7.01.2010

taken down a notch . . . or two

Aside from parenting, blogging has turned out to be the most consistently humbling thing I've done in a long time.

I could list a lot of reasons for that. The realization of how challenging it can be to come up with new posts on a regular basis. Making plans to blog about a baking project I'm particularly excited about, only to have said project flop miserably. Related to that, being determined to master a difficult item within three tries, having the first go around fall way below my expectations (of myself and the item), abandoning the next two attempts, and coming to the understanding that my follow-through is not nearly as strong as I always thought it to be. And of course, finding that readers don't materialize magically once you hit 'publish,' especially for someone not good at (or comfortable with) self-promotion.

But the main reason, the one I never even thought would be an issue?

Photographs. This photography thing is driving me crazy.

It's my own fault, of course. If other people make something look easy, even within a field about which I have no knowledge or training, I am apt to foolishly (and arrogantly) believe that it is easy, or at least that it would be for me. This has led me into trouble before, and now is no different. (Another fault of mine would be, I suppose, the inability to learn from past mistakes. But let's take them one at a time for now.)

Which is not to say that I didn't recognize the incredible camera skills some of my favorite fellow bloggers have - certainly, I did. It's more that I didn't understand how painstakingly hard those skills can be to come by! And so I jumped into food blogging, confident that all I had to do was bake up something delicious, snap a picture of it (albeit with a decent camera), and la di da, I'd have actual food photography - not snapshots - on my blog.

Um. Are you laughing yet? Turns out taking snapshots is easy. True food photography, on the other hand, is very difficult if you want to do it right. So difficult that I am not too proud to admit that I am a long way off from accomplishing it.

But I have finally figured out a key part of it, one which shouldn't have been news in the first place if I'd really been paying attention to all the photo chatter around me: it's all about the light.

Oh, the lens and the subject and the composition are all important also, but light (or lack thereof) seems to be the trick to making a shot go from snapshot to photograph. And not just light in general, but what kind of light, and what color it is, and how strong it is, and where it's coming from and what it's bouncing off.


These are concepts I have never thought about before, and it's as if I'm suddenly looking at the world afresh, or through a new lens, if you'll forgive me the pun. It's fun, invigorating, and challenging. (And humorous, as I've had to make-do with non-traditional scrims and bounces. And since I'm no longer content to merely move my food close to a window for each shot, I now chase the light through my house, setting up my 'equipment' in awkward, precarious ways, with a toddler and young child along to 'help.' Fun times.) It also makes me realize how much more I have to learn than I previously thought. Such is the nature of the beast, I suppose.


This is not bad, however. For one thing, I love learning new things (yes, I was one of those annoying kids who got excited over homework). I remember when I graduated college, being so relieved that I could finally stop doing research and writing papers. Well, that relief wore off quickly, and I soon landed myself a job . . . doing research and writing papers! I loved it. So, knowing that to become a better photographer, I'm going to have to do a lot of practicing and research? It's right up my alley.

But also, I feel so much better about the way I view other blogs now. Admiring someone's work takes on a whole new level of meaning (and loses a lot of the jealousy factor) when you can truly appreciate their mastery of the artistry and craftsmanship behind it. It's similar to the way I've always viewed home construction. Most anyone can slap together a blog and upload some photos, just as modular homes can be pieced together in an afternoon by laymen, and they're both fine. But the blogs, as well as the houses, that truly take your breath away and send you off fantasizing about what it would be like if that were yours? Well, those take skill, and years of practice and mentoring, for which I am glad. I come from a family that values knowledge, hard work, and persistence, and it always warms my heart and gives me hope when I recognize those traits in other people.

It also makes me more determined than ever to keep working on my own skill set, because I know I am chasing an achievable goal. So I'll keep snapping away, and chasing the light, and reading up on things like RAW and tethers and histograms. I'm looking forward to it.

Oh, and of course I'll keep baking and offering you my best photo versions of the goods, since that (the food, I mean) is probably why you're here in the first place. Speaking of food, I do have a recipe to share with you! It's for the cherry cake featured (and I use that term loosely) in some of the above photos. This cherry cake represents some of my best follow-through attempts to date. Last summer, I made four versions of this cake before I landed on the current, and my favorite, manifestation. My diligence at the time benefited greatly from the over-abundance of cherries at the market, as well as the relative ease of making the cake. (I only wish tender, lofty gluten-free croissants were so easy!) When I tried it again this year, I was happy to find the cake as delicious as I remembered it. The crumb is very soft and fine, and the cherries lend a delicate floral nature to the buttery cake. (That 'floral nature' becomes decidedly more intense and winey if you use Bing cherries, my personal favorite. But Rainier were in my fridge that day, and I'm not complaining.) Alongside a dollop of whipped cream, this cake is a fine way to end a summer supper. Or to take a break mid-afternoon. Or to welcome the morning. You can see where I'm going here . . .


Cherry Cake
yields one 10-inch round cake

2 cups fresh cherries, halved and pitted (both Rainier and Bing are great in this recipe)
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1 1/4 cups (10 fluid ounces) whole milk, divided
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 tsp French brandy (Kirsch would also be lovely, but it's hard to find around here)
1 1/2 cups Tara's all-purpose gluten-free flour mix
1/4 cup sorghum flour
1/4 cup coconut flour
1 tsp xanthan gum
3/4 cup plus 2 Tbsp granulated sugar
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
zest from one lemon
3/4 cup (6 ounces) unsalted butter, room temp.

Temper the cherries:
Add the 2 Tbsp of sugar to the cherries, mix to combine, and set them in a colander to allow the excess liquid to drain out. Let them sit for close to an hour. Transfer the cherries to a bowl, stir in 1 tsp vanilla extract, and set aside.

Make the cake:
Preheat oven to 350ºF. Butter a 10-inch cake pan and set aside.

Lightly combine the eggs, 1/4 cup milk, vanilla, and French brandy (I find a liquid measuring cup works best). Set aside. 

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or in a large mixing bowl), combine the flours, xanthan gum, 3/4 cup sugar, baking powder, salt, and lemon zest and mix on low speed to blend. Add the butter and the remaining 1 cup milk and mix on low until the ingredients are moistened, then increase speed to medium (high speed if using a hand-held mixer) and beat for 2 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and paddle. Add the egg mixture in three batches, beating for 20 seconds after each addition. Gently fold in the tempered cherries by hand, until they are evenly distributed.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and use a spatula to smooth the surface. Bake for one hour, or until a tester inserted near the center comes out clean. Note: every time I have made this cake, I have had to cover it with foil after an hour, and continue baking it an additional 20 minutes in order for it to be baked through. But, my oven is very old, inconsistent, and just plain doesn't work great. I think an hour in a *normal* oven should be fine.

Allow cake to cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then invert onto a cooling rack. Serve at room temperature, preferably with lightly-sweetened whipped cream. Cake keeps, covered and at cool room temperature, for up to three days.

3 comments:

  1. Hello, I've been reading your blog for about 3 months and really like what I see. Trying to be more gluten-free. Thanks! I, too, am not very bold when it comes to "self promotion".

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  2. I SO know what you mean about taking photographs of food. I remember photographing a cake and having that A-HA moment when I realised what a difference the right lighting makes - it really does seem to be such a big component of food photography. Your photos are stunning!

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  3. Thank you very much, Christa and Brenda!

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