Monday, January 31, 2011

the roaring twenties

I'm not actually sure if days 22-28 were exactly "roaring," but it was a pretty decent week for pictures.

Beginning with last Saturday, we have a picture from the Noe Valley farmers market. Steve and I walked to Noe Valley, made a quick stop at the little farmers market, and then went for some sushi for lunch. We didn't actually buy any produce at the farmers market, since we had lunch and other errands to run afterward, but I wanted to check it out for photo opportunities. A lot of this stuff is available at the little corner store closer to home anyway.

22/365 farmers market veg

Sunday was new food day again, and I had picked out a couple of things from Avec Eric for our lunch: the Caramelized Onion & Gruyere Tart and the Caramelized White Chocolate Panna Cotta with Blood Orange Marmalade. (Apparently, I was in a caramelized sort of mood.) Neither one turned out quite as expected, but I decided to use the overly puffed tart—made with puff pastry—as my picture of the day. I'll write more about that soon, when I do my roundup of January dishes for 52 Weeks.

23/365 puff tart

On Monday, I replenished our supply of granola. I made full batch again, dividing it in half at the end to make two kinds this time. For the first half, I used 1.5 ounces of a Scharffen Berger 70% chocolate bar to make more chocolate granola. For the second half, I wanted to try adding fruit. I used one pouch—about 1/2 cup—of the "crunch dried" fruit that they sell at the yuppy-hippy grocery store nearby. It was the "Orchard Blend," so there were apples, peaches, and apricots. The result was more breakfast-friendly than the chocolate granola, but I still like the chocolate stuff better for snacks.

24/365 fruity granola

When the afternoon came on Tuesday, I had no picture ideas. I felt guilty about not being outside in the gorgeous weather, so I figured I would at least walk around the block. I saw a couple possibilities as I passed the little school, but I didn't go for them. There were kids and parents around, and I didn't want to be hanging around suspiciously, taking pictures. Next to the school, however, there was a nice bush of lavender. I dropped to one knee and snapped a few pictures. Most of my other pictures from the walk were also of plants or other random things, and I returned home not knowing if I had anything I'd be happy with. Then, when I was editing the lavender pictures, I slapped a Lightroom preset on one and really liked it. A little tweaking later, I had one of my favorite pictures of the week.

25/365 might as well be spring

Rather than look for something in the afternoon again on Wednesday, I suggested to Steve that we try a new restaurant in the neighborhood for dinner. I had thought about going to Beast and the Hare for dinner the previous two Tuesdays, but that's the night that they're closed. We ended up liking the place, although we ordered more food than we really needed. I took pictures of what we got, but I might not post any of them. It turns out, 6pm is still a little too dark at this time of the year for good restaurant pictures. Better luck in the late spring or summer.

26/365 beast and the hare

I planned to walk down Valencia Street on Thursday, all the way to Four Barrel Coffee, to get a mocha and spend some time reading Rick Steves' Spain. Then, I walked into Four Barrel and saw that was it pretty packed. I waffled a bit while standing in line and then just ordered my mocha to go. I had hoped to get my picture of the day there, but I only managed one shot amidst the relative chaos. So I walked back towards home, coffee in one hand and camera in the other, stopping now and then to take pictures of whatever caught my eye. The winner was the window of Paxton Gate, partly because the suitcase of shells tied in well with the trip planning. I got through the introduction of the Spain book and the section on Barcelona once I got home.

27/365 just the essenshells

Friday was pretty low-effort. A few days before, I had taken note of the fence at the house with the tacky paint job. "Fence Friday" is kind of a thing on Flickr, so I saved the idea for a Friday. I just had to walk a block or so, take a few pictures, and then it was back home to read more about San Sebastian, Bilbao, and the rest of Basque Country.

28/365 fence friday

Another week done. And now, on to the next!

Monday, January 24, 2011

the third week

I'm not gonna lie, this 365 thing is getting more difficult. Actually, I think it was only part of the way through week one (or maybe two) when the feeling of "darn it, I still have to take a picture of something today" started creeping in here and there. I began to wonder at which point in my first 365 it started to get easier. After looking through the set from two years ago on Flickr, I realized something: it never actually got easier. There were definitely days that were easier than others, and December's Christmas theme gave me some direction, but even then there were plenty of the grumbly days.

The secret for me seems to be going out and doing stuff. It's not a surefire way to get an awesome picture of the day, but it certainly doesn't hurt. I'm naturally someone who likes to stay home, so it's also good that I have a project to force me to go more places. Since we have neither children nor pets, there are fewer opportunities for interesting pictures around the house. It's best to save the ideas I do have for days when I'm too busy to make special photo outings.

That brings me to last Saturday's picture. I've sort of resolved to go somewhere on Saturdays, at least until work claims them too much. Last Saturday, it was the Ikea in Emeryville. I wanted to get some cheap dishtowels for food photos, and Ikea's looked promising. Steve and I took public transit rather than driving across the Bay Bridge, which turned out to be both good and bad. It was bad because it took an hour to get there via BART and Emery-Go-Round, as opposed to about 30 minutes by car. But it was good because I liked a couple of the pictures that I took at the MacArthur BART station on the way home better than the pictures I took at Ikea. I saw this skateboard just sitting on a garbage can near where we were waiting, so I shot a few frames for the heck of it. When I peeked at the LCD screen, I was almost surprised by how much liked the result.

15/365 outmoded

Sunday was a food day again, since I had to work and we needed our 52 WoF picture. Steve made carrot soup with dungeness crab—a nice local, seasonal thing we've been meaning to try. It gave me a good opportunity to try out one of our new cheap bowls and a new dishtowel from the previous day's Ikea trip. It's nice to have a couple more options for these set-ups; I was getting tired of using all the same things every time.

16/365 carrot soup with dungeness crab

Monday was one of the more challenging days last week. I ended up making a pile of the new stuff from Ikea and taking pictures of it in a couple spots in the dining room and kitchen. Most of those shots bored me beyond belief; this one was the best of them. I don't completely hate it, but I don't really love it either. It was good enough, so I went back to the afternoon's real project: scrapbooking wedding stuff from over two years ago. Too bad productivity doesn't always mean good pictures.

17/365 ikea-ware

I spent a couple hours on Tuesday afternoon sanding the trim around the bedroom door in our hallway. By the time I washed the dust off and was ready to begin the quest for pictures, I was really not feeling the photography at home concept. I halfheartedly took a few photos of various things before coming to the conclusion that I should go outside to find something more interesting. I felt I needed some sort of plan or direction, so I went to Ritual for a small (decaf) mocha. Between the shrub that I passed in the neighborhood and the wall of foreign currency behind the bar at the coffee shop, I had something to work with. I went with the money shot.

18/365 ritual currency

It was back down Valencia Street on Wednesday, except that I cut over to Mission Street to get some passport pictures taken. Mission Street is a bit more ghetto, so I didn't whip out the camera until I was back on Valencia, passing the more hipster-friendly shops on my way home.

19/365 shop window

The next morning, I was up early for my semi-annual trip to the big building o' dentists (and other medical types) downtown. After coming back down from the 18th floor, teeth all clean and cavity-free, the obvious place for some pictures was Union Square. And the obvious subject in Union Square, for me, was one of the painted hearts that sits at each corner of the square. They change every now and then, so it was a pretty good bet. (Oh wait, maybe I have taken this shot before... in 2006. Good thing the new one is better, because that would be depressing otherwise.)

20/365 a union square morning

On Friday, I went out for an early lunch with Carmen at Crown & Crumpet, a tea place in Ghirardelli Square. Our mission was to scout it out as a possible location for her baby shower in a few months. The food wasn't as good as Lovejoy's Tea Room, but the place was pretty cute as a whole. It'll be a good place to a celebrate Dan and Carmen's baby, especially if it turns out to be a girl. (There's a lot of pink there.) I think the party stork sealed the deal, though.

21/365 the party stork

As usual, there are some extra pictures from the week on Flickr, including more of the girly tea room. Head over there if you want to see them; otherwise, check back here next week for the latest batch of official daily pictures.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

chocolate granola

For someone whose blog posts deal with food more than pretty much any other topic, it's perhaps a little surprising that I've never shared a recipe directly in this space. That, my friends, is about to change—at least for this edition.

I have a set of recipes written on old school lined paper in purple Pilot pen. I copied them down almost ten years ago, around the time that I spent the summer living with my sister Bethany in Princeton. By far, the most weathered of those pages is the one that has the recipes for granola, Ghirardelli oatmeal chocolate chip cookies, and banana bread. While I've made the cookies several times, the granola was the most immediately useful during my college years.

My sophomore year, right after that summer, I started making granola in the tiny kitchen that was in the basement of my dorm. The beauty of the recipe was that it was so easy and required few tools. All I needed was a large bowl, a sheet pan, a large spoon, and some measuring cups. In terms of ingredients, I could get away with using just four: oats, wheat germ, honey, and vegetable oil. (It came out a lot like those Nature Valley Oats 'n Honey granola bars.) From there I could get creative with dried cranberries or dried apples and cinnamon. I'd sit on the little couch in my room and eat it by the handful out of a Ziploc bag while I studied.

Since college, I haven't made granola at all. I've been wooed by fancier goods like cupcakes, cookies, muffins, and breads—all those things I couldn't make easily in a tiny, borrowed kitchen. I had all but forgotten about that granola until I saw the chocolate granola recipe on La Tartine Gourmand last week.

I decided to make some the next day, but I wasn't sure whether to use Béa's recipe or my old one with chocolate added. Hers has rice puffs, millet puffs, pumpkin seeds, and almonds, among other things. I liked the idea of adding almonds, since they were optional in my recipe—I know I'm not allergic to them now—but I didn't particularly want to invest in packages of the other stuff. There's also a stovetop step to combine the wet ingredients, which is a more involved process than mine.

In the end, I took a chance and combined the two recipes, keeping most of the amounts the same. Both of them claim to make about 4 1/2 cups of granola, and it's not exactly rocket science. From Béa's recipe, I used the salt, vanilla, brown sugar, and dark chocolate. Otherwise, it's my recipe plus a little more than the 1/3 cup of optional sliced almonds and minus the 1/4 cup of wheat germ. I didn't miss it, and it's easier to eat this way.

Without (much) further ado, here is the recipe. I'm thinking about trying it with "crunch-dried" apples, peaches, and apricots next time, in place of the dark chocolate. Or I might make half each way, since I divide the granola into two containers for storage.

chocolate granola

Chocolate Granola
makes 4 1/2 cups

4 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
1/2 cup sliced almonds
1/4 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1/3 cup honey
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 tablespoons light brown sugar
3 ounces chopped dark chocolate (70%)

Preheat oven to 300 F and line a large sheet pan with parchment paper (or foil).

Combine the oats, almonds, and salt in a large bowl. Set aside.

In a smaller bowl, whisk together the oil and honey. Add the vanilla and brown sugar, and whisk until well incorporated. Add the wet ingredients to the dry, and stir to coat.*

Transfer the mixture to the baking sheet, spread evenly, and bake for about 25 minutes until golden brown, stirring and redistributing occasionally.

Cool completely before adding the chocolate. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 weeks.
(If it lasts that long.)

*If the granola seems too dry, you can put a little more oil in the bottom of the 1/3 cup measure, add a little honey, mix it up, and pour it on. Then finish stirring, of course.

Monday, January 17, 2011

only fifty weeks to go

It seems odd to start each week of this 365 project with a Saturday. I know it's because the new year did, in fact, begin with a Saturday. Still, it feels weird. I'll go with it for now, but I might eventually shift it so that the weekly posts start with Mondays instead of weekends.

So... last Saturday. Steve and I took a walk down Valencia St. in the chilly weather and had coffee at the relatively new hipster coffee hangout, The Summit. It's located between Ritual and Four Barrel, and it serves Blue Bottle coffee. The place was packed with the aforementioned hipsters, many of them typing away on their MacBooks or with their noses in reading material—for grad school, no doubt. We managed to find a seat and enjoy our mochas, despite the crowds. The style of the place is pretty cool, but I didn't take very many pictures there. The main thing that caught my eye was the collection of flowers on the bar. I noticed little terrariums on tables by the windows when I walked by it the first time, so I wasn't too surprised to see this.

8/365 bar flowers

Broadway Bound classes started back up for the semester on Sunday, which meant I had to go teach in the afternoon. Steve and I planned it so that we'd have our new dish for 52 Weeks of Food that day for lunch, and that way, I was able to use the same picture for 365 as well. (Work doesn't tend to be very photogenic.) The dish was a pasta with oysters that were poached in prosecco. Cream and chives were added to the oystery wine, and that made the sauce. It sounded and smelled good, but it was a little underwhelming as a whole.

9/365 oyster pasta

On Monday morning, Carmen texted me to see if I wanted some paperwhites that were stinking up her house. Someone had given them to her, and she was not a fan. I took them off her hands, figuring they would at least give me something to photograph. They are pretty stinky, but they've been okay in the dining room.

10/365 paperwhites

I thought about taking a walk on Tuesday afternoon to find my picture of the day, but it turned out to be rainy. Even though it wasn't exactly pouring, it was wet enough that I didn't want to take my camera outside. I settled for a picture of raindrops on the living room window, and I liked it enough that I didn't bother going outside to look for something else when the sun finally did come out again.

11/365 rainy afternoon

Tuesday's planned walk became Wednesday's walk instead, which was for the best. I remembered on Tuesday night that I needed to get a birthday card for one of my nieces while I was in Noe Valley. I would have forgotten if I had gone out that day. So on Wednesday, I went and bought a card, mailed it at the Noe Valley post office, and then I took different route back. I passed a house with some little pumpkins outside, and that turned out to be my favorite picture of the day. It was kind of fitting: a picture that clearly communicates fall, taken in the middle of winter, on a day that felt like spring. Oh, San Francisco...

12/365 confused seasons

It was back to rainy weather on Thursday, although it wasn't nearly as cold as it had been two days before. That didn't make me want to go out in it, though, so I consulted my list of 365 ideas. The mushroom "terrarium" (minus its glass jar top) stood out on that list, but I couldn't do what I had envisioned with it while it was raining. Then, a better idea came to me. Instead of putting it in (wet) grass, I could just put it on the window sill in the bathroom. I have built-in green bokeh because of the magnolia tree outside, and all I had to do was open the window to get a clear shot.

13/365 mushroom, mushroom

By the end of the week, I was feeling like baking something. I've had my eye on the Sweet & Salty Brownies from the Baked Explorations cookbook, but I don't have all the ingredients for them yet. I'm also trying to give us a little break after all those Christmas cookies a few weeks ago. I saw a blog post on La Tartine Gourmand with a recipe for chocolate granola on Thursday night, and it seemed like the perfect solution to satisfy my wish to bake and give me something to photograph. Granola feels moderately healthy and has the added bonus of being quick and easy. (Quick is good when you want to photograph it before dark.) I hadn't made granola in a very long time either. I had to guess a little, but I was able to combine my old go-to recipe with the chocolate one to make my very own granola that didn't involve buying too many different cereals or seeds that I might not use again. It turned out great, and I've been breakfasting and snacking on it since.

14/365 friday's baking

End of week 2! I'll probably post my chocolate granola recipe in a day or two—partly so I don't forget how I made it.

Friday, January 14, 2011

back to square one

If you've looked at my Flickr page in the last couple weeks, you've probably already figured out that I've started another 365 project. I finished my first one a year ago last Friday, since I started it a week into 2009. The rest of 2010, I took a respectable number of pictures, but there were several weeks when my only shots were of food for the 52 Weeks of Food. It was a nice break from the pressure of the previous year's project, but I ended up with fewer pictures of day-to-day things and fewer pictures in general. Most of the ones that I was really happy with were taken during our various trips, when I was carrying my camera everywhere and taking pictures of everything in sight. Without the daily photo requirement, I just didn't get the camera out as often. By the end of the year, I was feeling like I was in a bit of a photographic funk, unhappy with a lot of the shots that I was taking.
So I mulled it over in the days between Christmas and New Years. Option 1: give myself a lot of unnecessary stress by committing to a picture a day for the next year. Option 2: take pictures only when I really feel like it. Naturally, I chose option 1. Actually, I was—and still am—a little apprehensive about the commitment. I haven't forgotten how many days I spent grumbling about having nothing good to photograph. I also haven't forgotten about the pile-up of pictures to edit and post after every trip. With a vacation in Europe on the horizon this fall, I do worry that I'll have trouble keeping up afterward. But apparently, I'm not letting that stop me from trying.

This time, I started on January 1 to satisfy the old OCD. Day 1 of 365. (Eek.) Given that we had plans for New Years Day brunch at Beretta with Dan, Carmen, Rob, and Traci, it was an easy start. We got some dungeness crab arancini, a couple risottos, and a couple pizzas, but I picked the coffee pot picture as my official start for 2011.

1/365 new years brunch

Sunday, the 2nd, was pretty low-key. I put away the Christmas decorations while Steve worked on a truffle risotto to use the black truffles I had put in his stocking. I took pictures of the truffles and risotto, of course, but I went with the fox ornament and the bowl of "snowballs" that sat on our coffee table over the holidays. I filled the bowl the rest of the way with ornaments and then wrapped up the whole thing and stuffed it into a cubby in the office closet shelves. And there it will sit until next year.

2/365 fox in the snow

On Monday, I decided that it was a good day to finally go see Disney's Tangled in 3D, before it left the theaters. I really liked it, but I had learned two years ago that movie theaters don't necessarily make good photographic subjects. A picture of popcorn doesn't say much about a specific movie, and it only works once. Instead, I ended up taking pictures of funny wool animals in the window of a museum store downtown.

3/365 silly critters

For Tuesday's picture, I dipped into the list of reserve ideas that I had started. It seemed like a good time to take a picture of my main Christmas present before I started using it so much that it no longer looked new. Steve gave me an *emera camera bag this year, at my request. (I mean... It was a complete surprise!) While my Shootsac is still better to carry while walking around all day, this bag is better for instances like going out to dinner and seeing a show. I can fit my camera in it with the lens attached, still have room for the other necessities, and even fit playbills and Steve's iPad in the flat pocket. My laptop fits there too, but zipping the bag closed becomes impossible. It's nice to have options, though.

4/365 *emera

I saved Wednesday's picture taking for the evening, since I knew that we were going to walk to Noe Valley to try Patxi's, the newly opened branch of the Chicago-style pizza restaurant. I took a couple pictures there, but I wasn't really inspired by any of them. So I kept shooting on the way home. The wooden planes in the window of the toy store were my favorite.

5/365 toy planes

My picture for Thursday was a simple one: the two cookbooks I gave Steve for Christmas, along with the Post-It flags that we use to mark recipes we want to try. I was trying to figure out what Steve should make that weekend for 52 WoF. It's not a terribly exciting picture, but I still prefer it to some of the shots in my last 365. Progress.

6/365 r&d

I decided to go out again on Friday to find my picture of the day. My plan was to go to Off the Grid, a gathering of food trucks, and check out their Friday lunchtime Civic Center location. The objective: acquire a tiramisu cupcake from the Cupkates truck. Then, photograph and consume. Sadly, all they had left was double vanilla. I got one and proceeded to an open area in Civic Center Plaza to take some pictures of it before feasting. I liked the cupcake part, but the buttercream frosting was really rich and seemed a little bitter after a while. Next time, I'll go for a cupcake with a different kind of frosting. I have higher hopes for the red velvet (with cream cheese) and the tiramisu (with mascarpone).

7/365 civic center cupcake

That wraps up week 1 of the new project. I'm not going to promise that I'll do roundups each week, but it's possible that it will get done. At least it might keep my blogging more current in 2011.