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Friday, July 20, 2012

The Writing Life: The Scent of Boiling Shrimp and Dreams

As a writer, how do you handle the moments when life gets very full?

I wish I didn't but usually, usually, I cease writing. The dreaming, thinking, feeling, knowing, perusing, and hoping seduces me to wait until a time when I will be able to sit down and capture it all. But lately I've been concerned...maybe I should be taking better notes on this thing called life. Just physical details. Note the hands on the clock point to 12 and 3. The air carries a scent of grilled burgers. And wait, there's bay leaves and boiling shrimp, too. Above my head two ruby ad insect green hummingbirds circle each other and fly off into the valley of trees below.



My pen freezes. The moment has passed. Perhaps infused into my dreams?

The nuances of everyday are extremely intense when many circles of life collide. If I even could come up with an analogy I might say this feeling is like summer in our garden. The time when tomatoes are alternately growing, blossoming, and being harvested. Beside them, though, the zephyr squash is having a quite different experience. The squash boring bugs are in full throttle and relentless. There will not be any more than the two bright yellow green tipped squash from the 2012 garden.



Meanwhile the berries hanging over the garden fence have understood their meaning and importance (which is only according to moi, which as it turns out has really very little to do with anything, at all) and perfected and timed their existence to coincide with when they were  most needed. This was on Sunday night, July 1st, during the welcome dinner for the Teen-Chefs Carolina on My Plate Program. The Teens walked out to the garden and plucked perhaps 20 berries at the peak of their beauty and ripeness.

But maybe, maybe ~ all of this exposition is simply a distraction. A quest to reason and analyze (maybe next to cooking, my biggest love) and a hope to understand life and to write the full of it, about it, inside and outside the dream of it. 



But life, do you care if I am able to write you all down, even if the details are a little fuzzy? Will you then relent, satisfied that I am paying attention? 


Because I am, believe me, I am. 


And Life, maybe I am, and we all are, only a viewfinder or an i-phone camera trying to capture these moments that are so golden and fraught with delicate webs that cling to my face when I walk through the woods, only to be cleared away for a moment that brings me to my knees. Like a dream vision I thought was  clear until step back for another look.






As a writer, do you write the moments as you are going through them, or later after they have developed in your mind? Is that memory? 



Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Writing Life: Heroes, A Food Stylist and a Chef


Excerpt From Simply Becasse, A Novel.  

When the struggles between a Chef and  Food Stylist on a Photo Shoot opens a whole new perspective. 

Coobook Shot list: Tunis Desserts
Crispy vanilla date cakes puddled in pomegranate honey creme
Cool Tunisian melon and oranges steeped in cracked coriander syrup
Desert figs stuffed with pistachio marzipan and soft cheese
Iced mango in hot green coconut soufflé
Kiln-baked semolina pastries with crushed walnuts and rose water glaze
(slow zoom in on table and a sweep over each dessert)
(tease shot of Chef Phillippe eating desert figs)

            Chef Phillippe bends over the green and purple desert figs on the table, hot lights illuminate the still life of desserts, the photographer backs up, a tease shot just taken.

            “There is a long deep memory of the figs growing in my country, twice the size of these,” and with aplomb and panache he raises the two prettiest figs to his mouth. Is this a dare to me as the food stylist on this three week long shoot? “But these are quite beautiful and fragrant. Don't you agree? Sometimes you can never tell. Until you try them.”


            “Phillippe, you can’t be ….they are the only….” And as I watch he eats the last two most photogenic figs, the beauty figs or the hero figs as we call them in the biz. He was just supposed to pretend to eat them. Pretend, Phillippe! How could he not know?


            One look in his eyes and I see he did know. And now you know this was one of those moments when something happens to change your life. All it came down to was two simple figs and a crazy chef. Phillippe acted as if these figs had had nothing better to do than serve him. They might as well have been lying on a prep table in his kitchen, in Tunis, in New York City. And he walked by and was dazzled by them, so enchanted that he didn’t care (even in his place or perhaps especially in his own place) that these figs had been called to another purpose in the evening’s special clafouti or in this case to be stuffed with a pistachio marzipan and a soft fragrant-with- rosemary-brambles cheese hanging in a muslin bag from a wooden spoon over a bowl in my prep kitchen not ten feet away.
The final photo of the desert figs stuffed with cheese for the cookbook cover was about to be taken. But without the figs? The shot is lit perfectly, and ready, well, was ready with all the other desserts for the dessert chapter on platters, surrounded by bowls of flowers flown in from, you guessed it, Tunisia. And as if my eye had become so used to and perhaps preferred watching life from the safe distance through the eye of the camera, instead of admitting the proximity of danger; this disaster loomed right before my eyes. Phillippe was real and not imagined. And a jerk. 
I watched while Phillippe’s smooth, tan, and thick knuckled hand picked off all of the rose’s deep red petals. With that one move something cracked open in me. Not trust, peace and a state just south of delirium as I think Chefs should incite, but freaking havoc for no reason (in my eyes) simply because he could. Figs, I’m sorry, it wasn’t supposed to be like this. It wasn’t what I had planned. But maybe you are better off! Wait, what am I saying? You’re in the belly of the beast!

The rest of the crew scurried off expecting a full blown fall out knock down culinary extravaganza between me and Chef Phillippe that had been building for three weeks. But with this fig thing we seemed enveloped like a Brik a l'Oeuf, a golden triangle of crispy fried phyllo hiding a soft golden egg, along with chopped capers, onions and parsley and once broken, once I speak, the runny egg would burst through its crunchy protecting shell and .... well, I just didn't want that to happen. I had a job to do. To finish. 


“Phillippe, I’m surprised! You, jealous of a couple of figs? Just because they were perfect and still and ..beautiful. Now what? Since they are clearly out of the picture.”

He looked up, his rose petal plucking hand covered the lens of the camera. On the roof, the rain spattered overhead, and the rosewater glaze driped off the plate of semolina pastries. Warm honey creme pooled around the vanilla date cakes, while rivulets of coriander syrup spilled onto the flame edged white roses on the heavy table. And all over the counter golden drops of creme look like they’d been flicked by a paintbrush.

“Yes, but since they are out of the picture you are more in focus. I search and search for something. It seemed there was nothing. But then I find it is so simple." 


"What is simple?" I asked. His dark smokey eyes were set so deep it was no wonder he couldn't see anything. 


"Why, what it takes to make you angry. Eating figs.”

Oh brother. Hadn’t I seen this before? An egotistical chef, wanting to command everyone in his midst. He ate the last two figs to get me angry? How much time would that cost all of us? I groaned inside to think how long it was going to take me to re-build the set with all new desserts. 

            “Do you have any idea what those figs cost? Of course you do. But right, it’s not about that, it’s about you. But the recipe is in the book, your book, the galleys are finished. So, I tell you what, when you find your two figs let me know! I’ll be in the kitchen.” Looking for a knife, I thought to myself.

            “Miel, if only you were more patient.”  And with that he pulled out a basket full of figs from under the table. “I just want to see what would happen…but you showed me what you were made of.”

            I knew I wouldn’t, I couldn't walk out on this job, but I knew also that somehow before our time was over I would turn him, and show him, not with words, but I would change his mind about what truly made a hero, a hero.  
            
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