Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Fashion for All from Vokt'Nach

I am always excited to learn about new creative ventures and people, in my own city and beyond. Although, particularly in my own city. Luckily there are so many talented artistic people here that there is always something or someone new to check out.

The most recent of these artists that has intrigued me is Victory Okorafor - a local fashion designer who is launching his clothing line, Vokt'nach, this weekend. This is how Victory describes his line in his own words:

"The line is classy and formal, but still appealing to every individual despite their class in society. It will inspire customers to look nice and presentable in their every day lives. The pieces are affordable but designed and made with a mindset to perfection. My goal is to change the perspective people have of the fashion industry, and also to challenge the idea that only the rich can dress nice. My vision is to bring both worlds together and provide a way for everyone to dress with self-satisfaction and confidence, without having to spend a lot."

What has stood out most to me from what I've seen of the line is the wearability of the pieces. You won't find any loud prints or unorthodox shapes in this collection, but a series of simple but tailored items that would be easy for anyone to incorporate into their wardrobe. As someone with a busy lifestyle I appreciate clothes that are versatile (but still cute!).

When asked about what inspires him, Victory says it can be impromptu and come in various ways. "It could be when I am asleep, in the shower, or while at a fabric store. I am inspired by my surroundings, my cherished memories, music, art, nature, culture and religion. I appreciate the little moments in my everyday life."
Here are the details of the Vokt'Nach launch presentation:
The fur stole in this photo looks deliciously warm!
Alas, I am going out of the country and won't be able to attend (*sadface*) but I encourage you to go and admire the clothes for me! Although we have an amazing community of artists here in Halifax, the infrastructure really is not there for them to make a long-term career of it. This makes it all the more important for art-lovers like you and me to support these designers as much as possible. I will be sending Victory some good vibes from the US (although, with a name like that I don't think outside motivation is needed!). 

After all, the art that people like Victory make enriches all of our lives. As this up-and-coming designer states, "I believe style is a way of saying who we are, and we want everyone to have a say fashionably". 

For more information on Vokt'Nach, visit the Facebook and Twitter page or the website.

Update (Oct 22nd, 2013): I received a note from one of the models involved in this show, and I felt his review of his experience with Vokt'Nach was worth sharing. You can read it here. Considering I was not able to attend the show, nor see any of the behind-the-scenes first-hand (and because all of my interactions with Victory were positive), I do not feel I can provide an informed opinion on this matter. That said, I will say that I was disappointed to read this. Also, just to make a general comment without pointing any fingers, I feel it is completely unprofessional to treat people you hire with disrespect and to not compensate them properly. I do not have respect for people that do not give respect to others, especially those that take time out of their life to help you.  

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Driving Fusion

I do not own a car, nor have I ever owned a car. This is purely thanks to lack of budget rather than lack of interest. Believe me, if I could find a way to not rely on Metro Transit to get back and forth to work, I would (YES). Unfortunately, that is not in the cards at this stage in my life so if I want to drive I have to subsist on borrowing cars belonging to others.

This weekend I was lucky enough to test drive a brand new car. Don't get me wrong - my mom's and boyfriend's cars are just fine, but they are not new, nor do they have what I would call "fancy" features. Do I need fancy features? No, of course not. But let's be honest - they are nice to have and it's safe to say I could get used to having them.

I picked up my Ford Fusion at Steele Ford on Friday night and returned it Monday evening so I had lot's of time to get used to it. Over those 3 days, I drove to Dartmouth and back twice (once for some shopping and errands, and once to a friend's house for some evening fun), to the Annapolis Valley for blueberry-picking and sight-seeing, and to work and back on Monday.

There were things I liked about the car, and things I didn't like. Let's start with the things I DID like!

First of all, the colour:

Is it "burgundy" or "eggplant"? Not sure but I love it. Classy but also fun and different (not the usual grey or black).

Second, Sirius Satellite Radio:

Keeping it old school, homies.
Oh Sirius, where have you been all my life! Hundreds of channels are at your fingertips - literally ANY kind of music you could possibly want to listen to is just a dial turn away. Don't want to listen to music? There are tons of talk options, too! I am really moody when it comes to music (I change my mind daily, even hourly, about what I want to listen to) so having endless options is just perfect. I could browse through the stations all day long. Perfect for a road trip (I should know, we went on one!).

I'm also a fan of the back-up camera.

I always thought these things were kind of hokey - another excuse to be lazy (God forbid I have to turn my head/upper body around!). However, I found it did actually make backing up the car easier - not only because you can see behind you, but you can also better see the sides and front, which increases your chances of seeing other cars and/or people in your path. It beeps at you manically if you get too close to anything on any side, which is a tad annoying in the moment, but a good safety feature, especially when you are trying to park. I really liked the computer screen in general and the fact that you can control everything from here (climate, entertainment, navigation).

Heated seats. Oh yeah.

I liked the easy controls to move the seat up, down and forward. I am really short (barely 5 feet tall) so I have to sit up pretty close to the pedals to be able to drive properly. In my mom's and boyfriend's cars I have to lean far down, practically with my head under the steering wheel to yank up a handle and then use my legs to hitch the seat forward. In the Fusion, all I had to do was touch the buttons on the side and the seat moved itself. So much easier and less awkward! The seat even automatically moves back when you turn off the car so that you don't have to adjust again before getting out. I also liked all the compartments and cup-holders inside - I am a bit of a pack-mule so I like having lots of places to put things.

A few of the things I didn't like were - the curvature of the seats (I found it curved back too far in the middle and forward too far at the top, sort of forcing me to slouch), the GPS was not very user-friendly (it was really difficult to find landmarks - when you do a search by name, for some reason it assumes what you are looking for and "blocks out" certain letters (?). It was difficult to search for places and so we ended up not using it), and the trunk is almost too large (although I like how deep it is, it makes the back end of the car large/long and the back window smaller. Fine, just not ideal for me). 

Finally, it was hard to tell only having it for a few days, but I'm not quite sure it is the cheapest in terms of gas - I used approx. 1/2 of a tank over the 3 days and $30 did not quite top that back up. I found this a tad pricey (usually $20 fills my mom's tank over 1/2 way and I can sometimes go a week before refilling again). But again, there are lots of factors at play here, so I think I would really have to drive it more to get a better sense of the mileage.

All in all, I would seriously consider buying a Ford Fusion...if I had the money to buy a car. Someday, I'm sure :)

Thank you SO much to National PR and Steele Ford for this opportunity!

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Big Day Downtown #4: Pick a Card, Any Card (Part 2)

So, you already read about my "inspirational" experience, now it's time to recount what I chose for "social" and "dramatic".

For me, socializing usually involves great food and drinks. I love to go out for snacks and cocktails with friends and family whenever possible. However, since I was trying to push the envelope a bit for BDDT, I didn't want to just go out to eat. I wanted to do something a little different.

I have been hearing a lot of great things about Local Tasting Tours, so decided this would be a great "social" outing. Owner Emily Forrest runs several tours, but considering our theme we chose the Sunday afternoon "Downtown Halifax Food Tour". Well, we met up with Emily outside the Seaport Farmer's Market and it turns out we were the only ones who booked that day! Ergo? Private food tour! Just me, the boy and Emily. I was excited - this meant we could really get up-close with the tastings and ask whatever questions we wanted! Huzzah!

We sampled organic greens and baguette at Selwood Green/Norbert's in the market, rum cake at Rum Runners, chocolate at Sugah, olive oil, spices and New York-style bagels at the old brewery market, corn chowder and biscuits at Chives, shwarma at Mezza Lebanese Kitchen, spicy salsa at Burrito Jax and an iced chai latte at World Tea House!

Needless to say I was stuffed by the end of this tour! I was pleasantly surprised by the size of the samplings - some were quite large! And everything tasted really fresh. We went back after and bought a Garrison Brew Bar (dark chocolate with Garrison brewing malts - yum!) at Sugah, two rum cakes (whiskey for me, traditional rum for him) plus a pint glass at Rum Runners.

I was impressed with Emily's local food knowledge and organization - you can tell she prepares a lot before a tour and has taken time to develop relationships with each vendor. They were all ready for us at every place we stopped, and some even gave us the VIP treatment, including Chives - who opened their doors JUST for us (they weren't opening for dinner for a couple of hours!). At World Tea House, Phil, the owner, not only made our drinks personally but he also sat down with us to talk about his business and answer questions. During the tour, Emily stopped periodically to talk a little about the history of the street, and the specific business we were visiting next, so we were filling our brains as well as our bellies! Definitely recommended!

After finishing our tour, I headed down the hill to Little Mysteries on Barrington St for the "dramatic" part of my BDDT - a personal tarot card reading! I have visited psychics before (one in particular, Edna Aker, is quite incredible - seriously, look her up), but I've never had a tarot reading done. I thought this would be a fun and different dramatic experience, and less regretful than dying my hair orange.

I was paired with Amanda, who was very warm and open. She let me ask all the questions I wanted and took time to explain each card's meaning and how it related to what I wanted to know. My cards basically said that I am in a good place in my life at the moment, I have resolved a lot of issues and past hurts, and although I am not quite where I want to be, I am embracing opportunities to connect with my passions. The energy is there for new opportunities to come along, she said. She warned me against neglecting relationships with loved ones, feeling guilty for not being able to do everything, and internalizing emotions or acting out of emotion. She also saw new people entering my family and an emotional upheaval of some kind in the near future, but indicated that I have the tools to be able to deal with this, I just need to use them.

All in all, it was a neat experience! I enjoyed browsing the store as well - it's not as intimidating as you might think for a spiritual novice. The staff are really friendly and helpful and you can buy a lot more than spell books - they carry beautiful jewelry and great books and products (candles, balms, etc) that promote natural healing, stress relief and generally bringing positive energy and mindfulness to your life. There is something for everyone here, not just wiccans!


So, that is all for my inspirational, social and dramatic Big Day Downtown! Guess what?! You can have the chance to enjoy your own Big Day because the Downtown Halifax Business Commission is giving away $100 Visa cards every day for three weeks! Check out the details here.

Thank you SO much DHBC for allowing me to explore downtown again this year!!

Big Day Downtown #4: Pick a Card, Any Card (Part 1)

It's the most wonderful time of the year again - no, I don't mean back-to-school or Christmas. I mean, Big Day Downtown time - YAY! 

This is my 4th year participating (you can read up on past year's here, here and here), and I think this year was the most fun yet - we were given a stack of cards and we had to randomly choose any 3 and base our experiences around them.

I ended up with:

A very cool twist, but I have to say, I had trouble finalizing my plans! I had ideas, but I really wanted to do things I hadn't done before, visit new places and try new things rather than go with the tried-and-true. Might as well make the most of the experience, right?

I decided to plan one activity related to each word. First up is "Inspirational".

A place I am inspired by but have never visited is Pier 21 Museum of Immigration. What is more inspiring than people starting a whole new life in a foreign country? Over 1 million people came through here to rewrite their life stories, and many left loved ones behind in the process. Sacrificing everything safe and familiar in order to build a better life for yourself is an incredibly brave thing and I have a lot of respect for it.

Our visit started with a film that gave us some history about the museum throughout the decades and outlined some stories from specific immigrant families and their experience entering Canada. There were couples with children from Eastern Europe and Italy, English war brides, many of whom hadn't seen their Canadian husbands in over a year, orphaned children from Europe, and wounded war veterans returning home.

I was surprised to learn that the Pier was not only an entry point for immigrants to Canada, but also the main deployment site for troops heading over to Europe for the World Wars. Coincidentally, the Amazing Race Canada teams visited the museum on this week's episode (did you watch?).

After the film, I loved reading all of the old travel documents displayed throughout the main museum- passports, medical records, luggage tags and even menus, etc, from the ships the immigrants would have arrived here on. I also loved the stacks of vintage suitcases covered with worn labels and painted on numbers. Walking through, I felt what the place must have been like 50-100 years ago when it was teeming with men, women and children, waiting and hoping.

The museum is currently open 9:30am-5:30pm, and admission is very reasonable (only $7.80 for an adult). They also have a small shop with some great handmade items from around the world.

I say this often, but I feel pretty lucky to live in Canada. We aren't perfect, but every time I take a trip, I am happy to come home to a place where I have the freedom to live the life that I want. Not everyone is so lucky and my outing to Pier 21 reminded me of that.

Next, it's time for Part 2 - Social and Dramatic!

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

White Sails

I am always on the look-out for new places to eat and drink. Places I have never visited - it is rare for my boyfriend and I to frequent the same place more than once (although we do have a few tried-and-true's). I have a mental list of places that I hear about and would like to visit sometime, and it only seems to get longer by the week (why this list is in my head and not on paper, I couldn't tell you).

I visited a new place I discovered through Facebook this past weekend - White Sails Bakery and Deli on Peggy's Cove Road:

It's hard to miss, that's for sure! Not just because of the vibrant stripes, but also because the parking lot is almost always packed with cars and motorcycles. They certainly picked a great spot for the place - directly on a main thoroughfare to one of the most iconic and visited landmarks in Nova Scotia (the Peggy's Cove lighthouse). And check out the view:

Another smart thing they did was install a speaker outside, so that you can hear your order called even though you are sitting outside staring over the water! Because, I mean, where else would you be sitting, really?

I was surprised to see that they offer more than just sandwiches and baked goods - you can get a great hot lunch here, including a delicious burger and poutine. The boy and I had their daily special, a peanut butter burger, loaded with toppings and condiments. $6.50 may seem a little steep for a burger but it was so filling I didn't need anything else. We didn't get a chance to try any baked goods on this visit for that reason, but don't worry, we will be back for our sweet fix.

I was disappointed to see that there were no mango and coconut biscuits left because those sounded amazing - I have a feeling you need to get here early in the day to get the fresh stuff! However, they did have some yummy-looking donuts, oatcakes, cookies and pies for the tasting. They also offer lattes and caps and coffee if you're looking for a hit of caffeine with your sweet snack.

White Sails - carry me away to my happy place.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Doors Open Halifax

Hot on the heels of my Open City adventure, I'm hoping to take in another cool, upcoming event that promises to 'open' up Halifax, specifically the secret parts that most of us would never normally get to see.

Doors Open Halifax is taking place this Saturday and Sunday (June 8th & 9th) and the idea is that buildings of some significance (either historical, architectural or cultural) will open their doors and invite the public to explore - for free! This is an even that actually takes place in cities all over the world (the first one was in Glasgow, Scotland in 1990) but this is the first year for it in Halifax.

Many of the venues are buildings that many of us probably walk or drive by on a regular basis but have never actually been inside - some may have NEVER been explored by the public before!
Some of the buildings will feature tours of special areas not normally accessible and special exhibits.

For example, the Royal Suite on the 2nd floor of Government House, where the Queen stays when visiting Halifax, will be open to the public for the first time since the renos were completed. How cool would it be to stand in the Queen's Halifax bedroom?!

Alas, I am hosting a bachelorette party for one of my bff's this weekend and therefore will not have much time to explore, but I'm hoping to at least get to one or two places on Sunday.

One venue that caught my eye was the Keith's Brewery. I'm sorry to say I have lived in Halifax pretty much my whole life and have never visited this local institution. I have always wanted to but have never had the opportunity - until now. For OD, Brewery is open for FREE self-guided tours between 10am-4pm! They will have their usual actors in period costume hanging around, but you are free to wander as you wish. What a neat way to see a building I have always wondered about...I love to wander and quietly absorb things so this is perfect for me...oh and the no cost thing doesn't hurt either (an adult tour of the brewery normally costs $16.95).

Other venues I'm hoping to check out are the new King's Wharf development (think waterfront luxury with an unparalleled view of the Halifax harbour skyline - my only chance to see inside the penthouse, or any unit, since I will never have enough money to actually LIVE here!), and the new  Central Library (currently under construction), where they are having an "Around the Block in 264 Years" tour, showing findings from the archaeological dig of the site, and a 3D Virtual Tour of the completed library. This new library is easily the most exciting development currently underway in our city, so I would love the opportunity to see it 'before' completion then compare it after.

I wish I had more time to explore all the buildings, but the timing just didn't work out. If I do get out and do some exploring, I will be sure to report back! And that doesn't stop you from getting out and enjoying the event - consider playing "VIP" this weekend and heading out to see inside the secret and significant buildings that surround you every day. You never know, you may learn something new, and this should always be encouraged :) 

Check out the Open Doors Halifax Facebook and Twitter page for all the details!

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Munchies, Music & Mental Health

I am not one of those people who buy birthday gifts super-early. You know the ones - they shop throughout the year and whenever they see something that is perfect for a friend or family member, they buy it and stow it away for 6 months until the actual occasion.  Nuh-uh. I clue in a couple of weeks before and look for something then.

I made an exception recently, however, because I did happen to stumble upon that perfect thing that I knew a friend of mine would love. Although I bought it for my friend, once I got it home and flipped through it, I fell in love with it for ME too, and went back and bought one for myself later.

This item is the cookbook pictured above - it's titled "Musicians, Memories & Morsels" and it was compiled by Halifax musician and music executive, Lana Grant. Not only does the book have super-cute retro graphics, yummy recipes contributed by some of the most well-known and loved Maritime musicians, but it is also a fundraiser for mental health charities.

Mental health is an issue that is close to the hearts of most, me included. I don't like to talk about it, but I struggled with depression in high school and actually attempted suicide. I still struggle with anxiety issues and people close to me also suffer from similar disorders as well as more serious ones, such as schizophrenia. I know what it's like to want help but not know how to ask for it. I know what it's like to feel alone and isolated, or like there is something "wrong" with you.

I feel like there is more and more dialogue around these issues every year and people are becoming more open to talking about it, but in general these issues do not get the attention they deserve. Many, like me, are reluctant to discuss their issues or reach out for help and even if they wish to reach out, they are unsure where to go. Overall, mental health is still considered an awkward, dark and "touchy" issue.

But this book is the opposite of that -  it is colorful, fun and creative. I like that. I applaud Lana's niece for sharing her story about living with bi-polar disorder, and I applaud Lana for putting together this book to honor that and to raise much-needed awareness and funds in a bright and open way.

I just love the names of the sections - so creative!
I haven't cooked anything from the book yet, but I hope to very soon. I can't wait! I also can't wait for my friend to open hers - I just KNOW she will love it, too!

Even if you don't care about supporting local charities, I would encourage you to run out and pick up this book as well (it's available at Chapters!!). Even if you don't care about supporting local music, you will at least appreciate the book for it's easy and tasty recipes! And, heck, even if you don't care about tasty food, it will give you something pretty to look at, and who can argue with that.

But I know none of you are so low that you don't care about helping people in your community - that's one of the great things about Halifax - people here care about each other. This book is proof of that.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Boston Strong

Unless you have been living under a rock, you heard about the horrible bombings at the Boston Marathon last week and likely were following the manhunt for the two suspects.

In what may be a case of the worst timing ever, the boy and I had a vacation pre-scheduled in Boston for last week and we had the extra bad luck of booking a hotel in Watertown - scene of the suspect standoff and eventual capture. Our hotel was, in fact, less than 1/2 mile away from where the suspect was found in the backyard boat, so subsequently we were locked down for most of the day Friday and entertained by a constant symphony of sirens and helicopter noise, tv news vans and reporters outside. Since we only had barely two days in Boston anyway, this meant that over half of our vacation was lost and we came home in a bit of a haze, both from the insanity of the events we witnessed and were smack-dab in the middle of, and due to the fact that most of the previous 4 days were spent either driving or watching the news.

Yes, I am complaining - it sucked! But that's not the point of this post. The point is the experience oddly made me love Boston even more.

This was my third visit to the city. Before this, I could tell you that I loved Boston but could not necessarily pinpoint the exact reasons why. Sure, there is undeniably great history and architecture, parks and museums, restaurants and shopping. In a way, the city reminds me of a large-scale version of my hometown of Halifax - a city with the down-to-earthiness of a small town, a working class/sea-faring past and the character that comes along with that.

However, now I understand. It's the people that make this city great. They are warm and welcoming and will talk to you as if you're an old friend even if it's your first conversation. Many would take the clothes off their back and give them to you if you really needed them. They are there for each other and value hard work. At the same time, they have an edge - they are a down-home, potty-mouthed, hard-drinking lot who, basically, don't take shit (I mean this with love).

Both sides of this mixed character were highlighted during the hysteria of the bombings and the aftermath. The selflessness, support, and strength of the citizens warmed my heart - countless people organized donations and events to show solidarity to the victims and their loved ones, to say 'we are with you and you are in our prayers'. Then the tenacity and ruthlessness that was displayed during the hunt for the suspects left me in awe and made me want to pump my fist in the air and say, 'yeah! You go!'. They were not going to let these men get away with this and I loved that commitment. I loved the fact that they did not 'fuck around' but that they did so in a way that put the safety and well-being of everyone in the city first and foremost.

It's that mix - the hard and soft, the tough and loving - that makes the people of Boston great. Sure, our vacation was kind of ruined, but I never once felt concerned for my safety or that the situation was not under control. Did I hate being cooped up in our hotel room all day and having to miss the Red Sox game (which was scheduled for Friday but subsequently postponed)? Of course! But I appreciated the care and precautions taken. I felt comforted that the job would get done and done right.

There are so many things being written about these incidents - so many opinions and analyses floating around out there, and I don't want to add to that pile. Honestly, I kind of just want to move on from this, as I am sure we all do (although I should reiterate that 'move on' does not mean 'forget'). I just felt compelled, in my own small way, to thank the people of Boston for being, well, them. For being strong and loving and, in true Boston fashion, giving the finger to those that tried to ruin their lives.

Thank you for making great what little vacation we ended up having.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Gigantick Laughs and Heart at Zuppa Theatre

Pictured: Susan Leblanc-Crawford and Stewart Legere
Friday night was my first Zuppa Theatre experience, and I have to be honest, I wasn't sure what to expect. Even for an arts aficionado such as myself, "theatre" can be a bit intimidating, especially going to see a "play" rather than, say, a popular musical. There is an implication that the experience is going to be very intellectual, maybe even so deep that you will walk out of the theatre unable to process what you just saw. 

This was not the case for me after seeing "The Attaining Gigantick Dimensions". I walked out with a smile on my face and a comfort that none of us are alone in our experiences.

The title of this play is appropriate because it deals with a lot of big subjects - death, grief, trauma, separation, isolation, love. But it is also an oxymoron because the play deals with tiny things, too; i.e. the little moments that make up the majority of most of our lives - the conversations with friends, the house parties, the spontaneous day trips. The characters in the play deal with all of these things - big and small - all at once, separately and together. And like all of us, they deal with them as best they can - on their own and together.

Each of the actors held my attention for different reasons - Stewart Legere (Martin) for his endearing awkward immaturity; Susan Leblanc-Crawford (Alice) for her protective yet snarky big sister vibe; Ben Stone (Frances) for his unassuming air punctuated with inner sadness; and Katie Dorian (Robin) for her vivacious energy. I enjoyed watching each and every one of them and was glad to see that they each got their moment to shine. Surprisingly, the dialogue of the play was really funny - the characters had me laughing out loud at their various one-liners.

My favourite part of the show, however, was how the story was told. The miniature buildings and their interchangeable roles created an amazing dynamic and made the props almost like cast members in their own right. It was so creative to use them not only as set pieces, but as containers and hiding places for the cast, as well as a backdrop for the various projections, including moving people, photos and video of the cast members own faces. There was always something to look at it, always something happening but it didn't take away from the story or the dialogue - it all moved together seamlessly. I was amazed at the energy and fitness of the actors in that they were on the stage for the entire two hours, always participating, and that they could scrunch themselves up into various positions!

The sounds were as incredible as the sets - the scenes where the 'gang' visits Peggy's Cove and the soundtrack of waves crashing and wind screeching made me feel like I was actually standing out there myself. The sounds were a bit TOO loud at times, making it hard to follow the words of the cast, but I love how they completely filled up the entire room and enveloped me.

As someone who has lost loved ones to sudden death, I could relate to the feelings of grief and sadness that Frances and Alice felt about their father. At one point, Alice says something about the silver lining being that they have time to say goodbye and process his death, and this really spoke to me because agree completely. And I agree because I know what it's like to lose someone and not have that chance. To be left with questions and loose ends untied. That made the play all the more profound for me.

We all go through things - gigantic and miniscule - but that's the point - that we ALL go through them. The good thing is that when we do, we have laughter and the support of friends and family to help us get through another day. We are not alone in the world.

*Added note-Apr16th: Wondering where the 'unique' name of the play came from? Well, according to the Zuppa Facebook page, "...the title The Attaining Gigantick Dimensions comes from a list by scientist/alchemist Robert Boyle, in the 1660s, of the most pressing problems for scientists to tackle." Hmm, neat! As my boyfriend would say, "the more you know"*

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Burger Bonanza

There has been quite the case of "Burger Fever" here in Halifax this past year, with a gourmet burger joint opening (it seems) every other week in various neighborhoods and enthusiasts endlessly comparing the pros and cons of each.

The Coast, in all their awesome genius-ness, decided to get in on the hype by making March 21st to 27th "Burger Week"! A whole week dedicated to eating burgers? Pretty sure this is the best idea ever (next to the hairdryer, of course). They also offered a prize of a Big Green Egg smoker/grill for anyone who visited a minimum of 3 establishments, so the boy and I promptly grabbed our passports, picked our Top 3 and spent the week trying them all out.

We decided to try 3 places we had never visited before, so this was an excuse to not only eat delicious burgers but to visit a few restos I have been meaning to get to for a while! Win-win!

1. Bearly's House of Blues, Burgers and Ribs

All photos by me
This place was PACKED when we arrived and we only got a table within 10 minutes out of sheer luck. Clearly this is a popular place on Friday and Saturday nights. I can see why, since it has a casual laid back vibe and low prices. The Bearly's Burger was one of the $5 ones from The Coast list - that's $5, TAXES IN, y'all. The price was great for the amount of food - this plate was HUGE. And the burger had some great toppings, including onion rings and house-made salsa.

Unfortunately, our service left some things to be desired, but I'm willing to cut them some slack since they were really busy. And the important thing is that the burger was delicious! Next time I hope to catch some of the great blues music they are known for.

2. Tempo Food + Drink
This is a brand new restaurant that I had heard good reviews for, so I was probably anticipating this visit the most. It just looks like such a cool, funky place through those big, open windows on Barrington Street - like a place that has interesting cocktails and takes on food. This burger was one of the most delicious-sounding on the menu, with its smoked ketchup, fried onions, candied bacon (candy and bacon in ONE?!), and tempura pickle! Who could resist all that fat and grease?!

The burger was quite tasty, although all the tempura promptly came off my pickle the minute I bit into it, which was disappointing. The prices here are also a tad higher, so it's not a place I could afford to frequent often (most dishes and drinks are around the $15 mark). The two cocktails I had were good though, particularly the "Chant", aka. lemon vodka, lemon gemello, blueberry liqueur, rhubarb
bitters, sour, pineapple. I think it's really cute that their drinks all have musical names, since I'm a music geek and all.

My favourite thing about this place is the atmosphere - the decor has a real modern, sleek feel to it with a touch of down-to-earth comfort (long cafeteria-esque counter in front of the kitchen, chalkboard special listings). They had a great-looking "lounge" area with candles and comfy chairs that looks like a great place to sit and sip a drink and talk with a friend. Will keep this spot in mind for just such a future visit!

3. Finbar's Irish Pub
This being a suburban pub, we weren't sure what to expect, but we liked it very much! It's just your basic Irish-style pub, not really anything special but the burger we had here was probably the most unique of the 3. This patty was lamb instead of beef and had a delicious sweet Guinness glaze on top, which I really enjoyed. The service here was great - all the waitresses are really friendly and helpful. Ours helped the boy pick out a beer to compliment his burger when he wasn't sure what to have, and he's a bit of a beer snob so if he's impressed with your pick, you have done something right!

Thanks to The Coast for putting on such a delicious promotion - it made our tummies very happy and also got us out to try some new places, which we are always up for! It seemed like this promotion was very popular and well-received, so hopefully this means there will be more. May I suggest something dessert-related?

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Food Fantasy

Three of my favourite things are food, exploring and walking so I was really excited to head out on the Local Connections North End Fantasy Food Tour on Saturday. I was extra happy because two biz's were featured on the tour that I have been meaning to visit for a long time - Ace Burger Co and DeeDee's.

I lived in the North End for close to 4 years. I had an apartment I loved and it was my first apartment so you can imagine the plethora of memories and emotions that I had tied up in it. When my bf and I decided to shack up we picked suburban Clayton Park to hang our hats, sacrificing character and centrality to get more for our money. I'm happy with that decision, but I sure do miss the NE. I miss being able to walk everywhere, particularly all the wickedly creative small businesses that have cropped up in recent years.

Ah well, perhaps I will move back someday but in the meantime I have to be contented with driving my butt down here to enjoy it. The important thing though, of course, is enjoying it and we sure did on this tour!

One of my favourite NE spots is the Brooklyn Warehouse. I could walk here in 10 minutes from my old apartment, which was dangerous both for my waistline and my wallet. I think George Christakos and gang are doing awesome things for the food culture in Halifax, so when I heard they opened a new establishment, I couldn't wait to try it out.

Gus' Pub was packed to the rafters when we arrived, which meant we had to stand and wait for a table for about 15 minutes. We didn't mind though - we grabbed our Pop Shoppe sodas (the black cherry was delish!), bobbed our heads to the band and chatted up a few other waiting patrons. Clearly this place is popular! The food was worth the wait, though - our Classic and Lamb burgers were both packed with flavour and super-fresh toppings.

The prices are very reasonable, too - about 7 or 8 bucks for most patties and you pay additional for a side but fries are only $3.50 and tax is included in all prices. Warning: They only take cash, but there is an ATM on site.

Sidenote: They had a stack of their "Big F'n Cookies" on the counter when we were ordering and I wanted one sooooo bad! They are half-dipped in chocolate and...well, F'N big! Seriously, the size of my head (and that's saying something). Maybe next time...

Next the group trooped down to Dee Dee's Ice Cream.

I was expecting a treat but not one quite as awesome as we got. Not only did they have special "tasting" options ready for everyone but they had Jim the owner of Java Blend Coffee (another NE fav of mine) making espressos and caps for everyone! For ice cream, everyone had a choice between 3 fruit flavours and 3 sweet (i.e. caramel, chocolate, almond). I, of course, chose the chocolate option and was completely happy with my choice.

First of all, look at the beautiful presentation:

Photo by Me
That pink spiral on the centre one? That's edible! And the third ice cream selection (far right) is a chocolate stout flavour (as in beer), believe it or not. I was not sure what to expect in terms of flavour but I actually didn't mind it! Everything tasted so fresh and had such a great texture - you can tell they make everything with good quality ingredients and a lot of passion. We received a lot of personal attention on our visit and were invited to sample as much ice cream and coffee as we wanted.

My lovely Java Blend espresso finished off my meal nicely. Sidenote: Java Blend was established in 1938! I had no idea it had been around so long!

Photo by Me (the cup looks giant but it's actually quite tiny :)
The tickets for this event were $17, and I definitely think we got a great deal. I may not be able to get much apartment for my money in the North End, but I KNOW I can get great food, drinks and service and that is a suitable substitute :)

Friday, March 8, 2013

The Glace Bay Miners' Museum

Last week I had the pleasure of attending the opening night of the Neptune play, "The Glace Bay Miners' Museum" (missed my review of "Bingo!"? Check it out here).

I went into this play a tad 'blind' - I knew it was the story of a woman living in Cape Breton who falls in love with a man named Neil Currie. I knew that the story was also covered in the mid-90's movie, Margaret's Museum, but have never actually gotten around to seeing the movie or reading much about it. That is basically ALL I knew when I sat in my theatre seat to enjoy the production. In the end, I was actually glad that I went in with few expectations and no knowledge of what was to come - it certainly made the last part of the 2nd act a shocker for me!

(I don't want to give away too much of the plot, in case there are others out there like (past) me who are not aware of it, but suffice to say there is a dark twist that makes the title of the play all make sense!)

What I do want to impart, however, is how much I enjoyed this production. Although the story of Margaret and her family is rather grim overall, I found myself smiling and laughing a lot throughout. Not to mention the actors were all fabulous in their roles.

Francine Deschepper was a lovely mix of sweet and sassy as Margaret. I found her slight quirkiness, social awkwardness, big heart and sharp tongue to be very endearing. She was an interesting mix of childlike innocence and cynical adult, and she really portrayed the sense that she loved her home but at the same time wanted to break out of it and see and do more.

I could hardly take my eyes off Gil Garratt, who played Neil Currie, throughout the production. There was a ton of chemistry between him and Deschepper and their love story warmed my heart. And how many talents can one person have?! As Neil, he plays bagpipes and violin and sings beautifully (in gaelic, no less). He is somebody who is completely himself and doesn't care what anyone has to say about it. I would challenge anyone to not listen and be inspired by his passion when the fire of injustice ignites within him and he espouses his opinions.

Martha Irving infuses Margaret's mother with a great booming voice and a cantankerousness that belies the hardship she has endured in life. You get the sense that she carries a lot of anger, yes, but a lot of pain and regret behind it. And I think Grandpa made the audience laugh the most out of any character, and he did so without saying any words!

I loved the set - and I mean "set", singular (there is only one). I thought the use of a single set made sure that you focused directly on the characters and their nuances, no distractions. The space was used very creatively as well, with the haphazard wooden steps and platforms serving as the family's home, the wharf, a cliffside field and a diner.

The giant looming house silhouetted against the sky was gorgeous - the light coming through the windows, shining through sparkly fabric, gave the structure a dreamlike and slightly ominous feel at the same time. Considering the titular museum is housed inside this house, it makes sense that the set would impart this mix of feelings!

I am always impressed with Neptune's productions and I always leave with a feeling of warmth and a racing mind and this play was no exception! Visit the Glace Bay Miner's Museum today if you can!

Monday, February 25, 2013

Make It Up To Me

I have a strange relationship with makeup. On the one hand, I love trying new products, I completely geek out at Sephora over pretty packaging, scents and colours, and I consider at least basic makeup a must-have when going out in public (if I want to look alive, that is). On the OTHER hand, I abhor anything high maintenance and spending an hour "primping" every morning (no one's got time for that!), and I don't like to wear lots of makeup or LOOK like I'm wearing lots.

I have developed a pretty standard beauty routine that works for me and that easily fits into my lifestyle. I have a few go-to products that I use daily to get the "look" that I want. It's nothing amazing (again: low maintenance is my game when it comes right down to it) but it works for me! I thought it would be fun to share some of these current make-up must-have's with you!

I say "current" because I'm generally a fickle person who bores easily with the same routine and changes things up regularly. I'm sure this routine may change down the road, but for now these are the tools I am loving right now:

1. Liquid eye-liner

This was always a product that scared the bejeesus out of me. It seemed far too complicated for a plebeian like me to use. Makeup artists, yes. Me at home in my bathroom with shaky hands? Not so much. But I took a leap and bought some one day and surprisingly it wasn't so hard to apply after all! Once I used it a few times, it didn't seem intimidating anymore. Practice makes perfect, as with most things.

You do need a steady hand to apply, but I always start small and add from there - start with a very thin line and add colour to thicken as needed. I love that I can control the drama of the line (thick or thin) and add tiny flourishes, such as a cat eye, if I'm in the mood for something a bit more fun. My FAVOURITE part about it is that it lasts ALL DAY. Seriously, after 8 hours, it still looks the same as when I applied it at 7am. I have oily skin so eyeliner and shadow, etc, tends to melt off by the end of the day, but not-so for liquid liner! It's great for a day when you have to rush somewhere after work and don't have time to touch up. And just sweeping a line of this on only takes a few minutes but has big impact - my eyes look super awake and the liner also accentuates my eye shape.

A brand I have been using and enjoy is the Sephora brand. I currently have glitter black, which I know sounds tacky but the glitter is so subtle you don't even notice it. Appropriate for work, believe it or not! At $12 for a tiny tube, it seems a bit expensive, but the tubes usually last me several months, and that's using them (almost) every day. I also bought a Maybelline version in brown recently that I am enjoying (I tend to stick to black or brown), although this version is waterproof and I am learning it can be tough to take off (even when it comes off, it tends to be in flakes, so make sure you rinse your eyes out after removing).

2. Mascara and eyelash curler

These two combined are an absolute MUST for me. I have strange eyelashes - they are super long but not super thick, and they are as straight as a pin (like my hair). If I don't curl them it doesn't even look like I have lashes. On top of all this, I wear glasses, so using lengthening mascara on my already super-long lashes just results in said lashes pressing up against my lenses! Alas, not wearing any eye makeup is not an option for me - I have wide lids so if they are bare my eyes look very tired and droopy - so trying to find a mascara that thickens and curls without lengthening too much or making the hairs look "spidery" (you know what I mean, ladies) is tough.

My current fav mascara is Too Faced Lash Injection. It really thickens without lengthening, which amazes me, plus (oddly enough) it has a nice, slightly floral scent! To my major disappointment, the last time I stopped by Sephora to stock up, they were out (!!) so I bought the Lashgasm style instead and I'm not as much of a fan. This one definitely gives me the "spidery" look. Dislike. Will definitely go back to my tried-and-true next time.

I don't really prefer a particular eyelash curler - to me they are all basically the same. Mine is Revlon and I have had it forever and it gets the job done. Even if I don't have time or energy to put mascara on, I try to at least take 2 minutes to give my lashes a little curl - that way I at least look slightly less zombie-esque.

3. Translucent Face Powder

As mentioned, I have oily skin and I find the best remedy for this is loose powder. I don't use as much in the winter because my skin is generally drier, but in summer I take time to sweep this on every day, particularly on the t-zone. Translucent feels lighter and looks more natural than coloured powders, so that is generally my preference (those coloured powders can be really tough to match exactly to your skin tone and if they don't exactly match you can easily look clownish).

I'm currently using Marcelle and I really like it. It's a great value since the large container will likely last you at least a year. That being said, in my experience, face powder/foundation are things that are worth splurging a bit on (you really get what you pay for).

So, that is basically it! If I only have 5 minutes in the morning (which is most mornings), I try and at least get the first two products in there. If I have a few extra minutes, I will sometimes put on a bit of bronzer, maybe a touch of eye shadow, or even concealer if I have a problem spot I want to hide. But generally, this is my routine. As long as I have something on my lids, soak up the oil on my face and give my lashes a bit of curl, I go out into the world feeling good.

What about you - what are your makeup must-have's? Or, if you don't wear makeup, what is your general beauty routine? What steps do you have to take to feel ready for the day?

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

I've Got Events To Keep Me Warm

Have I mentioned that I hate winter? Well, I do. And February has got to be the worst month of the year in Nova Scotia. It's long enough after Christmas break that the holiday seems like a distant memory, far enough away from Spring and the next long weekend that the days seem to drag on. AND, as if that was not bad enough, we seem to get most of our snow in February - big storms interspersed with warmer, wet days, resulting in a whole lot of dirty slush all over town. You can see why one would become hateful and depressed at such a time!

That being said, what is getting me through is the great events happening in February and March. Here's a few that I am looking forward to:

1) Stargazing and the Science of Love: My boyfriend and I decided to visit the Discovery Centre this Thursday, for a unique Valentine's Day outing that is romantic without being cheesy. Adults looking to "mix it up" for V-Day can do some stargazing and listen to a talk by Matthew Numer, PhD, on "The Science of Love and Attraction". Can't beat $10 for a night of learning something new together. Plus, we are going for supper at Piatto first, a place I have been looking forward to trying since it opened (I had two separate people tell me they had the best pizza of their life here!). The only thing better than learning is learning with a belly full of delicious pizza!

2) Savouring Some Delicious Cocktails: The Savour Food and Wine festival is taking place for most of the month of February and there are tons of great events happening. Alas, I am not able to make it to the main event - the Savour Food and Wine show - but we are hoping to take in the Imbibe cocktail event on February 21st. This is basically a gathering of the best mixologists in Nova Scotia (along with a couple of special guests, including Jeremy Parsons, who is heralded as "one of the top mixologists in North America") and a chance to sample some of the most delicious and innovative drinks that local restos are pouring. Trying to sample as much as possible without getting totally sloshed on a weeknight will be tough, but I am up to the challenge!

3) North End Tour of Yum: On March 9th, the boy and I will embark on the North End Fantasy Food Tour, and I will finally get the chance to try two more places that have been on my list for a while - Ace Burger (from the guys who brought us the Brooklyn Warehouse, one of my favourite restos in Halifax), and DeeDee's (who apparently makes amazeballs gelato and burritos). We will also stop at an old standard favourite of mine - Java Blend coffee shop. Their coffee is delicious and the owner is like a local business powerhouse (he just opened a new brewery and is always willing to donate an awesome item to the silent auction for my sister's work). Guessing I will be supremely stuffed by the end of this evening, but I KNOW I will be supremely happy.

4) Tedx Nova Scotia: I have never attended a Ted conference before, but I am really hoping to get the chance this year (March 10th). In case you couldn't tell from #1, I am a bit of a "learning nerd" which means I really enjoy any event where my brain can soak up tons of interesting information and my synapses are fired off in quick and constant succession. The full list of speakers isn't posted yet so I'm not quite sure what specific sessions I will be attending but I am sure there will be some great choices. If nothing else, the Ben Caplan concert should be fist-pumping. I really enjoy the event motto "ideas worth spreading" - it could easily be a life motto for me!

The snow may be snowing and the wind may be blowing, but I will weather the storm thanks to all the fun events to keep me warm this February and March!

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Harmony & Hope

I think it's safe to say that we have all been touched by cancer in some way. Whether we have battled it ourselves or watched family and friends do so, cancer permeates our lives; infecting all of us, whether literally or figuratively.

While I myself have not lost any close friends or family to cancer, I know many people who have, and I have experienced what it is like to lose important people in my life so I do understand how heartbreaking that can be, especially when the cause is out of your control. There is no question that it changes your life and your outlook on it.

But know what else can change your life and outlook? Music. Charity. Both of these things individually and combined, not to mention the sharing of them between people can bring so much joy, healing and much-needed funds that will ensure more and more people are changed by cancer, not for the bad, but for the good and positive.

The choir that I sing with every Wednesday night - the Dalhousie Health Professions Chorale - along with the Chester Brass Band, are performing in a concert on March 3rd that is the epitome of these two elements working together. We will be performing a whole bunch of really fun and touching music, including music from Queen, amazing musicals such as Wicked and Chess, a few traditional celtic and religious pieces thrown in for good measure, and even some Michael Jackson! (there will be NO moon-walking, though. Sorry)

All the funds raised through this concert will be donated to the Canadian Cancer Society, specifically directed to the Beatrice Hunter Cancer Research Institute/Cancer Research Training Program. This is a Nova Scotia program that funds students training as cancer researchers, and it currently funds a PhD candidate and an MSc student at Dalhousie University. Since I work with graduate students on a daily basis in my job at Dal, I also feel a special connection to the cause in this way. AND I understand how much time and effort goes into research like this!

However, the fact is, NO funds will be raised without the generosity of people like you! If you want to enjoy a fun and relaxing night of music and entertainment, please consider buying a ticket to the Harmony & Hope concert (I mean, if nothing else, you will get to see ME and there's nothing wrong with that!). You can even dedicate a song to someone special (Valentine's Day IS coming up)!

If you can't make it on the 3rd, you can still support the cause - I joined the fundraising team for this event and I would love it if you would donate through me! Even a couple of bucks helps, if that is all you can spare. And it is SUPER convenient because it can all be done online! Need I remind you that tax season is coming up?? (*ahem* !tax-receipts! *cough*). Visit my personal page to make a donation here. I even made a $25 donation to myself to kick-start things, so I am putting my money where my mouth is. Now it's your turn! Thank you SO much in advance!

Help me and all the wonderful singers and musicians support cancer research in Canada. The fact is, without money, there can be no research and without research there will never be a cure. Help us keep harmony and hope alive for all Canadians.