A Skewed understanding of pumpkins

Food and Drink, Recipes, Thoughts on Life

It’s been quite a while since I’ve posted a blog. I really don’t have much of a good reason. Except that I’ve been busy changing. I recently got married, moved provinces* and I’ve sought and acquired temporary employment. So please excuse the lateness of this post.

I’m currently thinking of retooling things around here. So it might look, or at least feel a little different soon. Keeping with the current trend, Fridays will not be my main day to post as they just don’t work anymore. I will post something tomorrow for old time sake.

Now, to a matter more timely and “newsworthy”: pumpkins and our skewed understanding of them.

Recently some co-workers asked me what I was doing for Halloween. It’s a question that inevitably leads to another: “why don’t you like Halloween?”

I just don’t get it. Now that I’ve gotten older I don’t get it anymore. Why all the plastic packaging for candy so small you need a microscope to see it? Why all the pretense and excuse to drinking more than you should for your own health? And why, oh why would you put a perfectly delicious vegetable on your porch to rot?

I was walking down a residential street and saw a jack-o-lantern. Looking into the holes resembling eyes I noticed how deep the edible part of the pumpkin went. It was tragic. All that vegetable could’ve been a pie. It could’ve been a lovely soup. It could’ve been cookies! Cookies!

So why would we stab and dig and mangle food if we aren’t going to eat it? Could it be that we don’t necessarily associate pumpkins in their bulbous state with food? I think it’s possible. If you Google recipes including pumpkin there are endless results that include using canned pumpkin pie filling or pumpkin flavoured syrup. And these recipes are almost exclusively pumpkin pie or pumpkin chai latte recipes. This is a bit silly; just consider pumpkin pie filling to fill a pie. What’s the filling made of and how did the hard and rotund shape become so mushy and yummy. Of course, there is something to be said for convenience but at what cost? Is it worth not learning all the fun ways you can use fresh or frozen pumpkin?

As you think about those questions, here’s one of my favourite pumpkin recipes. I encourage using that delicious veggie that is wonderfully in season and not the canned filling thing. All you need to do is roast the pumpkin until it is soft, remove the skin and mash it to your heart’s content.

Pumpkin Bread

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon of salt
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 cup pumpkin purée (made from fresh pumpkin)
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 cup chocolate chips
  • ½ cup oats (adjust to your preference)

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F (180°C)
  2. Sift together the flour, salt, sugar, and baking soda
  3. Mix the pumpkin, oil, eggs, 1/4 cup of water, and spices together
  4. Combine with the dry ingredients, but do not mix too thoroughly
  5. Pour into a well-buttered 9x5x3 inch loaf pan.
  6. Bake 50-60 minutes until a toothpick poked in the very center of the loaf comes out clean.
  7. Turn out of the pan and let cool on a rack.

*To all my beloved Newfoundlanders and Nova Scotians, I do feel just a little bit weird living in Ontario with the specter of the Toronto skyline looming across a lake that parades as a sea. This is a subject I’ll return to in the future. I can’t just leave my adoptive home and not elegize about what I’ve left.

 

google play music library

A Look at Google Play Music

Music, Technology

Recently Google released their Music service in Canada after a few years of Canadians constantly searching for why Google Play Music was unavailable north of the 49th parallel. I was one of them. I love music and I love finding new ways to enjoy and discover a myriad of sounds. With the release of Google Play Music I took it for a test drive and I’m left with a new question: why is it so mediocre?

With the amount of time Google had to develop this platform I’m surprised it isn’t as powerful as other music solutions. Google’s entry into the music streaming market does have some strengths but the weaknesses neglect key components of the Canadian market and music listeners in general that prevent me switching from what I currently use for music enjoyment and discovery.

The GoodGoogle_music_manager

The world’s largest search engine should have an enormous music catalog at its disposal. This would include both music they sell and the ability to pair cover art and album details with their servers. After all, one of the things they promise is that as you upload your music it will skip what you already have and give you access to those songs. What a fantastic idea for Canadians! We have some of the world’s slowest upload speeds. Google can save some of your time as you try to upload your 20,000 favourite songs.

To test this I uploaded a variety of albums. My first four included the enormously popular The Suburbs but Arcade Fire, Armistice (a great one-off by Cœur de Pirate and Jay Malinowski), Great Lonely Wild’s debut album and Jessica Curry’s soundtrack to the interactive experience called Dear Esther. Google managed to identify three of the albums, including Dear Esther but it failed to pick up Great Lonely Wild’s ethereal exploration of Western Canada’s land and history. So Google’s knowledge of music is pretty far reaching but not as far reaching as those underground bands you may want to discover.

The Bad

google play music all access 01When you begin with Google Play Music All Access (the paid streaming service) you are offered the chance to select what genres of music you enjoy. Personally I find that genres are barely helpful at best. Look no further than Johnny Cash and country music. It’s not hard to find someone who proclaims to hate country music but loves Johnny Cash. Or consider artists like Cœur de Pirate, to categorise her music under francophone as a genre seems like ignorance for the sake of simplicity. Sure, she’s from Quebec and sings beautiful French songs but she also has an English language album and a video game soundtrack in her body of work.

Google also offers recommendations based on your music collection, which sounds great on paper but in reality it can limit your exploration of music as it contributes to a bubble effect. This is a problem that Google’s services across the board suffer from. With personalised searches, music recommendations and more we run the risk of a safe bubble where nothing that will challenge our opinions, beliefs or musical taste will enter. From a musical perspective wouldn’t that be boring? It could limit the chance that people will discover new artists or songs that they would love even if the music is in a completely different style.

Another poor aspect of the Google Play Music experience is its reliance on an Internet connection, especially on a desktop or laptop. Of course streaming music needs a connection to the web but what if I want to listen to my personal collection? Shouldn’t I be able to do it without a network connection? Trying to listen to my music offline is a very quiet affair. The big problem with this is that it adds to the growing digital divide between economic classes, social classes and even geographic areas. Canada is huge and sparsely populated. This means that many rural communities that have poor Internet access can’t benefit from Google’s music offering. Here’s hoping their balloon project takes off soon.

The price point of Google Play Music All Access is pretty bad. Google is entering a market dominated by services like Rdio, Grooveshark and CBC Music that all offer free streaming services. Compared to that price, Google’s All Access is expensive. Sure, there’s one month free a la the Netflix model but why are they charging anything? You can easily make playlists and stream music from another one of their free services – YouTube. Oh and in case you didn’t hear YouTube is the biggest source of music on the web, not Google Play Music.

The Ugly

Don’t get me wrong, I love exchanging money for goods and services but having my music player set up as an extension of Google’s store is just ugly. I know that there’s a marketing plan in there somewhere that states that customers are more likely to make purchases in that environment but should they be focusing on us as wallets or as something else? Customers are key stakeholders of every business and how a business relates to its customers shows a lot about their value in the company’s eyes. Apple got this right with the iPod and iTunes, that’s why they dominate the market. The user’s experience is not as blatantly store oriented – it’s music oriented.

Verdict

Google Play Music All Access is more than just a mouthful it’s an average late-comer to the music streaming market. It has a wide database of music that you can experience but it doesn’t offer anything new. I’m going to stick to iTunes and CBC Music. iTunes has managed my music collection perfectly for almost a decade and CBC Music has introduced me to new artists, like Cœur de Pirate, many times. That has worked for years and I’m not about to replace it with a mediocre streaming service.

estia

Estia: Another restaurant closing because of winter

Business, Food and Drink

In February I posted about my reaction to a beloved restaurant closing due to the winter’s impact on sales. Sadly, it’s happening again. Estia, a great Greek restaurant, is closing because they had a poor winter.

What’s shocking about this closure is that Estia is located on Spring Garden road. Spring Garden is arguably the most active street in downtown Halifax. To see a restaurant close because of poor sales in winter is concerning. What’s going on here? Halifax is not a city that relies on the wallets of tourists, so why are businesses on busy streets  not getting enough patronage to keep going?

It’s hard to believe that it is solely because of weather. Snow and cold have come and gone many times before and businesses keep going. I don’t think it’s the business either. All of my experiences in Estia have been wonderful. So, are customers not frequenting restaurants? Have these restaurants lost their competitive edge? What’s the impact of landlords and property tax?

I’m not sure why businesses are closing but I have an idea why some are thriving.

Consider Two If By Sea. Zane Kelsall, TIBS owner and Dartmouth champion, told his story at a public engagement event in February. What I gathered form his tale is that the reason for his success is that the community loves his business and he loves his community.

Are businesses along Spring Garden engaging with their community? Are restaurants treating their customers like guests at their dinner table? I’d love to find out. Loving their communities could help them weather the storm of a winter sales slump.

In the meantime, if you love Estia or delicious Greek food you have until the end of Sunday. Go out and support them. Certainly the owners made this decision with a heavy heart, help them by showing them that they community has appreciated them and their tasty offering.

 

binary

Computers, phones and security

Technology, Uncategorized

In recent weeks Apple has gained some poor media attention thanks to a major flaw in the iPhone’s operating system. This vulnerability meant that someone could access data from your phone if you were on an open network, like a free wifi network at your favourite coffee shop.

The good news is that Apple has made a security update for their iOS and OSX operating systems. If you own an apple device and have updated it then you’re safe… well mostly.

Remember those ads comparing Macs and PCs telling us how safe and secure an Apple computers were? PCs on the other hand were like teenagers in the throes of puberty’s hormonal roller coaster. They were so insecure and vulnerable to malware, spyware and viruses that it became one of the main reasons people switched from Windows to Mac. You’ll still hear people today say how safe and secure Apple’s computers are.

Did you ever wonder why PCs running Windows were so insecure? Popularity plays a major role and is a large contributor to Apple’s new insecurities. Apple devices are far more popular than PCs running Windows. This means that they are the largest opportunity for attackers to harm your computer and still your personal data. With technology rapidly changing and malicious software changing more rapidly our data is certainly at risk, regardless of what you use. Well, unless you use Linux and use it well.

I’m not going to give you a list of steps and software to keep you safe, just use Google for that. What I’m challenging you to do is change how you think about computing and using your phone.

With countless apps and software options one of the words you’ll hear consistently in marketing technology is – convenience. Every app developer and programmer wants to make our lives “easier” and convenient. They want to integrate digital technology into our lives with so much convenience that we don’t need to notice how the apps are working or do any of the actual work. Less steps to checking your email equals progress technological advancement, right?

Google is a great example of pushing convenience on users, especially when it comes to Chrome. This browser is designed to let you work seamlessly across all of your devices. You sign into the browser and all of your bookmarks, history and saved forms are synced via the cloud and accessible with your login details. You can keep multiple email accounts connected, save passwords and do everything in the cloud. If you keep the “remember me” box checked at login you never need to remember your password because that’s taken care of.

Think of it this way, companies like Google are essentially encouraging you to leave your most sensitive data in their hands. This includes banking information and geographical locations that can pinpoint your child’s bedroom. All of this is done to add convenience to your life. Google runs on ad money and your data contributes to effective advertising. All the while we just accept these terms and conditions without blinking, let alone considering the consequences.

Admittedly, having information accessible via the cloud does have its place. For instance, people can collaborate on projects together or businesses and governments can take transparency to a whole new level. But the thing is they may do this because they’ve thought about it.

We need to be aware and think carefully about how we use technology like smartphone apps and internet browsers. It may be convenient to sync your banking information with an app like Mint but if someone accesses your device with malware you could loose your savings or have your identity stolen. Weigh these two things against each other. Security versus convenience.

hartandthistle

How to avoid breaking harts and closing businesses

Business, Food and Drink, Restaurant Reviews

hartandthistle

Last week the Hart and Thistle Gastropub, one of my favourite watering holes, closed its doors. A small piece of paper taped to the two doors in Historic Properties

announced the end of another Halifax business. This was the image I saw all over Twitter and Facebook. My heart sank a little.

I loved this restaurant. Their craft beer was made with care and the staff could pair it with the right dish with passion and ease. The staff loved their product, almost as much as I did. When I saw that little image crying across the digital town it felt like I found out that I was dumped but through a third party.

Why didn’t they tell me? It became clear. I was a neglectful patron. I could have at least liked them on Facebook or followed them on Twitter. Surely, I would have found out first hand if only I did my part.

Trying to legitimize my neglect I reflected on my status as a university student – one whose wallet is slim. Not only am I not swimming in a harbour of disposable income but I want to be fiscally responsible and not rack up debt. This is arguably the worst patron for any business. At the end of the day a business needs to make money in order to stay afloat and it doesn’t matter how good your beer is if customers don’t come.

What’s the take away from this? If you like a place, support it. As citizens of a great province we have the power to strengthen our economy. All we need to do is support local shops that we enjoy. Simple.

the_brooklyn_warehouse

The Brooklyn Warehouse: Why I Love Halifax Local

Food and Drink, Restaurant Reviews

the_brooklyn_warehouseThe Brooklyn Warehouse is a rare restaurant that it keeps evolving in its quality. They’ve grown everything from their dining area to their menu and have been part of the delicious food revolution that has been happening. Note, I didn’t say foodie revolution – because The Brooklyn Warehouse doesn’t explore food as a fashion but as a passion. You can see this in everything they do.

The Food

Recently, my favourite Halifax restaurant has made a revolutionary decision – to change their menu daily. Every day you will find something new to eat and enjoy with a fantastic wine, beer or coffee. You can check out this video with cutesy music to learn more about what they are doing.

I am a creature of habit and when I enjoy something I like to enjoy it over and over again. Their style of menu could pose a problem for someone like me. Thankfully, their chef and cooks are skilled to the extent that I can still savour the rabbit I had in the winter of 2013. Mmmm….

The Service

To eat at a place with such delicious food requires a knowledgeable staff who can guide diners in selecting various courses that complement one another as well as satisfy the desire for filling and flavourful food. One of the easiest ways to see if staff are up to the challenge of taste tour guides is the age old question: “what wine would you suggest to go with this dish?” The simplest answer would be to pair white with white meat or fish and red with red meat, tomato based sauces or pink fish. The simplicity of this concept of pairing can leave you with a decent complement to the food but not always the best. When I had that memorable rabbit the wait staff recommended I try a white wine, the fact that they recommended the specific Grand Pré white so confidently indicated an intimate knowledge of how to complement the rabbit, a meat less common than beef or chicken… Boy did it work! I have the staff to thank for this.

Atmosphere

Unpretentious.

Let me elaborate. When a restaurant is as dedicated to fine food as The Brooklyn Warehouse, you may find that their décor and general attitude is one of “we’re amazing! If only you were as classy as we are.” It only takes a step when looking at the websites or décor of some restaurants with “celebrity chefs” here in Halifax to see this pretentious snobbery. Who needs it? No one, and no one deserves it. Looking around the dining area you’ll feel welcome to come as you are. I say this because it’s clear that the owners have made their restaurant eclectically their own with items like an AT-AT on their burr grinder or cutlery embedded in the step leading into the restaurant. This adds to an atmosphere that feels neither ashamed nor boastful in its uniqueness The owners of The Brooklyn Warehouse are not trying to impress anyone; they are just letting the restaurant be what it should be.

Grit Collection - Clark Piller

Photographing Grit

Photography

During this past summer I had a great work opportunity, especially for a photographer looking to develop his skills. Part of my job included doing product photography multiple times a week. I had a light box, a couple of lens, some lighting options and a plethora of gorgeous handmade craft.

Essentially, my job was to make beautiful things look beautiful. Not the most challenging task but still a learning experience.

One day, as I walked to work I saw a shopping cart in the pond near my apartment. It was riveting to look at – so much to be said about it. Why did it end up in there? It looked like its hopes of faithfully serving consumers had been dashed and it was helpless. It couldn’t do anything but lay there. In a way, it looked beautiful with its rusting bars and its history fading under the green hue of the water.

That little drowned cart sparked the concept of a photo series called Grit. Why Grit? The word has two major meanings: 1) small particles of sand or stone 2) courage. Grit evokes both dirtiness and strength. With this series I hope to catch the full story of things that would not be considered conventionally beautiful but that are not just dirty but have a secondary character to it.

Many photographers, authors and other creative types would tell you that one of the most important parts of art is the human element. You’ll notice that there are no humans in any of the images. Well, let me encourage you to think about that absence. Why are there no humans attending to these items?

This series will undoubtable expand as I continue to see the hidden beauty of neglected and worn objects in the world. I hope that you enjoy what I have so far. In fact, if you have any neglected yet beautiful items that should be captured, let me know in the comments.