BiSClaimer: You’re about to experience my six-day Vegas adventure in the span of one post. If you’re not ready to take in all the awesome through text, video and images galore, turn back now. Once I start, I will not stop until it’s out of my system. You have been warned.
It’s been almost a solid month since Bloggers in Sin City, and it’s taken about this long to get off the buzz from my BiSC-uit high. In the time since I’ve been back, I’ve volunteered at a national conference, listened to amazing speakers, eaten delicious food and got up to much of the madness I would’ve done before I went to BiSC.
But it just wasn’t the same.
When I got back, many friends and family members expected that I’d spent all my time partying, getting drunk and gambling, because that’s what you do in Vegas, right? At least that’s what TV and movies tell us.
But there’s so much more to the Vegas experience than you can imagine. You need the right people and the right opportunities to make it happen, though!
Sometimes you just won’t recognize something that’s been missing in your life until you experience it.
I’ve been back in Toronto a few days now after almost a week spent in the crazy of Las Vegas — but I haven’t blogged. I haven’t felt the urge to get back in the mix and put my blood, sweat and tears into my content… not unless I was ready to chance everything and start to write stuff that lives up to my potential. That week in Vegas — much of it spent at Bloggers in Sin City (BiSC) — returned something to me that I didn’t know I was missing. It gave me something that makes me look at the world around me in a different way, and changes what I’m trying to accomplish with everything I do.
So yes, there is more to do in Vegas than party, get drunk and gamble. While these are horribly fun (until they’re not!), Vegas is full of surprises — great shopping, bright lights, and a whole bunch of unexpected animals!
Get Your Shop On: Las Vegas Premium Outlets North & Town Square
I can’t lie — I love shopping abroad. One thing I’ve learned over my years in Toronto is that I love being unique. I want to wear colours that other guys don’t wear; have accessories that make me stand out — I’m all about making an impression. Vegas and its high-end outlet mall north of the Strip had the perfect intersection between affordable and fashionable, and with $1000 in spending money, you know we were going to get our shop on sometime. As what’s mine is hers (or at least that’s what the pastor told me when he married us), I made sure to give Sarah her half and we went. to. town.
“All there is to do in Vegas is eat, spend and party.”
There are few places on the planet with a reputation like Las Vegas. When people talk about it, you have the starry-eyed “Vegas virgins” who’ve yet to take a trip and see what the hype’s all about, versus the Vegas vets who’ve been there, done that, but very much know that there’s a new adventure every time you go. Last time I went to Las Vegas, this happened:
…so having survived that foolishness, 2013 marks not just one, but two trips I’ll be taking down to the Gambling Capital of the World, both for very different reasons and under very different circumstances. With little under a month left before I make my way there for Bloggers in Sin City, this first series will cover the trip I took with Sarah from February 15-18.
Our Story So Far
When you get married, everyone’s always asking the big question in a multitude of ways:
“Any kids yet?”
“You guys planning a family?”
“What’s taking you so long?!”
Before you cross that last threshold into cementing your adulthood, you’ll probably try to enjoy your DINC/DINK status (Double Income no Children/Double Income no Kids) as much as possible, because as awesome as kids are, it’s no secret that they crush both your freedom and your wallet.
A couple of weeks ago, some friends had asked me what it was like being in the CityLine audience. I hadn’t really thought about it by then, but spent some time afterward putting it into words.
And here’s the result:
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What do you get when you mix an audience that’s 94% female, free exercise balls and a connection to social media in only the loosest of ways?
For me, this was the April Fools’ Day episode of CityLine.
Suddenly, a Wild Opportunity Appeared!!!
When you put your goals out in the open, sometimes the universe will step in to help you out!
Back in January, I’d posted The 2013 100, a list of 100 goals I’d like to accomplish this year. One of them was #69: Help my Mom get tickets to CityLine and/or the Marilyn Denis show. When I wrote it, I didn’t think that it was realistic. There’s an online lottery system to get tickets to either show, and with the Greater Toronto Area’s population of more than 5 million, I figured the odds were slim.
Clicking the link in question brought me to a proposition that piqued my interest:
Are you passionate about blogging? Social media obsessed? Constantly tweeting, uploading pics, or pinning that recipe or DIY project that you’re dying to try?
We’re looking for 5 fantastic food or DIY bloggers/social media junkies to be a part of our studio audience, here in Toronto, on March 25. If you want to be part of the fun, please email email@example.com with the following information:
Email us your name, your blog URL/social media account links, and why we should pick you to be in our audience! Please also include a contact email address and phone number, as well as the name of the lucky guest (must be 18+) you’d like to bring along with you. Be sure to specify ”March 25 show” in the subject line.
Good luck and we hope to see you soon!
Now if you haven’t guessed from this blog, I like to write. I’ve been fortunate enough to have started writing (successful) grant applications for youth centres at the age of 12, so I’ve approached making proposals the same way for almost 20 years — some fact, some funny, but always compelling. This is what I came up with:
I’ve been deep into social media for a few years now, with no signs of stopping. I eat, breathe and sleep social media, finding ways to keep active in between the rigours of my day job, side projects and maintaining a healthy marriage. My life wouldn’t be the same without social media, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
I’m energetic, enthusiastic and always willing to try new things. I’d be a great addition to your audience. Promise.
…and it worked! With the tickets locked down, I got to make one of the Mom’s dreams come true, and I can’t lie — that feels pretty good! With an outfit picked out and my Mom ready for her television début, CityLine was in our sights!
The CityLine experience was a… bizarre one. They had the foodies covered — Jason Parsons was there to teach us about some fresh meals to make for the spring; Leigh-Ann Allaire Perrault and Janette Ewen’s tips on what goes in a handyperson’s toolbox covered the do-it-yourself crowd… but where did the social media junkies fit in?
Tracy was really nice, making sure to interact with the audience members and not be all “celebrity-like”. She’s a really great host.
The only signs of social media at the taping where the tweeps I’ve gotten to know over the years (and some new ones!), and the Twitter handles they added to guests’ names when they were on-screen. My Mom enjoyed it thoroughly, getting to meet Tracy Moore, and she’s always a fan of freebies (when I still lived at home and my Dad and I took the same route downtown, if my Dad brought home a freebie and I didn’t, I’d be in trouble!) — but social media’s about more than just a Twitter shout-out and letting them join an audience for a taping.
The people I’ve met who’ve really made social media part of their lives want to work with brands. We want to know the ins and outs of what brands do, and how to communicate what we’ve learned in interesting ways. Free stuff is nice. Doing things that others might not easily access is nice. But inviting people who get social media presents an opportunity that brands sometimes fail to recognize. We want to tell your story. We want to introduce you to our audience.
All you need to do is ask.
Look Under Your Seat, Folks!!!
Free Greek yogurt (given to a co-worker), exercise ball (given to our tenants) and copy of This is 40 in hand, I’m still glad I got to experience being part of a TV studio audience — I always dreamed of being on Oprah, but you know what?
I’ve been blessed to have a pretty solid sense of direction — I’ll go somewhere and orient myself with the sun’s placement in the sky, landmarks, where the moss is growing on trees (yeah right — I’m a city boy; no way I know that) — generally, I tend to know where I’m going.
But my internal GPS isn’t perfect. There have been times that I’ve gotten ridiculously lost, either due to my ignorance or just rotten luck. Some of the more notable examples include:
Getting lost at Centreville when I was 7 or 8 with my baby brother and getting paged over the PA to find my way back to my Mom, blubbering all the while. I think I got spanked for stressing my Mom out by getting lost and for crying about it that day….
Once I wound up stranded at McMaster University in Hamilton, ON because I’d gone to school sick, fell asleep on the bus back and didn’t wake again ’til well after my stop! The worst parts: I was on my way to work; I forgot my wallet on the seat; and when I got off of the bus, I asked the driver where the bus was going next and not where I actually was. I eventually wandered around and saw the McMaster Marauders logo on a signboard, and found a friend who’d spot me $20 to get home and a place to sleep for the night — but did I learn my lesson?
obviously not, because I’d fall asleep on the bus going home from school yet again and awake to it being empty and driving in unfamiliar territory. When I got up and asked the driver where we were (which received a quick “Oh shit!” as I’d scared him half to death), he told me to downtown Toronto to drop off the bus — the opposite direction I needed to go for my shift at work. Damn it. In what can only be described as the best luck ever, the driver put me on the bus heading back in the right direction, and I bumped into my buddy Alfred who’d give me a ride to work, actually making me early for my shift! Boss move.
Once in my 2006 L.A. visit, my buddy Jon and I wanted to find a bar where we could celebrate his 21st birthday on a hot May day, and told to walk a few minutes down the road and take a turn or two, so off we went. For four hours. Eventually we’d end up at Roscoe’s House of Chicken & Waffles with a couple of brews and more fried everything that we knew what to do with. Getting lost can sometimes end very, very well.
So what can we learn from this? That sometimes you’re gonna get lost. That sometimes things aren’t going to work out like you expect them to. But if you can keep a positive outlook and learn to improvise a little, just about any situation can go from bad to rad!
Tell your wife, tell your kids, tell your husbands:
Life is full of happy surprises — like the time where a friend dropped my name to a CTV producer, which landed me a spot on the CTV News talking tech news on a Tuesday!
To Scarberia and Beyond
It’ll take a lot to get a kid from Mississauga to step into Scarborough. To a Mississaugan, Scarborough is a place mentioned in hushed whispers at night, meant to scare young children into behaving. You might think you’re the meanest thing on the streets in the ‘Saug, but they’d eat you up for breakfast on the east side of Toronto. And even though I’d spent a little time there when I dated a Scarborough girl in my teens, I hadn’t had much reason to return since that relationship ended.
So when I got the opportunity for a CTV News appearance, it was probably about time that I made my way back east of Victoria Park Ave.
Getting on TV BY ANY MEANS NECESSARY.
The next time I’m asked to go somewhere unfamiliar, I’ll make sure I do aerial recon on Google Maps first so I don’t end up jumping a chain-link perimeter fence in my good clothes (yes, it really happened!)
One day I’ll learn how to take really good panoramic shots with my phone, but until then, you get this.
A signed photo of Kunta… er, Jordi… er…
Took a shot of this for my buddy Jaemeel!
Shout-out to my parents and their love for Lionel! think they even managed to catch him in concert 🙂
I’m sure there’s many women my age that found this guy dreamy
I saw this and I immediately thought of Simone and her constant denial of her love for his … craft.
After some waiting time in the green room (I was really early…) and quick banter with host Marcia MacMillan, it was go time. We went right into it and I rambled off a number of facts from the notes I’d made earlier (note: I impressed Marcia in that I hadn’t brought any speaking notes on-stage with me — I didn’t even know it was an option).
It was over as quickly as it started, and my minutes of fame gone to the next would-be-superstar, but for a moment there, I had a lot of fun on a news set at 9 Channel Nine Court in Scarborough.
Apparently I don’t watch enough TV
Had I known that there was more than one CTV channel, I’d have asked which one I’d appear on. Sorry to anyone I led to the wrong channel, but the clip’s right here for anyone who still wants to see it:
Looking at myself with a critical eye, I could’ve been better prepared, but it was a decent effort for a first time doing TV in a live studio!
Overall, I was very happy with the experience and all the love I received from family and friends about my performance — and even happier that they told me to keep my mind open to future opportunities in coming weeks!
Keep your eyes peeled, everyone. This isn’t over!
Thanks for reading,
Tell your wife, tell your kids, tell your husbands:
Today we take a short break from the November to Remember series to talk about an amazing experience I had last night, which involved one of the few things that’ve paralyzed me in my tracks for years —
Back when my Dad used to run a restaurant, he would give me my first set of jobs ever. While I was really good at customer service and bookkeeping, there was one thing I really sucked at — and that was anything having to do with the kitchen.
No matter how hard I tried, I could never do prep work fast enough. Or cook anything right. The only thing I was good at in the kitchen was messing up. So after I got through that horrendous experience, I never got anywhere near cooking again!
Born and raised in Bari, Italy, Chef Pino got an early start in the restaurant biz when his father would pay him 10¢ a day to do dishes. Many days (and many more dishes) later, he would save up enough to buy his first bicycle. Continuing to work in restaurants as he went through his teenage years, more responsibility meant more money, the bicycle became a motorcycle and the legend of The Chef on 2 Wheels was born!
Chef Pino is an extremely personable gentleman who strives to get to know his clients and treats everyone with the same amount of respect. You get the same Chef Pino whether you spent your last dime hiring his services or you’re working on making your next million. He’s polite, he’s classy and he’s secure enough in knowing what he’s doing that he has no problem sharing his recipes and methods with you!
And for a couple of hours, he was bringing decades of experience (from such celebrated places as Toulà and catering for celebrities at both Toronto Fashion Week and the Toronto International Film Festival) to my home so he could teach me a thing or two… hundred.
The 5-course menu was lavish and offered tastes of things I normally wouldn’t have without finding a nice Italian restaurant to visit. The menu included:
Here’s a look at some of the prep work and outcomes of the food I got to try — everything was delicious!!!
Getting the ingredients ready!
I didn’t even know that there were different kinds of cheese graters
Add some swiss cheese, sage, cornmeal, garlic, sea salt…
Put some extra-virgin olive oil and truffle oil all over it….
And after 20 minutes in the oven, BOOM!!!
A palate cleanser that tastes delicious? Yes, please!
Made with Chef Pino’s own blend of sauces, this pasta was SO FLAVOURFUL.
The pork was moist, juicy and delicious!
What I Learned from Chef Pino Padula
You can’t help but learn from Chef Pino. There were little tips and tricks I’d pick up as he worked — like not putting the sauce in the skillet until the onions are translucent, or that hard cheeses go with pork and soft ones with chicken — but here’s 3 key lessons I’ll take with me when I try to make meals of my own!
1. You Can’t Make Good Food from Ingredients Gone Bad!
Chef Pino would emphasize multiple times that the thing giving his food so much flavour was its freshness. He buys everything as close to the prep date as possible, only holding on to ingredients for short periods of time before they’re no longer good — and his attention to detail definitely pays off!
2. You Get What You Pay For
You might think that a sauce is a sauce is a sauce, but Chef Pino would tell you how wrong you are. He showed us that cheaper sauces include seeds and skins, making them bitterer the longer you cook them, while premium sauces had neither, making them sweeter the longer they simmer. And he had tips for every ingredient.
3. Eat the Food the Way You’re Meant To Eat It
When I went to another course without cleansing my palate first, Chef Pino pointed out that I wouldn’t be getting the true flavour of the food. After following his advice and taking a mouthful of sgroppino, I could note flavours that I never would have tasted otherwise! So here it’s important to:
use a palate cleanser
eat the food fresh off of the stove
eat enough to appreciate the food but not so much that you regret it — your state of mind is part of the dining experience
Years later, my Dad would tell me that there was a lesson he wanted to teach me those days I spent in his kitchen staff:
“I want you to learn about the things you hate to do so you’ll go out and do amazingly at the things you love.”
While he may have been right that cooking wouldn’t be my secret to success, I don’t think he intended to turn me off from cooking forever.
Before Chef Pino came along, the kitchen would be the last place you’d ever find me. I’d take any chore over cooking if ever given the choice.
It only took two hours for Chef Pino to give my confidence back, and in the end that’s better value than I would’ve gotten from any cooking show.
Have We Tempted You?
If you want to try this experience yourself, Buytopia has a deal for Chef Pino’s services! Instead of the $320 you’d normally shell out for the service I just described, you can score it for $99!!! Vouchers are good until December 16, 2013; he also offers fish and vegetarian menus; and can come to any house in the GTA. These make awesome Christmas, anniversary or birthday gifts for the people who already have everything and are impossible to shop for. (To be honest, I got a couple of vouchers, myself!)
And if that’s not enough incentive, I had some good chats with Chef Pino himself, and he’s informed me that this just might be the last round of discounts before it goes back up to full price forever! The deal’s only on until midnight Sunday, December 16, so if you want it, you’d better get it while it’s hot!
Thanks for reading, and if you do get the chance to try what Chef Pino has to offer, let me know how it goes!
[Disclosure: I wrote this post as a member of the Buytopia.ca Inner Circle, where we try goods and services before blogging about them and earn affiliate percentages for successful sales. But I’m honest and will never write a dishonest review for the sake of money — without integrity, we have nothing.]
Tell your wife, tell your kids, tell your husbands: