Friday, February 15, 2013

a creative kick in the behind: playing with the new Leica D-Lux 6

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“For what it’s worth: it’s never too late or, in my case, too early to be whoever you want to be. There’s no time limit, stop whenever you want. You can change or stay the same, there are no rules to this thing. We can make the best or the worst of it. I hope you make the best of it. And I hope you see things that startle you. I hope you feel things you never felt before. I hope you meet people with a different point of view. I hope you live a life you’re proud of. If you find that you’re not, I hope you have the courage to start all over again.”
Eric Roth, "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"

In search of a creative kick in the ass lead me to an impulse buy last month.

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But is it truly an impulse buy, I ask you, when you've obsessed with the idea of owning something for months on end? When every fiber of your being has spent countless hours keeping that desire bottled up and sealed tightly by the rationale that the money would be better spent elsewhere, is it so wrong then to let it go by giving in? 

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Well, I gave in. But my justification for giving in was that I spent 2012 in a creative black hole as I dealt with heavy issues therefore making me in sore need of a kickstart. 

Kickstart meet my new Leica D-Lux 6. My first Leica. The gadget geek in me is jumping up and down with excitement.

Excitement! My new toy! First camera gear purchase in almost four years. It was this or an iPad but I've coveted a #Leica of any kind since I first picked up a camera more than 36 years ago! #dlux6 #joy

So, OK, it's a point and shoot and not the rangefinder of my dreams but it's a start. This baby has an f/1.4 lens, allows for shooting in Program, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, Manual and Creative modes plus 1080HD video. You can record shots in JPEG or RAW (uh, yay!) and it allows for manual focus. 

I haven't explored all it's features yet. But I did take it out for a test drive two weeks ago when I spent the day in the park shooting with my friend Kimberly. (I also challenged myself to shoot my next recipe post with it using only natural light. Look for that post on Monday when I start my Meatless Mondays postings to help document my meal ideas during this Lenten season.) 

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Admittedly, the day shooting in the park didn't produce the world's best images content-wise. But that wasn't the point. You see, I was less concerned with WHAT I was shooting as I was with the fact that I WAS shooting. Other than the countless documenting of my fur baby with my iPhone and one freelance food shoot last year, I haven't picked up a camera in ages and it's been even longer since I shot just to shoot.

Denying the artist within a voice has taken it's toll. It's made me hesitant, self-conscious even. As I stated in my last post, I'm on a mission to get my creative journey back on track. More importantly, to learn to enjoy the process again. If I'm practicing my craft a little every day again, surely inspiration will find me.

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The act of opening myself up again to life in all it's forms is, I won't lie, scary as hell but I know it's the right thing to do if I want to breath life back into my soul.

Shooting in the park just for the hell of it reminded me of the pre-teen who first picked up a camera all those years ago and got excited just photographing flowers in the garden and dressing up and posing her sisters for "fashion shoots" (remember those days, my dear sisters?).

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And shooting in the park two weeks ago also served to inspire me to cook a recipe for this blog again. 

That impulse buy may have put a slight crinkle in my plan to get bills paid down but getting that kick in the behind was worth it.

I choose to invest in me. And that's a good thing.

Your turn: How do you get your creative juices flowing after a dry spell?

Until next time … I leave you with shots of my fur baby, Starbuck – the first shots taken with the new toy.

Peace & happy exploring,
Ani

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The very first shot with the new Leica. Of course it had to be of my fur baby. I love how the camera handled the buff on  buff tones. Shoot this on the monochrome setting.

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Same day as the BW above. Late afternoon. Minimal color correction to get rid of the bluish cast in the shade. Not too shabby for a point & shoot. So far, am loving this camera.

NOTE: All images shot with a Leica D-Lux 6 in manual or aperture priority. Processing was limited to slight color corrections with minor boosts in saturation and clarity to compensate for the RAW files. Black and whites shot in camera.

Friday, December 23, 2011

a breath: i will carry your heart in my heart always …

Auntie Sally's graduation photo.
Today we said goodbye. 

My heart is heavy. It broke again last night at the viewing, first hearing my mother's sobs as she stood over her younger sister's coffin. It broke again when my 82 year old grandmother stood over it to say goodbye to her third born. And again and again as auntie, uncle, sisters stood over it sobbing their goodbyes.

I feel broken. How and why am I still standing?



Back at my grandmother's, the family home is overflowing with bodies. My Auntie Sally I'm sure is smiling down from heaven pleased to see so many people gathered to honor her memory. For me, the house is too filled. I can't breathe so I retreat to the fresh air of my grandmother's garden.

I hear people laughing. Talking. Commenting on the food. More food than we started with. I know I should be inside. Helping. Visiting.

I can't seem to get myself to move off this bench. I am typing these words in Evernote on my iPhone. Keys blurring as I try to write through the tears.

Write.

Sally gave me my love of writing stories and reading. When I was young–grade school age–she would give me a list of 10 or 12 words and have me write a story using all of them. Sometimes she would give me the opening line, other times it was all up to me to choose the course of the story. Then I had to draw a picture to go with my story. And when I was done, she'd read it aloud and pile on the praise.

Never without a book in hand, she also gave me my first 300 page book to read when I was in junior high and got me started on horror ("Interview with a Vampire") and period romances ("Shanna" by Kathleen E. Woodwiss).

When my sisters and I were very young, mom had a hard time with fatigue so she would come over and cook and entertain us so my mother could rest. And I remember as each sister was born, she'd come and stay with us to take care of the older girls while mom and dad took care of our newest addition.

Me and Auntie during my 40th birthday celebration.
Several years back, I had a serious complication to elective surgery that very nearly took my life. I was in ICU for a few weeks and then moved to DOU (Definitive Observation Unit -- a step down from ICU) where I remained for a little more than a month. Mom would come stay with me as long as she could but with my youngest sister still at home and my father ill, her time was split. Auntie Sally was there every day, all day. She'd read to me, she'd let me sleep, she'd paint my toes, massage lotion on my legs, feet, arms, hand and make sure that I had a never-ending supply of ice chips and that the nurses where paying attention. When I went home, mom stayed with me for three weeks. Then Auntie Sally stayed with me for three weeks after that. She'd cook, help me on my walks, and introduced me to Buffy – now my favorite show right after X-Files (also a love we shared).

Auntie never married. Never had children of her own. Myself and my four younger sisters, and later my nephew, where like her children. She certainly loved us like we were.

And we loved her as if she was our second mommy.

It still feels so surreal. I won't see her test messages anymore asking me how to unfreeze her laptop, or emails in my inbox praising my latest Confessions post and teasing me about when I'd make what I wrote about for her. No more sharing horror books are talking about our latest sci-fi obsession.

60 years old. Her life seems so short. Her death, so sudden. This last year, I became so busy trying to juggle everything in my life: adjusting to life with a doggy, this blog, freelancing both photo and design work, still working on my jewelry making business, guest blogging and of course, my full-time design job at the newspaper. So busy that I didn't spend much time visiting with her. I am filled with so much guilt because of it. I have to remind myself that she loved me. That she spent a lot of time helping cultivate my creative spirit and encouraged me at every turn. I hope she knew how much I loved her. I hope she knew how much she meant to me. A woman of extreme faith, she lived her life with an open heart and treated everyone she met with a generous smile. She went out of her way to not rock the boat, to forgive no matter how much someone trespassed against her, to never say anything in anger and not hold anything against anyone. She was a good person almost to a fault.

I hope I can honor her memory by being just a fraction of the good person she was.

I love you, Sally. Always and forever.

Monday, December 12, 2011

{a breath & a bite} Family IS everything & The Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap recipe Chocolate Pistachio Biscotti

As I sit here writing this, I realize that I am so distracted it’s really difficult to think about cookies and holidays and all the material trappings of this time of year. It’s hard to remember the excitement I felt just three weeks ago while I was developing my recipe for my participation in the Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap. Instead, I sit here, in the hospital, surrounded by family – some of whom have flown in from out of town – praying together for a miracle that will save my Auntie Sally.

Walking into the her room in ICU is both frightening and saddening. The brightness of the hospital lights, the whirring of machines that are keeping her breathing, cleaning her blood and feeding her all bring a lump to my throat and threaten to loosen tears from my eyes. She is fighting for her life.

She’s had a cough and cold for a while. Last weekend it was really bad. Finally, on Wednesday, my grandmother decided to call an ambulance to bring her to the Emergency Room. She was admitted and the calls went out informing the family. At first, we were told it was pneumonia and she would need to be in the hospital a few days.

But by Thursday, it was clear there was something more going on and they ordered another round of tests ... That’s when the worry started to set in.

Four days ago, I saw her in her room as she came in and out of consciousness, alert enough to know I was there, telling me to go home and be with my doggy and not to worry about coming back in the next day. She would be fine she insisted.

Today, sedated, medically paralyzed as to minimize the “waste” of oxygen, she is not the same person that sat among us two and a half weeks ago at our Thanksgiving table.

They’ve identified the secondary infection: Legionnaires. The doctor says she quite possibly could have had the bacteria for years in a dormant/semi dormant stage.

I looked up the disease.

The internet can be a scary source of information. 50% survival rate. 50%. That’s without other complications. Complications like pneumonia. Like impending kidney failure. Like diabetes.

It’s Monday morning now. I started writing this post yesterday but had to put the laptop away for the day. It was too hard to organize my thoughts …

I try to remain strong. I try to embrace my faith and know that ultimately I must accept God’s will. My Auntie is a woman of exceptionally strong faith. Wavering in mine at a time like this, my Auntie Syl reminded me last night, will only dishonor my Auntie Sally. Nonetheless, I had a meltdown last night for the first time since she was admitted.

Heaving, can’t breathe, fetal position, sobbing. So hard and so loud that my fur child couldn’t stand it. She went from calmly laying next to me with her little head using my leg as a pillow to jumping back and forth from one side of me to the other, trying to hump my arm, my leg, my head as it rocked on the pillow, lick my tears, howling along with me. They say that cocker spaniels are extremely sensitive to their human’s emotions. It’s one of the reasons you aren’t supposed to raise your voice when reprimanding them. A slight change in intonation and they can sense something is up. So I try not to cry in front of her but this … this is simply too much to keep inside. 



Little gifts in the mail 
I had been so busy last weekend that I got my cookies out for the Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap a day late.


I chose to make chocolate pistachio biscotti, making a trial run to take to work. After they passed the test there, the cookies were ready to be baked once more, packaged and sent out. 

My recipients were:
Christine from Ruminations on Food
Nick from Macheesmo
Nicole from Sweet Peony 

Wednesday evening I received my first box of cookies from the Swap. It was the first day of Auntie’s hospital stay. I’d planned on going to see her after work but re-injured my bad knee getting into the car. So I called her instead and spoke to her on the phone a few minutes. Then settled in to rest and enjoy a cookie from Sara over at The Little Bite.


Coconut Macaroons. Although not crazy about coconut, these cookies were moist in the center and after partaking of a few, I found them rather delicious. Thank you, Sara.

Thursday, after the definitive diagnosis of pneumonia, I made sure to get to the hospital. Auntie was still awake then but barely. Worn out when I left for home and my fur child, I found the second box of cookies. This time, they were from Lisa of Tequila Cupcakes.


Ginger Spiced Cookies. They were an instant pick-me-up. Soft, warming and comforting. And I couldn’t help but think, Auntie might like these. Thank you, Lisa.

Friday, Auntie was moved to pulmonary ICU which is where she is still. That’s when they sedated and intubated her. I left work early Friday, unable to concentrate and afraid I’d make a costly mistake. Seeing her there that first day, her chest rising and lowering more regularly, less labored due to the help of the machine, she looked like she was just sleeping. The beeping of the machines around us told me she wasn’t. I cried a little, I spoke to her. Told her she HAD TO FIGHT! Told my Grandfather it wasn’t time for him to walk with her.

My sister flew in from Arizona Friday night. I waited at the hospital as she was coming straight there. We all hugged, we all prayed. After she got a chance to visit with Auntie for a while, I said goodnight to my Auntie and drove my sisters home.


And the last box of cookies was waiting for me. Chocolate Cranberry Biscotti from Hannah 1/2 of Cats and Commas. Thank you, Hannah. A biscotti, a cuppa tea, a half hour of playing with my fur child and I was nearly calm enough to attempt sleep.

The cookies arriving in the mail where little bright spots in an otherwise difficult time. And I’m thankful to be a part of such a supportive online community.

Family is everything 
It’s 10:30am now. I haven’t left for the hospital yet but I just got a call that my Auntie is worse than she was yesterday. They are changing her breathing machine to a stronger one and will resume the dialysis they started Saturday morning. My heart is heavy.

There is so much guilt. Guilt for the arrogance I had thinking that we have more time – enough time – to say and do the things we should be doing all along. All the times I said we’d do this or that, all the times I felt impatient or short with her are haunting me, no, strangling me making it hard to breathe.

I want more time. 

But the truth is we don’t know, do we? How much time we have with the people we love.

We can’t waste it.

Please, don’t waste it.


Chocolate Pistachio Biscotti with Rum and Cinnamon
Makes 4 dozen

1 stick unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup sugar
3 large eggs
1 1/2 tsp vanilla
1 tablespoon dark rum
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 tablespoon instant espresso powder
1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 1/2 cups raw pistachios
1/2 cup evaporated milk, poured into a shallow bowl
3-4 tablespoons course sugar such as turbinado
6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, melted

Preheat the oven to 350° and line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.
In a standing electric mixer fitted with the paddle, beat the butter with the sugar at medium speed until creamy. Switch to the whisk attachment. Add the eggs, vanilla, and rum. Beat on medium high until smooth.

In a small bowl, whisk the flour with the cocoa powder, instant espresso, baking powder, salt and cinnamon. Add the pistachios and combine.

Remove the bowl from the stand mixer and use a wooden spoon to mix the dry ingredients into the batter a cup or two at a time. Incorporate well.

Divide the dough in half. Place each half in the center of a baking sheet. Dough will be sticky. Once on the pan, dip your hands in the milk and shape the dough into a long slightly flattened log. It should measure out to about 12 inches long by 3 to 4 inches wide. Repeat with second half. Pat down the top of both logs with a little more milk and immediately sprinkle the turbinado sugar over the logs.

Bake the logs for about 10 minutes then switch their positions in the oven. Bake for an additional 15 minutes. Remove from oven and move the logs onto wire racks to cool by carefully pulling on the parchment paper. Let the logs cool for 15 to 20 minutes.

Using a serrated knife, cut the logs into 1/4- inch slices on the bias (diagonally). Return the same parchment they were baked on to the cookie sheets and arrange the slices on them. Bake for 25 minutes. Let cool completely.

When cooled, melt the chocolate in a microwave or by using a double broiler. Place the cookies on a wire rack and place the rack over the cookie sheets or on top of newspaper. Use a tablespoon to drizzle the chocolate over the biscotti. Place rack in refrigerator for chocolate to set up.

Biscotti can be stored in an airtight container for up to a week or placed between waxed paper and sealed tightly, they can be frozen for up to a month.

How you can play next year
Want to participate in the Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap next year? Sign up here.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Ghirardelli's Breast Cancer Awareness Campaign & {Recipe} Making Mexican Mole with Intense Dark Chocolate


Did you know that October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month? In honor of it and to help raise awareness and funding, Ghirardelli is donating $50,000. Plus they're donating an additional $1 (up to a total of $100,000) for every code input from specially marked packages of Intense Dark Chocolates to the National Breast Cancer Foundation from now until December 31, 2011.
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Look for the pink ribbon on Ghirardelli Intense Dark bars to participate in this awareness campaign.
The special packaging for Evening Dream™ 60% Cacao, Twilight Delight™ 72% Cacao, Midnight Reverie™ 86% Cacao, and Toffee Interlude™features a pink ribbon on the outside and has a code printed on the inside of the wrapper. This code can then be input here and for every properly inputted code, Ghirardelli will make the donation. That's $100,000 to educate women about early detection and provide mammograms for women who otherwise wouldn't be able to afford them. As a woman with friends who have fought this disease–and too many other forms of cancer to count–this is definitely a movement I can get behind.

So, how can you help spread the word? Buy some chocolate and input that code. Also, how about hosting a party? Buy a few extra bars, invite some friends over and have a pairing party. Try the chocolates alone, with wine, nuts, crackers, olives. Here's some ideas from wine expert and head Thirsty Girl, Leslie Sbrocco to get you started:


For more ideas plus a downloadable pairing party kit, log on to http://www.ghirardelli.com/intensedark/.

What I did with some of my chocolate
Since cooking is my passion, I wanted to take it one step farther and try cooking WITH the chocolates. Since my go-to cuisine is Mexican, it seemed only natural that I would try it with one of my favorite Mexican comfort foods: mole. Especially yummy this week because it got cold and rainy for a few days in our otherwise sunny San Diego.
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Homemade mole doesn't have to be intimidating. With a few ingredients and about 40 minutes, you could be enjoying this hearty traditional Mexican meal. What are you waiting for?
Mole makes me think of home. Mom makes the best. I can't remember the last time I had hers. I usually cheat and make it semi-homemade using this. You can pick it up at most major grocery stores with a Mexican Foods section. It takes all the guess work out of making mole. Just open it up (a trick in itself! Use a bottle opener and inch your way around the cap with it. The container itself is a reusable juice glass. I have a collection of them.) and add it to a pot containing a quart of warmed chicken stock (ratio is four parts stock to one part mole paste). Stir to dissolve, taste and adjust salt to your liking. Add some chicken that you've pre-browned, cover and let simmer for 20-30 minutes until chicken is cooked. Easy-peasy.

A few years ago, while hosting a tamalada, I texted messaged mom for her recipe so I could make her mole for the pork tamales. I text messaged mom instead of calling because mom is deaf and praise be the baby fifa for text messaging! It's our favorite form of instant communication. Anywho…Naturally, there were no measurements in that text just a list of the ingredients in the order added. I come from a family of intuitive cooks. There is no measuring. It's all done by feel and years of perfecting recipes. Doesn't make my job very easy in trying to replicate them and record them here for everyone to share. But I try. The night before the tamalada I made the mole and was surprised at how close I was able to replicate it. Not exactly. But close.

There are many different kinds of mole. Every Mexican family has their own version. Some with chocolate. Some with peanuts. Some with tomatoes. Some made from re-hydrated chili. Some from fresh. And some, like my family's, made with our chili powder of choice: California.

If mole recipes with 20+ ingredients and the need to re-hydrate chilies or dealing with purees and toasting nuts seems a bit daunting, then this recipe is for you. You get the satisfaction and taste of homemade without investing in ingredients you'll most likely only use once. If you follow this blog at all, you know I use two chili powders a lot: California and New Mexico. So you probably already have them in your pantry if you've attempted any of my recipes.

Using Ghirardelli Midnight Reverie with 86% cacao in this recipe changed it from our traditional Mexican chocolate version. It really brought out the taste of the chili and made this mole taste all the more complex. It was a definite winning combination. One I'll try again.

Soon.

And often.

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I served my mole on a bed of white rice with some refried beans topped with queso seco and cold hot carrots to add variety of heat, crunch and temperatures.

Mexican Mole featuring Ghirardelli Midnight Reverie
Serves 6

INGREDIENTS

FOR THE CHICKEN
6 chicken quarters
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
olive oil

FOR THE MOLE
36 oz. chicken broth
4 tablespoons California chili powder
1 tablespoon New Mexico chili powder
1 tablespoon ancho chili powder
1 tablespoon ground cumin
2 teaspoons garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon chicken bouillon
1 bar Ghirardelli Intense Dark Chocolate: Midnight Reverie 86% Cacao, hand broken in to small chunks
1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/3 cup creamy peanut butter

METHOD
  1. Place chicken on a large baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil. Sprinkle a little salt and pepper over the chicken. Flip and repeat. Massage oil and seasonings into chicken. Set aside.
  2. To a stock pot or dutch oven, add the chicken broth. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium low and add the chili powders, cumin, garlic, salt and bouillon. Whisk to combine well. Add the chocolate, sugar, cinnamon and peanut butter. Whisk until chocolate is melted and peanut butter is combined. Bring heat down to low, cover and let simmer while you brown the chicken.
  3. Bring a large skillet up to medium hot. Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil. When oil is hot and shimmering, add chicken working in batches so as to not overcrowd your skillet. Brown on all sides. As chicken is browned, remove to a paper towel-lined platter until all chicken is browned. You're only searing in the juices and crisping up the skin at this point. The chicken will finish cooking in the mole.
  4. Once all chicken is browned, carefully add to the mole ladling the sauce over all the chicken to make sure it's covered in mole. Cover and simmer on low for 30 minutes, stirring the chicken every 10 minutes or so.

SUGGESTIONS

  • Serve the chicken mole over a bed of Spanish Rice or white rice (my preference as it soaks up all the excess mole and is oh-so-good!). Add refried beans or a side of simply dressed peas to complete your meal.
  • I found that a nice glass of sangria goes really well with this complimenting both the chili and the Ghirardelli chocolate in the mole.
  • You'll most likely have extra mole after all the chicken is gone. Strain it and use it in the morning to smother your fried eggs with it. Yum!
Next up? Brie and Chocolate Quesadillas with Fig Jam. Oh, yay Baby!

How are you going to use your chocolate?

Until next time…
¡Buen Provecho!
Ani

The fine print: I received sample chocolates as part of the FoodBuzz Tastemakers program and directly from Ghirardelli.

Monday, September 26, 2011

{ Portrait } Phil & Mary Ellen

Photography was my first love and photographing people was the first aspect of it that I gravitated towards when I first started taking pictures way back at the age of 10. So it is a real treat for me when I can take a break from cooking and styling, graphic design and writing to reconnect with my first love.

Phil hired me at the word mill more than 20 years ago now. He took a chance on a gal who was a custom black and white printer with NO color printing experience to print color ON DEADLINE (yes, the old fashioned way in wet darkrooms, not digital ones), who had a stronger art background than journalistic and came from a commercial lab instead of another newspaper. Under his guidance in those early years, I flourished – truly – for the first time. He retired back in '99 and I occasionally see him in the building for visits and I thank Facebook for making it even easier to stay abreast of what's going on in each other's lives.

In fact, it was through Facebook that Phil contacted me recently asking if I would have time or interest in photographing he and his wife who are celebrating 50 years of marriage. Seeing as he is still in contact with so many current and ex staff photographers, I was honored that he asked me to document this special time in their lives. He wanted informal photos in Balboa Park and said he liked my style of shooting. So I grabbed my camera, asked my nephew to come and assist me and off we headed one Sunday afternoon a few weeks ago. It was the least I could for the first person in my professional life who truly wanted me to succeed and went out of his way to make sure I did.

Happy 50th Anniversary Phil and Mary Ellen.

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Happy Monday everyone! Until next time…

Ani

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