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Aug 28, 2014

Fan Expo: Day 1

Fan Expo is taking place in Toronto and covers vendors, events, panels for five genres including comics, sci-fi, horror, anime, and gaming. A great perk? The cosplay! I rushed over after work to line up and get my tickets. 

I had the opportunity to take pics of quite a few cosplayers that I got to take pics of. Apparently Saturday (Day 3) will be a big day. 


Here are my other photos:

Aug 18, 2014

T25 reflection 2 weeks in: My biggest workout obstacle

T25 at the end of 25 minutes

Before T25

It was p90x - I really enjoyed the results I had with p90x, although I personally found it difficult to keep up with because the workouts were often too long and I didn't have as much motivation. Within the two weeks that I had kept up with the 90 day program I saw the biggest transformations: better energy, I lost inches off my waist line, toned out everywhere and I felt athletic - keeping up with the "strong guys" during team sports exercises like beach volleyball. It was liberating and empowering.


Aug 17, 2014

Attempt #1: Vanilla French Macarons

So we attempted the notoriously difficult French Macarons. What I quickly learned is that this recipe has to be followed precisely. You can't overwhip it (or else you'll end up with hollow biscuits!), overcook it. and have too much of one ingredient. This actually took two batches to get just right.

French Macarons - Vanilla Flavored

Ingredients

  • 3 egg whites
  • 1/4 cup white sugar
  • 1 and 2/3 cups confectioner's sugar (sifted, or food processed)
  • 1 cup almond flour (sifted, or food processed)

Directions

  1. Beat egg whites until they are stiff and form stiff peaks (to the point where if you turn the bowl upside down they don't move)
  2. Gradually beat in white sugar. 
  3. In a separate bowl for dry ingredients: sift icing sugar and almond flour. Whisk together. 
  4. Do not use an electric mixer/beater for the next step. Fold your dry ingredients into the egg mixture in 30 strokes - don't do it more than this. 
  5. Pipe your macaroons on parchment paper to about 35 mm. You can google "macaron" templates".
  6. Preheat oven to 285 degrees Fahrenheit (140 degrees C). Let it stand for 25 minutes. 
  7. Bake for 15 minutes.

Vanilla Macaron Filling

Ingredients

  • 4 tbsp unsalted butter (room temperature)
  • 4 ounces of cream cheese (half a whole package, room temperature).
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 1/3 cup of icing sugar

Directions

  1. Beat butter, cream cheese and salt together until fluffy.
  2. Gradually add icing sugar beating until smooth. 

Aug 16, 2014

Photographing the Night Sky


My friend and I set out about 1.5 hour away from the big city to find a remote place where there was very little light pollution. It was so remote I could hear cows mooing in the distance. We setup our tripods and proceeded to take photos with shutterspeeds of 30+ seconds. The results were beautiful.

The Milky Way



I still cannot believe thats a photo I took. At first I thought my camera screen was fuzzy or the lens was dirty, but then I quickly realized that it was in fact, gas clouds from the milky way.

The Big Dipper




Aug 9, 2014

Strawberry Shortcake Cupcakes




My cousins Lynne and David came over this weekend to make cupcakes again. This may become a weekly tradition. We decided to do a recipe that called for fresh strawberries. This was a nice, light recipe and neither the strawberries or sugar were overwhelming.

Strawberry Shortcake Cupcakes

Ingredients

  • 1 pint of strawberries
  • 1 and 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1.5 cups all-purpose-flour, sifted
  • 1.5 tsp Baking Powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 3 eggs, room temperature
  • 1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1/4 cup milk (2% or whole)
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

Directions

  1. Strawberry Syrup:
    • Part 1: slice strawberries into halves and place in a bowl with 1/4 cup sugar - refrigerate for 1 - 2 hours. Then puree in a food processor or mash into a pulp (fork or potato masher). 
    • Part 2: Refrigerate for another 1-2 hours. 
  2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. 
  3. In a bowl designated for dry ingredients, mix together 1 cup sugar, all-purpose flour, baking powder, and salt. Mix together with whisk, set aside.
  4. In a separate bowl designated for wet ingredients, mix eggs, butter, milk and vanilla extract. Beat in low just to combine. 
  5. Next, add dry ingredients 1/4 cup at a time into the wet ingredients. Beat on medium speed between additions to combine until batter is light and fluffy. Use a spatula to scrape down the sides and mix again to ensure everything is well combined.
  6. Line your cupcake tray with paper cupcake liners. Fill the cupcake liners 1/3rd full with cupcake batter ensuring the entire bottom surface is covered. Next add a spoon-full of strawberry syrup, then add another 1/3rd of batter on top. 
  7. Bake for 15 minutes or until cake tester/toothpick comes out dry. 
  8. Allow to cool completely BEFORE icing. 

Strawberry Cream Cheese Frosting

Ingredients

  • 1 package (8 oz) cream cheese
  • 1/4 cup butter, room temperature
  • 2 cups icing sugar
  • Strawberry syrup (see step 1 in directions above). 

Directions

  1. Beat cream cheese, 2tbsp of strawberry syrup and butter together on low speed just to combine. 
  2. Add icing sugar 1/4 cup at a time until light and fluffy.
  3. Ice cupcakes once cupcakes have been completely cooled. 
** You can choose to use whole strawberries to garnish your cupcakes. 


Aug 4, 2014

Celestial Chocolate Cupcakes

I've always been fascinated by events in the night sky. I took a course in university undergrad called "Origins of the University" - we studied how stars are born and how they die, beginnings of the universe and how to determine the chemical composition of distant planets and stars. 

Nowadays, I like receiving the "astronomy events" updates from National Geographic on my Facebook feed, and there's a LOT happening in August (e.g. meteor showers!).  So we thought we'd dedicate this cupcake post to the celestial events that happen in August. 


I was inspired by these celestial cupcakes I saw on the Canadian Living website. However, we decided to use a vanilla buttercream instead of plain frosting, and milk chocolate stars instead of fondant. I've never used "Royal Blue" icing colour before, but it produced this beautiful deep blue colour reminiscent of the night sky. This was so much fun to bake and decorate!


 

Celestial Chocolate Cupcakes 

Ingredients

  • 1 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
  • 1 cups granulated white sugar
  • 1/2 cup cocoa powder
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp instant coffee powder
  • 1/2 cup 2% whole milk
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup boiling water

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line cupcake tray with paper liners
  2. In a bowl, add your dry ingredients: flour, sugar, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, salt and instant coffee. Stir with whisk. 
  3. In a separate bowl, beat your wet ingredients: milk, vegetable oil, eggs, vanilla. 
  4. Add wet ingredients gradually to dry ingredients bowl and beating with a mixer on medium. Add boiling water and beat.
  5. Fill your cupcake liners 3/4ths full of cupcake batter. 
  6. Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Allow to cool completely before icing. 

Royal Blue Vanilla Buttercream Icing

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup butter, room temperature
  • 4 cups confectioner's sugar (aka icing sugar)
  • 2.5 teaspoons of vanilla extract
  • pinch salt
  • 2.5 tbsp 2% milk, slightly colder than room temperature. 
  • Royal blue icing colouring and black icing colouring. 

Directions:


  1. Cream butter on medium speed until smooth.
  2. Add confectioner's sugar a half cup at a time and beating on medium speed. 
  3. Stir in vanilla and salt.
  4. Add milk until you have the desired consistency - add more milk if you want softer frosting add less if you'd like it firmer. 
  5. Add royal blue colouring first, THEN darken it with very little black icing colouring. 
  6. Put in icing bag, then use Wilton 1M icing tip to frost your cupcake in a swirl pattern. 

Chocolate Stars


You need: 

  • Yellow milk chocolate wafers
  • Star chocolate mould

Directions: 

  1. Melt the chocolate wafers in the microwave 30 seconds at a time. 
  2. Fill the melted chocolate into the star mould.
  3. Put in freezer for about 5 minutes, or until solid.


Aug 3, 2014

Tea Ceremony in Kyoto, Japan

Tea Ceremony with En 

Near Gion District, you can go to En Tea Room, and have a traditional tea ceremony experience. It was such an enlightening experience, and very meditative even just to observe the making of the tea. We went through an informal tea ceremony, which should normal last 4 hours but ours was only 20 minutes with plenty of time for explanation. Normally there are a maximum of five guests, however we had 10+ people in the tea ceremony room



The movements during a tea ceremony or slow, deliberate and well practiced. They serve Matcha tea - a powdered green tea. 
"Tea ceremony (the way of tea) is one of Japan's traditional cultural practices,
and is the name given to a synthetic art
that encompasses not only the making of tea,
but also tea-room architecture,
the appreciation of tea utensils and bowls,
and Zen Buddhism."

Niagara-on-the-Lake: Wine Tour

Me and the the girls from grad school that I keep in touch with went on a wine tour at Niagara-on-the-Lake. This is becoming an annual event.

When I did the wine tour, I was a complete wine virgin. I couldn't really distinguish between wine tastes - I only knew that white wine was just a bit sweeter, red was more bitter than white wines, and dessert wines were very sweet. All red wines tasted the same too.



Since last year, I've had some wine on social occasions and have finally acquired the taste for it (beer.. is a different story). So I was excited to try the different types of wines on this trip!

My friend Melinda did research on each of the different wineries and selected ones that were in close vicinity and had good ratings. Each winery we went to had $2-3 wine tastings (sometimes $3 for three wines, or $2 for an ice wine tasting). Overall it was a very good deal! 



My approach to wine tastings: White wine first, red wine, then dessert wine. 

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