Katie at the Gardens

Katie at the Gardens
Katie at the Gardens, Sarah P. Duke Gardens, Durham, N.C. | Canon 5D Mk. II and Zeiss Planar T* 85mm f/1.4 ZE lens | Exposed 1/250 sec. @ f/3.2, ISO 100.

While testing the Zeiss 85mm two weeks ago, I ran into Katie at the Sarah P. Duke Gardens and made a quick portrait.  While I’d really need to have them side-by-side to do a more thorough comparison, it seems that the Canon 85mm f/1.2L Mk. II has far superior bokeh, but that the Zeiss might actually be a sharper lens from f/2.8 and smaller–but the Canon would definitely win at the largest apertures.  Either way, the Zeiss has fantastic micro-contrast, good bokeh, and clearly has potential for portraits…so long as your subject understands that it will take a second to (manually) focus!

Like Snowing Cherry Blossoms

Cherry Blossom Petals
Cherry blossom petals, Sarah P. Duke Gardens, Durham, N.C. | Canon 5D Mk. II and Zeiss Planar T* 85mm f/1.4 ZE lens | Exposed 1/160 @ f/4, ISO 100.

While I was not able to use the Zeiss 85mm lens I rented nearly as much as I had anticipated during the week that I had it, I will say that it is disappointingly soft wide-open, but sharpens up dramatically by f/2, and is wickedly sharp at f/4.  The detail in the fallen cherry blossom petals is amazing!

Also, some big  changes are coming as I am in the process of becoming an LLC in the state of North Carolina.  More to come…

Daffodils in bloom

Daffodils in bloom
Daffodils in bloom, Durham, N.C. | Canon 5D Mk. II and Zeiss Planar T* 85mm f/1.4 ZE lens with Canon 25mm extension tube | Exposed 1/80 sec. @ f/5.6, ISO 800.

Last week was far busier than I had anticipated when I scheduled the rental of a Zeiss Planar T* 85mm f/1.4 ZE lens.   I feel that I wasn’t really able to put the lens through its paces, mostly staying close to home due to a couple of developments that I’ll be announcing here shortly.  Since I was working at home I worked with subjects at hand: loaves of bread, the cat, and our garden.

While soft wide-open at f/1.4 (to the point of being almost unusable), by f/2 this lens is razor sharp, and features the oft-fabled Zeiss micro-contrast: in-focus part of the image does seem to defy its two-dimensional nature.  However, working in close quarters is where this lens struggles: the minimum focusing distance is three feet.

For this photograph of the daffodils that were in bloom in our front yard until yesterday, I had to resort to a 25mm extension tube, which presented me with the opposite of my problem: suddenly I had no choice but to be closer to my subject than I would have wished!  That said, I think it works in this example.  I’ll have a couple more to share after I get a spare moment to work them up.

Excerpt from our new blog: No work, no kneading, what’s not to like?

My third attempt at "No Knead Bread" yielded this beautiful, rustic boule.
My third attempt at “No Knead Bread” yielded this beautiful, rustic boule. | Canon 5D Mk. II and 100mm f/2.8 Macro lens | Exposed 1/100 sec. @ f/2.8, ISO 100 | 580EX II and 550EX Speedlites triggered with Canon ST-E2 Transmitter.

Our New Blog

Over the past couple of months, Elizabeth and I have been working on a project together: a combined cooking, gardening, and home improvement blog that we’ve named With One Cat in the Yard.  Today I posted about making Jim Lahey’s No-Knead Bread (aka No-Work Bread), which was popularized in a Mark Bittman column in The New York Times in 2006, and I thought I would cross-post it formy readers here.  Our new project is certainly not a photography blog–I’ve included the technical details for the photos in this post, but you won’t find them at With One Cat in the Yard–but I hope everyone will take a look.  More to come!

Flour, salt, yeast, water, and time perseverance

I’m in my third week of attempting to make good bread.  I’ve always enjoyed crusty bread, but I’ve never found the price of five dollars for a boule to be particularly attractive, so I rarely buy it.

Elizabeth suggested trying a recipe that inspired many food bloggers a few years ago: Jim Lahey’s “No Knead Bread” featured in Mark Bittman’s column in The New York Times.  The recipe became so popular that publishers perceived a demand for a book, so Lahey wrote My Bread: The Revolutionary No-Work, No-Knead Method to further explain his method and offer variations. Both Lahey and Bittman emphasize that the process is so simple that a child could make it happen, although I don’t think my mom ever would have trusted me to drop dough into a 450° F stock pot and put it back inside an oven.  Sometimes I wonder why anyone would trust me to do that now.

The wet, sticky dough after its first rise (overnight).
The wet, sticky dough after its first rise (overnight). | Canon 5D Mk. II and 100mm f/2.8 Macro lens | Exposed 1/200 sec. @ f/11, ISO 100 | Canon 550EX Speedite triggered with 580EX II Speedlite on “Master.”

My first effort was not completely successful, nor was my second, but the third was just right.  I was skeptical that I could make a loaf of bread worthy of an artisan bakery, but lo and behold, it’s not only possible, but has quickly become one of my new favorite breads.  Not only does it look amazing and have a satisfying, crackling crust, it’s also pretty tasty.  Now, it’s not the best, most flavorful bread ever, but it does have a faint sourdough flavor of which I am quite fond (on account of the lengthy fermentation period) and it’s fantastic for dipping in soup, olive oil, or as sandwich bread.

The basic recipe is stunningly simple: three cups of bread flour, one and a half cuts of water, one and a quarter teaspoon of salt, and a quarter teaspoon of yeast are briskly mixed together in a bowl and then left alone overnight: at least 12 hours, but extra time does seem to yield better results.  While the original recipe calls for 1 and 5/8 cups of water, the video on the Web site and also the recipes I found on several other blogs all called for one and a half cups, and indeed that seemed to work well.  After the lengthy first rise, the dough is rolled into a ball, allowed to rise again, and then baked in a pot inside of a conventional oven at 450° F.  This creates a “fake oven,” as Lahey refers to it in the aforementioned video, meaning that it simulates the steam-injected ovens found in professional bakeries.  The moisture of the dough is trapped within the pot and circulates throughout, ensuring a crisp crust.

Note: the recipes I follow are at the end of the post!

No Knead Bread in a cast iron Dutch oven
No Knead Bread in a cast iron Dutch oven. | Canon 5D Mk. II and Zeiss 85mm f/1.4 ZE Planar T* lens | Exposed 1/40 sec. @ f/2, ISO 1600.

For my first few loaves I used Elizabeth’s hard-anodized, eight-quart stock pot.  The current thinking is that anywhere from three to five quarts is just about “right” for No Knead Bread.  (The original recipe called for a six to eight quart pot.)  Combined with our concern that such high temperatures for an hour and fifteen minutes might deteriorate the non-stick coating, I purchased a Lodge five-quart cast iron Dutch oven on Amazon.

However, the sticking point to this bread–literally–is not the equipment needed, but the second rise of the dough.  After a few attempts, I believe I’ve found an effective alternative to the original recipe.  I offer you my experiences with this bread so that you can learn from my mistakes and quickly get to the point: great bread at a great price with relatively little effort.

Post continues at With One Cat in the Yard!