The Bridge

Valerie and I took a weekend in NYC this past October in celebration of our 15th wedding anniversary. I grew up in the shadow of New York, but despite uncountable visits, I’d never walked across the Brooklyn Bridge until this visit. It was worth it, and an absolute treat. These photos were shot on expired (and discontinued) Fuji Neopan 400 film in medium format size on my Hasselblad 500 C/M.

Unforeseen Consequences

Wind turbines sitting idle in the fields of Jasper County, IN, near Wolcott. Shot with Kodak Portra 160 using a 1994 Hasselblad 500 C/M.

Twice, now, my family has made the drive from Richmond, VA, to Wauwatosa, WI. On the way up we drive through a massive wind farm in Jasper County, IN. My jaw drops and I squeal like a little kid with wonder at these behemoths. So this summer I finally stopped on the way back and took some photos.

I’d rather have these around than coal power plants, but I caught some interesting anecdotes from a gas station clerk. He told me that if you stand near the base of these massive towers, you get nauseated because of the low-frequency resonance of the blades passing by, or something like that. I want to verify that for myself, but sounds like I should be glad I kept a healthy distance 😀

He also told me that, while the land owners get healthy payments for leasing the land, the whole character of the countryside has changed. Not because of the giant propellers themselves, however; he talked about how it used to be pitch dark at night, and you could easily see the stars. Now there were fields bursting with these turbines, each with bright red strobes to warn off aircraft. And they all seemed to flash in synchronization, creating a night full of endless flashing from black to red.

Something something no free lunch, I guess.

Small Town Parades, Free Time, and Self-Doubt

That’s a horse of a mottled color!

Writing this now makes me laugh a little, a post ostensibly about a 4th of July parade, in mid-November. This is a travelog of sorts, sharing part of my family trip to the Milwaukee region back in June and July of this year.

It’s not talent that keeps this band afloat…

It’s not that I haven’t had a chance to develop and process my film until recently—a problem all-too-typical with my photography these days—rather I’ve been sitting on these pictures for a few months just trying to figure out what to do with them. And that is related to my infrequent, scattershot shooting habits. It’s bad enough that I don’t get out much to take pictures, but I find myself feeling out of practice.

My family and I were visiting my wife’s sister in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin – a suburb in Milwaukee County. Our visit overlapped Independence Day in the US, so we decided to join her family at the local parade. Sure, it was a bit jingoistic and a little heavy-handed, but there was something about the parade I really enjoyed. This could have been a Secretary’s Day parade and I think I would have liked it just as much. There were all the local political big fish in vintage cars, freshly-polished emergency services vehicles (that MFD amphibious truck!!!), tacky floats, and marching bands. And the streets were lined with scores of people on a beautiful upper Midwestern morning making pleasant chit-chat while the kids ran into the street to collect candy thrown by passing floats. I realized I couldn’t remember the last time I’d actually attended a parade, and now I’m sure I’ve been missing out a little.

In case Lake Michigan catches on fire?

But every time I reviewed my photos from the morning, wondering what to post next, I just gave up. I didn’t really like any of them in particular. They’re all shot from nearly the same vantage point. A few of them have weird, distracting things inconveniently located in the frame. Or, ugh, the kinda bland look of Cinestill 50D.

Well something changed over the past few months. Part of it is that I got over the need to have some portfolio-worthy set of photos to show. And part of it is that I just wanted to share the visual evidence of what was a pretty great morning. It transitioned to some chill cookout time back at my sister-in-law’s house followed by some lovely fireworks in the evening. A good day over all.

I still have a few photos to share from back in July, and I’m getting ready to ship off some more rolls for processing in the near future. So part of this is also that I needed to clear my head of this little mental weight so I could get on with sharing the really fun stuff from the drive home, and whatever else is yet to come. My photography doesn’t have to be an exhibition; sometimes it can just be the supporting cast in a story about a little piece of my lived experience.

It’s all over when the patriotic street sweeper cruises by.

In Pursuit of Accessibility

I’m presently on my way to Logan, UT to attend WebAIM’s accessibility training. I’m not a web developer or designer, and I have lots of issues to fix on my own website. But I do help make websites for my career, so I’m excited to get an in-depth look at how to make the web better for folks of all abilities.

I’ve performed audits using automated tools and consulting some WCAG documentation, but my hope is this training will help me to develop a holistic practice of producing accessible sites, from sales and requirements through delivery.

Time Away, Time Together

A roof with a view

Earlier this month my wife and I celebrated our 15th wedding anniversary. On the anniversary date itself we had a babysitter watch the kids, ate a modest dinner, played fancy indoor miniature golf, and finished up with a few of Richmond’s best cocktails. It was nice, but it was really only a precursor to the proper celebration.

We’ve had kids around for just over 6 years now, and in that time we’ve only been away overnight without them once. When our daughter was almost 2 and we didn’t yet know we were expecting her brother, we left her with some close friends while we travelled to a wedding for a weekend. That was over 4 years ago so, while we love traveling with our children, we both needed a bit of time as husband and wife instead of mom and dad.

So this past weekend we took the kids to my aunt and uncle’s home in New Jersey where they had a total blast while Valerie and I had time for us in NYC. The thrill of leaving Toms River without the kids in the car, knowing that we had a weekend ahead without complaints and demands, without having to accommodate any tastes but our own, without having to worry about the crankiness that comes from a tired 3-year-old…well I hadn’t been so excited in ages. Traveling with my wife is one of my great joys, and Valerie and I haven’t taken a trip the way we like since 2012.

We stayed in Little Italy, right across the street from Ferrara. Our room was magnificent. The hotel had a rooftop accessible to all guests with couches and a killer view (see above). The weather was better than we could have hoped. We had fun checking out new and familiar stuff over the course of a couple of days. We saw The Vessel at Hudson Yards (but didn’t go up since we didn’t have tickets). We watched Colin Huggins play his grand piano in Washington Square Park.

And something else…you see, when you grow up close to New York City, you visit the place a million times. I saw plenty of big sights in my youth (Bronx Zoo, Ellis Island, the dinosaur bones in the Museum of Natural History). I couldn’t tell you how many more times I’ve been to Manhattan since my teen and adult years, and I had plenty more memorable experiences in turn. But New York is a city that’s so rich in history, culture, architecture, and just…everything, so there’s always something you haven’t done before, even if it’s a broadly popular tourist attraction.

Valerie and I had planned to grab some slices from Prince Street Pizza, but we were already looking at a late lunch after schlepping everything into the city, so the line was a bit longer than we could take (I’ve been before and the line is worth it—if you’re not already starving). So back-up plan? We walked back a couple of blocks to, of all places, Lombardi’s Pizza! That early 20th century, coal-fired-oven, pizza legend. It’s hard to be a pizza mega-fan on the east coast without having at least heard of Lombardi’s. I’d always figured it was an overrated tourist spot, but my hunger made me willing to try it for the first time, and it was really good! It seemed rather like a distinctly American take on the pizza margherita, at once an ancestor to both the modern New York pie and the crispy tavern pizzas I enjoy over in Jersey.

And then there was the ding-dang Brooklyn Bridge. On Sunday Valerie wanted to at least walk partially across, but we ended up walking all the way to Brooklyn. I resisted because I was already wiped out, but I’m so glad we did it. The views were spectacular, the bridge is of course beautiful, and the experience of strolling with a flowing mass of people across the East River was something I’ll always remember. I can’t wait to see the film shots I took from the trek.

We got up early Monday morning to head back to Toms River and collect our children. The time apart was just what we needed, and it was great to get all the hugs and snuggles. I’m still kinda tired after the drive back, but the emotional and mental reset of the weekend still leaves me feeling refreshed.

eating my way through charleston, sc

I’ve been home from a long weekend in Charleston, SC since Tuesday afternoon this week, but I haven’t had the time/energy to write about my dining experience with the attention it deserves. Granted, I have little excuse; I’m still on my spring break from grad school and I took the entire week off from work, but I’ve had film to scan and pictures to edit and all that good stuff, so here we are.

I normally research where I’m going when I travel, but for whatever reason I did no research whatsoever on Charleston. I relied, instead, on the recommendations of my wife’s friend who knows more about that town than most folks do about their own hands. She gave Valerie a list of good restaurants and stuff to see and do, and off we went, neither of us having been to Charleston before. What I didn’t know was that Charleston is a serious food town. Sure, lots of it is the kind of traditional southern coastal fare you might expect – crab cakes, oysters, some kinda seafood bisque, shrimp and grits, and so on – but there were a few surprises that caught me off guard in the best possible way. So rather than walk through every dining experience I had, I’ll give you the highlight reel, which could be long enough on its own.

We had lunch on Saturday at an excellent little out-of-the-way place called Cru Cafe on Pinckney St. One of the specials that day was a house-made pastrami sandwich. House-made pastrami! In South Carolina! I had to try it, and I didn’t regret it. I’m not kidding when I say this was some of the best pastrami I’d ever eaten. Smokey, salty, richly-flavored, and sliced up super thin in a generous pile on marbled rye bread. I could eat this sandwich for lunch almost every day. Valerie had an arugula salad with duck confit and fried onions, and we both thought the sweet tea was the perfect level of sweetness. Dinner that night at Slightly North of Broad (figure out the acronym on your own) was good, but not memorable.

We had Sunday brunch at Magnolias on E. Bay St., and while Valerie thought her smoked salmon frittata was okay, my meal was quite delicious. It was a variation on “pigs in a blanket,” but in this case was made up of buffalo chipotle sausage wrapped in orange buttermilk pancakes. A fine elevation of a diner mainstay.

Sunday dinner was at Poogan’s Porch on Qeen St, and it was absolutely tasty. And speaking of “a fine elevation of a diner mainstay,” I can’t recommend the macaroni and cheese appetizer enough. The menu stated, simply, that it had Tasso ham and smoked gouda, but the more-than-an-entrée-sized pile that arrived was the richest and creamiest macaroni and cheese I’ve eaten. Valerie, who’s not a huge fan of macaroni and cheese, had to force herself to stop eating it in order to have room for her main course. I thought it was so good that I attempted my own variation (with Serrano ham) once I returned home.

Monday was our last full day in Charleston, and while we had a nice-enough lunch at Melvin’s BBQ, our best eating and drinking of the trip lay ahead of us.

Neither Valerie nor I brought anything nicer than jeans, sneakers, and comfortable shirts, so while many of the restaurants downtown looked nice, we felt underdressed for most of them. We shared this concern with our cab driver that afternoon, and he assured us that with the exception of a handful of establishments in town, we had naught to worry. Armed with this advice, we made reservations at McCrady’s Restaurant on Unity Alley. I double-checked the dress code and the host assured me that we would have no trouble. So wearing a long-sleeved New York Giants t-shirt, jeans, and running shoes, I showed up at the restaurant of James Beard award-winning chef Sean Brock. Not only has Brock worked under Alinea’s Grant Achatz, but he also worked his way up to executive sous chef at Lemaire in my beloved Richmond’s own Jefferson Hotel. The food was almost all local/regional, with many of the ingredients coming from the restaurant’s own farm in nearby Wadmalaw Island. While credentials are nice it’s the food, of course, that matters. Valerie and I both agree that McCrady’s was the finest meal we ate in Charleston.

This was modern haute cuisine without a doubt, executed masterfully in preparation, appearance, and flavor. We shared a first course of butter poached lobster and sea scallops with “sorrel bubbles” (an airy green foam) and a little parsnip croquette in the middle made up of a parsnip slice, parsnip puree, and coated in panko bread crumbs. The entire dish was also sitting in a popcorn purée and had little pieces of spiced popcorn as well. Valerie’s dinner was grilled swordfish with shaved root vegetables, and she enjoyed it. My entrée, though, was called a “duo of pork.” It looked like a zen garden with a little meat hill in the corner, and it was extraordinarily enjoyable in every respect. There was an exquisite peanut “granola,” banana purée, and a number of preparations of salsify root. There was braised salsify that was savory and rich, a deep-fried stick of salsify that looked like a miniature log (but tasted much better), and an intensely flavorful salsify purée. The pork duo turned out to be a small piece of deep-fried pork belly from the restaurant’s own farm, along with succulent slices of pork loin from the same. A little stream of cooked-down jus flowed under the pork across the plate. This dish was so good with all the flavors combining perfectly, and Valerie was completely distracted by the striking visual arrangement of my plate of food. Such inventiveness, attention to detail, and execution make me weak at the knees.

Bellies full of awesomeness, we shambled up the street to check out The Gin Joint, our final destination before heading home the next morning. This place is what would happen if you took the craft bar of Acacia here in Richmond, and mixed it with the casual small-plates atmosphere of Secco. Looking at their food menu made me wish I’d discovered it earlier in the weekend (I was too full for any more food), but the cocktails were some of the best I’d ever consumed. Whether it was the house-made cola syrup or the perfect proportioning and mixing of ingredients, or just the right amount of ice, this place knows how to serve some booze. I appreciated the careful pairing of the right gin or whiskey with the right juices and syrups, too. Be sure to check out the short video of the owner mixing up a libation (and ignore the cheesy Acoustic Alchemy music). Details, my friends. You know what? It’s probably better that this place is 7 hours away or my friends and family would think me an alcoholic.

So there it is. I drove further south looking for nothing more than relaxation and a change of scenery, and I came back with a few extra pounds (like I needed that) and a well-satisfied palate. We saw some interesting historical sites in a beautiful town, but I’d go back to Charleston in a heartbeat just for the food.

in this temple

lincoln memorial

At 28 years of age and having lived within 2 hours of our nation’s capital for over 10 years, I have only just visited the Lincoln Memorial for the first time this past weekend. It was rather glorious.

Dinner at Alinea

valerie, chef achatz, and me in the kitchen at Alinea
(blurry photo by the kind hostess)

Yeah, that’s right. I also included this post in my “Arts” category. Because the meal Valerie and I consumed over a perfectly-paced three hours was a masterpiece.

I made reservations over a month ago for dinner at Alinea in Chicago and was immediately giddy at the prospect of eating my first haute-cuisine meal. Each passing week brought the realization that I was ever-so-much closer to tonight, and as I sat down in the upstairs dining room of the stylish and contemporary restaurant (perfectly befitting the Great White City) I had the nervous excitement of a child on Christmas morning who has woken just a little too early for his parents to let him tear away the wrapping paper. I know that sounds a bit cheesy and overwrought, but I’m serious. I felt like kid. Before every course. And the excitement built before each of the THIRTEEN courses.

Valerie and I each had the smaller – yes, there’s one bigger – of the two menus, but we didn’t leave hungry at all. We knew there would be around thirteen items, but with a frequently changing menu we had no idea what would arrive at our table next. One set of flavors transitioned to another with varying intensity of flavor. Amuse-bouches built up to incredible major courses before winding down with three dramatically different yet perfectly complimentary desserts.

I’ll not list the entire menu here – perhaps I’ll update the post with a scanned image of tonight’s menu when I get home – but I’ll share a few highlight items. I can’t begin to describe some of the preparations, though they did include gels, foams, clever service, and liquid nitrogen. Sure, call it “molecular gastronomy” – a cliché at best – but it would also miss the point. The presentation served to delight more than simply the palate. The aromas, textures, and even how we were to eat certain courses made spectacular entertainment out of what was ostensibly dinner. The food wasn’t merely delicious, but it was fun to eat. It was, therefore, easy for me to dive right in to some ingredients that I had until then avoided. Shad roe? Sure! Morel mushrooms? Delicious. Leeks? Absolutely. But there was also sturgeon, confit of pork belly, Wagyū beef, fois gras, and black truffle. It was a culinary tour de force.

It wasn’t cheep, and I’m sure you guessed that. And I’m sure a meal like this isn’t for everyone. I have no problem with somebody wanting to eat what they grew up with, or comfort food, or keeping it simple. But if you’re willing to step outside your gustatory comfort zone, save your dollars and make it happen. It’s worth every penny. Is it wasteful? I’d argue it’s not. There is craft, there is skill. There is visual beauty. Expert execution coupled with extraordinary creative talent. To eat at Alinea is to be a patron of the arts.