Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Digital Photo I at the ICP

I've been taking photos for a really long time.  Except for a brief lesson way back in a undergrad materials science lab, I have never had any formal instruction in photography.  Wanting to really learn more about the art and science of photography, I decided to take a class at The International Center of Photography.

I wanted to enroll in Digital Photography I.  Looking at their schedule, I was disappointed to find that none of the timeframes for the class fit my schedule.  I then spied Digital Photography I Intensive.  This crams the 10 weeks of the normal class into two weekends.  I would be in class for 7 hours a day for two straight weekends.  I crossed my fingers hoping that this would not be pure torture and clicked on the enroll button.

Luck was on my side this time as it turned out to be very worthwhile.  We seated at a workstation featuring a Power Mac, a scanner, and a very large Epson printer.  After introductions, the instructor ,Deanna Lawson, jumped right in.

The hours flew by.  Most of the time we were seated in the classroom, some of the time we were shooting outside.  Some of the technical matters I already knew, but much of the lessons were about seeing.  I started looking at light and shadow, rest and motion, in different ways.  I was also forced to shoot photos outside of my usual milieu, which was both difficult and liberating if that makes any sense.

The people taking the class ran the gamut in experience with photography.  Some were old pros already taking some stunning shots.  Others were pretty much pure beginners.  Everyone seemed to get better as the class progressed.

We had to come up with a final project, shooting pretty much what we wanted to do.  Surprise, I chose to photograph food.  Some of the shots were good, some were so-so.  But I certainly learned a lot and I am now looking at the world in a different light, literally.

All the shots here are from the final project.  I want to end this post by saying thanks to our great teacher Deanna Lawson.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Bacon and Bourbon Expo at Astor Center

Some people head out on expeditions to find troves of treasure.  Others go out in search of a paradise on Earth .  Me, I found both a quick subway ride away at the Bacon and Bourbon Expo.

Judging by the crowd gathered outside the doors waiting for the event to start, I was not the only one going to Astor Center in search of pork and potent potables.  I must say, the crowd was very enthusiastic, even before the bourbon tasting began.  What was it about these two great tastes that taste great together, that was driving these people to distraction?

The very first taste of salty, piggy goodness that hit my mouth elicited a porcine epiphany.  While your normal grocery store bacon is pretty damn good, the bacon at the Expo was simply on another plane.  The artisans at the Expo were trying to perfect something that is pretty close to perfect as it is.  In many cases, they certainly took bacon that much higher up the scale.  Many of the bacons here were also made from heritage breed pork, adding yet another reason to seek out the wonderful products from Neuske's, Flying Pig Farms, D'Artagnan and Black Pig Meat Company.  The average plate of bacon only lasted about 2 minutes before being denuded of even the smallest bacon bit.

The bourbon and other whiskeys held there own against the bacon's stiff competition.    I was not familiar with many of the brands available.  Tasting them was a very pleasant surprise.  While I enjoyed most of the bourbons I tasted, the one that really made me sit up and take notice was Black Maple Hill Small Batch Bourbon.  I should have made tasting notes, navigating the crowd and juggling my camera and a glass of bourbon made writing a little difficult at best.  I do remember taking a sip and just being amazed.

Micther's was another stand out.  They brought bourbons, an American whisky and a rye.  They all were excellent and provided a spectrum of tastes to try.  The American whisky was light bodied and very smooth.  The polar opposite of the peppery and zesty palate of the rye.

I was pretty surprised to see Four Roses there.  I didn't recall Four Roses even making a bourbon and I don't ever remember using the words good and Four Roses in the same sentence.  I was quickly proved wrong on all accounts.  They are trying to revive the brand here in the states after becoming the best selling bourbon in Japan.

Having had my fill of bacon and bourbon, it was time to leave this Valhalla of victuals.  I made my way down Lafayette Street, making a mental note to be sure to make the 2011 expo.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Sometimes the Food I Love Is Not So Haute

This post was going to be the rare restaurant review.  We wanted to go back to Tabla to see how the place has changed since the major change to their menu.  No longer was it two restaurants sharing the same roof, but one unified entity.  In the past, the downstairs was Bread Bar, serving Indian home cooking in a casual atmosphere.  Upstairs, was the more upscale Tabla serving food with an Indian accent.  The makeover has the whole place serving one menu, now with al a carte options available.  We did the Tour of Tabla tasting menu and it was great.  Maybe too much food for just two people, but we did not complain.  I was ready to write up a glowing review of the evening when a funny thing happened; I made a sloppy joe.

One bite of this savory, sweet, and oh yes sloppy sandwich made me one happy camper.  I was 10 years old again, hungrily wolfing down a sloppy joe after a full day of bike riding and woods exploring, eager to scare myself silly with what ever B movie fare was being aired on Chiller Theater or Creature Features.

This is not to suggest that the dinner at Tabla was upstaged by some comfort food.  I just wanted to bring to light the dichotomy of most foodies.  We are equally happy enjoying the sublime food of Floyd Cardoz at Tabla or going through a fistful of napkins as we savor a sloppy joe.  And its not just us.  Those big time chefs are happy chowing down on burgers and fries or other such comfort foods.  Did you see the photo of Joel Robuchon eating at In and Out Burger?  Did you know that Thomas Keller's favorite meal is a roast chicken?  While the more complicated fare out there fulfills a need in out lives, a little taste of home and childhood fills our souls.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Passion and Intensity: The Natural Wine Event at Astor Center

The neatly trimmed rows of vines, going on for what seems like infinity.  The cellar full of bottles, awaiting there turn to wow the world.  The winemaker, casting his spell over humble grape juice to turn it into some magical elixir.

Alas, what I wrote above is but fiction.  The actual practice of growing grapes and making wine is not quite so bucolic.  There are hail storms, hungry birds, insects, molds, plagues of frogs.  Well, maybe not plagues of frogs, but a vineyard faces myriad hazards in creating a bottle of wine.

Now, to face these challenges without the use of many modern techniques, takes a certain kind of wine maker.  A winemaker full of passion and intensity.

The 6th Annual Natural Wine Event drew wine makers from France, Italy and the United States.  Being able to talk to a the person that created the wine you are currently tasting is kind of a two edged sword.  While you are able to prod the maker directly with questions about the wine, you may want to think twice about saying anything too negative about the wines.  These are passionate people and these wines are like their children.

The fact that all these wines were natural wines is what set this event apart from most wine tastings.  No insecticides, fungicides, etc. are used on the grapes.  Very little human intervention in the vinification process.  These are high risk wines.  It is very easy to loose a whole years work due to some pest or unusual weather condition.

Now, in the end, it all comes down to are the wines any good.  In my opinion, all the wines were at least good, several of them rose to the great category.  One particular favorite of mine was the 2005 Mas au Schiste from Rimbert in the St, Chinian in France.  The mix of red fruit and mineral flavors makes this quite an  interesting wine.  At just under $20 a bottle, not a wallet buster.

When I inherit that large fortune from my unknown rich uncle, I may attempt to make it into a small one by purchasing a winery.  Till then, I think I'll let some of these talented people continue to make my wine for me.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Chocolate Peanut Butter Cookies

"Honey, do you know what you can for me?"  asked E.  "No, what can I do for you?", I replied, fearing for the worst.  Was there some horrible chore awaiting me somewhere?  Did Sam the Cat leave us a "present" outside of his litter box?  E replied, "You can make me peanut butter cookies and put some chocolate in them as well.  You have all that chocolate laying around."  Ah yes,   since I go to many events, I get many gift bags.  Inevitably, one of the objects in the bag is a bar or two of chocolate.  The past few months have seen me amass quite the collection of chocolate.  A pretty good state of affairs if you ask me.

I head into the kitchen and start gathering the ingredients.  I immediately notice that I do not have enough butter to make the cookies.  Shocking, I know.  I'm sure you all have images of the tons of butter I have stored throughout the condo, just in case I have to make 50 gallons of hollandaise sauce.  But alas, at the moment of the cookie making, I was down to a scant half stick.  I was about to head to the door to head to the A&P across the street, when E told me to just use her whipped butter.  Over the past few weeks, E has managed to forget that she has like a case of whipped butter at home and purchased some more.  Reluctantly, I started to make the cookies.  

The cookie dough looked dry when I got it all together.  I formed a ball from some of the dough, so I continued.  When I tried to flatten out the first ball, it just crumbled apart.  I reformed it into a ball and just put the sheet pan in the oven.  When I closed the door and started the timer, it hit me, 1/3 of a cup of whipped butter is not the same as 1/3 of a cup of stick butter.  Oops!  I crossed my fingers and hoped that the results would be edible.

In fact, they were quite good.  I think I will revert back to stick butter next time, but the chocolate did add a nice addition level of flavor.  I adapted a recipe from the venerable "Joy of Cooking" for these cookies.  If you're playing along at home, here's the recipe:

1 1/2 Cups of all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/3 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
4 ounces bitter sweet chocolate
1 large egg
1 cup peanut butter(Smooth or chunky) 
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.  Sift together the flour and the baking soda.  Beat the sugar, brown sugar and butter together.  Beat in the chocolate, egg, peanut butter and vanilla.   Stir in the flour mixture.  Make 1 inch balls and place on backing sheet about 2 inches apart.  Lining the baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone mat will help greatly.   You can always just grease the baking sheets. Flatten the the balls into disks if you wish.  If you leave them in balls, you will need to cook them a little longer.  Cook for 10 - 12 minutes if flattened out.  Let them sit for a few minutes, then remove them to a rack to cool.    Try not to eat all of the cookies in one sitting.