Dim Sum: A Nostalgic Family Tradition


Growing up we had this Saturday morning ritual. We’d pile into the van and my dad would drive us down to Chinatown for our weekly dose of dim sum. Inevitably, there would be a wait and you’d be assigned a number written on a scrawled out post-it note. My brother and I would run up and down the stairs tapping on the glass of the aquarium and we’d pretend to ride the stone dragon statues that guarded the front entrance. If we were feeling nice, we’d let my sister join in.

“Numbah Fir-tee Foh, Numbah Fir-tee Foh! Saam-sup Sei!!!”. Number 34.

Eventually our number would get called, we’d be led to a table covered in a pristine, white disposable plastic and a giant lazy susan. A waiter would come by with two pots of jasmine tea and we would all wait patiently poking holes in the plastic, and drawing on the paper placemats. It was a sad day if we forgot to bring a pen. Excitedly we would perk up when the lady shouting “Ha Gao! Siu Mai!” would come near.

Ha Gao – steamed shrimp dumplings, Char Siu Bao – steamed BBQ pork buns and Daan Taat – Chinese Egg Tarts. This is my essential list of what, for me, makes a successful dim sum trip. Even to this day, I cannot leave a dim sum meal without having these three items – regardless if I’m already full. An informal poll amongst my Chinese friends reveal a similar, though sometimes varying list.

tte_DIMSUM_005tte_DIMSUM_008We’ve expanded our Chinese food weekend outings to include Shanghainese Xiao Long Bao joints, not just Cantonese Dim Sum. Directly translated, it means “Little Dragon Packets”. They are steamed soup dumplings (not to be confused with dumpling soup) – filled with either pork or shrimp or some combination of both, and an explosion of hot soup. It can be dangerous and messy. It is also extremely delicious.


NK2_2757These days we don’t get to go as often, and there are no aquariums to disturb or stone statues for my kids to climb on, but there are some things I do hope my kids get to hold on to for tradition’s sake.






Fish Tacos: a Costco Confessional

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I have a confession. I have a shameful love for Costco. I love pushing the over-sized shopping cart, flashing my membership card like an exclusive badge of honour, perusing what’s on sale this week and making note of what’s available in the tech section which almost always begins with a large screen television that is both ridiculously bigger and ridiculously cheaper than what I’ve got at home. Cue the want.

As I snake from there past the office products, to the home renovation section and into the cleaning supplies, I consider possible tracks for business and life if I bought this giant pack of pens or this sliding door shower. I am in the process of project making. Almost subconsciously, my cart gets filled with stuff that I didn’t think that I needed before coming, and make me question how I’ve managed this long without it. I did come here with a pre-determined project though I can’t really remember what it was until I finally make it to the back of the store… oh ya: Dinner.

Angela and I text throughout the day, topics are musings of the day – what’s trending on Facebook, the funny/incredulous things are kids are saying these days and ultimately at some point this: “WFD?” That’s our short code for “what’s for dinner?”

On a day when I’m visiting Costco, that usually means I’m shopping for the weekend/week/month/armageddon and I am considering all the dishes within the realm of possibilities and how this wonderful store makes it that much more possible. Giant Avocados? Check. Box of Mangoes? Check. Giant Box of Panko Crumbs? Check!  Fish Tacos! let me migrate this cart back to the fish section!…. ugh….how did this cart get so heavy?

I find a tray of line caught Haddock that’s wonderfully filleted and start salivating over the idea of what will eventually be going in my mouth. Meanwhile I add a bag of limes and – what the heck – a case of Corona – because now I have limes.  I check in with Ange and she reminds me that should invite people over – because there’s no way we can consume all this food by ourselves:

Yes, Costco sells Wagyu beef.

Disclaimer: I don’t normally write recipes because, well, I don’t normally follow them. But because I’ve been asked on several occasions for this one – and I carry some guilt over not being able to invite everyone over here is my feeble attempt.

A good fish taco is a wonderful balance of flavour and texture, and toppings are almost as important as the fish itself. “Build-Your-Own” type dinners kind of imply a simplicity to everything, but everything added together can be a little bit of a production so step planning is key.

Here’s what goes into the spread:

Crispy Fried Haddock
Mango Salsa
Spicy Pickled Red Onions
Additional toppings: Sour Cream, Shredded Cheese, Salsa and Sriracha (of course)

Crispy Fried Haddock:

3 lbs Fresh Haddock, cut into taco sized pieces
1 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup flour
1 egg
Juice of 1 lime
white pepper
handful of chopped cilantro
Vegetable or Canola Oil for frying
Fresh Corn Tortillas

Mango Salsa:
Equal parts Ataulfo Mangoes, Red Onion, Cilantro and Chopped Red Peppers. Lime Juice.

3 Large Avocados
3 cloves garlic
1/4 finely diced red onion
1 diced roma tomato
2 Tablespoons chopped cilantro
Juice from 1 or 2 limes
Salt to taste

Pickled Red Onions (adapted from epicurious.com):
1/2 Red onion, sliced thinly
2 Jalapeños sliced
1 Cup Seasoned Rice Vinegar
2 Tablespoons Lime Juice
1/2 teaspoon salt

Step One: Fish Prep

As I’m cutting the fish I season it with salt and white pepper. White pepper is my secret weapon for everything – my mom goes back to Malaysia once maybe every five years, and I get her to bring back enough to last me until the next trip. I have not-unreasonable fears that the bags of dirty white powder get confiscated at the border.

I marinate the fish in what ends up being something similar to a loose savoury pancake batter – Beat the egg with the buttermilk together and mix in the flour with pinch of salt and pepper. Add the lime juice, cilantro and fish pieces and then mix just until the fish is coated. Cover and refrigerate for up to an hour.

Step Two: Toppings

Mango Salsa: Dice all ingredients and mix
Guac: Mash avocados with garlic, onions, lime juice and cilantro – salt to taste, when just about ready fold in diced tomatoes.
Pickled Red Onions (from epicurious.com):  Combine vinegar, lime juice and salt in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Stir until salt dissolves. Pour over over onions and jalapeños (ensure they are in a heatproof bowl!).

Step Three: Fry Fish

I make an assembly line of sorts, from left to right of the marinated fish, big mixing bowl of panko, sauté pan of with about 1 inch of oil, and then a metal strainer on top of a mixing bowl to receive and drain the cooked fish. Finally in a pre-heated oven at 275ºF keep the fish warm and crispy, but not overcooked.

Heat the oil to 350ºF and work in batches, dredging the fish in the Panko breadcrumbs, and then frying in the oil until golden brown – flipping occasionally. When ready remove from oil and place in the metal strainer to allow the excess oil to drip off keeping the fish crispy. When sufficiently drained, place the cooked fish in the oven to keep warm.

Step Four: Eat!

Prep the tortillas by warming them up on a naked non-stick pan for about 8-10 seconds each and then serve everything buffet-style.



Makes too many servings for 4 adults and 5 kids.












The Journey is Part of the Destination

I can’t remember when Throwback Thursday started, but as a photographer nostalgia is definitely a great place to rest. In this epilogue to the Behind the Scenes look at the making of Brown Eggs and Jam Jars, we’re going to take you back to the very beginning – but from the perspective of these wonderful little souls that have made everything worthwhile for us.


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Does the photograph make you want to reach in and eat it?

At the beginning and at the end of every recipe image we made, this is the question we asked. If the answer was yes, we knew we had a winner – if we were unsure about it, then it would be off to the wayside.

One of the many reasons working on Brown Eggs and Jam Jars was such an incredible project was Aimée’s philosophy of authentic, real, & home-grown – everything was, in a word, honest.  Since this was our first time photographing food on a scale such as this, all we had to go on was philosophy. In our wedding work we strive for just that, honest, real, authentic emotion. Right from the beginning, we knew on that respect, we were always on the same page. Check.

A while back, I attended a workshop from a noted wedding photographer who was talking about the photographers who inspire him. The common thread that links them, he said, is that “all their images are all so pleasing and easy to read”. Our goal as a photographer is to help the viewer get drawn into an image, explore it with some interest and then to walk away remembering and continuing that experience. If you flip through this book and leave involuntarily salivating a little bit, we’ve done our job.

Photographically speaking, we like to distill it down to 3 components: light, composition and moment – having all three makes for a successful image.

In a way, the concept of ‘moment’ is a lot easier to grasp within the context of documentary work. It is, by definition, temporal. Moments are there, then gone – and a documentary photographer’s job is to quite literally capture it before that disappears. When we talk about food – something much more static – we are trying in a way to capture a moment that is not so much temporal – though sometimes that happens – but impressional. We are essentially trying to capture “mood”.

salad1200x750This salad is in the Orchard Outings chapter – a fall chapter, and we wanted to convey the “late-afternoon-y-ness” mood of Autumn. We loved both as standalone images, but the one on the left was a little more spring-like, than the one we eventually used in the book on the right.



There are certain tools that photographers use to lead your eyes around an image. The Rule of Thirds, The Golden Ratio, Leading Lines – these are all important aesthetic tools that helped us get to an interesting photograph – and incidentally a good primer on composition if you’re so inclined to google. But it was the idea of ‘story’ helped us conceptually compose our most successful frames. The food always had to be the star, supporting elements, like characters in a book act as foils for the main event.

This image was the title image for the “Sugaring Off” chapter. Note how we naturally read the image from left to right, top to bottom. Aimée’s hand pouring the hot maple syrup onto the bed of snow, then we see the taffy starting to form, then the finished sticks and finally on the bottom right, her son Noah enjoying the treat. The setting and supporting characters to the image – the snow, the spatula, the popsicle sticks are present and give clues to the process, but they’re not centre stage. “Family, Food, Life,” Aimée would remind us throughout the entire project.

BEJJ_01_Title_103265O Canada.

The image of the Radish Chive Butter is one of my favourites too. Our eye spirals around the image from ingredient to ingredient and finish dead centre with the finished product. As a kind of epilogue, there’s an assembled crostini ready to be eaten.

BEJJ_03_RadishButter_102691 editIf you think you don’t like radishes, I dare you to try this and not be convinced otherwise. We were verifiably distracted for the rest of the shoot the day these were put out.



As Angela described in the previous post, a good majority of the images in the book are artificially lit. By this we mean that we had the help of strobes and were not relying solely on available natural daylight. If we had it, we would use it like the pizza image in the last post, but to that respect, lighting is a means to an end. It means nothing (at least when making images for a cookbook) to have really cool light, if the subject of the image is obscured by distracting elements. Everything has to support the purpose of the image. I would consider myself a semi-moderate photo-geek, so modifying the light that came out of the strobes was important to me only so much as the modifier helped to achieve the look and mood of the image we were after. Here is a quick rundown of the lighting setups we used, and why:

Beauty Dish: Definitely one of our favourites, a beauty dish is traditionally used in portraiture to envelope a subject with a hard light that isn’t harsh. The resulting image looks focussed, crisp and sharp.

This frame of the s’mores on p.105, we really wanted to return you to your first childhood fireside experience of them, but at the same time elevating it to another level.

Smores_100773BEJJ_100789Incidentally, the wave of creativity and my more than slightly haggard look can be attributed to the bottle of champagne that we shared to celebrate the book deal.

Super big soft box: Occasionally we would want to soften the light to give the impression of the wonderful diffused window light. Given the nature of shooting schedules and temperamental weather patters, we didn’t always have it. Light gives depth to an image, and if you don’t have enough light, things start to look flat.

Here’s a side-by-side of the scones on p. 160. It was a cool greyish day when Aimée hosted her jam swap that year and the natural window light just wasn’t sufficient for the image we wanted to take.

sconesWe decided to put our giant soft box outside and fire the strobes at full power – sometimes they wouldn’t go off (left) because they didn’t have enough time to re-cycle. When it did, the whole image had more three-dimensional, texture was more apparent and everything was a little bit more real. Final image (right)

Speedlight grids: The problem with bare flashes is that light goes everywhere – to control the spread of the light, you can use a grid to focus and concentrate the beam. Think lasers.

We really wanted to highlight and bring out the colour of the Stone Fruit Sangria without spilling light all over the place. The image is supposed to evoke “late summer sun, and dinner with friends”. We put a speedlight almost directly behind the pitcher, with a grid to focus the entire beam and light it up like a lantern of wonderful deliciousness

sangriaThere is some debate in the Chin houshold of who has claim to this idea, but because I am writing this post, I’m going to say it was me.

I suppose you could ask, how do we justify using artificial light to give an honest photograph – isn’t “natural” light the most “natural”? I would answer, photography, just like in music, needs dynamics. In music you rely on the louds and softs, the phrasing, the slight pulls and pushes to give life and emotion to the notes on a page. It’s not dis-honest to do so – it is simply giving the music “life”. Similarly, because artificial light is repeatable, predictable, portable and manageable we can control the colour, quality, quantity and direction of the light serve to amplify and subtract, add texture and visual interest. We can tell a story.

So… at the end of the day – Does the photograph make you want to reach in and eat it? I hope so.

Next time we’ll put up some too-adorable pictures of the kids behind the scenes.



What a whirlwind couple of weeks its been! It’s been exciting to see such an enthusiastic response to Brown Eggs and Jam Jars and we couldn’t be prouder of our dear friend Aimee. Between the launch party in Montreal, multiple sightings of the books in stores and following the her various appearances on media (social and conventional!) it’s been deeply gratifying to see all our hard work come to fruition and the marvelous recipes, writing and pictures finally be shared with the rest of the world!

In honor of this launch week, we thought we’d lift up the curtain a little and reveal a few of the outtakes from the book, some of the behind the scenes stories and explain a little bit of the process that went into a few of the shots. There are so many little backstories and so many images we love, but we can’t possibly talk about them all – so here’s the first of two instalments on the photography of Brown Eggs and Jam Jars.

I’d say for a majority of the photos in the book, Aimee came to the table with a clear vision in her head – how it was going to be plated, props to be used, the concept and feel. Tim and I would think about angle, lighting, cropping. (Fun fact! Over 70% of the recipe shots were lit with artificial lighting. Sometimes the sunlight just wasn’t there or we were going for a more dramatic pop).

So there were times when a few shots in and I’d stand up and say, “Yo guys. Hashtag nailed it.”

25__R3A0281 Actually Tim #nailedit, and then nailed the shot of me taking the shot he just took.

And there were other times when Tim and I would keep working at it, moving something here, adjusting the light there until we were satisfied.

pizzaBTS Ironically no artificial light was used while making this image.

Take for example maple cider baked beans recipe on page 12. It was early spring and Aimee knew she wanted it taken outside. Originally we were thinking of having some grass in the background.

But after I took a round of frames, and reviewed them on the screen, it nagged me. The green was competing with the beans and it was the orange of the beans that I wanted to pop out in the shot.

Tim was setting up for another shot but I called him outside, we brushed off a little café table that was on the deck and off we went, into the woods:


Nope, still wasn’t buying it, and now the speckled light coming through the branches wasn’t doing me any favours – I felt the background was a lot busier than necessary. So off we went, moving the table to the top of the raised beds (which were thankfully vacant as we were just coming out of winter). And then back into the forest, but a different spot. Then dialling our aperture up and down, looking for that nice buttery bokeh without losing context. We must have picked up that table and marched that pot of beans around Aimee’s yard for a good half hour until, we got the shot we wanted.


Here’s the backstory to one of our favourites images in the book. We had just finished photographing Aimee lifting parpadelle out of a pot, with steam rising into the air. It was a grey, dullish day so I had to position our 5’ octobox outside the window to bring in some brightness with another strobe off to the side to light everything else. Between batteries failing and triggers not firing, it took a good few rounds of frames before I was happy.


By that time we were ready to devour lunch so Aimee went off the kitchen to plate our pasta. Tim stood off to the side and as I chatted to Aimee, he took a few frames – no additional lighting except for what was coming through her kitchen window. No styling – everything was left as it was on the counter and the smile was probably from a conversation about our kids (Clara and our Logan were probably close by playing on the floor). It was a great shot that ended up being used as the opener for the chapter on batch cooking.


Another one of my favorite shots was the grapefruit and pomegranate spritzers. With such a huge focus on family life and food, we had always envisioned on having the kids in the background of a shot, in the house on a lazy afternoon. So with Noah and Mateo sitting through a game of chess in the living room, we had the drinks lined up in the hallway, a strobe lighting the slices of grapefruit and pitcher from above and voila. Magic.


And then sometimes there were perfectly good images that just didn’t end up making it in. Aimee, Tim and I spent a good many hours at our office, going through the images chapter by chapter and taking votes on our favourites and weeding images out for style reasons (too many top shots in a row) and a tiny nitpick (liked how the rhubarb looked in the other shot).

breadpuddingLeft: In the book, Right: Cutting room floor
etonmessBTS Left: Included, yay! Right: Find it in the deleted scenes on the blu-ray

Stay tuned – Tim will talk a little about our process of lighting and decisions on composition next week!