My Peak Challenge

Strangely enough, I can ultimately credit my newfound zest for leading a more active life to a time-traveling Englishwoman and a red-haired Scotsman. Back in April, I stumbled across the television show Outlander on Netflix and proceeded to binge watch the available two seasons in a few days (not much sleep was had, which will surprise absolutely no one who knows me). Much Googling and internet insanity ensued, and I eventually learned that the show’s lead actor, Sam Heughan, had founded a charitable organization called My Peak Challenge. It’s a membership program, whose aim is to promote its members to lead healthier, more balanced lives while also helping others. You pay a flat rate, half of which is donated to Bloodwise (a blood cancer research organization). For your membership, you receive a little gift (MPC t-shirt and wristband) along with a fitness and nutritional regimen over the next 12 months.

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Since moving to Toronto and away from my near-daily access to a dance studio in Chicago, I was feeling generally unfit and had been wanting to really get in shape. Having danced most of my life, I have always had decent enough fitness but never truly felt strong. I would always joke about what a weakling I was, with no real upper body strength. High school standardized fitness tests were always an embarrassment (especially bar hangs, oh and those dreaded four-lap tests). It never really occurred to me that I could actually do something about it. I had also hit my 30s and discovered that I could no longer just drop into a couple of ballet classes a week and expect that to be sufficient enough exercise to keep the girth at bay. And after a tumultuous couple of years, I had an increasing desire to rebuild my strength and confidence, both inside and out. MPC looked to be viable way for me to work towards that goal.

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The Program

Upon signing up, I was pleasantly surprised at how thorough and detailed the program actually is. Each week involves 4 active work-out days, 2 active recovery days and 1 rest day. As part of the program, I had access to daily workout plans, complete with videos of our MPC coaches performing the various exercises to ensure proper form (even Coach Sam makes appearances, which is definitely motivational). The exercises are also scalable, such that you can tailor your regimen to where you are at physically.

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But crucially, the program gave me a plan (and I do love me a plan)–lists and structure along with a very enthusiastic community of fellow Peakers (the term for those participating in MPC). Now, I’ve never stuck to a workout regimen in my life. I’ve avoided gyms like the plague, in large part because I found working out to be monotonous, particularly compared to dance, but also because I never knew what to do, how long to do it, or even how to do it properly. Having this imposed structure was hugely helpful. I love being able to tick off each exercise, recording notes about reps and weights. Having a clear plan also helped me to self-motivate–giving me very specific things to work towards.

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I decided early on that I would start by following just the fitness regimen, as I thought overhauling both fitness and nutrition in my life might be biting off more than I could reasonably chew. But I did take a look through the nutritional plan and its recipes as well as started to count calories to get a sense for how much I actually consume per day (it is truly depressing to realize how calorific cheese actually is).

A major part of being involved with MPC is also being connected to its global community, not only fellow Peakers (nearly 9000 strong), but the founders as well. I’ve marvelled upon posting of my achievements that they actually respond with words of encouragement and praise, and that it really does give you a lift to know that they are reading (what must be thousands of) posts and taking the time to support you.

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Peakers, who are an especially passionate and encouraging bunch, have formed groups around the world in their local communities, to go on hikes, marathons and adventures and to generally support each other. They post updates on their workouts as well as some truly inspiring stories of how MPC has helped them through everything from cancer treatments and injuries, to domestic abuse and depression. It gives me a sense of being part of larger team working towards this common goal of improving ourselves and the lives of others.

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The C in MPC

One of the main aspects of MPC is the challenge component, which encourages members to set physical and/or non-physical challenges that they work towards over the course of the year (e.g., climbing a mountain, running a 10K, writing a novel, etc.). This notion of challenging oneself appealed to me, as it aligned with my general philosophy for 2017, which I’ve referred to, if you’ll pardon my French, as the “Fuck It” Year.  So named because, in the name of self-care and improvement, I’ve decided to approach the year by throwing caution to the wind and seizing opportunities as they arise, or generating my own–traveling given any excuse (Iceland, Spain, Scotland, etc.), signing up for a ballet bootcamp, going on crazy long (for me) hikes, amongst others. As such, MPC’s philosophy for challenging yourself to move outside your comfort zone was a perfect fit for me. And indeed, since joining MPC, I have taken on even more challenges. Even something as simple as pushing me to pick-up a barbell for the first time in my life or motivating me to get outdoors and go for a hike. I was pleasantly surprised to learn about myself that I truly relish taking on new challenges–how are we to find our limits and delineate our self boundaries if we don’t push ourselves?

And so, some of my physical challenges for the year include 1) hiking a Munro (a Scottish mountain over 3000 ft), 2) trying parkour, 3) full splits on both sides, and 4) consistent double pirouettes on both sides. Non-physical challenges always seem to be plentiful, some of which include 1) publishing (at least one) journal article, 2) choreographing a dance piece, and 3) driving on the other side of the road. I’m excited to say that I’ll be tackling two of these challenges in September, as I am headed to Scotland for MPC’s first annual event, where much hiking, working-out and dancing will take place.

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Dollars for Days

Perhaps my biggest and ultimately more life-altering challenge is to actually keep up with the fitness regimen for the entire year. Before my recent trip to Spain, I was determined to not miss any days of the MPC program while traveling, and I considered ways of staying motivated. I decided that while I’m interested in the “final” results of all this, it’s ultimately worth supporting the journey as much as the destination.

To that end, I am pledging to donate a dollar for every day that I complete of the MPC program, with the aim of personally donating $336 by March 2018 (7 days per week x 4 weeks per month x 12 months) to Bloodwise. And, for extra motivation, I am encouraging anyone who is interested to pledge their support to what I’m calling my Dollars for Days campaign. Even just pledging 10 cents per day ($34 at the end of the year) is worthwhile. This way, I know that I have at least a $1 (hopefully more) riding on my completing each day’s work, which goes towards improving my own well-being as well as supporting a very worthy cause. If I’m feeling particularly lazy or unmotivated one day, but I know that I have several dollars riding on my completing that day’s work, I will be less likely to slack off (I’ll just think to myself, “what kind of horrible person am I for taking money away from cancer research?! Get planking!”). I will be posting regular updates as to my progress as well as how much money has been pledged to date. If you’re interested in supporting me and Bloodwise, please get in touch (a.kanita.cooper[at]gmail.com)!

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Indeed, I am truly amazed at how much MPC has permeated my life. 5 years ago, I would never have guessed that I would be voluntarily planking, lifting barbells or going on 24 km hikes in the mountains, or that I would ever be looking forward to my daily workout. But it’s also trickled down into smaller  moments and choices–turning down seconds or opting to take the stairs or walking instead of hopping on public transit. How I plan travel has evolved, from figuring out how to pack for working out while abroad to researching interesting hikes. I definitely credit MPC for my re-appreciation of the outdoors, as I find myself looking forward to the chance to climb a mountain or find new waterfalls. Ultimately, in all of this, I strive not to be faster or stronger than anyone else, only to be better than yesterday’s self. And in a time where it feels like the world is crumbling around our ears, it feels more necessary than ever to not only work on improving one’s own life but also make even this small contribution to something that could positively impact the lives of others.

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Top 5 Sights

The next entry in our Top 5 series: Top 5 Sights! We have had some great times in the course of our travels together (check out our Top 5 Trips), but sometimes there are just truly breathtaking sights that stay with you long after you have left. You can click on the place names to read more details from the original posts.

5. Temple of the Emerald Buddha (Bangkok, 2009/2013)

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The Temple of the Emerald Buddha (referred to as Wat Phra Kaew in Thai) is perhaps the most famous and sacred temple in Thailand. It houses, unsurprisingly, an emerald buddha statue, that only the King of Thailand is allowed to touch (he apparently changes the cloak the statue wears to correspond with each change in season, supposed to usher in good fortune for the upcoming season for Thailand). This iconic temple is truly a sight to behold, and it is awe-inspiring every time I visit. I’ve visited the temple on every trip I’ve takne to Thailand since I was a child (I think it’s considered good manners to pay your respects here regularly). David was particularly impressed by it when he first saw it back in 2009. The massive complex is bounded by walls painted with murals depicting the entire Ramakian, the Thai national epic based on the Indian Ramayana. What’s not to love about a story with action, love and enormous monkeys fighting giant demons? The temple is bursting with vibrance and colour, a good reflection of the Thai people I’d say. Upon first visiting, it seems like such a foreign, exotic place as to be so unfamiliar relative to even the most grandiose of palaces we’ve visited elsewhere.

4. Rocamadour (France, 2010)

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We visited Rocamadour, located in the south-west of France, during our honeymoon back in 2010. I remember marveling that a place like this actually existed in the world. The buildings rising out of the cliffs made us think of Tolkien’s Minas Tirith from The Lord of the Rings. For being such a sleepy town, it was surprisingly awe-inspiring. This was historically a famous site for pilgrimages, and pilgrims were known for climbing the 216 steps of the major staircase on their knees (though we opted to just walk up). We continued our climb up Chemin de Croix, a peaceful winding climb through woodlands to the top of the ramparts, where we were treated to fantastic views of the valley. An outstanding place.

3. Palais Garnier (Paris, 2008/2010)

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Paris is a magical place for me, filled with art and croissants and with gorgeous buildings on every corner, so it takes something particularly spectacular to rise to the top of all that. Palais Garnier is one such magical place. It is said to have inspired the famed opera house in Phantom of the Opera, so that should give you an idea of its grandeur. I remember walking through, mouth agape, just staring up at the beautifully ornate ceilings, paintings and candelabras. It was so over-the-top in its opulence, it was almost not to be believed. David and I were so inspired the first time we visited in 2008 that we vowed to come back again someday to not just be visitors but to be patrons and actually see a performance there. In 2010, for our honeymoon, we made good on our promise to ourselves and saw the Paris Opera perform a ballet inspired by Degas. Even though we were up in the rafters, in the farthest possible seats (our seats actually folded down from the wall), we were happy to experience such a historic, opulent theatre.

2. Glencoe & Neist Point (Scotland, 2014)

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Our road trip around the Highlands of Scotland was quite the epic adventure. Our first two days were particularly eventful, as we drove through some truly amazing landscapes. The low, scraggy peaks through the Glencoe region, apparently the remains of an ancient super volcano which were subsequently shaped by a glacier, were bleak and almost haunting. The light that day fell so gorgeously over the hillsides. Needless to say, we spent a lot of time pulling our rental car over and gaping at the view. I remember we were astounded that this was a place that could possibly happen in the world. We couldn’t, however, not also include Neist Point on this list, the westernly most point of Scotland on the Isle of Skye. We spent a long day driving out to see it, along some very narrow (though picturesque) single track roads, but we were certainly rewarded for our efforts. Jutting out into the Atlantic, the soaring cliffs stood tall and resolutely. It was hard to pull ourselves away and drive home.

1. Norwegian fjords (Norway, 2013)

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I had never really thought that I would ever see the fjords of Norway. It just wasn’t a place that I’d ever thought about visiting. I’d booked us on a “Norway in a Nutshell” Tour, which was essentially arranged transport from Oslo to Bergen, involving several trains and, critically, a ferry ride through Aurlandfjord and the Nærøyfjord. National Geographic lists it as the world’s top natural heritage sight (and it’s even supposedly the inspiration for the landscape in Disney’s Frozen). Despite being freezing (and my still recovering from a cold), it was perhaps the most gorgeous landscapes we’ve ever witnessed. Everything was so still and tranquil, with little villages hunched between the water and these craggy, snow-covered peaks. The word breathtaking is often overused, but it was definitely apt as the ferry glided through the Nærøyfjord. It was once in a lifetime view that I’m glad to have witnessed.

Top 5 Dining Experiences

We love to eat. As such, we’ve had our fair share of great food around the world. For us, it often isn’t only about the food– a confluence of factors conspire to make a dining experience truly great. Excellent food quality is, of course, paramount, but sharp service, a welcoming atmosphere, and even the aesthetics of the space are hugely important to us. Indeed, two of David’s all-time best meals (just based on food stuffs alone) didn’t even make the list because the rest of the dining experience lacked a certain something. In continuing with our Top 5 series, here are our Top 5 dining experiences, ones that have risen above the host of others.

5. Sportello / Drink (Boston, 2014)

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On a trip to Boston, David’s friend Justin pointed us to Sportello for dinner, a minimalist diner-style eatery serving Italian fare. He happened to be working at Drink at the time, the bar in the basement below Sportello, so we happily stopped in for a visit. It’s a great space–all brick and wood and giant ice blocks–a bustling spot that turns out some excellent drinks. It was particularly fun to get taken up by Justin from Drink through the kitchen and into Sportello (definitely felt like a very sneak-in-the-back-door celebrity). Sitting at the bar in sight of the kitchen is also a fun pastime for us, as we love to watch the crazy goings-on by all the chefs. Their hard work provided us with truly fantastic food (the pasta was divine!). Much like their minimalist aesthetic, it seemed to all be about simple ingredients done really well. It was a wonderful evening, and we left feeling very well taken care of.

4. Le Crocodile (Vancouver, numerous occasions)

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This list really couldn’t be complete without including Le Crocodile, one of our absolute favourite restaurants. The first time we visited was to celebrate our one year (dating) anniversary back in 2008, and we’ve been devotees ever since (we now have an annual dinner there with our good friends around Christmas time). Le Crocodile holds a special place for me, as it was one of my first introductions to French cuisine, which has now become my favourite style of food. Le Crocodile is so proficient at the classics–everything is always excellent, which is particularly impressive given the extensive menu. Over the last seven years, we’ve sampled copiously from that list, with their lobster bisque, pan-seared sweetbreads and duck breast with foie gras being notable stand outs. What’s really nice about getting the chance to re-visit a restaurant is that you can really get a sense of its consistency, and Le Crocodile continually turn out delicious food and provide impeccable service, year after year.

3. Girl & The Goat (Chicago, 2015)

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This Chicago establishment is on numerous restaurant lists as a must-visit, and indeed, it’s been on my list for quite some time. It is notoriously difficult to get a reservation, but I managed to make one four or five weeks in advance for a Thursday night, just a couple days ahead of our anniversary. It was a bustling spot (much larger than I was expecting, given how difficult it is to get in), but we were somewhat removed from all the hustle at our kitchen table (one of two in the restaurant), which afforded us a nice view of the kitchen. The restaurant had a fun, lively atmosphere. The menu had a variety of strange and interesting items, including pig’s face and goat belly, and David, unsurprisingly, wanted to try everything. Service was relaxed and friendly, and the drinks were top notch. The food was the real winner however–lively and unique and challenging. They definitely had a different take on familiar (and some not so familiar) foods. We stuffed ourselves to the brim with 5 dishes, but still wanted to give dessert a try. We were ultimately a bit indecisive with what we wanted, finally settling on miso-butterscotch budino (I kind of custard). Ultimately, they very kindly sent out small portions of the other two desserts we were waffling over. All in all, one of the best times we’ve had in a restaurant in Chicago.

2. L’Affaire Est Ketchup (Québec City, 2015)

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We can thank Anthony Bourdain for pointing us in the direction of this tiny gem in Québec (read the full details of our meal here). We had our last meal in Québec here, and boy, did they give us a fabulous send off! The restaurant is in part known for its laid-back, casual vibe, just a couple of guys cooking in a kitchen with a pair of electric stovetops for a tiny restaurant seating maybe 20 people. The food was absolutely fantastic (we couldn’t believe that they were just cooking on the kind of stoves we have in our apartment). Everything felt so genuine, really from the heart, like we were just hanging out in a friend’s apartment, cooking and drinking. Our waiter (who also served as host/dishwasher/bartender) happily chatted with us, giving David samples of red wine to try. It was a truly wonderful dining event, everything we could want in a meal–super delicious food, convivial atmosphere, and a real feeling that they love what they do. I remember waddling home from the restaurant, excitedly talking about how much fun we’d had and how great everything was, which is the mark of an excellent dining experience, something that stays with you.

1. La Grande Cascade (Paris, 2010)

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Changing gears completely from our number two, for our honeymoon, we wanted to have one grand, decadent dining experience–something to really commemorate the occasion. In my research, I discovered that “fine dining” is taken to a completely different (and largely unattainable) level in places outside of Vancouver; however,  La Grande Cascade had a prix fixe option that made it fiscally possible to give it a try (read about this dining experience in full here). The restaurant is gorgeously situated in a 19th century former hunting lodge on the outskirts of Paris. The whole experience from start to finish was just sublime–beautiful space, absolutely impeccable service (a little stool for my purse to sit on, a cart of champagne to sample from, kind waitstaff who explained some of the more unusual French food terms) and fantastic food. The whole evening had such a feeling of elegance and spectacle, elaborateness without being pretentious. We were made to feel special, almost regal, and that is something we will always remember.

Top 5 Trips

Five years ago today, I walked down the aisle and caught the eye of a handsome young man, and we agreed that spending our lives together, traveling, eating and laughing, was an awesome idea. In honour of our 5-year wedding anniversary, here is the first in a series of Top 5s, starting with our favourite trips, in reverse order of awesomeness.

Traveling is extremely important to us (we were appalled a couple of years ago, when we discovered that David’s passport had expired without our noticing, because it had meant we hadn’t recently traveled internationally). We have had the good fortune of taking over 20 trips (big and small) together, so it was a real challenge to decide on our Top 5. A really good trip is so deemed if it provides us with several key things: great food, beautiful vistas, and a slice of city life. You can click on the place names to read about our adventures in depth!

5. Québec (2015)

This was our most recent trip together, and we had a great time. The first time for both of us, we spent 5 days in Montreal and 4 days in Québec City. Though it was freezing (that’s what you get for traveling in March), the trip was made especially amazing by the fact that we ate constantly, and we ate well. While we did see some beautiful sights, we really just focused in on eating our faces off. It was quite the “manger-thon”, as we called it, just scurrying from place to place, escaping the cold into the warm embrace of delicious liver and pork products.

4. Thailand (2013)
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It was great to be able to visit Thailand with David again. We had first visited together in 2009, and it was a bit of culture shock for David (even having traveled and lived in Asia before). This time, however,  we could just dive right in. We spent the first portion of our trip in Bangkok, where David really enjoyed diving into street photography, and, of course, eating all the weird and wonderful foods you can find in Thailand. We then had the opportunity to travel to the south, visiting Phuket, Ko Lanta and Railay. We traipsed around white sandy beaches, went on a sea kayaking trip, rented motor bikes and explored, and just generally relaxed (whilst Chicago was having a particularly nasty winter). Very relaxing, lazy days are not normally how we plan trips–we’re usually on the go, taking in sights and hustling from place to place–but Thai time is very compelling/obligatory. But it’s always nice to slow things down some times.

3. Scotland (2014)

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This was also a second visit for us, and whoever said sequels aren’t as good as the originals are lying, because I’d argue we had an even better time than the first time we visited. First of all, we had fantastic weather for Scotland (only a couple days of rain! Unthinkable!). We had some delicious food and drinks and some great city time in Edinburgh, but the real winner of the trip was the flat out gorgeous landscapes we drove through. We love just renting a car and exploring off the beaten path, and we had some truly fantastic vistas on our travels. Rolling hills and meadows, dramatic seascapes, winding roads–we loved it! It was also our first trip where we tried our hand at videography (we usually just stick with photography), the fruits of which can be seen here.

2. Scandinavia (2013)

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I had never really had Scandinavia on my travel list, but I’m so glad that a conference forced it on there. What a crazy trip this was! We covered a tremendous amount of ground, starting in Stockholm, then training to Oslo and Bergen in Norway, down to Gothenburg, Sweden and ending in Copenhagen, Denmark, in about 2 weeks. While the weather was wintery (we seem to have a knack for Spring Break-ing in less than tropical locales), it somehow seemed even more perfect to be experiencing these far northern countries when blanketed in snow. These cities and towns were colourful and just different enough from what we’d seen elsewhere in Europe to be quite novel and fun. Despite being crazily expensive, the food was excellent (favourites included smørrebrød and meatballs). And while we loved the cities, the landscapes we witnessed on our tour from Oslo to Bergen were truly otherworldly.

1. France (2010)

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It is hard not to be biased by the fact that this France trip was also our honeymoon. However, being as “objective” as possible, this trip still rises to the top in both of our minds largely because it was packed full of all the things that make a trip great for us: museums and city-going, gorgeous landscapes and fantastic food. We started out in Bordeaux for a couple of days before hopping over to St-Emilion. From there, we rented a car and drove through the Dordogne region, renting a little house and cooking tasty meals with local ingredients. From there, we drove north to the Loire Valley and visited many of the famed châteaux that populate the region, finishing up with a few days in Paris. The entire trip was 3 weeks, which was long enough to not feel rushed, where we could actually spend the time visiting small towns and taking in the sights. We left feeling like we had seen the country, eaten wonderful things and longing for more.

It was quite a fun activity to sit and muse about our Top 5s. Not only to just get an impressionistic sense of which trips were our favourites, but, as any good scientist would, to really think about why these trips were the best for us. I encourage you to make your own Top 5 list!

Chicago Bucket List

As PhD students, the impending deadline for our dissertations and the steady passage of time loom large in our consciousness. As my fourth year nears its end, I am keenly aware of the fact that I have (hopefully) just one year left. While that fact is distressing/exhilarating on a number of levels, it also means I likely have only one year left living in Chicago. I feel like we have had the opportunity to eat and drink at some wonderful establishments and the good fortune of seeing some amazing things here. However, this is the third-largest city in the US, and as such, there is a wealth of unexplored territory. We’ve started creating a Chicago bucket list filled with all the things we’d like to see and do and eat, either for the first time or re-visited, before we leave.

Do

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  1. walk the Chicago Riverwalk
  2. go to a musical
  3. watch a baseball game at Wrigley Field
  4. watch an outdoor movie in a park
  5. go shopping on Armitage Avenue and in Wicker Park

I’ve passed the Chicago River many times whilst traversing downtown, but I’ve never taken the opportunity to (1) walk along the Riverwalk, a pedestrian walkway along the south bank of the Chicago River. Definitely would be a fun way to spend a sunny afternoon. Chicago has such a vibrant arts scene, that it would be a shame not to take advantage of it and (2) catch a show. Broadway in Chicago has an amazing line up coming up, including Cabaret and A Gentleman’s Guide to Murder that I’d love to see. I readily admit that I’m not a sports fan, but Chicago is such a sports town that it would be a travesty to not (3) catch a game at the historic Wrigley Field before leaving. Chicago seems to have an abundance of (4) outdoor movie screenings, something I’ve never done before (didn’t seem to be a thing in Vancouver, or at least not that I knew about), but sounds like it would be a ton of fun on a warm Chicago evening. Thrillist has a handy list of all the screenings going on this summer. Finally, perhaps unsurprisingly, I’d love to go for (5) a shop on Armitage Avenue, around the Armitage brown line stop as well as in Wicker Park on Damen Avenue. These areas are purportedly hubs for boutiques and small shops stocking local designers.

Eat

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  1. Boka
  2. Les Nomades
  3. Blackbird
  4. Avec
  5. The Publican

We love to eat, so this particular list will be ever-expanding, as I come across new interesting places to eat. I’ve had (1) Boka on my list for a little while now. It looks to be a gorgeous, fun space (pictured above), serving New American food and delicious cocktails. It comes from the same restaurant group as the renowned Girl & the Goat and GT Fish & Oyster, so it should be good. (2) Les Nomades has also been on the culinary wish list for some time, being one of the most reputable French restaurants in the city–a bastion of fine dining where jackets are required and you speak in hushed tones at the table. A bit old-fashioned perhaps, but sometimes an occasion calls for a bit of pomp and ceremony. The prix fixe only option is a bit steep for our grad student budget, so perhaps we’ll wait until we graduate. (3) Blackbird, (4) Avec and (5) The Publican are all culinary siblings and share a very modern aesthetic. The Michelin-starred Blackbird is known for its inventive, New American fare, while Avec is Mediterranean-inspired, offering intriguing sharing plates such as veal tongue and suckling goat. The Publican is really on this list for David, as it is (according to them) an “homage to beer, pork and oysters”, which are basically his 3 favourite food groups.

Drink

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  1. RM Champagne Salon
  2. Longman & Eagle
  3. Bedford
  4. Aviary
  5. The Green Mill

My love for bubbles is pretty well-known, so it’s perhaps not surprising that I’d like to visit (1) RM Champagne Salon, known for its romantic patio and its wide assortment of sparkling wine and desserts (not to mention $1 oysters on Tuesdays). (2) Longman & Eagle is a Logan Square inn (which would be fun to stay at for the night) that is supposed to have great cocktails and an extensive whisky list, upwards of 300 choices. (3) Bedford is set in a 1920s bank vault and is purportedly a classy lounge with killer cocktails. I’m looking forward to checking out their Thursday night special of $1 oysters and half-priced bottles of bubbles. We’ve both recently developed an appreciation for craft cocktails, so the (4) Aviary, owned by Grant Achatz of Alinea fame, is an obvious choice to try, as they are known for their inventive, whimsical and superbly-crafted cocktails. Finally, it would be fun to homage to a Chicago institution, (5) The Green Mill, a 108-year old jazz lounge that once saw the likes of Al Capone frequenting it.

See

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  1. Lincoln Park Zoo
  2. The Art Institute of Chicago
  3. Grant Park
  4. Museum of Science and Industry
  5. Chicago architecture

Perhaps one of my favourite places I’ve visited in Chicago is the (1) Lincoln Park Zoo. I remember being dubious upon first visiting that there’d be much to see considering that it was free, so I was truly amazed at how much there was to see. Gorgeously-situated, with a fantastic view of downtown Chicago, it is definitely a spot I’ll be re-visiting before I leave. Similarly, (2) The Art Institute of Chicago has such a fabulous collection of art in a beautiful, expansive space, that it is a must-visit for us before we depart. We have visited portions of (3) Grant Park, as Millennium Park, the Art Institute and even Museum Campus are all contained within it. However, I haven’t really spent time walking through it and taking it in as a whole, and I haven’t seen the famed Buckingham Fountain. Being scientists, it is a bit shameful we haven’t been to see the (4) Museum of Science and Industry yet. It’s always difficult to know how “adult-friendly” it’ll be, or if it’ll veer to heavily into the “kid-friendly” territory, which is why I think we’ve avoided going down. Though, they do have a new “Robot Revolution” exhibit now, which could be fun to see. Finally, it would be a shame to leave Chicago without taking one last look at its (5) amazing architecture. Coming from Vancouver, which was always a big city in my mind growing up, I was shocked at how truly “big city” Chicago feels, with its soaring skyscrapers and sense of history in its buildings. It can be seen and appreciated in a variety of ways, on a fabulous boat tour or on one of the many walking tours put on by the Chicago Architecture Foundation. Of course, we could just go up to the 95th floor of the John Hancock Center and enjoy a drink at the Signature Lounge while overlooking the city.

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Music: Dinnertime Melodies

One of the oft forgotten elements of hosting a dinner party is the music. So much time and energy is focused on the food and drink and setting the table just right (and rightly so), making it so easy to forget that music truly sets the scene and tone for your guests. The first time that I really had to think about this was 5 years ago when planning my wedding. Much time went was spent looking for interesting and appropriate songs to set the mood at dinner. I looked for music that was pleasant, easy to talk over but still interesting if you wanted to just sit and listen. Thankfully my efforts paid off, as I actually had a guest compliment me on how much he loved the dinner music. It has since become a go-to playlist for us for smaller scale dinner parties we’ve hosted, and I continue to enjoy listening to this mix 5 years later. Here is a portion of that playlist for your listening pleasure.

GRE-ief

And so, after a lovely sojourn in Japan, one must must inevitably face reality and head back to the “real world”. While it is nice to be back in Vancouver, treated to some quintessentially beautiful […]