Photo shoot: Jonny Blonde food truck

Back in early May, I went to Burlington to photograph the food that Jonny Blonde was putting together for his food truck. Jonny delights in using local product whenever possible, and sources his meats in the rich farming lands around Hamilton and Burlington. I did not know that the area mills more dry mustard than anywhere else in the world!

He launched his food truck this past weekend, so I’m publicizing my pictures that I took of some of the food that he’ll provide at catered events or on his truck.

I took lots of lighting equipment with me to Burlington, but ended up mostly using natural light coming through the door, sometimes augmented with a bounced flash, mostly with reflectors and mirrors for fill lighting.

Chicken skewers


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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:


 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.

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.


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


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.


I think I need to digest this lesson a bit.

12 days later, early spring continues

Sunday — I couldn’t hold back any longer. Many of my neighbours have already cleaned up their gardens, and it was so beautiful I felt I had to be out there, collecting dead leaves, ripping up dead alyssum, trimming the roses a bit (didn’t do the full-on pruning yet: it’s still too early for that).

We’re definitely about 3 weeks ahead of where we usually are. Usually at this time, I’m hauling a big block of ice out of my backyard water thingie for the birds. This year, there was no ice. Daffodils and yellow things: another sign. In 2006, my King Alfreds opened around April 24th. My previous mention of an early spring that surprised me was April 5, 2010, when I noticed the forsythia in Ray’s yard in bloom. My King Alfreds are all open, and the forsythia has started opening: Ray thinks it will be in full bloom for his mother’s 103rd birthday on the weekend.

As a kind of diary to record what’s going on, here are some pictures of various shrubs and bulbs in my gardens from Sunday. Today was cold, tomorrow’s supposed to be, too: let’s hope nothing dies back. Actually, I’m more concerned with food growers than my little garden.

King Albert daffs

King Alfred daffodils

David Austin

New shoot on David Austin’s “the Faerie” florabunda rose

Honeysuckle vine

Honeysuckle vine that twines around the wrought iron fence surrounding the garden


In the back garden, the elderberry called “Sutherland Gold”


Clematis. Good lord, the Jackmanii clematis is out already. I remember growing up in Montreal, and it seemed Art Drysdale was always on about how difficult it was to grow clematis. But that was Montreal, and this is now.

Lilac leaves

Lilac is coming into leaf, too.


Globe alliums are really mature already. They usually bloom first week of June. We’ll see this year.

Hans Christian Anderson florabunda

Hans Christian Andersen florabunda in the back garden.

We’re a couple of weeks ahead of my earliest spring. We’ll see what happens this year. I’ll keep taking pictures.

Oh — and I’ve applied (and gotten onto the waiting list) for an allotment garden at the base of Leslie Street again. We’ll see if I get it. Usually, one only finds out in June, and there’s a fair bit of weeding to do. I’ve got my fingers crossed.

Early spring on the Spit

The Leslie Spit is one of my favorite places to bike: I can watch birds, see what is growing, and sometimes, when its foggy, feel like I’m nowhere near Toronto, just out on a country road somewhere.

Sunday was clear and warm. There was a fairly strong wind from the southwest, which meant working on the way out to the lighthouse and almost (not quite) coasting home.

Here are some photos I took on Sunday. It was definitely the earliest in the year that I’ve gone out there.

Nice view from about half-way out: the red osier dogwood provides some foreground colour. There have really been huge changes to the Toronto skyline since I moved here in ’87:

Spitting distance of downtown

I liked this view of the cormorant nests. After a few years of them nesting in the trees, the trees die because of the bird lime. They look ghostly and out of place in the summer. In winter, before trees have started leafing out, they don’t seem quite as unusual. They almost look like stalks of broom, except the scale is four to six times greater.

Cormorant nests

 One of my favourite winter-time ducks in Toronto is the long-tailed duck. Soon they’ll be leaving, heading north and east. Unlike mallards, they’re relatively fearful of people and keep their distance. Very cute little diving ducks — they’ll suddenly disappear, and reappear on the surface 10 or 15 feet away after a minute.

Long tailed ducks

 I was really surprised to see a few woolly bear caterpillars on the move, but I guess the soil has warmed up enough that it woke them up. Hope they survived the onslaught of cyclists and joggers! If they make it, they’ll grow up to be Isabella tiger moths, and they’re not considered pests in either form, so don’t kill them, please.

Wooly bear caterpillar

But some wildlife seems more of a pest than other types. Some of the gulls are back, and setting up house on the spit, preparatory to mating and laying eggs and rearing their young. There are three or four different types that nest out here (and some terns, too). It’s why UNESCO has declared it a significant bird sanctuary.


There was one fellow off to the left of my picture with a big wooly microphone, recording the raucous keening of them.

Continuing my meander out to the lighthouse, I came across a woman feeding a pair of mute swans:

Mute swans

Within sight of the lighthouse, I heard an early spring territorial call. A male red wing blackbird had set himself a guard tower in a tree. This is definitely the earliest I can recall hearing one.

Male Red Wing Blacbird

Out at the end, I saw a para-surfer (para-sailor?) wrestling with his sail in the strong wind.

Para surfing

 For the bike ride home, I rode along the eastern path. Although rougher and more pot-holed, it doesn’t have all the speedbumps they’ve felt necessary to install on the harbour-side path. Oh, I’m sure they’ll get there.

I stopped to look at the beaver dam to see if there was any action. I didn’t see any beavers, but I did watch three robins flitting about.

First robin I've seen

I also saw some canvasback ducks in another of the internal ponds, but they were too far away to photograph.

Sure, I’ll get myself a 500mm prime to do that. I’ll get right on it.

Well, maybe I’ll rent one for a bit. My 120-400mm zoom is a bit of a soft focus.