New prints for sale

Gallery wrapped canvases. These are digital paintings I created based on two lovely roosters I met at Roger Harley’s experimental Rowe Farms farm. They freely wandered about with the rest of the flock.

2roosters.jpg

These two prints are now available at my e-store:

Long-tailed Rooster and Short-tailed Rooster.

If you’d like to buy both, send me an email and we can work out a lower price.

Revisiting Goods & Provisions

Sandy and I took Gail for her birthday. It was very dark.

I couldn’t stay away: I went back, sat in the sunny front window, and took pictures to my heart’s content while I ate delicious food.

If you get there early, they’ve got buck-a-shuck oysters. I got a dozen.

Buck a shuck

Following that, I couldn’t resist the marrow bone and parsley salad. The salad provides a good counterpunch to the richness of the beef marrow: some pepperiness, acidity, and saltiness with the capers. Absolutely delicious.

Marrow bone, parsley salad, and Maldon sea salt

I ended up with some of their tacos — one of pork, one of ground beef — last week’s Gastropost challenge was tacos, so it fit in well with that.

Pork and ground beef tacos

The pork taco is on the left: it was sweet and smoky and had a bit of spice to it. The ground beef, on the right, was milder – the cilantro added some interest to the flavours of the meat and lettuce. Both of them benefited from a squirt of lime.

 

In search of the most beautiful Caprese Salad

A Caprese Salad is a simple thing: tomato, boccancini, basil, olive oil, and some say balsamic vinegar (some say no).

When it’s fresh, ripe, perfect ingredients, it’s the essence of summer sun and warmth.

 

Probably the best tasting one I’ve had in Toronto lately was at Lil Baci, which uses imported cheese, and it’s very creamy, melt-in-your-mouth, pairs with tomato in an awesome way delicious.

 

Because it has so few ingredients, it’s an amazingly graphic, sometimes architectural, salad. I want to capture it as pure art. I’m not there yet.

 

Here’s a salad that Sandy had when we were in Italy in 2005:

Venice_0063

 Here’s one I photographed a couple of months ago:

Caprese Salad

Here’s my photograph from last week:

Caprese redux

 I’m getting closer, but I’m not there yet. Need more precision in my salad building, either get the whole plate or no background, editing details, clarity, clarity, clarity.

Then I saw a really interesting salad at a restaurant Sandy was eating at in Italy last night.

Hmm. Vertical stack. Hmm. different types of tomatoes.

I think I will continue to work on this.

Ground cherries

…or Cape Gooseberries, or physalis — maybe it has other names, too. It’s a member of the same family as Japanese Lanterns and tomatillo — this is a sweet berry, though, not a salsa ingredient.

I took some photos of ground cherries years ago, but was never quite satisfied with my images. I came back to them this week, and took these two pictures, among many others. I still have one I’m working on.

Single cherry:

Ground cherry

Bowl full of cherries:

Bowl of ground cherries

Long exposures, HDR, and some sharpening. The bowl of cherries was shot at f/32, with exposures varying from 8 to 30 seconds.

Did I mention I bought a new tripod a month ago?

Spicy texture: making a Masala Paisley

I’ve wanted to do an interesting photograph with spices for quite a while. Something… different.

I wanted to make a design of the spices, and thought of mandalas, and then paisley designs. Finally did some research, bought a vector design on istockphoto and reworked it, and printed off the outlines in black and white.

Placed the printout under a sheet of acrylic, and then set to work with a bunch of spices, both whole and ground, that I bought over at Bulk Barn. Working slowly with a little palette knife, I started in the centre of each paisley, gradually adding ground powder and building up the design out to the edges.

After finishing the ground, I removed the white paper and substituted black foam core under the acrylic. I knew I was going to be working with round seeds, and didn’t want to risk them running all over the place with a last minute substitution of black foam core. Better to do it at this point.

Pink peppercorns, whole black pepper, cardamom seeds, cardamom pods, whole cloves… and the finishing touch, some star anise. I knew I wanted to use the anise, which I had leftover from another project, but wasn’t sure how it was going to work until near the end.

I tried 5 different lighting setups, f/stops ranging from 2.5 up to 20, and shutter speeds from fast to 8 seconds. Here are my two favorite images. Low light gives more shadows and texture to the spice (shows the palette knife chopping moves more, too). The light skims the top edge of the star anise and catches the cool outside umber tones of the pod. High light flattens the image, gives color the prominent position, and brings out the warm sienna tones in the star anise seeds.

Masala Paisley

Masala paisley #2

Sharing the info: getting the colour right

I decided I needed a few more photos on my food portfolio, so took a whole bunch of pictures of food I bought at the St. Lawrence Market. Most of it was pretty straightforward, although it required great care: I was using a mandoline without using the guard. Oh yes, it’s true.

A mandoline is sharp enough that you don’t have to race through things. You can take your time with the slicing. Especially with slicing asparagus. You want to use a leading hand and a trailing hand, and use them the way you would on a sewing maching: no fingers where the needle is, no fingers at the blade. Before, and after. Here’s the resulting pictures of the asparagus:

Flat asparagus salad

Now, that wasn’t what caused me problems. No, I had difficulties with reds and jpegs. Fancy that, eh?

I had two perfectly ripe Roma tomatoes. I sliced one, but it was too thin to be attractive. Changed the settings on the mandoline, and got some beautiful slices, and decided to compose a Caprese salad and photograph it.

As Guy McCrum, instructor of Food and Product photography over at George Brown College put it, the tomatoes looked radioactive. He was being kind.

Something to be aware of is that jpeg doesn’t do all colours equally well. I learned this back in the day when I used to do competitions over at Worth1000, but had forgotten about it. Until I had this perfectly ripe tomato. Yes, it looked even slightly overdone on my calibrated monitor, but when I moved it up to Flickr, it turned into something like this. I tried recreating it today, using the same procedure I used to color correct it initially:

Nuclear caprese

Truly, nuclear. The eye has problems figuring out what is going on because of the colour intensity.

Tried just moderately changing the color correction, but that just moderated the nuclearity a little bit. Still not an acceptable image.

Guy recommended I try adding a layer in Photoshop — convert the image to black and white, then apply that as either an overlay or a soft light to the original image.

What could I lose? I converted it using the B&W conversion, and deliberately made the reds much darker. Tried not to change the other colors: the cheese and snipped basil looked right.

Here’s the result. Slightly tamed, but still the full, amazingly red Roma that it was. Just not… quite so glowy.

Close-up on Caprese Salad

Initial planting done.

Planted on Sunday morning. Went down there about 8 am: not many people about, just me and the birds. Lots of birds in the birdhouses scattered around the place — diving, insect hunting, calling to each other in kind of a drippy tap sound (but not the same as cowbirds). Cornell’s bird ID guide tells me I’ve got tree swallows, which adapt well to boxes, but the sound’s not quite the same (hey, do birds have regional dialects?).

Raked things up, put the pots where they seemed to make sense, then planted, then watered again.

So I’ve got:

  • 4 Sweet millions (red cherry tomato)
  • 4 heart-shaped sweet red peppers
  • 4 Roma (paste) tomatoes
  • 4 early girl round slicing tomatoes
  • 4 San Marzano (paste) tomatoes
  • Swiss chard
  • 2 pots of basil
  • 4 black magic eggplants
  • 4 green Zucchini
  • 4 hot Portugal peppers

Plus seeds that I’ve kept in my ‘fridge for a few years:

  • Birdhouse gourds: I want to make birdhouses and birdfeeders of them. Planted 2 seeds each in 4 spots. I suppose I could get tree branches and stick them in the earth to give a structure they can climb. Was thinking I’d just let them wander all over the soil, but they might be safer from rodents chomping them if up in the air. When I planted soybeans, the local bunnies chowed down on all the fresh new shoots.
  • Mesclun mix: oooh, my own salad greens, guaranteed not to be watered with water downstream of a CAFO. Planted two rows, about 6 feet long each. Sowed the seed pretty thick, because I’m figuring the germination rate will be lower than when the seed was fresh, even though it was in a ziplock bag in the dark fridge 🙂 We’ll see if I get any to harvest.
  • Cleome: red. common name: spider lily. It grows about 4-6 feet tall, so I put it along the edge of the fence on the west side. The neighbour has lupins behind it, so it won’t interfere with them.
  • Lavatera: white. common name: mallow. It’s a pretty flower, a simple, clear, uncomplicated. Planted it in front of the cleome.

 

Here’s a picture of one bed: this contains the paste tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants.

Planted.

I’m hoping to pick up a few more things for ratatouille (I want to *grow* it!) at the Leslieville Farmer’s Market this Sunday morning: Urban Harvest had some awesome heirloom varieties of vegetables last year.

Initial Weeding has been completed

I’m sure that I shook a bunch of seeds loose from plants that I yanked, so it will be an ongoing labour, removing the weeds. That reminds me: one of the great tips in Square Foot Gardening was to fill seed holes with vermiculite. That way you can tell where something is that you deliberately planted, and sort it from the weeds.

Here’s my garden at about 6pm. Yes, that’s my bike back by the pine tree:

Weeding done.

My sorry looking rhubarb, which should have a chance to grow now that it’s not pinned underneath a wood frame:

My pathetic rhubarb

And, just in case you think everyone’s garden looks rustic, here’s my neighbour across the path (he gave me cucumber plants!)

One of my neighbours

One more weeding session left…

Went out there this morning, about 8:15. Started working where I left off, and got rid of as much of the dogwood as I could. Couldn’t pull it out — I think its roots go to Hades. While chatting with one of my neighbours, I commented that I’m thinking of getting rid of the wooden frames. They’re just on top of the earth, and the soil level’s no higher in them than outside of them, and weeds freely travel from one side to another. They serve as markers, nothing else.

He asked me how much I wanted for one of them — I told him he could just take it. He went back, did some weeding in his garden, and returned a little later with a proposal that he’d do some clearing for me if he could have one.

Hellya. He cleaned out (and then turned the soil) on the left-most of the three frames, and then I helped him carry it to his garden and we put it in place. It was great having the help. He found a few small potatoes, which I’ve replanted in the long skinny box, which is where I’ve also planted the cucumber plants I got yesterday from another neighbour. Oh — and a rhubarb was half under the frame, so it might come to life now that it’s been released.

Almost done.

You can see why midday is a terrible time to take pictures of a garden, especially if it’s full sunshine. The light’s really contrasty, and everything looks pretty dry.

One more session and I’ll have it all weeded out. I might do it this evening (I left my garden claw there), and I need to take a hose so I can water. The soil’s really dry, which makes it harder to weed.  So if I weed dry, then water, tomorrow I should be able to take a rake and make sure I’ve really got things cleaned out, and can start planting.

Mind shift

I bought some lovely fiddlehead ferns and hen-of-the-woods mushrooms yesterday at the St. Lawrence Market. When I got them home, I took some photos of them (along with some lovely oven-roasted slab side-bacon that I got at Witteveen’s).

Ingredients from the St. Lawrence Market

Then I made lunch, and took photos of it.

One skillet lunch

Redo

Today, I used the rest of the fiddleheads and mushrooms with dinner. Decided I wanted to play with the circularity of the ferns, and put pairs of shrimp on skewers. I barbecued everything. The fiddleheads had been precooked, so I was just trying to get them warm. I took the chunk of mushrooms and left it as a chunk and barbecued it — that’s a great way to do it. It gave some crispy texture to the ends, and it had rich, deep mushroomy flavour.

I sprinkled the shrimp with a little bit of paprika before grilling them: a sympathetic color and texture.

While I was taking the picture after everything was barbecued and on the plate, I started thinking about what is important on the plate. What is the editorial stance, and the focus? If this was for an article, the imagery should definitely reflect the editorial viewpoint. So I have one flat view of the whole plate (nothing is taking precedence: this could work if the article was about, say, barbecuing your whole dinner).

Full plate focus

However, I look at it now, and because nothing is dominant, it’s making the whole picture rather bland and boring. The picture is flat and documentary, but doesn’t really have an opinion about what’s on the plate. The lack of a garnish or unifying sauce doesn’t help it, either: just three static blobs on the plate.

This picture is about the shrimp.

Focus on shrimp

 The fiddleheads and mushroom are there in the background, but it’s really about the shrimp on the skewer at the front of the plate.

Hmm.

I think I need to digest this lesson a bit.