Tag Archives: photography

Mar
23
2012
Photo Friday: Cherry Blossoms

For one week out of every year, the two cherry trees in front of my house make me the happiest person on Earth.

That week is now.

Also, the instructor of my photography class earlier this year said cameras automatically focus on what is closest. My camera missed that memo. Could someone please explain why my camera likes to focus on something behind my damn subject? I swear to all that is holy I focused on the center cluster of blossoms in each shot of this series, yet some of the shots turned out like this, with blossoms further away in focus instead:

Seriously, if anyone can help me on this, I’ll be your friend forever.

Mar
16
2012
Photo Friday: Vanilla Ice Cream

You know what? I really don’t have time to blog. This is annoying, because I enjoy blogging so much more than many other activities (for example, work). 

I’ve been obsessed with the ice cream thing.

I made five versions of vanilla ice cream last weekend in the continuing quest for my perfect ice cream mix. This test was about eliminating egg yolks without sacrificing texture. The recipes I had been using all called for four to six egg yolks per quart. First of all, that’s a lot of eggs. Secondly, that shit is called custard (custard mix must be at least 1.4 percent egg yolk solids by weight, and that’s only about one egg yolk per quart of mix if my figures are right). I have nothing against frozen custard, but I’m anal and want to make ice cream. When I was testing my more strongly flavored brown sugar ice cream, the custard vs. ice cream thing seemed more a matter of semantics and texture, but plain vanilla custard with six egg yolks tastes like eggs, y’all.

So while I can see making a custard for some flavors (I’d like to make a nice creamy lemon custard, sort of like frozen lemon curd), I really want to develop most of my flavors using no egg yolks.

Here are the five vanillas I made this week. I’m irritated that this is the best shot because the bowl blocks the little tag I made to label ice cream #3 (hello, perfectionism!).

#1: custard mix made with 6 egg yolks

#2: same mix, no egg yolks

#3: same mix, no egg yolks, 1/8 teaspoon xanthan gum (the xanthan gum is a stabilizer that commercial ice cream makers use to combat iciness and improve shelf life. I hoped it would serve the same purpose as egg yolks, without the egg flavor and the wasted egg whites. I couldn’t get the powder to blend and ended up having to strain most of it out. But it still gave the ice cream a weird gummy texture and a slightly off flavor. I think I’m done with the xanthan gum).

#4: same mix as #2, made with organic heavy cream (it took me several weeks of ice cream testing before I realized the regular heavy cream I’d been using actually contained a stabilizer (carrageenan) already and I wanted to test whether that mattered. It didn’t seem to.) This one also replaced a tiny bit of the sugar with 1 tablespoon corn syrup (which I learned at Ice Cream 101 can help reduce iciness and improve shelf life). I actually haven’t found any of the ice creams to have an icy texture as of three days out. Also, I felt I could taste the corn syrup (in a bad way).

#5: same mix as #2, made with organic heavy cream, all regular sugar

These were all passable (except #3) but I wasn’t super thrilled, so it’s back to the drawing board this weekend. I’m already getting a little sick of vanilla.

Mar
9
2012
Photo Friday: This is What Perfectionism Looks Like

On the surface, it may seem counter-intuitive for a perfectionist’s office to look like a cyclone hit it. But those of you who have the perfectionism affliction, or love someone who does, see the truth.

Am I comfortable with this picture? No. Do I enjoy working in this environment? No. While a normal person might think, “just spend a few minutes cleaning this up,” I know it would take hours or even days (hours and days I don’t have at work) to clean and organize it the right way. To do anything less is not comfortable, so it will just have to wait until I can do it right.

I’m a perfectionist; I’m hardwired to do shit the tediously inefficient but right way.

I think I would have skewed this way no matter what, but my first grade teacher didn’t help. She split my classroom into the “good side” and the “bad side” and placed me on the bad side because I’d forgotten to turn in a permission slip. Mistakes, no matter how small, would be noticed, would be punished. Got it, thanks!

This experience lodged itself into my amygdala, where it still drives me toward a goal I can’t reach. When I was little, my thoughts on perfection were simple, “if I stop making mistakes, people will like me more.” I even had a code word, “NOW,” that I’d say to myself as a pep talk to be perfect from that point forward. Until the next time I made a mistake, of course. These days, “NOW” has been replaced by exhausting post mortems on what I could have done differently to avoid a mistake and often an internal berating for not knowing this already.

I’m sick of it and I’m trying to recover from perfectionism. I’ve realized there’s so much I want to do. I just don’t have time to do everything I’m interested in doing as well as my brain tells me I have to do it.

But letting the perfectionism go has been hard, for at least two reasons:

1. My brain doesn’t seem to have the capacity for the kind of flexible thinking needed to create shortcuts.

2. Even if by some miracle, I think of a shortcut or someone offers me a different solution to a task, I don’t feel comfortable implementing it. It feels half-assed to me.

I didn’t even realize how crazy my methods seemed until the running shoes conversation. You see, a few weeks ago my knees started feeling wonky and I wondered if it might be time to buy new running shoes. I thought nothing of my process until I talked to a normal person about it. I mentioned how I needed to add up the mileage I’d run on my current pair of shoes, but before I could do the calculation I had to enter the back log of data from my Garmin GPS watch into my workout log spreadsheet.

I’ll never forget the look that passed across the normal person’s face.

Her: “How long will entering all that data take you?”

Me: “I’m not sure…probably two to three hours at least.”

Her: “Uh, what would be the harm in just buying new shoes without doing all that data entry?”

This suggestion blew my mind.

Today I reached two personal milestones. I achieved a goal I’ve had for over two years; to get my work email inbox of almost 1,600 emails back to zero. And, perhaps more importantly, I did it by implementing a shortcut that my perfectionist brain had previously convinced me was “cheating. ”

I moved everything older than 2012 into a separate archive folder labeled “unsorted.” If I get around to culling that great, if not, c’est la vie. I had told myself I needed to wait until I had time to cull 1,600 emails. But that was going to be never. After removing the old emails, I culled the 404 emails left in my inbox to zero in a few hours. Yea!


PishPosh

Feb
24
2012
Photo Friday: A Complex Food Colloid

From Ice Cream Sixth Edition by Robert T. Marshall, H. Douglas Goff, and Richard W. Hartel:

“Ice cream is a complex food colloid embodied in a product the consumer associates with pure enjoyment. It is paradoxical that what can seem so simple is indeed so complex.”

And that about sums up Ice Cream 101, y’all. In a word…overwhelming. Leave it to me to select a food to sell that is defined in the Code of Federal Regulations. I was trying to get away from working for the man.

If I wait any longer to write about Ice Cream 101, I won’t, so here are my thoughts: 

  • “Ice cream” has a standard of identity defined by the federal government (so recipe development is not as simple as you might think, unless you are willing to sell something you have to call “frozen dairy product.”).
  • The mix must be pasteurized (even if your dairy ingredients are pasteurized). Before the professor hammered this point home, he said, “now is when I shatter your dreams.” We were told 98% of ice cream shop owners purchase their mix and most of us sighed dejectedly.

Who knew ice cream could be such a pain in the ass?

This was hour one of a two-day course. Quite frankly, I tuned out a little the rest of that morning. I want to MAKE ice cream, not flavor and freeze somebody else’s mix.

  • During the tasting lab, I ended up being quite attracted to the version of vanilla made with artificial sweetener instead of sugar. Oops. My taste buds must have been exhausted by then…
  • A presentation on the business side of opening an ice cream shop likened the process to having a baby. Unfortunately, conception is the only part of pregnancy that sounds like any fun, and I worry the ice cream business might feel the same. The part of his talk that stuck with me most was the following off the cuff remark:  “if I could get rid of all my staff and I could get rid of all my customers I would have the best business in the world. Just go down and make ice cream.” Uh-oh.

On the afternoon of day two, several batch freezer (basically a huge expensive ice cream maker) representatives hawked their wares. They demonstrated their machines and let us taste the ice cream. The moment I saw fresh ice cream extruding from the first machine, I was back on board. I wanted to remove the bucket from under the spout and replace it with my open mouth.

  • I’m a very risk-averse person. I learned there is a lot I didn’t know about making ice cream. And I know even less about starting and running a business.

In the short term, I plan to make a lot of ice cream. We’ll see if it’s as much fun as I thought and whether my friends and family think it’s any good. My lovely husband ordered me a snazzy new ice cream maker for Valentine’s Day. Last weekend, I made my first batch of my signature flavor idea, basically ice cream that is supposed to taste like chocolate chip cookie dough (I threw in actual cookie dough for good measure). I couldn’t decide if I should share the full view or close-up, so you get both.

Feb
10
2012
Photo Friday: Early Spring

How about this weather? Spring flowers are popping out all over our neighborhood. Our neighbor’s quince started blooming in January.

I’m taking a five-week photography class and I decided to use the quince blooms for last week’s homework assignment on “equivalent exposures” (basically taking the same shot, but messing with the depth of field). So the top picture blurs the background (my neighbor’s house).

I’m excited that I now know how to use my camera on manual mode. But this class has mainly just confirmed my camera is possessed by Satan. The first week of class, the instructor said “the camera will always focus on what is closer.” Nope. Not my camera anyway.

The only thing that should differ between these two pictures is how much of the picture from front to back is in focus. But even though I set the focus point to be the stamen in the middle of that main flower and used a tripod, the stamen are not in focus in both pictures, even though all I did was change the aperture and shutter speed. I even checked to make sure the red focus dot hadn’t moved. I’ve discussed this issue with my instructor and she can’t explain this. I clearly need a new camera, right?!?

Happy Spring Winter!

Feb
3
2012
Photo Friday: From Cow to Cone

Thanks to everyone who commented on my last post and shared tips. Ice Cream 101 at Penn State was great, but overwhelming. The “it’s 5am and I’m still awake and my alarm is set for 6:05″ insomnia Friday night into Saturday morning didn’t help. I haven’t had a chance to catch up on sleep so I’m still exhausted. In brief, I learned a lot and the class didn’t fully talk me out of this ice cream business idea. I plan to write about what I learned, but only after I’m no longer hallucinating from exhaustion.

In the meantime, here are two photos from the weekend. It was hard to get decent shots with only our small point and shoot and its max ISO of 400.

We got a behind the scenes tour of Penn State’s Creamery. There were pipes running everywhere, all carefully labelled as to their contents (raw versus pasteurized milk, etc…).

I didn’t get any good shots of ice cream being extruded during the batch freezer demonstrations, but here’s a shot I like of ice cream being mixed and frozen in a cool European machine. It seemed like more of a novelty machine than a workhorse. The only way to get the ice cream out of the tub is with this huge paddle-like thing. The company representative demonstrated how you can make the ice cream in front of your customers and then basically shove the paddle full of ice cream in their face offer up the paddle full of fresh ice cream for them to sample. Kind of reminded me of fudge demonstrations at Niagara Falls.

Jan
20
2012
Photo Friday: Guinness (Cupcakes) for Jesus*

The Event: Iron Chef Potluck (ingredient: “spirits”)

The Recipe: Guinness Cupcakes with Irish Whiskey Ganache Filling and Baileys Buttercream

The Verdict: while I announced the following on Twitter pre-baking… “Baking cupcakes filled w/whiskey ganache & topped w/Baileys buttercream. In other words, cupcakes I’m 98% sure I won’t eat. #5YearOldPalate” …I ended up eating…uh, several.

Cake: Loved. Delicious and moist and not Guinness-ey.

Frosting: Liked. A little grainy and definitely Baileys-ey, but sweet enough that I could eat it anyway.

Filling: Not good. The ganache set up too hard (heh-heh) to be a cupcake filling. It was like a solid truffle in the middle of the cupcake and made the cupcakes difficult to eat. I gave my fillings to Dave.

The New Obsession: Developing a signature cupcake recipe. Stay tuned!

*The silly memory these cupcakes bring to mind: Years ago, Dave and I spent St. Patrick’s Day in Philadelphia with friends from college. They were insane. John Boy (don’t ask) kept insisting that the guys drink only Guinness and Guinness-based drinks all night. When everyone else tired of Guinness, John Boy encouraged them to keep drinking it by exclaiming: “Guinness for Jesus!” I laughed so much my face hurt.

Jan
7
2012
Photo Friday/Saturday: Red Panda Babies

Getting sick over New Year’s is apparently now a tradition. I’ve had a cold (and colds make me act like a man…poor little bunny!) since Tuesday. So I’ve been drinking orange juice and catching up on “How I Met Your Mother” on streaming video even more quickly than my retired mother (not that it’s a race or anything). Hopefully I’ll feel better and will be back to my non-regularly scheduled posting soon.

Dave’s last day off was Tuesday and even though I was already feeling a little off and the wind chill was 17 degrees, our plan to visit the red panda babies at the National Zoo was too important to blow off. In retrospect, standing outside cooing over the red panda family (Mom, Dad and the two babies, Pili and Damini) for 30 to 45 minutes in the bitter cold was probably a bad idea. But look!

Red panda’s too sexy for this branch.

The pandas were all basically napping when we first arrived, but then the keeper came out with food. They seemed to listen to him, check it out–so adorable! Dude has my dream job.

It kind of looked like they were eating cut up hot dogs.

The keeper and the volunteer we talked to said that Dad is still not used to sharing his enclosure with the two babies. Here’s a baby adorably trying to hold his/her ground when Dad approaches. Dad had the right of way.

Baby red panda!

The babies were born in June. Next time we need to get to the zoo sooner. They were still adorable, but getting pretty big. Even the keeper said he had trouble telling the members of the family apart.

This is my first attempt at watermarking my photos. I kind of hate it. It’s a pain in the ass and I don’t like the way it looks. I’m also baffled as to why it looks different depending on photo orientation. But I’d hate having one of my pictures stolen too. Ironically, I’m pretty sure Dave took most of these since I prefer to focus on enjoying red pandas without a camera in front of my eyes. I took some photos, but it’s impossible to know for sure which, if any, of these I snapped.

Dec
30
2011
Photo Friday: Going Postal

I’d say we have the worst mail carrier ever, except:

a.) we don’t actually have a mail carrier (the one time we actually complained to the person who delivered our mail, he said that no one was officially responsible for our route. He was just filling in, which of course explains why none of the carriers servicing our route can read)

and

2.) every time I think something can’t be worse, I find out how much worse it can be, so I’m going to play it safe and assume there are worse mail carriers.

We routinely get mail addressed to our neighbors one street over with the same house number. At least a couple of days a week, we receive their junk mail, catalogs, bills, and in early December, two of their packages.

Sometimes we deliver the mail ourselves, sometimes I actually re-mail it. One time I dropped an envelope addressed to our neighbors back into a nearby USPS mailbox, only to find it re-delivered to us a couple of days later. I shit you not. If you love something, set it free…

I was so pissed about the second package, I left it on the hood of the mail truck when I noticed it still parked near my house.

But the best errant delivery was yet to come. The problems run deep at the USPS. We apparently now get all mail involving our house number…

Come on, this shit is international. Even if I could get past the overlooked airmail stamp and decide they misread WI to mean Wisconsin rather than West Indies, I live in Virginia.

Dec
23
2011
Photo Friday: Christmas Card 2011

Last week, I shared our previous Christmas card photos. This year, I wanted:

  • an easy statue for Santa hat purposes (so our runner-up will have to wait until a year I feel like packing a gopher grabber and a step stool),
  • a short commute (so the perfect statue in Erie was out of the question),
  • not to get mugged or worse (actually, I want this every year. Sorry Baltimore, but “Homicide: Life on the Street” was set there for a reason–when the first page of Google results about our statue of interest in Baltimore includes an article about a stabbing in broad daylight nearby, that means no).

So we went back to the scene of 2008. Across the street from Winston Churchill is the Kahlil Gibran Memorial Garden. The statue is a bust so it was easily accessible for the hat. He also has some special meaning for us…sort of. We had planned to use “On Marriage” from The Prophet at our wedding. We thought we liked the message (which seemed to be about avoiding the fate of the Beautiful South song “We Are Each Other.”) We thought the officiant would bring it and he thought we would bring it. Wedding FAIL. I wonder if Gibran wrote something “On Stupidity.”

It was probably just as well, as a more recent read made me giggle like a 12-year-old:

    “Fill each other’s cup, but drink not from one cup.”

This is good advice, I hate sharing.

    “Give one another of your bread, but eat not from the same loaf.”

Now this just seems inefficient and wasteful, a married couple should easily be able to share a single loaf of bread.

    “Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each of you be alone,
    Even as the strings of a lute played by Sting irritate Tracy.”

OK I made that part about Sting up. It’s actually “Even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music.”

    “Give your hearts, but not into each other’s keeping.
    For only the hand of Life can contain your hearts.”

Huh. I would have thought only the heart containers in the Legend of Zelda can contain your hearts.

    “And stand together yet not too near together:
    For the pillars of the temple stand apart,
    And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other’s shadow.”

And the trees are all kept equal by hatchet, axe, and saw!

My apologies to Mr. Gibran. His words on marriage are still lovely, but I’m done berating myself for not thinking to bring them to our wedding.

Hopefully he will forgive me for poking fun and for placing a Santa hat on his bust at his Memorial Garden. Various of his quotes are engraved at the Memorial site and my favorite was:

“That which sings and contemplates in you is still dwelling within the bounds of that first moment which scattered the stars into space.”

Whoa, I think he understood Einstein’s theory of time considerably better than I did.

MERRY CHRISTMAS FROM TRACY, DAVE, CHUCK,

AND KAHLIL GIBRAN!!!!!!