Author: sophiahsin

Hello and welcome. I'm glad you're here. I am a freelance commercial and lifestyle photographer based in Vancouver. I am known for creating minimalist and clean imagery accompanied by good light and creative storytelling. On top of being a photographer, I am also many other things — an artist, a med school graduate, an educator, designer, accidental writer, a lover of em dashes and an unapologetic library nerd. For project inquiries, creative ideas or just to say hi, drop me a line at hello@sophiahsin.com.

How to Make a Photography Background

Here is a DIY tutorial for a photography background that is easy to make and beautiful to use. I have spent a lot of time hunting down backgrounds and know all too well the feeling of staring at textured concrete walls in public— wishing I could bring a piece of wall home with me.

This tutorial is inspired by Bea Lubas (whose photography workshop I am excited to attend in London this September). Some of my favourite surfaces makers are Erickson Surfaces, I also use Capture by Lucy for food photography backgrounds.

And now, pull out your paint brushes from the closet,  head to your nearest hardware store and let’s create something beautiful.

You will need

  • A plywood board (found in the wood section of home depot, my board was 4×8, 1/2 inch thick). Find a board that is not bended or warped.
  • Several tester pots of matte paint (I used 3–5 colours each board) 
  • A cleaning sponge, old paintbrushes

Directions

Select your colours from tester pots. Gradient colours work very well.

Using a sponge, gently swirl the colours. Do not over mix as you want to the individual colours to stand out. Dip your sponge into the mixture and lightly apply brush stokes to cover the board.

Let dry in open air for up to an hour. I am planning on applying a layer of matte lacquer for wet foods, produce and drinks, of course.

And there you have it. Your very own photography background.

I used both sides of my board for different colours and found it helpful to have reference colours on hand. Will experiment with different brushes for textures as well.

Here is last night’s pasta. Photographed on grey.

Video clips can be found on my Instagram story highlights. Have fun, and share your backgrounds.

All images taken on my iPhone 6s.

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Smashed Roasted Potatoes Recipe

Papa Hsin • Brunch • The mighty small potato

Every day is brunch day when you have smashed roasted potatoes. I had these for the first time at a friends house last month and could not forget the taste of them. Crispy, soaked in flavour, the perfect size to consume in one single bite. I don’t think I can ever go back to normal roasted potatoes. I skimmed over a recipe online and made these for a belated father’s day brunch. They were everyone’s favourites and are now requested on the menu for when my aunties visit in the fall.

Growing up, Papa Hsin worked in foreign affairs and was the person responsible for cultivating my exotic palette (I was the child that hated Chinese food). Papa loves hosting and it was not uncommon for me to come home to a house full of strangers cooking and eating. Once, I came home to an Indian chef cooking curry in the kitchen with an entire butchered lamb he had brought over in a sack. The kitchen smelled like curry for days and I remember eating curry till I was nauseous.

Some of my best childhood memories with Papa Hsin were the fruit markets we would visit on the weekend. It would be the two of us — on one scooter, trying to fit as many fruit boxes—papayas, pineapples, and mangos we could carry home before eating our weight in fruit. Now that Papa Hsin is getting old, there are times where there seems to be an ocean of cultural and generational differences between us. But there is always one thing I can count on connecting over — food.

I served these smashed potatoes with roasted vegetables, fried eggs, sausages and made them again the following week. They are really good for any meal or thrown together for a light snack. The trick is to roast them till they are crispy, on the edge of burning and eat them while they are hot.

Smashed Roasted Potatoes

Ingredients

Bag of small potatoes
Olive oil
Few cloves of fresh chopped garlic
Salt + pepper
Thyme, rosemary, or herbs you have on hand

Instructions

1. Preheat oven to 425 Fahrenheit. Wash potatoes and put in a microwaveable bowl. Fill with water until potatoes are half submerged. Put saran wrap over the bowl and poke a few holes in it. Microwave for 5–6 minutes or until potatoes are soft and easily pierced with a fork. Some potatoes may explode. It is to be expected. Drain potatoes and let cool.

2. Spread potatoes evenly on a baking sheet. Mash potatoes flat with your hands or with a spatula. Drizzle with olive oil, salt and pepper. Season with herbs. Toss or mix with your fingers to coat. Be careful not to overcrowd the pan.

3. Roast potatoes until brown and crispy. 25–30 minutes. Flip potatoes after 15 mins. Try not to eat too many of them. Garnish with fresh herbs and serve immediately.

Me + Papa Hsin with happy brunch faces.

How to Make Dried Pineapple Flowers

My grandmother • Her pineapple farm • Memories of Taiwan

Dried Pineapple Flowers. A recipe and a story about a favourite person I wanted to write about for a very long time— my grandma — a tea and pineapple farmer in Nantou, Taiwan. The person who instilled in me a love for this marvellous fruit. Golden, ripened under the sun, syrupy sweet they hurt your teeth and so fragrant that drivers put them in their cabs as a natural perfume.

So much of my love for food, being in the kitchen, making things with my hands come from grandma, who wakes up at five am every day to cook for the masses. Tables filled with marinated pork with eggs, her famous fried fish with tomato sauce, sesame oil chicken for winter months, and the best-fried tofu I could eat platefuls of with congee and soy sauce every morning.

Since grandpa passed a few years ago, grandma renounced meat (a tradition in Buddist culture where they believe will help grandpa’s soul go to heaven). Since then, all activity in grandma’s kitchen has stopped. My remaining family on the farm eats out while grandma eats her vegetarian meals in solitude. My heart kind of breaks over this and for my grandmother — who shows so much love through food. I also feel the urge to share more of her recipes and write about my childhood memories and places that will never be the same.

I made two batches of these pineapple flowers and photographed them over the course of a few days. It was difficult to find a recipe that was not too western but one that I could make. I also realized that no recipe or photograph can convey the importance of pineapples in my life, or compare to any of the recipes grandma makes. But one must try.

There are so many recipes I want to collect from grandma — her delicious fried long green beans, squash flowers from her yard and boiled noodles with tea oil (茶油麵線). I wish I could teleport to her farm and take more photos of grandma — slicing pineapples with graceful skills acquired from a lifetime.

So here it is, a simple but tedious recipe dedicated to my pineapple farmer grandma, whose love for her grandchildren travels miles and continents. To the fruit my mother hated as a child because she had to eat way too many of them. And to the fruit I always leave grandma’s house with, wrapped snugly in newspapers to bring back to Taipei or wherever I am headed.

Dried Pineapple Flowers

You will need:

One ripe pineapple
A sharp knife or mandolin
Baking trays and sheets

Instructions:

1. Cut both ends of the pineapple. Stand pineapple on the bottom and cut deliberately around the fruit. Do not be afraid to cut into the flesh and get rid of the eyes (鳳梨眼 in Mandarin). The pineapple will taste less tart.

2. Cut pineapple into even slices as thin as possible (thin enough that you can see the blade through the slice). I used a knife but a mandolin should work too. Dry on paper towels and lay flat without overlapping on a baking sheet.

3. Bake at 220F for an hour. After 30 minutes, flip pineapples flowers. Bake and repeat until pineapples are dried, golden with a texture that represents dried mangos.

4. Place pineapple flowers in muffin tins to attain a curvy shape. Store in an airtight container with lotsa room as the flowers will stick to each other. I kept mine stored separately in silicon muffin cups.

* These flowers are great as a topping for smoothies, yogurt, cakes or eat as a snack. They also make very impressive gifts to your co-workers or friends.

* Check on your pineapple flowers when they are almost done as they go from dried to burnt in a very short time. If your pineapple flowers are still wet to the touch, turn the heat off and leave them in the oven overnight!

A photo of me and grandma. Photographed on her farm in 2017.

Chive Blossom Vinegar Recipe

I have an appetite for chives. Chives in boiled dumplings, chives in pot stickers; chives chopped, stir-fried and hidden into chive pockets; chives wrapped into steamed buns and strung onto sticks with enoki or chicken skewers from vendors on the streets in Asia; chives fried with egg, dried shrimp, thin slivers of pork and rice noodles grandma would make by the mountain-full. I eat chives for the taste just as much as the love of the memories I have of eating them.

There is something incredibly beautiful about chives blossoms, the tiny bursts of purple on long green stems, the pungent smell and tiny seeds that fall from their pods. I also cherish the fact that I get to harvest a handful of these beauties every year from my dad’s yard — so pretty that I put them in vases for a few days before making a recipe out of them. 

I chuckle to think of the traits I bring from Asian culture into photography —choosing to photograph subjects that are at once tasty, photogenic, accessible and meaningful. It’s almost like someone said, “I created these chive blossoms, make good use of them!” An opportunity one must not pass.

So here is a recipe for chive blossom vinegar. A vinegar that will taste slightly like chives and turn the liquid into a deceivingly shade of rosé. Great for pickling daikon or adding flavour to a salad.

Chive Blossom Vinegar

You will need:

• A handful of chive blossoms (use blooms that bloomed and have yet gone to seed)
• Vinegar (I used rice vinegar for this one)

Instructions:

1. Behead chive blossoms, wash thoroughly with water and pat dry with paper towels.

2. Transfer chive blossoms into a clean jar. Mash slightly with a spoon to release flavour. Top the blossoms with a sprig of chive stem if you like, chopped.

3. Fill to the brim with vinegar.

4. Let sit in a cool dark place for two weeks. Strain the liquid and keep in a sterilized jar for up to 6 months.

* Rice vinegar can be substituted with apple cider vinegar or white wine vinegar.

* For a quick pickle, heat the vinegar until it comes to a simmer (do not boil, it will drain the colour from the blossoms), repeat with steps 3 and 4 above. Vinegar will be ready in 3 days.

More chive blossom vinegar recipes here: 

http://www.hungryghostfoodandtravel.com/blog/chive-blossom-vinegar
https://www.thespruceeats.com/chive-blossom-vinegar-1327760
https://foodinjars.com/recipe/chive-blossom-vinegar/

A Vancouver Salad | with roasted chickpeas, quinoa and blood orange

When I think about food I love to eat off the top of my head, things pop up like: tofu pudding loaded with soft boiled peanuts, taro and grass jelly, grandma’s fried long green beans, freshly shelled sweet peas from markets in the summer, roasted vegetables, ice cream, and bean chips from Costco.

As of July this year, it will be my 6th year anniversary living in Canada since I was here as a child. Come to think of it, my diet in Vancouver usually consists of Japanese, Vietnamese, and middle eastern food. With the occasional burger with friends, and potlucks that feature food from, well, everywhere. I struggle to think of anything in my diet that falls under the category of Canadian food. 

Perhaps the biggest change in my eating choices has been reaching a lot more for organic, green and fresh food. I don’t think I’ve appreciated how accessible produce is in Vancouver and how fresh they are. A vivid memory I have from my first few months in Canada was emptying my uncle’s fridge of all their blueberries and greek yogurt. A habit I have kept till this day. For my dad, it was consuming almost unhealthy amounts of salmon, kale and quinoa. All of which was very rare to come by in Asia.

Where I grew up in Taipei, great salads almost nonexistent. Most salads you order at restaurants consist of sad pieces of wilted lettuce, canned corn, slivers of carrots, and tiny pieces of random vegetables. Most of the time drenched in sweetened yogurt and once to my horror — topped with fruit loops.

To celebrate being Canadian, I’ve put together a salad featuring all of my favourite things. With the addition of blood oranges because they are photogenic. If you had passed me a bowl of this salad to my 10-year-old self. I would probably have rolled my eyes at you and walked out to the street to buy noodle soup (米粉湯) and boiled tofu(油豆腐). The fact that I can love eating this now means that I am most definitely, finally, and proudly — Canadian.


A Vancouver Salad — with roasted chickpeas, quinoa, and blood orange

Salad body
1 can cooked chickpeas
1 tsp seasoning of choice ( I love chopped garlic, smoked paprika, chili and sesame seeds)
3 blood oranges
1/2 cup of quinoa
1 bag of organic greens
A handful of walnuts, toasted

Dressing:
1 whole lemon
Olive oil
Salt + Pepper
Few cloves of garlic

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
  2. Cook Quinoa: Add 1/2 cup quinoa with 1 cup water in a medium pan. Bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat to low and simmer until quinoa is tender, about 15 minutes. Fluff with a fork.
  3. Rinse chickpeas. Dry them off with a paper towel. Toss chickpeas with 1 tsp oil and 1 tsp seasoning (I used chili, turmeric, paprika and sesame seeds for this batch). Spread on a pan and bake for 20 mins or until browned and crispy. Allow chickpeas to cool before tossing into salad.
  4. Slice blood oranges. Cut two ends of orange and lay on the cut side (refer to image above). Hold and slice the peel around the orange. Do not be afraid to cut into the flesh. Cut peeled oranges into slices. It will take a few tries.
  5. Toss greens, quinoa, roasted chickpeas, dressing into a bowl. Top with blood orange slices and roasted walnuts. If you are taking the salad to a party, reserve roasted walnuts and chickpeas in a bag until ready to be served. They are better crispy.

*Quinoa cooking tips adapted from The Kitchn

A Recipe: Roasted Korean pears with Ginger

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This post has been updated on my website here.

One of my new year goals for 2019 is to write more — and what better subject to write about than food? Asian culture is a culture that revolves heavily around food. The making, the eating, the sharing. Oftentimes revolved around gossip, singing, or maybe a game of mahjong for the uncles and aunties. It is something I am really excited to share.

These pears were grown by Papa Hsin in his yard in Canada. As Asian parents go, I didn’t grow up knowing my dad as he spent a lot of time working. As a child, sometimes the only interaction we will have is when he signed my report cards every week (a moment where I will tremble slightly, even though I have always been a top student). But food — will forever be a way Asian parents show love. A catch-up session with Papa Hsin will always start with him pulling out fruit, steamed buns or something he made from his bag and handing it over with a smile. I think it is his peace offering for all the smiles he didn’t give me when he signed my report cards.

Similar to me, my dad grew up in many places. One of my favorite subjects to ask him about is the time when he lived in Saudi Arabia and worked as a martial arts trainer for the police force. The stories of endless deserts, lizard hunting with bearded men, drinking camel milk and getting lost in sandstorms. Terrorism, female rights. They were the stories that teleported me to faraway places and planted in me a seed for travel and social justice. In fact — one of my career goals as a high school student was to become a journalist and cover stories of war and in the Middle East. Of course, that didn’t end up happening and today, both of us settled in Canada where I work as a photographer and him as a retired officer. I like to think that we are both finding our peace and place here. Him in his garden, hosting dinners with Chinese neighbors and me in the kitchen, behind the camera, or off backpacking to another exciting location.

Food to me will always be magic. It is the art of creating something from simple and good ingredients. Food is a vehicle for stories, culture, and tradition. A delicious reminder that we are cared for and thought of.

So here to the new year, I hope it will be one filled with stories and meals shared over tables with conversations that are long and good.

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Roasted Korean pear with ginger

Ingredients:

• 4 Korean pears. Sliced in half with the seeds removed

• 1 tbsp fresh ground ginger*

• A dash of ground cinnamon

• A squeeze of lemon juice

• 1 tbs brown sugar (opt out if you aiming for less sugar)

Directions: 

1. Preheat the oven to 400 F. 

2. Place pears on a baking tray with cut sides up. Sprinkle ground ginger, cinnamon powder, lemon juice on pears. Top with brown sugar.

3. Bake for 20 minutes or until tender. 

4. Let the pears cool before serving, preferably with vanilla ice cream. Preferably with a friend. Enjoy.

*I like to use organic ginger since I find it more pungent. I’ve also found ginger jam to be a good substitute.

A photo of me and Papa in his yard. Shot on film in 2017.

Happy New Year!

Postcards from San Francisco

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Dusk at Golden Gate Bridge. 

San Francisco is the city of golden light. It is the city where you embrace the west coast the moment you step out of the airport. The air is not humid like New York, there are palm trees, bursts of colors, fog and sunshine. 

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You know you are in California when you take photos of palm trees. 
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Stumbled across the newly opened flower shop Marigold. A beautiful space.
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Local flora and street art. 

San Francisco is bay windows, lemon trees outside your window and Hispanic grandmothers selling cups of fruit with chili powder on the street. It is tacos for three square meals and tracing the light from your morning coffee till it disappears behind the Golden Gate Bridge. San Francisco is watching fluffy dogs leaping around in Mission Park with fresh nectarines in your bag and juice dribbling down your chins. 

I loved walking through the packed streets of Chinatown, the familiar smell of fading groceries and the lineups up for boba tea. San Francisco is the quiet across the water, the trains, the buses, the people that cannot block the chill of summer and light that streams between buildings and museums that make this city.

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Ferry Building Market. Explored the area with friends, sampled six different kinds of peaches. A place where you want to eat and photograph everything.
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A white eggplant!

San Francisco is where I crossed off another city on my list and went home satisfied knowing that my world is smaller. It is a city to cross off your travel list and return to visit again and again.

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Greens at Conservatory of Flowers
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Till next time, San Francisco. 

Some recommendations:

Ferry Building Marketplace: A mecca for chefs, food lovers and tourists like me.

Tartine Bakery: Everything is delicious here! Coffee, artisan bread, everything. I loved people watching here. Must visit and eat here.

Conservatory of Flowers: If you love plants, come here for a half day trip. Beautiful and photogenic too.

Boba Guys: I don’t even drink boba in Taiwan but this place was really good! Impressed with the quality of my matcha tea and almond jelly.