Jeff Armstrong

Vivacious Curiosity

Sunday Breakfast

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I love to cook Sunday breakfast. There is always something special about it. This morning is mild and bright and French toast seems to fit the bill. It seems there are a lot of different versions to this classic but my favourite is the one that frequents the menus of Sydney cafés. Thick cut fresh bread, grilled banana, crispy bacon (or even better, pancetta) and gallons of syrup.

I eagerly mop up the last of the sweetness clinging to my plate with the warm, egg-soaked, fried bread as the church bells start to sound.

Alleluia.

Food for thought… regarding food.

I remember a couple of months ago, standing in the crisps aisle of my local Asda store and thinking: “What a waste of human and natural resource”.

I actually found myself lost for words at how much crap was in this store. I don’t mean Asda specifically, of course. I usually enjoy shopping there (never again on a Saturday). Just generally we waste so much effort and resource in producing that which has no real value.

I might read more into it and say that this was an epiphany about life in general and wasted effort, but in this case, I was really just thinking about food. You might argue that gaining pleasure from food is a worthwhile use of resource. I watch a young girl stuff a fist full of chips in her mouth and think, yes, but it’s the type of greedy pleasure that is too close to gluttony to be cherished.

I love to cook, and I love food. I enjoy my fat and sugar as much as anyone. In recent years information has trickled into my consciousness that is changing the way I look at these things though. The above video is from a talk given four years ago. I can’t remember if I’ve seen it before but it reminded me of a whimsical statement I made after seeing another of these talks about becoming a ‘weekday vegetarian’.

I am renewing this now as a commitment on the public forum. Five days a week, I can reduce or remove my consumption of animal products and feast on flesh on my days off. Seems achievable and, if enough people take up this crazy habit, we are essentially cutting the demand for animal products by about 70%. Good for us, good for the environment.

Read more great TED stuff here.

43 days until the Edinburgh marathon and I’m scared

Made it!
Its my first post in a while and it’s not about photography.

Its about pain.

I like to exercise and all that but a marathon? How the heck do I make these decisions? I am running in the Edinburgh Marathon this year and I am totally unprepared. I mean, I run, I have an active job, I cycle, I walk everywhere. But a marathon. Even the name makes me think of Mount Olympus and Achilles. Greek god/ athlete I am not.

But I am determined. I will be raising money for the charity Help the Hospices through my  JustGiving page. I hope to raise £1000 to help them with their extraordinary work supporting UK hospices.

Every little helps.

You can follow my progress on my twitter page where I will be updating my training, fundraising progress and my general pain for all to see. There are about another 140 runners for Help the Hospices. We hope to really make a difference through our personal suffering and our generous donations.

26.2 miles is a long, painful way to run but helping the ones you love when they are ill is a real test of endurance. I hope we can add just a little comfort and support to their day.

Thanks for reading and give generously at my JustGiving page.

Recipe for Decilicious

Serendipity x Providence + Inspiration = Delicious!

Taking inspiration from one of my favourite blogs, Sprouted Kitchen, I decided to do a little blurb about tonight’s dinner. This entry is a bit different from that wonderful site however in that, where sprouted kitchen is all planned out with great recipes made from raw, fresh ingredients, my post will be… serendipitous. Man I love that word!

Earlier today, after an great deal of stress (long story. I’ll tell you later) I decided to pop down to Asda to pick up something quick. Providence put a few lovely little bits in my way though leaving me salivating anticipation down my shirt front.

Whole Trout: £1.00 (bagged incorrectly from what I could tell), Mediterranean Veg: £1.50 (full price), 200mL Asda Cava: £1.64.

I don’t like to keep any business affiliations, that is, I am pretty neutral in fact particularly disloyal when it comes to grocery shopping, but £4.14 is pretty bloody good for a dinner in! With wine.

Get it home, throw it all in a baking dish. Add a little chilli to the vegetables in olive oil with herbs. Some parsley and lemon on that whole trout and in the oven at 180° for about 45 minutes. No mess, no fuss.

This is not usually my style. I like to chop, marinate, sizzle and drizzle but this really was just a fortunate series of events which ended in exactly what I wanted. So, Whole baked trout with mediterranean vegetables and a balsamic reduction. I’m sure I’ve paid fifteen quid for that somewhere.

Be Good!

Benjamin Button

Well, I’ve been putting off watching this movie for a long time. Mainly because I didn’t think I’d like it.

Occasionally we have the opportunity to see theater, movies, performances that really speak to us in a way that others do not. To get to the point, sometimes, rarely We might feel like a movie was written just we, and only we, would be able to see it. As if it were written just for our attention.

In many ways, ‘The Curious Case of Benjamin Button‘ was the one that caught me by surprise. As stated, I didn’t think I’d like it. Brad in his southern accent and Cate looking strangely alluring, it seemed a bit done before. Somewhere.

But not so, entirely. An adaption from a 1920′s short story, the movie had only a smattering the obvious racial and cultural puritanism of the time. The story supersedes this simply by not bothering that much with it. And the ‘curious case’ in the medical and psychological sense, is met with beautiful pragmatism and true acceptance.

What could easily have become a Sci-fi thriller turns out to be the story of every man. The 20′s prose was, amongst other things, a commentary on motherhood and relationships. The Hollywood adaption, despite being well funded, retains a heart of poignancy.

As I watched it I felt that it was written and played, truly, just for me. That someone looked at my life and said: ‘You know what? I have a story to define you.’ Don’t get me wrong, there are no physical or sociological parallels there. Only a feeling I get that somehow things are back to front and that the more I experience, the less I know and the older I get the younger (or, perhaps, the more immature) I feel.

And so, as I sit here and grow younger and more immature and forget the things I used to know and realize the truths that elude us all I am comfortable in the knowledge that, even eighty years ago, and therefore at anytime in history, someone, somewhere felt, more or less, the same way.

Comforting.

Be Good,

Jeff

Maria’s mother’s pierogi

mmm… Pierogi.

I love it.

There are really only a handful of things that define a culture. Art, poetry, prose, drama, architecture, language, war to name some. Only a few of these can create true bridges between people, history, families and even nations.

I love food photography and food generally. I was in the industry for many years and now that I am on the periphery, trying to become a food photographer, I can finally remind myself why it is so important to me.

To me a true sign of culture is when the ordinary becomes art (a sign of decline then might be when art becomes ordinary but I’ve not thought about this enough to write about it). A perfect example for me is the Japanese tea ceremony. It is truly beautiful. Full of perfect movement, subtlety, complexity and meaning. In the end, it’s just a cup of tea. But that ‘just tea’ is delivered to the realm of art and culture from the everyday. And the habits of subtlety from this spill over into everyday life.

For me, modern food in many restaurants and even homes, has taken the same cultural significance of art. My partner has stories of making pierogi at her mothers side for her father and three brothers. It’s significance is inherent by the ritual and memory of the making rather than the eating of the meal.

For modern chef’s in restaurant kitchens I think it has become a similar experience. Preparing the meal has gone from a necessary chore, through this stage of inherent cultural value, to a status of high art. One only needs to look at the work of Heston Blumenthal (one of my favorite cook books of all time), Ferran Adrià of El Bulli, Martin Whishart, Tom Kitchen or the humble Stuart Muir whom I had the opportunity to work with at Harvey Nichols, to know that food has not been ‘just sustenance’ or even a mothers gift for a long time. Please forgive the Edinburgh bias. I talk about what I know about.

The ordinary becoming art can be pretentious (often in photography) but also, it can be truly beautiful (dance) or at the very least: engaging (the karma sutra for example, not that this is the least of the arts :) ).

In the culinary experience, when food becomes art, it is not just an exquisite journey of taste and aroma often accompanied by that other wonderful art: vinification, it can also be a journey through time and space.

I love this scene at the end Ratatouille (one of my favorite quotes: ‘I don’t like food. I love it. If I don’t love it, I don’t swallow’) Where the hardened critic sits down to the simple and provincial dish and, in a mouthful, he is a child at his mother’s side, loved and happy. That is the art of food. Like music, it can give you a glimpse into the composers soul. Or maybe even your own.

Thanks and be good, Jeff

mediterranian morning

I have made a return, of sorts. From Cyprus I am now in Poland for a few weeks. I may pick up some work here but if not I can spend some time doing my own stuff, which is cool.

The image above was taken early in the morning from Kourion Beach near Episkopi, Cyprus, the village in which we have been working the last two months. It ranks as one of my favorites. It feels exactly like it felt to be there. Subtle colors. Cool and smooth. We swam there but not for very long. A bit chilly but refreshing.

At f22 my meter wanted to give me 1/4 to 1/2 second which froze the water and just made it a bit boring. I was at my highest available aperture and lowest ISO with a polariser on. So in the absence of a neutral gray filter, what to do to get up to the required 2 seconds for that beautiful silky water?

Just blow it out. Actually, shooting in RAW there is a lot more information in the highlighted areas and the shadows so it makes a bit of sense to shoot a little brighter than what your camera might suggest. So even if you’ve got clipping in your info screen, as long as the histogram is good you will have an image.

In fact in the RGB histogram many images will have a lot more of one color that the other two. You can push the dominant colour to the very edge and still get a great image.

Now, I don’t carry a light meter. I usually set to aperture priority see the result and take it from there. I got mildly ridiculed for this once but realized that in studio work I would take a dozen meter readings before ever taking a shot. Shooting in Av is about the same thing in my opinion and I use it as a tool a lot.

If one takes the argument to its logical conclusion then even shooting fully automatic seems reasonable if the results are what you intend. My intention here was to portray a cool, serene and silvery morning. I could only do that using manual settings. So the tool works for me.

What’s the point? No idea. Just the thought’s in my head. I’m printing this image to canvas as a gift for some friends of ours today. I hope the results are good.

Thanks and be good,

Jeff.

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