# Grad School Problems Part 2: How to Win

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(previously reposted on Laura’s Blog)

WE’S BE BLOGGING ..AGAIN! Our stress is your stress, so welcome to our installment (by Laura and Laura).  This week we learnt all about Google Sketchup and it CHANGED OUR LIFE! It is the coolest, awesomest and unbelievably easiest program we’ve encountered thus far in the Exhibit Design Class.

This is what we imagine our YE OLD HISTORY SQUARES game (a new day calls for a new title for the game).

Google Sketchup version of "Ye Old History Squares"

Looks likes the most exciting game in the world.

Option 1

A button would be located above the LCD screen.  When a contestant pressed that button a question i.e. “Who was Henry 8th’s 1st Wife? a) Catherine Parr b) Catherine of Aragon”.  If contestants think the answer is “A” then they press the button titled “Answer A”.  If it’s right, “Correct” would appear on the screen then the contestant would have the option to place one of their 5 Lego man pieces (each contestant has their own colour-coordinated set of pieces) onto the square of their choosing.  If they answer the question wrong, Contestant B gets to answer.

How to win

(warning: we have no clue. It’s a stressful process)

Do we install a sensor that recognizes when a contestant gets 3-IN-A-ROW?

Is it just self-validation? “Yayy I won”

What if we installed RFID Tags on the faces of each Lego man piece and then a sensor installed on top of the LCD screen will recognize when three are placed in a row? (Is this possible with the distance we’ve estimated between the screen section and the game board?)

Option 2

Each circle=a hole in the baseboard through which the wires can be threaded down to the Arduino.  On the circle is a button and on the button is a lego man (and the green grass grows all around all around).  The stand-up section of the board features an LCD screen which displays the question and the text “Answer A and B” corresponds to buttons that contestants can press to answer the question.

When the contestant presses on a Lego man

# SIMPLICITY

This is what Prof. Turkel suggested we start with because obviously we need to start small!

1. Establish one square.  Wire a green light and a red light, a button that communicates a question to the LCD screen (figure out how to program an LCD screen, i guess the programming will happen in the Arduino program), 2 buttons repping Answer A and B.  If the contestant gets the question right, they press on the corresponding light in the square they chose.  If they get the question wrong, everything remains blank.

Mockup of One square using Arduino and LEDs

# Playing HistorySquares

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A I mentioned in the previous post Laura and I have decided to go ahead with making an interactive historical-based Tic-Tac-Toe board for Exhibit Design.

” LEGO HOLLYWOOD SQUARES = A grid split up into squares and already filled with historical figures (made out of lego possibly? or styrofoam and felt?). A sensor would recognize when contestants point at a specific historical figure. The contestant would have to answer a question about that character or an associated event. If they answer correctly, an LED light in the square will light up in green, if wrong, red. Positives – we get to use a multitude of King and Queen lego pieces (already acquired). IE Henry the 8th in the middle surrounded by his 6 wives, Bloody Mary and Elizabeth 1st.”

So we begin to journey through time.  Venturing through the past and making it relevant in a decidedly modern form of learning.  I hope you like Tic-Tac-Toe because chances are you will be playing this game sometime in the future (Laura and I are hopeful that this game will be a raging success amongst the museum community and make us millionaires!!! A girl can hope right)

## The World is a Playground

We all love to play regardless of age.  Whether it be board games or sports or simply the Game of Life!

A recent article on “Game Play” by Danny Birchall and Martha Henson in the Museum/iD magazine explores the presence of games and play.  It’s an excellent read for anyone who loves fun (that means everyone!!).  The article raises some important assumptions:

`1." Good gameplay comes first."`

This means Laura and I can’t just quench our thirst for British-ness.   We actually have to make British history interesting for the user.  Hence choosing an interesting topic, i.e. THE TUDORS (because who doesn’t love murder, scandal and illegitimate babies).  I guess the most important thing here is to keep it simple enough and PG.

Gossip and Affairs - Henry 8th at his finest

Scandal Galore

`2." There is an audience (and it’s not an existing museum audience) that plays games, and is hungry for more."`

-Kids play games and adults play games.  Evidence: games like Monopoly, checkers, card games Cranium, Scrabble and one that I recently discovered “Settlers of Catan” (thanks Lindsay, Adrianna and Dave for this enlightenment).

-Those coming into museums are drawn to hands-on galleries and craft activities. Scavenger hunts are consumed by everyone entering the museum therefore they are our target.

`3. "Making a good museum game means serious collaboration between game-makers and curators."`

-Both Laura and I love historically-based entertainment hence the frequent mentions of Downton Abbey, Sherlock.  I’d say we are educated enough to qualify ourselves as the “curators” of this Tic-tac-toe exhibit (see mom and dad, our history degrees are worth something).  We have a clear idea, so hopefully it isn’t too hard hard  to incorporate a history topic into the game?

`4." Existing game models can be profitably reused."`

-hence the recycling of the TIC-TAC-TOE format – Don’t fix it if it’s not broke. I can personally still spend hours playing the game so obviously that means there are others who would appreciate the cunning simplicity of our creation.

`5." Games can work in unexpected ways."`

-We can only hope users move off into unexpected boundaries. The article also mentions how through their game called HIGH TEA users were introduced to certain perspectives of the Opium war and “felt the game showed that the opium trade was a function of impersonal economics were less inclined to dismiss it as evil imperialism”.

High Tea by Wellcome Collection

Again a girl can only hope that History Squares (a play on the legendary game show Hollywood Squares, name up for debate ANY SUGGESTIONS?) inspires such discussion.

##### Next time on Grad School Problems:

A discussion on the technical bits of  such a project (cue pulling my hair out orat least what little I have)

# Digital Object Ideas

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(repeat blog)

Coming up with a digital history interactive exhibit is not as straightforward and simple as one would imagine. My partner Laura and I spent the better part of our day mulling over ideas for our final project. If you were to just ask, every single idea we had was of course brilliant. BUT, as we started to dissect each idea, we soon began to realize that they were a great deal more involved than our skills would allow.

Here’s how it started:

1) LEGO MURDER MYSTERY = basically, we want to create a lego structure that would be interactive and educational. Based on the brilliant BBC series “SHERLOCK” (if you haven’t watched it, stop reading and go do that now and then come back) we would build a historical crime scene that features LCD screens and weight sensors in order for users to solve a historical crime. Users would lift up certain objects and based on the displacement of weight and then a clue would be narrated. Just like the high-functioning sociopath aka Sherlock where all misplaced details are critical clues; the user would learn how to think critically and notice details.

Vincenzo Camuccini, “Morte di Cesare”, 1798,

### What if we recreated the scene of the murder of Julius Cesar? Users could immerse themselves through the computerized Lego-scape!

PROBLEM = The sensors would be difficult to process? Would users actually be learning anything worthwhile? Is it interesting enough?

2) LEGO CRIME SOLVERS (see a pattern yet??, if you were Sherlock you would…) = We could recreate a London city-scape and when the little lego man is placed in a certain place on the map, they would receive a clue about the crime.

PROBLEM = Building an entire city. If they couldn’t build Rome in a day, there’s no way we’re building London in a month. As well, what is the user taking away? Are they learning anything? We would also need to develop a serious script…which…may be a bit out of our league.

3) LEGO HISTORICAL EVENT = In this scenario, we would continue to use lego but we would build a specific scene, historically based of course. When a user points to a specific object, or focus in on it, historical facts and information would be projected onto the mini LCD screen.

I’m imagining the Battle of the Thames (Oct 5, 1813) laid out on a RISK board game. As you move forward the piece representing General Johnson towards Tecumseh he would say a quote referring to Tecumseh and the battle.

Risk Board Game - Layout is Southwestern Ontario during Procter's retreat

PROBLEM = Is it interesting enough? Is it original enough? What specific event would we choose? (“Throughout time, man has engaged in many battles – physical and intellectual.” Which one to choose?) This seems to be the most viable – based on our level of techie skills. Maybe we create the Battle of the Thames scene and each lego piece is attached to a sensor. When that piece is moved anywhere on the board an audio clips is projected. I.E. The Tecumseh piece could move out of the forest and users would hear one of his quotes projected out of an attached speaker.

4) LEGO HOLLYWOOD SQUARES = A grid split up into squares and already filled with historical figures (made out of lego possibly? or styrofoam and felt?). A sensor would recognize when contestants point at a specific historical figure. The contestant would have to answer a question about that character or an associated event. If they answer correctly, an LED light in the square will light up in green, if wrong, red. Positives – we get to use a multitude of King and Queen lego pieces (already acquired). IE Henry the 8th in the middle surrounded by his 6 wives, Bloody Mary and Elizabeth 1st.

Ladies and gentlemen WE HAVE A WINNER. Lego hollywood squares might be the answer to all of our problems.

# Jumping into the Time Machine, Destination: Gr. 7 Shop Class

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As mentioned before, this second semester of the Public History Programs feels like a return to past lessons.  It inspires feelings of nostalgia because we are creating and making and building just like in Gr. 7 when I had to take the obligatory Wood and Metal Construction Shop Class (the sewing and cooking classes were also memorable).

However, in the Exhibit Design Class we’re working with technology rather than wood or metal (or at least that’s what we’ve been doing thus far). The first two weeks have passed and we – my partner Lindsay and I – have started working with Arduinos.

Arduino Kit - the beginning

What are Arduinos you ask? They are mini computer chips that can be programmed (BY A HUMAN!!!) to perform some kind of motion, action, computer function etc. (See HERE for more info)

We Came, We Saw, We Built!

Once upon a time in a far away place, there lived a group in a mystical land of green forests, wild flowing rivers and constant rain.  That land was London (Ontario).  And in that land of London, there lived a class that was transported into another world, the world of Arduino!  Arduino was that magical being that could make dreams come true, the possibilities were endless.

This story, as magical as it may sound, is the complete truth.  Arduino has transformed the lives of the Public Historians.  Whether they have seen the light of future proejcts or just become thoroughly confused has yet to be determined. As many of my fellow PHGP’ers have discussed (like Adrian) and demonstrated (Heather and Adriana), programming an Arduino for a public historian, humanities academic, social scientist etc. is unheard of to many people.  It can confuse us, especially to those who consider themselves “Luddites” – or oponnents of technology – which Professor Turkel has vehemently demonstrated isn’t historically accurate and therefore can’t actually exist in “Luddism is a Luxury You Can’t Afford“.

In our first try, Lindsay and I didn’t necessarily feel that Eureka moment. Thorough confusion was followed by a little bit of sadness.  However, the following week we progressed and had a moment very similar to that moment when you played your first video game or worked on your first computer.  Now we can fully open our minds to the possibilities of using Arduino to make a History Appliance.  Although my previous history appliance – the Treasure Chest – is not possible, I’m hoping it can be rejigged.  How? I have no clue! But hope springs eternal.

If not, its time to put the Thinking Cap on again (with the ultimate accessory – the tool belt) and brainstorm a cool Arduino-based appliance.

### Any suggestions out there? What would computerized thing would you like to see in a museum/gallery/heritage building/cultural landscape?

Successes and Such

We turn the switch...

and the LIGHT GOES ON

# Food Cultures of the World

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I recently read an interesting article entitled:  “Eating it Up” by Jay Young .

As someone who LOVES to eat and who has heard numerous people expound on the greatness of British (pub) food, I found this article to be the wrench I could throw into the mix and say “HA!! See British food isn’t as traditional as you might think!”

`Most Importantly`

Canada prides itself on being multicultural.  One of the best examples of this – albeit a very materialistic approach – is FOOD. In any major community throughout the country you can find some of the most scrumptiously “authentic”  examples of different cultural foods.  Food history/edible history is becoming especially popular in both the academic and general world so why haven’t museums or heritage institutions incorporated edible history into its interpretation plans.

Edible history in particular could be an excellent focus point to illustrate local diversities even within local museums that traditionally focus on settler societies.  And I mean come on, WHO DOESN’T LIKE FOOD? If marketed and presented through interactive exhibits and programming, local museums and galleries could really attract a new demographic.  This in turn would really create buzz and discussions about ways in which local heritage institutions and players could branch out to include a larger population that is representative of the multicultural roots of the 21st century Canada.  If too much bureaucratic barriers arise then hey just argue that you’re exploring the roots of Canada because aren’t immigrant groups also settlers of Canada even if they only started arriving in the 60s, 70s or even in the millenium?

"Eating Chinese" by Lily Cho

"Edible Histories"

# Strap on the Tool Belt – It’s time to build

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The Ultimate Builder, Bob

It’s time to buckle down and do some work.  However, this semester is slightly different and its going to take some serious getting used as it is much more hands-on and creation-focused.  The move from academia to just making and building is what makes this program awesome and I know all of PHGP is going to enjoy it.

Trying to visualize some kind of “THING” that can be used/manipulated/built up/programmed to demonstrate history (in all its facets) has me going around in circles. I keep coming back to the same idea yet I don’t know how original it  is. So, I’m just going to charge straight ahead and discuss the project in the hopes that it might actually work out.

# (of Historic Goodies)

A girl loves her bling. It’s a scientific fact!!! It makes sense that a history buff  would love jewelry but with a decidedly historic twist.  For those buffs, I introduce the Treasure Chest – a device that matches brings together clothing and accessories from your very own closet to match the fashion moments of history’s most famous persons.  It’s a chance to recreate the lives of the RICH and FAMOUS (and in many cases NOTORIOUS).

It is basically a jewelry box with a built-in computer and screen.  The screen would scan clothing in your closet  and assemble an outfit for that day resembling other historical fads.  The same process would also produce a list of matching accessories (previously acquired) resembling any historical outfit as stated by the consumer.

The glass mirror would be the scanning screen.

i.e. Today I am feeling as powerful as a Queen.

Queen Elizabeth 1st

One scan by the box and VOILA!!! I have a complete list of appropriate accessories reminiscent of the mighty Queen herself.

Necklaces to complete the look.

Necklaces to complete the look.

Necklaces to complete the look.

This jewelry box would be able to accomplish a variety of tasks:

• Scan the entirety of your outfit, go through Internet databases and displays images of people wearing similar dresses, pins, broaches, hairstyle, necklaces and maybe even shoes.
• It would also be able to link you to shopping websites that sell pieces similar to any fashionable era you might “like” or favour.
• Coordinate existing pieces – pieces or clothing- to resemble a historical ensemble.
• Would give out fashion advice based on what others wore throughout history.
`Examples`

Halloween day comes around and shockingly, you’ve been so busy at work that you’ve forgotten to purchase a costume for the party tonight. Thankfully there is an old dress in the closet that if accessorized properly could actually work as a costume.  The box scans an image of the dress, quickly goes through an extensive database and determines what era the outfit most closely resembles.  It then also manages to pair the most appropriate pieces of jewelry that you’ve already acquired.

This would also be a godsend for costume designers – whether they work in theatre, film or historical interpretation.

There you have it ladies. The solution to the  most pervasive female problemWHAT DO I WEAR TODAY?

`The Next Frontier`

But wait there’s more. The NEW and IMPROVED Treasure Chest comes complete with its own 3-D printer to recreate fashion pieces that will have others envying you for the historical accurateness of your ensemble.

# Dhalpuri – An Indian Twist to Christmas

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Dhalpuri is a type of roti and originates with the Caribbean’s Indian population.  Interestingly though, with all the Indian cuisines I’ves personally tried and the Indian people I’ve talked to, there really is no equivalent of Dhalpuri found anywhere in India.  Its a uniquely Caribbean twist on an Indian food.  Dhalpuri is like Roti/Naan/Bhatura/Flatbread except its really thin and filled with a ground mixture of lentils (aka Dhal), onions and other spices.  It is especially delicious when hot off the stove.

Soft and Delicious Dhalpuri

`Recipe`

#### Ingredients

8 oz flour
3 tsp baking powder
2 oz margarine or ghee, optional
1/2 cup water

#### Preparation

1. Sieve the flour and baking powder into a mixing bowl. Rub in the margarine or ghee if used.

2. Place flour into a mixer (i.e. Kitchen aid).  Pour water in mixture while the mixer is on and mix into a soft but not sticky dough and leave to stand for about 10 minutes.

3. Cut into 8 pieces.

4. Roll each piece out thinly on a floured board. Spread oil evenly over the surface and sprinkle lightly with a pinch of flour. Fold the roti to make a small ball.

Dhalpuri
1½ cups split peas, boiled but not soft
1 – 2 tbsp cumin (aka geerah)
1 pepper
3 tbsp minced onion
1 clove garlic
½ tsp salt
Small piece of saffron (if desired)

#### Preparation

1. The peas should be soaked overnight and boiled with the saffron until barely soft. Drain off the water.

2. Parch the cumin/geerah in frying pan, add the onion, garlic, salt, and peas. Grind or mash well.

3. Place 2 or 3 tablespoons of this mixture in a hole punched in the top of each of the pre-made roti balls – a handful of dough should be sufficient. Or roll the roti out to about ¼ inch thick, place 2 or 3 tablespoons of the dhaal mixture in the centre, and form into balls again.

4. Roll out into rounds ¼ inch thick. The idea is to have the peas mixture in the central cavity of the dough.

5. Place on a hot greased flat frying pan/tawahand cook, turning constantly.

6. Dab with ghee or oil, especially around the edges, using grease proof paper or a small piece of cloth.

7. Cook until nicely browned and puffy, which should take about 10 minutes.

Recipe originally found here.

The end result should be a soft, delicious bread.  However, it can get messy because of the ground mixture inside.

As is the norm for many Indian/Indo-Guyanese breads, they are normally eaten with some kind of curry.  Curry is a necessary dish at any dinner table whether it be for Christmas or the normal everyday dinner.  However, dhalpuri is also good as a snack with some kind of chutney.  Some of the traditional ways my family eats dhal puri is with grated cheese and lettuce or with Peanut Butter.  The peanut butter especially is a VERY weird combo with the lentils and spices of dhal puri but Guyanese people have this abnormal love of peanut butter.  This is probably because it was rationed  during the Burnham era (when the country was under authoritarian rule).

Curry Galore - Eat it with any curry of choice

`Advisory`

It is really hard to get the roti to a nice thin consistency without making any holes in the dough that the lentils would seep out of.  Also be careful not to burn yourself when turning the roti on the frying pan. Also, turn carefully so that the roti does not break or fall apart.

See the expert at work in the video below from 0:50-3:15.  Guy Fieri has tested it so you know it has to be good.

# Books for Christmas?

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I’m in the process of making my list and checking it twice for Christmas and a lot of books have been coming up. Getting books for Christmas has always been an exciting event to look forward to.  Featured below are links to the online versions of some books featured in the 1914 Eaton’s Winter Catalogue.   I’ve read none of them – except for the Mother Goose Rhymes – so I thought it’d be nice to broaden my reading material a little bit.  I’ve always been more inclined to the Mystery and general fiction genre (i.e. Patterson, Vassanji, Harry Potter and Enid Blyton) so this is a whole new experience.

As exciting as it is to recieve books, in this day and age, it just might be easier to read many of them online.  This is especially true of many classic novels that are available for free online.  However, if they’re classics does that mean we’re more inclined to buy hard copies for our shelves? Much of the thrill of receiving a book is in knowing that it is YOURS! to keep forever (hence why my cousins and I have made sure to collect every Harry Potter novel in hard-cover format).  We want to be able to keep those books that would be classics in the future.  But in the future, will everyone turn to online novels? And if so does it even make sense to keep physical books? It all depends on how people read and unfortunately that is constantly changing so we have no way of knowing what future books will be and the means of collecting them just for the sake of keeping them.

CLICK ON THE IMAGES TO ACCESS THE BOOKS IN THEIR ONLINE FORMAT.

`Mrs. Beeton's Cookery Book aka Book of Household Management`

Mrs. Beeton's Cookery Book / Household Management.

I mentioned Mrs. Beeton’s Cookery Book in my previous post aboutBlack Cake.  I’m the first one to admit my lack of kitchen skills.  However, as I’m home for a whole month for Christmas, I wouldn’t mind trying out some new baking recipes. And Mrs. Beeton doesn’t disappoint.  The instructions aren’t as specific as you’ll find in modern recipes, but cooking is all about instinct so jump in with both feet!

`William Makepeace Thackeray - The complete Works`

W.M. Thackeray's Complete Works at Project Gutenberg

Thackeray is synonymous with the term “classic fiction’. I’ve only read Vanity Fair but that has piqued my interest for more of Thackeray’s writings, all of which can be found on Project Gutenberg.  He is well-known for his satirical works of British society, so delve in for some serious Christmas reading.

`Adrift in New York - by Horatio Alger`

Adrift in New York - access through Project Gutenberg

Horatio Alger Jr. was a prominent American author whose books focussed on boys who faced setbacks in life and rose from the lower classes.  It reminds me of Oliver Twist a little bit.  Only way to know is if I actually read it.

`A Child's Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson`

For the Poetry Lovers

On Christmas Eve, this collection of small poems is the perfect read to transport you back to your childhood.

`Comic Book of Recitations and Dialogues by Jerome Barton`

When I first started the search for an online version of this book, I thought it would provide some interesting annecdotes for those Christmas, Hannukah, Kwanzaa, Holiday, and New Years Parties that will be coming up for everyone in the next few weeks.  However, this read is more a collection of humorous poems rather than annecdotes.

`Mother Goose's Rhymes`

Mother Goose Rhymes - Project Gutenberg

No childhood is complete without Mother Goose.   It’s nice that this collection is available online especially as we see more and more kids are accessing the web at earlier ages both in school and at home with their parents.  With the original artwork and verses, I’m a little more comfortable knowing that at least the verses will survive later into the future  – maybe not in the format I grew up with, but at least in some way.  In an era where television is a prevalent part of life, it’ll be interesting to see how often these online resources are utilized.

I loved this YouTube video because quite frankly its hilarious if you don’t read too much into it.  I’m in no way judging the parents or the child especially because he’s so young.  I was always excited beyond belief to get books for Christmas!! And I know (or rather hope) that everyone else out there continues to feel the same way regardless of rising commercialism and the expectation of toys (which ranges from trains for 6 year olds to Ipads for 26 year olds).

# Amazon and Discounts

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Today I found an article on the Yahoo! Website talking about the Price Check App by Amazon – the biggest shopping mall in the world.  This App allows customers to scan the prices of items in an actual store and compare it with Amazon’s prices.  So Amazon gets valuable price-comparison data and the customer gets further discounts.

If Amazon’s price is higher, the customer gets a 5-10% discount.  The article went on to talk about how it is an “attack on Main St” because while Amazon acts like a big retailer they actually don’t have to pay sales tax (something which I did not know).

Those of the Occupy Amazon movement are certainly not happy.  This letter was directed towards Amazon on an Occupy Amazon Facebook Site:

Open letter to Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon.com Inc from Oren Teicher, CEO of the American Booksellers Association:

Dear Jeff Bezos,
We’re not shocked, just disappointed.

Despite your company’s recent pledge to be a better corporate citizen and to obey the law and collect sales tax, you created a price-check app that allows shoppers to browse Main Street stores that do collect sales tax, scan a product, ask for expertise, and walk out empty-handed in order to buy on Amazon. We suppose we should be flattered that an online sales behemoth needs a Main Street retail showroom.

Forgive us if we’re not.

We could call your \$5 bounty to app-users a cheesy marketing move and leave it at that. In fact, it is the latest in a series of steps to expand your market at the expense of cities and towns nationwide, stripping them of their unique character and the financial wherewithal to pay for essential needs like schools, fire and police departments, and libraries.

But maybe we’ve misunderstood.

Even though you’ve spent millions on lobbyists, fired affiliates in seven states, and threatened to shut warehouses to avoid collecting sales tax, maybe you really mean it now when you say you support a level playing field.

It’s up to you to show us.

In the meantime, indie retailers remain the heart of countless communities — offering discovery, energy, support, and unique experiences. See you on Main Street.

Sincerely,
Oren Teicher, CEO
American Booksellers Association

I’ve personally grown up in a household where SAVE SAVE SAVE BY ANY MEANS NECESSARY is the mantra. I buy coupon books, trawl websites extensively looking for awesome coupons (I am not an EXTREME COUPONER though ) and does a lot of price comparing especially when Christmas shopping.  Therefore I can see the attraction of such an App.  And I know for a fact this is definitely not the first of such an endeavour – there are websites everywhere dedicated to price comparisons.

However, in this case it begs the question which side to err on

1. supporting the small business owners that produce and sell products that I can’t afford for a mass gifting season like the one we’re in

OR

2. supporting Amazon where I can get awesome deals but contribute to the continuing decline of the independent business market.

So has that potent combo of globalization and commercialism taken over so drastically that it doesn’t even make sense to fight back? I want to support these local business owners (I really do, hence my love for farmer’s markets) but at the same time I also can’t ignore my head looking for the best way to save some money in order to pay back certain student loans. Can we even strike a balance between the two – i.e. obtain mainstream objects through Amazon but continue to look for unique gifts in local stores?

Check out the article featured on Yahoo.

# Caribbean Christmas – Rum/Black Cake

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For anyone who has ever traveled to the Caribbean, I’m sure you’ve encountered rum cake especially in the airports where companies like Tortuga Rum Cakes have delicious cakes prettily packaged.  This is definitely not like that rum cake.  It is much more dense (due to the fruits) with a much more distinct rum taste – so if you like rum, this is definitely the cake for you.

Black cake is synonymous with Christmas the same way eggnog is for Canadians. It is the Caribbean version of the British dessert PLUM PUDDING (yes colonialism gave us lots of things) but with some slight Caribbean-esque changes (hence the rum). Whilst Christian missionaries made their ways through Caribbean communities, they left an indelible mark in the foods that continue to be a staple of the Caribbean diet.  Plum pudding is but one example of the remaining British presence throughout.

Mrs. Beeton's Plum Pudding

It’s impossible to have a Christmas without black cake especially because many people gift these cakes to each other. As well, its common for everyone in the family to get involved in the actual baking process. Dad might be in charge of soaking the fruits in the rum, while mom takes care of mixing the ingredients.  All the children – if they can be trusted with this task – would be involved in mixing the icing.  The prep for baking black cakes is time-consuming, but the results are always amazing.  As well, because of the concentration of rum these cakes can last for a REALLY long time – my family keeps black cake on the kitchen counter for months afterwards.  For some (aka me), the cake itself play second fiddle to the icing.  The cake can be covered in marzipan paste and then white royal icing and it is TO DIE FOR!! Personally, eating the icing is like “having my cake and eating it too” – it’s all I really need.

The best part is the marzipan.

`Recipe`
1/4 lb cherries
1 lb local dried fruits (or raisins)
1 cup rum (the more you put, the more moist your cake will be)
1 1/2lbs. brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 lb flour
12 eggs
4 oz orange or lemon peel
1/2lb butter
Marzipan paste and royal icing (as much or as little as you like)
Instructions:

1. Grind dried fruits and soak it in 3 cups of rum. Store in an air tight container for three weeks.
2. Prepare the caramel by heating 1 lb of the the sugar until it turns dark brown.  This process is called “browning” and the end result tends to be a molasses-like texture that tastes slightly more burnt than caramel.
3. Cream the butter and sugar. Add the eggs, soaked fruits, and rum. When it is well blended, pour the caramel.
4. Add the sifted flour with the baking powder and mixed spice.
5. Fold in the cherries.
6. Pour mixture in a baking pan and bake in a slow oven (about 300 degrees F.) for two hours. Remove cake from pan after two days.
7. Decorate the cake with marzipan paste and then royal icing.

Recipe taken from http://www.guyanesepride.com/recipe/recipedetail.aspx?id=1390.

A gift for you - Black Cake in a pretty tin

Advisory: This cake definitely has an acquired taste.  The combination of burnt sugar and lots of rum might not appeal to everyone.  Therefore, if possible please try to taste a little piece of the cake first.

Also, as someone who has never made a full black cake herself, please be careful if attempting this recipe. It is extremely time consuming and will take a few tries before you strike the right balance between the amount of sugar and rum.