Last year my husband and I took a trip to Japan and had a thrilling 3 weeks there. We visited Kyoto and stayed at a traditional ryokan, (inn). Staying in the ryokan was an amazing/overwhelming experience that included getting naked in public (a story for another day), a 12-course dinner, beautiful sites and a traditional Japanese breakfast. We ate numerous meals, but the ryokan was the most interesting. The hubs and I visited the Otagi Nenbutsu-ji temple, which is a buddhist temple with over 1,000 quirky and interesting statues. We LOVED it! The statues were placed in 1981, so they aren’t particularly ancient, but they are still wonderful.I was especially happy to find a statue holding a camera. A kindred spirit!After site seeing we had a lovely experience at the ryokan and the next morning we were given the choice of a ‘western’ or ‘japanese’ breakfast. We laughed at the stupid westerners that couldn’t handle a Japanese breakfast and promptly opted for the most traditional breakfast possible! It seemed like a great idea until we sat down to the table and had NO idea what were were about to eat. I love trying new things, but this was definitely out of my comfort zone. You know that experience you have when you got to a fancy restaurant and suddenly realize there is much more cutlery than you are know what to do with. Why are there 4 forks, what is this mini plate for, am I supposed to use the small spoon for dessert, soup… ? This was just a taste of what it was like to eat traditional japanese breakfast. There were so many plates and ornate boxes with little treasures inside. I didn’t what was garnishment or food. At one point I managed to ask what to do with this cup of liquid only to discover it was just a cup of tea, which was the only thing I knew what to do with. It was beautiful and amazing, but we had no idea what were eating and what sauce went with what. A lot of it was delicious, but a lot of it we weren’t sure about. This could have been because we were pairing sauces with the wrong food. I did recognize rice, soy sauce, fish (pretty sure) and maybe.. tofu. The service was impeccable. Though the employees didn’t speak English, and we struggled with awful Japanese, they still took care of our every need and made it a great experience for us. The view was so beautiful it was surreal. Boats floated by and I kept feeling like I’d fallen into a movie. It was one of the highlights of our trip!We were awkward and confused, but I would do it again in a heartbeat.
This past weekend I got the opportunity to go to the International Associate of Culinary Professional’s (IACP) annual conference in Louisville, Kentucky. (I drank SO much bourbon!). The conference is a great opportunity for people in all sectors of the culinary field to come together, learn some things, network, meet your culinary idols and of course, eat lots of amazing food. Oh yeah, and the bourbon. Of course, being at a conference with some of the world’s top food photographers/stylists/writers I wanted to be able to put a good foot forward and have some nice images of the conference, but this was not to be the case. I’m not really the most responsible of adults and last year I broke the camera on my phone. I’m not really sure how it happened, but I have a general idea. My husband couldn’t believe that such an expensive phone could break so easily, but when I went to pull my phone out of my purse and accidentally flung it 9 feet across the parking lot he pondered no more.
I did not want to lug my real camera to the conference and the selfie mode of my phone still works, so I just figured I could take lots of selfies to illustrate my experience. This let to a whole slew of really shitty photographs. I’ve been following the other conference attendee’s beautiful imagery and I’ve got to say it is pretty humbling to present you with this ugly pics. Enjoy! Yikes! That’s super rough. It is seriously hard to take a photo of food when you:
A. Can’t see the image on the screen
B. Can’t zoom in
C. And are shooting with a 1.2 mp camera that does terrible in low light and is clearly meant for portrait mode. These were the very best images. Yes, seriously. There are actually images much worse than this crap. These are not as bad, to be clear they are not good, but not as bad. You should have seen the confused looks while I was trying to take a photo with my phone facing the wrong way, while hanging over the top and putting fun shadows all over the place. People would ask why I did and when I said I was a food photographer the response was ‘Oh wow.. really?’
The conference itself was excellent. I saw a free friends, met a lot of new people and learned a lot. It was my first trip to Louisville and I throughly enjoyed it. My husband and I are already making plans to revisit. I especially want to visit Dinosaur World and the Patton Museum. They weren’t in Louisville city limits, but not far from it. Also the KFC Museum, how can that be anything less than awesome.
The other awesome thing about the conference was the swag! I’m actually not a huge fan of swag, but there was some primo stuff a this thing. Such as packages of California figs and fig BBQ sauce.I also picked up a potato doll called a Spuddy Buddy! Hilarious! Also, sad that I have the fashion sense of a potato.
I picked it up from my friend’s children, but then I realized the Spud and I had the same shoes! I might keep him now. I mean we have the same shoes! I also got an Anolon frying pan, a yogurt carrier, a cute back of chips, a nice wine opener.. There were also lots of snacks. My favorite were the kiwi berries, which are essentially mini hairless kiwis. I enjoyed the Hillshire small plates while watching Knocked Up at midnight. I party hard. I stayed at two different hotels over the 4 days there, and they were great, but my view was less than picturesque. It could be a postcard couldn’t it! Who needs a mountain view when you have a construction site or parking garage?They did make my towel into a swan, so that made up for the view.. a bit.
My husband didn’t get to come with me, so I spent much of the weekend sending him photos of the fun times I was having. On Saturday I was looking so pulled together with my scarf, make-up and Starbucks so I sent him a photo of it.
When he saw the photo he said it didn’t look a thing like me. Jeez! Why do I even bother. Later that night I sent a ‘regular’ photo with Spuddy Buddies on my head.
On the last day of the conference I went to The Palace for an awards ceremony. Swank!It was really nice and I got to finally hang out with some friends I’d been missing for most of the conference. Then I packed up all my stuff, grabbed a banana for a road snack and too one last shitty photo of myself before heading back to Alabama. I hope you enjoyed the noisy, blurry, badly cropped awful images.
Huntsville has a new, ultra cool place to enjoy an upscale cocktail, a pint of local craft beer, and a truly amazing array of culinary delights. It’s hard to say what the restaurants food genre is other than an eclectic spectrum of deliciousness. Usually when I got to a restaurant opening I do a little research on the place, but I was pressed for time so as we were driving to the Kona Grill I looked the restaurant up on my phone (don’t worry, my husband was driving).The menu had lots of different types of food: Japanese, Italian, good old American and even some New England fare. Mmm Clam Chowder. (It gives me flashbacks to my childhood).
“How can this be good?” I asked by husband while looking at my phone. “There are too many different styles of food.”
Thirty minutes later I would be eating my words, while sipping on a heavenly strawberry basil cocktail and eating a numerous styles of food that were consistently good.The interior is sleek, yet comfortable. The restaurant is divided into different atmospheres, but all of them were equally enjoyable. It is a great place to grab a meal before a Saturday out on the town or settle in on a weeknight for numerous dishes, drinks and causal conversation. We opted to sit on the patio in the unseasonably warm weather with blogging superstar SweetTMakesThree and our hubbies. The staff was lovely, well-informed and so helpful. They brought us lots of different dishes to sample and offered to get anything we needed from their skilled chefs and bar staff. I started with the flatbread pizza. It was delicious, which is going to sound very redundant soon, but seriously everything tasted amazing.After a while I noticed people sipping on fruity cocktails, and being a person that doesn’t want to miss out, I went and located a few for the table.Mmm. Just looking at the pictures again makes me want another. They were fresh and fruit the with right amount of kick.
I LOVE food presentation, so I was all about the ice sculpture in the sushi room.All of the sushi is made fresh in-house. It went so fast that I was barely able to get a photo before it was gone, but I snagged a couple of pieces. Once again delicious. We then enjoyed well-cooked burgers (American-style) and pork dumplings (Chinese-style). My absolute favorite was the tuna sashimi (Japanese-style) and we finished up with passion fruit creme brûlée (French-style). It was like visiting Epcot Center without all the crying children and overpriced Mickey merchandise. I highly recommend visiting Kona Grill! The husband and I have already made plans to be back. Make sure you visit it at Bridge Street Town Centre in Huntsville.
Huntsville has a new brewery!!! Let’s all toast Green Bus Brewery with a pint of Hop Bus IPA!!Back in 2009 craft beer in Huntsville was in its infancy. Prior to this beer with an alcohol content of more than 6% was banned from the state. Other prohibition era laws remained of the books and essentially stifled an industry that was thriving and benefiting other states throughout the country. In 2005, a group of passionate beer lovers started the Free the Hops movement to change the laws and bring more sophisticated beer drinking habits to the state. And once change started there was no stopping it. Throughout Alabama craft breweries started expanding, but no place took to it like Huntsville. Maybe it’s all of our out-of-state brew drinking transplants, maybe it’s our high populations of beer-loving engineers, but whatever the reason, Huntsville loves craft beer!Now that we’ve hit 2016 Green Bus will be the 8th brewery in Madison County. I had the pleasure of dropping into the Grand Opening.The Grand Opening lasted all day and I picked a time that I thought would be dead, but I would be wrong. There were tons of people, lots of beer, food, games, live music, raffles, and a guy in lederhosen. ‘Tis the season I suppose. They even had the infamous green bus! It was covered with stickers from all the other local breweries. I love how the craft beer industry in Alabama is so supportive of each other. I can’t tell you how many times brewers have told me ‘when one of us succeeds we all do’.I’d loved to have tasted the beer, but unfortunately I am currently under a strict gluten-free diet (doctor’s orders) so alas I could only photograph it. I will say it was quite pretty and the drinkers around me seemed immensely happy.
Last weekend I participated in my 4th food blog tour to celebrate a Restaurant Week. They are always fun and interesting, so I thought I’d give an inside look of this year’s tour.
The tours actually start out kind of awkward, especially if you don’t know anyone. You’re just eating with a bunch of strangers and though you’ve read their profiles you don’t really know much them. I’m always worried that I’ll do something stupid, because I usually do, this year I misplaced my shoes and may or may not have accidentally mooned someone when a gust of wind caught my skirt. I was fulling immersed in photographing a beautifully plated dish and didn’t pay attention to how windy it was getting. To that person walking by on the sidewalk I’m sorry.. or you’re welcome.
But in the end the bloggers all become fast friends, because we are brought together by food and the experience of eating 3 meals together. In the beginning we are so polite and proper, but by end we are sharing food off each other dishes, recommending places to get good photographs, and laughing and joking with each other.
And it always nice to read each other’s experiences on the blogs afterwards and I recommend you do the same.
We also risk life and limb to get a shot. As a photographer you get yourself worked up about ‘finding the right light’ and ‘making sure you captured the ambiance of a place’. You know that friend that is SO annoying Instagraming every piece of food that goes in their mouth, and then your food, and then the food of the people at the table next to you, well that is child’s play when it comes to a food blogger. I come to a restaurant with a full camera bag, I shoot with a reflector and sometimes a tripod. I climb up on chairs to ‘get the shot’. So obnoxious. The nice things is I am not alone on a food blog tour!
It is also nice because you have people who help aka egg you on to do something crazy.
Thank-you to the Huntsville/Madison County Visitor’s Bureau for hosting us and thanking to all the restaurants and bloggers for making it a great experience.
Make sure you check out their blogs!
Katie Actually: http://www.katieactually.com
Charles Hunter III: https://thesaltedtable.com
Jennifer Garvens: http://www.sweettmakesthree.com
Bo Williams: http://bowilliams.com
Stephenie Walker: http://www.rocketcitymom.comDid I get the shot? Yes I did! Thank-you to Charles from TheSaltedTable.com for making sure I didn’t break my neck or really embarrass myself by getting stuck in a chair and having to have firefighters cut me out or some nonsense like that.
Thank-you to Katie for letting me use your shot from KatieActually.com.
As any true Harry Potter fan knows July 31st is Harry’s birthday. He’ll be 36 years old this year. Now don’t you feel older.
Harry and his buddies were frequenters of the candy shop Honeyduke’s, where they would by Chocolate Frogs, Fizzing Whizzbees, Cockroach Clusters and Acid Pops. To celebrate Harry’s birthday I created my version of Acid Pops.
1/2 cup Light Corn Syrup
1 cup Sugar
1/2 cup Water
5 drops Lemon Extract
5 drops Green Food Coloring
3 packs Pop Rocks
Step one: Take your wand, flick and clearly state “Accio Acid Pop ingredients”. For muggles just collect your ingredients.
Step two: In a medium sauce pan combine sugar, corn syrup, and water. Heat on high, stirring until the sugar is dissolved.
Step three: Prep your lollipop mold by spraying a small amount of oil in the area they candy will touch.
Step four: Boil the ingredients until the temperature reaches 300°F and remove from heat.
Step five: Add extract and food coloring and stir.
Step six: Carefully spoon the melted sugar mixture in the mold, immediately place the sticks in the candy and pour Pop Rocks onto the hardening lolli. Beware they Pop Rocks may shoot wildly around the room when they hit the hot sugar. Don’t put your face near the candy to hear the snapping of the Pop Rocks as you could lose any eye. I learned this one the hard way.
After 20 minutes the candy should be cool enough to enjoy. The Pop Rocks do lose there snap after time, so you want to enjoy them the same day.
Happy Birthday Harry!!
Over the Christmas holidays my husband, my sister-in-law and I jetted away for a whirlwind, two day trip to London. We were going to spend several days in the city, but (London Fun Fact) the trains shut down on Christmas Eve Eve (Dec. 23rd) so we shortened the trip.
Since we only had two days we hit the highlights and stuck to the most stereotypically touristy parts of London: Tower of London, Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, fish and chips, tea, etc., but it was still immensely fun.
Now let’s be honest, Great Britain isn’t exactly known for their culinary prowess. True they have tea, scones, and fish and chips, all of which are lovely, but they also have a mysterious, slightly scary, tar-like substance called Marmite, which I’ve gathered you eat on toast (Is it like jam or closer to peanut butter?) and Stargazy Pie, which maybe delicious, but honestly just looks terrifying. (Are you supposed to eat the fish heads?) My point being, I had very mixed expectations when it came to English cuisine.
I am happy to report that most of the dishes were wonderfully delicious and I would eat them again. That being said, I played it pretty safe and avoided the fish head pies and jellied eels (look it up).
In the morning went sightseeing, shot the obligatory photo at Big Ben, toured Westminster Abbey with an audio recording by Jeremy Irons (fancy), complained about the pesky tourists (Wow, Americans are SO loud! Sorry rest of the world), and in general enjoyed this wonderful, exciting city.
When we finally decided to stop for lunch we had no plan, so we picked the first interesting place we across: Westminster Arms. Apparently we picked well because in addition to being frequented by politicians and journalists, it has also been visited by Desmond Tutu, Angelina Jolie and Bill Clinton. All of this I learned after I got back to the States.We walked downstairs to the crowded restaurant portion of the pub and I fully expected to be turned away or a long wait.
“Are you here to eat?” asked a man brusquely. He definitely seemed like the owner, so from henceforth I will refer to him as such.
“Yes” I answered. I reined in my Americanness and said it with polite, deference rather than the exuberant, enthusiasm I’m used to in the States. Polite, deference would never fly at T.G.I.Fridays. They waitstaff would harass you until you faked absolute bliss to be eating artichoke dip. Being an American can be exhausting, who wants to be that upbeat and energetic all the time.
The owner walked up to a table filled with pint sipping patrons and said to the people “These people are eating, you need to leave.”
My husband and I were shocked, but the people seemed to take it in stride, got up and headed upstairs so we could take their table. I guess it is tavern protocol.
I ordered the most tourist dish possible, fish and chips, which was more for the mashed peas than the fish and chips. I’ve tasted canned Mushy, which I wasn’t a fan off, but it made me want to try the real stuff. As I suspected, real mushy peas are delicious! Of course the fish and chips were also wonderful. My husband went for the second most touristy dish, bangers and mash, which was also quite good. I’d like to visit again and try something less obvious, but overall everything was well-cooked and plated. The tavern itself was nice with booths, tables and a bar at the front. Everything was covered in wood and complimented with appropriate art and decor.
The ladies’ toilets were also an adventure. There was a sink with two facets: one for hot water and one for cold water, but none for comfortable temperature water. I’ve been told this is fairly common in Great Britain, but this was the only sink I encountered like this, granted I was only there for 2 days.The restroom also had charming wall art to keep you entertained during your visit. I’m not sure what ‘cor scrummy’ means but I take it to mean something good. ‘Sexy’ maybe, ‘tasty’, it’s possible. If anyone knows please feel free to educate me.