The photo shoot for our cookbookwith Penny de los Santos ended three weeks ago. My mind has been flashing images of it since — Karen twirling rice vermicelli noodles with the focused attention of a zen archer; Danny whirling through the kitchen flipping sautéeing vegetables in a skillet; Anne laughing with me, then choosing a gleaming green bowl for the next shot; Justin standing apart as the shot was built, then peering at the image on the computer with his intent gaze — and I still don’t know how to put this into words.
Watching Penny look at light and food and color and space, then look again (harder this time)? And working with the team that made every shot possible? It was one of the most joyful and exhausting creative collaborations of my life.
Here’s a little glimpse.
These were some of the props that Anne gathered for the shoot in the months before we came together. Notice that I said “some of the props.” There were a couple of other tables of choices: burnished wooden bowls, plain white plates, forks with curlicues on the ends, tiny bright orange Le Creuset pots. Months before, we all talked about the look we wanted for the book, in great detail. Then, Anne went looking.
So much of this experience was about looking, hard and joyfully.
On the first day of the shoot, Penny made some shots of us at the farmers’ market. And then we came together at the site of of the shoot to set up all the props. I set up my baking station. By the end of the day, we were exhausted. And ready to begin.
(Good friends gave us the run of their house for the photo shoot. We never asked. They volunteered. As you can see, they have incredible light in their living room. And as I probably don’t need to say, both of them are good-hearted people whom we adore.)
We worked every day from 8 am to the last moment before the light left the room. As soon as Danny and I walked into the kitchen, we began cooking. And then we cooked all day long.
At the end of every day, the team gathered to talk about the day and make plans for the next. We revised the order of the shot lists, based on doughs rising or grills not working. Danny and I made a prep list for the next day. Then, we went grocery shopping for any ingredients we somehow had forgotten in the days-long process the week before of gathering all the food we would need.
This wasn’t play. Oh, it was, because that kind of focused energy feels like bouncing beach balls off each other’s hands and into the sky. And there were enough ridiculous inside jokes formed from punch-drunk tired states to last years. But it was work. Hard work.
Danny and I both love hard work.
Plus, we ate. Everyone nibbled on each dish when it was done. There were little happy moans and exclaims of happiness. Danny beamed. The recipes worked. Everyone loved them.
(Up there, that’s the chorizo-stuffed pork loin with roasted red pepper sauce, which will be in the book. That salad was made up on the spot. Penny said, after a forkful, “This salad is so good I could have sex with it.” Anne literally licked her plate clean. That made the weariness fade away for a bit.)
One of the absolute joys of the week was watching Karen Shinto work.
This food stylist is more like a master of concentration. Ninja Shinto we began calling her. Kind and warm, she always asked our opinions. (And said repeatedly how much she loved Danny’s food.) But when she began to work, she grew silent. Nothing could disturb that gaze.
The photographs for our cookbook are going to be extraordinary. Know that what might look effortless and easy actually arose from a constant tension and collaboration between Penny and Karen. They were never very far from each other when we were making a shot. They spoke in shorthand. They knew what they wanted.
I swear, I could watch Karen work all day long.
I feel like I have never learned so much in one week.
It was a bit tough, however. It became quite clear before the shoot that we really couldn’t have Lu there. A wildly curious and funny three-year-old, she would have wanted to be in the middle of everything. And she deserved better than sitting in a corner, being told to be quiet please. Luckily, we have a number of dear friends who watched her during the days with their kids. We knew she was in good hands. We also slept at various friends’ houses each night, since it made no sense to go back and forth to the island every night. It was a bit of a crazy time.
A couple of times, however, at the end of the afternoon, Lu came on set. She loved seeing all the action. She loved hanging out with her dad being silly in the kitchen.
When our friend Jennie arrived with her two girls, Lu joined us. She was so happy to see Isabella and Virginia. (And we’re so grateful to our darling friend Maggy, who took all three girls out on an adventure for the last day of the shoot.)
We couldn’t have her with us for most of the shoot. But she was there for a bit, a part of it all.
Mostly, though, that week was all about the food.
We worked well together, this team. Before we all arrived in Seattle, we had talked many times about the food that will be in the cookbook. Danny and I have been working hard to create dishes that are accessible for weeknight cooking, based on ingredients most folks can gather easily from the grocery store. The techniques will be not-that-difficult. The flavors will be from all around the world. Vibrant and full of color, this food is meant to entice you into the kitchen.
Most of all, we want the cookbook to be useful. We want you to have food stains on nearly every page.
This cookbook is a snapshot of how we eat now, of how we feed Lucy, of how we still grow excited about food when our meals each evening arrive at the table quickly enough for a hungry toddler. It’s made from fresh vegetables we get in our CSA box, the farmers’ market, and our garden. It’s rice and beans, quite a few vegetarian meals, and a few desserts. We’re really excited about it.
So there are green-curried red lentils. Whole-grain millet waffles with creme fraiche, smoked salmon, and capers. Lamb burgers with bacon-tomato jam (and gluten-free buns). And a taco bar, with a few homemade foods (oh, those pickled jalapenos and carrots!) and the rest of the spread from the store.
There is so much we want to share about the cookbook. We’ll be sharing little updates over the next few months.
We hope it will make you hungry.
The very last shot we made?
The apple pie.
Danny and I laughed. Perfect.
This is our team, eating up the melting peach-blackberry popsicles.
Anne, thank you for your good eye in spying every dish we wish we could have taken home with us. Somehow, you knew us. Come over for brunch soon.
Justin, as always, you teach me every time I work with you. Your eagle eye when looking at photographs, and your confidence to say, “Well, what about that spot over here?” — they made every photograph better.
Karen, we adore you. How you made those noodles look so alive? I don’t know. I do know that I want to work with you again and again, learning every moment.
Penny, you are one of the most relentlessly talented and driven artists I have ever met. You have changed me in ways that words will never show. (Spatchcock!)
Danny, working side by side with you makes me better every day. Thank you for all that incredible food. And the dirty jokes that lightened the mood.
Thank you. All of you. It was an honor.
ROASTED LEMON CHICKEN WITH PISTACHIOS
One of the days we cooked for the photo shoot, we had a bit of chicken left over. (We went through four whole chickens in a few days for the chicken chapter.) As Karen and Penny were conferring on something, and Anne picked out props, and Justin looked at the latest photo with a careful eye, and I baked something for the afternoon, Danny cooked up this dish.
When we sat down to lunch, everyone went crazy for this chicken dish. In fact, later, Justin said it might have been his favorite chicken dish. Not of our shoot, but of all the chicken he has eaten. He suggested it should go in the cookbook. We thought about it. However, we have other dishes planned. We just want to share this now.
The pan-roasted lemons create an incredible flavor — sort of charred, sort of sweet — along with the pistachios and golden raisins. When I think that Danny just made this up because these were the ingredients left over, I grow inspired to cook all over again. Hopefully, you will too.
3 tablespoons olive oil
Kosher salt and cracked black pepper
2 whole chicken breasts, cut in half lengthwise
2 chicken thighs
2 chicken legs
1 medium onion, peeled and diced
1 whole organic lemon
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
½ cup white wine
1 cup chicken stock
1 tablespoon butter
¼ cup pistachios
¼ cup golden raisins
Preparing to cook. Preheat the oven to 375°. Remove the top and bottom of the lemon. Cut into 4 slices. Cut those in half and dice them up. Leave the skins on. Season the chicken pieces with salt and pepper, on both sides.
Browning the chicken. Set a large skillet over medium-high heat. Pour in 4 tablespoons of the olive oil. When the oil is hot, add the chicken legs and thighs. Sear the legs and thighs until they are browned on the bottom, about 3 to 4 minutes. Move them to a roasting pan. Add 2 more tablespoons of olive oil and sear the chicken breasts the same way.
Roasting the chicken. When all the browned chicken is in the roasting pan, put it in the oven. Roast the chicken until the breasts reach an internal temperature of 150°, about 10 to 12 minutes, and the thighs and legs reach an internal temperature of 180°, about 12 to 15 minutes. (check. Keep checking.)
Caramelizing the onions and lemons. While the chicken is roasting, set the same skillet over medium-high heat. Add the remaining olive oil. When the oil is hot, add the diced onion. Cook, stirring frequently, until the onion starts to lightly caramelize, about 5 to 6 minutes. Add the lemon pieces. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the lemons have begun to caramelize too, about 5 minutes.
Making the sauce. Add the thyme. Cook until the thyme releases its fragrance, about 2 minutes. Deglaze the pan with the white wine. Cook until the wine has reduced by half its volume, about 3 minutes. Add the chicken stock. Simmer the sauce, stirring occasionally, until it begins to thicken, about 5 minutes.
Pull the roasted chicken from the oven. Put it onto plates to serve.
Finishing the sauce. Add the butter to the sauce and stir until it is fully incorporated. Just before serving, add the pistachios and golden raisins to the sauce and stir. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Give the sauce one last stir.
Pour the sauce over the roasted chicken. Serve.