As you guys know, I aim to keep it real around here. I try to share my failures and frustrations alongside my joys, successes and good hair days. Shooting this recipe for the blog last week was a MASSIVE frustration.
We’re talking: I’ve-been-working-on-this-for-hours-and-it-still-looks-like-hot-garbage level frustration.
This-was-one-of-my-worst-ideas-ever level frustration.
Why-did-I-ever-think-I-could-be-a-photographer-anyway? level frustration.
This exercise in humility started with me wanting to share this dish I made for my Paris workshop. It is a crazy-good salad. A super-easy, healthy, not-to-be-missed sort of salad. I realized I would be letting you down not to share its deliciousness with you.
And I knew I wanted to try something different when it came to shooting it. Lately I’ve been trying to develop a distinct photography aesthetic: tons of color, hard light, long shadows and minimal styling. The sort of image that looks like it was shot poolside in the French Riviera in 1966. (Oddly specific, I know, but thus are the workings of my brain.)
Because I live in Seattle (which, for all those unfamiliar with this fine city, has no relation whatsoever to the French Riviera), shooting in this style means getting better at using artificial light. I researched for about a gazillion years and then bought myself a fancy speedlight. I read and practiced and watched online tutorials late into the night until my retinas were practically scorched. I was confident I had the basics down.
Then when I set my equipment up and started shooting, everything that came out of my camera looked awful. Overexposed. Underexposed. Weird white balance. Strangely greasy looking. It was a complete mess.
After multiple hours of trying to coax the shot I’d imagined out of my camera, I was on the verge of tears. (Ok, a few actual tears were shed.) I was contemplating packing up my gear when Beau reminded me of one of my favorite sort-of-joking-but-not-really mantras: “Sometimes the only way out is through.”
To be clear, this is the motto of the doggedly hard-headed (oh, hello!) and not always the sanest of advice. On this particular afternoon, it was just what I needed to hear. I decided I was going to keep going until I created something--anything--I liked. I stopped worrying about pinning down the “perfect image”. Which allowed me to approach the shoot as an experiment. I just tried one thing after another to see what the result would be.
Once I let go of what I thought “should” work, things started to come together. In less than an hour, I had a composition and lighting I liked.
I’m not going to lie, there’s a piece of me that doesn’t want to share this story. That part of me wants to post these images, slap up the recipe, wave my hands and pretend it was all easy-peasy and took no time at all. But I know how much I appreciate seeing the creative process of other photographers and artists. And how much a glimpse of the foibles, quirks and insecurities of others reminds me that we’re all imperfectly human and fumbling forward through life the best we can.
Herby Lentil Salad with Smoked Mackerel and Soft Boiled Eggs
- 1 ½ cups (315g) dried black or green lentils (I used black beluga lentils)
- Sea salt
- 1 bay leaf
- 3 large cloves garlic, smashed
- ¼ cup (60ml) red wine vinegar, divided
- 6 large eggs
- 1 medium shallot, minced (to yield about ¼ cup)
- Freshly-ground black pepper
- 1 tablespoon (15ml) good quality Dijon mustard
- ¼ cup (60ml) extra-virgin olive oil
- ½ cup (15g) parsley leaves
- ⅓ cup (10g) tarragon leaves
- ⅓ cup (10g) picked dill fronds
- 6 oz. (170g) smoked mackerel (smoked trout works well, too), torn or flaked into 1-inch (2 ½ cm) pieces
*Notes: I use a variation of this steaming method for my eggs. It has several advantages over boiling: 1) It’s faster. 2) The temperature inside the pot doesn’t go down significantly when you’re cooking a bunch of eggs, so the results are consistent. 3) Eggs peel much more easily when steamed (even super fresh ones!).
- I used Trader Joe’s smoked peppered mackerel in this recipe and it was delicious. I don’t even really like mackerel that much. But this stuff is great. In Paris, I buy the house brand of peppered smoked Mackerel an Monoprix.
- The lentils and soft boiled eggs can be cooked 1-2 days in advance of assembling the salad. Toss the lentils with 1 tablespoon of vinegar while still warm then cover and refrigerate. The eggs can be peeled and stored whole in an airtight container in the fridge.
Place the lentils in a large saucepan and cover with 2-3 inches of water. Salt the water until it tastes just a tiny bit briny. You want to taste that salt is present, but you don't want the water to taste super salty. Add the bay leaf and smashed garlic cloves. Bring to the boil over high heat. Reduce the heat and cook at a bare simmer until the lentils are just tender. This should take between 15-20 minutes, depending on the size and freshness of your lentils. Check them often in the last few minutes of cooking and make sure not to cook them until they are mush or falling apart.Drain the lentils in a sieve and run a little cold water over them to cool them slightly. Place the drained lentils in a large bowl and toss with 1 tablespoon of the red wine vinegar. Set aside.
While the lentils are cooking, prepare the eggs. Place ½ inch of water in a medium saucepan and place it over high heat. When it comes to the boil, add the eggs. Cover and cook for 6-7 minutes, adjusting the heat to maintain a gentle boil. Six minutes yields eggs that are barely set in the center and runny in the middle. Seven minutes yields eggs that have more of a gel set. (I think 6 ½ minutes yields a perfect egg.) Immediately drain the hot water from the eggs and place the pot with the eggs under cold running water for about 3 minutes, then leave the eggs in the cold water to finish cooling. I prefer this to an ice bath because I don’t like my soft-boiled eggs ice cold. You can use an ice bath if you like. Crack the eggs all over on a countertop then peel the eggs under cold running water and set aside.
To make the vinaigrette, place the minced shallot, a generous pinch of salt, about ½ teaspoon of black pepper, the mustard and the remaining 3 tablespoons vinegar in a medium bowl and whisk to combine. Slowly whisk in the olive oil. Taste and adjust seasoning.
To assemble the salad, roughly tear about ¾ of the herbs and add to the bowl with the lentils. Toss the with the vinaigrette. Transfer the dressed lentils to a serving platter. Arrange the trout over the lentils. Halve the eggs lengthwise, arrange them over the salad then lightly salt the yolks. Sprinkle the rest of the herbs over the salad just before serving.
Makes 4 main-course servings.
I'm super excited to introduce you to Jeffrey Knott, the owner of Blue Sparrow Coffee in Denver, CO. Jeffrey contacted me last year to shoot some images for his website. When I set foot inside BSC, I fell in love with the space. This cozy coffee shop has a beautiful decor, anchored by a deep cyan blue banquette and studded with brass accents throughout. They also serve first-rate coffee (we're talking homemade nitro cold brew on tap!) and have some of the friendliest baristas around. (Having lived in Seattle for over a decade, where baristas sometimes take themselves a little too seriously, I always give massive bonus points for friendly baristas.)
When Jeffrey told me about his unconventional path to owning his own coffee shop, I knew I wanted to share his story with you. If you've been dreaming of opening your own small business, read on for Jeffrey's excellent advice. And if you live in Denver or are planning a trip there, don't miss this gem of a coffee shop.
An interview with Jeffrey Knott, owner of Blue Sparrow Coffee.
Mad lib time! You could describe my business as my experience traveling the world meets how I like my coffee.
What is your background?
After a stint in the military, a degree in finance, and a cubicle in NYC I decided it was time for a change. I “gave it all up” and became a barista. As much as I love coffee, and loved being a barista, I needed more. After managing my first coffee shop, I had an opportunity to help open, and manage a new café in town. That experience was unbelievably challenging--I did a pretty good job faking it until I made it. I've helped open the doors to the seventh café in half as many years. I own, open, and operate coffee shops. And it’s my dream job.
How/when did you get the idea for your current venture?
Coffee is universal. It’s something that is shared all across our little blue dot. When I travel I've always sought out cafe’s, experiencing coffee in new ways, a reflection into local culture. BSC is a direct reflection on what I've experienced—what I want to experience. We feature coffee roasters from around the world, sharing these cultural reflections with our community while keeping it simple, friendly, and tasty.
On a scale of one to shitting-your-pants, how nervous were you about starting your business?
.5? I’ve had the opportunity to open several coffee shops for others before my own—some much larger than BSC. In comparison this was a walk in the park.
What's the greatest challenge with your business?
Letting go. Stepping back, and letting the team takeover. I want to create a very specific experience for our guests, and it’s most challenging making sure each and every team member knows what that experience is, then shares it with hundreds of customers day in and day out.
What do you love most about your business? What brings you the most joy?
Owning a coffee shop is so often over romanticized. Everyone want’s to own and coffee shop because they envision sitting around drinking coffee all day. It’s a lot of work—not all of it’s fun. I love the challenge of building a team that can deliver amazing products and amazing experiences to our guests. I love working my ass off behind the scenes, so it seems effortless from the outside looking in.
What's on your bedside table (be honest)?
Apple Watch charger
Kiss my Face chapstick
Soy candle No. 05 : Spruce by P.F. Candle co. (A little out of season, I’m thinking nightshade next)
Secret hobby and/or obsession?
Golf. I started playing to spend time with my granddad. He’s in his 80’s and still plays every single day #goals. I had no idea how much I would enjoy it. Part of me wishes I put as much time, effort, and money 🙄 into something more useful for humanity, but it’s my escape. I don’t know what I would do without it.
If you could get in a time machine, zoom back into the past and give yourself one piece of advice before starting your business, what would it be?
Start social media sooner. This time around I decided to keep quite on the new café until we were open. It took much longer for people to find out about us than expected. Create your social media accounts early, reach out to the press, be active, build the hype and hope you can measure up to it!
Hello beautiful people,
I’m back in Seattle after seven weeks of teaching and traveling in Europe. I had an amazing time leading workshops with Yossy and Eva and seeing friends in Portugal and Paris. But holy shiz does it feel good to be home after being on the road for so long.
Seeing my home with fresh eyes has been a real gift. Working for myself means a lot of hours logged from home; sometimes all I notice is the laundry that needs folding, the dishes that need washing and the weeds that need pulling.
When I walked in the door after this last trip I was overcome with love for our little house. After weeks of sleeping in hotel beds and navigating other people’s rented homes, being in my own house was pure joy. I could see all the time and effort Beau and I have put into making this space a haven and a home.
Since I got back, I’ve been trying to keep things simple. Waking up without an alarm clock. Afternoon walks in the park. Reading instead of binging on TV. And simple meals like this Fennel Confit with Orange and Bay.
I made this for the guests of the Paris workshop I hosted with Yossy. It takes almost zero work--just a slow braise in a low oven, during which you can do any number of things (I propose a glass of rosé and a book in the backyard). When it comes out of the oven, the fennel is meltingly tender and infused with the flavors of the the south of France. You can use it as a base for fish or chicken, stir it into a white bean salad, or--my favorite--spoon it straight out of the pan onto slices of baguette then drizzle some of the garlicky olive oil over the top.
I’ll be back soon with images from my travels. In the meantime, I hope this recipe serves as a little reminder to savor all the simple pleasures in your life.
P.S. For anyone who wants to come cook, shoot and explore in Paris with me this fall, there are still a few spots left in my food & photography workshop with Yossy Arefi!
Fennel Confit with Orange and Bay
- 3 large fennel bulbs, trimmed and halved
- Extra-virgin live oil
- 4-5 strips orange zest
- 3 large cloves garlic, thinly sliced
- 2 bay leaves
- Juice of one orange
- Kosher or sea salt
*Note: This is delicious served hot or room temperature. It can be made a day in advance and reheated in a low oven or brought to room temperature by removing it from the fridge a few hours before serving.
Preheat your oven to 350°F (150°C). Place the fennel cut-side-down in an ovenproof baking dish. Drizzle with enough olive oil to coat the bottom of the baking dish by about 1/4 inch (6mm). Add the orange zest, garlic and bay, making sure to submerge them at least partially in the oil. Squeeze the orange juice over the fennel and salt generously.
Cook, basting occasionally with the oil and orange juice, until the fennel is very tender when pierced with a paring knife, about 1 hour. (The time will vary based on how large your fennel bulbs are. For small bulbs, start checking at 30 minutes.) Set aside to cool slightly before slicing as desired and serving with the infused oil and garlic from the pan.
Makes 6-8 appetizer or first-course servings.
Upcoming workshops and retreats
Paris Food & Photography Workshop // Sept 2018
ONLY A FEW SPOTS LEFT
Portugal Culinary & Creativity Retreat // Oct 2018
Paris food & Photography Workshop // May 2018