A lesson in looking – Chardin and white chocolate truffles

Homemade-teacakesBack in May I tried out a new recipe for cranberry and white chocolate truffles. They were too sweet for my taste so I rolled them in toasted, chopped almonds to add a nutty flavour. It was a slight improvement, but in all honestly they looked a lot better than they tasted so I decided to photograph them before chucking them in the food recycling caddy.

truffles teapot
Bowl of white chocolate truffles and teapot reminding me of the paintings by Chardin.

When I sorted through the photos I’d taken this one (above) stood out and the more I looked at it the more it reminded me of something. And, then it clicked – it had a ‘Chardin’ like quality. I think it’s the restricted palette and lighting, and the pared back nature which made me think of Chardin. It was totally by accident as when I tried to deliberately recreate a Chardin style photograph I found it impossible.

Every now and then it’s useful to step back from your own work and refresh your creative juices by looking at the visual world through another’s eyes. I thought attempting a Chardin style photo would help me to look and observe in a new way. For this exercise I chose the still life painting ‘White teapot’ as my starting point.

'White teapot' still life by Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin. (1699 - 1779) Private collection
‘White teapot’ still life by Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin. (1699 – 1779)
Private collection

Firstly, I collected together the subject matter including a couple of bunches of grapes saved from the blackbirds.

First-arrange-still-life

Instantly I realised I was going to have to change the background for something plainer and less obvious.

Change-of-background

Then plenty of looking and re-looking at the original painting and adjusting the position of the objects to work with the effect of the camera lens in an attempt to achieve an image more like a painting. Of course, a photograph does not reproduce how we focus on the world anymore than an artist’s interpretation does. But, through looking at still life works by artists such as Chardin you can certainly appreciate how skilfully and subtly artists manipulate what is in focus, what they guide us to attend to and how their compositions evoke a response from us. In the end, for me, my most interesting photograph was the shot that captured a sense of drama through the lighting. And, the lesson for my own work – ‘think tonal contrast’.

And-some-time-later-framed2

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A little indulgence on New Year’s Day

Welcome-cheesecakeDo we need an excuse to bake rich, indulgent treats? Sometimes it is easy to believe all the hype in the media that everybody is the same the planet over. But that is plainly not true as we can see in the ‘Blogging World’. Not everyone celebrates Christmas and of those that do not everybody celebrates in the same fashion. We don’t all have turkey, Christmas pudding and mince pies.

Living in East Anglia there are plenty of Christmas traditions, however the traditional mid-winter celebration and feast predates Christianity. Our weather may not be as harsh as the northern regions, but a mid-winter treat certainly brings a glow of pleasure in the midst of all the grey and gloom.

The New Year was my excuse for an indulgent treat and I baked a white chocolate and stem ginger cheesecake (the Mary Berry version).

Crushed-biscuits

Firstly I made the cheesecake base with melted dark chocolate and butter mixed into some crushed digestive biscuits. Then, I finely diced four bulbs of stem ginger (that is ginger preserved in syrup).

Chopped-ginger

Then I beat together two tubs of cream cheese with half a pot of sour cream and two beaten eggs in the whizzy machine.

Cream-cheese-sour-cream

Finally I mixed in a couple of bars of white chocolate that had been gently melted over hot water along with the prepared stem ginger and a teaspoon of vanilla extract. After pouring all the mixture onto the biscuit base the cheesecake was baked for about 45 minutes.

Into-oven

Delightfully easy to make and delightfully easy to eat!

New-Year-afternoon-treat