Monthly Archives: November 2012

Art is the latest “pop-up” trend

The phenomenon of pop-ups has taken off in North America, coming to Calgary in the form of a restaurant (Charpop), a lounge (Crowbar) and even a pop-up furniture and accessories store (Sit).

Wildlife painted on a utility box greets cars entering Inglewood on 9 Ave. S.E. from downtown Calgary.

But the pop-up’s latest incarnation delivers it to the masses in an esthetically pleasing format: public art. Pop-up art falls into the category of urban intervention, where designers and street artists are starting to look at urban landscapes as something more than just utilitarian. In some cities guerilla swings have popped up by bus stops, giving commuters something to do while they wait, for example. Pop-up art, by contrast, gives passersby something to look at and appreciate while they walk or drive in the city. It pretties up the streetscape.

I first noticed pop-up art on some older buildings in the East Village, where a sort of upscale grafiti-style street art injected colour into the otherwise bleak (especially in winter) landscape.

This stop sign sports a knitted cozy.

The trend has now migrated east into Inglewood. I’ve spotted several “stop-sign cozies” warming up the cold sliver poles — a practice known as “yarnbombing.” The neighbourhood’s grey utility boxes have also turned into three-dimensional works of art as artists paint them with city scenes and pictures of wildlife you’re likely to spot while walking along the Bow River or visiting the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary (deer, geese and even a Richardson’s ground squirrel).

The best addition to the hood — in my opinion — is a gorgeous mural covering what was once plain beige concrete supporting a train underpass that leads from the bus depot in Victoria Park under the railway tracks to 9 Avenue by Fort Calgary. Instead of a dingy underpass car passengers now marvel at a kaleidoscope of colours depicting a bird, a woman and a whole lot of flowing shapes and swirls.

This underpass is way prettier thanks to a gorgeous mural painted this past summer.

Personally, I love this trend. I think it’s a great way to beautify community spaces and bring interest to tableaux that would otherwise remain utilitarian, ugly and add nothing to the urban environment.

How about you? Have you noticed any pop-up art in your neighbourhood? Do you like it?

Drink of the Week: Hashtag Boom (#Boom)

Bourbon is super trendy right now and I had the chance to sample several bourbon cocktails at a small competition held at Vine Arts wine and spirits shop this past Sunday evening.

The event was sponsored by Beam Global. Competitors from six Calgary restaurants and lounges were asked to create an original cocktail using a product under the Beam umbrella, ranging from bourbons to a rum (Curzan Black Strap Rum),  cognac (Courvousier VS) and even a single malt scotch (Laphroaig).

Franz Swinton creates an original cocktail at Vine Arts.

You’d expect competition to be stiff with talent from Anejo, Cilantro, Milk Tiger Lounge, Ox and Angela, Raw Bar and Taste all wooing our taste buds — and it was. I was impressed with Franz Swinton (representing Anejo), who managed to create a delicious and smoky number by combining scotch and tequila with sweet milk, cinnamon and star anise.

Everyone loved this tart yet peachy-sweet creation from Matt LaRocque at Taste.

On our way out we were asked to vote on our favourite cocktail. I quite fancied the Pulque Sazerac from Cilantro, but I also liked the winning cocktail from Taste. Hashtag Boom (#Boom) mixes Knob Creek bourbon with a homemade red pepper simple syrup, lemon juice and ginger beer. The result is a tart-meets-spicy-meets-peachy-sweet liquid taste explosion. #Boom will be available at Taste for the next month. Or, you can make the cocktail at home:

Hashtag Boom (#Boom)

  • 1-1/2 oz Knob Creek bourbon
  • 1 oz Red Pepper Gastrique (see recipe, below)
  • 1/2 oz lemon juice
  • Fentiman’s Ginger Beer
  • 3 dashes Fee Brother’s Peach Bitters

In lieu of a kimchi praline garnish you could always just use a lemon wedge.

Shake bourbon, gastrique and lemon juice in a cocktail shaker full of ice. Strain ingredients into a rocks glass, and proceed to fill glass to the top with ice. Top drink with ginger beer, and add three dashes of peach bitters. Garnish with a kimchi praline (or even just a lemon wedge).

Red Pepper Gastrique

  • 3 oz red peppers
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 oz red wine vinegar
  • 2 oz white vinegar
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Boil sugar, water and vinegars together. Reduce heat and add peppers. Puree and strain (consistency should be able to coat the back of a spoon). If too thick, thin with a little hot water.

— Recipe courtesy Matt LaRocque, Taste

Our Sea-Monkeys experiment

Remember Sea-Monkeys? When I was a kid every comic book featured an ad on the back cover selling kits that promised to get you growing these prehistoric krill-like creatures from the comfort of your home. I never asked my parents to buy me sea-monkeys — like magic sand, I figured the product would only disappoint. Look at the drawings of them: as if you’ll grow a weird amphibious family that lives in a castle.

Creepy, right? But weirdly I could not resist.

So when Avery came home from school clutching a Scholastic book order form, with a picture of the Sea Creatures kit circled, I rolled my eyes. I mean, kudos to the Sea-Monkeys marketing team for successfully rebranding the critters by calling them by their scientific name, “triops,” and packaging them in a box that sells them as Sea Creatures (the monkeys moniker always seemed a bit creepy). But still, I felt it would be $12.99 of Avery’s allowance money down the drain. Would they even hatch? What was their lifespan (translation: how long would they clutter up our kitchen island)? I knew it wouldn’t end well. (But at least she wasn’t asking for a pair of x-ray glasses, a gimmick coveted by her daddy back in his comic book-reading days.)

Look closely and you will see our first triops hatchling. The castle is not included in the kit.

In the name of science we relented and, two weeks later, Avery brought home her kit. A couple days after we released eggs to water, there it was — almost invisible to the naked eye — our first baby triops. A few days on we counted four. Then, sadly, we experienced a die-off and our numbers dropped to two (we think the larger ones cannibalized the babies). The remaining sea creatures seemed to flourish in the tropical environment we created, thanks to an incubator-like lightbulb set up by the little dish. At first Avery doted on them, mixing up food and suctioning dirty water out of their bowl. She also watched them zip around the dish and even drew pictures of triops. It was love for about a day.

Avery cleans out the triops dish, a gesture in vain as they would all be dead by morning.

This triops is in a way cleaner bowl than ours.

Then guess who took over triops duty? Yes. The parents. We watched in dismay as the dish became ever-cloudier and its occupants harder to see. Triops are not cute. Their name comes from the Greek word meaning “three eyes” (which would totally have made a scarier Greek monster than a cyclops) and if you look closely you will see two black eyes plus a black spot above the eyes on a large head that sits atop a shrimp-like body. They are fascinating partly because they look so weird.

Triop, I love you.

Despite our best efforts the oldest triops died last week. Avery didn’t take it well and pretty much cried all morning after I shared the news. I Googled “triops lifespan” (on average two weeks) and realized the second triops had maybe three or four good days left. Cue sad music.

Monday night our last Sea-Monkey was swimming frenetically around the dish, living it up amongst the triops food and accumulated debris. By Tuesday morning it was floating lifeless at the bottom of the container. Avery just kind of shrugged in acceptance (now that she’s a circle-of-life veteran) and then asked, “When can we hatch the rest of the eggs?”

A true scientist is born. (And yes, those kits are well worth $12.99.)