Category Archives: biscuitsandsuch news

Sol Food

When I was in 8th grade we received a letter in the mail from the Durham Public School System saying I'd been granted admission into the district's art magnet school, Durham School of the Arts. I was furious. I hadn't applied, it was my mother's idea, and the idea of losing my friends and all the work I'd put into socializing myself the past three horrible middle school years was devastating. I tore the acceptance letter up and fumed. I had struggled to make friends when we'd moved from southern Florida back to Durham, and I couldn't imagine starting over at a new school. Fortunately for me, the decision wasn't mine to make and in August of 2000 I started high school at DSA. That same year my younger brother, Reid, started 6th grade at DSA. It was over the next 7 years that he (both of us, really), fell in love with DSA, the culture, the teachers, our fellow students, and the community. It was also over these years that he formed close friendships with Ellen Duda, Dylan Hammond, and Eliza Bordley. And it was with these friends, many moons ago, that a plan was hatched to take a country wide tour in an old school bus. Just a few weeks ago, almost twelve years after they all began their DSA journey, they started that bus tour. Their nonprofit organization, Sol Food, set off on a 6 month tour of the continental U.S. that will cover much of the states and many, many miles. They're stopping in communities big and small throughout the country, creating square space gardens, working on farms, giving workshops, and exploring. Their third stop was Baltimore. They came at the end of June and stayed for a whole week. The Museum hosted a few events in their honor (including a community day) and then they launched into a week of different projects. They build raised beds and decorated at the Jonestown community garden, Exeter Garden. They spent a day at Kayam Farm helping and learning and teaching. They went to the Catonsville 4th of July parade. They visited the Baltimore Free Farm and helped celebrate my birthday. It probably goes without saying how amazing I think Sol Food is and how proud I am of their choice to do this service project. I've known all of them for a long time (Reid, obviously for all of his 24 years) and it makes me so happy that they've found a way to follow their dream and create something valuable. They've overcome odds, found funders, organized a massive service project and trip, and are still smiling as they do it. I strongly encourage you to check out their website, to follow their progress and if they're coming to a town near you, check them out. You won't regret it. from left: ellen, dylan, eliza, reid  


I'm excited to introduce a new project- missELENAeous. For a while I've been toying with the idea of creating a place on the web to share things that don't fit on biscuitsandsuch. I believe firmly that B&S is its most successful when it has focus and remains the niche southern food blog that it was intended to be. But there are so many other things, big and little, that I would like to share (without worrying about how it impacts my "brand"). So, if you'd like, head over there. I've done some posting there for the past few days so that it was populated before I shared it. One of the first posts is the story behind the name.

Food Art : A Giveaway

20120515-114033.jpg Hello lovelies! Today we have something special for you- a giveaway from our sponsor, Easy Canvas Prints. Over the past year we've added three canvas prints to our art wall, and I couldn't be happier with how they've turned out and the way they compliment the other work. 20120515-112247.jpg A big part of making our small apartment feel like home has been decorating it to our taste, which is a little chaotic and very colorful. The art collection we've spent the past few years building is a great source of pride. It is eclectic and varied, ranging from my own photographs to prints by artists we love. 20120515-113617.jpg We're planning a move this fall to a hopefully bigger space, which means I've been thinking of how the art wall can be broken up into different rooms. I'd love to see some of the food prints form a dining room wall collection. And maybe a grouping of all the blue prints in another room? Any opportunity for me to acquire more art! 20120515-113651.jpg Thanks to Easy Canvas Prints, you can add an  8x10 canvas print of a favorite photo to your own art wall. Just leave a comment with your email address and the photo you would choose before Friday, 5.18, at midnight to enter!   *this contest is closed.

What We Ate: April

So as I mentioned, last month we threw a giant wrench into our normal eating habits. It was mostly for the sake of a good challenge, and I'm proud of what we came up with. With the exception of a bit of weekend cheating we spent April without alcohol, meat, grains, or complex carbs. I'm pretty pleased. And while I seriously missed certain things (sushi), for the most part I was content and full. I know we'll be incorporating a lot of these recipes into our regular diets. Most of the foods we experimented with last month have no place on this niche blog, but I thought I'd share a look at what we ate, for those that are curious. Top left: Cauliflower falafel; spring vegetable frittata; quinoa & ricotta pancakes; cheese plate with apples and honey. Quinoa stuffed portabella mushroomsdeviled eggsquinoa and chickpea cake with salsa and spicy black beans; salad with tuna, eggs, apples, and peppers Sesame salmon with grilled asparagus; blood orange sorbet; salmon burgers with mango salsa and green beans; pizza with a cauliflower crust Wasabi crusted salmon with quinoa; salad with tuna, eggs, onions, and apples; salad with apples, green beans, goat cheese, and a fried egg; hot and sour soup Cilantro & cauliflower fritters; crab cake, green beans, and kale salad; black bean burger on a bed of spicy corn; broccoli soup with black beans and goat cheese Recently a student at UNC contacted me for an article she was writing about the relationship between eating "Southern" and eating "well." In my response to her I tried to make a lot of points about how we've gotten away from our roots in homesteading and gardening, how we've come to see once special occasion foods like fried chicken and pie as everyday foods, how portion sizes and ingredient ratios have spiraled out of control. But one point that I really wanted to emphasize is that more than any other trick or secret, moderation is what makes a difference. What I post on this blog, what you see of our meals, represents a very small portion of what we really eat. Believe me when I say I love a barbeque sandwich more than pretty much anything, but that's not something I eat every day. What we eat most days is far more on par with what I've shown in this post, lean proteins, plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, whole grains. And while I honestly enjoy eating this way and find a lot of "health" food to be delicious, what makes barbeque or pie or bacon cheeseburgers a treat is that I only eat them sometimes. I say this not to preach but to use my platform as a Southern food writer to emphasize reason and mindful eating. My dad said to me recently that it was my job to save Southern men's lives by making my recipes lower in fat/calorie/cholesterol. And while I think I responded that Southerners (and a lot of Americans) would be healthier if they  learned more about what they ate, where their food came from, and how to moderate their indulgences, I took to heart his message. I have an audience, I have a platform, and it is my responsibility to bring these conversations to the forefront. It isn't lost on me that a boozy pie recipe is ten times as popular as something more healthy (or full of quinoa). And that's totally fine. As long as we remember that a slice of whipped-cream laden pie is a treat. And that's all for the soapbox today. I won't be posting any more of these recipes than what I've already put up, but if you'd like a specific recipe let me know (in the comments or via email).

Sisters : February

The second installment of this series. For me, getting the peek into Gen's life on the other side of the world has been so much fun! It's great to look at what we're doing side by side.  

The Photography of Biscuits & Such

Happy March! This week, courtesy of a conference Dan's company is sending him to, we are in California (yay!). It's my first time in California, second time on the West Coast, and first time ever traveling as the spouse of someone going to a conference. I feel very much like I expect my Grammy did in the 60's and 70's as she and Poppie traveled around the country (World? They've been everywhere). While I'm gone I'd like to share a little look into one of the things I get asked about most, the photography on Biscuits and Such. It's something that I work constantly to improve and I thought it would be fun to give some background information, tips, etc. a panoramic holga image from wrightsville beach, nc. made in 2003. To start, for those of you who don't know this about me, I have a BFA in photography from the Maryland Institute College of Art. I was lucky enough to have a mother who twisted my arm into attending Durham's arts magnet school, Durham School for the Arts, which is where my interest in photography began. Not just any photography-- specifically alternative processes. Three different (equally amazing) teachers guided me towards pinholes, medium format, cyanotypes, toy cameras, and more during high school. I had a holga long after they became cult classics but long before Urban Outfitters sold them for $60. I loved everything about experimental photography-- I ate it up. That passion stayed with me throughout my years at MICA. While I, of course, learned formal darkroom skills, the art of the Fine Print, and processed hundreds of rolls of film, my real passion was for (almost) forgotten processes like palladium, Van Dyke, and cyanotype. As seen in my senior thesis, shown in part below. multiple cyanotype panels of myself in scuba gear. This is all to say that when I started Biscuits and Such in October 2008 I had spent more of my photography education painting chemicals on paper than behind a viewfinder. While I am (and have been for many years) a photographer, food photography did not come naturally. See as evidence a photo from that first post, Country Style Steak. That is a horrible photo. The composition is bad, there's crap in the background, the lighting is weird, and the food does not look appetizing. Nevertheless, I leave the photos untouched on that post because, well, it's the first. Since those days, I've improved. Significantly, I think. Here are some of the things I try and consider when I'm photographing food: Composition: Every time I teach a photography workshop I get to the part of the lesson where I'm supposed to explain the rule of thirds, and then I forget it. I mean, as a photographer I understand it- don't center things, images have more interest and tension if the subject is off center- but I always forget how to explain it. Essentially, there are two rules I always follow when I'm photographing anything-- don't center your subject (that applies 99.9% of the time), and MOVE YOUR BODY. The most helpful photography advice I've ever received, in all my years of formal training, is to not just pick one spot to stand and photograph. You might think that one shot, one pose, one position is perfect (why waste more time, right?), but you'll always be surprised at the better picture you can get if you walk around your subject, squat, stand on a chair, tilt your head, tilt your camera. More often than not, the final photo I take of something ends up being the one that I use (though that rationale could lead me to never stop taking photos-- there has to be an ending to every photoshoot). Lighting: Our second apartment in Takoma Park had the best lighting in the world. It was seriously incredible- perfectly diffused, every sunlight hour was golden hour in that room. Since we left that apartment, however, I've had to struggle to find the light and make images that are well lit. The number one rule in photography, particularly food photography, is that whenever possible use natural light. Hopefully you've heard this over and over again. The thing that takes a ho-hum picture and makes it great is the light. Natural light can provide all the tone and shadow you need at a low barrier. It's free- just find the sun. That being said, there might be times when you need to photograph indoors (away from windows) or at night.  In the winter I find myself photographing at night (or in our windowless kitchen) more often than I would like because of timing and the short daylight hours. In these cases, an external flash is a wonderful tool. I use the Canon Speedlite 430 Ex II, which is pure magic. It allows me to bounce light around the room, creating images that are evenly lit and clear.  However, not everyone is ready to purchase an external flash-- it took me many years of food photography before I was there! If you're not the owner of an external flash but want to make photographs indoors there are a few options- you can put a UV bulb into a lamp or light to add some white light to your kitchen scene, you can use a tripod to take images with a slower shutter and white balance your images to get rid of the orange hue, or you can diffuse the built in flash in your camera. Now, I know everyone will tell you that the built in flash on your camera is the worst. thing. ever, but it can work to your advantage. Simply hold a white business card or piece of paper in front of the flash as you shoot, which will diffuse the light to make the images a little softer. It's not a perfect substitute for natural light, but in a pinch it will do. The Scene: There is a delicate balance in food photography between being so close to your food that the image looks like an impressionist painting and being so far away that the food becomes just another element in an elaborate tablescape. Ultimately you want to create an image that shows the food in all of its glory, but also an image that is interesting and complex. One thing that I struggle with is making myself step back. For my final photo shot I've started creating a scene. That can be as simple as setting up a wooden board in my bedroom near the window or as involved as using different backgrounds and fabric to show the food paired with ingredients, tools, or other props. It's nice for your lead photograph to be a visual summary, it sets the scene for the story and the recipe. Action: What drew me into food blogs in the beginning was the step-by-step style posts where I could look at my mousse and try and gauge whether it looked how it was supposed to. Over the years I've gone back and forth on process photos, not wanting to overwhelm readers with too many images, but also not wanting to just post three photos of the finished product. The reality is that some times I don't take process photos because there's too much going on, or because I forget, or because making food takes up all of my hands. Other times the process photos turn out poorly and I don't think it's worth posting them. However, I ultimately think that they add to the post and the recipe, so I like to include them. I really love action shots where things are frying, being poured, or people are demonstrating what to do with their hands. I think it makes an image that is dynamic and also instructional, which is the goal. For action shots where you are both the chef and the photographer a tripod can be your best friend. It allows you to multitask while taking clear images (and helps you not drop your camera!). You can set up the shot BEFORE you pour the beer into the pie crust, getting the photo you want without having to ruin your crust by pouring too much beer into it. Focus: More than anything else I see the photographs I take for Biscuits and Such as art. As such, I try and make images that are beautiful and that tell a story. One area where I love to experiment is with my focus and depth of field. Depth of field is determined by your f-stop, which controls the size of your aperture (the hole that the light goes through). Essentially, the smaller the aperture, the less light comes through, the more things are in focus. A classic example of a high fstop is the group f64, which included such photography heavy hitters as Imogen Cunningham and Ansel Adams. In contrast, a low f-stop means a larger aperture, more light getting through, and a shallower depth of field. This allows for creative focus, which can be a beautiful way to highlight different parts of a dish or scene. Details: A good post should include a few types of photographs. There should be process shots, there should wide shots showing the whole dish, and there should be detail shots. Detail shots are beneficial in two ways- they give further insight into a recipe by showing up close how the food should look at different stages. They also allow you to flex your creative muscles. In this age of constant photo sharing, having a few beautiful detail shots can take your blog (and your recipes) a far way. Don't be afraid to get close to your food, and use your detail shots to highlight ingredients or moments that may not be imperative to the recipe, but tell a story that can enhance the experience. Props: At first, I was all about the food. My pictures were much more documentary, just including the materials and tools I was using to make the food itself. When we moved back to Baltimore and I lost my perfectly lit kitchen, I had to start taking my food out to the backyard to photograph. After I while I realized that I could only post so many pictures of food sitting on my outdoor glass table any longer without you revolting. So I started investing in things to create an outdoor "studio."  Since then I've started to evolve, including more fabrics, patterns, props, and techniques (such as chalkboard paint) to make my photos more dynamic. I still think that as a community food blogs are moving too far from pictures of the food and that the food should be accentuated by props, not just an element in an elaborate tablescape, but I do think that experimenting with color, pattern, texture, and writing can all be interesting ways to make your images more interesting and dynamic. Abstract vs Literal: Finally, I think that a really interesting direction to head with food photography is the abstract. I often have enough to say in a post that I need a lot of photographs, and it's boring for them to be all the same. I like to include a huge variety, from carefully set scenes to detail shots to more abstract images. Abstract images can be a beautiful way to let the ingredients, settings, or tools sing. Food is beautiful, and the in the process of making food you can find some wonderful glimpses. Photos that are more literal in content, showing when/how to add ingredients or how things should look during different steps are incredibly important, but a well rounded post includes images of all types. Keep your eyes peeled for the beautiful moments!   I hope this has been helpful! I'd love to hear your photo tips and feedback!

Sisters : January

Two days after Christmas my baby sister, Genevieve, moved to Dublin.  She'll be there for a year and even though I only see her a few times a year when she's in North Carolina, I miss her.  So we decided that for each month that she's in Dublin we're going to share a camera using the hipstamatic disposable app.  Soon, our sister Lauren (who lives in New Orleans) will be joining us. Thank you for letting me share these photos each month!  Here is our January selection.

Green Olive Pimento Cheese

This weekend some friends and I took a "mid-winter" getaway to Morehead.  We planned it in November, as we were discussing how hard life and work can become once it's cold and dark and dreary.  We were hoping that a getaway to look forward to would help us fight the cold-weather grumps.  And, before I knew it, the last weekend of January was here.  The thing is, the cold weather grumps had never really come.  We've had a few days of very cold, even a snow, but for the most part it's been lovely (and a little terrifying coughglobalwarmingcough).  But wonderful weather certainly wasn't going to stop us from taking a beach vacation, so on Thursday night we packed up and headed south. We spent four days in Cateret County, visiting attractions like the aquarium and the Maritime Museum, drinking bloody marys on the beach, and reading on the pier of the Swamp House.  It was wonderful, relaxing, and the weather was amazing. While we were down there I tried my hand at a recipe I'd been thinking of for a while.  You see, I love pimento cheese.  I love making it, eating it, and serving it to guests.  But I always make the same recipe (my grandfather's), and I've been wanting to try something new.  So I thought about the flavors I wanted to highlight and put together a recipe that included sharp white cheddar, green olives, smoked gouda, pimentos, and of course mayo and spices. The spread was, as I'd hoped, delicious. The smokey cheese played so nicely against the salty olives, a little bit of garlic and cayenne gave it a hint of a kick, and everything worked together to create a cohesive flavor.  It was perfect with the buttery snack crackers and exactly the sort of snack you want when you're sitting on the pier all day, reading and watching the marsh life. This is an owl named Alba that we met at the National Aquarium at Pine Knolls Shore.  She likes to watch the sharks. Green Olive Pimento Cheese 1 medium size block of white sharp cheddar cheese 1 medium size wheel of smoked gouda 1 small jar of pimentos 1/2 cup green olives 1/4 cup mayonaisse 1 tsp garlic powder Dash of salt, pepper, cayenne Grate your cheese.  Dice your olives.  Drain pimentos.  Combine.  Stir in mayo and spices.  Stir until well incorporated, adding more mayo to get your preferred consistency.

Cheese Straws & Resolutions

Midway through the holiday madness I was contacted by a fellow North Carolinian who was wondering if I would be interested in reviewing some cheese straws.  Not just any cheese straws, but his family's 100 year old recipe that his mother and uncle just started selling in small, artisan batches.  Now, I'm picky about product reviews because I hate the idea of disappointing someone or, worse, making you all feel disillusioned by what goes on here at B&S.  But cheese straws? From a sweet brother and sister combo in Concord, NC? How could I resist?!? These bad boys arrived on our doorstep just before we headed on our whirlwind Christmas vacation.  I snagged a few for the road and then spent the next week thinking about them.  They are perfect, everything a cheese straw should be.  Spicy, soft but not too soft, cheesy, salty, amazing.  As we were setting up for Dan's party last weekend Charlotte (a Tennessean and lover of all things cheese straw) and I spent a fair amount of time savoring these, trying to taste for different spices, carefully considering how we felt about them.  Our conclusion? Delicious.  Everything a cheese straw should be.  We strongly suggest that you visit Ritchie Hill's site and see for yourself. In other news, it's a new year, which means it's time for goals and planning and thinking into the future.  I know the past few weeks around here have been heavy on the reflections and musings side of things (and light on the recipes and eating side of things), but forgive me as I take one more stab at it (I'll be back tomorrow with more of the edibles).  My B&S related goals for this year are as follows: - Continue expanding our recipe collection - To actually make some instructional movies like I keep promising - To take more process shots now that I have a fancy new flash - To add to our set and prop collection - To create images that inspire and to push myself to stay creative - To write a post dedicated solely to the photography on this site - To eat more pie That's not such a huge list, and hopefully it'll be something that is constantly morphing throughout the year.  I'm hoping that 2012 is a year of big growth for me, in the kitchen, in the garden, as a photographer... I have high hopes.  That being said, I'm interested in hearing the sorts of things you would like to see around here.  More pie? Less musing? All the cheese? Let me know.  Let's make 2012  a great year, together.  Okay, that's enough cheese. *Ritchie Hill didn't pay me to say nice things about them.  In fact, all they did was send me a box of cheese straws (complimentary).  And I ate them.  And they were delicious.

Best of 2011

Goodbye, 2011.  Even though I can't believe how fast it flew by, it was a wonderful year.  Here is a roundup of some of my favorite posts from last year... hopefully 2012 is just as incredible! Prettiest Food Candied Meyer Lemons Best Pie Lemon Meringue Pie Most Exciting Southern Living Most Popular Post Fried Pickle Chips Best Tutorial Picking Crabs, Maryland Style Most Refreshing Beverage Watermelon Vodka Tonic Most Loved Summer Treat Iced Black Coffee Favorite Fried Food Jalapeño Crab Cakes Best Use of Cauldron (aka Favorite Family Recipe) Sybil's Brunswick Stew   Best Cocktail That Also Works Well in a Flask Corn & Oil Best Casserole that Dad and I Made Up on the Spot Oyster Casserole