Inspiration from Nature: Color, Shape, and Pattern

Hammock in the trees (c)2012 La Domestique

October is flying by and it seems all my projects involve everything but food. Being a freelancer is fun because I never know what kind of project lies just around the corner. Most recently, I photographed my friend Kerry, founder of Comma Workshop, quilting in her beautiful studio and I’m working on a project styling luxury handwoven purses with a photographer for another client. Food is still my favorite subject, but it’s fun to branch out and grow as an artist. I don’t have a recipe for you today, but I would like share a few photos I captured on a trip to Seattle in August. Nature is a huge inspiration for my lifestyle and food styling. Even though it was still technically summer in Seattle, the overcast skies and cool temperatures felt very autumnal. Usually, when I think of lying in a hammock I picture ocean waves, sunny skies, and a refreshing drink, but it’s interesting to see a hammock at the edge of dark and mysterious woods. Instead of a lemonade I picture sipping a cuppa hot tea and getting lost in a copy of Alice in Wonderland.

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Leek & Blue Cheese Tart

Leek and Blue Cheese Tart (c)2011 LaDomestique.com

Each time I pick an ingredient of the week, there is usually one dish I become obsessed with trying. For leek week that dish is leek tart. As I scanned the internet and my cookbooks for a recipe, my obsession was fueled by pictures of flaky pastry topped with buttery leeks and melted cheese. With great difficulty, I chose Gill’s Poached Leek and Blue Cheese Tart from River Cottage Every Day. For starters, the picture of the recipe in the book (taken by Simon Wheeler) completely seduced me. I also thought the idea of poaching the leeks, then using the poaching liquid to flavor the custard in this quichey tart, was very clever. For years I’ve been a big fan of everything River Cottage, and come to rely on Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s books for solid recipes that come together with ease. His recipes are easy to adapt as the ingredient list is usually short and the instructions rely on basic cooking techniques to encourage intuitive cooking. If you’re not into blue cheese, maybe try Gruyére, goat cheese, or even a white cheddar. I went with Roth Kase Buttermilk Blue, a creamy and tangy raw milk cheese made in Wisconsin. I always taste blue cheese at the store counter, because I want to make sure to pick one that’s not too salty for cooking with.

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Cardamom & Prune Bread

Cardamom & Prune Bread (c)2011 LaDomestique.com

I realized yesterday that winter has arrived in Colorado and it’s here to stay. Rather than fluctuating between 80 degree days and snowstorms, we’ve settled into a peaceful season of sunny but decidedly chilly temperatures. I haven’t seen a snowflake tumble from the sky in at least a week, but the white snow refuses to melt from the pastures and shaded sidewalks remain coated in sheets of black ice. At about four o’clock in the afternoon, the sun begins its rapid descent behind the Rocky Mountains, and within minutes night has fallen. It’s quite a shock. I’m learning to adapt to the light as it changes with the seasons; from warm and strong to gray and diffused. I’ve moved my photography set-up to a different room and found a new magic hour to shoot. I do believe this craft is about getting in sync with my environment. Rather than forcing things I must let go and allow myself to be directed by the elements I have to work with. Each day it comes with more ease, and though I haven’t found my sweet spot in this new season yet, I feel it within my reach. I cannot make summer pictures out of blue-toned winter light, but with practice I hope to capture the beauty of light as winter solstice approaches. I won’t bemoan the challenge, as it’s the constant changes in light that make photography so interesting. The sun rises and sets. The earth tilts on its axis. Each day is a new day with new challenges. C’est la vie!

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Pumpkin Chestnut Soup

Pumpkin Chestnut Soup may be the most delicious meal I’ve ever made. Ever. Maybe it’s the time of year. I am a creature of autumn. I cherish cool days and soft yellow sunlight. I relish whipping winds and leaves crunching beneath my feet. Pulling scarves and boots out of storage boxes sends a shiver of joy through me. I feel alive and inspired like no other time of year. This is my season.

Here in Colorado, sadly, the short growing season has peaked. The first snows have brought a dramatic halt to fresh from the garden produce. This week I officially put my garden plot to bed for the winter, cleaning out debris and giving her a thorough raking. It’s a shock to see the community gardens now, completely barren and empty, just as I found them in the beginning last spring. Quite different from the overgrown towers of sunflowers and wily vines of squash tumbling brazenly onto the walking path. During high summer the garden could not be contained. Today it’s only a mound of dirt.

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Brussels Sprouts Gratin

It’s Friday and I don’t know about you, but I’m exhausted. This week has been a doozie, but I’ve got the perfect comforting fall recipe for you. My Brussels Sprouts Gratin is creamy, warm, and rich. Brussels sprouts are halved, then seared in butter for a nice crisp and caramelized texture. Heavy cream is added to the pan of Brussels sprouts with a bit of freshly grated nutmeg. Once the cream is reduced and thickened, the mixture is transferred into a single serving gratin dish, topped with cheese, and baked off in the oven. The cheese is Gruyére, a semi-hard cow’s milk cheese from Switzerland that’s sweet, nutty, and pungent. It melts beautifully, lending complexity and depth the the creamy gratin. Though the instructions are for a single serving, the recipe is easily doubled, tripled, or even quadrupled. Just increase the quantities, sauté all the Brussels sprouts together in a pan, then split them up amongst individual gratin dishes and bake them off in the oven. I like the idea of Brussels Sprouts Gratin for one. It’s something special that can be thrown together in minutes when you’re just too tired to cook and no one’s going to do it for you. Whether you’re cooking for one or for a group, I hope you have a wonderful weekend!

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