London has a strange effect on me. It makes me feel at home, one among many others, it gives me that extra pinch of freedom as to be completely myself. In London I can buy a mustard yellow coat that maybe here would have been gray. I wouldn’t dare so much.
On the other hand it makes me act like a tourist: I take photos of buildings, subway signs, fruit and vegetables at the Borough Market, people crossing the street lost in their thought. I see, I snap. I do not think about exposure, light or framing, I could easily use the old plastic camera you would find in a Mickey Mouse comic a few years ago, when I was a child. I snap pictures and memories to carry London with me.
Tuscany is my soul place, London and England are my source of inspiration: two different worlds, but essential to my balance. London is also the European Capital of foodbloggers, who meet once a year for the Food Blogger Connect. So you understand that taking part to the Food Blogger Connect with good friends from all over the world increases my respect for London… Everything began at Food Blogger Connect three years ago: I had the feeling that I could do it, and since then every year has been a confirmation of how passion can push yourself where you never dreamt of.
Friends are undeniably the most incredible gift that being a food blogger first and then attending the conference can give you. We try to visit each others in rotation in different European countries, not as much as we would like but every time it seems as if we had left the day before. It is not a set expression: sometimes we meet from season to season and we wonder why we do not lose the thread of the conversation, helped by a continuous exchange on Twitter, e-mail, Facebook, blogs, Skype, and iMessage.
Blessed are the new technologies and the strong and sincere relationships they help to create. Though, I am sure that we would have been friends even in the nineteenth century, with long handwritten letters, a parchment and a pen dipped in Indian ink. We were destined to be friends.
Then there’s the Food Blogger Connect. If I had to do a detailed account of the three days of street food, brilliant talks, workshops that will change your life, meetings and laughter, excitement and fun, I could easily dedicate the posts from now till Christmas to the Food Blogger Connect. Re-reading the notes, though, I found a continuous line, a thread that went through all the talks and above all characterized the two workshops that alone would have been worth the trip to London.
The first one was the food writing workshop held by Dianne Jacob. I have already talked about Dianne and my esteem for her here. If you remember I had promised myself that I would have at least had the courage to talk with her. Well, I did it, and this is not because I am a lion-hearted, but because she is as she appears on her blog: professional and helpful, extremely helpful. She’s fun, brilliant. It was very interesting to take part to her workshop: when you stand up and read aloud your piece among the other students – which could sound like an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting but I assure you that on the spur of the moment you feel the pressure and the emotion – you learn so much, from yourself and from the others’ generosity. I only regret that in Italy there isn’t a real culture on food writing, but we will change the situation, step by step.
The second was the food photography workshop taught by Ellen Silverman, a professional photographer who works with the American La Cucina Italiana and Sweet Paul Magazine and has photographed many cookbooks, including Dolci by Francine Segan and My Father’s Daughter by Gwyneth Paltrow. It was Dolci that made me meet Ellen two years ago. If you followed my photographic tour on Instagram this summer perhaps you’ve recognized her in some pictures… attentive, professional, precise, and yet with a huge heart, she can teach without speaking, by setting an example with irony and calm. We met by chance a few years ago and almost by chance she agreed to take part into the book project. She took all the landscape, still life and producers pictures. We spent a week travelling in Tuscany from North to South, from the Garfagnana to the Val d’Orcia, enjoying our trip along with wine, olive oil, truffles and cheese. She captured everything with her camera, I used my pen and paper, on one of my famous black notebooks (if you ask, yes, I managed to lose even that, and luckily I got it back after a few days…). You can now understand why, among other reasons, I’m so anxious to see the book.
Following Dianne’s and Ellen’s workshops I had the feeling that everything was finally falling into its place, eventually I understood where I was going and what I was searching for such a long time, without knowing what I was missing: the lightness and the simplicity.
What I learnt
Keep it simple. A trend which I lately applied to the recipes, taking out one by one the ingredients that are not essential. We talked about it with Emiko in one of our chats, aspiring to the essentiality. The same goes for writing and photography. You do not need four teaspoons, a flowered cloth, a colourful dish and six glasses in a single picture. Just a well plated muffin with an interesting background and the right light that enhances the shape and the chocolate chips dotting the golden surface. You do not need ten adjectives in a row to describe the flavour of a dish, choose the word that awakens your memories and that makes your stomach growl with hunger.
Learn to choose. Being it words or photos, choose and let go without regret what you do not need. Do not grow fond of the sound of an adjective that has no reason in the context, do not fall in love with a knife pretty styled next to your bowl soup since you just do not need it, do not upload in your post ten photos that differ only in small details. Choose the best photo, the one where you would grab the roasted chicken leg with your hand, where the light softly caresses the curves of a butter cream. Choose the perspective from which you will explore the story, and learn to leave something unsaid. Let the reader get there alone.
Tell a story. This said, you need to tell a story. Do it through images or words. Better yet, make them sing in harmony. Choose your perspective, keep it simple, appeal to universal feelings or overwhelm the reader with your passion for something. Make your uniqueness emerge in the photos without loading them of details that can distract, decide the right mood to present the food, choose the props, the light and the background accordingly.
Take you passion, and make it happen. This is not my own, I admit. A few nights before the Food Blogger Connect, in the famous London kitchen, we were working and singing simultaneously in a ’80s music revival. While Jennifer Beals was frantically dancing with the famous woolen leg warmers, there was a phrase from the song What a feeling that I couldn’t take out of my mind: Take your passion, and make it happen. Realize your dream. During the Food Blogger Connect I met people who managed to do that and others who strongly believed they would, despite all. What Dianne Jacob and Ellen Silverman managed to pass on, in addition to theory and practice, is that you have to stand up and read your piece, even if the emotion makes your voice quiver and your Italian accent makes you sound like Joe Pesci’s caricature. Show your photos to learn where you can improve, there is nothing wrong in trying. If you don’t try you’ll never know.
These are suggestions given by real professionals. Behind all the good advice there’s your style. Find your voice, learn from the people you admire but keep yourself true.
What gave me a thrill of emotion
The Food Blogger Connect in itself, because it opens up your mind, it gives you inspiration and motivation. It is important to understand what happens beyond your safe area. On the other hand, it is also reassuring to know that abroad it is not considered wrong if want to turn your hobby into a business, it is indeed appreciated, because at the end of the day you still can keep your passion alive, or at least you can say you have tried, without regrets.
The food traders. An ocean of different faces, origins or languages. Italian, Venezuelan, British, Caribbean, French, Portuguese… all the traders shared the same passion for food. This year, instead of a perfect formal catering we had the chance to taste the best representatives of London street food, yet another chance to enjoy freshness and fun. I learned a lot from them. The food traders are exactly as foodbloggers should be: spontaneous and loyal to each other, passionate about what they do, which turns them into skilled communicators, able to tell you all of their homeland with a small tuna samosa tuna or a creamy pasteis de nata from Portugal.
The Italians. Hooray for the Italians! In a hypothetical Olympic medal competition, this year we were the second representation just after the British, thing that filled with national pride, I have to admit it: Alessio, Rossella, Rossella, Jasmine, Sandra, Federica, Marica, Giuseppina, Giulia, Carla and I am forgetting someone else, I am sure…
Sarka‘s talk on food photography. Regula and I were sitting in the front row, eyes stuck on her to give her courage, but she did not need it. I am very sentimental, you know this, but my eyes filled with proud tears, seeing her so self-confident, professional and fun, explaining the role of light with simplicity. Yet I knew she had slept just a few hours… we ere so proud!
If you’ve been so patient to follow me till here, the final reward, a recipe. I took it as an exercise, trying to take a clean and simple picture, choosing reluctantly just one shot (the other one is can be found on my Flickr, I’m cheating now!). Besides, salads are lately my comfort lunch. I can whip up a meal in no time: cut some vegetables, add some crumbled cheese or a few beans, then play with the dressing, because a salad can be everything but boring. I often choose soy sauce and wasabi when I want an oriental hint, or my favourite option, mustard: half a teaspoon of strong English mustard can turn an everyday salad into an heady experience.
In this early autumn salad I mixed a generous handful of thinly sliced bitter radicchio, balanced by a few mustard glazed carrots, the leftover of a previous photo shoot, and some crumbled feta, extremely tasty. The cooking of carrots is quite long, you can shorten the preparation by boiling or steaming carrots in a pressure cooker and seasoning them with the same vinaigrette. The choice is now yours: you can eat them as they are or roast them for about ten minutes in the oven.
Mustard glazed carrots
- 4 or 5 carrots
- Extra virgin olive oil
- 1/2 teaspoon strong mustard
- A tablespoon apple cider vinegar
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Preheat oven to 180°C.
- Rinse the carrots and cut them lengthwise into quarters, leaving the base of the leaves if they still have it. Arrange them in a baking dish.
- Mix in a bowl the extra virgin olive oil, the mustard, the apple cider vinegar, the salt and the freshly ground black pepper, then pour the dressing over the carrots. Mix them with your hands to evenly distribute the dressing.
- Roast the carrots for about one hour, turning them often, until they are soft and covered with a shiny glaze. The leaves will be crisp.