Archive for August, 2009

Forced Perspective

August 29, 2009

I feel slightly dejected to admit this week’s revelation: epicurean enthusiast though I may be, my aptitude in the art of food styling and photography is shockingly sub-par. Amateur at best; might-as-well-be-a-drugstore-disposable at worst.

This stems from a newly developed habit of grazing foodie photoblogs (also referred to as ‘food porn’ – which makes me absolutely cringe and thus will never again be referenced to as such. ever.), scrolling through galleries of mouthwatering food photography shot so beautifully and in such detail of texture and depth, you can all but feel the moist crumble of warm olive oil cake or taste the fresh citrus pucker of ceviche. Lighting is flawless, camera angle in various degrees of closeups.

On a whim, I decided to contribute a single image. True, the shot didn’t have the shiny white background or perfect plating, but the biggest appeal of these sites is that content is completely user-generated. Surely not every random blogger in the webisphere can be a professional food photog in their spare time, right? Upload. Submit.

Denied.

An automated diagnosis by the site administrator mentioned something about poor quality – to which I interject adamant protest. Taste was anything but. Admitting I’m a little burned, I am nevertheless willing to accept the following compromise: I will focus on writing effortlessly witty, charming blog prose (wink) and leave the photography to someone else until I have some semblance of dignity behind a camera lens. Deal?

In the meantime, you might want to bookmark these top foodie photoblogs – this latest project could take a while.

Note: While savory has its following, you can’t help but notice bakery sweets and desserts have majority rule, with delicately plated fruit tarts, rustic focaccia loaves, singed meringues and plump cupcakes with glistening pink frosting. Naturally, all of us are gluttons for punishment. If you’re not drooling yet, you will be.

1. Foodgawker

2. TasteSpotting

3. Photograzing

(*And for a sugar fix blog bonus: Tartellette )

TasteSpotting

Any add-ons? Feel free to share!

Advertisements

Kitchen Couture

August 21, 2009

I suppose it’s inevitable that any girl of a certain age will gradually acquire one vice or another, regardless of meager paychecks and creeping credit balances. Whether a product of nature or nurture can only be of so much relevance here, because really, the only question that matters when handing over the visa is simple: exactly how much Ramen will I be eating over the course of the next billing cycle?

Perpetuating every storyline are the standard love affairs – stilettos! makeup! handbags! – stirring visions of labyrinthine closets and bottomless drawers of lipgloss. Varying degrees of borderline obsession follow: Tiffany, Jimmy, Louis, Chanel, Manolo, Fendi, Dior (leaving off here with the admission that I have to actually google the terms ‘haute’ and ‘fashion,’ or delve into research volumes like InStyle or Devil Wears Prada in order to name drop any further).

No, my designer labels go something like this: Mauviel, Le Crueset, Wusthoff, OXO, Calphalon, Krups, Riedel, Shun, Jura-Capresso, Cuisinart… And as any girl can attest to the bubbly feeling of retail aesthetic, mine just happens to peak among brushed stainless steel, gleaming enamel and eggshell porcelain adorning shelf upon shelf of Williams-Sonoma. Fortunately for my bank account, the impermanence of singledom (and conversely, a reliable lack of personal kitchen space) goes a long way in curbing impulse purchases. Sure, I could put that $500 kitchen mixer on our countertop, next to the leftover pizza box and half-eaten package of graham crackers … or, not. Instead, I’ll just pass a few wistful moments in the pick-up-put-down maneuver, flawlessly executed under the hopeful smiles of sales associates.

Which brings me to that most embarrassing emblem of my twentysix-and-still-the-single-girl stage to date. Really, it all started with a tablecloth – a lime-colored French linen tablecloth, marked down from $120 to $30 on a Saturday sale. So completely stunning, and so totally unfit for a girl without a single coaster and a natural talent for spilling wine. I couldn’t possibly keep it. But my natural reflex failed as I clutched the package tightly, frantically dialing number after number. Someone must have this tablecloth. Someone NEEDS this tablecloth.

It was after three unsuccessful attempts that my mother uttered the phrase dreaded by all unmarried girls who believe themselves to be completely self-fulfilled at that very moment: Oh, honey, why don’t you keep it for yourself, you know, for your hope chest?

Oh. Dear. God.

Domestic as I may be, I draw the line at keeping a collection of items in the hopes of my happily ever after – let alone a quantity that might necessitate an entire chest.

The tablecloth was an unfortunate casualty.

Toys of Summer

August 14, 2009

It’s amazing how quickly we seem to jump from the lazy bliss of early summertime straight into fall harvest. I can’t help but be slightly dumbfounded at the idea that, as if overnight, some seasonal kaleidoscope has rotated its dial without even the slightest dialogue – or at least a courtesy heads-up. Storefronts are now molting into shades like persimmon, merlot, nutmeg. And though the temperature here in Florida won’t dip below 80 degrees for another two months, clearance racks overloaded with strappy sundresses and cutoffs already signal the inevitable: sweaters. Lots and lots of sweaters.

Growing up in Southern California, August and September meant grass stains and sandy bare feet, watermelon seed-spitting and barbecued chicken, a garden abundant with juicy tomatoes, crisp cucumbers and green beans. We caught grasshoppers in jam jars and splashed in the ocean until the daylight waned to a thin, velvety coolness and ate ice cream bars past bedtime.

In defense of these simple kicks, I’m officially boycotting Autumn’s premature arrival. There’s still plenty of summer left to be had. And lucky for us, a full range of kitchen gadgets and cooking tools keep this season fresh and fun. Here are my current Top 5 favorites. More to come, but feel free to add your own!

1. The Cuisinart Brushed Stainless-Steel Ice Cream Maker churns out two quarts of frozen, creamy goodness in just 25 minutes, as well as sorbet and fro-yo – all in pretty much any flavor concoction you can dream up.  And it’s just so pretty. Of course, frozen pops are just as much a of a treat for a fraction of the price tag, especially when they come in fun shapes like stars and rocket ships. Check out popsicle molds by Tovolo and Orka.

frozen pops with a twist by Orka

frozen pops with a twist by Orka

2. Behold, the KitchenAid

KitchenAid Stand Mixer - Artisan Series

KitchenAid Stand Mixer - Artisan Series

3. When it’s hot outside, cold drinks are a must. Love this artsy pitcher from Crate & Barrel for everything from sparkling water to mojitos or sangria. With its sweet-tart and slightly menthol afterbreath, a little limoncello goes a long way; tote this Italian liqueur to the picnic in one of World Market’s glass bottles and you’re instantly in a seaside trattoria on the Amalfi coast.

Picture 4

4. These aprons from Anthropologie are just too cute. How can you not feel summer sunshine all over?

Apron

5. With scents like fig & savory flower and lime zest & cypress, Cucina soaps and lotions bring the Mediterranean right into my kitchen. Gotta love that all are made with natural olive oil and herb extracts. Put the olive & coriander body butter at the top of your wish list.

Cucina

Pineapple Express

August 10, 2009

There are clear indicators that a girl has reached a certain threshold of food fanaticism: the number of conversations that include terms like ‘zest’ and ‘blanched’; a bookshelf whose resident fiction genre now comprises the minority; casual one-name references to Gordon, Ina, Jamie as though dinner party acquaintances.  All relatively benign, I am assured. Of course, there are also those points at which one realizes she may have just crossed over … as on the day she is presented with her very own homegrown pineapple.

A little odd-sounding? Sure. Though quite honestly, it is one of the best gifts I’ve ever received – a labor of love meticulously nurtured, sustained and defended against insect and other would-be assassins, given for no other reason than to share the delight of finally ripened fruit with a girl who’d appreciate it most.

In truth, the pineapple itself was little bigger than a softball (don’t let the clever camera angle fool you), nearly toppled by the crest of spiky green leaves sprouting from its top. I was also warned it would probably not be very sweet, since the plant was a first-generation transplant experiment of sorts, brought back from a recent visit to South America – to which I scoffed that it would be the best-tasting fruit ever eaten (and if not, I would certainly find a way to make it so).  I thanked my friend and promptly took it home to ripen on my countertop, a process that ended up taking about two weeks for the fruit to turn a warm honey color and to give off any sort of scent beyond the raw, pulpy smell of its cut stem.

I finally decided last night would be the occasion to see what my pineapple was made of. As I cut through the rough shell, I imagined how perfectly sweet the fruit would be, intense with the subtle tang that makes your tongue feel slightly fizzy at its tip.

In fact, it wasn’t. The flavor was fairly dull and still a bit green (I have high hopes for a pineapple salsa to top grilled mahi later this week). However, it did nothing to take away from the significance of my little gift and the generosity of a good friend. To whom I say a very sincere “Mahalo!”

Culinary Therapy on a Friday Night In

August 8, 2009

It’s well past seven before I finally arrive home on most nights of the week – nearly a full twelve hours after the morning’s reluctant greeting to what will become a sequence of fundamental imperatives:

Coffee. Traffic. Power Up. Sit Down. Write. Call. Do. Now. Lunch? (No.) Rush. Wait. Approve. Deliver. Power Off. Workout? (Must.) Traffic. Home.

Most people I know view what follows as a mere part of this obligatory process: Wash. Chop. Boil. Cook. Serve. Shovel.

As for me (or any other everyday gourmet, for that matter), cooking is quite the opposite: unmediated, voluntary and spontaneous. At the end of the day, I can’t wait to retreat to the small space of our kitchen.  I am the chief executive here, the reigning corner office authority, subservient to no outside interest, deadline or contracts – and bare feet are the only stipulation on the code of attire. Though, perhaps even more significant is the power that comes in yielding sharp knives…

This Friday night warranted homemade pizza, super simple with ground turkey and a store-bought whole wheat crust at hand. Topped with orange and red peppers, onions and spinach, it’s the perfect weekday wind-down. Even better with a glass of chianti and flamenco guitar strumming softly in the background.

My kitchen is not ideal by any means, a U-shaped corner of cabinets and countertops that meet at a small but bright window looking out over the drive. It’s a crowded mismatch of cookware and tucked-away appliances, wrinkled dishtowels and scarred cutting boards, plastic lids with no partner – the obvious shared extension of four single twentysomethings and oddly comforting in its chaos. But by the time the pizza is ready, I’m relaxed and warm from the heat of the oven (maybe more so the wine) –  the perfect resolution to the compulsory and a welcome preface to the weekend.

Midweek Meltdown

August 6, 2009

Inbox overflow, cranky coworkers, harried deadlines and 5:00pm conference calls – some days are enough to stretch the limits of any workweek. And then, in a chance moment of sweet intervention, my Thursday is suddenly looking up… somewhere, there’s a media rep that’s just earned her wings.

Ben & Jerry: giving new meaning to the office happy hour

Ben & Jerry: giving new meaning to the office happy hour

Summer Table: Minute-Made

August 4, 2009

When it comes to cooking, I’m a subscriber of the ‘food-on-the-fly’ philosophy – which basically amounts to throwing together any and every item from my pantry shelf or refrigerator door, with a vague hope that the sum of aggregate parts will in the end resemble somewhat of a substantial and flavorful (if not refined) main course.

In most cases, pasta dishes are my go-to, since a box of whole wheat rotini is a permanent food cupboard fixture. Toss hot pasta with extra-virgin olive oil and any number of ingredients – frozen spinach and cherry tomatoes; lemon zest and pecorino romano; fresh arugula and kidney beans; shrimp, white wine and garlic; capers and canned tomatoes; tuna and greek olives; fresh basil and toasted pine nuts… the possibilities are endless and are all pretty delicious to boot.

Now that summer is in full swing, I’ve been switching up routine to take full advantage of the abundance of locally grown produce. It’s my own never-ending salad bar. Same rules apply: any and everything is fair game.

One of my favorite food writers, NYT columnist Mark Bittman (aka ‘The Minimalist), shares my ‘fresh-is-more’ approach and is out to prove it with this July story: 101 Simple Salads for the Season. All, in theory, take less than 20 minutes to prepare with simple ingredients in your fruit and veggie crisper. Fear not, carnivores – there are plenty of entries that include meat and seafood, as well as grains, lentils and noodles. #59 is a personal favorite, as are #41 and #47. It’s summer – time to step away from the stove.

Francesco Tonelli for The New York Times
Image courtesy of Francesco Tonelli for The New York Times

Bring On The Biscotti

August 3, 2009

I happen to have a prolific sweet tooth, and a discerning one at that: candy bars, ice cream, cookies, cupcakes… in the gotta-have-it throes of a sugar rush, these simply will not do. It’s not that I’d turn my nose up at any chocolate concoction if offered, and I’ve yet to come across a creme brulee I didn’t like; but if you really want to know what my heart’s after, just point me in the direction of the pastry case. Delicate fruit tarts, Nutella croissants, lemon cake, cranberry scones, ginger bread… heaven, I tell you.

One of my all-time favorite indulgences is biscotti – the crumbly, break-your-teeth variety that requires a well-placed cafe au lait nearby. I decided to make up a batch (or two) to ship to my grandmother for her birthday, since my own affection for baked sweets is very honestly inherited.

This recipe for lemon-almond biscotti, borrowed from culinary crush Giada De Laurentiis, is amazingly easy. Literally meaning ‘twice-baked,’ the dough is first cooked in thick logs, then sliced on a diagonal and popped back into the oven. I love the added crunch from the almonds, and the lemon flavor from the zest is perfectly subtle. For a quick breakfast, these biscotti are relatively guilt-free – there’s no butter or cream in the recipe. Drizzled with white chocolate, they’re absolutely elegant.

Lemon-Almond Biscotti

***Author’s note: When left with eight zested lemons, what’s a girl to do? The obvious, of course. Freshly squeezed, iced lemonade is a pleasantly refreshing bonus on a lazy Sunday in the kitchen.

To Market, To Market

August 2, 2009
Which is why I am only too eager to pull myself out of bed on a Saturday, hours before any other rational twentysomething, while the morning is still cool and quiet: The Farmer’s Market. There are plenty of early regulars like me, clutching carafes of hot coffee as we sleepily meander through aisles of garden blooms, fresh produce, local vendors. Some, like Rose Marie the baguette lady, know me by name. There’s the bagel bakery, dried fruit stand, french pastry chefs, honey harvesters; the cheese people and citrus farmers are regular stops, too, even if only for samples.
And while the cherry scones are to die for, my favorite part of this Saturday tradition is the atmosphere itself – the small-town-without-pretense simplicity of a stroll in the park, happy dogs on leashes, tee shirts and sweats, friendly greetings of acquaintance. As the crowd begins to fill in, I’ll take my little breakfast to a bench in the rose garden or wander the avenue in a sort of dreamy haze,

One of the necessary results of spending 40+ hours living in a greenish, office fluorescent tint is the acute realization of free time – every moment being so precious that my body has physically adapted to a sense of urgency. Carpe-the-Diem! Which is why I am only too eager to pull myself out of bed on a Saturday, hours before any other rational twentysomething, while the morning is still cool and quiet: The Farmer’s Market.

There are plenty of early regulars like me, clutching carafes of hot coffee as we sleepily meander through aisles of garden blooms, fresh produce, local vendors. Though, I must admit to a sense of elitist camaraderie with this group, the privileged few to share in what feels to be an incredible secret. The rest of the world will soon wake and begin the rush of their weekend tasks; but for now, my biggest effort involves trying to decide how best to spend the $10 bill I’ve allotted myself ($20 quickly proving a wallet hazard). Rose Marie the baguette lady, who knows me by name, is far too easy and I’m a sucker for her kalamata olive bread and perfectly dense scones. Then there’s the bagel bakery, dried fruit and nut stand, french pastry chefs, honey harvesters; the cheese people for reggiano or romano and citrus farmers for sugar-sweet red grapefruit are regular stops, too. I have yet to succumb to the bags of freshly popped kettle corn or the candy-covered apples, knowing it will be impossible to skip over on my subsequent visits. I will, however, shamelessly accept numerous samples.

And while my freshly bought cherry scones are to die for, the favorite part of this Saturday tradition is the atmosphere itself – the small-town-without-pretense simplicity of a stroll in the park, happy dogs on leashes, tee shirts and sweats, friendly greetings of acquaintance. As the crowd begins to fill in, I’ll take my little breakfast to a bench in the rose garden or wander the avenue in a sort of dreamy haze, knowing there is no better place to be.

At First Bite

August 1, 2009

As you can probably guess, I like food. A lot. I can’t think about warm, freshly baked almond croissants without a slight feeling of giddiness, and secretly daydream about kitchen space in the same way most girls entertain fantasies of walk-in closets. It’s not just that I like to eat; think of it more along the lines of “a pursuit of the culinary aesthetic” – an inner craving for  the homegrown, made-from-scratch and authentic in the context of scenes far-away and familiar. Food, for me, is not just flavor or even function; at the risk of sounding cliche, it’s a reference to a series of points along a journey where I find myself the most content – the intersection of the edible and the everyday.