Sep 28, 2012

Fruits of Labour

Last year she learned to knit and has learned some serious techniques. This year Angie has decided that our fully loaded Thunderchild Crab Apple tree couldn't go to waste. We knew by the ample blooms in the spring that there would be plenty of fruit.


So she picked about 25 pounds of apples and brewed up a few batches of juice, the straining aided by a few jelly bags suspended from a light stand and my boom arm. The results are very tasty and now we have the supplies to can more food in the future.

Sep 24, 2012

Gluten Free Thai Chicken Pizza



It is possible! It is possible to have a delicious gluten free pizza. We had pizza from Pizza Pirates here in Saskatoon a few weeks ago. The toppings were great, the crust was passable at best. It was simply a bit too gritty and even a bit soggy or undercooked in the middle.  I know that you cannot always have an optimal product when you're trying to balance standard pizza with gluten-free, and I do think they did a pretty good job, but it was not up to the standards I was used to so we kept looking and found this excellent, crispy flat crest pizza dough recipe. However, it was not a creation of our own and involved a very significant shortcut that was almost as easy as picking up the phone to order.

That shortcut was this: It was the premixed pizza crust blend #219 from Bulk Barn. The mixture contained, in unknown proportions, rice flour, whole grain rice flour, corn flour, tapioca starch, corn starch, methylcellulose, guar gum, and xanthan gum.

The directions for the pizza crust:
1.25 cups of the gluten-free pizza crust blend
1 teaspoon of salt
1/4 teaspoon of black pepper
2 tablespoons of ground flax seed (Angie has informed me that ground flax can go rancid and is best kept refrigerated so you need to add it yourself, as it does not come already mixed into the pizza crust blend)
two large eggs, lightly beaten
2/3 cup of milk

Preheat your oven to 400°F
Line a non-perforated pizza tray or baking tray with parchment paper or grease a tray with 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Combine blend, salt, pepper and ground flaxseed. Add eggs, milk and mix well to form a smooth batter. Spread batter on tray into desired shape, approximately 12 inches in diameter, making edges slightly thicker than the center.
Place tray in middle rack of oven, and bake for 15 min.
Remove tray and prick with a fork several times, it will puff up in spots while baking.
Spread tomato or pesto sauce and top with your favorite toppings and cheese. Bake for another 15 min. for a thin crust and 20 min. for a medium thick crust or until crisp and golden on the edges and the cheese bubbles.

We followed those directions for the initial pre-baking of the crust. After that we used the Thai sauce recipe you will see below and topped that with precooked chicken, caramelized red onion, mushrooms, red pepper and mozzarella cheese, garnishing with green onion and cilantro.



The toppings we used could have been on any pizza but what we have always felt really makes a unique pizza unique is the unique sauce. Certainly, we still have a place in our stomachs for standard pizza sauce but this is by far one of our favorites and as simple as it gets.


The sauce came together easily without any heating or other steps. Simply combine:

2 tbsp. sesame oil
1 tbsp. peanut butter (heaping)
1/4 tsp. soy sauce (gluten-free, of course)
2 garlic cloves, minced
2-4 drops chili oil (we omitted this but made sure we had enough red pepper flakes and the above heaping tablespoon of peanut butter to compensate)
1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes
2 green onions, chopped

Stir everything together and top your prebaked crust with the sauce and your toppings then finish baking it.

I will always enjoy good pizza that has been ordered, even though it is always saltier and less healthy than homemade, but if our pizzas from this day forward are made of this crust I won't complain. To be perfectly honest, I think I like it better than our former home made pizza crust.



Sep 21, 2012

Hot Racks Granola Bar

My sweet tooth flared up as predictably as the sunrise the other day so I swung by Hot Racks for not just one, but two treats. I had to grab one of their perfect cinnamon buns but also a granola bar.


Fresh, dense, chewy, sweet with just a hint of saltiness in the pumpkin seeds. It won't be my last.

Have a great weekend everyone!

Sep 19, 2012

Autumn Snap Dragons

It may not technically be autumn, but overnight frosts have begun (better blow out the sprinklers soon) and I made a point, after much procrastination, to shoot our few remaining snap dragons. They really were beautiful this year and spread out so much from the tiny shoots that were planted not so long ago.

Sep 17, 2012

Gluten Free Mexican Lasagna


Sorry I missed last week's gluten free recipe post. The fact is that not every recipe is going to be spectacular and I won't have time to shoot every great meal. That wasn't the case this time. I was just occupied with other work.

This recipe was hardly a science and was created from a few different recipes. It would be pretty simple to add ingredients you like or reduce or remove what you don't care for.

Ingredients
1.5 lb lean ground beef
1 chopped onion
1/2 each chopped green and red pepper
1 can of plain tomato sauce
1/2 can of tomato paste
1/2 cup of broth or water
1 can of drained and rinsed black beans
1 package of taco seasoning (this shortcut isn't typical for us, but we had a package to use)
1/2 tsp chipotle powder
3-4 cloves of garlic
1 tablespoon of cumin
1 cup frozen kernel corn
12 corn tortillas (6 inch), divided
1 - 1.5 cups shredded cheddar cheese
1 small can of sliced black olives, drained

Method

Begin browning beef, onion and garlic in a large skillet. Add seasonings and complete the cooking of the beef. Preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Add crushed tomatoes, paste, broth, beans and corn. Cook and simmer until it is the desired thickness. You will want less liquid than a lasagna recipe that calls for the noodles to be uncooked before baking. The corn tortillas won't absorb much if any liquid so simmer it until it is quite thick.

Layer 1/3 of the meat mixture then a generous layer of tortillas in a 13x9-inch baking dish. We cut the tortillas in half for ease of arrangement but should have been more generous with the tortillas making a slightly overlapping layer so they don't get lost in the final product. Repeat layers then cover with remaining meat sauce. Sprinkle with Cheddar cheese and olives.

Bake for 30 min. or until heated through. Let it sit for 5-10 minutes to set then serve and enjoy.

Sep 14, 2012

Innovation Place Before Autumn - 3

Oh, how I wished I had seen the location from my first two photos below on the family photo shoot two Saturdays ago. It is right beside the Saskatchewan Research Council building's entrance. They are a reflective gold. The light bouncing off of them is beautifully warm and the imperfections in the glass make it look like light reflected off of water or maybe light under water.

I will post some photos from that session in a week or so and will point out those that were taken with the gold windows as a background.


I suppose the family photo session day was completely overcast so as much as those two girls sitting on the rocks pictured below would have been nice, without the direct sunlight the effect would not have existed.


One of the first crunchy leaves of the upcoming autumn season.



Sep 12, 2012

Innovation Place Before Autumn - 2

You likely saw the Morning Glory from my Friday evening post. I thought I would pull back and catch two of them in one frame.




 The ladybugs certainly flourished this spring, then disappeared and have now returned in numbers again. I wonder if the temperature has anything to do with it.


Normally I would not pick flowers, but I couldn't get close enough to these to get a good shot, and it's the end of the season, so in the interest of art, I picked one to shoot. The softness of these little red caterpillar-like blooms was just like fur. Reminded me of cotton candy. I'm pretty certain that these are perennials so I will make sure to get back to this spot next year.


Sep 10, 2012

Innovation Place Before Autumn - 1

The days are getting shorter and before long we will begin questioning that alarm in the morning. "How can that be right? It's still dark out."


But we aren't there yet. Yes, a few trees are beginning to drop leaves and the remaining flowers are all that will be for this year. The chill in the air is noticeable, even in the still warm sunlight, and that sunlight is coming from a much lower in the sky orb.



It's a new season, though, and the return to routine has its goodness, as well. Still, the snow could hold off until November January, for my tastes and ease of getting around. The primary sump pump we just replaced is still running every five minutes. I wonder how many years of drought we would need before it stops.



At any rate, break out the indoor to-do and project list as they will be needed soon enough.


Sep 7, 2012

Weaknesses



I recently received a letter from seventh floor rehab at Saskatoon City Hospital giving me the opportunity to participate in a research study to see which needs are being met and which are not being met for post acute care spinal cord injury patients in Saskatchewan. I have scheduled the interview for this coming week, far sooner than I expected it to occur. Included with the letter was a short survey that could be filled out instead of or in addition to the longer interview. I was intrigued by the questions contained within that survey and it certainly made me additionally curious about the interview next week.

One of the types of questions on the survey was regarding how you, the person with a spinal cord injury, feel about your ability to accomplish tasks or reach goals if you put your mind and energy to it. I have heard from more than a few photographers, artists and writers that believe a philosophy of "hurry up and fail" is better. Most definitely there are things that are worth striving for regardless of the difficulty or time would take to accomplish the goal, but I tend to agree with them in most situations. Be it a book that has not captivated me within the first few chapters, a TV show that cannot keep me interested or continually disappoints with total lack of believability, or a skill that would take four times as long to develop and provide minimal benefit on a day-to-day basis, there is value in knowing when it is time to quit. Being able to do things for yourself is great but if you are more efficient at doing one thing and can outsource the other why not focus your skills where you are most effective? This is where I felt that in a number of places the survey I filled out really limited the ability to elaborate the reasoning for choosing the answer I chose on a question by question basis. I am very hopeful that the interview will allow me an opportunity to dig deeper and give them specific answers as opposed circling a number from 1 to 5.

Whenever I am working on our bank records and budget, watching "Smarter Every Day" on YouTube or anything else with a subjective nature I am reminded of the fact that, though I really enjoy photography and am enjoying more forms of art all the time, I still have inside me a person who appreciates structure, symmetry and order. Anybody who knows me knows how little I typically care for spontaneity.

This past week, while editing photos from a family session last Saturday, and today while shooting flora at the same location as those family photos, I really began to notice something developing in me. That thing is symmetry. I have read and heard from numerous professional photographers that it will take time for you to develop a style. It will be there, but until you shoot enough and find your groove you may not realize for a significant period of time that you have style. Looking at those photos last week, paying attention to how I framed photos today and thinking back about so many of my still life photos, I can see symmetry. I am not and should not be surprised by this. Symmetry, order, structure and sharpness are what I seek.



So, to answer the survey's question regarding being able to do anything I put my mind to, the answer I had to put was "not confident at all". The key word being "anything". Had they chosen "most things" I would've answered differently. Perhaps I could hire enough manpower to haul my butt down to the shoreline of the river for that perfect scenery photo, or maybe to haul me off the side of a mountain or even just up a ladder for that perfect perspective that I want when making someone's portrait. But that would not seem to be the most effective use of my resources. It is a weakness. Deal with it. To pursue that type of photography, even though there are times when I do it just for the fun of it and it can be really rewarding, would be an endeavor full of frustration and failure for all the wrong reasons. A little bit of failure so that you can learn from your mistakes is a good thing. Frustration because of a physical limitation that simply cannot be overcome in any reasonable way, if at all, is not worth fighting against. Realizing that sooner than later is far better than swimming upstream and never getting anywhere.


As much as many of the limitations that I am keenly aware of on a day-to-day basis affect me, I also know that very often there are very reasonable alternatives or workarounds to overcome or avoid situations that magnify the limitations. That was one of the questions on the survey, "how confident are you that you would be able to find a solution to a problem if one arose?" In this situation I most definitely had to circle number 4 out of 5. I cannot say that I can always find a solution but most of the time I am able to.


One of my weaknesses with using a heavier camera and professional lenses is simply the weight. Because I need to support the camera with my left hand under the lens and my right hand on top of the shutter button I am not always able to provide proper support to achieve the steadiest shots and often certain angles down or up are simply not possible for me without risking dropping the camera. Thanks to some experimentation on my part and a lesson from my number one inspiration, Joe McNally, I have found the grip that works far better for me than the grip I was using years ago. This includes a portion of Joe's method of tucking the camera into your shoulder, the breathing techniques my dad taught me for target shooting or gopher hunting and making a triangle out of my left forearm, left upper arm and the camera supported on my left hand and against my cheek, with my elbow resting on my rib cage for steadiness.

I have embedded the video of the lesson from Joe and if you use a DSLR please watch even just 30 seconds starting at the 6 minute mark. Please, please, do not use the overhand grip on your lens. Do you know how badly I would like to be able to provide two hands of support on my camera? Please, do not disable yourself. :-)




So, with weaknesses in mind, and my style clearly aiming for order, symmetry and absolute sharpness, I have found myself insistent upon using off-camera lighting. In dimly lit situations where full lighting control is necessary I know that no matter how poor my grip may be, how tired or weak I may feel that day, or any other compromising factors, I know that the flash duration of 1/4000 of a second or faster, no matter how long the shutter speed or how shaky I am, will ensure no motion blur in the lit portion of my photograph.

Finding solutions. Overcoming weaknesses. Maximizing efficiencies.

Sep 5, 2012

Sweet Potato Quinoa Salad


Continuing with the effort to share our attempts at different gluten free recipes was this sweet potato quinoa salad based on this recipe from Good Life Eats.com. Such a refreshing and crisp salad that really satisfies. It could easily have had some grilled chicken thrown in and maybe a few more veggies to make a complete meal.

We followed the recipe fairly closely, and agreed that we would have enjoyed them, but didn't have olives on hand so they were omitted. As well, since it doesn't sit well with me, avocado was left out. We added some corn for sweetness and colour. Finally, I'm pretty sure that a nice dose of garlic was added to the dressing. Really, it's a very flexible recipe.

From a photography perspective, I was most pleased with something so vibrant to place in the stainless steel bowl I've been saving for a photo such as this.

Sweet Potato Quinoa Salad

serves 6

Ingredients:
1 cup uncooked quinoa
2 medium sweet potatoes (about 1 pound)
1 red bell pepper, cored, and diced
3 tablespoons minced green onion
1 cup sliced black olives
1 avocado, diced
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
1/4 teaspoon chipotle chili powder (or to taste)
1/4 cup minced fresh cilantro
1/2 cup diced cherry tomatoes for garnish
salt
freshly ground pepper

Directions:
Combine quinoa with a large pinch of salt and 2 cups of water in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a gentle simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally until until the grain is tender. If there is some water remaining, carefully strain the quinoa. Let cool slightly.

Meanwhile, peel the sweet potatoes and dice into 1/2 inch or smaller pieces. Cover with water in a medium saucepan, add a pinch of salt, and bring to boil. Cook until tender, approximately 15 minutes. Drain well and cool slightly.

Toss together the potatoes, quinoa, bell pepper, onion, olive, avocado, and cilantro. Whisk the oil, lime juice, and chili powder together then toss the salad with the mixture. Taste and adjust salt and pepper seasonings. Garnish with cilantro and grape tomatoes. Serve warm with tortilla chips.
Note: If you have a baby, six months or older, at home, this makes delicious baby food too! Reserve a small portion of cooked quinoa and cooked sweet potatoes. Puree with one or two tablespoons of milk and serve.