Holiday Update!

I realize it’s not quite winter just yet but now that Thanksgiving is over I grew weary of the Fall looking digs around here. On to Winter! Ok, as much of a winter as we get around Los Angeles, but it’s the spirit that counts, no?

I even covered myself in fake snow. Just for you. Because I love you.

No, seriously. I really do.

Eggnog, anyone?

Mess with the pie, you’ll get the…Oh just give me a damn fork.

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FOLKS: PLEASE READ THIS! You need to CHILL THIS AFTER BAKING. Chill chill chill chill chill.

 

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It started simply enough: the other half felt the need to bake. For me, well, I’m no baker and the urge to do so is akin to washing my car or preparing receipts for tax purposes. I’ll do it but only begrudgingly. But like many things I’m fully prepared to participate in the end result, and in this case it was a pie of monstrous proportions.

I’m not quite sure of his thought process as I wasn’t in the kitchen when he found the recipe, but I know it involved tons of pecans, a spring form pan and the new oven. I was a bit relieved that I wasn’t around as anyone knows to mess with a Texan’s Pecan Pie is clearly not the smartest thing to do (even if said Texan lives in California.)  It’s not quite sacrilege — but it’s pretty damn close.

Melissa, Lisa, please stop reading now. I won’t be upset.

I understand.

“So this pie I’m baking, I found a recipe online and I’m not sure how it’s going to come out,” my big red-headed angel tells me.

“You’re a baker, I’m sure it’ll be just fine,” I respond.

“I don’t know about that, it’s kind of a different sort of Pecan Pie.”

Different sort of pecan pie. Different sort of pecan pie. DIFFERENT SORT OF PECAN PIE. DIFFERENT SORT OF PECAN PIE! Are you getting that, folks? As those words floated around the kitchen they took their sweet little time worming their way into my brain. A what type of what pie? Did I really hear you correctly? Would you like to grab an enchilada while you’re at it and poke me in the eye? How about hitting me over the head with a rib bone from Tyler, Texas? Come on, I’m all yours, just do it! You already started.

I calmed myself down and told myself he was only coming from a place of love, and honestly, he’s never made a bad thing, especially when he bakes. I said a prayer to the giant pecan trees that towered over our house in Austin, asking for forgiveness. I then went online to see if I could legally participate in this kitchen experiment without serving 5-7 for crimes committed against my home state (turns out George W. did enough of that himself so luckily I was off the hook).

After I finished my breathing exercises I began to think about the pecan pie and most importantly why was I such a snob about them? After all, it’s only crust, nuts, and filling. That’s all. And if we break it down sometimes it’s so cloyingly sweet (especially when someone serves you up a slice with Texas tea) that there’s really no flavor and you get a gummy, gelatinous mouthfeel with a feeble crunch. I then understood why people passed on Pecan Pies and when to Apple or Pumpkin. Why was I getting all pedantic and territorial and hella defensive?

BECAUSE I WAS BORN AND RAISED IN TEXAS, Y’ALL! THAT’S WHY!

But no matter. I was going to approach this with an open mind. Out with anger and in with love, I always say. Obviously someone created this recipe to taste good, not bad. So after this giant thing (because really, I didn’t know what to call it) came out of the oven and set overnight Adam took out the electric knife and began to carve.

A beautiful, almost cookie-like crust began to open up and reveal a pie not mired in goo but with a beautiful ratio of whole pecans to filling. No chintzy pie here but a real, delicious hunk that would make any Texan proud. The recipe retained the true spirit of the pecan pie while giving it extra oooomph. Made properly a pecan pie may not need it, but in this case it sure was nice. I didn’t even need ice cream, and that’s saying a lot!

After spending a good 43 minutes eating and chewing one piece I realized that this Deep Dish Pecan Pie was not in fact Texan heresy but a way of changing things up just a bit while making sure the new oven works. I’ve since learned to relax with his experiments, enjoy the delicious outcomes, and brace myself for the Chicken Fried Steak Frittata that I’m secretly hoping he invents.

Bigpie


Deep-Dish Pecan Pie,
Oxmoor House, January 2000

Because of its size you’ll really want to chill this before slicing, and don’t do what I did and serve yourself a giant piece. A little goes a long way — a lesson I still haven’t quite picked up after 37 years.

1 cup butter or margarine, softened
2 (3-ounce) packages cream cheese, softened
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
1 (16-ounce) bottle light corn syrup (2 cups)
1 1/2 cups firmly packed light brown sugar
1/3 cup butter or margarine, melted
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
4 egg yolks, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 1/2 cups pecan pieces or halves

Beat 1 cup butter and cream cheese at medium speed of an electric mixer until creamy. Gradually add flour and 1/4 cup sugar, beating well. Shape dough into a flat disc; cover and chill 15 minutes. Roll chilled dough to a 13″ circle; carefully transfer to an ungreased 9″ springform pan. (We recommend covering the outside of your springform pan with aluminum foil before filling and baking this pie. It’s a safeguard against leaks.) Press dough up sides of pan. Cover and chill.

Combine corn syrup, brown sugar, and melted butter in a large bowl; stir well with a wire whisk. Add eggs, egg yolks, vanilla, and salt; stir well. Stir in pecans. Pour filling into unbaked pastry-lined pan.

Bake at 375° for 15 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 300°: bake 2 hours and 15 minutes, shielding pie with aluminum foil to prevent excess browning, if necessary. Cool completely on a wire rack. Cover and chill, if desired. Remove sides of springform pan to serve.

Yield:  1 (9″) pie

Giving Thanks

Thankyou_3

Do I need to keep a gratitude journal as Oprah suggests if I already have a blog? Hmmm, I’ll skip it.

As everyone gets together today and shares a big delicious meal and gives thanks for the many blessings in life I’d like to offer my gratitude here for so many things this life has offered me.

First, I am thankful for my mom & dad, family and friends. My parents, sisters, nieces and nephews, my amazing beautiful cousins all over the place, I miss you terribly and think of you often. One day I’ll be closer. I promise.

Second, to my friends I’ve met here and along the path of life, truly, what would life be without you? You all bring joy and warmth and laughter and growth and I could never thank you enough.

Third, I thank the miraculous powers above for giving me a chance to know such three small amazing little creatures. I know it sounds silly to thank one’s own dogs, but my little hounds have given me more than I could ever offer them. Compassion, a simple understanding of life and what’s really important, and a connection that transcends what I’ve ever known. Anyone whose ever looked deep into a dog’s eyes surely knows this––I’m glad I have the opportunity to experience it, too.

And lastly, I’m thankful for my partner Adam. Without getting too gushy here he’s simply been the best thing that has ever happened to me in life. When someone fosters and nurtures your growth as an individual and an artist it’s a special thing, and he’s always done that. I hope I have helped him too, but as my mom always says "You guys are very good for each other."  I’d like to thank so too  :)

Happy Thanksgiving everyone, make sure you tell someone how thankful you are and how much they mean to you. I love you all!

Let’s eat!

Photography

Each week I get 10-15 emails asking me about photography and photo gear. What do I use? Which lens do I shoot with? How do I use natural light? In a nutshell it really depends on the project itself (35mm digital, medium format, film, etc.) I love each and every email but ever since making the switch from semi-pro to real photographer shooting for some amazing clients (which I’ll reveal in good ole ’08) I haven’t been as punctual as I like. But my emails back to you will always – I repeat ALWAYS – include a link to my friend Lara’s site.

Still

As she’s done for the past few years, she’s just blogged about her guide to photography gear and if you haven’t read it it’s worth taking a look at it. From lenses to lights to workflow, she sums up her set up and provides some valuable photo information. It truly is a great resource!

Check it out!

Behind the Turkey Scenes

While the rest of us get ready for the big day and scramble to decide on which turkey (heritage? natural? frozen?) and which method (bacon-wrapped? deep-fried? traditionally roasted?) I’ll be planning on celebrating my secret Thanksgiving tradition. It involves a sandwich or two, some wine, maybe some pie, and a giant stack of DVDs, pillows and small dogs. Am I refusing to give thanks on this very special day? Of course not. It’s just that for the past 10 years or so I’ve celebrated Thanksgiving smack dab in the middle of summer with a gaggle of stylists, photographers and assistants. Of course it’s not a real Thanksgiving but one specially created for the amazing world of advertising. A world that exists so that you’ll buy the ultimate/free-range/perfect/no-fuss/quick-and-easy insert-item-here. And like the Wizard having his curtain accidentally pulled back, I decided to let you in on a few Thanksgiving advertising secrets.

Oh, the hate mail I am sure to get over this.

Before I go any further, let me tell you that the food I work with is always real. Always. Thanks to that law known as truth in advertising, all of the food I art direct or photograph is real. It has to be. But that doesn’t mean it has to be edible. But if you know me personally you know I’m not much for duping folks or stretching the truth so I keep it real, yo. It’s just easier that way.

Advertising vs. Editorial

Pick up any editorial magazine on the newsstand and you’re likely to see a real, fully cooked turkey on the cover. I love the fact that most of the turkeys photographed are real — crispy burnt edges and all.  However, look at that ad selling stuffing or stemware and most likely that turkey has been partially cooked and painted. Yes, I said painted. But don’t freak out, it’s all edible, although Tamari-tinted Turkey probably won’t be a hit with your guests. Believe it or not, people freak out when they see a real turkey but feel slightly comforted when they see a perfectly shaped, light brown specimen. Gotta give the peeps what they want.

Summer Turkey & Stuffing

Because of production deadlines and the fact that we work in advance, us advertising folks prepare months ahead of time to meet print and distribution deadlines. This means that as I type this I’m up to my eyeballs in Valentine’s Day and spring food holidays like Easter and Passover. For the end of the year I always try to get my holidays in by mid-August, but therein lies the problem: access to real seasonability. But that doesn’t mean I don’t have tricks up my sleeve. I have a secret source for pomegranates and pumpkins, and if I’m lucky I’ll get them by the end of the month so that my Thanksgiving table looks like it’s really November — even if we’re still slathering on the sunscreen off camera.

I learned a very nice tip from my friends at Gourmet; work out a year in advance and take advantage of the bounties of the season. They shoot summer spreads in summer for the following year and they do the same for the holidays. In fact, for a fantastic inside peek you should watch this.

A Turkey Is A Turkey Is A Turkey

Luckily Thanksgiving is such a traditional holiday. I mean, there are only so many ways to shoot a turkey and that makes my life as an art director a bit easier. While there are people who offer their own delicious twists on what to do with the birds it’s nice to know that it’s still a holiday celebrated pretty much the same way all over. Having said that I thought it’d be fun to go into my work archives and talk turkey. A poultry show-and-tell. And just so you know, doing this makes me feel tired and old and only emphasizes how delicious my non-turkey sandwich is going to taste next week.

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Photographer: Jon Edwards   Food Stylist: Mardi Brown

Boy, me and my bright ideas. My concept was to take it outdoors and show a turkey in a vineyard. This is California, after all, where sunshine is in ample supply and we’re fortunate enough to play around with the slight seasonal irregularities. Or so I thought.

After this campaign ran someone brought it to my attention that Thanksgiving is in November and that grapes would have already been harvested. Ooops! Isn’t that funny? Isn’t that just silly? Who knew?

But seriously, look at those grapes! You can’t buy grapes that beautiful! Ok, maybe you can.

Prepping a turkey in a makeshift kitchen and rushing it a few miles down a back road and into the middle of a working vineyard when the sun is blazing can certainly test your patience. Not to mention the terrifying flesh-eating bees that began to burrow into the turkey. I’m not kidding.

What I learned:
keep it in a studio
What I liked: Come on, with the exception of the implausible seasonal scheduling, it’s still a beautiful shot.

Turkey04

Photographer: K. Russel    Food Stylist: Janet Miller

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You wouldn’t know it but just 100 feet from these beauties were working trannies, meth users and a few hustlers. I guess when you shoot in the middle of Hollywood that’s bound to happen. But these are real and make me hungry. The turkeys, not the drug users.

Many times photographers and art directors will shoot multiple versions and angles for different uses. It’s also nice to let the food stylist experiment and work their magic on the turkeys.

What I learned: bitches better step off, that’s my corner
What I liked:  Simplicity is always elegant. Sex workers not so much.

Turkey05

 

 

Photographer: Jon Edwards   Food Stylist: THE Norman Stuart. Yes, that one.

Had I just gone camping? Returned from an African safari? Whatever it was it’s quite obvious I wanted wild! lush! turkey! Look at all that garnish! Luckily the ever-amazing Norman obliged me and gave me abundance, and I thank him. He also prepared this turkey with the ultimate crunchy skin, but in retrospect I should have selected another bird as this gal ain’t the shapliest. But I only had 2 to work with and we had to move fast. C’est la vie.


What I learned:
Tons of Hollywood gossip from the 70s and 80s, and oh, always bring extra turkeys.
What I liked:
It’s different and looks like no other turkey I’ve done.

Turkey06alt

Photographer: Jon Edwards and me    Food Stylists: Denise Vivaldo & Cindie Flannigan

Turkey06
TALK ABOUT A PRODUCTION!
After years of keeping it simple I decided to bring in Laurie Behr, prop stylist and amazing friend, to build a set based on some rudimentary illustrations I sketched up. I wanted tons of light through windows, a very warm and sunny feeling, and by golly she hit the nail on the head! That’s not a real room, it’s not a real wall, but it’s a real turkey and real wine back there. How do I know? I poured it (and sipped it throughout the day).  My friends Denise and Cindie worked magic on this turkey and it captures a beautiful warm Thanksgiving afternoon meant for a crowd. Did I mention it was like 97 degrees that day?

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Photographer: Matt Armendariz    Food Stylist: William Smith

I don’t need to tell you how much trouble I got into once the invoices rolled in back in 2006. Turns out hiring a staff of 11 to work on a holiday shoot isn’t cheap, but I’m a firm believer that it’s easier to ask for forgiveness than persimmons. Get it? I made a joke.

Bad art director! Bad!

This was my first year shooting my own Thanksgiving campaign from beginning to end and because of that I was able to keep it reasonable. I had no choice. I worked with the wonderful William Smith and it was a quiet, intimate shoot. He’s a master with food and has a way with garnish like no other. I wanted a rustic, casual bird with a nice shape, but if you’ve shot turkey it’s always a bit difficult to get a good angle. I think I did aiiight.

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So what have I learned through the years? Turkeys are kind of ugly but taste good, I dislike Thanksgiving in August and I couldn’t work with a more talented group of people. I’m also starting 2008 next month to take advantage of the seasons. Why? Hunting for cranberries in July is for the birds.

Ok, I’ll stop.

A special thanks to everyone and to the respective photographers for allowing me to post these images.

Bill Of Wrongs

Homeresto

I was reading an article by Leslie Brenner in the Los Angeles Times about a Diners’ Bill Of Rights. It really got me thinking about service, especially when dining in this flashy, celebrity-obsessed town of mine. The writer proposes a bill of rights just in case you happen to be frustrated with service and through a culinary uprising she’s gonna get it. And for the most part I’d agree with it.

If I ever happened to eat at those places.

I’m going to let you in on a little secret: I rarely get bad service. And I mean rarely. Seriously. I can count the restaurant disasters and mishaps on one hand. It may have to do with the fact that many of my dinner companions are in the food trade, but more oftentimes than not it’s just me and my man Adam. Sometimes someone will recognize me from this blog but generally it’s smooth sailing when we dine out. And it brings me back to my point of service. My secret? Be a decent customer, appreciative of the experience, and expect to get what you give.

I have a friend who is filled with a million and one horror stories about restaurants. Can’t go there because they shorted him bread. Nope, forget that place because his server didn’t refill his glass with water. And you can forget even thinking about that other place because he heard from a friend of a friend how they so badly messed up his order. He can go on with tons of terrible stories, and ironically they are the very same places I enjoy.

So what’s my secret? In a word: manners. And for that I thank my father. I don’t scream, I don’t raise my voice, I don’t confront or yell at others. If there’s an issue I’ll politely address it and most of the time get resolution that satisfies me. And I’ll smile. And if you have that "but I just spent $220 of my hard-earned income on dinner for my wife/husband/girlfriend/secretlover and I expect it to be perfect" attitude, well, I just don’t know what to tell you. You’re the same kind of person who’s hardwired for disappointment and I’m pretty sure you’ll find it no matter where you go.

Last week we had brunch at Neal Fraser’s BLD on Beverly Boulevard. Cute space, lots of energy, very crowded. While my food was great, Adam’s Cuban sandwich was beyond ruined, thanks to some overzealous toasting that was disguised on the inside of the sandwich. We both love a good piece of toast, but this piece of bread was burnt past the point of flavor. It rendered his sandwich inedible, save for the layers of delicious meat inside. Did I make a fuss about it? Did I run home and snarkfully blog about it? Nope. The problem was fixed and comped by a gracious staff who knew how to correct the situation. Had that been my friend you’d be reading about World War V right about now.

Restaurants have good days and bad days. People aren’t perfect. Mistakes will be made. But I’ve always found that there’s usually one person who can fix it — and it only takes one person to make it right. Do I think we need a Diners Bill of Rights?

Absolutely not.

Thanks, I’m finished ranting.

P.S.  To the person who left a comment on the LA Times about wanting to add a no-screaming-children clause to that list: what planet are you on? Kids are kids, screaming or not. If you don’t want to encounter them doing what they do you might consider staying home. Just my two cents.

Wait wait wait don’t touch it!

Instructions

Things I am thankful for:

1. The wonderful people I’ve met over the past month. I am thanking the heavens for introducing us.
2. The people who have taken chances and hired me. Never in my wildest dreams would I think I’d ever get these kinds of assignments (much more on that later!)
3. Minus the 12 (or is it 22?) extra pounds hanging around my midsection, I am thankful for my health. Knock on wood here.
4. Finally meeting the amazing Bea when I spoke at a seminar last weekend.
4. Our new oven.

So yea, a new oven (and don’t think I didn’t pick up on that correlation between tight pants and new oven because I totally did.)  A brand spanking gorgeous piece of convection equipment that has made life so much easier. Granted, I’ve not been allowed to touch it or use it (Adam’s rules, not mine) but I am the direct beneficiary of evenly-cooked, dual oven food preparation. And really, you think I’m complaining? Chickens seem to cook more evenly, roasting vegetables takes almost no time, and baking cakes and cookies seem like a snap. I say "seem" because I’m not the baker but this is what Adam tells me. Perhaps one day when he’s out working I’ll sneak into the kitchen and press all the buttons and have my own I Love Lucy moment.

Oh Adammmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm! Whine whine whine. Ok, "Ricky" does sound better, but I’m not married to a Ricky. There you have it.

Among the many things he’s tested over the past 2 weeks are these delightful little pumpkin cookies. You may know that my sweet tooth isn’t particularly well developed and I’d rather sit down to a plate of cheese and olives or a hunk of duck rillette with a glass of wine than sugary, sweet things. Salty and savory for me, baby! But I’m digging these little cake-like cookies because oh how I love a soft cookie and they taste like little tiny muffins in my mouth. And that makes me very happy, even if I can’t go near the oven.

Pumpkincookiesalternate


Chocolate Glazed Pumpkin Cookies
from Everyday Food by my pal Martha (yes, she is my friend, she just hasn’t met me yet)

You may notice our version uses white rather than dark chocolate, and that’s because I thought it would look prettier. I’m an Art Director, remember? And by golly look at those little things with white lines. How cute is that? Besides, this cookie really isn’t about the chocolate but the pumpkiny flavor which is perfect for the holidays.

Ingredients
2 cups all-purpose flour (spooned and leveled)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon pumpkin-pie spice
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, rom temperature
1 cup sugar
1 large egg
1 can (15 ounces) pure pumpkin purée
4 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped

method
 

1. Preheat the oven to 375˚. In a medium bowl, whisk together flower, baking soda, baking powder, pumpkin-pie spice, and salt; set aside.

2. Using an electric mixer, beat together butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add egg; beat until smooth. With mixer on low speed, alternately add flour mixture in two parts and pumpkin purée in one, beginning and ending with flour mixture; mix just until combined (do not overmix).

3. Drop dough by heaping tablespoons onto two baking sheets, 1 1/2 inches apart. Bake until puffed and edges are golden, 15 to 20 minutes, rotating sheets once during baking. Immediately transfer cookies to wire racks, and cool completely.

4. When cookies have cooled, set them (still on rack) over a baking sheet or waxed paper. Place chocolate in a medium heatproof bowl set over (not in) a saucepan of simmering water; stir until almost melted. Remove from heat; stir until completely melted. Pour chocolate into a resealable bag. Snip off a corner with scissors or a knife to make a 1/8-inch hole; pipe chocolate over cookies. Refrigerate until chocolate is firm, 20 minutes. Store cookies in layers divided by parchment paper in an airtight container up to three days.