BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


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Background Information

Every single photo, be it simple or complex, novice or professional, must always start with two essential components: A subject and a background. Whether we’re talking about people, products, or skyscrapers, it’s the same story. Mercifully, greater control is bestowed upon the photographer lucky enough to work with food, effortlessly modifying textures, colors, and patterns to best highlight the dish du jour. Inevitably cast as the backup singer by definition, photographic backgrounds never get the praise they deserve for setting the scene. Few single components can lay claim to the same power when it comes to affecting the whole composition of a piece in one fell swoop. Such responsibility naturally comes with serious drawbacks, especially when you find your microscopic apartment studio bursting at the seams with huge wooden boards and slabs of worn ceramic tiles. Lest every image start looking the same, it becomes imperative to start diversifying your options, and fast.

Uber Gray Grunge From Ink and Elm Backdrops

For a number of years, I found moderate success using lengths of contact paper as one approach to expand my collection of backgrounds, but this approach has distinct limitations. Rarely do the most useful patterns come in a matte finish, leading to distracting reflections or harsh shiny spots under the glare of strobe lights, especially if there should ever be the smallest wrinkle in the roll.

It was a serendipitous moment of aimless online shopping when I stumbled across Ink and Elm Backdrops. Though clearly developed with the portrait photographer in mind, I immediately saw potential for my inanimate focal points, too. Made of high-quality vinyl, the big question would be how that texture would translate under the close scrutiny of a macro lens. Don’t expect deep wood grain or genuine stone surfaces, but happily, not a single image came out screaming “ARTIFICIAL PRINT BACK HERE! THIS IS ALL A FARCE!” Good news too, since I hate it when my props yell at me.

Heirloom Planks From Ink and Elm Backdrops

Best of all for food photography, these surfaces are highly washable. Go ahead, lay your greasiest potato chips right on top, splash around with cookies dunked in milk; nothing seems to shake these sturdy foundations.

Flexible sizing is another big benefit that traditional alternatives can’t boast. Small squares are available for your basic shoot, but if you want to create a whole Thanksgiving spread on a rustic oak table spanning a couple of feet in both directions, they’ve got you covered, too. Plus, each sheet easily rolls up for compact storage when it’s all said and done.

There is one very serious pitfall to ordering through Ink and Elm, however. Their expansive catalog is so extensive, it’s almost impossible to pick out just one or two patterns!


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Oregon’s Got Talent

Nestled into the mountainous terrain of southern Oregon resides a town often praised for its close proximity to other cities. Ashland, home of quite possibly the longest running and most prolific Shakespeare festival in the US, is a mere ten-minute drive away, and Medford, large enough to support its very own Airport, is another bustling metropolis within easy reach. Talent, Oregon may not have one particular claim to fame nor pop up on most travel guides of the Pacific North West, but after spending a few days in the 1.33 square miles that over 6,000 residents call home, it seems a shame to overlook this hidden gem.

If for nothing else, it’s worth stopping in for some rest and relaxation on Shady Grove Farm. Established by Husband and Wife Lynn and Lin, it’s a sanctuary for animals and humans alike. Make no mistake, it’s not just a place to stay, but a full vacation in and of itself. Stay in one of the many rooms available, from a studio with a complete kitchen, to a cozy tent by the fire for “glamping,” and you’ll immediately realize that you’re truly a guest in the Bernhardts’ home.

Tempting as it may be to sleep in every morning, the promise of Lin’s breakfast is a good reason to greet the day. As a vegan and talented cook, I’ve never eaten so well or so richly for the first meal of the day; tofu scramble enchiladas, smothered in a mild green hatch chile sauce. Cooking intuitively, when plied for a recipe, she offered that the real secret to success for this dish was a light veneer of Vegenaise lavished across the tortillas, providing moisture and flavor in one fell swipe.

Even when I professed my love for plain old oatmeal, Lin managed to create a bowlful fit for a king. Lavished with fresh strawberries and complimented by brown sugar, peach chutney, and sweet oat milk, each of the homemade condiments elevated the steel-cut grains to a new level. After that experience, it would be impossible to go back to instant.

If you’re really lucky, before you go off gallivanting around the farm to explore the organic garden or help feed the chickens, Lin just might gift you with a handful of her homemade chocolate chip cookies. No matter how stuffed you are after breakfast, when faced with these soft and chewy treats, it always seems perfectly reasonable to follow it up with a sweet morning snack.

Though it feels like an oasis in the countryside, you’re far from stranded when staying at the farm. Main Street is a short walk away, and while it may boast only a dozen businesses or so, there’s a surprising wealth of fine dining to be found. Even on Sunday evening when all other eateries were closed, The Grotto turned out to be a lucky find. Happy to accommodate hungry vegans, it was no problem to forgo the cheese on any of their myriad pizza offerings, and the promise of an unlimited salad bar is always music to my ears. Don’t overlook the beers and tap, either- A crisp glass of pear cider made this meal into something truly special.

If there’s only one opportunity to eat out, however, I would insist that you pay a visit to Harvest Restaurant. Don’t bother consulting the menu, but call ahead and alert the kitchen that you would like a vegan entree. State your budget, and be prepared for an unforgettable meal. Working with whatever fresh, local, and organic produce is on hand, the chef works magic to craft incredible meatless mains right on the spot. I was amazed at the tower of caramelized onion farro, grilled squash, beets, and chanterelle mushrooms, and crisp fried potatoes that greeted me at the table. Rather than finding dietary restrictions an imposition, the chef gamely takes on any requests, claiming that it’s like a real-life version of Iron Chef that he genuinely relishes. For dessert, sorbet was already on the menu, and the bright, honey-like cantaloupe flavor made for an idea finish to this impeccable dinner.

I had always seen myself more as a city gal, drawn to the daily hustle and bustle like a moth to the light, but this trip had me reconsidering that notion… This beautiful slice of country life seems like the perfect antidote to the common urban commotion.

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