How to Make A Photography Background

Here is a tutorial for a handmade photography background that is easy to make and beautiful to use. I have spent a lot of time hunting down backgrounds and know all too well the feeling of staring at textured concrete walls in public spaces— wishing I could bring the wall home with me.

This tutorial is inspired by Bea Lubas (whose photography workshop I had the pleasure of attending in London). Some of my favourite surfaces makers are Erickson Surfaces, I also use Capture by Lucy for food photography backgrounds.

I never realized how simple it was to make your own background, it is also very rewarding. So now, pull out your paintbrushes from the closet,  head to your nearest hardware store and let’s create something beautiful.

You will need

  • A plywood board (found in the wood section of home depot, my board was 4×8, 1/2 inch thick). Find a board that is not too bendy or warped.

  • Several tester pots of matte paint (I used 3–5 colours each board)

  • A cleaning sponge, old paintbrushes

Directions

Select your colours from tester pots. Gradient colours work very well.

Using a sponge, gently swirl the colours. Do not over mix as you want to the individual colours to stand out. Dip your sponge into the mixture and lightly apply brush strokes to cover the board.

Let dry in the open air for up to an hour. I am planning on applying a layer of matte lacquer for wet foods, produce and drinks, of course.

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And there you have it. Your very own photography background.

I used both sides of my board for different colours and found it helpful to have reference colours on hand. Will experiment with different brushes for textures as well.

Here is last night’s pasta. Photographed on grey.

Video clips can be found on my Instagram story highlights. Have fun.

All images taken on my iPhone.

Flourless Chocolate Brownies With Sea Salt

A few of my proudest accomplishments this year include: landed an in-house photography job, tried out and stayed on a sports team this spring (the last time I played in competitive sports was elementary school), signed a lease on an apartment (cannot wait to move in next month), committing to put down roots in this transitional city of Vancouver, and the creation of these fabulous flourless chocolate brownies. 

On days when I feel doubt about trading my freelance life for a nine to five — I make brownies and take them into the office. It is simply impossible to eat more than 3 pieces of these brownies and having coworkers to share them with is a very ideal situation. These will never fail to hit the spot when you need a decadent treat in hope that you can stop at three pieces. A timeless brownie recipe.

You know you have created an excellent brownie when both of the recipe developers at work ask you for the recipe. I first had these at a ladies night and immediately asked my friend for the recipe. I am pretty sure the original creator is Nicole Spiridakis. Here is my version with reduced sugar, roasted nuts and sprinkled with Maldon sea salt

Ps: I finally ordered a cooking scale off the internet. It really is worth it when you want to use up the many dark Trader Joe chocolate bars sitting in your cupboard and not worry about fitting them into measuring cups. 

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Flourless Chocolate Brownies With Sea Salt and Nuts

140g dark chocolate
155g (1/2 cup) unsalted butter
150g brown sugar
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
50g (1/2 cup) cocoa powder, sifted
1/4 tsp salt
11/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/3 cup almond or walnuts, chopped
Maldon sea salt for garnish (optional)

  1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Line a baking pan or sheet with parchment paper.

  2. In 15-30 second intervals, melt chocolate and butter in the microwave and stir until smooth. Set aside too cool. Add brown sugar, cocoa powder, salt, vanilla, and eggs. In that order. Mix but do not over-mix. Transfer batter to baking pan or sheet with a spatula. Top with walnuts.

  3. Bake for 20-30 minutes or until brownie is set and firm in the centre. Time will vary depending on container size. Let sit until cool before cutting into pieces. Top with a sprinkle of flaky sea salt.

These are very delicious eaten cool or slightly warmed. They also keep well in the fridge up to a week. If they last that long.

How to Make Tuna Onigiri Rice Balls

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Onigiri! This is a recipe for a little snack that accompanied my childhood years in Taiwan. Found in all of the 7–11 or convenience stores, these triangle-shaped rice balls were many of my breakfast, lunch and late-night snacks.

Even though I have never been to Japan, Taiwanese culture is a culture that is greatly influenced by Japan — who ruled over Taiwan in the 1800s. Some of the influence can be found in old Japanese buildings that are now tea houses or galleries, neat lines at the MRT, my grandpa who spoke Japanese, and a millennial generation that is all about Japanese culture.

These onigiri’s! I remember standing in my school uniform (white collared shirt, pleated skirt, bright orange hat), eagerly choosing my flavour of the day. My favourites — pork floss with mayo, egg, salmon, or chicken teriyaki. Sometimes I would opt out of onigiri’s and go for the traditional Taiwanese rice balls. A heavier version made with sticky rice, fried salty donut, radish pickles, stuffed with pork floss and sprinkled with peanut sugar. They were heavy enough to fill you for hours and go down your tummy very well with a cup of soy milk.

There is something about rolling and shaping warm rice together in your palms. I don’t know if it is the scent of warm rice or act of making onigiri’s that make me want to eat them immediately after. These are great as snacks on the go, picnics, a light meal, or give away and impress your friends.

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Tuna Onigiri Rice Balls

Ingredients

1 cup uncooked sushi rice
2 tbs rice wine vinegar
1 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 green onion stem, thinly sliced (you can also use cucumber)
1 can of tuna in salted water
1/2 avocado, diced
2 tbs greek yogurt (or mayo)
1 nori sheet, cut into small rectangles

Instructions

  1. Wash rice in a sieve until water is clear. Add 1.5 cup of water and cook until rice is tender. About 15 mins. Let cool.

  2. While rice is cooking, mix can of tuna (squeeze saltwater out with lid when you open the can), avocado, green onions and greek yogurt. Mash and add salt and pepper to taste

  3. Gently fluff rice with a fork. Fold in sugar, rice wine vinegar and salt with a spatula. Don’t over mix.

  4. Place a piece of saran wrap on your hand and measure 1/3 cup of seasoned rice into the wrap. Flatten rice into a flat shape and create an indent in the centre. Spoon in tuna filling and gently form rice into a ball using the saran wrap.

  5. Using your hands, form the rice ball into a triangle. Take off the plastic wrap and wrap a piece of nori around the bottom.

  • The trick to a good onigiri to use rice that is freshly cooked and slightly warm. I felt very Japanese waking up at 7 am to make these for lunch. They will keep for a while in a sealed box in the fridge.

  • The original recipe called for cucumber but I found the green onions to be a nice change.

  • I made these again and mixed in a few spoonfuls of furikake. They were delicious and disappeared very fast at the potluck I brought them to. Enjoy!

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Art + Soul Creative Co. | A photo shoot and interview with Laura Uy

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I have always imagined that stepping into an artist’s workspace is like getting a glimpse into their soul. The studio and home of Laura Uy is instantly bright, spacious and inviting. Green plants, musical instruments, paintings lined against the walls. A minimalist home and wardrobe that would make Marie Kondo followers proud. It’s hard to not feel inspired to create something in a space so beautiful. I could have sat there and happily watch the light change all day. Here is our conversation — shared between two artists and cups of tea.

Tell me about what you do:

L: I’m an artist and illustrator — I like to make happy illustrations! I started my own greeting card line four years ago and I sell cards and art prints. I also work on murals, paintings, and other art projects to keep my mind going. I love having different avenues for my creativity.

What does art mean to you?

L: Art is a way of life. It permeates into everything I do. Even before I was a full-time artist, I was constantly making things. And I’ll always continue to create. It’s a part of me.

Tell me about how the name Art + Soul Creative Co. came to be:

L: With my art, I always had the idea that I wanted to put my soul into everything I do. The art I create comes from a place of passion. I loved the play on words from “Heart and Soul” to “Art and Soul”, and it kinda just stuck.

What are some words that describe your art and what you want to share with the world?

L: (Short silence) I think peace. Especially in my mountain paintings. It’s like a sense of simplicity, like getting away from the world and creating a space to be calm. For me, art is a juxtaposition of so many things — chaos, calmness, sadness and joy. I want people to see the emotion in my art. Also, another word I have been thinking about lately is resilience. Continuing to paint through seasons of creative drought and remaining resilient helps me grow as an artist and as a human.

What has been a challenging aspect of your art career?

L: Admin work. I am definitely an artist first and business person second. I had to do a lot of research to figure things out at the beginning and I’m continually learning. It takes a lot of work to have a viable business and to support myself, but it’s so worth it. I’ve never actually had a business plan (laughs).

How do you navigate self-doubt or low seasons?

L: I always tell people that I am not the most talented artist out there. At the end of the day though, I believe that I have something to offer. I think it’s important to reflect on my work and know that it brings joy to someone out there. That has always been the purpose of my art.

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For someone starting out as an illustrator, what would your words of encouragement be?

L: It’s never too late to start. That’s something I’ve always believed in, being a late bloomer. I started Art + Soul when I was 28. I didn’t have any professional art experience and it was a risk I took. I had to get over the fear that I was starting a new career in my late twenties. But once I got my heart set on just creating art —  it was all about taking little steps every single day, to reach my goals and be proud of what I had accomplished!

Thank you for inviting me into your space Laura, I really enjoyed our conversation from bookkeeping, taxes, following our passions, and finding fulfillment in art as a career.

Here’s to art that comes from our soul, life, and so much more.

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Dog Shaped Cookies for Dog Lovers | A Recipe

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I have always been a dog person. Sorry to disappoint my cat loving friends but there is something simply irresistible about dogs. The fluff, the woof, the wag. The joyful leap they make towards you at the end of a long day. That grin when they destroy your beloved possessions and get away with it just because.

For me, the one thing that gets me about travel is the inability to bring your fluffy friends with you. My first dog Lisa the Akita died young (the drama queen in me likes to think it was from heartache) when my family immigrated to Canada. My dachshund who I left behind for college is now retired in Shanghai after many moves, travels, and change of homes. The family discussions, tearful goodbyes, and a little canine who will faithfully wag their tail serving whichever master they end up with.

This post is dedicated to all the dogs I have ever loved and photographed. A dog photo book is the list for projects I want to create and I trust that I am getting close to the process everyday. In the meantime, I will be content making dog shaped cookies.

This is a recipe adapted from Not quite Nigella and Baking Taitai. It is actually a recipe for Weihnachtsplätzchen — German sugar cookies eaten during advent. I love the addition of potato starch which gives the cookie a very biscuit-like texture. Good for convincing yourself you are eating vegetables when having a cookie too many.

These cookies can be time consuming cookie to make. My advice is to invite at least one friend to help with dough rolling, the application of cereal ears and sesame eyes. The end product is meant to be shared with at least four friends.

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Dog shaped cookies for dog lovers
*
Makes around 20 cookies 

Ingredients

• 1.5 cup flour
• 2 cup potato starch
• 2 teaspoon vanilla extract
• 2/3 cup icing sugar
• 1 cup unsalted butter
• Chocolate cereal for ears (I found a box at Wholefoods in Vancouver)
• Black sesame seeds for eyes
• Baking chocolate chips for noses

Directions

1. Combine butter and sugar (wet ingredients). Beat until fluffy. Add vanilla and beat until combined.
2. Combine potato starch and plain flour (dry ingredients). Mix until combined.
3. Thoroughly mix dry and wet ingredients. Cover with wrap and rest for half an hour or longer (I pre-make the dough and leave it in the fridge)
4. Line a baking tray with baking paper. Scoop dough into similar sized balls and flatten onto surface of tray. Add two chocolate cereal ears and chocolate chip nose. Use a tweezer to add sesame seed eyes (this step requires a lot of patience)
5. Bake at 340F for 15 minutes or until cookie bottoms are golden.

Notes: 

*For cocoa cookies, add a scoop of cocoa powder into the dough and mix until the colors are combined.  Additionally, you can expand from dog cookies to every kind of animal. 

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Enjoy

My first dog Akita Lisa + brother | Shot on film in Taiwan, 1992

My first dog Akita Lisa + brother | Shot on film in Taiwan, 1992

A Journey Through Southeast Asia

A fisherman on his boat at Ubien Bridge | Yangon, Myanmar

A fisherman on his boat at Ubien Bridge | Yangon, Myanmar

Muddy rivers, mountainous views, smiling people in villages. The longest drives I have ever taken, the constant smell of fish, rice shared over long tables, a familiar culture spoken in an unfamiliar tongue. These are my memories of Southeast Asia.

I spent three weeks traveling across Cambodia, Myanmar and Thailand volunteering as a photographer for In Better Hands — a non-profit organization that helps trafficked children or children in danger of being trafficked in the area. I visited local churches, villages and safe homes located deep in the mountains and rural areas. It was one of the most difficult trips I have taken as an adult and one that I will not forget too soon.

I learned about Cambodia, the corruption related to human trafficking, and the poverty that results in children being sold by their parents. I traveled across Myanmar and learned about the ongoing civil war that has been raging in the country for 70 years. I read about the Rohingya refugees that are still under persecution and visited safe homes that used to be war zones a decade ago. I photographed children in safe homes that were lost without names and family as a result of the war. The hardest part of Thailand was witnessing young women that were just like me, working on the streets working in occupations that pretty much broke my heart. The worst was understanding that the trafficking industry is largely supported by tourists like you and me.

Group photo of a safe home in Tachileik, Myanmar. Each home consists of a pair of house parents and 10–12 children that are brought in from each area.

Group photo of a safe home in Tachileik, Myanmar. Each home consists of a pair of house parents and 10–12 children that are brought in from each area.

Girl with Thanaka makeup(Burmese sunscreen). Everyone wore traditional clothing for the photo shoot

Girl with Thanaka makeup(Burmese sunscreen). Everyone wore traditional clothing for the photo shoot

During my trip, I experienced a lot of self-doubt. A lot of wondering “How can something like this exist in the world?”. Some days it felt like the injustice was too much to take in and the easier thing to do would be to stay in my room and refuse to acknowledge these terrible truths. Yet as a photographer and someone who was raised half of my life in Asia  — I felt a sense of responsibility to share about what goes on outside the comfort of our daily lives.

Documenting a safe home in Pyin Oo Lwin village, Myanmar. Many of these children lost their homes to due to the civil war that has been going for the last 70 years. Most of these children don’t know their names, age or where they are from.

Documenting a safe home in Pyin Oo Lwin village, Myanmar. Many of these children lost their homes to due to the civil war that has been going for the last 70 years. Most of these children don’t know their names, age or where they are from.

Despite the harsh conditions — my photo shoots were filled with the brightest of smiles

Despite the harsh conditions — my photo shoots were filled with the brightest of smiles

The things I took away from this trip was that is was okay with not be comfortable, and understanding that it will always be a challenge working on issues that are easier to ignore. I grew in empathy and listening to people that are from cultures different than mine. I grew in compassion   for people that live in places far away and for people that are close to home.

The beautiful Khutodaw Pagoda in Mandalay, Myanmar

The beautiful Khutodaw Pagoda in Mandalay, Myanmar

Kitty resting in the sun

Kitty resting in the sun

Southeast Asia was beautiful. It is a place that is raw, mysterious, and pure. There were moments where I found contentment walking through the countless pagodas, scouting locations, and enjoying the hospitality of the locals. There are beautiful places that are yet to be touched by western culture. It is a place where people value simple things — family, food, shelter. A job to provide all the above.

To conclude, I am encouraged coming back to North America. People have asked me what I took away from this trip. My answer is — be here now, be present, love people that are in your life now. Read Everybody, Always by Bob Goff. Start where you are.

Travel is really understanding that that world is immensely beautiful and broken. It is finding an urgency and purpose in creating beauty and knowing that your voice matters. It is making a choice to keep reflecting what is good, beautiful and true.

It’s going to be good.

Sunset at Ubien Bridge, Mandalay

Sunset at Ubien Bridge, Mandalay

Learn more about my GoFundMe project here or directly support the organization In Better Hands here.

A Recipe: Roasted Korean pears with Ginger

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One of my new year goals for 2019 is to write more — and what better subject to write about than food? Asian culture is a culture that revolves heavily around food. The making, the eating, the sharing. Oftentimes revolved around gossip, singing, or maybe a game of mahjong for the uncles and aunties. It is something I am really excited to share.

These pears were grown by Papa Hsin in his yard in Canada. As Asian parents go, I didn’t grow up knowing my dad as he spent a lot of time working. As a child, sometimes the only interaction we will have is when he signed my report cards every week (a moment where I will tremble slightly, even though I have always been a top student). But food — will forever be a way Asian parents show love. A catch-up session with Papa Hsin will always start with him pulling out fruit, steamed buns or something he made from his bag and handing it over with a smile. I think it is his peace offering for all the smiles he didn't give me when he signed my report cards.

Similar to me, my dad grew up in many places. One of my favorite subjects to ask him about is the time when he lived in Saudi Arabia and worked as a martial arts trainer for the police force. The stories of endless deserts, lizard hunting with bearded men, drinking camel milk and getting lost in sandstorms. Terrorism, female rights. They were the stories that teleported me to faraway places and planted in me a seed for travel and social justice. In fact — one of my career goals as a high school student was to become a journalist and cover stories of war and in the Middle East. Of course, that didn’t end up happening and today, both of us settled in Canada where I work as a photographer and him as a retired officer. I like to think that we are both finding our peace and place here. Him in his garden, hosting dinners with Chinese neighbors and me in the kitchen, behind the camera, or off backpacking to another exciting location.

Food to me will always be magic. It is the art of creating something from simple and good ingredients. Food is a vehicle for stories, culture, and tradition. A delicious reminder that we are cared for and thought of.

So here to the new year, I hope it will be one filled with stories and meals shared over tables with conversations that are long and good.

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Roasted Korean pear with ginger

Ingredients:

• 4 Korean pears. Sliced in half with the seeds removed

• 1 tbsp fresh ground ginger*

• A dash of ground cinnamon

• A squeeze of lemon juice

• 1 tbs brown sugar (opt out if you aiming for less sugar)

Directions: 

1. Preheat the oven to 400 F. 

2. Place pears on a baking tray with cut sides up. Sprinkle ground ginger, cinnamon powder, lemon juice on pears. Top with brown sugar.

3. Bake for 20 minutes or until tender. 

4. Let the pears cool before serving, preferably with vanilla ice cream. Preferably with a friend. Enjoy.

*I like to use organic ginger since I find it more pungent. I've also found ginger jam to be a good substitute.

A photo of me and Papa in his yard. Shot on film in 2017.

A photo of me and Papa in his yard. Shot on film in 2017.

Happy New Year!

Tamorak — A School for Indigenous Children in Taiwan

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Nestled between the ocean and mountains of east coast Taiwan is Tamorak, a non-profit preschool for Indigenous children.

Tamorak is founded by Nakaw, a local homeschooling mother, alongside the Amei people at Makotaay village in Hualien. As a teacher trained within the Taiwanese school system, Nakaw recognized the need for an alternative education program; one specifically geared toward Indigenous children struggling to fit into the current model.

In February 2015  —  in the humble basement of her home  —  Nakaw began teaching Amei children in their native tongue using a Waldorf curriculum . Over time, new teachers and supportive parents were personally trained by Nakaw and added to the roster of staff at Tamorak.

The days I spent at Tamorak was filled with adventures, creative activities, and fresh, home cooked meals. I have never experienced a community where everyone so authentically supports one another. The children I met were lively, active and in tune with nature. The school setting was homelike with warm, inviting colours and hand-dye linens. The pace was serene and unhurried. During mealtimes — songs are sung with held hands and the staff eats alongside the children. Children dangle off wooden swings and tree branches during recess. Toddlers join in on outdoor excursions and forage for edible plants with surprising agility. The older children are diligent, well-rounded leaders with great maturity and an acute awareness of the outside world.

Nakaw says her goal for Tamorak and for these children is to feel a sense of belonging — to grow up knowing who they are and where they come from. Her greatest wish is to raise these children with strong values and for them to become self-sufficient adults.

I left Tamorak understanding that while they may be a community fighting to preserve their culture, they are also a community filled with hope and a great sense of purpose in who they are and what they can contribute.

Founder of Tamorak, Nakaw, teaches Chinese characters to two elementary student using illustrations and body language.

Founder of Tamorak, Nakaw, teaches Chinese characters to two elementary student using illustrations and body language.

Students in prayer, giving thanks before their mid-day meal by volunteer staff.

Students in prayer, giving thanks before their mid-day meal by volunteer staff.

Students climbing trees during recess. School activities are designed to be closely integrated with nature.

Students climbing trees during recess. School activities are designed to be closely integrated with nature.

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Stone Hot Pot — A traditional Amei meal prepared in hollowed bamboo for the spring ceremony. Organic vegetables, beans, and seafood stew are prepared using hot stones from the fire. The freshest meal I have ever eaten.

Stone Hot Pot — A traditional Amei meal prepared in hollowed bamboo for the spring ceremony. Organic vegetables, beans, and seafood stew are prepared using hot stones from the fire. The freshest meal I have ever eaten.

Tamorak students on their way to classes in the field. These toddlers show surprising agility climbing hills and trekking down mountains.

Tamorak students on their way to classes in the field. These toddlers show surprising agility climbing hills and trekking down mountains.

Facts about Tamorak:

• Classes are taught in Amei language using a Waldorf curriculum. Waldorf education is based on the work of Rudolf Steiner and stresses the importance of hands-on activities, creative play, and learning through imitation. Classes are designed with a focus on the connection between the heart, head, and hands. Nakaw believes this system offers a parallel to the Amei culture and values.

“Classes are designed with a focus on the connection between the heart, head, and hands. Nakaw believes this system offers a parallel to Amei culture and values.”

• Lunches are parent-supported and made with local organic produce.
• Pottery, painting, cooking, storytelling and outdoor classes are included each day.
• Teaching materials, paints, and props are natural and non-toxic. Use of computers and television are limited and only introduced to children at an older age.
• Tamorak (pronounced Damorak) was named after the late village elder. Tamorak means pumpkin in Amei and represents growth.

First-grade student Paha was originally enrolled in the Taiwanese school system, where she struggled with isolation as a result of language and cultural barriers. Paha’s mother, a volunteer teacher at Tamorak, drives two hours every day so Paha can attend classes. The progress Paha has made since transferring to Tamorak has been incredible.

First-grade student Paha was originally enrolled in the Taiwanese school system, where she struggled with isolation as a result of language and cultural barriers. Paha’s mother, a volunteer teacher at Tamorak, drives two hours every day so Paha can attend classes. The progress Paha has made since transferring to Tamorak has been incredible.

Tamorak students enjoying playtime on the outdoor playground built by elders from the Amei village.

Tamorak students enjoying playtime on the outdoor playground built by elders from the Amei village.

Poror, Arigfowang, and Atomo (Nakaw’s three children) stand against the stunning landscape of east coast Taiwan located by the school.

Poror, Arigfowang, and Atomo (Nakaw’s three children) stand against the stunning landscape of east coast Taiwan located by the school.

Children playing with leaves and stones during recess. No plastic or artificial materials are used within the classrooms. As a result, children become very resourceful at making their own toys.

Children playing with leaves and stones during recess. No plastic or artificial materials are used within the classrooms. As a result, children become very resourceful at making their own toys.

Why

The Amei language has no written characters — all communication passes verbally. Because of this, Amei children face incredible challenges in learning and adjusting to the visual elements of the Chinese language. Without a method to communicate in school, Amei children often withdraw from social activities or become trouble makers, and many are incorrectly identified as having a learning disability. Correspondingly, children that successfully adapt to the Chinese language have a hard time readjusting to their own language when they return home.

Nakaw believes that the root of the problem lies in language: She believes children must learn the language of the village and be educated in a system that aligns with their values and culture.

Challenges

Tamorak is currently limited to a kindergarten curriculum, but Nakaw has plans to begin developing the elementary curriculum. As the children graduate, additional teaching spaces are needed, alongside more teachers and resources.

All meals, utility bills and teaching supplies are currently being covered by Nakaw and the Makotaay community. Despite government funding, Tamorak is constantly underfunded. For the school to receive sufficient funding from the government, they must first become certified as an official school, and children will need to pass standardized tests as they come of age.

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“Tamorak is in need of your support to continue the education of these children and preserve the Indigenous language and culture. “ To donate or support the work at Tamorak, visit their GoFundMe page here.

Postcards from New York

A quiet moment from Washington Square Park, NYC

A quiet moment from Washington Square Park, NYC

Hello from Taipei, Taiwan!

I have this funny feeling that I have to be in a new city before I can process and write about the previous one. It is wonderful being back in Taipei. There is much inspiration in revisiting old places and some days it feels like I never left. Although it is interesting living in the grey area between a local and a foreigner — I have never felt more clarity that I am in the right city at this time of my life.

This season will be spent working on a personal projects (hint: hedgehog book) while taking on freelance photo shoots. Between jet lag, stuffing my face with Taiwanese eats, waking up super early and navigating this familiar and unfamiliar city — I am slowly discovering a handful of local and international creatives. Excited for the next season and trying not to book a flight to Japan anytime soon.

Sunset with Lady Liberty from Brooklyn Bridge Park

Sunset with Lady Liberty from Brooklyn Bridge Park

Now, back to New York City — the city of creativity, art, thunderstorms, scorching metro systems, and galleries you can spend a lifetime exploring with crowds as dense as any major Asian city.

Studio visits with    @yokocca

Studio visits with @yokocca

I love a social media friendship turned into an afternoon of conversation with homemade jam and chiffon cake. It was a delight being able to visit Yoko's studio tucked away across the water in the quiet of Long Island City.

Akari and Kaisei are the most adorable active kids. I could have spent a long time taking photos of them.

Akari and Kaisei are the most adorable active kids. I could have spent a long time taking photos of them.

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Della Orrey — my talented musician friend and sister in Christ. It was inspiring getting to see her work at C3 Brooklyn. Getting to experience New York from a local's perspective was also an eye opening experience though I got reprimanded a couple of times for being too much of a tourist.

The talented    Mark Leubbers    at Le Labo in Williamsburg

The talented Mark Leubbers at Le Labo in Williamsburg

Chasing light on the streets of New York. The light and shadow on fire escapes get me every. single. time.

Chasing light on the streets of New York. The light and shadow on fire escapes get me every. single. time.

Interiors from the Guggenheim. I love you Frank Lloyd.

Interiors from the Guggenheim. I love you Frank Lloyd.

Shop visits with    Natala Nalata

Shop visits with Natala Nalata

It was wonderful meeting the shop owner and fellow Canadian in the city. The ceramic exhibition from husband and wife — Momoko and Tetsuya Otani was also a pleasure to experience.

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I am really getting into matcha these days and New York had so many matcha shops to offer. My favourites — Cha Cha Matcha and Ippudo New York.

Next week I will be heading down South to tropical Kenting for a creative retreat. I look forward to spending time by the ocean, getting my feet in some white sand and unwind from the last season of work and travel.

Till next time x

Pender Grocery: Artist Interview + Pan Con Tomate Recipe

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With its colourful interiors and sun-lit space — it is hard to miss this charming grocery store on Pender street. The smell of fresh baked goods beckons you in to admire the shelves and tables that are wonderfully stocked with Spanish goods, everyday necessities and organic produce.

Today, I sit down with Shawn, one of the three founders of Pender Grocery. Shawn tells stories of food in the Basque region, how he discovered his passion for through travel, and their vision to cultivate slow living in a busy city. For a moment in time, my mind is transported to apple fields, farmer markets, old Europe towns through the relaxed ambiance that the store seems to emit.

Tell me how you went from importing cider to opening a grocery store in downtown Vancouver.

A few years ago, my wife and I travelled to Spain to visit our friend Michael, who was the chef of a restaurant in San Sebastian, a city known for Michelin restaurants. Michael introduced us to Basque cuisine — we experienced the pintxo culture and ate our way through restaurants, each more interesting than the last. The experience shook me and there I discovered that I had a deep passion for food. It was a lightbulb moment. After Michael moved back to Vancouver, the three of us started importing wine and cider from the region and it led to importing goods, and the opening of this store.

Opening a store was actually a plan for us in the next three-five years. Luckily, we came across this space at the perfect time, and the landlord, who was hugely supportive of our idea, made us an offer we couldn’t resist.

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The sign on the wall and decorations in the store caught my attention the moment I walked in, how did the look and design for the store come together?

We are actually sitting in a space that used to be parking lot 100 years ago. The sign on the wall is something really special — we uncovered it when we were tearing down the walls to reconstruct the space. It is a ghost sign from 1906 that was covered up in 1908. We decided to keep it to lead the look of the space. After that, everything seemed to fall into place. Many of the vintage pieces here are collected from friends and family. Some favourites are passed down from Kelly’s late grandmother.

This is a very interesting location to open a grocery store, what is it that you hope to bring to the community here?

Living in the city, we are disconnected from farmlands and we don’t get to see how food is grown and made. We felt that the area was lacking a grocery store, and the idea was to create a Bodega — a grocery store for the neighbourhood.

Our customers consist of working professionals and residents from the local community. We want to cater to everyone but also want people to come in not knowing what to expect. We want to invite shoppers to take their time to browse, and to be inspired to cook.

Using ingredients from your shop, what is a simple and delicious recipe that anyone can make?
I love a good Pan Con Tomate — a humble recipe with few ingredients. Slice a fresh tomato, place on traditional crusty bread, drizzle with olive oil and add a sprinkle of salt. A good snack can be a can of conservas from the store — sardines, squid or mussels marinated in Galician sauce. Simply open a can, dip with bread, and eat with gusto with a glass of wine. A tasty high-end treat.


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Pan Con Tomate Directions

• In a small bowl combine sliced tomatoes, garlic, olive oil, salt and pepper
• Whisk until combined
• Toast the bread slices individually until golden warm and crispy
• Set on a plate and sprinkle with sea salt
• Top with fresh basil

Enjoy!

How to Make Totoro Rice Cakes — A Tutorial

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Before I go off into the fascinating world of Totoro Rice Cake's, there are lyrics from The Cinematic Orchestra - To Build a Home I must share.

It goes:

Out in the garden where we planted the seeds
There is a tree as old as me
Branches were sewn by the colour of green
Ground had arose and passed it's knees
By the cracks of the skin I climbed to the top
I climbed the tree to see the world

When the gusts came around to blow me down
I held on as tightly as you held onto me
I held on as tightly as you held onto me

Combining these lyrics along with my favourite Hayao Miyaziki film hero, Totoro. I can just about envision the fluffy cat standing by his acorn seeds, climbing on tree tops, and roaring his head off in furious grace for all who have ears to hear.

I am grateful that someone strung these words together into a song that is perfect for making Totoro rice cakes.

These discoveries lead to a certain kind of excitement in being a creative. Knowing that you possess a skill or ability to create something that resonates with the world. It is quite empowering knowing that I have at the tip of my fingertips the skill to command an army of Totoro's to life. And while this post is to share my love for rice cakes, I hope that we all find and pursue diligently that medium where we bring much joy to ourselves and to the world.

Here are steps to making your own Totoro rice cake, for you and for me.

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You will need:

Ground sesame powder
Cooked sushi rice
Piece of sliced cheese
Sheets of nori
Clean boba straw
Toothpicks
Leaves to decorate

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1. Mix sesame powder into rice for desired shade of grey. Puncture cheese with boba straw for Totoro eyes.

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2. Use plastic wrap to mold grey and white rice into appropriate size for torso, abdomen and ears.

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3. Trim circles of nori for eyes, nose, and half moons for belly. Insert ears into Totoro torso and secure with toothpicks.

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4. For Susuwatari (Soot Sprites) — roll rice ball onto nori sheet, soften edges of nori with water to shape. Decorate with eyes.

5. There you have it, Totoro and soot sprite rice cakes.

Photograph them on black.

Gift them to a friend.

Introduce them to your hedgehog.

Enjoy.

Photography + Styling by Sophia

Photos from Bangladesh: A Campaign with World Vision Canada

An afternoon on the streets of Dhaka

An afternoon on the streets of Dhaka

I remember my first day waking up in Dhaka. The world's most densely populated city with 14 million people—a city filled with blaring horns, faded concrete walls, the smell of dust, yellow curry and the serene calls of prayer five times a day.

I had partnered with World Vision Canada on their No Child For Sale campaign where we would visit area development projects in the slums of Bangladesh and visit communities deep in the country. Our goal was to gather resources on child labour involved in the supply chain and how it leads back to consumers in North America.

I remember visiting countless night schools, interviewing five-year-olds that worked as waste pickers on garbage mountains and meeting children with stories that seemed too brutal to exist. Along the way, I was also cared for by staff that treated me like family and meet people that were working as hard as they possibly could to improve those situations.

When I tell people that I have travelled to Bangladesh most people reply with "Why would you go there? It's so chaotic and dirty." or "You must feel super grateful now when you see the way people live there." Both are true and both are perceptions that barely scratch the surface of what is real and what it was like being there.

Mukta and Bhabna both worked as waste pickers at a very young age to help their families. Through attending the learning centre that World Vision partners with, they were able to learn skills and pass exams to enter the local school system. Mukta wants to be teacher and Bhabna wants to be a doctor. Both of them love being able to attend school.

Mukta and Bhabna both worked as waste pickers at a very young age to help their families. Through attending the learning centre that World Vision partners with, they were able to learn skills and pass exams to enter the local school system. Mukta wants to be teacher and Bhabna wants to be a doctor. Both of them love being able to attend school.

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Children from the village and visiting boys that work at machinery shops in Jessore.

Children from the village and visiting boys that work at machinery shops in Jessore.

Creatively, this trip really made me realize the beauty of photography and how it gives me the ability to document stories and be a voice for people that need to be heard. Along the way, I also realized that it was less about me fulfilling my creative vision but about being a person that cared more than taking a great photo and walking away.

I remember being anxious about how gruesome the environment was and doubting my ability to pull off the project. This trip really stretched that idea and my hope for these photos is to share snapshots of beauty I found in this country and translate what it was like meeting the Bangladeshi people in real life.

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Babu and Sabir, two brothers we met in Chila while visiting a group of porter boys. During our visit, Babu never let go of Sabir's hand and piggy-backed his younger brother from the bus station all the way to our shoot location.

Babu and Sabir, two brothers we met in Chila while visiting a group of porter boys. During our visit, Babu never let go of Sabir's hand and piggy-backed his younger brother from the bus station all the way to our shoot location.

To think that you can love someone you’ve met for 10 minutes and care for a nation of kids on the other side of the world is impossible. But I want to share that the Bangladeshi people I met there were people just like you and me. They are warm, they are welcoming, they are funny. They love, they get frustrated over daily life and they love ice cream. They don’t view their living situations the way we do but work at it every day with much dignity and love for those around them.

Tanya lost her mother to a remarriage nine years when her father was blinded during a terrible incident. Since then, Tanya works night shifts from at the shrimp factory to support her handicapped father and younger sister. Tanya lead our team in a terrific Bollywood dance during our visit and says she dreams of being a dancer one day.

Tanya lost her mother to a remarriage nine years when her father was blinded during a terrible incident. Since then, Tanya works night shifts from at the shrimp factory to support her handicapped father and younger sister. Tanya lead our team in a terrific Bollywood dance during our visit and says she dreams of being a dancer one day.

What I am trying to point out is that these trips have given me a capacity for compassion and boldness to talk about issues that seem better kept in the dark. The decision to go on this trip was to challenge myself and take on a project I believed in; knowing that I had to be prepared, to be honest about my experience and have the courage to speak out. Now that I know about these things, it seems quite foolish to stay silent.

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Visiting girls at the shrimp processing depot. These girls spend long hours picking shrimp heads in this tiny dark space.

Visiting girls at the shrimp processing depot. These girls spend long hours picking shrimp heads in this tiny dark space.

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Children we met at the villages in Khulna. These boys spend long hours in the water collecting shrimp larva that they sell to shrimp farms which are later exported. Every day, these children face the dangers of water snakes, floods and malnutrition while making less than a dollar a day.

Children we met at the villages in Khulna. These boys spend long hours in the water collecting shrimp larva that they sell to shrimp farms which are later exported. Every day, these children face the dangers of water snakes, floods and malnutrition while making less than a dollar a day.

There is a deep imbalance about the way we live in developed worlds and the way people live in countries like Bangladesh. After putting a face to these stories and knowing these people that can use our support, I believe that we should all do our part in creating change.

A simple decision can really make a great impact on a child’s life. There are children working in terrible situations and getting paid half of what they deserve because they are young and in situations that make them very vulnerable. By refusing to support brands who are not transparent about their manufacturing process, you might be giving a child a chance to go to school, to make their own decision in marriage and a chance to have a better life.

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My travels in developing worlds have taught to be more aware of brands I support as well as educate myself and others about transparency in goods we consume. To learn more about the campaign I worked on, visit www.nochildforsale.ca and see on how you can take part in creating change.

Toronto City Guide: 10 places to eat, visit and photograph

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Taking in the city from the CN Tower

The last time I was in Toronto was two decades ago when my parents took us on a family holiday to Niagara Falls shortly after we moved to Canada. I remember being drenched in my raincoat under the falls and the thrill of knowing I was in a place where everything seemed new and exciting. It was wonderful to be back and experience the city as an adult, this time accompanied by my camera.

Toronto was fast-paced, it was cold, grey and diverse. I stayed in the heart of downtown where high rises loomed like giraffes and everyone seemed like they had a place to go. The city felt a little overwhelming for a newcomer but the temptation to explore was far too great to keep me at home. I loved the excitement of knowing there was so much to see and enjoyed discovering the pockets of peace and quiet in a bustling city.

Here are a few of my favorite places:

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Eat

1. Baddies Cafe

The story behind Baddies is that Alex (the owner) found himself with the space after his dad passed away without realizing his dream of opening a cafe. Needless to say, that was exactly what Alex did. The words "You Beauty" written on the walls are favorite quotes from his dad, whom you can find in photographs on the cafe walls. The chia pudding tasted as delicious as it looked and the smashed avocado on polenta with chili jam reminded me of India and all that is well in the world.

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2. The Drake Hotel

I have always been a fan of The Drake General Store and was extra excited to visit the hotel known for brunch and quirky interiors. The chicken and waffles were delicious and meant to be shared with at least two friends.

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See

3. Art Gallery of Ontario

The AGO was by far my favorite place in the city with it's an abundance of exhibitions, the beautiful space designed by architect Frank Gehry with a little cafe to sit and watch the city go by. If you are an art nerd like me don't miss out on the AGO.

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4. Aga Khan Museum

I could have spent an entire day at the Aga Khan marveling at the architecture and reading books on Persian folklore in the museum library. I am always amazed by the intricacy of middle eastern art and the space is beautiful with a great curation of artifacts and modern Islamic and Persian Art. The museum is a trip out of the city but definitely worth the trip.

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5. Sugar Beach

I am in love with the water and look for it wherever I go. Here I found a peaceful corner of Toronto and stood here taking in the sunset, beautiful even in the cold of winter. I can imagine coming here often in the summer.

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6. University of Toronto

The interiors of the Trinity Chapel was what drew me to this location. There is so much history about the campus grounds and the university felt like another city to explore in itself. The campus is best to walk around with a local friend.

Do

7. CN Tower

If it's your first time visiting Toronto I recommend checking out the cityscape and nearby islands from 180 floors up in the sky. The view is breathtaking and the CN Tower is next to the Aquarium which makes it a great outing for families and children.

8. Ripley's Aquarium

If you love sea animals and fish Ripley's is your ideal place to visit. The stingray tank was like a giant lake and I loved the underwater tunnel and interactive areas where you get to pet sleeping sharks and hold tiny shrimp.

Shop

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9. SOUVENIR

A minimalistic boutique shop and studio on College Street run by Danielle. An inspiring place for the creative. The area reminded me so much of New York and here I found familiar brands from Vancouver and a beautiful curation of gifts and souvenirs. Queen Street is also a lovely place with shops like Old Faithful, Warby Parker, and countless boutiques. My favorite concept lifestyle store Mjolk Shop is just a little further away.

Stay

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10.  The Hazelton Hotel

If you're looking for a restful night at boutique hotel in Toronto, this is it. I spent an evening at the Hazelton with my sister and had a restful time. The neighborhood is beautiful though I have to say nothing beat the blueberry pancakes that arrived in the morning. The staff was very personal which made it a great stay.

Other than that, Ossington, Koreatown, and The Distillery District were places I wish I had more time to explore. The diversity of Toronto is amazing and despite being fast-paced, everyone seems very willing to stop and point travelers in the right direction. I felt tiny in the city but found comfort in discovering areas that reminded me of home and connecting with an array of interesting people. I hope to be back again.

Till next time, Toronto.

Story and photography created in partnership with Tourism Toronto.

Three tips on Photography and Styling

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I get many questions on photography and styling so I thought I will share some tips here with photos from a shoot for Scanteak Canada. Photographed at their storefront in Gastown, Vancouver.

There is no happier moment for me than being behind the camera, making something and bringing an idea to life. Here are tips that I have found helpful for executing shoots and styling still life.

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1. Research, location scout, chose the right props

I am always guilty of over-preparing but I take comfort in how research, scouting your location and choosing the right props go a long way. I look to Pinterest and my favorite lifestyle brands for inspiration and narrow each shoot down to a theme with a list of props. You don't need a lot to create magic but it does take practice and skill to create a refined look. Remember that imperfection is beautiful too.

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2. Look for the light

Lighting! Photography is all about lighting. Of course, edits can made in post production but it always best to start with a strong image.

I love working with natural light (I shoot with flash when necessary). I prefer to shoot by a large window during a time when there is no direct light hitting the subject. If I am shooting indoors I turn off all lights as multiple light sources can distract and change the tone of your photos. For cloudy days, I long expose my shots on my tripod (I use a compact Manfrotto). Good lighting will never fail you.

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3. Print out visual guides

If you tend to get a little anxious on set, a good trick is to sketch your concepts, put together a mood board, print out reference images and bring it to the shoot. It's very helpful having a visual guide on set and you will save time communicating to people (example: bring me a prop that looks like this).

Other than that, having a shot list, hiring an assistant to help you on set is always a good idea. And of course, take these tips with a grain of salt and trust your gut. Everything comes with practice.

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Thank you for reading.

Feel free to leave your questions or comments here.