Visiting Belém, Brazil #OnlyInSouthAmerica

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How I love discovering and visiting new places, especially when it involves South America, a region of the world filled with culture, beauty, vast natural interests and a blend of languages and cultures.

This recent excursion would send us to Belém, Brazil for several days of eating and exploring around the entrance to the Amazon. My South American experiences have always centered around Argentina and Uruguay, so checking out Brazil had me exhilarated and giddy, not to mention that I’d be traveling with Aida and Gaby, two of my closest friends.

As guests of TAM Airlines, I was excited to learn more about their destinations, check out their fleet, and experience their business class cabin. But first, I must thank Blacklane Limousine for getting me to LAX in style, and with their app it made booking so effortless. Thanks, guys!

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Belém is the largest city in the state of Pará, located in the north of Brazil. It’s referred to as sitting at the entry gate to the Amazon River. Speaking with tour guides and locals, it became clear that we weren’t near Amazon territory — we were actually in Amazon Territory, a fact that many visitors to the area often ask about. But I could see how you’d reach that conclusion as it’s easy to overlook thanks to Belém’s sprawling urban center and population. However, just a quick drive out of the city quickly puts you amidst fields of low-lying trees that slowly become the jungle before you even notice.  And just like that you are in the Amazon, left with the feeling that you are far away from anything.

Contrasting the city-meets-jungle experience can be a wee bit hard for this photographer to grasp. One second you’re among skyscrapers, the next minute you are in a forest so dense, so thick that is seems downright impenetrable. To truly experience it, we boarded a ferry for a 3-hour ride to the large island of Marajo, known as Ilha De Marajo. Rustic and rich of texture in a way that only sun, sea and river air can affect, it felt as if we were in the middle of nowhere. One noticeable fact about Marajo: BUFFALO! They wander freely and also do double duty as transportation. They also supply milk for the local regional cheese called Marajoara. Lean and tangy, it so closely resembles a fresh cheese made from cow’s milk than what you might be inclined to think. It’s definitely Latin and Central American in taste and freshness, something I certainly love. Having visited water buffalo in Italy, these Brazilian cousins have a docility and ease I have never experienced. Approachable, friendly, and with distinct personalities,  you still have to be careful when approaching, especially anything with horns this big!

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We even took a ride! I chose the buffalo who was doing his own thing prior to saddling up, a mistake I later learned as he was more interested in exploring the thick brush for snacks than follow the rest of our group to the destination.

A quick riverboat tour allowed for some miraculous selfies on our way to lunch and to visit a local chocolate maker. This house business did it all: they grew the cocoa plant, nurtured it, harvested it, ground it and processed it, delivering a hunk of raw chocolate to chefs and restaurants in the area. All done by hand without the trappings of modern equipment, I imagined I was going to back in time and visiting my ancestors as they made chocolate.

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No, it's not easy grinding cocoa.

No, it’s not easy grinding cocoa.

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Back in Belém, our tour was organized by Paratur, the government-run tourism office for the state of Para. I was looking forward to trying local dishes and various offerings at Ver-o-peso, the largest outdoor market in the region. As much as I love to travel, I have to say that Amazonian ingredients and flavors did make me feel like I was visiting another planet: new, unique, and different to me. In fact, we all struggled a bit with how to share the flavors of Belém with you via a blog post as many things are unique to the area and grown nowhere else. Chalk this one up as a win for true locality and anti-globalization!

Let’s look at some photos!

 

Thanks to  TAM Airlines and Paratur for the adventure that can be found #onlyinsouthamerica

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Feed Supper

When my bestie asked if I our backyard was available to host a  Feed Project’s Feed Supper for a few friends, I didn’t hesitate to respond with a giant “YES!” Dedicated to raising money to provide food for those in need, the Feed Supper is a novel way for everyone to get involved with friends and family and raise money for their giving partners, the WFP and Feeding America.  I encourage you to visit the website to learn more, and while the Feed Supper project is almost over, there’s never a bad time to think about those in need.

(also, giving money to Feeding America couldn’t be easier if you have an Amazon account! Just saying!)

Here are some shots from Friday night’s dinner. Also, the menu was simple, fun, and fresh and featured Gaby’s incredible Bruschetta Bar.

 

 

 

 

Matt at Stand Out! Photographic Forums

stand-out-logo-550pxHello folks! Super thrilled to be included in the line up at Stand Out! Photographic Forums next week in Los Angeles! I’ll be speaking about food photography on October 15th and I’d be so absolutely delighted if you could make it! And if you’re not around, there will be the San Francisco event on October 18 (but I won’t be speaking there so you’ll definitely want to come see me in LA, right?)

Here’s what I’m talking about:

As a specialized area within the world of photography, food photography strives to stir your hunger, tell a story, teach a process or two, make a political statement, or share a moment on a subject in which we are all experts. Whether it’s commercial advertisements or editorial assignments, menus, packaging or cookbooks, we’ll explore this highly fascinating area that strives to touch each of the senses: see, hear, taste, touch, smell.

From Stand Out!: “The Stand Out! Photographic Forums’ mission is to bring the photographic community together to inform, inspire and excite. Hear from inspiring and innovative industry creatives and icons.  Explore new ideas to differentiate yourself and your business.

The Stand Out! event will also bring leading photographic brands under one roof to demonstrate their products to you in an intimate and meaningful manner.  A face to the brand, meet some of the most knowledgeable resources in the industry.

This event is ideal for professional photographers, photo assistants, advanced students or any imaging professional that would like to learn about the latest cutting edge products and techniques being used in the professional digital image capture market in a hands-on and seminar based forum. Join us at the Stand Out Event!”

When Phase One and Capture Integration asked me if I was interested in speaking I only had to think .00023 seconds before answering.  I hope to see you, and I hope you’ll take full advantage of the event and come meet and listen to some amazing participants. I’ll be on first but you will definitely want to stay and soak in the knowledge!

You must register for the event, but use code “FOOD” to register for both events and all lectures free of charge! Get on it!

 

 

My Hawaiian Moment: Loco Moco

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Please raise your hand if you love you some Hawaii.

See? That’s an image of every single person raising their hands. Probably both arms, actually.

And we all know why.

As a traveler, there are many places I enjoy visiting throughout the world, and each place has it’s unmistakable, unique quality that makes it a destination. When I think of my travels through Asia, I think of technology and food. Argentina? Wine and culture. And with Hawaii?

It’s One Big Giant Hug.

It’s One Big Giant Hug from your family and your grandmother.

It’s Love. This is the way of Aloha, the concept which transcends a physical state and manner to a way of life, a way of being with yourself and others. You feel it the second you land on any island. It’s in the generosity and smiles of those you encounter, it’s a sparkle in the eye, a loving touch from a local, and a feeling that you are welcomed, cared for, loved. It’s these reasons why we visit Hawaii when we can, and of course having a brother-in-law on the North Shore of Oahu always helps, too! (Hey Ryan!)

Our days spent in Hawaii are like no other, and for this I’m thankful. For starters, I wake up extremely relaxed, a million miles away from my everyday responsibilities. After admiring the view or starting with a run on the beach, I always begin to think about food. And it’s always a casual effort, eating as much local food as possible, and I’m not satisfied unless there’s a plate lunch involved. Or two. Or Four. I’m not keeping track. One thing I always seek out is Loco Moco. While there are many variations, its main components involve rice, a hamburger patty, eggs and brown gravy. Maybe there’s another food so filling and satisfying, but I sure can’t think of it right now.

Like any regional favorite (I’m reminded of my childhood favorite Frito Pie), its origin is debatable, but it’s clear that it’s a Hawaiian original, hands down. Rumor has it that it was first served at Lincoln Grill in Hilo, which is no longer there. Luckily living in Southern California means I can get this dish right up the street from me, but you know what? It’s just not the same. Nothing compares to filling up on this satisfying dish surrounded by locals, great friends, and tons of the Aloha spirit. When I’m on the big island, Blaine’s Drive­In in HIlo is fantastic, and I hear that Cafe 100 does the dish right, including dozens of varieties. Maybe one day I’ll have to work my waythrough all the variations. A guy can dream, right?

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Loco Moco

The beauty of this dish is that nothing needs to be terribly exact. Rice, patties, eggs, gravy. That’s it. If you can cook rice then you’re already there, as patties get fried in a pan with the drippings saved for gravy. Add beef broth to the drippings and season, then create a roux with flour. Too tricky you say? You could always use pre­-made gravy. Fry your eggs. To assemble, top the rice with the meat patty, top with the fried egg and then with gravy. Prepare to be in heaven.

Of course, if you are the type that needs a recipe, these are always good sources:

Food Network Loco Moco Recipe

Cooking Channel Loco Moco Recipe

WikiHow’s Loco Moco, with photos!

And since we’re on the topic of food, I do indeed have favorite spots throughout Hawaii for food, including Poke at Fresh Catch, Malasadas from Leonard’s Bakery, cheese and chocolate from Surfing Goat Dairy, and fish tacos from Coconut’s Fish Cafe. Let’s just say those fish tacos in particular rival anything over here, that’s for sure!

Brought to you by The Hawaiian Islands.

So tell me, where are your favorite places to eat in Hawaii? I’d love to know and start my list for our next visit!

National Coffee Day!

Did you know today is National Coffee Day? I don’t really know what that means as it’s always coffee day for me. I wouldn’t exist without it. Speaking of, last month I went into the studio and shot a personal coffee story, so I figured today would be an appropriate day to share! It centers around coffee moments and all things coffee. Enjoy, and while you’re up can I get a refill? Thanks.

Travel camera gear and what’s in my bag!

Confession: I love when someone asks me what camera gear I travel with. It gives me a chance to geek out and talk cameras, which I can literally do for hours. Hours. It also allows me the opportunity to ask what others carry around and compare notes. I mentioned I could go on for hours, right?

As I was packing this morning for an upcoming trip to South America I thought why not snap a photo and talk about what I’m taking with me? I’ve long been mesmerized with magazine features of what photographers and avid travelers carry in their bags as well as sites like Shotkit. So here’s what I’m taking!

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Cameras
For this trip I’ll be shooting primarily with a Canon 5D Mark III and Mark II. I’ve put these cameras thru the wringer, and they never let me down! I’d love to take my studio set up and shoot medium format with my Phase One 645 IQ180 on this assignment, but because I’ll be in some pretty remote areas and constantly on the go I’ll use something a bit lighter.

Lenses
I’ll be using a Canon 24-105mm f/4L IS, Canon EF 17-40mm f/4L, and a Canon 50mm f/1.2L. I should be able to cover just about everything with these lenses, from detailed food shots to interiors and landscapes. And on-location portraits made with the 50mm? Oh so beautiful.

Light
I’ll be bringing my Canon 580 EXII Speedflash for any moments where I need to fill in some light. I don’t use flash much but it’s great to have on hand. And so that I may use it off of my camera, I’ll be bringing a pair of Pocket Wizard Plus III which will allow me to fire the flash from across a room or from behind the subject if I’m facing them. Basically wherever.

Power
Lots of extra Canon batteries, an international adapter, and a travel power strip. I always carry a power strip when traveling as so many hotels (and airports) don’t have enough. It always comes in handy. I also never leave home without my duo of Ankor Astro E4 batteries. These suckers will charge an iphone and/or ipad 5 to 6 times on one charge, and having 2 just means I won’t be caught without power.

Memory Cards, Cables, Back Up, Card Reader, Light Meter
All my camera’s memory cards go into my Think Tank wallet, and I carry two 500-gig Seagate USB portable drives as well.  Provided I have enough of a robust wifi signal, I also upload to DF Studio for extra safety. I also use a Lexar Compact Flash reader… it’s fast! Oh, and that orange cable from Tether Tools allows me to download images from my camera to my laptop or shoot tethered. I always carry it with me! And I’ll be taking my Sekonic L-358 Light Meter so that I can get accurate and proper exposures as well as balancing flash with available light.

Extra Cameras
For those moments where lugging around a big dSLR might not be ideal, I’ll shoot with the Sigma dp2 Quattro. Its unusual design is a joy to handle, and the Foveon sense always gives me fantastic images! This camera is on loan from my friends at Sigma, I promise to keep it safe!

Because there will be live updates of my trip and lots of hashtagging happening, I’ll be shooting with an iphone 5S and 6 plus. I purchased additional lenses from Phocus (it’s that camera-looking iphone case next to the phone) that will allow me to get some telephoto and macro action while out and about. And let me say this: those lenses make for some beautiful images! Go iPhone! Go Phocus!

Oh, and I’ll be using VSCO Cam and Snapseed to edit on my phone and a small remote to trigger the shutter for those very important selfies with my travel mates :)

Color Card
Color is always so important to me, so I’ll be using a very small little portable grey/color card that I can keep in my pocket for proper color balancing. I’ll be shooting lots of food, tropical fruits and vegetables, beaches and foliage so this will definitely help me get accurate color.

Bags
All of this stuff goes into my Think Tank Airport International V 2.0 bag. It’s durable, compact, gives my arms a break, and allows me to slip in my laptop, as well. I love this bag! And those red things in the upper right? Those are Think Tanks’ Red Whips, which make cable management (and life in general!) so much more organized! Everyone around me LAUGHS AT ME because I carry them around EVERYWHERE! But I can’t help it. They are fantastic!

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At the end of every day I download images to my Macbook Pro and do basic edits in Capture One. I also carry a Moleskine notebook and tons of Pilot G-Tec C4 pens in 0.4. Ok, am I obsessed and a bit picky about writing instruments? You bet! Oh, and all the little cables for everything go in their own bag so I didn’t show you, thankyouverymuch.

Also Not Shown…
You should really have insurance for your gear and any necessary carnets. I cannot stress this enough! Insurance, people!

Note: I’d love to ask you what you carry with you as you travel, but I’m currently having issues with comments as I move to a new set-up here. As always, you can reach me via twitter any time if you have questions or just wanna chat!

The Aarti Paarti Cookbook Is Here! And a Giveaway!

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I always feel like a proud papa when I hold a cookbook that Adam and I worked on. Maybe even more so when it comes to our friend, Aaarti Sequeira. You may know her from her TV show, or you might just be one of the lucky souls on this planet to know her in person. Her energy, humor, smile, humility and her family all radiate with the light of a thousand suns. Aarti is beautiful inside and out, so when we began working on this cookbook last year I really wanted to do my best to honor her story, her recipes,  and her family heirlooms lent to us to incorporate into the photography. And you know what? I think we did a pretty smashing job!

But wait, I cannot take all of the credit. Aarti was right there, at every step of the way to advise, direct, hold my hand on a few occasions, and provide the guidance and levity a team needs when embarking on an endeavor of this magnitude.

(And ssssh, just between you and me, that 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000-watt smile is never-failing, always-present, illuminating any and every photo she takes. And if you don’t believe me, come over and I’ll show you outtakes. All gorgeous.)

And those recipes? Holy smokes. DEEEELICIOUS. In fact, after photography last year we served one of her dishes to guests at a dinner party, but we were all sworn to secrecy since the book wasn’t out just yet. It was a hit, just like so many other things in this book. Tracy knows what I’m talking about.

How about some images? I’m only sharing to entice you to go out and buy this book. You WILL go out and buy this book, won’t you? You better. I can’t wait to hear what you think!

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Aarti Paarti: An American Kitchen with an Indian Soul, Grand Central Life & Style Publishing, 2014 is available at Barnes & Noble, Books-a-Million, IndieBound, and Amazon.

 

(UPDATE: I am having wordpress/thesis issues right now so I am currently migrating to a new design. There’s no way to comment at the moment but I’ll let you know because I want to give away a book, darnit! THANK YOU!)

GIVEAWAY! I’m giving one copy away of Aarti Paarti to a random reader! I mean, you’re not a random reader. I’ll choose randomly. Yea, that’s it! Just leave a comment below, you can tell me your favorite Indian dish, or favorite moment from Aarti’s show, or heck, tell me anything! I’ll pick a random comment in the next few weeks and send you a copy! Disclosure: The book copy is coming from my stash, and this post is not sponsored, I’m just doing this because I love this book that much! Oh, and I photographed it. Duh.  Will ship internationally, too.

 

 

Canon EOS Rebel SL1. Bring it!

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When you are a photographer, people ask questions. Who do you photograph? What do you photograph? What camera do you use? What camera should I buy?  My answers are usually always the same: Chefs, Authors, Celebs, Everyday People. Food. Phase One, Canon, Sigma. And lastly, anything Canon.

The conversation then goes like this: But I don’t need anything fancy, I don’t even know how to use it and I just want something simple to photograph my family/kids/friends/vacations.

And still I say Canon.

Having been a Canon user for so long, I always feel confident pointing them in that direction, telling them to start with a dSLR from the starter’s section. It’ll do what you want, you’ll be able to learn and grow, and you’ll love the images. But when my colleague Christopher emailed and asked if I’d give the Canon EOS Rebel SL1 a spin, I thought why not? I’m always telling people to use it, shouldn’t I get my hands on it and try it, too?

So I did!

Never one to be mired down with deep technical facts (although I really should!), I look for quality, ease-of-use, resolution, image quality, and how it suits the user. These are the factors I always consider. But would this little tiny camera work for me? I decided to take it for a spin!

First things first: I’m not one to read manuals. I know, SORRY SORRY SORRY! I just don’t have the patience, which explains why I’m the guy with all those extra Ikea parts laying around after assembly. Oops! I wanted to see how similar the menus and operation of the SL1 are to other Canon models so I hit the ground running!  But first I removed the 18-55 kit lens that ships with the camera. I am not a fan of that lens at all. Granted, putting a Canon 5omm f/1.2L lens on this little body made it look funny (see above), but this way I knew I could remove any lens issues from the equation and really evaluate the camera’s sensor on its own. Well, at least that’s what I think I’m doing :)

My verdict? I love this little thing! It’s small, accessible, and makes me feel like I’m using a Canon. The touch screen is nice, and I’m rather happy with the images. I did not try out the video feature, maybe next time. But I’m happy to confidently recommend this camera to anyone starting out who wants something small with great quality. It’s just lovely.

Let’s look at some images, shall we?

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This Kalanchoe beharensis in our backyard strikes an imposing stance, and I wanted to see how the blue ceramic planter would look against the corten steel fence.

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I have a thing for 6pm, lens flare, my backyard. As usual, the SL1  didn’t disappoint me with this it-could-sorta-be-difficult-to-expose-for-shot.

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Caesalpinia pulcherrima from the front yard. Also known as Mexican Bird Of Paradise, it’s from the pea family. Makes the most beautiful arrangements, too! Shooting this wide open let me blur out the background and make it all prettypretty.

 

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Fountain in the yard, side light. I was thrilled that the SL1 managed to hold detail in the lights and the darks simultaneously.

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I took it to Las Vegas, and it was nice to not have a a big giant camera to lug around!

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It does well in low light, like most Canons do. In post I had to open up the shadows just a wee bit. I took this photo before cocktail time at Mandarin Oriental, which is good because drunk.

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MOZen Bistro, Mandarin Oriental for breakfast.

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Congee at Mandarin Oriental. Let me get this off my chest, please: IT IS MY FAVORITE HOTEL IN LAS VEGAS. It’s the only way I can bribe Adam to go to Las Vegas. It’s truly an amazing property with phenomenal service and I get to have congree every single morning. Win win all around.

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Beautiful delicate touches in the rooms like petals in a bowl. Lovely.

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You might not know it, but this was photographed in their rather dark spa, shot at ISO 800 and still manageable.

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Don’t want none unless you got buns, hun. I took the camera to the studio for some fun!

(notice how I truncated the above sentence to remove anaconda? MY MOTHER READS THIS BLOG, Y’ALL)

 

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Those famous hands adjust avocados.

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Behind the scenes of a taco shoot for Gaby. I was happy how the SL1 handles color, but of course I wasn’t surprised!

 

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Pasta! Color!

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Happy to have detail in the shadows, and nice punchy highlights everywhere else.

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The prop table! Thank you, Alicia!

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And the final shot for Gaby, a big dip situation! The Rebel really performs well!

And don’t forget to BringIt! Upload your shots and share your Canon images with the world. I’m having a great time viewing the galleries, so much fantastic stuff there!

 

Thanks to Canon and Christopher! Disclosure: Canon provided the EOS Rebel SL1 on loan, I was not compensated for this post. All images adjusted for color, contrast, and resized for web. Photographed in manual mode, various settings, always raw. Edited in Photoshop. #Canon #BringIt

Huckleberry: Stories, Secrets, And Recipes From Our Kitchen

 

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Oh goodness, IT HAS BEEN FOREVER AND A MOTHERFLIPPIN DAY that I have waited for this. Zoe Nathan’s first cookbook, Huckleberry: Stories, Secrets and Recipes From Our Kitchen, Chronicle Books, 2014.  I had such an unbelievable and obscene amount of fun working on this, I cannot even tell you. And true to form I did indeed taste every single thing I photographed. Yep. EVERY. SINGLE. THING.

If you know Huckleberry in Santa Monica, then you know Zoe. And if you know Zoe and Josh then you know they are filled with so much spirit, joy, humor, care, and kindness that it’s difficult to not fall in love. Being in Zoe’s presence (and her bakery and her home) is to be surrounded by love. And most oftentimes that love is handed to you on a plate, in a cup, or a pastry bag.  She has one of the biggest hearts I’ve ever seen, and this book captures her spirit and humor so perfectly. And the recipes? THEY ARE EVERYTHING.

 

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The cookbook is out this Tuesday, September 9th, and I am a̶s̶k̶i̶n̶g̶ telling you to immediately pre-order it now. NOW. You’ll want this book and I can pretty much guarantee that it will stay on your bookshelf for years to come, if not forever.  Congratulations to Zoe, Josh, Laurel and the entire Huckleberry Team, and to Chronicle for making such a beautiful book. It was an honor to photograph it.

And to Heidi Swanson! :)

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Patrons were given plenty of notice over the 2 weeks we worked on the book.

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Next time someone says to me “Oh, you’re lucky.  I don’t have a studio to work in so I don’t have the luxury of all that” blah blah blah (because yes, people do say that all the time) I am going to show them these pictures. You see, shooting on location in a busy busy busy busy busy busy busy busy busy busy busy busy busy busy busy busy busy busy busy busy busy busy busy busy busy busy busy busy busy busy busy busy busy bakery during business hours can be a challenge. Frenetic, wild, hyper, loud, and at times super intense, you must make things work. You must always make things work. Luckily the customers at the bakery were so delightful and didn’t mind cables and cords as we played Twister to reach our shot.

(Confidential to one of my most favorite actors on the planet who came over to say hello and see what we were doing: I love you even more now. Really).

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Propping was minimal, only a few cutting boards and trays were needed. I take this small tablecloth that I bought in Paris with me everywhere, and I loved seeing how the light hit it. Speaking of, there’s such great light in that bakery!

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One is never hungry for long when you are with Zoe. Every day involved eggs and bread and I will never ever ever say no. Ever.

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We tried not to leave a huge mess, we really did.  This was our set, all 3 1/2 feet of it.

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Tripod moments were scarce, there simply wasn’t enough room which meant high ISO, lots of handheld, and the world’s best digitech and friend.

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Working in a bakery meant early morning call times, which meant Zoe’s breakfasts. No way to resist, really. Thank goodness. Here we are at Milo & Olive for a quick pick up shot.

Make sure and get your copy of Huckleberry or else we can’t be friends. I’m serious. I’m off to my kitchen now to make page 187!

 

Summer Sangria

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Dear Sangria, hey sorry about going so Rosé-crazy that I forgot all about you. I’ll fix that. Starting today. You see, some friends are coming over and you’ll be perfect to have around. Chilled wine, the best of summer fruit, some mint or basil from the garden… DONE! I might even need to have you arrive BEFORE the other guests, if that’s not too much of an imposition.

Summer Sangria from Martha Stewart

In a pitcher or large bowl, combine 6 cups assorted fruit (such as mango, pineapple, cantaloupe, and apricot), sliced or cut into pieces, 1/4 cup thinly sliced peeled fresh ginger, 1 to 1/2 cups fresh basil or mint leaves, and 1/2 cup orange-flavored liqueur. Mash gently with the back of a wooden spoon until basil is bruised and fruit releases juices. Add 1 bottle (750ml) chilled dry white wine such as Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Grigio, and 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (from 1 lemon). Stir to combine. Refrigerate 1 hour or up to 1 day. To serve, add ice.