You get to a point in your life when you realize someday is now. That’s what happened to me with photography. You see, like most thirteen year-old-girls, I was obsessed with taking pictures. My dad is a photojournalist turned photo operations manager, so in the early ’90s, I permanently borrowed his old Canon camera body and lenses and blew through several dozen rolls of film (film!) taking terrible, blurry, grainy still lifes. I read every book in the house about photography and was convinced that the forthcoming digital revolution would ruin the art. (Ha!)
Back then, I thought I wanted to be a career photographer, and I swore I’d take a class as soon as I got to high school. The problem was, I put myself on the “must-do-everything-possible-to-get-into-college” track, so I never had room in my schedule for the class. In college, the focus was “must get a job,” and by then, photography didn’t seem like a sensible career. I let my twenties go by without ever really picking up a camera and tucked away the photography dream to perhaps return to, someday.
So here we are: It’s someday. And the funny thing is, learning to shoot a good photo isn’t just something I want to do, it’s something I practically need to. In our visual and social media-driven world, photography is a skill that’s become as important as writing a solid sentence or creating a sustainable household budget. In my line of work, as a food writer and product-based business owner, it’s vital.
Last month, twenty-three years after my first photography phase, I bought a camera that has some manual controls. Playing around with the camera, I felt like a kid who spoke fluent Greek until she was five and then never spoke the language again until age 36. Let me tell you, learning, even re-learning, at 36, is hard. While reading through Shiran’s book about food photography, I had vague memories of words, like ISO and concepts, like depth of field. But I felt awkward about everything, from operating the camera controls to setting up the tripod.
The photos in this post (as well as the two previous posts here and here) were the first I shot with my new camera. I lucked out with a lovely overcast afternoon, so I didn’t have to do much to manage the light. In fact, after taking the shot above and this one here, I thought, “Take that, Jonathan Lovekin!”
That all changed when the sun peeked out from behind the clouds. This happened as soon as the dish was done, of course. It was also t-minus 10 minutes from when my daughter would come home and chaos would ensue, so I had no time to figure out how to fix the shot. Couple the bad lighting with the terrible looking yogurt drizzle, and well, here’s proof that we all have to begin somewhere.
The good news is that the recipe itself is fabulous. I have a roasted carrot + lentil + yogurt recipe in my own book, Modern Potluck, so I was excited to try Diana Henry’s dish from her new book, Simple, using some similar ingredients. Whereas I toss carrots with coriander, paprika, and cumin, she goes with harissa—the spicy Tunisian chile paste—as well as lemon and honey to create deeply caramelized exterior on the carrots. She uses creamy white beans, which feel exactly right with the freshness of the dill. This is the perfect dish for when you want something comforting and substantial but also healthy and flavorful. It’s also easy enough to make on a weeknight and great for a potluck, including the biggest potluck of all, Thanksgiving!
I can’t say enough good things about Simple and Diana’s work in general. We both seem to think about food in similar ways, playing with fresh combinations of ingredients that are somehow grounded in a tradition. (For example, her use of harissa and dill in the carrot recipe is a nod to a combo you might see in the Middle East.) What amazes me is how prolific Diana is. I hope I can be like her when I grow up. Someday. In the meantime, I’ll be cooking her recipes. And playing around with my camera. Wish me luck!
- For the carrots
- 1 pound 10 ounces slim carrots, with green tops
- 1 lemon, very finely sliced (flick the seeds out), plus juice of ½
- 2 tablespoons harissa
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 2 teaspoons cumin seeds
- 2 garlic cloves, crushed
- 2 teaspoons honey
- 1 cup Greek yogurt
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for serving
- ¼ cup buttermilk or whole milk
- For the beans
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- ½ onion, coarsely chopped
- 1 garlic clove, crushed
- 2 x 14 ounce cans cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
- About ¼ cup chicken or vegetables stock
- Salt and pepper
- 3 to 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- Good squeeze of lemon juice
- Small handful dill fronds, plus 1 tablespoon, to serve
- Preheat the oven to 400°F. Trim the carrots, leaving green tufts. If the carrots are chunky, halve lengthwise. Put into roasting pan in a single layer (but without masses of room, or the juices burn.) Add the lemon slices. Mix the harissa, regular olive oil, cumin, garlic, honey, and lemon juice and toss with the carrots. Roast for 30 to 35 minutes, turning them over once, until tender. For the beans, heat the regular olive oil in a saucepan and gently cook the onions until soft but not colored. Add the garlic, beans, stock, and seasoning. Cook her medium heat for 2 minutes. Stir in the extra-virgin olive oil and lemon juice, then the handful dill dill. Taste for seasoning.
- Mix the yogurt with the extra-virgin olive oil, buttermilk or milk, and seasoning. Put the beans into a dish with the carrots and lemon slices on top. Spoon a little yogurt over (serve the rest on the side), then scatter with 1 tablespoon of dill. Pour a little extra-virgin olive oil on top and serve.