Tuesday, August 31, 2010

New Stereo View Page on Eatsundaydinner.com

For all the 3D fans out there, I'm happy to report that eatsundaydinner.com has just launched a new stereo view page.  Because many of my readers don't own stereoscopic viewers, I will be publishing the majority of my photographs as "flatties", but you can find my stereoscopic work on it's very own page.  Please check it out here at Eat Sunday Dinner Stereo Views.  (I've just posted my first digital anaglyph image!)

And here's one for the road...  A stereo view card I made in 2002 of my uncle's chicken coop at the Lutz family farm.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Annabel Eats a Tomato in 3D!

Annabel eats a San Marzano, August 26, 2010.
I'm excited to announce that eatsundaydinner.com has entered the third dimension.  This is a test of my first digital 3D photo.  It's stretched and funky in many ways, but I was so excited that I couldn't resist posting it to see how it looked on the blog.  Unfortunately, you can only view it in 3D if you happen to own a lorgnette style stereo print viewer.  But if you're one of the lucky few, check it out and let me know what you think.  I can use all the help I can get.

It will take a while to work out the kinks, but please be patient.  I promise the entire blog will not go 3D, at least not until every new computer comes equipped with it's own stereo viewing system.  In the meantime,  I encourage you to save the next pair of red/blue stereo glasses you come across.  You'll eventually be able to use them to view images on our site!  And if you can't stand the wait until we convert to anaglyph, you can buy a lorgnette viewer online.

Update:  I tried to post a link for a website where you can buy lorgnette stereo viewers, but my usual vendor has gone out of business.

3dstereo.com- to see the style of viewer I bought.  (I've never bought anything from this vendor and cannot endorse his products or services, but these look like the ones I usually use.)

Also, if you're interested in more information about stereoscopes or stereoscopic photography in general, here are a few useful links.  The Stereo Club of Southern California is a wonderful organization and full of  excited experts and 3D fans who are always happy to help out a possible convert to the world of stereo photography.

Stereo Club of Southern California- for resources including an in-depth description of stereo photography and film, as well as a discussion group and member showcase.

Central Pacific Railroad Photographic History Museum- for photos of vintage stereoscopes.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Thinking About Food Photography- Part Two of Two

In my previous post, Thinking About Food Photography-- Part One, I wrote about how I planned to use the history of food photography as a secret weapon to encourage student participation in my History of Photography class this fall.  Today, I decided to take a few minutes to talk about my own ideas about photographing food and what I'm trying to do with the photographs in this blog.

Food photography is a lucrative business and the ways in which people photograph food for publication is constantly evolving.  Right now, trends in food photography leans towards artfully arranged half-eaten displays or close-up views with a very shallow depth of field.  I like both of these styles, but in my photographs I'm trying to do something different.  I have two distinct missions when I make photographs for this blog.  I either try to make the foods I photograph look heroic, or I want to give them a sense of place.  Sometimes I can manage to do both.  Here are a few examples.

My first batch of homemade pickles.

This photograph of a dish of pickles was taken on the day I finished making my first batch of homemade pickles using my Grandma Willie's recipe.  The glass serving dish in the photo was hers too.  She always served applesauce in it, but it was perfect for my photograph for several reasons.  Most importantly, because it was hers.  These pickles, and this photograph, are a tribute to my grandmother.  On a practical note, using a glass dish allowed me to show off a large quantity of pickles without having to shoot an overhead view.  And looking straight at an object (or looking up at it) always makes it look more heroic.  It's especially effective if you do it in 3D, but I haven't figured out how to do this for my blog yet.

Rotten pumpkin, June 14, 2010.
I want all  kinds of foods to look heroic, whether or not they're traditionally beautiful subjects.  I think this pumpkin is gorgeous, even though it's pretty gross.  You can read my blog post about our rotten pumpkin if you want to know why I loved this pumpkin so much.

And of course, I often use this technique for my homegrown fruits and vegetables.  I'm so proud of them that I just can't help making them look as  heroic as possible.  My photograph of our first Mortgage Lifter of the season is a prime example of this.
My first Mortgage Lifter, August 13, 2010.

And don't get me started on my photos of country ham.  I don't think I've created the ultimate country ham photo yet, but it isn't for lack of trying.  Here's an example from the post  Country Ham Delivery!
Our first country ham at our new house, April 6, 2010.

Every once in a while, I can manage to make the foods I love seem heroic AND give them a sense of place.  I hope this photograph of prune tarts at Anne Willan's house tells you a bit about both prune tarts and Anne Willan.  They're both fantastic.
Prune tarts with cup of ypocras in the background, Anne Willan's kitchen, June 2010.

I make photographs of foods that I love and I try to convince viewers to love them too.  Not because of their perfection (and sometimes in spite of their obvious flaws), but because these foods bring history to life.  I want these photographs to convince you to think about the foods that you eat and how you can share your own personal history through food.  I hope that you will take the time to grow and prepare foods that are unique and special to your family.  If you do, I want to see photos.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Thinking About Food Photography- Part One

I've been doing a lot of thinking about food photography as I prepare to teach my History of Photography class this fall.  It is impossible to teach students everything that happened between the invention of photography and 1960, which is the cut off date for my class.  We spend very little time talking about food photography and when we do, I am always painfully aware of the other beautiful and compelling photographs that will remain unseen and undiscussed as a result.

I start out each term telling my students that they will NOT learn everything they need to know about the history of photography in 16 weeks and that each week I will make a terrible choice to leave out  a number of photographs that have changed the way we see the world, as well as a number of personal favorites.  I also tell my students that if they tell me about specific photographers or photographs they want to discuss, we will make time for them, syllabus and schedule be damned.  I tell them one of my secret weaknesses to get the ball rolling.  I tell them that I love stereo photography and that we will discuss it at great length because I find it so fascinating.  The smart students realize that they can at least briefly distract me from almost any lecture topic by asking if a certain subject has ever been shot in 3D.  Unfortunately, this has been my "secret" for three years in a row now and my passion for stereo photography has become a well-known feature of my class.  I think this term I will reveal that my secret passion is food photography.

It may seems strange to plan to tell my students a "secret", but I got the idea from Mr. Porterfield, my brilliant high school humanities teacher.  Mr. Porterfield could always be distracted by two topics.  1.  The Vietnam War.  2.  The film "The Shining".  This knowledge was a highly guarded secret passed down by older brothers and sisters to each incoming class.  Mr. Porterfield knew that we would eventually discover his favorite topics of conversation and I believe he was happy when we did.  Letting students in on a secret and letting them feel that they're getting away with something is a good way to get them excited about class.  Mr. Porterfield was great at always bringing these topics back around to whatever we were supposed to be studying.  He could view any topic or period in history through the lens of the Vietnam War or The Shining and we couldn't wait to hear his kooky ideas.  Mr. Porterfield encouraged us to think about historical ideas in new ways and to let our own passions guide the way we viewed the world.  He knew this would happen anyway, and he helped us become conscious of our own filters and to use them in creative ways.  I think this a good way to teach, and a good way to make photographs.  

I've got to get down to the business of writing my syllabus now, but I will continue this discussion in a future post.  I have a few things to say about my own "filters" and how I make food photographs for this blog.  And after that, perhaps I'll write about great food photos of the past.  But someone may have to ask me a question about it first...  

Sunday, August 22, 2010

ISO Chutney Recipes

Chutney.  It's a complex ingredient, and I have a complicated relationship with it.

A reader renewed my interest in chutney by recommending the book The River Cottage Preserves Handbook.   The reader referred to it as a "pickle cook book".   I thought, "Hmmm... I like pickles and since the author puts pickles and chutneys in the same chapter... and I know I can make pickles... maybe I can make chutney too!"  So thank you, anonymous reader.  You have sent my brain off in a new direction.

Chutney is a great idea because it can be used to add flavor to foods after they're cooked.  This is important when feeding children because the kids often want their food "plain" and I want a more complex balance of flavors and ingredients.  Chutney allows me to cook foods "plain", but not have to eat them that way.

One reason for my sudden interest in "plain" food is the recent diagnosis of food allergies in a family member.  This means I need to stop buying almost ALL prepared foods.  And requires some way to add culinary interest to a very limited selection of allergen-free foods.  Chutney sounds like a possible solution.

I first discovered chutney when I was in college, working for an eccentric woman who ran a daylight-balanced lightbulb company out of her home office.  She was a wealthy older woman who was usually doing laps in her indoor olympic-sized swimming pool when I arrived to help her with her typing and filing.  We often ate lunch together before we began our work and she would send me into her airy kitchen to put our plates together from the food that had been prepared by the housekeeper.  I usually found a pot of brown rice, a container of chutney, and a plate of roasted meat or vegetables waiting for me.  I ate all kinds of chutneys with my part-time employer, and it opened up a new world of flavors to me.

Oddly enough, I was the only person who could stand to work for this woman, who was intolerant of mistakes of any sort.  She made rude and unhelpful remarks about my typographical errors -- but she was witty enough that I found her insults funny.  And it was easy to overlook her occasional bitchiness because I was always focused on getting a glimpse of the food that awaited me in her kitchen.  Once I figured out where she kept the chutney, I would sneak a peek into the cabinet to see what else lingered in her pantry.

But this career phase was short-lived and I lost interest in chutney after I left this job in favor of a full-time gig at the local camera store.  In fact, I was only reminded of the existence of chutney when I saw it on a restaurant menu.  I usually order any dish I can find that's served with chutney.  And it always makes me think of lightbulbs.

The word "chutney" is a Hindi word used to describe a wide variety of thick sauces used in Indian cuisine. For those of you who haven't discovered chutney yet, it is a mixture of fruits or vegetables and spices.  It  can be either sweet or savory, and it can also be spicy.   Most chutneys you can buy in your local grocery store are a by-product of 19th century British Empire builders who "discovered" the world of Indian spices and wanted to take those flavors back to their home country.  These chutneys, most notably Major Grey's, are made of fruit, spices, sugar and vinegar.  It seems like a good place for me to start with my chutney project since it's where my interest in chutney began.

I'll continue to research chutney and I'll report back on my first experiments in the world of chutney.  I'm clearly no expert and I welcome all the ideas and recipes I can get!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Best Sandwich I Ever Ate- The BCT

I ate the best sandwich of my life yesterday... a sandwich so good that it made me cry.  It was a BCT (bacon, cream cheese, and tomato) sandwich lovingly made by my husband.  I'll admit I was on shaky ground to begin with, but it was the BCT that sent me over the edge.

Our family has had a week of difficult situations and bad news and by nine o'clock yesterday evening I realized I had eaten almost nothing that day.  I'd tried, but various phone calls and outings prevented me from following through on all my plans to eat.  It is worth mentioning that this is very unlike me.  Daily life and moderate stress will cause me to overeat.  Even on a good day I enjoy eating enough that I have to be careful to watch what I eat.  But extreme stress causes me to lose my appetite entirely.

I made an extra effort to plan a nice dinner to make up for my lack of eating during the day.  This plan was thwarted by the phone call that came in at the exact moment I put the dinner plates on the table.  By the time I finished the phone call, my food was cold and everyone else had finished eating.  I no longer had the heart to eat.  I knew enough to admit to my husband that I probably needed to be coaxed into eating something before I went to bed.  Little did I know that he would make this his grand mission in life.

Over the course of the next half hour he tried to tempt me with every food he could think of.  And I honestly thought I would be incapable of holding down any of it.  He even volunteered to go to the store and pick up a long list of things I usually can't resist.  But I didn't want any of them.  That is, until he asked if he could make me some bacon.  He knew he was onto something when I didn't immediately say no.  The hooks were in.

"How about a bacon sandwich?", he asked with eyebrows raised.  I remained silent.

"How about a bacon sandwich with a slice of tomato?"  This was a good call on his part because he knows how much I love our homegrown Mortgage Lifters.  In fact, I recently dedicated an entire blog report to Mortgage Lifters and why they taste like home to me.  I was weakening.

The winning offer was, "How about a bacon sandwich with a slice of tomato and cream cheese?"  He had me.  And he beamed as he flew into the kitchen to make it.  I patiently waited in my bed watching bad reality tv as he'd instructed.  When I smelled the bacon I knew I was in trouble.  By the time he'd put the sandwich on my lap and gone back to the kitchen for the cold glass of milk I'd requested, I was weeping.  Weeping for the day, for the kindness of my husband, and for the one food in the world that could make me feel hungry again.

Friday, August 13, 2010

First Mortgage Lifter of the Season!

I know I've been writing a lot of tomato posts recently, but I promised to post of photo of our first Mortgage Lifter of the season, and here it is!
First Mortgage Lifter of the season, harvested August 9, 2010

The Mortgage Lifter is fascinating to me on several levels.  First, and most importantly, it's a tomato I grew up eating.  My parents grow Mortgage Lifters every year and so did my Granddaddy Phillips.  When I was a kid I never paid attention to the names of the tomatoes we ate, but this tomato looks like home to me.  Mortgage Lifters are sweet and juicy and have very few seeds.  They're also big and are the perfect size to be sliced on sandwiches.  

Check out this photo my dad sent me last week.  It's blurry because my dad hasn't figured out how to focus his iphone yet, but you'll get the idea.  The photo came with a note that said "One Generation Ago".  And this is pretty much how I remember my grandparents eating.  Of course, it's also how my parents still eat because this is a photograph of what my parents ate for dinner on August 8, 2010.  It's a plate full of sliced tomatoes (Mortgage Lifters), green beans and potatoes, applesauce, sweet pickles, and sliced raw cucumber.  All home-grown and homemade.  

The Mortgage Lifter is also interesting because it's considered an heirloom tomato even though it was developed in the 1930's.  I was surprised to discover that the Mortgage Lifter isn't an especially old tomato, but it's definitely an heirloom to me.  It was developed by a radiator repairman from West Virginia named M. C. Byles.  Byles, known as  "Radiator Charlie", crossed four different plants-- an Italian variety, an English variety, a Beefsteak, and a German Johnson to come up with the Mortgage Lifter. He sold his plants for a dollar apiece and named it the Mortgage Lifter because he was able to use the proceeds from his tomato sales to pay off his $6,000 mortgage in only six years.

We decided to turn our Mortgage Lifter into a couple of BLTs to keep up my friend Daniel's tradition of eating his first tomato of the season in a PLT (pancetta, lettuce, and tomato) sandwich.  No pancetta at our house, but we did have bacon, which was a bit of a miracle in itself.  (I'm sad to report that the days of eating bacon every weekend are long gone.)  Beautiful as this tomato was, we had no regrets about slicing it up and eating it for dinner.  This little dearie was just enough for two big BLTs and unfortunately, I was so excited to eat that I forgot to take a photo of them.  You'll just have to trust me on this.  

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Heirloom Foods: The Fuzzy Bottom Gals and Transparent Apples

Last Sunday my family and I went to my friend Daniel's house to eat apple cake and meet "The Fuzzy Bottom Gals".  Here they are in all their glory-- Umber, Ginger, and Amber, from left to right in the photo below.  (I hope I got that right...)
The Fuzzy Bottom Gals during our secret visit, July 18, 2010.

Truth be told, Annabel and I had met The Fuzzy Bottom Gals a few weeks ago, but we kept our visit secret from the other members of my family.  I was pretty sure our secret was safe because if you ask Annabel about chickens, the only thing she'll say is "Bock!  Bock!"

Unfortunately, Violet caught me looking at the photos from that first visit and I knew she'd put two and two together pretty soon.  There was much excitement in our household when we finally worked out the details of our second visit to see The Gals.  Daniel was very good at introductions and even let MY girls feed HIS girls, which was quite a thrill for all concerned.

Daniel also had a treat in store for me.  We had discussed my new Heirloom Food Project earlier in the week and he told me he had a project that might be a good fit with my project.  I've started documenting people who grow/cure/pickle or otherwise produce foods that they cannot buy for any amount of money.  I call these foods Heirloom Foods.  These are foods that mean so much to people that they will go to great lengths to produce them simply because they must have them.  These are also foods that nobody would never make to sell to anyone else because the cost and labor would be too prohibitive.  Daniel's project fit in with this criteria perfectly.

Daniel told me he had just baked an apple cake using apples from the tree in his backyard.  But these were not one of the standard varieties of apple popular in Southern California.  Daniel thought the apples in his backyard might be Transparent Apples.  My hometown was once known as The Apple Capital of the World, so I know apples.  And the idea of finding a Transparent apple in Los Angeles was pretty unusual.  When Daniel bought his house a few years back he inherited this apple tree, so for all he knows, it might be a Transparent apple tree.  But it might not.
Daniel's Transparent-like apples on the tree in his backyard, August 1, 2010.

For those of you unfamiliar with Transparent apples, I should take a moment to explain that "Transparent" is the name of variety of the apple.  The apples are not actually transparent.  I feel the need to tell you this because I've created confusion in the past by assuming that others were familiar with most heirloom variety apples.  When I wrote about my mother's Rambo apples in a previous post, my husband thought I had made a hilarious typo and did a bit of online research hoping to catch my "mistake".  He later informed me that the name of Sylvester Stalone's character Rambo was, in fact, named after the Rambo apple.  (David Morrell, author of the novel First Blood, named the Rambo character after a pile of Rambo apples his wife brought home at the time he was trying to name the character.)

Daniel and I both ate pies, cakes and applesauce made from Transparent apples growing up, as our families have for generations.  Unfortunately, Transparents don't ship well and they're not especially good to eat raw, so you can't buy them commercially.  My grandfather grew them on the family farm and after most of the very old trees died off, my parents bought them from friends who owned a local orchard.  Daniel knows me well enough to know that I would be excited to hear that he has a Transparent-like apple tree in his yard.  He also knows I'd be more excited to hear that he'd made apple cake with the fruit from this tree.  With walnuts.  Yum.  I hope Daniel keeps making lots of baked goods from his apples.  And I hope he keeps inviting me over to eat them.
Daniel's apple cake made with Transparent-like apples from his yard, August 1, 2010.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Canning the Pickles- The Final, Final Step in The Pickle Project

I got so excited about finishing making my first batch of homemade pickles that I forgot I had to can them if I wanted to keep them for long.  Of course, my grandmother always kept hers tucked away in the corner of the basement in a crock covered with a towel to keep the flies out.  But it's hard to share pickles with friends and neighbors that way.  Up until now I've been putting my beloved pickles into jars as I need them.  Then I warn the recipients that if they don't eat the pickles right away, they need to keep them in the refrigerator.

So far, everyone I've given them to has eaten them pretty quickly.  One friend was outraged when he found out that his wife had eaten the entire jar while he was at work.  (In her defense, it was only a pint jar.)  When I heard about his wife's pickle-hoarding, I was secretly pleased and gave my friend his own jar, not to be shared with anyone.

Today I want to give the pickles to someone I don't know very well.  Someone who makes her own delicious pickles.  So I figure I'd better properly can these.  I followed my mother's directions...  wash the jars in hot water and heat the lids in a pan of simmering water for 3 to 5 minutes.  Put the pickles in the heated jars, heat the pickle juice to a simmer and pour over the pickles in the cleaned jars, stopping a half inch from the top.  Add lids to the jars and screw on rings.  Wait 30 minutes.  You know jars are properly sealed when you hear a "ping".

I've been waiting over 30 minutes now and I was starting to give up hope when I got this e-mail from my mother.
My nine jars of tomatoes just pinged almost an hour after processing so don't give up on your pickles.  Mom
I'm still waiting waiting for the ping, but I guess I'll just have to be patient a little while longer.  I'll let you know what happens.

UPDATE: August 6, 2010 3:41 PM
Over an hour has passed and no "ping". Sigh...

UPDATE: August 6, 2010 4:10 PM
An hour and a half has passed. I think I heard one ping and one of the jars looks different from the rest.  I opened one of the three remaining jars and it hadn't sealed.

UPDATE: August 6, 2010 9:30 PM
Alas, I only heard one ping today.  I'll have to re-boil the syrup and start over again tomorrow.

UPDATE: August 7, 2010 6:46 AM
I woke up this morning and all the jars (except the one I opened in a fit of frustration) seem to have sealed.  I guess my mother was right.  Be patient.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Heirloom Food and Blog Posts- Lost in Space

Last night I wrote what I thought was a pretty good blog post about my Sunday dinner this past week.  It started out a little rough, but by the time I finished I was happy with it, especially considering it had been such a struggle to get to that point.  Just as I added the final photo to the post, I watched half of it disappear before my eyes.  This unleashed a torrent of foul language that was so out of character that my husband ran into the room to see what was wrong with me.  While trying to help me recover the lost text, he ended up accidentally deleting the other half of the post.  I silently, but fiercely brushed him away from my keyboard and tried very hard not to say what I was thinking out loud.  After all, I’d deleted the first half of the post myself so this was really only half his fault.  And he really was trying to help.

I sat staring at the blank screen for a few minutes before giving up and collapsing in a pile of tears on my bed.  I recognized that I might be blowing this out of proportion, but I still felt like I had lost something important and irretrievable.  Was this true?  Well, it was certainly true that the post was irretrievably lost, but probably not important.  I hadn’t liked it much in the first place.  But I couldn’t help feeling that there was something in there that I might miss one day.

This is the same feeling I get when I think about my family’s heirloom foods—even the ones I don’t like very much.  I know that I would miss them if they were gone and I know that I have to start now to learn how to make any many of them as I can while my parents are still around and healthy enough to teach me how to make them.  (I hate to be morbid, but I know my parents would be the first people to agree with this.  My father’s been telling me and my sister that if he has a stroke and drops dead while running when he’s an old man, we should be happy for him.)  But back to the issue at hand. 

Checklist of Heirloom Foods I Can’t Live Without (in order of importance) 
1. Country Ham- I have my Uncle Elwood’s recipe and I’ve spent some time watching my father work through different stages of the curing process.  Practical experimentation must be postponed until I have a cool, dry, rodent free environment in which to cure a ham.
2. Pickles- Got it.  See The Pickle Project.
3. Apple sauce.  Next up.  Unless apple season ends before I finish off the pickle project by canning the extra pickles.
4. Grape Jelly.  Definitely postponed until next year.
5. Apple Butter.  Not that my family ever made this, but we always had a source from friends of a local church.  So unless I move back to the South, I’m going to have to tackle this one sometime.

That’s all I can think of right now, but my daughter is sitting next to me repeating the phrase “uh-oh spaghetti-o” over and over so I could be missing something.  I will continue to add to this list.  And once I finish off the “heirloom foods” (meaning food products you have to grow/pickle/preserve/or otherwise process yourself), I’m going to start on the recipes...