Early last week brought longer days than usual, a bit of a commute downtown, parking garages, to-go coffees and take-out lunches. It brought a complete lack of yoga, a few more glasses of wine in the evenings, and immense difficulty sleeping. All of this thanks to the photo shoot for my cookbook, Whole-Grain Mornings. I entered into the week nervous and apprehensive: what if for some reason the recipes don’t look photo-worthy? What if the many personalities on set (photographer, food stylist, Ten Speed art director, myself) don’t all mesh? What will be on the cover? What if, what if, what if. It turned out all those worries were for naught and I really could’ve slept a bit more, and perhaps had one fewer glass of wine.
The photo shoot was in downtown Seattle at Clare Barboza’s light-drenched studio. I was matched up with Clare months ago, and couldn’t feel more lucky. She gets my aesthetic — we talked about food styling and keeping everything very loose and spare with a soft, neutral color palette. I brought many of my own dishes and linens from home and Clare was happy to use them (although, as you can see, she’s really not lacking in amazing props). The cookbook itself is going to be highly visual with all of the plated/styled shots by Clare and a number of other photos by me. They’ll be of our Seattle life, our house, garden, and farmer’s market. At first, I was concerned that the images would feel disjointed and wondered why I’d agreed on structuring the book in such a way. But now, when I look at all of the images together, it’s a seamless fit — I can’t wait to show you!
Julie Hopper is Clare’s incredible food stylist and she made my recipes look stunning (for those of you who don’t know, the food stylist prepares all of the recipes and helps style them for the photo). I actually don’t quite know what she did to the tops of my Pear Muffins, but they were perfectly domed with just the right amount of nuts scattered in every little nook and cranny. Julie was a joy to work with, has an enviable collection of sweet aprons and stylish boots, and a calm disposition as she set out using her medical tweezers to move little bits of thyme around a plate. She’d often call me over to the kitchen to ask how I felt about the way something looked or ask questions about whole-grain cook times. In this way, the three-day shoot felt more collaborative than I could’ve ever hoped and, at least for me, celebratory. I left each evening smiling big.
During the shoot itself, there was a lot of downtime while the recipes were prepped and while Clare and Julie set up the initial shots. There was email-checking, tea-making, clementine-snacking, and a lot of general gawking. There were so many surreal moments like the one above where a recipe I worked on for months was being seriously discussed by two smart, talented, professional women and we were all weighing in on angles, the perfect amount of crumbs and messiness, and whether or not it was a cover candidate. Betsy, the art director from Ten Speed, would take each finished photo and plunk it into a working PDF; seeing the photos side by side in the order in which they’d appear in the book was pretty incredible — equal parts validation and relief. After all that worry, it was really all coming together.
The toughest part of the shoot was the debate over the cover image. Weeks before we all met, my editor and I talked about potential recipes for the cover and flagged them — so during our shoot, we all knew which recipes were cover candidates and they were given lots of extra attention in terms of spacing, where we could fit the type, and what would be the perfect crop. I have a breakfast cobbler recipe that I think we worked on for over 3 hours — and it didn’t end up getting approved. So there are ups and downs: moments when everyone in the room is jazzed about a potentially beautiful cover but it turns out that the publisher doesn’t think it’s a good fit. Or vise versa. We’re still working out what will be on the cover. In the meantime, I’ve decided to go back to yoga and real life has crept back in. As it usually does. I made 100 pounds of Marge granola yesterday morning and shipped out boxes to 8 different states. I’ve got deadlines and dinner plans and a hike on the calendar this Saturday. So life goes on.
For those of you who are regular readers, you know that the book is coming out this December, 2013. It’s a seasonal cookbook focusing on a fresh new approach to breakfasts featuring many of my favorite whole-grains. One of the things I’m most excited about is the organization (which my friend Shauna helped me think through): you know how what we eat for breakfast on, say, a busy Wednesday usually looks quite different from what we eat on a lazy Sunday? I wanted to recognize those differences and allow this book to be not just a pretty cookbook, but a refreshingly useful one as well. So each season is split up into sections representative of the different kinds of mornings we all have; you’ll be able to flip to a recipe that speaks to the way you want to do breakfast on any given day.
I have to admit: I’ve been cooking from the cookbook a great deal ever since I turned it in. Sam’s started to put in requests. We’re enjoying living with the recipes and really letting them settle into our household. I’m even finding myself tweak and adapt them further which is to be expected, I suppose. I truly can’t wait to share it with you later this year and to see which recipes you allow to settle into your own household.
On Monday our little family of three is headed to the airport at 6 am to board our first with-baby cross-country trip. We'll be visiting Sam's family in New Jersey for a few days, then renting a car and driving over to meet up with my family at my mom's lake house in the Adirondacks. Sam's younger sister and her kids have yet to meet Oliver; my grandpa has yet to meet him, and Oliver has yet to take a dunk in a lake, see a firefly, or spend quality time with energetic dogs -- of which there will be three. A lot of firsts. This week my family has been madly texting, volunteering to make certain meals or sweets on assigned days while we're at the cabin and it got me thinking about really simple, effortless summer desserts -- in particular, ones that you can make while staying in a house with an unfamiliar kitchen and unfamiliar equipment and still do a pretty bang-up job. I think fruit crisp is just that thing.
Somehow, in what seems to have been a blink of an eye, we have a six month old baby. In some ways I can't remember a time we didn't have an Oliver, and in other ways it's all a blur broken up by a few holidays (a Thanksgiving thanks to grocery store takeout, and our very first Christmas in Seattle), a few family visits, a one-day road trip to Portland, a birthday dinner out, a birthday cake, weekend drives to nowhere in particular, swimming at the pool with Oliver, weekly get-togethers with our parent's group, doctor's visits, hundreds of walks around the neighborhood, hundreds of cups of coffee, dozens (or more?) of scoops of ice cream. Most of the worrying about keeping a baby alive has made way for other concerns, and Oliver's need for constant stimulation or soothing walks and car rides has been traded for stretches of time playing with a new toy or checking out his surroundings. In truth, it's thanks to that tiny bit of baby independence that this humble, summery cake came to be in the first place. So we've all got an Oliver to thank for that. Or, really, we have a Yossi Arefi to thank, as it's from her beautiful new cookbook that I've bookmarked heavily and am eager to continue exploring.
We walked to the library last week and I had a strange realization standing in line watching Sam check out his usual massive stack of books: Will I ever have the time to read stacks of books again? I used to be much more of a reader than I am today -- a fact I'm not at all proud of. But when evening rolls around and the more formal workday ends, I find emails and other odds and ends creep in. Walking home from the library, I began obsessing over free time for reading, asking Sam if we'd ever be those two old people who study bird manuals and can recognize birds on walks. I want to have the time to read bird manuals someday. For now though, we're young and we're working a lot. We did sneak away on that one-night camping trip I told you about, and cooked some interesting, haphazard meals which I hope to share with you soon. For now though, for summer: a strawberry dessert recipe.
Much like friends, types of Sunday mornings, or books -- there are many different kinds of desserts. Sometimes you may be in the mood for a light French cake piled high with summer fruit. Other days, a thick slice of fragrant pound cake will do. And then there are those days when you crave a rich chocolate mousse that you share after a night of good conversation and a little too much wine. But let's be honest. When it comes right down to it, the most basic and unassuming dessert of all is sometimes the only one that will do. A good and simple affair. Vanilla ice cream. So I want to talk about that today--about a dessert that withstands the test of time, that will always be there for you. A dessert that is far from trendy, that doesn't play favorites or trick you into thinking it's something that it's not. It's a good foundation. A solid beginning.
[ Pie. if you've been around here much in the last few months, you know that I make pie. A lot of pie. And I'm particularly excited to share this pie with you today because it helped me break out of a rut. A pie rut. A baking rut. A Marge inspiration rut.