Bees start stirring somewhere around April, but to tell you the truth, they’re never completely idle. In the wild, the big momma queen bee of the burrowing bee species begins to lay eggs in January far below the frost line. If you’ve got a hive, your honey bees will start expanding their brood more slowly and a little later, in February. Every time there’s a warm snap, and they come more and more frequently as we close in on May, bees take flight to stretch their wings and scout for early flowers. Boost your garden’s productivity and biodiversity and bring bees- of all different species- to the garden this year:
Squash bees: Squash bees, unlike the honey bee, are as American as apple pie (I mean, technically speaking they’re more American because apples are Eurasian…). They’re cute cuddly, and black and yellow striped just like honey bees- but many greenthumbs consider them better pollinators of crops in the pumpkin family. Got gourds? You’ve probably got these pollinators already. Just to make sure, plant any of the Cucurbits like cucumbers or zucchini!
Shaggy fuzz foot bees: YEAH. I’m serious. This is the bee’s real name. PRETTY AWESOME, no? Shaggy fuzz foot is another native bee species that, like the squash bee, specializes in collecting pollen from a narrow subsect of native plants. In this case, it’s the blueberry family. Equipped with a long tongue- long enough to plunge down the throat of the elongate, tubular flowers of most blueberries and reach nectar, this bee does the work that other bee species can’t. Next time you check out your blueberries, see whether you’ve been visited by the magical shaggy fuzz foot, or whether another kind of bee species has ‘stolen’ nectar by piercing the flower at it’s base, rather than doing the polite thing and helping out with pollination duties before making off with the goods. To attract the fuzz foot, there is nothing better than planting blueberries, but they also like apple and cherry flowers, too.
Other tips: In general, the more floral diversity, the better. Bees are attracted to all kinds of flowers. The daisy family Asteraceae is a failsafe with many different kinds of garden varieties to choose from like black eyed susan, cone flower, and aster. The mint family is another favorite with nutritious nettles, pennyroyal, and the aptly named bee balm all on the roster of ’best bee plants’ .
Ever since reading this article about the transformational power of spices, I’ve been on a hunt for a new mortar and pestle (mine currently holds loose change). My search quickly led me to the ceramic wares of product designer, Chifen Cheng. Cheng’s small design studio, Designlump, offers ergonomic kitchen products such as cups, plates and, of course, the mortar and pestle (which includes a thumb dent on the pestle for ease while grinding). With a background in industrial design, Cheng is an artisan who values both utility and charm when handcrafting her tools. She told Food & Wine: “Once you touch clay, it’s hard to stop.” I’ll take her cue. Off to grind some spices!
The good news is, wildflowers do not startle. No matter how long it takes to make a positive ID or take an up-close photo, they are happy to pose. The no-so-good news is, depending on the plant, their display may last only weeks or days in any given place.
To make the most of your trip, you’ll want to grab a guidebook, make a plan, and bring your lucky rabbits foot. Like anything else, wildflower hunting is all about being in the right place at the right time. But with a little preparation, nature will reward you with an abundance of memorable colors, shapes, textures, and experiences:
1. Study the likely suspects. Depending on where you go, only two or three early bloomers will be hardy or conspicuous enough to show. Look them up ahead of time in a book or encyclopedia that includes info on season and ecology. Then remember to pack a field guide (I love my Pojar) to cover the mysterious strangers and colorful party crashers you meet along the way.
2. Follow the rain. Sunny days are fine for hiking, but sunny days after a downpour are even better. Especially true in the southwest, where some opportunistic buds respond within hours, not days, and evaporate as briskly.
3. Go for southern exposure. Just like in your garden, southern facing slopes dry out and green up earlier than others. Select a trail that will, on a macro-level, spend most of its time on the bright side of your hill/valley/river/canyon/gorge.
4. Stay on the trail. Good sense on any hike and especially meaningful in wildflower country. Nonwoody plants crush easily underfoot; compacted soil will snuff them out. Unbeknownst to you, the seeds of non-native plants may have hitched a ride on the soles of your boot. And it almost goes without saying: don’t pick. A severed stem does nothing for their winsome looks.
5. And speaking of looks… keep yours low. Both in terms of altitude (the lowlands and valleys spring up before mountainsides) and undergrowth. Many early bloomers are short, lithe, unassuming creatures who nab their place in the sun before taller, fuller varieties fill in the wildflower canopy. But small doesn’t mean less interesting. Take shooting star, or Dodecatheon – a dainty display with captivating geometry.
6. Don’t overlook the wayside. I know when I hear wildflowers, my mind immediately goes to alpine meadows in full effect. However the blossoms are many along country roads and in empty suburban lots, often dwarfing by sheer number their cousins in the high country.
Last but not least, do you have any tips for me? As a new writer here at Wilder, I’d love to hear your thoughts on native plants, hiking, camping, and everything outdoors. Leave a comment or send a lovely note to summer [at] wilderquarterly [dot] com. Happy hunting!
I recently recommended using a hand hoe to clear weeds. Another great way to get rid of weeds? Eat them.
One of the most insidious and (thankfully!) tastiest weeds is Lamb’s Quarters. Also known as goosefoot – a reference to the shape of the leaves (Cheno meaning goose and podia meaning foot).
Lamb’s Quarters are in the family Chenopodiaceae, which also includes the more familiar spinach, quinoa and chia seed. Lamb’s Quarters are a staple in Mexico. There, You would encounter them under the name Huauzontle. Traditional Mexican recipes using Huauzontle can be found in the venerable Diana Kennedy’s “From My Mexican Kitchen”.
When young, Lamb’s Quarters are very tender and you will notice a powdery white film on the surface of the leaves. As the plant grows (it can get to be as tall as 6 ft high) the thick stem will take on a magenta colored striping. Either way, it is a delicious, green addition to your plate. Lamb’s Quarters are rich in calcium, fiber and iron. They are also a good source of B-complex vitamins and vitamin C. Use them anywhere you would normally use spinach. Just think of it as “wild spinach.”
Spring farming is rough. Early mornings are still chilly enough for knit caps and afternoons feel like mid July. Row cover blows everywhere and your plants are still tiny. Greens and mustards have not yet matured enough to harvest – even for a modest salad. Spring farming demands patience. I find that eating tasty weeds is one of the most gratifying ways to endure this season. I rely on Lamb’s Quarters (and purslane and chickweed…) to satisfy my very impatient craving for garden food. Eat what you weed!
It’s edible garden weekend at San Francisco’s Flora Grubb Gardens. If you’re an SF resident (like me) you won’t want to miss Saturday and Sunday’s workshops featuring Christopher Shein on Edible Ecosystems and Clarke de Mornay on Vegetables in the City.
This is a great time to start thinking about cultivating a sustainable food supply in your very own backyard. Whether you’re a green thumb or an aspiring one, don’t let that pesky fog belt discourage you! Both Shein and de Mornay know the ups and downs of permaculture in the Bay Area. Perma-what?
According to the Permaculture Institute, “permaculture is an ecological design system for sustainability in all aspects of human endeavor. It teaches us how build natural homes, grow our own food, restore diminished landscapes and ecosystems, catch rainwater, build communities and much more.” Eager to know more? Well, it’s time to learn because wouldn’t it be great to have your backyard be the farm in the farm to table dynamic? I think so. See you in the garden!
Lady Gaga wore meat. Bjork wore a swan. According to these photographs, the latest growing trend is plant wear. This collaborative shoot sprouted from the creative minds of floral design studio Supernatural, photographer Alix-Rose Cowie, stylist Kate Desmarais, and model Shelly Chen.
With Spring coming in, the garden has naturally been on my brain. So, for some unusual reason, has nudity. Trolling the internet for gardeners a la Adam and Eve, I had to laugh when a friend sent me these. Kind of a stretch on the old fig leaf look. Forget people being pantless in a garden! Here’s to people wearing plants!
On a recent Sunday, San Francisco showed signs of Spring. With temperatures in the high 70s, people flocked to the park wearing short sleeves and cut-offs, working on their sun tans, their hula-hoop skills, and tomorrow’s hangover. Meanwhile, I spent the late afternoon making blood orange marmalade at Gravel & Gold, a shop in the Mission District. Gravel & Gold offers items made with curiosity, beauty and utility in mind. They sell clothing, home wares, books, food and so much more. Every time I go there, I want to be making, cooking and camping all at the same time and all while looking stylish and feeling rustic.
Many of their “makers” are local artisans who are able to come to the shop and lead workshops. This is when Emmy and Jonah of Emmy’s Pickles and Jams enter the scene. Emmy’s is a food business located in Oakland, specializing in pickling and preserving organic produce. Emmy and Jonah led the workshop, teaching us to make a large batch of marmalade using the season’s crown jewel: blood orange. By the end, I wasn’t nearly finished so I followed up with Emmy’s Emmy Moore to learn more:
WQ: Wilder loves a good origin story. Can you tell us what inspired you to start you pickle and jam business?
EM: A few things in life clicked just right to inspire my partner and me to begin the business. We were working for an organic produce distributor based in SF, and in addition to learning a huge amount about the often invisible side of the food industry (transportation, storage, etc), we also were witnessing a lot of food waste. There is a certain amount of loss that occurs when fruits and vegetables are being moved from the farm to the grocery store or restaurant. We began bringing the food destined for the compost home to cook, and quickly began cooking more than we could eat, so began learning to preserve. And voila! We never stopped.
We soon started looking beyond the middleman, talking directly with farms, and learned that they too grow more than they can sell during the season. Pretty soon we had enough product to work with where we decided to try out selling some of our creations. The SF Underground Farmers Markets were happening at this time as well, so we had an outlet to take our first business baby steps.
WQ: When you began, I can imagine you experimented with many recipes with a lot of trial and error. When did you make that first perfect batch and how did you know it was the one?
EM: There was a huge amount of trial and error in the beginning. Honestly, there still is. We are constantly tweaking and trying out new things, so there is always some element of trial and error. I think the first thing I made that I thought really nailed it was the pickled Turmeric Cauliflower (it won a Good Food Award last year!). That recipe went through the most iterations, I think, but when we tried the final one it was clearly the best.
WQ: We’re very excited by companies that are eco-friendly. Can you share with us your values on re-purposing food and how you implement these values?
EM: Pickling and preserving have been implemented for centuries as a way to store food for winter months when nothing was coming out of the ground. Also as a way to make use of the bountiful harvests in late summer and fall. These legacies of preservation are central to our company’s values. We offer a useful outlet to farmers by purchasing large amounts of produce that often would otherwise become compost. By sourcing exclusively from local, organic farms, we offer the consumer a chance to enjoy locally grown produce year round. While current food systems allow us access to food from all over the world, we feel that it is important to provide a local alternative.
WQ: Time to pick favorites! What fruit and vegetable do you most enjoy working with and why?
EM: Favorites are so hard! Beets are definitely a front runner. They transform so much after every step (heating, pickling). I am always stunned that such vibrant color and sweet earthy flavor can come from underground. I think my favorite fruit to work with are apricots. They taste like sunshine to me. We work with Blenheim Apricots, which have a pretty quick season, and they always go away too fast. Stonefruit in general is pretty magical.
WQ: Speaking from experience, jamming and pickling can be intimidating. What would you tell a novice who might be ready to tackle this very handy culinary art in the kitchen?
EM: My advice to a someone new to jamming and pickling would be to begin at the farmers market. Find what’s in season. Use a simple recipe – add spices sparingly. And don’t stop after the first try. It takes some time to figure out how to make what you like.
WQ: Would you be willing to share a recipe with Wilder? Perhaps something seasonal?
EM: Rhubarb jam is one of my favorite preserves to eat. It is also super easy to make!
Rhubarb Jam from Emmy’s Pickles and Jams
Chop several stalks into one or two inch pieces. Put them in a stainless steel pot. Add a tiny bit of water to the pot – this is so the rhubarb won’t burn and stick to the bottom. You can add more if you like, but you’ll need to cook the jam for longer.
Squeeze a few lemons, about half a cup or so. Add the juice.
Keep the heat on med – low, and be sure to stir often.
Add about half the amount sugar as you have rhubarb.
The rhubarb will begin breaking down and releasing a lot of liquid.
Cook the mixture until you have a thick, jammy consistency. Add more sugar if you like. I prefer things less sweet, but rhubarb is pretty tart, so you might need a little more sweetness.
When you feel like its done, put it in a jar or bowl and into the fridge. Enjoy on yogurt or toast, or as a new sandwich spread.
Special thanks to Emmy, Jonah and the folks from Gravel & Gold for sharing your stories and keeping Wilder inspired in the kitchen!
Last May I wrote a post about the arrival of the emerald ash borer in New York State’s Orange County. This single glittery, speck-sized bug is responsible for the decimation of millions of ash trees in Michigan, where it was first discovered a decade ago. New York is up next.
Untold numbers of exotic species assail our shores each year and, by are large, their arrival is relatively benign. Ever so rarely a species arrives that creates vast, blindingly fast damage to biodiversity. The emerald ash borer is one such bug. Laying its eggs on the bark of ash trees, the insect’s larvae burrow down into the plant’s phloem, essentially cutting off the tree’s ability to feed itself. Once heavily infested, trees die on a massive scale in only a handful of years. Ash are one of the most widespread genera of trees east of the Mississippi and in some areas of New York State make up to 20% of the forest.
Fortunately, a seed collection project is hot on the heels of the emerald ash borer. The National Seed Laboratory, Cornell, the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, and the Mid Atlantic Seed Bank have all begun efforts to collect and protect the seed progeny of ash trees around the north east and mid west. You can do something about it too. Keep out for the signs of emerald ash borer (EAB) in your backyard. Hire an arborist to check up on and treat your trees. Join a seed collecting workshop. Do your part. Help save a species.
Every time I see a Magnolia tree in bloom, I think of the poet, Edna St. Vincent Millay. As I gaze at those bulbous pink flowers, her luscious poetry flows through my mind…
I will be the gladdest thing
Under the sun!
I will touch a hundred flowers
And not pick one.
I will look at cliffs and clouds
With quiet eyes,
Watch the wind bow down the grass,
And the grass rise.
And when lights begin to show
Up from the town,
I will mark which must be mine,
And then start down!
-from Edna St. Vincent Millay’s poem “Afternoon on a Hill.”
Spring is a time to clean, detox, and investigate how we feel in our bodies. Ask these kinds of questions: Do I feel sluggish or energized? Is my skin clear or broken out? Am I excited about life? Indifferent? Depressed? When it comes to my mind and body, if something is feeling off I turn to nature. I’ll smell the Jasmine, walk through a Redwood grove, lay in the grass (unless, of course, my allergies are acting up). It’s not a coincidence that there are so many natural remedies. The healing is there, we just have to find it!
Feeling tired, anxious, and behind in everything, I decided to give up caffeine this Spring. I was addicted, so I slowly weaned off until cutting it out entirely. It was then than I turned to my savior: Dandelion Root. Though the flower (Taraxacum) is a pestering weed to many, I wouldn’t hack it away so fast. Health-wise it detoxes the liver, promotes healthy digestion, and aids weight loss. It is a brilliant substitute for caffeine, serving as an energy boost and a taste twin. The roasted root is toasty and bitter in flavor, emulating those comforting qualities of coffee.
You can buy prepackaged tea bags at any health food store or try a home remedy. The roots and leaves provide the most nutrients (add flowers for a flavor burst), just make sure to chose dandelions that have not been sprayed. Once you’re past the caffeine withdrawals, you won’t miss the coffee, the jitters or the sleepless nights. You’ll feel just dandy.
Fennel’s not my favorite and I was reminded of this when I brushed my teeth the other day. I borrowed some Tom’s of Maine toothpaste and it was fennel flavored. My reaction was one of distaste—similar to when I take a sip of the spirit Fernet or dabble with anything licorice flavored. With some reflection, I found myself inspired by my repulsion and eager to learn some more about this plant species, Foeniculum vulgare. After all, it makes its way into many delicious salad, soup, and pizza recipes. It’s a staple of Italian cuisine (one of my favorites) and it lines many of California’s winding roads, resembling one of my favorite flowers: Queen Anne’s Lace.
First finding: it’s a member of the parsley family. Not great news to me because I’m also not a fan of that herb (along with cilantro). I keep trucking away though—grasping for a bite. A few more findings: fennel can be used as an herbal remedy to sooth digestion, calm spasms, and clear respiratory passages. Not bad, fennel. Another pro (and possibly the deal-breaker for yours truly): the strong aromatic properties of fennel mellow exponentially the longer it cooks.
Best news yet: fennel is a multipurpose plant, perfect for gardening. The entire plant is edible. It offers fine, feathery leaves to be used as kitchen herbs, aromatic seeds for seasoning, a vegetable bulb for sauteing, braising, roasting, etc, and thick stalks to enjoy as you would celery. Although I won’t be eating fennel raw anytime soon (and it’s likely I’ll stick to mint toothpaste), I’m willing to grill it up and do as the Italians do.
The old adage (and tongue twister) goes ‘plant peas on st. pattys’. The wise old man that coined that saying must have lived somewhere between Maryland and Massachusetts, but I actually hear it echoed far and wide. By and large, peas are an excellent early season crop. In fact, they might be the consummate spring thing: they’re cold hardy, ravenous growers, they bring us splotches of pink and white blossoms almost as early as possible PLUS they’re delicious. Almost anyone can grow peas with a little space. The trick is getting the plant going early enough to beat the summer heat, and being timely with trellis construction is important too, so your neatly trained peas don’t become a tangled pea dreadlock trailing across the ground.
1. Good Pea Varieties: ‘Laxton’s Progress Number 9′ is a fantastic heirloom variety of shelling peas and one of my all around favs. Five inch pods produce large, wrinkled dark green peas in about 60 days. A bonus about this one- its vines are dwarf and require no staking, making it a great choice for the urban veggie grower. ‘Cascadia Peas’, a sweet and crunchy sugar snap variety, is another good pick with relatively short 3 foot long vines. The handy thing about ‘Cascadia’ is its resistance to powdery mildew- a common problem in the spring garden.
2. Bed Prep and Planting: Peas grow best when soil has warmed to somewhere around 60 degrees. If it’s a little colder, that’s ok. Seeds and seedlings can tolerate a cold snap or two. In fact, it’s best to plant seeds about 4 weeks before the last frost date in your area. Peas slow down production once summer weather starts, so to ensure for a good harvest, it’s vital to start early. Plant seeds in two rows. Each seed should be 1 inch deep and 2 inches away from its nearest neighbor. Don’t sweat the small stuff, if you cram your peas in too tight, thin the shoots and eat a pea shoot salad. All the cool kids are doing it.
3. Pea Support: Unless planting dwarf varieties, all peas need some kind of structure to keep them growing skyward. Sturdy branches dug into the ground, placed every 8 inches or so should do it, so long as they are knobbly enough to give the pea tendrils something to hang on to. Chicken wire works too. As does one of those fancy over priced trellises they sell at garden centers. Go on! Get creative. Just do it early enough, like as soon as you plant your wee pea seeds.
The heros of horticulture are of a different ilk than most. There are no great conflagrations in their world, and rarely losses of life. They deal in the quiet study of advancing the way things grow, of bringing beauty nearer to the public eye, and ensuring plants remain in the landscapes where they belong. When ‘purty-as-a-ladybird’ Claudia Johnson flew into Austin, Tx one sunny May day she saw a field of blue bonnets, and the flame was lit.
Forever after, Ladybird carried the torch for native plants, facilitating the creation of the Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center and National Wildflower Research Center in Austin. Recognizing that the diversity and abundance of North America’s wildflowers was at risk, the center became an important conservation center for rare and endangered flora, and an educational center for those wanting to learn more. The garden is also home to the Native Plant Database- a record of over 7,000 plants native to North America.
“Some may wonder why I chose wildflowers when there are hunger and unemployment and the big bomb in the world. Well, I, for one, think we will survive, and I hope that along the way we can keep alive our experience with the flowering earth. For the bounty of nature is also one of the deep needs of man.”
- Ladybird Johnson
Is it summer yet? I mean, March is exciting and all, but seriously…I can’t stop thinking about long days shaped by bountiful produce. For example, last summer was “the summer of peppers” because there were peppers all around me. Not only was I eating them at almost every meal, but I spent a weekend in Santa Fe where ropes of ceramic peppers hang on almost every wall-hook. Of course, my pepper of choice is the shishito. Whether foil-roasted, barbecued, or flash-fried, it was and is the perfect snack for summer.
Unlike other peppers, the shishito is typically mild in spice. In fact, eating shishito peppers is like gambling since only one in every eight peppers contains heat. Of course, when it’s hot, it’s smokin’ hot. Literally, though, the pepper is naturally overwhelmed by a rustic smoky flavor, followed by a quick splash of sweetness. Summertime in a bite, these glossy-green peppers are about 3 – 4 inches long and are best prepared with the stem on.
Now if only summer could come a bit sooner, it might quell my craving. Of course, planting season is as early as late spring, so they’re not completely irrelevant this time of year. It’s something to look forward to! There are many ways to welcome the shishito into your kitchen, however if you want your peppers fast and easy, you might stick to something simple like pan-roasting. Be patient as they char—it’s not a real summer without some blisters.
Photograph by Matthew Bookman
Seed starting can be a finicky panicky pain. Too wet and the seed rots, too dry nothing happens. Not enough light and all you get are long wiggly white worms of stems that can’t stand on their own (that’s known as etiolation, btw). Here are some tips to make things easier:
1. Invest in one of these for even, powerful light exposure.
2. Use peat pots instead of plastic trays. Soaking these pots in warm water first will help with water retention and will help you skip that fiddly step of transferring seedlings to bigger pots (you can just plonk the whole thing in the new soil instead of extracting the plant)
3. ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS USE STERILIZED SOIL. I’m serious. And no crying allowed if you don’t.
4. Soak seeds overnight to get the process going a little faster. Softening seed coats in water does the trick at speeding up germination.
5. Don’t oversow. It may be tricky to get just 1-3 calendula seeds in a pot, but it’ll save yourself the thinning process if you do. If it’s too tough get one of these do-hickies.
6. Keep seeds warmer, somewhere between 65-75 degrees F is ideal for germination. Get a heat mat to help out.
Strictly speaking there’s no ‘woulda, coulda, shoulda’ here. I already grow Hellebore- how could I not? They bloom in the middle of winter. Well, depending on where you are. Here in the Northeast that’s pushing things a bit, but go south a few hundred miles and you got it: speckled pink, deep dark maroon, pale pale yellow blooms smack bang in January. Hellebore beats out the competition in this regard because of its tough, almost coriaceous (that’s a botanical term- feel free to fling it around from now on, too) petals. They are virtually frost-impervious, and the leaves too. But it’s not just that this plant gives me flowers in winter. It’s flowers are beautiful, too.
Hellebores are pretty easy to find at most nurseries, and pleasure of all pleasures, they actually are self seeding, too. So once you get one, you’re almost certain to have more. Give them a fairly rich, deep bed in moderate shade to full sun. Although they can be grown in a woodland-like setting, they flower and perform better in well lit areas. Black spot is a fairly common problem on older leaves, but snip these off and new healthy sprouts will appear soon enough.
The blooms are a little finicky to deal with as cut flowers. Snipping fatter, thicker, more turgid (botanical term number 2!) stems should help keep flowers perkier. If that fails, pop off just the blooms themselves and float in a bowl of water….
Image by Sarah at Saipua
Whitney Ott is a food and still life photographer based out of Atlanta, GA. Growing up in the woods in rustic Georgia, she developed an appreciation for hidden details and natural lighting. Turning passion into profession, through photography, Whitney captures the subtle beauty of images.
Wilder Quarterly first discovered Whitney through her gorgeous Instagram feed, which features her food and botanical photography. In typical social media fashion, Whitney and Wilder became fast friends. We were eager to learn how she captured such luscious shots of food and, more importantly, does it taste as good as it looks? Wilder also can’t get enough of her take on flower arranging. Whitney was kind enough to chat with us about her process, even offering some insider tips on how to achieve greatness behind the camera.
Wilder Quarterly: At Wilder, we love food, flowers and photography. Your profession combines all three. Can you talk a bit about your creative process and how it came to be? Also, what kind of a camera do you use?
Whitney Ott: I feel like my creative process began when I was a 13 year old kid clumsily fooling around with my first 35mm film camera. My family home is located in the woods, so most of my time was spent exploring the great outdoors through the lens. Because I grew up surrounded by nature, I developed a keen sense and appreciation for natural light and learned to focus on the intricate details that it has to offer. All of this knowledge I have carried with me into the professional world of photography–and I’ve upgrade to a 5D Mark II. My preference is to use natural light, as much as possible–for me, it just looks the best. When I prepare for a shoot–whether it be of food, flowers, or yarn– my first thought is always about color and how I want it to read in the image. Lately, I’ve been shooting and exploring colorful pieces on dark surfaces. I get inspired by a lot of different things and there’s almost a constant stream of ideas in my head, so you never know what I may shoot next!
WQ: Your photographs are breathtaking, and it appears you are not afraid of what I refer to as “the beautiful mess” or “a wild perfection.” Is this something you chase as a photographer?
WO: I love the idea of them both. It sounds cliched to say this, but I truly believe that there is beauty in everything. Whether it is a decaying flower, a finished meal with morsels left over on the plate, a smashed piece of fruit–there’s something fascinating and attractive about it all. In a way, I try to stay “true” to the nature and form of whatever it is I am photographing.
WQ: You must be surrounded by delicious food and gorgeous flora all day long. Who makes the food and who provides the flowers?
WO: I try to keep flowers in my loft as much as possible–they are so uplifting! Sadly, my refrigerator is a different story. The flowers that I buy usually come from The Dekalb Farmer’s Market–they always have a great variety and at very good prices. A lot of the food I buy comes from the same market, but there are also a lot of great bakeries in town that I like to go to as well. Everything on my site has been styled by me and most of the food on my site has been made and baked by me–a friend of mine happens to be a wonderful baker and she has been kind enough to bake me some pies and other tasty treats to photograph.
WQ: Can you talk a bit about staging your photographs? In terms of spontaneity, is a photograph ever an afterthought to a very hungry moment?
WO: In the past, my photography came to life in one of two ways: exhaustive planning and spur of the moment. I still do a lot of shoots that are planned out, but ever since I started using Instagram it has become another way in which I think about and stage my photos. When I’ve planned a concept ahead of time, I’ve already hunted down the right background, props, and food that I want to use and I stick to it. When there is no plan, it’s because I’ve gone to the farmer’s market and picked up things that piqued my interest. When I get home, I take my time and explore the object from all angles.
WQ: Your Instagram feed is one of my favorites! What role does it play in your process?
WO: Instagram is almost like my personal mood board–or the place where my “first draft” images live. Every image on my feed is spontaneous and there are plenty of after thought images to meals on there. Lately, I’ve been going through my feed and taking notes on what I shot with my phone and what about it is interesting. Then I try to re-create similar images with my actual camera. I am also trying to force myself to bring out my real camera to start shooting when I find that I am spending more than 5 minutes on an image I’m taking with my phone.
WQ: Food photography requires those magic ingredients: lighting, angle and drool-worthy content. I imagine the perfect combination of these three qualities leads to the genre one might call “food porn.” Is there a fourth element?
WO: Composition. Everything about creating an image is deliberate even if it seems like a happy accident. You want your composition to be powerful enough that it evokes a feeling from the viewer.
WQ: These days it seems as though everyone takes photos with their phone of what they’re eating or perfectly arranged flowers. At a point, everything begins to look the same. In what ways do you attempt to distinguish yourself from everyone else?
WO: I try to stay true to myself and my creative vision. The phrase, “write the book you want to read,” carries over for me–I photograph the images I want to see. My end goal is to photograph things in interesting ways that will give someone else a new found appreciation for whatever is in the photograph. A quote that inspires me to be creative is said very plainly by Steve Martin: “Be so good they can’t ignore you.”
All images by Whitney Ott.
Word is we get two extra minutes of sunlight a day right now. Almost imperceptible to me, but my plants see it. Pushing out the new fuzzy buds of spring, my once lugubrious house plants are down right peppy now. And that’s what’s put fertilizer on my brain.
Fertilizer is a tricky subject. Something that adheres nicely to that old adage ‘everything is best in moderation’. Throughout the winter, however, it’s honestly best to not fertilize at all. The last thing you want to do is make your plants grow when it’s not time to be growing. The best time to fertilize (and the best time to do everything in gardening) is to act when the plant tells you to (I don’t hear voices, I promise). The flushed pink nubs of buds appeared on my Tibouchina about three weeks ago, and I started rubbing my hands (almost salivating, actually). Even though it was below freezing outside, my princess flower was telling me ‘not long to wait now….’.
When you start to see these silent signs, get ready to hop on the horse again. It’s time to go, and it will happen fast. Fertilize when these new spring leaves have unfurled, and do it gently with a dilute solution to begin with. In general, I always feed less than the recommended dose on the back of the package. A great fertilizer to start with is something with an organic seaweed base. About once a month after feeding, it’s good practice to flush away any salts that may have accrued in your house plant’s soil over the course of its residence in its pot.
Getting the jump on spring and giving your plants that vital dose of N (nitrogen) P (phosphorous) and K (potassium) will ensure they give you lots of the good stuff (flowers! fruit! They’re coming!) all season long.
We all have that special ingredient in our kitchen. You know the one. You bought it for that impressive recipe you made that one time. How convenient! The recipe only called for a small portion, leaving you with more than you bargained for. Now a storage item, you have no clue how to incorporate this has-been into your daily food rotation. Question: let it rot, reminding you of how one time you were brilliant and how those days are long gone? Or, open the cupboard and release said ingredient from behind jars, letting it shine once again?
I recently encountered this conundrum with Medjool dates I had purchased for my Lumberjack Cake. Did you know that the date has been part of a healthy food diet for thousands of years? In case you’re unfamiliar, dates are the sweet, edible fruit born from the date palm tree (Phoenix dactylifera). Full of vitamins and minerals, they have high levels of potassium, fiber and protein. A great source of energy, dates can often be used as a sugar substitute given their naturally sweet flavor.
The time had come for me to take my date on a second date. I’m talking about the Date Shake. This decadent yet healthful breakfast smoothie has been a favorite among foodies ever since taste-maker Heather Taylor gave it a whirl on her blog LA in Bloom. Whether it’s enjoyed first thing in the a.m. or after a strenuous work-out, one cup of this morning glory will have you revved up for hours. Another special ingredient besides dates? Cinnamon. Luckily, most of us kitchen-dwellers have already met that spice. Relationship status? Dating indefinitely.