Visual stories from my life and work.

New video work with Gentleman Forager

As both a food- and nature-lover, I was thrilled when Mike Kempenich asked me to accompany him and his team at Gentleman Forager on a hunt for wild edible greens this spring. We met up early in the morning, piled into a pickup and headed south to several secret locations. I had a blast following the crew along cold trout streams harvesting watercress and into the woods for wild onions and stinging nettles. What impressed me most was how hard these guys worked. We worked until sundown to fill orders coming in from local restaurants. Next time I see watercress, ramps, wild onions, foraged mushrooms or nettles on a menu, I'll be far more appreciative of the effort that went into delivering them to the chef and ultimately to my table.

Be sure to watch for my hand-lettering early in this video. I took a modern calligraphy class through Minneapolis College of Art and Design's continuing education program. I'm planning to incorporate this beautiful art form into my video work more in the future.

Finding magic (and amazing cider) at sweetland orchard

Sometimes I feel so strongly that I am where I need to be; and although those moments of clarity can be fleeting, they are such a gift when they occur. I felt this way one autumn morning as I walked along an overgrown path between gnarled apple trees at Sweetland Orchard. My footsteps rustling the long grass, birds, warm sunshine, dappled light filtering between branches, crisp apples – and that peaceful, happy feeling of finding something wonderful when I didn’t even know that I was searching. 

Sweetland Orchard in Webster, MN is a magical place, but creating that experience for visitors is also hard work. And it’s a way of life for Gretchen and Mike Perbix who grow 49 apple varieties here. Some are sold to eat, but many are pressed and crafted into hard and sweet ciders. They have Minnesota favorites like Honeycrisp and Haralson, as well as less common apples like Ginger Gold, Northern Spy and Ruby Jon. And these apples are picked at peak ripeness, so they taste amazing!

Sweetland is open to visitors on weekends in September and October, when you can take a guided tour of the orchard with Gretchen or learn about pressing apples and making hard cider from Mike. There are plenty of apples to taste, as well as apple donuts and Sweetland’s outstanding ciders (which can be found year-round in stores around the Twin Cities). The Perbix’s children, family and friends help welcome visitors, as does their playful border collie Fletcher. A picnic enjoyed in the orchard while sipping Sweetland's hard cider is a perfect way to spend a Minnesota fall day.

Photographer Hélène Dujardin and Chef John Ondo's food workshop and retreat

Talented food photographer Hélène Dujardin recently taught a workshop in beautiful Isle of Palms, South Carolina, and I had the good fortune to attend. She taught alongside Chef John Ondo, who owns the restaurant Lana, a long-time Charleston favorite known for Mediterranean flavors. Our days were filled with photography demos, hands-on learning and cooking sessions. We took a short field trip to a fresh fish market and spent one afternoon exploring nearby historic Charleston. 

Hélène’s instruction focused on manipulating natural and artificial light to create mood and tell a story with our photography. She brought along beautiful hand-made props for us to use, including dishes, linens and surfaces. Our assignments were sometimes challenging: we learned how to make unattractive food look appetizing and how to carefully and thoughtfully style and photograph simple ingredients. One thing we never had to do was cook for ourselves because Chef Ondo prepared all our meals, and I can’t remember the last time I ate so well.

This was my first visit to Charleston, which is a charming historic city filled with grand old homes, pastel colors and majestic, towering trees. But as a Midwesterner, one of the biggest pleasures was staying near the ocean. A quiet walk on the beach each morning put me in the right frame of mind for our busy days of learning.