I’m addicted to food. I think it is the food. Or, is it the packaging that helps feed my addiction (perhaps both)? And by packaging, I don’t just mean clever graphics, pretty bottles or catchy phrases…necessarily. Sometimes, it is how Nature packages itself up in a pretty little shape, a sexy color, or a little grit. I am addicted to food.
Some people collect shoes. I collect food. I had to think long and hard before spending $10 on a pair of socks last week but didn’t even hesitate to shell out $10.00 for a bag of fresh cranberry beans at a Farmer’s Market. It makes me happy just knowing that I helped an independent farm and that the beans are in my ‘fridge waiting for a delicious plate to land on (whereas those socks, cool as they are, will just end up lost…from each other, and inevitably with a hole in the toe after one wear). Hopefully those cranberry beans won’t still be in my ‘fridge next week, turning brown and growing mold (yet they probably will). This happens sometimes. I let things sit too long. Sometimes because I forget it is there (buried underneath the latest find). Sometimes I am saving it for just the right thing to make, which often occurs to me a little late. Yet sometimes, I just like to buy fancy products, or interesting products, or something unique, ambiguous, or special; as long as it is a food product. Those might sit on my pantry shelf, in my refrigerator or out on display, too precious to open (like a beautifully wrapped gift). Because once opened, it gets used and then it is gone (yet I know, edible things are meant to be consumed). Like those bottles of wine we purchased in Napa Valley well over a decade ago, hand carried home on the plane (because you could do that 15 years ago) and still haven’t drank (which, let’s face it, is the point; to drink them!). There is the obnoxiously large bottle of black truffle pieces packed in oil that I shelled out $50 for thirteen years ago. Yep, still in my pantry (no good to me now, but there they sit, taunting me every time I open the door). Though I may have gotten my $50 worth just by looking at them so many times, contemplating ways in which I would use them…someday!
Sometimes it is the anticipation that brings us the most joy? But now that I am admitting this (to myself), I realize the food is never really gone, the memory will always be there; it is about the experiences (plus sometimes, you can buy more). During a demonstration by Thierry Rautereau at the IFBC 2014 conference, he teased the audience that the “good olive oil”, that we shelled out the “big bucks” for, is not meant to just sit on the counter. In fact, it shouldn’t be on the counter at all (to be destroyed by the heat, “stick it in the fridge at least”). He urged us to put it to use, as he drizzled copious amounts over a beautiful and quick tomato soup. I chuckled to myself and caught a little snicker in Tom’s grin as he looked over at me, knowing that I am guilty of this. The first thing I did when we went home that night (after letting Ginger and Buddy out of course), was to pop open my latest good bottle of olive oil and douse it over some thick, country bread. We washed that down with some wine (yet some of those bottles from Napa are still cradled in our wine fridge), baby steps.
I bought another loaf of bread today. Actually, I bought two. This in addition to the bag of day-old ciabatta buns and the bag of mini potato baguettes. My bread drawer is already full, no room at the Inn(box)! As I transfer the walnut wheat baguette from it’s paper pouch to a wrap of foil, I contemplate freezing it for later use. When I asked the girl behind the counter to get it down so I could take it home, I really couldn’t stop thinking about how it would taste with a trickle of good olive oil and a thin slice of cheese, something sturdy and pungent. Perhaps a little honey too? Or a swath of blueberry conserve, freshly made. I also pictured a smear of white bean dip, dripping with garlic, creamy and white atop the dark, nutty bread, perhaps crowned with a slice of proscuitto (and possibly a fig?). But I am too full now, and dinner is poblano stew. With poblano stew, I need corn tortillas. Warmed over a flame until lightly blistered. I have been hoarding those as well. In fact, I now realize, I might have been hoarding the wrong kind (and they too may have gone bad). Oops.
It might sound as if I have started off-topic (or rambling on as Tom alerted me), but in fact, this topic is precisely the point. I promised I would give a summary of the IFBC conference I “recently” attended (Tom’s procrastination has rubbed off on me it appears), so now, that is what I am going to do, and let’s face it, people willing to fly in from out of state to attend this thing, must also be addicted to food. It appears I am in excellent company.
I bet you all are wondering what it is like to attend a food bloggers conference? Well, of course, assuming you have never actually attended one. I had not attended one before this year and wondered what it would be like myself. I expected, well, I’m not really sure what I expected. So I did what any curious person would do. I Googled it. What to expect. I typed in “what to expect at a food bloggers conference”. Go ahead. Give it a try. Did you find Irwin (here)? Funny stuff. Sadly, this post won’t be as funny. But for that I won’t apologize. He is clearly a funny guy.
And I’m okay with that. What I did not expect, was to walk into a “candy” store for food addicts. It was insane. Insane in a good way?! A lot of wonderful sponsors showcased their food and wares in creative and delicious ways (yes, delicious, they fed us too). There was mention of a swag bag on the website. I didn’t think much of it because, we were there for the speakers and meeting like-minded people, not for the food. But then the swag bag turned out to be a swag room. A ballroom filled with tables of product for the taking. So I now have a swag shelf! I am grateful and excited to try these products (many of which I have never tried). I know how much money and effort those companies put into this so I want to say thanks. Thank you. Each of you. Too many to list here so I want to just highlight some of my favorites, especially those lesser known ones:
“Our friends from Spain“, Aneto, brought each participant a personalized apron. These guys are really cool (and so are the aprons)! They also brought many pounds worth of broth…from Spain(!). This is not just any broth. This is artisan broth, 100% natural, gluten free and from what I can tell, hard to come by (as in sells out fast), pricey but worth the money. We all know that Spain is home of the Paella so how clever to have Paella broth? Even though it surely put them over their weight limit at baggage check.
Soy Vay. Say what? Soy Vay – Toasted Sesame Dressing and Marinade (formally called Cha-Cha Chinese Chicken Salad Dressing). I typically don’t use bottled marinades and dressings. If I do buy them, it is usually to do with the packaging (there it is again), wholesomeness, and perhaps an unusual ingredient or combination. They often end up on my pantry shelf along with those truffles. Last night, however, I decided to give this a try on my salmon prep. There are no preservatives and the ingredients were all familiar to pronounce and not unlike what I might make myself. I was tired. I was hungry and I didn’t want to think too hard. And I am glad I gave it a try. It was delicious as a marinade for the salmon (I also brushed it on my roasted eggplant) and it worked perfectly to dress some cabbage and red grapes that I tossed together for a side salad. I grilled the salmon on a cedar plank and threw fully, non-husked, fresh, sweet corn (from Hunter Farms) directly on the grill. Dinner was delicious (with very little effort).
Lesley Stowe stole my heart with her attention to detail, delectable appetizer pairings and a “cracker” that I can finally get behind. Her specialty food line that boasts the small batch product raincoats crisps, is perfect for entertaining, eating straight from the box or making a mini meal. She and her wonderful staff created a mini party and welcome oasis amongst a multitude of distracting noise.
While I am thanking people, it would be remiss of me not to give a big shout out and bear hug of gratitude to our hosts of this event, Foodista’s Founders, Sheri Wetherell and Barnaby Dorfman! These guys know how to educate, inspire and throw a fabulous party. Thanks guys! We will be back for sure.
Meanwhile, back to the conference; the keynote speakers were the husband and wife team Karen Page and Andy Dornenburg, that delivered a powerfull, inspiring start to the conference. It turned out I own (and really loved reading) their book titled becoming a Chef and will definitely be buying a copy of their new book The Vegetarian Flavor Bible.
Hands down though, our favorite speaker was Todd Coleman, previous Executive Food Editor of Saveur magazine, who recently launched a company called Creative Concepts. His talk was on photography. Although self-proclaimed as not actually a photographer per say, he really is (a good photographer and professional Photographer and Creative Director of Todd Coleman Photography). He mostly has tenacity, vision and the ability to do the unexpected intuitively. He doesn’t follow the rules and doesn’t think in a straight line. Doing the unexpected, the un-allowed, even the outrageous, to get a good shot, is how he is able to deliver un-staged (staged) imagery that evoke culinary emotion. My kind of guy. He is also humble, casual and off-the-cuff. I am embarrassed to admit that I actually asked someone to take a picture of us. I NEVER do that. Not even sure why I did. I felt really silly afterwards because that is something I pride myself on NEVER(!) doing.
When I was young, we once had Lee Meriwether (from TV’s Barnaby Jones, as Catwoman on Batman circa 1966, and former Miss America 1955), Robert Reed (from The Brady Bunch) and others…to our house (in Alaska) during a fund-raiser my Mom was putting on for the American Cancer Society. She bought my brother and I each a little “autograph-friendly” stuffed animal that we were to fill up with autographs from all the celebrities that attended. I refused to get mine signed because I didn’t want to look like a groupie. Plus, I thought it was dumb, to have someone’s signature. Who cares? So instead, I stood there next to Todd Coleman and smiled while someone took our picture with my phone. Delete(!). He now classifies me as a groupie, I’m sure. Maybe I should have sent HIM the picture instead of deleting it. How lucky of him to be photographed next to ME? No? I guess not. Silly. In any case, if I ever meet him again, perhaps I will actually have an intelligent conversation about, say, something that he could offer unique insight into, like perhaps, publishing, magazine submittals, what it is like to be an editorial superstar/design visionary. Instead I asked him what kind of camera I should buy. I’m sorry Todd, I really am an intelligent person. Don’t judge me by my (or at least my husband’s) adolescent behavior.
Todd’s words of wisdom:
“Challenge the viewer. Over the top mess…I let the milkshake sit. I did all sorts of things to the chocolate cake after more traditional shots.”
On location one day, Todd was out peaking in windows and saw an old women sitting at her table (stalking with good intention). He went and got a pizza from the restaurant he was shooting (photographs, not bullets) and asked her if he could photograph her with it in her house (hutzpah?)…creative staging!
On another occasion, he was “in a really crappy place. This guy was in here with his son. I just talked to him. I showed interest…I spent an hour taking photos. I was doing a professional photoshot with them and they didn’t even know it was happening; it ran a full page spread.”
“Get in close with a wide angle lens. Get in really close; push into the food. Don’t worry about getting mole on your camera.”
“These were some bad-ass dudes. I got the shot and got the hell out. People can get really upset with you. Sometimes it is better not to ask permission.“
With that thought, the above pictures with words of wisdom from Todd, were courtesy of my iPhone taking photos of Todd’s images projected in a poorly-lit conference space and on my iPad taking notes with auto-correct deciphering what I typed. I did not ask permission.
After retrieving my iPhone from the stranger that took the infamous Todd ‘n Me photo and deleting it, it was time for…
...a brief intermission (across the street at chef Jason Wilson’s new(er) restaurant Miller’s Guild – highly recommended).
Back to the conference.
There were several sessions involving social media, something that is definitely not my strong suit, but since I need to make myself stronger in that department, I dutifully attended. What I learned is this. Google+ is (apparently) the cornerstone of social media and we should all be using it. I will be looking into this further. Advice or helpful hints are gratefully welcome if you want to leave me a comment (please?). Seriously though (I am serious), both Tom and I felt that being there was a humanization of living/working in such a virtual world. Meeting face-to-face cannot be traded for tech. Never will! Just like turning a physical page can NOT be traded for scrolling. The virtual world was a little bit humanized by this conference, in that we were all here, together!
Our favorite session was on wines of Bordeaux (apparently this was everyone else’s favorite too; as they were overwhelmed with the unexpected over-attendance). It was informative, interactive (think wine tasting) and fun. Virginia (don’t call her that), AKA: Reggie, Reg, and er, Regina (rhymes with, well, you know) who teaches at South Seattle Community College (ironically located in West Seattle) is definitely someone I would like to tag along with to France. Or South Central, WA, in which we were invited to harvest grapes, but sadly couldn’t attend (blasted day jobs).
Tom has a few quick tasting notes:
1. Sparkling Rosé from Bordeaux is…t a s t y (especially in the middle of the day, stuck in a conference room on a gorgeous, sunny Fall day).
2. White wine from Bordeaux is…t a s t y (especially in the middle of the day, stuck in a conference room on a gorgeous, sunny Fall day).
3. Red wine from Bordeaux is… really t a s t y (especially in the middle of the day, stuck in a conference room on a gorgeous, sunny Fall day).
4. In all seriousness, it was informative, interactive (got to get to know your table mates trying to identify scents, easy ones like vanilla, harder citrus and nut ones, and tricky ones like “church pew” (no kidding). Reg is a great educator, clever, funny, a little naughty, someone you would want to take a class from, even if it was calculus. Well, maybe not. But if you had to take calculus, she’s the teacher with the wait list.
Later that night, the real “tasting” continued.
I will leave you with a little tomato soup disguised as an amuse as demonstrated by Seattle’s entertaining culinary pioneer “The Chef in the Hat”, Thierry Rautureau (see commentary above). He didn’t need to turn up the heat to get the place smoking, because the butter used in his demonstration almost invited the local firemen for lunch. The room, however smokin’ as it was, was F R E E Z I N G. So my/our only request for next year is, TURN UP THE HEAT, please. No smoke required.
Tomato soup with goat cheese quenelle – amuse bouche
1 1/4 lbs fresh tomatoes, rinsed and coarsely diced
2 cloves of garlic – peeled and chopped
A handful of fresh basil, cleaned, dried and sliced
Sea salt to taste
Good quality olive oil
Optional: fresh chèvre for garnish
Heat a sauté pan and add a bit of olive oil. Let it rush around the pan to coat.
Add the tomatoes, followed by the garlic.
Give the pan a toss. Your heat should be on medium.
Let this cook just a few minutes more until the tomatoes begin to soften. Throw in the basil and toss again, cooking another minute.
Mix in sea salt to taste.
Transfer the tomato mixture to a blender or food processor and purée to your desired consistency. For a simple, quick meal, freeze individual portions in Ziploc freezer bags for later use.
TO SERVE (Chef in the Hat style)
Fill martini glasses with chilled soup. Using a spoon form the chèvre into oval (quenelle) shapes and place in the center of the soup. Top with a basil leaf or other sprig of herb.
This is soup is also delicious warmed with a grilled cheese sandwich or spread on grilled bread and topped with soft cheese and herbs.
Todd should be proud (abnormal serving + over the top mess)!
To new friends! Doug (& Ron), see you next year?
Tom and I made our finale meal back across the street at Miller’s Guild for (my favorite) fried chicken + egg brunch before I went to my next stop, writing class with Kathleen Flinn.!! Highly recommend!
What a weekend it was!