My friend Sharon and I had a strange habit back in the 1990s. We took photographs of our food.
Sharon and I took photos of peach pie in a tiny restaurant in South Dakota, barbecue in restaurants in Wyoming on burbling rivers, and even the Dr. Pepper the size of our heads she insisted at getting at that one gas station offering it free with a tank of gas. Our epic road trip from Ithaca to Ashland mostly meant a lot of food, even driving 60 miles out of our way for chicken noodle in an Amish café. We took photographs of it all.
I still have a glossy print of a poorly composed shot I took at Le Pain Quotidien, one of our favorite restaurants in New York when we lived there. We always sat at the communal table, ordered café au laits as we studied the menu, and then waited for plates of sandwiches with curried egg salad and piles of arugula, thin slices of ham with gruyere cheese, and smoked salmon with soft gobs of avocado and sprigs of dill. We savored those little open-faced sandwiches (that was before I knew they were called tartines), Sharon smacking her lips as she reached for the next bite, and we sighed with happiness at the perfect afternoon. One day, just before I left the city, I grabbed my flimsy Kodak camera and took a photo of Sharon’s slim fingers reaching for another sandwich. I was nowhere near the window so the light was terrible. This was long before digital cameras, so I had no way of looking at my composition. I would never post it on the blog now. Not good enough.
But then — and now — I cherished that glossy print as a record of the afternoon with my dear friend. Now that she’s teaching in China, and I haven’t seen her in nearly a year, I would give anything to have lunch with her there again. (No tartines for me now, though.) At least I have that crummy photograph to remind me.
Today, I had lunch with a dear friend and her very darling baby, whom we all adore. When June grew a little fussy while we waited for the bill, I pulled out my phone and showed her the photos I had taken of her a few moments before. She calmed right down, fascinated. (And then she pulled the phone toward her and tried stuffing it in her mouth.) How much times have changed, when an 8-month-old knows already what she looks like in photographs, taken three minutes before.
And how strange it is that we all take photographs of our food now.
I have over 1000 photos on my phone right now, photos of salt-cured anchovies we ate in the Cinque Terra, slices of watermelon with ribbons of basil and drizzles of olive oil, and my daughter just about to eat a cone of Sicilian lemon gelato from GROM in Lucca. (Someday soon, I’ll download them and delete all the multiples. Someday.) I’m a big fan of Instagram and I have to stop myself from posting little moments of light all day. (I’m glutenfreegirl there too.)
However, we have to admit that things have grown a little weird.
This weekend, on a warm day, I remembered the asparagus salad we posted here years ago. Our favorite farmers’ market on Vashon had opened that morning, and we went a little crazy with the asparagus, the radishes, the mustard greens, and cherries. (Oh the cherries! Lu had red-streaked cheeks all weekend from eating them.) With so many spindly stalks of asparagus, what should we make?
Danny peeled about a dozen stalks of asparagus. I grated three enormous radishes on top of the pile of asparagus. We tore up mustard greens and threw in salted marcona almonds we had bashed a bit with the rolling pin. And then I drizzled on lemon-tahini dressing (with an emphasis on the lemon) and tossed it around with our hands. That and a fillet of Copper River salmon was our Saturday evening dinner.
Taken with the colors, I made a shot of it. Later, I posted it on Instagram. I’m conscious of the fact that every time I show something delicious we’ve eaten — something vibrant in color and desirous — it’s possible that someone will see it and think, “Hey, maybe gluten-free isn’t so bad after all!” So I post photos of our dinner, knowing full well this is one of the silliest habits I have.
Still, I persist.
And almost immediately, the comments started pouring in. “I need that.” “Can you please post the recipe?” “Man!” By the end of the evening, the photo had 262 likes.
Isn’t the world strange? I made something in our kitchen and people in Boston and London and Kuwait dreamt of making a version of our salad in their own kitchens.
We’ve come a long way from flimsy Kodak cameras and glossy photos that aren’t composed well to sharing our dinners immediately on our our phones. To be honest, I’m not sure which world I prefer. But we’re here now.