workout plan. I have a fairly good workout routine of my own established – I’ll give it it’s own post despite the fact that it’s pretty boring – but I’m wondering if it’s maybe not really much of a challenge if I’m not changing my habits a ton? Should I have thrown myself in whole hog, balls to the wall?

To be honest, I’m a very all or nothing type person. I stay busy all the time because I’m afraid that if I stop moving, I’ll never start moving again. I genuinely have to remind myself that working out three times a week is something to be celebrated – it doesn’t have to be “seven days or you’re a failure”. One of the repeated mantras I’ve come across in the Fit Girls Community is “Progress, Not Perfection” and one of my hopes is that by the end of these four weeks I’ll start to grant myself this grace.

And if my university theatre teachers are at all reading this – I know. You’ve been telling me that I don’t need to be perfect since I was 20. I’ll get there one day.

Keep It Positive! What Did You Like This Week?

This week, I took such joy in the dinners.

For my adult working life, I’ve always been reasonably good about prepping lunches and making breakfasts at home – I feel like nothing is a bigger waste of money than buying breakfast on the go. (Now, I’m less good about having prepped lunches and breakfasts on the weekends and this challenge has forced me to do that, but we’ll talk about that another time.) Dinner is a different story. Intellectually, I know that I have lots of food in the pantry and freezer so I don’t often buy ingredients for dinner… but the problem is, I’m not great at looking at my ingredients and coming up with a dinner idea. I often think “I’ll just pick this up on my way home” or making one of my go-to 5 minute meals.

This challenge has made me have to change that. The dinner recipes they have provided are real, grownup dinners and also super easy and quick. This week I made lasagna rolls (!!!) and polenta with shrimp (!!!). There are no words for how together it makes me feel.

And What About The Low Points?

Sticking to the meal plans has been pretty easy because the food is delicious, easy and leaves room for flexibility and treats with the snacks.

That said, I’ve definitely still been drinking a little bit too much wine. (Before you start worrying about me – the plan technically allows for 10 oz of wine a week. So “a little bit too much” is pretty easy to go over if you go out on the weekend and also get a glass of wine when you go to the theatre… suddenly that’s 15 oz over the week!)

And on Saturday, my roommate was inspired to do meal prep – yay! – and was in the kitchen for three hours – less yay! – right around dinner time. I finally gave up, ordered some Vietnamese on Skip the Dishes (only $12! so frugal!) and then headed out for my evening plans. I ended up throwing the lasagna rolls I was going to eat into the deep freeze so now I have a homemade healthy “frozen meal” for one of those lazy evenings once the challenge is over!

It’s a lose-win, really!

Is a lose-win a thing? Discuss in the comments section.

Fit Girl’s Guide – Week One Recap

If there’s one thing my readers know about me, it’s that I’m an actress. Oh no, wait, that’s not what this post is about… Let’s start over. If there’s one thing my readers know about me, it’s that I love challenges. Challenges are essentially the only way I actually achieve anything in life because I truly thrive on external validation. (Hashtag, maybe not the best quality? Hashtag love yourself?) Anyway, today is a not a deep dive into my psyche, today is a recap of the first week of my most recent challenge – Fit Girls Guide‘s 28 Day Jumpstart.

The Why

I’ve owned the Fit Girls 28 Day Jumpstart ebook since probably 2016 and dabble in it here and there. I usually do a pretty okay job of doing the first week (I love their roasted veggie power bowl and it is 100% my go to lunchtime meal prep) and then I don’t make any lunches for the weekend and then I go to Bottlescrew Bill’s on the Friday to work on my beer passport and then that is that. Sooo… that really shows some real stick-to-it moxie, right?

Yeah, I need to work on that whole accountability thing…

I’m also doing a little No Spend Month with some friends on Facebook and, though I’ve re-framed that into “mindful spend”, my biggest area of mindless spending is on dumb convenience food so following a proper meal plan definitely helps with that.

Plus, I just bought a smart scale. I haven’t had a scale in over 13 years and I am obsessed with watching my body water and muscle mass levels fluctuate. I haven’t become a crazy person with the scale yet but… uh… watch this space.

The Plan

Fit Girls Guide is focused on easy, meal preppable, delicious whole foods. They don’t exclude any food group (though they do offer suggestions of substitutions and modifications for almost every preference/requirement you could imagine) and they account for everything in moderation. Progress, not perfection is the goal! The ebook is also full of wisdom, inspiration and fun dog pictures – it genuinely feels like chatting health with your bbf (best best friend).

Specifically, 28 Day Jumpstart offer a 4 week meal plan – 1 breakfast recipe, 1 lunch and 2 dinners that rotate through the week for easy of prepping and finances. However, they also have a ton of alternative meals so if you aren’t a creature of routine and consistency like me (I could genuinely eat savoury oats every single morning), you can mix it up. Additionally, make sure you treat yourself to a 200 cal snack of your choice (tons of suggestions included!) and a square of dark chocolate every single day.

There’s also an exercise plan that I’m not actually following because I only workout well during fitness classes. And barre just also just low-impact, bodyweight movements… just like the Fit Girls exercise plan. I’m doing fine.

So… How’s It Going?

Mostly good! I mean, I already know that I love Week One (overnight oats, that veggie bowl I talked about and alternating pita pizzas and sweet potato tacos for dinner) so this should be no surprise.

That said, I did goof a bit on the weekend. I knew I would be going out on Friday for a Paint Nite with my fam to celebrate my mom’s birthday, so I accounted for that (a little extra wine, a delicious buffalo chicken wrap and doing spin for the second time in a week on Saturday morning) but then Saturday night got a little bit away from me. I wanted to work on my novel but was having trouble focusing at home, so I headed over to an old classic – Earls Shepard Flats for a glass of happy hour wine and a new location. But then this lady sat down next to me at the bar, instantly befriended me and… well, I had a little more wine, a little more Salmon Zen Bowl and a little more bites of pumpkin pie than I expected.

But hey, what can you do? Progress, not perfection. And not that the scale is the be-all and end-all of all things, but I always expect it to pop up a bit after the weekend due to water retention and sodium nonsense and today it didn’t. So I’m not going to beat myself up.

Goal for this week? Actually make all your meals at home and stick to that mindful spend challenge, Erin!

(Oh, and if you want to follow along, you can find me on insta as Fitgirlera.)

No-Spend April – Week Three

No-Spend Week Three
Week Three

I keep thinking I skipped writing about No-Spend Week Three and I’ve messed up – and then I realize that I’m currently in Week Four and April has just been a bit of a runaway blur. I still have over a week left! I should be less smug about “no-spend”.

The Spends

  • Truth time: I bought a set of chairs and a new couch last week. (Note: Couch was bought on my mom’s HBC credit card so she can get points and I will be reimbursing her when the bill comes due, so not until May.)

This is literally the opposite of “No Spend”.

But hear me out! I’ve been looking for a new living room set since last summer. Despite being a fully functional adult and actually having a pretty cute house, I’ve never actually picked out my own, new furniture and bought it. Right around January, I picked out the chairs I liked at Ikea and the couch/chaise I loved at The Bay. Since then, I’ve just been waiting for a good price and, coincidentally, Ikea had a living room sale and The Bay put their couches on sale for 55% off, which is the best sale I’ve seen since the summer.

So, since this spend was from savings, it’s something that I would have spent a ton more on if I waited until May and it was mindful… I think it fits into the philosophy of “No-Spend April”.

  • This week also contained my pre-selected social outing – it was my friend’s 30th birthday and his girlfriend planned a whole surprise day for him (board game café, beer and chip tasting, Escape Room, Pin Bar). To be honest, I originally wasn’t going to go. I even texted her and was like “Ugggh, it’s No Spend Month!” And then I thought about it. About how I would probably regret it if I missed it, about how I shouldn’t be an anti-social shut in, about how I had budgeted myself one night out this month. And about how, really, life is about moderation and normally I would go out every weekend and have so many self-dates so I was still doing better. So I went and it was so much fun and so good to see my friends.

The No Spends

Groceries were $23 this week and I’m just killing it.

Maybe because I did purchase my new living room set this week (though it won’t be moving in until early June), but this month really isn’t feeling like a No Spend Month anymore. Not in that I’m spending a ton, but I’m just not feeling deprived, which is what I expected. It’s really just about making better choices about what I’m spending my money on and focusing on my goals.

I think I’m going to continue with a No Spend May (I have waaaaay too much stuff in my pantry still that I need to cook through), excluding a shopping day with Claire for my upcoming Vegas trip. I have finally found a roommate that I like, who will be moving in for May, which means a little help on the household expenses, but I don’t want to be going too wild just because of that. Gotta save for the future. Be the ant and not the grasshopper and all that.

The Yoga

I am two days behind on the challenge and I am totally okay with that. I am getting so much better at finding the space in my day and prioritizing my yoga. 30 days to make a habit, right?

Things I Ate at the Calgary Stampede

Okay. Dudes and dudettes, you may or may not know that I am currently on vacay in BC for a week. I usually spend my vacations touring around places I haven’t really been to before but this year I dropped all my extra cash on London, so instead I’m just relaxing out at my parents’ place in Kimberley. It’s been a lot of reading beach trash, drinking boxed wine and brainstorming blog post ideas so I don’t fall behind again. It’s awesome but it’s probably making me lazy. I don’t want to let the Stampede fall too far in the past, since it closed on Sunday, but I am on vacay, so let’s keep it real easy and start off by talking about “Things I Ate at the Calgary Stampede” (I know, I know, be so jealous).

tophies
bbq and mikes
Pulled Pork Sandwich
At Stampede, you’ll quickly learn that there is pretty solid BBQ all over the place, specifically down the alley towards the Grandstand. How does a girl decide which barbeque stand deserves their well-earned $10? If you’re me, it’s the one with all the trophies, obviously! Most of these trophies are actually for their brisket but pulled pork is one of my very favourite meals (actually, I’m a sucker for pulled meats in general) so I went for it along with a Mike’s Hard Root Beer. Which?! Rootbeer beers are all the rage right now according to my dad who is “in the industry” (read: has a retirement job working at a liquor store) and yeah this tastes 100% just like root beer. So dangerous!

elvis
The Elvis
Guys, I get it. I now know how Elvis became Fat Elvis because I too have experienced the deliciousness that is a bacon, banana and peanut butter sandwich – in my case from The Peanut Butter Cupboard food truck. I stood in the rain for this guy and did not regret it at all – the perfect picture of salty-sweet. I might be able to recreate it at home but instead, I might just try to stalk this food truck around town instead… It’s summer in Calgary, they must be everywhere, right!?

mini donuts
Mini Donuts
And I rounded out that day of Stampeding with a little bag of mini donut – aka little clouds of sugary heaven. I somehow managed to save half for the next day and refreshed them at work by microwaving them for just 15 seconds. All my friends were so jealous.
Note: Don’t be fooled by imitators. The only place to get mini donuts is at the big yellow stand between the Big Four and BMO Centre called “Those Little Donuts”. I repeat do not go anywhere else.

Waffles and Chix
Fried Chicken Poutine
Another day kicked off with this not-so-little goodie from the Waffles & Chix stand. Waffles & Chix are actually all over the place in Calgary between their food truck and their booth at the Crossroads Farmers’ Market. But my mom and I enjoyed the fried chicken poutine a few years ago and it was so good that I have never wanted to taint the memory. This year we finally did and it was just as delicious as we remembered – all melty cheese curds and a bit of shredded cheese to fill it out, white gravy and delicately breaded fried chicken. Note that it is definitely a sharing portion. And that I was so excited to eat it that I didn’t take a picture… also, I was busy helping the little boy sitting next to me not lose his plate. It was a dramatic time. The picture above is blatantly ripped off the internet.

cheese pairing
Cheese Pairing
After all the craziness of the midway, Stampede Show Band and snowmobiles hopping over jumps (to be explained in a later post…), my mom and I needed a little Zen so we hit up the Co-op Wine Garden and enjoyed a little wine flight with cheese pairings. We have been obsessive with trying to pair our cheese and wine ever since (and we definitely have been carrying that little pairing card around with us) so that speaks highly to the success of it, yes?

nachos
Nachos and Beer at The Station
Did you know that there is a small beer garden with 20 types of wings, beer on tap and table service in the basement of the Big Four? (There’s also a ton of excellent food options down there, including some truly remarkable tacos from Anejo.) My mom recently had a cyst rupture in her knee so she needs regular walking breaks and we decided to just check out what was what in order to find a 30 minute sitting break. What a great choice! I was so thrilled with the table service, I couldn’t stop telling everyone how excited I really was. I’ve always found that wings are a lot of work for little pay-off and the nachos looked so incredible being carried by so we decided to go with them instead. They were a little bit on the spicy side but the full on potato slice they were made on were incredible and sitting in the Station was such a nice relaxing note to the end of our stampede day. Check it out next year.

mini donut popsicle
Mini Donut Popsicle
Okay, despite the fact that it was raining/hailing and I was wearing shorts, my day actually ended with a mini-donut popsicle. Last year I ate about four of these beauties – the dulce de leche base is so decadent without being overwhelming and y’all already know how I feel about mini donuts – and even though it was not popsicle weather, I couldn’t resist! Even if it meant I had an old lady comment about my shorts and popsicle combo… whatever, I gotta do me!

Seriously, mini donut popsicles, beer in the basement, crazy poutine… do it all. But don’t go to the wine garden. That’s just for me.

London, Baby! #gratuitousfriendsreference

Happy Tuesday, blog buddies, and let me apologize for my disappearing act over the past two weeks. I swear I have a good excuse, though – I just returned from a terribly exciting, relaxing and historical trip to London with my youngest brother, Kevin. (And I promise that I would have tipped my hand and told you all ahead of time, except that apparently in my 29th year I’ve grown somewhat paranoid and decided that it probably wouldn’t have been a good idea to tell the interwebz that my house was going to be empty for two weeks…) I booked the trip on a whim after a bit of a life shakeup at the end of last year. Kevin is a writer who took a day job this year and decided to join me to take advantage of finally having a regular income. My favourite people know that I love solo travel, but this time it was so much fun to spend some time with my little brother as an adult and to have someone to laugh about shared nonsense with.

I probably won’t do a formal day-to-day recap of my trip – partially because it was just a lot of wandering around museums and streets, partially because I’m not sure that we’ve built the blog relationship where you care to hear about me sitting in nine different pubs to kill the hours between adventures. (Yes, we averaged almost one pub per day. It was pretty impressive.) I will be dropping tidbits/anecdotes here and there, though, as we return to our regularly scheduled blogging. But for today? How about a few highlights?

Tower of London
1) Did you know that people live in the Tower of London?! This has been the first thing I’ve said to absolutely everyone who has asked me about my trip because it still blows my mind. The Yeoman Warders (“Beefeaters”… yes, the uniformed men who give hourly tours – they are not “just” tour guides at all) are actually Members of the Sovereign’s Body Guard formed by Henry VII and the 37 Yeoman Warders and one Chief Warder that compromise this military group actually live at the Tower of London with their families! The Chief Warder lives in the Queen’s House… literally, her house at the Tower because it is still an active Royal Palace. There is also a doctor, chaplain and the Resident Governor living on site. I had been to the Tower of London before, but somehow this fact slipped my notice before and Kevin and I just could not stop marveling over it.

pub
2) The system of ordering in British pubs is quite different from Canadian ones, and really wonderful. Jetlagged and starving at 9 pm on our first day there, it did take us probably far too long to figure out how things were done but once we did, we were hooked. Essentially, the system in the pubs cuts out the middleman and takes a lot of the pressure off of sitting for too long or not ordering food – you can do everything on your own time. For those who don’t know (and to save you the jet-lagged confusion that I experienced), when you enter a pub proceed directly to the bar to order and pay for your drink of choice. Bring this drink to the best possible table and enjoy it (and maybe one or two more!) with your friends and conversation. If you decide to do food with your drink (and please keep in mind that there is never any obligation to do so… you’ll probably notice that most of the tables around you aren’t eating), bounce back up to the bar to order and pay for your food. In a small bar, you’ll just indicate to the bartender what table you’re at; in a bigger one, they may give you some sort of table marker. The best part of all? When you’re done with your evening, you can just leave… no waiting for the cheque because you already paid!

airbnb
3) AirBnB is always worth it. I’ve done AirBnB before but other people have always done the actual renting and I’ve just tagged along. We rented a lovely little flat in Kennington owned by a very charming and friendly gentleman, and it could not have gone smoother! It was so nice to have a private, relaxing home base in which to kick back in the evenings and to enjoy some cereal in the mornings. I think the cereal is what saved us from getting tired of restaurants on this trip!

wicked
4) If you are really thrifty and clever, you can see two professional West End shows in one day for less than forty pounds. In our case, a Wicked matinee for 17.50 and an evening showing of The Woman in Black for 12.50. It was our second last day and was absolutely thrilling.
I think that may be enough for this Tuesday… but I have so many more rambles and pictures so I’m sure you’ll see more pop up soon…

Swine and Sow – Big Taste Calgary

Surprise! I actually have one last Big Taste Calgary review under my belt! I had thought I was done after Teatro (and my wallet was probably a little relieved, since even $35/meal adds up when you are a crazy person and do it upwards of five times)… but I had a surprise last minute invite pop up for Saturday night, so how could I say no? Girl’s gotta eat!

menu

My date selected Swine and Sow for our final dinner – in part because of the usual bonus of the Big Taste menu having a few options to select from and in part because we had never been there before and, with its location next to Theatre Junction Grand, we’ve always been curious. It was a good, good choice.

cocktails

We started our night with some delicious craft cocktails – the Basilisk (gin, elderflower liquor, basil and lime) and the Vegas Water (blueberry stoli, grapefruit and 7-up) since we’re always on the search for cocktails we can re-create at home. I’ve been a huge gin fan since I was 19 and mixing it with cream soda like only a dumb new drinker can, so I was obviously partial to the Basilisk. As we sipped our cocktails, we perused the full menu and excitedly made plans to return in the future for charcuterie and bacon tacos – but tonight? We were ordering and sharing literally everything from the Big Taste Menu.

first course

For our first course, we shared a Forest salad and risotto croquettes. The salad was fine (actually, I’m sure it was very good, I love mushrooms and it was probably wise to get some vegetables into our systems) but those croquettes… they knocked the memory of any other foods right out of my mind. They were so so good. They’re also kicking around on the regular menu and you better bet I tucked that information away for the future…

second course

Can we talk about how much food we got for the second course!? That lovely photo right there shows two racks of cherry wood smoked ribs and a phyllo-wrapped steelhead trout. Delicious, sizable and easily shareable. I preferred the trout to the ribs, but I’ve never really been a fan of food that requires lots of work for very little pay-off so I may be a biased party. (You know… Ribs, wings, bone-in meat… so much work for so little protein!)

third course

I was most excited for the dessert – a sticky toffee pudding and a Fiasco Gelato ice cream sandwich… and it was the Mini-egg gelato! March is totally my month! We initially had plans to share both desserts and, yes, we did each take a bite of both, but once that ice cream sandwich hit the table, there was no way I was sharing. Thank goodness my date preferred the sticky toffee pudding!

During our dinner, we noticed that there was a super large party downstairs (it sounded like a birthday party) and the staff was doing such a great job of keeping on top of it. We noted that our order was in just behind theirs but we never felt like we waiting for our next course and watching the Big Taste plates file past us to downstairs just got us more excited for our next course. I have to give the team at Swine and Sow big props for that and we will definitely be back.

ice cream sandwich

I’m in the midst of developing a new series for the blog, now that Big Taste is over, so check back next week for that and in the meantime have an amazing long weekend! I am looking forward to both catching up on sleep and dressing up to go out drinking/dancing with Claire on Saturday… best weekend ever!

Anejo – Big Taste Calgary

Tuesday night, for Big Taste, I hit up Anejo with one of my most favourite friends, Claire. (Yes, of the fun and less-than-professional tasting event post. This time I took pictures!) Anejo is a trendy Mexican eatery on 4th Street, with a menu featuring tableside guacamole, 200+ tequilas and our city’s most innovative margarita flavours.

4th Street means parallel parking and, since I spent most of my 20s hanging out in theatre and railyards, I don’t have a lot of experience doing the parallel parking thing and am subsequently less-than-skilled at it. After looping around the side streets around Anejo, looking for the perfect spot, I arrived about five minutes late for our 7:30 reservation and was immediately informed by the server that tonight Claire and I were only drinking tequila. So I immediately ordered an Anejo size chili coconut margarita. Happy Tuesday!

Margarita
(Only order this margarita if you can handle your heat – I loved it, but it involves habanero so there is definitely some kick to it.)

We were sorely tempted by the tableside gauc, but decided to stick to our guns and go with the Big Taste menu. With three choices for the first two courses and two choices for our dessert, it offered lots of options of its own!

Note that Anejo has a great, fun atmosphere – slightly dim lighting, tables of differing sizes and configurations so everyone has a great view of the scene, and while we were there, they were projecting “Blazing Saddles” onto the wall over the bar. This atmosphere is a little dim to be taking pictures in, though, unless you want to rock a flash so I only have pictures of my own selections.

Tartare Taco
For my first course, I was all over the steak tartar taco in a crispy wonton shell. This isn’t something I would normally order as an appie at Anejo because I just don’t know if I can do tacos on tacos on tacos, but with just a single one offered as a first course on Big Taste, I was all in. It was tender, a little bit spicy and paired well with that crispy wonton shell. Claire also had no complaints about her salmon ceviche, which seemed equally delicious and maybe a little bit more fun to eat.

Enchilada
I wish Max Fuller’s catchphrase on Fuller House was “Holy enchilada!” instead of “Holy chalupa!” so I could make a somewhat topical cultural reference. (Instead I just wrote an awkward lengthy sentence.) But seriously, holy geez! Look at the size of that enchilada! It took some serious girding my loins and double-down to get through even half of the deliciousness. The enchiladas were stuffed with adobo pork and potatoes, topped with a restrained amount of cheese and a spicy red sauce. “Hot” was the theme of the night, apparently! (Though what else can you expect at a Mexican restaurant?)

Claire partook in the mole chicken and devoured every bite – other than her carrots, which are one of her least favourite vegetables and which the server totally teased her for in the most charming way.

Fiasco Gelato
Dessert! (And a dessert margarita – we both chose to go for fruit-based margaritas to wrap up our experience since they are more like dessert. I had a strawberry rhubarb marg which did have a nice tang to it.) Anejo has about a thousand Fiasco Gelato flavours on their menu, so the server brought us over an entire little printed list to choose from.

I went for the Salted Caramel, Lavender Vanilla Bean and my absolutely favourite flavor… Mini Egg! Hello Spring Collection!

I don’t remember what Claire had, I was too excited about my own ice cream. I think I remember a Pear Riesling, that I may be all over next time, though.

We’re already making plans to come back on a Saturday and see what the vibe is like then – another successful Big Taste outing! Three down, two to go…

Cucina – Big Taste Calgary

How have I never been to Cucina before!?

Cucina, the little sister of Teatro (my favourite place to grab a pre-play drink if I want to feel terribly classy), was on Living Life to a “T”’s list of the top dinners of Big Taste Calgary and, after taking a peek at the menu, it was immediately top of my list too. Sweet potato gnocchi? Wine pairings? Tiramisu? I’m in! However, I had also already booked four Big Taste events at that point and was quickly running out of friends to bully into foodie fun with me.

Social media to the rescue! I put out a couple of cute tweets and facebook posts about how I was left to go on a self-date (which is actually something I love so don’t feel sad for me) and up popped a message from a lovely friend, Malina, who I had been meaning to catch up with. This is a girl who has been to a 3-Michelin star restaurant before and would be more than willing to put up with my weirdo picture taking… I knew she would be the perfect company for this dinner!

We booked an early reservation so that we would be able to head downtown straight from work (reservations are highly recommended as the adorable bistro-inspired space only sits 50 guests), though we still pulled into the Holt Renfrew parking lot almost an hour before our set time.

Oh well! It just gave us more time to wander around Holt and The Bay, ogling all the beautiful designer shoes and bags. (I snapped up some way too fun Taylor Swift Glitter Dot Keds after Malina’s enthusiastic review of her own Kate Spade keds. Online shopping is the best.) We easily filled the extra hour up, chatting and browsing, before making the incredibly short trek across the street from Holt Renfrew to Cucina. Such a wonderful location!

I was so busy chatting and marveling over the space that I forgot to take a picture of our adorable table for two, tucked just around the corner of the open concept kitchen and with a great view of the entire restaurant. Cucina is tiny but open and perfect for a relaxed dinner of catching up. I did manage to snap a quick – albeit blurry – pic of the menu, though!

menu

Malina and I elected to order the complete opposite of each other, by chance, but it meant that we were able to sample the full range of the Big Taste offerings as well the wine pairings, all from Tinhorn Creek. (Note that Cucina was awesome when Malina revealed that she couldn’t do red wine and they had no problem subbing in a white to go along with her second course.)

First course was an elevated version of the standard – choice of soup or salad.

Insalata

I enjoyed a simple but satisfying cherry tomato insalata, using the tomatoes to scoop up every bit of the tangy goat cheese capricco. Malina had the leek and zucchini bisque, which went un-photographed, but was an absolutely incredible size portion and, according to her, was equally tasty. This course was paired with the Tinhorn Creek Pinot Gris.

gnocchi

For the second course, I naturally went for the sweet potato gnocchi with oyster mushrooms, kale… and more goat cheese! When I make gnocchi at home, I’m never patient enough to pan fry the little pastas to the perfect level of fluffy inside, crispy outside that a good restaurant manages to consistently put out. This gnocchi absolutely checked all my boxes. My gnocchi was paired with a delicious Tinhorn Creek Pinot Noir.

Lamb

After the first forkful of this braised lamb shank, Malina just closed her eyes and said “Oh, that’s good lamb”. That seems like a ringing endorsement to me! (Note: I’m a bad blogger and don’t know which white wine Malina received with her lamb… I was too busy digging into my gnocchi as soon as it hit the table.)

budino

Malina selected the chocolate coconut budino, a light but rich molton cake. I tried to google specifically what a budino is so I could share that here but it seems that it is a quite mysterious and variable dessert. Either way, Malina had nothing but positive things to say about it.

tiramisu

Saving the best for last, an absolutely perfectly sized tiramisu with a sweet little honey dessert wine. Tiramisu is rarely the dessert I pick from a full dessert menu, but I’m not sure why – this nuanced and light dessert was the perfect ending to the dinner I was so excited about.

If you can snag a reservation at Cucina during Big Taste, I definitely recommend taking it even if you have to dine early or late. It is an incredible venue, meal and dining experience.

One18 Empire – Big Taste Calgary

As pretty much anyone close to me knows, one of my very favourite times of the year is the first week or so of March. During the first two weekends of March (as well as the weekdays in between), 85+ restaurants create prix fixe menus and participate in Big Taste Calgary. Restaurants may offer three-course lunches (for $15 or $25), three-course dinners (for $25 or $35) or five-course gourmet dining experiences (for $65). It’s an amazing opportunity to try out a new restaurant that you’ve been wondering about for a low-cost investment or to treat yourself at an old favourite to see what they’ve come up with to showcase.

This year, I’ve booked a somewhat embarrassing five different reservations, with five different amazing women who are all too willing to indulge me in my love of good food and good drinks. Or maybe they’re just looking for an excuse to “treat yo’self”? Either way, I’ve pinched my pennies, shifted around my budget like crazy and I am so excited to spend these ten days exploring all the best restaurants Calgary has to offer.

This past weekend has been “8th Avenue” themed so today I hit up One18 Empire for lunch with my very favourite lady – my mom! One18 was a bit of a game time decision – we had originally been planning to go to Sky360 for lunch, but found out this morning that Sky360 doesn’t offer their Big Taste menu on Sundays. (Such a bummer… but today ended up being fairly cloudy so we’ll find a better day to watch the city from that rotating restaurant.) One18 Empire is just across the street from Sky360 and since we had big plans to do some shopping at The Core after lunch, we wanted to stay in the area. Game time decision or not, One18 Empire was an awesome decision.

When we sat down, we were greeted by our friendly server (who may have been the only server on shift and was absolutely incredible) who handed us cute “Big Taste” specific menus along with the wine and beer list. The back of the menu gave a short historical overview of the Empire Hotel, along with a few cute little stories about their antics during Prohibition… definitely worth a read!

Big Taste Menu Back of Menu

One18’s main focus is whiskey (not with lunch for me, thanks!) but they also offer a carefully curated wine list, which includes four wines on tap that you can order by the ounce. I was tempted by the novelty, but ended up ordering a glass of Rose – it’s rare that I find a restaurant that actually has a decent Rose by the glass. My mom went for a glass of Riesling after our fantastic waitress brought her a small taster, since she was waffling without knowing the sweetness of the wine.

Glass of Rose

We did exactly what everyone should do when faced with actually having options on a prix fixe menu and ordered absolutely everything between us. When there’s so much great food to try, why would we order the same thing!?

First Course

Our first course consisted of a cute little lemony kale Caesar salad, which I basically devoured. I love vinaigrette Caesar dressings and I love kale, so my mom was glad to hand that one over. She adored the smoky tomato soup, though was kind enough to share a few bites with me since the soup was definitely a fair portion. This soup was incredibly different from any tomato soup I’ve had before – it was chunky, like stewed tomatoes that had just been lightly caressed by an immersion blended, and the smoky flavours were very apparent. I’m not sure I would order a full bowl of it but I am so glad I ate it.

Grilled Cheese IMG_3284

The second course was where One18 really knocked it out of the park. We shared a fabulous grilled cheese on crusty sourdough, packed with gruyere, fontina, ole Dubliner, avocado mayo and tomato. We then followed that up with the real star of the meal – a hearty Italian seafood dish called ciopino that married mussels, clams, salmon and olives in a tomato based sauce. It came with brushed focaccia on the side and since there is never too much bread, we happily dunked the focaccia and soaked up the last bits of the sauce.

I was so excited about the ciopino and the impending dessert that I completely forgot to take pictures of dessert. We shared a vanilla bourbon cake with maple cream and flash-dried raspberries then finished off our meal with affogatto Baileys gelato paired with soft and delicious lemon madeleines.

For $15, I could not imagine a more filling or delicious lunch. I highly recommend going to this Big Taste restaurant with someone who isn’t afraid to share food so that you can try everything on the menu since it is all worth it… so basically, I’m saying to go to lunch with anyone other than Joey Tribbiani.

I’m thrilled that I went and I think I may have found yet another option for a quick bite before I go to see a Vertigo Theatre or Theatre Calgary show in the future. How wonderful!

Nonsense on a March Wednesday

Last night, I went to a wonderful liquor and cupcake pairing event at Willow Park with my wonderful best friend Claire. Here is a picture of Claire and I being incredibly professional while running a clothing swap fundraising event for our theatre company in the now-defunct Auburn bar because why not?

fundraiser and trees 010

I was all set to very professionally review the tasting event, much like I did for the Chocolate, Bacon and Booze event. But when Claire and I are together, we very easy dissolve into insanity, giggling and basically being the same person so my notes very very quickly degraded to only include Michael Biggatini quotes and various hashtags that we thought were hilarious at the time. So instead of doing a proper review, I will direct you to check out my Instagram for cupcake envy and encourage you to buy rumchata. It is a cream liquor and is a million times better than Bailey’s. I suspect I will probably drink an entire bottle in coffee next holiday season. (Claire generally likes to put enough sugar in her coffee to make it taste like aT five cent candy and even she agreed that the rumchata was so good, you wouldn’t need sugar in the coffee.)

In short, Willow Park continues to be amazing and the next time you go to a tasting event, please invite me. I will make it fun and also we will learn so much.

Willow Park Crave

This post is too short so now onto some nonsense… I’m basically killing it so far this March.

Yesterday, I only spent $32 – after the tasting event, Claire and I hit up The Cactus Club on Macleod for drinks and gossip. We had two very classy cocktails each (a French 75 and a Negroni for me… I love gin) and shared some raw tuna appies so, really, that was a very reasonable spend! Also, so much gossip and giggling. KILLING IT.

Today, I arrived at work with 10 minutes spare, just like my being-a-grownup goal required, and I even stopped for gas on the way to work. KILLING IT.

Tonight, after work (which was thrilling and exhausting because it was Match Day – when the third year students find out where they will be going for their residency – and I get super caught up in the students’ emotions), I taught a barre class and then took a barre class. I also resisted the urge to pick up delicious-but-pricey sushi on the way home and instead whipped up a quick egg dish when I got home. DOUBLE KILLING IT.

And now I have committed to a 7:15 barre class tomorrow morning and I’ve already put together my breakfast for tomorrow so I have no excuses.

I am feeling so incredibly positive that March will be even more than a B+ month.

(PS: I’ll be back tomorrow with significantly more fun and significantly less nonsense. Maybe I’ll actually even talk about some fun things I’ve done in Calgary recently that you may want to do as well.)