Archive for November, 2007

Eat Arkansas

This little girl’s moving up in the big ole world of food bloggin’. After writing up a review for Velo Rouge (see below for the amended review plus pictures), my little blog got noticed, and I was asked to be a contributing writer on the Arkansas Times food blog, Eat Arkansas.

Talk about exciting! I’m just so …. well, excited! that I don’t really know what to say, other than gawrsh 🙂

Here’s my first post on irrational food dislikes, mine being pumpkin pie, guacamole, and chocolate plus peanut butter (I love them separately, just not combined).

Thanksgiving

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It’s amazing how quickly Thanksgiving seems to be forgotten. We spend days, weeks, sometimes months preparing and looking forward to it, but it all seems to be gone in a flash the next day when our credit cards start flying.

Maybe this is how it is with all holidays, and once they’re gone, they’re gone. Nowadays though, it seems like people (at least big mega stores) are willing to cruise through Thanksgiving and just get it over with in order to get to Christmas faster. This seems a little silly here in Little Rock, considering the weather was hovering in the 70s and close to the 80s only a week before Thanksgiving.

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I know I’m waxing sentimental here, but the thought of Thanksgiving as only a forgotten memory seemed pretty poignant as I started thinking about this post. Jay and I hosted Thanksgiving at our house this year, and although we hosted it for 8 people last year, the addition of 4 more people this year kind of pushed everything over the limit. For me at least, things were much less relaxed and I was always on my feet taking care of something. I don’t even remember having a decent conversation with my parents, much less anyone else. And although I had essentially starved myself that day to prepare my stomach for the huge food load, I could barely eat anything.

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Usually I try to document the food I’ve prepared, but that, of course, fell by the wayside as well. I did get some pictures of the table and the full spread that everyone contributed to, but the only food item I got decent pictures of was the pumpkin cake with caramel cream cheese frosting.

Regardless of the hectic-ness of Thanksgiving, I’m glad we had it at our house. It was more than I expected, and our little Hillcrest bungalo can’t take that many people, but it was fun, and I was impressed with how grown-up my table could look (thanks to mom’s table cloth, napkins, and other decorations). Next year Jay and I will be in New York, or DC, or Florida, and most likely we’ll have Thanksgiving just for the two of us, so it was nice to host a full-famile soire.

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As for the turkey: my mom instructed me how to prepare it, and the spell has been demystified. Even so, I’m not going to type up a recipe. It’s less of a recipe and more of a manner of just doing things, and although I don’t have it all written down, I don’t think I could ever forget it. Cooking the turkey was a whole lot easier than I though, you pretty much just season the heck out of it, and I think I might try my hand at cooking a smaller one during the year.

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Here’s a list of everything I prepared:

Cranberry Sauce with Port and Cinnamon
(original recipe courtesy Bon Appetit November 2007)
Note: I doubled the recipe because there were so many of us, but I had plenty left over

Ingredients:
1 cup ruby Port
2 cinnamon sticks, broken in half
1 cup dried cranberries (about 6 ounces)
1 12-ounce bag fresh cranberries
3/4 cup water
1/4 cup sugar

Method:
Bring ruby Port and broken cinnamon sticks to boil in heavy medium saucepan. Reduce heat to medium and simmer mixture 5 minutes.

Add dried cranberries to saucepan; simmer until slightly softened, about 3 minutes. Add fresh cranberries, 3/4 cup water, and sugar; bring to boil, stirring until sugar dissolves. Reduce heat to medium-low; cover and simmer until cranberry sauce thickens and is darker in color and berries collapse, stirring often, about 20 minutes. Transfer sauce to bowl; cool. Discard cinnamon sticks.

Whole Wheat Dinner Rolls
(original recipe courtesy Bon Appetit November 2007)
Note: I doubled this recipe as well. I thought the rolls were a bit dry, even though I cooked them less than recommended by the recipe, and pretty flavorless. I also added some honey to the egg-white glaze at the end.

Ingredients:
 3/4 cup whole milk
3/4 cup water
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
3 cups (or more) white whole wheat flour*
or regular whole wheat flour
3/4 cup instant mashed potato flakes
1/4 cup nonfat dry milk powder
3 tablespoons sugar
2 1/4 teaspoons quick-rising active dry yeast (from two 1/4-ounce envelopes)
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
1 large egg yolk
1 large egg white, whisked with 1 tablespoon water (for glaze)
3 to 4 tablespoons quick-cooking oats

Method:
Bring 3/4 cup whole milk and 3/4 cup water to simmer in small saucepan. Remove from heat. Add butter; stir until melted. Attach instant-read thermometer to inside of pan; let milk cool until thermometer registers 120°F to 130°F.

Meanwhile, combine 3 cups flour, potato flakes, dry milk powder, sugar, yeast, and salt in large bowl; whisk to blend. Add warm milk mixture. Stir to blend; mix in egg yolk. Knead mixture in bowl until dough comes together (dough will be sticky). Turn out onto floured work surface and knead until very smooth, elastic, and no longer sticky, adding more flour by tablespoonfuls as needed, about 8 minutes. Place dough in buttered bowl; turn to coat. Cover bowl with plastic wrap, then kitchen towel. Let rise in warm draft-free area until doubled in volume, about 1 to 1 1/2 hours.

Butter 13x9x2-inch metal baking pan or small baking sheet. Turn dough out onto floured work surface and divide in half. Knead each piece lightly until smooth. Cut each dough half into 8 equal pieces. Roll each piece into almost smooth ball. Arrange dough rounds in 4 lengthwise and 4 crosswise rows in prepared pan, spacing about 3/4 to 1 inch apart (rolls will not fill pan). Cover shaped rolls with kitchen towel and let rise in warm draft-free area until rolls have almost doubled in volume and have expanded enough to touch each other, about 1 hour 15 minutes.

Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 350°F. Gently brush rolls with egg-white glaze, then sprinkle generously with oats. Bake dinner rolls until light golden brown, about 28 minutes. Let rolls cool in pan 5 minutes, then pull rolls apart and cool on rack at least 15 minutes.

Pumpkin Cake with Caramel Cream Cheese Frosting
(original recipe courtesy of Food and Wine November 2007)
Note: I HATE pumpkin pie. I don’t know what it is, it’s just one of those irrational dislikes. Maybe it’s the texture or something. This cake tastes just like pumpkin pie and is almost as dense, but I liked it a whole lot more. The frosting is divine. I topped mine with the same candied walnuts that I made for the butternut squash and apple soup, and they were a delicious balance to the frosting.

Ingredients:
Frosting:
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
1/2 vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped
1 1/2 sticks (6 ounces) unsalted butter, softened
2 tablespoons heavy cream
1 pound cream cheese, cut into 2-inch cubes

Cake:
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1 1/4 cups light brown sugar
4 large eggs
3/4 cup vegetable oil
One 15-ounce can pumpkin puree
1/2 cup whole milk

Method:

  1. Make the frosting: In a medium saucepan, combine the sugar, water, vanilla bean and seeds. Cook over high heat, stirring, until the sugar is dissolved. Using a wet pastry brush, wash down any crystals from the side of the pan. Cook over moderate heat without stirring until a medium-dark amber caramel forms, about 9 minutes. Remove from the heat and immediately stir in the butter and heavy cream. (Don’t worry if the butter separates.) Discard the vanilla bean.
  2. Transfer the caramel to the large bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a whisk and beat at low speed until the caramel cools slightly and comes together, about 5 minutes. With the machine on, beat in the cream cheese, 1 cube at a time and beating well between additions, until silky. Transfer the frosting to a bowl and refrigerate until very firm, at least 6 hours.
  3. Meanwhile, make the cake: Preheat the oven to 350°. Butter and flour two 8-inch round cake pans. In a medium bowl, whisk the flour with the baking powder, salt, cinnamon, ginger, baking soda, nutmeg and cloves.
  4. In a bowl, using an electric mixer, beat the brown sugar and eggs at medium-high speed until fluffy, 3 minutes. Beat in the oil, then beat in the pumpkin puree. Alternately add the dry ingredients and the milk in 3 batches, beating well between additions.
  5. Pour the batter into the prepared pans and smooth the tops. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. Let the cakes cool on a rack for 20 minutes. Run a knife around the edges to loosen the cakes, then invert them onto a wire rack to cool completely.
  6. Place one layer on a plate and spread with 1 cup of the caramel–cream cheese frosting. Top with the second layer and frost the top and side. Refrigerate the cake for 2 hours before serving.

Butternut squash apple soup with candied walnuts
(original recipe courtesy Michael Chiarello/Food Network)
Note: this is one of our favorite soups. The sweetness of the apples and the squash is balanced very well by the heat and spice of the spice mixture. Preparation takes a while, but it is well, well worth it. We made double the recipe and ate on it for a few days. It’s a hearty soup but not overly filling, and we both agreed it was on the healthy side, although it’s richness might persuade you otherwise.

Ingredients:
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups sliced leeks, white parts only
1 tablespoon minced garlic
6 cups peeled and roughly diced butternut squash
3 cups peeled and roughly diced apples
2 teaspoons Toasted Spice Rub, recipe follows
6 1/2 cups chicken stock or 2 (14 1/2-ounce) cans low-sodium chicken broth mixed with 3 cups water
Sea salt, preferably gray salt
1 cup chopped Spiced Candied Walnuts, recipe follows, optional

Method:
Melt the butter in a large pot over medium heat, and cook until it turns nut brown. Add the leeks and cook until slightly softened, about 2 minutes. Add the garlic and saute briefly to release its fragrance.
Add the squash and apples, raise the heat to high, and cook, stirring, until the vegetables begin to caramelize, about 5 minutes. Stir in the Toasted Spice Rub and cook briefly to toast it, about 1 minute.

Add the stock or broth-water mixture, bring to a simmer, and partially cover. Adjust the heat to maintain a gentle simmer and cook until the squash and apples are tender, about 40 minutes.

Transfer in batches to a blender or food processor and blend until smooth. Return to the pot, reheat to serving temperature, and season with salt.

Divide the soup among warmed bowls and garnish each portion with some of the walnuts, if using. Serve immediately.

Toasted Spice Rub:
1/4 cup fennel seeds
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
1 1/2 teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes
1/4 cup pure California chili powder (about 1-ounce)
2 tablespoons kosher salt
2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
In a small heavy pan over medium heat, combine the fennel seeds, coriander seeds, and peppercorns. When the fennel turns light brown, work quickly. Turn on the exhaust fan, add the red pepper flakes, and toss, toss, toss, always under the fan. Immediately turn the spice mixture out onto a plate to cool. Put in a blender with the chili powder, salt, and cinnamon and blend until the spices are evenly ground. If you have a small spice mill or a coffee grinder dedicated to grinding spices, grind only the fennel, coriander, pepper, and chili flakes. Pour into a bowl and toss with the remaining ingredients.

Spiced Candied Walnuts:
Peanut or canola oil
4 cups walnut halves
1 cup confectioners’ sugar, sifted
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Pinch salt, or more to taste
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
In a large, heavy-bottomed skillet, heat about 1-inch of oil to 350 degrees F.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add walnuts and blanch for 30 seconds. Drain and transfer nuts to a medium bowl. While nuts are still hot and slightly wet, add confectioners’ sugar and toss to coat nuts. Stir and toss until all the sugar has melted into the nuts; if bits of unmelted sugar remain on the nuts, they will not fry properly.

Stir the nuts again before frying. Using a large slotted spoon, transfer a few nuts to the hot oil, allowing the foam to subside before adding another spoonful. (Otherwise, the oil could foam over and burn you.) Fry in small batches until the nuts are medium brown, about 45 seconds per batch; be careful not to overcook. Scatter on an unlined baking sheet to cool slightly.

In a small bowl, stir together cayenne, cinnamon, a pinch of salt, and the pepper.

While the nuts are still warm, transfer them to a bowl and sprinkle evenly with about half of the spice mix. Toss well to distribute the spices and then taste a nut. Add more spice mix, to taste, and toss well after each addition. When cool, pack in an airtight jar. They will keep at room temperature for at least 2 weeks.

Waiter there’s something in my …. [belated] topless tart!

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This is my first time participating in a WTSIM event, and although I cooked this tart weeks ago, I just now got around to posting in what I thought was within the deadline. Sadly, when I checked the announcement post, I realized that my entry was a couple of days late. Because I had already written up a post on word and resized my pictures, however, I decided to go ahead and post it anyway. With all the difficulty I had with this tart, the pictures, etc., my mistaken delay in the deadline date just kind of goes along with everything else.

When I first heard of WTSIM, I was very excited to make this month’s challenge: topless tarts. I love tarts and think they are fun and easy to make, so how hard could this be?

 

Despite my idea that I would be able to find a boundless amount of tart recipes, especially for fresh fruit, my tart research came up pretty short. My recipe search experience reminded of research projects as a law clerk where you knew something was out there but just couldn’t find it, maybe as a result of using the wrong search terms or simply looking in the wrong places. In this case, it wasn’t either of those problems, it was just that I simply couldn’t find a recipe that looked appealing.

 

One weekend this past month I cooked dinner for my parents (blog on this meal forthcoming), so I decided to whip up a simple tart to go along with dinner. Wanting to do something fall-ish but not completely Thanksgiving-ie or Christmas-ie, I went with a recipe for a honey-walnut tart I found on epicurious.com. It looked easy enough, and more importantly delicious.

 

I didn’t quite have all the ingredients (no orange flower water, no crystallized orange peals), so I made a few substitutions, using orange extract and crystallized ginger instead. In the end, I think the orange essence was too strong and overpowered the sweetness of the dish, but overall the dessert was pretty tasty. Not my favorite, not something I’ll make again and again, but not too bad. It really reminded me of a pecan pie using walnuts instead of pecans, and brown sugar instead of corn syrup. I think I like pecan pies better.

 

The other huge issue I had with the tart was getting a good picture. As I’ve said before, I’m no professional photographer, but I think I’m a decent amateur food photographer. That said, none of my pictures seemed to turn out right. I couldn’t really put my finger on it, but looking at the pictures I didn’t get the idea that I really, really wanted to eat my tart. It just looked so, blah.

 

The tart stuck around for a few days as after-dinner dessert (sometimes as a special breakfast), and it wasn’t until the tart’s final hours that I finally started getting some decent photos. I wouldn’t consider these GREAT photos by any means, but they’re definitely better than the ones I first took.

 

Moral of the story? Can’t really say, other than if you start with a blah recipe or something that you don’t really feel, the lack of energy will show in your pictures.

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Ferneau lunch: restaurant review

Ferneau has got to be one of my favorite dinner spots in town. The menu is always imaginative, the wine list is great, and the atmosphere is pretty fun. Even when we don’t want the full dinner experience, Jay and I will sometimes make the short trip over to Ferneau for some wine and dessert, and, depending on the night, a little evening music entertainment.

That’s why when Fereau opened for lunch in the past month, Jay and I were dying to try it. One big plus about the place is that it’s another lunch spot in Hillcrest, our neighborhood, and it varies from the other restaurants in the same area. When we finally got a chance to go, I was close to shaking with excitement when we walked through the doors.

My excitement quickly faded when I looked at the very sparse menu, the items of which I could count on both of my hands with a finger left over. I don’t mean only 9 lunch items with a few appetizers thrown in, I mean that counting what could traditionally be called appetizers as well as the larger lunch plates, the menu consisted of entirely 9 items. Furthermore, the menu didn’t include any fish items, and I couldn’t help but roll my eyes when I saw fried pickles. My husband and I were joking just days earlier that you can’t open a restaurant in this town without including something fried, and it looks like my suspicions were confirmed.

I didn’t really see anything on the menu I wanted. I wanted something healthy yet substantial, but my only options seemed to be tomato soup and a small green salad. I wanted some meat though! Sure, the caesar salad had some chicken on it, but do you know how many calories are in that dressing? I just don’t understand why some restaurants in town refuse to put chicken on salads other than the caeser.

So, needless to say I wasn’t the happiest restaurant-goer when it came to order. Not wanting to walk out, however, my husband and I decided to split the hummus (the waitress was highly complementary of it), and I settled on a serving of the tomato soup and a small spinach side-salad, which my waitress said could come with chicken (yes!). Jay ordered the burger, which included toppings like the fried pickles.

The hummus was served with a substantial amount of warm pita chips (something too many restaurants stiff you on), and it was absolutely wonderful. Still too shy to use my camera at a restaurant, I didn’t take any pictures, but the presentation was very nice. We devoured all of it, and soon after we finished out lunch dishes came out. Once again, the presentation was very pleasing and typical of Ferneau. With my opinion of the restaurant continually climbing ever since I asked for chicken on my salad, I took my first spoon-full of the tomato soup and it was ….. quite frankly the best roasted tomato soup I had ever had. I was a little sad that I couldn’t order a huge bowl of it all for myself. My spinach salad was good with the addition of the chicken, which was very moist and flavored very well. My soup and salad was also accompanied by fresh vegetables and fruit, which were very welcome on my “healthy” day. My husband’s burger was pretty tasty, but most of the flavor came from the toppings rather than the meat itself, so I wouldn’t rank it as the best burger I’ve ever had. We skipped on dessert, but the table next to us got an order of bread pudding that was so big they had to take home left-overs.

Although I was initially dismayed by the lack of choices on the lunch menu (at one point I told Jay that a restaurant shouldn’t open for lunch if it can’t even provide a full menu), but everything we ordered was so delicious and well-prepared that it made up for most of what the menu lacked. Although I don’t see myself going back any time in the near future, I would give it three and a half stars out of four. I would like to see more items on the menu, but if you’re not too choosy and looking for something tasty, Ferneau is worth a try.

Velo Rouge Brasserie: Restaurant Review

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My husband and I look forward to new restaurant openings like children look forward to new toys. There’s nothing more pleasing, it seems, than being one of the first to try out a new place, or to experience what a traditionally dinner-only restaurant offers for lunch.

That’s why when Jay read on the Arkansas Times that Velo Rouge Brasserie was opening up in Little Rock where our much-loved Nu Restaurant used to be, we salivated with glee at the first chance we would get to try it. Our first chance came sooner rather than later, and we sauntered up to the new main doors only the second night the restaurant was open.

As beloved followers of Nu, I was concerned about whether or not the new ambiance would appeal to me, or whether the replacement would be just a sad reminder of how I lost one of my favorite restaurants. If you visted Nu before the recent change, then you can appreciate how drastically the restaurant has changed. Number one, the main entrance is in an entirely different place, facing President Clinton Ave. rather than the parking lot (quick note: in parking in the adjacent parking lot, we were not met by a valet parker and parked in the lot for free, although this could have been a welcome accident). Second: the bar is incorporated into the restaurant, rather than occupying a separate area of the building. This is a welcome change and adds to the hominess of the restaurant. Third: the interior decorating has completely changed. Gone is the stark white and minimalist lighting; now the interior consists of rich hardwoods and warm lighting. The first thing I thought upon entering the restaurant: this place is cozy.

The hostesses were very nice and sat us without a delay. Because I was encountering a new restaurant, I took a little more time looking at the menu than normal, but our waitress was very patient. Upon questioning her about any recommendations, she recommended the Steak Frites (which I ended up ordering), and the Roasted Chicken.

I want to get the faults out of the way quickly, because they were small and inconsequential: (1) the restaurant has not started the specials of the day (we were seriously considering the Saturday special, but it helped our dinner decisions); (2) a good amount of menu items were not available, but not enough to make our dinner choices restrictive; (3) the wine menu on the printed menu does not mesh with the wine menu on the chalk board posted on the wall in the restaurant, and some wine choices from the chalk board were not available (after dinner we stopped by the bar because I really wanted to try the white meritage, which was unfortunately unavailable).

For first course, my husband and I had the clams, which were simmered in a white wine sauce. Although the menu stated that the sauce included safron, the taste was so subtle that it was unnoticeable. The clams were accompanied by very small fried potato pieces, which were divine once dredged through the clam and wine juice.

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After the clams we both had a small bibb salad, which the menu said was accompanied by a red wine vinaigrette. Unfortunately, the salad dressing was entirely too salty and reminded me of salty green olives, definitely not red wine vinaigrette. Nevertheless, the salad did come with a tasty ricotta-covered toasted slice of bread. salas.jpg

For dinner, I had the filet and my husband had the duck. I like my steaks on the rare side of rare, and for me my rare steak resembled more of a medium-rare steak, but I chose not to complain. Regardless, my steak was very tender and delicious. It was accompanied by a large quantity of very good fries and some kind of greens, which, unfortunately, were much too salty.

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My husband’s duck was some of the best I have ever had (too many restaurants in town overcook it and drown it in too much sauce). His duck came with a fennel and olive salad, which was very interesting. My husband thought the flavor was too strong, but I thought it was fine. The Arkansas wild rice, on the other hand, was very good.

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For dessert I had the (excuse the spelling in advance) Pot du Creme, and my husband had the profiteroles. My dessert was the best chocolate dessert I have ever had, and coming from a chocoholic that is quite a compliment.

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I am not a huge creme brulee fan, probably because I think they are so overdone and boring, and when I first got my dessert I thought it was only another creme brulee with some whipped topping. Fortunately, I was hugely mistaken. Unlike a creme brulee, this dessert had no caramelized topping. Both the chocolate and the whipped topping had the same texture, which made a spoonful of both a heavenly combination. Each bite felt like I was eating a chocolate cloud, and I found myself awakening from a dessert-induced daze after many bites.

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My husband’s dessert was also very good, very sweet with a nice rich vanilla ice cream, although it came with less chocolate sauce than to be desired. We finished off our dinner with a few cups of very nice coffee.

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Overall, out experience was wonderful. Other than a few items that were much too salty and a few items that simply were not available, everything was very good. The service (something that I am an absolute stickler for) was impeccable, and we couldn’t have had a better waitress. Wanting to try the white meritage, something I had never seen before but which was unfortunately unavailable, my husband and I sat at the bar for a while, and the bartender was very attentive and very approachable. I asked her about how the opening had been going, and she seemed very positive other than a few computer glitches and a few unavailable items.

Finally, the ambiance is very warm and welcoming. I liked the place the second I walked in the door. If you have visited the Irish pub in North Little Rock, Cregeen’s, then you have some idea about the atmosphere of this place, only a little nicer. Needless to say, this is one of my new favorite places, and while the wine list isn’t quite as extensive as let’s say Ferneau or Ciao Baci, you can still order a $150 bottle of Bordeaux if you are so inclined.

That time of year …..

It’s that time of year again, the time when I forget to shower because I’m so busy studying for law exams. The time of year I dream about the Uniform Commercial Code, estate planning and taxation. The time of year, well, I don’t have time to blog.

This is unfortunate for several reasons. I’m already backed up with things I want to post and restaurant reviews, and I keep slipping behind more and more each day. I just realized that today is the deadline to post for Waiter There’s Something in my …. Topless Tart, and I still don’t have my pictures all ready or a comment written up. Added to that, my damn internet isn’t working (thank you library computer lab for your continuing support of my extra-curricular activities).

That being said, I’m working hard. I neeeeed to put up a review of a new restaurant in town, and I’ll do that first, even though there’s things from almost a month ago that need to go up.

Somewhere in this mess, I’ll finish my applications for my masters in tax law….

A quick lesson on the macro setting

I’ve owned and lost an unfortunate amount of digital cameras in my lifetime, but I’ve never really utilized the macro setting until recently. Now I’m no fancy photographer, but it really makes a difference in taking pictures. When I was photographing my recent past dish as posted below, I noted that some of the pictures weren’t as clear as I would like. That’s when I realized the macro setting was off.

Because, as the saying goes, pictures speak louder than words, here are some examples of what a difference the macro setting makes:

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  • Macro on clams1.jpg

As for flash and all other settings, they were the same. Generally when taking food pictures I leave the flash off and use the soft background setting.


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All posts and images copyright 2008 & 2009 Jenny Robertson, unless otherwise specified. All rights reserved. Any use of images without prior written consent is prohibited.
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