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.
Hello beautiful people!
I’ve got a lot of new projects in the works--which is why it’s been a little slow around here lately. But I didn’t want to leave you without some weekend inspiration. So here’s a little Love List to help you kick things off in style!
- I'm getting antsy to take off on my next travel adventure. In the meantime, I scratch my travel itch daily with the gorgeous images Suitcase Magazine posts to their Instagram feed.
- I met Jeska and Dean Hearne at a photography workshop in Scotland last year. Not only are these two a super-talented photography duo, they offer a beautifully curated selection of goods by independent designers and makers in their online shop, The Future Kept. I want pretty much every item they've selected for their shop. And I love their "Buy Less. Buy Better." motto.
- If you're going to be anywhere near Seattle, I suggest you check out my new favorite local restaurant: Le Messe. My friend Sharon turned me onto this new Eastlake gem. Part of me doesn't want to tell anyone about it because I don't want it to get so busy I can't get a reservation. But the other part of me thinks a restaurant with stellar service, inventive small plates and perfectly cooked handmade pasta (at a reasonable price) definitely deserves a shoutout.
- Nothing But the Wax is an online magazine devoted to "telling the untold stories of black millennials through culture, fashion & beauty". It's beautifully designed, provocative and very necessary. Yes, yes, yes to celebrating the beauty, style and intelligence of young black men and women! (P.S. You need their Instagram in your life.)
- And last but not least, it wouldn't be Friday without a cocktail! This Mango and Black Pepper Gin & Tonic is happening as soon as I hit "post". XO and Happy Weekend!
Hey travel lovers! There are still some spots left in my Alentejo, Portugal fall retreat. Click here for the details and to join me in all the deliciousness I have planned!
I'm back with another Small is Beautiful profile! This week I want to introduce you to the super-talented Jim Henkens. I first discovered Jim's gorgeous food photography via A Boat, a Whale & a Walrus, the cookbook he shot for Seattle chef, Renee Erickson. When I found out he owned an event space/shop featuring vintage cookware, wine and other objects from his world travels, I knew I had to learn more about this multi-faceted individual. I've been following his work and travels ever since.
If you're in Seattle, you need to stop into Jim's magical shop. If you're lucky, you'll catch him cooking up a pot of stock or sharpening his knives like I did the day I went in to shoot this post. As someone who always seems to be in motion--working on a current project or dreaming up a new one--Jim is a constant source of creative inspiration.
An interview with Jim Henkens, owner of Marine Area 7.
Mad lib time! People could describe your business as culinary retail shop meets event space.
What is your background?
Professional photographer since 1989
How/when did you get the idea for your current venture?
About 7 years ago while traveling in Europe I was inspired by all the small creative shops, and of course the food.
On a scale of one to shitting-your-pants, how nervous were you about starting your business?
I would say about a 2. There are way bigger things in life to be nervous about than a small business.
What's the greatest challenge with your business?
The greatest challenge is all the red tape that the City, State and Federal governments force small business owners to spend time on.
What do you love most about your business? What brings you the most joy?
What I love most is when a customer comes into the shop and completely gets it, and spends time looking and asking questions and shows a true interest in what I’ve created.
What's on your bedside table (be honest)?
A stack of books and magazines that I can’t seem to finish. I tend to start a new one before finishing the first. Currently I’m reading The Cooking Gene by Michael W. Twitty.
Secret hobby and/or obsession?
My hobby/obsession is cooking outdoors over fire. It’s no secret.
If you could get in a time machine, zoom back into time and give yourself one piece of advice before starting your business, what would it be?
My advice would be to have a clear vision of what you are creating and more importantly, why.
What other local business/project do you think is Small and Beautiful?
I have always admired small farmers. They work so hard and rely so much on things they can’t control, such as weather, flooding, insects, etc. Jason and Siri from Local Roots are an amazing example of this.
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