Throw off the bowlines!

We had the best weekend! Most of my friends were quite unhappy that March reverted back to winter after so many blissful weekends hinting at spring, but not I! Two feet of fluffy snow at Breckenridge. Pounding turn after turn after turn… until I paused breathless to regain some strength. Sunshine glinting off the powder-sugared evergreens. Now that’s what I call a Saturday in March!

After an incredible day on the slopes, we decided to use a Groupon I’d had forever and get some lunch in town. Little did I know what was in store.

The Lost Cajun is a tiny joint full of quirky Big-Easy-Meets-Breck character. We loved it from the moment we sat down at the knotty wood table.image

The meal started with a smiling waitress bringing out a paddle of 6 samples. Nice of them to help us westerners get educated on the difference between gumbo and etouffee and red beans before surveying the menu. After ooh-ing and ah-ing over each taste, we finally had to choose between each delectable dish. So tough!

You really can’t go wrong with anything on their menu. My chicken & sausage gumbo was perfectly spiced so that recommended Abita IPA pairing was just what I needed to round out the meal.

And you simply must order the beignets. Trust me…imageMind. Blown.

This is all that was left after the we savored … every… last … beignet bite. image

We loved everything about that restaurant. I highly recommend it next time you’re in town.

On our way walking back through town, I got to thinking (as I do)… why The Lost Cajun gives me such warm fuzzies? It was just the spice of the gumbo, of course. Maybe I was still on a skiing high from all that powdery white stuff (not just the powdered sugar!). But no, there was more to it. Part of The Lost Cajun’s charm is its story about someone taking a risk to pursue a dream. To live adventurously. To not stop with good enough.

Apparently the founder, Griff, and his wife had always wanted to live in the Rockies. But they had a whole life down in Louisiana. Long story short, one day they decided to go for it. They picked all they had in the Big Easy and moved up to Summit County, Colorado. Of all things, they opened a Cajun restaurant! But wouldn’t ya know — people love an authentic, down-home Cajun dish at 9,000 ft just as much as they do at sea level!

To inspire us all to live just as boldly, I collected some of my favorite quotes about going for it. So… muse about a few of these… gather up your gumption… and go get after it!

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” — Mark Twain

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.” — Henry David Thoreau

“As a well-spent day brings happy sleep, so life well used brings happy death.” — Leonardo da Vinci

“If things seem under control, you are just not going fast enough.” — Mario Andretti

“Do not lose hold of your dreams or aspirations. For if you do, you may still exist but you have ceased to live.” — Henry David Thoreau

“It is never too late to be who you might have been.” — George Eliot

“Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear.” — Ambrose Redmoon

“Plunge boldly into the thick of life, and seize it where you will, it is always interesting.” — Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe

 

Ahhh… Integrity

I know, its a weird post title… but follow me for a sec here….

In a world over-saturated with so many brand promises, big talking heads on tv, and attempts to be “authentic” (scary that’s even a thing!), its easy to become jaded.

Take brand promises, for example. We hear them all the time:

  • Walmart: save money, live better…
  • Coca-Cola: open happiness….
  • McDonalds: I’m lovin it ….
  • Apple: think different.

But let’s be honest: when was the last time you walked out of Walmart thinking, “now I can live better!” or bit into a Big Mac and thought “I’m LOVING this!” or used your iPhone and realized “wow, now I can finally differently! … Thanks, <insert brand>, for doing what you said you would” ? Yeah… me too.

If I stop to think about it, I realize how I have a knee-jerk reaction to undermine every one of their promises with a “yeah, right.” Almost subconsciously, I  write them off as not having anything to do with real life, not applicable with my actual experience with their product, quotidian overreaching. It’s just talk. (Don’t even get me started on how this applies to the bloviating by most of our dear presidential candidates.)

I just wish more of the 700 messages we’re bombarded with each day could be more truthful. Ha, even authentic. Wouldn’t it be nice if a yes meant yes, and a no meant no? 

Which is why it was so incredibly refreshing to experience such a straightforward demonstration of integrity.

Last night the hubby and I decided to go out for dinner. This was no casual Saturday night decision, people. We’ve been trying to save money (thank you Winter Warmer passport!) & eating pretty much paleo; going out felt very special. It actually started with John (the hubby) asking me “if you could eat anything in the world right now, what would it be”… and the first thing that came to mind was Mountain Sun’s Date Night burger. If you haven’t had one yet, go try one. You can thank me later.

So we decided to go to Mountain Sun’s Denver location – Vine Street Pub. If you haven’t heard about the Mountain Suns, you should know a few things first: they only accept cash, all their staff work together & split tips, and the whole vibe is lots of hippie love. Its cool though. We went totally expecting this.

What we didn’t expect was just how true all their staff are to their brand promise. From the horse’s mouth:

“The pub’s mission was to create an environment that was as comfortable as your living room… with a commitment to high-quality ingredients, community engagement, environmental stewardship, and employee equity…”

 

Boy did last night put that brand promise to the test! It was crazy busy. A 90-minute wait for a table for two. No surprise — its Stout Month! — but miraculously I found 2 seats at the bar.

We decided to eat at the bar instead of wait for a table, so we quickly put some orders into the kitchen and started on our stout sampling odyssey.

IMG_20160220_193347
The team of beer and people serving us on Feb 20th. You all were awesome!!

…45 minutes later, as kindly as I could, I asked the server delivering a steaming golden plate of fries to our new bar neighbors whether our meals would be coming out soon, too. Long story short, the answer was no. Turns out, they’d lost our ticket. Ugh.

Not 2 minutes later, another server came over — they were so sorry about losing our order that the entire meal (beer and all!) would be 100% complimentary. And our food came out just a few minutes after that. Wow, now that’s service!

This isn’t the first time my order has been screwed up somewhere. But the other places often just replied with a “sorry” and made excuses (“its crazy busy tonight…”). We’d be lucky to get comp’ed a drink or an app.

Not so at Vine Street Pub. The whole team was so on top of it that as soon as they discovered the mistake, everyone came through to ensure we still felt as “comfortable as (being in our own) living room.” We walked out of there truly feeling like we’d been part of a community. I’m so impressed with the Mountain Sun group’s ability to train & support their people’s ability to live out their brand promise — to walk the walk, not just talk the talk — last night. We’ll definitely be bringing our business back to Vine Street Pub.

In a world of over-promising (and under-delivering), experiencing integrity feels like a fresh, cool breeze. 

Makes me wonder… how I can I tweak my mindset, my words, my actions to live with a little more integrity … to bring a little more refreshment to our world. What about you?

Dining review
Vine Street Pub wall art – Photo credit: Denver Post 

 

Making the most of it

The timing for this post is kind of funny. Its 60 degrees and sunny … in February! Feels a little weird to talk about winter warmers when there’s no need to warm up. That said, its always a good time for an adventure, so here we are.

Which brings us to the question of the day: Have you heard of the Passport program?

If not, get on top of it! The current one — called the Winter Warmer — has sold out but their summer passport also rocks and should become available later this spring. Its in 10 cities across the nation. And, no, it isn’t some lame coupon book or far-too-ambitious social networking game. It’s so much more.

“More than just a field guide to hand-picked establishments, every venue featured in the Passport offers a two-for-one special on a signature drink! Participating venues get to show off their bar program by picking their favorite libations that best represents their establishment.”

Once you’ve hit 2 or 3 of the twenty or so establishments, you’ve saved enough with the 2-for-1 to pay off the cost of the passport.  And you’ve significantly reduced your risk of trying out a new place and/or a new drink. In my city of over 4,000 bars & restaurants  — with new ones opening every day — no one has the time or money to waste on boring booze or lame libations. 

Risk mitigation doesn’t sound sexy. Sounds like something you should worry about when it comes to your 401K or buying a house. But the truth is, we only have so many hours in a day. And really — without getting depressing, just being realistic — we only have so many days. So how I choose to spend my time matters.

Take it one step further: I only have so many hours in my life, and I use quite a few of them making money. (I love my job, too, but that’s another conversation.) Therefore, how I spend that money matters too.  Truth is, even if we had more hours to spend, I’m not sure it would be a good thing. Ever heard that saying “if you stand for everything, then you stand for nothing”? If we had endless time (and money) to spend so we could visit all the bars and restaurants, wouldn’t that end up making each one mean a little less? I’m sure I’d start forgetting many of them … even really good ones… cuz it would be just too much to handle.

Now, wait just a sec: from a certain perspective, this post can sound quite superficial. Believe me, there is a much deeper discussion to be had about how to spend our precious resource of time … loving people, making the world a better place, simply enjoying each moment. That said, if you can’t take care with the little things, then how well are you caring for the more important things?

A night on the town — spending time AND spending money — is something we can do well or do poorly.

Which is why its so awesome to have something like the Passport to make sure my hubby and I make the most of what we have. And, yes, they do a pretty smashup job curating. Of the 10 we’ve visited so far, all were worth it.

image

 

For your own curation pleasures, are few of our absolute favorites:

Bar Fausto   – Delicious and creative cocktails, trendy vibe, delicious antipasto, super nice owner, a little spendy

Call to Arms Brewery – solid lineup (get a flight!), english pub feel, neighborhood gathering place

Ste. Ellie – classy speakeasy vibe, creative cocktails (that occasionally fall flat, but are mostly good), delicious bites

 

Freedom — in images

My sweet mom has a mass of food allergies…and she also happens to be the original foodie in our family. An incredibly artistic cook, she is the one I owe my palate to.

So, when my awesome mom was in town, I knew I had to take her to Shine.

Shine Restaurant & Gathering Place “is a place for us all to nourish ourselves through food, community, dance, education and celebration.” Nourishing, indeed! They have a gluten-free, dairy-free, almost entirely allergen-free menu. And — its delicious. Even my meat-and-potatoes husband likes it.

Breakfast at Shine.
Breakfast at Shine.

So… there we were, being seated at a table where my husband was waiting with a fresh bread basket. And after so much self-deprivation and careful restricting, my food-loving mom didn’t have to wade through a devilishly tempting list of delicacies she could not enjoy. In fact, she could finally order from the entire menu!

What was more… she could even eat from the  warm bread basket!!!!

Freedom!!!

She dives into the bread basket..
She dives into the bread basket..
And realizes she is free to enjoy...
And realizes she is free to enjoy…

 

And to enjoy again...
And to enjoy again…

 

And even free to finish with gluten-free fresh craft brew

Why was this so enjoyable — nay — near orgasmic?

I think it comes down to one thing… the human craving for freedom. Our hearts long to be free to  fully experience being alive…to feel, and taste, and smell, and breathe to our deepest abilities…to feel free.

When was the last time you felt fully alive?

 

An Ode to the Quirky

The crawfish carcasses, after being eaten

What makes for a fabulous Saturday? An epic meal and some good downtime always helps, but what’s really refreshing on a weekend is an adventure…

A chance to go outside the ordinary humdrum of the work week.

I’d been to the Dark Horse before. This fried food and beer joint, with its quirky staff and fantastical decor, always provides a welcome escape from the real world.

Items hanging from the ceiling at the Dark Horse.
A section of the ceiling at the Dark Horse. Can you tell what all is up there?

It probably helps that every element of the building — from the heavy wooden door to the movie-prop-laden ceiling to the perpetually dim lighting — makes it feel like you’ve entered some ancient burrow, like something you’d find in Alice’s Wonderland or a wealthy hobbit’s hideaway. What would normally be mundane lawn furniture or old wagon wheels transform into whimsy as they hang over my head, suspended from an amalgamation of madness that doubles as the ceiling.

But this weekend was even more adventurous thanks to the annual crawfish boil!

Stamped with the Cajun seal of approval (from our friend who hails from New Orleans), these crawfish were something else! Having never eaten a single crawfish before, it took some gumption for me to wade through a whole lb of the little critters… popping off the head, cracking the tail, peeling off the exoskeleton, carefully pulling out the “poop vein,” only to finally eat… and repeat. I vacillated between being rather disgusted by this whole process and enjoying the other-worldliness and spice of it all.

The crawfish carcasses, after being eaten
The crawfish carcasses, after being eaten. Oh, the carnage!

Thank goodness for the beer. It helped referee my competing thoughts and emotions: the enjoyment won out. For some crazy reason, the Cajun crustaceans were delicious with my creamy Deschutes Obsidian on Nitro.

As quirky and downright nasty as it was, I loved it. Why?

While we all need stability and predictability to survive, the human spirit craves — and indeed requires — new experiences to thrive. Think about it: from a strictly physical standpoint, what happens when our muscles do the exact same thing over and over and over again? Those muscles stop growing, stop improving. That’s why I’m always having to change out my workout routine. (Or should… but that’s another topic for another day.)

I think our mental and spiritual self reacts analogously; without something outside our comfort zone, we hit a plateau. The daily grind becomes more grinding. Our quality of life atrophies. We need the quirky or the “strange” to stay healthy!

So, thank you Dark Horse, for helping me find something marvelous in the midst of the mundane.

Exciting comfort food?

Bang! restaurant
Bang! restaurant
The back of bang, which is actually the front. You have to go there to see what i mean!

It had been a long, exhausting week at work. All I wanted was a snuggly robe and a cushy couch. Or to curl up with a bowl of comfort food. It was Friday night, but I was spent. You know what I mean.

The problem was this: it was the weekend. And as a young(ish) professional without kids, I wasn’t about to spend the entire weekend watching movies. Plus, the family was coming into town. Since this was their first time visiting me in Colorado, they weren’t about to spend the weekend in my tiny one bedroom apartment either.

So what to do?

Bang!

Yes, Bang! An incredible amalgamation of down home and super cool.

The unusual entrance and rainbow-colored paint of the restaurant gently roused me from my state of exhaustion… just in time before I dove into the epitome of comfort food: mashed potatoes and fried chicken. The BEST mashed potatoes and fried chicken I’ve ever tasted. Tender, well-seasoned, just like you’d hope it would taste but with enough culinary creativity that you’re pretty sure you couldn’t reproduce it without some serious magic. The meatloaf was just as spectacular. (On a side note, don’t miss the fried calamari. I forgot we were landlocked!)

And then a bonus! Located in Highland Square, this little area has all the funkiness to make me feel like I was doing something with myself—and to impress my guests with mellow, walkable, and hip shopping– we walked off our meal by perusing the wine shop, cheese store and several little boutique clothing shops. After our adventure to this little place, I not only felt well fed, but well rested and ready to go. The rest of the weekend was a blast (more on that to come).

So why am I adding this place to my collection? It seems so unique to find a place that can satisfy the stomach and the soul. Moreover, one that combines so many aspects of an energized, hip, forward-moving approach to life (the bright colors, the hip neighborhood, the funky building) with the very bedrock of comfort food (mashed potatoes, fried chicken, meatloaf, iced tea).

So if you’re feeling like you would aspire to “do something” but need a little help getting the energy or inspiration, Bang! is your ticket to exciting comfort.