Palm Springs Getaway and learning some stuff


If you tried texting, calling or emailing me last week chances are you a) never heard back from me or b) reached my voicemail. This was fully intentional as I took some time to head to Palm Springs with the hubby and 3 of the world’s greatest women who just also happen to be our best friends. I purposely unplugged as much as possible, recharged my spirit and spent 5 days just being a lazysonofagun. It’s been exactly 1 year ago since the last time I did anything like this, and I’m continually amazed how a few days with people you love – I mean truly madly love – can erase the crazy from 12 months of everyday life.

Something magical happened when we were together. While my housemates all happen to be powerhouses of blogging and writing, there was an effort made to relax and have fun. We fell into a very relaxed vibe that touched on shoptalk, motivation, sharing dreams and experiences, and aligning goals for the future. No, this wasn’t the booze talking, quite the opposite. We were in a space where dreams were allowed to bubble up to the surface, a place where ideas intersected and became actions. In a sense, we created a salon, to borrow the lovely Brooke Burton’s idea of what our trip became. It also involved wigs. But more on that much later :)

My re-entry into reality was not only smooth but welcomed, and that’s how you know it went well. I felt as if I learned about my friends and myself this past week as new ideas swirling around and found a home.  As I began to assemble my photo collage I thought I would share the things I learned and am still learning. While it’s not exactly food related I still think it’s worth sharing. I hope you agree!

10.  Have your own salon
While you’re correct in thinking curlers and perms, I’m referring to the old 17th century term as an event where people gathered to learn more about each other. Sure, they were fussy and ornate and a tad pretentious, but no other word seemed to come to mind for our trip, and trust me, there was nothing fussy nor pretentious about our gathering. But it made me realize how wonderful it felt to be with other food bloggers discussing our craft without limits– no tracks, no panel on ethics or paid posts, no corporate sponsors, no seminars or entry fees. It was a good old-fashioned get-together, something I think should happen much more often. Go for it, I say. Call up your friends and enjoy each other. You’ll learn so much.

9. Silliness Is An Asset
I’m the first to admit I’m silly, loud, obnoxious. But there’s something so refreshing, so liberating about being able to just be silly with your friends. There’s photographic evidence that will most likely surface one day, but here’s an example.

Kids shouldn’t be the only ones who get to play dress up. Are you with me?

8. Make A Non-Agenda. Let it Be.
Step back and take a look at how micro-managed our lives are. Playdates, meetings, errands, deadlines, conferences, book proposals, travel, 9-to-5’s, I could go on. And while we need structure to keep things orderly we can certainly unplug from that grid now and then. And when we do it’s miraculous. Restorative. So give yourself a day, an hour, whatever you can spare to do nothing, to just be. Do that with friends and family and it gets even better.

7. Cooking Together Strengthens You. It Saves Your Wallet.
When you put people that love to cook in one house for a few days you’re bound to create some memorable meals. And we did, all for a significant amount cheaper than dining out. And it was natural, fun, easy, but bonding in a way I wasn’t expecting. I cannot wait to cook again with my friends!

6. Laugh As If Your Life Depends On It. Cuz It Does.
We all know laughing is good for our bodies. And while this does relate to #2 it also goes much further. We laughed until we were cried and melted away the stress of everyday life. Easing blood pressure, increasing brain activity, boosting immunity, releasing endorphins, there’s a reason why they say laughter is the best medicine.

5. Wear Sunscreen
As a child of the 70s (we had bain de soleil commercials, for pete’s sake!) who is now on the precipice of middle age, I’m allowed to wave the finger and tell you to wear sunscreen. No, there are no exceptions. A little sun is fine  but too much? No bueno. Wear it.

4. Appreciate The Silence.
You’d think with all the laughing and silliness that there’d be no moment for peace and stillness. Not the case. You know you are in stellar company when you can just sit with others and read, play on a laptop, stare at the mountains, etc., all in silence. It’s pretty powerful.

3. Tell Your Friends How Much They Matter. Do It Now.
If you are reading this I’m issuing you an order: send an email, make a phone call, text a message, write a postcard — whatever! — to a friend and let them know how important they are to you. Without being morose let me just say that there have been plenty of great people around me lately who have left this planet for brighter pastures and yes, it’s inevitable. It’s life. Please don’t wait to tell someone what they mean to you. Do it today.

2. Close The Laptop. Play A Game.
Curiously enough, the internet went out the last day of our mini-vacation. For a group of connected bloggers this surely spelled frustration but you know what? We were fine. Totally fine. Because a) we had our phones which were mini-computers anyway and b) we made an effort to not spend so much time plastered to an LCD screen. We made sure to bring tons of games (Uno, anyone?) and realized two things:

1. Gaby Dalkin completely turns into an astute, savvy, and competitive card player you’ll be intimidated by. You’ve been warned.

2. No amount of tweeting, facebooking, or checking in will ever compare to sitting face to face at a table with people. Never. Ever. And I’m a social media hound so trust me when I say this. I mean it.

1. Cherish Your Friends. Most Importantly, Be A Friend.
I’ve already begged you to call someone and tell them you love them. But I’m closing out my list because I realized one little thing: to have friends you must be a friend. Make yourself available, listen, look into the eyes of your friend, and be there. Truly be there. You don’t have to say a word, just lend a hand and an ear. Quit talking about yourself, what you’re doing, where you’re going, how “blessed and honored and humbled” you are* and just be there for someone. The rewards are greater than anything else in this world.

*yes, I’m guilty of all of the above.

Zucchini Pasta & the inbetweeness of it all

This is the first time in my life that I won’t be kicking and screaming for summer to stay just a bit longer. Not that I want it to go, mind you, I’m just happy to see the seasons do their thang, the earth to change notches such a tiny bit. The days are already significantly shorter, but when you’re from Southern California you’re generally immune to massive temperature changes anyway.

Besides, this past month I’ve been living in Thanksgiving because of my work, and Christmas is next week. I’m mentally already there.

While my brain may be on all things holiday, my tastebuds will most likely be the last thing to get on the bandwagon. A trip to the market explains why: there are still beautiful tomatoes and other summer fruit waiting to be scooped up and enjoyed one last time before we move on to slower, richer things. Which reminds me of this recipe, something I’ve made 5 or 6 times since it hit the newstands this past July. I’ve been meaning to share it with you but keep forgetting. Now I better do it as one last goodbye to summer, don’t you think?

The flavors in this raw dish, featured in the July/August issue of Whole Living Magazine, is exactly what I crave when I want flavor and lightness. Seriously, it’s one of the best things I’ve enjoyed lately, packed with flavor without being heavy and without turning on the oven or stove. It’s almost hard to believe. As I twirl my fork around this dish one last time and say goodbye to summer, I hope you had a great one and I can’t wait to see what Autumn has in store for all of us.

Zucchini “Pasta” from Whole Living, July/August 2011

Every single ingredient in this dish is raw. It’s also vegan but I have been known to sprinkle the tiniest amount of Pecorino on top before serving as well as 3 or 4 drops of lemon juice. Not a lot, just a teeeensy bit for brightness.

8 ounces of sliced cherry tomatoes
1 clove of garlic, thinly slices (the thinner the better, trust me!)
¼ cup chopped raw walnuts
2 tablespoons torn fresh basil, plus leaves for garnish
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus a bit more for drizzling
sea salt (I like a light chunky salt crystal for texture)
1 zucchini, thinly sliced lengthwise, slices cut into ¼-inch long strips

In a bowl, combine the sliced tomatoes, the garlic, walnuts basil and olive oil, Season with salt. Let stand 20 minutes. Toss with the zucchini ribbons and garnish with basil. This is where I add a tiny bit of cheese and a sprinkle of lemon juice but it’s totally not necessary.

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To Richard: While I never had the chance to meet you, the laughter and light you brought to those around you had an impact, enough to radiate and shine on from wherever you are. I hope your journey was peaceful. I can tell you’re already missed.

NYC and a Sandwich

Hi folks! Just back from a super quick trip to New York City where we ate way too much food and slept way too little. As always it was a jam-packed few days as we said goodbye to this guy who just recently moved to California. Their loss is our gain! It was fantastic to see Lisa Fain of Homesick Texan and chat about her new book, give Deb of Smitten Kitchen a giant hug, laugh until I cried with Maggy and Pam of Three Many Cooks, enjoy some quality time with Justin Schwartz of Wiley and Just Cook NYC,  get in face time with the woman-I-love-named-Deb-Puchalla and meet new friends (Hi Sara!). Whew! Did I leave anyone out?  We also had a wonderful meeting with someone very very very special over breakfast (more on that later!) and suffice it to say a dream is coming true.

After all this time we finally met Sara Kate Gillingham-Ryan of Apartment Therapy: The Kitchn. and I am horrified that I initially forgot to include this in this here blog post. This is what happens when I sit on the other side of the table away from her shoving pork buns in my face. It’s a mistake I will never make again. Will you forgive me, Sara Kate?

We also finally – finally! – met Andrew and Carrie Purcell of Pictures and Pancakes. A husband and wife team that consists of a food photographer and food stylist (hey, sounding familiar?), I could have sat at their table for another 6 ½ hours with them. Truly special people and Andrew’s work blows my mind. Carrie’s too. We love them.

And the cherry on top? Linda and Jurek. Linda, thank you so much. You are amazing.

So much of our visit revolved around the discussion of books. I can’t wait to see yours! Have you finished yours yet? When does yours hit the street? What’s your next idea? When are you going to write one? It turns out that so many of our friends are in the book-writing process and that makes me happy. As an author and photographer I must say that working on book projects make me the happiest. There is a special satisfaction that comes from working on books, a pace that is still fast and quick but a bit more loose and playful. It’s a group effort, equally distributed between the photographer, the food stylist, the prop stylist, the writer, the editor and the coffeemaker. And I love every minute of it.

We recently finished shooting two projects back-to-back, one for Jenny Flake of Picky Palate and another for Jess Goldman of Sodium Girl. Next month we’re heading to Belize to photograph another cookbook and I absolutely cannot wait. And the ink is still drying on the contract I signed for my next book, it’s nothing like my first so you can knock it off with the stick jokes. (I’m kidding! I love the stick jokes, it’s just that this next book is technical and is certainly not On-A-Stick Part 2!) There are a few additional book photography projects floating around as well and I do hope to get them on the calendar. It’s some of the most rewarding work!

Working on Jenny's book and the prop room in action!

This past year a few books I shot came out but none gets more use than Susan Russo’s Encyclopedia Of Sandwiches. It’s one thing to photograph a book, it’s another thing to actually keep it handy because you cook from it. And I’m not sure where this quote that appears on Amazon came from, but it makes me laugh:

 

“Let the record show that Matt is a true sandwich champion for trying every single sandwich in this book at least once—and some more times than he’d care to admit.”

 

Did I write that? Somebody did and it makes me look like a glutton! But it’s true. And because I actually tried every sandwich it’s why I keep coming back to Susan’s book. Which is what I wanted to write about today but I was too busy talking about NYC and myself. Go figure.

I’ve got a list of my top 5 sandwiches from the book, somewhere in that list is Campanile’s Fresh Burrata Grilled Cheese. It’s not the easiest sandwich to make but it’s one of the tastiest. The salsa verde is what rocks this sandwich. Or maybe it’s the burrata. Or the chick peas? Ok, whatever it is it will be dinner tonight. Again. Because I love this sandwich so much. Thank you, Susan!

Campanile’s Fresh Burrata Grilled Cheese

3-4 garlic cloves, sliced
8 ounces cherry tomatoes
olive oil for drizzling
salt and freshly ground black pepper
salsa verde (see below)
1 pound burrata cheese
4 ounces chick peas
4 slices prosciutto
4 slices white sourdough bread

Salsa Verde:
3 or 4 (3-inch-long) salt-packed anchovies, rinsed well, backbone removed, and finely chopped (about 1 tablespoon)
2 tablespoons plus 1/2 teaspoon capers, rinsed and finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 tablespoons plus 1 1/2 teaspoons coarsely chopped fresh marjoram leaves
1 tablespoon plus 1 1/2 teaspoon coarsely chopped fresh mint leaves
3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1-2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

1. Preheat oven to 500 degrees.

2. For the salsa verde: Using a mortal and pestle, pulverize the anchovies, capers, garlic, and salt to a smooth paste. (If you don’t have one, thinly chop the ingredients and smash with a knife to puree or chop in a small food processor.) Add the parsley, marjoram, and mint and continue pulverizing to break down the herbs. Slowly add the olive oil stirring well to combine. Season with salt and lemon juice, to taste, just before serving.

3. Boil garlic slices in cold water and cover over medium heat. Drain the garlic and return to the pan; add cold water and cover again. Bring to a boil and remove from heat. Drain water and pat garlic dry. In same pan, heat olive oil over medium heat. Fry garlic slices 1-2 minutes, being careful not to burn them.

4. Spread cherry tomatoes on a small baking sheet. Drizzle with a little olive oil, salt, and pepper. Roast for 10 minutes. Remove and let cool.

5. Cut the burrata into 1/4-inch thick slices. Grill or toast bread slices. Run one side of each bread slice with garlic and place it garlic side up on a serving palate.

6. To assemble sandwiches: Place 2-3 pieces of cheese on each bread slice. Toss cherry tomatoes and chickpeas in the salsa verde and place 1/4 of the mixture on top of the cheese. Top with one slice of prosciutto and a sprinkle of the fried garlic chips.

Encyclopedia of Sandwiches by Susan Russo, Quirk Publishing. Photo by me.