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14 posts from October 2010

29 October 2010

Fancy Hotel of the Week – Hotel Triton, San Francisco

 

One of the very nicest things about the Husband’s job is that he occasionally gets to travel to San Francisco on business, which makes it much cheaper and easier for us to organise a long weekend.  So that’s where we were at the beginning of the week.  Yep, lucky doesn’t even begin to describe it.

The Hotel Vitale was fully booked this time, so we instead got a room at the fabulously located Hotel Triton – just steps from the Chinatown gate and three minutes walk from Union Square.  It’s a smallish hotel with limited amenities and doesn’t even have a restaurant, though it shares its building with the excellent French-style brasserie Cafe de la Presse, which serves thick frothy cappuccinos and French patisserie as good as any I’ve had in France, as well as authentic-looking French brasseries staples such as French onion soup and croque monsieur. 

 

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Architecturally the building isn’t anything to write home about but, boy, have they made the most of what they have – going wild with vibrant pop art wallpapers, crazy colourful upholstery and weird and wonderfully shaped accent pieces (though the rooms themselves are a little more restrained).

It was as if it had been designed by Mondo from Project Runway while high on the waccy baccy (and speaking of whom, what the bloody hell happened last night?)

Needless to say the Minx and I both adored it – particularly as the reception area came complete with Romy the very cute puppy, whom the Minx insisted on ‘training’ by throwing his ball around the lounge, chasing round all available pillars and grossly overfeeding on dog biscuits.  The little rubber ducks in the outside water feature were another Minx-friendly addition.  Such a kid and dog friendly design hotel is a rare gem indeed.

 

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All in all we loved this enough to go back, despite a mix-up at the beginning which meant that the kid-friendly room we’d booked was not available when we arrived amid torrential rain and all very tired after an early start. 

To be fair to the hotel they did offer us one of their ‘celebrity suites’ – the Haagen Dazs room, but it didn’t have a sofabed for the Minx (why don’t all hotels automatically put sofabeds in all their rooms?) And also, to be honest, my waistline does NOT need a hotel room where the key attraction is a huge freezer full of unlimited FREE Haagen Dazs.  You however, may disagree.  The Minx probably would too if she’d had any idea what we turned down.

In the end we got the more spacious kid-friendly room we wanted (space is such a premium when there’s three of your in a room), the hotel apologised, we thoroughly enjoyed the rest of our stay and I’m happy to recommend the hotel as a great place to stay in San Francisco.

Enjoy the crazy pretty.

28 October 2010

Food Ninja Competition – Vote for ME!

 

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Pretty please?

So voting has opened in the Food Ninja competition.  If you’d like to see me tick the item ‘Win Something – Anything’ off my 101 Things list then please go here and vote, vote, VOTE.  (Actually you should go there anyway, because there are some fabulous blog posts, recipes and photos to browse).

My ‘Peperoncini and Melanzane’ blogpost is entered in the blog post category.  If you don’t vote, you know I’ll be bugging you again and again for some competition or other over the next three years until I finally win something, so why not get it over and done with now? You know it makes sense.

And yes, I hugely appreciate it.  I’ll try and come up with some special celebratory recipe by way of a thank you.

101 Things – Jackie Baisa Food Photography

 

Another weekend, another photography workshop, another tick on my 101 Things list. This time with Seattle food and wedding photographer and fellow oxtail stew lover Jackie Baisa.

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A bunch of us came together at gourmet cooking store 'Dish It Up’ in Seattle’s Magnolia district.  For the first part of the class we discussed Jackie’s extremely informative hand out and also critiqued a bunch of Jackie’s photos that hadn’t quite made the cut – this was an extremely useful exercise, and I need to get into the habit of doing it both with my own photos and those in magazines.

 

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Then after a sneaky lunch at Nikos Gyros (at last, I have found decent Greek food in Seattle!), the real fun began when ace private chef Becky Selengut arrived to cook a bunch of beautiful dishes for us to photograph.

To be honest, the photography conditions could have been better -  we were in Dish It Up’s demonstration kitchen which is wonderful for chefs but not so wonderful for photographers, with flat overhead lighting, no natural light, no dedicated photography lights and a very shiny reflective granite surface. No different from photographing in most restaurants though, I wouldn’t have thought.

 

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And that, my dears, was the very great thing about this course -  the opportunity to take plenty of pictures of a chef in action. And the dishes Chef Becky produced were literally pretty as a picture – photography skills hardly required.  If Jackie does another course, make sure you’re on it. (Also the opportunity to sample the dishes later is, shall we say, an added attraction).

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Here are Chef Becky and Photographer Jackie doing their thang. 

 

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 Just back from San Francisco y’all (<--- how American am I?).  Love that place.

22 October 2010

Go Love Your Shop – Kate Spade Pop-Up Shop

 

The Kate Spade brand is not well known in the UK, but that should all change with their new month long pop-up shop in London’s Covent Garden.

If ‘mirrormirror’ were ever to turn into a physical bricks and mortar shop then this is exactly how I envisaged it in my mind.  In fact forget about shopping, I just want to move in and live there.

Of course the stunning Georgian house with a its gracious staircase and light, bright rooms provides the perfect backdrop to all the pretty – does anyone fancy lending me £10 million?

 

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More pics here and fab vid below.

Have any of you Londoners been yet?

21 October 2010

Food Ninja – Peperoncini e Melanzane Sott’olio

 

Or peppers and aubergines (I’m sorry but I really cannot bring myself to say ‘eggplants’) preserved in oil the Italian way.

 

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I’ve been following ace Seattle foodie Salty Seattle, whom I first met at the Ice Cream Social, on Twitter where she’s recently been having a lot of fun with the #foodninja hashtag. So much so that she, Salty Ninja, and her foodie friends Fujimama (Fuji Ninja) and Bell’Alimento (Bella Ninja) have recently set up a Food Ninja competition with some quite fabulous prizes.

Unfortunately it is not entirely clear to me what a ‘food ninja’ actually is, although it appears to involve badass cooking skills (or indeed ‘skillz’), doing death-defying things with knives, high kicks and possibly flying through the air, all while wearing stiletto heels.

So what’s a girl to do when her knife skills are pedestrian, she can’t wear stilettos due to acute plantar fasciitis and she looks ridiculous in a bandanna? After much thought, I decided to do death-defying things with red hot peppers instead.  The good news is that this recipe doesn’t even require badass cooking skills or even skillz, just a bit of care and patience (though don’t mention this to the ninja ladies).

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I’ve been wanting to write this post for quite literally years.  When I was living in Europe and after my parents died, I would often spend Christmas with my Italian relatives in Piemonte. And let me tell you, Italy is a very good place to be at Christmas.  The cuisine of Piemonte is rightly famous for its antipasti or appetisers. On the night of Christmas Eve my aunt (a true food ninja if ever I met one) would serve a twenty course feast – a parade of seventeen varied and delicious antipasti which would leave you groaning on the floor before the pasta, meat and dessert courses even made an appearance.

Of these, my very favourites were the piquant ‘sott’olio’ vegetable preserves she would bring up from her cellar – zucchini, artichokes, aubergines and teensy hot peppers stuffed with tuna, all silky smooth and dripping with flavoured oil, just begging to be mopped up with some good crusty bread.

She gave me her recipe but I’ve never made them before – I even added ‘Make Italian Sott’Olio Preserves’ to my list of 101 Things - so it seemed like a sign when I was casting around for something ninja-like to make and I saw precisely the right tiny round bottomed peppers I needed at the farmers’ market (does anyone happen to know what variety these are by the way?)

 

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Ingredients

Peperoncini Ripieni Sott’Olio
(Stuffed Peppers in Oil)

Makes 2 jars
20-30 little round bottomed hot peppers
1 cup (8fl oz) water
1 cup (8fl oz) white wine vinegar
1 can good quality tuna packed in oil
3-4 anchovies packed in oil, rinsed and patted dry
1 tbsp capers packed in vinegar or salt, rinsed and patted dry
2-3 cloves garlic (optional)
Extra virgin olive oil
Melanzane Sott’Olio
(Aubergines in Oil)

Makes 2 jars
Some beautiful firm aubergines (I used three)
Salt
1 cup (8fl oz) water
1 cup (8fl oz) white wine vinegar
6-7 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
dried oregano
dried chili flakes/crushed dried chili
Extra virgin olive oil

 

Method

First up prepare your vegetables.

Peppers: Cut out the tops of the peppers and scoop out all the seeds with a knife and small spoon. This is pretty time-consuming which is why I only ended up making 28 peppers.  I shall regret this later.

 

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Could this get any more ninja?  Red hot chilis AND knives.

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Aubergines: Thinly slice your aubergines lengthwise. If you were a true ninja you’d probably use a ninja star for this, but I used a knife.

 

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Layer the aubergines in a colander with plenty of salt. Put a plate on top and add a heavy weight such as a big bag of flour to squish out all the bitter brown juices.  Leave the aubergines for at least one hour and preferably several.

When the aubergines are ready, rinse off the salt and brown juices and pat off as much excess moisture as you can.  Cut the aubergine slices into strips about an inch or so wide with kitchen scissors.

Aubergines and Peppers: Heat the water and vinegar together until boiling. This recipe is easily scalable so just use as much water and vinegar as you need, remembering to keep a ratio of 1/2 water and 1/2 vinegar. Two cups of liquid is fine for the quantities of vegetables I have here.

Scald the vegetables in the boiling vinegar solution for 2-3 minutes. I did my peppers and aubergines in separate batches so as not to mix the flavours.

When the vegetables are blanched, scoop them out with a slotted spoon and leave them to dry – the aubergines pressed between clean dry teatowels or kitchen towel, and the peppers placed upside down with their bottoms in the air on kitchen towel.

 

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It is very important at this stage to dry the vegetables as much a possible as wet vegetables will go mouldy.  Leave them for several hours – my aunt suggests putting them outside in the sunshine, but then she lives in Italy.

Aubergines:  Sterilise your jars in boiling water.  When the aubergines are very dry, add a layer of oil to the jar, then a layer of aubergine and then a few slices of garlic, a pinch of chili flakes and some sprinkles of oregano. Continue layering the jar in this way until you’ve reached the top, making sure that the aubergine is completely covered with oil. This is again important for the preserving process.

 

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Peppers: Sterilise your jars in boiling water. Prepare your stuffing by breaking up the anchovies with your fingers and stirring them and the capers into the tuna. If possible, gently pulse the mix in food processor until thoroughly amalgamated but stop before it becomes a sloppy puree. Filled the dry, hollow peppers with the mix.

 

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Layer the stuffed peppers, slices of garlic and oil in your prepared jars as before, again covering the peppers completely with oil.

Store everything for several months in a dark, cool, dry place. It’s important to leave them for a little time if you can so that flavours meld and the oil becomes especially delicious.  This is easier said than done.

Serve with good bread, some prosciutto, some delicious tomatoes and a glass of chilled white wine for a taste of the Italian summer all year round.

And so, it was not what I was planning, but the first thing I can fully cross off my 101 Things list is ‘Prepare Italian Sott’Olio Preserves’. Only another 100 things to go.  I’ll do an update post when we finally get to open them, probably around Christmas time.

And if you want to me help me cross ‘Win Something, Anything’ off my list too, then I’ll be posting details of how to vote for this post in the next few days.

Oh and apologies for light posting recently. I managed to lose a bunch of posts I’d prepared, so I’m now having a ton of fun recreating posts I’ve already written up once. So much my favourite thing to do as I’m sure you can imagine.

14 October 2010

101 Things – Photographing Kids

 

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I did another photography workshop at the weekend. They seem to be one if the easiest things to tick off my list of 101 Thingsgetting all the fun things out of the way before I start tackling the hard stuff I suppose.

I’ve noticed that I don’t very often photograph people – I prefer the still-life composition of food or interiors shots, or the drama of landscapes. Portraiture, particularly of strangers, doesn’t do much for me, which is weird, because I’d consider myself to be quite an extrovert ‘people’ person.

There is of course one notable exception and that is the Minx and she is horribly difficult to photograph – usually in perpetual motion and either pulling funny faces or smiling in a horrendously false and sickly way every time she sees the camera pointing in her direction.

So it seemed a good idea to take a workshop in Photographing Kids – both to take me out of my comfort zone and to improve my photography of the Minx.  This time I was working with the wonderful Clare Barboza, who is both an astonishing food photographer and does amazing portraiture. She shares the gorgeous and inspiring Spare Room studio with Lara Ferroni.

We talked about appropriate shutter speeds, using a bounce to soften the light, focusing on the eyes, composition, capturing details and using props, with the help of two beautiful models, just-turned-four Meilee and three-month old Kate.

One of the things I love about doing workshops with different photographers is that each one focuses on different things to create their pictures and has different compositional and lighting tricks they prefer, so I always learn a ton of stuff about photography in general whatever the subject.  If you’re in Seattle I can’t recommend Clare’s workshops highly enough.

Here are a few of my favourite shots from the day.  They’re not the usual stuff I post about on this blog, but what the heck, enjoy the cute.

 

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It does make me a little sad that I didn’t have the skills to take photos like these of the Minx when she was a baby and toddler, though I suppose it’s better late than never. Must schedule a photo shoot with her soon.

Go Love Your Office - Etsy HQ

 

Once upon a time when the Internet was still young and I was working as a management consultant, I remember musing with a few folks that it would be a great idea to set up a ‘shopping engine’ for craftspeople and artists to give them a standard template shop under one umbrella and save them the hassle of setting up their own websites and doing their own independent marketing.

Yes, things would be very different round here if I’d held that thought and founded Etsy, rather than just sitting on my arse.

Perhaps I would be working in gorgeous offices such as these. Etsy’s HQ in Brooklyn has been designed by Hangar Design Group to reflect the quirky, colourful, handmade nature of the brand and decorated using many pieces commissioned or bought from Etsy sellers. 

 

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Those lamps are incredible, does anyone know where they were sourced? I’ve been searching everywhere. And I love the crochet granny blankets on the wall.

 

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The combination of geeks and gingham is such a winner I find.

 

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Junkprints installed the record wall

 

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The desks are all handmade. And see the ‘Craft’ area to the left below? Every office should have one.

 

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Plush toy makers Zooguu designed the individual phone rooms. This has made the Husband and I are consider installing a British phone booth door chez nous, though for the full authentic touch I hope the room beyond stinks of stale urine and cigarettes.

 

 

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Seriously, there are about a thousand fabulous ideas to steal in all this, though I am left wondering whether all the geeky programmers feel comfortable in this space – in the startups I’ve worked at, the geek squad seemed to think pizza boxes and beer cans were decorative objects.

{via SwissMiss}

09 October 2010

Brunch at the Corson Building

 

A few weeks ago the Husband had a rather big birthday, so in the course of what felt like weeks of celebrating we went for brunch at the Corson Building here in Seattle.

The Corson Building does its best to feel more like an underground dining experience than a standard restaurant. There is a changing calendar of events and no fixed menu, just whatever the kitchen feels like cooking that day from fresh seasonal and local ingredients, many picked from the kitchen garden.

The building itself is old, quirky and beautiful, the likes of which you see only rarely in not-very-historic Seattle. The food is by and large delicious, though be warned that you don’t get traditional egg and maple syrup-laden brunch fare (much to the Minx’s chagrin).  Instead are salads and cake, yogurt, cheese and fruit, with a small menu of main dish options – I had a roasted tomato tart which was one of the best things I’ve eaten in a long while.

But for me it was all about the space and the decor – the prettiest restaurant in Seattle and the sort of place where you could point your camera in any direction and feel like you’d painted a watercolour.

Sit down and enjoy the pretty.

 

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07 October 2010

Blog I Am Loving – Kat Knit’s Project Project Runway

 

As you will doubtless know by now, I am a dyed-in-the-wool Project Runway fan, even in seasons like this when the fashion really is nothing to write home about.

So I’m loving this fabulous project happening on the blog Kat Knits where Kat, and also her friend Susi, both take 15 hours to follow each Project Runway challenge to the letter and create outfits for a doll.

From creating a stunning handbeaded element for the couture challenge

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and its ready-to-wear counterpart

 

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to printing a custom fabric for the fabric challenge

 

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to knitting a tiny ensemble for the sportswear challenge

 

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to punching out from ribbon and glueing hundreds of tiny circles for the ‘party store’ challenge

 

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and knitting tiny accessories for the team challenge.

 

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There’s much more to see on the blog, including all the workroom ‘drama’ and if you haven’t discovered it already go and say hi to Tom and Lorenzo at Project Rungay for everything you ever wanted to know and then some about the show (which is where I found out about this blog).

Update

I can’t wait to see what they comes up with for last night's  ‘Design a Grey Shapeless Sweatshire for Heidi Klum’s Vanity Line’ challenge. Best of luck to them both.

06 October 2010

Recipe of the Week – Buckwheat Blinis

 

It’s that time of year again. A new school year, a new round of ‘getting to know each other’ potlucks to bake for.

The Minx goes to Seattle’s French American school, which means that the potlucks are of a deliciously high standard as everyone tries to keep up with the French parents, but which also means that it is not at all the done thing just to bring a pot of bought hummus and some lunchbox carrot sticks.

 

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I’ve had a lot of success at potlucks recently bringing buckwheat blinis, smoked salmon and creme fraiche, courtesy of a recipe from dear old Delia. They take a little bit of time to prepare as they’re yeast-based, but they’re fun to make, really easy, and are very happy to sit about waiting for festivities to kick off, though they never last very long when the cling-film is finally removed.

 

Ingredients

3/4 cup/175g strong white flour

1/4 cup/50g buckwheat or wholemeal flour

1 tsp salt

1 sachet easy blend dried yeast
1 cup/220 ml creme fraiche
1 cup/225 ml whole milk
2 large eggs
Melted butter for cooking

 

Method

Making the batter

Sift the flours and salt together into a large bowl and then sprinkle in the yeast. Heat the creme fraiche and milk together in a small saucepan until slightly warm, (too hot and you’ll kill the yeast).

Separate the eggs, reserve the whites and add the yolks to the milk mixture. Break it all up with a fork and pour the eggy milk into the flour and yeast. Stir to make a thick batter, then cover with a damp cloth and leave into a warm place for about an hour until spongy and bubbly.

Whisk the egg whites until they form stiff peaks and fold them into the batter. Cover with the damp cloth again and leave them for another hour.

 

Cooking the blinis

Heat a flat griddle pan or heavy-bottomed frying pan (I have a cast iron crepe pan which is AMAZING) and then keep it on a medium heat.

Melt a large knob of butter in a small saucepan and brush a little butter on the pan.

Then add spoonfuls of batter – I use a teaspoon of batter to make mini-blinis ideal for gatherings, but you could use a tablespoon to make bigger starter or snack-sized offering.

The batter will start to set the minute it hits the pan and will look light and puffy.

 

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After about 40 seconds, when the edges are starting to dry out, flip the blinis over (I have a little cookie spatula which is perfect  for this) and then cook for about 30 seconds on the other side.

 

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When they’re ready, cool on a wire rack  and repeat the process, brushing the pan with butter each time.  This mixture should give you about 50 mini-blinis.

 

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Serve the blinis with a little smoked salmon, a blob of creme fraiche and a spring of dill (I usually put blinis, salmon, creme fraiche and dill on a plate and let people get on with it).

Blinis also freeze beautifully, and leftovers are delicious and dangerously moreish with prosciutto or butter and honey or jam. Don’t ask me how I know.

Things I Am Loving – Carl Kleiner’s Food Photography

 

I’ve been looking at a lot of food photography recently, but, sometimes, dare I say it, it can get a little same-y – put your food in a pretty dish, lay it on a cunningly folded napkin, place everything on a textured table and play with depth of field until the background is artfully blurred.

Rinse and repeat. (And yes, I know I do this too.)

So it’s wonderful to see food photography that is completely out of left field and so very beautiful, for, of all things, an Ikea cookbook.

Photographer Carl Kleiner worked with stylist Evelina Bratell to create fabulous still-life patterns out of the raw ingredients for each dish.

 

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The photos of the finished articles are witty, pretty and original too.

 

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Unfortunately I think the cookbook is only available in Swedish and from Ikea in Sweden at the moment, though hopefully an international edition will be available shortly.

And wouldn’t those prints look wonderful as kitchen artwork?

And maybe I was onto something when I took a picture of my pot roast ingredients back in February? I should have held that thought.

{via Jackie Baisa’s Facebook page}

 

05 October 2010

Things I am Loving – Living Dolls House

 

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Once up a time Canadian artist Heather Benning, then the local artist-in-residence in Redvers, Saskatchewan, decided to create a real-life dolls house art installation.

She acquired a derelict, isolated farmhouse on the Manitoba/Saskatchewan border, rolled up her sleeves and set to work.

 

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She had the interiors painted in 1960s pastels; furnished the house with vintage 1960s furniture from the time when the house had last been inhabited and loved; and had huge plexiglass windows installed to one side.

 

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And created the house of many a grown-up little girls’ dreams (except perhaps for the huge Plexiglass windows).

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                                                    THE END

{From the Jealous Curator, via sfgirlbybay’s Tiwitter}

04 October 2010

All About Me - Shuttertour

 

As part of my 101 Things list, I’ve challenged myself to complete at least six photography workshops or classes in the next three years.

First up was a Seattle Shuttertour with the amazing Valentina Vitols.

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This is such a cool concept – you are taken on walking tour of some of the most photogenic spots in Seattle, while ace photographer Valentina tells you a little about the history of what you’re seeing, stops every so often to give the group photography tips and is always available to share her knowledge on an individual basis.

She also talks a bit about using urban backdrops for portraiture, making sure to pick up your camera and take plenty of pictures of you as well, so you end up with some nice portraits by a professional portrait photographer.  And she took us to corners of Seattle that I had never been to before.

I knew most of the tips, but it’s one thing to know these things in the abstract and another to be able to put them into practice straightaway afterwards. And in fact just walking round the city for the sole purpose of taking photos was so unusual for me and just so much fun. I must do it more often.

I think the Shuttertours are finished for the year now, but if you’re a photographer either living in Seattle or visiting as a tourist, I can’t recommend them highly enough. Go and do one next season!

 

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Valentina in front of Seattle’s infamous and quite revolting gum wall.

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Moments and details in Post Alley

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Coffee stop at the beautiful Caffe Stella near the Hammering Man

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Portraits and self-portraits (wish I’d washed my hair that morning)
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Colours and character in Pike Place Market

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01 October 2010

Recipe of the Week – A Traditionally English Bramley Apple Pie

 

One of the challenges on my 101 List is to ‘Win something – anything’, which means I actually need to enter competitions.

Cue the 2nd Annual Queen Anne Farmers’ Market Blue Ribbon Pie Contest, which I decided to enter on a whim, despite the fact that I haven’t actually baked a pie for about ten years – crumble always seems so much quicker, easier and less daunting – and that Seattle is home to some fiendishly expert piemakers.

 

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This year I’ve been able, through extensive excitable Twittering and emailing, to locate a local source of Bramley apples. Despite being home to more fabulous apple varieties than you can shake a stick at, America appears to be almost entirely ignorant of Bramleys, which I’ve missed horribly over the past couple of years.

For those of you who don’t know, Bramleys are a large knobbly British heirloom ‘cooking’ apple – too tart to eat raw, but which, thanks to the extra acidity, have a uniquely wonderful flavour and soft fluffy texture when cooked. It’s funny the things you miss, but I am not the only Brit to nearly wet my knickers with excitement at finding them.

So, I decided to make a traditionally English Bramley Apple Pie for the competition and show Americans what they’re missing out on.

 

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And here’s my finished pie literally seconds before it slipped out of my hands as I was putting it in the oven and it crashed to the oven floor. Fortunately I was able to perform extensive reconstructive surgery using leftover scraps of pastry and make it look like a pie again, but it certainly wasn’t going to win any beauty competitions.

So you can imagine that I wasn’t holding out much hope of a prize when I was greeted by a veritable masterclass in the piemaker’s art on arriving at the market. (My poor battered pie is at top right in the red pie dish, I didn’t even bother to take a proper close up photo of it).

 

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Here it is after the judges had tucked into it.

 

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And here it is sporting its ribbon for 3rd Prize! You could have knocked me down with a feather, quite literally. They clearly weren’t judging on looks.

 

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Anyway, it was a lovely and very unexpected surprise to end to what has been a fairly shitty week, so many thanks to all at Queen Anne Farmers’ Market, to Jones Creek farms for their wonderful Bramley apples, to my lovely friend M for coming to my rescue with lard, and  to my fellow competitors who made some SERIOUSLY delicious pies (enough already, it’s getting like the Oscars round here :- the Ed)

And it’s made me think that maybe I should make pie more often.

 

Ingredients

Shortcrust Pastry

250g/2cups flour

75g/5 tbsps butter*

75g/5tbsps lard or vegetable shortening**

Iced water + lemon juice

Filling

1-2 tbsps of butter

5 Bramley apples – peeled, cored and sliced***

1 tbsp lemon juice

3 tbsps raisins soaked in Madeira****

6 tbsps bakers/caster sugar

½ tsp cinnamon

½ tsp ground cloves

A few grindings of nutmeg

1 tbsp cornstarch/cornflour/plain flour

 

* I used an imported European butter as the fat content is higher and it apparently works better for pastry. You can get Kerrygold and Lurpak reasonably easily in the US. I also used salted butter as Il like the whole salty /sweet thing in my desserts.

**It appears that good quality lard is also very difficult to get hold of in the US. It’s available as ‘manteca’ and extensively used for Mexican cuisine but the brands I’ve found seem to be full of partially hydrogenated fats. Or else you need to track down ‘leaf lard’ from a good butcher or farmer. I was lucky enough to be given some by a friend. Brits, treasure that pack of Tesco’s lard you’ve had squashed in the back of the fridge since time immemorial.

*** Bramleys are unique in my experience. If you can’t get hold of them, Granny Smiths have a similar tart taste, but very different texture and I’ve heard that Gravensteins and Belle de Boskoop are other good cooking varieties. You may need to adjust cooking method (below) accordingly.

**** Madeira is yet another very English thing. If you don’t have madeira, rum, whisky or Calvados would be great. If kids are going to eat the pie use apple or orange juice.

Method

Pastry

Soak your raisins in your booze of choice a few hours before starting.

Chop your fats into small dice and put the flour and fats into the freezer for around 15 minutes. If you didn’t use salted butter, you could maybe add a pinch of salt.

Prepare a cup of iced water and add a squeeze of lemon.

Put your flour and fats into a food processor and pulse process until the fats are fully incorporated and the mixture looks like coarse sand or oatmeal.

Add iced water to the mix a teaspoon at a time and keep pulsing until everything has almost clumped together. Fish it out and knead it into a smooth dough by hand. (You can of course use the traditional ‘rubbing in’ method. I like the above, courtesy of Nigella Lawson – God love that despicable woman – because it’s quick, easy and means you don’t have to handle the pastry more than is strictly necessary).

Put the pastry in the fridge for at least 30 mins to relax.

 

Filling

Core, peel and slice your apples and place the slices in a bowl of cold water with a couple of tablespoons of lemon juice to stop them browning. Americans seem to prefer more discernible lumps of apple in their pies, so may want to slice them more thickly.

Melt a tablespoon or two of butter in a large frying pan and then turn off the heat and add your apples, drained raisins, approximately 6 tablespoons of caster sugar depending on how sweet your apples are (if you’re not using tart Bramleys you may want to use a bit less), the spices and the cornflour. I also added a little lemon juice, and you can adjust this according to the tartness or otherwise of your apples. If you’re using very sweet dessert apples go for more.

Stir the apples around until all the buttery juices are amalgamated. If you prefer a softer pie filling or are using dessert apples that don’t disintegrate easily you may want to cook the apples gently at this stage.  I didn’t with my Bramleys.

 

Assembly

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Roll out the one of the pastry circles and line the bottom of your pie dish.

Add the filling.

Roll out the other pastry circle and place over the top of the pie dish, cutting the excess away with a knife.

Paint the edge of the pie with milk and then crimp together the top and bottom layers. Pierce vents in the top layer to let the steam escape and decorate how you like with the pastry scraps, eggwash or milk and lots of sugar. I experimented using different types of sugar – caster, demerara, and large-crystalled ‘sparkling’ sugar to decorate different elements of my design.

Bake for about 45-50 minutes until golden. I covered my pie with foil for the first 20 minutes so it wouldn’t get too brown.

I’m not going to count this as a win for the 101 Things, since it was only a 3rd place. However ask me again when the three years is nearly up.  Oh and here’s a gratuitous cute picture of the Minx chatting up a baby at the market.

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{Update}

Here’s a link to a write-up about the competition on the Queen Anne Farmers’ Market website, with a rare flattering photo of me (on the far left).

 

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Photo by John Schussler

 

Thank goodness I didn’t know that professional bakers would be competing and that we would be judged by professional pastry chefs.

Here are links to the three other prize-winning recipes which all looked utterly incredible. Mine was apparently the highest-ranked apple pie (of which there were several) which I attribute entirely to the amazing power of the Bramley apple.