Welcome to another edition of Burning Down The Kitchen. For those of you who are new here, this is a weekly series where I take a recipe I've bookmarked from a fellow blogger and take it for a test drive. I also get the absolute privilege each week of interviewing each blogger. I have to admit this is one of my favourite things I do each week. It is so much fun to try out recipes. I hope it shows home cooks that you can personalize recipes and make them your own. Not every recipe or dish needs to look like sheer perfection to taste amazing. I also admittedly adore other bloggers and love peeking into their minds and worlds a little bit. Hope you enjoy the series as much as I do.
BURNING DOWN THE KITCHEN WITH MIRIAM FROM TALES OF AN OVERTIME COOK:
Miriam blogs at Tales of an Overtime Cook. Let me just start by telling you folks how lovely this young woman is. Miriam is such a warm person. She welcomes you into her world with such an open spirit. I want to call her adorable but I would think most woman hate that term. But it's what comes to mind when I think of her. I'm twice her age so I feel that motherly instinct kick in when we talk. She's the kind of woman any of us would be lucky to have as our daughter. I put word out awhile back that I needed some camera advice before taking the big plunge. Miriam has gone above and beyond helping me understand what I need in a camera and what I don't need in a camera. She is honest and forthcoming, and she tells it like it is. If she doesn't think you need something she tells you. I respect her honesty and willingness to help me out. She had nothing to gain by helping me, she just did it out the kindness of her heart. To me that speaks volumes about her character. For me I want to not only laugh and learn while reading blogs, but being a fellow blogger I also want to respect the people whose blogs I read. With Miriam I have all that and more.
When I approached Miriam about being featured I was looking to do something a bit different. If you all recall the interview I did with Kita of Pass the Sushi, I asked her to do a special bonus round on blog design. Well with Miriam I wanted to see if she would be interested in doing a special bonus round of questions about the ins and outs of cameras. Miriam works in the field so she is the perfect person for this. She agreed and I have to tell you that you are in for a real treat today. We not only get to know this lovely lady on a personal level but we get to benefit from her vast knowledge of cameras. It`s win-win here at the asylum today.
Miriam is wickedly talented and whips up some amazing recipes. She puts in some seriously long hours at work and still manages to cook. I like that her recipes are the kind that don't require days of prep and crazy ingredients. She is a down to earth person and it reflects in her cooking style. I've been swooning over her recipes for some time now. I think my favourite thing she's done is her Zebra Bundt Cake, I have that earmarked for some cooler weather. This cake is beyond impressive. I'm completely in love with her Black Bean, Corn and Mango Quinoa Salad. She made a Homemade Strawberry Lemonade that is beyond pretty. Her Homemade Cherry Pie and Lattice Crust Tutorial is incredible. She made Homemade Free Form Lollipops which blew my mind. They remind me of these candies my dad used to get in the east. She made some Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies that made my heart skip a beat. Her Grilled Vegetable and Pesto Panini is absolutely amazing. Completely in love with her Mini Shepherd's Pies. I really have my eye on her Blueberry Cupcakes with Cinnamon Cream Cheese Frosting, they look fabulous. She has a recipe on her site for Baked Butternut Squash Fries that will make your chin hit the floor, no lie. You must stop by and check out her blog. You will be so happy you did.
It's also Miriam's 1 year blogiversary this week. Such a monumental thing for us bloggers. She's celebrating by holding a giveaway. So you should stop by and congratulate her on an awesome first year. I know there will be many more to celebrate with her in the future.
Rapidfire Q & A with Miriam of The Overtime Cook: Personal Round
1. How did you get started blogging?
I had been baking for a while, and getting more into it. When I started getting into photographing it, I asked a coworker of mine who has a background in food photography to give me a lesson. Once I had that down, and I was into baking, I figured I had all the components I needed to get started. One week, I was frustrated with the way I didn’t feel accomplished in terms of my creative side, so I challenged myself to start a food blog. I think if I hadn’t kinda thrown myself into it, I never would have. Needless to say, I am glad I didn’t think too hard!
2. What is your favourite thing about it?
Oh, that’s a tough one. So many awesome things have come about through my blog, I don’t know how I am supposed to pick just one! I guess I would say it’s getting letters from readers telling me that they love my blog, and that they’ve made my recipe(s). It’s gratifying to know that all of the hours I put into my blog aren’t wasted, and that real people are inviting me into their kitchens.
3. Is there anything you don’t like about it?
The only really difficult thing is the pressure I feel to keep posting, even when I am busy or not feeling well. (Try food blogging with a nasty cold when you don’t want to think about food...not fun!) Truthfully, I put the pressure on myself, so I probably need to work on that.
4. Where does your love of cooking come from?
Both of my parents are excellent cooks, so I have always known a love of cooking and learning about food. I think the main thing that drives me is the complete joy I get when others eat and enjoy my food. It’s my crack!
5. What is your favourite memory that centers around cooking?
My mother used to bake challah every week for Sabath, and I used to shape it. I had such a good time doing it with her, and it turned me into a REALLY good braider. Nowadays, my Challahs are masterpieces.
6. How do you decide what to blog and what not to?
This really all boils down to practicality. I hate to measure when I cook, so basically anytime I take the time to measure something (unless it totally doesn’t work!) it’s going to end up on the blog. Really though, most things on the blog were intended to be on there from the beginning. I make a ton of food which doesn’t get posted, but I decide on that beforehand when I don’t measure, and make it at a time that I know it won’t be photographed.
7. Do you find it difficult to find balance between work, life and blogging?
I think if I didn’t there would be something wrong with me! I work 9 hours a day (9-6) plus I commute an hour and a half each way, which means that 12 hours out of my day are automatically accounted for. By the time I get home from work, eat supper and unwind a little, it’s usually 8 or 8:30. Generally the first thing to go is my sleep, which isn’t exactly good or healthy. Then I make up for it on the weekends, which is less good and less healthy. I figure that I am young though, so I can handle it.
8. Run us through a typical day in the life of Miriam.
Hold on tight, this is gonna get bouncy...lol.
My alarm goes off at 6:22 for the first time. I press snooze until 6:33 (it’s called OCD, my next one is at 6:44). I usually get out of bed between 6:30 and 6:45, depending on how late I was up baking and how much I need to do in the morning. Then I get ready, and leave my house at 7:28. The bus ride is about an hour, and I am super lucky because it’s quiet (usually) and I get in a good nap (usually).
I usually get to work by a quarter to 9, which is just enough time to make coffee (alright, coffees) and start working at 9. At about 2 I usually go for my lunch break. I work in midtown Manhattan, which is awesome because some people spend their lives wishing they could just visit. I use my break to walk around the city. I often try to get in a power walk, which is excellent exercise. Plus, people watching during exercise is a million times better than music or TV!
I get out of work at 6 and take a 6:15 bus home. That’s when I usually catch up on social media, emails, blog reading and comments. Often, I fall asleep on the way home too, which explains why I am the world’s worst email answerer!
After I get home and have a quick supper, I usually get to work baking and cooking. Almost everything I eat has been cooked the night before, so this is when I make it. While things are in the oven I edit pictures, type up posts, read other blogs, etc.
By the time I am finished cooking, cleaning, posting and all that, it’s usually well after midnight. That’s when I start to unwind and get ready for bed. (Told you I don’t sleep much, didn’t I?)
9. What social media are you most active on and why?
Definitely twitter. I find it easy to use, easy to follow conversations, and the people I have met on it (including Kim!) are the nicest in the world.
10. If you could advise home cooks on which 5 things they absolutely must have in their kitchen which ones would you tell them to invest in?
Stand mixer- I know this is a fairly big investment, but I think it’s the best money you could spend. My kitchen aid lives on my counter, and is probably the most used piece of machinery I use, after my iphone, of course.
Whisk- As much as I love my stand mixer, there are times when you simply don’t need to pull it out. My handy-dandy whisk has saved me an endless amount of work. Plus- oil+vinegar+whisk=magic salad dressing.
Food processor- Again, not a cheap one, but oh-so-worth it. Chopping veggies, making oreo or graham cracker crumbs, the list doesn’t end. It is an amazing enough machine to make me glad I didn’t live in the olden days before they were invented! 😉
Good chef’s knife- my father always taught me that using the right tool for the job makes said job infinitely easier. Trust me, a big, sharp chef’s knife is a perfect example of that. In the time it takes to chop an onion with a lousy little knife, I can chop a dozen onions with a good knife, and have time leftover to eat a couple of cookies.
Nesting mixing bowls- okay, so this boils down to my hatred of dish-washing. I have two sets of nesting mixing bowls that I use during baking/cooking prep. After I finish, I stack em all up, drizzle soap over all of them, and let the hot water run. It makes cleaning up so easy!
11. Popcorn or chips?
Popcorn always has been, and always will be, my drug of choice. Seriously, all I need when I had a rough day is bed, laptop and popcorn.
12. Fruits or veggies?
Tough choice, but I have to go fruit. I have a sweet tooth, and luckily fruit can generally satisfy that!
13. White milk or chocolate?
I'm actually not a chocolate milk fan. It might be the only chocolate application I don't absolutely love.
14. White marshmallows or coloured marshmallows?
I am totally not a marshmallow fan in general (unless it’s baked in some kind of decadent treat) but if I eat one, it’s not gonna be colored.
15. Coke or Pepsi? *I ask everyone this one*
Coke zero. I think my coke zero addiction single-handedly supports the owner of the convenience store near my office.
16. If you could cook with one person in the world, living or passed, who would it be and why?
My grandmother. I have always heard that she was an amazing cook, but by the time I was old enough to cook, she was quite sick and in a wheelchair. She has since passed, and I regret not getting the chance to learn from her. They say she used to make the world’s best sticky buns- I am dying to get my hands on that recipe!
17. Is there one magazine you would love to be featured in and why that particular one?
Well the idea of being in any big magazine is both awesome and probably entirely unrealistic, but my personal favorite is Savour, because I love both the style of photography as well as the interesting articles that accompany the actual recipes.
18. If I was coming for dinner what would you whip up for us?
That would depend entirely on the timing/season etc, but whatever I make, I would encourage you to eat a lot of it, while simultaneously warning you to save room for dessert, because there’s bound to be a lot of that when I do the cooking!
19. Apron or no apron?
I have a baking outfit that I change into before I get started. It’s perpetually covered in flour, confectioner’s sugar, cocoa and other goodies for my kitchen, but nobody sees it, so that’s okay. Okay, so I do go to the grocery store in it, on occasion.
I once went to my local Shop Right at 11 pm, covered in flour. I was standing in line, paying for 20 pounds of flour, 10 pounds of sugar, plus lots of powdered sugar, brown sugar, light brown sugar and chocolate chips. The cashier looked at my groceries then smiled at me and said “are you baking something honey?”
“Nope,” I replied, “I am filling up the world’s largest bottle of sweetened glue.” (Here’s your sign...)
20. Where do you see yourself in 5 years? Is blogging still a big part of the picture?
That’s a tough question! I can’t imagine ever stopping blogging/food writing, etc. On the other hand, I just completed a year of it, and that felt like forever. So who knows?!
Rapidfire Q & A: Bonus Camera and Equipment Round
1. You work in the photography field so I want to pick your brain about some things, first how important is the type of camera you use in food blogging?
I have to start out with a joke that's been going around my office.
A a famous photographer went to a dinner party at a friend's house. Some of the guests were admiring his pictures. "Your pictures are beautiful," the host commented. "You must have a really good camera."
The photographer smiled and responded. "Your food is delicious. You must have a really good oven."
I'll never say that good photography equipment isn't important to having good pictures, but by far the most important thing is to develop your skill behind the camera. (Just don't tell my customers I said that!;)
2. I’ll ask you the eternal question we all want to know...Nikon or Canon?
I actually wrote an entire post about that, and you can read it here. To sum up that post: both are excellent companies, and neither is a bad choice. Get the one that feels the most comfortable in your hands, then never look back!
3. Is DSLR really that superior to a point and shoot?
Again, this boils down to skill. Don't buy a DSLR camera if you don't know what you're doing. Start with a point and shoot. Maximize it completely. When you really feeling like you can't go further with it, it's time to look into a step up.
A DSLR isn't magic by any means, but when you know how to use it well, there's no comparison between the images you can produce on a DSLR versus a point and shoot.
4. Does someone need to drop their life savings on a camera to blog with?
No! As a salesperson I should probably say yes, but it isnt the case. I took the pictures for my blog for the first six months with my iPhone camera. They weren't gorgeous by any means, but they were okay. During that time I saved every spare penny, read a ton, spoke to every professional photographer at work (okay, that's not an option everyone has, but, gotta do what you can, right?)
At some point, you will probably feel like you need to upgrade, but you can do a lot without one.
5. Do you suggest buying the body only, or buy a kit with a good lens include?
The answer to this one boils down to what type of photography you will be doing. For food photography, that kit lens is a terrible option. You definitely want to get a different lens.
However, my philosophy is that once I have a camera that set me back (what feels like) a million dollars, I want to use if for other things. The standard kit lens, 18-55 is a nice option for general purpose photography.
The general advice for food photography is that you shouldn't get the kit lens, but it's not so simple. The important thing to remember is that the price of the kit lens is a lot less when bought together with the camera than if you buy it alone. Once you buy the body only, you will never have the opportunity to get the kit lens for that cheap price.
6. If someone could afford only one lens and they are on a budget which lens would you suggest they get?
Definitely the 50 mm f/1.8. It’s great in low light and handles close up shots nicely. (I should mention that I don’t actually have this lens, but I know many people who have and love it.)
Side note from Kim: I do have this lens and bought it on the advice of Miriam and another photographer friend. This lens kicks butt with food photos and is nice for portrait shots with the kids and pics of pets!
7. If someone had no budget and had money to burn which lens would you recommend?
That would depend on their skill level. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, it doesn’t help to spend a fortune of money on lenses that you don’t know how to use.
That being said, there are some lenses that are better than others for food. A good macro lens comes in handy. I have a 60 mm macro that I absolutely adore. It runs about $400 or more, so it’s definitely not a budget lens. There’s also a 100 mm macro that many folks love, but if you have a cropped sensor camera, that’s probably too much. (For an explanation of what that means, see here.)
8. How important is a remote shutter release?
I don’t have one, does that answer your question? 😉
My coworker ( a professional photographer) gave me the greatest tip- he calls it the poor man’s remote shutter release: set your camera on a delayed shutter release. That way, if you have your shutter speed set at a 10th of a second, that’s very slow. When you initially press the shutter release, your finger is still on the camera, and can cause some shaking. By setting a delayed release, you have enough time to get your finger out of the way and prevent blur in your images.
9. How important is a tripod?
I just got a tripod (finally!) and, I am not going to lie, it made a huge difference. My biggest problem is lack of light. What a tripod will allow you to do is to do is lower your shutter speed a ton, which allows light in. Basically, here’s what I mean. When you hold a camera in your hands, it’s prone to shaking (unless maybe you’re a neurosurgeon, maybe then your hands are steady enough...). To make up for that, generally you have to set your shutter speed fast enough to make up for any motion. The lowest I can go when I hold my camera is a 50th of a second. With a tripod, I can go down to a 10th of a second, which is that much more light in my picture.
Aside from that, a tripod does add a certain amount of freedom with your shot. The best kind for food photography is called a lateral arm tripod. That means it has an arm that can stick out over the food, so you can do overhead shots. Sadly, those are pretty expensive. The tripod I got has an option to purchase one later on, so I’ll manage for now, but probably purchase that arm pretty soon.
Remember though, you don’t need to drop a fortune on a tripod on day one!
10. We always hear how important natural lighting is but what does someone do if they aren’t able to use natural light all the time?
If anyone knows about lack of light, it’s me. I leave my house at 7:30 in the morning (actually, 7:28- I’m kinda OCD about that) and get home at (about) 7:30 at night. That means that even in the summer, I miss any and all good natural light on weekdays.
For a while, I was using my dining room light and sufficing with “good enough.” At some point, I realized that some pictures that could have been amazing turned out pretty bad, only because of the poor lighting. This post is when I finally gave up on anything but natural lighting.
At that point, I started to use natural lighting exclusively. How, you ask? Well I only work until 2 o’clock on fridays, so I would photograph everything on friday afternoon and sundays. Often, I would keep things in my fridge of even freezer for a while until I had daylight to photograph them in.
The problem with waiting for natural light is that you can’t always wait. Also, my free time from work is also my time to get other stuff done, so spending it all photographing a week’s worth of recipes was really becoming problematic. That’s when I bought some lights. See the next question.
11. Do you have a lighting kit you love that you would recommend to others?
I recently got a Lowel ego light kit, which many other bloggers have mentioned and recommended. Honestly, it’s expensive, and you can probably go with something cheaper, although it won’t be as simple and convenient. These lights are basically nicely white-balanced bulbs with a white plastic cover which diffuses the light somewhat. There are online tutorials on making your own light box, which can be a heck of a lot cheaper.
I should mention, though, that artificial light is totally different than natural light. Even with a good set up, it requires skill and a lot of patience to get it right. I just posted my first post with pictures that have artificial light, and I see quite a difference in the coloring.
12. How do you feel about reflectors?
You mean actual reflectors? I don’t use them. I use a couple of white boards that I got at the local craft shop, and they do a splendid job. Don’t completely skip the reflectors! I did in some of my earlier pictures, and it really makes the pictures look off-balance, somehow. (The exception is obviously when you want strong shadows in your pictures, for the mood or general look.)
13. How do you feel about flash?
Built in flash? Don’t use it for food, ever. Other flashes? It’s possible that you can get a good picture with a fancy speedlight, but for a lot cheaper you can get some continuous lighting which should produce better results.
14. How do you feel about manual vs auto?
Do you have all day? Because I can go on about this for forever! It’s my absolute biggest pet peeve- people who buy a camera with all kinds of amazing capabilities and don’t utilize any of them! If you never plan to take the camera out of auto, save yourself some money and get a high end point and shoot. I know that sounds harsh, but the main benefit of a DSLR camera is the control you have over your pictures! I get endless questions about learning manual, and definitely plan to devote a future post to it.
15. If there is one thing on your camera a person should know how to use what one thing would that be?
Oh, man. That’s tough! I don’t know I can pick just one. I guess for food pictures, aperture is the most important setting to understand and use. In fact, lots of people use aperture priority mode, which means that you set the aperture and the camera figures the rest out.
16. How do you feel about bokeh is food photos?
I think that in the right setting, it can look very good, but often food bloggers (myself most of all) make the mistake of reducing the depth of field too greatly, which makes it hard to see what the picture is supposed to be of.
17. What is the biggest mistake most food bloggers make when snapping photos?
I am hardly qualified to answer this, as I am no food photography expert. However, the thing that frustrates me most is when bloggers get too set in one style of picture (especially if that look has gotten them accepted on foodgawker, tastespotting and the like) and don’t get creative with their shots.
18. What is one simple thing we could all do to improve our photos skills?
Take a ton of pictures, and look at a ton of pictures. Honestly, I think that’s all there is to it.
19. Are there any books you would recommend reading on photography?
I read Helene Dujardin’s Plate to Pixel, which is excellent and very thorough. There are also a ton of websites with great information. In addition, many food bloggers have posted a photography tips page. Even if they aren’t a “big” blogger, often the advice is excellent and practical. I think I may have read about a thousand of them on this topic!
20. Are you sick of talking cameras yet? Kidding. If you had an unlimited budget which camera and lens would buy?
Unlimited, f’real? I’d buy a Hasselblad or Mamiya large format camera. They run between 35 and 45 thousand dollars. I have no idea what I would need one for, but have had a weird fascination with them ever since the first time I sold one. Also, while I can’t wrap my mind around spending that kinda dough on photography equipment, I think it must be nice to be rich enough to have that option. 😉
Okay, talking more realistically, I think it’d get a Canon 5D mark III, which is about $3500, plus a 100 mm lens, which is about $550. Also, a 24-70 mm lens is my dream, but those are a cool $1600.
Dare Portion of Burning Down The Kitchen:
Dare Option #3:
Take a photo of your junk food stash, all the better if you’re in the photo.
I honestly don't have junk food around because I am desperately trying to lose weight, so I figured I would show you the next best thing: my box of colorful sugars, sprinkles, etc. (yikes)
See what I mean. Isn't she incredible...I just love her to bits. She'e such a genuine individual. Miriam has a post on photography basics you all should read. She also has Photography Friday which is super useful to anyone looking to find out more about cameras. She has amazing recipes you will want to sink your teeth into. Trust me as I kept going back to one of her older posts called Strawberry Chocolate Cream Cups. It is such a great no bake recipe. For me no bake is so important right now. I cut off all relations with my stove top or oven until the heat breaks. Sometimes a gal just has to say NO! And secondly Miriam's affinity for little cups is on par with my own. So this post and recipe kept drawing me back in. I have quite a few strawberry recipes though so I decided to tweak the recipe a bit for peach season. I hope Miriam approves of the changes. I'm a peach nut, a peach fan, possibly even a peach whore. Just sayin'.
For the Crust:
- 1 cup graham crumbs
- 2 tablespoons butter melted
For the Filling:
- ½ tub of Cool Whip 1L size
- 3 medium-sized peaches I whizzed mine up in a blender with the skins on
- ⅓ cup Marshmallow Fluff
- Be creative you can either top with some graham crumbs or some cut up peaches.
For the Crust:
- Melt the butter in the microwave for about 25 to 30 seconds.
- In a bowl combine the graham crumbs and butter and mix well.
- Pour into mini cups or into non stick sprayed mini cheesecake pans.
- I tamp mine down with the blunt end of a honey dripper. Yes a honey dripper has a blunt end.
For the Filling:
- Pop your peaches in a blender or food processor and pulse until they are liquidy and smooth.
- In a mixer combine your cool whip, peaches and marshmallow fluff, whisk until creamy.
- Pour into cups or pan over top of the crust.
- Even the tops.
- Tap on the counter lightly to get rid of any air pockets.
- Pop in the fridge for about 2 hours.
- You can also choose to freeze them for an ice cream treat.
- Remove from the fridge or freezer. If in a cheesecake pan remove them gently and plate them.
- Garnish any which way you like.
- Serve with a big old peachy smile!
I absolutely love this dessert. It's so good. I have a fave dip that uses marshmallow fluff in it and this kind of reminds me of that. It's so great that it's easy and no bake which is perfect for this time of year. Plus they are just kind of pretty. I'm sure you all could get super creative with garnishes on this. I suck at garnishing.
Thanks so much to Miriam for allowing me the honour of featuring her and interviewing her. I had so much fun getting to know you better. You were an absolute delight to work with.
I encourage you all to go visit Miriam at her blog Tales of an Overtime Cook. You will love her as much as I do. You can also find her on Twitter, Pinterest and Facebook. Personally I stalk her everywhere. That's how us peach whores roll.
Just FYI, for those wondering what I ended up buying for my first "real" camera, I bought a Canon T3i with the 18-55 kit lens, the 50 lens also known as the nifty fifty, and the 60 macro. So far all I want to use is the macro. Best investment ever! Could not be happier with my decision. My intention is to bring the kit lens on vacation for most shots. I may bring the nifty fifty as well for some family photos and food shots in restaurants. My trusty macro will be chilling out at home. Quite honestly I'm not even sure I want to bring the camera for fear of theft or forgetting it in a hot car, or dropping it down a cliff while in Banff. But I know I should bring it for those precious "last vacation as a family unit living under roof" shots. I know right. Totally normal to dub your vacation something so depressing. It's how I cope. Always find the funny people, keeps life from driving you mad. Or so I've been told.
Toodles and smoochies! xx