30 March 2014

culinating :: pb + j is for cookie

sometimes i have weird ideas. if you've been reading this blog for a while, you probably know that, but this post is just to show you that this extends to all areas of my life, not just the obvious ones like my writing or taste in music.

dom had been trying to drop hints that he wanted me to bake something sweet for a couple of days through subtle comments like "hey, it would be really cool if you baked something, because i have a craving for something dessert-like". i tossed around a few ideas, but i always seemed to come up one or two ingredients short. the easy way to deal with this would have been to buy the extra ingredients. my way of dealing with it was to go to the internet and figure out what i could do with the ingredients that i had, because laziness is a determining factor in many things i do.

the biggest challenge was that there were no eggs in the house and the only oil available to me was extra virgin olive oil. the flavour that makes extra virgin olive oil great for salad dressings and marinades makes it a terrible choice for baking [and, because of its lower smoke point, it's not actually great to use for regular cooking, either]. taking eggs and oil out of the equation severely limits what you can do. however, i did manage to find a recipe for vegan peanut butter cookies that used margarine, but no other oils. [you could also use butter, but then they wouldn't be vegan, of course.]

the problem is that i don't actually like peanut butter cookies. i find them bland and dry. and that's where what i like to call my problem-solving skills kicked in.

what if i made peanut butter cookies with jam? it would be like a baked sandwich and it would be totally rad, assuming of course, that it didn't suck.

there were two ways that i saw of approaching this. first would be to just make the peanut butter cookies, form a well in the top of each one and spoon a small dollop of jam into the centre. but i opted to do the second, which was to mix the jam right into the batter and see what happened. my hope was that the flavours would blend enough that every bite would taste of both peanut butter and jam. lo and behold, it worked. the end product tastes like a  toasted pb+j, but doesn't have any of the attendant mess.

here's what you'll need [original peanut butter cookie recipe is here]:

1.25 cups flour
0.5 cup brown sugar
0.5 cup light sugar
0.5 cup butter or margarine + a little extra for greasing [if you're using margarine, i really like the 100% soy stuff... it has more fat, so it's worse for you. why are you making cookies if you want something healthy?]
1 teaspoon vanilla
0.5 teaspoon salt
0.5 teaspoon baking soda
0.5 teaspoon baking powder
0.5 cup peanut butter
0.5 cup jam of your choice

combine the flour, soda, salt and baking powder in one bowl. combine the sugars, margarine, vanilla, butter, peanut butter and jam in a second bowl.

mix the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients until thoroughly blended. it should be somewhat moist, but not very. it should just barely be able to hold its shape if you form it into a big ball. if the mixture feels too wet, add a little more flour. if it's too dry, add a little liquid [water is fine]. be careful making additions, because it's easy to upset the balance of wet versus dry. don't add more than a tablespoon at a time and mix thoroughly before deciding if you need to make further adjustments.

pull off a small section of dough and form it into a little ball with your hand. place it on a standard cookie sheet, or anything with a wide, flat base that goes in your oven. [you'll want to grease it very lightly with some margarine, since the jam can make it a little sticky.]

flatten the ball a little. i find it immensely satisfying to punch it, but you can also just press it down with your fingers. tradition says you should also score the top of a peanut butter cookie with a fork, but no one will arrest you if you don't. at least, they shouldn't as long as you consume the cookies in your own home.

repeat that step as many times as you can until you've used all the dough. i got fifteen. the recipe says you should get twenty-four. 

bake in a 375 degree oven for 10-15 minutes.

important: unless you like it really sweet, i recommend using either unsweetened peanut butter or jam. [i used the former.] if you only have access to sweetened varieties of both, i'd cut back a little on the sugar, or it could get sickly.

just as important: keep an eye on the cookies after ten minutes. you want to pull them out before they look completely cooked. cookies continue to bake themselves [aren't they clever!] for about two minutes after they're removed from the oven. they may feel quite soft at first, because the jam keeps them moist. don't worry, they will resolve into a more familiar cookie texture as they cool. which reminds me- let them cool or you will burn yourself! the end product will be more moist than a standard peanut butter cookie, but slightly firmer than a chocolate chip one, if that's any help.

a few other helpful[?] notes...

because you aren't dealing with any high-acid ingredients, it's fine to use only baking powder [a full teaspoon, though] rather than powder and soda. i did and nothing exploded.

i wouldn't recommend using an extremely chunky jam, because it will be harder to blend it into the batter evenly. i used a strawberry rhubarb with a fairly thick texture. the jam will dissolve during the baking process, so while you'll be able to taste it, you probably won't see it in the final product.

it will help if you allow the butter or margarine to warm up to room temperature before adding it. you can work with it cold [like i did, but i'm giving you the benefit of my experience], but you'll have to work a lot harder to get it evenly blended.

that's it! may the power of pb+j be with you! in cookie form!

29 March 2014

give me the chair

i need a new chair.

no, that doesn't quite convey what i want it to. i needed a new chair in about 2007, but i kept ignoring it and now i'm sitting on what feels like a lightly padded assemblage of saw blade factory castoffs. my back, my feet, my neck and basically everything below about my ears hates me and they take out their frustration on me by releasing evil gnomes to pummel my organs and muscles on a daily basis.

my office chair is so bad that it can make sitting anywhere at all kind of painful in its wake. it's like it wants to hurt me. did i punch its mother or something?

and it makes noise. not just when you move it. it squeaks and groans at the slightest flutter and it doesn't matter how much you douse it with lubricants and other spa treatments for furniture. it likes the sound of its own voice.

it also wobbles. the back wobbles [and groans] and the seat wobbles [separately]. this isn't good for someone who suffers from vertigo. it isn't good for anyone.

theoretically, there are adjustments that should limit the wobblies, but those never really made it what i would call stable. therefore, it's very possible to get seasick just sitting on this thing.

also, it gives me stabby pains in my buttocks and i'm almost certain that's a bad sign.

so why haven't i just coughed up the money for a new chair, you might ask? well let me tell you.

because they all suck.

i mean it. i have gone to the internet, prepared to shell out hard-earned coins for a decent chair with some back support and a butt-hugging seat, but none of them seem to represent a marked improvement on old lurchy.

i've consulted guides, i've read up what there is to read from people who know their stuff [and by the way, how do i get a job as a chair tester?] and all of the most recommended models [and their cheaper knock-off cousins] have the same set of flaws. [although most do have arm rests, which i currently lack, i've had mixed experiences that have led me to believe that those things are a mixed blessing.]

the first problem is that i have to be the only person on earth who doesn't like the ubiquitous herman miller aeron chair, which is basically what every office chair is now designed to mimic.

basically, a bouncy castle for upper management

it's not that i don't like the way it looks or anything. it's sort of spacey looking and the mesh is a great idea to help regulate body heat. i just fail to see what's so damn awesome about the way it feels. i've sat in a number of these and not once have i ever left thinking "gotta save up and get me one of those". the first minute or so is amazing, when you have that sensation that you're workstation includes a miniature trampoline. after that, you realise that you're at your desk, trying to work and sitting on a damn trampoline. there's a reason offices don't generally have trampolines. they're bad for productivity. [also bad for insurance claims.]

i know that you can adjust the tension, however my experience has been that doing so results in having either a rather uncomfortable ass-hammock or a surface so taut that you're in danger of being injured by ricochet if you so much as drop a paperclip. you'll probably need three tries sitting down in the morning so that you don't just bounce right off that thing.

other chairs have been introduced to the market with better ergonomics, more back-friendly features and slight tweaks in the shape, but none of them really represent a substantial move forward. there are few great advances in the field, unless you count this:

it's a fitness orb
that's right, you can now combine the wild ride that is office work with all the fun of falling over. because what we really need are chairs that require us to focus on sitting rather than what we're supposed to be doing.

several years ago, i took a seminar [read: was obliged to take a seminar] on office ergonomics. this is the sort of thing that normally makes everyone, especially the managers who had to lose their staff to this thing for half a day, roll their eyes. except it wasn't like that at all. it was interesting and practical and taught me things about how to make my workspace better through simple adjustments. when i implemented them, i was astonished at how fast my body felt better. among the most important things i learned was that your arms and legs should always be at right angles. anything off that and you're putting a surprising amount of strain on your body. i felt the difference within two or three days. it's that important.

however, for most people, desks and chairs are not constructed in a way to make it easy to do this. for instance, if i'm sitting high enough to have my arms at a ninety degree angle, my feet are dangling. if i'm seated low enough to have my knees at a ninety degree angle, the top of me probably can't see above the desk. and i'm only slightly below average height for a north american woman.

i deal with this mostly by trying to find a box that just happens to be exactly the right size for me to rest my feet and adjust my chair so that my arms bend in the right place. but what i'd really love, what would be absolutely smashing for me, would be if someone thought to put an adjustable oot rest on the damn chair. like you've had on barbers chairs for about three thousand years.

the other thing i'd love would be a neck rest that curved slightly forward, like a firm kind of neck pillow, so that you could give your neck and shoulders a bit of a rest when you were doing things like reading, sorting images, or playing solitaire while waiting for someone else to get back to you so that you could continue your work.

ideally, of course, we all want some kind of sleep number chair, that figures out where we're uneven and where pressure is highest and compensate. but it's just insane to think that technology that's used for beds and shoe inserts could be applied to anything that we sit on for eight to ten hours a day. 

until someone figures all that out, i'll just have to hold onto my seat [i'm likely to fall off otherwise] and hope that the future brings something other than trampolines and exercise balls. god help me.

27 March 2014

more like space greatest hits :: why vick still [still] makes me sick

he's been in the news again lately, so i thought i'd re-post this. i feel no differently about him than i did when i published this originally. if it were up to me, i'd force him to donate 80% of his earnings to animal welfare organisations for the rest of his life. although that's probably progress from my earlier position. however, laws are in place to stop people like me from imposing justice on people who inflict harm on the innocent and defenseless. so at the least, i wish he'd gotten punishment that would have been meaningful to his smug ass.

*


it's not often that barack obama says something that makes me want to tell him to shut the hell up (especially compared to other people who've had his job), but this week when he defended convicted felon michael vick as deserving of a second chance, i'm pretty sure i felt myself vurp.

i'll reveal my bias up front here: i'm an animal lover to the point where crimes against animals often disturb and infuriate me more than those against people. like crimes perpetrated against children, i feel that the victimization of those least able to protect themselves and most vulnerable to adult human violence is degenerate in its most literal sense- such actions involve a regression in basic humanity. so to say that i have no sympathy with vick about the nature of his crimes is a gross understatement.

although i don't want to go over the details of the world of dogfighting (i'm trying to cut back on the number of anti-depressants i need to take), it's worth it to keep in mind that the charges to which vick plead guilty involved training dogs to viciously attack and kill each other and killing those who did not perform not by humane methods, but by hanging, electrocution, and in one case beating the dog to death by slamming its body repeatedly into the ground. there are ample studies tying violence against animals to later violence against humans. although none of those studies have focused in any way on dogfighting, it is safe to say that such actions are indicative of a profound disregard for suffering and for life.

that said, i don't want to make it sound like i believe vicks can never be rehabilitated. whether his lack of empathy is congenital or learned would require a great deal of study of his past and his character. and i certainly don't want to make it sound like i oppose the idea of rehabilitation of criminals as a general idea. the vast majority of people convicted of crimes deserve the second chance that barack obama praises. i just happen to think that obama picked a really lousy case to hold up as the example of the value of giving someone a second chance.

first, let's address the question of remorse. vick has stated that he knew what he was doing was wrong while it was happening. despite this realisation, he made no effort to stop the dog-fighting ring, although, as the ring's landlord and financier, he could easily have done so. when charges were brought against him, he did not immediately confess and plead guilty, but rather chose to issue a statement through his lawyer that he looked forward to clearing his name. if we take him at his word that he knew what he was doing was wrong, his refusal to stop or confess to his activities is indicative of an unwillingness to take responsibilities for his actions. if we choose instead to beliece that he was lying about realising that what he was doing was wrong, it would implying that he exhibited symptoms of psychopathy, unable to distinguish "good" from "bad" behaviour.

already, this forces us to view his later statements of remorse with a skeptical eye. but, given that it is the corrections process that is actually supposed to purge one of criminal instinct and bring an awareness of the harm done, we still need to look at what he's said since his time in jail. here are a few statements i've culled from a press conference given when he signed with the philadelphia eagles after his release. (you can read the full article here.)

"For the life of me, I can't understand why I was involved in such pointless activity... Why did I risk so much at the pinnacle of my career?"

"There was a point in my life where I felt it was wrong and I knew it was wrong... To this day I have to live with that shame and that embarrassment."

"I paid my debt to society. I spent two years in prison... That was a humbling experience. I can't explain how deeply hurt and how sorry I was."

(note- the ellipses in these quotes are mine and indicate only edits from the text of the article. the quotes have not been altered in any way from the source.)

i've looked at these quotes for a while. i can certainly see that vick believes he did something stupid, that he now feels stupid for getting involved and that prison was a traumatic experience for him. what i don't see anywhere in those statements is a modicum of remorse or responsibility. the only time in which he mentions a remorseful word ("sorry"), it seems to refer not to feeling badly about what he did, but about the punishment he received for it."

vick has also said that he "allowed someone who didn't have my best interests at heart to take all that away from me." (here) this would make it appear that vick still takes no responsibility for what he has done. remorse without responsibility is logically impossible. you cannot regret what you have done while still being in denial that you were responsible for your actions.

and then, of course, you have vick's infamous statement that he wants a pet dog and that he doesn't like having to tell his kids that they can't have one. (do you think he explains exactly why they can't have one?) aside from their value as a bizarre sort of comedy, these statements are disturbing in that they are never followed by an admission of understanding why he shouldn't be allowed to own pets. to him, serving time has been a baptism. whatever sins tainted him before, they have been burnt away by jail and he has been born anew.

dear mr. obama: a second chance shouldn't be granted on the basis of time served. it should be granted because the person in question actually understands why what they did was harmful and deserving of censure.

i think it also bears looking at the thorny issue of class and money in this case. to say that a kid raised dirt poor who robs a liquor store deserves a second chance is reasonable. circumstances would dictate that this sort of behviour was normalised in the environment and that the decisions about right and wrong may well be legitimately clouded. and vick does in fact come from a rough background. he has credited football with keeping him off the streets. and his remarkable talents allowed him to rise to the pinnacle of his sport, earning the sort of money that the rest of us may only dream of and living a life of privilege and plenty. until the revelations of his dogfighting pursuits came to light, vick appeared to be a real role model, the kind of guy you want your kids to emulate.

the problem is that, unlike our hypothetical kid robbing a liquor store, a life of privilege means that one doesn't have to resort to crime in order to gain larger sums of money than one could get through honest means. when someone as wealthy as michael vick decides to commit a crime, the clear implication is that he is flouting the law- he commits these acts because he can and because, for him, it's fun.

i believe that equal justice for all is an important principle and it troubles me that i'm essentially advocating that vick be judged differently than if he were a poor hustler trying to make a few bucks from a fighting ring. at the same time, i believe that context is important and that to treat this case the same as any other, without acknowledging vick's utter lack of need of any income derived from his actions, is to ignore something fundamental.

while vick may moan about having thrown away his all that he had earned in his nfl career, it's important to note that, at no time, was he actually threatened with losing anything but his job and a large chunk of his $37 million signing bonus with the atlanta falcons. (he was eventually forced to repay a little more than half.) no one was going to take away his home, or the money he had earned from the nfl or from his stellar line-up of corporate sponsors. true, his ability to profit in the future was at risk, but i'll venture a guess that he was unlikely to have ever faced the possibility of living on the streets simply from the conviction.

if vick had been poor, the title of felon would have meant a lot more. it would have excluded him from a huge number of jobs, since most insurance companies will not grant a bond to a convicted felon. it would certainly have prevented him from owning a firearm or working in a job where carrying a weapon was required. in short, it would have greatly curtailed his ability to improve his life even after he had "served his time".

instead, vick has returned to his old job, with a multi-million dollar contract, almost as if nothing ever happened. yes, the owners and coaches of the philadelphia eagles are likely less concerned with giving michael vick a second chance than they are with winning games and putting arses in seats, but the cynicism of their actions doesn't negate the fact that vick's "second chance" was pretty easy for him to get.

if barack obama wants to talk about the importance of giving second chances, he should try finding an example of someone who wasn't just able to coast right back to a millionaire lifestyle after a perfunctory turn in the big house.

whatever i say here is ultimately sound and fury. michael vick will go on being a wealthy football player and the outrage over his crimes will fade to a whisper (already, a quick google of his name produces no results referencing his dogfighting until deep into the second page of links). he'll undoubtedly retire to a fabulous mansion and live out his days as... well i really have no idea. by being forced to speak out against animal cruelty, he will likely do more good than the harm he inflicted during his dogfighting hobby. but whether or not he has been rehabilitated is something to be learned from his own words and those who would hold him up as an example of successful rehabilitation should take the time to read them.

24 March 2014

mental health mondays :: there's an app for that

you mean there's an app to cure my crazy? well, no. but there are lots of apps available for those who are concerned about their mental well-being and so i've decided to take a look at some of them for mhm. after all, visits to your doctor and/ or psychiatric professional can be pretty few and far between. you need something to help you during the days, weeks and months in between.

because i'm an iphone user, i can only guarantee that the apps i look at are available for that platform, but i think that developers are now taking into consideration the needs of android and blackberry customers. if you have any experiences you'd like to share, comments are highly encouraged.

first off, by way of introduction, i wanted to give my own thoughts on what mental health apps can do. clearly, they are no substitute for professional help. but can they still be helpful? i think so. many seem to offer an orderly, well-structured way to track progress [or the lack of it] with mental illness. simplifying this process for people whose condition can cause them to be forgetful, erratic and inconsistent is a phenomenal idea. some apps connect the user to support groups, which offers a level of convenience greater than that of chat forums, because it is designed for mobile technology. others offer assistance with adjunct activities- relaxation, breathing exercises, etc- that can help control anxiety and depression. all of these are very useful, especially for the most prevalent mental illnesses.

of course, there are charlatans. i'm wary of anything that purports to "cure" a mental illness and i would insist that anything that offers help in treating these conditions be able to furnish credentials that show it is based on a method that has been independently tested.

you may want to have a look at psych central's list of best apps. all of these have been professionally vetted. the unfortunate part is that almost all of them cost money. there aren't even free versions available for a user to try. you might argue that if a person can afford a smart phone and data plan to begin with, a few bucks for an app isn't that big a deal and that's probably right. but for the purposes of testing them out, i'd at least like to look at what's out there for cheapskates like me before i start dishing out cash money.

the app i've chosen to review first, is simply called "psych drugs". there's a free version and a paid version [$2.99usd cost] which doesn't have ads. it's a straightforward guide to psychiatric drugs, as you might have guessed, for those who might be curious about what they're being given or what options might be open to them.

each listing gives brand and generic names, indications, drug type, maximum dosage for adults and children and side effects. you can create a "favourites" list, which for most people is probably going to be a list of what they've been prescribed. 

pros ::

there are a lot of drugs listed. i tried "fooling" it by searching out older or less often prescribed drugs, but there wasn't one that it didn't have. it does not list drugs that have not been approved for treating mental disorders, but that's pretty understandable.

all drugs are listed by both their brand and generic names, so you can search either. this is a godsend, because having to remember two names for every drug you take or want to look up is confusing as hell.

presentation is incredibly uniform and very straightforward. you don't have to read through a lot of text to find out what you want to know.

cons ::

the search function only works alphabetically. being able to search by drug type, so you could see what options were available as alternates for something you're currently taking. it would also make the app more user-friendly for people who don't know much about the field. to properly search, you need to know some names, so this could never be a starting point. 

there's no distinction made in the "side effects" section of which ones are common versus which ones are rare. without this, the side effects for everything look kind of horrifying. it would be helpful to know what you can expect versus what is a remote possibility.

when i tried tapping the side bar to zoom to a specific letter, 4 times out of 5, it didn't work. i had to scroll to the letter i wanted. it's possible that this is just me, but i'm using a phone that's about two weeks old, so it's not like there's likely to have been a lot of wear and tear that could be causing issues. 

not exactly a con per se, but there's little incentive to shell out for the paid version. the only difference seems to be that the paid version doesn't have ads, but the ads that appear in the free version are limited to the upper part of the screen and are quite unobtrusive. i think that the paid version could command a higher price if it offered things like the ability to compare drugs, the possibility of tracking your own progress and side effects on a specific drug or more advanced search options.

bottom line :: if you know a little bit about psychiatric drugs and are curious to know more, this is a decent basic app. it gives you the basics on a comprehensive list of drugs and will let you know what exactly has been prescribed to you. it'll also let you know all the things that could happen to you from taking these drugs. it's not going to provide much more than the basics, but for a free app, the price is right.

23 March 2014

making faces :: made from naturally sourced materials

as nature intended, i'm certain of it
a while back, i did a post full of a week's worth of "naked" looks [makeup looks. specificity matters here -ed.] and while i do normally like a little more colour in the mix, i got the idea a few days ago to take that to its logical extreme and see what the best effect was that i could get while keeping the end look very natural. of course, the joke here is that i'm actually using more makeup than i would normally, because i spent a lot of time prepping my face so that it didn't look like me with makeup, but more like the best version of me i could muster.

when i was younger, i tended to go heavier applying foundation and powder, because i didn't know any better and because i always aspired to a perfectly even matte complexion. i could usually maintain that for about a minute and a half before a little bit of shine started to emerge, which was like some kind of torture for someone who gets obsessed over little imperfections. as i've gotten older, i've come to prefer a look that's less heavy-handed, but with all the advances in product technology, it has become easier to achieve a natural but extremely smooth and even finish. it's also possible to subtly shape and sculpt the face in ways that would previously required a lighting crew and a professionally trained makeup artist.

so here's a look at what i did to achieve that "all-natural" look...

 
 

products used

nuxe bio bb cream "light" [love, love, love this stuff, but even the light is way too dark for me to use alone]
rouge bunny rouge highlighting liquid "sea of clouds" [pearly white]
nars radiant creamy concealer "vanilla"
rouge bunny rouge bronzing liquid "as if it were summer still"
urban decay naked skin foundation "1.0"
chanel joues d'ombre contouring blush "notorious" [lavender taupe]*
nars powder blush "deep throat" [light coral pink]
chanel joues contrastes highlighting blush "delice" [shimmery white]*
hourglass ambient lighting powder "diffused light" [yellow-white]
rouge bunny rouge e/s "gracious arasari" [soft pinky-beige]*
rouge bunny rouge e/s "solstice halcyon" [light mauve-taupe]
armani eyes to kill mascara
laura mercier stick gloss "black orchid"

clearly, there is extensive contouring and highlighting going on here. the idea was to be able to carry a perfectly lit look by carrying my own lighting with me. i also played around with layering products to make them more or less obvious. for instance, the rbr bronzing liquid was applied over the bb cream but under the foundation, because on its own, i felt it looked too warm to pass as natural on my winter white skin. i used that just under the cheek bones, whereas "notorious" i used to contour my entire face- around the hair line, along the jaw, on the sides of my nose and also under the cheekbones, because it appears more like a natural shadow.

i felt like my under eye area needed more help on the inner corners, so that's where i used a tiny bit of "sea of clouds" to make things more luminous. however, to control any shimmer, i mixed in a little concealer [aside from what i'd already applied over the whole under-eye area]. "delice" powder highlighter was limited to the upper cheekbones, because i felt that it would be a little too dazzling anywhere else. to being more light, but subtle light, to my forehead, nose and chin, i applied "diffused light". the last thing that i applied was "deep throat", because the subtle colour tamped down the more intense highlighter.

the eyes are simple and while you can clearly tell that i'm wearing shadow and mascara close up, it looks remarkably natural from normal viewing distance. unlike the face products, this is a super-quick application, because precision and placement, which normally slow me down when applying more vibrant colours, are not issues. i've just patted "gracious arasari" all over the lid and swept "solstice halcyon"in the crease. the key here was the wonderful rbr satin formula, because either frosted or matte textures are going to look unnatural. skin, even the skin on your eyelids, normally has a bit of a sheen and that's what these have. they're not so pale that they can't pass for your usual eyelids [at least if you're fair-skinned], but they do allow you to shape and perfect that skin. a deep brown mascara might have been more natural, but i'm fresh out. i also find that most brown mascaras are too reddish for them to look natural on me. black may seem weighty, but it at least doesn't distract.

"black orchid" freshly applied is a little too deep to pass for my natural lip colour, but it fades quickly to a stain that's just a hair deeper and brighter than my natural lip. i like this shade for a "no makeup" effect because most "my lips but better" colours are warm. my natural lip colour is very cool-toned, probably the coolest-toned part of my face. in the pictures you're seeing, i have let the initial colour fade just a little, so that it's truly at its most natural.

whew! that's a lot of work to essentially look like i didn't do any work. i like the end effect, although it's not going to win me away from my bold lips or winged liner any time in the near future. any secrets you'd like to share for a flawless "no makeup" look? feel free to share them in the comments.

21 March 2014

three ways of "reading" breaking bad

well it didn't take long. dom and i finished watching "breaking bad" in only a few weeks. and that's counting the fact that we purposely waited a few days before watching the second part of season five. we just wanted to stretch it out as long as possible before we had to resign ourselves to the fact that it was gone [something fans of the show have generally already done].

my thoughts?

well, as i'd been told, it is truly a triumph of screenwriting. the caliber of the script is nothing short of incredible and eclipses anything else i've seen on television. in fact, it eclipses most things i've seen on film. the progression of walter white from cowed, stooped, defeated high school chemistry teacher to vicious drug kingpin and finally to embittered, doomed antihero is beyond brilliant. and i fully believe that the show went out, more than any other show i've seen, when it was just about on top of its game. i'll get to what i meant by "just about" a little later.

being a writer myself, one of my favourite things about the show was thinking of different ways in which i could interpret the story. creator and head writer vince gilligan has said that he views the tale as a sort of western for the modern world, but i think that's selling the series short. so, i thought i'd share some of the ideas that came to me as i was watching it.

now, i will place the break in such a way that if you haven't seen the series and think you might want to, you can simply stop reading, because there are definitely spoilers to come. if you choose to keep going, i'm going to ruin everything for you.

THIS IS YOUR FINAL WARNING

20 March 2014

making faces :: the extremes of ellis

a few weeks ago [over a month ago -ed.], i promised a review of some new ellis faas products that i'd got my hands on. yeah, i ended that sentence with a preposition and i'm going to carry that knowledge to my grave, but it just felt better than saying "on which i've gotten my hands", which sounds retarded. and no, i don't mean retarded in the offensive, mentally challenged sense. i mean retarded in the "too stupid and slow to keep up" sense, which was always the sense with which it was employed [see what i did there?] in my youth. and all that is an extremely lengthy way of saying that this is the promised review of ellis faas products.

i picked up two shades from their web site: one of their new "hot lips" lipsticks in l403 and one of their creamy eyes shadows in e117.

the hot lips shades are a new formula, based on the existing "creamy lips" formula, but containing incredibly high levels of pigment in colours that venture well outside the "natural colours" realm of other ellis products. these are super-saturated, neon-bright and wild. there are a few shades that feel just a bit more natural [the higher the shade number, the more natural the colour], but the ones that will garner the most attention are those that are bold.

18 March 2014

culinating :: the terrible truth about muffins [and the happy secret about baking]

because someone has to ruin everything and it might as well be me...

me :: honey, have you seen the 9x13 baking pan?

dom :: the one that you used to put the leftovers in?

me :: yes.

dom :: it's in the fridge with leftovers in it.

me :: oh, ok.

dom :: does that mean you can't bake the cake until we eat all the leftovers?

me :: nah. can you just hand me the muffin pan from up there? [points to a space somewhere high in the stratosphere of our kitchen]

dom :: it'll work as muffins?

me :: of course. the only real difference between cake and muffins is the pan you bake them in.

i'm sorry. i know that we all like to cling to the idea that muffins have some sort of intrinsic healthiness to them, that they're a carb-y but not dessert-like option for breakfast. but the major difference between them and a cake is that they come in individual portions.

in this case, i was making a variation of a molasses spice cake that i kind of made up a few years ago. i say "made up", because i just picked a bunch of ingredients i wanted to use and found a decent generic cake recipe that i could adapt. people tell you that baking is something that you have to do in accordance with a recipe, but that's not quite true. you have to get your ratios right, but you do have more room to play than you would think. my advice? stick to a recipe the first couple of times you try something, then let yourself experiment. generally, if the texture of the batter feels right, you'll do fine. [and by the way, in my experience it's a good idea to stick to recipes when you first try anything, because they're generally written by people who know what they're doing.]

the cake recipe i used for these muffins goes a little something like this:

2/3 cup brown sugar [i like it as dark as possible]
2/3 cup molasses
2/3 cup boiling water
4 tbsp butter
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 egg [beaten]
1.5 cups flour
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ginger [dry, powdered]
1/4 tsp cloves

however, it turned out that i only had about half the required molasses- and normally i add a little more than is necessary to make it nice and dark. i like dark. so in this case, i grabbed a jar of plum jam that i had an threw that in. i figured that molasses and jam are similar consistencies, so there was probably a good chance the switcheroo would work. as it turns out, i was right.

the addition of boiling water is done to melt the butter, but i don't think i've ever done it that way. i just soften the butter in the microwave and use something other than water. many, many years ago, a school friend of mine who could bake shared a secret: substituting just about anything for water in a cake recipe will make the end product moister. in this particular instance, i used some bolthouse farms juice that i had in my fridge- carrot, mango and ginger blend- which gave the final product a taste more akin to a carrot cake, without going all the way. in the past, i've used orange juice and even coffee. next time, i'm thinking of using earl grey tea.

for the spice blend, i find the suggested mix a little mild. since i had ginger in the juice as well as on its own, i didn't adjust that amount [in previous iterations, i've added more], but i did throw in about half a teaspoon of nutmeg and about a quarter teaspoon of garam masala. yes, you read that right. garam masala. i've also thrown in a pinch of cayenne before. using mulling spices and apple juice would probably work really well.

finally, i realised as i was going that we'd used the last of our baking soda to deodorize the litter pans a while back. so i shrugged and used baking powder instead. baking powder is essentially baking soda plus an acidic compound. both are leavening agents, which release carbon dioxide as they are heated and cause the cake, bread, pancake, etc. to rise and become light. so it's actually perfectly acceptable to substitute baking powder for soda, as long as you don't have too many acidic ingredients like citrus, honey or buttermilk. [baking powder combined with a more acidic mixture will give your final baked good a bitter taste.] you can substitute soda for powder as well, but it's a little trickier, since you'll need to add an acid as well as the soda. [a small amount of vinegar can do the trick.]

so there it is. baking is less mysterious than you may have thought, but the bad news is that all baking is about equally bad for your diet no matter what shape in comes out.

17 March 2014

mental health mondays :: tippling too much?

many of you may be viewing this through the fog of a hangover [or possibly while still inebriated], which made me think that it might be a good idea for us to dedicate this week's mhm to the phenomenon of alcoholism. sure, you might be thinking you'll never drink again, but chances are that'll wear off faster than a temporary "kiss me i'm irish" tattoo. [at least, we all hope it's temporary.]

for those of you in doubt, alcoholism is classified as a mental disorder. actually, it's a broad term that can refer to a range of mental disorders related to the compulsive consumption of alcohol, to the detriment of physical, social and psychological health. and if you think that sounds vague, it's only just beginning. because even by the standards of a mental disorder, alcoholism is fiendishly difficult to identify and treat.

for starters, the question of how much alcohol consumption constitutes too much is problematic. different cultures have different views on healthy versus unhealthy alcohol consumption. and while consuming alcohol in even moderate amounts can cause some damage, there's also evidence that it is generally benign or even helpful in many other ways. complicating things further is that there is often a moral and social stigma attached to alcohol in general, which affects the way that its consumption is viewed and shapes [most often implicitly] the guidelines that determine how much consumption is acceptable and under what conditions. [and let's not even talk about the fact that these same social stigma often stop people from seeking help when they do have a problem.]

in the last few iterations of the diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders, there has been a distinction made between alcohol abuse- repeatedly and frequently drinking to excess despite adverse consequences- and alcohol dependence. of course, both conditions can co-exist and, since binge drinkers are far more likely to have a problem with dependency than those who drink in moderation, it can be assumed that they often do co-exist. but it does underline the complexity of even talking about alcoholism that mental health experts believe it to be at least two separate problems. [personally, i've always loved the old-fashioned term "dipsomaniac", although i have to admit that it's more just because i think it sounds like a good word to describe someone's behaviour when they're crazy loaded. i can understand that the condition requires a little more gravitas...]

existing cultural biases can confuse efforts to distinguish problem drinking from non-problem drinking, but in fact, the process is confusing enough without that help. after all, alcohol can cause or worsen problems with the liver and kidneys, but so can tylenol. increased tolerance to alcohol is seen as a warning sign for dependence, but alcohol tolerance varies significantly depending on genetic background: children of alcoholics, for instance, often have a higher tolerance for alcohol regardless of whether or not they drink heavily or even regularly. but there even seem to be differences based on where you live. differences that make absolutely no sense whatsoever.

for instance, here's a listing of global alcohol consumption by country [separated into wine, beer and spirits]. and here is a very helpful interactive map produced by the world health organisation of deaths caused by alcoholism. while it might be difficult to determine when exactly drinking becomes a problem, i think that we can all agree that when it leads to death, it's clearly crossed that threshold. so you would expect that countries that have similar drinking patterns to have similar results. and you would be wrong.

for instance, the death rates in honduras, nicaraugua, guatemala and especially el salvador are by far the highest in the world. but not one of those countries cracks the top twenty in terms of alcohol consumption. and northern neighbour mexico has a lower rate of alcoholism deaths than either the united states or canada.

france, with a death rate of 4.2 people per one hundred thousand citizens, has one of the highest rates in western europe. but italy and spain, who have similar drinking patterns, have among the lowest, with 0.2 and 0.6 deaths per hundred thousand respectively.

even stranger, moldova, the heaviest consumer of the hardest liquors, has a lower death rate than many countries with healthier habits, which would imply that the level of harm from alcohol doesn't necessarily correlate to the amount of alcohol consumed, at least averaged out over an entire country.


the bottom line is that what's most important is not necessarily the amount of alcohol consumed or the regularity with which it's consumed. what matters most are the effects and those may be up to the individual to evaluate. after all, the physical effects of alcoholism may take years to become noticeable enough to be of concern. and basing a decision to seek help on how much or how often you drink, as you can see from the above statistics, is not necessarily a reliable barometer. better to ask:

  • is it interfering with your relationships with other people? are you getting in arguments? ignoring people? avoiding the people whose carpet you vomited on last wednesday?
  • are there things that are important to you that you miss out on doing because of drinking or being hung over? 
  • do you actually enjoy what you're drinking? does it taste good? do you like the way it complements your food? or are you drinking just for the "side effects"?  
  • is drinking stopping you from meeting commitments? are you missing work, skipping time with family or friends, passing on doing the stuff that really needs to get done because you're inebriated or hung over?

in other words, look seriously at what the current consequences are. of course, even if you answered "no" to all of the above [or other questions that you might pose yourself in the same vein], if you have the habit of drinking more than a couple of alcoholic beverages a day on a regular basis, you might want to check up on your liver and other potential problem areas... just to make sure.

hopefully, you're leaving this blog confident that you have everything under control, no matter what you got up to over the past few days. but if not, remember that there is help available and that, however confusing it may be, what you have is a disorder that needs treatment, not something you need to feel ashamed of.

14 March 2014

making faces :: hourglass ups their ante

it's getting everyone's attention...
if you're a follower of the cosmetics industry, you've probably heard about hourglass' follow-up to last year's oh-so-successful "ambient lighting powders". those were finishing/ sculpting powders created to mimic the effects of different types of light against the skin. this year, each of those gets a blush to go with it. each of the six original powders has been combined with a complementary blush shade, the two of them marbled together in a compact to create a cheek shade fully infused with the characteristic glow of the ambient lighting powders.

as a huge fan of both hourglass and the ambient lighting powders, i was severely tempted to run off and grab all of them in a rabid makeup frenzy, but i've been told that if i bite anyone in line at sephora again that i'll never be allowed back. so i acted all responsible-like and bought one. because i had to try them...

the one i bought was, by choice, the shade that incorporates the only shade of the six ambient lighting powders that i don't already have. i own four in full size [mood light, dim light, luminous light and diffused light], plus i have the ambient lighting palette, a limited holiday offering that contained the limited edition shade "incandescent light" along with "dim light" and "radiant light". so the only one i'm missing is the lightest, "ethereal light", a very slightly pearled white highlighter. you would think that this would be a natural for me, but i decided to hold off on buying this one, since i had just bought bobbi brown's "porcelain pearl" highlighter, which is pretty similar.

that said, i didn't see any reason why i shouldn't get the "ethereal glow" blush, which contains threads of the white highlighter mixed with a strawberry ice cream-pink blush. after all, i don't actually have that many light pink blushes. for some reason i never get them, because i'm convinced i already have a lot and then i go looking for one and realise, no, i'm wrong again and i've probably lost the opportunity to get a shade that i'd use all the time. or at least a lot of the time. some of the time. it would be used.

13 March 2014

is this the worst advertisement ever in the history of mankind?

ok, sadly, it probably isn't, but it's still pretty disturbing.

i was flipping through the march issue of in style and i came across this ad. it looks innocuous enough at first, even kind of adorable.


if you're having trouble- or are trying to avoid looking too closely- the text reads:

an intimate moment captured in two distinctive fragrances for her. designed by ashley olsen and mary kate olsen.

look, i'm aware that "intimate" doesn't always mean something sexual, but throwing a naked chick who looks like she's been knocked unconscious from a four hour fuck fest does tend to lead you in that direction. and then that idea barrels like a runaway train into the image of an equally exhausted and happy-looking puppy passed out just south of the lady's nasty bits.

what the hell am i looking at here? because it kind of looks like the aftermath of a human-pet cuddle session that crossed a line somewhere.

furthermore, why is looking at this supposed to make me want to experience the smells that go along with the moment? it's one thing to say that you like the smell of your bed when you put on freshly laundered sheets, but that's not the vibe i'm getting from this. i'm guessing those sheets smell a lot like co-mingled sweat and wrong.

i like my perfumes a little on the edgy side. in fact, i wear men's scents fairly often, because i find that they work better against my skin than a lot of women's ones. so i'm not usually one to judge people for liking perfumes that are a little off the beaten path, but there does still seems [to me] to be a massive difference between the smoky, leathery darkness of tom ford's "tuscan leather" [a personal favourite, by the way] and an afternoon of hot dog sex as a signature scent.

perhaps this means i'm no longer hip to what the kids are doing these days. looking at this monstrosity, i'd like to say i'm ok with that. i'm seriously so incredibly ok with that

12 March 2014

ur doin it wrong. and so am i.

i saw this infographic on common grammatical mistakes which writers should be careful not to make on their blogs. i'm pretty sure i've made all of them at one point or another, despite my criticisms of others' grammatical failings.

10 Common Blog Writing Mistakes (Infographic)
Source: www.grammarcheck.net

i do find that some of the rules here could be better explained: the difference between cumulative and coordinate adjectives is not immediately obvious from their examples. also, there's a much clearer way to illustrate when to use "me and "i", that an english-teaching friend of mine taught me; if you're unsure what to do, take the other person out of the sentence and see how it sounds. observe:

i like it when friends come over to visit dom and i/ me.
i like it when friends come over to visit i.
i like it when friends come over to visit me.

this is what they're saying in the infographic, but it's not abundantly clear. at least, to me it isn't. [note: that was actually a sentence fragment.]

i do strongly believe that it's important to know this kind of stuff [theses kinds of things?] and not to rely exclusively on spelling or grammar checks. neither of those tools is capable of discerning the subtleties of your writing and can inadvertently end up giving you terrible advice. for instance, there is nothing grammatically wrong with the following sentence:

the sun shone from his behind.

however, the above sentence does not mean "the sun shone from behind him".

likewise, there is nothing grammatically wrong with saying:

let's eat kids.

no grammar check will alert you that you're doing something wrong by writing that sentence. the police, however, may have something to say to you unless you protect yourself with a comma:

let's eat, kids.

hope that makes the consequences of trusting in your grammar check adequately clear.

i'm far from perfect and on this blog, i'm farther from perfect than usual. i don't always check things before i post them and it bugs me when i find unforgivably stupid mistakes, which i do, more often than i'd like to admit. sometimes, of course, i employ grammatical mistakes and spelling mistakes for effect [witness the title of this post], but i like to think that i come off as intelligent enough most of the time that you all know i'm joking. if i'm wrong about that, perhaps you could keep it to yourself, as it's one of the central threads of my self-image.

to all of you fellow writers out there: english is kind of a bastard, but i do think it's worth trying to improve, even if you [like me] are never going to get it completely right. either that, or we should all just write in lolspeak from now on.

08 March 2014

making faces :: march hares

i've been horribly slack about taking swatch photos. i've no excuse, because we've actually had sunshine and it's been freezing cold, so i haven't really felt like going outside a lot. what can i say? occasionally, the lazies catch up with all of us. some of us weren't going that fast to begin with.

also, dom and i started watching breaking bad a couple of weeks ago, which means that we've basically been spending all our nights bingeing on that and all our days sleeping late and puttering around until it's sufficiently late in the day that we can justify doing just one more disc. it's like we're addicted to something. but more on that later.

but that doesn't mean i haven't had things that i wanted to swatch, because i definitely have. and among those are some new goodies from, you guessed it, rouge bunny rouge. now, it wasn't all that long ago that i did my last review on rouge bunny rouge, but i couldn't resist spoiling myself just a little more, because, after literally months of buildup, two new eye shadows arrived, spun from the usual mix of forest magic and your happiest dreams.

i snapped up both new shades, "rain dove" and "rufous-tailed weaver". several bloggers have already reviewed them and i'm stuck for what to say, because i have gushed about rbr shadows so many times that i believe i have actually exhausted my abilities to say wonderful things about the formula. what's even more perplexing is that even by those high standards, the performance of these excel. dare i say it? dare i let it be spoken? i think that these might be the best rbr shadows ever in terms of the feel and formulation. so there.

the best advice that i can give you is to google the names of these shades and try to find pictures of them on a blogger who has a skin tone close to yours. the brand cautions that there will be differences from one person to another and that was absolutely my experience. seeing them on me, both in swatches and in use, i don't get the same effect that i've seen in other photos on other people. in fact, i like them better on me the way that they are than i think i would have liked them if they turned out the way they looked in other people's photos. ok, i'm not even sure if i can make sense of that last sentence, but please stay with me.

06 March 2014

nuit blanche with neville

behind the pink curtain...
this past weekend was montreal's "nuit blanche", a night dedicated to celebrating the arts and encouraging members of the community to discover all the different sorts of cultural exchanges that are taking place when they aren't looking. since it promised to be chilly outside, i opted to stick downtown, where many exhibits can be seen just by wandering through the underground city, without needing to venture outside. i also elected to go out earlier. it's a sad side effect of the event that a lot of teenagers who aren't interested in anything remotely artistic use it as an excuse to stay out late and get really, obnoxiously drunk.

don't get me wrong: i am all about finding ways to stay out past curfew. i used to volunteer every year for halifax's annual "shadow-painting", a chilling sort of memorial to the victims of the hiroshima and nagasaki bombings, where thousands of people were literally reduced to their shadows on the ground. and i'm not going to deny that part of the appeal was getting to stay out all night. but my friends and i actually did end up running around various parts of the city, using stencils or taking turns lying down on the ground to have our outlines painted. i don't think i ever had so much as a shared drink. to me it was enjoyable in great measure because we believed in it. and i know that there are many young people who treat the nuit blanche the way my friends and i would have- as an opportunity to do something enjoyable that has a whiff of naughty adventure about it. they're just being drowned out by the people who are taking turns trying to knock the artwork down and barfing on the gallery floors.

by heading out earlier, i avoided those who were showing up just to be able to say they were out late without parental supervision and it turned out for the better. unfortunately, the weather outdoors was not nearly as cold as predicted and the temperatures indoors, where it was difficult to remove one's cloak and hat. so i ended up spending a lot of time being hot and uncomfortable, which does tend to be a little distracting.

however, i did manage to take in a decent number of the smaller events [crowds around the nerve centre of place des arts were intimidating even earlier on], including almost all of the exhibits at the belgo centre, something i've missed the last few years because i've gotten too late a start.

also this year, for the first time, i chose to interact with the exhibits in my own special way. many installations invite participation from viewers, but i've generally been content to observe. this year, though, i thought i would bring something to the party in honour of its all-night nature. something that combines the worlds of art and insomnia.

i brought neville.

i also added him to a table covering when we stopped for snacks
it started out innocently enough. i though for once i'd make a little contribution to the annual graffiti mural that's created deep within the underground city, comprising work by known, unknown and non-artists. before long, it came to me that adding neville was a perfect idea, but once i'd left him in one place, i couldn't stop. i kept adding him and adding him in various guises, as anyone who follows by twitter/ facebook/ instagram feed can attest.

i was kind of annoyed that i forgot his eye bags
i was given a template and told to draw within it. i refused.
sort of a drive-by neville-ing
i also added this to the group mural. i hate that she's lop-sided, but i was too.
there were a number of interesting exhibits, of course, as there always are. but really, this particular night was marked by my neville campaign. but here are a few other takeaways:

light boxes with words or phrases related to "mothers", many disturbing.
a thousand photo paper cranes
hey, it's me and kathleen, getting in the way which never happens
art should always involve a giant mallet
also, giant pickles
and acid trip decor
i wrapped things up by spending a few minutes in a studio space converted to a small meditation centre, where participants were invited to just come in, unwind, shut up and meditate for a few minutes. longtime readers of this blog may remember that i'm a total failure when it comes to meditation, but, shockingly, i found that i was able to get closer to the desired state, despite the high levels of background noise. the woman running the group [visual artist jennifer hamilton] had a very soothing and welcoming demeanour.

also, i made a new friend
although i salute the city's attempts to spread things out a little more- there were events further north, along the blue line of the metro for the first time- there is still far too much concentrated in the place des arts/ place des festivals complex. and it seemed like other "campuses" had fewer events this year, particularly around old montreal, in the string of galleries that line st. paul st. and i am still a purist who thinks that "all night" should mean all night, not just "until when the bars normally close". [i know a friend of mine who works at one of the participating venues would like to tell me to shut up for saying that, but i can't help it.] that said, it's hard to argue with something that brings you in contact with myriad art forms, let's you add your own little egotistical touches and costs you nothing. vive la nuit blanche!

02 March 2014

the difference engine

inspiration is a tricky thing. you keep thinking that if you clear your head and just let your brain roam like a buffalo across the rolling plains, you'll find the waters of inspiration. unfortunately, it doesn't really work like that. it does sometimes and keeping yourself in the habit of writing is all important, even if all you're writing is snippets. [i'm a big proponent of snippets, because they can often be threaded together when you have enough of them.] but sometimes, you become more like a large buffalo stuck in a mud hole. you need someone else to come and pull you out. 

i'm too proud and stubborn to actually ask for help, but i'm lucky enough to live with someone who's not afraid to intervene when he sees i'm suffering, so he suggested that he just give me a key word and i could work from there. i told him to take a shot, because nothing was going to be more helpless than me floundering in my own creative muck. 

his choice of word: technology.

i tried thinking about it for a few days, but nothing was coming to me. finally, dom intervened again, when i was so struck with a combination of energy and boredom that i was almost literally starting to climb our walls. he persuaded me to just take some time and focus on it, which would be more fun than climbing the walls for both of us. 

since i didn't have any particular idea, i decided to start out by making notes for myself on the subject of technology, not trying to create a story, just writing whatever popped into my head thinking of the subject. i didn't know what to expect, but within minutes, i had the beginnings of this piece. it took only about half an hour to come up with the concept, including doing some research on the technologies mentioned. [although the museum is a figment of my imagination, all of the technologies in it are real. the pictures included in this post are of the titular difference engines.]

from initial notes to completion, this took me about three and a half hours. it's a first draft and rough as such, but it's still a good example of what can happen when you stop beating yourself up about what to write and just put pen to paper. [i still always start out that way, although i move to the computer when i get to the story-writing part.] it's also a great example about having a motivator near you can help rescue you from a creative sinkhole. 

READ THE RESULTS OF THIS EXPERIMENT AFTER THE BREAK...

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...