huckleberry pie meatless meatballs roasted porcini with gremolata gluten-free chocolate chip cookies

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travel: maine, the great state (long)

Tuesday, September 4th, 2012

There is a special love I have for the state of Colorado – the place I call home. You can probably sense that from the way I photograph and write about Colorado in this space. It is not unlike the adoration that Mainers have for Maine. Before last week, Maine was never much on my radar except when good friends of mine waxed nostalgic for it (my pal in graduate school always referred to her as, “Maine, the great state”). But my western-centric attentions were pointed East when my friend, Sharon (who I met at IFBC Seattle in 2009 on a chance shared cab ride), invited me out on behalf of The Maine Office of Tourism and The Schooner J. & E. Riggin for a trip to explore some of their fine state. So yeah, I was in Maine last week and it was… AWESOME.

Full disclosure: The Maine Office of Tourism and The Schooner J. & E. Riggin sponsored my transportation, lodging, and meals with no obligation on my part. All photographs, words, experiences, and especially opinions, are my own.

Day 1: Portland: El Rayo Taqueria, Cantina El Rayo
Day 2: Portland: Gulf of Maine Research Institute, The Well, Jordan’s Farm, Broadturn Farm, Maine Mead Works, Regency Garden Cafรฉ, Fore Street
Day 3: Portland to Rockland: Standard Baking Company, Rock Paper Scissors, The Slipway, Salt Water Farm, Rock City Roasters, J&E Riggin, In Good Company
Days 4-7: Rockland, Stonington, Camden: The Schooner J. & E. Riggin, Rheal Day Spa

Day 1: I left my house in the Colorado Rockies at 3:45 am and arrived at the Portland Regency Hotel and Spa in Portland, Maine, with enough time to drop off my bags and change my clothes for dinner. Joining my travel companions Joy and Rebecca, we walked with our host, Sharon, to the brightly colored and lively El Rayo Taqueria. The smell of savory Mexican food drifted on the fresh sea air as we approached. There we met with several local Portland food scene folks for refreshing margaritas and appetizers on the patio where every table was occupied with happy patrons.

a round of margaritas de la casa – perfection on a summer evening

flash fried shishito peppers with oaxacan sea salt, chips, salsa, and guacamole

abigail describes the different oysters she brought from her farm

and there were fabulous goat meat tacos… did i mention this was merely appetizers?!

El Rayo is run by the dynamic duo: executive chef Cheryl Lewis and general manager Norine Kotts. Their kitchen manager, Elena McMahan, gave us a tour of her urban garden which supplies the restaurant with fresh herbs and edible flowers in summer. The incredible oysters we sampled came from Abigail Carroll’s oyster farm: Nonesuch Oysters. I got to step inside the restaurant (which was also hopping) and get a quick tour from Cheryl.

pickled peppers at the counter

festive and packed with locals

the busy line keeps up with demand

We then walked next door to the swankier Cantina El Rayo which features cocktails and more refined fare compared to its sister, El Rayo Taqueria. I sat next to Margaret Hathaway and Karl Schatz of Ten Apple Farm, Elena, and Anestes Fotiades who writes Portland Food Map. Not only was everyone genuinely warm, but they are all fascinating people. Margaret and Karl supplied the goats for our dinner (from their farm). I think I kinda fell in love with those two. Here are just some of the noms we enjoyed for our meal, although I was in a food coma by the time the churros rolled around. Everything was fantastic. And then Cheryl gave us each a luscious, frosted coconut cupcake as a take-home treat.

the cantina

blueberry shrub refresco (yes to this!!)

delectable hibiscus pickled deviled eggs

heavenly chili pesto oysters

mexico city style street corn with cotija cheese and chipotle

goat meatballs with mole sauce and pickled onions

griddled hoja santa leaves with three cheese and tomatillo sauce

Things I really liked from Day 1
Virgin margarita and goat meat tacos at El Rayo Taqueria.
Oysters from Nonesuch Oysters.
Blueberry shrub refresco, chili pesto oysters, and Mexico City style street corn at Cantina El Rayo.
My elastic waistband pants.
A comfy bed at the Portland Regency Hotel and Spa.

Day 2: To counter the effects of the first night’s feast (hey, elastic only gets you so far), I got myself to the Regency’s fitness center for a run before our tour of the Gulf of Maine Research Institute (GMRI). Blaine Grimes explained how the institute provides a supportive connection between the science of the Gulf of Maine (and its watershed) and the communities that depend on it. GMRI builds working solutions to balance the needs of the environment with the needs of the fishing industry. Additionally, they have developed an impressive outreach program to educate Maine’s 5th to 8th graders on the Gulf of Maine through interactive exercises that teach the scientific method (this was the coolest thing ever).


blaine starts with an overview of the physical geography of the region

educating children by not giving the answers, but letting them discover for themselves

After the tour, we moseyed on over to Jordan’s Farm where Penny Jordan welcomed us. She then ushered us down to The Well, a tiny unassuming restaurant on the farm that is only open for dinner service. Chef/owner Jason Williams graciously hosted us for a special lunch demo of his preset menu. Much of the food is locally sourced, if not harvested right off the farm – fresh and beautifully prepared to highlight the ingredients. Jason’s kitchen is a converted trailer and there are outdoor tables and a couple of screened gazebos where patrons can enjoy an exquisite meal.

penny greets us in front of her farm stand

heading down to the well

nice fresh summery touches

jason works his magic here

in the gazebo

gorgeous salad with summer tomatoes and house-cured bacon

shishito peppers and a peekytoe crab sandwich

penny, jason, and his family joined us for lunch

vanilla bean maine blueberries with shortbread

**Jump for more butter**

add a little zing to your life

Sunday, August 12th, 2012

Technique: shooting lightning

You could say I have a slight obsession with lightning. Our house faces southwest and in the summer, the southwest monsoons move over us from that direction almost every afternoon like clockwork. I can see the thunderstorms in the distance as they approach, dropping lightning bolts on the Continental Divide and neighboring ridges. Familiar enough with the patterns, I’ve been able to capture some great strikes and more likely than not, miss plenty of other great strikes. When I share my photos, someone will invariably marvel at my presumed quick reflexes and my amazing ability to anticipate the lightning.

multiple cloud to ground strikes (10 seconds, f8, 29mm, ISO 100)

My reflexes are pretty quick, but they aren’t THAT quick. And my anticipation of lightning is as good as my observation that there is a lightning storm in progress. The trick is not to wait to take a snap when you see the lightning, because on average cloud-to-ground lightning discharges on the order of milliseconds. No one is that fast and luck only gets you so far. To achieve consistently decent results, I take the longest possible exposure and do so consecutively throughout a lightning storm.

If you plan to try shooting lightning, there are a few things I’d like to recommend:

1) You’re going to have to shoot on manual.

2) Use a tripod. You’ll need it for all of those long exposures.

3) Go with short focal lengths (wide angle). If you’re just starting out, give yourself a wide field of view to capture any random lightning strikes that may occur around you. Once you become familiar with the storms of a certain area (i.e. they always strike a certain ridge or an isolated microburst is hammering away in one area) then you can tighten the shot and use longer focal lengths.

4) Resolution helps. If you are choosing between your 18 mega-pixel camera and your 8 mega-pixel camera, go with the bigger sensor. The reason? You will most likely crop down to isolate the lightning if you are shooting a wide field. More pixels help to maintain a better image when you crop down.

5) Start with a fully juiced battery. Long exposures drain the battery faster than your typical snaps.

6) Make sure you have plenty of memory. Who knows how long this storm will last? Wouldn’t it suck if you ran out of memory on your flash card only to have the mother of all lightning bolts strike right after your card finished? Yes.

7) If possible, shoot from a sheltered area or safe distance. Thunderstorms are often accompanied by rain, so being able to shoot from the doorway of my deck helps to keep the rain off of my lens until the winds start driving the rain into the house. If you are far enough away from the storm to shoot it in the distance, great. However, keep in mind that being out under an approaching storm (even if it isn’t raining) puts you at an increased risk of getting zapped. If it IS raining and you are outside with an umbrella over your gear during an active thunderstorm, then you’re just asking for trouble (and by trouble, I mean death).

8) Don’t get killed. Lightning is no joking matter. Lightning can carry over a billion volts.

night lightning
Probably the easiest way to shoot lightning is during a nighttime lightning storm. I like to focus just shy of infinity because that’s usually where my local lightning hits, set my aperture to f8 or thereabouts, leave my ISO on 100 (or the lowest native ISO setting), and put the shutter speed on 6 seconds if the storm is active, and up to 20 seconds if the strikes are less frequent. I cannot actually see where I am focused because it’s pitch dark, but I know from daytime experience that this side of infinity works for me on a relatively wide angle (less than 45mm). Same thing goes for field of view. I usually have to futz with my camera and wait for a lightning strike to light up the area so I can frame my field of view. Again, as with most of my nighttime photography endeavors, I like having a red light headlamp so I can see my gear without blinding myself.

I live in a location with minimal light pollution, so dark is truly dark. If I were to take an exposure for 20 seconds at night, it would be mostly black. Now if lightning were to strike in my field of view anytime during that 20 seconds when my shutter was open, it would be captured in my image. If there were two lightning strikes a few seconds apart, but both within the 20 seconds when my shutter was open, I’d have two strikes captured in my image.

forked lightning (20 seconds, f8, 44mm, ISO 100)

Thunderstorms used to catch me off guard, but these days I watch for them. First, I check the weather report for that evening which is wrong a good 50% of the time. Then I check the radar to follow active storms moving our way. Of course, I can also tell when the storm is arriving from the flashes of light in the distance and the rumble of thunder nearing. It’s kind of exciting. As the storm moves over my location, things usually go downhill quickly. For one thing, the rain and winds make it almost impossible to continue shooting (I put the hood on the lens at night, which helps at the start of the rain, but is useless when driving rain is coming right at you). Secondly, when the storm is directly overhead, not only does the rain prevent me from shooting straight up, but I’d have to be outside, under a massive electric potential (that is dangerous).

cloud to cloud (16 seconds, f2.8, 20mm, ISO 100)

Night lightning in dark places is pretty straightforward because you can set your shutter speed to whatever you like. When conditions are lighter, like sunset or dusk, or if there is considerable light pollution coming from city lights, traffic, or even the moon, then I try to take care that my shutter speed doesn’t blow out the other light sources. This means there will be a limit on the shutter speed to achieve proper exposure of the entire image. It makes for a nice composition if you can get those elements in place in addition to the lightning.

storm at sunset (15 seconds, f7.1, 26mm, ISO 100)

evening strike (10 seconds, f22, 20mm, ISO 100)

**Jump for more butter**

earth, wind, fire, and rain

Thursday, May 24th, 2012

Recipe: blackened salmon sandwich

My head bobbled about fighting sleep as the car raced through the desert night. I jolted awake with each giant bug that appeared as a flash in the headlights before smearing across the windshield with a loud thwack. It had been a long day of driving (western states are big), then waiting, then shooting the eclipse, then driving some more. Jeremy was equally tired, but he knew the road to Socorro like the back of his hand. I remembered what Jeremy had asked me when we first started dating back in the day, “Are you a mountain goat or a desert rat?” I was a mountain goat. I didn’t actually know because I had spent little, if any, time in either. But I liked goats more than I liked rats. Turns out, I *am* a mountain goat – a happy happy mountain goat. Desert rat, I am not. I’m reminded of that every time I go to the desert.

cactus in bloom

In the morning, Jeremy left for his meeting and asked me to please be careful. I’m always careful. I’m a firm believer in self-preservation. I wear my big girl pants all the time. All of my visits to New Mexico have been spent hanging out with Jeremy’s family, my aunt’s family, and noodling about the northern part of the state. We have visited Carlsbad Caverns (caves and bats – AWESOME!!) and the Bosque del Apache (birds like you wouldn’t believe), but that was pretty much it for the southern half. The desert is not a destination of choice for me, but since I was practically there, I thought it was high time I went to see White Sands National Monument.

sprawling thunderheads on the drive south

White Sands is nestled in the Tularosa Basin of southern New Mexico, at the northern tip of the sprawling Chihuahuan Desert. It is the largest white sand dunefield in the world – white because the sand is derived from gypsum. This is the first park I’ve ever visited where I had to check for missile testing schedules (which close certain roads). It was stifling hot (mid 90s), humid, and windy when I arrived. Afternoon thunderheads boomed above me and sunshowers rained down periodically. I thought it best to retreat from the dunes. Sitting in the shade of a small picnic shelter, I watched half of my lunch (salad) blow away before it could reach my mouth. The clouds had made way for the blazing sun and sand pelted me from the southwest. I walked the dunes, scoping out the best places to shoot, hoping the winds would go away by sundown.

dark skies

the winds let up a little

heavy haze in the basin

A half hour before sunset, the character of the place changed. A no longer oppressive sun bathed the white dunes in soft gold light and blue shadows. It was still windy (that makes photography hard due to the blowing sand – if you care at all about your gear), but less ferocious. In the distance, I could see a handful of other visitors dotting the crests of high dunes, all witnessing the same magic.

the haze in the basin began to glow

crepuscular rays

I debated whether or not to shoot in the morning at all since the park doesn’t allow entry until an hour after sunrise. But this wasn’t vacation, this was work. I watched the sun rise in my rear view mirror on my drive over, spectacularly red and glowing as it rose above the Sacramento Mountains. Even an hour or more after sunrise, the sand felt nice and cool. The winds had not yet picked up and erased the tracks of the resident wildlife. It didn’t last long, but it was appreciated.

scamper scamper

you could pretend that it is snow

a sea of white

Time spent in the desert always brings a new level of respect for this harsh environment, for the massive views, for the weather, the light, and how they play. I’m still a mountain goat. Imagine the delight when I woke up at home this morning to see our valley dusted in snow – a good half inch on my deck.

As promised, there is a recipe – a good and easy recipe for summer! When I received that comped shipment of wild Alaskan seafood from the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, there were some lovely frozen sockeye salmon filets in the box. My typical lazy way to grill salmon is with olive oil, lemon slices, fresh dill, and salt and pepper. I wanted another recipe that was equally delicious and equally lazy.

salmon, butter, paprika, thyme, creole seasoning

arugula, aioli, sandwich bread

**Jump for more butter**