Sunday, September 23, 2012

A Tale of Two Flowers

Members of the Solanaceae or nightshade family are very familiar New World plants that, over the centuries, spread like wildfire to every point on the globe, thanks to the human need to explore and move. Tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, eggplants, and tobacco are all part of this broad family, as are several hallucinogens and toxins, including Atropa belladonna or deadly nightshade.

Nightshades are grown all over New Mexico as crops (where would we be without chile?), but there are at least eight that I know of growing in disturbed or sandy soil, along roadsides and in fields.  One of them, sacred Datura (Datura innoxia), has large, impressive trumpet-like flowers.  The Datura below was exceptionally well-watered at Los Poblanos Historic Inn.  The pale lavender edges and "teeth" on the edges are distinctive characteristics of the datura flower.

Incongruous as it seems, the plant that produces such large, showy flowers, grows in the same area as Artemisia tridentata, or big sagebrush.  Most people see big sage after the sage green leaves have been rolled into smudge sticks.  But as a member of Asteraceae or sunflower family, it, too, has blossoms.  Unless the monsoon season is good, however, one might not even see the clusters of brilliant yellow-green blossoms that cascade and pop with pollen.

Two completely different plants, growing in what most gardeners consider unsuitable or junky soil but producing such stunning results.  

until next Monday,


a passion for the image

Sunday, September 16, 2012


In art schools and salons, and in conversations among artists, "process" is frequently a topic of conversation and discussion.

The process of doing specific things is viewed very differently within any group.  Some cherish the process or journey as a crucial part of the goal while others see it as frustrating, painful, and not nearly fast enough.  I have had this philosophical discussion with many photographers, writers, and those involved in myriad physical endeavors.  The feelings of most seem to fall somewhere in the middle.

I was thinking about this while making bread yesterday and it led me to a photographic study of the subject.  Just as I make a pretty good loaf of bread, but perhaps not approved by Le Cordon Bleu, my photographs of that loaf are decent but can always go farther and improve.  So the process of baking and the process of photography hold many similarities.  Since this loaf of bread is only being shared with you visually, the recipe is included here so that you can begin your own process or journey in bread making.

dough ready to rise

kneading the dough

finished and sliced loaf

crumb texture and cheese details

I use a traditional bread recipe, adding about a cup of Jarlsberg cheese chunks, and substituting 1-2 cups of whole wheat pastry flour for some of the regular flour.  Letting the dough rise twice in the bowl and once in the loaf pans makes the bread texture that much better.

For two loaves, use the following recipe:

2 packages instant dry yeast
1/2 cup warm water
1 3/4 cups warm water
3 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon salt
2 tablespoons good olive oil
1 to 2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1 cup Jarlsberg cheese, cut into chunks
4-5 cups unbleached white flour

Dissolve yeast in 1/2 cup of warm water and let stand for five minutes.  Mix in the remaining water, sugar, salt, and olive oil.  Add the whole wheat pastry flour, cheese, and unbleached white flour, cup by cup, until the dough becomes difficult to mix.  Flour a clean surface and begin to knead the bread, this usually takes about 10 minutes, or until the dough is no longer sticky.  At this point, you can usually poke a finger in it and the indentation with disappear.   This process is mesmerizing in the same way taking and processing photographs is.  Let the dough rise until double in size, punch it down, and let it rise again.  Oil and flour 4" x 8" or 5" x 9" loaf pans.  Shape the loaves and let them rise one more time.  When doubled, bake these wonders at 425 degrees for 25-30 minutes or until golden.  

I promise that I won't be channeling Julia Child in my next blog!

until next Monday,


a passion for the image

Monday, September 10, 2012

studies in squash

Anyone who has lived in New Mexico (and I suspect the southern Rocky Mountains as well) for a decade or more, and is interested in gardening, knows that the years during which fruit and vegetables really thrive can be infrequent.  Usually an early or late frost, wind, not enough moisture, too much moisture, pests, or any number of things can keep the fruit and veggie harvest to a minimum.  But this year, anyone who has planted any kind of fruit tree or assorted vegetables is having a banner year.  Trees are loaded with fruit.  And of course, one of the three legacy New Mexico crops - squash - is doing quite well.  When people have good squash crops, beware!  It seems to me that if you close your eyes for five minutes, you will have twenty more, and some will be two feet long.  People can't even give them away!  I love the piece of advice passed around at this time of year "You know, you should always lock your cars at night because if you don't, they will be full of squash."

Thanks to Susie and Bogie, we had a number of more exotic squashes to add to our zucchini collection, including a pattypan squash.  Continuing my habit of photographing living things that people give us, here are a few studies.

Such wonderful and complex simplicity nature gives us!

until next Monday,


a passion for the image

Monday, September 3, 2012

Over the rainbow

Today is Labor Day, a day set aside originally to celebrate the strength and ingenuity of workers and unions.  Other than the fact that it is the last three day weekend of the summer holiday season, it is often not given a second thought.  While both political parties tout candidates who supposedly identify with "the worker", companies and banks are seemingly in the process of eliminating the unions and working class ideals that made this holiday possible.  To a good many people, dreams of a better future for their children are way over the rainbow.

But as long as we can look to the sky and see the beauty of a rainbow during or after rain, we continue to dream.

For a wonderful interpretation of an actual strike at the Empire Zinc Mine in New Mexico, watch the 1954 film Salt of the Earth.

until next Monday,


a passion for the image