Category Archives: food

The Apples of My Eyes

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The lovely opening spread of The Apple Cookbook, 3rd Edition, designed by art director Mary Velgos with my images.

I have a thing for apples. It started at the Portland Farmers’ Market four years ago when I spied some gorgeous matte gold apples for sale. A sucker for any unusual looking fruits and vegetables, I bought a few. And when I got home and bit into one (after photographing them first of course!), I’m pretty sure my eyes widened in surprise and then delight. It was crisp and firm on the outside and sweet and juicy on the inside. It was all the qualities I love in an apple, but had never found contained in a single piece of fruit. It was a Hudson’s Golden Gem, and a gem it was, an heirloom variety that you certainly won’t find on any supermarket shelves, and that you’d be lucky to come across even once in a lifetime. Shortly after that first bite into an heirloom apple, I got an assignment from The New York Times to photograph Michael Phillips, an organic apple growing guru in Northeastern New Hampshire. It was there that I learned about Black Oxfords (since then my favorite apple), Cox’s Orange Pippin, Rhode Island Greening, and a host of other fantastically named heirloom varieties each with their own distinct history, taste and appearance. Then, in the fall of 2013, I hit the apple jackpot once again when, for a cookbook I was working on, I was asked to photograph probably the most well known and knowledgeable authority on heirloom apple growing on the East Coast, John Bunker, as well as his orchard and another orchard full of heirloom varieties where he was picking fruit for his Out on a Limb CSA. My vintage apple knowledge and infatuation grew exponentially that season.

Apples for the Out on a Limb CSA

Apples for the Out on a Limb CSA

Sweetser's Apple Orchard

Blue Pearmain apples at Sweetser’s Apple Barrel and Orchard

So you can imagine my delight when Storey Publishing contacted me last fall to take some images for the third edition of The Apple Cookbook (now on the shelves). Having already shot the recipe images, they needed chapter opener images representing the contents of each chapter, as well as some general apple and apple orchard shots. I had another excuse to go to orchards and obsess over unusual apples! Sweetser’s Apple Barrel and Orchard in Cumberland proved to be an ideal place for this endeavor. The staff and owners were incredibly friendly and helpful, giving food stylist Vanessa Seder and I a guided tour of their picturesque orchard that has been in the same family for five generations. From Snow to Blue Pearmain (another one of my favorites) to Rhode Island Greening, they more than delivered on the heirloom apple front. The varied hues, sizes and shapes of these apples made our photos so much more unique and interesting than your average Red Delicious and Granny Smith apples would have. I love doing ingredient shots and, in case it’s not already clear, I love apples, so doing ingredient shots with apples was a real treat! I think ingredient shots can tell a story in a way that plated shots may not, which is one reason I enjoy creating them. Also, I like moving multiple elements around to create pleasing compositions. It is a true art to do them well, to have them be realistic and compelling, but not too messy.

Breakfasts

Drinks

Salads

Varieties

Part of the fun of this project was deciding what would best make up an appropriately representative shot for each chapter opener. Because the images needed room for type, food stylist Vanessa Seder and I sent images as we shot to the ever-helpful art director Mary Velgos who texted back near-instant feedback. (There was a lot of moving things 1/4 of an inch!) Throughout the shoot, Vanessa was coating cut open apples with her secret food-stylist’s potion to keep them from yellowing. And she thought of all the different ways one can possibly cut up an apple, not to mention making perfect pie crusts and pleasingly pink apple sauce. Not to rush our always-too-short summer here in Maine, but with the further knowledge and inspiration gained from this latest apple project, I am looking forward to apple season even more this year!

(Photo spreads from The Apple Cookbook, 3rd Edition, ©Olwen Woodier. Photography by ©Stacey Cramp with food stylist Vanessa Seder. Used with permission from Storey Publishing.)

Almond Joy Cookies

almondjoy_329_sI wish I could take full credit for these tasty almond coconut chocolate creations, which without fail cause the response “You made these? They’re SO good! Can I have the recipe?” But like many things I bake, I started with an idea, Googled it, found something that sounded like what I had in mind and then tweaked it—in this case just a little bit. When I searched for something along the lines of “almond meal coconut chocolate cookie” I ended up at a recipe that originated from The Sprouted Kitchen cookbook. The most major changes I made are an increase in volume so as to produce more than a dozen sizable cookies (they’re so good that they will disappear quickly so might as well make extra while you’re at it!), a change in the sweetener from sugar to brown rice syrup, and an increase in cooking time. Also, I usually use chocolate chips instead of cacao nibs (or a combination of the two), but you can do either depending on how sweet you want them.almond joysThe end result is a very moist, dense cookie with a lightly browned top and bottom. They really do taste like a healthy version of Almond Joy candy bars. These are also one of the few gluten-free cookies I’ve ever had that taste as good as, if not better than, most cookies that contain gluten. An added bonus is these can be whipped up quickly, and while the recipe calls for refrigerating the dough for 30 minutes, I’ve done it without that step and the end result was fine. So give them a try and see if you’re transported back to the Halloweens of your childhood when your belly was full of those little chocolate-coated coconut bars with an almond on top. This time if you eat several in a sitting, though, you won’t feel ill!
almond joy cookies

Almond Joys
(makes about 15 hefty cookies)

2 3/4 cups almond meal (I like to mix Bob’s Red Mill, which is very light and fine, and Trader Joe’s, which is darker and coarser)
3/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips (or cacao nibs, or a combo of the two)
1 cup shredded unsweetened coconut
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. sea salt
2 eggs
5 Tbsp. coconut oil melted
1 tsp. vanilla extract
3/4 cup brown rice syrup

Preheat oven to 375°F.

In a large mixing bowl, stir together almond meal, chocolate chips, coconut, baking powder and salt. In a separate bowl, beat eggs until doubled in volume, whisk in the coconut oil, vanilla, and brown rice syrup. Add to dry ingredients and mix until just combined. Chill in the fridge for at least 30 minutes or even overnight.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Shape dough into 1.5-inch balls and place on the parchment. Press down slightly to flatten a bit. Bake until edges begin to brown, about 12 minutes. Allow to cool slightly and then enjoy! Best eaten while chocolate is still warm and runny, but they keep well in an airtight container for up to a week.

Getting Real

real maine food

Real Maine Food: 100 Plates from Fishermen, Farmers, Pie Champs, and Clam Shacks published this week by Rizzoli is the culmination of a project I began working on in September 2013. How satisfying to see the finished product of a long-term, labor-intensive project! Hard work, yes, but documenting the work of a wide range of the state’s unique food producers—from a fifth-generation maple syrup maker to a nationally revered heirloom apple expert to scallop dredgers to stone ground flour millers—was also some of the most rewarding and interesting work I’ve done. Many images that originated with the book project appear on my recently overhauled web site, most notably in the Ocean section.

scallops

Sorting scallops near Chebeague Island.

Lobster bake on a 19th-century schooner.

Ben Conniff and Luke Holden, the book’s authors, operate fifteen lobster-shack style restaurants—called Luke’s Lobster—in the U.S., all serving exclusively Maine products. Initially a food writer, Ben had the idea to do a book that would showcase Maine food and the people that work so hard to produce it. I jumped at the chance to partake in a subject near and dear to my heart.

Our travels took us around the state over the course of a year. Following the seasonality of the food gave me renewed appreciation for those who make their living growing and harvesting the bounty of Maine’s fields and waters. So often, the season for one’s product of choice is limited to a few months at best, which means long, grueling days packed with many challenges, not the least of which is weather. Given the choice, I’d certainly opt for the most glorious of crisp fall days picking heirloom apples in a centuries-old orchard to bitterly cold mid-winter ones harvesting mussels from an ice-covered barge on the open ocean, although photographing both was a treat!

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John Bunker picking heirloom apples.

Bangs Island Mussels

Matthew Moretti of Bangs Island Mussels readying a boat to go to the barge from which they harvest and clean mussels.

North Haven Oyster

Adam Campbell of North Haven Oyster Company with a prime specimen.

Ben does a great job of describing our encounters with various food producers, making this much more than a cookbook in the traditional sense. I can recall several pre-dawn mornings waiting on various piers for one kind of boat or another that would whisk us off into some unusual and captivating world different from any we’d experienced before. The people we met during these adventures were so passionate and knowledgeable about their professions that they were a real joy to learn from and spend time with, and, of course, to document at work. Some of my favorites, both visually and from a personal standpoint, were apple expert John Bunker (so singular in his knowledge that many people here refer to him simply as “the apple guy”), and Adam Campbell and Matthew Moretti, who are sustainably growing oysters and mussels, respectively.

In addition to the myriad environmental shots, I shot 20 plated dish or ingredient images to go along with a quarter of the recipes in the book. The rest of the Maine-based artistic team was the fantastically creative designer Jennifer Muller (yes, she hand-lettered those recipe titles) and the ultra-talented and meticulous food stylist and recipe developer Vanessa Seder (check out those expert butter- and cheese-melting skills). Since the three of us have a similar aesthetic sense, we had a great time compiling our various props and making plans for how to best portray the selected recipes. We shot over four days, emailing the ever-patient and helpful (“Hey, could you go easy on the polka dot props?!”) New York-based editor, Christopher Steighner, sample images along the way. Here are a few of the resulting recipe shots. Some others can be viewed in the Table section of my site.

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Lobster rolls à la Luke’s Lobster.

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Ingredients for finnan haddie (smoked haddock) and leek pie.

squash soup

Butternut squash soup.

The depth and breadth of this project was a rare and wonderful opportunity for me as a photographer. Seldom does such a suitable long-range project present itself. I feel lucky to have been a part of it. Reading this book and making the recipes in it, I hope you’ll feel as inspired and energized by the people producing and harvesting food in Maine today as I do.

Festive Cranberry Tart

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I thought I’d squeeze in one more post before the end of the year (I know, wonders never cease) in case anyone is looking for a somewhat healthy, easy, impressive-looking and extremely tasty dessert to make for a holiday gathering. Vanessa Seder, an incredibly talented food stylist and recipe developer I often work with, was the inspiration for this recipe. She created a cranberry tart for a cookbook we both worked on this year, and her photo of it on Instagram got me thinking something similar would make a great holiday card for my clients. I spent two days playing with adaptations of the recipe, shooting it and making the cards. Time consuming, yes, but worth it for a nice end-of-the-year marketing piece. Here’s the photo that I printed on the card. It’s already gotten a great response!

cranberrytart_053b

With two sweet tooths (yes, this is technically the plural of the phrase) in our house, I’m always searching for healthy, but still satisfying dessert options to make. I try to avoid refined sugars (or use them sparingly) and use whole grains as much as possible. You might be surprised at how often it’s possible to create great desserts with these parameters. In this case, the almond meal and spelt flour crust is crumbly and flavorful, and the tartness of the cranberries is set off just enough by the natural sugars in the maple syrup and apple cider to make the filling pleasingly sweet, but not cloying. So here’s my somewhat healthy version (okay, so a stick of butter isn’t ideal, but I also tried this with an almond meal and coconut oil crust, which was almost as good) of a cranberry tart that you can wow your friends and family with this holiday season. And they won’t have to feel bad about having that second slice!

Festive Cranberry Tart

Dough:
1 Tbsp. granulated sugar
½ tsp. sea salt
1 cup spelt flour
½ cup almond meal
1 large egg, beaten
8 Tbsp. chilled, unsalted butter cut into small pieces

Filling:
4 cups cranberries
½ cup maple syrup
¼ cup spelt flour (or arrowroot)
¼ cup apple cider
Powdered sugar for dusting (optional)

Mix sugar, salt and flour in a medium bowl. Mix butter in with your fingers until a coarse meal with pea-size pieces forms. Drizzle egg over butter mixture and mix gently with a fork until dough begins to hold together. Form into a ball and place on a piece of plastic wrap. Flatten into a disc about ½ inch thick, wrap in plastic and refrigerate until firm, 2 hours or overnight.

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Roll out dough on a lightly floured surface into a 13” round about ¼” thick. Transfer to an 11” round fluted tart pan with a removable bottom, pressing it into edges. Trim off excess dough by running a rolling pin over the edges of the pan. (If you don’t have a tart pan, you can use a pie plate instead; adjust diameter of rolled-out dough accordingly).

Mix cranberries, maple syrup, flour and cider in a medium bowl until combined.

Fill the tart shell with the cranberry mixture and place tart pan on top of a rimmed baking sheet. Bake for 50 min. or until filling has thickened (it will solidify more as it cools). Cool completely on a wire rack. Dust with powdered sugar before serving if desired.

Adventures in Cookbook Photography

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Well, it appears it’s time for my bi-annual blog post! What can I say? I guess I’ll say this: Follow me on Instagram if you want to keep a little more apprised of my day-to-day world than this venue provides. However, I do like to bloviate on rare occasions when I have the time, so here goes…

This fall marked the publication of the fourth cookbook I’ve done the photography for (with two more on the way next year!). Adventures in Comfort Food by Cafe Miranda’s Kerry Altiero and co-author Kate Gaudet is a wide-ranging mix of creative twists on classic comfort food and Maine fare, interspersed with ethnic-inspired dishes. The restaurant’s slogan “Because We Can” will give you a pretty good idea of the wackiness factor here. And Kathleen Pierce of the Bangor Daily News has done a great job of conveying the vibe and mindset behind Cafe Miranda and the cookbook here and here.

This is not a book I thought I would end up working on, despite already being a fan of the kitschy, mammoth-menued restaurant in Rockland, Maine, that inspired the recipe collection. I was skeptical about the photogenic properties of “comfort food,” especially comfort food that would be prepared without a professional food/prop stylist on site, and I was leery of chef-driven projects. But, not one to immediately close doors without due diligence, I agreed to meet with Kerry to discuss the project one day last August. I walked into the cafe at the end of a stressful day of shooting. I was badly in need of a drink, a nourishing meal and a laugh…not necessarily in that order. Kerry delivered on all fronts. I left the restaurant in high spirits, with a full belly and ready to tackle a book I had almost talked myself out of. I knew right away—no matter what happened in the course of making this book—he would keep me laughing. That, and the constant flow of cappuccinos and nourishing food that he provided from his farmhouse kitchen during several winter weekend shoots, made a challenging project fun. It was like working on a book with an Italian grandmother who has a really twisted sense of humor. And there’s a reason for that: Constance Altiero, Kerry’s Italian grandmother, was a big influence on him.

Another crucial element to this book’s success was Kate Gaudet, a friend of Kerry’s with top-notch organizational and word-smith skills who helped dream up this project. Luckily for me, she also turned out to have an innate sense for food styling and was a diligent, thoughtful and amiable companion and assistant throughout the process. Her many talents included lightening fast ironing and expert pierogie poofing (see page 137). I literally could not have done this work without her.

fishtacos_549s

Oven-Roasted Fish Tacos

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Green Beans in Yellow Curry

Sleeper Pizza is an unusual combination of pastrami, artichokes and red onion.

Sleeper Pizza is an unusual combination of pastrami, artichokes and red onion.

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Squash Risotto with Roasted Kale

The three of us compiled our various collections of dishes, cookware, silverware, linens and background surfaces from which to create 50 unique recipe shots, some that have the stamp of Kerry’s unique brand of humor, and others that have my signature austere/authentic look (including the ones pictured here). We  contemplated at length the feel we wanted to convey for each shot. There are so many elements to consider: vessels, backgrounds, color schemes, not to mention the placement and appearance of the food! And on top of that, of course, are those pesky little photographic things like angles and lighting.

Overall, I think the images tell the story of the food well: an eclectic mix that offers something for everyone. And I really mean that. As a non-meat, low-gluten, overall healthy eater I have already dog-eared about a dozen recipes in the book, so if you’re of a similar persuasion don’t be thrown off by the term “comfort food.” Two that will be on regular rotation in our house are No Excuses, a coconut-curry broth packed with veggies, rice noodles and tofu, and Oven-Roasted Kale, which is accented with mushrooms, feta and red onion. For a dinner party this weekend, I’m leaning toward the Squash Risotto with Roasted Kale. (Fresh veggies figure prominently in Cafe Miranda fare thanks to Kerry’s farm, which is meticulously managed by Anne Perkins.)

And hey, look at that, it’s December and I’ve just given you a great gift idea for the adventuresome cooks in your life, especially the ones who will appreciate a side of humor with their polenta pizza casserole. You can order signed copies at CafeMiranda.com or sans garnish from elsewhere.

Shooting Raw

Why, yes, it has been an extremely long time since I have put up a new post here. I won’t make any excuses about how crazy my life is and how I don’t have time for this or that. Everyone’s life is crazy so really I don’t think anyone needs to make a big deal out of it, okay? Okay. Glad that’s settled.

But (you knew there was a “but” coming, didn’t you), I will take this opportunity to mention that some of the reason for my absence from this blog is my involvement over the past year in doing the photography for three cookbooks, which, on top of my other assignments, has kept me more than a little occupied! Two are still in progress. One just came out this month. It is called Plant Food and features innovative raw, vegan recipes. Published by Gibbs Smith, it is a colorful volume holding much inspiration within, no matter what your dietary preferences.

My work on this book took place on both coasts. While Belfast, Maine, and Santa Monica, Cal., are worlds apart, the book has a consistently fresh, vibrant and artistic tone. The chef at M.A.K.E. in Santa Monica, Scott Winegard, made my job much easier by turning every dish into a meticulously crafted work of art. Early on it was clear that simple props and subtle lighting would be the best way to approach his creations so as to let the food shine.

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Some of my favorite photos in the book are the chapter openers. When I discovered the authors were breaking the book into 13 chapters that described either the process used to create the recipes in each section or their contents, I realized it would be helpful to have a photo for each chapter that was representative of what lay within. While this was not part of the original scope of work, I knew it would make for a better book. I created many of them on the spur of the moment or, in some cases, culled appropriate images from my archive.

agedlayout_s

driedlayout_s

smokedlayout_s

While raw food practitioners will not be strangers to concepts like dehydrating, smoking and sous vide, these methods are not in my repertoire, nor do I have plans to rush out and buy the necessary equipment to partake in them, but I am curious about adapting some of these recipes for my own style of cooking. I’m betting the fennel crisps and coriander toast recipes, among others, could be easily adapted for an oven.

I’ll certainly be trying the mushroom pate which involves no special gizmos and contains ingredients usually found in my kitchen. I’m also eager to attempt the tree nut “cheeses,” which are little more than nuts blitzed with water and left to age (photo above in the “aged” chapter opener). And I will look forward to simple, but unique combinations like avocado, radish, nori, and sunflower seeds with miso lime dressing, as well as snap peas and pea shoots with mint and lemon hazelnut dressing when early summer produce finally arrives here! Whether you follow the recipes, adapt them to fit your own diet, or use them as inspiration to make up your own healthful dishes, give Plant Food a try. Failing all else, get it just to look at the pretty pictures.

(Check out the table section of my web site to view more images from the book.)

Consider the Mandoline (or something like it)

   mandoline veggies

I’m currently reading Bee Wilson’s fascinating book Consider the Fork, which is about historical changes in cooking implements and methods, and how they’ve affected what and how we eat, and, consequently, human health. She talks about kitchen gadgets that we love (she, too, is an aeropress devotee!), as well as those that get cast aside because they don’t prove useful enough, or because they actually create more work for the cook. We don’t have too much gadgetry in our kitchen, all things considered. I have to think long and hard about adding anything new as I’m loathe to clutter the cupboards any further. This is one reason that, despite pining for paper-thin veggies on occasion, I’d long avoided getting a mandoline. The other, of course, being the horror stories of people losing finger tips under its razor-sharp blade (including Wilson herself).

But after seeing mention of the Muji grater slicer set on a food blog, I was ready to take the plunge. I was sold on its price ($17.95!), ultra simple design and compact form. It has more than delivered in the three months that we’ve had it. If you have never had a similar gadget, you will want to start slicing every fruit and veggie in sight (and maybe some other things too). You will likely stare in wonder at the beauty of each new item you reduce to transparent sheets within seconds. And some of those sheets you will stack and finely slice lengthwise to easily and quickly produce piles of julienned goodies. Your salads and stir frys will be transformed by virtue of pleasing shapes and textures, and your friends will be saying in wide-eyed amazement, “How did you DO that?!”

roots

peeled veggies

muji slicer with carrots

mandolineveggies_0126s

While it is clearly a dumbed-down mandoline (it doesn’t have an adjustable blade so you’re confined to one thickness), this gadget definitely earns the small amount of shelf space it occupies. It is a much faster and more uniform way of finely slicing vegetables than using a knife. But be wary: you can still hurt yourself as you would on a mandoline (I haven’t YET). Also, the grater attachment isn’t particularly useful unless you’re looking for more of a zester as it tends to pulverize or shred more than grate. I’m sure there are other slicers out there similar to the Muji that work just as well if not better. They may not be as cute and simple though!

Here’s a quick and versatile salad to get you started as you begin to explore the possibilities available to you with this meal-transforming tool! Does this sound like an infomercial yet?

Root Vegetable and Apple Slaw

2½ c. assorted root vegetables (such as carrots, beets, celeriac, fennel or radishes)
1 crisp apple

Dressing:
2 T. extra-virgin olive oil
1½ T. apple cider vinegar
1½ t. lemon juice
1 T. honey
salt and pepper to taste

Peel vegetables if needed. Cut those wider than the slicing blade in half. Core the apple and cut into quarters. Slice vegetables and apple using the Muji slicer or a mandoline. Stack larger slices and then cut them lengthwise into thin strips to produce matchsticks. Create a mixture of shapes for a more interesting taste and appearance. Whisk dressing ingredients together and toss with vegetables and fruit. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Voila!

root veggie and apple slaw