An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


Veggin’ Out with VegNews

Months race by with a quickening pace, exaggerated by summer’s dwindling warmth and a sun that goes to bed just a little bit earlier each day. 2012 slips through my fingers just a little bit more each day, as fluid and irrepressible as water trickling out of a leaky faucet. Since this is more than a mere plumbing issue with an easy fix, it’s at least decent consolation that the runaway months frequently bring with them a new issue of VegNews to pour over and forget all about the usual over-scheduling woes. The September/October issue may be dominated by compelling recipes for all things cheesy and unbelievably dairy-free, but there’s so much more nestled into those crisp, glossy pages, too.

There’s always a need for something sweet to balance out all of those salty snacks, and Beverly Lynn Bennett‘s Chocolate Pumpkin Bread Pudding fills in that requirement with ease. Lightly spiked with bourbon and redolent of warm, comforting spices, merely popping this dish in the oven does wonders to soften the blow of a fading summer season. Simple enough for the most novice baker to excel, it’s a recipe to hang on to for the coming holiday season. Plus, when served with the suggested sticky, gooey, Salted Caramel Sauce, it’s truly a dessert to remember.

Bringing in a healthy yet hearty option, Gena Hamshaw proves that raw food needn’t be contained to only the warmest of months in order to satisfy. Savory “Meatballs” made of mushrooms, sunflower seeds, and red beets top a generous mound of zucchini noodles, all smothered in a rich sun-dried tomato Marinara Sauce. A delicious departure from the standard fatty, heavy rendition of the concept, these uncooked balls pack incredible amounts umami into tiny little flavor bombs.

For an issue like this, the best part of the job is definitely “cleaning up” when each photo shoot is all wrapped up. Keep an eye out for your copy if you’re subscriber, or venture out to the local bookstore if you’re not, because this is one you’ll want to hang on to!



Tough as Nails

More than Elbow Grease

Roast Ducks

Fillet of Sole / Toe-fu
(All the credit for those titles goes to the subject herself!)

Cooking the Books

…And so ends another semester. Does it surprise anyone that my final project, even in a portrait photography class, ends up being about food? All of my lovely lovely models here deserve serious props- Thanks for being such good sports about cheerfully ruining your pans, books, and foot wear!


Raising the Sushi Bar

Coordinating shared meals can be tough enough with just one or two family members, but when everyone’s home at the dinner hour at once, it can be nearly impossible. Greatly disparate tastes define us, ranging from the fairly healthy vegan (hi there!) to the vegetable-hating omnivore, making it challenging to get a universally agreeable meal on the table, to say the least. In a pinch there is at least one safe haven where we can all find something good to eat, however: The sushi bar.

Topping this list of “must order” items is edamame. Those young soy beans are one of the only green edibles that said vegetable-hater will actually consume, and even willingly most times! Trust me, that’s a big deal in our household. Thus, a big bowl of edamame always graces our table, to be shared communally.

Vegetable gyoza are another staple found on most menus, and what’s not to like about chewy wonton skin stretched around a savory filling? Steamed or fried, plump parcels or dainty half-moons, even bad gyoza are pretty darn good.

And of course, the main event, the sushi. There’s so much more than just the standard cucumber and avocado, but there’s nothing wrong with those reassuring staples either. Nigiri is usually off the menu for me, but hey, when it’s made of this much fiber, it’s got to be vegan!

Tiny sushi bar pattern by Anna Hrachovec


Food Paparazzi

Most comfortable in my quiet “studio” kitchen, working solo and in control of every single element from food to lighting, Wednesday evening’s photography job threw me completely outside of my comfort zone. Featuring many of New York’s premiere vegan restaurants, caterers, and other food organizations, the Healthy Food in Fashion gala promised extraordinary eats from many renowned chefs. Tempted, but intimidated, I balked at the offer; Event photography is not my area of expertise, to say the least. Upon learning that there would be another shooter covering the people, and all I had to worry about was the food, let’s just say that I couldn’t assemble my gear fast enough.

Learning on the fly, I got much more out of this evening than just delicious and memorable morsels. Here are just a few tips for anyone else acting as the food paparazzi for a glamorous (or everyday) event…

Arrive early… But not too early. I showed up a full two hours before the gala was set to begin, and to be honest, I was just in the way for at least one of those hours. Most of the chefs had yet to arrive, and no one had any food prepped and ready for its closeup. It’s definitely easier to get a head-start and begin shooting before guests begin to fill the room, but don’t go overboard.

Consider more than just the food. Yes, that’s the main reason that you’re here, but there’s so much more to the event as well. Snap a few shots of interesting decor, people interacting with the food, anything of interest. It helps tell a more complete story than just a few random plates floating in an ocean of green tablecloth.

Don’t photograph people while they’re eating, ever. It might seem like an interesting “action shot,” but 9 times out of 10, it’s just unflattering. For the remaining 1 time out of 10 it’s downright gross. Plus, it makes guests feel very uncomfortable regardless.

If you’re getting strange color casts from tinted lights, don’t worry about it. Seriously, there are more important things to concern yourself with, especially in post-processing. Don’t go nuts trying to remove the blue highlights caused by mood lighting; it adds ambiance to the photo, in my opinion.

Bump up that ISO, and don’t look back. I typically hate going above 200 ISO due to the grainy quality of the images beyond that, but it’s a sacrifice worth making in such a low-light situation. Since there is really no room to set up a tripod, you’ll have to hand-hold the camera the whole time. A higher ISO can make the difference between getting a useable image, or getting a blurry, out of focus photo due to a longer exposure time. For this event, I went up to 800 ISO.

Do use flash, but don’t use straight on-camera flash. A speedlite (or speedlight, for Nikon cameras) makes a huge difference because you can change the direction of the light. Direct flash will never be flattering to food, so don’t even try it. Always send the light behind you, over your shoulder, or above you, to bounce off of [hopefully] white walls or ceilings. This will help to soften and diffuse it. Also, it helps to get further away from the food if you can’t reduce the intensity of your flash.

Bring about a million backup batteries. That external flash eats them like candy, and there’s nothing more frustrating than having it not fire after you’ve lined up the perfect shot, just because the battery is running low.

Use either a telephoto or zoom lens, to give you some distance from your subject. This is especially helpful so that you’re not jostling hungry guests out of the way, and can stand back from the tables a bit. A macro lens could work if you have nothing else, but I find them harder to stabilize and get sharp images from without the aide of a tripod.

Grab yourself a plate of something particularly lovely, take it off to the side (or enlist a helpful guest to hold it for you) and arrange it nicely. This will help to switch things up, so all of your photos aren’t just big platters of many servings. Also, since you’re taking the food for yourself, you can go crazy and touch it/style it as you wish. And then, of course, you can eat it!

For the rest of my photos from the evening, plus descriptions of the edibles in the spotlight, you can check out my album on Flickr.

Have you ever acted as food paparazzi for an event? What are your tips for securing the best shots?


Make Room for Mesquite

Wrapped up in soft long sleeves and knee-high socks, the night air still felt unseasonably harsh. Pumpkins and butternut squash looked like aliens in the produce department, suddenly materializing out of nowhere. Have they always been quite so orange, or so large? A year is a long time to go without seeing a close friend, and any small change (or constant, for that matter) seems magnified to outlandish proportions. Considering that it’s now mid-September, the annual shift in temperatures and available vegetables is right on schedule, but it’s me that is behind the times.

Nightfall comes to earlier, too, and the air is much too dry. Autumn is no doubt a beautiful time of year with many good aspects to look forward to, but I’m just not ready to embrace it yet. There are still cherry tomatoes ripening in the garden, for crying out loud!

But fall waits for no one; an impatient and demanding guest at best. Unwilling to dive into the deep end right away, a gentle dip into the season sounded like a more comfortable approach. One toe at a time, feeling out the waters, trying hard to settle in no matter how swift the current. Passing the squash for now, I moved on to a long-forgotten bag of flour in my pantry that seemed like an easier way to greet autumn. Yes, flour: Mesquite flour, to be precise.

Mesquite flour isn’t seasonal per se, but it has cooler weather written all over it if you ask me. Mesquite reminds me of autumn because it has a warm, toasty flavor, reminiscent of a crackling, smokey wood fire in the fireplace. That rich, earthy scent that fills the air as the smoke rises up through the chimney and is whisked away with the brisk breeze; That’s what I think of every time I open up that bag of flour and inhale deeply. Just like that, I’m feeling warmer and lighter in spirit already.

Turning on the oven never felt more satisfying. After nearly record breaking stretches of silence over the summer, it creaked grumpily back to life before returning to a contented purr. Something simple and comforting was in order, and I knew just the thing. Muffins, inspired by those made by Amanda Chronister (previously of Vegan Core) as part of a swap practically a lifetime ago, sounded like a tender and sweet vehicle for this dark, warm flavor. Continuing to tweak as I went, the muffins became anything but the simple crumb-topped treats I had first envisioned. Coffee took the place of soymilk and cacao nibs made a crunchy companion to the chocolate chips, further enhancing the roasted essence of the mesquite. Ending up with something entirely different from the inspiration, I was happy nonetheless to still have found the original recipe, still as cute and carefully drawn out as ever.

Click to see the original recipe at full size

While mesquite may not be an everyday sort of ingredient, it’s worth the pantry space when it can deliver such a unique and satisfying flavor as this.

Chocolate Chip Mesquite Muffins

1 Cup + 2 Tablespoons All Purpose Flour
1/3 Cup Mesquite Flour
3/4 Cup Granulated Sugar
2 Teaspoons Ground Flaxseeds
2 Teaspoons Baking Powder
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
Pinch Cinnamon
1/2 Cup Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips or Chunks
1/4 Cup Cacao Nibs
1/3 Cup Canola Oil
3/4 Cup Brewed Coffee, Chilled

Turbinado Sugar, to Top

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees, and either lightly grease or line 10 standard muffin tins with cupcake papers. Set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together the both flours, sugar, ground flax, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon. Toss in the chocolate and cacao nibs, and mix lightly to coat the pieces with flour.

Separately, stir together the oil and coffee before pouring both into the bowl of dry goods. Stir just enough to combine and create a mostly smooth batter. Distribute the batter equally between your prepared muffins tins, and lightly sprinkle the tops with turbinado sugar.

Bake for 15 – 18 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center pulls out clean. (Make sure that gooey chocolate chips don’t trick you into over-baking the muffins!) Let cool in the pan for at least 15 minutes before letting them come to room temperature on a wire rack.

Makes 10 Muffins

Printable Recipe


Ugly but Tasty

It’s a conundrum that anyone who’s cooked even the bare minimum of meals has undoubtedly run into; the tastiest dishes are often the messiest, homeliest, and downright most unattractive of foods. Not an issue for the eater, who can simply close their eyes and take that first tentative taste, to realize the potential concealed by such an unassuming first impression. For a photographer, however, the added difficulty stems from the fact that viewers can only eat with their eyes. No matter how delicious you think your recipe for chili casserole is, without proper styling and propping, it will never look like anything more than muddy beans in a dish. Some foods are naturally photogenic and need little if any makeup before making their photographic debut, but others need a bit of love, and a whole lot of finesse.

Oatmeal is one particularly tricky food to capture in an appealing way. Lumpy, beige mush that goes on forever. It’s all about the toppings in this situation. Sparingly sprinkle berries (always lovely and great for color), nuts, or even chocolate chips if you want to give it a more decadent feel around the edges of the bowl. Make sure you leave enough of the actual oatmeal exposed so that it doesn’t end up looking like a bowl of fruit salad, though- If need be, add more of those beautifying ingredients around the bowl itself, as if there were so many extras, they’re simply overflowing. Move them into the background to reinforce what went into the oatmeal, sort of like a subconscious reminder.

Soups, stews, and other lumpy, semi-liquid meals share many of the same difficulties as oatmeal. You have more options here though, as any colorful veggie will instantly brighten up the picture. Green peas are my go-to addition whenever possible. Take frozen peas out of the freezer and simply thaw them under warm water. Add them after the dish is completely finished cooking so that they don’t turn brown, and leave a few out until the final plating. Insert your last few peas individually to make sure that they’re visible, but try to blend them in with a thin layer of sauce, so they don’t actually look like they’ve been placed there after the fact.

Everyone always loves seeing chocolate, but it can pose a few problems for a photographer. It’s one of the items I get many questions about, as chocolate bars in particular often give others trouble, looking more like dog droppings than candy. Isolation is key here, so that the brown-ness doesn’t just continue to blend into the background and look like a crappy smudge (pun intended.) No wood grain backgrounds for me, thanks! Go with a light, bright color or simply white to provide contrast, and most certainly a white plate if you plan to use one. Cut-away photos are always a big hit if possible, so that you can let viewers see inside the chocolates and understand the contents (and thus flavors) better. A grouping of a few chocolates can also be effective, but be careful not to overcrowd the scene.

Ice cream is a legendary troublemaker on the set, but I have to say, I don’t find it to be such a pain to work with.  Though most people wouldn’t categorize it as “ugly food,” it goes from lovely and all made up to a droopy, gloppy, and unappetizing mess in mere minutes.  The key is speed and efficiency; Have your set all assembled and ready to go, white balance and exposure adjusted, and bowls empty and waiting before you take the ice cream out of the freezer. Limit yourself to a maximum of two bowls or scoops in the beginning, because it takes too much time to get that “perfect” sphere so many times over. As soon as the ice cream hits the set, snap like the wind; take as many photos as you can, from as many different angles, so that you can have a large number of greatly varied shots to choose from. Ideally, this should give you a better likelihood of getting that winning photo in one go. And don’t worry if the scoops don’t look perfect- They shouldn’t look dry and immaculate like colored mashed potatoes! A bit of melting or dripping fudge sauce makes for a mouthwatering effect.

Food in jars, no matter what the main ingredient, has the odds stacked against it. Typically long-simmered or preserved to a mummified state, they lack the brightness that fresh produce could offer. The key is to bring light, and plenty of it, into the frame. Try to shine light directly through the glass jars from behind, to give it a warm “glow.” Add fresh ingredients around the jars, to give viewers an idea of what vibrant produce went into making those pickles or jam. Remove some of the contents of the jars, and style them as you would expect to eat them; on toast, in a sandwich, etc.

The list can go on until the end of time, but these are the top five that come to my mind first. What are your ugliest dishes, and most difficult foods to photograph? If I get enough suggestions, perhaps there can be a part two for styling tips and tricks for these unphotogenic edibles!


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