A month or so ago I read an article about savory whole grain breakfasts, influenced mostly by Asian foods like congee and okayu.
It inspired me to move beyond my usual rolled oats, egg whites and cottage cheese breakfast and start exploring other savory options.
I quizzed my friend Prabaker about this idea. Originally from Madras in Southern India, Prabaker grew up with his mother’s cooking. Now living in Austin he remembers his home country through his favorite dishes.
I asked if he knew of a savory Indian breakfast. Since most breakfasts in India are savory, he mentioned several but I stopped him at Upma.
Upma, pronounced ‘oop-ma’, is a savory pasta dish made with curry leaves, turmeric, tomatoes, peas and carrots. I asked if we could substitute quinoa for the vermicelli to give the dish more protein and make it even healthier.
He came over one Sunday afternoon and made umpa with quinoa.
What is so overwhelming about this dish is the layering of flavor. The spiciness lingers but is never painful and the curry leaves and lemon add a bright, acidic flavor that stays with you for a while.
I’ve tested it with friends and the response is always incredible.
It’s a completely different breakfast and a wonderful way to start the day.
My friends I give you Upma…
Total cook time 15 minutes, makes 6-8 servings.
Olive oil 2 tablespoons
Tomato diced, 1 cup
Onion diced, 1 cup
Curry leaves, roughly chopped ½ cup
Carrots cubed, 1 cup
Green peas 1 cup
Quinoa, cooked 2 cups
Black mustard seeds 1 tablespoon
Asafetida 1 tablespoon
Sea salt 1-1.5 teaspoon or to taste
Fresh lemon juice ¼ cup
Cilantro loosely chopped ½ cup
Turmeric 1 tablespoon
Cayenne ½ teaspoon
Jalapeno or Serrano pepper, 1 whole cut in half with seeds (for less heat remove ½ seeds)
Heat wok on medium, add olive oil and let it heat for a minute.
Add black mustard seeds; listen for them to start popping.
After popping ensues for a few minutes add Serrano pepper. Let it cook for 1 minute then add diced onion, let cook for 2 minutes, add carrots let them soften for 2 minutes. Stir the mixture as the ingredients start to cook.
Add curry leaves, cook another 5 minutes.
Add tomatoes, turmeric and asafetida. The color of dish will change to yellowish because of the turmeric.
Add green peas, stir mixture and cover wok, lower heat and let mixture stew for a few minutes. While this is cooking prepare quinoa.
After quinoa is ready add it to veggie mixture in wok along with cilantro, lemon and salt.
Toss everything in wok well adjust flavor with more lemon and salt to your liking before serving.
A few months ago, I was in Chicago for an assignment at Rick Bayless‘ restaurant, Topolobampo, which serves upscale interior Mexican food.
Bayless, an award winning chef, cookbook author, television personality and restaurateur, has a passion for Mexican food. He’s built an entire career out of sharing this passion. His knowledge and love for the people, their food and the country is intoxicating.
Having worked with him a few times previously, I’ve witnessed his knowledge of Mexican food and history first hand. It’s pretty inspiring.
I grew up around Mexican food. My mother and aunts were amazing home cooks with a focus on border Mexican fare: calabacita con pollo, guisados, arroz con pollo and the ever-present carne asada. I know my fair share of Tex-Mex and border Mex, but interior Mexican is another story. Having someone like Bayless guide you through a market in Puebla, Mexico or take you on a journey of his favorite eateries in D.F (Mexico City) is unforgettable. The words and stories behind the food we ate elevated the experience to a whole new level.
Not surprisingly, spending a day photographing Bayless’ restaurant for the April issue of Saveur Magazine was an equally amazing experience.
I spent 26 hours in Chicago for this assignment. 18 of these were at Topolobampo. The story: a day in the life of one of America’s top restaurants.
The day started before the sun was up and I left after midnight when the last table had been cleared and all the line cooks had cleaned and packed up. At the end of this long, exhausting day, I couldn’t help but feel really happy and fulfilled, primarily because of all that I learned, seen and photographed. This was one of those assignments that makes me love what I do.
Filed under assignments, Chefs, Chicago, Domestic Assignments, Encouragement, Favorite Places, Mexican Food, My Mentors, photography, Restaurants, Rick Bayless
Earlier this year I had an assignment to photograph for Saveur Magazine’s first restaurant issue. The focus of this special issue was to reveal 12 restaurants that matter in the US. One of my assignment for the issue was to photograph David Kinch’s restaurant Manresa in Los Gatos, CA. David is a star in the food world, has been awarded 2 Michelin Stars for his restaurant, nominated for a James Beard Award this year and last week beat Bobby Flay in Iron Chef America… by 10 points.
I was anxious to meet him and to make pictures. I flew into San Jose around mid-day. I started to set up a studio for my food shots upon arriving at Manresa. David came out and we strategized on the shoot. I told him what I needed; elements of the restaurant, energy in the kitchen, him cooking and of course his food. At his Manresa it was very casual and quiet.
After I tested my light and we arranged the food props, he slowly started to bring out his food, one plate at a time, giving me plenty of time to photograph exactly what I wanted from each plate. It was just the two of us and I noticed how he took so much delight in watching me make the pictures and in me tasting his food, too. This really surprised me, how sincere and excited he was about his cooking to sharing his creations. It was so refreshing to work with someone at his level that still had the joy and love for what he did, even for me – someone he’d never met.
Here’s to that spirit that lies in all of us, the one that keeps us excited about the things we create both big and small.
Thanks David…what a great joy it is to give those gifts away…
I was walking out of a store and there it was, on the sidewalk this beautiful vision, sorta sad and eerie but at the same time profoundly beautiful.
It is more about the act of making the picture – the act of seeing – than anything else. I use my camera phone or a point and shoot because one of them is always with me. These images may resurface as postcard special gifts to clients or friends or end up as singles on my website, but usually they just get stored on a hard drive and archived.
I believe it is good practice to always try to make pictures especially when I am not on assignment. I call it visual yoga… a sort of stretching of the eye if you will. The idea is to take a few extra steps to try and see the world around you differently instead of taking the same visual approach or perspective every time I make pictures.
The practice of doing this helps me grow as a visual person and teaches me to explore situations more. For a while I was collecting these daily pictures and putting them into a book I made, if I ever felt uninspired I could thumb through it and see my growth.
In celebration of Mardi Gras I recently visited Nubian Queen Lola’s Cajun Soul Food Restaurant in Austin. Lola’s Shrimp Po Boy is believed to be one of the best in Texas and I was on a mission to try it.
Knowing Lola’s life story makes me appreciate her even more. It’s an overwhelming story guaranteed to make you cheer for her, (someone call Oprah, please). To top it off, on Sundays she closes her restaurant to the public and opens it to the homeless, devoting the entire day to feeding them.
Warning: You’ll wait way too long for your food (because she makes everything to order, right there on the spot) but you will be rewarded as a result. When your Po Boy arrives don’t even try to fit your mouth around it, just don’t, it’s impossible.
It comes loaded with fried onion rings, large perfectly seasoned battered fried shrimp, tomatoes, pickles, lettuce, secret sauce and a side of your choice. (Choosing just one side is difficult, but the beauty is in realizing that you will need to come back and try other options). The first bite of this sandwich will take you from crispy to sweet and then to heaven. The toasted French bread is crusty, warm and mouth-watering. Every bite will feel like a new discovery.
An added bonus to visiting The Nubian Queen is knowing you did something good for the homeless and for Lola.
This week my mentor/friend is in town working on a photography project. As usual she always forces me to think about my work on a larger scale, the bigger picture if you will. We spent time looking at my photographs and when she asked what I was most excited about in my work I knew the answer. No pause, no internal struggle, no furrowed brow, I just put it out there. She listened closely, nodding here and there. “wow, Pennnaay, that’s so interesting…Is there a photograph that says that?” As we looked at my images there it was, quietly peeking at me. I’d made this photograph 2 years ago on assignment. I dug it out of my studio this morning, I’d had it printed, matted and framed for a show I did a year ago. I dusted it off and placed it at the entrance of my house. Every time I enter or leave, I see it. It reminds me of the subtlety and beauty a photograph can have, two things that don’t often happen together when making a picture. But when they do, it gives even more depth. These are my favorite images. When I pass by it, it reminds me of the scenes we see everyday. Some stop us and demand attention while others are softer and we just walk past. To me it’s the quieter ones we don’t always see that make the most evocative and haunting images. This photograph is my reminder to slow down, listen and look for the subtlety life has to offer.
Saveur Magazine sent me on assignment late last year for a story they ran in their December 2008 issue. The assignment was a food feature on Iraqi refugees living and practicing their food traditions in Beirut. The situation was pretty intense for a photographer, let alone a western woman operating in a Hezbollah-run neighborhood where journalists, especially foreign ones, were prohibited and detained. My access was limited and quick as we didn’t want to draw too much attention to the Iraqi men, which could have been very dangerous for them.
The few nights I spent photographing these gentlemen were amazing. Photographically it was terrible, no electricity, not able to use flash (draws too much attention through the windows, raising suspicion with watchmen patrolling the neighborhood). But when they lit candles for their evening meal signifying the end of their Ramadan Fast it couldn’t have been better. The orange glow from the candles lit their faces just enough to give it the right amount of detail and emotion and capture the moment.
There we sat on the floor, cut up garbage bags as our table cloth, feasting on spiced chicken stew with chic peas. As I scooped up every bite with flat bread it all tasted like heaven. It was the best meal and the best table I ate at the entire trip. It was one of those moments I’ll always remember because of what it symbolized. The customs and cultural traditions of these Arab Iraqi men don’t allow me to socialize with them , not as a woman, nor as a journalist/photographer. It was my camera that allowed me access to their world. It was a great reminder of how much food can bring us together and give us something in common if only for a few hours. It’s funny how the most incredible experiences can happen in the hardest of situations.
This is an image taken from my most recent assignment, working on Andrea Nguyen‘s newest book due September 2009 (Ten Speed Press). I spent all of last week in San Francisco working with the Andrea and food stylist Karen Shinto photographing some 50 images for the book. Andrea’s first book “Into the Vietnamese Kitchen” was ground breaking for Vietnamese cooking in this country. In her dumpling book she creates beautiful artisanal dumplings and makes the process of creating these bite size pockets of joy relatively easy. From the famous Shanghai soup dumpling to Malaysia’s onde onde, Andrea’s knowledge and writings about this food will be another first of it’s kind. On a personal note, the dumplings were incredible, I had a really hard time not eating my sets, seriously!
I decided to start this blog after countless people have asked me the same questions over and over: where is the most exciting place you’ve been, what’s the most beautiful thing you have ever photographed, and if you could go back to any place you’ve gone to where would it be. This blog is my answer, as well as a look at food and food culture, and travel and photography from various assignments around the world. Mostly it’s a chance to share with you exciting things I discovered, photographs I loved and a sampling of the incredible food. In addition to all that I hope it’s a place for you to discover the world of food beyond your own table. Food is the great connector, a great way to discover a country and uncover its history and amazing photographs happen around it.