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Just How Photogenic is Your Soup?

Foodie Photographer? Picture-taking Foodie?  What’s my rule about taking photos of food and posting casual restaurant reviews? I thought it was that if the food was both extra tasty and extra pretty it might be featured in a post. Yesterday I think I violated my guidelines—but just a little. It was that French onion soup from Artichoke Café that did me in. It was so photogenic—all glossy and rich-looking. However, as mentioned, neither Patricia nor I liked it. Not necessarily bad soup, just not to our taste. But still…it was so…pretty! So I took the picture. And posted it.

Today’s Times read my mind: “Your Eyes Are Happier Than Your Stomach” (in Critic’s Notebook by Pete Wells/Dining section) is all about that very thing. Not long ago at a restaurant that regularly tweets photos of dishes as lush as one of Monet’s lily ponds, I found myself poking cautiously at perfect circles of glossy black sauce, discs of potato purée that looked like white roses and cylinders of gnocchi so tiny they seemed to have been pushed out of a drinking straw. Tiny, delicate flowers and tender sprigs of leaves gently rested here and there as if a woodland nymph had casually tossed them from a basket before running off to play hide-and-seek with a den of baby field mice. The dish was definitely ready for its close-up. It was also, by and large, very cold — no surprise given how long it must have taken to squeeze and tweeze everything into position.

Not for the first time, I wondered: Am I supposed to eat this or take its picture? I did neither. Instead, I stored the memory away in my growing files on something I’ve come to think of as camera cuisine. A side effect of the digital age in food photography, camera cuisine is any dish that was inspired by a picture or aspires to be one. Like any genre of cooking, camera cuisine varies widely in quality, but in its purest form it is both exquisitely photogenic and peculiarly bland and lifeless

Photographing your food is great fun. It doesn’t move, therefore blurring some key component of your perfect photo; it doesn’t let its smile slip; it enjoys close-ups; and it gives you something to do during the meal if the conversation isn’t quite up to fine dining standards.

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Almost a Foodie

Swiss chard, chick pea and potato stew.

Swiss chard, chick pea and potato stew.

Wikipedia says; a foodie is a gourmet or a person who has an ardent or refined interest in food and alcoholic beverages. A foodie seeks new food experiences as a hobby rather than simply eating out for convenience or hunger. While gourmet and epicurean can be used as synonyms they have fallen out of favor and bring to mind a stodgy or snobbish attitude.

 It is very stressful to reach my age and realize how many things I still want to BE. A writer, photographer, student, political activist, humanitarian, hiker, avid gym-goer and foodie. None will be easy but the foodie gig may be the most difficult of all.

Obviously being a real foodie is out of my reach. Someone whose lifelong food preferences fall in the macaroni and cheese, cinnamon roll, Ritz crackers and Philadelphia cream cheese category will never reach gourmet/epicurean heights.

Still, there’s no reason not to at least try for foodie light. History indicates I may have strands of the right DNA. As a kid I endlessly baked cakes, only cakes, with no interest in any other category of foodstuff.  Cherry, chocolate, chocolate/maraschino cherry, caramel, Jell-O, strawberry, white layer cake with lemon filling and seven-minute icing, peanut butter, prune, mayonnaise, and more. As a young Air Force wife (especially when living in the Philippines with a maid), I cut recipes out of magazines and copied them from friends and relatives and tried everything—no matter how strange or complicated. Some successes, numerous messes (primarily the French dishes).

I can feel that cooking, baking, experimental, experiential desire coming on again. For oh so many reasons:

  • Now the world has Google and a million (low estimate) foodie blogs,  many of which are works of literary and visual art, and great fun to peruse;
  • As responsible citizens we need to limit our consumption of environmentally unfriendly meat, eat more organic vegetables, lower our intake of gluten, sugar and processed foods generally—to do that one must cook;
  • What could possibly be a more satisfying pastime than surrounding ourselves with a food pyramid of ingredients, pouring a glass of wine and cutting, peeling, smashing, slicing, stirring, whisking, browning, simmering and roasting, with perhaps the reward of a second glass of wine;
  • Finally, how pleasurable to share the results with good friends and family accompanied by good conversation.

Tonight my friend Bob and I shared a meal of his Swiss chard, chick pea and potato stew and my vegetable fried rice (brown rice, peanut oil, garlic, green onion, green pepper, petit peas, sesame oil and peanuts) with sherbet for dessert. The food was tasty, pretty and healthy, gave us pleasure and was friendly on all environmental fronts. We are definitely on the right path.

Vegetable Fried Rice.

Vegetable Fried Rice.

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