The other day I watched this TED talk by Penny De Los Santos. She said she’s learned that her success as a food photographer has little to do with her facility with the mechanics of the camera, attributing her ability to capture intimate, beautiful images instead to personal openness, presence and vulnerability; a willingness to observe (and chase down) pinpont-sized moments. You should take 10 minutes to sit down and watch it if, for no other reason, than to familiarize yourself with her work.
At the end of a talk that took the audience halfway around the globe, she ended by saying, “I ask all of you, right here, right now, to see this moment. See it. Really see it.”
Of course there are “be here now” kinds of phrases everywhere. Especially, inexplicably, in places such as the sides of mugs and stitched onto throw pillows. And it’s one thing to see them there. Quite another to hear it from the goddess of food photography.
I happened to be taking a break from photo editing while my kids were at school when I watched this and I thought about taking her advice in the form of a walk around the block with my camera, to capture images of whatever I found. But that felt forced so I started shooting my work space instead, a dusty desk covered with snacks, books, notes, my laptop and the prettiest lamp in the house.
My desk lives on the unheated open landing at the top of our stairs. The space feels cozy or cluttered, depending on my mood and the urgency of my projects. In that moment, it felt comforting, the clutter surrounded by the round, full hold of my family.
I write beneath a portrait of my mother, painted by my grandmother when my mom was about thirteen years old. On the wall to my right we have a small collection of family photos: our own nuclear family when my daughter was a preschooler and my son in the womb, a formal studio shot of my paternal grandparents, a family portrait with my dad and brothers when I was twelve, an informal shot of my mom and brother with their arms around each other.
I don’t have privacy in this space unless no one’s home. But its location also means my work is integrated into the rhythm of the house, vulnerable to the whims of heroes flying past and young artists who need to use the printer, yes, but also a part of everything. It’s a lovely, sometimes inconvenient, dedicated workspace with a high ceiling and fresh air when I crank open the window in the warm months. The perfect place to be, I saw, at that moment. Working. Thinking.
Soon after, I settled on what I’d cook for you with some curly-leaved spinach grown by Left Foot Organics. I decided it’s a good moment for spinach soup because for me the dish is linked, forever and happily, with my mom’s cooking. I ate it around the holidays when I was growing up but as the seasons go, it makes more sense to have it around this time of year when greens are just available and the weather is still chilly enough for a warm meal.
This soup is one my mom learned to make in a cooking class when I was an infant and she was in her early twenties. It’s a bright green combination of simple flavors: spinach, broth, cream, lemon, nutmeg. Enjoy it, preferably in a space that feels good to you at the moment.
Creamy Spinach Soup
1½ pounds spinach
2½ T butter
1 shallot, finely chopped
¼ cup flour
2½ cups broth (vegetable or chicken, not beef)
salt and pepper to taste
1¼ cups milk
3-4 T heavy cream
Wash spinach and remove stalks. Cook for 3 minutes in boiling,
salted water. Drain, removing as much water as possible.
Melt butter. Add shallot and cook for 2-3 minutes, until soft.
Blend in flour with a wire whisk. Add stock, then spinach.
Season with salt and pepper and stir until boiling.
Lower the heat. Cover, and simmer for 20 minutes. Purée.
Add the milk and taste for seasoning. Put a lemon slice in each
bowl and spoon soup over the top, or float a lemon slice on top.
Drizzle a bit of heavy cream in the center and add a pinch of nutmeg.