Musings on the beauty of the road trip; by plane, car, boat, bike, foot…

City Fun

If You Brew It, They Will Come

I won’t lie, the idea of an outdoor beer festival in the middle of winter did not seem appealing; I hate the cold, but this was a part of my “event-every-month-xmas-gift” and I’m trying to get as much outdoor enjoyment as I can until sock-free weather returns, so off I went.
The two year old Roundhouse Winter Craft Beer Festival is everything I love about these kinds of events: local craft brew, food trucks and beer loving Torontonians gathered in the heart of the city to taste the latest offerings from the growing list of local beer entrepreneurs. I was surprised, not only by my own winter embrace, but by the quality of beer at this small festival. Don’t get me wrong, this is no Oregon or Vermont Beer Festival, but things are happening in our Ontario craft beer world despite the difficulties of making and selling beer here, and I, for one, think it’s pretty fantastic.

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An Art-Filled Night in the ‘hood

It’s a beautiful thing to be just a short walk or bike ride away from great culture, festivals and incredible food.  This sort of proximity allows for spontaneous “date nights” or, like many city dwellers call it, a night out in the ‘hood; something we enjoyed just other night.  The evolution of the night went something like this:

Him: “Let’s go watch a play at Tarragon” (we are subscribers, so the answer was easy)

Me: “Okay. You get the tickets and see if you can get us reservations at Fat Pasha

Him: “Great idea. I think there might be some Nuit Blanche installations at Spadina House and Wychwood Barns; we’ll avoid all the chaos of the downtown exhibits.”

Me: “Perfect”

And so was born a pretty incredible night right here so close to home.

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I am a Champion

So as I sit here debating wether or not this horrible cold is going to keep me from competing at today’s Toronto Athletic Games, my coach sends me this Champion’s Creed (a sign perhaps?). Here it is for all my athlete friends competing this weekend:

I AM A CHAMPION

I will conquer what has not been conquered

Defeat will not be in my creed

I will believe what others have doubted

I will always endeavor the prestige, honour and respect of MY team

I have trained my mind – my body will follow

Who am I?

I AM A CHAMPION

I will acknowledge the fact that my opponents do not expect me to win

But I will never surrender

Weakness will not be in my heart

I will look to my comrades, and those who have brought me into this world

And those who have trained me, and I will draw strength from them

Who am I?

I AM A CHAMPION


Chicago – I love you!

I don’t think I’ll ever get sick of writing about or visiting Chicago. Yes, I’ve been to New York (every year for the last 10 years for both work and pleasure), but Chicago has had my heart since the very first visit, and every subsequent visit makes it feel more like home.

I loved Chicago before this weekend, but the addition of the bike-share program Divvy (with hundreds of stations, and more planned) solidified it as my favourite city to visit, and stirred up even more pains of jealousy, because they so seamlessly added this program into the city landscape, in all kinds of neighbourhoods (note to Toronto: it’s not just in the downtown “tourist” areas), and put in the necessary  bike lanes to make getting around on a Divvy the best way to navigate the city regardless if you are visiting or living in it.

Divvy stations everywhere we wanted to go!

Divvy stations everywhere we wanted to go!

The visit was a short one this time. We arrived on a Friday and returned on a Sunday, and, thanks to our brand new Nexus cards, the flying experience took less time than a drive to the cottage. Chicago is a town for those who love art, food, music and running. Yes, I said running. In all the cities I’ve visited, I’ve never seen so many runners, and this weekend we both got to take part in the Crosstown Classic 10K, a race that pits North siders against South siders (we each took a side, and I’m happy to report that my side, the North won).  It was one of three different races happening on Chicago’s magnificent waterfront, and I think one of five different events happening around town. Amazing! Here we complain and argue about the inconvenience of putting on such things, and there all the good people (experienced or not) join in.  It was one of my most memorable race experiences.

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We didn’t get to the Art Institute of Chicago, or any of our usual jazz spots Blue Chicago or The Green Mill, but in Chicago it’s not difficult to fill your time with art and music.  Our Divvy mode of transportation, which took us to a variety of neighbourhoods, led us to a number of street art installations (another thing I wish we had more of here in Toronto). Our one night of music was filled with the sounds of my favourite band Iron and Wine at one of the most beautiful theatres I’ve ever been to, the legendary Chicago Theatre. And this year, we finally made it to the The Randolph Street Market considered by “those who know” to be “a mecca of cool”, “the best hot spot for antiquing”, “the best Chicago venue for people watching”, and “the Barney’s of Vintage”.  I was jealous, jealous, jealous not only of all the incredible vintage finds and original artisan work, but by the shear affordability of it all. We did manage to purchase an original large scale piece of art which will soon have a home over the fire place (as soon as we put it together 🙂

Street art, including a Picasso.

Street art, including a Picasso.

Iron and Wine at the Chicago Theatre

Iron and Wine at the Chicago Theatre

Vintage and original awesome at the Randolph Street Market.

Vintage and original awesome at the Randolph Street Market.

It was difficult to decide where we were going to eat, having only two real opportunities for some great food experiences; difficult because, in my opinion, there is so much interesting and innovative talent happening in the kitchens of Chicago, much better than I’ve experienced in, gasp!, New York, which I think may have to do with price points. Let me explain, I think it’s easy to do amazing for a lot of money; if I’m dropping $400 on dinner for two, it’s probably going to be great, but I think real talent lies in the ability to blow the mind of patrons for half that money. That being said, we returned to two of my favourites (who continue to occupy spots in my personal top 5 restaurants any where in the world), Perennial Virant and Longman & Eagle. I don’t know enough about food, nor am I any kind of food critic, but these two places have consistently demonstrated creative ways to impress the heck out of my taste buds (wine, cocktails and service are all equally top notch). We also managed to squeeze in a brunch visit after the race to the newest addition to Stephanie Izard’s goat empire, The Little Goat, which remains true to the food talent we witnessed at Girl and the Goat on our last visit.

Cocktails at Perennial Virant

Cocktails at Perennial Virant

Perennial Virant hIghlights: smoked goat and smoked tomatoes!

Perennial Virant hIghlights: smoked goat and smoked tomatoes!

An amazing Cab Franc!

An amazing Cab Franc!

Little Goat fish tacos & ruben (huge diner style portions).

Little Goat fish tacos & ruben (huge diner style portions).

Little Goat roof top patio.

Little Goat roof top patio.

Longman & Eagle highlights: bone marrow, lamb tartar and pig face.

Longman & Eagle highlights: bone marrow, lamb tartar and pig face.

So if you haven’t been to Chicago yet, please go and go any time of the year; there is so much to see, hear, eat, drink and experience about this great city.

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Training with Marv; Two Years Later

There are many reasons why I train with Marv at Blast Athletic, and many reasons why I think his approach stands out above the countless “trainers, boot camps, and group training” classes that seem to have saturated the market, including:

  • He is ridiculously fit; and there is nothing more inspiring that a trainer who is equally passionate about his own fitness as he is mine.
  • He is constantly engaging in professional development; always bringing in the latest exercises, techniques, apparatuses to the floor.
  • His “hybrid” approach incorporates the best training methods from almost every discipline/sport out there. This makes every class different; every class super challenging; and every class ridiculously fun (who knew football drills could be so great).
  • He cares about the phycological aspect of fitness and health; he asks for our goals and speaks often about “upping your game” and pushing yourself beyond what you think you can do.
  • He sets up leagues for added fun and teamwork (and doesn’t ask for more money).
  • He holds yearly competitions to keep everyone working hard towards a goal, including this year’s Toronto Athletic Games (which is open to non-members, so you should definetly check it out).
  • He conducts monthly appraisals for everyone who wants one, and keeps your numbers for comparison, and goal setting.
  • He has a yearly Blast Party – huge and fabulous, just because.
  • He sets up workshops on technique and form, and lectures on nutrition, sleep and stress.
  • He never accepts “I can’t” from anyone.
  • He is NEVER on his phone during training, because he doesn’t need to be – he’s that good, and that committed to knowing what he is doing.

But, despite all this (and I could go on), what really impressed me was the metal he gave me last week. It was not because I won anything, not because I signed up for anything, just because he wanted to acknowledge how far I’ve come after two years of trainging with him; something I was already very proud of, but didn’t think anyone else thought too much about. Ii know there are many great trainers out there, but I challenge you to find one who cares this much about his clients.

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The Wait is Over…Actinolite Opens

What’s that old saying: “if you build it, they will come”? Well, they did (finally) build it, and the folks did indeed come. Last Wednesday night the residents of Christie Pits and Dovercourt Village (including me) finally got to experience the long awaited arrival of Actinolite. Since first moving back to this neighbourhood five years ago, we’ve watched as owner and chef Justin Cournoyer (formerly of Susur) lovingly and carefully renovated and restored this neglected building into both a home for his family and a much needed neighbourhood restaurant. The wait was worth it! The space itself is warm and inviting, and the food (made with regionally sourced items) was fantastic. The excitement of the night’s grand opening was punctuated with the arrival of Lisa Ray, host of this season’s Top Chef Canada; a dose of celebrity in a neighbourhood that has, for the most part, gone unmentioned.

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Reasons to Love Chicago

If you have yet to visit the windy city, then it’s best to put that trip on your to-do list for this upcoming year. The more I visit this incredible place, the more it moves NYC from the “favourite city spot” in my heart. If you need some reasons to go, here they are: great people, deep dish pizza, beautiful architecture, stunning waterfronts, the best meals I’ve ever had (even compared to NYC), breathtaking art housed both in institutions as well as in  unexpected locations, and of course: awesome concert venues which house, not only Chicago’s legendary Blues’ music, but other memorable music performances.