A vegetarian-going-vegan's attempt at a DIY lifestyle both behind the camera and in the kitchen.

Monday, March 14, 2011


I've been spending more time behind my camera and less time in the kitchen.  It's a good thing, really it is.  I've been working on some new techniques and getting some great results because of it.  I actually just started a new blog, one specifically for my photography, and for as long as I can keep it up, will be posting at least one photo a day on it.  The new site is www.next2hector.blogspot.com and if you check out today's post (3.14.11) you will see a picture and description of a recipe that will definitely be on here soon enough.  I promise.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Rather Quick Rather Raw Vegan Cheese

The so called "cheese" project that went down today was really quite a quick process.  Hopefully this post can be a reflection of that; concise but resulting in deliciousness. (The only part that takes any real time is letting the sunflower seeds soak for at least four hours...start doing that now...don't even finish reading this post- GO SOAK THEM)

I by no means live a "raw" lifestyle.  Today, in fact, was the first time I ever made something and thought, "hey, this is what all those people would call raw."  I have made numerous full meals that would fall under that raw category, but it's just never something I dabbled in.

But here it is, a raw, vegan cheese.  Which really is not cheese.  But hey, half of those orangey-yellow things you buy in the dairy aisle aren't either.  Yumm...cheese product.  This is just as worthy of the title CHEESE as those things are...maybe even more so.

This recipe uses solely sunflower seeds as the main ingredient.  I've seen many different recipes, some call for a mix of nuts and seeds, some just nuts, and some just seeds.  My goal in making this was to end up with about the same amount and cost (or cheaper) of a package of store bought cream cheese.  Sunflower seeds seemed to be the cheapest way to go, and actually ended up allowing for a cheaper than cream cheese result.  Mix and match, throw in what ever you have around (nut or seed wise), consult the almighty internet for what others seem to like...but know that even just the lowly, cheap sunflower seed creates a magnificent vegan cheese.

and here we go...

  •  1 cup raw sunflower seeds (soaked in water for at least four hours)
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 1/2 tablespoon raw salt
  • juice from one lemon (hand squeezed)
  • 1 clove of garlic (minced)
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 teaspoon rosemary (optional)
 Throw everything in a food processor or blender but the water and the rosemary.  Blend. Keep blending.  You will want to blend until you remove all the grittiness from the sunflower seeds.  It might take awhile, but it will become creamy.  Add a little water at a time, do this until you reach the consistency that you want.  ( I ended up with a nice cream cheese consistency from 1/4 cup water) You may even need more than a 1/4 cup of water.  When it is nice and creamy, and the consistency that you find desirable, throw in the rosemary and blend  for just another few seconds.  Done.

The lemon taste should be pretty noticeable right away.  If you don't like the tang, put it in the refrigerator and let it sit for an hour or so...the tang will mostly go away.  If you dig the tang, like I do, put the cheese on something and eat it.  Crackers, bagels, homemade bread (like my wife's carrot and roasted red pepper white bread), or even corn chips are wonderful companions.  I use my cheese as a replacement for cream cheese, ricotta cheese, sour cream and even feta cheese...throw it on some tin foil, flatten it to about a half inch and bake for 8 minutes at 350 degrees.  It will dry out just enough to work as feta would on a Greek salad or on a veggie wrap. 

Regardless of how long this post may have gotten, it really is a quick recipe that ends up being extremely versatile and more importantly extremely delicious.  This will keep in the refrigerator for about a week.  But good luck making it last a full day...make a double batch.

Friday, January 14, 2011

DIY Tilt Shift Lens

(because it's a sweet idea but not really worth $2000)

Unless you are professionally shooting architecture or are rich, (if the first, the second pretty much goes without saying) you probably don't have $1000-$2000 you can put towards a lens with a very singular purpose.  For many people this is where photo editing software comes into play, giving them the ability to make one or two of their landscape shots appear like a third grader's diorama project or like their father's model train set.  If you don't know the style to which I am referring, go to google and search "tilt shift photography".  More than likely you have seen some of these pictures before.  You may have thought it actually was a photo of a miniature set, be it town or railroad or bridge, but in fact it's a specific lens that allows for selective focus.  The main use of these lens is for that of "fixing" architectural photography.  Instead of getting an unnatural bend in a photo of a tall building, this corrects that bend, making the building look like how it would to the human eye.

These lenses are fascinating, they allow much more creative control over your depth of field and area of focus than a normal lens would.  It's reminiscent of an old "view camera" which similarly let you control the angle of the plane of focus by aiming the lens in different directions and at different angles.

It was while researching view cameras that I realized the bellows (which is the flexible part that allows the lens to move while still being connected to the camera body) reminded me of something.  It reminded me of a plunger.  The kind that has...well, a "bellow" like body.  I figured that with a little bit of cutting and gluing, I too could have a lens that allowed for a much more selective focus.  I came to the conclusion, that in order for the image that hit the sensor to fully fill the sensor, I was going to need a full frame lens.  So I searched the internet for a full frame lens (they can be had for pretty cheap...mine was less than $30) and found out that I was not the first to figure this fairly simple design out.  Look around, there are many DIY instructions for a homemade tilt shift lens.  They all are fairly similar, but you may find one that is more specific to what you are looking for as an end result.  If mine seems good enough, read on, I'll explain step by step and will happily respond to any comments...

:DISCLAIMER: I am not responsible for any damage done to your camera or equipment.  You risk damaging your camera and equipment any time you pick it up.  There are definitely things that could go wrong with this project.  You are taking that risk.

Here's what you will need:
  •  camera body cap (can be obtained from many sites for about a dollar)
  • preferably full frame lens
  • "bellow" plunger  (one side's width should be roughly the width of your body cap, the other should be roughly the width of your lens' width, like the example linked above)
  • a pocket knife or other blade capable of cutting through thick plastic
  • a super strong glue capable of gluing plastics together
  • a thin piece of plastic about 5in x 5in (might not be necessary)
And the directions:
  •  cut the plunger so its about 6 inches long.  Again, you will want one side to be about the width of your lens' width and the other to be about the width of your camera body cap.
  • cut out the center of the body cap.  You will want to cut as much out as possible without ruining the threading, this is necessary in order to attach the tilt shift lens to the camera body.
  • If there is enough of a lip on the body cap side of the plunger to glue the hollowed out cap to, do so.  Apply pressure for a good minute.  If there is not enough lip, or the sizes don't match up perfectly, cut the thin piece of plastic into an o shape.  The center that is cut out should be the same size as the cut out center of the cap.  The cap will be glued to one side, and the other side will be glued to the cap side of the plunger.  This should allow for the cap and plunger to be able to be connected even though the sizes of both of them weren't initially similar enough.
  • the other opening on the plunger needs to be wide enough for your lens to fit in it.  There are methods on other sites to connect the lens, but I just hold mine in place while shooting.  You are going to be pulling and bending on it anyhow.  You might as well make the process easier and just pull and bend from the lens itself.
  • It's done.  Attach the plunger/cap piece to your camera body and put your lens in the other end.  As you are taking pictures, pull the lens towards you and bend it all around in order to choose what you want to be in focus.  Press the shutter button.

*The duct tape was added because I used a crappy glue.  It was flaky and I was concerned that the flakes would get inside my camera.  So far I have not had any problems with this lens, but know that anytime your camera body is open to the world the chance of things getting in there exists.  Any measures you can take to stop this would be smart.*

You now have a homemade tilt shift lens.  If you were able to find the necessary parts in a similar price range to me, it's probably under $30.  That's pretty awesome when you consider the real lenses and the fact that you probably won't be using the lens too frequently.  It's definitely fun, but at least for myself, I only use it for very specific shots.

Here's a shot that I took when I first made the lens.  Note the fact that the hand, the shorts, and the bottom of the camera, though they are all basically on the same plane as the top of the camera, are all rather out of focus.  That's the beauty of the tilt shift, the ability to really separate subject from surrounding.  A normal lens would not have allowed me to make only one part of that plane be in focus.  A tilt shift causes the plane of focus to be angled differently, altering what we would think should be the plane of focus, and thus, giving us an entirely different style of image.

Hopefully this tutorial gives you the chance to try a new style of photography, or a style that you've found to be quite interesting but steered clear of due to the cost of a real tilt shift lens.  Either way, enjoy the chance to get your hands moving in a way that isn't solely the pressing of a shutter button.  And then, the next time you are pressing that button, perhaps you will have some different types of photos to show off.

Check out my online store to see more of my work and some of the other results of my DIY projects...projects that you can expect to find on here soon enough.


Sunday, January 9, 2011

Vegan Grilled Black Bean Burger on a Pretzel Roll with Avocado

This recipe might take a little bit of time.  It's no ten hour stew or Thanksgiving turkey, but if you don't have a significant other to make the deliciously light but perfectly chewy pretzel rolls while you are making the black bean burgers (or vice versa), it may become slightly more time consuming.  But hey, that's what this is all about, right?  The answer is yes.  It's about not compromising your values, your taste buds, or your skills.  Anyone can create this delicious meal.  I did, and here's how:

The pretzel rolls are going to take approximately 1 hour and 45 minutes, 30 minutes of which involve actual cooking time. You will want to start in on them first so that while they are rising and baking you can attack the black bean burgers. Unless, like aforementioned, you've got the luxury of an additional set of hands to take on the weight of one of these tasks while you go at the other.  I do, I've got a baker for a wife.  Only in the last two years have her dormant baking abilities risen to the surface.  What a phenomenal day it is when you see your wife, who you thought would never enter the kitchen, suddenly pull a pan filled with a loaf of fresh homemade, frickin' awesome rye bread out of the oven.  Might I add, these last two may have been the best two years of my life.  

So here's what she did:

  • 1 cup warm water
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast
  • 2 3/4 cups bread flour
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
Pour water into large mixing bowl, add yeast and allow to sit for about five minutes, until bubbles form. Mix in the other ingredients until the dough forms a smooth, elastic ball. Place dough in an oiled mixing bowl (pouring some oil into the one you just used worked for me!), and coat in oil. Let rise for 30-35 minutes, covered, in a warm area. After dough has risen, place on a floured surface and with floured hands, punch and knead dough for about a minute - until it is smooth and dough springs back when you poke it. Divide the dough into 6-8 balls, depending on the size you'd prefer for your rolls, and shape as desired (flatten balls for pretzel rolls). Slice a criss-cross pattern on the top of the roll (about 2 inches long). Allow rolls to rise on an oiled baking sheet for 15 minutes, while your oven preheats to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. On the stove, boil a pot of water (a small pot with about 3 cups of water will do the trick). When the water is boiling, add about 1/8-1/4 cup of baking soda and stir (it should froth and bubble). One by one, place rolls into the boiling pot for 10-20 seconds per side, flipping with a slotted spoon. After both sides have boiled, use a slotted spoon to drain the roll and replace it on the baking sheet. Repeat with all rolls, and sprinkle each with coarse salt, or other desired topping (sesame seeds, garlic, etc.). Bake at 425F for 10-12 minutes, until dark golden brown with that inviting pretzel glow! Serve hot.

 This recipe is an amalgamation of Google searches and trial-and-error, making alterations until we were pleased with the final result.

And now onto my side of our surprisingly complementary culinary talents:

For the black bean burgers themselves...

  • 1 can (15oz) of black beans, drained (or a cup and a half of dried black beans that have been soaked overnight, drained)
  • 1/2 cup of cooked rice
  • 1/2 cup of cooked corn
  • 1 peeled clove of garlic
  • 1/4 cup of salsa (any kind will do, fresh homemade is always best)
  • 1/2 cup of breadcrumbs (not necessarily vegan! (use breadcrumbs that are vegan friendly) (see rant at end of post))
  • more breadcrumbs as needed
 Throw black beans and garlic clove into food processor.  Blend until smooth. Throw 1/4 cup of corn into processor and blend into black bean mix until smooth.  Throw all other ingredients except the extra breadcrumbs and blend just long enough that the breadcrumbs get mixed in.  This will allow the burger to have some texture as opposed to being just mush.  Throw the mix in a bowl big enough that you will be able to knead the mush. Now knead it.  As you knead it mix in more breadcrumbs, but just enough that the mix is able to be formed into balls that maintain their shape.  Too much breadcrumbs and they will just burn when the patty is grilled.  I'd love to be able to tell you the exact amount to put in for the perfect burger, but due to differences in salsas, the moisture content will be different, requiring more or less breadcrumbs.  Once they maintain their spherical shape, make six equal balls and flatten them to about .5 or .75 of an inch. (it should be about the width and height of a normal burger patty)  I then used an indoor grill, (the kind that has no open spaces for things to fall into) to cook them.  They may stick to the surface a little bit, but if you keep moving them around with a spatula, they will grill up nicely without falling apart at all.  Five minutes a side should suffice, depending on the temperature of your grill (mine has no adjustable temperature).  But feel free to grill a little longer for a crunchier outside.  

Cut the pretzel roll with a bread knife if you have one...get one if you don't, it will make your life much easier.  Throw the burger onto the roll and serve with avocado slices, tomato slices, vegan cheddar cheese, and anything else you can think of.  Red onion would be pretty delicious, as would a little bit of fresh cilantro.  Enjoy.

Be careful! I had no idea that store-bought seasoned breadcrumbs might not be vegan.  We tend to make our own breadcrumbs, but this time there was an opened box laying around that needed to be finished off.  Read the ingredients label!  If they are seasoned they may have cheese products in them, ours had parmigiana cheese.  Luckily, we are currently "going" vegan.  Our plan is to not waste anything that we already have in our house that isn't vegan friendly.  Unopened items are going to friends and family, but opened stuff will be used up by ourselves.  So, as soon as our house is totally vegan, then too shall we be.

But yeah, if you are using store bought breadcrumbs and are attempting a vegan meal, make sure to read the ingredients! It's just not something I would have thought I needed to check out.  From here on out I'll be checking everything.