No-Spend April – Week Three

No-Spend Week Three
Week Three

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

The Spends

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

This is literally the opposite of “No Spend”.

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

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

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

The No Spends

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

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

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

The Yoga

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

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!

Nonsense on a March Wednesday

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

fundraiser and trees 010

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

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

Willow Park Crave

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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…)

Theatre Thursday – Calamity Town

Thursday January 28 was an absolutely incredible day. Not just because I took the day off work, so I got to enjoy a leisurely sleep in followed by a morning on the couch with The Girl on the Train and a cup of my favourite “Read My Lips” David’s Tea. (And tried to take a very blogger-tastic picture of myself pouring my tea… go easy on me, I’m new at this whole thing!)

Tea StashPouring Tea I Guess

It wasn’t just because it was not only a typical sunny winter day in Calgary, it was also a warm, sunny winter day in Calgary.

Backyard Sunshine

It wasn’t even because I managed to carve out some time for the trip to Costco that I force myself to take every three months for the essential, super non-perishable bulk products that I crave. Yes, Costco was as crazy busy as always…

Costco Craziness

… and, yes, my shopping cart was a petite bit embarrassing…

Costco Shopping Haul

But, hey, there are some snap peas in there! And I always feel so incredibly productive and grownup when I come home with a full stock of toilet paper and frozen treats. And can we talk about some of the name-brand finds that will pop up at Costco out of nowhere? That day, Cucina (as in the delicious smelling soap that was once carried by the now seemingly non-existent Fruits and Passion) had a consultant on site and small booth set up. I was going to take a picture, but I was worried my excitement might make me look like a creep.

Anyway, why was Thursday so great? Because it was the opening night of Vertigo Mystery Theatre’s Calamity Town and, as a subscriber, I was off to see it with my mother and my brother! (Yes, I am very fancy. Obviously. And this is the reason I have always considered Thursday to be the day for theatre – we’ve been a part of the Thursday opening night crowd since I was in university.)

First, of course, we had to eat! We had a few errands to run before dinner so when the time came to eat, we needed something reasonably quick that would satisfy even my brother Kevin, the king of picky eaters. We briefly considered whipping into a Vietnamese place, but our last errand took us to the Fabricland off of Macleod Trail and once on Macleod, we saw the sign for Open Sesame and our minds were made up!

I absolutely love Open Sesame – it may not be the newest or trendiest of restaurants, but I have so many fond memories of hosting 19th birthday parties in the small raised loft area, having deep conversations in the tent-inspired bar or eating an entire huge dessert each with my dear friend, Claire, after the waiter expressed his uncertainty that we could do it.

Open Sesame Signage

Once we made our way through the elaborate wooden door and down the Arabian Nights-inspired staircase to Open Sesame (going up the stairs takes you to sister restaurant, Bolero, a Brazilian steakhouse), we were greeted by the special of the night – martinis!

Welcome Sign - Martinis!

I briefly considered a martini, but with all of my leisuring, all I had really eaten that day was two eggs on toast and I figured straight gin was perhaps not the best idea I had ever had. I selected a Malbec instead, while Kevin opted for an Aladdin’s Passion fruit shake.

Our Drinks and Chopsticks

Now, Open Sesame offers a range of Asian fusion menu items… but I don’t know that I’ve ever known anyone to order off the menu. The real star of the restaurant – and the whole reason you go there – is for their make-your-own-stirfry bar. You select a protein and a carb off their menu (coconut rice is a delicious and recent addition to the carb list), are brought a bowl and little paper with your selections marked, and then you hit up the veggie and sauce bar to design a delicious bowl of all your favourite things! (Their great chefs do the actual stirring and frying, of course.) I find the easiest way to put it together is throw every single vegetable you like into the bowl and then mix together 4-6 scoops of fish sauce and one of the spicy sauces. Easy-peasy and hits the spot every time… and I almost always have leftovers too!

Empty Bowl

I’m a failure at blogging and only took a before picture. My stirfry was too delicious and I was too excited to remember to snap an after. Just picture calamari and a zillion vegetables over coconut rice.

I was sharp enough to ask my mom to snap a picture of Kevin and I while we anxiously awaited our creations. On the other hand, I forgot that he was wearing the hoodie that reflects light like he is Iron Man, so he somewhat steals the show in our picture. (He’s also obviously very thrilled to be a part of this.)

Me and Kevin at Open Sesame

Once the food arrived, our table fell silent for a good 15 minutes while we eagerly dug in to our delicious meals. In, chat, eat, out… and all in an hour during the dinner time! We grabbed fortune cookies on our way out the door…

Fortune Cookies

… And it was off to Calamity Town!

Calamity Town Program

Opening night is one of the very best times to see theatre, in my opinion. There is such a buzz of excitement in the lobby and it is always thrilling to see the “who’s who” of the Calgary arts scene that comes out for opening. What would a Vertigo play be without Louis B. Hobson’s distinctive laugh following all the best moments? Or Craig Hall’s utterly charming welcome and thank you speech?

This year, Vertigo received an updated liquor license that allows patrons to bring their drinks into the theatre – as long as they are in a plastic glass – which is also all too exciting. No more trying to throw back a glass of wine or entire beer during a 20 minute intermission! (Oh yeah, and there are snacks after the show on Opening Night. Usually involving a cheese tray of some type. I’m not saying it’s the best part of the event, but it just makes a great night all the better. Their caterer rules.)

Back to Calamity Town. A world premiere script, inspired by Ellery Queen’s 1940 novel of the same name. Of course, it is always great to see old favourites including Tyrell Crews, Julie Orton, Jamie Konchak back on the Vertigo stage, but it was also such a delight to see Lindsey Angell back on the Calgary stage after last year’s Liberation Days. However, Christopher Hunt stole the show in his tour de force performance as numerous witnesses during the second act trial scene. (When does Chris Hunt not steal the show, though?… I may be biased. He taught us scenework during our fourth year acting course in university. But he really is so great!)

The greatest part of any mystery is trying to unravel the plot before the characters figure it out, so I won’t give away anything right now. Calamity Town is running at the Playhouse at Vertigo until February 21, 2016 – the theatre is tucked under the Calgary Tower so grab dinner and cocktails at one of the numerous restaurants nearby then enjoy an absolutely incredible night at the theatre. Love it!