Saturday, March 29, 2014

A Pastry Fail Yielding Tasty Italian Cookies

I have been craving Cannoli's pretty much since I was in Boston last April, I did manage to get my hands on one good one over the Christmas Holidays, but they are definitely on my Italian baking bucket list. However, I need to get a set of the little metal tubes to form the cannoli's around while you fry them (mom!) so in the mean time I turned my ambitions to another filled Italian pastry: Sfogliatelle... or it's Americanized version lobster tails.

How they are supposed to turn out:

Now before heading to the grocery store on the way home from the lab I googled about 6 different recipes and did as I have done in the past successfully (for instance my home made ravs) and combo-ed things together on a sheet of paper and went with that.

But along the steps, things looked right.

The dough seemed to have the right, just barely held together consistency...although when it was too dry I added extra water rather than extra butter... should have gone with the butter I think. I even rested it for an hour and a half before moving on.

I sheeted the dough to the thinnest setting on my pasta machine (which was a task in of itself), spread it with actual lard and stretched it as I rolled it up. Then rested again for 2 hours (I really spent all night on this).

In the oven they looked like they were on their way... but I did mess up the filling... somehow I didn't remember to drain my ricotta until it was too late, so I took all sorts of creative strategies to fix that problem.

The product of an entire Thursday worth of effort was a tin full of tasty Italian feeling cookies, that were eve better when dipped in the leftover chocolate ricotta filling. However, they didn't flake like pastry or feel like pastry.

Kevin says this is because I didn't follow the recipe (singular exactly).

I hate to ever have to say it, but he was right.

Good thing he doesn't actually read my blog!

Have you ever tried this masterpiece of the Italian bakery? What is your favourite pastry? Let me know in the comments.

Monday, March 24, 2014

20Something Blogging Prompt: Books Vs Kindle

This week's 20 Something Blogging Prompt raises the question: Books vs Kindle/Ipad/eReader whatever you use (personally I've got kobo going on my BlackBerry PlayBook).

If you've been reading my blog for any period of time, you'll know that my bookshelf features prominently. In fact way back when I did a post asking the question, "How many books is too many?" featuring three mostly full bookshelves in my living room. Since then a fourth has been added and is quickly filling as well.

Clearly for me there is no debate. Physical books are the way to go. Nothing quite compares with the coziness of curling up with a good book. Old book smell (which some of my very own purchased books are beginning to acquire) is amazing. And I certainly wouldn't read from a tablet in the bathtub (as many of my corner dipped books can attest to just how bad an idea that would be!)

But wait, I said in the introduction that I have and do read using Kobo on my BlackBerry tablet. What gives!

Here are 3 times when the tablet, digital book method trumps paperbacks.

  1. Traveling light: this summer I headed cross the Atlantic with only a purse and a backpack. I read four books on that trip. The only way I could do that (and still have room for clothes in my bag) is with my ereader. On the other hand, I brought and read 6 physical books when I was in Cuba for a week on a there is a time and a place.
  2. The book is only available in hardcover right now: I have occasionally purchased and digitally read a book because I didn't want to wait the year or so for the paperback, and I certainly didn't want to pay the $30 plus for the hard cover edition.
  3. You've just finished book 2 of 3 and need to start the final book right away, that driving to Chapters would take way too long so you just download it. Lazy Sunday afternoon and not having the patience to wait for the anticipated conclusion to a trilogy or series has on occasion led to spontaneous digital purchases.
Those remain however the only time's I've done the eReading thing. I must confess, I find it awkward to hold the readers, hard on my eyes and I hate when the batteries run down and you find your reading tethered to an outlet. I'm afraid that I will always be a book buyer. Like many a young brunette, Disney watching girl, I've dreamed my whole life of the library the Beast gifts Belle.... however unlike some prince charming dependent Disney princess, I'm gifting it to myself!

So how about you, books or eReaders? and why, or when?

Sunday, March 23, 2014

The Natural History Museum, London

I'm currently reading a truly fascinating non-fiction book, 'Between Man and Beast: An unlikely explorer, The evolution debate, And the African adventure that took the Victorian world by storm'. Penned by Monte Reel, I first picked up this book at Chapters, minutes before seeing the Lego movie. Distracted by the sheer awesomeness of said movie, and the two other books I purchased that day, this one hid out under a pile of laundry for a couple weeks. (yes it is possible in my apartment to have a pile of laundry stay in one place for that long... ah well).

Getting to the point, I picked up the book to start reading it today and it is thus far epic. Following the story of Paul Du Chaillu as he adventures into Africa to go after the near mythical gorilla, with alternating chapters featuring the dawn of the Natural History Museum, the evolution debate and Darwin's writing and publishing of 'The Origin of Species.' The book reads like some perfectly crafted, terribly exciting fictional tale; it's truly amazing just how exciting the dawn of modern science really was! (for an equally enthralling tale of discovery, try Francis Crick's What Mad Pursuit).

When I finish reading, I'll have to write a review post on the book overall, in the mean time however, I realize I haven't shared my photos from my visits to the Natural History Museum in London from this past summer. So lets finish out this post with all this pictures of taxidermied animals you could ever want to see (which aren't featured on the Bloggess).

The Museum exterior is beautiful, and covered with examples of flora and fauna. Fun point from Between Man and Beast, one wing is covered with (at the time) still living species and the other with extinct ones. This was an effort of the museum driving force Richard Owen to establish that there is no connection between extinct species and current ones, in an effort to discredit growing support for transmutation (which would become the theory of evolution).

The hall of dinosaurs was pretty cool, though it has nothing on the Royal Tyrrell Museum, right here in Alberta.

 The hall of mammals was amazing, especially when you consider than many of the specimens are over 100 years old.

A photo montage of everyone's favourite extinct flightless bird, the dodo!

And finally, me with my main man (sorry Kevin) Darwin! (speaking of which the Darwin center recent addition at the Museum was a huge let down... although I suppose would be great for kids and lay audiences).

Public museums like this one, and ones all across the US and Canada are one of the most important things for disseminating science, and raising interest in our natural world. Best of all, admission is often free or inexpensive (usually in the form of a donation). I highly encourage you to find the nearest natural history museum or science center and spend a day (importantly you should not be in a rush, take the time to read the information presented with the specimens or displays) and explore your own world a little more. You never know in what way you might be inspired.

If you can't get out to a physical museum anytime soon, I highly, highly recommend you spend some youtube time with Emily of The Brain Scoop. As a volunteer at the U. of Montanna Zoological Museum, and now a feature of the Field Museum in Chicago, you get to go behind the scenes and discover first hand a little more about our natural world!

Thursday, March 20, 2014

The first day of Spring

For some reason I always think spring begins on the 21st.... a quick google search reveals I'm not the only one who is confused. And apparently for good reason. Spring it would seem, is determined by the vernal equinox, which can fall anytime between March 19 and 21st. It turns out that calendar manufacturers (who have more power than groundhogs in determining spring starts) have changed the traditional date in recent years to more closely match the equinox. The springs of my childhood however never did seem to manage to start any time in March anyways, so the actual date was somewhat meaningless.

In fact, is this photo tweeted at me from home by my cousin seems to indicate that for Sault Ste. Marie, at least, winter is still as alive as ever.

After the last week and a half here in Calgary on the other hand, I certainly thought we'd come through the cold to find spring arrived early. I mean last Wednesday you could go out without a coat on, and this past Sunday, I ran 10km in just a light jacket (Lulu's spring forward jacket, which I couldn't love more!) and it was beautiful. A little windy to be sure, but the paths and sidewalks were nearly completely clear of snow and ice. It was a refreshing day to be outside! A huge change from the St. Pat's 10km I did this same weekend last year, in a snowstorm!

Although yesterday was a bit nippy, I went to bed last night warm and cozy, awaiting the first day of spring, expecting to awake to sun on my face and the sound of birds singing.

That was not the case! Rather than the sound of birds, it was the sound of 50km/h wind gusts telling me that this false spring was really just the last Chinook of winter. Winter which was back with a vengeance this morning. So much snow and slush was on the road that my poor little civic couldn't even make it up the very hill pictured above to get to work. In fact that hill was so bad, there were police cars limiting access to people in 4wd SUVs. So, dedicated grad student that I am, rather than take this as a sign to go back to bed and hibernate until true spring; I pulled a 3pt turn, and slowly found another route round to Foothills and my lab.

Seriously winter, that's enough now. I'm cutting you off. You're drunk. Go home winter!

In better news, only a little more than a month until I get to escape to San Diego for Experimental biology. (more on that to come).

So was Spring the first as big a disappointment for you as it was for us here in Calgary?

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Knitting Corner: Knit One Squirrel Two

I adore hand making knitted and crocheted gifts for people. So last month, for Valentines day, I got to work on this little project as a gift for Kevin. Apparently I am often squirrely, so it seemed most appropriate.

The pattern, found as per usual on Ravelry, titled Knit One, Squirrel Two comes originally from Rabbit Hole Knits and can be found here. The original pattern however calls for a fluffy tail made from yarn and pipe cleaners, I wasn't a fan. Luckily for me, one of the lovely knitters of Ravelry had posted their own adaptation to create a matching knitted tail, found here. Because it was for Valentine's day, rather than put an acorn in the finished squirrel's paw, I crocheted a small heart!

The pattern called for a whole lot of knitting in one direction, placing stitches on holders and picking up from your cast on and knitting back in the other direction. I opted to only do this once, mainly because I was knitting with a deadline and it seemed like a colossal pain in the butt! Speaking of butt's before I sewed his up I stuffed about a dollar in nickles in him to off-balance the weight of the tail so he would sit upright. 

Apparently lovingly hand-crafted is my method of choice when it comes to gift giving (well that and Winter Classic Tickets). Here's the squirrel pictured in front of some mixed media art I produced for Kevin for our first Christmas together.

I knitted his little balloon shaped hind legs during one of Kevin's hockey games (at 6am no less), they have unfolded paperclips in them to help maintain their shape.

The gift was a hit, and if you follow me on instagram, you'll know that I was spoiled ridiculously for Valentines (and my birthday 3 days later). But just in case you don't follow (and you totally should!) here's a picture!

So here's to all things knitted and squirrely, have you been doing any crafting lately?

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Rocky Mountain Winter Road Trips

Every other weekend for the past month and a half, we've packed our bags, and hit Highway 1 heading West. With the beautiful Canadian Rocky Mountains ahead of us, and a case or two of beer in the trunk for consumption upon arrival, it really doesn't get any better than that!

Or does it?

The sun set's early in mountain winter. Straight and wide highway 1 begins twisting and turning through mountain valleys before you know it. And you just don't know driving in the dark until you see the way those rocky slopes eat up all the light. Add in gusting winds strong enough to slide your car all over the lanes, road covering snow squalls and icing conditions, and you've got yourself some serious white knuckle winter driving.

Which all would still be manageable, if it weren't for the fact that half of Calgary is out on the highway with you.

If's it's all that bad why is it that all us Calgarians rush out to the mountains weekend after weekend? Because it's so so worth it!

This is Revelstoke, only 4 and a half hours down the highway.

This is Lake Louise, only 2 hours from your doorstep.

Don't feel like going quite so far? This is Banff, a mere hour 15.

Clearly worth battling winter driving conditions!

So here's 10 tips for taking to the highway in Rocky Mountain Winter!

  1. Hit the road early! If ever there's a time to slip out of work and hour or two early on Friday, winter is it! Trust me, after 5 o'clock things are getting dark real quick (if it isn't dark already).
  2. Make sure your car is gassed up, packed up and everyone is ready to go! Do all this Thursday night. It's surprising how much time last minute running around on Friday after work can cost you!
  3. Winter tires, winter tires, winter tires! Trust me, there is a difference between winters and all seasons.
  4. If you don't have a car, or like me, you drive a perfectly suitable little city Civic... you might want to consider renting a reliable 4WD. Especially if you're heading off the main highway! You can get some really good weekend rental deals and it'll be worth the money to stay on the road and not get stuck!
  5. Pack some just in cases! Even tho I like to drive in smaller shoes, you know my sorrels boots are in the back seat. Always keep a blanket, mittens and hat, some food and water in your car for longer winter road trips. Should you get stuck/go off the road, you may be waiting a loooong time for your tow!
  6. Don't wait until you hit the terrible conditions before you slow down. As soon as it starts getting dicey, slow it down. I can't tell you how many times I've slowed down as soon as it gets a bit snowy, been passed by someone, and then seen them waiting by their car in the ditch a kilometer or two up the road.
  7. If it's really bad, throw on your four ways, on a dark snowy highway you want to do everything you can to make sure people can see you!
  8. Throw on your GPS, even if you know the way, it's easy to miss the signs for your exit when the weather gets bad!
  9. Swap drivers or take a break if you get tired.
  10. Make sure you have an incredible time when you get there to make it worth it!
 So those are tips for safe winter travels. Transport Canada offers their own list of 10 here.

Where are you headed this weekend? Have lots of fun, and safe travels!

Monday, March 3, 2014

Women and their books (or how one day I'll write my own)

I just started and finished reading the Bloggess' biography "Let's pretend this never happened (A mostly true memoir)", as as per usual (when I read an entertaining biography) I say to myself I wish I could write a memoir!

Although likely it would be pretty mediocre...tho hopefully not the kind of mediocre that caused me to put down The Happiness Project after only a chapter or two. (Is it just me, or does noone want to read about revamping your perfectly awesome sounding life by cleaning out your closet? .....OK it might be just me, maybe I'll try it again...or clean out my own closet or something)

And every time I start thinking about how increadible it would be to write my own story for the world to behold (and subsequently google articles on memoir writing) I think long and hard on the following things:

  1. As I have never been a child star, battled unimaginably tough circumstances or spent some portion of my life abroad, I'm pretty sure writing a memoir before 30 would be mostly a bad call.
  2. I still have a huge portion of my life ahead of me, just dripping with the possibilities of great stories to be told.
  3. I should start writing some of the stories that have already know just in case something epic does pan out and the publishing companies come a knocking.

Ok so maybe not the most deep thoughts, but I can't be the only one vain enough to wish someone would one day want to read about my life. I mean I may not have grown up with raccoons wearing jammy's (True story, Jenny's book even has pictures) and I haven't gone off to Indonesia on a yoga retreat only to find myself drinking my own urine (like Suzanne Morrison).

But I did have a childhood pet bunny, who we loved enough to heal it's broken leg with a duct tape brace, and years later eat it for dinner. I did move into residence in first year of University with so much stuff packed that all year people came by my room for OTCs like it was a pharmacy. And I may still one day go do a yoga retreat, backpack the Pacific Crest Trail or spend a year on a Happiness Project!

In the mean time, here are some of my favorite memoirs written by amazing women! (oh and make sure you read these like you're announcing oscar nominees...cause that's totally how the voice in my head is dictating them to my typing fingers...pause for applause after each).

Let's Pretend This Never Happened (A Mostly True Memoir); Jenny Lawson
Wild, from lost to found on the Pacific Crest Trail; Cheryl Strayed
The Glass Castle, a memoir; Jeannette Walls
Yoga Bitch: one woman's quest to conquer skepticism, cynicism and cigarettes on the path to enlightenment; Suzanne Morrison
Bossypants; Tina Fey
Orange is the New Black: My year in woman's prison; Piper Kerman
 Eat. Pray, Love: One woman's search for everything across Italy, India and Indonesia; Elizabeth Gilbert

While looking over my bookshelves for these titles, I came across a second set of women's memoirs which are perhaps a little less cheery, but certainly just (if not more powerful). And the nominees for darker/twistier memoirs by a female author go to:

Autobiography of a Face; Lucy Grealy
Prisoner of Tehran: a Memoir; Marina Nemat
Brain on Fire: My month of madness; Susannah Calahan
A Stolen Life: a memoir; Jaycee Dugard
Go Ask Alice; Anonymous
and the semi autobiographical The Bell Jar; Sylvia Plath

What all these amazing books have in common is courageous women, who are bold enough not only to live (and in some cases survive) their incredible lives, but also to share their stories as well. Needless to say, my hypothetical future daughter will be reading through this book list one day.

What other books am I missing from this list, avid reader like myself I'm always looking for the next good book! Leave me a comment or tweet (@Turner_SR) to let me know.


What's that?! an all text post! I must really be in an inspired to write mood! Jenny Lawson that's all you're doing!