Lasagna. Fettuccine. Hot Dogs. Shrimp Cocktail. Pumpkin Pie. Turkeys. It’s been a month of solid food styling…and one of the perils of the Food Styling Calendar ™ is not really knowing what season it really is. I was so steeped in cranberry sauce and cornbread dressing last week that I honestly didn’t know what day (or month) it was. There have been days where I get to the studio when the sun is just barely up…and I leave when the sun is just barely still up. It’s what we do sometimes to do what we love. I’m happy that even when I’m styling three different turkey photos on the same day – not an easy feat – I’m still in love with my job.
That having been said, I’m going through a stretch that’s a little hard to talk about. Hard to admit. I’ve sat down here and tried to find an elegant way to express it…but the fact of the matter is…I’m burnt out. Desperate meals of spinach dip blobs on almost stale bread. Consuming more coffee to muscle through than one person should be medically allowed. The continuous and raging foot pain. A solid week of styling food is physically grueling without even factoring in the mental Olympics and the politics of pasta twirls…so imagine how this 30-something year old body feels after a month. Folks don’t realize how tough it is. Let’s be real here – I’m not digging ditches, building houses, or curing cancer here. I know that…but the make-it-pretty television cooking show image that folks have in their head isn’t the reality. My job is about smoke and mirrors. Suspending reality…and it’s often hard work. Sitting here, finding the words to say… I’m not a machine and not a styling robot… is also hard work.
So I’m doing something I haven’t ever done before. I’m giving myself a break. I’m saying no. I’m allowing myself a week or two to recover. Recharge. Rejuvenate. The voice of the nagging self-employed person keeps chirping “What are you DOING!? No work means no money!”. The tired, uninspired part of me just keeps swatting it away with nary a peep. I love what I do…and I want to to be at my best for the people that hire me. My work is a reflection of me and, right now, that reflection is a little out of focus. I’m taking a short little sabbatical to do the things that make me happy and be with the people I love. There will be some boating with friends. My first haircut in four months. A much needed pedicure. Maybe a day trip to the museum. Playing around with the new lens. A week long trip to Portland – more on that later. Coming back refreshed and ready to get back to work.
There will also, of course, be some cooking.
On Sunday, I woke up at my usual shoot day scheduled time and headed to the farmer’s market. Being outside – the morning feeling just a touch cooler than I remember a few weeks before – was wonderful. Seeing the late summer produce that I’d missed out on was pretty inspiring…and I came home with bags full. Tomatoes. Ground cherries. Peppers. Filet beans. Field peas. As soon as I got home and laid everything out on the counter, I started thinking about this salad. An (almost) end of summer salad.
While it’s a little unorthodox to pair mozzarella with peas and beans, the texture combination really works. The creamy, mild cheese with the just-barely blanched produce is a great match. I love the color & texture of mixing the filet beans & field peas but use wax beans, green beans, lima beans, green peas – whatever you can get your hands on. A little thinly sliced celery for brightness and crunch goes a long way here, too. To dress the salad, I made a quick anchovy vinaigrette – the earthiness amps up all the crunch and the smoothness of the cheese. If the thought of salty fishies freaks you out, a quick squeeze of lemon and some olive oil is also nice.
Mozzarella and Field Pea Salad – serves 2 as a hearty side salad or light entree salad
– In a food processor or high powered blender, whiz together the lemon juice, anchovy filets and oil. Set aside. You’ll need to whisk it together or give it a pulse right before you drizzle.
– Bring a small pot of water to a boil. Throw in the peas and beans for 1-2 minutes. You want to just cook them a bit to make them tender without cooking them through. Scoop out and dump in a bowl of ice & cold water to shock them and stop the cooking process – a minute or two. Drain and allow to dry.
– Slice the mozzarella into 1/4″ to 1/2″ slices and arrange in the middle of the plate. Evenly scatter the sliced celery, field peas and filet beans (or whichever bean you’ve chosen to use) on top of the cheese. Drizzle with the dressing, top with celery leaves and a grind of fresh pepper (and salt if need be). Serve immediately.