May 1, 2019Comments are off for this post.

Chicago Dogs in Iowa

Living in Chicago was amazing. The food scene is always evolving and changing. Something that never did, thankfully, is the classic Chicago hotdog. Over time the same toppings and the actual hotdog have remained, like some statue in the middle of a city square reminding us all of times past. Living in Iowa now, I find myself in a quandary. Whereas in Chicago everyone honors the tradition of using only Vienna beef dogs, bright green dill flavored relish, mustard, onion, dill pickle spear, sport peppers, tomato slices and the lightest dusting of celery salt on a (most times) poppyseed bun. In Iowa that's not the case. I've run into a few adherants to tradition but then a couple of wildly agregious examples, using such tyranny as cheap tubemeats (a vienna beef dog costs so little already!) and the worst offenders tend to be the $8 hotdog joints. What's even worse about that is in O'hare airport where a bottle of water costs $3, a proper dog for $4.50.

Rants aside, http://theflyingwienie.com/ is an oasis in Cedar Rapids, harkening to times past. With the same bright red aesthetic as many of the classic chicago fast food spots, complete with wood panels and an airplane on top of the building but most importantly the FOOD IS GOOD. In Chicago even the diviest of mom and pop spots will nail what they're doing. There's no room for bad food in cities like that. You'll get laughed out of a business. Recently Rebecca and myself went to feed a craving for the ubiqutous tube meat and were totally blown away but it's perfection.

notice there's no ketchup on the dog
Rebecca posing by the great red walls at the Flying Weinie

Amidst the new wave of restaurants we see day in and day out, don't forget the classics. Eventually our favorite new spots will hopefully last into the decades and if everyone gave up on them we'd be missing out on tradition. Some things need no innovation in food, or rather should remain as they always have to provide needed contrast to the new ideas as a sort of standard for which the new is measured against. An almost reference like quality that's needed with an ever more fast moving culture.

That brings me also to a new business in Cedar Rapids that has Chicago fast food as it's centerpiece, http://giannasbeef.com/. Having lived in Chicago as well the owners as well as many of the workers lean on experience to bring some pretty authentic italian beef, dogs and other classics to the downtown area. When they first opened up we gave it a shot (we need to come back more often admittedly) and were pleasantly suprised by the food.

Getting italian beef right is an art, and takes patience. The meat is cooked until it becomes insanely tender, normally around 30+ hours and topped with gardinera and the delicious liquid that results from that amount of cooking time. The decor may not be classic and is updated for a more modern aesthetic but the food sure is. It's great to see new places staying true to classics and carrying on the traditions in American food. The United States carries a tradition of immigrants coming to it's shores and making new foods. Some of these foods are our heritage and the Italian beef sandwich is one of them. Much like BBQ there are new ideas mixed in but the attention to detail and patience present in much of european cooking, there's a real center to this food. Briny, spicy relish on a deeply flavored meat on a soft roll. While you'd never find this in Italy, you can see how this would come from the same minds when presented with a different set of ingredients and audience. Food comes from culture, and recognising our past helps us celebrate that past with context and nuance.

The owner pictured above, Adam Hadjis, comes from a family of restaurant owners. His parents ran the Greek Vernon Inn for decades. It was where I first had Greek food on prom night in high school and was part of my early obsession with trying new foods so I'm glad to see the torch carried on by their son who named his new place after his daughter who passed in a tragic accident. The history is rich there and I hope that if you're here you give them a shot or if you're visiting and are craving some Chicago style fast food. You won't be let down.

February 4, 2019Comments are off for this post.

Pork Shoulder

Pork shoulder with rub

In my experience of learning about BBQ, what first drew me in was pork shoulder. There are so many ways to use it and many cultures use various parts of pigs to great ends and the ethos of using the whole animal the shoulder is typically slow cooked into pulled pork, smoked into BBQ sandwiches, chopped up for stew, made into sausages and so on. The rear legs are typically turned into hams while the front shoulders are cooked in different ways considering the high percentage of connective tissue present.

When considering how to cook a piece of meat you have to look at how it's made up. How much marbling of fat or connective tissue are your starting points. Lean cuts can be cooked quickly, like a loin but the shoulders are totally a different type of cut. Over time, what would be a tough gristly piece of meat falls apart because the fat renders out and the connective tissue breaks down and basically disappears. A good average I've found for cooking the front shoulder of any four legged animal is to give myself an hour for each pound of meat. What that ends up meaning is that when I want to cook a pork shoulder it becomes an all day process. So either I will cook it in advance and freeze it for later use, or what I've recently realized is maybe a better approach.

Pork shoulder in 1lb pieces in my favorite vintage cast iron skillet, ready for the oven

I've started breaking down the shoulder, following the white lines of connective tissue in the meat and cutting out the bone present. I make what are approximately 1 pound chunks, put them on a rack to season, toss into a cast iron for 45 minutes at 450 degrees F, and then cover and drop the temp down to 280-300 and let them cook for another hour covered. A six lb shoulder turns into soft perfectly cooked meat in less than half the time, you get more of that precious outer bark seasoning layer and can eat sooner. This time I'm cooking a bunch in advance but I could have frozen some of the pieces for future use.

adding water to a pork bone with a fatty shoulder section to be simmered for 8 hours

Another passion of mine is Ramen, which requires bone broth. So I'll take the shoulder bone and a fatty section of pork and add some water to slowly simmer on low for 8 hours. The pork and bone are later removed and I'll add a miso paste to taste and that stock is either used right away or refrigerated/frozen for later use. I have a hard time finding ramen in eastern Iowa where I live that's really up to snuff so I've resorted to just making it from scratch. I'd highly recommend making your own bone broth and using it as a starter for whatever soup or stew you're making. I've added it to chili, stews and so on and it's magnificent. There are apparently tons of beneficial healing qualities to the nutrients found in bone broth that you could research endlessly online so I won't bore you with that here. I'm just here to encourage you to look for more ways to get more deliciousness and nutrition out of your meals. Meat requires the life of an animal and we should not only strive to source humanely farmed or hunted animals but also honor them with beautiful rituals like an amazing meal. Not wasting or overlooking any part of an animal is about respect, for me.

Having been vegetarian for quite some time in my early twenties and in general wanting to just eat more ethically I've searched for the best diet for myself. I've reduced my consumption of factory farmed meats by finding good local providers of quality product that do so in a way that doesn't pollute as much and am quickly moving towards trying to actually hunt as much of my meat as possible if I'm going to continue to consume meat. That maybe sounds brutal to some people but personally I find that being a part of the process at every stage to be very sobering and essential to a respectful death for another living being. Also there are absurd amounts of certain kinds of meat that are actually invasive species due to the way that we as humans have taken over North America. Wild hogs are a big problem in the south and do a lot of damage to habitat that other animals need. Deer need culling to stay at healthy numbers. Without other predators to keep them in check, our wild lands would be quickly eroded into completely different habitats. So I'm dedicating time and funds into this adventure this coming year. Not just because of my lust for meat but also knowing that my direct action can restore a small bit of balance to the ecosytem and also that the funds I put into the activity through taxes on hunting and fishing gear and the licenses I purchase will DIRECTLY go to habitat and wildlife preservation.

January 17, 2019Comments are off for this post.

Lake Macbride

Lake Macbride is one of my favorite places. I remember going there as a kid and swimming at the beach, and coming home for the summer during my college days and taking one of the paddle boats out for a joyride at midnight with some friends (we put it back and didn't damage anything, don't worry friendly park ranger). It's where I caught my first big wiper, a striped bass and white bass hybrid that fights like nothing else in fresh waters. I have serious cabin fever this week since the real cold has finally hit Iowa and while looking through our archives to find images of the Czech Village for a website, I ran across this series of images that's just nice too look at. I was scouting for locations to shoot portraits and ended up having a great time soaking in the sunset. Enjoy!

January 7, 2019Comments are off for this post.

Fly Fishing in Iowa

 

January in the midwest is typically full of snowstorms, new year's resolutions to work off the holiday overeating, fly tying and a huge dose of cabin fever for me. This year we were blessed with a saturday that hit a high of 50 degrees out and seeing the forcast ahead my buddy Matt asked for a last minute day off. I was wanting to shoot some footage for my outdoor lifestyle reel and specifically make something on fly fishing so I asked to tag along with him and Ryan.

We headed to a park that's maybe one of the more beautiful locations in the Driftless region of Iowa, Backbone state park. The park is defined by the huge bluffs and ridges, one called the Devil's Backbone. We had unfortunately entered the park from the west side which leads you about 2 miles from the trout streams with a huge bluff in between the area that the Maquoketa River cuts through and where the stream is accessible. There actually are trout in the Maquoketa but we'd travelled to fish the creek. I quickly cast out into the river while Matt tended to nature's call and ended up catching a small but strong rainbow trout on my second cast and was given a bit of hope for the cool winter adventure.

After catching that first fish my left hand was terribly cold and I'd not brought any gloves to warm up with so I just stuck my hands into my waders and walked up stream after the guys to see what the plan was. Matt had taken off up stream to try his hand at the river but after a few holes with no luck, Ryan was intent on crossing the park to where the streams were. We figured we could get to the other section in 20 minutes or so of walking and we took off over the hill. After chatting about the huge deer herd that we bumped into multiple times and a few dumb jokes we finally saw the stream and decided to go towards it's inception to some of the better holes that we had both frequently hit. Along the way there in the tail ends of pools in very calm water we saw small trout taking some Baetis or small blue winged olives that were hatching and started fishing up stream from them in the riffles. One of my favorite holes had been silted in a bit from the terrible fall flooding and there weren't really that many trout present in the typical spots. It made for a very different fishing experience than I was used to on these waters but we persisted with some small flies and lots of jokes.

While we didn't get any more fish to hand there were enough missed takes or fish that spit a hook after the take on a jump to keep us invested and eager. Matt finally crossed over into our area and gave me a call to find our location and we all tried our hand in the more scenic sections. The sunny 50 degree weather was great, the salami and jerky we'd packed in kept us fueled but most of all the comradery of being in wilder country with trees, water and a hard walk really made it all worth it. After being in even a small city for any period of time you're struck in nature by the peace of it all and also the focus allowed by the lack of stimulation. Being a bit struck by ADHD, nature is a place where I'm free to focus. There's no extra stimulation of a social media feed, no passing sound of cars, no flashing lights. Normally I'm out on a walk just observing, foraging, fishing and occasionally sitting very still leaned against a tree hoping to see a deer. Those activities are some of the oldest human endeavors and it feels just as much when you're participating in the long tradition of human existence alongside nature.

While I enjoy a great restaurant, killer live music, museums and so on, I get so much peace from participating in the natural order presented by nature. If there's one thing I'm hoping to share with you all is that passion for the outdoors and conserving as much of the wildness around us as possible. For every dumb loud person on social media ranting about something just remember there's another ten of us using all the tools available to ensure public land stays public and do things like buy hunting and fishing licenses or gear to do said activities with an extra high tax rate to make sure the wild stays wild.

The taxation of these activities goes directly to conservation, in higher numbers than any other activity or group currently in America. While there has been a somewhat divisive set of topics put forth by the media in regards to outdoors people (trophy hunters in Africa comes to mind), dig into the ethics of those harvesting wild creatures and the conversations currently being had. I started out having really bad feelings about both activities and the more I investigated the more I found that people are more complex than you see on the surface. Trout anglers, especially the fly fishing community, mostly catch and release and only keep a small number for eating. They seem to be a pretty passionate group looking to maintain and improve the rivers, not degrade and pollute. It's not about taking from nature it's about being a part of nature and preserving it for generations to come.

January 1, 2019Comments are off for this post.

Hoppin Juan recipe

An american classic I love cooking on new years day is a dish called Hoppin John. Originating in the south, and most likely in the Creole country of Lousiana, it's thought to bring good luck to eat black eyed peas on New Years Day. The French Creole word for pidgeon peas (a similar legume to black eyed peas) is "pois a pigeon", pronounced like "pwah peeJon" which likely sounded like Hoppin' John to anyone not well versed in french. I can just hear the lovely Lousiana accent saying the word right now. Rebecca and I have been to New Orleans together and it's a really special place so this dish has become a part of our regular cooking routine. In fact, now when I make pit beans with my BBQ I always toss in a bit of bacon and cabbage in homage to the dish. Another important influence in my cooking is mexican food, especially the bean dishes. This year I decided to take a little twist on my favorite New Year's dish and add in some new flavors. If you're some sort of stinky food purist maybe skip this post. I'm going to lay out the dish in a loose process recipe and list my ingredients at the end. I feel like explaining the concepts and process of cooking is as important as the ingredients. I want people to learn to improvise and substitute where possible and know what's the core flavor and what can get a new substitution when maybe you're out of something, don't have access or just want to try a new idea. So much good food over the years has come from people making do with what's available to them so feel free to riff on this idea.

First I wanted to create my stock and secure the basic essential flavors of the dish. I started out by making a sofrito. I cut up some bacon in big chunks that I'd smoked and sauteed it in a bit of lard. The tradional recipe calls for ham hocks but I had to use bacon as that's what was available to me. Tasso can also be a great substitution with all the dried spices on the outside of the cured meat. While that was getting rolling I chopped up my celery, onion and carrots. Once the bacon started to brown I tossed in my veg, let those get a bit of color, let the onions turn translucent (a key signifier that flavors have arrived, that sugars have been extracted from the onion) and turned the heat down to a low setting. Now that the sofrito was ready I added in a liter of chicken stock and about a liter of water.

With the stock I added 3 cloves of garlic. It wasn't nearly enough so later on I added in 4 more to balance out the strong smoky flavors the bacon was putting out. Along with the garlic I added a couple dry Guajillo chiles. The original Hopper John calls for cayenne but I don't really use them and had Guajillo on hand. I also have some mexican smoked chili paste in my fridge so in it went.

For christmas my brother in law Louis gifted us one of his favorite spice mixes that smelled like it might add some complexity so in a tablespoon of the mix went as well. I then covered my dutch oven and let the stock cook, reduce and gain a depth in flavor that only time gives.

The other thing to get going that you could even do in advance is cook your beans. For this recipe I decided to go for a different bean because it's new years day and I didn't want to go out and grab the black eyed peas. I have lots of dried black beans so I decided to give it a shot and see how that would go. To prepare dried beans you can soak for a few hours or overnight to get them more tender before you start cooking but I didn't plan ahead so I just boiled them 3 times, rinsing after. The 4th time I brought them up to temperature I added a bit of salt (adding salt too soon breaks down the bean so it's best to wait until later to add).

Once my beans had softened appropriately I added them to the stock, cut up an inch off a cabbage head, diced the veg and tossed it in as well. At this point I added a couple small banger size links of smoked pork sausage as well. This link I THINK (I'm bad at labelling sometimes) is one that has some spicy tomato jam added to the pork and will be a nice zing. I let all of this cook for another hour to really come together as a dish. I normally start this dish right when I wake up on New Year's day so we can have a big lunch as we stay up celebrating our anniversary every NYE. The final garnishes on this years pot are cilantro and truffle oil I recieved as a gift. This dish may be a classic and will hopefully be something I mess with for years to come. ¡Buen provecho y feliz año nuevo!

 

Ingredients:

1 cup dried beans

1 small onion, diced

6 stalks of celery from the inside of the bunch with greens intact, diced

2 carrots, diced

2 cups of cabbage, diced

1/4 lb of bacon, cubed - if you can acquire it unsliced to make into 1/2" cubes even better

smoke ham hocks can be subbed in for the bacon if you can find them

2 bay leaves

2 dried chiles, guajillo, ancho, hatch or other larger dried peppers are best. They're hot but not insane.

6 cloves of garlic, smashed then chopped

1 liter of chicken stock

1 liter of water (you could also just use 2 liters of chicken stock)

1 sausage link per person

1/4 cup cilantro, rough chopped for garnish

1 teaspoon truffle oil for garnish per bowl (optional)

hotsauce for people like me who want it spicy

 

December 28, 2018Comments are off for this post.

DIY Lard and bacon

This year my goal has been to be as hands on as possible with my food. That's meant foraging, fishing, processing meat from sustainable sources, gardening, canning and so on. Recently more data has come to light about different fats and their benefits. For the longest time things like lard were presented as unhealthy sources of fat by people wanting to promote their new invention, Crisco, to the masses as a healthy alternative. The reality is that from a scientific perspective, the higher burn point of oils like lard make them less carcinogenic. Basically, if oil burns, you're going to have a bad time. Lard from free ranging animals is also more nutrient dense and specifically has vitamin D in it, something that we don't get enough of in the winter time so I thought it might be time to start adding a little more lard use in my cooking. I asked my local butcher for some pig fat for making lard and adding to meat for sausage making (that'll be in the next post) and he came through with 10 LBS of quality Berkshire bacon ends for me to use.

To start, when handling pork fat, there's a few rules. Keep it mostly frozen. The warmer it gets, the harder it is to handle. My friend let it thaw just slightly before getting it to me and I kept it outside when it was 32 degrees outside until processing because the box wouldn't fit in my fridge very easily. I took the cold fat and cut off a workable size that would fit on the cutting board and cubed it into approximately 1" cubes. I wish I'd made it smaller but more on that later. In the process of cutting up the bacon ends I realized there was actually a decent amount of meat still hanging out on the edges so that was all trimmed off for curing. I needed 6 Lbs of fat for making sausages, and after a 2 Lbs of belly was removed I was left with 2Lbs to make lard with. After cubing I tossed the fat into my trusty dutch oven, put it on a low heat and let it cook. I opened it up to stir occasionally because I'd basically filled the pot up and the bottom cooked faster than the top. It took a lot longer than the info I'd seen online about cooking down fat for lard.  Most articles and recipes stated you need 2 hours. I needed closer to 8 to extract all the goodness from the solids so I'm not sure where they're getting their numbers from. Also I think if I'd have made the chunks a bit smaller I'd have had an easier time. At about 4 hours in, I poured off most of the liquid and cooked the chunks even further and broke them up as much as I could to get the insides cooked further and ended up getting about another 3 quarts from that bit. I filled up 6 or 7 jars from the 2 LBS of fat which is a nice output.

Now, making your own lard isn't for the faint of heart mostly because your kitchen will smell like lard. I don't mind the smell of strong foods in my house or on my clothes but some of you might opt to just buy a jar from your local butcher. Personally the savings are enough to make it worth it, plus I can choose where the fat comes from and see how it's handled. That for me is worth all the effort in the world.

December 19, 2018Comments are off for this post.

Venison Barbecoa Tacos

In an effort to reduce the amount of factory farming in my life I've taken a step. I started hunting. A couple years ago my father asked if I could help butcher a couple of lambs for my mother and her friend and it seemed like something I should take on. I've had this growing sense that if I couldn't be a part of the process in my meat consumption I probably shouldn't partake at all. See, I have this set of ethics when it comes to food that is about honoring ingredients. All of them are a life force at varying levels and we as humans need the nutrients to survive so we harvest different things. For me, cooking those ingredients in a beautiful and delicious way is about honoring them. I've had some strong revelations this past year about mortality and life cycles after losing my mother and soothing that pain with lots of walking in the woods, fly fishing and observing the never-ending cycle that is the natural world.

 

You see fish eating other fish, deer grazing on grass, coyotes grazing on the leftovers from something that's passed away, eagles swooping down on trout. Now none of this is meant to sway someone into my perspective, more to explain my ethics as an omnivore. To me, to harvest an animal is a serious matter and one that begs for rituals of respect for their life that is feeding me and those I regularly cook for. Those rituals come in the form of tacos in this situation. The first step was to take a shank from a deer that I harvested this fall, cover it in the mushroom powder I created in the last blog post, add salt, smoked paprika, garlic and some adobo sauce I'd made.

My recipe for adobo was to take a handful of dried pasilla negra chiles my buddy brought back from the southwest along with some anchos (dried/smoked poblanos) and to boil them in a sauce pan until they were softened up. The peppers along with the little bit of liquid that was still left was added to my food processor with a touch of cumin, coriander and a few tablespoons of agave. The result was put in a crock pot with the venison shank and lastly I added in some beer and orange slices. Left to cook for about 6 hours this tough and stringy cut of meat that regularly gets tossed out turned into the most gorgeous soft barbecoa. Taking what would be a discarded cut and making it into something delicious is exactly what I was mentioning earlier about honoring an animal.

while all of that is cooking I informed my great friend and neighbor RJ what I was up to and he promptly brought over his tortilla press so we could make masa tortillas from scratch. My favorite recipe for them is to substitute coconut oil for lard in the recipe to get another flavor layer to work along side the taco seasonings.

Pressing them in an actual press gets a nice even final product and the key to nice edges is making them with a high enough hydration to squish properly. When they're dry they crumble on the edge and don't look as nice. You can also just use a couple cutting boards and press the ball down flat and finish rolling them thinner with a rolling pin (it's what I do normally) but a press is pretty cheap. At this point I rarely buy tortillas because I'm currently in Iowa and not spoiled like I was in Chicago. I lived in Pilsen, a Mexican neighborhood with at least 3 tortilla factories in a small area so I could go to the grocery store and find stacks of tortillas still hot from the factory. In Iowa? not so much.

Anyway, I hope this post gives you something to think about in your food consumption habits, maybe shows you one reason that people like myself choose to hunt and how really this adventure in eating is finding a way to further ground myself and keep connected to the natural world. It's so easy to just exist on our phones, or surrounded by music and human created experiences but venturing out into the forest to forage mushrooms, to wade in a stream or to patiently wait in a tree for a deer to walk by day after day leaves you time to think, to feel and to be connected to the natural world and order. It's helped me recalibrate, fight depression and feel a sense of purpose.

December 1, 2018Comments are off for this post.

Foraged Mushroom Powder

Sometimes you come upon a new food item or ingredient that completely challenges you. While out hiking this last spring I thought I'd take a look for some of the fabled morel mushrooms everyone talks about in Iowa where I live. We're in a historic Czech district where the yearly carnival is even named after mushrooms, Houby Days. I had eaten them before, knew they were valuable and had done a little research about where to find them and how to pick them. A friend pointed me towards the woods I was walking and before I knew it I had stumbled upon a nice patch of them below a large oak tree on a really steep slope above a stream. I put them carefully in an old onion bag to allow the spores to be spread back out so they'd come back the next year and expand. That spot actually ended up producing a few rounds of mushrooms last fall. What I ended up seeing even more of which was apparently common across the midwest is oyster mushrooms. I texted a friend who forages with some images and he said they looked like oysters and to bring them by for an in person evaluation to double check. I gave him a nice bag full as it ended up being at least 50 lbs of mushrooms over a span of 3 afternoons.

The problem with picking that quantity of mushrooms is storage or so I thought. I frantically posted on Facebook to see who had a dehydrator to borrow and my sister lent me one but it was much too slow for the quantity of my harvest that was growing by the day. So I thought about how people used to dry fruits, meat or anything else that needed preserving and realized the roof outside my large kitchen window just might be the perfect place to dry out a large pile of mushrooms. Stacked up on baking sheets and parchment paper or wire racks, they were done after 2 days of 80 degree weather. I covered them with thin tea cloths at night to keep moisture off and also experimented with tossing a couple sheets in my oven. Now my oven only goes as low as 175 which is a touch high for dehydration. The result was a really nutty cartelized dried mushroom that became really brittle. My food research had suggested that making a powder out of dried mushrooms was a perfect way to add umami or fullness of flavor to all kinds of dishes from stocks and soups to ice cream even.

Figuring my food processor would be great for the job I tossed the mushrooms in and pulsed the button and voila all I had was slightly smaller dry chunks. I needed a finder grind to get to powder and did what any red blooded human would do- put them into a coffee grinder. I have a grinder dedicated to the task of taking hard chunks of dried hatch, guajillo, pasilla negra, fennel seed, any spice really and making them into a fine powder for cooking. I love making my own BBQ rubs from fresh ground ingredients and this tool ended up being the perfect hammer for the job.

In the end this beautiful flavor enhancer adds a real depth to my food and gets regularly used. I love that it's something I've harvested with my own hands or by my partner Rebecca who trudged through the woods with me many days. The search for mushrooms has given us a reason to get into the woods, take a walk, forget our worries. The feelings of self sufficiency and bonding with the natural ecosystem has done lots for the two of us. This year has been a struggle at times, from losing friends and parents to death to starting our new photo and video collaboration in a city in Iowa and nature has been at the core of our search for balance and peace. When life brings you stress, a walk can help you make sense of it all. We often come back from hikes with all kinds of ideas and a stronger bond between us.

The great thing though about the mushroom powder concept is that you can also just buy dried mushrooms if it's not the season to harvest or you don't have access to a great foraging location. At our local Asian market there are tons of bags of dried mushrooms of all types for under $5 for a decent sized bag. If you're making soup or braising a lamb shank it might be just the thing you need to take that dish to the next level. Lastly, if you do decide to start to forage your own mushrooms I highly recommend finding some experts to learn from. There are loads of Facebook groups, field guides and normally meet ups at nature centers to forage with some friends. To start out, the easiest to identify mushrooms in spring tend to be morels and oysters and in the fall giant puffballs, oysters, shaggy mane, chicken of the woods (pictured above) or hen of the woods.  My first rule with mushrooms is if I'm in doubt, I don't eat it. Most of the time mushrooms will at worst give you some gastrointestinal stress but at worst they can be deadly so it's important to learn to identify what's safe. - Caleb

 

November 20, 2018Comments are off for this post.

Our mission with the blog

In the age of social media, I went from desiring my own space to share content to being satisfied with lots of different ways to reach an audience of friends and collaborators. Recently, Rebecca (the other half of Pilsen Photo Coop) and I have been talking about adding a blog for sharing more photographs. Sometimes we have things that don't quite fit into a portfolio or might annoy people on facebook or just need a full story! Social media platforms aren't really set up to deal with a long format piece easily and it's not really why people tend to log on. It's about quick hits and we thought maybe a blog for some deep cuts might be fun and useful for our audience. So hopefully over the next few months we'll develop some interesting thoughts, chase down some great images, share some recipes, swoon over planning a trip to Paris or otherwise to draw you all into our world. Posts will be made by myself (Caleb) and also Rebecca and we'll make sure you know who's doing what. We have distinct voices in some ways so this will hopefully be a way for you to get to know us and our passions.

I've been shooting since about middle school, shot for the newspaper through college getting an art degree at Central College in Pella, Iowa and Rebecca Norden also started out shooting some black and white film in high school. I cut my teeth assisting commercial photographers in Chicago, eventually building my own brand and studio there as well as in Madrid for a couple years. Rebecca however did something a bit less conventional and got a gig as a flight attendant to satiate her need for new places and learned to take great travel images with her iPhone (something I'm not nearly as good at, tbh). I can't wait for her to make a post here detailing some of her hilarious run ins with the crazy that seems to follow her around wherever she goes.

Where we are currently living is this gorgeous little street in a midwestern working class city, full of nature and passionate entrepreneurs and artists working to make a city like Cedar Rapids, Iowa a bit more interesting. It seems like every week some new restaurant or shop is opening. It keeps us grounded to have a trail for running and biking right by the house or a river just down the block. When we need a dose of nature, a short drive from the apartment we have what feels like complete isolation in some woods and hills, even some hidden bluffs. We'll share lots of images from those adventures and even maybe some of us braving this cold front that just came in. Thanks for reading and we hope this is as fun for you as it is for us!  - Caleb Condit