Happy Memorial Day.
Between a conference this weekend and a lot of business that did and didn’t get done, no chance of a recipe today. Instead, here are a few food-related shots I’ve taken recently. It’s not Friday (why isn’t it Friday?), but enjoy nonetheless!
I haven’t been the most reliable of posters lately, I know, but it is “that time of the term.” Next week there’s a long weekend, which I’m using to do a little recipe developing. Till then, as a consolation prize, here are a few non-recipe related photos I’ve played with and liked the looks of. Enjoy, and have a lovely week!
Coming back feels like starting over. How do I do this? What do I sound like? Which words should tumble onto the page first? In an article from The New Yorker about language intimacy and its ties to relationship intimacy and communication, Lauren Collins notes that “Bilinguals overwhelmingly report that they feel like different people in different languages. It is often assumed that the mother tongue is the language of the true self. In many ways, it remains the primal vehicle… But, if first languages are reservoirs of emotion, second languages can be rivers undammed, freeing their speakers to ride different currents.”
Though I write and speak in English – it is my first and (aside from garbled, declension-less memories of high school Spanish and college Latin) only language – I have always felt that the spoken and written form of a language might as well be two different tongues (one of which doesn’t require the tongue at all). Thus, though I’ve talked about food consistently during the weeks we’ve been apart, I haven’t written about it (or about much of anything) at all. You can chalk this up to issues of vacation, politics, heat, social justice, laziness, or good old writer’s block, but the result is the same as a month off from practicing a different language: the water in that pool feels cold, and awkward, and heavy. This is why, for my students, coming back even after the summer makes writing feel ungainly and foreign – it is. It’s another language. It’s hard to float when you’ve spent a month on the solid ground you knew first.
So instead of plunging, I’m coming in from the shallow end, a few steps at a time. More recipes to come, I promise; there are only a few weeks before school starts and I want to have a good back-log to keep us going, plus there’s that whole 2016 blog challenge I took on in January that I’m doing so well with… But for today, as my first step back into the pool, I want to offer you something different.
Part one of our vacation was a visit with N’s parents. They live in northern California, in the same town he grew up in. This town, its sleepy rural character disrupted only by railroad and pottery booms, is now a distant outskirt to Sacramento and decidedly in the “suburb” category, boasting itself as an All-America City with wood-planked “downtown” area and well-marked signage advertising the “Wine Trail” in the outer reaches of the city.
When we first started visiting N’s parents there as a couple, every time we drove through town he would remark on something that had changed. Family grocers became Walmart. Undeveloped fields became track housing. He’s now able, thanks to the number of new roads, to get lost in the city he grew up in.
The one area of the sleepy old town that remains is where N’s grandmother lives: on an old ranch house a ways outside the center of town. We visit her when we make the pilgrimage through, and the last few times we’ve noticed signs for a relative newcomer to the scene: Goat House Brewing.
Around since late 2013, Goat House is the epitome of local. Their taproom is a converted barn. They grow their own hops – about 20 varieties – which they use in their brews. They experiment and collaborate and incorporate hometown ingredients – hop honey from their own vines in a light honey ale, Valencia oranges from their orchard in a Belgian, and an interesting wine-beer blend using a red wine made less than three miles away. It’s a very vertical, rather than horizontal, business plan – there is no sense that Goat House wants to stretch outward, only that they want to work closely and deeply with what is nearby. Because they are only open four days a week, until this recent visit we hadn’t had a chance to stop by.
This particular day, we spent an hour or so with N’s grandmother, listening as she coasted through stories about far-flung relatives and trying together to work out how the slim, distant branches of the family tree weave together. As we headed out to the car, we’d already decided to stop at Goat House Brewing on the way home. After receiving a friendly, detailed run through the tap offerings, we selected our first pours and settled in on the picnic style tables made from wood salvaged from an old stadium in San Francisco. It was in the mid-90s, but there was a breeze blowing through the barn’s wide open doors on either side, and we spent a comfortable hour or so sampling and enjoying this little sparkle at the end of a dusty drive.
So here are some glimpses of Goat House Brewing, a place we’re already planning to return to when we next pass through N’s hometown, to try new flavors, to chat with the owners, to see Rory the donkey and Georgia the dog; to carve out a space of familiarity in this new-old city.
A brewery and taproom called Goat House better have some goats, and indeed they are right out back behind the barn (along with Rory the donkey, who helps keep them safe)
See you next week, when I hope my treading water in this form of my language will have smoothed, with the application of both kitchen and keyboard, into more practiced strokes.
I ran out of time for new recipes this week,* the result of a stack of writing assignments from each of my four classes sitting on my desk in varying heights and stages of completion, and with the inevitable promise of more to come. So instead, here are a couple of recent shots to keep you entertained…
See you next week.
* if you’re looking at that latest Instagram photo and calling me a liar, then okay, you caught me. But that’s for Twelve Loaves, so you’ll have to hold out for next week. And trust me, it’s a good one.
I realize I’ve been quite remiss in posting, but friends, after two weeks of traveling, holidays, and a persistent head cold, it felt SO GOOD to just watch a Monday go by without worrying about recipe development or photo editing. It feels extravagant and lush to spend a day at leisure without any guilt (this is a problem I often have), and so I’ve allowed myself a bit of that these past few days.
It’s time to come back to reality, but I’m letting myself edge back into the pool slowly, lightly. Today, I want to offer you two things. First, a bit of a photo review – some of my favorite shots from last year, and why they rank so highly – and second, the project I’ve decided on for 2016.
Let’s start with the photos.
The one is all about color contrast. I love the deep rusty sunset color of the carrot soup, with the bright drizzle of coconut milk resting on top. The dark color of the table sets off the whole thing, and I like the homey weave of the napkin in front, with the bowl set back and out of focus, almost as an afterthought. I’m shooting in late morning on an unfinished table in the back corner of my backyard, shaded by several trees, that I’d hastily wiped off just before this shoot.
I’m crazy about the look of the mushrooms here. It was a quick picture without much planning, but there was something about their uneven roundness and the way they tumbled and clustered across my cutting board that appealed deeply to me.
Here it’s all about brightness and sharpness. The edges of the radish – bright pink into tinted white – are just as sharp as the peppery radish itself. The slices are so thin they are almost transparent, and I dig the overhead perspective with the pale, unfinished table surface underneath.
This is my desktop background on my computer at work – partly because the reminder of the existence of chocolate during a tough day is a pick-me-up in itself, and partly because I love the depth of field. I had just started seriously experimenting with aperture mode on my camera when I took this, and I was so happy that the focus came out exactly where I’d wanted it to, right at the closest point of the bar of chocolate, and fading out of focus as the bar extended, which I think makes it look far bigger than it actually is.
Again, I love the color contrast here, but also the textures you can see – the uneven grain of the wood beneath the stark white ceramic plate, the random drizzles of dark balsamic and pale olive oil, and the bright basil leaf drowning underneath the warm peach slices. It was exactly the photograph I wanted to capture, and those always delight me.
I find salads one of the hardest types of food to photograph attractively, so I was thrilled by how well this came out. There was a lot of careful placement work for this image, adjusting the leaves and the vegetable slices to ensure a varied stack rather than a homogeneous pile. I also resisted dressing the salad until the last possible moment, as a dressed salad begins to wilt instantly, and crisper leaves seem to make for a better photo.
The blistered skin, curling back from where it has snapped from the pan’s heat, made such a nice play of different shiny surfaces here, and because I am outside (the kitchen was losing light, so I went for the neutral background of our paved back patio area), there’s a blueness to the light of the photo that I really like with the plums. It was a dessert with a play of temperatures – warm fruit with an ice-cold pastry cream – so the coolness of the photo and my memory of the very hot day on which it was taken heighten my appreciation for both the dessert and the image of it.
This one might be my favorite. I love the play of different sizes and colors here, and the fact that there are no defined borders. The seeds are tumbled together in a large cookie sheet, but my shot is tight enough that you can’t see any of the sides, and I think that makes for a better final picture.
The mottled, uneven look of the ancient, battered cookie sheet here makes a nice contrast to the sharp, new metal of the measuring spoon and the dark, wrinkled peppercorns. The detail here thrills me – I love photos that remind me how sharp and powerful my camera is – it is lovely to be able to see so sharply the pocks and pits in the peppercorns.
There you have it: my favorite photos from 2015. It was hard to choose, and as you can see, hard to narrow them down.
Since we’re now into the first week of 2016, I’m excited to share with you this year’s project. One of the features WordPress allows me with this blog is to check a statistics page, and in addition to page hits and number of views, it often shows me search terms – what words or phrases people have used to find the blog. Sometimes these are easy to figure out – “apple oatmeal bread” is a pretty common one that leads people to this quickbread I made for a Twelve Loaves challenge – but sometimes they are odd or hilarious, and sometimes they are inspiring – I’m driven to imagine what such a dish would be like. What ingredients would I use? What would tie it together? How would I assemble it? So that’s the project for 2016. Once a month, I will create a dish inspired by search terms someone has used to find this blog. It will, I think, stretch my imagination, and that requirement of originality without a real plan will be an entertaining challenge.