WP Weekly Photo Challenge: Warmth

Here is my interpretation of this week’s WP Weekly Photo Challenge: Warmth. Nothing like a slab of BBQ ribs grilled on an open fire to make your stomach feel warm and fuzzy…

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Foodie Friday

While visiting a friend yesterday, I was given a bunch of rhubarb from his garden. It has been awhile since I got to play with food, so the idea of making Strawberry & Rhubarb Pie came to mind.

First, you need 2 pounds of ripe, juicy strawberries. And 4 pounds of rhubarb stalks. Then completely remove the stringy skin off the rhubarb.

Once the rhubarb skin is removed. Slice the stalks into even thin slices. Do the same thing for the strawberries. I like thin slices because it looks better but more importantly; the filling will cook more evenly while the sugar and spices can penetrate into the rhubarb and strawberries easily.

Gently mix the strawberry & rhubarb slices with 2 cups of sugar, 1/2 cup of corn starch, 2 teaspoons of cinnamon, 1 teaspoon of ground ginger, and 1/2 teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper until it’s well coated. I use a 9″ spring form pan. Although you can use regular pie pan if you like.

For the crumble: In a bowl, mix 2 cups flour with 1 cup sugar and 1/2 pound of melted butter. Stir until mixed but still crumbly. Fill pie crust lined pan with strawberry & rhubarb mixture and evenly top with crumble until the filling is covered.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Baked for about 60 minutes or until you see the thick juice, oozing and bubbling through the golden brown crumble crust.

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The pie is really good as is. Although, a scoop of vanilla ice cream would definitely elevate the pie to a delectable sinful level — that you would be happy be devour without guilt. Bon Appétit!

The Perfect Lunch

I haven’t had much time to do any kind of quality photography for fun in months. My poor Nikon has been so neglected and was collecting dust —  as with my photographic skills. Finally with the tourist season winding down a little, I had some free time from managing duties to play with the camera. I thought it would be good to shoot some items from our menu to put on Big Bear’s Facebook page. The opportunity to do some foodie shots was a welcome relief for me. While I enjoy shooting all kinds of subject, Food Photography is still my most favorite. I find food photography more challenging to shoot than other subjects. There are many components that has to be just right to get the food to look appetizing: lighting, composition, styling, and presentation to name a few.  Luckily, I have a great chef at my service — not only can she cooks well but she has a good sense of presentation in putting the dish together, which is very important in food photography. And of course, the best part about food photography is that I get to eat the subject; in this case my perfect lunch.  🙂

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Nothing like chewy, gooey, chocolate chips cookies right out of the oven. Shannon, the chef makes these from scratch daily. Being a professional baker myself, I have to admit her chocolate chips cookies are the best I ever had — yes, even better than my recipe. 😀

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Here is the grilled eggplant sandwich with freshly made potato chips. This is probably the best veggie sandwich I ever had. Shannon makes her own secret sauce that elevates your taste buds to a level of sophistication that makes you want more. And the warm potato chips is unlike anything you will find in the stores.

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While I felt a little rusty with my photographic skills, it was a fun and tasty shoot.  As they say, practice makes perfect…  stay tune for more yummy dishes from Big Bear’s menu.

Kitchen Nightmare Moment

On my way back from the post office this afternoon, I passed a group of people filming on the sidewalk. I thought one of the man looked very much like Chef Gordon Ramsay from the reality television show, Kitchen Nightmares. Quickly, I pulled over to take a better look and to my happy surprise, it was Chef Ramsay. This is what I called the “Being at the right place, at the right time”  opportunity moment. I certainly did not expect to see him in my little town. But there he was… dressed in his casual shirt and jeans. I found a place to park and proceeded to follow Chef Ramsay and his entourage. They went into the restaurant, Prohibition Grille.

I found out Chef Ramsay is in town doing a follow-up show on the Prohibition Grille that was featured on his show, Kitchen Nightmares last year. I was told the restaurant made the top three worst restaurants he had to makeover list. And they are doing a special to see how the restaurant have improved — or have gotten worse. From listening to Chef Ramsay’s closing act outside the restaurant (which he had to retake about 30 times to get it right) the restaurant had made a significant amount of improvement; the best part was that the owner no longer subjects her customers to her appetite suppressing belly dancing acts. I saw the original episode last December, and the belly dancing would have turned me away regardless how good the food was. Though in her case, the food was as bad as her dancing. Would I go there to eat? Probably not.

 

I’ve never been one who cares much about celebrities, but I have to say — I wasn’t going to pass up the opportunity to meet Chef Ramsey. So I waited with the crowd of his adoring fans across the street from the restaurant, with my crappy camera phone — wishing I had brought my Nikon. Oh I kept thinking… the great shots I could have taken, instead of the poor resolution images from my not so smartphone. But oh well, it was still an amazing opportunity to finally meet the loud mouth, bad tempered, super talented chef I’ve admired for so long. It was a long wait, but in the end: I got to meet him, shook his hand and had him autographed the only paper I had in my purse; my bank statement that I got from the post office. Which I believe is a good sign. Perhaps his money making energy will somehow transferred on to my bank statement and brings me the opportunities to increase the balance to millions someday….

Chef Ramsay

As I watch him smiling and chatting with his adoring fans, I could sense Chef Ramsey has a kind demeanor about him, not at all the loud, dirty mouth, condescending jerk that he portrays on T.V. His hand was cold but his eyes were kind as he shook my hand and said “hello” to me in his lovely British accent. So, that was my excitement for the day. Perhaps, I should have invited Chef Ramsay to come visit me at Big Bear and challenge him to criticize my food… which I doubt very much he would be able to find any faults with Big Bear. 😉

The Road To Big Bear

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A couple of months ago, I had my photography cover debut for 1859 Oregon’s Magazine. I am still in awe of my good fortune every time when I look at the magazine; which I have a copy on all the tables and shelves around the house. And today, I have another debut. Today I finally opened the doors to my grand project — Big Bear Rest Stop.

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A few months ago, after my long and winding road of employment rejections; a real estate developer saw my diverse work experience as positive qualities and he decided to hire me as the general manager to turn an old chalet into a rest stop that contains a restaurant, beer and wine garden, and a gift shop. It was the perfect project tailored for me. I knew there would be many challenges ahead to turn an old, dilapidated building into the grand vision I had in my mind. But it’s exactly those kinds of challenge that drives me — the kind that brings out my passion and creativity.

After countless construction delays, dealing with vendors, health department regulations, broken kitchen equipment, sampled more hot dogs than I ever had in the last 5 years but it was all worth it. When I see what I have accomplished in such short time I feel very grateful and proud — which is not something I usually feel about myself. However, with each challenge I overcome; I am learning to not be so hard on myself when things don’t work out the way I want. That’s why I was able to remain calm when I was driving up the beautiful highway 2 to Big Bear this morning, all excited about the grand opening when I got a call from my assistant, Billie. Right away, I knew from the tone of her voice that it was bad news. She told me the walk in refrigerator failed over night and while the fan is running, the temperature in the fridge reads 60 degrees (16c) Calmly, I told Billie we are going to open today regardless. Good thing the extra refrigerator that broke the week before had been fixed. I told her to throw away all the perishable foods, move everything else into the other fridge and work with what we have left that was usable. We might not be able to serve everything on the menu but I told her we will open and we will just have to deal with whatever that comes our way. In the end, all was well and we had an amazing opening day… my road to Big Bear is complete. 😀

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(These last four photos belongs to Billie Preston)

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Emily, Shannon, Malia, April and Billie

The End… and… The Beginning

During my soul-searching Route 66 road trip, I knew the fate of my restaurant’s days was numbered. While I had high hopes I could still somehow overcome the imminent closure date, it just wasn’t meant to be. Unfortunately my venture as a restaurant owner has come to an end. I suppose I could have continue to hang on a little longer… but… from a good business standpoint: why continue to feed a bleeding cow when one should take it out back, shoot it and have a BBQ instead.

I know it certainly wasn’t due to my lack of effort or determination. It was an uphill battle from the moment I took over the restaurant. I suppose I can sit here and tell you all the excuses why the restaurant failed — but no — there will be none of that… because as far I’m concern, my venture was a success.

Through the restaurant, I have received many opportunities that I otherwise would not have: I met many wonderful people, made new friends, provided meals that made people smile and rediscovered many traits about myself that have been lost over the years… but most of all; the restaurant helped me re-establish a rewarding relationship with my son, Kyle. The restaurant might not have brought me the financial success but the opportunity to get to know my son again and to work with him every day for the last seven months is priceless. We started out as strangers and in the process, Kyle got to know who his mom is and what I am capable of.  I know he is very proud with what I was able to accomplish in such a short time. So… if having my son back in my life were the only purpose Aloha Grille was meant to do then I would say the restaurant was a tremendous success.

So while this might be the end for my Aloha Grille venture, it is the beginning for Buck’s Smoked BBQ. Like me, Buck is hoping to take his passion and turn it into a profitable venture. Here are some photos I took at Buck’s BBQ debut. It was a pleasure to be a part of someone’s dream and to capture the moments…

I wish him nothing but the best…

Looks like my detour is over and once again I am back on my life’s path to my destiny — where ever, whatever that may be. This also means I will be on the move again… I’m not sure what I will be doing other than knowing that I need to find work soon or else… so… this will probably be my last post for a while until I am settled. Please keep me in your prayers and good wishes…

Live The Aloha Spirit!

Emily

The Cook and The Photographer

How quickly time flies when you’re having fun. I can’t believe it has been five months since I became a restaurant owner. And what a challenging five months… hopefully, things will continue to work out for the better. Needless to say, the cash flow continues to be a challenge and dealing with the government is a pain — you wouldn’t believe the amount of fees I have to pay every month just to keep the door open. It’s almost like dealing with the mafia. I have to pay up or else…  😦

Well… at least the cooking part is easy. I am having a great time doing what I love and seeing the joyful reactions of the customers when they eat my food, made all the challenges worth it. I finally got the restaurant website up. http://www.alohagrille.me . Here are photos of some of the dishes from the menu. I think being a food photographer definitely have a big influence on the way I cook — my food is very colorful and the presentation had to be picture perfect. Which sometimes can make things a little difficult for my servers — such as when I see a bean sprout sticking out of place… and I want to fix it before I let them take the plate out… but it’s all good. In the end it’s the satisfied smile and wonderful compliments from the customer that lets me know I am doing the right thing.

Hawaiian Style Plate Lunch

Slow Roasted Pulled Pork

Hawaiian Carrot Cake w/ Cream Cheese Frosting

Cook, Shoot, and Eat

I’ve been following Karen’s blog: Back Road Journal for some time now and what a world traveling blog it is. She has taken me on some amazing European trips, entertained me with her wonderful photos, stories and sense of humor; she also introduced me to many cuisines from around the world. Not only does Karen have a great passion for food, she is also a wonderful cook. I always look forward to see what recipes she would come up with. A few days ago, Karen posted a delicious looking recipe of Spaghetti alle Vongole; meaning in Italian, Spaghetti with Clams. I love how it sounds so exotic in Italian. Even though Karen had posted many yummy looking recipes before, for some reason this particular recipe stuck in my mind. While I was at the grocery store yesterday and saw a tank full of fresh manila clams — the idea for my 250th post came to mind. I decided to recreate Karen’s recipe and do a photo shoot to tell the story of making her dish.

The recipe is very easy. It would take less than 20 minutes to make the dish. However, it took me over two hours to make and shoot it. I had to stop and style each shot just right before shooting. Good thing my subjects were very compliant. Oftentimes in food photography, the dish becomes inedible by the time the shoot is over; but in this case, I was able to eat it. I had time it so that I knew when I was done shooting, the dish would make a great lunch. And it tasted absolutely delightful.

I love manila clams. Not only are they tasty, they provided me with wonderful memories of my children. When my boys were young, we used to dig for the clams at the local beaches. Oh… the joyful smiles and squeals of my children’s happiness were priceless.

One thing I discovered while cooking the clams — the sauce is actually really good as it is. The clams were really tasty coated with it —  much better than typical restaurants — of serving it plain with a side dish of melted butter to dip in. Boring… So… if you are looking for a new and flavorful way to eat clams, cook it with the sauce and just skip the pasta.

When buying wine for cooking, don’t just buy the cheapest. Buy the wine you would want to drink and that way you can have it with your meal. But since I don’t drink wine and mainly just using it for cooking and props, I do buy the cheapest.

The dish was a success!  And of course, it passed the stringent inspection of my personal foodie consultant.

Click here for the recipe: Spaghetti alle Vongole

Thanks Karen for the recipe. And no, I didn’t use cheese. 😉