Christmas Cards Now Available

It's hard to know where the time goes and it seems like the holidays are upon us faster and faster every year. One of my favourite things to do each year is to reconnect with my family and friends by sending Christmas Cards. As you all know I've lived in a number of places which often provides inspiration for my blog but it also means that I have lots of friends all over the globe who I miss particularly at this time of year. As much as we have so many new ways of connecting with each other, I still love to receive a hand-written card. And I like writing them as well. It gives me some time to slow down during the hectic season - maybe even enjoy a nice Christmas beverage while I'm penning notes to family and friends far and wide.

After a lot of coaxing from friends and family who'd received my cards over the years I'm pleased to offer a few of my Christmas Cards for sale this year via a new shop that I've set up on the blog. Eventually I will be bringing on other items, including Limited Edition Fine Art Photography Prints.

It's a way of being able to share some of my favourite photographs  with people in a more permanent way. I chose designs that reflect my own family's traditions - Christmas Cake, evenings spent writing Christmas cards, sipping something special and of course, one of my favourite pastimes - holiday baking. I hope you will enjoy these cards as much as I do and find time to reconnect with friends and family over the holidays. 


I'm offering free shipping in the US and Canada for all orders placed by December 5th. Visit the shop link to find out more.

Headshots: Say it With Sarcasm

You may know my talented, smart, and beautiful friend Ženija Esmits from Say it With Sarcasm and her line of very clever cards with just the right amount of snark.

 Card Designs by  Say It With Sarcasm.
 Card Design by Say It with Sarcasm

Card Designs by Say it With Sarcasm. Photography by Helena McMurdo.

Naturally we always enjoy ourselves when we collaborate and so it was no different when Ženija hired me to do some headshots for her website which will also be used for in-store promo material for some of her resellers. 

Here are some of my favourites from the shoot.

Zenija Esmits

If you'd like to see more of Ženija's cards, check out her webshop

If you are interested in headshots drop me a line.

 

 

 

Vancouver Art Exhibition: Eat Your Veggies

Some of you will remember that last year I exhibited in my first ever art show at the very lovely gallery and furniture store Studio 126. So when I heard that they would be inviting local photographers and artists to exhibit again this year on a food theme, of course I was in. 

This year's event celebrates the world of veggies and I'll be showing 5 pieces which I'm really excited about.

The opening reception will be this Thursday, April 7th so if you are in the neighbourhood, I would love you to drop on by. You can RSVP on Facebook

And if you can't make it,  fear not, the show runs Wednesday to Sunday until May 22nd.

Cherry Clafoutis

During the height of summer, with Vancouver under an Air Quality Warning due to surrounding Forest Fires, and experiencing temperatures upwards of 30 Degrees C for some reason, all I was thinking about was baking. 

It had to do with these beauties that I saw at the Farmer's Market early in the season. For some reason, raw cherries and I have never been friends. Even well washed organic ones make my lips and mouth itch. It's not like I haven't tried, but I know when to stop.  Cooked cherries are another story - bring them on. We get on like a house on fire.

 BC Cherries are perfect for Cherry Clafoutis. Photography by Helena McMurdo. Recipe on myendlesspicnic.com

A few weeks ago, a particularly clever friend of mine brought a delightful dessert to another friend's bridal shower: A Cherry Clafoutis. Delicious, of course. I have always wanted to make one and ever since then, the idea has been planted in my brain.

 Pour the custard over the cherries to make a Cherry Clafoutis.  Photography by Helena McMurdo. Recipe on myendlesspicnic.com
 Bake the cherry Clafoutis until it is golden. Photography by Helena McMurdo. Recipe on myendlesspicnic.com

Several attempts were made, some successful, others not. By my third try, I had enlisted the help of my three-year-old nephew and I think we cracked it. I thought give him the simple job of removing the stems of the cherries, but once he saw me with the cherry pitter in hand, there was no way that he was not having a part of that action. He performed admirably and remarkably, we and my mother's kitchen, emerged unscathed.

 Soaking the cherries releases the juices. Photography by Helena McMurdo. Recipe on myendlesspicnic.com

It's wonderfully simple to make. In fact, a three-year-old can do it. The pitting of the cherries is the most time consuming element, but other than that, you are simply mixing up a custard with a consistency similar to pancake batter in the blender and pouring it over the fruit. And if you bake regularly, you'll have most ingredients on hand.

The cherry season started early this year and is finishing up now. As we move into the late summer, you can easily substitute plums. Just slice them in quarters and arrange them beautfully in the baking dish and follow all other steps in the same manner.

 Allow the clafoutis to cool completely. Photography by Helena McMurdo. Recipe on myendlesspicnic.com

And of course, you must dust with powdered sugar. And then dust some more.

Cherry Clafoutis

I've based my recipe on this one from Simply Recipes with a few amendments. I found that soaking the cherries in brandy, (surprise, surprise) gave a great added flavour to the fruit. With this addition, I reduced the amount of almond extract slightly. I also increased the temperature to 375 which I felt worked better for the custard. My special tip is to dust the greased baking dish with sugar instead of flour which gives a lovely browned crust.  

about 2 cups of fresh sweet cherries, pitted
2 TBSP brandy
2 TBSP blanched slivered almonds
3 eggs
3/4 cup  sugar
1 TBSP brown sugar
1/2 cup of all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon of salt
1 cup of milk (2% is fine)
1/2 teaspoon of almond extract
1 1/2 teaspoons of vanilla extract
Powdered sugar for dusting
extra granulated sugar for preparing the baking dish

1. Grease an 8-10 inch ceramic pie dish, dust it with granulated sugar and pop it in the freezer while you prepare the fruit and custard.

2. Pit the cherries using a cherry pitter. Don't be a hero and try to do it without. Invest in this fabulous piece of equipment (which you can also use for olives).

3. Optional step - place the cherries in a bowl and pour over the brandy. Let soak for 1/2 hour at least, preferably more.

4. Make the custard by placing the sugars, flour, salt, milk and extracts in a blender and mixing thoroughly.

5. Remove the pie dish from the freezer and arrange the slivered almonds to cover the bottom of the dish evenly. (I originally ommitted this ingredient but in subsequent trials,  found the almonds to be essential.)

6. Arrange the cherries and any juice in the dish on top of the almonds.

7. Pour the custard mixture over the cherries and place in preheated oven.

8. Bake for 30 minutes or until the centre is just ever so slightly wobbly and the top is golden.

9. Allow to cool completely and then prior to serving, dust with powdered sugar.

10. If you can't finish it for dessert, eat the rest for breakfast.

 

 

Portraits: Genevieve

I've been doing more portraits lately as you may have noticed. It's been an interesting process for me, one that has not come naturally. I think one of the reasons I like food photography is that I can take time to plan and control my shot. Yep there it is - that word - control. I like knowing that I'm in control of the situation. And with people, well sometimes you're not...Right?

But that's where the process has become interesting for me. The more I do of  these, the more I realize that actually, I get better shots if I get out of my own way and just allow things to unfold naturally. When I started doing these portraits, I was less comfortable giving direction to my subjects and while I've become more comfortable with that, the most successful portraits I've done always seem to involve some collaboration with the subject. 

Recently I was lucky enough to make some pictures with this lovely lady. Genevieve is the owner of Violet Boutique in Vancouver and we profiled her recently on South Granville Inhabiter. These are some of my favourite shots from the shoot. Her light filled space was so inspiring to work in and after spending some time with her chatting about her business, we spent about an hour making pictures together. And of course, how could we not include her adorable best friend and assistant shopkeeper Bea.

The Nostalgia of Food

I mentioned a few weeks ago that I would be participating in the first public showing of my work as part of a group show called The Nostalgia of Food which opened on February 5th at Studio 126 in Vancouver's Chinatown. The show features a number of Vancouver food photographers, illustrators, and other artists all contemplating the theme of Nostalgia of Food. In total there are 15 artists showing more than 30 works, three of which I'm very pleased to say are by yours truly.

It was lovely to see such a great turnout for the opening night. I was truly overwhelmed by the great turnout  of Vancouverites that came out to support the show, on what was possibly one of the rainiest nights of the year. It was a night of  was good food, wine, conversation, friends, family and beautiful art from all the participants.

Naturally, the theme appealed to me. As readers of this blog will know, I do tend toward the nostalgic from time to time. It's sometimes said that nostalgia can hold us back and I'm very conscious of that but somehow I've found a way to make nostalgia drive me forward. Many of my own food memories are the subjects of this blog and they inspire both my writing and my photography work. In a way, I could say my own sense of nostalgia has opened up new avenues for me. I'm frequently surprised and delighted how often people respond to my posts with "my mum used to make that" or "that makes me remember".

I’m also interested by the cultural iconography of nostalgia as it relates to food. Does a home-made pickle made by a grandmother taste better than one made by a professional in a state-of-the art facility? Are we responding to the taste of the pickle or the experience or memory? How is that we can imagine these cues from experiences that may or may not have occurred. Are we being true to the real experience?  Or do we all attribute meaning to our memories that may not be there? No one in my family ever made pickles but I imagine them in an old-fashioned way. Why is that? 

One of my works on display, shown above, is called Rashers and Eggs. With this piece as with much of my photography, I'm exploring the simplicity of these ingredients which recalls a simpler time, when these items were the product of the farmhouse, not the factory. How many of us have actual memories of eating this way? Or are we responding to a collective imagined experience? Why do we long for that simpler time? Is it because it is just that? Simpler.

The whole experience of showing was an interesting one, from selecting the works to be included, to determining how I wanted them to be framed or even if I wanted to frame them. In the end, I decided that as they were to be offered for sale, I wanted to offer them as I envisioned them being hung on the wall. Because my photographs are printed on a fine art paper with a lot of texture, I wanted the edge of the piece to be visible and so I decided to float them on a back matt. I really like this effect because it feels natural and in keeping with my work.

One of the best  parts  in this whole process was being introduced to Anna and Ryan at Studio 126. Not only do they promote local artists and artisans but they are also artisans themselves, making the most stunning furniture out of reclaimed wood and welded metal, which is also for sale in their shop. They have created a beautiful space to sell and show not only their own work but the work of others. Being in their space is a nostalgic experience in itself. The room is stripped to the bare bones highlighting the old exposed brick and steel beams and it makes me think of the secrets of history that live within those walls. It's a lovely place to stop in, say hi and just enjoy a quiet moment looking at beautiful things. 

So all in all, the experience has been a lovely one which in years to come I know I'll look back on with a new sense of nostalgia for that time when I put up work for my first art show.

The Nostalgia of Food runs until March 1st at Studio 126, 126 Pender Street, Vancouver

Opening Times: Wednesday - Saturday 12-6pm

There's also a series of workshops associated with the event involving pattern making with food and preserving. More details are available on the Studio 126 website.

In the meantime, I'd love to hear from you with your thoughts on nostalgia. Are there any foods or eating experiences that spark particular memories for you? Does nostalgia hold you back or drive you forward?

 

UPDATE: The show has concluded. If you are interested in purchasing one of my fine art prints, you can contact me helena@myendlesspicnic.com.

 

Portraits: Shannon

Here's another portrait from the South Granville Inhabiter, In their Habitat series - the lovely Shannon. I first met Shannon about 10 years ago in the local. I was new to the neighbourhood she immediately made me feel welcome. When the opportunity came up last year to photograph her for South Granville Inhabiter, the answer was easy. 

Shannon

You can visit the whole series of In Their Habitat Portaits on South Granville Inhabiter.

Portraits: Brennen

Before Christmas, we got some new neighbours in South Granville - the lovely people at Bump N Grind. They have proven to be a lovely addition to the neighbourhood and I've gotten to know them over the last little while. We thought that café manager Brennen would be a fabulous addition to the In Their Habitat Series that I've been working on with South Granville Inhabiter.

Brennen_©HelenaMcMurdo Photography

 It was fun to spend a few hours just hanging out and seeing how Brennen works. His passion for coffee and attention to detail was inspiring and you can taste the result of his focus in his excellent cortado. You can read the full article on South Granville Inhabiter, written by my colleague Heather Phillips, but in the meantime, I thought you might like to see a few behind the scenes images from my shoot with him.

Brennen3_©HelenaMcMurdo Photography.jpg
Brennen2_©HelenaMcMurdo Photography.jpg

I've had such a lovely time working on this series and like they say on Sesame Street, "getting to know the people in my neighbourhood".

A New Year and Nostalgia

This will be the my first post of the new year and while custom tells me I should be looking forward to things ahead (more on that later), it is in fact nostalgia that occupies my mind. 

Two weeks ago my family celebrated a special anniversary – 40 years since our arrival in Canada. Naturally, this has brought on lots of memories and we have been reminiscing with my parents about what it was like to travel to Canada from Europe with 3 little kids and to begin a new life in a new land. We arrived in Edmonton en route to Yellowknife, north of the 60th Parallel, and the first order of business was to go to the Hudson’s Bay and buy snowsuits for all and our new life as Canadians in the North.

Yellowknife was filled with interesting people who all seemed to be from other parts and brought with them their food and traditions. My character being what it is, my thoughts turn to the things that we ate. With relatively less fresh food available north of 60°, we ate a lot of frozen things and a salad meant iceberg lettuce and a pale beef steak tomato.(Readers of this blog will know I'm not a particular fan of salad anyway). But there were some spectacular things as well. We had a lovely friend who taught us how to make rose petal jelly from the pink petals of the wild roses that grew rampant along the roads. We ate them on tiny scotch pancakes as kids and I long for the taste of them still, all these years later.

Reliving more recent history, I’ve also been making empanada, trying desperately to replicate the most excellent crust the ones we had last summer in Spain. While the testing is enjoyable, I’m not there yet. I hope to share soon. For now here’s a peek at some of the process. Why is it we try to recapture that experience?

 The dough, before kneading.
 My version of Empanada Gallega pre-oven.

My version of Empanada Gallega pre-oven.

 La empanada de Begoña. The one I dream about.

La empanada de Begoña. The one I dream about.

As for what lies ahead? More nostalgia actually.

I’m thrilled to be participating in The Nostalgia of Food, a group art exhibition exploring the theme of nostalgia as it relates to our food and food experiences, featuring photography, painting, illustration and sculpture.

The show was imagined by Joey Armstrong, herself a talented photographer,  responsible for curating the show along with Anna of Studio 126, a furniture studio and gallery in Vancouver’s Chinatown.

Although Joey and I had been following each other on Instagram, we’d never met until I attended an exhibition of her work during the East Van Culture Crawl. When she mentioned the theme of this new show to me, I knew I wanted to be a part of it. Because like come on, nostalgia is sort of my whole thing. Right? I’m honoured to be a part of this show, of the new relationships it has opened up and excited to see the work from the other artists attending. We've had some interesting conversations about the personal nature of nostalgia - what may be nostalgic for one person, may not be for another. 

I’ll have three works for sale, one of which, Pickling, is featured on the show’s poster below,designed by Joey. I’m touched that this image was picked to promote the show.

 The Nostalgia of Food - Mark your calendars. Photo by Helena McMurdo / Design by Joey Armstrong

The Nostalgia of Food - Mark your calendars. Photo by Helena McMurdo / Design by Joey Armstrong

For me, pickles are in their very essence a nostalgic food item. They reflect a former time where preserving food in this way was a necessary part of life. It seems like everyone has story about their Grandma’s pickles and how good they were. In fact, I never made pickles growing up, but this image reflects much of the way I expected that experience would have been if I had.  That’s the funny thing about nostalgia – how much of it is real? How much of it is imagined or borrowed? Certain foods just seem to be imbued with more nostalgia than others. Today we have other ways of preserving food and we may make pickles for different reasons. Perhaps one of them is to recollect part of that way of life and recall a simpler time. They still taste pretty good too.

The Nostalgia of Food's opening reception takes place on February 5th at Studio 126, 126 E Pender, Vancouver from 7-10 pm. The show will continue until March 1st. I hope that those of you in Vancouver can drop by. For more info and to register for free tickets, visit the Eventbrite page.

So here's to nostalgia and good things ahead.

 

 

Portraits: James

With South Granville Inhabiter's recent birthday, I thought I'd like to feature some  of portraits I shot for our In Their Habitat Series.  These feature some of the people in my neighbourhood. It was great to work with Heather and Ženija on these and to get a chance to meet and get to know some of my neighbours in the process.

James is a local architect and you can find out more about him in his profile on South Granville Inhabiter.

Happy Birthday South Granville Inhabiter

Last year around this time, I joined with two talented friends to start South Granville Inhabiter, a blog about living in our lovely Vancouver  neighbourhood of South Granville. This past week, we marked our one year anniversary, and you know me, I'm never one to pass up an excuse for cake.

  Blueberry Victoria Sponge Birthday Cake © 2014 Helena McMurdo

In the next few weeks I'll be sharing some of my favourite images made for South Granville Inhabiter here on Endless Picnic, but for now, I'll revert to my usual subject matter and share the portraits of our birthday cake.

  Blueberry Victoria Sponge Birthday Cake © 2014 Helena McMurdo

We chose a classic Victoria Sponge...well maybe not so classic. Rather than strawberry filling I used a mixture of blueberry jam and whole blueberries sandwiched with buttercream between two layers of sponge cake. I think the shot below is my favourite of the lot. It's so luscious and jammy.

  Blueberry Jam and fresh blueberry filling for Victoria Sponge Birthday Cake © 2014 Helena McMurdo
  Blueberry jam and  whole blueberry filling for Victoria Sponge Birthday Cake © 2014 Helena McMurdo

The finishing touch was provided by our logo dusted in sugar.  For that I had the able assistance of my South Granville Inhabiter colleague and talented illustrator Ženija Esmits who helped me by cutting out a fine template of the logo she had designed for the blog while I carefully went about the dusting.

  Blueberry Victoria Sponge Birthday Cake dusted with South Granville Inhabiter Logo © 2014 Helena McMurdo
 Blueberry Victoria Sponge Birthday Cake © 2014 Helena McMurdo

Almost too pretty to eat. Almost.