BBM Apps Hackathon (+why social matters)

This a shameless self-promotion post. Blackberry is running a contest to win a trip to their BBM Apps Hackathon, and this is me throwing my hat in the ring. For the curious, this is the event. That being said, it will also be insightful about me as a developer in some ways.

Where does this story begin?

I have been getting more and more interested in developing apps for Blackberry. I already have one app that does kitchen unit conversion in Blackberry App World (Kitchen Converter). It gets decent reviews, but needs polishing in my eyes. My few reviews don’t mention the things I see that need polishing, and I think that surprises me most.

I think the most important learning I took from that app was that developing a solid base product is the smartest thing you can do. Put something out there that you are proud of, something that works. While developing an app, keep a list of all the features you think it should have and add those in after you get the base released. Nothing is worse than downloading an app (or worse paying for an app) that has all the features you want, but does none of them right. It is hard to recover from bad reviews.

How does social work into all of this? My one app doesn’t even have social, my professional work doesn’t involve social. But that is ok, some apps are perfectly fine without a social aspect to them. But these days, with so many people having smart phones, tablets, and other kinds of mobile devices, adding social to some apps takes them to the next level. No longer do you have to remember the name of the wine you are drinking, or where you put that guys business card. There are apps to do this for you. Those same apps then allow you share things with your friends. Had a great wine last night that you want your friend to try out? Send it to them with your app. Imagine sharing wine notes with your friends, all over the world for remote tastings. So much fun, wish there was an app for that. (Maybe there is?)

Another great use of social apps is networking. How trying can networking be? You know it is. At FITC Toronto 2011 they had a fist-bump type app so you could keep track of people you met. Two (or more) people went to the booth, bumped their tags and it sent them contact details of everyone you bumped with afterwards. (Check it out). While I didn’t participate in it, the idea was amazing! Such a great way to use social to improve a sometimes old school process.

There are so many other innovative ways that sharing/social can be used. I would give more examples, but the two left in my head are for apps I am currently or planning to develop. Nothing else seems to be able to push those ideas out for me to talk about.

But Rory, why should you of all people attend?

I could be glib and tell you that I should attend because I am a rockstar and all that. But here is the honest truth:

I have just started developing apps for BB. I probably don’t have the experience of some seasoned BB developers. And that is precisely why I should attend. Think about what I can get out of this experience. I have so much to learn, but also many years of transferable skills to learn with.

I have tried out Adobe Air development for the Playbook, even developed an app for it. That was a a bit of a learning curve. I wasn’t sure I would be able to keep developing apps if they all took that long. I had so many ideas but they were all out of my comfort zone, each feature required time to research the proper syntax to make it happen. And I made it happen, no matter how frustrating it might have been, I grew a little bit because of it.

Then I discovered the WebWorks platform, which was more my speed. After spending the last 18 years doing HTML, JS, CSS, XML and many other acronyms of development for the web, I felt right at home. I could conceptualize a feature and code it within minutes or hours depending on the complexity (rather than hours or days). WebWorks also makes my code portable. I can push it to many different BB devices. Once those are released, with minor changes it can be made into a web app and used on multiple platforms!! How awesome is that?

I would consider this a great learning experience, and it would allow me to learn as much as I can from the best of the best. I have so many ideas for apps, my only limit for pumping them out is time in the day. Having 2 days of expert help would definitely help me pump at least one of my apps out!

It also helps that I have one app on the go that I had already planned on adding a social aspect to, and I have an idea simmering in the back of my head that would be even better with BBM integration (actually until writing this post I hadn’t actually considered how BBM could fit into it, but now that I have it is being added to the feature list because it would be a kick-butt feature.)

Some other pluses in my corner:  am quick on my feet and I learn by doing. This sort of event is exactly what I need to take my BB development to the next level.

Given this is a BBM based hackathon this entry wouldn’t be complete without telling the world why I love BBM. There are so many reasons, but my top are:

1. It makes it super easy to share things with friends and family. It is built right in, no loading another app, no hoping the person has said app.

2. It allows me to know the status of things. I know right away when it is delivered/read. This is creepy sometimes, but when trying to plan a meet-up with my wife or pass along important information it is nice to have that confirmation.

3. I can write more than I would in a text message. Nothing like checking text message 2 of 2 before 1 of 2. Auto-send on signal in the proper order is also pretty cool!

4. I love that iOS basically stole the BBM idea and made their own, Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

5. Last, but certainly not least ,without BBM there would be no hackathon, and with no hackathon I would be stuck in the basement writing my code alone, relying only on myself to learn the right way to do things. I also wouldn’t get to spend a couple days in wonderful NYC!

There you have it my entry, almost feels like a job interview/cover letter.

To make things a little less stuffy, I will leave you with a quote from an over-quoted but long time personal favourite kids book:

“You won’t lag behind, because you’ll have the speed. You’ll pass the whole gang and you’ll soon take the lead. Wherever you fly, you’ll be best of the best. Wherever you go, you will top all the rest. Except when you don’t. Because, sometimes, you won’t”

Dr. Seuss – Oh, the Places You’ll Go!

No matter what happens with my entry, I put myself out there. Thanks for reading, and of course pick me, pick me! 🙂

The Queen of Hearts, Loved her Tarts!!

Hot out of the ovenSomething in the air got to me, it was a perfectly delightful crisp morning doing my Pranayama breathing exercises, and the day continued to be just as gorgeous. It didn’t get to hot, I was productive at work, what more could a boy ask for? A tart of course.

A couple weeks ago, and old high school friend posted pictures of a scrumptious looking tart he made. This got me thinking about all my tart fiascoes. I am decent at pastry related things. Even had a chef telling me I should think about going to school for pastry, back when I was still in the business. I have never had good luck with tarts, I fear the crust, which knows when you fear it.

I also have an obsession with lemon filling. I would eat it by the bowl full if I was allowed to. Again I have a fear of lemon filling, I seem to over/under cook it. I just can’t seem to get it right.

I decided that the best idea for this glorious day was to combine my two fears into one lovely

Nicely carmelized

dessert, to surprise Hayley when she got home. That sounds like a smart idea doesn’t it? In this case it actually was, the tart turned out good, not great, it needs a little tweaking and I did over cook it just a smidgen. BUT it tasted yummy, and the crust is very tasty. This recipe will live to see another round, I am thinking it will be at the family Christmas dinner I am currently planning for the family gathering in Winnipeg, MB this year.

On to the recipe. I grabbed this from Food & Drink, which has a good track record in my books for successful recipes.I actually didn’t change anything on this recipe the first time, because of the aforementioned fear.

Lemon Tart – From the Holiday 1999 Food & Drink magazine

To finish this one off, Hayley made a fresh blackberry sauce, it just added to the yumminess of this one!

What would I change?

  1. Use a little less lemon zest
  2. Add a tiny bit more sugar
  3. Watch the tart a little more closely when it is almost done to make sure I don’t over cook it.

Not many changes, and a successful tart. What cooking fear should I tackle next?

How the Cake Rolls!

Several weeks have passed since it was Hayley’s birthday. To continue with our tradition she dug through the baking recipe books and picked out the cake she wanted. The rule is: she picks the cake, I have to make it, doesn’t matter if I have made it before, or if i am even confident that I can make the cake, I have to make the cake of her choice.

mmmm sponge cake!

This is great for two reasons, one, she gets a fantastic homemade birthday cake, two, I push the limits on my baking skills.

Fluffy batter!

So what was this years choice? It comes from a lovely Williams and Sonoma Cake cookbook, that I wouldn’t normally have picked up, but it was $9 at Costco 🙂 It was a Strawberry Roulade. Which is a fancy way of saying, sponge cake layered with whipped cream and strawberries, then rolled up and iced 🙂

That is neither here nor there, this years choice was much easier in the end than last years choice of Angel Food cake, which tasted good, but was a minor disaster because it fell, that is a whole different post.

Now that I am done rambling about past disasters, I can happily say the only glitch with this cake was that I didn’t roll it tight enough (apparently I haven’t been making Sushi enough at home these days.)

The Final product!

This cake was made extra special as this weekend was the first weekend on the year that fresh Ontario strawberries were available at a reasonable price. So this cake was packed full with delicious local strawberries.

On to the cake. There are two different sets of ingredients/directions, one for the cake, and one for the filling and icing. I recommend being uber prepared and having *all* the ingredients for both measured and read to go as the filling is prepared while the cake is cooling, and you need to fill and roll the cake completely cools.

Sponge Cake recipe (
Strawberry Roulade Recipe (

So, I will definitely try my luck with a roll style cake again, maybe I will make a nice chocolate log for the big family Christmas gathering this year 🙂

And some for you?

For anyone setting up a kitchen :)

ok, so this blog is not mine at all. I read Trents blog (the simple dollar) on a regular basis, I find it very interesting, well researched, and most of all I find a lot of his post very refreshing.

A couple days ago he wrote a piece that I found very interesting, it was about setting up a Minimalist kitchen. I found this interesting because I have never thought about how much in a kitchen is unnecessary toys, or at least not too seriously.

While I do like the idea of a minimal kitchen, I also enjoy having a variety of tools at my disposal (ie my ice cream maker :)). But for those people who are intimidated by the kitchen, or those who are just moving out for the first time this is a great piece about what you really need to get going.

I promise I have lovely food to write about this week, even Hayley is bugging me to post about her birthday cake 🙂


Adventures in Ice Cream

So we are going through a ‘heat wave’ in Southern Ontario, in honour of this I am posting a nice cool you down recipe. There is nothing fancy about what I am planning on making, plain old vanilla ice cream. But I am trying one of the recipes I found for Philadelphia, or American Vanilla ice cream.

A lot of ice creams are delicious and rich, but they are a pain to make because it requires a custard, I hate making custard, takes too much time out of my day when all I want is some ice cream to sandwich between two delightful homemade chocolate chip cookies. In warm weather custards are also a pain because they require the stove on for an extended period, not what you want when you are already overheating.

What I found in the back of my ice cream book, which I some how missed over the last two years, was a recipe for Philadelphia no cook ice cream. The no-cook is a misnomer, as it does involve cooking, it requires that you heat the milk and the vanilla bean in order to infuse the flavour of the vanilla bean into the milk. But this requires minimal heat and time so I will let it slide.

Your can make this without an ice cream maker, it just requires you to stir the ice cream every now and then while it is freezing. It won’t be as smooth as a machine made ice cream, but if you like your counter space it is better than storing an ice cream maker.

The freezing device

(makes ~1L)

1 Vanilla Bean
375mL Milk
50g Caster sugar (I’ll be honest I use regular sugar :))
125mL Sweetened condensed milk (chilled)
250mL Whipping cream (chilled)
pinch of Salt

Ice cream maker
Paring Knife
Wooden spoon


  1. Split the vanilla bean lengthwise and heat with the milk and sugar, stirring occasionally, to just below boiling point, allow to cool, then chill.
  2. Remove the bean and scrape out the seeds, adding them to the chilled milk. Cover and chill in the fridge
  3. Add the chilled condensed milk, cream and salt. Mix together, then still-freeze or start the ice cream machine and pour in the liquid.
  4. Leave to churn for 20 minutes or until the ice cream has the consistency of very soft whipped cream.
  5. Quickly scrape into plastic freezer boxes and cover with wax paper and lid
  6. Freeze until firm, ~1 hour.

There you have yummy vanilla ice cream. While this wasn’t my favourite vanilla ice cream, it was definitely good. I found this one to be a little sweet for my taste, but I blame that on the condensed milk. The next time I am going to try to modify this recipe and leave out some of the sugar. Or I might get really brave and replace the condensed milk with something else 🙂

The final Product

Healthy. Junk. Food.

Lately I have been on a kick to take food that I enjoy (read sugary, greasy, or fatty) and try to make them a little healthier.

Back in April my wife decided to have a “Biggest Loser” finale party, her plan was to have the girls over and eat all kinds of junk food. I on the other hand thought it would be nice to stay with the spirit of the show and try to keep things as unprocessed and healthy as possible. I convinced her to change the plan, I put together a menu of finger foods (that appear unhealthy), and homemade mini pizzas, to which everyone agreed because they love it when I cook.

Oven Potato Wedges

For finger food, it was a simple choice for me, I love the delicious potato wedges you can get from pizza places they are yummy, greasy and deep fried. I set out to create my own version of oven-baked potato wedges. The end result was quite good, and I have used it a couple times since when I have a craving. The recipe is more of a suggestion than written in stone, the different seasoning really depend on personal taste.

Yukon Gold Potatoes (I used 2 per person)
Cayenne pepper

Oven – Pre-heat to 425F
Mixing bowl
Baking sheet (grease or lined with tinfoil)

1 – Wash potatoes and cut into wedges, I get 6 wedges per potato. Put potatoes into your mixing bowl.
2 – Add enough EVOO to coat all the potatoes
3 – Add in oregano, salt, pepper, and cayenne pepper to taste. I use a lot of oregano and a little cayenne. If you like them spicy use more cayenne.
4 – Mix well, until all wedges are coated evenly with spices
5 – Spread wedges onto baking sheet, try to make sure they aren’t touching each other.
6 – Bake for 30 – 40 minutes, or until potatoes are soft.
7 – Enjoy!

Your potatoes should end up looking similar to the ones in the picture, just make sure they are soft. I made these once and took them out too early, under baked potatoes are not appetizing. The one good thing that came out of that disaster is that I made them with my own homemade Creole seasoning and that was definitely a good way to do them. If you want the recipe for the seasoning let me know.

Enjoy your potatoes 🙂


Eat your way around the world.

So I recently discovered Anthony Bourdain’s show “No Reservations”. Hayley and I have watched the first 3 episodes so far and I am in love with the show. It allows me to continue my vicarious life, I would love to have the means to travel around the world and taste food from everywhere. Why did I just discover this show which is in its fourth season? Well because I don’t get the Travel Network, I find that $25 a month is more than enough to give me most of the TV I would like to watch in a given week. It does mean I miss out on some truly fabulous shows, but I can’t justify $50 for TV channels.

Ok, enough tangent. This show does also follow an interesting theory that anyone can practice, whatever you do, don’t follow the guide books. I’ll admit that in my travels I have eaten at some delicious restaurants that are rated in Zagats (Gramercy Tavern, my first love), but I have, as of late been eschewing these well rated places to discover the hidden gems. On my last trip to NYC (in 2003) I was looking for a quick bite to eat before the buses left, so I ducked into a sketchy looking cafe, which turned out to have delicious homemade soups, served with fresh baked bread. So never judge a restaurant by the looks (I do suggest looking for a health department pass/fail card though).

Since then I have tried to eat in one hole in the wall type restaurant on any trip I go on. I was quite intrigued on our honeymoon in Puerto Vallarta, they had these street vendors who sold quesadillas, tacos, etc. right off a stand (with a gas grill) on the street. The locals would pull up a stool and order, and within seconds have a delicious looking tortilla with all kinds of yumminess on it. They then keep ordering until they are done, at which point they pay. But the owner doesn’t keep track, it is an honour system, you just tell them how many you had.

The problem I had, is that I don’t speak more than 6 words of Spanish, so I was a little shy with sidling up to get something. But I have vowed to learn Spanish for our next trip, just so I can experience more of the food. This is the advantage Anthony has on his trips, he has researchers and guides and translators to help him out, to point him in the right direction. But even without those you can still find some great places, just look for the locals.

Sadly I don’t travel near as much as I would like to, but that will come with time I believe. I for now will continue to hunt around TO for as yet undiscovered by me places to eat.

Bread Baking!!

Out of the Pan

Lately I have been lurking on The Fresh Loaf and trying my hand at baking bread again. What fun I have had.

The following is my second adventure in making this bread, I tried it a couple weeks ago, it was most delicious and it actually turned out. My previous 2 attempts at bread were ok, but a little dense and not so flavourful.

What I am making today is a honey whole wheat bread. For this time I also tried out a razor blade to put a slit in the top. The last loaves I baked they split in weird places, and they didn’t look so nice.


Also, instead of baking 2 loaves as is mentioned in the directions, I made one loaf to bake today, then I made 14 little round buns and froze them so in the next month when I want a nice fresh bun I just have to grab it out of the freezer, proof it for a couple hours and presto, yummy hot bun for lunch. I will let you know how long to proof and bake once I have tried it out a couple times.

All the pictures can be found (here)

The Recipe:

Ingredients –
1 lb. Whole wheat flour
12 oz Hot Water
227g all-purpose flour (I used 300g)
1/4 cup milk
1/3 cup honey
2 tsp salt
1 tbsp dry active yeast
1/4 cup warm water (100F)
1 tsp sugar
1/2 to 1 cup all-purpose flour

Mixing the ingredients

Directions –

  1. Mix the hot water and whole wheat flour together in a bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and set aside until around room temperature. ( I let mine sit for about 3 hours because I went out)
  2. Combine yeast, warm water and sugar. Mix well, and let sit for 10 minutes.
  3. Add milk, honey, salt, yeast and flour to the soaking whole wheat flour. Mix until well combined.
  4. Turn out onto a well floured cutting board, knead for about 15 to 20 minutes, adding flour whenever needed to keep the dough tacky, not sticky.
  5. Your final dough should be smooth, and tacky to the touch. Form into a ball and place into an oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Set aside in a warmish place until doubled (about 60 – 90 minutes)
  6. When doubled, punch down and divide into two. Shape dough into loaves and place in lightly greased bread pans. Cover loosely with plastic wrap or a damp towel. Let rise in a warm place again for 60 – 90 minutes.
  7. Once risen, take a razor blade and slice straight along the top of each loaf.
  8. Move oven rack to the second from bottom and preheat the oven to 425F. Place loaves in oven and turn down heat to 375F.
  9. Bake for 45 – 55 minutes, rotating pan once for even browning. Once the bread reaches an internal temp of 190F or until a tap on the bottom of the pan sounds hollow.
  10. Cool on wire rack for 20 minutes then remove from pan and continue to cool.