Category Archives: Food

Back to School: Food Photography Workshop

Back to school. I can’t believe I said that. If you are a teacher, like me, you can’t believe that fall is around the corner and that we will be back in class very soon. If you are visiting this site for the first time, you will notice that this blog has a focus on food and learning, often both at the same time. This is a repost of an article I wrote a couple of years ago. If your fall is CRAZY, remember that you need to take care of yourself, too. Plan to get out and learn something new this fall. Some of you may have an interest in taking a course on food photography.

The workshop described in this post is offered again on Saturday, October 3rd, 2015. Visit the link provided, for more information and to register.

[Repost from November 14, 2013]

This past weekend, I had an opportunity to learn from food photographer, Lauren Cheong, who led a workshop at GTA Photography, here in Toronto.

GTA Photography holds its classes in a beautiful, airy space near the St. Lawrence market. Our small group sat in comfy couches for an introductory theory lesson, covering the basics of lighting, composition and styling for food photography. We watched slides on a flat-screen monitor and felt comfortable to ask our questions, no matter how basic.

The workshop was on a Sunday afternoon, which permitted us to shoot in natural light. Overcast skies allowed just the right kind of light through the large windows of the studio: dispersed and not too bright. In short order, we were experimenting with what we had just learned, using props, fruits and dried pasta which were provided by Lauren.

GTAfood

Lighting

This is shot from the side, using natural window light. The shadows in the first photo are a bit harsh, and could be softened by using a reflector opposite the window. If you can get highlights on berries or other dark objects, it creates depth. Dark objects are very hard to shoot.

Berries

Now have a look at how much softer the shadows appear when a reflector is used opposite the window, to reflect light back into the set.

Berries3

Composition

Shallow depth of field is often used to ensure that only the “hero”, which is the best specimen, is in focus. The additional items in the set are there to create visual interest, and to keep us looking around the shot at the story being told.

A shallow depth of field can be created by zooming in on the subject, or by using a large aperture. In this particular shot, I should never have had the lime “butt” facing the camera (unattractive, wouldn’t you agree), but at least the hero lemon is in focus in the foreground. The shadows could be softened a bit better with a reflector, although I am happy with the highlights on the fruit.

Citrus

Styling

Make sure your set tells a story that makes sense. For example, if you are photographing a cut grapefruit, you might include a knife and/or a spoon, but a fork would not make sense. If you lack props, Lauren reminded us that the props must not be the centre of attention when photographing food. She also gave us some local suggestions for renting props. This is one of the benefits of going to a workshop with an expert in your community.

If you have mastered the basics of manual settings on your DSLR, and have an interest in food photography for any purpose, I would highly recommend this workshop.

Apples

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Invasive Ingredient: Removing the rusty crayfish from Ontario waters, one étouffée at a time

Like many Ontario children, I learned about crayfish at camp, overturning boulders in streams, and chasing the flipping tails as they disappeared into clouds of silt. In those days, Ontario was home to seven species of native crayfish, including the large, fastwater species, Cambarus robustus, the cryptic burrowing crayfish, Fallicambarus fodiens and the tiny Orconectes propinquus.

Little did we know that the impact we had on the crayfish population was nothing compared to the simultaneous and sinister arrival of the invading crayfish, Orconectes rusticus. This Ohio native was brought across the US border into Ontario by eager bass fishermen as bait, dumped overboard at the end of a day of fishing and left to successfully reproduce.

Crayfishing19

There is nothing better than spending a hot day with pants rolled up in a cool stream, net in hand, on the lookout for fast-moving decapods.

According to the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters’ website, invadingspecies.org, the success of this invasive species has much to do with its ability to both avoid the predation of fish and destroy the underwater vegetation which serves as habitat for fish spawning. To make matters worse, they reach a large size much more quickly than their native counterparts, enabling them to outmuscle natives for available rock shelters, says Dr. Premek Hamr, a crayfish biologist and expert on this invasive species. (Full disclosure: he also happens to be my partner.)

If they are good enough for bass, couldn’t rusty crayfish be good enough for human consumption, too?

In her article, “Appetite for Destruction” (Hemispheres magazine), Jodi Helmer describes the way chefs in the U.S. are using four introduced species in their menus. In particular, chef Bun Lai in New Haven, Connecticut is reported to be collecting the introduced Asian Shore Crab to use in a seafood stock and as a garnish in his sushi restaurant.

I asked Francine Macdonald, Senior Invasive Species Biologist at the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, whether she thought that a similar initiative could work in Ontario. “Well I am not much of a foodie,” she laughs, “but certainly people have eaten the rusty crayfish.” I asked Macdonald whether she thought there could be any roadblocks to the use of rusty crayfish in restaurants, knowing that the regulations for possession of crayfish as baitfish had recently changed.

rusty 47

Nicknamed the rusty crayfish, Orconectes rusticus can be identified by the distinct rust-coloured spots on either side of its thorax. Photo credit: Premek Hamr

“The regulations allow for a fisherman to carry 36 live crayfish, but only on the water on which they have been caught,” she says. “It is illegal to transport them across land.” Thus it becomes important to cook crayfish as close as possible to the water’s edge, in order to avoid any misunderstanding regarding transportation of an invasive species across land.

The crayfish boil is a southern tradition that our family had long ago adopted in our efforts to single-handedly wipe out the rusty crayfish from the Ouse and Indian Rivers, in Peterborough County.

Low country boil

Low Country Boil. Photo credit: Tom Lecuyer

Joe Roman, a conservation biologist from the University of Vermont, has started a campaign called “Eat the Invaders” to bring attention to the delicious possibility of putting invasive species where your mouth is. Luckily for the residents of Sparkling Lake, Wisconsin, postdoc researcher Gretchen Hansen has been catching and cooking rusty crayfish there for over eight years. On eattheinvaders.org, she reports having reduced the density of that species to about 1% of original numbers. Her favourite recipes are Crayfish Étouffée and a Low Country Boil. Both are traditional recipes which can be found on foodnetwork.com. However, you can’t do much better than having your hand held as Ed the Crawfish Master walks you through your paces at cajuncrawfish.com

One of the differences between Ontario crayfish and their saltwater cousin, the lobster, is that crayfish need the addition of salt when you boil them, but they don’t need to be overpowered with spice, as do the muddier Louisiana crawfish.

Scandinavians celebrate the opening of the crayfishing season, Kräftskiva, with our family’s favourite way to season the mild and sweet flesh of the Ontario crayfish, kräftor med dill. The recipe, found on swedishfood.com, uses a simple broth of dill, beer, anise and salt. Chased with aquavit of course. Skål!

Kraftskiva

You don’t need to be Swedish to enjoy the traditional crayfish party, Kräftskiva, celebrated every August.

What you need

  • A valid fishing license and Outdoors Card (a conservation license will do). In Ontario, anyone under the age of 18 can fish as long as they are in the company of a licensed fisherman over 18.
  • Handheld dip net
  • Bucket
  • A portable propane burner that can support a one-gallon pot of water.
  • Salt
  • Dill
  • Observe your local laws if you are considering bringing beer or aquavit to your shore lunch

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Ice Cream, Unpacked

As long as temperatures hover above 25 degrees C in downtown Toronto, popular patios have one thing in common – ice cream. Its purveyors know that the pleasure each scoop brings is due only in part to the perfectly addictive combination of cream, sugar and egg; the greater pleasure comes from something even more elusive. Ice cream evokes a simpler time, and like our own childhood, its qualities can be sublime, but ephemeral.

White Mountain churn cropped

Photo credit: Stephen Sinclair

My first recollection of the hard work required to produce what Guelph University food scientist Doug Goff calls a “frozen foam” is of taking my turn at an ice-cream churn during summers at the cottage. And while our own White Mountain churn dates from the 1930s, that company’s feat of domestic engineering has remained relatively unchanged since the company began production in 1853.

The base custard recipe becomes a “foam” with the aid of two sets of interior paddles that rotate in opposite directions inside the metal chamber, while the outer bucket contains a brine of salt and ice capable of dropping to a chilly -18 degrees C. The watery brine makes contact with the entire exterior of the metal chamber, causing the custard to increase in volume, and to freeze. Therein lies the key to a soft, creamy frozen dessert: if the foam is not kept in motion, its crystals grow large and disappointingly crunchy. Keeping the paddles moving through the rapidly freezing mixture keeps the crystals tiny and undetectable on the palate.

For over three decades, Torontonians have heralded summer by lining up at the door of Greg’s Ice Cream on Bloor. According to Greg’s employee Katherine, the shop uses natural ingredients and traditional methods to churn their ice cream. On any sunny day or balmy evening, the faithful can be seen rescuing each drip of the most popular flavour, roasted marshmallow, afraid of losing what they have waited for after a long Canadian winter. Some of us take our ice cream home and put it in the freezer, only to discover that like childhood, its moment has passed – foam collapsed, crystals formed.

Gregs ice cream

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