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A funny side effect of working through this cookbook is the accumulation of odd ingredients that tends to happen.  Figuring out creative ways to make use of, say, 2 lbs of powdered heavy cream is a little tricky for me. My super-tidy ingredient cache doesn’t stay tidy for very long.

One of the things I really love about the San Francisco farmer’s market is the little artisinal things on sale there. Lavender salt, lemon verbena sugar, stuff like that is pretty fun and simple. It usually makes me think “Crap, I could make that. Why didn’t I think to?”

One of the fun side-effects of sharing this food with my friends is that there are always leftovers, and I like sharing them. I sent Kris home with a little spice jar filled with sweetened yogurt powder after I made the Raspberry Transparency, and James took home some bottles of clove and celery salt after the Maytag dish was complete.  For Christmas, I figured I’d try to fuse together my abundance of funky ingredients, my affection for artisinal mixes, and the fun of trying something unexpected all into one package that I’mma give as gifts.

Sarah went to Crate and Barrel outlet in Berkeley and bought a 12-pack of the spice jars we use to hold our proper spices, for $15.  I also bought a big bag of sugar and another of salt, and then started playing. The first thing I came up with was pretty simple and very ‘farmer’s markety’: I grated up three limes and a grapefruit, and mixed the zest in with some sea salt to make Lime Grapefruit Salt. The smell of this one is super-explosive because of all the zest.

The Idiazabal dish used maple sugar and smoked salt, which was pretty delicious in and of itself. I have a huge bottle of maple sugar, so I smoked some sea salt on my grill and mixed it with the maple sugar.

The sweetened yogurt powder was a big hit, so I made that again, only this time I also mixed in some freeze-dried cranberry powder. It’s tangier than just plain yogurt and I like the color.

Then I started getting a little more creative. I have three Verbena plants that I used for the 5 gels recipe a while back. I thought I had pretty much murdered them but they’re actually doing really well. They’ve grown back really fast, and I LOVE lemon verbena, so I wanted to try making a sugar with it.  I wanted to go a step beyond just that, though, so I pulled out my new favorite book in the world:

This book is awesome; it’s just a huge cross-referenced encyclopedia of flavors. No recipes or anything, just flavors.  Lemon Verbena is in there, so I pored through its flavor pairings to try to find something interesting and unexpected.

What I landed on was sugar, cream powder, verbena (dehydrated and crumbled), and green tea powder.  THIS STUFF IS AWESOME GUYS.

Spurred on by this success, I tried some more. This one is sugar, cream, lavender, and rosemary. This one too is totally, totally awesome. I’ve gone overboard with the percentages in all of these, so when you taste just a tiny bit it’s immediately flavorful.

The last one is sort of like Bizarro Truffles; it’s the most decadently sweet thing ever: Tonka and vanilla beans in sugar. I used, I dunno, a tablespoon of raw vanilla bean powder per 3oz jar. It’s smack-you-in-the-face vanilla/tonka-y. It made my tongue tingle when I tasted a tiny bit of it.

I’m so excited by these, and they were super-fun to make!

Yesterday at work I gave a little demonstration about lighting for photography using my little portable strobes. It was super-fun, and I got a handful of questions about how I light and shoot this stuff. It seems to change every time I move; our apartment right now is more vertical than horizontal, so I don’t have a ton of space to set up a nice big lighting setup. So I’ve been using a light tent, which is super-easy and nice and small, but it tends to limit creativity. I find most of my photos from the past several months look too much the same for my taste. Anyway, here’s what my setup for this looks like to someone who might be standing near me while I’m doing this:

Now, the ambient light in here sucks. It’s all a mishmash of temperatures. There’s blue light coming in from outside on an overcast day, very warm light shining over from the kitchen, orange light bouncing up from the floor. I like uber-controlled lighting , so I want my strobes to completely overpower the ambient light. So basically I use a very fast shutter speed and a very low ISO; basically I tune my camera so it thinks it’s outside on a bright sunny day. Here’s what it sees when I shoot the same thing:

Now I turn on my flashes.

There was a roll of masking tape laying on the table, so I threw it into the light tent just to have something to shoot. This is usually how I do this; set up the lights on some stand-in object before I start posing the food, which is generally more temperamental.