…and yet here we are.
Over the last two weeks I’ve been happily swamped with spring sports, nearly all of which take place between 4pm and 7pm. Those are prime kitchen dancing and cooking hours, so I’ve been cobbling together evening sustenance rather than digging into new recipes, flavors or techniques. Normally I would say it’s been frustrating, but the weather this week was mostly cooperative. Standing on a sunny field in a 70° light breeze has been a lovely reprieve from what we Georgians know as Third Winter.
With no fun kitchen adventures to report this week, I’m sharing some photos that I always keep on my phone. They are some of my faves photographically in addition to being special memories that I can pull up at any time, like in the middle of the night, when I’m wide awake…again.
To set the tone of the week: I simply love taking action photos of middle and high school athletes. As a mom, I recognize those expressions of angst, urgency, pride, fear, joy, frustration, determination, embarrassment, exhilaration, defeat and victory. I search them out, zoom in as much as I can and frame around those precious faces. Perhaps I do it to hold on to a few more moments now that Sous Chef and Food Taster have grown and flown. Thanks to my cheerful conscript SC, my photography became reasonably passable for football, wrestling, basketball and lacrosse. I also employed FT as a cranky runner, a reluctant sweeper and a sullen back-stroker for good measure. The other sports I had to figure out on my own.
In early 2020 I made spinach with orzo and feta and it was one of the first times I felt substantial growth as a cook and a food “photographer.” Having always been a stickler for recipe dogma, I rarely strayed from the written text; that’s the rule-follower in me. But this time I took some ownership. I can’t remember whether it was upping the seasoning, changing the orzo-spinach ratio or simply adding the crushed pistachios, but I went a teensy bit rogue. I was so delighted that I snapped this pic off-center with some extra-dramatic lighting. This night I managed a couple of important firsts that have since come to define my cooking ethos and photographic style. Out went the rule-follower, in came the adaptable dissident and she has no intention of going away.
Historically I’ve been unimpressed by Cornish game hens – great presentation but little taste and even less meat. I know modern chickens are bred to be outrageously plump Foghorn Leghorns, but these little hens still seemed more trouble than they were worth. Then I learned to spatchcock, marinate and grill them. Moroccan-style Cornish game hens needed an extra hit of harissa paste in the marinade to turn me around, but it worked. Going off-recipe, I only split them after grilling which really made this photo work for me. There can be a fine line between a stunning poultry main dish and a dismembered carcass. I’ve crossed it often, but not on this day.
Some people are completely opposed to the idea of including fruit in a savory dish, and some of them even live in my house. Some of the same people also take offense to the peppery nature of arugula. I ignored those people when I made sheet pan chicken with pears and arugula. I loved the way it photographed – simultaneously bright and savory – which is just how it tasted. Okay, a confession: some people do like potatoes, so I begrudgingly added them to the sheet pan as a peace offering. And since we are on subject of fruit, I prefer not to have it imposing on my dessert. Seriously, fruit gets its own food group and has no business hanging around the sugary carbs I’m not suppose to have. But adding it to chicken is perfectly fine by me.
My very first attempt at fried chicken ever was at age 53. It was not an old family recipe, but Ina Garten’s fried chicken sandwiches. I hope to teach Mother one day, right after we cover hush puppies and red velvet cake. Mother doesn’t fry but she has been known to sauté on occasion. College friends who attended our Savannah wedding imagined that she would greet them with a platter of steaming biscuits and sweet tea when they arrived. Boy did they have that wrong – she doesn’t bake either. But she makes an absolutely killer tagine, flawless butter & green beans, dynamite guacamole and nobody can top her Christmas dessert.
The cover photo of this post shows the prep work for Roman Jewish artichokes, a dish I make during Passover and which we first had in Trastevere, where it originated. The artichokes are specially trimmed then fried twice to create a crispy wonderment that can stand up to my brisket. The photo reminds me of our ten days in Rome in late 2019 and the meticulous techniques I now use to recreate the artichokes every year. I would add that embracing a culture’s traditional and ceremonial meals is a pretty cool way of linking to the past, regardless of whether it’s your particular history. Not all connections are living.
I’m hoping to get back into some crazy-fun cooking next week so if you have any suggestions or dares, feel free to add them in the comments below. I need a few challenges to kick off my Spring, aka The Pollening. Cheers!