Meals as Measuring Sticks

Standard

img_8492As I was flipping through some writing prompts, one caught my eye: write about the best meals of your life.

I’ve worked in restaurant since I was 15, so food has always been a large part of my life. There are meals that I can claim were the best or that I would maybe ask for as my last but really, some meals were mile markers, touchstones in my career that signified transitions. These are the most memorable meals to me; the ones that showed me what food can do. Some less spectacular than others but the most significant meals that have paved the way for my palate and my path.

  1. Spaghetti with butter and cheese, Massachussetts: I know, simple right? But it was a staple. It is the only meal I remember from my childhood. My Dad made it. We saw him every Wednesday night and Saturday. For lunch, we would have salami sandwiches, for supper spaghetti. My brother and I would set the table and my Dad would bring in our plates piled with tangles of the stuff, the slab of butter tossed on each portion wouldn’t be quite melted yet. I remember it would often still be light out. I remember the steam rising off it and how warm and comforting it was for something so plain. How it became a sort of symbol in my memory of the three of us together. Family.

2. Chicken Tagine, Morocco: This was my first major traveling experience and really my first introduction to how other cultures share meals. I was nineteen and totally lost emotionally and in my life. Morocco was completely out of my comfort zone, exotic in every sense of the word. It was humbling how unfamiliar everything was to me, how little I could navigate the language and the streets but enough that allowed me to open my eyes and learn. I admired how all the food was largely made from scratch- the piles of spices, dried fruit, barrels of produce at the stalls in the cramped pathways of the Bazaar, how the women sat picking rocks from rice or delicately pinching dough for briouets, how every meal was shared around a table from one large family bowl.  So, for this meal, we sat around the cooked bird pulling meat off bones when I noticed one of the boys, Moued, had created a small pile of white meat near me. Once I noticed this, I looked up at him and before I could actually question him he said “you like the white meat, right? Eat.” This meal is one of my favorites because it was the meal that showed me that food is culture, it is community. It’s sharing.

3. Jaleo, Washington DC: DC was really my introduction into the serious food industry. I had worked all angles of a restaurant up until this point but really just for the money never because I was interested in chefs or food or where it came from. When I got to DC, I realized amateur hour was over. These servers knew about wine, pairings, where their products were coming from and the people who were making them. They knew the stories and delighted in telling them. I was bartending in a restaurant way out of my league hustling to study menus that were basically a foreign language to me and working with distributors of boutique liquors I had barely heard of. My roommates were also in the industry but with a different chef. One day, my roommate Z took me to her restaurant Jaleo. We wanted lunch on her 50% deal. There were savory pork belly tacos, bright citrusy ceviche, sweet candied grasshoppers, the most indulgent mexican chocolate flourless cake. The chef on duty came out to say hello and told me all about the trip he took to get the chocolate, the woman who took him for his ingredients who is “basically the Julia Child of Mexico”, the tequila fields, the adventure that eventually led to this food on this plate. This meal, among many meals I had in DC made me realize the thoughtfulness and work that goes into food. Menus and plates are conceptualized, designed, created and then polished. This experience made me realize food is also an adventure, an adventure I wanted to be a part of.

4. Bass Fishing. Woodshole, MA. I got to Woodshole on a bus from South Station. This was when I was working as a journalist and I was being sent to investigate the MA fishing industry, how new quotas were affecting small time fishermen and their communities. Captain John Galvin met me at the port and that night we slept on a boat he was looking after. Fishing began at 4am the next day. John and Nat are hook and line fishermen. They were born into it, grew up doing it. They’re veterans, sea cowboys; they know the spots and want to get there first. So, there is me, with my obnoxiously large camera being pelted with rain holding on for dear life as we skimmed the tips of the current through the sun rising and a storm. When we stopped they set up four lines and the fish didnt stop biting. One after the other they would reel in, four at a time, bang bang bang, it was incredible. We couldn’t have been out there more than half an hour before we filled the cooler and headed back to shore. The grill was already going, Nat’s sister was inside baking. Nat gut the fish and tossed them on the grill. A circus of friends arrived filtering in and out of the kitchen dropping off dishes and tupperware filled with homegrown stewed vegetables, bowls of dark frilly greens, sauces and chutneys. As dinner was served and we all sat around the table, I was introduced, welcomed and questioned by gardeners who made our salad from their latest harvest, hunt and game officials who brought their newest chutneys, other fishermen carting in boxes of beer and their latest catch, all different kinds of people around one table with the same story: this is their livelihood and it needs to be protected. This is the meal where I realized the arms of the food industry stretch far and wide, from family and friends, to my community, your community, cities and beyond. The effects of this and these people are so, so, so important. It’s their work, our food, and our environment.

 

5. Buxton Hall BBQ. Asheville, NC:

Kelly and I worked in a dive bar in Savannah, GA shucking oysters for a living and pouring pitchers of cheap draft beer. We both eventually moved out of this city to another but remained in the industry. While I was in DC, she had been making a name for herself in Asheville on the craft cocktail scene. I had read about and attended pop-up dinners and was hoping to bring that to the Upper Valley. They seemed like fun, creative, vibrant ways to show off what you can really do when your team isn’t chained to a certain style and the opportunities to design a menu with local products is much more manageable when being prepared only for one night. Plus, I do always love a theme party. Kelly and the Jim Beam team invited me down to her restaurant Buxton Hall in Asheville to guest bartend their latest event. I had never done anything like it before but the thought of collaborating with other industry folk to put good food and good cocktails in front of people thrilled me.

Our welcome meal at Buxton was a feast true to the hardcore southern BBQ style of the south I had in seen in pictures of prior pop ups: a table sized chopping block piled with all the meats. There was fried chicken, fried catfish, two different kinds of wings, pork rinds, potato salad, pickles, slaw. Asheville takes its BBQ seriously. It’s also got this sort of shoot-from-the-hip food culture where bartenders and chefs alike show up and show down. They aren’t there to just cook or just make drinks, they want to show off what they can do. They want to play.

This was the meal that quite literally gave me my first taste of what type of food scene I wanted to be a part of and what type of bartender I wanted to be.  One full of enthusiasm and creativity, always wanting to know the next upcoming thing, hand cutting ice with samurai precision, grabbing something at the farmers market and then put it on a menu. Using food sourcing programs to helping change and reform my community. I want to work with the tinkerers, the tasters, the shakers, the change-makers

I may have come late to the scene but I arrived so that now maybe my menus can inspire someone or atleast surprise them.

On a Perfect Sunny Day

Standard
On a Perfect Sunny Day

Summer is Here! I have plants and the sun is shining. Life is good and full of yummy salads.

My mom has been raving about this produce she got from the farmers market. When I stopped over she excitedly showed me baskets of juicy red strawberries, tangles of herbs and lettuces, radishes. “Taste this” handing me a sprig of endive drenched in lemon and oil before sending me outside to get some parsley for potato salad.

So I shot it all. You know, like a photographer…

DSC_1117

DSC_1120DSC_1122DSC_1113DSC_1127DSC_1129DSC_1130

Outtakes from a Cheese Shoot

Standard

Just finished up the images for the product catalog for Cellars at Jasper Hill. Which coincided with the Vermont cheese article I shot for the Spring 2015 IMAGE Magazine featuring them along with two other cheese makers; Twig Farm and Lazy Lady.

9 hours of straight cheesin’. Huge thanks to Molly Browne (@theunsinkablemkb) for the recommendation, food styling, and social media shoutouts; Zoe Brickley for creative direction and discerning eye; and the entire Jasper team for being such good sports.

Here are a few of the “out-takes”. You can see the full article on page 51 of the online issue.

DSC_1453

A bulliten board of blue ribbons, awards include Bayley Hazen Blue which won best unpasteurized cheese at the 2014 World Cheese Awards in London and Winnimere won Best in Show at the American Cheese Society Conference of 2013 in Wisconsin.

DSC_1428 DSC_1474 DSC_1493 DSC_1506 DSC_1545 DSC_1550 DSC_1555 DSC_1561 DSC_1621 DSC_1655

jasperhill_uniformjaspersetupDSC_1716

Candy for Photographers: Jazz Night at Carpenter & Main

Standard

DSC_1465_b&w

Whenever I am grinding away at my assignments at break-neck speed, I start to crave a little more fun and surprise in what are otherwise pretty straightforward shoots… I rack my brain of all the random trivia that could possibly spark some intrigue until I feel I have lost that wide-eyed curiosity that made me pursue this stuff as a career.

Amid my self-flagellation, a lead will glimmer in a passing comment, an invitation, a Google search. Then there I am in the low-lit heart of the crowd clicking away as the three-piece jazz band plays straight Gershwin asking myself; why hadn’t I thought to take my photographer-self out on a night like this before?

Jazz is one of those vibrant, synesthetic arts that is such a treat to shoot. Bold, expressive musicians and dynamic arrangements of shapes all illuminated with dramatic slashes of light; it’s like candy for photographers. An absolute delight to shoot (and to listen)! Huge thank you to the talented saxophonist Stephon Alexander, cellist Peter Consiglio, pianist Billy Regan for stage-side access and such a wonderful show. Special thanks also to mixologist Max Overstrom-Coleman and Carpenter’s Chef/ Owner Bruce MacLeod for all the support and enthusiasm (and for keeping me well lubricated…)

Check out some of my favorite shots of the night below. For information on upcoming jazz nights at Carpenter & Main follow their Facebook page here.

How do you refresh your creative self?

DSC_1449_b&w

DSC_1437_b&w

DSC_1475_b&w

DSC_1432_b&w

DSC_1459_b&w

DSC_1345_b&w

DSC_1439_b&w

Quote
DSC_0461

Bannerman Castle Ruins. Hudson, NY.

 

It is always such a silly realization how even a few hours in a new place can be so refreshing. Travel is transformative for many of us but the word itself evokes ideas of far off places and long stretches of adjustment. How easy it is to forget about the wonderment of the weekend trip? The brief opportunity to step out of our routine into a new place.

Maybe that is why the idea of travel, even the briefest kind, is so alluring; because with each new discovery comes the ability to glimpse all our lives unlived.

For North Easterners, Hudson Valley is that magical escape so close to home; small provincial towns set against the storybook back drop of rolling farmland, thick forests, and ripening orchards.

hudson_12

Streets of Saugerties.

 

Saugerties is where our weekend trip began with diners illuminated with neon signs and gleaming silver; strolling down a Main Street laced with boutiques, vintage book sellers, organic chocolate shops and antique stores. An art gallery had just been let out and a boisterous assembly of people spilled out into the street still sipping the last of their wine as they said goodbye and clapped each other on the back.

This town at night was twinkling with lights and playful window displays. One housed a miniture carnival and watching the tiny ferris wheel slowly turning round and round was peculiar and wonderous, as if something grand was about to occur.

And indeed, it just may. Saugerties is anticipating the dawn of it’s art scene with artists, gallery owners, and art dealers migrating here from the glamourous New York art circles.

hudson_4

In the morning we headed east, to Hudson an elegant little town with quiet streets and European flair.  Massive buildings and gorgeous views of the river, we hiked to a viewing spot overlooking the Bannerman Castle ruins. (Shown above, 1st image.)

We made our way to FishKill through woods of evergreen pine and birch trees mapped out by trails, bike paths, farms and farmers markets. A quaint colorful town full of renovated 18th century farmhouses reminiscent of the Dutch that settled there.

hudson_1

Tioronda, former showplace of civil war hero General Joseph Howland.

 

With castles, galleries and gardens, this New York community made for a charming and quite magical weekend. Check out some of my favorite photos from the trip below!

 

2014-11-09 09.53.16-1

Red tries his first croissant from La Perche, a traditional French bakery with a bar in the back.

 

hudson_5

fairytale church.

 

hudson_2

Hiking in style. Gracias ErgoBaby!

 

hudson_6

Walking up to visit a friend’s restaurant, Mercado, we see broccoli rabe out to dry. Minutes later it showed up on our plates.

 

hudson_7

Sharing.

 

hudson_8

panini and kale ceaser like a boss.

 

hudson_9

Mercato, Red Hook, NY.

 

 

hudson_10

organic, gluten-free, vegan, whatever truffles from Lucky Chocolates in Saugerties, NY. They accomodate every allergy and neurosis, so there is no excuses.

 

 

hudson_13

This little piggie is in Saugerties, NY.

 

 

hudson_11

OUR Book Shop

 

hudson_15

Night Circus. Lucky Chocolates. Saugerties, NY.

 

 

hudson_14

Salted Caramels didn’t make it to the freeway.

 

A Weekend of Wonder: Hudson Valley

Can’t Be Tamed: A Day of Healing with Horses in Springfield, Vermont

Standard


IMG_1406

As Maggie sauntered away, I felt rejection, insult, abandon.

You aren’t listening to what you know in your heart is right. She had had enough of my denial.

Maggie, BTW, is a sassy young paint horse. We were paired up for an Equine Coaching session lead by EGCM healer Cindy Aldrich at her barn in Springfield, Vermont. This was my second session but the first with Maggie.

IMG_1388

Horses, wild or domesticated, in many cultures are celebrated as a symbol of freedom, power, virility, life-force. Native Americans believed that this wild freedom could be employed to benefit the tribe but only once a mutual respect is acknowledged and it is understood that man and beast are responsible to one another. (http://www.whats-your-sign.com/horse-symbol-meanings.html) Solidarity! *fist bump*

EGCM uses this connection between horses and their partner to facilitate an existential and experiential psychotherapy for self-exploration, awareness, relationship building, and healing

My first session with Bella I stood in the barn briskly answering Cindy’s questions with vague, text book answers. Bella promptly trotted away to nuzzle a stallion through the gate. (Can you blame her?)

A horse won’t waste their time if you aren’t there to do the work. As one of the most congruent and perceptive animals, they are able to feel a shift in vibrational energy from up to a mile away. So, they can feel insincerity.

This time, I was ready. Determined. Marching to the center of the arena,  I imagined being so unclosed and candid that my vulnerabilities would be on display like a trench coat full of watches.

I hope I do this right. I hope I can get this horse to come near me.

I was focusing so hard on trying to be “in the moment” that I spun on my heel and nearly collided with Maggie’s gigantic head as she raced up behind me.

She was right there (literally) with me on this. Let’s do this!

cindy

I opened up about my recent wrestling with the decision to become a full-time creative by giving up other commitments in my life. An idea as thrilling and terrifying as jumping from a plane trusting that your parachute will open. Maggie turned sideways aligning her heart “chakra” with mine. As I admitted my fear of regret, she came to me and bowed her head.

I thought about what Cindy had said during the introduction circle about how horses like to work once they find the right job. I envisioned the work horses I had seen at county fairs pulling cement blocks or wagons full of children. Or the race horses I bet on that dashed toward the finish line at the Hipodromo Argentino de Palermo. How very similarly, we all take on burdens and quest for something. That once we find what works for us, we too will work happily and tirelessly at it.

At this my stomach began needling with hunger pangs but my feet were shooting with energy. In a flash, I felt the sudden need to sprint, jump, take off.

But I stayed because, I don’t know, it seemed like I was supposed to. Maggie came over put her backside to me and leaned in. Obviously I moved out of the way so I didn’t get a horseshoe to the head. Then I realized I moved when I wasn’t going to. Fear can hold us back but it can also nudge us forward.

Wild&Free_image_blog

She began shifting her weight on her back haunches, her way of sending me creative energy.

So what did comfortable, confident, Future Gaby do to get where she wanted? Asks Cindy.

As I turned over different options in my head; she worked hard. She focused. She got organized. She time managed.

Maggie walked away. Calmly, confidently, to the other side of the arena resting her head on the top tier of the gate, looking at the woman waiting for her turn with a welcoming tameness. Which brings us to the beginning of our tale; maybe I was insulted that she left me alone to conquer this final, major decision by myself. Or maybe, she was showing me how it is done. That all I need to do is simply walk away.

**Stay tuned! More images to come after the ones for publishing are chosen!**

Welcome to Austin

Standard
2014-09-26 09.34.11-1

Cactus flower spotted on a morning hike.

 

There are things I love about my first week in Austin;

Hiking through constellations of pink and blue flowers in the early morning to Barton Springs where fresh pecans scatter the ground and leaves hang down in thick, patterns of green crescent moons. The way the turquoise springs bleed across their limestone canvas. Young parents crouching at the waters edge feeding ducks and turtles with their children, bikers pedaling by, kayakers paddling by, dogs and their owners run by taking full advantage of a beautiful day under a bright Texas sun.

2014-09-26 09.46.57

2014-09-26 09.48.19

“Philosopher’s Rock” a monument to glory, ideas, and the power of conversation. Barton Springs, Austin, TX.

 

2014-09-26 10.47.17

A couple enjoys a morning paddle in the Springs where swans, turtles, and many other wild life reside.

 

How the city has pioneered their own food and drink scene with boutique smoothie shops, patisseries, and distilleries. The empire of Tito’s Vodka, American-made and gluten-free, that swept across the country. The innovators that renovated the suburban Rainey Street neighborhood into chic cocktail bars or beer gardens. The embellished food trucks parked nearby where burned out bar-goers binge on tacos and tortilla chips. (Myself included.) Or the food trailers parked in lots feeding picnic tables full of patrons.

2014-09-25 11.19.07

Fresh pecans not far from the tree.

2014-09-25 11.05.41

Juiceland, Organic Juice Bar in Austin, TX.

2014-09-24 17.17.30

Fresh, local and Caffeinated. How can you deny that?

DSC_1761

Ginger Chili Oil Dumplings at Elizabeth’s Street Cafe, a cafe whose menu is heavily influenced with French and Vietnamese style street food.

Its conservation efforts, its buildings that look like animals, the millions of bats that migrate here just to breed and then swarm out each night in a big black cloud to feed.

DSC_0030

Egrets nesting for the night.

2014-09-26 10.58.04

A beautiful Austin skyline seen from Barton Springs.

How the whole city just thrums with ENERGY which could be due to the fact that it is the fasted growing city in the country for the past four years. It just doesn’t seem fair to the rest of us that people in this city are having so much fun. It is no wonder, Austin locals have developed into a rare hybrid of traditional southern charm mixed with bohemian grit.

DSC_0041

Crowds wait to see the Mexican free-tailed bats take flight at Congress Avenue Bridge where millions of bats migrate to this specific spot to give birth to their young. Each night they make their way into the night to feed in a black, fluttering cloud.

I love all of it. But we will get to that.

I wanted my first post about Austin to be about a different kind of Austin I was introduced to; which I quickly claimed to be MY Austin.

This second part of my trip was spent shooting Fireball with a bunch of bartenders and bouncers that keep most of 6th Street lubricated. Once my original plans got all busted up (I would explain but I am still not really sure what happened) and I was suddenly calling hotels to book last minute reservations for the night, I fell back into the arms of my kind. The restaurant folk, the outsiders, the wolves at the table.

group_austin

These crazies made me trip. Thank you and love y’all. xo

Meredith was a bubby, quick-witted brunette who bartended at Cain and Abel’s. I was introduced to her by her roommate, Connor, who also works as a bouncer there and is an old friend of mine.

“Your first time in Austin?” She asked. I nodded, bracing myself for the awkward silence or the polite cold shoulder women so often give to each other when males are present.

“Good. We’re gonna git you drunk.”

2014-09-26 19.41.35-1

Running into an old friend, Nick, at Black Sheep.

The girls ushered me from bar to bar. It was familiar to me; gritty, debaucherous, lovely. With them, I plunged into the underbelly of Austin. I had found my pack.

There were beer tastings at the craft beer shop On Tap, burgers and beers with the tatted up day crew of Cain and Abel’s at Black Sheep’s patio seating, some sort of pineapple drink while sitting in a beer garden watching elegant dancers hanging from harnesses in neon costumes pirouette across  buildings. Scarfing steak tacos from a nearby food truck as Natalie, leggy and inked out all over told me about her missionary work in Haiti and how excited she was for her upcoming trip.

2014-09-28 17.42.53

Street food is always the best food.

2014-09-28 13.19.24

Sam and Evan Gardner. Beautiful couple, creative spirits, wonderful friends.

Sitting by a fire drunk and exhausted, the night’s energy swelled once more with everything we had left in us to dance and spin on white couches of Rio’s roof top lounge.

We made it home with the help of the rideshare service, Uber, known for their low fees, punctuality, salary paid drivers and the ability to track the reserved car’s location.

2014-09-27 11.38.32

There was fried chicken for breakfast at Lucy’s and later the perfectly blonde, beautiful Sarah finished her shift and joined us for movies and sushi.

None of this is spectacular.

Well, actually, keeping me out past 1am and getting me to take shots of anything pineapple flavored is..actually pretty spectacular. (Well done.)

But it raises the question of what the word “vacation” means. Is it taking a break from your life, stepping out of your shoes to perhaps wander in someone else’s along the trails at Barton Springs or on a privately owned boat out to Hula Hut?

Or maybe one of the greatest things about vacationing in a new place is it allows you to be your truly, whole-souled self trading in boat tour for a foot soldier’s journey of a typical Friday night in Austin.