My very first SLR camera-- a Nikon EM-- was a wedding gift. It was the perfect camera for me; small, lightweight, and reliable.
At first, I used it to record the markers in my life that I thought I might someday want to look back at. I was never good at documenting with pen and paper, it was a struggle to make words behave the way that I wanted them to, but somehow the camera always knew what to say. And just as importantly, what to leave out.
I was glad to have a reliable camera when the kids came along. No parent realizes how fleeting childhood is when you're knee-deep in the business of it, until you look back at the markers. In the blink of a shutter, they grow up and buy their own cameras and take their own pictures and you find yourself filling up rolls of film with photos of pets, plants, and flowers (which grow up fast too, but don't make faces when you point a camera at them).
A few years ago, I set aside my Nikon for the instant gratification of a digital camera. I lusted for a Digital Rebel, but ended up buying a Powershot. For the money, it took fine pictures of pets, plants, flowers and the occasional teenager. Before this blog, I never really photographed food before. I quickly learned that, like plants and flowers, food likes to be shot up-close and in diffused natural daylight. Not having to pay for film and processing really shortened the learning curve.
Recently, I noticed that my Powershot had developed a blurry spot that I couldn't get rid of. I wondered if you noticed it too. When it became obvious that I would have to replace it, the time seemed right for the Rebel XSi. I decided to forgo the kit lens and invested in a 50mm 1.4 for its shallow depth of field and buttery bokeh. I went a little shutter crazy this past week, snapping hundreds of photos of objects, inside and outside of my house. I've posted some of them on my new Flickr page, if you care to look. There aren't any photos of teenagers, or any food just yet. But there are some of pets, and the plants and flowers will come soon enough.
These are a pair of Shun knives that were gifted to the restaurant where I work. They were set down in front of me with the instructions "try these out and let me know what you think". I thought they were a mirage, that my eyes had manifested my heart's desire. I had to touch them to believe that they were real.
My Preciousss is from the Ken Onion series. The sweeping curve of her blade is formed from 32 layers of high-carbon SS clad over a VG-10 core with a Damascus finish that resembles a fine woodgrain or moire. A stunning work of art and craft. The sensual curve of her ergonomic handle found a natural home in my hand. With the perfectly fluid balance of her weight, I felt the power of a Samurai. I never wanted to put her down, but there were others waiting. I watched like a jealous lover.
Vicious is a hollow ground Santoku from the Classic series and features the same blade composition with a Pakkawood handle. Compared to My Preciousss, he felt stiff and rigid in my hand. I gave Vicious his name after he bit me twice in succession. They were superficial cuts, just deep enough to make me wince when pinching salt. I think he felt jilted for being picked last. Or maybe he was also a jealous lover.
Vicious and I are now friends. I find myself reaching for him more often than My Preciousss; his lighter weight and straighter blade makes him more versatile for slicing and chopping. He's reminded me of something that I already knew: that knives, like people, should be regarded and handled as individuals.
Knead together equal amounts of silicone Part A and Part B until well blended and uniform in color.
Apply a thin layer of Release-Dit to surface of sphere. Form a flattened disc from silicone and press sphere into it. Mold silicone around bottom half of sphere, forming a thick rim with 4 corners.
Press pieces of a dowel into corners of rim to form dimples that will allow the top part of the mold to interlock with the bottom. Wrap with rubber band to secure silicone to sphere. Allow to cure for one hour. When cured, unwrap and remove dowels. Apply a thin layer of Release-Dit to upper surface of rim and dimples. Knead together equal amounts of silicone Part A and Part B until well blended and uniform in color. Mold silicone around top half of sphere and rim, pressing firmly. Cut a hole in the top with a straw for filling. Allow to cure for one hour. With a sharp blade, cut a notch through both parts of mold along one side of rim for alignment. Separate mold, remove sphere and wash well. Mold is now ready to use. Silicone Plastique is food-safe. Filled mold can be frozen or heated up to 400 degrees F.
Benzaldehyde is the essence of bitter almonds (Prunus Amygdalus var. Amara), which unlike sweet almonds (Prunus Amygdalus var. Dulcis) contain hydrogen cyanide, a potentially lethal toxin. It is a fragrant volatile molecule and a by-product of cyanide production. Pure almond extract is pure Benzaldehyde, without the cyanide. It is used in the making of marzipan, maraschino cherries, amaretto liqueur, and amaretti biscuits and occurs naturally in the fruits, leaves, flowers and bark of stone fruits. It is the eminent aroma compound in the complex flavor of peaches, apricots, and cherries. The highest concentrations can be found in the kernels of these fruits, which must be heated in order to destroy the toxin. Benzaldehyde is also present in beer (216 ppm), apple juice (294 ppm), roasted coffee (2008 ppm), tomato (8501 ppm), and white bread (40903 ppm). [ppm=parts per million]
The leaves of the peach tree, when very young, taste of Benzaldehyde. As they mature, they take on an unpleasant acrid pungency. It took me several growing seasons to figure this out. This year, I got it right. The only reason that I know this is because I have a habit of tasting plants as they grow--not just the familiar parts-- all parts: flowers, leaves, roots, bark. I do this out of curiosity, not hunger, though it feeds my sense of discovery. All plants are fair game--be they weeds, shrubs, flowers, or trees--if they are not harmful and taste good, then they have culinary potential. I rely on my knowledge of plants to steer me away from the toxic ones but I sometimes think that if I should die an untimely death, it could be attributed to having put something in my mouth that had no business being there in the first place. I could think of worse ways to go.
As a pastry chef, I've relied on molds to give shape to my desserts. I have a large collection which vary in size and shape from the very simple to the ornate and complex. Within the walls of my house, they cover shelves, fill entire cupboards, and lie waiting patiently in boxes. I cannot pick favorites (how can I...many have never been used), but I can tell you that nowadays, the ones that I use most often are made of silicone.
Silicone has revolutionized the way the I bake. Silpats are unparalleled in their ability to release anything that comes in contact with them. The flexibility of silicone molds allow me to form products which are perfectly smooth or deeply cut. The outcropping of new forms and shapes that I find on the market has had me already teetering on the precipice of possibilities. Finding a product that allows me to make my own molds may have just pushed me over the edge.
I already have a collection of objects set aside to replicate in silicone, but I'm curious...what would you mold?