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 One

No Spend Week One
Week One

It’s recap time! Because we’re one week into No Spend April already. WOO! Week One! (Also, I totally didn’t take pictures of my meal prep this week. Hopefully that’s not actually something you want.)

The Spends

Blah blah blah, mortgage, cell phone, condo fees property tax… who cares? Let’s get down to the things I can control!

1. My gas gamble didn’t work – gas went up by four cents and I had to fill up this weekend. Meh.
2. Groceries only cost $19 this week! I have a rice and bean recipe that I am obsessed with and my pantry was already stocked with carrots, peas, onion and rice so I mostly just made a huge batch of that and then supplemented with some burrito bowl fixings. Delicious.
3. … I went to the Make It Market with my mom on Saturday and spent $40.

You Spent $40!?

Calm down, internet. I spent $40 and I don’t feel bad about it. I bought a one-of-a-kind art piece, created by a local artisan. For about six months, I’ve been trying to put together a wall in my kitchen – it currently has a chalkboard and a canvas print on it and I really want to hang up a corkboard that I already have for organizational purposes. However, this wall needs a something else to help balance the proportions… and I finally found something! After months of looking! I can finally not have my corkboard just leaning up against my wall in my kitchen.

I feel fine with this purchase because it was conscious and mindful. In months of looking, I hadn’t found anything I liked and I spent a ton of time weighing out the purchase before making it while at the Market. (I also didn’t buy any craft distilled liquors or tiny rings like I vaguely wanted to, so… winning.)

The No Spends

I know, that’s not an actual phrase, but I’m using it.

One of my biggest expenses is eating out. Part of it is that I love trying out new restaurants, with or without other people, but another part of it is just habit. I used to travel for work and I got super used to sitting at the bar in a restaurant with a book and a glass of wine to unwind. I got super used to grabbing a Chopped Leaf bowl on my way home from the gym because it was quick and healthy, and I was starving. Like I wrote about the tuna melt last week, a lot of what I did was just so easy and relatively inexpensive… but easy and inexpensive adds up, yo!

Right now, I think I’m still riding on the high of being oh so virtuous. It feels good to clear out my pantry and to go home to eat the meals I prepped. (Note: Old!Erin would totally have prepped meals and still gone out to eat anyway… that’s why it’s nice to have the “challenge” element to lean on.)

The Yoga

Oh my gosh, you guys, I am loving the Yoga With Adriene TRUE challenge. It reminds me a bit of being back in university and getting in touch with all the elements of myself – physical, emotional, mental, spiritual. I will note: I don’t recommend this challenge if you just want to “work out”. Though there are definitely some challenging physical elements, this is really about developing a yoga practice and figuring out what it means to you.

I did miss a day of the challenge – on Friday, I spent the night at my parents’ house, having a railway night (long story), and then I spent a day out with my mom on Saturday, going straight to my Saturday night plans. I had thought I’d be home by 10 pm or so, then being able to unwind with a little yoga, but that was not to be. In an amazing moment of kismet, Adriene actually spoke about how we have to develop our own practice, how it make take some of us longer than 30 days to complete the challenge and how we have to celebrate ourselves… during the session I wasn’t able to complete on Saturday and ended up doing on Sunday night. How perfect!

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).

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!

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 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.

Sherlock Holmes – Theatre… Tuesday…?

Two Thursdays ago my mom, Bryan and I went to see the opening night of Vertigo Theatre’s season closer Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Jersey Lily. Normally this would be a weird time to write about it – the show is still on but it would only have a week to go so it may be hard to get out to see it. However, this show has actually been so well received (it just won a Critter award!) that it has been extended until June 18 (which incidentally is also the day my show closes…)

Program Image belongs to Vertigo Theatre

Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Jersey Lily was a bit of a revelation to me. I’ve seen the team of Haysam Kadri and Karl Sine play Holmes and Watson before, and I’ve seen Haysam in a variety of roles over the last nine or so years… but I don’t think I’ve ever seen Haysam be quite so funny. He – and the entire cast, really – was obviously having a blast onstage, and the enjoyment is infectious.

If Sherlock Holmes isn’t necessarily your jam, you still may love this show because it is peppered with real historical Victorian London references and characters. Paul Welch’s Oscar Wilde looks astonishingly like the real deal and lights up the stage with his witticisms. The script tends to stick to Wilde’s more popular works for its referential humour so even casual fans will be “in on the joke”.

I can’t imagine that I’m in the minority when I say that I love clever humour that throws around cultural references. This past month of theatre in Calgary has absolutely fed into this love and I hope that it is a trend that will stick around for awhile.

And if you’re on the fence about Holmes at all, let me just say… I was offered a ticket to see it again last Friday and I deeply considered it. I decided not to take it though so someone who hadn’t seen the show could have the opportunity. Soooo…

(Please note: This show did just win a Critter award for Best Direction of a Play so that may increase interest in seeing it. You can get tickets by visiting the Vertigo Theatre website.)

(Double please note: I know today is Tuesday… Thursday is the day before my show opens and if I thought I was stressed before… At least Tuesday still alliterates, guys!)

April Wrap-Up

British Museum
Y’all, it feels like it’s been months and months since I wrote a monthly wrap up post. There have been so many different things to happen in the month of April that I cannot believe it’s only been 30 days. Also, they are painting the offices at my work and it is making my allergies act up like whoa, so my mind isn’t exactly all here either. I’m a little worried about the day after they paint my physical office. #firstworldproblems, am I right?

Overall Month Rating
A. It has been absolutely beautiful week and today there was free pizza at work, but I swear I’m not blinded by that. This month I went to London with my baby brother, I maybe sourced a fun little way to make some extra money during the summer, I started rehearsals for an incredibly fun play… and I found a roommate for the summer. Yes, it’s only for four months, but I think it will be so much easier trying to find a roommate for September than for February and it warms my heart to help out an endearing little college student for the summer.

Highlight of the Month
Can I just say all of London? If I have to narrow it down, seeing In the Heights in the King’s Cross Theatre or our Yeoman Warder tour at The Tower of London were definitely hugely great days/moments.

Lowlight of the Month
I NPC’ed a 12+ hour long LARP event the day after returning from London. I love LARP, but that was a poor choice. I took two fairly lengthy naps during the event, on a couch in a room that houses some sort of childcare/child playroom/child thing and that is never a recipe for waking up and feeling good about your life and your choices.

Number of Workouts Completed
Okay, it may have been an ambitious choice to loudly state that I was going to start a Couch to 5K on a month that included a two week trip to a place full of cider, fish and chips, and museums. That definitely did not happen. There was also a two week break from barre during the trip… but I sure did complete a ton of steps daily while trying to save money on the Underground. I’ve also kept up the soothing morning yoga.

Number of Plays Watched
Well, I’ve been pretty open about seeing three rad plays in London…

Number of Movies Watched
In theatres – 0. All my money was ear-marked for London this month!
At home/on the airplane – 8. When you are determined to kill jetlag, you can watch an awful lot of movies on an airplane. (However, it didn’t work. Maybe I’m getting old?) We also watched Hot Fuzz approximately two times (in various bits and pieces) over our time in London, caught Clueless while exhausted one night and on our second last morning of our trip, we enjoyed a bit of a lazy morning and plugged the tablet into the tv to enjoy Frozen on Netflix with a morning cider.

Number of Dates I Took Myself On
Just one! I agreed to drive Bryan and Darci to an event so they could drink and, while they were in the event, I took myself for a petite dinner and reading date. Naturally, it was awesome. (It also led to my potential opportunity for the summer.)

Best New Food Discovery
Jacket potatoes are super a thing in London, I realized. Lots of pubs had a lengthy list of different jacket potato fillings you could select from and there were even street vendors that offered ones to purchase and eat on the go. One night, while dying for a little comfort food, I enjoyed a jacket potato with tuna and mayo stuffed in it. You can guarantee that I will be whipping one of those bad boys up on a lazy winter Thursday night.

Best New Culture Discovery
Anne Perry’s Inspector Thomas Pitt series of historical mysteries. This is really more of a re-discovery, as I read and started ideally collecting the series in paperback when I was in university and always needed a paperback book to stash in my bag for transit. When I was in London, though, I kept recognizing street names from the titles of her books and now I am devouring these books like crazy. Twisty and turn-y mystery plots, an accurate Victorian London landscape, awesome and complex female characters (Thomas’ eventual wife Charlotte is arguably the main character of series) and a quirky cop as the title character all come together to create a light, entertaining read that doesn’t make you feel like you have a sugar hangover.

Best Book Read
The Girl With All the Gifts by M.R. Carey. I’m a sucker for anything zombie, but this book approaches it in such an interesting way. It’s obvious that there are zombies, but it isn’t about zombies, per say. When the book finished, I knew it was over, I knew the story that needed to be told had been told, but I still wanted a sequel. This book is equal turns eerie, thought-provoking and heartbreaking. Please read it.

A note: I feel a little bit awkward writing this post without acknowledging the fires in Fort McMurray. At the same time, I’m not sure exactly what to say. It’s sort of similar to the Calgary floods of 2013 for me – though I knew very few people directly affected by the floods (many of my friends were evacuated briefly but their homes were safe), it was ever present in everyone’s world and we were all affected. That’s sort of how the fires are flitting around the edge of my world. An absolutely lovely woman that I work with recently moved down from Fort Mac and I will be supporting her and the friends/family that are fleeing down to her. Please educate yourself on what is happening to our neighbours in the north and what you can do for them to help out the most.

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.

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!

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!

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…

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!

February Wrap-Up

Heart on Window

Well, here I am, sitting in the dark and watching last night’s The Walking Dead on PVR. And making myself way too afraid to get up and go to the washroom. (I do not have the lights off as a means to terrify myself, by the by. I’ve been trying to limit my energy use over the past month and have developed a real creepy habit of sitting in the dark and watching tv. It’s a good thing there is no one around to see this…) I thought this was the best possible time to write a wrap-up post – also because it is the last day of the month. All signs point towards writing this awesome post.

Now that the blog is just over a month old, I’ve been thinking about what I want for it in terms of tone and feeling. I realized that I’ve always loved chatty blogs that make me feel like I’m a part of the blogger’s life. As much as I would love to be crazy professional and write about the fun things I do in Calgary as if I were writing for Avenue or another well-established and very grownup publication… I just can’t resist bringing my personal and my casual into it. My very favourite blog, Happy or Hungry, has inspired me to craft a few healthy lunches… but mostly, I just sort of feel like I’m a part of her close-knit and incredibly fun group of friends. I love reading her recounts of all her adventures and watching her life grow and change.

So, all that rambling to say, I’m going to start being a little bit more personal, sharing bits of myself, and these monthly recap posts are where it is all going to start.

Lonely Work Chair

Overall Month Rating
B-. February turned out to be a far busier month than I had ever expected it to be – though I maybe should have expected it, as I run a course at work for the first two weeks of every February that keeps me at work for 11 hours days. (Please note the picture of the lonely work chair above, which sums up my life this month.) During February, I had a few extended family situations crop up while I also lost my lovely roommate of 3.5 years to the allure of a private basement suite and I haven’t yet found someone new to fill her place so that has me feeling a little uneasy going into March… I did have a ton of fun adventures with my brothers, of all people, this month though and my house has never looked more organized (post to come on that!) so those points saved February from dropping down into the C range.

Highlight of the Month
Definitely accompanying Bryan to a LARP event mid-month! I was super-anxious about it going in (there are so many rules to learn!), I was very tired afterwards (it ran from 6pm-2am), I had no idea what to expect… but it was so wonderful to be around so many people that were just so passionate and excited about something they were doing. I haven’t acted in a show since last June and being at LARP very much reminded me of the comradery and connection that develops when you do theatre. (And thus I have a bunch of auditions lined up for March…)

Lowlight of the Month
Definitely today, when I went outside to leave for work and there was so much ice built up on my front windshield that I couldn’t even scrape it. I just had to wait for the defroster to do its thing. I’ve been making a real effort to leave for work early enough that I can arrive 5-10 minutes before the official start time and not have to feel like I’m rushed the entire way there so it was such a bummer. (I do realize that I have alluded to quite a few other things above that maybe should be in this category, but I am trying to look at those as experiences to grow from. The ice windshield just sucked.)

Number of Workouts Completed
Not nearly enough. During the first two weeks of the month, I basically taught my barre class and maybe took one extra class (though I did prance around like Britney Spears for Med Show an awful lot)…

I’ve put my yoga membership on hold to save money, though, set up my treadmill/workout area in my basement and barre classes are slightly less busy this upcoming week, so I’m back on it! 3 workouts over the past 4 days… pretty promising!

Number of Plays Watched
Four plays this month, from a whole range of different theatre companies. Pretty wonderful!

Number of Movies Watched
In theatres – 0.

At home – 4. I’m trying to work my way through the Marvel Universe movies that I haven’t seen before Civil War comes out. And, also, I forced all my friends into coming over and watching Grease: Live more than once.

Number of Dates I Took Myself On
I love self-dates. On my vacation day, I took myself over to Double Zero at Chinook and enjoyed some wine, pizza and re-reading A Storm of Swords. Unfortunately, I am not a cheap date for myself, so I may need to find some more economical ways to express some self-love. (That sentence sounds creepy. I stand by it, though.)

Best New Discovery
Still Buffering. Technically, it launched in January but I am always behind on my podcast listening and picked it up in February. Still Buffering is a hilarious and heart-warming podcast hosted by two sisters, aged 32 and 15, discussing the differences between being a teenager then and now. It gives me such nostalgia and such laughter.

Best Book Read
I mentioned earlier this month that I love memoirs when I’m on the go because the chapters are generally little bite-sized chunks that allow you to read just one at a time. Amy Poehler’s Yes Please has just been making me so happy over the past couple weeks – she is just as positive and inspiring as I expected her to be.

And now, The Walking Dead is over and The Bachelor is on, so please excuse me while I go pour a weekday glass of wine and allow my mind to atrophy a little.

And if you are in Calgary and you are someone I know (which I assume is 98% of my readership), please please live in my house…

Everything I Love – Chocolate, Bacon & Booze at Willow Park Wine and Spirits

Willow Park Wine and Spirits is so much more than just a beautiful liquor store with an exceptional selection (though it is certainly that). Willow Park is an institution. They have an incredible team of expert connoisseurs to help you pick out exactly the right liquor, beer or wine for any occasion, they have speciality products that no other store has… they have an onsite kitchen and put on incredible festivals, galas, information sessions and tasting events. I’ve gone to festivals with vendors and wineries from all over where I have learned so much about products (and had more than enough to drank in a safe location close to home) and I’ve discovered pairings that I never would have imagined at tasting events.

So, last Thursday, for the second time that week, I roped Bryan and Darci into coming to a crazy fun and informative event with me. They like it when I force them into things.

Beautiful (and Packed!) Tasting Space At Willow Park
When we arrived for the event at 7pm on the dot, we showed our tickets and were immediately ushered downstairs to the basement to select our seats. (And don’t they do a great job of making the basement look appealing!?) As a note, I recommend arriving 10-15 minutes before the event begins – there is no assigned seating for tasting events and, trust me, you want to be together with your group and near the front to get the full experience.

Kevin's Bacon
As we filed through the door and immediately began scoping for the best seats, we were handed a very special reception cocktail – the Kevin’s Bacon, created by Senior Product Consultant, Michael Bigattini just for us. (PS: If you ever can take an event run by Michael, do it – he is both knowledgeable and hilarious in equal turns.) Featuring Bacon-Infused Jack Daniels, black tea and maple syrup, the Kevin’s Bacon was an ideal drink for summer, light and perfect for all the BBQs I’m planning to throw on my patio… thank goodness Michael gave us the recipe!

Tasting Brochure CoverTasting Brochure Inside
Each seat was set with a tasting guide – ostensibly to make notes in, but it mostly just seemed like a great way to tantalize us with all the pairings we were about to try out!

Place Setting
We also were each supplied with 5 different glasses filled with a range of alcohol options, an “empty space” (temporarily filled with popcorn) for a warm drink that was yet to be brought up and a few of our food pairings that could be served cold. The excitement was mounting and the space was filled with chatter but as soon as Michael began to share his enthusiasm for the pairings he had put together, we were all captivated.

Pairing One
We first sampled Hot Pepper Bacon Popcorn with Chocolate Drizzle paired with the Howe Sound Diamond Head Stout. I had actually just posted on Instagram about how I didn’t care for stout… but this lightly hoppy oatmeal stout really was a perfect pairing with the popcorn. The stout mellowed some of the heat in the popcorn and brought out the notes of the chocolate. Plus… who can complain about popcorn popped in bacon grease!? I kept thinking I would save some for the drive home but that was not to be.

Pairing Two
Pairing Number Two! Chocolate Dipped Bacon Skewer with a created-by-Michael Mexican Hot Chocolate. This was voted the best pairing by a show of hands and though it wasn’t my pick, it was tasty. There was also something just so decadent about using the bacon as a stir stick for the hot chocolate. Darci felt that the cinnamon in the hot chocolate overwhelmed the other flavours (I find that cinnamon is one of those love it or hate it flavours), while I found this pairing just a liiiiittle too rich. Blasphemy, I know!

Pairing Three
Number Three: Salted Maple Bacon Truffle with a Manhattan. Did you know that the Manhattan was created for Winston Churchill’s mother, a society lady who loved her booze just as much as her son did? I sure didn’t! For extra points, here is an absolutely terrible picture of me looking real skeptical with my Manhattan:

And why do I look that way? Because, and I quote: “In this drink, the cherries are the mix – they’re the only non-alcoholic… wait, they’re brandy-soaked”. But it turns out, I do appreciate a quality Manhattan with quality ingredients. Also, I appreciate brandy-soaked cherries.

Pairing Four
This pairing featured the incredible and not at all healthy “Dude’s Magic Bar” (pretzels, chocolate chips, bacon, peanut butter chips, potato chips and dulce de leche)… Bryan’s pick for the best pairing. Bryan loves both peanut butter and being a dude. The Magic Bar was paired with the Granville Island Lion’s Winter Ale, a beer described by Michael as “vanilla-y and special”. (Can I please mention again how much I loved Michael’s enthusiasm for absolutely everything we consumed?) I already like the Lion’s Winter Ale and I loved how the mellow flavours made the Magic Bar seem not quite so terrible for you.

Pairing Five
During this pairing, we received the overview of how to properly taste wine. Unfortunately, by that point, Darci and I had already devoured both our wine and our Bacon Cannoli, so we just kept pretending with empty glasses. We are all class, all the time. The wine, by the way, was the Chateau Trillol from the South of France – a 50% syrah blend with notes of cherry, black currant, raspberry and black & white pepper. Michael described it as a “food-driven” wine with a good acidity to act as a palate cleanser to cleanse away the richness. I bought this wine.

Pairing Six
And finally, the pairing that Darci and I voted as the best pairing – Chocolate Bacon Pull Apart Bread and the Zenato Amarone. I have absolutely no notes about why I loved this pairing so much, but a ton of notes about the wines from the Valpolicella valley of northern Italy. (Only three types of red wine can come from this valley, Amarone is the highest end type.) I think this really exemplifies why I love the Willow Park events – yes, I got to enjoy delicious food and dranks, laugh at some clever humour… but I also gained some very special knowledge about wine that I can maybe use to feel superior in the future.

By the way, red wine should be served at “cellar temperature” (17-18 degrees Celsius) not strict room temperature.

Anyway, the night wrapped with us finishing up any nibbles or dribbles we had left, receiving a coupon for 5% off up in the store and tasting the plum & rootbeer bitters that were used in the Manhattan. (When you taste bitters, you put a drop on the back of your hand. It is still VERY strong. Bryan said we had to taste it for the blog, but I think he just wanted to prove he could do it.)

Close up of Bitters bitters dabbing Bitters Licking

Check out the Willow Park events page for more of their amazing upcoming events – I will be hitting up the Cupcakes Pairing event next… maybe I’ll see you there?!

Paint Nite @ The Station

In my opinion, every neighbourhood needs a solid neighbourhood bar – I think I alluded to this in my first real post, about my work neighbourhood bar. You know what I mean, a casual little bar that you don’t need to dress up to fit in at, that has solid greasy pub food and that is stumbling distance from your house. My neighbourhood has an absolutely rad pub that ticks all these boxes, The Riverbend Station. The Station is a pub that my dad used to hangout at with his friends in the 90s, but it recently came into new ownership, a renovation and began hosting what is, in my opinion, the very best new activity to do while drinking… Paint Nite!

Paint Nite events, taking place at bars across North America, are an event designed to elevate the typical night out and help patrons access their creativity. In Calgary, Paint Nite events take place at a range of bars across all four quadrants and you must buy tickets ahead of time from their website for the date, painting and bar that you love. All of the paintings are originally created by professional artists and the excellent Paint Nite team consists of fun, spunky and talented visual artists who walk you through the process of creating each painting in an easy and accessible way. You are always free to follow their instructions to the T or exercise your own creativity to take your canvas in your own direction. I have been to four Paint Nite events and was crazy impressed by the art I did each time.

My brother’s girlfriend, Darci, and I have been looking for a Paint Nite that we could attend since before Christmas and when a painting featuring a cute little owl popped up at my neighbourhood bar, we jumped all over that. We also brought along her boyfriend/my brother, Bryan, for a little extra colour.

The event started at 7 pm, but, always the anxiety filled perfectionist, I showed up just before 6pm to scope out the best possible table to paint at. (And you know that as soon as we were allowed to reserve our spots, I was all over that!) While waiting for Bryan and Darci to arrive – and pretending I wasn’t just going to jump on reserving spots – I enjoyed a pint of Kokanee Gold, which was on special on Mondays, and a few chapters of Judy Greer’s memoir I Don’t Know What You Know Me From. I love nothing more than a fun memoir when I know I’ll only be able to sneak in a tiny bit of reading. (My mom gave me her old Kobo a year ago and it is the best ever when you’re on the go.)

Beer And Book

I also snuck a look at the menu, but pizza was on special ($10 for a ten inch, $15 for a fifteen inch) so, really, our mind was already made up.

The Station - Menu

Right as Darci and Bryan arrived, our Event Host, Kenzie, popped up a canvas telling us to grab a canvas to reserve a seat… so I sent Bryan over to set up our canvases at the ideal table I had already picked out (close to the host stand, but not right at the front of the room and in the corner enough that I hoped our fourth seat wouldn’t be filled)… isn’t that what brothers are for!?

Save a spot! That's what brothers are for

That’s why we invited him, yo.

We dove on the menu and created the perfect pizza for $15 – ham, chorizo and bacon. When the pizza’s on special, you’ve got to double down on the meats! And in case that wasn’t quite enough for to quench our hunger while in an artistic frenzy, we also added on an order of cod bites. It may not have seemed this way to most, but our food arrived in perfect timing – right as we finished up on the first layer of the painting which meant we could snack while we waited for it to dry!

The First Step
(That hourglass outline will become an owl. Seriously. It’s like paint-by-numbers but more fun and more beautiful.)

Bryan and Darci
Bryan and Darci relaxing with some pizza.

Our pizza's on a chair!
Our server was crazy resourceful and found us an extra bar chair to set our pizza on while we painted away. It seems counter-intuitive to review the pizza that we created ourselves but, trust, it was delicious… lots of toppings, perfectly melty cheese and a great crust that could hold up to all the tops but was also perfectly light.

Cod Bites aka pure deliciousness
This is a terrible representation of the Cod Bites, because we had to tuck them between all our canvases to fit them on the table, but they were definitely the highlight of the night. Lightly breaded with a sriracha-infused coating, they were just crispy and spicy enough to add some kick.

I won’t go too deep into describing the process of creating our paintings – just know that the two hours of instructional time flew by in a haze of mixing colours, dabbing the perfect amount of paint here and there, and jokes from Kenzie. She was also crazy on point when it came to settling our painting insecurities and helping us fix any perceived imperfections. I will share a few of my work in progress pictures, though, along with the final project…

Step Two Step Three

Final Product

Isn’t amazing how even though we were working on the same basic picture, our individual personalities came through anyway!?

If you are looking for a fun night out, I could not more strongly recommend doing a Paint Nite. I am sometimes even tempted to do one alone! (Note that there are almost always discount codes available so you can buy your event tickets for $25. If you are having trouble, email me… and, hey, maybe I’ll just join you! I’ll always take any excuse to paint…)