Monday, March 28, 2011

the dreary dozenth

Okay, so "dozenth" may or may not be a real word, but it goes better with "dreary" than "twelfth" does. And last week, the twelfth week, was indeed dreary. It was cold, windy, and/or rainy pretty much every day. At least those of us in the city didn't really get the crazy flooding or mudslides of the Peninsula. We also didn't get several feet of cabin-burying snow, like the news from the Sierras showed. No, it was just bleak and rainy here for most of the week.

It started on Saturday, which was a work day for me anyway. When I got home, I went out with Steve to get some groceries. It was still raining as we trudged through the park, but Steve held the umbrella over my head while I took pictures of the flowering—and dripping—tree.

78/365 tree in the rain

Sunday offered a brief break from the wet weather, but of course, I had to spend the afternoon at work again. For lunch, Steve made a mushroom and fontina pizza with thyme, based on a Mario Batali recipe (with taleggio instead of fontina) from Molto Gusto. It was quite good, although the sudden appearance of the sun made the pictures come out a little too shiny.

79/365 mushroom pizza

For Monday, I had scheduled a little photo shoot for a friend of a friend. Lydia had seen the pictures I took for Marion's website and wanted me to take some of her acupuncture office. I shot quite a few pictures there, but my favorite was the one of ranunculus in front of her Chinese herbs.

80/365 flowers & herbs

On Tuesday, it was more intermittent rain. I had some errands I needed to run in Noe Valley, but the rain showers kept coming, even while the Weather Channel website's hourly forecast said there shouldn't be any. That was enough to make me not want to leave the house.

While I was making lunch, I took a quick picture of the robiola cheese that I was putting on my asparagus risotto leftovers. Not the most exciting picture, but the cheese knife and the textures of the parchment paper and cheese itself added some interest. Good enough!

81/365 delicious robiola

I did need to get my Noe Valley stuff done on Wednesday, though. Somehow, I managed to walk to Noe Valley and back between rainy spells. I've gone there so many times during each of my 365 projects that I tend not to take a whole bunch of pictures anymore when I go. This time, I took three: tulips by someone's house on the way, flowers in a planter, and signs in a bin in front of an antique shop. (Mind you, I still took multiple shots of each to make sure I got one that was in focus.) I decided that the antique signs were the most interesting, but I post the two flower pictures to Flickr as well.

82/365 bonjour

Thursday was the worst day for the rain; it was almost constant between about 6am and 5pm. I wandered the house a little in the morning, shooting a few things, but I didn't get any pictures I liked. In the afternoon, I went back and reused the concept from my day 11 picture: shoot through a rainy window, focusing on the water drops. I used the other side of the living room window, so at least the view was different this time. The guy walking down the alley at the moment didn't hurt either.

83/365 if the rain must fall

Finally, Friday seemed like it was going to stay dry for a while. I needed to get out of the house again, so I made my third attempt at reading Rick Steves' Italy while drinking coffee somewhere on Valencia Street. Four Barrel had been a zoo when I went in January, Ritual had been crowded when I tried in February, but Borderlands Cafe worked out rather well this time. Located next to a sci-fi bookstore, and owned by the same people, it doesn't have the hipster vibe of those other places. There's no Wi-Fi and no loud music. In fact, it was downright quiet when I was there. And most importantly, there were seats open. My mocha wasn't as good as the ones those other places make, but I would still go back to read some more. I just might try the chai instead.

After finishing my mocha and my chapter on Venice, I risked conspicuousness and took a couple pictures of the postcard rack. Good luck finding those at Ritual or Four Barrel.

84/365 the gay bandit of the border

Week 13 is looking much more promising in the weather department. Maybe real spring is arriving!

Monday, March 21, 2011

cue springtime

Week 11 of Project 365 began with more food related photos. I just can't stay away.

I didn't have to work on Saturday, but I couldn't think of anything very exciting that I wanted to do. I ended up just going with Steve to get ingredients for that night's dinner and Sunday's lunch. The main stop was at Sun Fat to get a couple Dungeness crabs. While Steve was paying for our two, I took a picture of this guy in the tank.

71/365 crab on crab action

We had carrot soup with crab for dinner on Saturday, but on Sunday we finally made the Crab & Asparagus Linguine from Jamie Oliver's Cook with Jamie. (Very similar recipe can be found here. The main difference is that ours had shaved fennel in it too.) I spent a while actually styling this plate, twirling pasta and asparagus around a fork and placing it in neat little nests; then topping the whole thing with more crab, peppers, and fennel tops. I also set up a more composed, vertical shot with some of those components in the background, but I liked the simplicity of this one better.

72/365 asparagus & crab linguine

On Monday, I spent some time making Meyer Lemon Ricotta Cookies. Thankfully, daylight savings time had begun the day before, so I wasn't in as much of a rush to finish them before dark. It took a while to bake and glaze them all, and I was still doing the last of the glazing when Steve got home from work. They turned out really well—kind of light and cakey like madeleines, but with a nice lemony flavor.

73/365 lemony snickets

The next day, I decided that it was time to try taking a picture of the blossoming tree across the street. I had noticed it for the first time during my 365 two years ago, but that day's picture ended up being one of a neighborhood cat who showed up while I was taking pictures of the tree. This time, a different neighborhood cat appeared. Of course, I went to pet her and attempted to take some pictures of her. Only one of those amounted to much, so I decided to go with the blossoms for this 365.

74/365 blossom time

Wednesday was one of our season ticket-mandated date nights. We went to see Rock of Ages at the Curran. The show itself was pretty cheesy, but at least it was entertaining. Dinner before that was at Gitane, and it was wonderful. We've been there a handful of times, usually before shows, and it's always good. They do kind of Basque-Mediterranean food. I took a few pictures inside, including of our bastilla (savory-sweet chicken in pastry) and our beignets, but my favorite shot was of their sign against the brick wall. I didn't have to crank up the ISO so much for that one.

75/365 gitane

St. Patrick's Day on Thursday was an easy one. I had been noting clover in various places around the neighborhood over the last few weeks, so I just had to find the most interesting spot. The park by the house had several of them, and we happened to be walking through it on the way to the Grant Achatz and Nick Kokonas booksigning at Omnivore Books that evening. So I got my clover pictures, and we got to meet the chef and the managing partner of Alinea! I took a picture of them with Steve too; they seemed really cool.

76/365 st. patrick's day

Friday was mostly rainy. I took a picture in the morning of the dining room table in the gloomy light and didn't pick up my camera that afternoon, figuring I'd just use that. Then, Steve brought home some flowers, so I took some pictures of those to use instead.

77/365 freesia

It's sunny right now, but more rain is forecasted here for this week. I'm hoping it won't cramp my style too much.

Monday, March 14, 2011

the tenth week

Time again for another edition of the Project 365 weekly roundup.

We begin with last Saturday. I dragged Steve with me to the Conservatory of Flowers in Golden Gate Park to see the Garden Railway exhibit before it ended. As usual, I took lots and lots of pictures of flowers and of the little San Francisco landmarks in the train exhibit. More than a week later, there are still a few pictures I haven't posted to Flickr, but I'm not sure that's going to happen.

After that, we drove to the Richmond to check out Kamei Restaurant Supply. I had gotten the tip at the food photography workshop the week before that Kamei was a good place to get single pieces of dinnerware to use as props. We came away with several plates and utensils, as well as some things Steve needed, all for a pretty reasonable price. And with 4 minutes to spare on our parking meter.

But pictures of that stuff didn't happen until later. The official picture of the day is one of the few in-focus shots that I was able to get of the train in the Garden Railway exhibit, whilst it was moving.

64/365 garden railway

On Sunday, we had mini tiramisu for breakfast. That was our first time using our new Weck jars, and they worked really well for the single serving portions. Now I keep looking up recipes online for puddings, parfaits, and verrines so we can use them more.

65/365 tiramisu jars

Monday turned into a day of organizing. After Saturday's little spree, I had finally acquired enough props for food photography that I needed an official place to put them. So I cleaned out one of those big Rubbermaid tubs and piled in my linens, dishes, utensils, etc. From there, I got inspired to clean out our silverware drawer and get rid of things we never use. Then, I got the idea for my picture of the day, using the small wooden spoons and "whisklettes" that I had gotten on Saturday. I spent a while standing on a chair, leaning over the kitchen table, trying to get directly above my plate of utensils to take a straight shot. Once I was satisfied, it all got packed into the Rubbermaid with the rest of my stuff.

66/365 big spoon, little spoon, big whisk, little whisk

The next day was Fat Tuesday, and while I've never celebrated Lent, I figured it was a good day to get a donut. I arrived at Dynamo Donuts before 2:30pm, and I got the very last donut of the day. Luckily, Ginger Orange was one of the flavors I was hoping for. They gave it to me for $1, since it was the display donut, and I went on my merry way to eat it at the park/playground nearby.

67/365 fat tuesday

Ash Wednesday followed, and while other people were getting ash put on their foreheads, I went and got a facial. I didn't realize the irony until I was on the BART train on my way to Marion's spa. Anyway, my facial at Ensoma was lovely and relaxing, and I got my picture of the day in the form of the magazines laid out on the chaise lounge.

68/365 at ensoma

I didn't know what I was going to do for Thursday's picture, but then Carmen texted me and suggested that we do a little photo shoot. I had been wanting to take some pictures of her growing belly, as well as some of her with the cute umbrella Steve and I got her for her birthday. It was wet outside, but not actually raining much, so it turned out to be the perfect opportunity. We shot some pictures in the alley and in the park nearby, making good use of the umbrella and the swings in the park. The winner for the day, however, was Carmen's baby bump with cute shoes in the background. It even made Flickr's Explore!

69/365 niece in progress

Friday was pizza night, and Steve and I went out to Pi Bar. Steve got his favorite beer, Moonlight Death & Taxes, and I got my favorite pomegranate cider. After the news of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan the night before, everyone seemed glad to get out and chill. It got busy by the time we had finished eating, but with a few kids around, Pi Bar had a nice neighborhood feel that Friday evening.

70/365 death & taxes

Well, on to the next week. Let's hope that this one ends better than the last. No more natural disasters for a while, please.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

end of 52 weeks

Finally, a post to wrap up the 52 Weeks of Food project. Only two weeks to cover, but Valentine's Day was a big one.

The next to last week was Superbowl Sunday. Steve and I were going to do something with crab, but we made a last minute decision to do something that didn't involve an extra trip to the fish monger on Saturday afternoon. Instead, I pulled out Heidi Swanson's Super Natural Cooking and quickly found this recipe for Spring Minestrone with Brown Rice.

soupand bowl sunday

This soup was a nice mix of green vegetables (peas, snap peas, asparagus), broth, and brown rice. We had it again later that week, adding some mushrooms, and then I ate the leftovers without the broth. A little robiola cheese on top, leftover from a different meal, made a nice variation.

Then it was Valentine's Day again. This whole project really started with Valentine's Day last year, although I didn't count it as week 1. I was inspired by how much fun I had taking pictures of the fancy food that Steve made, and I was impressed that I could manage halfway decent shots at night with a white napkin, a tripod, and regular lights in my living room. I moved away from using that set-up around week 6, as I started to favor natural daylight and got lazy about setting up the tripod, but I had little choice when Valentine's Day came around again. Steve finished cooking after dark, so I got out the old white napkin and tripod combo.

Our first course of the evening was the Lobster Cappuccino from Eric Ripert's On the Line. This was a recipe that we had bookmarked in our mad search for truffle recipes around New Year's. Because Steve was able to preserve and freeze what was left of our truffles after the truffle risotto on January 2, we had some to grate on top of this dish on Valentine's Day. The rest of the "cappuccino" was made from a pretty simple celeriac (celery root) soup, with lobster in the bottom and lobster foam on top. We ended up a little short on the foam, so rather than a solid layer across the top like a proper cappuccino, we had to settle for a dollop in the middle. The foam on the serving that I used for the picture settled a little oddly, but I decided later that it looked like an upside-down heart.

lobster cappuccino

I'm not sure what I was expecting with this recipe, but I think the lobster cappuccino exceeded both of our expectations. It was just really good. There was something about the combination of the celeriac and the lobster that just worked. It was a surprisingly good substitute for our usual first course of French Laundry "Oysters & Pearls," despite its lack of caviar and oysters.

Next came more lobster. I've grown to love lobster, and I definitely wanted some for Valentine's Day. I didn't really think about the lobster in the bottom of the cappuccino, so I requested something lobster-y for our main course as well. We seem to have made all of the lobster recipes from The French Laundry Cookbook, so I thought it was time to revisit the Lobster "Mac & Cheese."

lobster mac n' cheese

Steve made this back in 2007, but I wasn't the biggest fan back then. It was a little on the soupy side, and I don't think I appreciated the lobster enough yet. This time, the orzo mac & cheese turned out better, and I liked the whole thing more. I still prefer the leeky-beet lobster and the figgy-foie lobster, but I was glad that we gave this recipe another try. The only problem with it was that we were starting to get lobstered out by the end. Surprising, but true. Between the lobster cappuccino and this, there was a lot of rich and creamy going on in the meal.

For our dessert, Steve made the Tiramisushi from Elizabeth Falkner's Demolition Desserts. This was actually one of the runner-up choices for our Valentine's Day dessert in 2008—the first year Steve cooked for us at home. It's a chocolate cake roll with mascarpone-marsala filling, served with mocha rum dipping sauce, biscotti chopsticks, shaved bosc pear for the "ginger," and freshly grated ginger for the "wasabi."


It was even better than I anticipated. I actually had some of the ginger "wasabi" too. I never touch real wasabi on sushi plates, but a tiny bit of the fresh ginger gave the rolls a nice kick every so often and went well with the chocolate. The biscotti chopsticks and the pear also provided some variety, as well as more options of things to dip in the mocha rum sauce. With all those components, it felt suitably fancy for Valentine's Day.

And with that, 52 Weeks of Food was over. I went the Tiramisushi picture as the last official shot, since it seemed fitting to finish with dessert.

Here are some of the highlights of the project.

I'm really glad we did this. Steve didn't do so well with the blogging aspect himself, but he definitely held up his end of the deal with the cooking. We tried a lot of new recipes from our cookbook collection, and we checked off several of the recipes that we had bookmarked online. There were lots of risottos and pastas, but also several soups, salads, pizzas, and some other memorable things. Perhaps most importantly, we found some winners to add to our regular rotation. There are about 16 dishes out of the project that we've done again since.

Asparagus risotto is always good when it's in season and when we can get to a cheese store to pick up some robiola. That, along with its inspiration at Beretta, got me to like asparagus, after many years of refusing to eat it. Likewise, I started to enjoy peas after having fresh ones in the Penne alla Papalina and the Minted English Pea Soup with Lobster and Orange. When it's pea season again, I'm looking forward to more of that soup, but we'll have frozen peas in Penne alla Papalina in the meantime.

We've also had the Lamb Kofta Kebabs, nicknamed "Lambie-kins," a few times since May.  And when zucchini comes back, I'll happily eat some more of the Pennette with Summer Squash & Ricotta.

In the summer, we ate the aptly named Summertime Lasagna several times, and I adopted the Summertime Linguini as a go-to lunch to make for myself—when there weren't leftovers to eat, of course. Then came my fig phase. First, we had them in a salad with prosciutto, a few weeks later was the Fig-Stuffed Pork Loin, and finally there was the Figgy-Foie Lobster—my favorite of all.

Fall brought several dishes with mushrooms, which I finally knew were not an allergen for me. Then, in the pasta category, we gained the Bacon Mac & Cheese and the Ditaloni with Mussels and White Wine, both of which we've had for dinner in the past week.

The winter's biggest discoveries had to do with carrots, of all things. After making Jamie Oliver's Roast Carrot & Avocado Salad, we decided to make the same carrots as part of a roast vegetable mix for Christmas dinner. And after the holidays, we had the Carrot Soup with Dungeness Crab. While it wasn't quite perfect, a few tweaks made it nearly so when Steve made it again.

Overall, I think my food photos have improved over the last year too. There's only a handful that I feel like I really nailed, but I'm happy with the set as a whole. I'm starting to branch out a little now with composition and props, so we'll see how it goes this year. Steve and I plan to keep making and photographing new things each week, although we won't be as strict about it. Desserts and breakfasts will count, and we'll most likely miss a few weeks when we go to Chicago (in May) and Europe (in the fall). Meanwhile, it's helping me fill up some of the days for my Project 365.

Monday, March 7, 2011

a pretty good week

Another week of Project 365 to recap. This was week 9.

On the last Saturday in February, I braved the chilly weather and went to a food photography workshop downtown at Digital Media Playground. Danielle Tsi went through some of the basics with us, and then she turned us loose to take some pictures. Assignment 1: concentrate on light. Assignment 2: style some ugly food (guacamole). My favorite picture of the day was from the first assignment—mandarin oranges (or tangelos or something) on a napkin that I had actually been looking at the last couple times I visited Anthropologie. It was nice to play with someone else's props for a change, and the combination of green and orange appealed to me.

57/365 citron

After Saturday's workshop, I was eager to take some more food pictures. I felt like I had learned some new ideas by the end of the class, but I hadn't really gotten the chance to try again and put them to use. Sunday's picture of the day gave me that opportunity. Steve made us some lemon ricotta pancakes from Smitten Kitchen for breakfast; I had been craving them since our brunch at Plow. That also gave me the chance to use one of the new napkins I had picked up the week before at Heath.

More effort than usual went into the composition, since I still had the workshop fresh in my mind. I wanted to try vertical orientation, and I wanted to put props and/or components of the dish in the background. In a perfect world, I would have had a little glass pitcher of syrup, maybe some meyer lemons, and some powdered sugar in a pretty little sieve. Since I didn't have all those things, I just used the bald lemon whose zest had gone into the pancakes. I also put an espresso saucer under it, because it was leaking a little from the cut that Steve had made in one side.

58/365 lemon ricotta pancakes

On Monday, I was at a loss for what to photograph. I didn't want to take more pictures of food at home, so I decided that a walk to get coffee was in order. I've done that more than once on this project, however, and it doesn't always yield very interesting results. This time, I went with the less obvious choice of The Summit, passing by Ritual Roasters. That gave me a longer walk down Valencia, with a few more opportunities for pictures. (There was a new kitty in the window of Borderlands Books!) Once I reached The Summit, I ran into a friend, got my mocha, and took a picture of the pretty carafes and water glasses on the bar. A successful outing, I'd say.

59/365 summit carafes

Tuesday was March 1, and I wanted to take a picture incorporating the new page of my Polaroid calendar. Beyond that, all I knew was that I wanted it echo the cozy feel of the picture on the calendar, and I wanted to include Bruce's father's old Accuraflex. I ended up doing the kind of composing that Danielle talked about in the food photography workshop. I tried to fill the frame, adding things, taking them away, moving them around to find the best spots for each. I added some dried flowers from my wedding bouquet, then I added the beige envelope under the calendar page, and then I dug out a new tea light, burning it for a few minutes to break it in a little. I still don't think the picture is quite perfect—I couldn't find the right angle for the Accuraflex—but I'm mostly happy with how it turned out.

60/365 march

Wednesday's subject was also an easy choice; Steve had brought home some red anemones the night before. There were a lot of flowers that were still closed, though, and the arrangement looked somewhat lopsided. (My flower arrangement skills are, shall we say, lacking.) I backpedaled, extracting a single stem and putting it in my favorite Simon Pearce bud vase. From there, it was a matter of playing around with the angle. I settled on a shot that involved me kneeling on the floor between the window and the dining room table—not particularly comfortable with the hardwood floor, but I like the resulting picture.

61/365 anemone

More flowers for Thursday's shot, but they tied in nicely with the weekly theme in the 365 Community group: "Anticipating Spring." It was actually a nice springy day, and I walked around Yerba Buena Gardens a bit before seeing Black Swan at the Metreon.

62/365 anticipating spring?

Friday needed to be more about prep work for Sunday's classes, so it was one of those days where I looked out the windows for something to go photograph close to home. I took a break from arranging "I Got Rhythm" for the cabaret class, and I went to bother one of the neighborhood cats. She was sitting on her porch, as she often does, and I woke her up. When I was finished taking pictures, my options included two pictures of her yawning and several of her cleaning herself. She seems to do that a lot when I disturb her naps... like 2 years ago in the very same spot. I went with the yawning picture this time for some variety.

63/365 nap interrupted

And... cue the wrap-up. I was going to lament not being able to think of anything else interesting to say, but then I realized that I can just end with the monthly mosaic for February! (Tada.)