Monday, August 30, 2010

Big Day Downtown (Part IV): MEC, Just Us, & Freak Lunchbox

Going into my last Big Day Downtown, I had $66.75. Coming out, I am left with a single cent that I am afraid I will be unable to spend. Even if I could find something that only cost a penny, I doubt I could buy it with a Visa gift card. Let's run down the day's purchases :)

Stop 1: Mountain Equipment Co-op (MEC)

Mountain Equipment Co-op
When I went to university, I used to make fun of all the Upper-Canadians going to my school with their MEC backpacks all snooty and such. Well, call me a hypocrite, because I am so happy that MEC decided to open a store in Halifax. Since it arrived on the corner of Granville and Blowers Streets back in 2001, I've shopped there many, many times. It's close to where I work, it's right across the street from where I park my car, and well, they just sell so much cool stuff. Very soon, I'm planning to go buy some camping equipment from them, including some sleeping bags for Julie and I. It's a very easy place to spend money, not to mention their kick-ass website! If they don't have something in stock at the store, you can order it online and have it delivered to the store at no charge. That is service.

Downstairs at MEC
Since I had to restrain myself to spending only 67 bucks during this visit, I bought a nice fleece for the upcoming cooler fall weather, and a 14L waterproof stuff sack to contain my wares and keep them dry as they sit in my pack.

FYI, if you'd like to help with my MEC addiction, please visit my wish list. I keep it up to date :)

It's freezing out here! Maybe there's something in this bag This looks like a nice fleecy jacket I think this'll fit All warm now

MEC Watchtower fleece + MEC Roll Top Stuff Sack + tax = $64.98
Left to spend: $1.77

Stop 2: Just Us Cafe

Just Us! Cafe
One of the fine baristas at Just Us!Anyone who knows me (and some of my previous Big Day Downtown posts will confirm this) knows that my drug of choice is caffeine. It gets me up in the morning, keeps me going all day, and puts me to bed at night (in tea form, preferably orange pekoe or Earl Grey, thanks). And the dealer I frequent most often is Just Us on Barrington Street. I try as much as I can to remember to bring my re-usable mug with me when I go here because they have a very sensible policy of only stamping your loyalty card when you buy a coffee in your own mug. I think that is a great way to gently nudge people to use less disposable products. Smart thinking, Just Us!

I had a mug full of the darkest roast they had brewed.

Mug full o' coffee + tax = $1.48
Left to spend: $0.29

Stop 3: Freak Lunchbox

Freak Lunchbox
At this point, I had 29 cents left on my Visa gift card, so there was not much choice in the matter. There is only one store that I could think of where I could buy something for 29 cents, let alone with a Visa. I walked the block north to Freak Lunchbox, enlisted the help of one of the friendly staff and manged to purchase an amount of chocolate-covered coffee beans that came to as close as possible to my $0.29 when tax was added. I walked back to my office munching on $0.28 worth, or about 15 beans :)

~15 chocolate-covered coffee beans + tax = $0.28
Amount remaining unspent: $0.01

And so that brings to an end of my Big Day Downtown money, I sure enjoyed spending it!

Monday, August 23, 2010

Big Day Downtown (Part III): The Mongolie Grill

The Mongolie Grill
One of my favourite places to eat downtown is the Mongolie Grill on the corner of Granville and Sackville Streets. It's located where the Nova Scotia Sports Hall of Fame used to be. It's one of the few places where you can absolutely know every ingredient that is going into your meal, and over the past year and a half, when my big push was to lose weight, this was a huge benefit to me. It's one of the reasons why the Mongolie Grill is one of my picks for my Big Day Downtown.

VegetablesI suppose I should describe the premise of the Mongolie Grill a bit before I get started on my experience: You are presented with what resembles a salad bar of raw vegetables, meats, and sauces. You put the ingredients you want in your stir-fry into a small stainless steel bowl, and then have it weighed. This weight determines the price of your meal. You pay depending on how hungry you are! They then dump the contents of your bowl onto the largest cooking surface I've ever seen, and toss it until it's cooked. I should mention that they use water instead of oil when they stir-fry, so you know you're not getting more than you bargained for. There are oils that you can add in the sauce bar if you're into that sort of thing.

Hot and Sour soupI came into the restaurant at an odd time, 2:30pm, so I was the only one there! I got great service :), but even at its busiest, the wait staff are very attentive. Because of the buffet-style nature of the place, the menu is pretty much just appetizers and drinks; I usually opt out of those and go for a water. Besides, each meal is started with a bowl of your choice of either some kind of creamy soup (today was corn chowder) or some kind of spicy soup (today's was hot and sour soup). As a general rule, I try to stay away from cream-based stuff; I went with the hot and sour soup. Wasn't the hottest or sourest soup I've had at the Mongolie Grill, but it was good.

Weighing inI jammed some of my favourite vegetables into that bowl: broccoli, green onions (and regular onions), water chestnuts, carrots, green peppers. Don't give me any of that baby corn though, I can't stand it. Add some chicken and some scallops and a scoop of some hot oil, and we're off to the scales for the weigh-in. My meal weighed in at just over half a kilogram! A note to the vegans and vegetarians out there: if you don't have meat in your stir fry, you qualify for the vegetarian 20% discount. This has never applied to me, ever. However, those water-laden vegetables can be some of the heaviest things in your bowl. I've tried in the past to create the most weight-optimized meal possible, but I think I got a little too obsessed. I eventually gave that up.

The finished productAfter a few minutes, you're presented with the finished product--a fine stir-fried concoction of your own devising.  Mine sure looks good, doesn't it? I don't think I've ever had the same meal twice here. You can vary the ratios of the different vegetables and meats and combine the sauces however your taste buds see fit.

I've come to this restaurant dozens of times over the past two years, and I think I've only had one meal that was a little over-cooked. Other than that, I can't say that I've had a bad experience. Kudos to the Mongolie Grill for being consistently awesome!

Mongolie Grill stir-fry @ 0.565 kg + coffee + tip: $24.00
Left to spend: $66.75

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Big Day Downtown (Part II): Cabin Coffee

So, since my first day of spending my free money consisted solely of a coffee, I guess I'm going to spend this money over a few different days. My second day of money-spending has, perhaps predictably, also involved coffee.

Cabin Coffee, to be precise. I've walked past this place on the corner of Salter and Hollis Streets many times. Sometimes I stop in after I've finished my first coffee of the morning from the Halifax Farmers Market, and I need that 11 am pick-me-up. This time, it was after a delicious chicken shawarma that I had from Venus Pizza; however that shawarma was not officially part of my Big Day Downtown, so I won't talk about it further except to say again that it was delicious.

At Cabin Coffee, I decided to get a cappuccino. This is a drink that I don't usually have; I prefer my caffeine to be shunted directly into my veins, not floating in a milk foam ether. In fact, the only cappuccinos I can remember drinking were those from Tim Hortons, and I don't think those count. I'm still not sure what the difference is between a cappuccino and a latte is (perhaps the more coffee-educated among you can tell me), but nevertheless it was very well-received by my palate. I think I forgot to ask for non-fat milk and I could definitely taste the creaminess I hadn't known since my last "double-double". I'm quite used to using skim these days.

The cinnamon bun was decent. I can't really give it a glowing review, because I have in my head a very high standard to which no cinnamon bun has come close since the closing of the Uncommon Grounds on Argyle Street. They made the best buns that I have ever had, and the remaining UGs make these weird cinnamon muffins that I can't even put in the same category. Some of the main strikes against it, in my books:
  • No frosting or glaze. A cinnamon bun's gotta have some glaze. Glaze is preferable to frosting, but just mixing some sugar with the cinnamon isn't enough for me.
  • Fell apart too easily. If I can't hold the thing in one hand and not have the layers separate before my eyes, invariably dropping onto my shirt or shoes, then how can I  be expected to enjoy it on the go? This is critical.
  • Not "doughy" enough. This one is nitpicky, and I think I may be in the minority on this one, but I like a cinnamon bun that is moist and chewy, not dry and crumbly like a tea bicsuit. This was a close call, but I think it fell short.

The ambiance of Cabin Coffee is certainly top notch. It's the quintessential laid back, neo-hippie vibe coffee shop. It actually reminds me of a place I know well: The Bridge Street Cafe in Sackville, New Brunswick. I think the service at Cabin Coffee is a little faster, but that's not really a feat of gargantuan proportions. Seriously though, how can you not like a place that has chandeliers that cast silhouettes of moose and bears across the establishment?

Overall, thumbs up to Cabin Coffee, but then, I've hardly met a coffee shop I didn't like.

Cabin Coffee large cappuccino + cinnamon bun + tip:  $6.50
Left to spend: $90.75

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

My (first) Big Day Downtown

Let's start this off with a bit of an explanation. I've been selected, amongst approximately 30 other personalities, to be part of the Big Day Downtown promotion put on by the Downtown Halifax Business Commission. They gave me a $100 Visa gift card that I can spend however I like, as long as I spend it in downtown Halifax. I spend most of my days in downtown Halifax, working here and everything, so I thought I could give this a run for its money, so to speak.

I have been musing about how I should spend the $100. Should I blow it all on something big? Should I make it last over a week (or more)? Should my purchases have some sort of theme to them, or should they have no commonality except that I made them all? I'm still not really sure what I'm going to do; there have been a few themes that have had a commanding presence in my life lately. 

One of those themes is fitness. I haven't written about it much here (actually, I don't think I've written about it at all here), but from January 2009 to March 2010, I lost about 120lbs. However, I think Scott over at Your Inner Skinny has that theme covered. As an off-shoot of the fitness theme, I also thought about spending my money as a cyclist. I've been commuting from Clayton Park to downtown on my bike since March. Yes, back then, it was really, really cold. In addition to Ideal Bikes, M.E.C. now has a bike shop, so I might be able to make a go of it, but it would probably fall more into the "blow it all at once category".

I ended up deciding to just try new things downtown that I wouldn't necessarily have tried otherwise, for no other reason than I couldn't decide to do any of the other ideas that I had. My first stop on the whirlwind tour that is Steve's spending of $100 downtown was Cafe Ristretto in Bishop's Landing. I got my standard large dark roast coffee. Wasn't the best coffee I've ever had, but it was only a drip coffee and not espresso-based. It certainly got me out of my caffeine-deprived funk. I had co-worker recommend the Trident as the best coffee in the city, so maybe I'll try that in the future.

If you've got any suggestions as to how I should spend my hard-earned free money, hit me up in the comments of this blog or on Twitter.

Cafe Ristretto large coffee + tip:  $2.75
Left to spend: $97.25

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Sunday, March 21, 2010

Yesterday destroyed me

I realize I've been neglecting my blog. I just scrolled down the first page, and I got back to 2007. That ain't cool. Hrm...seems that was about the time that Twitter strolled onto the scene, and I guess I haven't really had much to say that was more than 140 characters since then :) Now that some of my friends have started blogging (again) regularly, I'm inspired to take up the challenge again.

As Sandy would say, yesterday was a large day. Warmest so far this year and blazing sunshine. Julie was over in Burnside at a nutrition course, so she had the car, but I had the day to myself. I had received a call the day before about some fenders for my new bike coming in at Bicycles Plus in Bedford. I'd been biking into work all week, so I thought I'd give biking out to Bedford a go. I got there with out incident (it's mostly downhill from Clayton Park, and the Bedford Highway has a bike lane along almost its entire length), but upon arriving there, I realized I'd forgotten something that I required while in Bedford.  I had to bike home, then back again.  Wasn't as difficult as I thought it would be, I'm pulling around a lot less weight than I was last year at this time, but still a workout was had.

After I got home for the second time, I had to prepare to go curling! This would be my the first time trying that sport.  My work's social committee had organized a group outing at the Halifax Curling Club.  We had the whole place to ourselves for about 2 hours. I now have a new respect for what all those people I watched at the Brier did. I had enough trouble staying upright on one of those sliders, let alone sending a 40 lb. rock down the ice to a specific location. Coming out of the hack also nicely stretches the groin muscles. A few people were taking photos; hopefully there are none of me :)

Following curling, a group of us went to Darrell's on Fenwick. [If you click on that link, watch out for the music.] I tried the peanut butter burger. Damn good, if I do say so myself.  It's no bacon-infused burger, but then, really, what else is?

But the thing that really set me on my ass, and put me in the state I am today, was the first 2am night I've had in probably more than 10 months, maybe more than a year -- The Thrush Hermit reunion show at the Paragon Theatre.  Great band, great show, great time, but holy crap I am tired right now.  I can't say for sure whether it was the previous activities of the day or the late night, but at noon the next day, I feel like I was run over. I wasn't even drinking! I have a kettlebell class at 7:00am tomorrow morning, and I'm just hoping I survive.

Cheers, folks.  Hopefully that's enough blogging to keep you sated for the time being.