For the first nine months of my blog I shot all the pictures on my iPhone. That runs contrary to a lot of professional advice, but I didn’t anticipate any traffic in the beginning. An iPhone was the tool that I had, and I wanted to be able to test things out and get into the habit of blogging before dropping any serious money on this space. I’m not going to claim that I became a brilliant photographer in those nine months. I would say that I improved a lot between my first blog post (eek) and my last one shot with an iPhone (not great by any means, but better). And I think anyone would argue there’s still a lot of room for improvement.
Around six months into blogging I decided that I wanted to take it seriously.In order to blog seriously there’s a lot of different ways you can spend a lot of money. It’s not really polite to talk about money, but I’m a line cook. If you have an awareness about restaurants in America you probably know that cooks of any kind, especially line cooks, aren’t exactly in the top 1 percent. And everything in blogging seems to have a cost, from premium subscriptions to owning your own domain to creative licenses. It was enough to make me consider taking on a third job to pay for all the blogging costs. But after thinking over some opportunities and blissfully ignoring others, I decided that before dealing with abstracts I should learn to take pretty pictures. I started putting away a small amount of every paycheck into a designated account, did some research, and went to a camera store and asked an annoying amount of questions. After three months of saving I walked away with a new camera. A Nikon D5300, to be exact.
It was a learning curve, and a fun one, to figure out how to shoot pictures on this new camera. The photos got better quickly, until they weren’t getting better anymore. It took googling “food photography” and “learn to take better pictures” that I figured out I was using this carefully saved for camera as an expensive point and shoot. Oops.
So here’s the first picture for this blog not shot in manual mode. It’s the first with changes to the white balance and exposure, and the first where I staged the photo before bringing in the food. I still have a lot to learn, but luckily it’s a fun thing to study. It’s also fun to try styling different foods, and some are tougher than others. So naturally I’ll start with a drink. Drinks are easy to photograph, right?
Horchata’s a treat that I don’t drink enough. I see it occasionally at the menu at certain Mexican restaurants, but in my experience it’s a revolving menu item. It’s there one week, gone the next, and may pop back up in a month or two. I’ve always loved the creamy sweetness of horchata, and I got tired of waiting to encounter it. It was high time that I made it myself.
We were hit with a heat wave here last week, and our apartment doesn’t have air conditioning. This is usually not a problem- we live in the coldest major city in the US, where the mean temperature is in the 40s. But when the heat index soars above a hundred it’s painful. For a few consecutive days I gulped down this horchata on ice, which was both a special treat and a cooling tonic. If you’re in a heat wave, this is a treat that will help fix what ails you. If you’re not, it’s a tasty not-dessert dessert, a treat with breakfast, and, as per Aaron, an excellent addition to coffee.
It’s an easy drink, but one that requires both time and some equipment. You need a blender to make horchata. You’ll also need a fine mesh strainer, some cheesecloth, and patience. If you have all those things, and you’re willing to plan ahead, you’ll be rewarded with a sweet, creamy drink that reminds me of the milk left behind after eating cinnamon toast crunch in all the best ways.
Horchata de Arroz
adapted from Paletas: Authentic Recipes for Mexican Ice Pops, Shaved Ice & Aguas Frescas by Fany Gerson
Be patient while the horchata is straining. Strain carefully, otherwise you’ll be left with rice pulp in your glass.
Makes about 6 cups
2/3 cup brown rice
3 cups warm water
1 cinnamon stick
2 cups whole milk
1 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
ground cinnamon for serving
In a blender, food processor, or spice grinder, grind the rice into a fine powder. Transfer to a jar with the warm water and cinnamon stick. Refrigerate overnight.
In a blender combine the rice water with the whole milk, sugar, and salt. Blend on high speed for a minute, until everything is well combined and the cinnamon stick has been completely distributed into the rice milk mixture.
Strain into a clean container, using a strainer lined with cheesecloth. If the horchata has some difficulty straining use a spoon to gently stir the horchata as it strains. Refrigerate again until completely cool.
Serve over ice, dusted with cinnamon.