Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Challah, Pt.2

If you missed my first post about my foray into baking Challah you might want to catch up here.  I believe I left off with a bleak-looking prognosis on the bread baking front.  To my complete shock, I am thrilled to report that in the end, my Challahs (that's right, I decided to make two) turned out to be quite successful! 

Now that I've jumped ahead to the end, I'll take you back to the sponges.  My original plan was to keep only one of the two starters I had made.  I thought that I would have a better chance of actually making bread if I attempted two, assuming that one would be a complete flop.  Of course, having never done this before, I quickly realized that there was no way for me to know which was the better one, so the obvious answer was to make two complete loaves.  Go big or go home, I guess.  Still feeling pretty nervous about the whole 'making Challah' thing, I peeled back the plastic-wrap from the first starter and was immediately hit with a wonderfully warm and invitingly fresh yeast smell.  It was time to begin the dough.  To my complete surprise and elation, the dough felt like, and came together exactly as, the book described.  Things were beginning to look up.  It was time to bake these lovely loaves.  I waited impatiently, unable to sit still.  BEEP, BEEP!  Finally!  I slowly peeked under the foil which revealed perfectly browned, steaming hot loves of challah!  A mini-success!  Why only mini?  I still had no idea how they tasted.  Here's where my stress level rises again:  I had timed my Challah making venture to end just before Friday night dinner at Bubbie's began.  I was about to present two, potentially horrible (one of which was a little on the heavy side.. eep), loaves of Challah to my entire family.  It was a pretty scary prospect, seeing as we have scoured the city for the best Challah, and eaten it most Friday nights.  As you already know, the loaves were a success!  The flavor and texture were great, well at least pretty damn good for a first crack at it.  Surprisingly, the loaf I had made with my experimental starter was even better than the other.

I really love making bread, it's tactile, it's creative, it's methodical and precise.  All the same qualities that draw me towards photography.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Challah, Take One.

I was watching the Tartine bread baking video a couple days ago (which, might I mention, is stunning and inspiring) and since then I can't seem to focus on anything other than the feel of puffy, yeasty, living dough in my hands.  Last night, I pulled out 'The Bread Bible' and decided to attempt a challah.  This is an all time favorite for me and I figured it was time to give it a go.  Attacking this recipe poses a few substantial challenges for me:
  1. Bread baking puts me in the position of facing the prospect of a serious failure, and we all know how little I like the thought of turning out failed baked goods.  
  2. I've never made a sponge starter.  Making one successfully, so I'm told, is a difficult task and often a massive flop on your first few tries.
  3. Facing the fact that I will very likely fail at this task but talking myself into attempting the recipe anyway.
After seriously battling every instinct I had to find something (anything!) else to do to avoid attempting making challah,  I have taken the leap and decided to dive on in.

Here's how my morning's going so far....  Not too well.
I mixed together my sponge to discover that it was runny and not at all like "a very smooth, very thick batter" as the book describes.  After triple checking my measurements, I noticed the date on my recently EXPIRED yeast... blargh!  Thinking maybe that could have had something to do with my soupy starter (but doubting it nonetheless), I ran off to the grocery store to purchase some UN-expired yeast.  With fresh yeast in hand, I attempted starter numero dose.  As I suspected, the yeast had nothing to do with the texture, and once again, I ended up with a very smooth, very thin batter.  At this point frustration was seriously setting in.  Not sure what I was doing wrong, I ran to the all powerful internet to see if I could come up with some kind of explanation.  I found a few fixes for sourdough starters, but this is a sponge and as far as I can tell, a whole other beast.  Feeling impatient and on the brink of giving up, yet determined not to fail, I decided to start adding flour to my third starter, trying to emulate what I believed to be the right consistency.  Now, those of you that know me, know that I am a stickler for 'the rules' when it comes to baking.  Just randomly throwing flour into a recipe is completely against my character and frankly a little stressful.  At this point, I am still fighting the lump in my throat that is pushing me to bail on this project.  If I bail now, I'll never have to know that my bread was a complete failure.  BUT on the flip side, if I bail now I'll also never know if the bread may have turned out to be a success either. 

While I wait on my starters, hopefully fermenting away in their bowls, I'll leave you with a list of what I've accomplished up to this point: One incredibly messy kitchen, three attempts at a starter, and managing to look rather cute in my apron.  Well, I've got a few hours to go before anything else exciting is supposed to happen, so I'll leave you with this and update you as things begin to progress, or fail miserably...

P.S.  If anyone out there has any sage advice, I'd LOVE to hear it!

Friday, October 1, 2010

Adventures in Apple Picking

Last week, I got to spend the afternoon participating in an apple harvest organized by The Ontario Association of Food Banks for The Salvaton Army.  Other than filling about 150 bags, bursting with apples, the most exciting thing for me was getting the chance to collaborate with my sister Robin, who is currently working with the fantastic organization Not Far From the Tree.  Instead of rambling on, I'm going to defer to Robin since she's written a lovely summery of the day's events.  Check out her blog post here and some of my images from the day, below.

Now, what to do with all those apples...  Crumble perhaps?  Stay tuned.

Sunday, September 26, 2010


I've been patiently awaiting the first moment when I would see my name in lights (or little black letters, if you will) for a while now.  Today was that day.  About three months ago, I got a call from The Stop telling me that Food and Drink magazine was writing a piece about 'the slow food movement' and that they would be running one of my photos of Chris Brown (their chef), alongside the article.  As I drove to the LCBO, reminding myself not to get my hopes too high and to continue breathing, I couldn't help but be excited about seeing one of my photos in print.  Even as small as I knew it would be,  I was totally stoked.  As tempted as I was to rip into the magazine as soon as it touched my hands, I decided to be patient and wait until I got home so that I could ceremoniously open the magazine.  I found the article in the index and then decided that the best thing would be to arrive there page by page.  As I quietly turned the pages, I knew I was getting close.  Suddenly, there it was on page 148, my photo... with someone else's credit!
Bah humbug.  My initial reaction was to put in an angry call to the magazine.  Heads would roll!  After stewing in my own anger and disappointment for a while, I realized that it wasn't really worth the energy.  Honestly, what would come of it?  An apology and a possible retraction that I'm sure most readers would skip over anyway?  In the end I decided that it was better to put my energy into continuing to work on my photography, and to keep pushing forward onto the next project.
Ah well, C'est La Vie....
Looks like I'll need to continue waiting in quiet anticipation until the day my name is written in lights (instead of blue ink).

I'm still working out why exactly I was so upset to see the credit given to someone else.  I'm kind of stuck here... consciously, I'm not sure that it really does matter that much, but emotionally it really stings.  Is being credited just a matter of ego?  While I think it over a bit more, I thought I would throw this out there: Do credits matter?

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Deep Fried Butter

Yesterday, my husband and I took a trip to The Ex and I'm sure it won't come as a surprise to anyone that we went for the food.  This year, with all the hype surrounding the deep fried butter, how could we possibly resist?  The entire time we stood in line I kept contemplating bailing.  Deep fried butter??!  I'll eat just about anything, but the thought of biting into a ball of butter was borderline too much to handle.  Curiosity definitely won out this time, especially when my husband heard the guy ahead of us say that they "taste like heaven."  How could I possibly say no to a treat that would make angels sing?
How did they taste?  Like Yum.  Essentially they're frozen blobs of butter dipped in funnel cake batter and deep fried.  These confections are pillow-y masses of fried dough with a melt-y, delightfully-buttery and salty centre.  For those of you who would like to replicate this taste in your own kitchen: take a plain doughnut, warm and butter liberally.  That's it.  In the same way that bread with butter is better than bread without, so are doughnuts.  They're not life-changing, but they are very tasty.
As decadent a treat as these were,  I can't say that I would wait the 40 mins in line next year.  I would however, stand near the front of the line to watch and listen to people's reactions while I snacked on a bag of Tiny Tom's donuts, which are always worth the price of admission.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

It's A Jungle Up There!

Well ladies and gents, it's been a crazy busy summer so far.  Most of my time has been taken up by producing shoots for other photographers, but I'm sloooooowly beginning to see my portfolio come together and am patiently trying to find the time to finish my promos.  All things exciting and good, BUT, if I was allowed to have just one complaint, it's that I don't have enough time to spend in my lush jungle of a rooftop garden.  As I sit at my computer, I often catch myself looking anxiously forward to the next time that I'll be able to lose myself in the mini jungle that is growing on my terrace.  I've recently discovered that hunting tomatoes in my garden provides me with a sense of calm that I often find difficult to come by.  As a child, it was fun to unearth a carrot or two or sneak raspberries from a bush but for the most part, it seemed like work.  I'm not sure what exactly caused the shift in me.  Age and wisdom perhaps?  Heh...  Maybe I'm just desperately in need of slowing myself down once in a while.  The careful way that my hands are forced to navigate the tangles of branches without disturbing any of the green tomatoes causes me to focus on something delicate, much like baking and shooting food.
I wonder how the condo board would feel about my building a greenhouse?  Perhaps I could bribe them with the promise of beautiful tomatoes all year round.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Cottage Pie

Well, it's officially cottage season, and with that comes one of my all time favorite foods, as well as one of my favorite ways to spend a weekend.  Wild blueberries from a little stand by the side of the road and filling our cottage with friends who cook.  This past weekend, I had the privilege of playing in the kitchen with some of my food obsessed friends.  For me, the highlights of our weekend's menu were: giant steaks that were butchered on the dock, freshly fried 'Cafe Du Monde' beignets, that were brought in from New Orleans for me (in the form of a mix),  Zac's home made burgers, and wild blueberry pie!  Here's where you all sigh with disappointment and throw rotten fruit at me.  I barely touched my camera all weekend.  Booo! Hissss!  I guess I was having too much fun working on my beer belly and putting myself into a food coma.  Not to worry though,  I did come away with a couple photos of our monster of a blueberry pie. I have to thank my pie partner in crime for letting me stuff three pints of blueberries into a 9" pie (the recipe called for an 11" deep dish... oops).  I insisted, promising that we could totally fit all those berries in the pie shell then secretly crossed my fingers, toes and eyes and prayed that we wouldn't end up having to eat blueberry mush off the bottom of the stove for dessert.  As you can see, our pie held together.  Thankfully, it hadn't completely disappeared before I had the chance to kneel on the table and disruptively work on this photograph.

Friday, May 21, 2010

O is for Octopus

Here is a lovely little octopus from my last trip to The Stop.  I named him Fred, then we ate him.  He was smokey and delicious.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

From Near Disaster to Chocolate Bliss

I seem to have recently been unofficially dubbed the "maker of desserts for family functions."  As you all have figured out by now, I LOVE to bake and any excuse to find a new recipe to add to my repertoire is fun times in Reena land.  Usually, I'm asked (or offering) to bake for our weekly Friday night dinner at Bubbie's house, which is relatively stress free.  If I were to try something new and have it flop, people would be understanding (although probably sad that there was no yummy dessert).  One of my sisters is getting married in June and 'the aunts' were throwing her a tea.  I was asked to make a cake as a center piece for the table.  Repeat after me: EEP!  I was no longer just baking for my immediate family, I was baking for a gaggle of women who appreciate all things lovely and tasty.  Here's the kicker - I had never baked a cake before.  Ok, that's not completely true.  I had made three cakes prior to this one but, I made two of them in my baking arts class where failure was almost an impossibility, and I made the third one with sponge that was leftover from my baking class.  P.S. that third cake (that I assembled at home) was lopsided and u.g.l.y.
I immediately recruited my friend and partner in crime, Tammy, to help me with some serious recipe testing.  I had decided on a chocolate layer cake with chocolate mousse filling, chocolate glaze on top and chocolate meringue fingers that would surround the cake.  Sounds simple, right?  heh.  The first major obstacle and the one thing that worried me the most, was getting my oven to bake the sponge evenly and thoroughly.  If you aren't up to date on the stress my oven was giving me, you can catch up here.  I had a new plan for baking a successful cake, and it was about to be put into motion.  Tammy and I whipped together the batter for our tester cake, which, by the way, was not going too well from the start, and into the oven it went.  Fingers were crossed.  This was the first baked good, larger than a cookie, that I had made since I started having oven problems.  Fast forward to the timer beeping: insert tester stick and success!  An evenly and thoroughly baked cake!  (Quick update:  I have solved my oven issue by baking everything at 10 degrees higher than the recipe calls for).  Now was the time to cut our sponges into layers.  First layer cut, and disaster!  Giant pockets of unincorporated flour.  EEP!  Here's Tammy and I and our sad sad cake.

We didn't bother filling or glazing the cake since it was about to meet the inside of a garbage bag.  Oh, by the way, our mousse turned out more like pudding and our meringues were uneven heights.  All in all, we gave this one a pretty big fail.  All this failure had me mildly bummed, but mostly annoyed that I had to find a new sponge recipe, and fast.  I was three days away from the tea.  Through sheer luck, and the help of a great recipe, my next cake test was a smashing success.  Moist, rich, chocolatey devils food cake.

Assembling and glazing the three layer nine inch cake went quite well.

I decided against the meringue fingers since they would all have to be exactly the same height and width, which I am not quite capable of yet.  Instead, I opted for some pretty pink flowers for the top.

Well, all in all the cake was a success.  Something I could be truly proud of.  In the end, for me, this cake was a bit of a reminder to stick to my guns,  push for what I want, not to get too discouraged when things don't go as planned the first time, and that a labor of love will always be worth it in the end.  In this case I got to have my cake and eat it too.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Dessert at Last!

The first thing I do when a menu is dropped in front of me is decide what I will be having for dessert.  This is a trait that I have happily inherited from my father.  I was working on my portfolio a couple days ago and it hit me that I had completely skipped over New Years Eve dessert!  How I could have possibly forgotten about my favorite part of any meal is truly beyond me!  I think that this may actually qualify as an unforgivable sin, so I quickly rectified the situation and am happily serving you the final course.  Baked berries with cake-y biscuits and vanilla ice-cream.
If you missed the meal the first time around, might I suggest having your dessert then going back to join me for the first three courses.
Happy Friday!  Enjoy your weekend.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Women Who Eat

Here's what I think is cool:  A room filled with about eighty women all obsessed with food!  Today I thought I'd share the one and only shot I took of my fantastic meal last night (which I was, of course, halfway through at the time).  Where was I, you ask?   At the 'community kitchen and wine tasting' event put on by Women in Food.  A little shmoozing, a lot of eating and some Q&A with Sarah Elton about her new book Locavore.  A delicious and informative evening, what could be better?  I think my favorite part was the cute little piggy cookies ... shocking, I know :)

Friday, April 9, 2010

Chocolate For Your Friday

I'm feeling a little short on words these days, but luckily I am still full of images.  Today, I bring you
chocolate mousse cake with dark chocolate and cherry schnapps ganash.  Repeat after me: YUM!

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

B is for Delicious

Today's post is brought to you by the letter B.
B is for bacon.  In this case, my friend's homemade bacon which is all kinds of awesome.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

May All Your Days Be Filled With Pie

There is something about warm mid morning light that affects me like nothing else.  The second I sense it's presence my chin tilts upwards, my eyes start to close and the biggest most satisfied grin you could imagine begins to cross my face.  I can't help but feel a calm come over me in these moments.  I often have to fight the urge to curl up in a puddle of light and stay there until it fades (except for on weekends when I'm allowed to be a slacker).  I find that great food can have the same effect on me.  The moment a dish makes its appearance at the table the anticipation of flavor and texture can have the same effect on me as when the light slowly begins to sweep across my face.  When I take my first bite, it's like the sun hitting me full in the face with it's gentle, warming rays.  Calming, soothing, comforting, pure bliss.
One of the foods that can, without fail, turn any day into a sunny day for me is lemon meringue pie. It's one of my ultimate comfort foods.  My Bubbie (which is what I call my grandmother) is the queen of lemon meringue.  As a kid, she used to make it for my dad. Once my love of her pie, I think, exceeded his, she began making it for me.  Recently, a friend of mine commissioned me to make dessert for her boyfriend's birthday.  Now this, in itself, was an exciting moment.  My first commission!  Completely unprompted and unsolicited. AMAZING!  After some chatting and serious convincing on my behalf, that she had not asked for too much and that I would be thrilled to make something for her, we settled on lemon meringue pie.  That afternoon, at lunch with my mother, I proudly proclaimed that I had been commissioned to make my first pie.  I also may have kinda, sorta made it sound like it was no biggie and I could whip it together in ten minutes.  To which my mom replied: "great! then while you're at it you can make a second one for dinner at Bubbie's on friday."  Whoops... I had instantly doubled my work load.  For those of you who have not delved into the world of scratch pies, FYI, they do not take ten minutes.  I had a busy week ahead and two pies to bake.  One was for pay and the other would be judged by the high priestess of lemon meringue, my Bubbie.  The pressure was on.  Pie day finally arrived.  I had a few tense moments while working on the cooked sugar stabilizer for my meringue and assembling everything while still piping hot, and to my utter relief all went smoothly.  My friends were thrilled and said they loved the pie (thanks again guys!).  Then came my proudest moment.  After very thoughtfully tasting my pie, and questioning the authenticity of my filling, my Bubbie didn't have a single bit of "constructive criticism" for me.  Nothing.  Trust me she tried.  I had passed the test.  SUCCESS!

Here are the photos of my lemon meringue pie doused in some of the most beautiful light I have had the pleasure of playing in recently.  I wish I had some shots of the pie's golden insides to share with you, but I'm pretty sure people frown upon receiving a birthday pie that's missing a slice, and the second pie didn't stand a chance once it hit the table.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Little Treasures

I have to start this blog post off with a BIG thank you to Chef Jason Bangerter, of Auberge du Pommier, for so generously sharing his discovery of finger limes with me.  "Finger limes?" you ask.  Well, so did I.  Let me take you back to mid last week:  I am a recently self-diagnosed Twitter-aholic and in this case my addiction has brought me all things new and exciting.  I noticed a post about said 'finger limes' beside a note about their caviar-like flesh.  Limes that look like caviar!! What??  I was instantly hooked and utterly intrigued.  I had to know more and NEEDED to photograph them.  Turns out these lovelies are from Australia, are teeny tiny (roughly the size of a small thai chili), and have flesh that looks, feels, and pops in your mouth just like pleasantly mellow, lime-y flavored caviar.  After seeing Chef Bangerter's post, I immediately contacted him to find out where I could get my hands on them.  As it turned out, he was pretty sure that he had the only ones in Toronto BUT he offered me a couple from his personal stash.  I was delighted! and spent the rest of the day skipping around in my head, to avoid the inevitable embarrassment of actually skipping around downtown Toronto, of course.  Once in my possession, I put off shooting these little gems for a few days, as I only had a few and was nervous about cutting into them.  When I finally gathered up my courage and picked up my knife it turned out that there was nothing to be afraid of.  All I had to do was slice them in half and give them a gentle squeeze, they willingly spilled their jewel-like secret for me.

Without further delay, here they are in all their glory:

Thursday, March 4, 2010

The Stop

A couple weeks ago, I was lucky enough to join The Stop Community Food Centre to photograph one of their Food For Change Dinner Series' where Chef Chris Brown whips up five stunning courses each accompanied by a selected wine.  This is just one of the many fantastic events that The Stop puts on, in order to help support their busy initiative (just to name a few: 'community kitchens and gardens, cooking classes, drop-in meals, peri-natal support, a food bank', and the list goes on).  As rewarding and fun as it is for me to shoot and eat at the same time (honestly, no sarcasm here, I really do love it!) I suspect that most of you would prefer to attend as guests and eat your food while it's still hot.  I highly recommend giving it a try, I can't imagine anyone being disappointed.   While you're at it check out the Stop For Food event taking place right now, from March 1st to 31st.  This event is much like winterlicious but instead of being sponsored by a credit card company, a portion of the funds for every meal sold will go directly to The Stop.  Eating great food while simultaneously helping to raise money for a phenomenal organization, what could be more rewarding?
Okay, now that we've got the serious stuff out of the way, let's talk food.
On the menu we had (the photos below are in order from left to right):
1. Pan-seared paneer (The Stop's in house cheese) over braised cabbage, mustard greens and topped with a bacon vinaigrette.
2. Soup and Sandwich - Toasted brioche with beef cheek pastrami and a rich mushroom broth.  Let me just take a moment to RAVE about this one!  Chris' pastrami was so unbelievably tender and flavorful that it literally melted the second it touched my tongue - might I point out that I ate it two weeks ago and I'm still salivating.
3.  Poached local turnip with sauteed green house mushrooms and carrot balls, topped with honey and black truffles.
4. Woodfire-roasted halibut with scrambled cauliflower and a white wine parsley sauce. 
5. Lemon trio.  All three were delicious, but if I had to pick a favorite it would hands down be the lemon meringue with it's pillow-y, almost marshmallow-y top (I have a weak spot for all things lemon-y and meringue-y).

What a fantastic meal!
I think it might be time for lunch.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Still There?

Hello again... remember me?  I'm your friendly neighborhood blogger who is absolutely delinquent when it actually comes to blogging.  Turns out that maintaining a blog while keeping up with life is quite the challenge.  You read it here first: I pledge to rise to the challenge and not back down... I will catch up on my blogging even if it kills me.  (How's that for a touch of drama in your day?)
Anyway... moving on.  I have been quite the busy bee lately.  I shot some wonderfully tasty food for a fantastic organization,  The Stop Community Food Centre.  I'm just about done organizing the images, so look for those, and more on The Stop this week.  Last week was a great one for baked goods!  I made a variety of items that were, in some cases shockingly successful (I'll fill you in on those as the week goes on).  Now for some easy monday morning reading.  Sit back and enjoy as I walk you through last week's baking class.  On Monday, we learned how to make soft rolls.  The rolls start off with the most pillow-y, delicate dough that almost feels as if it's breathing when you gently kneed it.  Heaven!  I found making the actual dough quite simple, but forming the rolls was a whole other ball game.  Once the dough is mixed, proofed and cut into even pieces, you must, with brute strength and a delicate touch, begin rapidly moving the the dough in a circular motion between the counter top and the palm of your hand.  Once you figure out just the right amount of pressure needed, the balls form quite quickly.  You can feel the instant that they come together, almost magically, under the palm of your hand.  Forming rolls is a tiring exercise but well worth the exertion.  Even the chef was wincing by the end of her batch.  Although, she was double fisting them and gave a performance worthy of the Harlem Globe Trotters...impressive.  My roll making class yielded one loaf of cheesy monkey bread, one small braided cheese loaf and about eighteen small rolls, some knotted and some left round.  My topping of choice - salt and chili flakes.  Yum.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Stupid Stove!

I've been having trouble with my oven lately.  It's been refusing to cook the center of cakes.  I'm sure you can see how that could be frustrating.  I've been forced to throw out perfectly good ingredients, and even worse, I had to pass off, what was supposed to be a flourless chocolate cake as a 'pudding cake.'  Luckily, I have a very supportive family, and everyone managed to polish off their slice with compliments to the chef.  After the 'pudding incident,' as I've begun to call it, I've decided not to bake anything bigger than a cupcake until I solve the problem.  It pains me to throw, what could have been, perfectly good food into the garbage.  I decided to use cake mix to test out a few possible solutions to my baking conundrum.  (By the end of my testing, I had two batches of 'brownies' sitting in front of me that I couldn't, in good conscience, toss.  Thus, the cut-and-paste cake portion of my icing project was borne).  I have a thermometer inside my oven that always reads the same temperature as my oven setting, so I know it's not that the temperature is off.  I tried moving my cakes to the bottom rack and placing them on a baking tray, this yielded properly baked brownies with a slightly burned taste, but not a visibly burned bottom.  The problem is, I suspect that the burned taste is just the actual flavor of inherently crappy boxed-brownie mix.  My solution to the burned flavor was putting two baking sheets under my brownies to further insulate the bottom and prevent burning.  This turned out to be too much insulation and I was back to an uncooked center, ARGH!, that still had a burned taste which I now wholly attribute to my $1.38 boxed brownie mix.  At least that's one problem solved.  I guess that makes my next move another test, but with real ingredients this time.  Fingers crossed that the single-pan-on-the-bottom-rack theory works.   Wish me luck!
Any special requests?

Thursday, February 11, 2010


Here it is.  Drum roll please.......the results of my icing project:

Monday night, after I posted to the blog, I sat myself down to have a little chat.  'Enough is enough!' I said.  'No more procrastinating and no more projects until this one is in the bag'.  This is one project that I was feeling a little nervous about because it was going to take me outside of my comfort zone.  I never really work in such a sterile, stark lighting environment.  I'm usually drawn to more natural lighting conditions and a homier atmosphere.  I decided to listen to myself, and first thing Tuesday morning I pulled out my lights and whipped up some icing.  Once I got down to work, I kept wondering what had possessed me to shoot such a stark, white-on-white project, seeing as this is not usually the kind of look that attracts me.  After some thought, I realized that there was just something about the shape, sheen and starkness of white piped icing that made me feel the need to display it on a crisp white background.  My original plan for the second shot (the cake slice) was to keep it crisp and clean and as white as the piping.  Well, that obviously wasn't my final decision.  Two factors played into my reason for smushing the cake:

1. Apparently it's really hard to cleanly mask a single piece of cake that is built out of pieces of box-brownie stacked together to appear as one. (It's a bit of a long story - I'll get into it another time.  I do think I deserve some creativity and resourcefulness points for this one though).
2. Everything was looking a bit too 'hospitaly' for me and I just wanted to make a bit of a mess: a well thought out and organized mess, mind you, but a mess none the less.  There is just something about imperfection that really interests me.

All in all,  I'm happy I tried out this new approach.  I may even shoot a 'part 2.'

Monday, February 8, 2010

Geting there....

Last week kind of got away from me.  Between work and family, personal projects sometimes end up taking a back seat.  My big plan for the weekend was to start playing around with the little icing project I have in mind.  Of course, one thing led to another and BLAMO! It's Monday morning and I have not pulled out a single light.
I know, I know.... Boo! Hiss!  Not to worry, I wouldn't dream of leaving you photo-less, especially on a Monday.  Here is a quick snap of the burger that had the potential to be the best I have ever had!  As I have mentioned before, (and will most likely mention a hundred times again) I am on the search for the perfect burger.  I won't keep you wondering for too long.  No, this was not the best burger I have ever had, and sadly, it didn't even rank.  I was assisting on Thursday and we found ourselves in Scarborough, not being familiar with the area and ready for lunch.  We could have hit one of the many corporate joints that line Markham Rd, but then we saw 'The Markham Station."  A 24 hr dive of a diner that made both of our eyes light up.  Admittedly, a bit of a dicey move on our part just before heading off to shoot a job, but I'm happy to report that we both made it out alive.  To my dismay, the burger was far more fabulous looking than it tasted but, I'm ok with that.  It's all part of the process.  Let the search continue!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010


Inspiration has struck again!  Ok, ok, it struck on monday night, but sometimes these things need a little room to grow.  My baking class exercise this week was piping and masking (masking, I have learned, is fancy pastry-chef talk for putting icing on a cake).  I was really excited for this class and walked away with a great lesson on technique.  I don't usually find icing particularly inspiring, as it's way too sweet and often gives me a toothache.  I do, however, find the artistry of delicately piped cakes and pastry items to be an object of beauty and measure of skill.  Before this class, I've piped a few cupcakes and masked one cake (not exactly masterfully, I might add) but, until now, I've basically been piping by the seat of my pants.  No more! I say.  From this day on I will pipe with more skill than ever before (not sure how much skill that means I've acquired, but I can reassure you that's it's more than I had on Sunday).  My new found love of icing has led me to a fun little project that will allow me to test out a new lighting look that I have been thinking about lately.  I'm not too sure how this project is going to come together.  To be honest it could be a total flop (conceptually and visually) but, it could also turn out to be pretty cute.  I've been doddling a bit on getting started because, as I've mentioned before, I'm not really a big fan of working on a project where the prospect of failure is looming.  I like to have every minute detail planned out before I shoot, whenever possible.  The truth about this project is I just won't know until I pipe some frosting, turn on my pack and point my lens.  As difficult as it is, I'm coming to grips with the fact that not everything I touch will turn to gold, but If I give up without trying I'll never know and I'll never be able to improve upon it next time.  For me, testing is just as important as executing well planned-out projects.  It's all a part of the process.  Let's just call this one a test and 'giver!  

Here is an iphone shot of my beautifully (if I do say so my self) piped and masked cake dummy.  I can't wait until there is cake under all that icing (that I will most likely scrape off and put on my husband's plate).

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Soft, Soft Light

While sitting at my desk, hands poised to type, I noticed that I spend a lot of time staring into space... or so I thought at first.  Turns out, I just solved the mystery as to why I keep the sheers in my apartment (/office) closed most of the day.  I LOVE DIFFUSE LIGHT!  Yep, I'll scream it from the roof tops and run through the streets proclaiming my undying devotion to beautiful, wonderful, soft, soft light.  There was a time when I thought I loved hard light, sharp edges, uber-saturated colours and fashion photography (I know.. I know... but you photographers out there know you went through that "photography is such a glamorous career to get into" phase too).  Now, don't get me wrong, I love light in all it's forms, and there is a place and an image for all kinds (even poorly colour-balanced light), but when I really got down to thinking about it today - I remembered that the soft, gentle blending of light into shadow is what really captured me about photography.  I guess what I'm trying to work out here is: how did I move so easily from shooting people, in very staged and controlled environments, to shooting food?  Well, it hit me as I sat watching the light coming through my sheers changing oh so subtly.  I absolutely adore light and what you can do with it.  How you can shape it and control it or how it can surprise you by hitting just the right place and creating a magic moment.
I guess that for me it comes down to the fact that light can really make an image magical.  Whether I shoot light spilling in through a window that just barely brushes a subject's face or I shoot a basket of muffins where the light just skims their surfaces, I still attack my subjects and image-making in the same way.  At the end of the day it's all about how light enters a space and interacts with the things there.. people or food.. it's all the same..
Here's the main course from our New Years Eve dinner (thanks Scott!) - stay tuned for dessert.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

A Promise is a Promise

I've been a bit under the weather this week so my blog seems to be taking a bit of a hit.  I did, however, make a promise to post at least twice a week.  And I do believe that a promise is a promise so in lieu of an incoherent blog post I give you cornbread.

Prop Styling by Cheryl Thompson

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

An Ephiphany in Puff Pastry

I've fallen a bit behind in updating you about my baking arts class, so let's rewind a week and talk apple pie.  I was quite pleased with my first attempt at making a pie.  Actually, I was more than pleased.  It only took four days for my husband Zac and to I polish off the entire thing with only a single slice going to a friend.  Further proof of this pie's yumminess is that I made a fresh one to take to a little dinner party last weekend and Zac and I managed to help out with that one too. (P.S. the second one was even better!)  Usually I'm more of a pie filling kind of gal.  My crust often gets left behind sad, lonely, dry and uneaten.  Not this time and never again!  I've seen the light, heard the angels sing, had a flaky pastry epiphany!  Never again shall I pine for a firm yet tender, melt in your mouth pastry shell or choke down a dry flavorless one....well, at least not if I'm the one handling the dough.
I planned to save my first pie so I could shoot it whole but it just didn't happen.  By the time my lovely pie and I got home, there was no daylight to speak of and the temptation to cut into it was just too high.  Luckily, I snapped a quick shot with my iphone as I was packing up the pie for our short trip home.


Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Dirty Dishes

I'm beginning to develop a bit of an attraction to empty, actually, almost-empty plates.  As my husband said to me a few weeks ago, when I was musing about what it was that was attracting me to dirty dishes, 'good food leaves good looking residue.'  I think he hit it somewhat on the nose but I feel like it goes a bit deeper than that.  What remains, or doesn't, helps to tell a story.  Be it a story about a great meal, or perhaps a not so good one.  It might be a small insight into who the dish belonged to.  Maybe they like their french toast stacked neatly and doused in honey or maybe they don't like peas or maybe nothing on their plate is allowed to touch.  Regardless of what it is, these are all little clues that can hint at someone's personality.  Maybe it's not all that important but I find it very intriguing.  I guess that's part of why I love being a photographer.  It's all in the details for me.

Here's a pair of images from our New Years Eve dinner.  A little before and after if you will.  (Not to worry, I cleared my plate of every delicious morsel.  I just couldn't help but stop to take a shot of this great looking plate.)  If you're at all as into the details as I am, I was debating what my last mouthful should be when I shot this frame.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Something Pink

Well, I talked your ear off a bit yesterday so today will be short, sweet and pink.

Prop Styling by Cheryl Thompson

Monday, January 18, 2010

Shoot Lots and Shoot Often

For the longest time I was afraid of my camera.  Six years ago, (man how time flies!) I achieved a fair bit of attention for my OCAD thesis project.  I was published in the Applied Arts Photography and Illustration Annual and was asked to join the roster of a prominent commercial gallery in the city (with the assumption that I would be producing more work).  After that I developed a block.  A fear of never being able to top my best and most successful work to date.  Maybe this was a little too early in my career to mentally crap out but I'm glad it happened then and not now.  I spent those six years working closely with and learning from other photographers as an assistant and a producer.  In the six years I only picked up my camera a handful of times despite all the support and encouragement I was given by family, friends, photographers I was working/meeting with and even the odd photo editor/art director.  I was constantly getting in my own way, finding reasons why I wasn't able to shoot and never bringing my camera with me.  I even managed to "forget" my point and shoot when I went to any event that may require me to fire off a few happy snaps.  It sounds crazy but I was a photographer who was terrified of shooting.  The biggest thing for me was that I was afraid of taking a bad photo and especially afraid that someone might see it and I would 'never work in this town again'.

Fast forward to about three months ago:
As wacky as it sounds my iphone is what has resurrected the prospect of and my drive to have a career as a photographer.  The little crappy camera in my iphone has jump started the inspiration center in my brain.  By having an iphone I was instantly forced to carry a camera with me at all times.  When I started following Chase Jarvis and using his Best Camera app (which I mentioned briefly in a previous post and I'm sure will mention again) I began shooting A LOT.  Taking crappy photos (or decent ones that looked like crap) on my phone lessened the stress of having to produce the perfect image every time.  After all, how good could a camera phone pic be anyway?  The piles of camera phone photos were fun but sometimes I would shoot something that really had potential to be great and the resolution/quality was obviously not enough.  This led me to begin carrying my real camera around with me (not every day but a lot).  All thanks to my iphone, my passion has been reignited and I am proud to report that I am snap happy again.  I've got a notebook filling with ideas faster than I can shoot them.

Even now the fear still lingers but I'm learning to say 'fuck it' and pick up my camera.  I'm still not completely comfortable with the prospect of taking shitty photos but I know the more I shoot the better I will become.  Not everything I put onto film (well, mostly pixels) is going to be portfolio worthy and I'm learning to be ok with that.

This has become something that is constantly on my mind and it seems as though it's on the mind of others as well.  Heather Morton's recent post has generated a great little discussion on her blog.  I absolutely agree with her when she says that photographers need to:

Shoot everyday.
Shoot everything.
Shoot all the time.'

With that I'll leave you with a couple iphone shots of a delicious middle eastern meal my mom and I shared last week.

Happy Shooting!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010


I am obsessed with hamburgers!  Nothing gets me going like a great burger.  I think about food 95% of the time and I'd say that about 80% of that is time spent thinking about when I'll be having my next burger and what I'll be having on it.  At the moment, I've got two faves:
  1. Pineapple and bacon with smokey BBQ sauce and fresh mozzarella
  2. Just a big 'ol hunk of melty gooey brie.
I am on a never-ending quest for the perfect burger.  So I'm pretty sure, that in a backwards kind of way, that's what has spawned a new project for me.  Without giving away the details, I'll be putting fast food burgers under my lens.  For some reason I'm fascinated by them but can't bring myself to eat them.  Maybe I'm a snob, maybe I just like to know what animal I'm eating before I put it in my mouth...  In any event, keep your eyes peeled for my burgers.
All this hamburger talk has kicked me into craving mode.... ah well, not tonight.  Good thing I have a batch of succulent ribs waiting for me.  A friend of mine passed this recipe on to me and I was asked to "pass on the ribby gospel."  Not only are these fantastic they are dead easy!  You'll find the recipe at the bottom of this post.

My photos today are completely unrelated to burgers but are yummy none the less.  These are of the cheese platter at a dinner party I went to on New Years Eve this year.  There will be more photos of the meal coming soon.

BBQ Spareribs from Madame Benoit's Cooks at Home

3lbs of spare ribs (back ribs are best -- the ones with a large pocket of meat attached)
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 tbsp. bacon fat... See More
3 onions
1 cup ketchup
1/2 cup cider vinegar
1 tsp curry
1 tsp paprika

1/4 tsp chili powder
1 tbsp brown sugar
1 cup consomme
1/2 tsp salt
pinch of pepper
1/2 tsp dry mustard

Brown the garlic in the bacon fat and cut the spareribs into individual serving-size portions. Remove the garlic from the fat and brown the spareribs quickly. Place both the garlic and the meat in a baking dish. Slice the onions over the meat.

Mix together the remaining ingredients. Pour over the meat and onions. Cover and bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 1 1/2 hours. Serves 6.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Pining for Polaroid

I'd like to promise that I'll be posting a blog entry every day, but I'm sure that I'd be lying off the bat and I'm thinking that that's not the best way to start off a new relationship.  Now, since we're starting off honestly, I will do my best to post something minimum twice a week... even if it's just an iphone shot (I do love my Best Camera app!).
Two things on my mind today: 1. How to ditch my partner in cooking class and 2. Polaroids
I'll get back to #1 in a second...
I've been thinking about pulling out all that expired film from my freezer and putting my beautiful Pentax 645 lenses back onto their rightful body to give them a break from my 5DMKII.  Unfortunately, my Pentax doesn't have a polaroid back and can't be fitted for one.  Since I've been thinking more about old yellowing polaroids than I have been about film I'm going to begin my search for a polaroid camera that you can still buy film for.
 Back to #2.  Ditching my partner.  Day one of cooking class was great.  We got our uniforms, goofy hat and neckerchief included, and we made the pastry for the apple pies we'll be making next week.  But I digress...  I'm a bit of a lone wolf when it comes to baking.  As my friends and family can attest to I can get a bit testy when it comes to people not measuring properly, scaling their ingredients or doing things in the wrong order.  Long story short, when baking with me, the 'chat with the chef but don't touch the ingredients' approach usually works best.  Seeing as I'm already planning to show up early for class to weigh out our ingredients by myself, we'll see how it goes.  Perhaps along with making some killer baked goods this class will teach me to play nice in the kitchen...

Here's a Baked Cannelloni that I have been fighting with for the last week.  Subtle tweak after subtle tweak and I think I'm finally satisfied.  I'm open to any comments/critique if you're up for giving it.  Leave them here or email me at reena [at] reenanewman.com.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Day 1 x 2

OK, So today is a day of firsts for me.  First attempt at my own blog and first day back to school in a looong time.  I'm off to George Brown to bump up my baking skills in what I'm sure will be a quick and intense three months.  As much as I am consumed by what one could call a food obsession, my one true love is (and always will be) photography.  During the last couple of months I have discovered that I am able to marry my love of food and a good prime lens quite easily.  I have decided to put my portrait photography on hold for the moment to really allow myself to explore and become immersed in the world of food photography.
I suspect that this blog will be a bit of a mish mash.  Lost of food photos, maybe some recipes and I'm sure a few links to photography sites that make me oooh and aaaah.  To be honest I'm not quite sure exactly what direction this blog is going to take but I'll chalk that up to sense of adventure and leave it to chance.

I guess the only thing left to say is welcome aboard.  Hope you enjoy the ride!
And just to get you salivating, I'll leave you with a chocolate tart.

Prop Styling by Cheryl Thompson