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.
The Thanksgiving Table
Today is a different kind of day. Usually posts on this blog come about with the narrative and I manage to squeeze in a recipe. But sometimes when you really stumble upon a winning recipe, it speaks for itself. We'll likely make these beans for Thanksgiving this year. They're one of those simple stunners that you initially think couldn't be much of a thing. And then they come out of the oven all sweet and withered and flecked with herbs. You try one and you realize they are, in fact, a pretty big thing.
I always force myself to wait until after Halloween to start thinking much about holiday pies or, really, future holidays in general. But this year I cheated a bit, tempted heavily by the lure of a warmly-spiced sweet potato pie that I used to make back when I baked pies for a living in the Bay Area (way back when). We seem to always have sweet potatoes around as they're one of Oliver's favorite foods, and when I roast them for his lunch I've been wishing I could turn them into a silky pie instead. So the other day I reserved part of the sweet potatoes for me. For a pie that I've made hundreds of times in the past, this time reimagined with fragrant brown butter, sweetened solely with maple syrup, and baked into a flaky kamut crust. We haven't started talking about the Thanksgiving menu yet this year, but I know one thing for sure: this sweet potato pie will make an appearance.
It has begun. Talk of who is bringing what, where we'll buy the turkey, what kind of pies I'll make, early morning texts concerning brussels sprouts. There's no getting around it: Thanksgiving is on its way. And with it comes the inevitable reflecting back and thinking about what we're thankful for. And about traditions. The funny thing about traditions is that they exist because they've been around for a long time. Year after year after year. But then, one Thanksgiving maybe there's something new at the table.
I didn't expect green beans to bring up such a great discussion on traditions, sharing of poems and how a piece of writing can linger with you. So thank you for that. Your comments pointed out how important people and place are and how food takes the back seat when it comes right down to it. Even if you feel quite warm towards Thanksgiving and are looking forward to next week, reading about recipe suggestions and meal planning online and in magazines can start to feel tiresome right about now. Why? Because I suppose when it all comes down to it, in the big picture it doesn't matter what we all serve anyway. Next year, you likely won't remember one year's vegetable side dish from another. What you'll remember are the markers that dotted the year for you: whom you sat next to at the table, a toast or grace, and the sense of gratitude you felt for something -- large or small.
I got a text from my mom the other day that read: demerara sugar? I responded back with a question mark, not sure what she was referencing. It turns out she was experimenting with a new pie recipe that called for the natural sugar and wasn't sure why she couldn't just use white sugar as that's what she's always done in the past. A few days later we talked on the phone and she mentioned she'd let me take charge of the salad for Thanksgiving this year as long as there was no kale. No kale! And I wanted to do the mashed potatoes? Would they still be made with butter and milk? In short, we're always willing to mix things up in the Gordon household. Whether it's inspiration from a food magazine, friend or coworker, either my mom or one of my sisters will often have an idea for something new to try at the holiday table. But what I've slowly learned is that it can't really be that different: there must be pumpkin pie, the can of cranberry sauce is necessary even though not many people actually eat it, the onion casserole is non-negotiable, the salad can't be too out there, and the potatoes must be made with ample butter and milk. And while I was really scheming up an epic kale salad to make this year, there's a big part of me that gets it, too: if we change things too much we won't recognize the part of the day that comes to mean so much: the pure recognition. We take comfort in traditions because we recognize them -- because they're always there, year after year. And so today I present to you (mom, are you reading?): this year's Gordon family Thanksgiving salad.