I don’t think I could have enjoyed making these Apple Cinnamon And Walnut Cakes more than this weekend. Rainy and grey weather, still getting over a bad cold and terrible news about someone I loved just made me head out to the kitchen and cook, bake, stir and chop. I also went for a long run and ran until my lungs were about to explode. I needed to feel life in me. A tangible happenstance of something as fundamental as taking a breath in and letting a breath out. I had to get into the kitchen, open a cookbook and start a methodological way of going about my day.
Gather ingredients. Follow directions. Measure and stir. Step one would sway me one way. Step two another. I did not want to think. I did not want to guess. I just wanted comfort. Comfort in making a cake similar to the one my grandmother would make when I was little. Comfort in bringing extra cakes to the neighbors on Sunday morning.
Life has funny ways indeed. And for a few hours, I surrendered. I was too tired from thinking, speculating, wondering, being sad, being mad and feeling like a piece of my life of the past thirteen years had been wrongfully taken from me. When someone screams, I get quiet. When someone gets mad, I smirk. When someone decides to check out, deliberately, I check in. I know no other way to deal with loss and grief. And I bake. Or cook.
If you read food blogs, such as this one, I am pretty much reassured that you do the same thing when blue. So I am hoping that you understand when my dealing with uncomfortable moments, makes me reach for the comfort of a soft cake, filled with aromas of apples and cinnamon, the tender crunch of walnuts and crumbs sticking to your fingers. Comforting scents and textures. Like a warm blanket on a cold and rainy day. These cakes will cure many a broken heart, will stop many a falling tear and will become the kindest balm for your soul.
Take my word for it. You can find comfort in taking familiar recipes, childhood recipes, family-hand-me-down recipes and make them yours. I just feel better for reconnecting to the only normalcy I know. Being in the kitchen and making food for the people I love. In memory or not.
This post was written with one single person in mind. Here is to you Tim… With all my love and thirteen years of an honest and seamless friendship between a man and a woman who were just trying to make sense of this life we are in. And for the many cakes I made you sample while I was pastry chef-ing at Mistral’s back in the days… Miss you Mischief. Your Misconduct.
When my husband drove into town this past weekend, I don’t think he expected to find his wife coughing, well hacking away would be more appropriate, and bent over from the pain felt in every rib and back muscle everytime a coughing fit would come about. It was not a lovely sight. But, I selfishly admit that I was so happy to finally unload onto him all duties and responsibilities for 48 hours.
See, we have been living apart and in different states since October that I moved to Birmingham. Since then, I have been holding the fort here by myself. I have fixed, nailed, caulked, hammered, glued, and pretty much everything else that he used to do when we were both in Charleston. It’s telling how much you stretch your strength, both mental and physical when alone. I had lived by myself before. But not by myself after 15 years with "Mr-Handy-Dandy-I-Can-Fix-Anything-Oh-Look-Honey!-I-Just-Built-Us-A-House" – kind of man. Because he did. Built us a house. The house that was now reduced to a U-Haul in my driveway.
This was the first time we really felt like things were moving forward in a "together" kind of way. Until then, I had brought things from Charleston to start making the rental house into more of a home but this was the big push. Our stuff. Fifteen years of living in South Carolina together and six plus years in our house on the creek. There had been a few little "well this is it! We are indeed relocating to Alabama" moments in the last few months but this was more poignant to me than getting my first water bill in my new city.
I am quite grateful that neither of us are materialists folks so the amount of stuff we bring with us easily fits in a small storage unit until we found a more permanent home here. I was happy to see that what we both considered "must pack" items were family things we could not replace; pictures, albums, family heirlooms, etc… And here I was, sick as could be the one weekend I needed to muster up all my energy to unload our belonging into a storage unit for a few months.
My dear husband ordered me back to the couch for a few hours. He wanted to take care of me and I completely let him do that. And it felt incredibly good just to lay quiet and rest under a couple of blankets. I could not stay still more than an hour though and quietly headed off to the kitchen to make soup. He was weary of the drive. I was craving something clean, flavorful and warm to make my limbs and throat feel better.
I started gathering ingredients for a makeshift Tom Yum soup. Galangal, kaffir lime leaves, Thai chilies, and went off on a tangent of the most delicious kinds. My original idea for a soup quickly evolved into a Thai inspired butternut squash and coconut soup with a little kick and lots of fragrant and healing ingredients.
The end result was a super satisfying bowl of soup that took no longer to make than a cozy nap on the couch…
This combined with a good day and a half of rest and I was almost back on my feet. Enough to help him out a little on Sunday and make us another scrumptious meal on Sunday. I chose a completely different flavor palette this time with a Pozole. A pork and hominy stew garnished with fresh avocado, radish and cilantro. Clean and filling. Perfect for a cold weekend night.
Making every moment count now when we see each other is a given. We don’t get to see each other every weekend and when we can make the drive either way, the visits are really short. So, things as simple as sitting down to a nice meal and watching a good flick afterwards are what we crave. Then I know the dinner parties, visits with friends, game nights, etc… will resume or be created anew just as they were in Charleston.
It’s kind of like dating again. But as much as I like having my boyfriend visit, I am ready to have my husband back so we can really get to live this new town together!
Very few of us can live on salad alone. Or soup. I know I can’t. Although, after the indulgences of the holidays, we all felt a little need to detox. With my parents staying with me in Birmingham until last week, it was easy to find a balance of good-for-you meals mixed in with little indulgences here and there. Indeed, they had not until now tried white bbq sauce and not as much soul food but I fixed that pronto. Culinary moves that called for lighter but just as tasty meals in between.
As cliche as it may sound, if you feel nurtured on the inside, you show it to the ones you loved on the outside.
Things have been busy and good. The blog qot a bit quiet and for good reason. After our holiday stint on the beach in Charleston, my parents came home to Birmingham with me. And I loved having them here. We cooked, went to the symphony, the movies. We ate out and in and tried to find balance between long days at work and short evenings at home. Or at least, it felt that way to me. Probably because the night still falls so early.
There was nothing more heart warming than to see my mom set the table while my dad would cut the bread. Habits I grew up with that never seemed as important as they are now. With every year that passes, I realize how lucky I am that I get along so well with them for one and that they are still willing to put their own routine on hold to come visit for an extended period of time.
The difference this year compared to previous visits is that everything was a whirlwind (again…). A mix of driving back and forth, packing boxes, unpacking boxes. All this with super trooper pup Tippy somewhere in the car, who at 16 years old is decidedly the best dog ever. The minute we both got back in the house last week after we said goodbye to my parents, we both plopped down on our respective beds. I did not see that pup surface until dinner time. I pretty much did the same thing well, except for a big grocery trip to stock up on everything I needed to fix a few dinners and lunches.
I was starting to feel my energy levels getting low and decided to nip that in the bud with plenty of greens, seafood and nutritious grains. Among the recipes I made are three I want to keep on rotation this year. A spinach salad from the cookbook Jerusalem, chock full of dates, almonds and spices, a pan seared cod with a tangy lemon relish from The Sprouted Kitchen coobook. My go to meal last week was a quinoa salad that existed only in my head for a long while. A mix of sweet and savory with red and yellow quinoa, lots of herbs and topped by a barely set soft boiled egg.
I hate to say but all meals this week will feature plenty of hot soups and liquids instead. I am hoping my mother did not pass on her bronchitis on to me as a farewell gift but sure looks that way. Already perusing my favorite coobooks for nutritious soups.
I have had the images for this post up and ready for words for about a week now. It’s not that I can’t find the words to go along. It’s just that I am ever near long enough the computer to sit down and write.
We had such a great time at the beach with my parents, my brother and his family that diving right back into work mode was a blessing and a curse at the same time. It’s been busy around here but having my parents stay with me here in Birmingham for a couple of weeks shifted the rhythm even further.
It’s good. It’s all good. It’s actually awesome to have them around and see the new house, the new job, the new town. They really get a handle on my new situation and all the questions they had are being answered. My photo schedule, the way we do things, the people I work with, the places I like to go to for dinner, a drink or to shop. Things are about as new to them as they are to me and we share discoveries and new finds everyday.
It’s really nice to come home after a long day and start cooking with my mom. Chopping, dicing, searing, etc… while sipping a glass of wine and watching the end of an old movie or listening to the radio. We have more quiet time for serious talks, or to simply catch up on news about the family at large.
It’s been raining lots lately and we have been enjoying a few comforting and hearty meals. The kind to make you feel instantly better and warm inside after being caught by a heavy rain.
Stews, fish soups, long cooked dishes, and roasted veggie soups have permeated the air around for days now, filling me with a bit of nostalgia. The flavors and spices of my grandmother's stews and roasts come into to our conversation almost at every meal. Her cooking while being so intricately French provincial was so influenced by her life in Northern Africa and encounters with other army wives.
It might be for this reason that I have absolutely loved every page turned in the new cookbook by Ottolenghi, Jerusalem, co-authored with Sami Tamimi. I hear my stomach growl at just about every recipe and my eyes pop out from every stunning picture. I find my family’s cooking in so many of the recipes in the book.
I don’t know if we are atypical or just reflect an era (military, moves, oversea travels, wars, etc…) but some of my most vivid food memories are as much of harissa,Berber couscous and papaya with lime juice as they are of cassoulet and Bouillabaisse.
In that regard, the book completely appeals to me. The way Ottolenghi and Tamimi look at culinary traditions and influences. Understanding that one dish may have the same root but different interpretations in neighboring cultures, civilizations or countries. They understood that cooking is honoring ones traditions as well as sharing common flavors, differences in interpretations. Food travels. It is not one to be of only one people and one culture. It is alive. It reflects peoples, generations and history. It is humanity.
I get that. Especially when sitting down at the dinner table around a plate of Pistachio Crusted Lamb and a side or Roasted Cauliflower & Hazelnut Salad. (recipes after the jump). I get the sharing, the cultural influences, and the roots. The history that brought this plate and the chatter about it, in front of me. I happily grab my fork and ask my mother for one more story about my grandmother. About her own childhood. About mine with her.
Only a few more days and they will be heading back to France. A few more days to revel in the memories and the times we are living in the present. I am grateful for the love and time they give me these few short weeks. It’s been quite nice, indeed…
I love reading other people’s reflections and thoughts on their year gone by. With less time to read blogs and updates as often as before, end of the year recaps allow me to catch up on their milestones, wishes and achievements.
In 2012, my inner wish for myself and others was: Live fully. Play hard. Leap and take chances. Tiny or big. Do what makes you truly happy. I did. It shaped the following 12 months and took me on a rollercoaster ride of the best kind.
Here is a little recap of the year passed. What a year! Lots of great photo jobs, lots of wonderful collaborations. If anything, the last year is for me a deep acknowledgment of my strength and growth as an individual, photographer and wife.
Winter 2012 started off kind of rough with the loss of my grandfather and uncle within a few weeks of each other. But having my parents visit shortly after helped not feel so far away from everyone while we were going through this time.
It was also really fun to have my parents around while I was busy at work and they could see me in my element.
I shot a really fun book, Marmalades that winter as well as worked with some really different clients such as One Kings Lane for which I shot Heirloom Book Company Tastemaker Tag Sale.
I was giddy to have Lana Restaurant and Heirloom Book Co both ask for over a dozen of my photographs to go up as exhibits of fine art food photography in their respective establishments.
Spring 2012 was definitely one of many preparations. I started gearing up to teach many food and lifestyle photo workshops during the Spring and Summer.
I also shot two new color lines for Le Creuset and one more campaign for One Kings Lane.
I started a very productive and fun collaboration for Food & Wine magazine and shot over 100 pictures for them throughout the year. One of my favorite freelancing gigs in 2012.
I photographed my dear friend’s wedding and wished her goodbye as she moved away to start her new life.
I co-taught an amazing workshop in my hometown of Charleston.
A group of complete strangers coming to learn and share and becoming fast friends in the process is something I absolutely love to witness and be part of.
At the end of Spring, it became clear to me that all the hard work and discipline of the last few months to establish my professional goals and stick to them as a photographer were now leaving me less time for blogging. I knew I was gearing us up for some big jobs ahead that would fulfill my love for photography and working with talented creatives.
I just had no idea of the twist our life would take in the early days of summer.
The workshop I taught at Squam in June unleashed the inner child in me big time. It also reinforced that I was on the right path with my choices, my friendships, my desires and wishes.
“Be Bold In The Dreams You Wish For Yourself”. Be that child who dreams and feels lie nothing is off limit. If you do not ask the best of yourself, you will never work for it. If you do not ask for the best from the world, you will never see it is out there.
I needed the nurturing of Squam. Too many airplanes. Too many jobs without rest in between. Too much up in the air that I did not know how to handle.
At Squam, I opened it all up to the Universe. And everything started falling into place.
I photographed a bunch of fun features for The Local Palate magazine.
I headed off to Washington, D.C to teach a photo workshop at the USPCA annual conference for the second time.
I taught an intense and enriching workshop in Northern Ireland. Women from all over the world came to learn and share of themselves. We had an incredible time in an incredible setting at Belle Isle Castle and I can’t wait to do it again! Bill and I took extra days to visit his ancestral grounds in Scotland and road trip along the coast of Ireland and Northern Ireland prior to the workshop. Absolutely gorgeous.
I traveled to Canada to shoot a cookbook for Le Cordon Bleu.
Our couple grew stronger than ever this year and summer as we were faced with pretty big decisions. Questions and opportunities we had to keep for ourselves first and work on as a team. the hard work of the years passed was finally started to shape up for us on an emotional level.
I traveled to Birmingham, AL and secretly test shot for the biggest opportunity of my career, Senior photographer at Oxmoor House. And then started to plan the second biggest moment of our year: a move. Leaving family and friends to start a new life.
We are, at the moment, living in two different states doing the long distance thing until Bill can join me once his semester teaching at CofC here is over. Then we can be together and dive together into this new setting. That will be our biggest adjustment of 2013. All the logistics of getting our two lives merged into one again.
In the Fall, I traveled again Canada to wrap up the cookbook shoot for Le Cordon Bleu.
I shot a massive project for Food &Wine magazine while editing book pictures and packing boxes.
I found a house for rent in Birmingham in between a plane back from Canada and one to New Hampshire.
I taught two more 3 day workshops in Charleston with fantastic women and forged inspiring and creative bonds with all of them.
I learned a ton about my own resilience and mental strength by moving and living by myself while Bill remained in Charleston. I grew. Lots. I am so looking forward to letting all the pieces of this new life fall in place.
It is Winter again. My family from France, parents, brother, sister-in-law and my two nieces came to the spend Christmas and New Year’s with us. We did not know when they booked their flights and we rented a house on the beach for all of us that I’d be in Alabama now but we all made it and had a fabulous time.
Whatever you wishes are for 2013 – go for them. Make them happen. The year is yours for the taking.
It’s been a long time coming and took a little bit of juggling and re-adjusting positions and schedules but my family is here. My parents, my brother, his wife and my two nieces arrived late Thursday night after a long day of traveling. It’s been nothing but laughter and catching up since then. And it feels good. Real good.. We get to spend a Christmas and New Year’s Eve together. The first time in many many years.
There was no Birmingham in our future when we started planning this family vacation last year. There was no new position in my photography career, no new house, no old house full of moving boxes. No being long distance relationship for me and Bill thrown in the mix. Needless to say, it has taking everyone a lot of giving in, giving up, selflessness to make it happen and have everyone feel good.
That’s my family. Tight. Together. Tighter after the last year mourning so many close loved ones in short periods of time. Tragedy struck us hard many times over the years. But we came out stronger. We came out better and with such an expanded amount of love and "do – live – go" attitude. I know they give me strength.
I had my "this is so worth it" moment this morning when Bill and I took the dogs for a jog on the beach. After the horrendous week that we all felt as a nation and community, sharing the sorrows of so may families, I could not wait to hug mine. My nieces, so beautiful, so young and innocent. Their parents, their fears as caretakers and educators. My parents, for the many many good things and tough lessons they have brought us over the years.
The next few days will be all about cooking together for Christmas, hanging out and just be together. We have decided to mix American and French traditions for Christmas dinner and I am looking forward to breaking into the foie gras and at the same time have my nieces have their first go at sweet potato casserole. One thing for sure, there will be Buche De Noel. And Spiced Poached Pears with Mascarpone Cream. And definitely my grandmother’s Riz au Lait, or rice pudding will be made over the next few days.
I hope you all have a wonderful holiday season, filled with good cheers, lots of love and great food. Keep up with traditions or make new ones but most importantly, take care of yourself.
It’s been a couple of fast paced weeks but I would not change a thing. Work is fairly busy as everyone is preparing to take some time off for the holidays. I am still getting acclimated to all the parameters of the job. Addressing everyone’s expectations can be quite tricky at times but at the end of the day, I think that everyone comes out feeling that they gave or got the best they had.
The daily collaborations are really inspiring and downright fun. There is always lots of laughter and discombobulated moments while being completely focused on the task at hand. I am around serious creative minds allowing me to be as well. I am still learning to let go and just go for it. Whatever "it" may be at the moment. Going for more contrast, an unexpected angle, a bold choice of color.
It’s been a little over two months since I started and I am slowly stopping to feel like I am on borrowed time. Seeing the change of season in a new place, new town is a nice way to feel anchored in new surroundings. After a few weeks of spending every evening and weekends with the windows wide open, it has finally started to be "Crisps and Cobbler Weather" around here. Time for some thick plush socks, a nice blanket or a cozy fire.
I have been enjoying quiet evening in the new house with the old dog but I admit, I am ready to head out to Charleston for the holidays and be with Bill. To top this good feeling off, my parents, brother, sister in law and two nieces are arriving in a week. It’s been too long since we last saw everyone! We rented a beach house for everyone, pups included and will be spending the holidays there together. To say that I can’t wait is an understatement.
I can’t wait to spend time chatting with my mom while we cook and bake together, see if my nieces are still enjoying baking as they did a couple of years ago. My brother is a fantastic cook also and it will be interesting to see what we come up with for Christmas dinner. Honestly, I just want to be with them. I’d be happy sitting in a corner watching them interact for a while.
One thing I definitely want to make when we are at the beach in a couple of weeks is this mixed berry cobbler. I dream of coming back from a long walk on the beach on a chilly afternoon and digging into a warm bowl of juicy and tangy cobbler. Maybe topped with a dollop of Chantilly. Maybe not. I plan to spend the holidays guided by the flow of the family’s rhythm. Too many people under one roof. I just want to be and enjoy them. With all their flaws and qualities and all of mine.
I am not sure the nieces ever had cobbler but I sure plan on fixing that!
Thank you everyone for the great response to the food and lifestyle photography workshop I am teaching with Clare in Gulf Shores, Alabama. I am happy to say that there are a few spots left but they are going fast! If you are interested, click here for all the details.
I am super excited to announce that I am teaming up once again with Clare to teach an awesome food and lifestyle photography workshop and retreat by the sea, in Gulf Shores, Alabama.
We have taught numerous workshops, both as individuals and as a team, and we understand how to guide students to develop their own style. Our goal is not to create cookie-cutter photographers, but to share with students our combined years of experience to support them in becoming the very best they can be.
Attendees will spend 4 nights in a gorgeous house located across the street from the beach in Gulf Shores Alabama, learning about exposure, utilizing natural light, composition, choosing props, styling, and how to tell a story through photographs. Lots of hands on time as well as plenty of relaxing moments by the ocean.