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The term food paparazzi has arrived. It refers to people (let’s be honest – bloggers) who storm restaurants, often arriving in groups with fellow food documentarians, snapping photos of their meals. Tales of setting up tripods and flash-pops going off in sedate dining rooms give bloggers with cameras a bad name. Some fine restaurants have even forbidden picture-taking.

Photographing in restaurants always makes me self-conscious. And so seldom do the images turn out well. You could be about to enjoy the most delicious meal you’ve ever put in your mouth but the photo of the meal will, invariably, not do it justice. It isn’t easy to take great photos of food, especially in a dark restaurant where every dish ends up looking like brown lumps of some amorphous substance. Not a good look. And not fair to the chef.

I’ve hesitated from blogging about restaurant visits because I lacked pictures that I deemed good enough to accompany the post. Plus, snapping photos while sitting down to a great meal isn’t exactly relishing the moment, which is supposed to be the whole point, right?

If I believe that my experience is one that others might find interesting or enlightening or helpful I should be able to find another way of sharing my culinary adventure. Taking pictures of meals may be, at times, desirable, but the photos do not necessarily have to be of the food and not necessarily taken in the midst of an intimate dinner with my companions. Literal pictures cannot always translate an experience accurately. So, I aim to find ways to share my experiences without joining the paparazzi.

I don’t want to be that blogger when a live sweet shrimp scampers across my plate and throws my camera back in my face.

Here are some of my best/worst photos from my brief former life as a food paparazzo:

This was a succulent beyond succulent cassoulet that I enjoyed in the Bordeaux region of France. A family restaurant with long-cooked deliciously complex and heart-warming food in an old rustic space, serving fabulous wine. Would you want to go there based on this photo?

Same restaurant below. I guess I am glad to have this reminder of the barely-cooked tomatoes with mild grilled chiles – I like the idea of this dish. Maybe I’ll try it at home. But it was so much better than this lame picture.

I don’t know what this next one is or where it was taken but based on this photo I wouldn’t want to go back.

Ok, this one isn’t TOO bad; However, I felt stupid taking it because I was in Paris at a lovely sandwich shop and everyone else was just enjoying their meal with elegance and I was busy worrying about getting a good shot.

This is next one represents one of the best food experiences of my life. My husband and I arrived at this little inn, Auberge Basque, in the Basque region of France starving and exhausted. This is a highly regarded food inn run by chef star Cedric Bechade. We had a room reserved in the inn but no reservation that night for the restaurant. We sat in the bar and the chef INVENTED (!) this soup to warm our bellies. We had no idea how lucky we were. You can’t just show up without a reservation and be served anything at this place. We wept with our good fortune and the most remarkable soup we’ve ever enjoyed. But this picture, while I am glad to have it, is not going to give you even an inkling of our experience there. And I think the sommelier was giving us the hairy eyeball while I “subtly” readied my camera phone.

I like this one better. I clearly have a yen for pastry.

This is another amazing meal we had in the Basque region – this time in San Sebastian, Spain. Looks like a giant mess to me. I am sure it was lovely.

This risotto looks dirty:

I like this one of me perusing the tapas selection better.  I am thinking, “Chorizo… cheese…smoked fish. Ok, five of each!”

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Spotted this unusual training technique at a horse show last weekend.

My mother recently received a letter from a student in Malawi, Africa in which he expresses some concern about my mother’s horse, Special Agent. He writes:

“I’m somehow confused with the following questions about ‘The Special Agent.’ I just hear that it is very difficult to look after a horse in tems of the quantity, quality and kind of food it needs, so how do you manage to take care of the Special Agent as it looks very big? A horse is an animal that may sometimes get tired, how do you make sure that Special Agent adapts to this situation when you are having a long journey? And what happens when he suddenly gets tired while someone is riding him as he is very tall, I mean in terms of protection to the rider when the horse falls down?”

African horses must be a fragile lot.  He makes a valid point: I fear for the rider in the photo above if and when the horse nabs the donut. Sugar highs and lows may be annoying in a toddler but are almost certainly horrifying in a horse.

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Espresso With Your Unleaded?

I know I’ve been driving way too much when I start getting excited about mini-marts and gas stations. They give me hope that there is no back pain or road rage that high fructose corn syrup can’t cure. And whereas these days I could get myself all verklempt over a gourmet market or a farm stand, sometimes I can’t escape my past.

I think it is a pavlovian thing: as a child I loved stopping by the mini mart because I knew I was in for a treat. A fountain drink (Dr. Pepper, lots of ice), a candy bar (Butterfinger). There was no way anything healthy could stand in my way! As a toddler in Texas, we’d stop at this place Bang’s where we’d get pork skins and Pabst Blue Ribbon (for the adults). I remember my first Ding-Dong. A friend of my mother’s from the horse barn took me to the Toot’n Totum where I discovered the joys of processed sugar. “Mama, these are good!” Like I’d made a discovery.  I now have the sense to know she’d been keeping me from this stuff on purpose, bless her heart. The tween years in Oklahoma were punctuated with stops at Love’s on the turnpike between Oklahoma City and Tulsa. Love’s is the Wal-Mart Superstore of gas station/mini-marts. Seriously good stuff. The day I got my driver’s license  my first stop was Circle K. I think the loot was pre-packaged processed doughnuts and a big gulp of Dr. Pepper.  In college, late New Jersey nights and Sunday study days always included a stop at “The Wa” for footlong meatball sandwiches, syrupy “cappucinos” and, yes, Dr. Pepper. In a side note: my new northern friends preferred something called Swedish Fish. I actually though this was canned fish. I had noticed these east coasties liked something called “lox” which I’d never had so I thought they were just really into fish. I had a lot to learn.

I feel like I’ve just revealed my dark past.

This gas station in Los Angeles is more Euro than anything I enjoyed in Texas, Oklahoma or New Jersey. I apologize for the photo – I was trying to be as surreptitious as possible. Note that these pastries are certified Kosher.

Amanda

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Nifty (ahem) and Thrifty

Dishes
I am thrifty.
I come by it honestly, as they say. Between my Dutch heritage and my midwestern roots it’s remarkable that I am able to spend even a dime without serious personal reflection.
Though, I will say, some days these deeply embedded traits are easier to ignore than others. Some days, I’m the best of both worlds- looking to spend a little dough… but still get a deal. Apparently, today was one of those days. Trying to consolidate errands on the other end of town, I found myself in a very quirky (but large) thrift shop. I browsed the first half of the store fascinated and intrigued but not enough so to touch anything. Then I found the book isle. It was full of mid-ninties cookbooks. Again, not excited enough to touch anything until I saw a brand new copy of The Best Recipe, which, I consider to be one of the cornerstones of a new cook’s library. It was too appropriate to pass up, as my sister is just starting such a library. That was it.
Once I touched something- that darn cookbook, all holds were off. I picked up five other cookbooks: something from Julia Child’s less popular years, a vegetarian guide and some other l less notable (hard to imagine, I know) titles. And that was only the book isle. As I struggled to carry my stack of to the checkout counter I was forced by an isle of serving bowls. It wasn’t so much the design that caught my eye, but the combination of decent modern shape and SCALE. These dishes were huge. They were like something I would normally purchase but about three times the size. I picked up one and lumbered to the cash stand. The eastern European staff was quick to point out the rest of the “set” that I hadn’t seen. I left with a trunk full of giant white porcelain dishes with no logos or signatures on the bottom.
These dishes could hold enough food for the Thanksgiving and Christmas celebrations put together of any large midwestern Dutch family… but I don’t host any of those holidays… so, we’ll have to find another use.
Be on the look out: it’s time to cook for a crowd.

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Slip Slidin’

You know when you can feel something slipping away and it just makes you want to tackle it and look at it squarely, just long enough to be sure that you can fully comprehend its moving on?  Think high school crush drifting away, think tattered flannel shirt in the Goodwill donation box seen from the rearview mirror, think leaving your long-time apartment or selling your long-time car… or bike… or, well, anything that can sometimes drift off without your full awareness.  There is something about passing that makes us (read: me) reflective and downright nostalgic.  Sometimes I feel that way about seasons.

Coast HighwayFeeling that fall was indeed peering around the inevitable corner but not yet sure that we had soaked up all of summer, Amanda and I set a date to have dinner.  Outside.  Where we live, many evenings are suited to this type of activity but for just that reason is often taken for granted.

On the set Sunday Amanda had everything neatly prepared when we met at the house.  We cruised down to the water where the locals were taking the last sip of a sunny day, shunning the slight hint of coolness of the air with swim trunks and bare shoulders.  There was no sound to the uncorking of the wine as it melded with the slow crushing sound of the waves.  From a picnic basket sprung a beautifully sky colored tablecloth.

The Table

Husband started a fire and the next thing I knew there was the most amazing grilled tomato bruschetta on a plate, just for me.

DSC_1355

Followed by a smokey pork tenderloin and succulent corn on the cob deceptively clad in charred husks.  Everything tasted simple and flavorful like summer and subtly smokey like the outdoors.  We talked about the ocean.  We drank wine.  And I knew.  I knew then that it was okay that summer was passing.  In fact, as I write this, fall is passing just as quickly.  But in those moments set aside, is when experiencing food can remind us to be still.  To be present.  The wind falls leaves.  The tomatoes are gone.  The beach is no longer as welcoming.  The idea remains: that we must make or take or bring or knit or uncover the moments that remind us that this is the experience we can take with us, to the next season.

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Talk Shop

Take a close look at this sign posted in the Whole Foods at Columbus Circle. I love it. And I love that I got yelled at for taking this picture. I am so guerilla!!!!!

whole foods sign

Why does shopping seem so difficult sometimes? As a food-type, aren’t I supposed to be turned on by the easy browse through the aisles as I listen for ingredients to “speak” to me? After which I lovingly toss them into my basket content with life and smugly looking forward to the great meal I’m about to whip up?

I’ve always been good at playing make-believe….I can pretend my name is Maxime and I live in Paris and I shop for food with as much easy style and un-efforted grace with which I throw together my just-right French lady outfits.

The reality is this: If I could arrange my life so I didn’t have to go to the store I would be more French! More stylish, more sexy, a better cook and much much more interesting. I just know it.

So, it’s either self-medicate before braving The Store or minimize those hectic trips. How much shopping can I accomplish without stepping foot in a supermarket?

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