Sunday, March 29, 2015

Wedding bells are ringing! ...the Cupcake Quest begins!

Happy Sunday, Blog Followers!

 As some of you may know, my fiancé, Carl, and I are getting hitched in 2017! This has set us off on the magical and harrowing odyssey that is planning a wedding in North America. I have a theory that North Americans have developed the wedding not only as a celebration of a couple's union, but also as a high-intensity trial of the couple's communication, problem-solving, and flexibility as a team. Only the strong survive to the finish line! Luckily, I'm marrying a saint, who is possibly the best team player on the planet.

 I love cupcakes. They represent both the influence of liberal individualism that I so cherish in Canadian culture, and the socialist notion that everyone is equal, and deserving of their own quantized and beautiful piece of confectionery bliss. In addition to this, they're delicious. So, when it came time to decide on a wedding cake or cupcakes, financial efficiency and personal bias made the the decision clear. My sweetheart loves carrot cake, whereas I am a light chocolate or royal velvet fanatic. So begins my journey to find Toronto's best cupcake in both the carrot cake, and light chocolate or royal velvet categories.

 In order to streamline this process, I'll be conducting my cupcake evaluation based on 7 categories, which will be quantified through a 1-5 star rating. 5 stars represents the highest scoring, while 1 is the lowest. As a guideline for myself, I'll give 3 stars or more for a cupcake that I would seriously consider for our reception. Only three bake shops will be considered in the final competition! The top 3 shops, with 1 entry per category (carrot cake or chocolate), will be assessed by the finalist judging panel, which will consist of the wedding party (bridesmaids, groomsmen, parents of the couple, and ring bearers if possible) and groom. Each party member's vote will be given a weight of 1, while the groom's vote will be double weighted.

The 7 Categories Are:
  • Cake quality and overall taste
  • Icing quality and overall taste
  • Cake to Icing Ratio
  • Amount of carrot or cocoa flavour/content
  • Aesthetics, decoration, and presentation 
  • Overall Score
  • Value and cost (not ranked by stars)
1. Bunner's Vegan and Gluten-Free Bakeshop (244 Augusta St. Kensington Market)

Chocolate Cupcake:
Cake quality and overall taste: (1 Star)
In defense of Bunner's cupcakes, they are attempting the almost impossible to create a comparable cupcake that is both gluten-free and vegan. If this category could take this handicap into consideration, the cake quality would easily win 3 stars; however, with that aside the cake wasn't great. It was a bit dry, and difficult to get down. By the end of the cupcake, I was starting to feel a bit nauseated. I want our guests to be able to enjoy the whole cupcake if they so choose, without having to take "taste breaks" because there is bitterness, dryness, or other aspects of the cupcake that make it less palatable. I had to be really hungry and eat this cupcake in phases to get it down; however, the first two bites weren't bad. 

Icing quality and overall taste: (2 Stars)
The icing wasn't bad per se, but it was a touch bland, and had an oily texture. It wasn't obnoxiously sweet like some icings can be, and you certainly didn't feel sugar-saturated after the first bite. Overall, a good attempt, and especially impressive given the dietary restrictions. 

Cake to Icing Ratio: (2 Stars)
The cupcake mouth texture is a complicated art. I find you have to not only create the perfect harmony in tastes between the cake and icing in each bite, but also the ratio of each. This cupcake did neither well. The cake had a bitter aftertaste and dryness, and the icing did little to compensate, while contributing an unappealing oily texture. Finally, the icing to cupcake ratio was slightly too high and messed up both the mouth feel and taste balance. 

Amount of Cocoa: (1 Star)
I think the bitterness in the cake came from an over-abundance of cocoa. If anyone has ever accidentally licked the cocoa spoon while baking as a kid, thinking it will be sweet and delicious like chocolate, you will have an exaggerated idea of what this cupcake tasted like. When you can't add eggs, butter, or wheat to your cupcake, I guess you have to add something, but I think cocoa made too large an appearance in this cupcake. 

Aesthetics, decoration, and presentation: (3 stars)
This cupcake looked appealing. There weren't elaborate decorations on it, and the icing was delivered in an approximately open-star tip form. For comparison of icing styles please see: ( The icing was a bit of a lighter brown and contrasted nicely with the cake.

Overall Score: (2 Stars)
When eaten slowly, over a long period of time and allowing for extended recovery between bites, the cupcake wasn't bad. There were even small moments, before the aftertaste, that I forgot it was a gluten-free vegan cupcake. It doesn't make the list for possible wedding reception contenders, but I salute Bunner's attempt to bring traditional cupcake joy to the vegans and celiacs of Toronto. Given the challenge they took on here, I feel they did an excellent job. 

Value and Cost: (no star ranking)
The cost was 3.75$ per cupcake, before tax (13%). The size was average :). 

Wednesday, March 14, 2012


Today I learned a valuable lesson. I learned that sometimes being completely placid, and making due with whatever situation you are forced into is not always the way to go. Ironically, this is typically a very "Canadian" way of approaching problems, or so I have been told. Apparently we put up with pretty much anything and very rarely make a fuss. As much as I appreciate this attitude, because it means you don't end up doing something rash, and it challenges you to be flexible, there are moments where you have to stand up and say, "That's far enough." The supervisor of the lab I work in (not my boss) has taken to bullying me because he disagrees with me being there. He feels my project should have been given to him, since he has been there for 15+ years, not to a 23 year old woman (yup, it's 2012 and the fact that I don't have a penis IS STILL a problem for some people).  After months of yelling, undercutting, and insults (one sided I am proud to say! I doggedly stuck to being friendly and polite. OH CANADA BABY!), I finally asked for a meeting with my bosses (and also his) to ask them for their opinion on how to handle the situation. I think it went relatively well! They seemed to have thought this might be a problem since the supervisor is bitter about not having furthered his education, and they also seem to have had previous knowledge of him being "difficult". I was also told that it was unimaginable that someone in our workplace could have a problem with me, because I'm so friendly and polite. I have to admit, after a day like today and yesterday, that was kind of nice to hear ;). The last time the supervisor got caught playing power games with our bosses (I starred in the film as "Pawn"), he became even more unprofessional towards me. I am hoping this doesn't manifest again. I can't shake the feeling though, no matter how nerve racking making my complaint was, that the principle I am defending is worth the effort. No one, not even interns, deserves to be treated like garbage. As I said to my bosses today, "Praktikum student or not, I'm still a human being, and after a while, months of insults start getting to you." We'll see what tomorrow brings!!!


Tuesday, February 21, 2012


Dear Readers,

 Today I received news that my first scientific paper has been published. The paper is entitled "Opposing action of conantokin-G on synaptically and extrasynaptically-activated NMDA receptors" and was published in Neuropharmacology. I guess sometimes you just have to take your craziest ideas and passion, and give it your all, because who knows? Maybe you'll end up getting published >.<. I had so much fun with this project but had been told that I wouldn't likely be allowed to have my name on it, because I was an undergraduate co-op student. Sometimes dreams do come true, and it's moments like this that make me think that where ever it is I'm going, I'm heading in the right direction.



Dear Readers,

  This post is a summary of the magical, exhilarating, utterly-confusing experience that is German KARNEVAL! Karneval is a pre-Easter celebration that culminates on Rosenmontag (Rose Monday) and is celebrated all along the western border of Germany. In short: people dress up in costumes, host political roasts called “Karnevalsitzungen”, and get absolutely, delightfully drunk. The capital city of Karneval is, of course, Cologne ;), so on Saturday night I put on a bee costume, and hit the town with friends! I discovered that Germans approach finding parking spaces much like they do space in dance clubs- if there isn’t any, make some. Before long, costumed Karneval-ists were hoisting themselves onto windowsills (beer in hand!) to dance the night away! I confess my Canadian personal space was feeling a bit invaded, but after 3 or 4 Koelsch (local Colognian beer) I was feeling completely at home! Personal space?? What’s THAT?? Yes folks, in the spirit of the fun, freedom, and fabulousness that is Karneval I broke from my usual alcohol abstinence and partied like a ROCKSTAR (in bee antennae and wings)! I think my favourite quote of the evening has to be from the train conductor on the way there who asked (quite politely I might add) over the megaphone if the man in the chicken suit could kindly stop blocking the train doors.

The next morning I met my cousin and her friends to watch the Kinderzug (Childrens’ parade) in Cologne. Schools, and various childrens’ organizations put together a FOUR HOUR parade full of dazzling costumes, floats, and FANTASTIC musicians. Now, this isn’t the Granny-and-little-Jimmy sit quietly on the sidelines type of parade that North Americans are used to; once again the spectators dress up, gather together with friends, and once you’re feeling drunk enough you start boisterously calling, “KOELLE, KOELLE, KOELLE, ALAAF, ALAAF, ALAAF!” so that parade-ers will through sweets, flowers, and all sorts of delightful things at you. Soon there was candy, confetti and irresistible laughter raining through the air, while spectators and participants alike broke into traditional Karnevalslieder (Karneval folksongs).  It was magical, it was beautiful, and Santa Clause Parade, you ain’t got nothin’ on this Baby! Now that I’ve experienced Karneval in all its glory, I think it’s safe to say that this Canadian has become a fan.  


Wednesday, December 14, 2011

DEAN 4- Munchen mag Dich!

Hello Everyone! I am writing to you from my room in Koblenz, listening to Simon and Garfunkel's "Cecilia," enjoying the lovely weather, and reminiscing about my fantastic trip to Munchen!!!!! I felt a little bit like a celebrity when I got to my hotel. The company who would be providing training for me was immediately informed that I had arrived, and told me they would be sending a taxi at 18:30 to take me to dinner. I then checked into a hotel room that was approximately half the size of the 5-person apartment I had during university.  If the extra deep bathtub, bar, living room, and floor-to-ceiling closets weren't enough there was A KITCHEN hidden behind one of the doors. I then met a group of fantastic people from the Czech republic, France, and England who were all there for the same training. At 18:30 we were taxied to this absolutely UNBELIEVABLE Italian restaurant. I now understand what pizza should taste like, and learned that it actually originated as an appetizer!

The training was rather informative, and on the second day at 5:00 pm we were taken on a walking tour of downtown Munchen!

Thursday, December 1, 2011


So I was watching my favourite film of all time, "Le Fabuleux Destin D'Amelie Poulain", and there's a bit in there about the simple pleasures in life. It talks about the little things Amelie finds beautiful or fun in life like skipping stones, cracking the crust on creme brulee, and reaching her hand into barrels of dried beans at the grocery store. I invite you all to share yours in the comment section! Here are some of mine that I discovered in Europe!

1. Breaking Milka chocolate bars into squares before opening the packaging
2. Scented facial tissues from companies like Tempo
3. The way bakery windows look like a scene from a fairy tale first thing in the morning...and the fact that they show up what feels like every 10 feet
4. Brushing your fingers along 100+ year old stone walls, which are everywhere.
5.  The adorable mini-crates that come with bottled water. The bottled water and mini-crate system: you put a deposit on the crate and bottles and then just buy more water. This encourages recycling.
6. The way your feet slightly shape around the cobblestones as you walk on them.
7. Old keys
8.Small grocery stores where everything seems to have been intentionally selected to be there and the single-serving packages most things are available in.
9. The smell of the Weinachtsmarkt (Christmas market) and the way it immediately whisks me back to childhood memories of Opa and the Feuerzangenbowle (spiced mulled wine). The way it feels like something out of a Narnian land of Christmas.
10. The way the roads caress the city instead of the city structures yielding to the roads (ok, I admit this bit is a tad annoying when trying to find your way around initially, but trust me it becomes charming)


Wednesday, November 23, 2011

DEAN 3 - The Art of Language

Hello All!!

 I am writing you from my first class window seat on the train to Mannheim and then Mϋnchen (Munich). The Rheinland countryside is absolutely stunning. Last weekend I went to Kӧln (Cologne) and spend most of the time with a fixed expression of awe and disbelief at how impressive the Kӧlner Dom was (pictures to follow!). On the topic of German pronunciation though, did you all note that in the two cities I just mentioned there was an English version since we can’t pronounce the name the natives use? This is a small testament to the trials and tribulations of learning German :P. I think my favourite “learning experience” so far was when my supervisor told me (in German) he couldn’t get a hold of the Über-something-something-something. He was pointing in the direction of a series of desks so I figured from context that he must be referring to someone, and the giant word I didn’t understand MUST be a job title. I then asked if he or she was sick or just on vacation. When my supervisor burst out laughing I figured something had gone wrong. He replied that an “elevator” couldn’t be sick or on vacation, but he’s thrilled by how much I was making him laugh that day. Earlier that day I had expressed my surprise that all the songs on the radio were in English. My supervisor’s reaction was basically “umm…of course!” and for some reason he found my “when-a-North-American-goes-to-Europe”-type question rather entertaining. Another favourite topic my two supervisors find amusing is the different legal drinking ages in North America. In Germany, you can basically start drinking legally at 16. When I was asked how old one had to be to drink in the USA, the reply of “21,” made my coworkers start laughing hysterically, especially when it was discovered that you could sooner join the American army and die for your country before you could have a drink.
My next language faux-pas also involved the fateful elevator.  During my first few days of work something unimaginable happened- for 30 minutes I was basically the only one in the lab. This would not normally have been a problem if only I hadn’t been asked for directions. I was sitting in the office studying my notes and trying to memorize all the new protocol steps, equipment names, and random instructions that I had received concerning what I would be doing when a rather rushed, out of breath woman walked in with a giant box of samples and asked, “Wo ist der Aufzug??”. After 12 years of Saturday morning German school, and a lifetime of speaking German with my grandparents I should have been able to break it down and figure out what Auf(up)zug(train) could have meant, but in that moment my mind was nothing more than a blank screen periodically flicking through images of the 30+ machines I had seen in the lab, madly wondering which one could possibly be the one she needed. After a few seconds of wide-eyed silence she began energetically lifting the box up and down in the air saying, “Aufzug? Aufzug?? Aufzug?!?” My mind grinded to a halt, time stopped, and I suddenly blurted out, “Ich bin aus Kanada!” (I’m from Canada!), as if being Canadian was a completely reasonable argument as to why I would have no clue what on Earth was going on. Apparently it worked, because she said, “Ah! OK!” and proceeded to look in the lab herself. A few seconds later the clouds cleared and the proverbial light bulb in my head lit up like a lighthouse through a perfect storm. “Ah! the ELEVATOR!”, I cried and rushed to assist the poor woman. Ever since this incident she has been very kind and made sure to speak v…e…r...y….. s…l…o…w…l…y with me ;).
Overall, I make my coworkers laugh a lot, and am learning tons! I find that every day it gets a little easier to express more complicated ideas in German, but I’d be kidding myself if I didn’t think there are going to be more slip ups to come. When they happen I will let you all know ;).