Mimi Avocado Goes to School to Learn Food Styling and Photography and Tastes Her First SushiBurger

sushi burger from 26 Beach in Venice, CAWhen I was a young child in school,  my greatest joy was discovering something new to learn.    Every day was exciting then,  with new skills,  new stories, and  new ways of seeing the world. I would go to sleep at night anticipating that  the lessons of the coming day would transform  me from the familiar to a brand-new-me whose horizons now stretched farther than before.

my first grade class

First Grade at South Barre School in Vermont

In this spirit I took a leap and signed up for a weekend class in food styling and photography at MDR Photography.   It was like going back to first grade!    I have been using a point and shoot camera for years,   and only recently purchased a DSLR.   To learn a little about the more serious side of photography,  I went to Lynda.com to watch some instructional videos about photography and exposure,  just to make sure I wouldn’t be completely lost in the class.

Allison (Sushi Day) and  her boyfriend Son live in the area, so they picked me up and took me out for dinner on Friday night after I arrived at the hotel.  They were excited to take me to 26 Beach, a restaurant that has been in business for 29 years in Venice, Ca.    The sushi burgers served at 26 Beach are legendary… Rachael of La Fuji Mama (and my Avocado Sister)  practically swoons  when she describes the wonderful offerings of this delightfully artistic eatery…and  thanks to Allison and Son,  I’ve been craving another of those scrumptious burgers ever since!

Allison and Son

Sushi Burgers!

 

As for the food,  check out this California Roll Burger!  Snowcrab salad, avocado, picked ginger, nori & shoyu-wasabi-aioli with baby lettuce and tomato…all served on Angus beef  burger and butter-grilled home baked  bun!

sushiburger at 26 Beach

 

On Saturday morning I met a Camp Blogaway acquaintance,  Cynthia of What a Girl Eats,  as we were both trying to find Christina Peters’ Photography Studio in Marina Del Rey.   As we walked into the bright  studio we were met with warm hellos and breakfast treats.   Our food styling teacher, Denise Vivaldo  launched right into her presentations with hilarious side stories and tales  of her experiences in 30 years as a food stylist.  Her  Food Fanatics colleague, Tiffany Wu demonstrated how important it is to have an assistant who can anticipate the needs of the stylist and the desires of a client, providing “collateral food” for those just-in-case situations.

Food Styling and Photography instructors

Christina Peters, Denise Vivaldo,  and Tiffany Wu

We learned how to style pancakes,  a roasted chicken,   salad,  and sandwiches  that first day.  We began to appreciate  the practical and logistical aspects of food styling as well as the tricks and tips of making food look wonderful for the camera.  Denise shared insider business strategies  that only a seasoned veteran would know.   As a  complete newbie  I found  the whole day fascinating!

checking the pancakes

Are these perfect pancakes? If not, we make them look perfect!

 

Kitchen Bouquet for color

Not brown enough? Use Kitchen Bouquet!

 

syrup runs off pancakes

Freeze the syrup to make it drip off the pancakes just so!

 

building a salad

Building a salad for the camera

styled salad

Looks delicious, but styled food may not be edible!

styling a chicken

Never eat a styled chicken!

Our homework that night was to come up with a project for the next day… a fabulous food layout that we would  photograph.   Denise mentioned that she was looking for color,  so I decided to search for foods that would complement an avocado. (Big surprise, right?!)   I had to explain to the class that a beautifully peeled “naked” avocado is something special to behold!

peeled avocado

Perfect Naked Avocado (photo by Kristen Wogan Doyle of Dine and Dish)

 

That evening  I found the nearest Whole Foods store and searched  for colorful food  in the same way that I might coordinate accessories for a new outfit.   Gorgeous large plump shrimp, already cooked,   with plenty of pink color.   Golden  mango salsa with magenta red onion pieces and green cilantro.  And I found a few treats to buy as well!  (Ever tried Orange Ginger Almonds?  Yum!)

Sunday morning we all gathered back at the studio and listened with awe as  Christina  revealed  the mysteries of using DSLR cameras, and shared stories of  her life as a  commercial photographer.   Her explanations were  easy to follow and anticipated our questions…she even talked about using our IPhones for food photography!   Most of all,  it felt good to be learning something brand new…exploring something I don’t think about in my daily life, and becoming a “new me” who could consider food and  photography from a completely new perspective.

fake ice cream

We even learned to make fake ice cream …it doesn’t melt under hot lights and displays delicious toppings perfectly!

Each of us styled our own project,  trading ingredients and collaborating on the use of props from Christina’s immense collection.  All the while Denise and her partner Cindie Flannigan were circulating among the  class participants,  giving suggestions, helping to brainstorm and adding an extra level  of excitement to each of the projects.   Denise suggested that I separate the components of the mango salsa and then rebuild the salsa in front of the avocado using tweezers.

separating the salsa

Salsa is separated, avocado has been painted with vodka to keep it looking fresh

 

styled avocado ...first try

I thought this looked pretty good….

finished photo

Until Denise and Christina added their magic touches!

 

When the styling was finished,  Christina worked with each of us to photograph our masterpiece and demonstrated ways to enhance them using Lightbox and Photoshop.  We were able to take turns photographing each others’  layouts too!  It was a joy to work with a group who were so willing to share and collaborate.

photographing a food layout

Susan shoots her cocktail

Durey's Indian food

Durey’s Indian food and spices

Using Lightbox

Christina demonstrates digital enhancements

 

You can see all the finished photographs from our class projects here.    Christina’s photos of our class are here.

The weekend was lots of fun and I can honestly say that I truly was transformed.  I will never look at  another food photograph in the same way… and I’ll work much harder on my own shots  from now on!     If you’d like to explore Denise’s vast knowledge  of food styling,   find her book on Amazon.com!

The most important lesson of the weekend?   Don’t be afraid to try something new and outside of your comfort zone !One of the best parts of the weekend was meeting my classmates and learning about their lives and goals.   In the words of the famous song,  “Would you like to swing on a star?  Carry moonbeams home in a jar?  And be better off than you are?…”   YOU could be swinging on a star!  Go for it!

 

 

Farmer’s Breakfast: Something Special for a Saturday

Scramble on Toast with Avocados, Sundried Tomatoes and Feta

Farmers' Breakfast: Scramble on Toast with Avocados, Sundried Tomatoes and Feta

On a farm,  Saturday morning is a work day just like any other day.  Now that our children are grown and I am no longer meeting school buses or driving to after-school activities,  Saturdays really do seem like a normal day,  except that I have special jobs to do, like writing the weekly payroll for our employees.   I remember how wonderful Saturday mornings were when we were growing up.  No school  and we were allowed to watch Saturday morning cartoons on television.   Just a relaxing time, and often with a special breakfast of french toast or pancakes and bacon.

Homemade Bread from La Fuji Mama

The best gift! Homemade Bread!

One way to make Saturday special is to bring back the special breakfast tradition.    Our friend Rachael (La Fuji Mama) presented The Farmer with a homemade loaf of bread yesterday,  so I decided to make an extra-delicious scramble to go on top of thick slices of toasted Fuji Mama Bread!

Last weekend I bought some shallots at the Little Italy Mercato from our cousins, Schaner Farms.  They sell an amazing array of their homegrown produce at various  farmers’ markets, including Santa Monica,  Vista,  Del Mar and Little Italy.  It’s always fun to visit with them and catch up on our family news!  Kayne and Peter Schaner are our youngest daughter’s godparents.

Kayne Schaner of Schaner Farms

Kayne Schaner of Schaner Farms at Little Italy Mercato

I learned about another California family farm this week who is bringing delicious sundried tomato products to kitchens all over the world.  Mooney Farms  of Chico, California produces the Bella Sun Luci brand of sundried tomatoes, available in small packages that are convenient and perfect for everyday family cooking.    I received a package of their Sun Dried Tomatoes with Italian Basil (julienne-cut) at Camp Blogaway two weeks ago.  After exploring the Mooney Farms website and seeing a film about their family farm on Facebook,  I was eager to try their tomatoes.  My husband’s father grew tomatoes for 40 years while raising his family in Huntington Beach, California so we have a special interest in family-farmed tomatoes!

 

Bella Sun Luci sundried tomatoes

Mooney Farms is a Chico, Ca family farm that produces Bella Sun Luci Sun Dried Tomatoes

This morning I used fresh shallots from Schaner Farms,   Bella Sun Luci Sun Dried Tomatoes from Mooney Farms,  and  fresh California avocados from our own farm to make a special batch of  scrambled eggs.   Topped with some crumbled Greek feta cheese too!  On top of Fuji Mama’s  delicious toasted homemade bread.  Our Saturday morning IS special now!

Scrambled eggs on Toast

Scrambled Eggs with shallots, sun dried tomatoes, avocados and feta on homemade toast!

 

 

The Avocado Sisters Have An Adventure with Mangoes: Chocolate Avocado Cupcakes with Fresh Mango Filling

chocolate avocado cupcake with mango filling

Chocolate Avocado Cupckae with Mango Filling and Whipped Cream

Yesterday I was expecting a delivery!  Everyone who attended Camp Blogaway was notified to expect a box filled with mangoes from the National Mango Board.  After learning about mangoes at camp, and bringing a few home to taste,  I was very excited to receive two different varieties as well as some other very nice goodies.

My avocado sister,  Rachael (La Fuji Mama) and I  planned another avocado adventure for this week.  Rachael  wanted to take some photos and video while the trees are still in bloom and the tiny baby avocados are beginning to appear.   We decided to make  it a family day, since our daughter-the-geologist  would be here from Northern California for the weekend.   I made  Fluffy Pancakes with Mangoes, Blueberries and Avocados yesterday, and I wanted to make something else with mangoes and avocados for our lunch today.  Everyone enjoys cupcakes, so I started looking for a recipe that includes avocado.

I found this recipe by another San Diego area blogger,  Kirbie’s Cravings.   The avocado chocolate cake has no butter or eggs in it!  The recipe calls for  1/4 cup of vegetable oil and  1/2 cup of  avocado, pureed and added to the dry ingredients.  I used a whole medium avocado…closer to one full cup of pureed avocado.

Ultragrain All Purpose Flour

I also used the Ultra-Grain All Purpose Flour that was in our goodie bags from camp.  It looks and tastes like white flour, but has more fiber and better nutrition without the strong flavor and density of whole wheat.   I decided to follow the recipe,  but bake it as cupcakes.

Baking Cups make of parchment

Parchment baking cups are non-stick!

I had some baking cups from Paper Chef that we were given at Camp Blogaway, so I baked the cupcakes in the parchment baking cups.  They’re so nice!  The paper doesn’t stick to the cupcakes at all!

parchment baking cups

The parchment baking cups come off the cupcakes cleanly and easily .

When the Fuji family arrived, we  talked about mangoes and the gorgeous boxes of fruit we had received in the mail.  The National Mango Board also sent a recipe book,  a cute bowl,   paring knife and a flexible cutting mat.  We were all set to chop mangoes and fill our avocado cupcakes! But first we took a long walk through the avocado grove with our daughters and our cameras.

Rachael takes photos

Fuji Mama's taking photos of avocado flowers and bees!!

Girls finding insects

Squirrel loves to catch flies...Bug checks out what's in the bag!

Mangoes and little girl

Bug likes mangoes too!

After spending the morning out in the grove with our girls, we all needed a lunch break.  Rachael brought some Kerrygold cheddar cheese …another sponsor of Camp Blogaway last weekend…we’ve fallen in love with their delicious cheeses.   We made these fun crackers combining the Kerrygold cheddar with fresh California avocados from our ranch and fresh juicy mangoes.  Our Cutco cheese knife came in handy…another sponsor from Camp Blogaway!

 

Kerrygold Cheddar Cheese with avocado and mango on crackers

Avocados and Mangoes with Kerrygold Cheese for lunch. Loving our Cutco cheese knife!

We had fun with the mangoes…putting them on our crackers,  eating them in our guacamole,  and just eating juicy sweet chunks of perfectly ripe mango! We used the yellow mangoes…the Ataulfo variety.    It was a good thing we had plenty, because we needed some fresh diced mango for our cupcakes!

Chocolate Avocado Cupcakes

Moist and fudgy cupcakes...perfect for filling with juicy diced mango!

 

mangoes with whipped cream in avocado chocolate cupcakes

Fresh diced mango filling for our chocolate avocado cupcakes...and whipped cream!

Everyone loved these cupcakes!   No one could tell that they were made with a whole grain blend flour with double the fiber of other all purpose flours.  The moist cake has a strong chocolate flavor and no indication that avocado is included in the cake…just the healthy fat and nutrition of California avocados! !  Next time we plan  to slice the cupcakes in half  so we can have more mango inside, like a short cake.  Our families were delighted with the juicy, sweet mangoes  and whipped cream instead of heavy sweet frosting.     Avocados and mangoes in one dessert: heaven!

 

Using a Camera as Workout Equipment: Discovering a Way to Find Joy in Exercising

name written in c oncrete

My name written in concrete in 1995

I know I am not alone when it comes to the lack of exercise.    Once we have a job and children to raise, our time and energy are limited.   We are constantly bombarded with messages about the need to get up and move.     There are plenty of activities that look like fun, but let’s face it:  if we’re not physically fit in the first place,  we’re not going to be physically able to take part is most of them.

California poppy before it's open

The poppy can't bloom until the barriers are moved!

 

So that leaves some of us in a dilemma:  do we spend our precious, limited time off  working out in a gym (that we dislike),  or walking a prescribed number of steps on a treadmill?  Do we find a walking partner and get up at the bust of dawn to fulfill our obligation to move?  Or do we pour ourselves another cup of coffee and turn on the Cooking Channel?   How about a glass of wine and a few minutes of Facebook or  Pinterest?   I can see you nodding your heads.

Bird of Paradise

Bird of Paradise flower near the avocado trees

I have tried committing to exercise programs that I dislike, knowing that they are good for me and knowing that I won’t keep them up.   We already  do so much in our lives  out of necessity or obligation, even if they do not bring us joy.   In the few spare hours that we have left,  JOY is the thing we need.   Creating joy (for me) involves discovering something new,  feeling good about myself and what I’m accomplishing,  feeling energized and stimulated,  and having something worthwhile to show for the time I have spent.   The challenge is to find activities for physical exercise  that combine those prerequisites with movement.

view of hillsides in avocado grove

Hiking to find this view is worth the effort!

I think I have finally found something that is better than a trainer,  better than a class and better than a treadmill.   A Camera!  I recently purchased a DSLR with a hefty cross-body strap.  I have had  point-and-shoot cameras that work just fine,  but they never motivated me to get out and hike.    With the encouragement of  Fuji MamaAllergen-Free Baker and my son Daniel,   as well as  the help  of Nancy at  Nelson Photo Supplies in San Diego,    I finally invested in a Canon T3i as an entry-level DSLR.    I had no idea that the investment in the camera would also pay me dividends in the form of exercise and motivation!

hummingbird

A hummingbird takes a breather!

I actually look forward to changing into tee shirt and walking pants (gym clothes?), lacing up my walking shoes,  strapping on my trusty camera, and striking out for parts unknown.  The long hikes around the ranch that used to seem like a penance when done just for exercise have become exciting treasure hunts now that I have my camera and way to  share the new discoveries!  Sometimes I post the photos on Facebook, and sometimes I plan stories to go with the photos to post here on MimiAvocado.com

snail

After a rain, the snails come out ...and so do I!

After an invigorating hike up and down hills to get the perfect photo of wildflowers,  snail trails,  squirrel holes,  songbirds,  puffy clouds with trees and mountains… I deserve the time to write  at my desk!  I actually look forward to going out again,  and scheme to carve out more time for “exercise” in my day.    I’m eager to get out and  see how the trees are changing from day to day,  keep track of the seasonal wildflowers  and notice  evidence of wildlife too.

animal track

What animal do you think made this? A possum?

Now that I have the new camera,  the prospect of spending a day hiking, walking a beach or exploring a park are much more attractive than they once were.   I don’t want to sit in the house when there are so many exciting things to photograph!   Who knew that the best piece of exercise equipment could be a camera?  I’m glad I found out!  And I don’t even mind getting up at dawn … sometimes!

long shadow early in the morning

Did you know you can look very tall and skinny when the sun first is coming up?

 

 

 

 

Say “Avocado”! Say “Cottage Cheese!” An Avocado Bunny Breakfast and Photo Shoot

As you know,  Rachael of La Fuji Mama and I have been sharing our  avocado adventures lately.   After all the fun last week,  the Avocado Sisters  scheduled a morning to actually do some avocado “work”.    Rachael is a wonderful photographer and offered to help us with product photos for our California Avocado gift box and monthly subscription business.   You have visited the website for California Avocados Direct, haven’t you?  This is the place where we are able to share the special avocados that we grow here at the ranch, sending boxes all over the United States.  In fact, some of our most loyal customers are in Alaska and Maine!

Before we could get started on the photography assignment,  we both needed some breakfast.    I wanted to share the experience of making rabbits with cottage cheese and avocado “bunny ears” with Fuji Mama…. and we had waaaay too much fun with our fruit!

cottage cheese and avocado bunny

This is "Cabot". He's made of cottage cheese and avocado, with blueberries and cantaloupe!

 

bunny made of cottage cheese and avocado with blueberries and cantaloupe

Introducing "Fuji Bunny"!

We finally met with Farmer Ben to set up our avocado products to photograph.   Ben helped us build a simple backdrop and Rachael set up  a workstation for  the product photos.   We worked together to make up the various gift boxes.   While we were working, a giant swarm of bees came through the  yard!  It’s the time of year when new queens leave the hive, so the bees will swarm when their home is disrupted.   I should have taken a photo to show you, but we were too engrossed in the project!

Rachael’s  photographs are going to be wonderful!  Avocados with seasoning,  salsa, avocado oil, avocado honey!  We even have some avocado hand lotion and soap products coming up!  We had a wonderful time styling the various sizes of fruit and getting just the right shots!

La Fujimama styles the avocado products

Styling avocado gift boxes for photographs

Rachael grew up in an area of California that has been known for citrus and avocado production for many years.  She loves fresh California produce and wants to help preserve  the rich agricultural heritage of California.    We share a passion for avocados, so spending the day working on avocado photography wasn’t really “work” at all!    We even came up with new ideas for more avocado adventures! There’s more work fun to come!

You’ll also enjoy reading:  La Fuji Mama’s “Avocado Spring Adventures” post

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