Two summers ago I spent a month in Tuscany, Italy photographing several wineries and a bed and breakfast outside of Siena. It was September and I remember waking up and feeling the subtle transition from the summer heat and humidity to a crispy coolness in the air, a sign that Fall was on it’s way. I also remember the sacks of porcini mushrooms the family that I stayed with used to bring home and the aroma that filled the kitchen as they prepared delicious meals using those fresh mushrooms. I was more than grateful to be invited to the dinner table and learn a few tricks in the kitchen. Recently, I’ve been feeling that same crispy, cool air as the weather is transitioning in Maine and New Hampshire as I daydream of that golden time in Italy.
I get inspired this time of year to make something with fresh mushrooms just so I can relive that experience I had. A fresh mushroom lasagne seemed appropriate and a definite crowdpleaser. Although I can’t get those fresh porcini’s here in the US, the dried ones seem to do the trick. I used more porcini’s and add a bit of butter because I love how the butter helps bring out the richness in the mushrooms.
When served with a salad of greens and tomatoes this is a simple and delicious meal that will ease you right into Fall.
A rustic and healthy lasagne that feels like Autumn in Italy
What a difference a day, or should I say a geographical life change, makes. I made a bold move recently from New York City to Maine, spending the winter in New Hampshire’s White Mountains in the interim. It’s been several months since I’ve settled into a lovely mill town between Portland and Kennebunk, Maine. I have found the food and product scene here to be very creative, diverse and incredibly healthy given the abundance of organic farms, fresh seafood and the passion behind the creations of beautiful and delicious food products and packaging. As a food photographer, I see Maine in the same way as having a big chocolate cake in front of me, highly irresistible to say the least. Lobster and seafood, blueberries, maple syrup…the list goes on. Most of the restaurants here serve wild harvested and organically grown foods from farmers, fishermen and foragers from all over Maine and other parts of New England. You haven’t eaten lobster until you’ve eaten Maine lobster, no doubt about it! As a product photographer, the majority being food products, I have seen so many creative, organic and rustic packaging that is in alignment with the deliciousness of the food inside.
This has a been a busy week as I have several food and product photography shoots confirming through the summer months. Product photography is one of my niches and given I have a passion for lighting in my studio I lose myself in the process. I tend to get a little obsessed with getting rid of reflections on bottles and other highly reflective materials, which so many food products utilize. Let’s face it, it’s easier to get it right in the camera than have to manage it after during the post production phase. I’d rather be eating a delicious meal at a local restaurant than working in Photoshop at my desk. Although I do love Photoshop. :). My website has a lot of examples of the types of food and product packaging I photograph. So happy to be a part of New England and all it has to offer. There is a reason the official slogan for Maine is Vacationland.
How many times have you bought pea shoots for garnish or a sandwich and ended up having them go bad in the refrigerator? I’m guilty of that. I bought a bunch recently to use as a garnish for a styled image I was working on and didn’t want them to go to waste. It was cold outside, a bit snowy, and thought a soup would be nice. What harm could pea shoots do in a soup? Well, let me tell you, some broth, veggies and pea shoots created an incredibly delicious soup that warmed the body and soul. Since they can be stringy and not very easy to eat in a soup it made sense to blend everything together to make a puree. I also had a lot of radishes leftover from a shoot. I wanted to use them as garnish and put a bowl in the styled set up but the bright red color just didn’t resonate with my vision. I decided to roast the radishes. Contrary to what people believe, they can be roasted. The peppery flavor is more subtle and a hint of sweetness comes through. The roasting ended up muting the red color giving it exactly what I was envisioning. The perfect understated pop of color to compliment the rest of the image.
Here is a quick and easy recipe you can make any day of the week with a few simple and healthy ingredients.
One of the best things you can do for yourself is to make good, healthy food. Homemade almond milk is one of my necessities and I make it consistently every four days to use in my daily banana, nut and seed smoothie. One cup of raw almonds soaked overnight will yield four cups of milk that you can use in cereal, smoothies or anything else. I do have to admit it’s not the best for coffee because of the consistency but I use it for everything else. Almonds are very healthy and full of antioxidants. The milk has minimal calories per serving, a lot less than regular milk, and if you have sensitivities to casein or lactose it’s the perfect alternative.
It’s easy to make and therapeutic, especially when you squeeze all of the milk out of the almonds through the mesh nut bag. It can help get any bottled up aggression out for sure and it’s fun to do! I decided I was going to do a little photography to capture the moment, below.
All you need is a blender and a nut bag really. Soak one cup of raw almonds in water overnight, drain and rinse, blend with four cups of water and strain in a pitcher through cheesecloth or a nut bag. I used cheesecloth and a funnel for a long time which can get messy and frustrating. The nut bag is definitely the way to go. You can find these bags online or in any health food store. I’ve seen them at co-op markets in New Hampshire, Maine and New York so they are surely available where you are.
Homemade almond milk
There are a lot of smoothie recipes out there but I’ve been making this particular one for years and have perfected it. It’s banana based and uses all raw nuts and seeds with a few special ingredients added in. Undeniably delicious and addicting. Here is my version.
I was recently interviewed on White Mountains TV in New Hampshire and here is the video of it. They haven’t had a food photographer on the show before so they thought it would be a fun and different perspective. Hey, who doesn’t like to talk about food, right?! This area in the White Mountains is huge for weddings so there are a lot of wedding and portrait photographers here but not many that are professional food photographers.
The host Rob Clark was very animated and asked some great questions about the product photography and restaurant photography that I’ve been working on. We started off talking about my shoot in Sicily for a luxury olive oil company and estate called Mandranova and showed some images of the villa, the olive harvest and the food that will be in the book they are publishing this year.
Since I do a lot of bottle photography in my studio we touched on that as well and I was able to show some samples of my work and explain the importance of lighting and how it can make a dish look appetizing or not so appetizing.
It was broadcast in standard definition so the images were not crystal clear but hope anyone interested would check out my website. I now work out of New York and New Hampshire and am working on capturing some business from Maine. There are so many restaurants and foodies in Portland, Maine so I spend quite a bit of time there as of late. Thanks for watching and check out more of my work and passions on my website at www.lesliebrienzaphotography.com.
Industry Magazine’s new issue featured my images of a recent photo shoot at East Wind Snack Shop in Brooklyn. Love that magazine and Amanda McCoy wrote such a nice piece on Chef Chris and his incredible Chinese snack shop. Such a great place to get dumplings and other delicious Chinese food. Chef Chris is brilliant and his restaurant is always packed. The article is here with all of my images.