Feed Supper

When my bestie asked if I our backyard was available to host a  Feed Project’s Feed Supper for a few friends, I didn’t hesitate to respond with a giant “YES!” Dedicated to raising money to provide food for those in need, the Feed Supper is a novel way for everyone to get involved with friends and family and raise money for their giving partners, the WFP and Feeding America.  I encourage you to visit the website to learn more, and while the Feed Supper project is almost over, there’s never a bad time to think about those in need.

(also, giving money to Feeding America couldn’t be easier if you have an Amazon account! Just saying!)

Here are some shots from Friday night’s dinner. Also, the menu was simple, fun, and fresh and featured Gaby’s incredible Bruschetta Bar.

 

 

 

 

Behind the Scenes of a Personal Food Photography Shoot

Pie Intro

It was a pie safe that we purchased years ago. Rustic, beat up, full of character. I could never walk by it without thinking of what it would look like filled with pies. Over the years it’s housed prop glasses, plates, beautiful ceramics, but never pies.

Eight years later I decided to do something about that.

Whenever I have some free time I love to schedule personal shoots. I get to work with friends and lovely models, create a story of my own, and shoot it the way I see fit. One doesn’t always get that luxury when working for clients as there are a variety of requirements to meet. Not that I object! It’s just nice to do something for yourself now and then, right?

The idea for this story involved a couple making pies one late afternoon. I called my dear friend Ellen at Neat Productions to handle the casting, and before long we were looking at a dozen models. I must admit I really love this part!

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“Hold this. Turn this way. Use the rolling pin. Got it.”

 

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With the casting underway, I turned to my folder of sketches and drawings I stored just in case I ever got around to shooting this story. Swatches, colors, fabrics, and inspirational images go into it, and I soon started the task of turning ideas into actions. One thing I knew I wanted to use was an old stove. Luckily there’s a shop with a wonderful collection of vintage stoves right around the corner from our studio, so after asking if I could rent one I found a mover to drop it by. Those suckers are heavy!

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Once it was delivered, it met the pie safe and a lovely old farm table. I think they all got along perfectly and all I needed to do was build a shelf over the stove and start dressing the set. I pulled from our prop collection and went to town. So much fun!

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The lighting for this story would be a balance of very bright directional light and dark, contrasty shadows. I wanted to feel like you were in a kitchen one late afternoon when the sun has just peaked and is on its way down, high up in the sky. Not flooded with light, but still keeping the intensity. This was done by blocking quite a bit for shadows (all the black foamcore) and keeping the light high. The two wall flats were also painted a very dark shade of brown, a departure from the dark greys I prefer. It helped to cut down reflection and light. Shadows can be your best friends.

 

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The set was extremely minimal and only took 45 minutes to put together.

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I didn’t need a wardrobe stylist for this shoot, I wanted the models in their own clothes to keep it casual. However, I did have to hunt down aprons, and eventually decided on a beautiful blue apron from Madison And Muse for her as well as a few others for him.

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Shot over 2 days, we started with the skeleton crew for the food. Pies were baked (thanks, Adam!) while I photographed ingredients and process shots. Unfortunately they weren’t baked in the vintage stove, which is probably a good thing now that I think about it.

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On day 2 our models and crew arrived in the afternoon. Thanks to old Xscape, 702, Inoj, Blackstreet, Brownstone and Zhane for keeping the mood just right. After a quick visit to the hair and makeup department (a/k/a Candy Corner), the models were ready to hit the set and start making pies.

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Cal crimps and primps! Also, a few touch ups between takes with the amazing Aunny De La Rosa!

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After a few process shots it came time for the best part of the day: TO EAT PIES. Like everything we shoot, it’s completely edible and considering Adam made these pies, well, enough said. They are legendary.

I wanted to get some action shots with hands so I crawled up a ladder and made the models eat VERY slowly. Awkward yes, but it made for a great shot!

eating-pies!

Photographing the models went very quickly (they are professionals after all) so once we were done it came time for the editing process. I use Capture One to shoot tethered and to process my images, but I usually wait until I’m back at my home office with my calibrated monitors before working on edits or colors.  Most things can be done with Capture One so it was easy to finalize the shoot. If I have to use photoshop it’s for things like cloning or removing items within the frame (like a seam)

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With the shoot done, I can now add it to my portfolio and use it in promotional materials. Now let’s eat pie! Come back tomorrow where I’ll share the final images with ya! Thank you so much for reading!

Thanks to Adam for humoring me and making beautiful pies! To Ellen, Aunny, Byron, Aubrey and Calvin… a million thanks!

 

A Spring Pizza

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There’s not much of a recipe here, just an idea for free form pizza ingredients that are currently rocking our world. We’re calling it a spring pizza, and it goes something like this: fresh peas, ricotta, pesto, maybe some burrata, , some fennel sausage, and maybe some sliced fresno and/or fresh jalapeños.

And yes, I will do a full pizza post soon now that we’re in outdoor mode.

Oh, and the dough? It’s Roberta’s recipe from the New York Times. It’s lovely.

P.S. We did this version on the grill, as a book I shot just recently hit the shelves. You may already know Pizza On The Grill, but there’s an update with new recipes photographed by yours truly. Check it out!

 

About That Pizza Oven…

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If we are friends in real life, then you most likely know that I’m a rather easy-going guy (on most days, I mean). I prefer to roll with those punches, to let bygones be bygones, and accept what the universe presents to me most of the time. I’m fine with just about anything, really.

EXCEPT PIZZA.

No, really, except when it comes to pizza.

Far from being a snob, I feel as if I’ve put in my time when it comes to doughy, salty, greasy disks of fast food or chain pizza pies. After all, the typical oil-laden pepperoni pizza of my youth were certainly all I ever knew. That changed in early adulthood as I moved around the country, then years later upon traveling to Italy and making pizza there. I learned that it doesn’t take much to make me happy, and that a real Neapolitan-style pizza is my personal benchmark for how these things should be enjoyed.

Quality ingredients, simple methods, and a great oven. Done.

(And Sorry Deep Dishers, but I just can’t get down with that. I lived in Chicago for several years, I get it).

For the past decade or so,  I have welcomed the pizza renaissance in the US with open arms. There’s amazing pizza to be had from the East Coast to the West Coast, and even if LA was just a little bit behind the curve, the horizon sure looks good from here. And yet, no matter how I tried, I just couldn’t replicate my favorite pizzas at home. Sure they were good, and sure I’ve experimented with 20+ dough recipes, but nothing ever came close.

As we began to discuss remodeling our backyard, there was no way I wasn’t going to set aside the space and funds for a dream I’ve had for twenty years: to have my own pizza oven. As I  cooked and traveled, I realized that the only way to make the kind of pizza I wanted would involve a wood burning oven. Case closed, no discussion. But a lifetime of apartment renting doesn’t really allow for that, so when I saw my opportunity I jumped at it.

You might even say I bought a house just to have my own pizza oven. You wouldn’t be far off.

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After lots of research, I realized it was meant to be when I found Los Angeles Ovenworks, a company that specializes in outdoor wood-fired ovens. We discussed sizes, footprint, where it’d live, and a style we wanted before deciding on the oven of our dreams. The oven, handcrafted in Italy, arrived in pieces and sat for what seemed like an eternity, just waiting to be set up and installed.

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I can’t tell you how anxious and antsy I was as I waited for construction issues to pass.

But once they did and permits were pulled, it went up within a day. Consisting of a few pieces, the housing took a bit longer as it had to match the rest of the backyard design. Oh, and once it’s completed, I’ll be sure to share the entire backyard project with you, too. Promise!

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Once it was done, it took about a week of daily small fires to cure it and remove all residual moisture inside. It was fun to start fires, but frustrating knowing I wouldn’t be able to cook just yet. Patience, I told myself.

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AND THEN THAT FIRST TIME?

That absolute first time?

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I can’t even tell you the satisfaction and happiness I experienced that day. From arranging the wood to letting it burn out and moving embers, I realized a dream come true in that moment. The smell of smoke, the sensation of extreme heat, the pizzas that would be made in a matter of minutes, it is all that and more. It’s one of the best things I’ve ever done, hands down. And when I find myself with an evening or afternoon free, it’s pizza time. It’s restorative, meditative, relaxing and centering. Heck, it might as well be yoga for me. Except I finish with pizza. You can’t beat that.

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While I’m far from a pizzaiolo, I’ve learned that the secret to a great pizza is heat. Lots of it. And done the correct way. In fact, even my least favorite doughs seem to come out just fine when cooked in a wood-fired oven. It’s that heat, I’m tellin’ ya. It’s amazing.

 

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It takes about 90 minutes to get the oven where it needs to be for pizza, but waiting is a pure pleasure. It’s the only time I slow down and focus. One must always pay attention with fire.

 

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Brcocolini and mozzarella and sauce

 

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Caramelized onions, sage leaves, blue cheese and walnuts

 

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Shaved Brussels sprouts, bacon, egg, about to go back into the oven

 

Of course, it’s a real oven and I’ve had a wonderful time learning to cook other things in it. Not everything has been successful, but I’m making delicious mistakes.

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Shrimp, chorizo, lots of garlic, olive oil, and pimenton in small skillets then fired. OH MY GOD.

 

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Wood fires and smoke were made for roasting whole fish. It’s simple and perfect.

 

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These things were meant to go together.

 

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The new pizza oven even played a staring role in a photoshoot I did at home.

 

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Next to pizza, roasting a chicken is possibly the most amazing thing to do in a wood fired oven. This chicken will become part of the Zuni Chicken & Bread Salad recipe, something we make all the time now that we can. Heaven.

 

Once the rest of the outdoor kitchen is completed I’ll make sure to post more, including recipes for my favorite sauce and dough. In the meantime, if you’re ever in the mood for a pizza party, come over. You don’t have to ask me twice.

The First Pizza of 2014

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Maybe some day soon I’ll write an ode to my backyard pizza oven. It’s a very intense love affair, you know. But in the meantime, here’s the first pizza of 2014: bacon, brussels sprouts, and an egg cracked on top. I can’t think of a better way to start this year off.

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Kale Salad with Ricotta Salata, Pine Nuts and Anchovies

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Historically, there are a few things you will never see me turn down:

1) A glass of champagne.

2) A ripe juicy heirloom tomato during summer.

3) Anchovies or Sardines, In Any Format, Any Time Of The Year, No Matter Where

About number three, yep, it’s true. My lifelong love affair with those salty, powerfully fishy flavors of the sea no doubt originated with my dad, who was happy to keep tins of sardines in the house, and when I think back we kids must’ve been a sight to see, eagerly inhaling sardines in mustard or sardines in olive oil with crackers, toast, or just by themselves. As an adult I was happy to learn that there’s actually a whole world of variety when it comes to anchovies and sardines (two completely separate fish), but it’s a group I’m quick to lump together just because, well, they belong in THAT category. To me, at least.

If they’re on a menu — FRESH — forgettuaboutit. If I’m in Spain, they will be consumed daily. If they’re layered on a pizza (we’re talking anchovies here), I’m in. And my eyes eagerly seek the fine print of menus for the “Our Caesar Is Made With Anchovies, Please Inform Your Server If”, which, of course, I never seem to finish that last sentence.  I am so down.

Then there’s the matter of a few weeks ago when the lovely Melissa Clark professed her fishlove in the NYTimes. And it was her recipe of Anchovy Toast that has been a regular dinner for me lately. Thank you, Melissa!

Anyway, stay with me here. I promise I’ll make a point.

Book-CoverWhen my friends at Food & Wine sent me a copy of Best New Chefs All-Star Cookbook I knew I’d hit the jackpot with amazing recipes. The only problem was, well, where do I start? A random flipping through the pages took me to Nancy Silverton’s Kale Salad with Ricotta Salata, Pine Nuts and Anchovies and my mind was instantly made up for me. I’ve given kale a slight ribbing lately (see my quick story about it over at Food & Wine), but this time around I was earnest, eager and ready. Why? Because of those fantastic alici,  the vinegary pickly white anchovies that rock my world a few times over. Slightly milder and fresher in flavor than the salt-packed variety, they always lend a sweet, tangy taste to dishes and salads. And this is a full-flavored salad that boldly satisfies. And because it’s Nancy. Who doesn’t love her?

Oh, and about the book? It’s a treasure. It’s filled with 25 years’ worth of Food & Wine’s Best New Chefs, highlighting recipes from each year. I went for 1990, and I’m pretty sure you’ll love this and the book, too.

Kale Salad with Ricotta Salata, Pine Nuts and Anchovies

1/4 cup pine nuts

1 small shallot, minced

Finely grated zest from 1 lemon

1/4 cup fresh lemon juice

1 tablespoon Champagne or white wine vinegar

1 garlic clove, grated

Pinch of crushed red pepper

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

3 ounces ricotta salata cheese, coarsely grated (3/4 cup)

Kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper

1 bunch kale, preferably Tuscan (6 ounces)—stemmed, leaves torn into bite-size pieces (8 cups)

8 marinated alici (white anchovies), drained

 

1. In a small skillet, toast the pine nuts over moderately low heat, stirring them frequently, until lightly golden, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a small bowl.

2. In a medium bowl, combine the shallot, lemon zest, lemon juice, vinegar, garlic and crushed red pepper. Whisk in the olive oil until combined. Stir in 1/2 cup of the ricotta salata and season with salt and pepper.

3. In a large bowl, toss the kale with half of the vinaigrette; add more vinaigrette if desired. Transfer half of the kale to a serving platter and scatter with 2 tablespoons of the remaining ricotta salata. Top with 4 anchovies and half of the toasted pine nuts. Repeat with the remaining kale, ricotta salata, anchovies and pine nuts and serve.

Recipe kindly reprinted from the Food & Wine Best New Chefs All-Star Cookbook. Photo by Matt Armendariz for the blog.

September Food & Wine Magazine

food--wine-magazine-september-128957l3  Well whattdayaknow, there’s me in this month’s Food & Wine magazine and I couldn’t be more thrilled to be included in such great company! A huge thanks to Sara and Food & Wine for the inclusion, I now have something to send to my parents to show them I am actually home every now and again (Thanksgiving is calling you, mom & dad, please come!). Also, such giant happy thanks to Christian May for the interior design of our home( you can see his talent in the breakfast nook shot). More about our home soon, I promise! And about the backyard, just as soon as I stop making pizzas in the wood fired oven EVERY. SINGLE. DAY.

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Winter Citrus, Revisited. Again.

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There’s really not much left I can say about citrus. Particularly, how I feel about citrus. I’ve talked about it for years via my annual citrus round-up, and if I had my way I’d probably write a whole damn cookbook on citrus fruit. I totally would.

Matt-Armendariz-Citrus-Ring-550I think I’ve run out of words to describe the fruits of the Rutaceae family; I’ve used all the zippy and zings, tangy and tarts to last a lifetime. Besides, do you really need me to tell you what a lemon tastes like? Um, no. I’m pretty sure just about everyone knows what they taste like and how indispensible they are to cooking.  In fact, you’d be hard pressed to find a cuisine that doesn’t include citrus in one way or another.

To me, it’s that citric acid that makes food come alive, but it also doesn’t need to knock you over, either. It can add balance to a dish, cause a chemical reaction, preserve, intensify and enchance, and it’s also an equal opportunity ingredient, happy in both sweet and savory dishes. To me it’s one of life’s absolutely perfect things.

So how have we been enjoying these beauties at our place? In so many ways. I thought it’d be fun to put together a few suggestions for all those lemons and limes that are their peak right now. Oh, and grapefruit and tangerines. And kumquats and tangelos. And, and…

 

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MARGARITAS, ANYONE?

As luck would have it, one plentiful lime tree stands smack dab in the middle of our new yard. We moved just in time to become intoxicated by the lime flower blossoms (and if you’ve ever need proof as to whether miracles exist, lean in and smell that tiny mighty flower). The blossoms gave way to fruit, so much fruit! It seems like I couldn’t give the limes away fast enough, but being the resourceful guy that I am, I opted for a giant batch of margaritas. You can keep your neon-gree fake mixes, thankyouverymuch. A real margarita could not be easier, nor more satisfying. It goes like this: lime juice, a fantastic tequila, simple syrup or any orange-flavored liqueur like triple sec or Cointreau. I’ve been known to skip the last ingredient, which is just fine if you ask me.

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FRIED LEMONS AND POTATO CHIPS

We recently finished an assignment for Food & Wine Magazine, and one tempura recipe included in the shot list used tempura-battered lemon slices. We were all so collectively bowled over by what happens to a battered and deep-fried lemon – it’s more amazing than you’d think! Incorporating that premise into snacktime yielded these chips with fried lemon slices tucked throughout.  You’ll want beer to enjoy with these things (they’re simply dipped in tapioca flour and fried), and if you need more zing, simply spring with an equal blend of lemon or lime zest and salt. Easy.

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PALOMA

Oh my sweet Paloma, you are a beautiful thing, aren’t you? You make me wish I lived on a grapefruit plantation. And while this Mexican cocktail is usually served with Mexican grapefruit soda and tequila, I’m going straight to the source by mixing fresh grapefruit juice, sparkling water, along with plenty of simple syrup and crushed ice. And good tequila. Fly away, Paloma!

Update: About a day after this post went live a box of Texas Rio Star Grapefruit arrived on my doorstep. Can I tell you how amazing they are? I plan on remaking a batch of Palomas with the sweet juice of these grapefruits, which I learned are only grown in Texas. Thanks for sending, Kymberly, and hugs to everyone back in Texas!

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SWEET CHILI LIME SAUCE

Oh, this is cheating. Ok, let’s not be so harsh. This is doctoring.  Which I’m not opposed to doing if it’s easy, delicious, and let me bring more flavor to the party. In this case, a few teaspoons of fresh lime juice and garlic added to bottled sweet chilI sauce makes an excellent dipping sauce for grilled shrimp and squid. OH AND LOOK, THESE THINGS ARE ON STICKS! I wonder what gave me that idea. I really do.

Oh, and don’t forget squeezes of fresh lime before serving!

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STEAK & NUOC MAM

You may know the Vietnamese condiment made from fish sauce, sugar, chiles and lime juice as the umami-rich dipping sauce of spring rolls, bánh xèo and bánh bèo, among other things. But this FREAKING MAGIC SAUCE (yes, emphasis mine) makes an appearance at our house all the time. ALL THE TIME. Especially when meat like slow roasted pork, flank steak or grilled chicken are on the menu. I use Andrea’s recipe all the time, which can be found here.

But I don’t usually stop there. I’ll add tiny amounts to a bowl of beans, sprinkle it over pasta, and even add it to my guacamole. It’s my fave.

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CITRUS CURD

Juice + eggs + sugar + butter + heat = curd. And it’s fantastic on just about everything. Cakes, scones, cakes, you name it. In this case Adam made these beautiful little citrus curd meringue tarts and well, they disappeared. INTO MY MOUTH. A very easy little shell was blind baked and cooled, then filled with lemon curd and topped with meringue.  A quick torch to brown the peaks of meringue came next, and then some blackberries finished it off. Tart, sweet, buttery, berry, oh lord these things didn’t stand a chance.

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CANDIED KUMQUATS

Oh really, this cannot be easier. All you need is time and a few ingredients. And thanks to Pim for the inspiration for this: simmer covered kumquats in water and sugar and a little vanilla bean and a dash of salt for about 2 hours, then uncover and reduce so that you’re left with an amazing citrus syrup. That is all. Seriously. The fruit turn soft and delicious, losing any bitterness they may have had from the long soak. Enjoy the kumquats on dark chocolate cake, on a cheesecake, or along with the syrup over vanilla ice cream.

Alrighty my friends, what’s your favorite thing to do with citrus? I’d love to know! I’m thinking 2014 already!

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Life’s Little Luxuries: Everyday Celebrations

The following is a post inspired by Häagen-Dazs® ice cream, encouraging life’s little luxuries. It’s about taking a step back and enjoying all that’s important and delicious in life.

When I began writing about this topic, I thought it’d be easy. I was going to start by saying that even though the vacation is months away or that long weekend getaway isn’t even on the books yet that there were a few things you could do to have some fun. I knew I had certain rituals to make a Wednesday seem special (it’s a bottle of champagne enjoyed with a roasted chicken), but when I posed the question of Facebook it became an entirely different post.

What did I find? I discovered that there were dozens of people, some personal acquaintances and some not, who don’t need an excuse, a blog post, or even a reason to celebrate what matters most to them. There are people so filled with life that it spills out and flows all around them, people that really know what matters most (hint: it can’t be bought!) and people who love life so much that there is always a celebration or party wherever they may be.

Even on a Monday.

Heck, these people are my role models!

I discovered that Monica will pile the kids into the car and head out to the nearest ice cream place and eat huge sundaes for dinner, just to make an ordinary day extraordinary. The thought of this brings the world’s biggest smile to my face, can you imagine how it’d make you feel as a kid? I adore Monica and know this isn’t an everyday event, it’s for those special moments when you throw caution to the wind and really do something fun as a family. I think a spontaneous Sundae Supper is going to be a tradition over here.

 

I learned that Sherri Jo will have a weeknight fondue with the family in the middle of the living room with a great movie and plenty of special drinks (cocktails for the adults, mocktails for the kids), even in the fancy glasses! You want to talk about celebrating life! This is a party of the “just because” variety, and it makes me realize that when you love life and your family you always have a reason to celebrate. I can hear the laughter and see the smiles from here! Besides, melted cheese? Oh Sherri Jo I love you…

 

My friend Ellen of Neat Productions (who also happens to be my Photographic Guardian Angel, fyi) tells me a very special tale that all business owners and freelancers will appreciate: she takes her lunch outside, complete with silver tray and beautiful china. On a regular day. Because her husband is a freelancer as well, they do not discuss work things during their outdoor break, instead taking the time to sit under a tree and enjoy the meal before them as well as each other’s company. I don’t think I’ve ever taken the time to enjoy lunch this way, it’s usually a rushed affair where I barely stop to acknowledge my surroundings. I aspire to incorporate a bit more Ellen into my life, and I’m starting with this very simple way of celebrating life’s little luxuries.

 

Stephanie had an excellent way to make your day special, and it seemed to be enjoyed by a few others as well: breakfast for dinner. There were a few times as a kid we did this too, and it always made me smile. I can’t really explain why, something about changing things up with food makes it automatically special, or maybe it’s sitting down to a plate of fluffy pancakes for dinner that makes life special. It’s all about the celebration.

 

Denise tells me of a tradition that must immediately be incorporated into my life: Champagne Fridays. These tastings happen one Friday a month and involve tasting (and enjoying) a new champagne at home. As a bubbles lover this sings to me, and I love the idea of taking something so regular and elevating it into something elegant at home. And since we’re on the adult beverages tip, I can’t find a better example of someone who knows how to celebrate better than my friend Dana Robinson, who was my very first friend when I moved to LA over 10 years ago. She’s also my ITG (International Travel Girlfriend), but what I admire most is her longstanding tradition of creating a luscious bloody mary bar at home on Sunday mornings. Just because. Laying out great ingredients, a good vodka, gorgeous glassware and inviting friends over makes for a perfect weekend. PERFECT. And when I think about the afternoon nap that must follow afterwards, well, this is really what life is all about, isn’t it?

And Other discoveries? Grady makes sure to enjoy dinner with a beautiful place setting, napkins, and real flowers on the table. Diane keeps fresh flowers at her office on Mondays. Elizabeth and her boys give each other awards at dinner: “Best Mom”, “Best Cookie Eating” and have indoor picnics. Many others celebrate with Pizza Nights, Burrito Nights and Taco Nights (hell to the yes here, folks!). And my dear friend Linda keeps special ingredients on hand (homemade pâté!) which she will enjoy with a baguette and champagne followed by macarons on days that prove to be a challenge.

I sincerely want to thank all the people who took the time to share the special moments in their lives that celebrate everyday through food and drink. If these aren’t surefire ways to celebrate and enjoy life’s simple pleasures then I don’t know what is. Now I’m off to find some champagne!