love.life.eat. of the week: we're not going to say the "G" word

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It’s been a while since I haven’t used the dreaded “G” word around these parts, but trust that I’ve been doing more than fretting over gluten, lamenting its loss, and subsequently espousing the joys of a gluten-free life, on a daily basis. Not only have I secured a few new clients, I’m planning two incredible trips–Barcelona/Granada/Seville, solo + Korea/Bangkok/Phuket, with friends–and editing my novel for editorial submission come fall.

Suffice it to say, I’ve been a little busy. However, that’s not to say that I haven’t been mindful, if not downright evangelical, about “me-time.” Every week I set aside an afternoon or a whole day devoted relaxing, creating, puttering–recharging the batteries as it were. Not only have I been reading up a storm, but I’ve been photographing my food like mad, and making some minor, virtuous discoveries!

After reading a slew of books on gut health (such is my life), I’m becomming more mindful of what I put in and on my body. As a result, I’m slowly replacing my chemical-rich beauty and home products with more virtuous choices. Case in point, I’ve recently discovered Simply Divine Botanicals by randomly wandering into a shop in the East Village, post-yoga (living the stereotype, friends!). All the products are made locally, are free from toxic chemicals, and theres is an ingredient list I can actually comprehend. I picked up this delicious Lemongrass Body Butter, and I feel as if I’ve been transported back to Thailand. I’ve also stocked up on Aura Cacia’s Tasmanian Lavender Oil, which I use during my brief evening meditation. Most of my beauty products have been replaced with locally-produced providers, and I feel good that I’m striving toward balance between the inward + outward.

Remember when I mentioned that I’ve been snapping up a storm? Some of my photos are for this space, but a lot of them are for my private food diary, of which I share with my nutritionist on a weekly basis. We dissect composition, content and portions — so I try to make the photos as clear and realistic as I possibly can. Granted, snapping evening shots has become murder, however, I took the below photo using Lowel EGO’s Digital Imaging Light. When it comes to digital photography, this is the BEST investment I’ve made, since my images come as close to natural light as possible. Note that the below photo was taken at NINE P.M., people.

Finally, I think I’m the only person who craves fall. I’m not built for summer, so I’ve been curling up in my home with books sporting this sweater. Fake it ’till you make it, I suppose. And while I’m finding my affection for J. Crew has waned (I haven’t shopped there in at least two years because of the acrylic and insane pricing infestations, and when I visited the USQ location recently, I found the on-floor service mediocre, at best), I really love the chunky weight of this blue open cardi.

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foodie finds

love.life.eat. of the week

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To say that this week was nothing short of a full-blown tornado would be an understatement. I’m currently settling into my new home, sorting through books and hatching plans to make a virtuous homemade ramen dish this afternoon. I can’t wait to show you snaps of my new home, in progress {coming, promise!}, but in the interim here are a few lovely items that caught my eye this week.

Because I refuse to be beholden to publicists pushing products, I always rely on recommendations from friends whose opinion I trust. While having dinner with the lovely Clara, I kept fawning over her baby alpaca infinity scarf, and believe me when I say that this feels like a blanket around your neck | Since my home is now drenched in wonderful natural light, I decided to take my food photo game to the next level by purchasing this marble slab, which came highly recommended from Emily | When Grace mentioned that this body butter has the texture of marshmallow fluff, I couldn’t resist! After taking a hot shower in my new apartment last night, this butter felt like second skin. So worth the purchase, and I love buying from small businesses |

All the barre classes I’ve taken as of late have started using a variation of these torture devices for thigh + seat work. If you crave burn in your home, wrap one of these around your thighs (just above the knee) and start doing the clamshell. You’ll cry in minutes | Finally, this simple app is saving me in the kitchen as I sometimes bake multiple items at varying cooking times. Download!

foodie finds

love. life. eat. of the week

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There was a time when I believed that throwing all of my time, energy, and hours into a problem would inevitably fix it. When working 14 hours a day, positioned in front of a laptop, was a constant state. After reading this piece, I realized the pressure to keep working at full-tilt is less about happiness than our perception of it.

Speaking of happiness, remember when we were kids and adults asked us what we wanted to be when we grow up? We’d rattle off a list of things: writer, lawyer, doctor, however, never did we realize that our jobs are what we do, not who we are. How is that this brilliant teen has all the answers? Because, right now, all I want to be is happy.

These evocative photos of children + a dog on a most ethereal farm make me want to pack up + go rural. And when I run away, I want to throw all my clothes in one of these bags.

On the subject of travel, I’ve already booked two trips this year, one with my pop to Dublin in March, and one to India come May. This year is all about adventure, taking risks, paying the rent and being happy, and if I hadn’t booked India, I’d be rafting in Patagonia. And when I do leave, clearly I will need to follow Hitha’s sage advice on packing your personal item, because my handbag tends to resemble The Twilight Zone, a seemingly endless vortex of pens, wrappers, books, and Kind bars.

My dear friend, Summer, is such an exceptional illustrator, that whenever I visit her I ended up buying everything she’s created. I’ve a few prints from Summer in my home, including this one, a simple display of formidable cookbooks.

Today I plan to spend the day baking pastries with a friend. When it comes to photographing food, there are so many online tutorials you’re bound to get bleary-eyed. However, this one focuses less on the mechanics of your camera, and more on the scene and mood you create. I’ll be studying this before my friend arrives with cocoa and chocolate.

Finally, looking for new blog reads? I update my links fairly frequently, and I’ve got some great finds in the rotation. My new delights include Grace of Stripes + Sequins and Megan of The Fresh Exchange. While you’ll marvel over Megan’s clean, crisp photographs, you will fall in love with Grace’s ebullient energy, her admirable earnestness, and her affection for beauty in all its forms (from glitter to photography to finding the beauty in falling in love with your body)

Image credit: Piperlime.

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love life eat of the week

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This week brings the crisp, blue mornings that signal autumn. As such, I’ve turned my attention toward bircher muesli, granola cereals, and all things pumpkin. I’m discovering delicious morning options from Jane Coxwell’s Fresh Happy Tasty and A Sweet Spoonful’s Whole Grain Mornings. And if this pumpkin cookie won’t properly seduce you, there’s no helping you.

I’ve also been keen on elevating my food photography game, and have stumbled onto these extraordinary resources + posts: Pinch of Yum’s e-book (also, check out her time-saving food photography post), Click it Up a Notch’s tips, and why not be inspired by the best foodie in town — this Donna Hay interview is a gem, and I’ve been a long-time fan of the austere, white-blasted images in her mag + cookbooks.

Tipped off by my friend Arlene, I’ve been shamelessly laptop shopping (is this even a term?) Crate + Barrel’s Paola Navone, and the Helena Napkin Collection, as well as cyber-stalking everything in Food52’s Provisions.

Come December, I’m headed for Fiji. I’ve long-since made the decisions to allocate my money toward experiences rather than expensive things, and I’m thrilled to rely on my friend Hitha’s expert travel tips + En Route With series, to keep me focused on traveling smart.

Finally, as I’ve unloaded six bags of clothing and books I don’t want or need, I’m craving a minimalist, airy home like this. When I’m curled up in bed, you know I’m reaching for Stephen King’s latest (on pre-order!)

Have I mentioned how much I love ice cream? A little trip to Sundaes and Scones is always the perfect salve.

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foodie finds

shade in the food blogging game {mini rant}

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Normally I’d reserve such missives for a private, long-winded Facebook post, but quite honestly I’ve become increasingly disturbed by the shady practices of food bloggers, who are desperate to attain celebrity status and the coveted title of cookbook author and “online brand.” Let me put this as plainly as possible: I write about food because it’s at the core of who I am. The alchemy of flavors, textures and tastes delight me, and for as long as I can remember, I’ve either had a pen or a whisk in hand. Food has the propensity to connect people in a way that’s visceral, real. We hatch plans, we weep, we rage, we talk our way through our darkness over a plate of hot pasta or a bowl of comforting soup. I write about food because I believe in its ability to heal and bind.

I don’t write about food because I want to be a “brand” or elevate my ranking in Google search with plug-ins, applications, or smartly-worded titles. I don’t write to sell my soul for a stand mixer or to post the au courant recipes making the rounds (popsicles, anyone?). And while I understand the business of content creation, brand building and word of mouth, there is a way in which one can be authentic, passionate, but still turn a profit. And, quite frankly, I’ve seen very few blogs in the food space that manage to keep their integrity in check. Rather, they’ve fallen into a “me-too” think speak of conferences, business cards, book deals, and a strategy that feels machinist rather than honest.

Untitled Recently, I road-tested two recipes from sites I found on Tastespotting (an elegant and visual Pinterest for foodies, if you will), and both times I found myself reading the recipes several times, shaking my head, and muttering: This can’t be right. I scrolled through the scores of comments that complimented the food photography, styling, and the personal anecdotes that preceded the recipe. Nothing about the efficacy of the baked goods or even a question on the chemistry. So, against my better judgment, I baked the two loaves from two separate blogs and they were both failures. One was a chocolate chip pound cake, whose ratios could have not possibly yielded the picture on display (3 sticks of butter for one scant cup of flour for the crumble? Are you kidding me here?), and the other was a bread loaf with 1:1 white for whole wheat flour swap, which didn’t account for the density of the flour and the needed to alter the wet ingredients for the substitution.

A long-winded way of saying the recipes were wrong. The photos were dubious, and scores of blogs are securing traffic, fans and deals, based on the fact of one beautiful picture and a few personal words. This reminds me of those gag books, when opened, are actually storage boxes. They’re empty, devoid of passion and authenticity, reduced to the output of a Canon 5D Mark or a Nikon.

Suddenly, all of the blogs appear as a variation on a single theme, a one-note plea for the glory that internet fame brings. The dream of being the next Smitten Kitchen (for the record, I’ve sampled some of the recipes from this book, and they were not up to snuff, but that’s a whole other discussion). Perhaps this is the reason why I’ve been so severe in terms of how I manage this space. I refuse to call myself a food blogger. I refuse to accept advertising. I refuse to try to achieve anything less than what I consider extraordinary.

A friend once told me that I’ll never have the traffic the “bigger guys” get because I’m too dark. My writing is too melodic and sometimes disturbing and sometimes meandering, and I don’t project an idealized life. Sure, I’ve got the pretty pictures and tagged posts, but I don’t project a home that the world covets. I’m not the online equivalent of cotton candy. My dinner parties are messy, replete with sullied napkins and discussions about Rosemary’s Baby, formalism, Amy Hempel, and Orange is the New Black. I’m outspoken, make whole new shapes outside of lines, and pretty much live in the color blue.

Listen, I’m not claiming to be perfect. I’ve had my blogging mistakes and pitfalls, and I was once tempted by the lure of free things, but I try to be as honest as I am aware. I’m trying to deliver food I’d cook and eat. What you don’t see are all the failed recipes. What you don’t read about is the fully uncut version of my life, because I firmly believe that my life is mine, and when it’s all revealed it suddenly becomes less mine. It becomes yours.

This is probably why I read so few blogs, why I trust a handful of folks who don’t write to gain traffic and build brands. They write because they love food, love the power of it, love how it consumes them. They live for that symbiosis. They live to marry image and text. They want to show you just how much this meal meant to them.

Not how much it’s padded their bank account.

/rant

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foodie gal

greek salad on toasted whole wheat pita

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Believe me when I say that I’m on the virtuous comeback tour. We’re going to forget the gourmet pizzas, angus cheeseburgers and numerous chocolate confections of last month and a woman is ready to start anew. While last month was the food massacre, this month will be all about regeneration. In short, I MISS KALE {cue heartbreaking song: while my guitar gently weeps}.

So after my workout buddy, Paula, berated me for spin addiction, I joined her in a new Equinox class called “Stacked.” Essentially, it’s 45 minutes of high-interval training where you perform six exercises and stack them on top of one another, with 30-second breaks in between. What started out as squats with a body bar ending with me moving through six strenuous exercise with no breaks. Although I was shades better than my normal fat kid in gym class routine, I’ve realized that I seriously need to mix in strength training on the regular.

When I got home I proceeded to shovel this salad in my mouth and now I’m lying on my couch watching horror movies. Life is GOOD, people.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe courtesy of Blue Apron*
1 small cucumber
1 red bell pepper
1 green Cubanelle pepper
1 head romaine lettuce
6-12 Kalamata olives
2 whole wheat pitas, cut into triangles
1 bunch fresh oregano (enough for 2-3 tbsp)
1 shallot
1 clove garlic
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
2-3 tbsp olive oil
4 oz feta cheese

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DIRECTIONS
First, pre-heat your oven to 400F. It’s time to get your mise en place, kids. Peel the cucumber, de-seed it with a spoon, and chop into cubes. Chop the peppers until they’re approximately the same size as the cucumbers. Wash, dry, and rough chop the romaine lettuce and add it to a large bowl. Pit and chop the olives, and guess what? Chop the oregano. Slice the shallot in half, and fine dice one half and slice half-moons with the other. Peel, smash and chop the garlic. In a small bowl, add the red wine vinegar, finely diced shallots and garlic. Set all your goodies aside.

Spread out your pita triangles on a baking sheet and coat them lightly with olive oil. Season with salt + pepper. Bake in the oven for 5 minutes, or until the chips are a golden brown.

While your chips are chipping away {sorry, I couldn’t resist!}, whisk in two-three tablespoons of olive oil to the red wine vinegar mixture. Set aside.

Now assemble your salad by adding all the ingredients and half the feta cheese. This can serve 2 quite well, and 4 as a side dish. I actually broke apart my chips and added them to the salad, much like a fatoosh, instead of having them sit on the side as the recipe calls.

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*I’m absolutely in no way, shape or form remunerated for gushing over Blue Apron. I subscribe to their weekly service and I’m a true brand evangelist.

journey to buff salad recipes savory recipes

chocolate chip scones: a scone only a mother could love

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Make no mistake — these scones are ugly as sin but believe me when I say they were delicious. I’ve been battling this lately, the notion that all food photos have to be beautiful and awe-inspiring, sometimes unrealistically so. We’re drawn to the pretty and the perfect; our hearts covet the things that we see. We crave the idyll, we’re voyeurs who love to pore over photographs of the contents of someone’s home, closet, pantry or wallet. This is also why you’re seeing a slew of bloggers talk about “keeping it real” in 2013, how they want to show the boring, unseemly sides of their lives to give some color to the carefully-honed “reality” they architect in their online spaces.

Make no mistake — I’m a victim of this need for perfection just like anyone else. I held back posting this recipe for a month because every time I looked at the final scone shots I found myself shaking my head, thinking: This is too ugly for type. This is a scone only a mother could love. And the excuses piled on.

However, this morning I woke up and started thinking about the imperfect, and how that is so much more beautiful than the artificial stuff we see in movies and magazines. In the mess lies the passion. In the misshapen lies the devotion. Nothing is every worth it if there is no struggle, if it’s too easy, too pretty, so with that I hit the publish button and here you go.

Yummy, semi-frightful looking, scones.

INGREDIENTS: Adapted from Karen DeMasco’s The Craft of Baking
1 3/4 cups (210 grams) all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling
1 tbsp plus 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 cups plus 2 tbsp granulated sugar
1/2 tsp kosher salt
6 tbsp (85 grams) chilled unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1/2 cup (84 grams) semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 cup plus 2 tbsp heavy cream
1 tbsp Demerara sugar

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DIRECTIONS
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the flour, baking powder, granulated sugar, and salt. Add the butter. Put the bowl in the freezer for 5 minutes. Then beat the mixture on low speed until the butter is broken up into pebble-sized pieces, about 3 minutes.

Add the chocolate chips. With the mixer on low speed, add 1 cup of the cream and mix just until the dough comes together. Using your hands, knead the mixture in the bowl to bring the dough completely together.

Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured surface and roll it into a 7-inch round, about 3/4 inch thick. Using a sharp knife, cut the dough into 12 wedges (8 if you like bigger pieces), like pieces of pie.

Place the pieces on a baking sheet, spacing them 1/2 inch apart. Cover with plastic wrap and freeze for 15 minutes or chill in the refrigerator for 1 hour. While the scones are chilling preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Brush the scones with the remaining 2 tablespoons cream and sprinkle with the Demerara sugar. Bake the scones, rotating the baking sheet once, until the baking tray once, until they are golden on the edges and firm to the touch, about 20 minutes.

Transfer to a wire rack to cool. The scones are best served the day they are made, but they will keep in a airtight container at room temperature for 3 days.

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scone + biscuit recipes sweet recipes
foodie finds

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 Béatrice 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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