Birthdays and Photography,

Today is my birthday, and I officially hit my mid-thirties. When thinking about such things as age, I ponder that the reason the blogging world on all topics is so huge is because my generation is struggling to hold the rapidly increasing technology at arm's length. We want to embrace just enough of it to fully bear hug our pasts, which when you hit your mid-thirties seems like it's rushing away from you in a hurry.

I will remember always that my Gram's favorite age was 35. Her kids (4 of them at the time, my last uncle didn't come along until she was in her 40's) were older and she could do more of what she loved: gardening, raising sheep and goats, experimenting with cheeses, wild yeasts and vinegars, and knitting with such productivity that I sometimes feel slovenly by comparison. She was able bodied and strong. I remember her carrying 2 water filled 5-gallon buckets at a time down to her animals when she was well into her 60's, and with nary a grey hair on her head.

I feel so much like her sometimes that it makes me teary. That the woman I knew when I was a kid and the woman I know her to be now is essentially the same, but I am not. I can appreciate my elders now like I couldn't then, and more than once my Mom has told me that she wishes my Gram was in good health now that I've hit my stride. When thinking of aging, I can only hope that I do so with as much dignity and grace as my Gram. She is now unable to speak, not really able to see, and spends most of the day with her eyes closed, reclining in a chair - but she has a memory that is long and sharp and no one has ever once heard her complain.

A few weeks ago I got an email from Easy Canvas Prints asking if I'd like to review a photo canvas using one of my photographs. I was really surprised actually, since I feel like I really love photography, but that my particular style isn't really mainstream, and maybe doesn't appeal to so many people. I have very limited equipment (my standard gear is an old version iPhone with lots of photo apps and my Canon PowerShot S5IS, which in digital years is ancient at more than 4 years old), and I have to exploit what they do best, like micro-photos. Fortunately for me, micro pics have always been some of my favorites. I feel like the world is a huge place and now that the Internet has invaded it is even larger, and sometimes strangely impersonal. Looking at something small and up close so that you have to stop and examine it appeals to me. You may not know what a micro pic subject is right away, but that's part of the point the photographer makes. That extra time required makes me nostalgic for simpler times.

I figured I'd consider 5 candidates of recent photos I've taken for translation to canvas, five that I picked for their appeal and their story to me personally, and 5 that just happened to be micros. I'll let you in on my process, and early apologies if I get long-winded...

Samco Radishes. I was hit hard by the radish bug this early Spring. I couldn't eat enough of the them, I couldn't wait for them to grow in my garden. I couldn't get enough of their shocking pinkness or of eating them plain or pickled. I took this iPhone pic using the Instagram app. My Instagram stream is private, but I upload some of the photos to flickr from time to time. If you are looking for watery pinks, I like the filters on Instagram a great deal. I am also a total geek for old canning jars like this Samco. I have a few that are very special to me, and likely this one came from my Gram.

Orange Liqueur. I think every year I will tackle some kind of liqueur using the proportion of the Rhubarb Liqueur by Deena Princhep. I read a lot of recipes for infused vodkas and brandies, but I am fully convinced that Deena's method of extraction by nearly lethal grain alcohol (a.k.a. Everclear) is superior. The flavors are pulled more fully, and develop better I think, and when you age them they morph into something completely mellow and amazing. This liqueur is coming along nicely. It bears a strange resemblance (albeit stronger) to Aperol when the bitter sting of orange peel is left on your tongue. I have a feeling it will continue to change as it sits. I took this photo with the Camera+ app which is probably one of my favorites for editing. I usually shoot all iPhone pics in it, then transfer them to other apps for filtering.

My Gram was a collector of old jars and bottles, but not really just for looking at. She loved usable things, and most everything in her home was not only nice to look at but was also functional. Except this old milk jar. The front of this bottle says in red script letters "Dee's Dairy", and my Gram's name is Dolores (she goes by the nickname Dee). Her last name is Mendez, and when she found this bottle with this milk tab stopping it up she never removed it. You can read a little more about it here, by rolling over the image to read the note. This was a Hipstamatic pic, and I liked the fairytale, float colors for this story of the bottle.

Kombucha(s). This was the second bottled batch of kombucha that I made. I was pretty excited, and bottled 4 or so different flavors out of first batches just to see how they differed. Now, I've gotten pretty lazy and like to just bottle a single flavor, usually whatever fruit I have around that needs using or jam which also works too in a pinch. I'm always envious of photographs that are back lit to showcase the color in transparent foods or drinks. This photo isn't really perfect, but it came close enough for me, and reminded me of the obsessions that happen to me in the kitchen.

Atlas Strong Shoulder. This was the image I chose to have reproduced, and it was because it embodied everything about photography: memories, family, technology and the aesthetics that I love. Strong shoulder jars are my favorite. They differ a bit from plain wide mouths, since they do indeed have shoulders that are a bit more pronounced. I love Atlas jars in particular, too - and this one is very old and blue and I don't preserve in it. I likely had taken it filled with crackers or something to my Parents' house and then we ate what was in it and the empty jar caught my eye in their kitchen. That is the green of last Summer out the kitchen window that overlooks the rolling hills and farmland where they live. It looks like a painting to me, the way the greens move within the blue jar. I think of the strength in the preserving, in the strong shoulders of my Mother and Grandmother who instilled in my the abilities to be independent and productive, to be strong and useful with myself, the hard workings of my Dad who led us all to the country, to his dream home, our old farmhouse. This was the image I wanted in my kitchen, and thanks to Easy Canvas Prints, it now is.

before: Sergio Mendes and Brazil 66

after: Atlas Strong Shoulder

This baker's hutch that stands in the corner of my dining room came from my Mom's kitchen prior to it's remodel with ample cabinets. It has an enameled worktop that pulls out which in addition to being an extension of my counters serves as the place where most of my photos are taken. A defunct flour bin on the upper left conceals my cords enabling my near-vintage stereo to work with my iPod. It houses my kombucha and currently my Bachelor's Jam behind sliding wooden doors, and teas and miscellaneous clutter hide cleverly on shelves behind closed doors. Though not in my kitchen proper, it is close enough and I consider it an essential part of my kitchen kit.

My canvas arrived the day before my birthday, a surprise that the Easy Canvas people probably didn't calculate but one that I appreciated very much. I was very happy with the color translation, and the quality of the print, especially since I chose a photo I took with my iPhone. The website is simple to use and the print shipped quickly. It even had hanging hardware attached so I could hang it immediately on the wall.

It causes me to think about art and what qualifies, how I personally am drawn to images and colors like the one I chose to have hanging in my home. It will stand as a marker for my 35th birthday and those things I felt when I picked it, should my memory start to fail me. Not that I'm counting on that anytime soon...


Today ends a year I spent working on a 365 photography project. I actually learned a lot in a year of daily photography. I learned that I do not like to be bound to posting pictures every single day, even if it only takes two minutes. I learned that mobile app photography on my phone is infinitely satisfying, even though the quality of the pictures isn't always the best. I learned that no matter the advances in technology, I am inherently old school: I prefer to frame up a picture rather than crop it, I prefer to get the lighting right up front than try to figure it out in post production. I learned that it's hard to say what I want in 17 syllables, but that the brevity of words makes no impact on my ability to remember the thoughts behind the picture of that day.

Photography is so deeply personal. Food photography is hard, because the gusto I feel for the food is never as well translated on "film". I really believe that anything is beautiful if viewed the right way, and of course I say this because I am no food stylist. All of my rejections from Tastespotting confirm that I feel my sense of composition is better than it is (though to be fair, they have accepted some of my favorite photos). Fortunately for me, as long as something tastes great, I don't much care if the picture is the best ever.

This weekend was long and rewarding, my work centered around food for a friend's college graduation party. I love making food for others, and this was no exception. I made a lot of different things that I'd never made before, including gluten-free cookies, and have a new batch of recipes for my arsenal. So to celebrate a year of photography, here is what I made this weekend, with lots of links. Hope you enjoy!

Purple sage.

My sage didn't come back this year, so I had to borrow some from my neighbor. I'm rooting some, and will plan it next to a green variety that I picked up at the farmer's market last week. This sage was fried for a sweet potato and bean salad.

Rio Zape beans: soaked, unsoaked.

Rio Zape and Sweet Potato Salad with Fried Sage and Pine Nuts.Link
I haven't bought pine nuts in ages, and couldn't believe their 30$ a pound price tag, but fortunately there were just a few tablespoons topping this off. This salad was in Steve Sando and Vanessa Barrington's Heirloom Beans book. It was just another in a long list of excellent recipes I now love for life. Rio Zapes are the older brother of the humble pinto. They are just plain delicious. I have a half pound left, and I think I may try planting some.

Ina's Curried Cashew Chicken Salad.

This was really good. I actually improvised the dressing, blending a whole mango with a minced ramp, some lacto-fermented mustard, cayenne and the curry powder. One of the best things about cooking for others is that I don't eat meals and instead get to taste everything until I get the flavors right. This salad is missing it's raisins intentionally - and I have a little bit of dressing left. I think I'll crumble up some tofu, add some raisins, and have it for lunch.

Peter Reinhart's multi-grain bread, made into rolls.

Alton Brown's Gluten-Free "The Chewy" cookies.

These are the first gluten-free cookies I've made, and I loved them. They are made with brown rice flour, and have a good earthiness about them. They got a lot thinner than I suspected, but were still as chewy as their name suggests. I may try baking them from frozen next time I make them.

Crostatas: Rhubarb, Strawberry-Ginger, and Rhubarb-Strawberry-Ginger.

My kitchen got so warm that the pastry dough was unruly. These still turned out well, and this is still my favorite way to use up jam.

Quinoa with Tofu and Asparagus (sans tofu)

I pressure cooked some vegetable stock last week after reading this, and it worked out pretty well. I also roasted the asparagus instead of steaming it, since the oven was on and I used a full 2lbs of it. I also used ramps instead of garlic. Ah, Spring...

I made a double batch of gluten-free crackers, and this amazingly delicious Walnut-Lentil Pate that was left un-photographed (but check out the Bojon Gourmet and her lovely photos). There was also 5lbs of pork shoulder that I cooked down with some tomato jam, garlic, onions, and other miscellaneous spices - kind of like this - but maybe a little different. My friend served a jar of "Smokra", and I think I'm going to have to can up something similar this summer. It was amazingly good.

Delicious, not Photogenic...

Sometimes, even the most delicious food can't help but render itself less than desirable when translated to photo form. Be it due to photographer error, or just the subject matter of the food, this is the reason I haven't had many posts this week. The things I've been eating are delicious, just not very photogenic.

These Anaheim chiles translated all right, but the finished dish not so much. Over the weekend, one of my amazing flickr friends was recently on a trip to New Mexico, and posted links to several very interesting articles in the comments to one of my photos. I got so excited thinking about the Southwest, and then remembered that I had an issue of Saveur from Sept./Oct. 2001 that had a cover story of the "Fall Flavors from New Mexico". Unfortunately, there is no link to Jan Ellen Spiegel's well written story of the Arellano family, who live near Embudo, NM - between Taos and Santa Fe. On an ancestrally inherited plot of 2.5 acres, they grow an absolutely astounding array of fruits and vegetables:
In an average year, they will grow ten varieties of tomato, 14 different chiles, ten types of potato and five of eggplant, a half dozen squashes, a dozen lettuces, corn, radishes, cucumbers, beets, onions, leeks, garlic, okra, asparagus, bok choy, mizuna, kale, artichokes, fennel, chives, dill, and edible flowers. They also harvest a dozen varieties of pear, most of them Asian, with names like chojuro, hosui, and korean giant; ten different peaches; five kinds of cherries and three of plums; apricots; grapes for eating and for making wine; several varieties each of blackberries and raspberries; and gooseberries, elderberries, melons, figs, persimmons, quince, hazelnuts, and black walnuts (they pick pine nuts from wild pinon trees).

As I read and reread that paragraph (which didn't include the 25 varieties of apples "hanging and the trees" and "espaliered on trellises"), I tried to visualize these "garden rooms" as Estevan Arellano called them, and tried to grasp the yearly work of a master preserver, his wife, Elena Arellano. This example of eating off the land is almost hard to believe. There were several simply arranged Arellano family recipes accompanying the article, and the one for Green Chile Stew was the one I couldn't pass up. Photographer Laurie Smith was able to capture the stew (though probably in a controlled environment with exceptional lighting!) in an inviting manner, and the ingredient list only confirmed to me that this was going to be a terrific meal.

I opted to take out my new Crock Pot for its 3rd voyage on the Rcakewalk culinary seas, and started with a frozen package of that grass fed beef from my chest freezer Sunday night before bed. It was a round steak, and bright and early at 7:30 a.m. I rubbed it, still mostly frozen, with ample amounts of salt, pepper and cumin. Then I let it warm up in the lowest setting of the wonder that is a Crock Pot for a couple of hours before adding a half jar of home canned tomatoes (the original recipe used fresh, but I'd imagine a 14.5 oz. can would be about what I used), and a couple of quartered garlic cloves. Meanwhile, I roasted 8 Anaheim chiles until they were blackened in spots before resting them in a covered bowl to cool enough to peel, seed and ultimately coarsely chop. When the meat cooked just enough, I removed it and cut it into large chunks and removed what little fat was on it (since it was a round steak, typically very sinewy and tough - not to mention a large round shape). I left the bone in the pot for a bit of extra flavor though, and added a couple of cups of water. Then I added a chopped onion, and let it cook until about 3 pm, when I added 2 medium Yukon Gold potatoes, scrubbed and chopped into 1/8ths and the roasted chiles. After the potatoes cooked, another hour or so, the finished result was complex for the simplicity of ingredients involved. And even more surprising, that round steak was tender and shredded easily with two forks, not to mention tasty! We added a bit of sour cream and Frank's Red Hot, and a slice of Wisconsin mild cheddar to the bowls for good measure. The beauty of this kind of recipe, is that you can add more or less of what you like, and even more or less liquid depending on your tastes. Chalk up another winner for the Art of Crockpottery!

I haven't made a cookie since December, so yesterday I figured it was about time. Since it is our Anniversary this Friday, I asked my Husband what kind of cookie he wanted, and he said "just plain M&M or chocolate chip, you know?". I do know, and also knew that the best chocolate chip cookie recipe I've ever made was thanks to Alton Brown. The recipe, from the episode "Chips for Sister Marsha", is genius. Instead of beginning with softened butter, you go full out and melt it before creaming it together with mostly brown sugar and some granulated sugar.

These are not healthy, but in my exercises in kitchen-related math, if the whole recipe contains 16 Tablespoons of butter and I got 18 total cookies, that's less than 1 T. of butter per indulgence, and I never eat much butter in normal life. Not to mention that the resulting cookie beats any NYTimes perfect chocolate chip recipe, or probably any of the hundreds that show up in Google searches. I used a cup of co-op organic bulk Sunspire "m&m's", and a cup of dark chocolate Ghirardelli chips. A dozen went directly into the freezer, where they can't find me, and the others are staying fairly quiet on the counter. My Husband not only ate one, but two! They are rich too! Hand sized, and non-photogenic at all, but I guarantee you after one bite, you too will be assured that you have found the best chocolate chip cookie recipe as well.

Monday morning, I had to make these little babies: Fudge Babies, which in no way, shape or form can be construed as good looking. A bite, however, and you will be as hooked as I am. I found the recipe via another flickr contact, and many many thanks go to Chocolate Covered Katie for posting them. They are essentially dates and cocoa powder, mixed with ground walnuts, but I had to add just a T. or so of agave syrup to get them to adhere into ball shape. Likened to the Lara Bar, which I confess I've never eaten, these remind me of the "Chunks of Energy" that can be purchased in the bulk bins at Outpost. They are so good, you can see why Katie emphasises making them NOW. My Boy-O and I can't get enough of them, and I'm keeping the few that are left in the icebox to discourage us from gobbling. I am actually finding it harder to resist these than the Alton cookies, and THAT dear readers is saying something.

So today, I had an extra egg white leftover from Alton's cookies. Their supreme chewiness stemming also from the addition of an extra egg yolk. A publication that won't be named (but click the link, and you no doubt will see it) since I actually detest the free subscription I have, had this recipe posted on the Editor's page, and I'm a sucker for any type of nut. These are mixed with quinoa too, which was totally intriguing. In the mammoth site, I could not locate this little gem, so I will type it for you. It's that good, it's crazy.

I made a half batch and used peanuts, cashews, almonds, pecans and hazelnuts. The recipe below is as written, with my notations in parenthesis.

Spiced Nuts and Seeds
  • 3 c. mixed whole nuts
  • 1/4 c. flaxseeds
  • 1/4 c. quinoa
  • 1/4 c. sunflower seeds (I used sesame seeds, since I didn't have sunflower)
  • 2 egg whites
  • 2 T. honey
  • 1 1/2 t. Kosher salt
  • 1/4 t. cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 t. cumin
  • 1/4 t. cinnamon
Mix nuts and seeds in a bowl. Beat egg whites with spices and salt and mix well. Spread nut/seed mixture onto parchment lined sheet pan, and bake at 325 for about 30 minutes or until deeply browned, stirring occasionally.

I never thought of adding raw quinoa to granola or other "nut mix" type recipes, but it's great! The Boy-O was gobbling again, and I actually had to put it out of his reach. I had upped the cayenne quotient too!

It was afternoon when I finished these and got them packed in jars, usually a perfect opportunity to photograph. For some reason, my camera is doing strange things. I consulted my manual, and read almost the whole thing. I also tried to access some live human help on the Canon website, to no avail. I am going to have to schlep myself over to a camera store and throw myself at the mercy of a clerk nearly half my age, I think. I don't think it's a big problem, but it is one rendering my photos a bit less exciting than usual. Hopefully, that won't affect the ability of the food to entice you!