28 November 2011

Food Photography #1: Creating texture & depth 280

Hello all, my name is Lee and I am honored to guest-post tips on food photography for Renaissance Culinaire. We are going to try to make this a monthly feature, so send us feedback with questions or suggestions on what we should photograph next!

Avo-Tuna Cerviche ©2011 Spinwave Photo

Today's post focuses on the attention-sucking feature I like to call "black holes". While shadows are important to creating the illusion of depth, black spots with little-to-no detail will quickly suck a viewer's eye into its vortex of darkness (thus the nickname black hole). Here's how to identify and correct them:

Click to enlarge photo.

In addition to the black holes, the light flattened the texture of the tuna and avocado chunks. So we added a foam-core reflector close-in, camera-right:

Click to enlarge photo.

That filled in the large black hole in the center of the food, so you can see the green of the avocado and a bit of its texture. But I felt that we could get a little more texture in the food with another reflector positioned at the front of the lens and angled downward. The reflector was actually closer than illustrated below--it was actually resting on the lens hood. The result:

Click to enlarge photo.

The second reflector added some specular highlights (a.k.a. "shiny spots" or "shine"), which is the other component of creating the illusion of depth. The effect is less dramatic in the photo as the light was dissipating even faster now as we approached 5pm in the city. The waning light also left one black hole that we could not fill in without resorting to flash (a future post topic).

The Tools: 1. foam-core reflectors (available at Michael's craft stores in various sizes for around $5); 2. Canon 5D MkII used for the food photos, (but any camera with a Manual mode works great); 3. Canon G12 for set-up shots; final settings for food shots are f/2.8 @ 40, ISO 2000.

Special Thanks to: Heather of Heather Bayles Photography for assisting; Shigezo Portland for allowing us to photograph in their restaurant and for the wonderful Avo-Tuna Ceviche (Tuna, avocado, cherry tomatoes, mozzarella, soy sauce & wasabi dressing).

14 February 2011

Family Stroll and Tow: When Eating Out Requires Tools 455

Imagine yourself on a crisp winter day - the sun streams through the half sleeping trees bathing everything above earth in a golden, unearthly webbing of light. The air is alive with a slight chill, but the sun warms where it's beams have haphazardly landed.

Photo ©2011. Renaissance Culinaire. All Rights Res.
The first bulbs have bravely climbed out of their loamy tombs, careening their paper white heads toward the sky.

You are on your way to a local eatery, with your family. You are enjoying the sun, having spent many days enduring the gray, often times rainy blah weather that comes with winter. You want to eat food which doesn't require sullying your kitchen and a load of dishes. You are aching for an evening outside of the house - you and the family have cabin fever.

This friends is not a fairy tale - this was my sentiment, this was my afternoon.

I got the extreme honor to review a Inglesina 'Avio' stroller. And this transport was perfect for having my 3yr old boy in tow, especially when taking him to a local eatery. For any parent who has ever ventured with children out into the public, there is a allot of preparation. More so when you are on foot, and parenting a 3yr old child.

What's In the Box:

When I received the Inglesina Avio Stroller in the color black, it arrived  in several parts - the seating area, harness, stroller hood and storage basket all had to be attached to the main base/ frame of the stroller. The product Manual included comes in every language imaginable. There is a rain shield included. There is also an included adapter, for those of you that have babies and want to use the Inglesina Avio Bassinet (a.k.a "Carrycot"), which is sold separately, or clip on infant car seats (brands that work: Graco, Peg Perego and Britax) .

I was very impressed with the quality of the materials used to make this stroller. Everything is solid and durable.


The Inglesina Avio Stroller is touted as 'the perfect stroller for on the go urbanites'. Translation - this stroller is best for strolling on sidewalks and smooth developed indoor or paved outdoor surfaces.

What I have discovered is that the Inglesina Avio stroller is different than allot of less-expensive non-jogging strollers in that it's wheels actually have ball bearings. This gives the stroller the ability to roll very smoothly with hardly any vibration within the stroller seat, with minimal pushing. The wheels are fixed in position, so the turn radius is not that sharp - it will make a smooth turn however, within a 5 foot radius.

Standing at 5'5", I am very conscience of handle placement. The Avio stroller's handle is in a position comfortable enough to hold, but I really wished the handle had an adjustment option.

My husband however is nearly 6 foot tall and said "This stroller is perfect for dads who are 5'11" - 6'2", very smooth ride and will put the toddler to sleep on a rough night within 10 minutes". He experimented with the Avio while taking the evening walk when our son was over-tired and fighting sleep.


Let me say that I have owned at-least 5 strollers between the years 2003-2011, starting with my first child. 4 out of 5 had the capability to be folded for stowing. The latest being a Jeep Overland Limited 'Music on the Move' Jogging Stroller.

Of all the strollers I have owned, though, the Inglesina Avio Stroller is able to fold into the most space saving compact shape of all (I am not including those cheap umbrella strollers, that are a dime-a-dozen, in this category.).
The mechanism to fold this stroller is great (see photo at left, demonstrated by my husband) - It is reminiscent of a crossbow, when pulled back it creates tension and gathers enough backward force so you can lock it into place.

Think of it like the pulling motion when starting a lawn mower, instead of a "pull cord", you are pulling a designated handle located on the back of the stroller.

If you press down sternly on the middle of the main handle (the one you use to push the stroller) with one hand, and press the red button (to unlock) on the handle base, gently, yet firmly pull at an outward-upward motion - making sure that the harness or other parts of the stroller do not become entangled into the folding parts, it will fold very compactly.

Key Points of Inglesina Avio when folded:

Cool Features:

The Inglesina Avio stroller has some very nice options.

  • Seating: The stroller seat  is washable. And very adjustable, with the harness straps position, and can recline to several lower positions, so that your child is comfortable - my son loved being able to lay down in the lowest position when he was tired.  
  • Storage: The included fabric under-stroller basket is very accommodating. I was able to fit 2 full fabric grocery bags in there, with no further adjustments. There is also a expandable drink holder located on the lower left back of the stroller frame - I really appreciate this placement. ( Most strollers with a drink holder place them above the child's seat area, which is totally illogical - what if there was a spill?).
  • For Weather: The Avio hood is constructed to be very durable, I liked the surface area it covers, the bill (like on a baseball cap) is a great feature which is nice for keeping sun out of sensitive eyes.  The included 'L'Inglesina Baby S.p.a' rain cover clips to the hood and bottom foot pad. 
  • Optional Accessories: There are a host of  accessories to buy for the Inglesina Avio Stroller. Including a mesh 'summer cover' to keep the bugs at bay; 'Winter Muff' for bundling up your lil ones; Carrying case for the stroller; 'Carry Cot Bassinet'; 'Full Rain Cover', etc.
Closing Thoughts:

My 3yr old boy is right at the cusp of saying goodbye to motherly pushes via the stroller, all together. So this year and the arrival of the Avio marks the 'coup de grâce' of strollerdom , so to speak.

My families experience with the Inglesina Avio Stroller has been pleasant, which makes the parting with strollers, all together that much more bittersweet.

The Inglesina Avio Stroller is a good fit for parents in search of a higher-end, stylish, non-jogging stroller, for either infant or toddler, with a host of options and great compact-ability, that can be used for around-the-town jaunts.

For more product info you can download the Inglesina Avio Product & Accessories Spec Sheet below in pdf format.

| Inglesina Avio Product & Accessories Spec Sheet

The view expressed here are mine & mone alone. I wrote this review while participating in a blog tour campaign by Mom Central on behalf of Inglesina USA. I received an Inglesina Avio Stroller in exchange for my honest feedback.Please read more about Renaissance Culinaire's Disclosure Policy.

02 February 2011

Spa Pampering at Home Using Food Based Ingredients 129

The daily grind. Whether you are a high powered executive or working a minimum wage job, or stay at home parent - everyone has their stressors. Factoring in lack of sleep, deadlines and financial woes can make for one un-happy, sleep deprived camper.

If you watch television or read magazines you are sure to have seen the segments devoted to 'spa rejuvenation', whether or not it is geared for females, the theme seems to be pampering yourself. Popular media likes to flaunt this term, as it is conducive to the high-end, trendy "jet setter" lifestyle most average people dream of - the thinking behind it is simple, those who have the means put indulgence at the forefront.

Photo Courtesy of samthehamsmom
You don't have to be a jet setter to experience a spa style session. In-fact you don't even have to purchase expensive high end concoctions in a jar - no, you can make them yourself and be satisfied knowing all the ingredients are natural and safe for your use.

For some of these recipes I consulted one of my favorite sites, Spa Index.com

SpaIndex.com Tip: You've heard the adage "Never cook with wine you wouldn't drink." This holds equally true for home spa remedies.

Never use ingredients for your home spa treatments that you wouldn't want to eat. Your skin, the largest organ on your body, breathes and is porous. It will absorb the properties of the ingredients you are using. Don't "clean out the fridge or pantry" to create your home skincare remedies. Use fresh, high quality ingredients for the best results, and do not store the treatment longer than the shelf life of the most perishable ingredient. - This is great advice, true of beauty or cooking!

Relaxation Techniques:

The key to achieving  total relaxation  is the act of brushing aside any woes or obligations for at least 10 minutes and giving yourself time to reflect on relaxing.  There are several ways to get you started :
  1. Do meditation: something repetitive and quiet (kneading dough, knitting etc) focus your thoughts on the act, the movement. If your thoughts start to wonder, allow them to float away and get back to the task. 
  2. If you don't feel doing "something" is very meditative - then try using visualization: envision yourself in a serene spot or tropical setting, concentrate on the sounds in this setting - birds or waves crashing. Or think of something soothing, such as a favorite quilt - take time to relive the textures of the stitches and the feeling of the fabric against your skin.
  3. Rhythmic breathing is another technique to put you in a relaxed state. Lay on your back in a comfortable position, and slowly inhale, lips pursed, counting to 3 - watch / feel your diaphragm move inward. When you reach 3 slowly exhale - imagine your breath fanning outward. Repeat 10 times, allow yourself to become more relaxed each time.
Spa Props and Eats:

Once you have become more relaxed using one of the techniques above it is time now to gather some "spa props" - Aromatic candles,  relaxing music. Most of us have these things tucked in a drawer. For an even more sensual experience try fresh rose petals spread on a bed or atop the bath water. And for ideas on how to create some yummy, exotic spa eats - or mood elevating cocktails (see "Spa Index Recipe Collection").

Spa Treatment Recipes:

To create our food based "spa treatments" there are a variety of recipes. (FYI: These aren't just for women!)
Photo Courtesy of MarkAndMarina

One ingredient you may not have considered is Arm & Hammer Baking Soda - sure you know it is an ingredient in cookies, or toothpaste, but beauty treatments? Yes!

After months of bathing your hair in styling products and your normal shampoo regimen - which is loaded with waxes and plastic-like agents, your hair needs de-greasing! 

Arm & Hammer Hair De-greaser :  
This works great! Hair feels clean and smooth!
  • Get rid of build-up by sprinkling a quarter-size amount of baking soda into your palm along with your fav shampoo.
  • Shampoo as usual, rinse thoroughly.
Arm & Hammer Ex-foliating Pedi': 
  • Blend 2 TB Baking Soda in a basin of warm water. (optional: Add a few drops of lavender oil for relaxing aromatherapy. Do not use if pregnant!).
  • After allowing your feet a nice soak in the basin - Make a scrub:  3 parts Baking Soda & 1 part water. Add one part brown sugar and mix. 
  • Using your hands or a washcloth - rub the scrub in circles into your feet, one at a time. Rinse.
  • Follow with an application of your favorite moisturizer,(or try this one below). Wrap your feet in a warm towel for 5-10 minutes.
Soothing Bath Cookies: (Not for eating!)
  • 2 cups finely ground sea salt
  • 1/2 cup baking soda
  • 1/2 cup cornstarch
  • 2 T light oil
  • 1 tsp vitamin E oil
  • 2 eggs
  • 5-6 drops essential oil of your choice
Preheat your oven to 350 F. Combine all the listed ingredients and form into a dough. Using a teaspoon or so of dough at a time, roll it gently in the palm of your hand until it forms a ball. Form all dough into one teaspoon balls, and gently place them on an ungreased cookie sheet. Consider sprinkling the bath balls with herbs, flower petals, cloves, citrus zest and similar aromatic ingredients. Bake your bath cookies for ten minutes, until they are lightly browned. Do not over bake. Allow the bath cookies to cool completely. To use, Drop 1 or 2 cookies into a warm bath and allow to dissolve. Yield: 24 cookies, enough for 12 baths.

Well, I am sure you have heard of using cocoa butter for moisturizing the skin, but how bout using ginger to invigorate it?

Ginger Skin Cream:
  • 2-inch piece of fresh ginger
  • 2 teaspoons light sesame oil
  • 2 teaspoons apricot kernel oil
  • 2 teaspoons vitamin E oil
  • ½ cup cocoa butter
Preheat oven on lowest setting. Finely grate the ginger just enough so that you have about an 1/8 teaspoon of ginger "juice." To obtain the juice, squeeze the freshly grated ginger over a small bowl. Place the ingredients (including the ginger) in a glass container and heat just until the cocoa butter is melted and the oils are blended. Pour into a clean, dry container and store in a cool dry place. You can add a few drops of orange or other essential oil for a nice twist.

Chocolate Facial Mask:
This creamy mask is an excellent moisturizer, leaving your skin baby soft. Recommended for normal skin.
  • 1/3 cup cocoa powder
  • 3 tbsp. heavy cream
  • 2 tsp. cottage cheese
  • ¼ cup honey
  • 3 tsp. oatmeal
Mix all ingredients together (a bullet blender / food processor is ideal) and smooth onto face. Relax for ten 10 minutes, then wash off with warm water.

Chocolate Bubble Bath:
  • 1 cup of unscented bubble bath
  • 1/3 cup of unsweetened soy milk
  • 3 oz. of grated or powdered dark chocolate
Heat the soy milk and add in the grated or powdered chocolate. Stir well until melted and blended, but do not boil. Allow to cool. Mix well again just before adding to your bath.

Beer Hair Rinse
  • 1 oz distilled or clean catch rain water
  • 2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
  • 7 drops lemon essential oil
  • 1 ounce beer (stale works fine)
  • 5 drops rosemary essential oil (do not use if pregnant)
  • 5 drops calendula essential oil (optional, but recommended for blondes)
Mix all ingredients together. Use as a final rinse, rinse well. Beer adds protein to make hair shiny and make it feel thicker.

Coffee Body Scrub:
  • 2 cups of coarsely ground coffee 
  • 1/2 cup raw sugar or sea salt 
  • 2-3 T massage oil

Mix all ingredients together. Take a hot shower to moisten your skin and open your pores. Using wide, circular motions, rub the coffee exfoliant onto your skin with strong, even pressure. Shower off, pat skin dry, and apply a thin layer of your favorite body lotion

Avocado Hand and Foot Treatment
Mix together:
  • 1/4 to 1/2 mashed fresh avocado
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • 1 teaspoon rice bran
  • 10 drops of oil of evening primrose
Gently massage this treatment onto your hands and feet, and leave in place for 20 minutes. Rinse. This natural treatment will revive your dry, wrinkled and rough hands, feet, elbows and knees. The avocado and egg nourish the skin with proteins and oils; the rice bran exfoliates dead skin cells; the oil of evening primrose contains precious gamma linolenic acids, essential for healthy hair, skin and nails. Consider purchasing a small jar of Oil of Evening Primrose capsules from your health food store. Open one, and voila...you have the ingredient for this recipe.

And for the "Man Hide" - Here is an aftershave that probably combines a few of his favorite ingredients.

Bay Rum Aftershave:
  • 1/2 cup vodka
  • 2 Tbs Jamaican rum
  • 2 dried bay leaves
  • 1/4 tsp whole allspice
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • zest from a small orange
Mix together all the ingredients and place into a clean jar with a tight fitting lid. Place the jar in a dark, cool place for 2 weeks. After two weeks, strain liquid through several layers of cheesecloth or a coffee filter. Discard solids. To use, splash on the face after shaving.

Closing thoughts:
Hmm...what an interesting idea - for Valentines Day or a special Anniversary, try creating a 'spacation' date for just the two of you using some of the hints and recipes mentioned above. Remember that pampering yourself is not just a luxury, it is necessary. Be sure to have fun!

The view expressed here are mine & mone alone. I wrote this review while participating in a blog tour campaign by Mom Central on behalf of Arm & Hammer Baking Soda.  I received an "Arm & Hammer Baking Soda Spa Gift Basket to thank me for taking the time to participate.Please read more about Renaissance Culinaire's Disclosure Policy

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