Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Losing Confidence in the Signs of Spring

After a weekend of sangria,
sunshine,

and patios,
the weather has decided that it is a tease. It is cold, windy, snowing, slushy, and miserable. Our plans for a Thursday soccer game have been put on hold because the pitch is currently under 5-10cm of snow. Montreal, you win this round.


I'm moving to California.

Maybe Africa.

Stupid Science


This is a graph showing some extremely exciting science I have been working on for the past year. I will be presenting around 10 graphs like this in a single poster at the Vision Science Society conference a week from Saturday. 

The only way I could make it more confusing and horrible is if I did this: 


Adobe Illustrator and I are going to be well acquainted by the time the poster goes to print on Monday.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

I can haz nap?

This weekend, Dave and I are at the Château Frontenac in Québec City. It is incredible, and we have lots of photos to share. In the meantime, a teaser:

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Baking Macarons


When I told Sam (who hails from Paris, the land of pastries) that I had a goal of baking macarons he was deeply impressed. These little meringue-based biscuits are notoriously difficult to make, not because they're complicated (only four ingredients!) but because there are so many things you can do wrong.

This evening, I made my third batch (with Sam's help), and I think they finally came out right. They have lovely puffy little feet, the bottoms aren't too dark, and the tops are smooth. There are a few little peaks on the tops, which is a result of the batter being so thick that it hardened into a skin before the piped circles smoothed out. This is unfortunate, but a thicker batter is so much easier to pipe into uniform circles, I almost don't care.



I followed the recipe on Bakerella all three times, with variable results. Lessons have been learned.

Macaron Best Practices (by Liz)


DON'T
- Misread the recipe and set your conventional oven to the convection oven temperature. They won't cook in the time the recipe says.
- Put the baking sheets too close to the heat source. Burnt sugar is stinky, and tastes gross.


DO
- Line the baking trays with parchment paper, for the love of God! There's nothing worse than scraping perfect macarons off a baking clay with a metal spatula. It was macaron carnage.
- Use your own ground almonds rather than almond flour, and sift the flour/sugar mixture. It makes a difference
- Taste-test liberally. You want to make sure your friends and family are getting something yummy. Seriously, do you call N=1 a decent sample size?
- Photograph the cookies. They're so pretty.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Signs of Spring

Minus ten degrees Celsius. That's the average winter temperature in Montreal. If you've ever lived in the northern reaches of the world, you know that statistic is nonsense. Temperature means nothing without a windchill factored in. If you hate the cold as much as I do, it usually feels like minus a million.

Winter in Montreal sucks. Many of my foreign co-workers moved to Canada hearing little else about it other than "It's cold! Haha! We'll think of you when we're on the beach at Christmas, mate!". That said, this past winter has sucked a little less hard than usual. The snow was gone by mid-March. If that doesn't sound remarkable, here's a picture from March 11th 2008:
Montreal approaching spring. Really! Look at all the melting snow on the sidewalk. 
This winter, there weren't very many days where it dipped below -20, let alone -30. This winter, there was never this much snow on the ground at any one time. This winter, my dad didn't get a chance to use the snowblower that March 2008 prompted him to buy. This year, on March 11th, it was 10 degrees ABOVE zero, and people were walking around in shorts and T-shirts.

SO, because I'm a horrible Canadian for loving how early spring has come this year, and thinking that this global warming stuff isn't so bad, I (maybe) lost it a little when I saw the first daffodils blooming in the hospital garden today. I might have cooed. I might have forced Jesse to stop walking, just a second please please I need to take a picture of the flower.

Daffodil. Date stamp: April 19th. It happened. 
Unknown blue flower. The onset of spring has co-incided with the installation of "Hipstamatic", A riotously fun photo app, on my iPhone.

Green grass, green shrubs, spring spring SPRING!!

Spring is wonderful, the same way Fridays are wonderful. Sure, Friday isn't the WEEKEND, but it's great because you're so close you can taste it and since it hasn't started yet you're not sad about how soon it's going to be over.

Maybe I need to live somewhere where it's summer all year round.

A conversation (aka: introducing my new editor)

dave: reading your blog
dave: the sink wasn't normal!
liz: huh?
liz: sorry I thought it was
liz: what was it like?
dave: *sends tripadvisor photos of a lovely glass sink*
liz: oh
liz: but it still basically performed sink functions
dave: yes
liz: no extra massage faucets
dave: no. lol
dave: aww. no picture of you pointing at the overhang?
dave: i really like that one
liz: want me to add it?
dave: maybe?
liz: *edits post to include photo of pointing at overhang*
dave: yay!
dave: no remark about zees bathrooms?
liz: I was going to
liz: but I couldn't figure out how to work it in
dave: oh, and just a thought...... instead of (1 of 3, 2 of 3, etc) would it look nicer to just say 2007, 2008, 2009?
liz: no
liz: because 2009 & 2010 go together
liz: though, I guess that's why God invented ampersands
dave: the 1 of 3 thing just makes me feel like it's one continuous story dave:and what happens next year? 4 of 3?
liz: *edits posts to change titles*

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Niagara Falls (2008 trip)

Continuing my recollections of past trips to Niagara Falls ...

On this trip, made over the May long weekend in 2008, we spent our first two nights at the brand-new Stirling Inn. It was incredible. The decor was modern and attractive, but not overdone. The building is a refurbished factory. It doesn't look like much on the outside, but inside is awesome.

I didn't take any photos of the bathroom, which is tragic, because the bathroom was my favourite part of the suite. It had a normal-ish sink, toilet, vanity (kind of lousy lighting for makeup), but the SHOWER. It was as almost as big as the whole bathroom in my apartment, had several different shower heads for an all-over water massage, and doubled as a STEAM ROOM. There were jets whose only purpose was to fill the shower with steam. I may or may not have taken four showers in two days.

Stirling Inn, exterior. Ok, maybe that's self-evident...
Our room. The bathroom is on the right, fireplace up the step and to the left. The couch is that dark form in the distance. This room was so massive that the king size bed wasn't the focal point. 
The "Healthy Breakfast" that was delivered to our room at 8:30am. This was included in the rate of the room, and was really yummy. Mmmm, coffee. 

May 23, 2008
After a good sleep and a healthy breakfast, we ventured out into the city of Niagara Falls. We strolled around a little, enjoying some good weather and taking a few obligatory photos of the falls while we waited for the shuttle up to Niagara Glen where we planned to hike. 

Niagara Glen is a short drive from the crazy tourism of Niagara Falls the city. If you've any interest in geology, there is plenty to see. It was a short-ish, easy hike with lots of fun photo opportunities. Especially if your photographer boyfriend likes to make you pretend to lift rock ledges, give you the camera as he pretends to fall into the niagara river, etc..
Dave pretends to fall into the niagara river
What? Of course I hike in argyle. Here I enjoy the view and look irritated about being posed.
One of the nicest things about the glen hiking trails is that they're not nearly as popular as a lot of the other Niagara Falls tourist attractions. I really enjoyed the peaceful quiet of it. We were alone most of the hike, except for a few times when we crossed paths with other groups of people. 

That evening, we went back to the hotel and got ready for dinner and a magic show at Greg Frewin Theatre. Dinner was a plentiful, yummy, buffet but nothing to write home about. The show on the other hand, was pretty incredible. Greg Frewin is a fantastic showman, with a really exciting and novel collection of illusions. His show includes all the tigers, sequins, doves, and lovely magician's assistants one could ask for. The only unfortunate thing is that (possibly) because he's in a theatre in Niagara Falls rather than in Las Vegas, the show opened with a somewhat awkward "The guy you're about to see is actually a big deal. World class. Even though he's in Canada." video montage. I understand why they did it, but for me anyway, the quality of the show spoke for itself.

May 24, 2008
The next day, we packed up and bid adieu to the Stirling Inn. We drove from Niagara Falls to Niagara on the Lake on the beautiful Niagara Parkway. This is one of the only drives that I really enjoy. There are so many beautiful houses and wineries to admire. Coming from further north at this time of year, it's also nice to just be surrounded by green things.

Niagara on the Lake is a complete change of pace from Niagara Falls. It's still extremely touristy and overpriced, but the focus shifts from wax museums to wine, food, and theatre. We checked in at Pillar and Post somewhat early, but they accommodated us. We, unfortunately, didn't have the foresight to take many location photos. Oops. This one of the Pillar and Post is from niagaraviews.com:

We had dinner plans at Peller Estates winery, but needed a light lunch to get us through. We wandered around a bit before stopping at Zees to eat on their gorgeous patio right across from the Shaw theatre. The food at Zees was wonderful, I had the best Macaroni and cheese of my life, and Dave had memorable crab cakes. We also had a half-litre of Inniskillin's pinot grigio, which has since become one of my favourite white wines.

After lunch, we took a walk around Niagara on the Lake, which can kill about an hour if you have a leisurely stride and maybe two if you like ducking in to look at the shops. The shopping definitely caters to the older crowd - I wouldn't have seriously shopped for myself in any of the clothing stores. That said, there were some cute jewelry and craft stores that were fun to look at. They have a Cows ice cream and T-shirt store - excellent ice cream, seriously corny t-shirts.

Pillar and Post provides a complimentary shuttle for guests around Niagara on the Lake. Peller Estates was a bit out of town, so we hopped in a van and got there well in advance of our reservation. This is the dining room, brought to you by tourismniagara.com:


Outside the windows on the left, there's a terrace that overlooks the vineyard. It was a little too chilly on this trip, but someday I hope to have a less extravagant dinner on the patio. I love eating outdoors.

The Peller Estates dining room has a couple of options: you can eat like at a regular restaurant and order each plate and wine individually, or you can do a tasting menu. They have three tasting menus: the red, white, and signature menus. The red and white are each five courses, the signature is seven. Each course comes with a not-quite-full-but-generous glass of paired wine. We did the signature menu over three hours. It is expensive, but you can consider it your food and your entertainment for the evening.

Dave's tip: finish your wine quickly, and if they aren't too busy you'll get a refill.
Liz's tip: take your time with the wine, or else you'll end up drunk. That said, I don't think they come to bring the next course until you've finished the food and the wine. If you particularly like any of the wines, you can tell your waiter and buy a bottle. They bring you the bottle at the end of the meal and just add the cost to your bill. Caution: some of the glasses of wine come from extremely expensive bottles.

Each course is small, and exotic. If there's something you don't like (Liz: foie gras, Dave: hen's egg poached in rosé, still runny yolk), you don't have to eat too many bites of it. The most amazing thing was the blue cheese saturated with ice wine. It takes two years to completely saturate a wheel of cheese. The coolest thing was the soup course where we were presented with shallow soup bowls, empty save a scallop. We each had two servers at this point, one of whom poured the soup in around the scallop (a substitution from the menu), the other drizzled cream over the soup. They did this at exactly the same time for both of us.



It was very fancy, and by the end of it we were both quite tipsy, but not totally drunk. We'd eaten a huge array of things, and definitely weren't hungry, but we weren't so stuffed we could hardly move either. When we were done, our waiter arranged the shuttle, and we were chauffeured back to Pillar and Post. After a tasting menu, you should not plan to be able to drive.

Pillar and Post does a turn-down of your bed with a lovely rose while you're out for the evening. This might prompt you to take a series of ridiculous pictures, only some of which are not blurry:


This pictures have been post-processed more extensively than usual. You know, to up the class factor. 
Shortly thereafter, we passed out. The end.

Epilogue, May 25, 2008
On our last day, we stopped at Inniskillin and bought the pinot grigio we'd enjoyed at Zees. I enjoyed it again in Montreal later.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

One of my favourite things

I love photos. There are almost 5500 photos in my iPhoto library from the last five years, and more than 1000 scanned from my parents' photo albums of my childhood. Five years ago, after I got my first digital camera, I bought a pack of two photo albums and started making prints. I finished the first album right before New Years 2008. I finished the second album today with my photos from 2009 and early 2010.

There are definitely some photos that I love more than others. Here are my favourite ten photos from the last five years:

October 1, 2005
This photo is the first, and my favourite, of many group shots of me and my beloved Johnson Street roomies. Happy 20th birthday, Tory!

October 21, 2006
Anna, there will never be a better portrait of you. I'll take this down if you ever run for office.

January 9, 2007
This is wonderful for a lot of reasons. Eve's rocking out face and Chantal's reaction were totally spontaneous. The memories of Guitar Hero and primping together before going out (I braided Eve's hair for Country Night @ Ale House) add to the nostalgia value.

December 5, 2007
I love this picture because it's beautiful. Because I took it, and at the time I was still getting used to taking technically good photos. Because it reminds me of sitting on a 12m yacht in the bay on St. Marteen in the sun having the time of my life on my first big vacation.

December 7, 2007
I don't know if I'd love this picture as much as I do if it weren't one of the few pictures of Dave and me together while we were on vacation. I like how spontaneous it was - I hadn't remembered to put down the clothes I was folding, and we didn't clean our junk off the desk. I even kind of like that it's blurry and taken in the mirror. I'm horribly awkward with public displays of affection, and the fact that this was alone in our stateroom and not posing for a photographer means that I actually look relaxed with Dave's arm around my waist.

December 31, 2007

This is what hanging out with Tory and Anna is like. We aren't holding on to each other and laughing uproariously because we're hammered. We're holding on to each other because we're best friends, and laughing because we're hilarious.

July 11, 2008
I like the composition of this (good job, Dave!). I like that there's evidence that I got my hands dirty. I love how this reminds me of digging up clams in the sun in PEI with Grandpa, Uncle Sam, Dave, Abi, Eliza, and Isi.

July 12, 2008
This photo made my quest to make Dave drive around so we could take pictures of (many of) the lighthouses of Prince Edward Island in an afternoon worthwhile.

October 11, 2008
This is a rare candid photo of my mom. This is one of the only photos where she looks like she does in real life. I like how casually happy she and my dad are, laughing at a good conversation over thanksgiving dinner (outdoors! In Canada!).

December 11, 2009
I had to include this one because it's the wallpaper on my cell phone and it makes me happy every time I see it.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Quilting: The Most Patriotic Quilt Pattern Ever

At some point in the last few months, I decided that I wanted to make a quilt. I don't remember exactly why, but I know this Martha Stewart quilting project was my inspiration:


The only problem was how much I disliked the birds. I stewed for months over a theme, and eventually decided on snowflakes. And then cityscapes. With the idea of cityscapes firmly in mind, I plotted a quilt. I designed it to include not-so-much piecework, but with a little more finesse than 12 massive 18-inch blocks: 

Six 18" squares, and then 24 9" squares. Maybe 'finesse' is a word I should reserve for my second quilt. 
I've bought the two blue fabrics, but am holding out on the brown until I've made serious headway. I don't want to spend a fortune on supplies and then drop this hobby like a few others I can think of... 

Today, I made pattern pieces to cut out the squares for the quilt. I'm not a detail-oriented person (whatever my resume in highschool said), so this process included a few victories: (1) I remembered to include a seam allowance, (2) I actually made a pattern instead of just cutting into my fabric, and (3) My square pattern pieces are square.

Scissors and tape are included for scale. Not because I was too lazy to clean up before grabbing the camera.
I assembled the squares from legal-size file folders, and the ends were a bit wobbly (being made up of a few pieces of card). I made the decision to reinforce the sides with packing tape, but my packing tape (from Canada Post) is graphically and in-your-face Canadian. I kind of like it. 


Friday, April 9, 2010

Things to do on a lazy Friday


1) Drink tea

2) Snuggle someone

3) Keep up-to-the-minute on Twitter and your RSS reader

4) Ignore work email

5) Edit old photos

6) Chat, plan the future

7) Look at photos of luxury hotels online and dream

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Niagara Falls (2007 trip)

Today, Dave and I are back in Niagara Falls for a mini vacation (or a big date). We were discussing our previous trips to Niagara Falls this morning, and it became apparent that I had forgotten last year's dinner at a fondue and grill hot spot. To ensure that I don't forget such an important part of our dating past again, I shall here record Things We Have Done In Niagara Falls so that I remember, and so that others may decide what they want to do when they're in the area. 


Because if blogging is anything, it's a public service, right?


Our first trip to Niagara Falls was the long weekend in May 2007. This was our most touristy trip. We settled into a Fallsview hotel (Embassy Suites) and had dinner downstairs at The Keg. This Keg has huge awesome windows that overlook the falls. If your witty banter over dinner ever fails (this would never happen to me), you at least have something to look at. In the spring and summer, there are fireworks displays over the falls at night, which you can enjoy during your dinner as well. We made a mistake here, because it got dark REALLY late, and we were hungry long before that. So, the fireworks started just as we were getting our bill, and we missed a lot of the show heading back to the room hoping to get some photos from there.


American Falls at night


We didn't end up getting any photos of the fireworks, but we did take some fun shots of the city and the American falls (above) at night. We ditched Embassy Suites that morning after a lovely stay, and parked just behind the falls (map-A).



We walked along the Parkway/River Road FOREVER, stopping to take photos and have lunch partway along. It was a gorgeous day for May - not too hot, but still unseasonably warm - that we loved spending the time outside, but weren't suffering. That said, after we got to the place to buy shuttle tickets (B), we took the opportunity before walking to the whirlpool and getting on the next shuttle there.


Niagara Falls and the Maid of the Mist

We took the shuttle to the Butterfly Conservatory, which was AMAZING. The staff and other guests were really friendly, and we had a ton of fun with the camera. I also took my first half-decent photo with an SLR:

A butterfly posing at the conservatory

After all that, it was late afternoon and we were exhausted, so we hopped back on the shuttle to go all the way back to the car at the mouth of the falls. 

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Colours!

Yesterday, Anna sent me an email asking for advice on the colours she's planning for her awesome new condo. In order to visualize what she was talking about, I used the excellent colour palette creation tool at colourlovers and got hooked all over again.

Here are the colours I'm looking at today through the big windows at the farmhouse:


It's a much nicer view than from the lab. The fact that I'm sprawled on the couch in front of a fireplace doesn't hurt either.