Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas!!!

We have had an extremely busy but relaxing week away from the city!! We went to this amazing place called Xcalak (said shkalak, x in Mayan sounds sh). It is a pretty isolated little fishing village with a few small eco-hotels on a marine park, mangroves and lagoon!! This is the hotel we stayed in, it is called Sin Duda Villas...the owners were amazing...we really loved staying there. All solar powered and as minimal impact as possible.

The snorkeling right in front of the hotel was great! We saw a moray eel among other amazing fishes and invertebrates.

There was seagrass everywhere and it looked to be in great shape! The corals were in better shape than anywhere else I have been snorkelling near Cancun. Although, like all corals in the Carribean, they are in pretty rough shape.

We also did some diving on an atoll 1.5 hours boat ride from the coast of Mexico. It is reputed to be the best diving on the entire MesoAmerican Barrier reef (2nd largest reef in the World). It is a marine park and UNESCO World Heritage Site. Most of the atoll is protected and they say by 2010 there will no fishing whatsoever on all of the atoll!! YAY!! Since it is protected and offshore, the corals were better and we also saw some large carnivorous fish (Jacks and Snappers), which are quite rare nowadays from overfishing. We also saw some AMAZING sponges, nurse sharks, a moray eel, courting trunkfish and lots of other really cool fish and corals!!! Some of them were as large as me!! Overall it was a great experience, and Diego and I really wanted to see it before it disappears. Here is a video Diego put together of our 3 dives out there so you can see it for yourself!

On our way to Xcalak, we stopped in this restaurant called El faisan y el venado (the pheasant and the deer) and had some traditional food from the southern region of the Yucatan. There was even a lovely mayan lady making real corn tortillas...from scratch not from prepared flour!!!

We are all getting ready for the big party tonight...lots of food, drink and presents!! It will be a blast!! Merry Christmas to everyone!! I hope you all have a wonderful celebration of family, friends and food!!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

At Home in Mexico!

We arrived in Cancun on Friday. We are spending the Christmas Holidays with Diego's family here in Mexico and my parents are also joining us!!! They arrive on Tuesday so we have been busy planning what we're going to do for the next few weeks! Not to mention celebrating with family we have not seen in almost 2 years!!!

We have also been thoroughly enjoying the food!!! I love Mexican food...tacos, huarrachas, cochinita pibil, tortas...YUM!!

Here is a photo of what we ate at 3 this morning on our way home from a party at Diego's cousin's place.

This is a huarracha, it has 2 corn tortillas on the bottom, a layer of a typical white cheese (melted) that is much more flavourful than mozzarella but has a similar consistency, a thin layer of cream and then 2 types of meat on top. The meat on the bottom is called arrachera or flank steak cut into small pieces and cooked with some spices and the meat on the top (which is almos gone...) is called pastor. It is pork, they cook it by coating the pork steaks in a spice (which is not spicy) called achiote (it is red, hence the orangy look to the meat) then they pile the steaks high on a vertical rotisserie and cook them for the whole afternoon with a pineapple and onion on the top of the rotisserie dripping juices to the meat below... mmmmm...I will take a photo of the rotisserie next time...

To the side is a typical salsa here in Cancun. It is made with avocado, onions, garlic and habanero out for this is not for the faint of heart, it is VERY spicy! They also, always have milder salsas around because unlike what we are told...not all Mexicans like things really spicy!

It was obviously delicious! : )

I am off to enjoy the sun and company! Happy Sunday!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Forgotten Camera!

So I forgot my camera at a friends house on Sunday....which really sucks because we have all these beautiful icicles everywhere! The sun is out and it is quite cold, keeping everything icy and beautiful.

To keep with the snowy yet sunny are some pics from White Juan. For those of you not from NS (or weren't here) this was a record breaking blizzard we had in Feb 2004, only 5 months after Hurricane Juan devastated our region. We had 87.5 cm of snow!

Let's just say Diego and I were less than happy, as in 2 days we were heading to Mexico for a week!!! Lucky for us the re-opened the airport just in time! : )

Happy Tuesday!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Tag and Twins

My twin pear cakes that I made for two Christmas tonight and one tomorrow! This is the same recipe as in an earlier post. I will make the caramel fresh for each cake.

This is what surrounded me when I took this photo.

1) My trusty notepad that is always laying around in case I need to make a list!
2) My mini pointsetta, I love having flowers on the table and even better if it is an actual plant rather than cut flowers!
3) A receipt from Sears for some tights that I need to return.
4) My huge set of office keys! There are at least 15 keys on that ring!
5) Mini Swiss Army knife. It has great little scissors for fine work.
6) Our set of dinner (black) and ambiance lighting (red and white) candles that are pretty much permanent table fixtures.
7) A pile of shirts that I am cutting up and using as part of different sewing projects. On top of these, the two long tubes are light bulbs for our new fish tank that we are setting up.
8) My purse which is inevitably on the table or one of the kitchen chairs...on top of some light reading (yeah right...scientific papers are almost never light!) for a manuscript I am writing.
9) A new CD from my favorite Quebecois group Les Cowboys Fringants, this album is called L'Expedition.
10) My sewing machine tucked back into its bag but at the ready for another project!

You don't realize how much stuff you can be surrounded by until you have to do this!!! We always have to fight against entropy (disorder) and I think most times it wins!

This second photo is part of a game called "the real deal" tag. I was tagged by Sherrie from Frenchy's Finds. Actually, she tagged everyone who reads her blog!

Here are the rules (copied from Frechy's Finds):

"Here's the low down.... take a picture the way you would normally do to post on your blog, preferably crop it to showcase the subject. Then show us the "real deal"... the nitty gritty daily clutter that we sometimes try to avoid posting. Talk about the messes you cut out in the cropped picture. We'll still love you!!! Then tag at least two people and link back to your post. OK? Sound fun? Can't wait to be invited into everyone's real life."

Like on Frenchy's Finds, I am tagging all who read this blog that have one of their own!
Have a good Thursday!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Getting Ready for Christmas!

The gifts are piling up! I am trying as hard as I can to have local, handmade, chemical -free Christmas gifts for all this year. I just picked up these lovely facial and body creams called A Midsummer Night's Cream and Whipped Shea butter, respectively, from a local company called Earth Elementals Soaps. I absolutely LOVE them (and their lip balm too!!)...I had to try them before giving them away ; ) The whipped shea butter comes in a GLASS container! YAY! Because of the light sensitivity of the essential oils in the facial cream they normally come in a wide-mouth amber plastice container. However, I made a special order and got mine in a clear glass container and whipped up these little pouches from some fabric I had laying around to keep them in the dark.

These pouches were my very first non-fixing sewing project! I made the pattern myself...sure the stiching is a little crooked but practice makes perfect and I had such a great time making them!!

I also picked up some soap from my fav soap maker in Yarmouth, NS Birch Bark Soap. She made a special order for me that is the best ever! I sent her my wish list and she wrapped each gift in beautiful muslin bags with her logo on it and made little gift cards with everyones name on it! The soaps are amazing!! Here they are in a box (with the cream and lip balm from the above local maker) packed and ready to go! There are some great photos of my special order on the soap makers website...check it out!

Also, I finished the baby blanket I was knitting for my nephew, Santiago. It will make a perfect blanket to throw down anywhere and wrap him when he is small. It is a narrow longish blanket, I could have used 1 more skein but ran out...I hope it ends up being his blanky...Holes and all, I am sure they will love was my second knitting project ever! Ambitious I know, but I am happy with I said imperfections and all. Diego keeps insisting I should tell them the holes were strategically placed for ventialtion since they live in Cancun. ; )

Lastly, here are the fresh pumpkin pies I made the other day for American Thanksgiving and our lab Christmas Party...I know this is only 2 events and there are can't blame us for keeping one to least we kept the one with the burnt edges...I technically could have made four but I overfilled them and they overflowed while putting them in the oven and the edges burnt...what a mess...regardless, they were soooo tasty!

Have a good week!

Friday, November 28, 2008

PhD Success and A Welcome Friend

Diego successfully defended his PhD Thesis proposal (oral exam) yesterday!! This week has been crazy busy but now we can relax a little heading in to the weekend.

I woke up this morning to a welcome friend at my kitchen window. This is our neighbours cat Casey. Although this photo was taken a few weeks ago, he did stop by this morning.

Ever since, the neighbours had a little one he has been looking for refuge from all the pulling and "affection" that 1.5 year olds usually inflict on household pets. He usually stops by everyday but he hasn't been around for a least a week because we did not shovel our balcony or stairs leading up and he could not access his fav. spot...sitting on top of the BBQ. This is the best pet ever because we don't have to feed him, clean his litter or pay for the vet bills. He only ever comes over for some rubs. He also loves to roll around on my little carpet, so cute!

He was extremely affectionate this morning, probably missing his daily rubs!
Time to make pumpkin pie for our friends's American Thanksgiving party tonight!
Have a good Friday!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Winter is here with a vengance!!

This is what we woke up to this morning in Nova Scotia!

Time to go shovel out and maybe go sledding! : )

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Winter has Arrived!

We had our FIRST SNOW last night!!! Actually, it was our second but this one actually accumulated! It was a crazy storm, lots of raging winds and large wet snowflakes.

This is an interesting time, since it is the transition between seasons, there are remnants of Fall mixed in with the newly fallen snow of Winter.

Like these leaves under a layer of ice, frozen to the sidewalk. Or this pile of leaves by the side of the road covered in a crusty layer of snow.

It never ceases to amaze me how life can cling so tenaciously in the face of such extremes. The last vestiges of green grass still hanging on in hopes of warmer days. We wont see this again until next Spring!

However, being on the East Coast the winters are mild enough to allow Rhododendrons to survive through the cold, dark season, adding some colour to otherwise grey landscape!

Reminding us that although everything appears to be dead that really life has just slowed down for these few months...maybe we should heed the Rhododendrons advice and slow down ourselves. Enjoy the warmth of our homes, families and friends and marvel at the spectacle of winter! Remember when we were kids...anxiously awaiting the snow, snowsuits at the ready by the door...running out elated with the first flakes!

Let's make winter fun again!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

A Nephew is Born!!

Our nephew was born on Nov 14, 2008. His name is Santiago and he lives in Mexico. He is the son of Diego's sister and the first grandchild in the family. Diego's parents are ecstatic! We are looking forward to meeting him!!

In celebration of his arrival I have been busy knitting a baby blanket. This was a huge endeavor because I have only ever knitted a scarf. I tried a feather and fan lace pattern but couldn't get it right. I started over at least 4 times! This was frustrating as time was drawing near! So I opted to just knit the whole blanket and add a fringe on two of the sides.

I am on my last ball of yarn and hope to have it completed in the next couple of weeks. It will not be anywhere near perfect but I think this will make a nice Christmas present. I will keep you posted on the progress!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Remembrance Day 2008

Diego and I just got back from the Remembrance Day Ceremony at Parade Square in Halifax. It is always a day of mixed emotions for me. I did not have any close relatives that went to WWI or WWII and only one that went to Vietnam but it always makes me think of all those people who died and continue to die fighting. They themselves as well as their families have made an immense sacrifice to protect the freedoms of others. However, it also makes me see the failings of humanity, these people died because we could not resolve our differences with words but had to resort to violence. I hope that we learn from our tragedies and push the world towards peaceful negotiations so that we do not have to continue to send our friends and family to war.

Lest we forget.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Fall Favourites!

I made a delicious squash medley soup for a dinner on Tuesday. Here are the squash just out of the oven from roasting. I love all the textures and colours they come in!

I just scooped out the flesh, added it to turkey broth that I had in the freezer leftover from Thanksgiving, then added salt, pepper and lots of Turmeric and pureed. Once, they were pureed, I brought the soup to a simmer and added whipping cream and mixed well. Serve with some coarse ground pepper and some chives on top...delicious!

These are my mums. They were in full splendor on my kitchen table for weeks...I thought I would immortalize them here since they are now fading and will soon hit the compost heap.

I hope you enjoy the fall colours, textures and smells as much as I do! ; )

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Grade 7 Field Trip!

I went out to Peggy's Cove (NS) yesterday with a group of 27 grade 7 students from a private school here in Halifax. The kids were doing projects on different species or habitats in the intertidal zone. The intertidal zone is the area of shoreline that exists between the high tide line and low tide line. It is solely populated with marine organisms. Although, you sometimes get some terrestrial beasts that stray into the zone at low tide (eg: birds, dear, mink). So, I was there to lend my expertise to the students. Usually, Diego and I do this every year. It is something we really enjoy and feel is important! Unfortunately, Diego couldn't make it this year so the kids didn't get their interactive tide lecture... : ( Maybe next year!

One of the things I talked about was intertidal zonation (see pic).This is generally described as the distinct organization of plants and animals into bands that represent different zones within the intertidal area. The zonation is caused by environmental as well as biological interactions.

For example, plants and animals that live in the high zone are exposed to air longer than those in the low zone and need to withstand extreme heat (summer) and cold (winter) as well as drying out. However, those in the low zone are covered by water more often so don't need to deal with the problems of air as much but they are exposed to subtidal (below the tide) predators more often than the high zone. The students also got to see the large tidepools that are present in the granite rocks of that area. Tidepools are depressions in the rock that contain water, regardless of the time of tide. They are scattered at all levels of the intertidal and they act as a refuge for organisms that cannot tolerate the physiological stress of being exposed to extreme environmental conditions when the tide is out. Depending on the height on the shore the tidepools can be very different...they too are zoned. Here is a photo of me working in a large low zone tidepool near Peggy's Cove. I worked in tidepools for my honours thesis, as part of my undergraduate degree.

Unfortunately for us, they day wasn't as nice/calm as in the tidepool pic...we had fog, rain and wind so it was cold, wet and rough...which meant that we couldn't get close to the low zone at all! Regardless, the students had lots of fun but many, including myself, left chilled and ready for a warm drink! Lots of pictures were taken and I hope to get my hands on them so I can post a few!

Have a good weekend!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Caramel Pear Cake and Great Finds at Value Village!

It has been a busy week. Non-stop activities all weekend...and every week night so far!

I made this delicious caramel pear cake for a Dia de los Muertos party on Sunday. Dia de los Muertos is a Mexican tradition that happens on Nov 1 and 2, where family and friends gather together to celebrate those they have lost. We went over to a friend's house who had made a small alter of their fireplace where we placed photos of those we wanted to remember. We also lit a candle for each of those in the photos. We then cooked up some delicious beef and chicken enchiladas, drank tequila and listened to Mexican folk tunes. We also placed a plate of food on the alter so that the spirits of those we are remembering can eat the soul of the food, thus communing with them. Although the caramel pear cake is not Mexican, it was gobbled up and not even a crumb was left! It was delicious!! However, I do think the recipe makes too much caramel which made it a little soggy in the centre where it pooled. I made 1/2 of the amount called for and it was still a lot! I am wondering if they meant 1/4 cup rather than 1/4lb of butter! I will make it this way next time and keep you posted!

On Monday, I went to Value Village (a thirft store) with my friend Arpita to hunt for some brown pants and light sweaters for the fall. Like all thrift stores, you end up with a cart load of stuff to try on, most of which doesn't fit or looks better on the hanger! However, both of us made out like bandits! I found what I was looking for...a gorgeous pair of chocolaty brown cords (Jacob) that fit like a glove for 6.99! I also picked up some wooley capri pants, a knitted green shawl, burnt orange cord skirt, a beige sweater with a large warm neck, some great jeans, a red sweater, a beige fitted corduroy blazer and a cute burt orange wool 20's style hat that I absolutely love!

All of this for $60! I love shopping at Thrift stores, you never know the goodies you will find and you are doing the environmentally friendly thing by increasing the life of clothing that has already made its impact on the environment rather than buying new and increasing our footprint!

I am working from home today and my break is over!! Bye for now!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Scallops and Sustainability

Big NEWS! I ate scallops for the first time ever this weekend! This is big news because I am not very fond of anything that comes from the sea (or freshwater for that matter)...not because I study it...but because I don't like the "fishy" flavour everything has...blek : P

So in my mission to become a less picky eater (this has included eating onions and mushrooms too), Diego has been preparing extra fresh seafood, smothered in sauce of course, for me to try.

These were still alive when Diego shucked fresh can you get! This is what they look like on the inside! The round white part is the abductor muscle (when flexed it closes the shells). The rest is the mantle (muscle that lines the shell), gills (the equivalent of our lungs), eyes (the little black spots all around the shell when they are closed up) and digestive system. Mostly, people only eat the abductor muscle because, as we found out, the mantle can be chewy...

Diego prepared "deviled scallops", a Mexican recipe that includes, onions, bacon, cream, chipotle chili and cheese. I also made some baked eggplant slices with tomato and brie cheese to accompany the scallops.

Let's just say...they were OK. Unfortunately, we used a strong white cheddar for the scallops and it overwhelmed any other flavour. They weren't fishy but they weren't delicious either. The texture was fine so I gave Diego the OK to make it again with the proper cheese to give it a real try! Also, for the eggplant...the brie was too strong too, next time I will try some goat cheese. I'll let you know how it all works out!

One final note on trying to like seafood. Although, I don't eat it because I don't like it...I also have issues eating seafood that is being fished (or aquacultured) in an unsustainable manner. This unfortunately goes for almost all of the world's fisheries and much of the shrimp and finfish aquaculture. There are some exceptions and I don't want to get into the controversy here. However, I do want to point to some good initiatives for you to know what seafood is sustainable and which is not. Here are some links to an article about biodiversity loss from overfishing among other causes, as well as wallet cards and initiatives indicating sustainable and non-sustainable seafood species. Check it out! You have the choice and the power to make the change!


Sustainable Seafood Initiatives:

The scallops we ate were cultured in St. Margaret's Bay here in Nova Scotia. These are locally grown, so hardly any fuel was spent getting them to me and I am supporting the local economy. Also, they feed on naturally occurring phytoplankton so there is no need to feed them, adding extra nutrients to the system or fishing other species of fish to feed them or feeding them a mix of fish and corn (like in most finfish culture). So, in a nutshell, I am morally ok with eating these scallops...let's hope Diego can convince me to get some much needed seafood based omega-3s (for the heart and brain) by eating them more often with some delicious recipes! : )

Bye for now!

Friday, October 24, 2008

Deep Sea Treasures!

I have been quite busy these last couple of days, but I have an exciting new treasure to share with you!!! On Wednesday, Diego (my partner) and I went over to our friends' place for some wine and cheese. Jon work for Fisheries and Oceans and goes out on cruises identifying species and collecting data for the government. This time around he brought home some delightful shells that he shared with me!

These are called tusk shells. They are a small group of molluscs that are found throughout the world and generally at depths of 30m (100 feet) or more! They are in the same class as snails (Gastropoda) except that the foot (see diagram) is reduced and adapted for digging. They live partially buried in the sand or mud (pointy part up) and they draw in water so they can absorb the oxygen and eliminate wastes through their skin of their mantle where the water then exits through a small hole at the apex (tip of the point).

From Wikipedia Commons: Snail Diagram

Also the head has no eyes or tentacles but it has appendages (anything that sticks out from the core of the body of any animal, like our arms) that look like threads around its mouth that it uses to capture tiny bivalves (means 2 valves - like clams) and forameniferans.

Photo from Image Quest 3-D

Forameniferans (forams for short) are microscopic organisms that live everywhere in the ocean, they can be floating in the water as plankton or crawling on the bottom (ie: benthic forams). They are composed of one cell that lives inside a hard shell of calcium. These are increadibly important, not only as food for other species but when they die their shells sink to the bottom of the ocean and remain there. Much of the mud of the ocean is almost entirely composed of shells of forams, as well as some of the rocks which constitute the earth's surface. These rocks are made of forams from thousands or even millions of years ago that were once mud then because of intense pressure and/or heat the mud became rock (this is known as the Earth's rock cycle - !

I have only ever read about tusk shells and admired the shells in my books, so I am very happy to add them to my collection. Although, they are quite stinky, so they will stay outside for a while to dry out. I don't want the shells to crack if they freeze so they might get a bleach bath when outside temperatures start to dip near zero!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008


Welcome to my blog!

I hope this will be a way for me to showcase the wonders of the ocean as I see them, as a scientist, diver and just plain old admirer. I love the ocean. It has always fascinated me. I have wanted to become a marine biologist since I was 5!! I am lucky that I have been able to pursue my dream. Although being here now is quite different then what I envisioned as a young girl, it is better than I ever expected!

I also want to use this to post photos, stories, recipes and the happy and frustrating moments in life! Hopefully, this will be a source of continuous fun as well as a place of solace, a kind of refuge...working on a PhD can be rough and sometimes you just need a diversion!

Just as an aside, in my header photo are just 2 of the hundreds of ocean treasures I have collected over the years and have scattered around my house. The Arctic surf clam (Mactromeris polynyma) and Jonah Crab (Cancer borealis). Both were found washed up on Martinique beach (photo courtesy of Sean Anderson) after an intense winter storm. The crab still had meat in took one full year to get the stink out! Let's just say we didn't visit that corner of the deck too often! : )