quinoa salmon salad in the fading evening light

quinoa salmon salad, originally uploaded by shaunaforce.

I took a big bowl of quinoa salad out onto my porch this evening, set it down on the stone steps, then hunched over it to take a photo. I know that I must have looked a sight to the cars driving by, but I didn’t care. I’ll do anything for a good photograph of food.

All my life, I’ve loved to write. Since I was two years old, I’ve been jotting down stories, words I like, and phrases that stay in my head. In my family, there’s a running joke about how, no matter what my future career plan as a child, I always said, “And I’ll write about it.” (Especially when I was going to be the first woman in the major leagues.) I’m working on a novel, and I’ve written essays for years. I’ve had blogs for the past two years, and I’ve loved the semi-daily writing, the semi-frequent feedback, and the chance to tell my stories. So I’m not surprised that I avidly look forward to the chance to sit down and write here every day.

But you couldn’t have told me how much I love taking photographs.

Oh, now that I think about it, I should have seen it coming. Photographs of family, friends, and places I have been adorn nearly every wall of my home, and my office at school. Friends have always told me, “You have a good eye.” And I’ve always soaked up photographs of other people with a fervent curiosity others rarely share. I swear, I could look at vacation photos of strangers. I love the way photographs reveal our lives, especially the unplanned ones. I know more names of groundbreaking photographers than the average person. And most importantly, taking photographs mimics the way I write: close observation, an ephemeral moment in time, and something unexpected in that space. The mundane made beautiful.

Digitial photography, of course, has made my life infinitely richer. Because now, I take photographs. In the days of only film, I just couldn’t afford to take shots of interesting textures or splotches of red. And half of them came back out of focus when I did splurge on film. A disappointment. But now, I can simply draw my tiny Nikon from my bag and surreptiously snap something that catches my eye. I do it all day long now. I feel more alive for it.

But even in the midst of this, I didn’t know how much I would love taking photographs of food. Like this photograph of smoked salmon, which I took just before I cut it up for the quinoa salad:

DSCN3247smoked salmon

I don’t consider myself anything more than an enthusiastic amateur, but that’s how I feel about my cooking too. I don’t need to be perfect. I don’t even need to be great. I just think, with a rampant glee inside my increasingly wide mind: I have so much left to learn!

And in the end, that’s one of the main reasons I’m alive.

But the light is dwindling these days. It feels as though it grows darker at least ten minutes earlier every day. At this point, it’s hard to believe those days in June, when the light lingered in the sky until nearly 11 o’clock. Every year, this saddens me. But this year, I’m panicked. If I’m at school until 4, and walk to the bus in the dark, how am I going to take pictures for the blog? This is actually what I think about these days.

In fact, the other day, I was vacuuming the north main hall at school. (We have an Environment program, in which every kid and teacher comes together for fifteen minutes, three times a week, to clean the school in teams. I teach at a funky place, of course.) Meditatively running the vacuum back and forth, I was enjoying the patch of warm sunlight on the worn brown carpet. And then I thought, I know! In January, I’ll bring in containers of food with me to school, and then I can take pictures of it in my office during breaks! I broke into laughter at myself—I’ve clearly become obsessed. The assistant head of school walked by me at that moment, and he complimented me on my vacuuming. I think he wondered if I was enjoying myself too much.

But that’s what this blog has done to me. I think about food. Talk about food. Read recipes on the bus. Imagine dinner. Compare notes on great places to buy spices with friends. Peruse other food blogs. Spend hours every evening chopping happily in the kitchen. And mostly, I think about how to photograph that quinoa salmon salad, so it still looks good at 6 pm, even though the light is fading fast.

Quinoa Salad with Smoked Salmon and Capers, from Stephan Pyles’ Southwestern Vegetarian

1 tablespoon of olive oil
1 tablespoon of unsalted butter
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup of quinoa
2 teaspoons of salt
2 1/2 cups of vegetable or chicken stock
6 ounces of sliced smoked salmon
1/2 cup capers, drained and rinsed
2 tablespoons of prepared horseradish
2 tablespoons of sliced fresh chives

In a saucepan, over medium-high heat, heat the oil and butter until the butter melts and begins to foam. Add the garlic and quinoa to the pan and toast until the quinoa begins to pop, about two to three minutes. Add the salt and stock and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer, cover the pan, and cook for fifteen minutes, or until the liquid is absorbed. Remove from the heat, pour the mixture evenly onto a cookie sheet, and refrigerate for up to one day.

Once the quinoa has cooled, add the salmon, capers, horseradish, and chives, and toss to combine well. Serve chilled or at room temperature.

7 comments on “quinoa salmon salad in the fading evening light

  1. kitchenmage

    nice… i’ve just started getting a bit more serious about my photography and i can definitely see how i could become heavily focused on the pictorial side of things…

  2. mrs d

    Hey Shauna, this post so rings true with me — everything from fear of wasting film back in my 35mm days to having a novel in progress!

    Also, food photos in winter: Yup yup, we’re having fears here too. Our indoor light is awful, and our camera does poorly in it. I’ve attempted adding full-spectrum lights to an indoor shot, but nothing beats a nice ray of sunshine! (We often take pictures on the deck and fend off the dog!) I’m thinking we’ll be doing most of our cooking-for-photos midday on the weekends, or I’ll photograph all dinners as leftovers the next day — provided there’s anything left to photograph!

    Oh, and that quinoa salad looks scrumptious in the afternoon light!

  3. Beth - The Zen Foodist

    I have SO MUCH to learn about food photography. It’s a lot harder than I ever imagined. You do a great job!

  4. Marisa

    Wow! All of the pictures on this site look delicious, but I think this looks the best! Maybe because I miss pasta salads so much…

  5. Kristi

    Looks DELICIOUS!! I have a question, though…I've always rinsed my quinoa, and the recipe doesn't mention that. Is it a necessary step? Or am I to assume that I had already rinsed it?

  6. Anonymous

    I would suggest *always* rinsing quinoa. I grew up where it originates and it is standard procedure to rinse it really well. It's even rubbed between your hands like when washing clothes! 😀

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