Author: James Cooper

Blackstone’s Steakhouse, Norwalk

Blackstone’s Steakhouse, Norwalk

Sunday night we decided we had to try the well-known Blackstone’s Steakhouse in Norwalk. They also have restaurants in Greenwich, Stamford and Southport, each with similar but slightly different menus.

Despite it’s unprepossessing exterior at 181 Main in Norwalk, we are delighted to tell you that this is an excellent restaurant a a terrific atmosphere, excellent service and outstanding food. Of course, being a steakhouse, it is not inexpensive, but there are some non-beef items on the extensive menu that are more budget-minded.

tables

The decor is warm and elegant with white tablecloth settings and wine and water glass already in place. You know when you enter that this is sure to be an excellent meal. And it was.

When you sit down, you are served a dish of colorful olives and a basket of warm bread, with a dish of real butter, not that drippy olive oil.

crab cake

We each started with their Maryland Crab Cake ($14.95). It was pretty much all crab with very little filler and a mild, spicy flavor you could enhance with their cucumber/wasabi sauce. This was a great idea and added a lot to the crab cake.

The wine list is extensive and they do offer w number of wines by the glass.

For steaks, one of ordered the Steak au Blue, prime New York strip steak topped with Blue Cheese Gratinee’ ($41.95) The meat was juicy, tender and flavorful and cooked exactly medium rare. We loved it and brought home leftovers for a sandwich.

steak au blue cut

Our other entrée was essentially a bone-in Ribeye, although on sale that night for $43.95. We were impressed at how it was carved and served in little medallions, as well. Also, tender and flavorful.

Finally, we shared an amazing dish called “1/2 Cottage Fries and 1/2 Fried Onions.” The cottage fries were essentially potato chips, but the fried onions were spectacularly tasty and we alternated onion bites with bites of our steaks.

onion rings

We didn’t have room for desserts, but they are fairly conventional: apple pie, chocolate mousse, carrot cake, lemon/orange sorbet, tartuffo, tiramisu, cheesecake, creme brulee and lava cake. Maybe we’ll get to try some next time!

We were incredibly impressed with the staff’s charm and professionalism and are sure to return to Blackstone’s whenever we feel like a great steak dinner.

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New restaurant moves into Greydon House

New restaurant moves into Greydon House

When the Greydon House hotel opened in Nantucket in 2016, it was lacking a restaurant, but one opened in the late fall, headed by Chef Marcus Ware. And as people began to visit it, they were extremely impressed.

We first visited in August of 2017 and praised it highly. In fact, we called the food and service “extraordinary,”

However, this didn’t last, and by 2017, it was apparent that Ware wasn’t paying much attention to this island outpost among his many restaurants. We felt it had “slipped of its pedestal.” Similar dishes were prepared in much more slapdash fashion, and service was not what it had been.

Apparently, the management of Greydon House agreed, and replaced Ware and his restaurant with Via Mare, a new Italian small plates restaurant run by Chef Dre’ Solimeo and Sarah Todd from Ventuno, whom we have always praised highly.

Via Mare’s menu Is creative (and somewhat folksy in its descriptions: “taters” for example)  but the overall we have of the menu is “we can’t wait to eat there.”

thumbs_Unknown-18

Here is their description of their farfalle:

Butterfly pasta, spring vegetables, parmigiano crema, prosciutto, black truffles.

Or how about their small plate black bass:

Black bass crudo white asparagus, pickled ramps & sorrel

They also have a couple of large options such as this delicious-sound steak:

Bistecca: Porcini & parmigiano crusted steak, black garlic aoli — black summer truffle

Welcome, Via Mare! We can hardly wait!

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Via Mare is open Tuesday through Sunday 5:30pm until 10pm. The bar is open until 1am. Photos provided by Via Mare.

Simple chocolate cake (black and white)

Simple chocolate cake (black and white)

This basic chocolate cake recipe has been around for years. Our simplifications are in using a scale and chilling the icing skim coat. As we have said before, you really don’t need to sift and measure the cake flour: just weigh it.  And before you start mixing up the batter, weigh the mixing bowl. This will make it easier to divide the batter into two pans.

The cake

  • 2 8-inch round cake pans
  • buttered parchment paper
  • 3 1-oz squares baking chocolate (unsweetened)
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • ½ cup milk
  • 1 beaten egg
  • ½ cup shortening (or unsalted butter)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 cups sifted cake flour (224 g)
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • 2/3 cup milk

cake pans

  1. Preheat the oven to 350˚ F
  2. Butter the cake pans and line them with parchment as we show here. Butter the tops of the parchment, too.

melt chocolate

  1. Put the chocolate, 2/3 cup sugar, ½ cup milk and beaten egg in a saucepan. Cook slowly over medium heat until the mixture thickens and the chocolate melts. Set aside to cool.
  2. Put the shortening in a mixing bowl and stir to soften. Beat in the 1 cup sugar. Add the 2 eggs one at a time and beat until light and fluffy. Add the vanilla.
  1. Weigh out the flour and add the soda and salt and stir briefly.
  2. Add the flour mixture to the creamed mixture, alternating with the 2/3 cup milk.
  3. Blend in the chocolate mixture.
  4. Weigh the mixing bowl and the batter, subtract the weight of the empty mixing bowl, and divide by two.
  1. Put one cake pan on the scale, set the tare to zero and add half the weight of the batter. IN our case the total batter weight 1146 g, so we put slightly under 573g in each cake pan. (Some batter will stick to the sides and the spoon, so allow for that. We went for about 560 g each.)
  2. Bake in the 350˚ F oven for 25-30 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean.
  3. Let the pans cool on the stove or on a rack, and then release the cakes from the pans and let them cool.

layers

Simple buttercream icing

  • 2 lb confectioners sugar
  • ½ pound (2 sticks) butter
  • 2-3 Tb milk
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 2 squares unsweetened chocolate
  1. Place the powdered sugar in a food processor
  2. Add the butter cut into 1 Tb pieces
  3. Pulse until smooth
  4. Add enough milk to mix until smooth and spreadable
  5. Add the vanilla
  6. Take out about a quarter of the icing to a separate bowl
  7. Melt the unsweetened chocolate at 50% power in a microwave for 1-2 minutes
  8. Mix the chocolate into the quarter of the icing.
  9. Place one cake layer on the cake pan or on a cake spinner platform.
  10. Ice the top of that layer with the chocolate icing.
  11. If the top layer is flared out, trim it with a knife do the sides are straight, and set it on top of the chocolate icing.
  12. Mix about 2 Tb of icing with about ¼ cup milk until uniform. This is the icing wash for the skim coat.

skim coat

  1. Spread the skim coat on the top and sides of the cake and chill it in the refrigerator for half an hour. This will make a smooth surface to ice that won’t crumble when you spread the white icing.
  2. After the cake is chilled, spread the white icing on the top and sides of the cake, using a spatula to make the sides smooth.
  3. Return the cake to the refrigerator while you make the ganache.

 

Chocolate ganache

  • 2 oz semisweet chocolate chips
  • 2 oz bittersweet chocolate (or use a little less baking chocolate and some semisweet)
  • ½ cup heavy cream
  • ½ Tb honey
  • ¼ tsp coarse salt
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  1. Put all the chocolate in a heatproof bowl
  2. Combine the cream, honey and salt in a saucepan.
  3. Bring the cream to a boil, and pour over the chocolate.
  4. Place the ganache in the refrigerator until it begins to firm up. If it gets too firm, you can remelt it in the microwave and start the chill again.
  5. When the ganache is still just pourable, dribble or pour it over the chilled cake to make any pattern you like.
  6. Serve with raspberries or strawberries.

ganache

 

Red Rooster Pub opens in Wilton

Red Rooster Pub opens in Wilton

After a couple of months of downtime, the former Portofino restaurant has been transformed into a Red Rooster Pub. While the owner, Tony Ramadani, remains the same and the kitchen staff much the same, this is a new restaurant with a new, somewhat more informal menu.

Ramadani owns two other Red Rooster Pubs, one in Ridgefield and one in Newtown. While the menus are much the same among the 3 restaurants, the Wilton pub adds an extra page of Portofino Classics, including Chicken Parmesan, Rigatoni Con, Capellini Piedmontese, Mushroom Ravioli, Jalapeno Chicken, Shrimp Papardelle and Seared Salmon, priced from $20 to $24, and a kid’s menu.

Their main menu is simpler than in the Portofino days, with appetizers including wings, tacos, chili, 8 salads (plus make your own from a checklist). The Mains section is just Fish and Chips, Mac and Cheese, Baby Back Ribs, New York Strip Steak and Fried Clam (strips) Platter with only the steak over $20.

Completely new is the In Hand menu of grilled chicken, veggies, steak, pulled pork, Reuben, DLT (duck bacon, lettuce and tomato), turkey wrap, French Dip, two Chicken Wraps all reasonably priced and mostly under $15.  They also have 16 different “burgers” on the menu, several of which we have to try soon. All come with fries or onion rings.

The popular Portofino pizzas haven’t gone away either: there are still a whole page of pizza choices available.

beveragesTheir beer list includes 8 on draft an about that many more bottled craft beers, and their wine lists includes about 10 red and white choices by the glass.  Their dessert menu is simple but just what you want to go with this menu.

room shot

The Wilton pub opened last Thursday, and we understand it was packed all weekend, so we went Monday evening. At 5:45 there were plenty of tables, but by the time we left, almost all of them were full, which would seem to indicate that they have a success on their hands.

salad

For our first meal there (but not the last) we ordered an excellent Mediterranean Salad ($12.95), which would seem to be more or less a Greek Salad with Baby Mixed Greens, Pickled Red Onion, Tomatoes, Cucumber, Feta Cheese, Olives, and Balsamic dressing. It was sizable and there was plenty for us to share. If you just want a little salad, you can get a “Sub Side Salad” for $2 with any of the In Hand menu items.

shrimp

Then, one of us ordered the Shrimp Papardelle ($23.95) which was almost enough for two in itself. That night it was served with linguini, as they ran out of the wider papardelle noodles. Its served with shrimp, tomatoes, shiitake mushrooms, and pesto sauce. The shrimp were tender and flavorful and the pesto plentiful.

french burger

 

friesBut we had to try out one of their new burgers, so we ordered the French Burger ($15.95) with mushrooms, caramelized onion, Brie, lettuce and tomato, and served with piping hot French Fries. Onion Rings and Sweet Potato Fries were also available, but these French fries were outstanding. And the Brie and caramelized onion worked very well on this enormous burger. We finally had to resort to a knife and fork to finish it, but every bite was worth it.

We didn’t have room for desserts, but we will sometime in the future.

This restaurant looks like a winner for Wilton and for Ramadani and we wish them well.  Oh, and they take credit cards!

bar area

facade

Stunning ‘In the Heights’ at Westport Playhouse

Stunning ‘In the Heights’ at Westport Playhouse

It may be jumping the gun to praise a show still in previews, but In the Heights at the Westport Country Playhouse is one of the best musicals the Playhouse has done in years, and in fact one of the best musicals I have seen in any venue. Let me suggest you book tickets while you can before even reading the rest of the review, because it is sure to sell out.

Lin-Manuel Miranda’s award winning musical (with book by Quiara Alegria Hudes) about life in Washington Heights grabs you from the very first number, the 12-minute “In the Heights” and never lets you go. His lively, Hispanic-inflected jazz score along with the stunning choreography by director Marcos Santana is outstanding from beginning to end, with Daniel Green’s 10-piece brassy orchestra keeping the music moving.

In his program notes, Miranda explains that after having played Bernardo in school and seen other contemporary shows that depicted Hispanics as violent, he was determined to write a piece that shows people growing up and living in an Hispanic neighborhood, in this case Washington Heights, which lies between 155th and 190th Streets in New York. The street sign on the set says W 181st St.

The story revolves around Usnavi (a superb Rodolfo Soto), a young bodega proprietor who runs the shop along with his young cousin Sonny (Ezequiel Pujols). Both live with Abuela Claudia (the powerful Blanca Camacho) who raised Usnavi after his parents died. In case you might not think that “Usnavi” is a Spanish name, you are right. We learn in the second act that he was named for the phrase on a boat his parents passed before they landed in the U.S.  (US Navy).

The set looks much like that area in New York, with some graffiti and several shops, a beauty shop run by Daniela (Sandra Marante), with Carla (Amanda Robles) and pretty, young Vanessa (Nina Victoria Negron, who is Usnavi’s love interest), and  Rosario’s Car Service, where Kevin (Rony Chiroldes) and his strong-willed wife Camilla (Doreen Montalvo) dispatch drivers, assisted by Benny (Gerald Cesar), and ambitious black man who does not yet speak much Spanish. He is trying to learn it from the drivers so he can take over the dispatching duties. He later remarks that he has learned that Puerto Rican Spanish and Dominican Spanish have completely different swear words.

The story begins moving when Kevin and Carla’s daughter Nina (the outstanding Didi Romero) returns from her first year at Stanford, only to eventually reveal that she has lost her scholarship. Benny and Nina reconnect and are soon in love, and sing beautifully together, especially in “Sunrise.” And meanwhile, Usnavi gets Sonny to ask Vanessa out for him, and they soon connect as well.

While there is some dialog throughout, much of the show is really the songs, dancing, costumes and lighting that keep the show moving and thrilling from beginning to end. And I must especially praise the Piragua Guy (Paul Aguirre), who pushes a Piragua cart  (flavored shaved ice) and sings in a fabulous tenor voice throughout.

This nearly all Equity 18-member cast, several of whom were in the original Broadway production, produce one of the most professional, high energy shows the Playhouse has ever presented and to see how these amazing singers and dancers tell the story of The Heights, you simply must see this excellent production. Some neighbors in the audience noted that this production was actually better than the Broadway production. Don’t miss it!

In the Heights plays at the Westport Country Playhouse April 23 through May 11, now extended through May 19th.!ITH_FullCast_1200x750

Above, front row (L–R): Randy Castillo, Nina Victoria Negron, Amanda Robles, Tony Chiroldes, Edward Cuellar, Alison Solomon. Second row: Jonté Jaurel Culpepper, Marco Antonio Santiago, Melissa Denise Lopez, Sarita Colon, Blanca Camacho, Rodolfo Soto, Sandra Marante, Doreen Montalvo, Gerald Caesar, and Didi Romero. Back row: Ezequiel Pujols, Paul Aguirre, director/choreographer Marcos Santana, and music director Daniel Green. Photo by S. Emerick

Buttermilk biscuits in 4 minutes

Buttermilk biscuits in 4 minutes

I made this article and movie to show that if you can make buttermilk biscuits from scratch in 4 minutes, there is no reason to resort to mixes or refrigerated (oy!) dough. The recipe is just

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 Tb baking powder
  • ½ tsp baking soda
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1/3 cup unsalted butter
  • 2 cups plus 2 Tb buttermilk

Here’s the whole movie:

And after baking 10 minutes at 450 F, you have hot, tender, layered biscuits.

It’s that simple.

Chicken Noodle Soup in an Instant Pot

Chicken Noodle Soup in an Instant Pot

There is nothing more comforting than a bowl of chicken soup with noodles, and you can make in an Instant Pot with very little effort and just over an hour elapsed.  Our recipe here is for a 6 quart Instant Pot, but it will work in an 8 qt just as well, and you could make more there for larger groups if you wanted.

  • 1 4 lb chicken, cut into serving pieces
  • 2 cups water
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1 leek, cut into 3-inch pieces, use the white part and a little green part.
  • 2 carrots
  • 2 stalks celery
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • 4 cups water
  • 6 oz noodles (half a bag)
  • Parsley

 

  1. Put the cut up chicken pieces in the Instant Pot, and add 2 cups of water and the salt.
  2. Close the pot and cook for 20 minutes using the Poultry setting or the manual setting.
  3. Do a quick release and remove the meaty pieces and cut the meat off, and set aside.
  4. Add all the bones back into the pot, add 4 more cups of water and the bay leaf and thyme
  5. Add the leek, one stalk of celery and one large carrot, cut into pieces.
  6. Cook for 45 minutes on manual high pressure.
  7. Cut up the chicken meat to add to the soup later.
  8. Meanwhile, cut up the other carrot and celery and sauté in butter over low heat until softened.
  1. Quick release and remove the bones and cooked vegetables.
  2. Strain the broth to remove debris and pour it back into the pot.
  3. Bring the broth to a boil using the Sauté setting and add about 6 oz of dried noodles. Cook, loosely covered for 7 minutes.
  4. Add the cut-up chicken and the sautéed vegetables and stir together.
  5. Ladle into bowls and sprinkle a little parsley over each bowl.
  6. Serve at once, with a little bread and butter on the side.

And there you have it. A delicious comfort food in little more than an hour.  You may have some chicken left, but toss it into any leftover soup and freeze it for another day. You can always add more stock when you serve it a second time.  We figure this makes at least 4 hearty servings. And since my mom always served bread and butter with soup, I do too!

My life in cameras

My life in cameras

I’ve been interested in photography from a really early age, and here is why it happened.

The Wheaties camera

wheaties2 cropped

 

I first got interested in taking pictures when I found I could get an actual working camera for 55 cents and a Wheaties boxtop. I was about 7 years old and this was pretty exciting for me. Mine used 127 film which you then “took to the drugstore” to have processed. You got back little contact prints about 1” x 1.5”. I’m not sure if enlargements were yet available, but enlargements from such a cheap camera would have been pretty awful.  Some years later, I actually had a summer job at the local photofinisher that serviced all those drugstores. But that’s another story.

These promotional cameras were made by Regal Galter of Chicago, and were available with various nameplates. While they were little more than toys, they did take actual pictures and I took a lot of pictures, especially on vacation or when we took visitors to nearby Niagara Falls.

This was really a learning experience, and I am sure most of my pictures were terrible, but every mistake led to more chances to learn. Of course, the camera had no settings for shutter speed or lens opening. And, in those days, the only 127 film type was Kodak Verichrome Pan, a very forgiving, wide latitude film that produced reasonable pictures over a wide variety of lighting conditions. This was, of course, an outdoor, daylight camera. Inside shots and flash pictures were still in the future.

The Brownie Hawkeye

hawkeye2 hawkeye flash

When I was about 11, and in about 6th grade, my parents surprised me with a wonderful new camera, the  Kodak Brownie Hawkeye. It used 620 film, producing negatives that were 2 ¼ x 2 ¼ inches (or 6 x 6 cm). The bakelite Brownie had a bright prism waist-level viewfinder, and there were a number of types of film available for it, including Verichrome Pan, Tri-X and Kodacolor. The flash attachment used flashbulbs, of course, and while you could use ordinary white flahsbulbs you could get blue flashbulbs to simulate the outdoor color balance for outdoor Kodacolor. (Color film came in outdoor and incandescent in those days.) Contact prints from these 2 ¼” square negatives were decent sized, and the camera quality was sufficient to stand enlargement to “oversize” prints if you wanted to pay for it.

The Brownie Hawkeye was made from 1949-1961, with the flash model introduced in 1950. It was the most popular Brownie ever made, and you can still find them around pretty easily. They make good stage props and there was a recent men’s clothing ad where the model was using a Brownie Hawkeye, but was foolishly holding it up to his eye!  The original Brownie Hawkeye cost $5.50 and the flash model $7.00!

This Brownie went with me on all our vacations and I even got to take it to school on occasion to snap pictures of my friends.

As I moved on into Junior High School, I became interested in developing and printing my own pictures, and the 620 film was easy to handle and contact print. I developed the film in a little plastic tank using Microdol-X or D-76 and contact printed the negatives. It was clearly time for an upgrade.

My Yashica was my first medium format camera

yashica

In about eighth grade, I bought a Yashica (probably using my paper route money): a pretty good quality twin lens reflex, using 120 film and still making 2 ¼” square negatives. The Yashica had a f 2.8 viewing lens which projected onto a ground glass screen for focusing, and a f/3.5 taking lens. This was my first camera that allowed focusing, as well as setting of the lens opening and shutter speed. This was a huge learning experience, and it was a good thing I could develop the film myself, because I ran through a lot of getting the hang of setting the exposure correctly. I used the Brockway incident light meter as well. And it was the first camera with decent resolution that allowed good enlargements.

The two knobs on the front controlled the lens opening and shutter speed, and the large knob on the side moved the two lenses in and out for focusing. The rear knob was for advancing the film. I don’t think there was an interlock to prevent double exposures, though. And there was no film advance that assured that you moved the film far enough. You had to look at the numbers on the back of the film paper that were displayed in the window on the back of the camera.

Around this same time, a took possession of a used enlarger much like the Kodak enlarger shown here, which really opening my vistas to making contact sheets, and making small enlargements on Kodak Medalist paper, developed in Dektol. This enlarger was a diffusion model, where the enlarger lamp is diffused through ground glass and passed through the negative and then to the enlarger lens.

practicefield

That Yashica was my main camera throughout high school. I used it for sports photography and group photos of all kinds.

Ventures into 35mm

minoltaAround this time, 1957 or so, 35mm cameras were getting better and cheaper and my father bought me a Minolta 35mm camera. I was soon taking so many candid pictures with it that I started spooling my own bulk film into 35mm cassettes. In those days, you could reuse standard Kodak cartridges, but Kodak put an end to that in about 1964 by crimping the ends so you had to use a bottle opening to pull them open.

The Minolta was only my second adjustable camera, where I took light meter readings and set the camera accordingly. The camera was well built, and I used it throughout high school for all my candid work for the yearbook. It did not feature interchangeable lenses, however.

It also introduced the possibility of color slides, which I dived into as well. And in fact, it turns out you can process your own Ektachrome, and I did that for some years to save money and for instant gratification. During high school, my friend Jeff Luce and I did some color film processing and printing (from 2 ¼” square negatives) It was a lot of fun, but took an awful lot of work. This did, however, give us a chance to crop and adjust the darkness if our photos.

Nikor

This was also about the time that I switched to the Nikor stainless steel film processing tanks that I still have and use. It takes a little practice to load them, but once you get the hang of it, they are very easy to load in the dark or even in a changing bag. This is probably now one of photography’s great lost skills! Sadly these tanks are no longer made, although other vendors have similar models.

 

 

The Kodak Retina

Retina

Around the start of the senior year in high school, the Minolta was not all it could be, and I looked around for a camera with sharper optics. I settled on the rather unique Kodak Retina IIc, a German made camera with an f/3.5 Schneider Xenon lens, and shutter speeds to 1/500th. It had a built in light meter and introduced (to me at least) the LVS or Light Value System, later called the EV or exposure Value system.

You matched a pointer to the light meter needle on the top of the camera, and that gave you a single LVS number. You set that LVS number on a wheel at the bottom of the lens, and it locked together all the f/stops and shutter speed combinations that would give you that exposure.

The Retina had a very sharp lens, rivalling the Nikons I later went to. While there were two additional lenses available: wide angle and short telephoto, they only replaced the front elements, not the whole lens and I never looked into them.

Later on that year, my father bought a Retina IIIc, which was the same camera with a f/2 lens, and that is the one pictured here. It still works very well.

I used the Retina IIc all through the rest of high school and nearly all of college as my camera for candids, and having joined the yearbook staff right away, I had access to a very good darkroom.

My Rolleiflex

Rolleiflex

In early January of my Senior year in high school, a friend of mine who worked at a local photo store called me to say that a used Rolleiflex had just come in that was in immaculate condition and I ought to get it immediately. My father worked near there and I called and asked him to take a look. He told me it had been sold, but didn’t tell me that he’d bought it for my birthday.

This was one highest quality cameras I’d ever had. It had a f/2,8 viewing lens and an f/3.5 taking lens and a film transport system that assured that the roll would always be advanced the correct amount. I used this all through my college career along with the Retina. And I had that camera for 40 years after that. It took outstanding photos.

Moving on to Nikons

Nikkorex

In my senior year in college, I wanted to move on to a camera with interchangeable lenses and high quality optics. Selling my Retina combined with a small early graduation present, I put together enough money to either buy a Nikon F or a Nikkorex F plus a Sigma 60mm-200mm zoom lens. They were about the same price. The Nikon F was a thoroughly professional-grade camera of its time, and the NIkkorex was intended for the amateur market. It had excellent Nikon optics but instead of the usual focal plane shutter, had a Copal Square metal blade shutter. I chose the latter because it seemed like a bargain to an impecunious college student.

When I got the Nikkorex, I found that that shutter was hardly silent and was roughly as noisy as a bear trap. Just the thing for shooting wedding ceremonies! Much later, I learned that this Nikkorex was sort of a joint project between Nikon and Mamiya, who actually manufactured the camera. That model was later sold by Ricoh, and Nikon went on to produce a number of Nikkormat cameras for the amateur market.

What can I say? It may not have been top of the line, but I used that Nikkorex all through graduate school and while raising a young family. It may have been a bit noisy, but the optical quality was very good.

Finally, a real Nikon

 

While teaching at Tufts, I wrote a number of books, and the royalties from my first book and second book enabled me to finally trade my Nikkorex in for a Nikon F3, one of Nikon’s most popular film cameras of all time. Of course, the Sigma zoom lens worked with the new Nikon just fine. I also managed to buy a new Beseler 23 C enlarger.

This Nikon F3 that I bought in 1980 was a workhorse camera for me for years: I didn’t seek to upgrade until digital cameras became more common in the early 2000s.  I still have it and it works just as well as the day I got it.

Replacing the Rollei

rollei 6003

By the early 2000s, my Rolleiflex was showing the signs of age. It just didn’t produce as sharp images as it once did, and it seemed ill-advised to spent money on repairing a 40 or more year old camera that was no longer made, so I sold it and bought a used single lens reflex Rollei 6008. This is a battery driven camera with through the lens metering and interchangeable 120 (or 220) film magazines, so you could switch from black and white to color, or between different film speeds mid-roll. The film advance was automatic, and while there were other lenses available for it, their prices were astronomical.

I took some photos with it recently and it remains an amazing machine: solidly build with incredible resolution. It is not autofocus, although Rollei did make a model that was at some exorbitant price. The producers of the Rollei line, Frank & Heidecke, went out of business in 2009 and Rolleis are no longer being produced, although there are a large number in the used market.

Frankly, this is a camera that only a tripod can love, since with the hand grip it weighs 79 oz or nearly 5 lbs. Its images are unsurpassed, however.

My journey into digital cameras

coolpix 995

In 2001, digital cameras became price accessible, although still of just moderate quality. My first digital camera was the Nikon e995 Coolpix which was really only suitable for making small pictures for a web site, with e megapixel resolution (2048 x 1536). Nonetheless, it was good for closeups and I used it for about 3 years.

 

 

The Nikon D70

Nikon d70

This was a 6 megapixel camera (2000 x 3008) that stood me in good stead for 4 years. It had a good zoom lens (18-70mm f/3.5-5.6) that was considerably more light sensitive than the previous Coolpix, and the lenses were interchangeable. I soon got a telephoto zoom(70mm-300mm) for it as well. And with that resolution, I could take good quality stage pictures easily.

bermuda d70

d70 sorc

The Nikon D80

Nikon d70

Four years later, I upgraded to the Nikon D80 to further improve resolution to 10 mexapixels (3872×2592), but kept the same lenses. This workhorse camera stood me in good stead for tens of thousands of pictures of all kinds. It was the first one that I felt I could make decent enlargements from and many of those are still hanging around our house.

 

 

Nikon D7200

d7200

I finally moved to a Nikon D7200 (24 megapixels) in 2017 and with it a new kit zoom lens, since the one I used with the D70 and D80 needed replacement from heavy use. But the 70-300mm telephoto remained in happy use. This was the first camera I’d had that would also do movies. It was a handy feature but I personally didn’t use it all that often. But the higher resolution was a great boon for landscape photography as well as stage photography.

 

The Nikon Z6

You would think that this should be the end of the story, but all of those digital cameras above used a 24 x 16 mm sensor, called DX format, while a full frame sensor would be 24 x 36 mm, or FX format. These full frame sensors can have the same number of pixels as the DX cameras and produce a much sharper image.

z6 and adapter

This year, Nikon introduced the Z6 (and Z7) cameras which had a full frame sensor and 24 megapixels (or 45 for the Z7). It is also a mirrorless camera that reduces vibration as well as the shutter sound since there is no mirror to flip out of the way. It has gotten very good reviews, included one I wrote comparing it to the D7200. However, Nikon also introduced a new Z lens mount and an accompanying adapter for recent older lenses, while they develop new Z-mount lenses.

This is simply the sharpest camera of any kind I have ever had, and an absolute joy to use. I haven’t been on any picturesque vacations yet using the Z6, but here is a lovely local picture that shows its sharpness.

Z^ scene

Conclusions

I wouldn’t be the photographer I’ve become without all those experiences, and starting at a young age was part of it. Only that way do you become entranced with the magic of film, seeing the prints and learning what works. And the magic of seeing prints develop in a darkroom tray is a thrill that few experience any more.

It’s easy to carry around your digital camera and never download or print any of those pictures, but that is a big mistake. The reward of beautiful prints is worth a little effort and is a big part of the learning experience that can make you a better photographer.

To some extent having a little digital camera in your phone bypasses all these steps and make photography seem routine. Again, starting young is still a step on the way to build confidence in your creativity and you should do your best to encourage young people to do more than take snapshots. And they should make some prints, too!

‘GMOs Decoded’ –Krimsky’s latest screed

‘GMOs Decoded’ –Krimsky’s latest screed

GMOs Decoded is Tufts Professor Sheldon Krimsky’s latest skeptical discussion on the virtues of plant biotechnology. Unlike his previous book, The GMO Deception, Krimsky here appears at first to take a more nuanced approach, by taking about eight of his fourteen chapters to explain the details of various biotechnology issues.

The book opens with a Foreword by nutritionist Marion Nestle, which you can read here in her column. Nestle has never been a fan of biotechnology so her comments are fairly anodyne.

Then, in the Introduction, gives away the game by noting that “there is a strong scientific consensus among elites over GMOs.” He goes on to say that “Although some scientists have declared the debate…over,” referencing Jon Entine’s Forbes article which references von Eenennaam and Young’s trillion animal feed study, This major study in the Journal of Animal Science studies feed records for over 100 billion animals fed either GE or non-GE foods, and found no unfavorable effects on the animals.

Then Krimsky notes that “other scientists declare with equal confidence that there is no scientific consensus on GMO safety.” His reference is to a paper in the trivial non-journal Environmental Sciences Europe, by prominent GMO disinformationists: Nicholas DeFarge, Michael Antoniou from Seralini’s group, and Indian pseudo-science mystic Vandana Shiva, among others. The paper presents no research but merely a report on a petition signed by “300 scientists worldwide.” (I have that list and most of the signatories are not scientists.)

The Seralini problem

Critiques of biotechnology, or colloquially “GMOs,” really was heightened by Giles-Eric Seralini’s 2012 paper in Food and Chemical Toxicology featuring tumor-laden Sprague-Dawley rats: Long-term toxicity of Roundup herbicide and a Roundup-tolerant genetically-modified maize.” Even the title made the objective confusing.  Wayne Parrott’s criticism describes the paper’s problems clearly.

The paper had so many problems from animal husbandry to poor experimental design that protests and a re-review caused the journal to withdraw the paper. It was eventually reprinted (without review) in Environmental Sciences Europe where you can find it now.

Seralini’s group has continued to publish papers critical of biotechnology, all of questionable validity, and many very difficult to follow. His co-workers and colleagues have been publishing these papers ever since, and Brazeau has dubbed them the “Seralini pseudo-science syndicate.” And none of his lab’s papers have been replicated be others.

The footnotes

You can learn a great deal about a book’s approach by scanning the footnotes, which occupy pages 156-181 in Krimsky’s book. It doesn’t take long to discover that the footnotes are larded with 15 references to Seralini’s disinformation machine.

Charles Benbrook who was for a few years at Washington State University, but whose salary was paid by the Organic Center and has close ties anti-GMO activists, appears in 5 footnotes, and his paper (published in a predatory pay-to-play journal) claiming negative impacts of GM crops has been roundly debunked by Brookes, Carpenter and McHughen.

Jonathan Latham, publisher and author of the anti-biotech Independent Science News appears twice arguing that transgenic plants can sometimes mutate dangerously. He has been severely criticized by Katiree.

There are, however, many footnotes to well-regarded sources such as Brown and Federoff’s Mendel in the Kitchen and papers by legitimate scientists like Wayne Parrott and Alessandro Nicolia, for example.

The chapters

The book starts out soberly as an outline of various genetic breeding techniques: traditional, molecular and their differences. Chapter 4 details difficulty in producing the Flavr-Savr tomato and FrostBan  bacteria. Chapter 5 covers herbicide resistant  crops and brings up no-till farming, which can improve soil health. However, it suggests that herbicide resistant weeds may require tilling. However, this has obvious solutions in crop rotation. The chapter also brings up Benbrook’s discredited paper claiming increases in herbicide use that are significantly overstated. This chapter also brings up the IARCs discredited claim that glyphosate can cause cancer.

Chapter 6 fairly and accurately covers disease resistant crops, but in Chapter 7 covering insect resistant crops, Krimsky goes afield in his summary of Starlink Corn, spending  several pages scaring us, only to finally report that there was no evidence that Starlink corn caused any illnesses. Krimsky then cites Antoniou and Robinson from Seralini’s stable to claim GM-fed rats suffered liver and kidney damage in a 3-generation study that you can safely ignore.

Chapter 8 on GMO Risk Assessment makes claims that “scientists differ,” but suffers from a dearth of supporting footnotes on who and what these differences are. There is a lot of “some groups” but “other groups” but little supporting explanation.

Chapter 9 on Contested Viewpoints argues that trans-genes may be placed differently and could result in plants having different properties, including varying toxicity, but cites Latham twice and actual scientists in Kuiper et. al. You have to actually check the papers to see that there is little to be concerned about here. He also raises the question of whether pre-market testing is actually done, as if this is not a requirement for approval. Krimsky also gets “substantial equivalence” wrong, but Kuiper explains it clearly.

  • Substantial Equivalence is a starting point for a safety assessment
  • Make a comparison between the GM organism and its closes traditional counterpart.
  • Identify intended or unintended difference on which further safety assessment should be focused.

By contrast, Krimsky says that a transgenic crop and its conventional counterpart about which toxicology information is known are compared. “When extensively analyzed, if the transgenic crop exhibits no changes …compared to its parent strain it can be treated as substantially equivalent to that strain. After that determination is made, further safety or nutritional concerns are expected to be insignificant.”

This is just not the same idea at all!

The chapter also mentions a 13-week pilot study on the effect of Roundup on the gut microbiome of rats in a study performed by the Ramazzini institute in Italy. While they did claim to find some changes in the microbiome, the Ramazzini institute seems to have a spotty reputation, having been criticized for poor reliability in another recent study on aspartame, and in the glyphosate case, Brazeau criticizes them for finding “results that match their priors but not anyone else’s research.” (They also did a questionable report on cell phone radiation.)

Much of the rest of the chapter deals with worries that have never been found to be an actual problem.

Chapter 10 rehashes all the arguments for labeling GMOs and some of the issues various states have encountered, closing with the fact that Congress passed a “labeling law” that amounts to a QR code you can scan with your phone, and is thus pretty harmless.

Chapter 11 deals with the 2016 National Academies Study on Genetically Engineered Crops. Krimsky admits that the evidence of the report reinforces the fact that GM crops are safe to eat and do not pose any risks. However he carefully picks advantageous quotes to suggest that biotechnology does not improve yields. One would wonder why famers are then willing to pay more for them. If you read through the report or its summary you will find a number of carefully written conclusions suggesting that it is mostly difficult to measure the effects of yield because it is difficult to find identical cropland to compare GM and non-GM crops, and whether the GM and non-GM varieties were true isolines to be comparable. The report also discusses the strategy for preventing evolution of herbicide reisistant weeds and Bt resistant insects.

In fact, the report suggests that in the U.S. and in China, insect-pest populations “are reduced regionally and that this benefits both adopters and nonadopters of Bt crops.” And it is important to note that Bt brinjal (eggplant, or aubergine) has significantly improved farmers’ lives in both Bangladesh and India.

Krimsky also spends 3 pages defending Seralini’s disgraced paper, claiming that was “not a carcinogenicity study” to defend the small number of rats used. In fact, critics have said that Seralini’s paper had no particular objective in advance and he let the S-D rats grow until they naturally developed tumors and published their pictures.

Finally, Krimsky attacks the integrity of the NASEM panel itself, pointing to a reference that claims 6 out of 20 members had conflicting financial interests. Of course that paper is by Krimksy himself.

Chapter 12 discusses the development of Golden Rice, which the author calls a “promise unfulfilled.” It has now been approved by the US FDA, however.

Chapter 13 discusses conflict among scientists regarding GMOs as if it actually existed. The overwhelming worldwide consensus, including every major national scientific association, is that GM crops pose no harm. He mentions “uncertain risks,” and the “GMO divide” which he himself has tried to manufacture. He recycles the canard that “farmers do no own their own seeds” as if hybrid seeds had never before existed, and of course mentions international crackpot Vandana Shiva who questions  patenting living organisms. Oh, and don’t forget “corporate hegemonic control.”

Chapter 14 presents Krimsky’s completely expected, but erroneous summation. He attacks the values of science and “trans-scientific concepts,” (whatever they are!). He suggests that “it’s an evolving story in India,” despite the overwhelming success of Bt brinjal, and questions whether yields actually improve. Of course he trots out Robin Mesnage, one of Seralini’s henchmen to argue that corn (maize) sprayed with Roundup produces different metabolites, and claims farmers have untold economic losses because of unexpected GM contamination.

Conclusion

Krimsky starts out soberly enough trying to explain the various techniques that have been developed and some of their successes. But he can’t help himself, and by Chapter 5 he is back beating the same poor old horse, and gradually slipping more misinformation into each succeeding chapter. Nothing really new here, unfortunately.

 

Sheldon Krimsky publishes more anti-GMO malarkey

Sheldon Krimsky publishes more anti-GMO malarkey

This 2015 review is being republished in advance of my forthcoming review of Krimsky’s latest book.

Sheldon Krimsky, Professor of Humanities & Social Sciences at Tufts University has published another in a series of articles and books attacking the safety of genetically modified plants (GMOs). Professor Krimsky’s appointment is in the Department of Urban & Environmental Policy & Planning, but he holds and adjunct appointment in the Department of Public Health and Community Medicine. Krimsky holds a masters in physics, but his PhD is in philosophy. Thus, many of his arguments have already been rejected by biologists.

Last year Krimsky published The GMO Deception at Skyhorse publishing (who also published RFK jr’s anti-vax book). While the book’s anti-science point of view is obvious from the title, it received a devastating review at Biofortified , who pointed that the book is nothing but a repackaging of old, discredited articles from GeneWatch archives. That site is hosted by the Council of Responsible Genetics, where Krimsky is the chairman.

Getting to Krimsky’s latest publication “An Illusory Consensus behind GMO Health Assessment,” it too brings up a number of discredited articles and workers.

The thesis of Krimsky’s article is that there is not a scientific consensus on the safety of GMOs, because he has uncovered about 26 articles attacking them. Krimsky’s paper is published in the journal Science, Technology and Human Values, where Krimsky is on the editorial board.

In discussing articles on biotechnology, it is useful to remember  The Seralini Rule, published in the Skeptico blog, which states that

If you favorably cite the 2012 Séralini rats fed on Roundup ready maize study, you just lost the argument.

That Skeptico article summarizes all the problems with that discredited and withdrawn paper, noting that if you cite this paper as serious science you haven’t taken the trouble to consider all of its scientific weaknesses.

Unfortunately, Professor Krimsky’s paper fails this test, citing 5 papers by this discredited scientist.

Krimsky’s  article is divided into three parts. In the first part, he summarizes eight recent review articles on GMOs finding some very critical and some much less critical. We read several of the more critical ones to see if we could understand his point.

He first cites “Genetically Modified Foods and Social Concerns,” by Maghari and Ardekani, published in the Iranian journal Avicenna Journal of Medical Biotechnology. This paper is basically a summary of potential concerns, none of which are supported by actual science. Suggesting that transgenic DNA might break up and reintegrate into the genome (which has never been observed), he cites two non-peer-reviewed reports by Mae Wan Ho, who has been criticized for embracing pseudoscience. Even more risible is Maghari’s assertion that GMOs may be responsible for “food-borne diseases” such as the “epidemic of Morgellon’s disease in the U.S.” In fact, Morgellon’s disease is a delusion that one’s skin is crawling when no cause can be found, and is considered a psychiatric ailment, not one caused by diet.

The second paper we read from his list was a literature review by Domingo and Bordonaba, which also violates the Seralini rule, and asserts without proof that studies showing the safety of GMOs have been performed by biotechnology companies. This is in fact contrary to the findings of Biofortified’s GENERA database of papers, which found that more than half of the studies were performed by independent researchers.

The third paper he cites, by Dona and Arvanitouannis also violates the Seralini rule, and completely misstates the doctrine of “substantial equivalence.” The correct statement of this principle is that if a GM and a conventional crop have similar origins, then their “substantial equivalence” can be the starting point for testing of the GM version to see if it has different properties that might make it dangerous to the consumer. It does not mean that no further testing is required. It also erroneously suggests that the Cauliflower Mosaic Virus, which is found on all cauliflower, is dangerous if used in biotechnology. This is, of course, rubbish, since we eat it every day on most brassicae.

In checking these papers, we quickly wander down a “rabbit hole” of papers referring to other papers and to each other, but all seeming to cite the same erroneous information. After citing some inconclusive studies, Krimsky quotes the American Academy of Environmental Medicine, which is listed on QuackWatch, and is not recognized by the American Board of Medical Specialties. It has been criticized by Science Based Medicine, and is considered a dubious certifying board.

Arpad Pusztai and Giles-Eric Seralini

In the second part of his paper Krimsky focuses on the poorly regarded work of Pusztai and of Seralini, carefully omitting some of the more damning details about their work.

Pusztai was asked to evaluate some experimental genetically modified potatoes, and reported that they damaged the stomach lining of rats. After an investigation by his employer, the Rowett Institute, found that his data did not support his conclusions, he was fired. However, Krimsky does not note what Chassy and Tribe have pointed out: the potatoes Pusztai used were an experimental and unapproved variety, and that the rats were fed uncooked potatoes, which are always harmful to rats. Moreover, two expert panels concluded that no scientific conclusions could be drawn from his work. Pusztai has become an anti-GMO activist, travelling the world giving scary talks, but has not carried out any further science.

Professor Giles-Eric Seralini has published a number of papers critical of GMOs, and their confusing style and lack of rigor have been criticized long before his rat tumor paper. However, when Seralini published his 2012 paper, scientists immediately began criticizing its small sample size, lack of double blinding, animal mistreatment, and unsupported conclusions: Sprague-Dawley rats develop tumors anyway, which is why they are suitable for 90 day experiments but not 2-year experiments.

Krimsky notes that Seralini revealed his association with CRIIGEN, a French anti-GMO organization he headed, but did not mention that Seralini’s work was sponsored by Carrefour grocery chain and the Auchan retail group who wanted to promote their new line of organic (non-GMO) products.

When many, many scientists protested to Food and Chemical Toxicology that this paper did not represent good science, the journal editor, A. Wallace Hayes, convened a new group of referees to review the paper. After nearly a year, the review panel concluded that the paper should be withdrawn because of its scientific flaws, and it was. Krimsky fails to mention the panel, but suggests the editor did this unilaterally.

Krimsky also cites an article which suggests that a “new assistant editor” joined the board of Food and Chemical Toxicology who had previously worked for Monsanto. This old conspiracy theory is easily laid to rest: biologist Richard Goodman worked for Monsanto from 1997-2004 and then joined the faculty of the University of Nebraska, long before Seralini’s paper came to light. He was an assistant editor during the Seralini controversy, but Hayes specifically excluded him from the review panel at Seralini’s request.

Author’s Conclusions

Professor Krimsky’s conclusions rely on the fact that he claims to have found 26 animal studies that found “adverse effects or uncertainties of GMOs fed to animals.” We didn’t read all of them, but we have already read some which are discredited and/or published in very low-level journals.

  1. Ewen and Pusztai, “Effects of Diets Containing Genetically Modified Potatoes,’ Discussed above.
  2. Ermakova, “Genetically Modified Soy Leads to the Decrease of Weight and High Mortality of Rat Pups.” Not published in any journal.
  3. Seralini, Cellier and Vendomois, “New Analysis of Rate Feeding Study with GM Maize Reveals Signs of Hyporenal Toxicity.’ The EFSA has debunked this paper.
  4. Aris and LeBlanc, “Maternal and Fetal Exposure to Pesticdes Associated tp GM Foods in Eastern Township of Quebec, CA.” Critiqued by Anastasia Bodnar.
  5. Carman, Vlieger,Ver Steeg, Sneller, Robinson al., A Long-Term Toxicology Study on Pigs Fed a Combined GMO Soy and Maize Diet.” Published on a non-peer-reviewed journal. Bozianu’s work rebutted this paper. Rebutted by Mark Lynas  and  by David Gorski.
  6. Seralini al. “Long Term Toxicity of a Roundup herbicide…” Discussed above, and debunked by Skeptico and by Wayne Parrott.
  7. De Vendomois, Spiroux and Seralini, “A Comparison of the Effects of Three GM Corn Varieties on Mammalian Health” Reviewed and debunked here.

 

Conclusions

Professor Krimsky has recycled old, discredited papers and arguments as if they were new to try to imply that there is a serious doubt about the safety of GM crops. He neglects the thousands of papers that make up the scientific consensus over the few weak ones he has dredged up to make his point. And Professor van Eenennaam’s billion animal study simply closes the door on this discussion.