Dinner For One

Dinner-for-one-new

By now you may or not know that my husband (I’ll never get tired of saying that word, more on California Prop 8 later) spends a great deal of time in Milwaukee, Wisconsin on a job. He and Mr. Smith make things pretty for Food Network packaging and spend time in a big giant beautiful studio. And me? I stay home, work and take care of my dogs, putz around my garden, take some pictures, maybe see some friends, but that’s really about it. Dogs are like kids sometimes and you have to take care of them first before anything else. They also dictate how much time you can be away from home without getting some type of sitter for them. And yes, I do actually get dogsitters for them. I’m whipped, what can I say. Heaven help me when I become a parent. My children will be smothered and hate me.

Because I’m not a fan of junk food or processed convenience items I have learned over Adam’s sojourns to cook and dine solo. Ok, before you shed a tear (not like you would, but it makes me feel warm and fuzzy to think you could) I’m never really alone because of my critters. But even they can’t replace the jovial laughter and clinking of multiple wine glasses and a table full of friends with happy faces. And I’ve tried, they just keep hopping onto the table. My dogs, not my friends. Well, a few friends have. That’s another blog post.

I gotta hand it to the people who relish solitary experiences in the kitchen and the table. Me? I absolutely cannot stand it. It goes against every single thing I’ve ever known. Food is my connection to the world and as a child it’s what brought my family together. And as happy and comfortable I am as an adult I still have a slight pang when I come home, cook dinner and sit down to eat. By myself. I just cannot get used to it.

Having said this I try to make it as delicious and simple as possible. I’ve thought about pretending to not be alone by creating something overly ambitious to distract me but then there’s a huge pile of dishes afterwards which only amplifies my solitude. And then I thought of calling friends over for dinner, but unless you’ve lived in Los Angeles you have no idea how difficult it is to have friends over on a weeknight at 7pm. A damn near impossibility.

Still, I do ok. Many times it’s grilled vegetables, other times it’s fish with a salad. I’ve been known to eat cheese and crackers for dinner, and I always find pasta in any form with olive oil and freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano one of these most satisfying. Then there’s a bowl of cereal or a peanut butter and jelly sandwich which instantly puts me at the front of the line for my imaginary Lonely Boy Poster Contest. God I can’t even believe I’m admiting all this to you.

So now I ask you: What do you cook when you’re cooking for one? Do you have any favorite resources or cookbooks you refer to when dining solo? Because as luck would have it my better half will eventually return to another city for work, leaving me to dine with, well, apparently no one.

50 American Wines


“Joel Stein set out to taste one wine from all 50 states — a patriotic
experiment to see if good wine can really be made anywhere.”


American wines

Last month I had the pleasure of working with Los Angeles Times and Time Magazine columnist Joel Stein for a story on 50 American wines. He ordered wine from each of the 50 states, and yes, I immediately asked the same question that is forming in your head right now: they make wine in each of the 50 states? Really?

Yes, yes they do.

I didn’t get to taste any of them, I was only there to shoot the bottles for this feature. And honey, let me tell you, it wasn’t easy. Wine bottles are tricky — especially when you are instructed by the big wigs to show them with minimal glare. And there are 50 of ‘em! And you cannot drink any of them! Tears, tears I cried!

I haven’t read the story and I’m about to hop on over to Time.com to check it out. I’m reserving my thoughts of the design of each wine label as they relate to their geographic origin for a few close select friends. Just like the wine inside the bottle, the artwork was literally all over the map. Get it? All over the map? I’ll stop now.

Oh, And Confidential To One Single State:  If your goal was to create the wine-bottle label equivalent of a 1974 Canary Yellow Shag-Carpeted Van filled with Pot Smoke and Peter Frampton, by golly, you succeeded!

Joel Stein and the 50 Wines here.

Best. Dinner. Party. Ever.

Fish!

On Saturday evening my better half and I went to a dinner party. Ok, I'm calling it a dinner party but it was probably the farthest thing from just a regular dinner party. Why? For starters, it:

  • Reaffirmed my belief that true food lovers — I mean, the ones who sleep and dream of food — are some of the nicest people ever.
  • Reminded me why I love blogging.
  • Made me realize my garden is pitiful, anemic and sad.
  • Proved to me that Vietnamese food is simply one of the world's best cuisines. As if I didn't know this already.
  • Made me realize that my "neighbors" Todd & Diane are freakin' amazing.

Billed as a blogging meet up, the dinner was hosted by Todd and Diane from the blog White On Rice couple. Now if you've been to these blog meet ups you'll eventually realize that we're not always the same in person as we are in pixel. I've met food bloggers who have painfully sat in the corner, never syncing up their true personality with the voices of their sites. And it confuses me.

That was far from the case Saturday night.

I cannot remember the last time I've been so enthralled, touched, tickled and satiated in a long time. I also cannot remember if I've ever been handed a colander (along with every other guest!) and been assigned a section of the garden. We picked, foraged, clipped and snapped every imaginable herb, fruit and vegetable for dinner while our hosts put the finishing touches on main dishes. There was delicious wine, amazing cocktails, greasy oily hands ripping into jackfruit — and I could not have been happier.

I'm going to publicly admit it within the pages of this blog that I have hit that point in my life and career where I'm not longer with camera 24/7. There. I said it. When I'm not working the last thing I want to do is pick up my camera and lug it with me, and besides I actually kind of like my iphone camera. At any rate, I didn't get any pictures of this amazing event with the exception of that starter image of those amazing fish on the grill. Adam captured all the others you'll see below.

And I'm also one of the evening's eyeball eaters. Snicker all you want. It was delicious.

We spoke of food, studios, food photography, upcoming trips, new babies, the depth of Vietnamese food, Mozza, being newlyweds, where blogging has led us and connected us, and we exchanged gifts before pairing cheeses with tropical fruits. That was a first for me! It was simply one of the most amazing experiences I've had recently and perhaps if I'm a very very very good boy I will be invited back.

But you should really check out what Diane had to say about her own party. And you can also see who stopped by.

I'm sure I speak for everyone there when I say thank you not only for feeding our stomachs but also our souls. You guys are nothing short of amazing.

Party-shots

Talking Tomatoes

2785104868_7c4ec918c1_b

No, there's no post here. Not at all. But since everyone is still talkin' tomatoes and some of the best of the year are still left to be enjoyed (late summer rules folks!) I thought I'd put up an image I took last month at a shoot in NYC.

That's it! Just a photo, nothing else!

Tomato & Zucchini Gratin

Tomato-Gratin-Final-Large

I'm really loving these weekly recipe get-togethers organized by Dinner Tonight.  It's so nice to pick an ingredient and see what people come up with and it makes me feel like I'm attending some virtual potluck. Very cool.

This week's challenge was tomatoes, and if you're a reader of Mattbites you'll know that I tend to go overboard during summer when it comes to these things. I was going for a bit of restraint this year. Yea yea I know, restraint and me don't really get along. I'm trying.

While looking for recipes for this week I kept getting drawn back to old cookbook from the 50s and 60s that I have in my collection. It seemed that baked and broiled tomatoes were all the rage but thinking of putting a beautiful heirloom into the oven and baking it until soft and mushy seemed to border on blasphemy. Oh no! At the same time I cannot count the number of tomatoes I've eaten raw since June. I needed something different, something that was hearty enough to be a side or main dish.

This recipe, a tomato and zucchini gratin, seems to be the most basic thing ever. In fact, I made it from a conversation with Adam who actually created the same dish a few weeks ago during a packaging shoot. And it's right up my alley — a few ingredients, cheese, substantial enough to be an easy supper, and cheese. Did I say that already?

And in my homage to Time-Life Books of yesteryear I photographed my gratin to reflect a look that seems to be making its way back into popularity. And you wanna know what else I did? I ate the entire damn thing.

Tomato & Zucchini Gratin
Folks, don't hate me. I'm not including exact measurements again because 1) I'm not a recipe writer and 2) my recipe and food writer friends will inevitably pick it apart and show me the errors of my ways.  So I give you a very loose interpretation. And besides, it's not like it's a cake or a dozen scones. Add a little of this, a little of that…it'll be ok. Trust me.

You'll need:
roma tomatoes
an onion
a few zucchini
grated cheese (I had Pecorino on hand from a photo shoot but almost any hard cheese could work)
some olive oil
some herbs

Chop the onion and saute until translucent. Next slice roma tomatoes and zucchini into evenly thin slices and layer in a pan or baking dish. I oiled mine because I wasn't quite sure if things would stick, but it's not necessary. Layer the tomatoes, zucchini and sauteed onions and top with a bit of cheese, repeating until you've reached the top of the dish. Cover with foil and bake at 350˚ for 20-30 minutes. After that you'll want to top with a final layer of grated cheese and bake for another 8-10 minutes, uncovered, until cheese melts. I cheated a bit by putting on way more cheese and broiling it for 2 minutes so I'd have a nice color for the photo, but you can certainly do that as well. After cooking I topped with some chopped herbs, let it cool for about 30 minutes and dug in. It was fantastic.

There are quite a few recipes online for tomato gratins. Feel free to look for them if you are the type that needs exact measurements. You certainly will not hurt my feelings!

Free tickets to the Celebrity Food Show this weekend

Logo1
Hey party people! Specifically, my So Cal party people. Join me this Saturday, August 16th at the Celebrity Food Show in Anaheim where I'll be teaming up with the Lipton folks and their PureLeaf beverages in the afternoon. Come taste some tea, meet some fun people and hang out!

I want to thank the folks at Lipton for reaching out to bloggers. I'll be joining The Liquid Muse (Friday) and Oishii Eats (Sunday) as the blogging trio working with them and their PureLeaf brand. Initially I thought "Um, I'm not much of a salesman even though I am a ham, is this something I really want to do?" But then I did my research, discovered the product is 100% natural without any artificial ingredients or additives and really tastes great. I'm not a sugary, syrupy drink lover and these teas are right up my alley.  I can't wait to experiment before the show with a few as bases for cocktails.

I'll be giving away five tickets for the show on Saturday. All you have to do is be the first to email me here and the tickets are all yours!

I hope to see you there!

And confidential to a certain person: I don't care how charming you think Duff Goldman is — with his cute mug, infectious laugh and creative cake talents — you're already married to me darnit and that's that. But I'll tell him you said hello.

At The Studio

Ok, there have been a few of you (and you know who you are!) who have ever-so-gently nudged me via direct and instant messages (god I love the interwebs) and asked to see some snapshots of my new studio. Well, I've reluctantly held off because 1) it's not all pretty pretty yet and 2) I haven't figured out how to get the working girls and clever local entrepreneurs to shoo away from my front door long enough to take pictures. And then I remembered how that within a week of signing my lease I was working in my new space, taking pictures and really making it a real working studio. Because of this it's never going to be a showplace and I'm fine with that. Finally.

Perhaps one day there will be parking for clients and a super fancy lounge with a German assistant who makes lattes for everyone with my $4k espresso machine and fancy catering to eat and the required pool table for the clients and a WII and personalized matchbooks but damnit, in the meantime they're getting me and my empty studio. And I really really hope it's ok. I really need to work on being a much flashier photographer, I think.

Anyway, here's a little tour.

Assorted-dishes-on-ground

There's a skylight on the second floor of my studio that shines down onto the first floor. The quality of light is unreal and depending on the time of day it can be anywhere from gold to blue. It ends up in solid bands of light and reminds me of being in a church. So of course I grabbed an antique tablecloth and assorted plates and dishes because that's what you do, right?

Dishes-and-matt

On the left side are plates, bowls and platters from the white section of my prop shelf. There are some thrift store pieces, some new items, some antiques, some Mud Australia (my fave!) and some I can't even remember where they came from. And that totally helps me when I break something because let's face it, I break stuff. It's what I do.

On the right is me. I put up a big painting tarp I found on the side of the road because I knew it would come in handy but I actually fell in love with the oversprayed stencil it created. Plus it was the only thing tall enough to fill a big wall. In the corner is a Zamioculcas Zamiifolia, one of my mostest favoritist plants EVER!! And a Bertoia chair.

Colors-and-forks

On the left are more prop shelves. We organize by color and it seems to work. I previously had everything grouped by category but it just didn't seem the best way to do things for my brain. I also try to rotate my props out on a regular basis so that stuff doesn't always look the same. I'll also hang on to something because I know one day it will be the perfect prop. On the right are old forks and spoons in cool old wooden boxes. They haven't been cleaned and organized along with the other utensils. Just give me more coffee and watch out.

Old-tin

I can't take credit for all this great old baking stuff — this is all Adam's doing. He's been spending quite a bit of time in the midwest on a job, going back and forth and hitting all the quaint antique shops in Wisconsin. It's such a nice contrast to all the modern pieces we seem to have floating around the studio. I'm sure there are great stories about what was baked in these things. Now why can't he bring me back cheese curds? Huh?

Spot the dork

Here's a quick view facing the kitchen. Like I said I still have quite a bit to go before it looks the way I want. I haven't even tackled the upstairs space yet, it's just storage. You get extra points if you spot the dork in the mask.

Open-space

Folks, this is a terrible image. Not just because my studio is a mess but it's way overexposed. But whatevs, it's just to show my workspace. Shooting with natural light here is not a problem, in fact it can be too much at times. And the big thing blocking the garage door is a scrim to diffuse the light just a bit.

Everything is on casters, including my work table, my storage drawers, even a big platform where I set up my tables. It's so much easier for repositioning as the light changes throughout the day. Armando, thank you!

Rowena-foamcore

Here are two things I cannot live without now: My Rowenta Pressure Iron & Steamer and big giant pieces of foamcore.

So this iron, um, man. You probably didn't know I really enjoy ironing and it totally relaxes me. But now I'm downright giddy with this machine that shoots out a constant, generous amount of steam all by pressing a lever on the handle. I'm currently obsessed with this and am now ironing for ironing's sake. I'm just wrong.

And the foamcore, aka v-flats, v cards, whatever you want to call them, they're essential. It's basically two 4' by 8' pieces taped together and can be used to fill in light or even block light when needed. I never had the space large enough to use them before but now I've quite the collection. Even in black for those moments when you really want to block or subtract light. And my absolute favorite thing: Open and arrange all 8 v flats into a small room and walk inside and out over and over again until someone asks me what the hell I'm doing. Hi! I'm 4 years old.

Arrangement
So that concludes this very brief behind the scenes. Next time we'll go upstairs, take a look at my glass and cup cabinets and maybe I'll introduce you to Edgar, Niko, Steve and Dan, my neighbors from around the way who just happen to celebrate Happy Hour at 8am every single day! What a coincidence! Oh, and here's a flower shot from today since I had to actually do something productive.