October 5, 2015
By my count, this is the 232nd time I’ve posted on this blog since it began on May 2nd, 2011. That’s 232 weekly postings, each going live late Sunday evening. That makes this posting two shy of the four‑and‑one‑half‑year anniversary of the blog’s start. In that time I’ve learned a lot about cooking, photography, dishware, and myself.
When I started the blog, I was already serving a serious array of amuse‑bouche, intermèdes, and mignardise to my dinner guests. Quickly, my backlog of ideas was exhausted, and a new supply was required. I found that ideas for new dishes came easy except for the intermèdes, which in the beginning I couldn’t even name. I had to find a French word for what in the United States is called a palate cleanser. Intermezzo was my first selection. Friends more conversant in French convinced me that there was a better word. Although palate cleansers are mostly absent from menus in France, I was thrilled two years ago to see the term intermède on one in Paris. This morning, I again awoke with an idea or two for a new amuse‑bouche, but no new intermède. To make matters worst, overtime I’ve even felt that most of my intermèdes could easily be served as mignardise. Intermèdes are definitely the problem child of this blog, a child that I continue to counsel although the patient may be hopeless.
Looking back, maybe the biggest physical change to my lifestyle is the growing number of small dishes and glasses that now populate my kitchen cabinets. My first serious amuse‑bouche serving consisted of three items on a single plate because I didn’t have appropriate small plates at the time. Now they are stacked and balanced in multiple cabinets. I haven’t taken a trip since the blog started where sometime wasn’t spent on seeking out new pieces.
Looking though my supply of small dishes, glasses, and flatware is like a round‑the‑world‑memory trip. Sane people snap pictures. I buy small plates. I have dishes and glasses that prompt memories of a hardware store in Barcelona, a cookware store in Freemantle, a restaurant‑supply house in Cesenatico, and kitchen town in Kyoto. There’s little forks and spoons that I found at a department store in Madrid and a crafts shop in Noyers. Though I had long since occupied what spare space existed in my kitchen, no matter where I went, I was constantly on the lookout for a new this or that. Open the china cabinet in our dining room. You’ll find stuffed in next to the Limoges china I inherited from my mother, the lump of lava rock I took from my mother‑in‑law’s front yard in Maui. I drilled it in six places to hold lollipop sticks. There are chunks of Himalayan pink salt I found at Whole Foods Market for $3.99 a pound that were easy to drill for the same purpose. There are rectangles of Carrera marble salvaged from scrap leftover from the remodeling of a bathroom next door. Curiously, the two things that most of my purchases have in common are that the items purchased were not made in the country I found them in, and they were inexpensive.
To make the trip from my kitchen to the living room easier, I’ve amassed a collection of serving trays and flat‑top items that serve as such. Depending on the array and sizes of dishes I’m serving, I have pieces of slate, acacia, bamboo, and pine to use as a means of conveyance. Some of these “trays” also double for serving groups of mignardise. It is fun to use a variety of dishes and serving trays for each meal.
The inclusion of amuse‑bouche, intermèdes, and mignardise has meant that dinner parties at our home are long events. The average time for a meal to be completely served is about four‑and‑a‑half hours. Our guests have stayed anywhere from five to eight hours. These meals are relaxed and about fellowship as much, if not more, than food.
The typical menu starts with four amuse‑bouche served serially with champagne or wine while seated around the coffee table in our living room. We then move into the dining room for the remainder of the meal which follows with a first course, a main course with one or more side dishes, the first intermède, a light salad, the second intermède, dessert, and four mignardise served as a group. For those up to it, coffee and cognac are offered.
Recently, in an effort to clean out my freezer, we stayed in the living room. Each meal consisted of only amuse‑bouche, intermèdes, and mignardise. It turns out that even when served in groups of two, three, or four, sixteen to twenty little items still take about five hours to finish.
Even though they appear at a rate of one per week, these recipes and writings have been created in groups of two to three month’s worth of postings. This was necessary to accommodate travel and other projects. Each posting requires a recipe to be created, tested, photographed, and a short article written to accompany it.
Creating recipes has been easy. Making each preparation as unique as possible and different than others on the blog has been more difficult. I have used a number of styles to present the recipes rather than force all recipes into a common prescriptive format. I tried to let each recipe style flow from the way the dish was created and prepared. The experiment has been enjoyable. Unfortunately, more and more, I think of new recipes that are too closely related to a preparation I’ve already posted. This is especially true with intermèdes and mignardise.
Writing the short articles that accompany each recipe is also easy. I’m happy to say that writer’s block is seldom an issue for me. I’m more likely to write all day and then delete the file and start over again. Maybe I should have done that more often?
I’ve been illustrating my website with my own photographs since early in it’s inception in 1999. The earliest pictures were scanned from drugstore prints, and quality was nonexistent. I’ve owned a series of digital cameras over the years, but it was not until I bought my Canon G‑10 that was I able to begin to capture the images that truly interested me. That camera was eventually replaced by the G‑11 model. Both had excellent macro lenses that allowed me to get in tight with the food I was photographing. The island in my kitchen has a large, diffuse, overhead light that produces close to shadowless lighting. It’s great for mise en place, but it’s also good for my type of photography. The G‑11 can be fitted with a ring light to fill‑in any undesirable shadows. In the last year, I replaced my prosumer G‑11 with a more professional Panasonic GH4. The macro lens on the new camera is significantly sharper than the Canon, and I’m now able to control the depth of field. Since no picture on the blog is greater than 800 pixels wide, I rarely can take advantage of the improved sharpness. I actually bought the camera for its video capabilities, and all the advantages for still photography just came along in the same box.
For me, what is important about the blog’s illustrations is that they serve to extend a style of photography that I was already using on my main website. Although I have a college degree in a field related to photography, I really learned how to take pictures before finishing college when I was a commercial photographer in early 1970s. In those days, I was working with a large‑format view camera—the old‑fashioned type where you look at the image upside down under a black cloth, and the camera is always mounted on a tripod. I still always use my fancy camera on a tripod. All the pictures on this blog except for those in this posting were shot on a tripod. The tripod allows me to easily set‑up shots at angles that are difficult to shoot with a handheld camera.
I am mostly interested in highly detailed images of the main subject. I am not a fan of food photography where the food is only part of a larger scene. I’m also not a fan of food styling for my images. I am not trying to illustrate a wider scope of editorial content, only the completed food I actually cook. It’s even nicer when only the food and not the dish is visible in the photograph. It’s nice when people complement my photography. I really don’t care about those who don’t like it.
Writing the blog has allowed me to explore a lot of my past, much of it I otherwise never think about. It has allowed me to think seriously about my relationship with my parents, something I only approached in the past during therapy sessions. It also gave me permission to think about how I am alike each of them and not always in the best way. It also permitted me to remember some the firsts in my life and whatever effect each “first” had on me. Luckily, I managed to avoid reliving issues that centered around my typically teenage hormones of fifty years past.
In September, I was talking about the blog with a reader who also has eaten many of the dishes developed for it. I originally though that I may take a hiatus from the blog because it was interfering with my pursuit of other interests. By the time we finished the conversation, one where I did most of the talking, I had decided that an ending was what I desired. So this is the last time I’ll be posting on amuse‑bouche, intermèdes, and mignardise. But as someone said somewhere, watch this spot. I woke up the other morning with an equally crazy idea I may next chase in public in the form of a blog.