Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Creative Lighting I

I took a second photography class from NESOP. It was called Creative Lighting I. This was the class description:
This ten-week course is an intensive and thorough foundation that will help you produce more effective and consistent results using natural, ambient, and found light sources. It provides a complete review of essential camera functions including meter, exposure, histogram, highlight alert, dynamic range, autofocus, drive/advance, and white balance as well as strategies for addressing a variety of different and challenging lighting and subject situations indoors and out. Quantity, contrast, color, and direction of light are discussed in detail. Additionally, the course will provide instruction for backlit subjects, using window light, and the use of a reflector for fill, accent, and background lighting, helping you to use existing light effectively in your photographs.
To be honest, I wanted to take Creative Lighting II so that I could learn how to use a flash. But according to the website, you had to take this course before tackling the flash course. I said to myself "It can hurt have a strong foundation in the basics." At least the second half of the syllabus sounded neat.

So I signed up. The syllabus said that we'd get to the cool stuff (backlighting, reflectors, etc) around week 8. That was a long time to wait. I decided to sit through a class or two before dropping. Things progressed well enough...albiet, slow to my liking. I learned new things, and relearned some old things. Then we went past the drop date and things started to SUCK.

It wasn't the material or the instructor that sucked, it was fellow classmates. Week over week, we would go back to the same basic concept. Week over week, the instructor had to explain it again and again. Ugh. It got so bad that I started crocheting in class. At least it gave me time to work on what seemed like a never ending project.

I was able to bring in a couple of photos for critique. This class was structured much differently than my first. There wasn't a set amount of time set aside after lecture to review photos. We were just to bring them in when we wanted. Sometimes, we came really close to spending almost all 3 hours of class talking about photos. This usually happened because 1 or 2 people would bring in a ton of photos rather than just picking out a handful that they had specific questions on.

Anyways, the feedback from my photos was fantastic. I was told that I'm a risk taker, but it works in my favor since it results in very interesting shots. I do need to work on exposing my photos correctly. One thing I'm struggling with is figuring out how to make my photos less flat. Here are the photos I shared:

All images are straight out of camera (SOOC) and have not been retouched.
Top: Looking down from the observation deck of the Willis Tower, Chicago. Photo is too flat in terms of contrast.
Middle: Chicago at night looking towards Lake Michigan. The photos is a bit dark.
Bottom: Baby D. I didn't compensate for being in the shadows, so all my photos had a blue-ish tint.

Image SOOC. Should have changed the metering mode. My camera took into consideration
the super bright (white) sky underexposing the actual focal point (image on the camera's LCD)

After 10 weeks, I'm so glad to have my Tuesday nights back. I'm glad that I was able to finish the baby blanket I started. I'm glad that a learned some new things about photography. But I won't be signing up for the next class in the series. It's going to be the same cast of characters, thanks, but no thanks. I think I'll just stay home and read the manual for my flash.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Everything but the Cow:Black Bean Cakes

Black Bean Burgers. Say it with me, YUUUUUUUUUM. If you've never had one, you are missing out. I was first introduced to them in college. A friend and I decided to throw a dinner a party. Actually, she probably decided to throw it and I just went along for the ride. Anyways, she made these AMAZING black bean cakes. Of course, what made them good was the slightly spicy monterey-jack cheese.

Of course, now a days, cheese isn't my friend. So I scoured the interwebs looking for something that caught my eye. I decided to try Annie's Eats version of black bean burgers.

Black bean burger - black bean patty, baby spinach, and guacamole,
on a sandwich thin (it's either whole wheat or multi-grain).

Black bean patty topped with spicy mayo and guacamole on a bed of baby spinach.
Served with chicken-mango-jalapeno sausage and roasted baby carrots.

Black Bean Burgers (adapted from Annie's Eats)
Yields approximately 6 patties

¾ cup panko (plus extra for coating patties)
3 tbsp. plus 2 tsp. olive oil, divided
2 (15 oz.) cans black beans, drained and rinsed, divided
2 large eggs
1 tsp. ground cumin
½ tsp. salt (I omitted this since I was using seasoned black beans)
¼ tsp. cayenne pepper
1 red bell pepper, stemmed, seeded and finely diced
¼ cup fresh cilantro, minced
1 shallot, minced
  • Place a medium skillet over medium-high heat.  Combine the panko with 2 teaspoons of the olive oil and mix with a fork to blend.  Add the mixture to the skillet and toast the panko, stirring frequently, until light golden brown.  Remove from the heat and let cool to room temperature.
  • Place 2½ cups of the beans in a large bowl and mash with a potato masher or a fork until mostly smooth. (I cheated and used a hand blender).  
  • In a separate bowl, combine the eggs, 1 tablespoon of the oil, cumin, salt and cayenne.  Whisk to blend.  Add the egg mixture, toasted panko, the remaining ½ cup beans, bell pepper, cilantro and shallot to the bowl with the mashed beans.  Stir together until evenly combined.
  • Divide the mixture into 6 equal portions, about ½ cup each.  Lightly pack into 1-inch thick patties. I recommend chilling patties for a bit so allow them firm up a bit before handling.  (At this point the patties can be covered tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerated for up to 24 hours before cooking.)
  • Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a large skillet over medium heat until shimmering.  Coat patty in panko crumbs on all sides. Carefully lay half of the patties in the skillet and cook until well browned on both sides, about 8-10 minutes total.  Transfer the cooked burgers to a plate, tent with foil, and repeat with the remaining oil and bean patties.  Serve warm.
Since the recipe made 6 patties, I placed them on wax paper and froze them in tupperware. Makes for a quick dinner when your fridge is empty.

Next time around, I'll add the salt, up the pepper, add some corn kernals, jalapenos, and season the panko.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Red Dress: the end

Hey y'all. So sorry for the radio silence the past month. I know I'd be irked if I were you. So I'll try my best to get back on the horse and blog regularly. I've finished all my crochet projects (2 baby blankets, 2 pairs of baby booties, and a scarf) and don't plan on going anywhere or throwing any more parties (we had a very successful murder mystery party, to be blogged later), so you should have my undivided attention. Now where were we? Oh yea, I'm about to tell you about my red dress...errr, what was to be my red dress.

Pull up a chair, grab a bowl of popcorn, and maybe a tissue or two. Get ready for the finale to my red dress saga.

Disclaimer: My memory is really fuzzy about the whole situation now (or maybe my brain is choosing to supress memories), so the timelines may not line up.

Last time I saw my dress was on June 24, 2011. I was over the moon giddy about it. It was gorgeous and looked exactly like how I had pictured it in my head (and also how Charles had drawn it).

(personal photo)

Dress as I saw it last. (personal photo)

My last fitting was to take place around July 1, a week after the previous fitting. However, due to illness, Barbara had to reschedule. Sure, no problem, we still had over a month to finish it. Well, pretty soon it was August. Then it was 2 weeks until W-day. I was pretty calm about my dress up until this point. Barbara would set up pick up dates/times and then would cancel them an hour before the appointed time. I had internal conversations with myself for awhile before finally voicing my concerns to Jake. We could keep rescheduling, but eventually I needed the dress. And if she's too sick to finish it, I needed time to take it to another seamstress.

Jake encouraged me to call Barbara up and talk to her (I hate talking on the phone, I do so much better via email). I don't remember if I actually talked to her, if I just left a message, or if we played phone tag. I probably left a message...or two. After not hearing back, I started to panick. I emailed her two students to see if they had heard from her or if they could just get in touch with her for me.

Neither one of the students had heard from her. I want to say a day or two later,  Barbara informed us that she had been in and out of the hospital. She also let me know that my dress just needed to be hemmed. With one week before the wedding, I asked if I could just pick up my dress as is and take it to someone else to finish the hem. I didn't receive a response.

J, one of her students, took pity on me and tried to contact Barbara. J literally stalked Barbara for me the week of my wedding. I was busy doing wedding things and couldn't go to her apartment to pick up the dress myself. I think we had a pick up time scheduled on Thursday. J went for me. She called Barbara's phone and rung the doorbell over and over, but got no answer.

At this point there really was no hope. Both J and I were ready to give up. At least I had my wedding gown to wear right?

On the Friday before the wedding, as you can imagine, is jam packed with last minute things. I was so frazzled that I had to kick my family out of my house for a bit. I hated having to do it. I wanted more than anything to spend time with them, but I had shit to deal with.

J took the day off (I don't even have words to thank her enough for taking a day off from work for me) and sat outside Barbara's apartment. The plan was that she would take the dress and finish the hem herself. After staking out for hours, J took a break. On a whim, she went back one last time and caugh Barbara coming out of her apartment. She looked awful AND refused to hand over the dress saying that it wasn't finished.

It didn't matter that all of our guests had been told not to wear red. It didn't matter that the schedule of events all surrounded this dress. The red dress wasn't going to happen. I remember waiting for my manicure to dry when I got the phone call from J. I could tell that she was clearly shaken up. Me, being me, I tried to be strong and just brush it off. I fought back the cracking voice and tears. In my most courageous and calmest voice, I assured J that she had done all that could be done. In fact, she had gone far and beyond anything I could have every asked for. I told her (and myself) that there was nothing to do but let it go. Once I was in my car, I lost it for about 30 seconds. I wiped the tears away and told myself that I didn't have the time to deal with this shit. I still had labels to finish. I still had to decided if I was going to put the baby photos on display. I still had a rehearsal to make it to.

I drove home pretty angry that Barbara was screwing up something so simple. I just didn't understand why it was happening. My heart pounded out of my chest and my hands shook like crazy as I worked on the labels for the dessert station. I kept yelling out "What did I do to deserve this?" At some point, I ran into my bathroom in tears. Even though there was no one home, I'm a wierdo. I let myself cry for a few minutes. I just needed it out of my system.

After that, I went straight to my computer. I needed to know, so I emailed Barbara and asked her bluntly "Why are you doing this to me? What did I do to deserve being screwed over on my wedding day?" I even asked her if money was the issue. I think the exact words I used were "Is it the money, because I'll give you the damned money." She wrote back saying that I could pick up the dress 7pm. As you can imagine, I would be hosting our rehearsal dinner at that time. With one last glimmer of hope, I sent J back to Barbara's apartment. I emailed Barbara from rehearsal dinner with a note saying that I was giving J full authority to pick up my dress for me, just in case she had an issue with the arrangement.

J was there at 7. She ended up outside Barbaras apartment ringing the doorbell every 15 minutes and calling her phone for over an hour. Again, no answer. This time it was really time to give up. So in the middle of rehearsal dinner, I finally let the last flecks of hope go.

My wedding day happened without my Chinese dress. Everyone still had a blast.

A week after my wedding, I received an email from Barbara saying she had just been released from the hospital and that she would make it up to me as well as refund my money. She apologized for how she handled the situation and blamed it soley on the fact that she didn't know how to handle being told that she had colon cancer. I don't mean to sound like a heartless person. I am truly sorry that she has been diagnosed with cancer. But as a business, she should have handled the situation much differently. As a business she should have recognized that she wouldn't be able to deliver the product and called in help or something. As a business, there is just no excuse.

I was given a full refund, minus $0.50 because she wrote the wrong amount on the check. I just let it go. I probably could have asked for monetary compensation for all the time, gas, wear and tear on my car, and etc. for all the times I drove out to her attic studio. Like the time she left the skirt of my dress in the trunk of her daughters car that got towed, but she didn't bother to cancel the appointment that time (talk about a waste of my time). I just wanted to be done with this horrible person.

So that's the saga. Not exactly a story that you look back on and think is funny. It happened to me. That's my nightmare wedding story. Maybe someday I'll have a REAL dressmaker make my dress. Technically, the design was my brain child, not hers.

One more thing, I want to give a shout out to my awesome friends that were all working behind the scenes  trying to get my dress for me (completely unbenongst to me). Your actions speak volumes and your friendship means the world to me, and I can't thank you enough for your valiant efforts.