Birthday Cake, French Toast a l’Orange, and Dog-Sledding in Quebec

Last week was spent eating birthday cake and dog-sledding in Quebec City. This trip was my third time taking our grade to la belle province, and despite turning 39, I still held my own nordic skiing, dog-sledding and eating poutine. Perhaps my kidneys hurt from cheese curds and not having seen a vegetable in four days, but it was wonderful to travel hard for four days with a great group of people. I do miss Quebec. Having lived in Montreal while studying at McGill University, I came to love French culture and the beauty of the real winter experienced there.

My birthday cake was stellar, as usual, and V. did an excellent job with the labour-intensive piece. I ended up freezing half of it, so that it would not be wasted while I travelled. V. hit the road today to head up to Thunder Bay for the next month and then she will be off to Rome for a week. In the meantime, I am hoping to collect all of my business’ tax receipts and get that taken care of before the deadline looms; taxes are key to any photographer’s business and I do take them very seriously because I want the business to remain successful.

Dog-sledding remains a favourite activity. I love the dogs, I love the snow and I love the acceleration. This year I had the great luck to ride in a sleigh alone for the entire trail. Great fun, but definitely a challenge to shoot photographs while controlling five dogs barrelling through the woods. I liked the grainy motion of the first image, and the second shot feels iconic in the way the dogs lead the way through the Quebec forest. The morning was glorious and made the late nights and 10 hour bus ride worthwhile.

Since V. was heading to Thunder Bay, I decided to make her some special french toast this morning: French Toast a l’Orange. Featuring Passionfruit curd on the base, rustic loaf as the bread, and mandarin oranges in a Grande Marnier syrup. My new favourite pan for this type of French-ish dish is the De Buyer steel pan. Terrible if it has not been seasoned, but brilliant when it has. Just do not try to put it in a dishwasher as it will rust to pieces.

For the sauce, I used two mandarins, a half cup of syrup, a shot of Grande Marnier and a smidge of butter. The little Staub tapas pans have turned out to be perfect for little sauces that need to breathe or for single servings of a specific food. My family sent me a Staub terrine dish for my b-day, and it has already been used two or three times, because it is a perfect size for small amounts of rich foods like Gratin Dauphinois.

Plating is key for the eating experience to be perfect. I have spent a long time considering ways to successfully plate my food. Whether for the product photography that I regularly do, or for dining pleasure, plating is the linch pin. Actually, one of the main reasons that I love to go to the great world restaurants is to gain insight into how the best chefs plate their food. Alinea, Charlie Trotter, Susur Lee, Mario Batali and Bobby Flay are all experts at this…Martin Picard, not so much. However, I was able to pick up a French copy of his Cabane a Sucre book while in Quebec, and what he loses in simple plating he gains in extremist sensualism. His food remains a mish-mash of rich flavours and Rabelaisian insanity – his work is food pornography. He remains my favourite chef in the world.

Finally, I was able to pick up an almost new Mamiya M645 Pro TL body, and film back for V. This special camera addition will allow V. to use the three M645 manual lenses I bought her for Christmas, and should propel her work forward as she heads to Rome in April for Easter. The body itself is smooth and sensuous. Light in comparison to the Hasselblad I use, the 645 lenses hold a different colour casting that is distinctly Japanese; it is a look that I personally adore, and it certain made me miss the 645 AFD that I owned and used for my Japan series. I was also able to pick up a Hasselblad CF 250mm f.5.6 lens for a must-have price. While all of my other Hasselblad lenses are CFi or CFe versions, I decided that the price difference on this lens made it worth trying – 250mm is not an essential focal length, but the compression of depth that such a lens provides does make it useful for those times when nothing else will work. I have only take one shot with it on the Canon EOS 1DmkIII…but it was super-sharp in a way that surprised me. The lens needs a tripod though, as it is too heavy to handhold with any steadiness.

One week in Toronto, then I am off to Thunder Bay for a week to see V. I have had two significant work offers during the past week, but I will need to seriously review my work schedule to ensure that I do not over-commit myself. Apparently, one of my photographs also appeared on television for a short moment. Catalogue season is around the corner, and I am finally over my cold. With a fifty minute bicycle ride this afternoon, I feel like Spring is almost here.

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