GUESS WHAT I JUST BOUGHT. Can you guess?! First, let me tell you a story. Maybe I'll drop some hints here and there . . .
I got my first camera in high school. It was a Polaroid I-Zone, and I had no idea how cool it was. It took grainy, gorgeous photos full of unintentional auras and printed them instantly on adhesive-backed paper. You'll have to forgive my poetic heart for the example below -- a triptych (am I allowed to call it that?) of a goose that had been hit by a car. The middle frame is my hand full of its oversaturated feathers. Morbid, I know, but isn't it pretty?
My next camera was a little Kodak film camera. I carried it everywhere with me, hoping to capture some gritty reality. I took photos of the outcast crowd at my high school (I wasn't cool enough to fit in, even with them), of my feet, of neon lights. I filled rolls of film and convinced my parents to get them developed only to find, again and again, that my photos weren't this or this or this. They were flat snapshots.
I gave up.
Fast forward to food blogging. I'm a baker and I'm a writer, so food blogging suits me nicely. But, I told everyone who asked, I am not a photographer.
Photography was the red-headed stepchild (what's so bad about one of those, anyway?) of Willow Bird Baking. It was an ill-behaved upstart of a stepchild at that -- one that I often had to drag along behind me as it kicked its tiny mismatched-stocking feet.
Since WBB's inception in June 2009, I've used a Canon PowerShot A540 to shoot all of my photos. That faithful little point-and-shoot was powerful, don't get me wrong, but the fiddling that went in to my hours-long photo shoots was extremely stressful. I shot in manual mode and it went something like this:
Make food for hours. Style food. Wait until the perfect time of day. Go out onto the balcony to freeze and/or sweat. Set up my camera on its tripod. Set all camera settings: manual mode, white balance, macro mode, exposure time, self-timer. Hold up white boards to bounce light in crazy directions. Change all settings repeatedly, taking photos with varying exposures, camera angles, and lighting setups. Run into the apartment to upload the photos every 50 or so snaps to see if I'm on the right track, usually to find that ALL of the photos were out of focus. Hours and hundreds of photos later, drag myself inside and clean up. Go through the hundreds of photos looking for the 6 or 7 acceptable ones. Edit them. Write my post.
Even while I loved my camera (so much so that I decided I'd stick with Canon whenever I upgraded), it's not hard to see why photography stressed me out. There was a teensy (and sometimes nonexistent) yield for all the sweat I put into it.
When Willow Bird Baking was featured recently in the Davidson Journal, Meg Kimmel was kind enough to mention my "burgeoning skills as a food photographer." They even printed my photo of my Coffee Cookie Dough Fudge Cheesecake for good measure. But oh, did I have a love-hate relationship with photography.
That is, until now.
Have you guessed yet? I think I set you up pretty well, and hopefully the photos were helpful hints. I bought a new camera!
A Canon Rebel T2i with a 50mm f/1.4 lens, to be exact. By no means did the camera make me an instant photographer extraordinaire, but when I styled and photographed these Gooey S'mores Bars (inside! with air conditioning!), I marveled at how fun and exciting and creative it felt!
I wasn't doing acrobatics to get an acceptable shot in 100 degree heat -- the camera was doing more than its fair share of work! I wasn't forcing the photos -- I was making artistic decisions! I wasn't fretting and uploading a dozen times to check my shots -- I was contentedly fiddling with various camera settings and enjoying the results! For the first time in years, I think I've almost recaptured the joy of snapping a photo with that old Polaroid I-Zone and sticking it in my poetry notebook surrounded by walls of messy handwriting.
. . . Almost.
P.S. Will you look at the number of exclamation points in that last paragraph? I must be in love.
P.S. 2 There's just over a week left in the Willow Bird Baking Cupcake Challenge! Bake your creation and email photos to juruble 'at' gmail.com by Wednesday, September 7, 2011. I'll feature your cupcake on WBB! Find more details and some cupcake inspiration here.
Gooey S'mores Bars
Recipe by: Adapted from Lovin' From the Oven
Yield: 9-12 bars depending on your appetite
These Gooey S'mores Bars were more than worthy of being the first dish snapped by my new camera. They combine a chewy, graham cracker-flavored base with melty marshmallow creme and a hearty dose of chocolate. I heated each bar in the microwave for 25 seconds and then used a kitchen torch to toast the sides before serving, resulting in the perfect s'more flavor. Don't worry if you don't have the torch, though -- they'd be delicious without.
1/2 cup butter, room temperature
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup graham cracker crumbs
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 king-sized milk chocolate bars (e.g. Hershey’s)
1 1/2 cups marshmallow creme/fluff
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease an 8-inch square baking pan and create a foil sling: tear off 4, 16-inch long pieces of aluminum foil and fold them in half. Situate two side-by-side in the pan, covering the bottom of the pan to the edge (they will overlap). Situate the other two strips in the same manner, but perpendicular to the first. The overhanging foil of the sling will make it easy to remove the bars from the pan after baking and cooling. Grease the foil as well.
Cream the butter and sugar together in a large bowl until fluffy and pale yellow. Beat in the egg and vanilla. In a small, separate bowl, whisk together the flour, graham cracker crumbs, baking powder and salt. Add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture and mix until just combined. Divide the dough roughly in half.
Press half of the dough (using clean fingers is easiest) into the pan. Place the chocolate bars side by side (if they fit; if not, break them and arrange) over the dough such that you have a full single layer of chocolate (about 1/4 inch thick). Glop on marshmallow creme and use a greased offset spatula to spread it evenly across the chocolate. Place the remaining dough on top (to do so, take a small handful at a time and flatten it into a "shingle," laying these side by side over the top). Bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until lightly browned. Let cool completely in pan before gently using the overhang of the foil sling to lift the bars out of the pan and place them on a cutting board to slice.
When ready to serve, heat each bar in the microwave for about 25-30 seconds and use a kitchen torch to lightly "toast" the exposed marshmallow (optional). Enjoy!