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.)

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.

Cherry Pit – One Day Juice Cleanse

Juice Cleanse

As those of you who follow me on social media have undoubtably already seen, on Monday I did a petite one day juice cleanse. With the Calgary Stampede looming on the horizon and a booze-soaked girls weekend in Kimberley behind me, it just seemed like a good choice to try to get my system a little bit back in line. (Why yes, we did purchase 11 bottles of wine for three girls. We didn’t drink all of them, though, I swear! Seriously. That sounds like a made up swear, but it’s true! Anyway… moving on…)

In the past, I’ve only done three day cleanses and the one day cleanse was a walk in the park, by comparison. I did take a late night “Barre, Core, Stretch” class at Barre Body Studio on Monday and, though I was a little bit hungry after Lindsay put us through an insane tricep/oblique series, it was so refreshing to know that I had a juice waiting for me at home and even if it didn’t completely quench my hunger it didn’t matter because I got to eat on Tuesday morning. I even did my meal prep for the week on Monday night and my food monster remained in check! So, without further ado – my petite review of my petite cleanse.

Where did my cleanse come from?
Great question! (That I asked myself… maybe I shouldn’t reveal the conceit. Anyway…) In the past, I’ve purchased three day cleanses from an old A Flimsy Plan favourite, Cru Juice, but this time I decided to go for something a little shorter and a little bit cheaper. The one day cleanse from Cherry Pit, located at The Calgary Farmers’ Market fit the bill – super easy to pick up since I was already there and only $40 for one day! Apparently you can also order cleanses ahead of time online by emailing in, but I am clearly far too impetuous for that.

8:00 am – “The Hulk”
Kale, Apple, Celery, Lemon, Ginger

Starting off my day with a glass of hot lemon water and a green juice felt oh-so-virtuous. I really think it set me up with a positive frame of mind for my day. This juice was sweeter than I expected (a nice surprise for a green juice!) and I could definitely sense the celery in the after-taste, though not at all in an unpleasant way.

10:00 am – “Tropical Paradise”
Green apple, Pineapple, Lemon, Mint

A variation of this juice seems to be a standby in most cleanses (Blueprint Cleanse calls it “PAM”, Cru offers the “Pumped Up Kicks” which is similar but includes aloe vera) and with good cause – it’s nice to have something a little bit sweet to help pump up your blood sugar when mid-morning hits and it suddenly becomes very real that you will not be eating today, my friend. My morning at work was quite busy and the juice was sweet enough that I was able to alternate this guy with sips of water and spread it out over about an hour and a half until it was almost time for the next juice!

12:00 pm – “Carrot”
Carrot, Orange, Apple

Again, in the fall, Cru Juice offers a similar carrot juice that I just do not love… their variation includes yam and a few spices that I can’t remember at the moment – so either I really like orange or I really don’t like the spice I can’t remember, because I loved this carrot juice! I also appreciate the vegetable based juices during a cleanse because they seem a little “thicker”, and therefore more filling, which this one definitely did. As a note, I was developing such a headache by this point.

1:30 pm

The headache was still there. Maybe it was a caffeine headache, as I had tried to be good and not have any coffee that morning? Maybe. I drank two cups of David’s Tea’s “Cream of Earl Grey” and it did help some. It was probably a caffeine headache.

3:30 pm – “Heart Beet”
Beet, Carrot, Apple, Ginger, Lemon

Can we talk about how cute the name of this juice is, even if it took me awhile to get it?
I am one of those weirdos who absolutely loves beets, but this was probably my least favourite juice of the cleanse. I know that beet juice is super good for you, but I just couldn’t get on board. Maybe my tastebuds were attuned to the sweet after my previous few juices? Maybe it was because I drank it during that dreaded late afternoon slump? I also drank it about an hour and a half later than the suggested time, so maybe that was a part of it? I’m not sure, but I just knew I couldn’t wait to be done with it.

5:30 pm – “The Popeye”
Spinach, Cucumber, Apple, Pear, Lemon

To be honest, I barely remember drinking this juice. I got home late from work because I had to run a few errands and I downed this guy while meal-prepping. I don’t remember anything distasteful about it and I do remember the cucumber taste being prominent. If you are looking for a standard juice to get a lot of nutrients in for very little work, I think this would do the trick.

9:00 pm – “Wonderwoman”
Watermelon, Pineapple, Coconut Water, Lime, Mint

Like the “Heart Beet”, I drank this juice waaaaay too late (the barre class! I have explained!) but unlike the “Heart Beet”, I loved it! It was like dessert! And it was brilliant, because the coconut water was the perfect thing to restore my water and electrolyte levels after the workout.

Final Thoughts?
I would absolutely do a one day cleanse again. I felt virtuous, I felt energetic, I was proud of myself. I also would probably have a cup of tea in the morning to stave off the headache.

The main difference I felt between the Cru Cleanse and this one, was the lack of a nut mylk included in the cleanse. I usually had the nut mylk after a workout to get some protein/sugar in as a recovery and I may have needed that if I did a more vigorous barre workout or continued the cleanse for longer. Cherry Pit juices are also more pure fruit/veg blends with less additional spices to add flavour.

I will note that I felt awful for much of Tuesday (the day after the cleanse). I went for a walk at lunch and almost passed out. This could have been a cleanse response, but it also could have been because I took an Advil that morning and I very rarely take any type of medication. I think I will have to do another one day cleanse, maybe after Stampede, and see how I feel the day after for comparison.

I loved the price of the Cherry Pit cleanse, I loved that I could purchase a day of juice and still be within my grocery budget for the week with a little clever finagling.

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!

Teatro – Big Taste Calgary

I’ll be the first to admit it, I’ve been pretty glowing in my reviews of the Big Taste restaurants that I’ve gone to. Part of that is because I chose my restaurants pretty carefully, part of that is because I just wouldn’t post about an experience that I didn’t like. I would like this blog to be a positive place for all the exciting/fun/interesting things I do in my life. And also for nonsense. Obviously. All that aside, Teatro really was a highlight of the week – of the year, more likely.

My date for Teatro was my most high-powered, fancy, successful friend who is probably also the smartest person I know – and I neglected to ask her if I could feature her on the blog, so I won’t be calling her by name. She has had a few disappointing Big Taste experiences this year, so we decided to really go for broke, treat ourselves and choose the Gourmet menu. It was the best choice we could have made – everything was delicious, everything was perfectly proportioned to allow us to end the night satisfied but not full, and the service was impeccable. The pacing of the courses was completely on point, our server was so patient when we got busy talking instead of ordering, and she gave incredible recommendations. Teatro may be pricey, but they without a doubt deserve it.

Teatro Cocktails
Our Teatro date was on a Thursday night and, since we both had to work the next day, we declined to go for the wine pairings. (Though, they were exceedingly reasonable at only $30 added to pair wine with five different courses.) We started our night with a cocktail – my date selected the always fabulous Kir Royale while I ordered something delicious with gin that I totally forgot to record the name of. C’est la vie.

Teatro Insalata
First course – the Winter Lyonnaise Insalata which was the perfect start to our night. How can you ever go wrong with a poached egg? Or pancetta? I suspect this was a smaller portion that you would normally get when you order ala carte but, with five courses to follow, it was perfect.

Teatro Salt Cod Risotto
The second course – the pasta course – was the only one where my date and I deviated from ordering the same thing. She loved her dish, but I couldn’t resist the creamy draw of the Salt Cod risotto. I actually saw a gentleman at another table sending his risotto back and I cannot imagine how you could possibly do that – I loved every bite of the mild flavours!

Teatro Eggplant
This Eggplant Parmigiana was actually the dish that tipped us over from getting the 3-course menu to the 5-course menu. Eggplant, tomatoes, cheese – and not just any cheese, but a fior di latte. Yum. This dish is on their regular menu as a Contorni (side dish) and I suspect I would order it again. Maybe just it and a cocktail before a show – is that weird? I’m okay with that…

Teatro Flat Iron Steak
Red meat twice in one week is not usually something that I rock – but when a prix fixe menu has a flat iron steak on it, you pick the flat iron steak. And look at that portion! (There are little potatoes hiding under the steak, but still. It’s a lot. And I didn’t even know that arugula puree was a thing that I loved, but it was definitely a thing that I loved.)

Teatro Panna Cotta
We finished our night with coffees and vanilla panna cotta. The panna cotta was light, the strawberry-rhubarb compote was appropriately tart – dessert was probably my least favourite dish, but it was still absolutely delicious… the rest of the dishes were just so elevated that this was the least of the best. And, honestly, after my week of dining, it was nice to have something light to finish off.

This review is much shorter and less rambly than my previous ones but I just don’t know if I have the words to approximately communicate how incredible the food and the experience really was. I can’t do Teatro all the time, but I am so glad I did it this time and that we went big. Thank you to the smartest person I know for helping me make a smart dining choice and for staying out way too late on a Thursday night, talking life and catching up.

Murietta’s – Big Taste Calgary

In my “About” page, I wrote about how this blog wouldn’t at all be aspirational because, let’s face it, I’m no Cup of Jo or Cupcakes and Cashmere. I don’t live in a major city that people dream of moving to and I certainly don’t have a book deal. I don’t even have a DSLR camera! That being said, my blog so far has mostly been fitness classes, wine tastings and nice dinners out, soooo…

Here’s some real life for you.

Today, I went to grab an English muffin from the fridge (because I am super not a morning person so I have to plan one breakfast for the entire week that I can make in approximately 2.65 minutes). The English muffins were moldy! I only bought them on Saturday! Ugh, what do you even do in that situation? Do I return them? (No, I threw them out when I got home from work.)

Anyway, I am not capable of coming up with a new breakfast plan that I can make in 2.65 minutes on the fly, so I grabbed a McDonald’s coupon out of the recycling bin. Classic money-saving! I probably just should have leaned into the fact that I was doing the McDonald’s thing and gotten something greasy-slash-delicious but I have recently designed the flimsiest of plans which involves a health component so I got the kale feta More-ning wrap. It was okay. The kale was a weird component, I think it was only there to sound fancy. Eh. What can you expect from McDonald’s?

I still have three Big Taste restaurants to talk about (I know, I said two, but if you follow me on Instagram you’ll know I had a surprise dinner out on Saturday as well), so let’s dive into it. Last Wednesday, I spent a lovely evening at Murietta’s Bar and Grill with my very oldest friend, Lynn. (We’ve been kicking it together since junior high school – over 17 years ago now. How old does that make me feel!?)

I’ve been to Murietta’s a few times in the past after other events to take in some live music, so I knew they had a great cocktail list, but I’ve never done food there before. I also didn’t realize that they had a spacious dining room off to the side and just set slightly away from the live music so you can easily chat with your dining companions. Since this was my first time seeing Lynn since her honeymoon in Japan-New Zealand-Australia-etc and my recent change in my living situation, we had a lot to chat about and took about an hour per course!

We specifically chose Murietta’s because it offered options on the menu and, of course, we made a real effort to try all the different things.

Salad

Soup

Course One offered a choice between a garden salad with lemon balsamic dressing or a seasonal soup (in this case a perfectly light tomato-based vegetable soup with lentils). Lynn was kind enough to allow me to take a picture of her salad – we were shocked by how big it was! Generally speaking, Big Taste portions are a little smaller than normal due to the great deal you get on the menu but that was definitely not the case at Murietta’s.

short rib

For Course Two, I selected the Braised Short Rib and Pork Cheek Duo. I do love short rib, like any good resident of Alberta, but I don’t often think to order it so this opportunity was perfect. I’ve never had Pork Cheek before – it was a little rich for me – but the short rib was a perfect compliment to it and I just alternated between the two proteins. Also, there were beets. You can never go wrong with beets. (I paired my dinner with a Mirassou Pinot Grigio with the soup and then the Pinot Noir with the entrée. I am excellent at pairing, apparently.)

Dessert
And, finally, we both wrapped with the Chocolate Devil’s Food Cake with bananas flambé. How can you not!? It was rich, moist and, even though it looks small when plated, it was almost too big to finish. (Actually, I think I finally did have to tap out and just eat the bananas off the second half of my dessert leaving the cake behind.) Of course, we were so busy chatting once again that the waitress was worried we didn’t like it… I promise, we did!

I love the ambiance of the bar side of Murietta’s so much that I suspect that’s where I will be returning to in the future… but I certainly wouldn’t mind a classy little dinner in the dining room first!

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!

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…)