Learning about photography for #3SkillsYEG

I’ve had a digital camera (many, actually) for as long as I can remember. You know those really old Casio digital cameras that produced super grainy, low resolution photos? Yep, had one. Today my primary camera is a Canon 6D, which is a full-frame DSLR. It produces incredible photos, technically speaking. But as any “intro to photography” book or course will tell you, it’s not the gear that produces great photos, it’s the photographer. The hardware has changed an incredible amount since the advent of digital photography, but the principles of taking better photos have changed much less. Like most people, I never really learned those principles. I picked some stuff up by watching other photographers of course, like my Dad whose work I really admire. But mostly my strategy has been “spray and pray”. Take lots of photos and hope for the best. I decided to change that for the “Creativity & Expression” theme during #3SkillsYEG.

Cloverdale Footbridge
Me taking a photo on the Cloverdale Bridge last summer

Obviously there are dozens and dozens of resources for learning more about photography through EPL. I decided to narrow it down to digital resources, and it wasn’t long before I stumbled across the amazing content available through Lynda.com. It’s truly amazing that Edmontonians have free access to this incredible resource with a free library card. I still can’t get over it, to be honest!

Photography is one of the top-level categories at Lynda.com so there’s definitely a lot of content to choose from. There are 643 courses and 28,488 video tutorials related to photography, to be exact.

“Whether you want to be a photographer or just love taking pictures, learn what you need with our in-depth courses in photography: how to shoot photos that tell a story, choose the right gear, create a photo book, and more. Get tips on photo editing, studio photography, and lighting, too.”

Here are the courses I completed:

I also skimmed through parts of a course on Lightroom, which I am using to edit and organize photos. Even with just those five courses, I learned a ton. I now have a good idea of how much I don’t know! I especially enjoyed the videos with Ben Long and was very happy to see that he has a weekly show on Lynda.com called The Practicing Photographer. I found his style very approachable and well-paced. At one point he shares that he used to get asked a lot what type of photos he likes to take – landscape, portraits, etc. He reflected on it and decided that he likes to photograph light. That really stuck with me.

Here are some of my favorite photos that I took while working through the videos:

Spring Snow
One of the first photos I took with my new 50mm prime lense

Peace Bridge
Always love the Peace Bridge in Calgary

Sunset Reflected Downtown
Experimented with stitching photos together here, using ICE

Morning Sunlight
I had Ben Long’s comment about shooting light in my head for this one

Victoria Promenade
An example of crouching down to get a better shot

Flying over the old Molson Brewery
Good timing, but also I like the color contrast

High Level Bridge
Another example of changing my perspective to get a different shot

I have started on my next course already, Foundations of Photograpy: Composition. After that, I’ll move on to the other videos in the Foundations of Photography series, including Black and White, Night and Low Light, and Flash.

If you’ve been reading my blog for any length of time you’ll know that I am a sucker for gadgets. So it was a little dangerous to dive further into a topic like photography where you can spend thousands of dollars on gear! I did pretty well though, and ended up only making a few purchases. The biggest was the Canon 50mm f/1.8 STM, my first prime lens and a great deal at just $170 or so. I also picked up a lens cleaning kit, and a few accessories from Peak Design to go with my messenger bag.

I have really enjoyed learning more about photography and working to improve my skills and I look forward to continuing it with the resources available through EPL! The #3SkillsYEG campaign is over for 2016 (I’m way behind on posting this) but that shouldn’t stop you from learning about something that interests you! If you need an excuse, remember that we’re a City of Learners!

Learning about pulses for #3SkillsYEG

Over the last month, I have been learning about pulses and how to cook with them as part of the #3SkillsYEG challenge. Cooking with pulses seemed like a great topic for me given the suggested theme for February was “Personal Growth & Wellbeing” and that 2016 is the International Year of Pulses.

Pulses

Learning about pulses

It just so happened that the Canadian Association of Foodservice Professionals (CAFP) and the Alberta Pulse Growers (APG) hosted a dinner early in the month called Everything is PULSEible. I was fortunate enough to attend with Sharon, who had been invited to blog about the dinner. It was a great way to both taste and learn more about pulses, though I suppose I didn’t realize just how familiar with them I already was. Here’s an excerpt from Sharon’s post:

“After reading Mark Bittman’s Food Matters more than five years ago (his mission was to encourage more conscious consumption of non-meat proteins), I was inspired to start including more beans and lentils in our diet. In 2011, Julie Van Rosendaal and Sue Duncan’s cookbook, Spilling the Beans, was released, becoming one of our go-to guides for meal inspirations. Now, pulses have just become a part of our regular rotation, both as a meat alternative but also to enhance soups, salads and mains, stretching the meal all while adding nutrients. At this point, our pantry and freezer would feel bare without having some variety of pulses on hand.”

She’s not kidding! Our meals often have beans and I guess I just didn’t think of them as pulses. So what exactly is a pulse? From Pulses.org:

“Pulses are the edible seeds of plants in the legume family. Pulses grow in pods and come in a variety of shapes, sizes and colors. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) recognizes 11 types of pulses: dry beans, dry broad beans, dry peas, chickpeas, cow peas, pigeon peas, lentils, Bambara beans, vetches, lupins and pulses nes (not elsewhere specified – minor pulses that don’t fall into one of the other categories).”

Canada is one of the leading producers of pulses in the world. In 2011, Canada produced over a third of the world’s lentils and had the largest amount of dry pea production in tonnes. Saskatchewan is the largest pulse producing area in Canada with about 80% of the market, followed by Alberta at 20%, according to Statistics Canada. There are more than 2,300 farms growing pulses here in Alberta, which accounts for about 10% of the province’s crop acres. There’s good reason that the prairies are so good at producing pulses:

“The Canadian prairie soil and climate conditions, research for developing new varieties that resist lodging and disease or have a shorter growing season, agronomic and economic benefits when planted in rotation with other field crops and the growth of processing facilities all contributed.”

Unfortunately it’s not as easy as you might think to locate pulses grown here in Alberta because the packages most often end up with a “product of Canada” label. But as Sharon noted, “Alberta grows a variety of pulses: primarily peas (green, yellow, marrowfat), but also beans (great northern, black, cranberry, pink, small red), lentils (red, green) and chickpeas.”

Cooking with pulses

Pulses are very versatile ingredients and offer some excellent nutritional benefits. Pulses are gluten-free and vegetarian, low in fat and high in protein, and they’re a great source of folate and high in fibre. They’re also relatively cheap, especially when compared with meat. But despite all of those benefits, we don’t eat very many pulses. “A small amount is used by Canadian consumers and has increased over time, but is still relatively low compared to countries where pulses are a dietary staple,” wrote Statistics Canada. Many organizations are working to change that, including the Global Pulse Confederation and of course Alberta Pulse Growers here at home. One of the ways they’re doing that is by developing recipes that show just how easy it is to prepare dishes with pulses.

CAFP Alberta Pulse Dinner

The most surprising dish to me at the Everything is PULSEible dinner was the dessert – Lentil Fudge Pie. “This fudge pie is so delicious, you’ll never guess there’s lentils in it!” They were right. It was very tasty and had I not been told, I’d have never guessed that it contained a red lentil purée. I’m not much of a baker, but I’d be willing to give this a shot.

For a variety of reasons, I ended up doing a lot of the cooking in February. I did my best to use plenty of pulses and I’m happy to report it wasn’t hard! I made dishes in which the recipe called for pulses, like Mushroom Lentil Bourguignon (from Spilling the Beans). I also made some dishes that I simply added pulses to, like Carrot, Spinach and Rice Stew which I added chickpeas to. One of the more interesting dishes I made again tonight so I could take some photos – Curried Lentil Soup.

Curried Lentil Soup

The soup calls for both French green lentils (or dupuy lentils) and chickpeas (garbanzo beans). The lentils are easy to work with – simply rinse them and then add to the pot. I used stock instead of water, and they cooked nicely in about 30 minutes.

Chickpea Butter

The chickpeas take a bit more work as you need to purée them into a butter. I added a can of chickpeas to the food processor along with the garlic, lemon juice, and olive oil and before long I had a nice buttery spread. The last step is to add the chickpea butter to the simmer soup and combine, which gives it a beautiful, rich consistency.

Curried Lentil Soup

The soup is one of Sharon’s favorites, and I have to admit I’m quite fond of it myself. Easy to make, extremely tasty, and pretty healthy too!

Working as Sharon’s sous chef in the past, I don’t think I appreciated just how easy it is to add pulses to a dish. I have a better appreciation for them now, and am happy that our pantry is always stocked with beans and lentils!

Next steps with pulses

To help celebrate the International Year of Pulses, Pulse Canada has teamed up with the American Pulse Association to promote the Pulse Pledge:

“Commit to eating pulses once a week for 10 weeks and join a global food movement! Eating dry peas, lentils, beans and chickpeas helps reduce your carbon footprint – and it’s great for your health. Every 1/2 cup of cooked pulses delivers 9 grams of protein. Get rewarded for eating these miraculous superfoods.”

Pulses once a week? Piece of lentil cake!

I encourage you to give pulses a chance. And as a Learning Champion, I definitely encourage you to check out #3SkillsYEG! The theme for March is Creativity and Expression, and I have decided I will learn how to use my macro camera lens. That’s what I used to take the lentil and soup photos above! You can pick any skill you like, of course, the theme is just to get you going. Be sure to share your learning journey and enter the #3SkillsYEG contest.

I wish you tasty pulses and happy learning!

#3SkillsYEG, Edmonton Tool Library, LRT operators like pilots

Here’s the latest entry in my Edmonton Etcetera series, in which I share some thoughts on a few topical items in one post. Less than I’d write in a full post on each, but more than I’d include in Edmonton Notes. Have feedback? Let me know!

3SkillsYEG – what three things will you learn?

Today the Edmonton Public Library launched a new City of Learners campaign called #3SkillsYEG:

“#3SkillsYEG invites Edmontonians to create their own version of Robinson’s adventure by learning, teaching and sharing three new things with each other in 2016. By declaring to learn a skill related to “Personal Growth & Well-Being” in February; “Creativity & Expression” in March; and “Making Our City Better” in April, and sharing it on social media, participants will be entered to win an iPad, $200 towards Metro Continuing Education and tickets to the Telus World of Science.”

You can learn more about #3SkillsYEG here. Participating is simple – just pick three skills you want to learn and commit to learning one each month. You don’t have to follow the monthly themes, but that’s potentially a good way to stay on track. There’s going to be events related to each one too. You can enter the contest by declaring the skills you’re going to learn here.

Making a Better Burger
Me learning to make a better burger at Farmfair back in November

I really like this initiative, so I agreed to be a Learning Champion. What that means is that I’ll be participating and sharing my progress and encouraging others to do so as well. My list of “things to learn” is far longer than I’m able to tackle, but I will pick three for #3SkillsYEG and will be writing about each one in the coming months.

Edmonton Tool Library

Here’s a great idea that’s long overdue that two Edmontonians are finally doing something about. Leslie Bush and Robyn Webb are starting the Edmonton Tool Library, which will let you borrow tools just like you can currently borrow books and other items from the public library. There are tool lending libraries all around the world, including in many Canadian cities. Here’s the news from CBC Edmonton:

“The plan is to open the new tool library downtown, where many residents don’t have the room to store many tools. The group doesn’t yet have a firm opening date in mind, but is hoping to be up and running later this year. Edmontonians who sign up for an annual membership will be able to borrow tools for limited periods of time.”

For now they have a Facebook page and an idea. Sometimes that’s good enough to get something going. If you want more information or to find out how to get involved, sign up for their mailing list here.

Vancouver Tool Library Est. 2011
Vancouver’s Tool Library launched in 2011, photo by Richard Eriksson

This idea has come up dozens of times in recent years, especially after Make Something Edmonton launched, but to my knowledge no one has actually tried to make it happen. There are some related initiatives that have been very successful in Edmonton, like ENTS which does provide access to a variety of tools including drills, saws, and more for use in their space. But to be able to borrow a power tool for use in your home, that’s pretty interesting.

The other obvious initiative that comes to mind is EPL’s Makerspace. Like ENTS, there are some tools there you can use on-site, including a couple of 3D printers. There’s no tool library though, at least not yet. With the revitalization of the Stanley Milner library downtown gearing up there’s a related effort called “Makerspace 2020” to determine how the Makerspace should evolve. I know for a fact that tools have come up in consultations on that project, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see EPL itself offer something in the near future.

The LRT driver who sounds like a pilot

If you’ve been a passenger on the LRT recently, you might have heard Jon Morgan. He’s an LRT operator who entertains passengers by giving them updates on connections, the weather, nearby attractions, and more. I heard him recently and was amused, and judging by the smiles, it seems my fellow passengers were too. Here’s what he told Global Edmonton:

“I love our city and I like to learn as much as I can about our city, relay it across to the people. I just like to brighten people’s days as much as possible.”

I’d say he’s doing a good job of that!

If this all seems oddly familiar, that’s because it is. Back in 2010, essentially the same story was written about Tim Mireault. And then again in 2012. Good stories are worth repeating, I guess!