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.
A few weeks ago, I threw together this salad with my haul from the farmers market. I wasn’t aiming for anything in particular as I grabbed ingredients from the fridge, just a quick supper. But as it came together, I realized I had made a sort of a Pacific Northwest version of a Niçoise salad.
After I made the salad again a couple weeks later, my thoughts turned to the many little ways I’ve managed to weave pieces of my travels to France into my Seattle life.
Unlike the many books out there suggesting you can transform yourself into a Parisienne overnight with a little red lipstick and a few glasses of heart-healthy red wine, I don’t think the French mystique can be exported wholecloth to the other side of the globe. Let’s be honest, most Americans are not ready for 5 sinful weeks of paid vacation or multiple glasses of wine over lunch on a Tuesday.
Though it would be challenging, ridiculous even, to go full-on French here in the U.S. of A., I happen to think there’s a lot to be gained by folding cherished bits of another country’s way of life into our own. So I sat down and made a list of some of the Paris-inspired habits that have improved my life:
First up is walking. Seattle is not a particularly walkable city. It’s easy to get in your car for every little trip. In Paris, you walk. Once I started going everywhere on foot in Paris, I realized that those walks around the city gave rise to my best thinking. They created a space to disconnect and unfurl my thoughts in a way I can’t behind the wheel of a car or crammed against a stranger in the Metro. Now I walk everywhere I can. It’s helped me drop a dress size (while still eating croissants and cream puffs on my tours), shake stress more easily and come up with better ideas than I would otherwise. I've decided walking is one of the best (and easiest) things I can do for my body and my mind.
Next, is the very French art of making yourself feel beautiful. It is no secret that Parisians don’t run around grocery shopping or dropping their kids at school in their sweats. In Paris, when you leave the house, you dress like an adult, preferably an attractive one.
Before traveling to Paris often, I was a bit more--shall we say, lackadaisical--in my get-out-the-door routine. Especially since, as someone who works from home, I don’t actually need to get out the door most days. But all-day pajama parties are a thing of the past! I may not be pulling on my sexiest heels for a trip to the butcher (though don’t put it past me), I have discovered that I feel more confident, competent and beautiful when I take the time to wear clothes I love, brush on a coat of mascara and apply a hint of my favorite perfume.
On a related note, I’ve decided to prioritize skincare over makeup. For the most part, French people have gorgeous skin. I have developed an elaborate, Beautiful-Mind sort of theory as to why this is the case. But the short version is that they seem less stressed than Americans and they learn to care for their skin at an early age. (It's a thing. If you have a French friend, ask them at what age their mother introduced them to a formal skin-care regime!)
Having not been born into a culture that teaches its youth how to cultivate glowing skin, I've had to hack my own quasi-French skincare routine. It involves some fancy-sounding French cleansers and creams--and even a dramatic spritz of thermal water! But it works. My skin has never looked better, which means I spend almost no money on makeup and still get to feel like a total babe.
Parisians are also great at turning a few stellar ingredients into an amazingly satisfying meal. I’m talking a plate of creamy burrata, fruity olive oil, some aged ham and a handful of Sicilian almonds. Or maybe a pint of perfectly ripe cherry tomatoes tossed with olive oil, feta and dill spooned over a slice of toast or a pan-seared lamb chop. Or, a personal favorite: a whole steamed artichoke accompanied by a bright, lemony aioli. You get the idea--delicious, sophisticated flavors that come together in a flash. I’ve made it my mission to master this kind of weeknight dinner sorcery and I think you should, too. It’s creative, delicious and way more satisfying than grabbing take-out.
This one has been the biggest game-changer for me: Sitting down at the table for all meals. No phones. No TV. No scarfing a burrito over the kitchen sink or shoveling a sandwich into my face while I drive.
Eating a meal undistracted allows you to slow down and fully taste what’s going in your mouth. I’m not going to lie, sometimes it’s a pain in the ass; I want to grab something quick and run out the door. Or answer emails over lunch. But I am amazed at how much more delicious food has become since I started eating this way! The bonus side effect is that I need less food to feel satisfied. (Why has it taken me so long to figure this out?!?)
Last, and most certainly not least, is wine. Yup. Wine. Before Paris became a regular part of my life, I was more of a weekend drinker: maybe a cocktail with friends before dinner or glass of wine if we had a bottle on hand. Now we always have a bottle on hand! Not that we’ve turned into great lushes. But I’ve fallen in love with some of the natural wines I first tasted in France. And there's something magical about how a glass of wine with dinner serves as a marker of sorts, a signal that the work day is done and that things can become a touch looser, more fun. With friends, the best conversation always seems to start after a bottle of wine has been opened and everyone’s feeling buzzy and bright and a little more open than usual. (And then of course there's that whole heart-healthy thing.) So when it comes to pouring myself a glass or two, I'm most definitely a convert.
There you have it, friends: Some of the things Paris has taught me about how to live a beautiful life. I hope this list encourages you to work the most inspiring elements from your own travels into your everyday life. Drop me a line in the comments below if you do--I’d love to hear what habits you're making your own!
Northwest Niçoise Salad
- 4 large eggs
- 2 tablespoons minced shallot
- 2 teaspoons dijon mustard
- 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
- Sea salt and freshly-ground black pepper
- ½ cup olive oil
- 1 lb. young wax beans (or green beans), stems removed
- 1 cup shelled English peas (from 1 pound unshelled peas) or thawed frozen peas
- 6 breakfast radishes, shaved lengthwise
- 1 cup cherry or other small tomatoes, halved
- 1 tablespoon mint, cut into chiffonade (thin strips)
- 3 tablespoons whole cilantro leaves
- 8 oz hot smoked wild salmon, broken into bite-size pieces
*Notes: If peas aren't your thing, try subbing in shelled fava beans or cooked chickpeas.
- The vegetables (except tomatoes), eggs and vinaigrette can all be prepped up to 2 days before serving. Store covered in the fridge and bring to room temperature before assembling the salad.
Heat enough water to cover the egg in a small saucepan over high heat. When the water comes to the boil, add the eggs and cook for 10 minutes. Pour off the hot water and run cold water over the eggs until they are cool to the touch. Peel, halve and set aside.
On a separate burner, fill a large saucepan ⅔ full with water. Salt generously (it should taste like the ocean) and bring to the boil over high heat. (You’ll use this to blanch your vegetables in a moment.)
While the eggs are cooking, make the vinaigrette. In a medium bowl, combine the shallot, mustard, vinegar, a generous pinch of salt and several grinds of black pepper. Gradually whisk in the olive oil. Adjust seasonings and set aside.
When the salted water has come to a rolling boil, add the fresh peas and cook for about 1 minute (no need to blanch if you're using thawed frozen peas). Remove with a slotted spoon or spider to a small bowl and cover with ice water. Add the beans to the pot and cook to your desired doneness (I like mine to remain a little snappy). When done, transfer the beans to a medium bowl and cove with ice water. When completely cool, pour off the water and dry the peas and beans well.
To assemble the salad, place the beans, peas, radishes, tomatoes, herbs and salmon in a large bowl along with the herbs. Salt lightly and toss with some of the vinaigrette. Add more vinaigrette to taste. Transfer to a serving platter or individual plates and arrange the eggs over the salad. Salt the eggs and pour a bit of the vinaigrette over them just before serving.
Makes 4 servings.
I’m currently in the middle of wading through a mountain of dishes, clothing and furniture destined for the garage sale I’m holding tomorrow. I’m not the tiniest bit ready, so it should be interesting to see how it all comes together! Somehow these things always seem to work themselves out so I’m sure it will be fine. (And if my sale isn’t the most neatly organized and well-planned on the block, the world will probably keep turning.)
In addition to pulling together a last-minute garage sale, I’m also preparing to launch a new Paris culinary tour for September. Registration will be open next week, so check back then for details! You can also sign up for the First To Know List to receive early access to all tours, workshops and retreats.
Despite having accidentally scheduled way too many projects for myself this week, I didn’t want to leave you without a recipe! So thought I’d share the Spicy Shrimp Deviled Eggs I made for our Fourth of July BBQ. These are spicy and creamy and just a touch sweet from the shrimp. They're perfect for all your summer picnics and outdoor gatherings!
Happy Weekend and XO,
Spicy Shrimp Deviled Eggs
- 6 large eggs
- Kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon black peppercorns
- 2 bay leaves
- ¼ lb. medium to large sustainable shrimp (I used size 16-20 wild gulf prawns), preferably with shells on
- 6 tablespoons best quality or homemade mayonnaise
- Pinch cayenne pepper
- 1 ½ teaspoons fresh lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon very thinly sliced green onion (dark green part only)
- 2-3 tablespoons thinly sliced or roughly chopped spicy pickled peppers
- Small sprigs savory or tarragon or additional sliced green onions, to garnish
*Notes: This recipe can easily be doubled and the filled deviled eggs will keep, covered and refrigerated, for one day if you want to make them in advance. Garnish just before serving.
- I used Mamma Lil's pickled peppers, but any spicy sweet pickled pepper will work.
- Any additional filling that doesn’t fit in your hard-boiled eggs makes a decadent egg salad that’s fantastic on a slice of toast.
Fill a medium saucepan ⅔ full of water. Bring to the boil over high heat. Gently add the eggs and cook for 13 minutes. Drain the hot water and run cold water over the eggs, or place them in an ice bath, until they feel cool to the touch. Peel the eggs and set them aside. (Can be done up to 2 days in advance.)
Fill the same saucepan about halfway full of water and place over high heat. Salt the water until it tastes like the ocean then add the peppercorns and bay leaves. When the water comes to the boil, add the shrimp. Adjust heat to cook the shrimp at a bare simmer until cooked through (just past the point of translucence). Cooking the shrimp at a gentle heat will help keep them from turning tough and rubbery. Check the shrimp often as they cook, cutting into one with a paring knife if necessary to check for doneness. The time will vary depending on the size of the shrimp. Mine took 4 minutes.
Drain the poaching water from the shrimp and run them under cold water or place in an ice bath to stop the cooking. When the shrimp are completely cool, peel them then dry thoroughly. Roughly chop and set aside.
Cut the hard boiled eggs in half and scoop the yolks into a small bowl. Add the mayonnaise, cayenne, lemon juice and a pinch of salt. Mash with a fork or, for a smoother filling, puree the yolk mixture with an immersion blender or in a food processor. Add the green onion, pickled peppers and chopped shrimp. Stir to combine. Taste and adjust seasonings to your liking.
Spoon the shrimp filling into the halved hard boiled eggs. Chill for at least 30 minutes before topping with herb sprigs or green onions and serving.
Makes about 6 servings.