love.life.eat. of the week

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love.: After working in book publishing, a beastly business that shows the unseemly side of publishing art, I found myself paralyzed — unable to read books for pleasure as I once did. It took years to undo this unraveling, but it’s worth it because I feel as if I’m in a bit of a literary renaissance. No longer do I care about the big books, the punch of the Believer-reading lot, I visit bookstores as if I’m a normal sort of person looking for something to read, and believe me when I say the ride has been nothing short of thrilling. I’ve discovered two extraordinary books this past month: Krys Lee’s story collection, Drifting House and Deborah Levy’s remarkable Swimming Home. While Krys Lee’s stark story collection focus on Koreans — emigrating (or fleeing) North Korea — coming undone, Deborah Levy presents us a family unraveling at the seams once a strange, fiery interloper is found floating in a pool. As Francine Prose so astutely reveals, “Swimming Home is unlike anything but itself. Its originality lies in its ellipses, its patterns and repetitions, in what it discloses and reveals, and in the peculiar curio cabinet Levy has constructed: a collection of objects and details that disclose more about these fictional men and women than they are willing, or able, to tell us about themselves.”

Next up I’m diving deliriously into Sarah Manguso’s The Guardians (update: read it in one sitting + it’s magical) and Alice Munro’s latest story collection. I’ll let you know how it goes.

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life: The new year holds so much promise, and I’m diving in, feet first into a bevy of culinary adventures. After a year of trepidation, I’m finally taking my first Sunday Suppers class. Consider this a cooking class cum dinner cum gathering with strangers who share one common passion: food. I’m also taking a puff pastry + eclair class at The Brooklyn Kitchen with a sweet friend, and I’ve signed up for French classes at the Alliance Française (FIAF). And if I ever tire of New York, really tire of it, I’ll remind myself to tick off items on my dear friend Mary Phillip’s Sandy’s list.

eat.: If I could have any kale salad right now, this Christmas version would just about do. These pistachio, dark chocolate and olive oil muffins are calling my name in the worst way, while these orange cardamon scones will have me rethinking my almond croissant affliction. I’ve never met a bread I haven’t adored, so color me smitten with this simple olive version. Finally, you haven’t LIVED until you had the pillowy donuts from The Fat Radish, and here’s the recipe. YOU’RE WELCOME.

a day of magic: cooking + food styling with la tartine gourmande @ haven’s kitchen, nyc

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Today was a day worth photographing, literally. This morning I woke giddy, tossed the comforter aside and got my camera ready for a full day of snapping, savoring, and styling with one of my revered home cooks, La Tartine Gourmande. It was 2007 when I discovered her site, and I remembered poring over her recipes, awestruck by the freshness of the photography, the whimsy of the styling (the bowls!), and recipes that were always, simply, delovely. As a self-taught baker and improvisational cook, I found BĂ©atrice Peltre intimidating, unattainable — she was French!, she had a camera worth coveting, and was making pastries I’d only dreamed of baking. But over the years I followed her evolution, and witnessed photos that were less stylized and more rustic and elegant. And in the time I grew as well. I had quietly mastered yeast, perfected the chocolate mousse and burned a few cookies and toughened some muffins along the way.

I also shifted from a simple point-and-shoot camera to a complicated DSLR, and learned the meaning of the words: aperture, depth of field, ISO, f/stop, shooting raw, bokeh — and as one would expect, I fumbled and got frustrated and took hundreds and hundreds of photographs to find my hero. Someone once told me that being a photographer isn’t necessarily about tools and technique, rather it is about falling rapturously in love with your subject. So I guess it’s safe to say that this blog has become an ode to food, a sonnet about its color, texture, shape and taste.

However, love is tough and tricky and tumultuous, and I sometimes find myself furious that I didn’t capture the right shot; I wasn’t able to show you through a photograph how hearty that multi-grain loaf was. How the preserves practically melted into the loaf. HOW I TOOK A PICTURE OF A JAR OF JAM WITH ITS GODDAMN PRICE-TAG AFFIXED FRONT AND CENTER.

CLASSY.

So instead of the usual routine, I invested in an all-day food styling and photography class with one of my culinary loves at Haven’s Kitchen. And from the moment I set foot in the simple, refined space, I started swooning. From the lavender bundles and lemon soaps to vintage white restaurant plates and artisanal teas to stacks of fabric napkins and peonies tied with twine, you can’t help but want to pack up your bags and set up a pup-tent in the kitchen. Suffice to say, Haven’s Kitchen is a foodies’ paradise.

And then there was Bea — and she was charming, self-effacing, French, kind, patient, and obsessed with all the details. Over the course of the day I learned that I should always shoot with an ISO of 100 while always, always adjusting my aperture and shutter speed. Olive oil can provide sheen, while a spray bottle and ice-bath are perfection for keeping veggies crisp and mouth-watering. I learned that food composition was about simplicity, lack of clutter, and a determined focus — it’s never helpful to have your eyes distracted by too much color, texture and contrast. And most of all, I learned that while I adore Bea’s photos, the photos I take are from my perspective, my point-of-view, and are sometimes a little over-exposed. I like the white-out, the freshness of it. I love colors that pop a little more than they should, and today I experimented (as you can see from the PILES OF PHOTOS in this post) with a tripod (oh my), with darker lighting, and with a lot of cropping.

But let’s not forget the food! There was so much of it. From piles of French, Australian and UK magazines showcasing the stylings of the world’s greatest gastronomic art directors to the strawberry tiramisus and piles of tartines made with ricotta and heaps of vegetables and buttery prosciutto, I found myself shooting and consuming delicious, flavorful food.

Not only do I absolutely need to fix everything in Bea’s cookbook, La Tartine Gourmande: Recipes for an Inspired Life, I need to ferret out inspiration from all sorts of places. I need to experiment, to play, to fail — all of this will lead me to what’s next.

I believe this to be true.

So what do you guys think of the photos? I’d love to hear your thoughts + feedback + TIPS!

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