Give Me Back My Five Bucks

A fun evening making French macarons

I’ve been obsessed with macarons for a couple of years now, but have never attempted to make them. Everyone always told me how hard and finnicky they were to create, so I just left it at that and continued to buy them regularly. But when I saw a TeamBuy coupon for a 2-hour macaron making class for $45, I jumped on it.

We booked a few weeks ahead of time, and ended up going to a class last night at Professor and the Pigeon – a cute little bakery and coffee shop located in Kitsilano. The class started at 6:30, and we had about 15 or 16 people in the class. BF was the only guy there, which wasn’t surprising.

There was a wide range of skill level in attendance. One woman said she’s tried to make macaron at least a dozen times before, and there were people like us who have never attempted it at all. I bake a few times a year – banana breads, pies, cookies, etc. But am by no means an expert.

The first thing we did was watch a demonstration on how to make the macaron shells. Then, she divided us into 3 teams, and we started making our own shells. The group I was in was making Earl Grey macarons. Yum!

We started out by measuring the ingredients, and we were both pretty surprised at how simple the recipe is: just egg whites, white sugar, icing sugar, and almond flour. :) We blended the egg whites and white sugar together until the batter formed stiff peaks, and then we were ready for the next step.

We then poured the icing sugar and almond flour on top of the egg white mixture, and started mixing together. It was really important not to overmix, but I was surprised at how runny the batter was (similar to the consinstency of melted chocolate). After we got it just right, we filled a piping bag and went to town. Ours came out a little bit uneven, but pretty good for a first try. :) Then you let them sit on the tray for at least 30 minutes, until they dry out a little so that you can touch them (kind of like a blister).

They don’t spend long in the oven, and it makes a big difference temperature-wise whether you are using a convection oven or a regular oven. Once removed from the oven, they have to cool completely before you can move onto filling them with deliciousness.

While they cooled, we started to make our Earl Grey buttercream filling. It’s a little disgusting knowing how much butter and sugar actually goes into the filling, so I’ll just skip over that part. :) We used ground up tea, mixed it with hot cream, and then added it to butter, sugar, and vanilla extract.

Now the fun part – assembling the macarons! :) I was a little bit stingy in the amount of buttercream I put into my macarons. Thought I could somehow make them healthier… but, don’t skimp out. They were much better when you put more buttercream than what you think is a healthy amount, haha!

Making macarons was a really fun experience, and made an awesome date night. We were concerned before going to the class that we wouldn’t be able to make them at home. But it turns out, they’re quite simple to make. You just need to know how to get the right consistency with the batter, and get the timing perfectly. I’m glad we took the class because it gave us hands-on experience before we attempt to make them ourselves. :)

Here is the finished product. So pretty!

photo 1

NOTE: This wasn’t a paid review or anything (although I did use a referral link to the coupon site), I just love macarons and was really excited to share this experience. The price for the class is normally $99, but you can buy it through TeamBuy (referral) for $45.

Have you ever tried to make macarons before?

The pros and cons of being in a union

BF and I often talk about unions and how effective they are. He is part of a union for a very large national company, and loves it. Meanwhile I’ve worked in a union environment on 3 separate occasions (provincial government x2, municipal government), and left all 3 times. Plus, with everything going on with the BCTF strike here in BC, I think the pros and cons of unions are on everybody’s minds these days.

Now, I completely understand the benefits of being in a union. Unions are put in place to protect workers, give them fair wages, and make the workplace safer. But having worked for companies whose non-union employees complain that unions can be detrimental to growth, and having seen so many people abuse the benefits of being in a union, I have to wonder… as an employee, over the lifetime of your career, is being in a union beneficial? Will you earn more, will your career progress, and will you be happier? Or perhaps it depends on the type of work you’re doing.

The pros of being in a union:

  • Health benefits. Most (if not all?) unionized workers are entitled to extended health and medical benefits. This is a huge bonus. Especially if you or anyone in your family has major health issues. Not only are you potentially covered for hundreds of thousands of dollars over your career, but you’re also protected by the union in that your job seems more secure if you have to take extended leaves due to illness.
  • You have job security. When you aren’t part of a union, you can be fired for no reason (I’m reminded of when I was unfairly fired a few years ago). But when you’re part of a union, it’s pretty hard to get fired. It has to be pretty serious, and even then, you can still file a grievance.
  • You can speak up. You don’t have to be scared to speak your mind or stir the pot if you think something is unfair. The union is supposed to be there for advice, and for support.
  • Seniority. Of course this differs between different unions, but for the most part, seniority can be a factor in determining who gets a promotion, or even who gets to keep their jobs if there are layoffs. When a union is involved, employers are usually required to let go of the most junior employees. This is supposed to eliminate favoritism in the workplace.

The cons of being in a union:

  • People know how to abuse the system. There is so much abuse, because people know all the loopholes and know they can’t really be fired unless they do something completely inappropriate. I know someone who spent most of her time at work doing personal tasks (like printing cookbooks off the internet, or reading celebrity gossip websites). I know someone else who requested vacation days, got denied, and just didn’t show up for those days anyway. Neither of them got fired, or even disciplined.
  • It rewards employees that might not¬†deserve to be rewarded. Even if you put in minimal effort, it’s nearly impossible to get fired. You get your pay grade steps regardless of how hard you work. I found this demoralizing and it made me want to put in less effort, since 1) I would get a raise regardless of how hard I worked, and 2) the person next to me did nothing most days, and still got paid more than me for the same job.
  • It can hold you back. Because seniority plays such a huge role in unionized environments, sometimes the best person for the job gets passed over because they don’t have enough seniority. So I feel like unions can stunt a good employee’s professional growth. Although, I’m only talking about my experience in an office environment. I’m not sure if that’s the case in every organization.

Anyway, those are my big picture thoughts about unions. I can completely understand both sides, and how unions can benefit or stunt an employee. Obviously since I’m choosing to work for non-union organizations, I’m making my choice. But I’m specifically coming from a government background, and I have flip flopped before – and recently. I know plenty of people who work in union environments and love it. So I’m left continuing to wonder about whether the pros outweigh the cons.

Do you work in a union? Do you find unions beneficial?

Heading to the Oregon Coast!

oregoncoastI mentioned briefly in my post about postponing big travel plans that we are headed to the Oregon Coast on Friday. :) I’m really excited for this trip because work has been pretty busy, and I feel like it’s been forever since the last vacation. But, since everything is a bit up in the air with expenses this year and how much I can really expect to make with scaled back freelancing and my new job, I thought it would be a good idea to map out the expenses.

Here is an estimate of what I think my portion of the spending will be for the 5 days we’ll be gone:

Hotel – $205 (4 nights)
Food – $200
Entertainment – $150
Gas – $80
Miscellaneous – $50

ESTIMATED TOTAL: $685

A short, but sweet trip. And the cost isn’t too bad. I mean, it definitely could have been cheaper if we wanted to spend less on accommodation. None of the places we are staying at are fancy, but they’re all right on the beach, so that means the prices fall about mid-range at about $100/night. The estimated gas cost I got from plugging our mileage into the trip planner on GasBuddy.com, so I think it will be pretty accurate.

Based on the way we’ve traveled in the past, we’re both pretty good at eating simply. We are going to bring a cooler for veggies (bringing the juicer along), as well as food for lunches, etc. I do anticipate going out to eat for dinners, and I think our only splurge meal will be when we go out with my friends.

As for entertainment, we plan on hanging out in Oregon Dunes National Park (and renting dune buggies!), as well as checking out the Tillamook Cheese Factory. :)¬† Other than that, it’ll just be spending time at the beach, and relaxing.

The countdown is on. Now, my fingers are crossed the rain holds off and we get a bit of sunshine on our trip. :)

P.S. Has anyone gone to Sea Lion Caves before? Is it worth it? I’m having a hard time convicing BF that it’s worthy of a stop on our trip.

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