“You breathe in experience, and you breathe out what you make.”
– Doug Aitken
This quote has been swirling around my brain today. Does this mean creating shouldn’t be a struggle – that making art is as natural as aspiration? That sounds so effortless. I wish. Or does it suggest that limited experiences, like inadequate oxygen molecules in toxic air, results in an insipid and shallow creative exhale?
In yoga, there’s a Sanskrit word, pranayama, which translates as “breath control” or “control of life force.” Pranayama is a set of breathing techniques where the breath is intentionally altered to produce specific results. In practice, when we focus on our breath, it becomes fuller, richer, more rounded. A deep, expansive inhale yields an equally full exhale.
Applied to the quote above, it would imply, indeed, that the best art requires a cache of rich experiences. Or does our internal creative process provide an avenue to transform any experience, even the drone of suburban monotony, into something wonderful?
Speaking of turning something mundane into something wonderful…this creamy, flavorful lemon, dill and caper sauce paired with fennel salad elevates humble poached salmon into something both healthy and crave worthy – fancy enough for company.
Poached salmon with fennel salad and creamy caper sauce
Starting the poaching process in cold water ensures the fish remains incredibly moist.
- 2 fennel bulbs, cored and thinly sliced
- 1 shallot, thinly sliced
- 2 Tablespoons olive oil
- 2 Tablespoons lemon juice
- Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
- 2 cups water
- 2 Tablespoons lemon juice
- 1 shallot, sliced
- 1 stalk celery, sliced
- 2 sprigs dill
- 1 bay leaf
- 5 peppercorns
- large pinch salt
- 4 8-oz. skinless salmon fillets
- ½ cup Greek yogurt
- 2 Tablespoons capers, drained and roughly chopped
- 1 Tablespoon dill, chopped
- 1 Tablespoon lemon juice
- teaspoon lemon zest
- Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
- In a small bowl, combine fennel salad ingredients and set aside to marinate.
- In a large saucepan, combine water, lemon juice, shallots, celery, dill, bay, peppercorns and salt. Add salmon to poaching liquid and additional water, until poaching liquid just covers salmon (about 2 more cups).
- Cover, turn heat to medium and cook salmon until internal temperature reaches 115°F, about 18 minutes. Carefully transfer salmon to a plate and chill until cold.
- To make yogurt sauce, combine all ingredients and chill. If too thick, add a bit of water or milk.
- Serve salmon over fennel Salad liberally drizzled with yogurt sauce.
Dining out at an inspired chef’s restaurant simultaneously motivates and chastens me. Often, I end the night well satiated yet lamenting, “Why can’t I come up with a meal like that?’ This is one of those dishes. In the mind and hands of a creative chef, this all-too-common kitchen disaster – burning rice –morphs into a crispy nutty culinary epiphanic filling for lettuce wraps. After munching down a few wraps, I couldn’t wait to purposefully burn my rice at home. Why couldn’t I come up with that?
Burning the rice doesn’t have to be a bad thing – this nutty version is the perfect crispy base for Asian lettuce wraps.
- 1 cup Calrose rice
- 1 cup water
- 2 Tablespoons rice vinegar
- 2 teaspoons sugar
- Pinch salt
- Rinse rice with water until it runs clear. Combine rice with 1 cup water in a medium sauce pan. Bring to boil, cover, reduce heat, and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove rice from heat and let steam, with lid on, for another five minutes.
- Meanwhile, combine rice vinegar, sugar and salt in a small microwave-safe bowl. Heat about 30 seconds until vinegar is hot and sugar has dissolved. Transfer rice to a large greased baking dish and let cool slightly. Drizzle with vinegar and pat rice evenly into dish, about ¼ – ½ inch thick.
- Preheat broiler. Broil rice 6-10 minutes, turning baking dish as needed, until rice is golden brown with areas of dark brown on top. The rice should be crispy on top and slightly chewy underneath. Break into pieces.
- Serve as a base for lettuce wraps or as a crunchy counterpoint in Asian salads.
Burning rice on purpose
The other night, my friend commented that I couldn’t #deletefacebook because of this blog – I’ll lose my followers. It made me realize that my friends don’t understand the details of this
passion hobby diversion of mine (and most likely don’t care). I take that as a good sign I’m not blathering on and on about “my blog” every second or every day. In truth, Facebook only accounts for 3% of traffic to my site. Surprisingly, my primary source in 2017 was the lesser-known Fridgg, making up about 25% of visits followed by various search engines with 13%, Foodgawker with 10% and my WordPress readers with 6%. I’m a devoted fan of Fridgg, a site that doesn’t determine what photos are worthy and unworthy based on some intangible – if the submitter believes them worthy, Fridgg does, too. Food photo democracy.
2018 is shaping up a bit differently. My primary source in 2018 has been search engines (15%), closely followed by Foodgawker (13%), with WordPress and Fridgg both at 10%. Facebook is still about 3%.
This brings me to another insight – My recent Foodgawker acceptance rates, THE site that determines if your photos are “worthy.” I think I’ve finally managed to crack their submission code. The first few years, my submission acceptance hovered around 30% – actually not too bad for the gold-standard of food photo sharing sites. Now, I’m at 45%, with February’s at 83% and March’s acceptance at 87%.
87%??! I’ll take that. I’m still undecided about Facebook.
Creamy Tomato Chicken Stew
- 2 lbs. boneless, skinless chicken thighs
- 2 carrots, finely chopped
- ½ onion, finely chopped
- 3 garlic cloves, smashed
- 2 Tablespoons flour
- 2 Tablespoons tomato paste
- 1 28-oz. can whole tomatoes
- 2 cups chicken stock
- 1 ½ cups Gruyère cheese
- ⅓ cup heavy cream
- 1 Tablespoon Balsamic vinegar
- Season chicken with salt and pepper. Heat oil in a large pot or Dutch oven. Cook chicken (in batches if needed) until brown on all sides. Set chicken aside. Add carrots, onions and garlic cloves to pot and sauté until soft and beginning to brown, about 8 minutes. Add flour and tomato paste and cook until mixture forms a golden crust at the bottom of the pan. Add tomatoes with juice and stock, scraping up the crusty bits on the bottom of the pan and breaking the tomatoes apart. Heat until boiling, then return chicken and any accumulated juices to the pan.
- Reduce heat to simmer, cover, and cook for about 25 minutes. Stir in cheese, cream and balsamic. Season with salt and pepper. Serve chicken and sauce over noodles, rice or polenta, sprinkled with a little more cheese, if desired.
A grey and drizzly day like today calls for a classic, satisfying and hearty stew like this French-inspired chicken version. The best part – plenty of leftovers for lunch this week.
Chicken stew with mushroom & onions
A classic combination of chicken, mushrooms and onions in a hearty sauce.
- 6 strips bacon, chopped
- 1 lb. baby portabella mushrooms, quartered
- 12 oz. frozen baby onions, thawed
- 3 lbs. skinless, boneless chicken thighs
- ¼ cup red wine vinegar
- 2 Tablespoons butter
- ¼ cup flour
- 2 cups chicken stock
- 2 Tablespoons tarragon, minced
- In a large pot of Dutch oven, sauté bacon until crisp. Remove bacon from pot. Add mushrooms and onions and sauté until golden and beginning to brown. While cooking, add a pinch of salt to help mushrooms release their liquid. Once browned, remove from pot.
- Sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper and add to the pot. Brown chicken on both sides, about 4 minutes per side. Cook chicken in batches if needed – do not overcrowd pot. Set chicken aside. Add red wine vinegar and butter to pot. Once butter has melted, sprinkle with flour. Cook about a minute until flour begins to brown. Add chicken stock and cook until bubbling, scraping up flavorful browned bits from bottom of the pot.
- Return chicken and any accumulated juices to pot, reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for 15 minutes. Remove lid, add bacon, mushrooms and onions and cook uncovered for 15 minutes more.
- If needed, remove chicken, increase heat and cook sauce until reduced and thickened. Return chicken to pot and season with salt and pepper. Serve stew over egg noodles or rice, sprinkled with tarragon.
It’s late Sunday morning and fifteen of us are huddled on the street corner, cameras in hand like a gaggle of paparazzi waiting to catch a celebrity’s morning-after walk of shame. Except this isn’t Hollywood – and we’re not professionals.
This is California Center for Digital Arts and we’re practicing shutter speed priority photography – stop action, blurred action, panning. I learned this long ago – so very long ago – in the days of film and chemical processing and my trusty Canon AE-1. We’re standing on a street corner simply shooting random cars and bicycles passing by.
I’m going back to photography basics because, frankly, I’m bored with the photos I’m churning out these days – and the work of most other amateur food photographers as well. I’m having trouble finding the soul in the ubiquitous bright, side-lit, flat-laid, slightly blown out (IMHO), Foodgawker-esque photographs most amateur food photographers (including me) produce –insipid images devoid of soul.
My food photos may not get better. What I’m currently churning out may be my limit, but the class made me happy, made me remember, just for a few hours, to look at the world with a photographer’s eye.
Did it help? If this photo above is any indication, then, no, it didn’t – same bright, side-lit, flat lay, lackluster nonsense. The pork loins, conversely, were divine – flavorful and mouthwateringly succulent.
This flavorful, garlicy-citrus mojo acts as a marinade and a sauce.
- 6 garlic cloves
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 2 teaspoons whole cumin
- 1 Tablespoon dried oregano
- zest from one orange
- zest from one lime
- ½ cup olive oil
- ½ onion, chopped
- ¾ cup orange juice
- ¼ cup lime juice
- ¼ bunch cilantro
- 2 pork tenderloins
- In a blender, puree all ingredients except pork. Transfer a half cup of sauce into a small bowl, cover and refrigerate.
- Place pork tenderloins in a dish and cover with remaining mojo sauce. Cover dish and refrigerate at least 8 hours up to 24 hours.
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Heat a bit of oil in a large, ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat. Remove pork from marinade, scraping off excess. Add pork to skillet and sear until well browned on all sides. Transfer skillet with pork to oven. Roast until meat registers 145 degrees F. Remove pork from skillet, tent with foil and let stand for 10 minutes.
- Warm reserved mojo sauce in the microwave. Cut pork crosswise in ½ inch slices, drizzle with warmed mojo sauce and serve.