Saturday, April 10, 2010

you gotta have a gimmick

Around the time that Steve and I returned from New York in January, I had a decision to make.  My Project 365 had ended on January 7; and the trip, which was keeping me shooting each day after that, was over too.  It was back to real life, where taking a picture each day requires actual effort.  As sad as I was to give up the fun and excitement of the project, I had to admit that I didn't really want to do another whole year of it.

After 370 days, I let one go by without taking any pictures.  By the time late afternoon/evening hit on day 371, I was feeling that familiar pressure to go find something to photograph.  But since I didn't actually want to go take pictures, I finally made the official decision to stop.  The subsequent days turned out to be a nice break from obligatory daily shooting, and as it turns out, I still took pictures for half of the remaining days in January.

I felt a little lost without an official project, though.  I settled for creating a photo set on Flickr called "2010: Year in Pictures."  I've seen other people use that label for their 365s, but I've been using it with my own, less strict rules.  Instead of taking a picture a day, I shoot as often as I want—at least once a week—and include one or two pictures from each of those days.  It's a much less comprehensive look at the year, but since I'm taking a few pictures each week, it's more inclusive than a 52-week project.  Multiple pictures per day also means that I don't have to make the difficult choice of which single photo to include in the set for a particular day.  Choosing between two shots I liked (or didn't really like) was one of the hardest parts of Project 365.

But wait, there's more...  I had so much fun taking pictures of our Valentine's dinner that I instituted a new joint project for Steve and myself.  He's always getting new cookbooks and bookmarking recipes to do online, yet the frequency of actually making new things has been relatively low.  We've gotten in a bit of a rut in recent years, making a lot of the same things all the time.  On top of that, his blog posts have been embarrassingly sparse in the last couple years—only three posts in 2009 and nothing for 2008 after an August post about our wedding.  (He claims to have many entries stuck in draft form.)  In any case, it was time to do better.

The challenge: cook something new every week(end) for a year, photograph it, and blog about it.  Steve does the cooking—often while I'm working on Saturdays or Sundays—and I take pictures of it.  Then Steve writes a blog post, which I proof for him, and he actually posts it on his blog.

As I mentioned above, it was our dinner on Valentine's Day that inspired this new project.  I had been mostly staying away from taking pictures of food at home after dark, but I always take pictures of the new dishes that Steve cooks for the occasion.  The difference this time was that I seemed to have found a workable way to do it and produce better pictures.  I used my tripod, set my camera on timer and shutter lock-up modes to allow for slower shutter speeds, and shot the plates on a white napkin on the coffee table.  For light, I used the floor lamp nearby and the overhead light in the living room.  It wasn't ideal, but it was the best I could do without real lighting equipment.
My picture of the salmon cornets was my favorite from Valentine's Day, and it was kind of the catalyst for the 52 Weeks of Food project.  I put it in the photo set on Flickr, but technically it's more of a "week 0" than week 1.

The official week 1 dish was lamb and beans from the Cafe Boulud Cookbook.  It turned out kind of "meh."  Something was screwy with the recipe, so it ended up with too much liquid.  The different types of beans were cooking unevenly too, which meant that some were still a little underdone when we finally decided to eat.
The picture turned out okay, but the meat looks a little dry.  Whatever moisture was on the surface had evaporated or soaked in by the time I got to this frame.
We fared better the second week with an asparagus and robiola risotto, inspired by a similar one we had the year before at Beretta.  Steve worked his magic, combining our memory and my picture of the original dish with some online/cookbook research and his usual risotto techniques.  It was great on the first try, and Steve ended up making it again a few days later since we had some of the robiola cheese left.  This one was definitely a keeper.  (Steve too :) )

Next came the week of the duck, this time inspired by a duck breast dish with prunes that we had at Contigo for Steve's birthday.  First, Steve tried a recipe for duck legs with prunes from The Zuni Cafe Cookbook.  It was okay, but not quite what I had in mind.  I wasn't a fan of the texture of the fresh prunes, and the bed of arugula (our idea) went pretty limp with the hot duck on top.
Later in the week, Steve made duck breast from One Spice, Two Spice and served it with a version of Gitane's bacon bonbons: prunes stuffed with goat cheese, wrapped in bacon, with a port reduction.  The duck breast was way too salty, because of a lot of implied salting in the recipe.  With the right amount of salt, it would have been pretty good.  I really liked the stuffed prunes, though.
And that's a long enough post for now.  Weeks 4-6 coming soon.

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