When you realize it's late and you still have to make dinner
Ok, full disclosure - outside the four walls of a perfect little Instagram photo, lies pure and utter chaos. Pots, pans, grocery bags, the sweater that was cast off in a fit of overheated food styling, and the general clutter that is everyday life.
Of course I'm speaking from my own, personal experience here, but I can pretty much guarantee that in the periphery of even the most well-oiled machine, someone's pushing a creative mess just outside of frame. Thank goodness for the tight crop!
Now, I don't think I've mentioned it before, but I shoot all my photos on my little iPhone 6 Plus (ok, not so little - unless you have really, really large hands), using only the natural light that shines in through my living room windows. I set up a chair with a cutting board on top, and move that chair around the room, depending on where the light's coming from at any given time of day. Is it ideal? No. Is it the way I dream of shooting my food? Again, no. But I love the challenge and I'm having a blast with it.
Or, at least I was until the seasons started to change!
I now find myself in a mad dash to dream up, produce and shoot before the last glimmer of viable sunlight surreptitiously makes its retreat from my hardwood floors, leaving in its wake a dim shade only rectified by ambient (but useless) electric light. The slow cooker has no place in my kitchen at the moment - it's all fast-paced and high heat!
The other afternoon I found myself wanting to cook and shoot, but realizing that I had no more than 30 minutes left, before cooking became merely about enjoyable consumption, as opposed to creating aesthetically pleasing and photographable forays into food. (Gone are the days of casually whipping up anything as simple as a piece of toast without artfully swooping something across it, just so.)
This is when the chaos ensues. This is where the myth that cooking for food photography is somehow therapeutic and peaceful, is cracked wide open. And this is when you get creative.
I scoured my fridge and cabinets for their contents and pulled together a veritable mystery basket of ingredients to begin my 'Chopped-meets-Top Chef quick fire challenge', for which the clock had already been set. Buckwheat noodles, bok choy, mushrooms, some Fresno chilis and an egg. (This was a good day. I've certainly encountered the 'stick of butter, half a cucumber, scallions and an open bottle of Sauvignon Blanc basket', too! At which point, it's best to just drink the wine, switch on Netflix, rest cucumber slices on those suitcases under your eyes, and save the scallions for a day when you choose to live more like an adult.)
I quickly set a pot of water to boil on the stove, broke out the sautée pan and began chopping my vegetables - repeatedly glancing at the floor of my living room, hoping to keep it lit by sheer will power.
Noodles in water - check! Veggies in pan - check! I dashed to grab a pot for the egg poaching, and out of the corner of my eye, I caught a grim shadow enveloping the front of my apartment, like a scene right out of a horror movie. Slowly but surely, the dim began to creep across the room, rendering much of the space utterly useless.
Determined not to lose a day's work, I gently cracked the egg into the barely simmering water, as a bead of sweat broke on my brow, then set the timer for three minutes.
As I yanked the noodles out of the water and swiftly chilled them down, I added soy, mirin and almond butter to my pan of vegetables, furiously stirring and counting down the final seconds of my egg's poach.
As the noodle dish hit the bowl and the egg went down on top, I triumphantly turned toward the living room, only to find that the last beams of light had, indeed, made their exit for the day.
My shoulders slumped, momentarily, as I eyed my steaming bowl of perfectly cooked egg and noodles, and then, refusing to admit defeat, thought, 'to the roof!!' And to the roof I ran, bowl, cutting board, garnish and phone in hand.
I awkwardly bounded up two flights of stairs, trying not to break the yolk, and unlatched the door to the roof, which bears a sign that reads 'NO FOOD PHOTOGRAPHY ON ROOF!" (It may actually say something like 'DO NOT USE ROOF!' but it's all a blur - I can't be sure.)
I was in luck - there was just enough light to get the job done. Down went the cutting board with the bowl on top, and after a little artful arrangement of some mushrooms and scallions, I whipped out my camera (phone). Click, click, click...and then she died.
This is not the first time I've drained my phone without noticing and been left with 2% on which to shoot - I believe the last time this happened, I was 30 seconds away from pulling a soufflé out of the oven!
I laid down on the roof, stared up at the sky and then glanced over at my beautiful bowl of buckwheat noodles and thought 'well, at least dinner's ready!'
Fortunately, after the descent to my apartment and 10 minutes of charging my phone, I discovered I still got the shot, albeit a little on the dim side.
Cook your noodles according to the instructions on the packet, then drain them and run them under cold water to stop the cooking process. Set the noodles aside and place a small pot of water on the stove to boil, adding about a tablespoon of vinegar. (This is for egg poaching.)
Separate the mushrooms if using the Japanese variety, or slice them if using something like a white button or crimini, then chop the bok choy,
Heat the coconut oil in a pan over medium-high heat, and add the mushrooms and bok choy. Cook until the mushrooms are browned and soft, then add the sliced chili to the mix.
Meanwhile poach your egg, at a low simmer, for three minutes. Once cooked, place the egg on a paper towel or tea towel, until the dish is ready to plate.
To the pan with the vegetables, add the mirin, soy sauce and almond butter, and stir thoroughly to combine, then add the cooked noodles, and sautée one minute longer. If needed, season with salt - although the soy should cover that.
Sprinkle with fresh cilantro, squeeze half a lime over it, and top the noodles with the egg.
So, next time you're leafing through the pages of your favorite food magazine, or obsessively checking your go-to Instagram accounts, remember, somewhere, just outside of frame, a soufflé died while the battery pack was being replaced.
Here's to an earlier start until the clocks 'spring forward' again!