Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Local Harvest Indeed!

So this vine appeared in my yard. I have reason to believe it was spawned from the CSA pumpkins my neighbors' children carved for jack-o-lanterns last fall.

So tonight, these...

...became these!

(These babies are at their peak of deliciousness for about 10 seconds, max. One shot only for the photo! You can't exactly let them sit in the heat after picking them, either.)


UPDATE: I was asked to write a little "Guest Blog" entry for the Crooked Sky Farms website. That's the farm that supplies my CSA. I wrote a bit more about these blossoms, and included a recipe of sorts.
Here it is.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Not In California

So, I'm not touring California at the moment. I had hoped to... kind of planned to... but a number of things have gotten in the way. Not the least of which are the technical difficulties I'm having getting the luggage system set up on my new wheels. Turns out the "cool factor" short tail kit on my bike is keeping me from installing my not-so-cool-but-oh-so-convenient top box mounting rack. (Honestly, I'm not sure why the previous owner paid several hundred dollars just to raise the license plate a bit. Whatever. Function over form, if you ask me, even IF the form of my wheels happens to be... gorgeous!) Even though I now have a little tank bag, at the moment I pretty much have to pick two out of three: water, sandwich or rainsuit. Not great for a hypoglycemic living in the desert during monsoon. Today I ended up needing all three.

Anyway, now seems like a good time to ride to those sorts of places I never stop at when I'm trying to reach further destinations before nightfall.

I took this picture at Roosevelt Lake with the 10 second camera timer and a 100 yard dash. The nearest appropriately placed rock was probably an 8 second sprint away, leaving me 2 seconds to compose myself and look thoughtfully at the horizon. Some day I'll get one of those little collapsible tripods. Just as soon as I have luggage room for it.

Here's the lower cliff dwelling and a lake view at Tonto National Monument. Dang it, it's so easy to leave the exposure compensation dial in the wrong place!

And a geocache grab!

My sandwich wasn't really worth photographing.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Maiden Voyage!

Hypoglycemics NEVER skip breakfast. Not even for their first ride up the mountain on a Ducati. But I wasn't about to linger over my meal today*. Yes, yes, the photo is not what I was going for exactly, but it was this or worse. Not a chance I was going through THIS right now.

Maiden voyage first leg: Push the bike out of the back yard, through the narrow alley, tipping it this way and that, turning the wheel left and right (don't drop it!), dodging the neighbor's window unit evaporative cooler, trash cans, recycle bins and generally making the most of the generous two inches of clearance (watch those mirrors!). Then roll it down the little hill (don't let it get away!), onto the sidewalk, hard left turn and...
Check! (Phew.)

Second leg: a few trips around the block. Exactly when does this particular clutch disengage? (The consequences of goofing this are greater than those in a car. Think pretty new bike lying on the ground. Imagine feeling like an idiot.) And, oopsy... where did that footpeg go?

Third leg: stop in the nearest parking lot and see exactly what these new brakes feel like. How hard I can stomp on them without running into trouble? (Well, you don't really stomp on the brakes on a motorcycle. Or you shouldn't. But I liked the word.) A few controlled emergency stops are in order.

Fourth leg: Enough of this! Let's go! Wheeeee!

It's tough to take a self portrait of you AND your bike, as you can see, especially with an iPhone.

So here's one of the bike. Ain't she purty?? Rrreowww!

Hypoglycemics actually eat TWO breakfasts! Here's my celebratory crepe from "Planet of the Crepes." The food on Mt. Lemmon is dismal. I've said more than once that if someone doesn't do something about that soon, I will have to. The crepes wagon is a new and welcome addition. I think I would have peeled the apples for this apple caramel version, though.

Hee hee - he can't see me , but I can see him! There's another rider who has parked behind me and is now taking pictures of my bike. It's THAT cool! We chatted a bit about our respective journeys and he also took a picture of ME. (I guess *I* am THAT COOL, too!) He was kind enough to email it to me (iPhone to iPhone!), and here I am, happy happy! (Disclaimer: he's sending the pictures to his wife, who he is encouraging to ride. As in, "Look at this cool bike! And it's a GIRL riding it!")

Fifth, final, and most dangerous leg: u-turn onto the sidewalk. Do a 586 point turn to get the front wheel, at least, pointed towards the alley. Dismount. Open gate. Return to the side of bike, walk next to it, while "driving" it up the aforementioned hill, now a serious threat - goofing that new feeling clutch and throttle now would mean certain disaster. Simultaneously hop over watermelon sized rocks, stairs, avoid wiping out on the welcome mat, negotiate other alarming obstacles, any of which could easily spell.... crrrrUNCH! Squeak through the alley again, tip this way, that way, and...

You wonder why I'm using my iPhone for my maiden voyage pictures? Because my G11 doesn't quiiiite fit in my pocket, and I didn't yet have one of these:

A "tank bag," the goofy looking yet indispensable piece of luggage you see sitting atop the gas tank. I picked one up on my way home. The G11 will join me on my next voyage, but perhaps I'll be moving too fast to get a good shot. Tee hee!

*"Today," is, in fact, now "a day or two ago." I can report that on my next trip, I was indeed moving too fast. Well, according to some people. In other words, on that day, that stats read as follows:
Officer Conto - 1, Ducati - 0

UPDATE: See here, post number 5. Ducati fame! (HE didn't get a ticket. Harrumph again.)

SO. I took a little trip to SoCal...

Here's dinner the night before. It's not really relevant to my story, but it's another food photo with my new camera. It's a Canon G11, if you're curious - not a fancy (expensive!) dSLR, but definitely an upgrade from my broken Lumix. For the record I made the tortillas (with lard, thank you), the refried beans (using those dried Scarlet Runner Beans I mentioned earlier, never canned beans - it makes a difference!, and again with lard, again, thank you), the salsa, and everything else you see on the plate. Well, except the yogurt stand in for the sour cream. I guess I did strain it myself rather than paying for Greek style yogurt, for what it's worth. Yes, I did say I used lard, people. It's not all that much. And certain things should just not be messed with. If it helps (and it probably doesn't), I rendered the lard myself. That white brick of stuff in the grocery does not qualify as a food item in my book. Oh, right, to be fair, I didn't make the cheese, which you can't see, so I guess my earlier statement still holds true. Goodness, I'm getting off track, aren't I?

ANYWAY, I had some business to do at the French Consulate. (I have dual citizenship - USA and French.) French bureaucracy has got to be the 8th (dubious) wonder of the world. Try this on for size: anytime I need a French birth certificate, it has to be one issued in the past 3 or 6 months (depending.) The certificate gets mailed from France. I was born in the US.
This photo doesn't show the half of it.

Picked up some dinner at Deluca Trattoria in El Segundo (chosen for its location, my tight schedule, and a recommendation by, for all intents and purposes, a total stranger). Not earth shattering, but perfectly respectable. If an Italian restaurant wants to win the OMG Award from me, it better be making its own pasta. But, still, a perfectly enjoyable meal located on a charming block of Richmond Street.

While on the coast, any desert dweller must order seafood (see above) AND has to at least get her feet wet. Here's a rather unflattering self portrait at the nearby Dockweiler Beach State Park.

And then a little shopping. Anyone that knows me will recognize this last sentence as suspect. I do NOT shop. I hate it and it often reduces me to tears. Well, except for grocery shopping. That's fun.

I picked up one of these. What the heck, right?









2009 Ducati Monster 696, 600 miles on the odo and not even a fingerprint on the body. (Craig's List)

Sunday, August 15, 2010

On Taking Food Photos When You'd Rather Be Eating

Food photography is hard! Well, not difficult, really, but it requires the kind of time and effort that is 100% counter-productive to enjoying your meal. The food shown in "real" food photography does not taste anything like it looks. In fact, it's usually thrown away. First of all, this delicious looking food is often shellacked, under cooked, over cooked, over seasoned, under seasoned, coated in motor oil, shoe polish, spray deodorant, hairspray, white glue (really!) and worse, all for appearances sake. Well, I am certainly not going to do THAT. Secondly, in the time it takes to get a good picture, the food has gotten too cold, too hot, too soft, too congealed, too soggy, too dry, too wilted, too brown... certainly too SOMETHING. This is exactly why I never have good food photos. No doubt you sense my respect for food. That is, oddly, why I like to take pictures of it. But my respect goes too far to let the food expire past its prime (which is often only moments from when it is set upon the table) while I'm messing about with the camera. Since I've promised better photos, today I thought I'd take a picture of my pate. Pate, although not particularly pretty, doesn't melt and tastes decent within a wide range of temperatures, so I figured it would be a good candidate for my first photo shoot in which the photo was the primary purpose for the meal. Plus I wasn't starving to death, nor had I just prepared it, and too curious about the end result to take more than a quick snapshot.

In order to take this simple and not particularly amazing picture of my aforementioned Fegatini al Burro I had to:

  • Wait a day for my bread to stale enough such that I could slice it without its losing its shape.
  • Toast the bread slices, hovering over the toaster oven EVERY SECOND so I could remove it the moment it reached peak attractive toast color.
  • Take the pate out of the fridge and mash it around with mortar and pestle so it would be nice and spreadable, so as not crush my toast. Since my house was approximately 95 degrees (not kidding), that did not take long. Imagine what I'd have to do to photograph ice cream.
  • Root around in my freezer for some parsley - I didn't have any fresh on hand. Frozen parsley is difficult to sprinkle artfully, so I was forced to break my promise to myself that I would not go so far as to apply the parsley leaves with tweezers. For the record, I only "edited" the parsley with the tweezers. The majority of sprinkling was done freehand. I'm definitely not happy with the parsley.
  • Clear out all the silly things in the background, most of which I only noticed after taking a photo - a canvas bag hanging on a doorknob here, my skirt drying on a rack there, etc.
  • Take a least 10 pictures to get one good, no... one acceptable photo. I could have set my standards higher, but I was getting hungry.
  • I didn't even think about lighting, aside from turning the house lights on, and the flash off. This (not thinking about lighting) automatically makes me a bad photographer, although knowing to turn the flash off gives me a point or two in the other direction.

After all that, I didn't even get to enjoy the accompanying glass of wine, since I was, by that time, late for an airport run. This little "snapshot" probably took me an hour (not counting the day it took for the bread to stale). The pate was good, but too warm. It would have been better if I had left the camera in its case.

The wine? I'm drinking it now.

Friday, August 13, 2010

A Culinary Personals Ad

SWF seeks hungry (and hopefully handsome) Italian farmer in need of a farm wife. Farm preferred in Tuscany, but any Italian location will do.

I want to spend my days putting up tomatoes from my garden, rolling out sheets of pasta, collecting eggs from the chicken house, riding my bicycle to the local olive oil mill, making bread, salting hams, forming cheeses... all in time with the changing seasons. Why is it that thoughts of this bring such an ache of desire and gratitude for the bounty of each year?

Each year, when I return from Utah in August, I find myself with time on my hands. The summer job is over, the work in Tucson has not yet begun. And each year, I find myself caught up in a new cooking obsession.

Last year it was pasta. I spent seemingly all of August and September rolling out paper thin sheets for pappardelle, ravioli, tagliatelle, you name it. And no, I did not use a little hand crank machine (not that there's anything wrong with that). I rolled it in the traditional style (which is more stretching than rolling, with three distinct techniques) with a long dowel cut to size by Home Depot (what self-respecting thrifty farm wife would spend $40 on one from a fancy kitchen supply store, anyway?). Oh, it was such good pasta! I'll make more this month, for sure, starting with some farfalle.

A couple of days ago I spent an entire day reading about my Scarlet Runner beans from Native Seeds/SEARCH before cooking them. No doubt I'll do the same before I cook the Rio Zope beans, too. But that's just normal behaviour for me, not the annual obsession. This year's fetish crystallized this morning. It started with a pound of CSA chicken livers in my freezer. I made them into a simple pate, Fegatini al Burro, if you must know - basically poor man's foie gras. (And it's PC to boot, since the livers came from some of Josh's Foraging Fowl I talked about here.) I enjoyed it last night with a friend, and again today for a snack. Then the voices in my head started, first as a whisper, but soon they drowned out the trains down the street.

The Voices in My Head: "Hmm, do you suppose I could can this stuff?? Yes... yes... I can can this stuff WITH THE PRESSURE CANNER I BOUGHT LAST YEAR! Pate de campagne, fegatini al burro, rabbit pate (well, the rabbit will have to wait for the UT farmers market next year) but... How COOL would it be to be able to bust out a jar of this stuff on a moment's notice?"

You get my point. Internet research and library runs followed and I know I'll soon have jars of the stuff lined up next to the canned apricots, raspberries, rhubarb, strawberries, tomatoes, lime curd, pickles, watermelon rind etc. etc. currently filling the pantry.

I don't have a pate picture (yet), but this picture shows what I'd make for you, dear Massimiliano, (that is what I've named my Italian Farmer, who is still, sadly, only imaginary), when I had a garden full of zucchini and tomatoes.

I got a new camera this summer, I'm learning to take better food pictures, I promise, I promise! But it's so hard to bother with what it takes to get a REALLY good food picture, when you'd rather be eating it.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Colorado Route

Here's the map at least, since I've been too busy riding to actually finish that photo collage I promised. Routes ridden more than once not indicated! Wow... looking at this, it seems a million years ago now.