Cathy Merenda
Cathy Merenda
Cathy Merenda
Cathy Merenda
Cathy Merenda

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Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red

So I was in London in February for work then again in June with Katy and Meagan for fun.  February was cold, dark and rainy and I had to work.  June was sunny, warm, the sun set at 10 o’clock at night and we explored London like tourists (we were!).

Rebecca went in July for a month and shot back pictures of these red poppies in the moat of the Tower of London.  What?  I was just there and we didn’t see any poppies!  What the…   Anyhow, I became obsessed with the poppies which are an art installation of what will be 888,246 ceramic poppies commemorating and representing a British military fatality during World War I.   The installation was created by incredible ceramic artist Paul Cummins and theatrical designer Tom Piper and installed by volunteers.  The name of the installation is Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red.  Which is so fitting considering what it represents and by scouring the internet, what it looks like.

So yes, I scoured the internet.  A lot.  Every week there were more and more poppies filling the moat.   I started to scheme.  I really wanted to see it and experience this installation.  It’s epic and a once in a lifetime experience.   I started to price flights.  Just to see.

My birthday came around in September and I hinted I wanted to see the Tower of London poppies for my birthday present.   I finally pulled the trigger.   Three days, in and out.  I was going to see the poppies.

I arrived on a Saturday and of course got stuck in traffic on my way to Shoreditch.   I chose to stay at the Ace Hotel in Shoreditch because I’ve never been there, I heard it was a very artsy part of town, the hotel was affordable and I could walk to the tower from there.    It was far though.

That evening I just checked into the hotel, ate a wonderful Indian meal at Dishoom (which was packed) and walked a little around the neighborhood.  Shoreditch was HOPPING on a Saturday night.  There were tons of young people walking around and it was very active.

The next morning I had a coffee and muffin at Bulldog Edition in the hotel which was great.   I then took off on my quest to the Tower!

As I was winding my way South West to the Tower I suddenly came upon a large group of German tourists who, I was certain, were also going to the Tower.    I saw the spires in the distance and as I came through the Tower Hill tube stop tunnel I saw my first glimpse of the poppies!   They were bright red and looked real or surreal.  I pushed through the group of tourists and made my way to the corner and started shooting.   I kept taking breaks just to soak it in.   There were a lot more poppies in the moat than the first photos I saw from Rebecca.   A lot more.

I set up my tripod and started doing some HDR photos.   Of course I don’t know what I’m doing at all when it comes to HDR so I was winging it.  Once I was satisfied I bought a ticket to go inside the tower.   Not being sure if you could see the poppies from inside the walls.

Once in, I made my way far from the usual tourist spot the Crown Jewels are just stared exploring.   There was no one in certain areas.  It was odd but nice.    I caught a peek of the poppies through a cross shaped window but other than that, nothing.   One interesting thing however, in Beauchamp Tower there were original etchings in the walls made by prisoners in the 17th and 18th centuries.   Glancing through a name jumped out at me – William Beveridge (1562).   Hey, my 7th Great Grandfather is William Beveridge!   Could we be related?   Well that will take a bit of research…

So the next day, Monday, I woke up early again but it was raining so I opted for a cab to the Tower.   Much faster.    This time however the place was deserted.  I mean there were like 5 people.   I got a few good spots with my tripod and my umbrella and I did more HDR.   After spending a few hours on the internet the night before I was much more prepared.    I got a lot of shots.

That night I saw Lindsay Lohan in Speed the Plow on the West End.   I’ll just say, I found it odd that there was a last minute 5th row center ticket available.  The whole thing was a little flat and high school.

I flew home the next morning satiated and happy to have experienced such a wonderful memorial.   I also purchased a poppy and can’t wait to display it in a place of honour.     I only wish I would have been able to volunteer.  I also loved the hotel but wished I were more central.   Next time I do a quick trip like this I’ll find a hotel near a tube stop from Heathrow.   Also, I tried some great food but I think I should have stuck with my faves, Eat and Pret.   Can’t go wrong with those.

Here’s my two HDR experements. A bit of overkill but hey, I’ve never done it and I was trying to create a mood.

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Self portrait, Ace Hotel, Shoreditch, London

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KCRW Pie Contest

I love pie.  Especially the filling.  I do love crust but only when it’s really good.  Making pie crust on the other hand is a whole other story.   It’s the Holy Grail for me.

I took the Professional Baking course at the New School of Cooking in Culver City just for the pie crust part.  Of course I learned a lot more than that and tackled everything from croissants to cake but the pie crust week was what I was looking forward to.  I actually made a great crust during school and by myself afterwards.   Goal accomplished!

So there’s the 6th Annual Good Food Pie Contest sponsored by KCRW and hosted by Good Food host Evan Kleinman.   Another challenge!  So I entered.  Two pies.  Fruit and vegan.

I make a decent sour cherry slab pie.  I made it for Paula’s birthday a few years ago and I really loved it.  It’s like a giant pop tart.  With that pie I actually had picked the cherries myself.   There’s a farm out in Leona Valley that grows sours and they have u-pick.  The picking season for sours is very short.  Sometimes just a day.   Leona Valley has many sweet cherry farms with u-pick but the one farm with sours is where I go first.   Alas, it is no longer in business….  Anyhow, so no more u-pick sours – what to do?  I scoured the interweb and found Northwest Wild Foods in Washington and ordered up some sours.   They came very quickly and were fantastic!  Big and beautiful sour cherries.

So for the vegan pie that was another question.  What do to?   I am a vegetarian but not a vegan and have never made a vegan pie.  For some reason I had African Peanut Soup in my head.  I wanted to try to make a sweet pie with that concept but not just a peanut butter pie.  I added sweet potatoes and cayenne and had my pie.

Day of contest was hot.  Not just warm but HOT.  It’s been hot in So Cal for a couple of years so I was not surprised.  So I got up at the crack of dawn and started on the pies.   I had to bake 2 each before 10:30am so I could bring my pies over by 11:30am.  Eep!

The African Sweet Potato Peanut Pie was easy – mix it all in the Cuisinart and bake.   The Sour Cherry Slab pie was another thing.  Only because of the heat.   I had a cut out/applique idea to say “Can She Bake A Cherry Pie”.  So on my first try to put the top crust on I miscalculated how warm the dough was and the whole thing fell apart in my hands…..   Blah.   Thankfully I had made 4 batches of dough and I still had dough in the fridge.   Next try was ok and it would just have to do.

The contest was at UCLA.  Parking was easy but finding the drop off was a little confusing.  Bad signage.  That said I we dropped off the judges pie and when scouting for a good spot in the booths set up for the public to come try our pies.   Like I said, it was hot and most of the shaded spots were taken but I did manage to snag a shady spot!

There were hundreds of people lined up (in the hot sun no less) waiting to taste the pies.  Hundreds!  Once they were let in it got a little crazy.  People first started “shopping” for the pies they wanted to taste.   They were only alloted 2 tastes (which I think was bad – they should bet a lot more than that).   My cherry pie was gone first and I got great feedback from people.  A few people actually came back to me and told me how much they loved it.   The vegan pie was slower to go but it was also well received.  Thankfully!

So the finale and results were announced.   There were 370++ pies entered!  Wow.   At the end of it all I did not win in any category but I felt proud to have entered and the great feedback from the public was my payback.

2015 here we come??

SCSP SPPP


SOUR CHERRY SLAB PIE

PIE DOUGH
400 g. cold unsalted butter (Strauss European Style or Plugra)
665 g. all purpose flour (King Arthur)
5 g. fine sea salt
5 oz. cold water
100 g. granulated sugar
1/2 oz white vinegar

  • First make sure everything is cold. Mix the water, vinegar and sugar into a syrup and chill.
  • Then, pulse the flour, salt and butter in a food processor until it is the size of medium peas. Dump this fatty flour out on a work surface, and gather it into a pile.
  • Pour in half of the sugar syrup, and start mixing it all together gently; this is messy work. Squeeze the dough together and lightly rub the butter peas into the flour. Use the palm of your hand and press against the table gently and smear/rub the dough together.
  • Sprinkle on more of the syrup, keep squeezing and rubbing. Try to work quickly so that the butter does not melt. This is the key to flakiness.
  • When the dough comes together in a shaggy ball, I wrap the whole thing in plastic and let it chill in the fridge for an hour. This relaxes the gluten and brings the dough together.
  • After that hour, portion the dough into 14 oz. balls and roll them out, usually very thick, depending on the pie, roughly 1/4 of an inch.
  • Lay the dough into your desired pie plate and chill it for half an hour while you mix your filling.
  • Bake in a convection oven, starting at 375 for the first 15 minutes and then lowering the temp to 325 to finish.

FILLING
9 cups frozen tart sour cherries (3 lbs)
1 1/4 cup white sugar
1/3 cup cornstarch
Juice of a lemon
Pinch or two of salt

AFRICAN SWEET POTATO PECAN PIE

Peanut Graham Cracker Crust – per 9” pie

1 cup + 2 Tbs unsalted roasted peanuts
3 3/4 Tbs brown sugar
3 Tbs flour
1 3/4 cup ground graham cracker crumbs
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
3 Tbs margarine

  1. Butter pie pan
  2. grind graham cracker crumbs
  3. chop peanuts, sugar & flour in food processor
  4. Mix graham cracker crumbs, cinnamon, salt, cayenne and nut mixture in a large bowl
  5. Mix in melted margarine.
  6. Press into pan evenly. Refrigerate for 10 minutes while oven is preheating to 325.
  7. Bake 10 minutes then cool.

African Sweet Potato Peanut Pie Filing

2 cups sweet potato puree
3/4 cup brown sugar
4 oz dairy free cream cheese
1/2 cup soft tofu
1/2 cup coconut milk
1/3 cup soymilk powder
3/4 cup peanut butter
2 Tbs peanut butter powder
1 Tbsp lemon juice
1 Tbsp bourbon
1 Tbsp cinnamon
3/4 tsp cayenne

Mix all in food processor.   Pour into pie crust and bake 45-50 minutes @375F   Cool. Chill.

 Maple Pecan Topping
1 cup peanuts
¼ cup brown sugar
2 Tbs maple syrup
1/8 tsp salt
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
¼ cup butter

Mix together and add to top of pie in the last 10 minutes.

Oh Baby Baby

Has there been an explosion of babies on the earth?  Or at least in Southern California?   I dunno but seems like everywhere I go, everywhere I look or every person I talk to either has a baby, or is going to have a baby or is thinking of having a baby.   Eep.

Anyhow, I guess I’ve been taking a few baby photos lately.  There will be more but here’s a few from the newly born Taja and Skyler.   Both of their Mom’s are awesome (Dad’s too) and seem to let me do what I want with their kids.

Taja came first.   I did a photoshoot at 10 or so days.   She wasn’t really having it and her older sister Elle really didn’t want me there taking photos of this new person.   I went back a few weeks later to see if I could get some better shots.   I had a new prop, the big fluffy white blanket, which was very cool but did tend to get in the way a bit.   I do like a white background though.    Finally, I wanted to do something else.  For me.  I had an idea to put little Taja “in” an ad for a TV show.   So I had 3 shows to try.

1) HBO’s Girls  where we used stuffed animals to represent 3 of the 4 characters.   Of course Taja was Hanna (Lena Dunham) but Elaine swears that Marnie (Allison Williams) looks like a horse so naturally she’s the horse.   Zosia Mamet plays Shoshanna is represented by the ET doll and of course the character Jessa (Jamima Kirke) is the Cabbage Patch doll.  Elaine’s brother, a trained architect, drew the 3D park bench for me.

2) Orange is the New Black from Netflix. Where Taja plays the main character Piper (Taylor Schilling).

3) Finally, Sex and the City where naturally Taja is Carrie Bradshaw (Sarah Jessica Parker) surrounded by her favorite things.

Next up was Debra who let me photograph her the day before she gave birth to her daughter Skyler.  I came back a week later to meet Skyler and got a few good shots.

Girls Taja

Girls Taja

Orange is the New Black Taja

Sex and the City Taja

Taja

Taja

Debra

Skyler

Skyler


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