I was in a bad mood the other day, so Husband sent me out of the house to get some fresh air and a gallon of milk. In one of the aisles of the grocery store, I saw a little boy sitting in a shopping cart.
He stared at me.
I smiled brightly and waved.
He held up a package of wooden spoons.
I made expressions indicating I approved of his treasure.
I was charmed!
He was still winking when he made a sort of clicking noise with his mouth. Then I heard a tremendous explosion, masterfully improvised, as he fired his makeshift weapon at my face.
My eyes went from soft, wide doe-eyes to the razor-thin slits of an angry snake as I registered the betrayal.
He appraised me with a look of smug victory.
I was suddenly filled with white-hot rage. My muscles began twitching under my poofy winter coat. A feeling of suffocating tightness came over me as I realized my body was expanding at an alarming rate. The seams of my coat burst. The fabric shredded all around me to reveal skin that was now a sickening shade of green. I had the sudden urge to rip those wooden spoons out of his hand and snap them over my muscular knee. I wanted to grab his Hostess cupcakes out of the carriage, tear open the package, and squeeze them until the creme and mangled cake crumbs extruded greasily between my fingers. I wanted to pull all of the six-packs of soda off the shelves and smash them onto the floor so hard that they exploded into hundreds of angry geysers. Then, amid the spray and chocolate wreckage, I would stand over his terrified little face and say in a very slow, very low voice:
But instead I kept on walking. Walking, walking down the aisle with my milk and my tattered clothing dragging behind me, walking right by his mother who didn't seem to mind that my virtual brains were splattered all over Aisle 7. Which is too bad, because he's likely to do that again, and I'm one of the saner individuals at my supermarket.
This was supposed to be part of my Tuesday Tease series of lazy photo posts, but then it suddenly became Friday. No problem—I changed the title to Friday Freeze. Seemed apt. Then Friday came and went. Now it's Saturday. Saturday Sneeze strikes me as too disgusting of a post title to be paired with a bowl full of yellow snow, so you're stuck with the outdated title (and an image in your mind that you probably wish you didn't have). You're welcome!
In my forthcoming cookbook, there are several recipes for homemade snow cones. And by homemade, I do not mean pouring a package of powdered Kool-Aid over the snow. While the Internet assures me that this is a perfectly delicious way to enjoy snow cones, the Internet disappoints me sometimes. After experimenting with various homemade syrups, I came up with some excellent alternatives using seasonal winter fruits like citrus, pears, and quince (pictured is tangelo). I stored them in jelly jars in the refrigerator and then waited for the snow to come.
And waited and waited and waited. Mind you, this was last winter (2011/2012). The winter before that (2010/2011), we got 80 inches of snow. Last year, nothing. Well, maybe a few dustings here and there, but only enough to make one pitifully small grassy snow cone flecked with dirt and debris. Not appetizing. I thought about driving up to the mountains with a cooler. Instead I pulled out the blender. Bad idea. You can't make snow cones with a blender. Not with my blender anyway. Not unless you like soupy slush cones studded with frequent whole nuggets of ice. Yuck!
Finally, I broke down and bought a cheap $20 shaved ice machine. It worked well for testing purposes, producing an acceptable snow-like accumulation in small quantities. But I had yet to try my syrups over the actual cottony stuff from the sky. Until recently, that is. And, oh, it's such a treat!
Following up on my trip to Philly, here's a peek into the photo shoot for my cookbook, Wintersweet. Above are food stylist Ricardo Jattan and his assistant Curt working on that day's recipes. Below is Steve Legato, photographer extraordinaire. The shoot took place in his spacious, light-filled studio.
How it worked was this: Ricardo and Curt would make the selected recipes (about 40 in all) in the studio kitchen. Amanda, the book's art designer, coordinated with Mariellen, the prop stylist, to select the right plates and props from several tables' worth of platters, bowls, plates, trays, and linens. Ricardo, a successful movie production designer who does food styling in his spare time, would artfully arrange the dessert on the chosen serving vessel, selecting just the right honey-roasted pear to feature (known as the "hero"). That includes making sure the caramel drips seductively in all the right places and the nuts are scattered attractively. It's trickier than it looks. Here Amanda is razzing Ricardo for trying to sneak an unwanted mint garnish into one of the shots.
Meanwhile, Amanda and Mariellen set up the appropriate backgrounds on the set: sometimes old cabinet doors or boards, sometimes fancy papers. Steve adjusted the lights and made various other calibrations that I can't even begin to understand.
Photos were taken, adjusted, cropped, snapped again, adjusted again, props swapped out, frosting dabbed just so, snapped again, etc., etc. You might start with something like this:
…and end up with something like this:
See the swirls in that napkin? Those are not accidental. This is why I will never amount to anything as a food stylist. I unceremoniously plop the napkin down right after using it to smear some ketchup across my face.
Mmmm, whoopie pies! Frankly, I was in my glory sitting back and watching everyone else do the hard work. I didn't have to lift a finger. The process was fascinating to watch, and I had so much fun. Such a nice and talented group! A huge thanks to the whole crew, as well as my editor Kristen Green Wiewora at Running Press and my agent Melissa Sarver.
I know you're probably tired of hearing me drone on and on about this, but I cannot WAIT to see this book!!
Why Philadelphia in February?
It was the site of my dessert cookbook's photo shoot with Philly-based Running Press and Steve Legato Photography. Just between you and me, I wasn't going to miss that experience for all the tea in Boston's icy harbor, snow be damned, Amtrak train cancellations be doubly damned, school cancellations be triply damned. I fishtailed my way down my barely plowed street at 5 am on Monday and flung myself onto the first southbound train that came my way. Six hours later, I woke up in Philly.
This is the view from my little hotel, The Independent, which I loved (wood floors, high ceilings, close to all the great restaurants). I didn't have much daylight to work with for sight-seeing, but I did manage a fair amount of walking before and after the shoot through the Old City and Rittenhouse Square.
Philly reminds me a lot of Boston with its brick and cobblestone sidewalks in some quarters and streetcar rails grooving the pavement in others. The architecture is similar, too, with pretty little row houses lining the streets, but with more brick than brownstone and simpler, straighter lines. The urban vibe seems grittier and funkier than Boston, though, and certainly more diverse. There seemed to be painted murals around every corner. The grid system of an urban plan (roads chronologically numbered in one direction, named after trees in the other) is very easy to navigate by foot, and the drivers don't rev their engines if you're still in the crosswalk when the light is about to change. That was a refreshing change of pace.
My editor treated my agent and I to a lovely dinner at Tria, a wine bar with a welcome emphasis on cheese and probably the friendliest service I've experienced at any restaurant ever. The next night, I dined alone at Fish at the bar overlooking the open kitchen. The food was delicious: seared scallops with chorizo, cauliflower, and Marcona almonds, and monkfish with parsnip puree, lobster butter, fermented garlic, braised fennel, and radish.
The staff kept me well entertained, teasing me for missing all the important Philly sights: the Liberty Bell, Constitution Center, Independence Hall, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the latter of which seemed better known for Rocky's triumphant training scene than any art contained therein. Let it be known, however, that I did get to the Reading Terminal Market housed in an old train station, where I procured colorful farm eggs and an assortment of winter squashes for photography purposes.
But, of course, a large part of why I loved my trip so much was the photo shoot itself. It was amazing. What a fantastic, talented, and welcoming crew! They made even my most unphotogenic recipes look scrumptious, hermits included. Hermits!! The shoot deserves a post all its own, which you will soon get, but first I need to spend a little time with my family.
(To be continued…)
Know what's good over a shot glass full of snow? This stuff: Sapling. It's a maple liqueur from Saxtons River Distillery in Brattleboro, Vermont. Sweet but not too sweet, it's a nice reward after four hours of shoveling 2 to 3 feet of snow.
The 10YO and 7YO joined forces over the weekend to protest the fact that I wouldn't give them dessert after lunch. Not part of the contract, I said. It's a discretionary bonus.
10YO: Then we'll go on strike.
Me: On strike?
Me: In the real world, when workers go on strike, the whole company shuts down because there isn't anyone to do the work. But, in this case, everything stays the same. You don't do any work!
10YO: We can stop listening to you.
Me: You could…
(brothers exchange nervous glances)
Me: …but then you're putting your dinnertime dessert at risk. Why would I want to make cupcakes and ice cream for a bunch of naughty boys?!
10YO: Pretend we never had this conversation.
I admit it, I take a little pride in winning these types of arguments because I know in three years or less, I won't be winning any of them and my cupcakes will no longer wield the power they once did.