how strange it is

asparagus salad with salmon


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.

12 comments on “how strange it is

  1. Claire at Plant & Plate

    And so we have this series of moments, linking us together through the images of food we share and love, from your memory of asparagus salad, to its photograph, to Lu’s craving for honey, to the cut-paper illustrations that taught her to crave it; her enthusiasm and your retelling enough to convince me that I need a copy of “To Market, To Market” to read to my little nephews, against the day they begin to wonder why Auntie is always taking photographs of her food.

  2. Laura Chutny

    Love your blog, straight from the heart. It is a little weird that we take pics of our food. But then people have always made likenesses of whatever fascinated them. I like photos of bicycles.. 🙂 (helps that i have 3 bikes myself). so, in the spirit of sharing, maybe you should post that old photo on Throwback Thursday or some such … 😉

  3. Eliza B

    The world has changed a lot in the past ten years. I must admit, I’m still not up on all these different instagrams and tumblrs and twitters etc. I’m one of those people that preferred the world before but doesn’t know how to live outside of the world which we inhabit now. Its become quite strange, but we live in it, we learn in it, and it keeps changing and growing around us.

  4. Heidi

    Funny that you mention this bc my mother and I have been taking pics of our food for so long, my dad still gets uncomfortable in restaurants and feels the need to tell the server we are “food critics” even though we are not.

  5. Little E's Kitchen

    I also enjoy taking pictures of the food that I make. I get excited about creating new recipes, thinking about how to plate them, etc. I loved when you said “if one person could see the picture and think “this isn’t really so bad!” it’s worth it!” I totally agree! Great post!

  6. Lynn

    My youngest son traveled abroad when he was in high school and he was absolutely the only one he knew who took photos (his first digital camera as I recall) of everything he ate during the trip. His friends tolerated his quirkiness, but to this day he remains delighted he can gaze at those photos! And regarding all the technology? I think it’s wonderful we can pick-and-choose what we want to participate in. And while I “get” all this tweeting and facebooking stuff, it doesn’t appeal to me on any level. Choices. Lovely to have ’em.

  7. Alessandra

    Shauna, thank you. I absolutely love this – you’ve now inspired me to take endless snaps of whatever I had been enjoying that day. As a teenager, I’ve delved into the world of technology by necessity (although I suppose it’s not really!), and it’s sometimes hard to judge how to use it in a way which will bring happiness to others. Thank you for your story!

  8. Carolina

    What an insightful and reflective post! I really enjoyed reading it.
    I take pictures of food all the time, my husband even helps me get things in the right angle. It took my parents a little to get use to it. Now the joke about it in a loving way.

  9. Jenn Sutherland

    How funny that you wrote about that asparagus salad recipe today. As I was rifling through the crisper this morning before dawn cracked, I decided to make this salad, and whipped up the lemon tahini dressing…I didn’t even remember where I’d gotten the recipe originally, only that we love this salad. I love these moments of synchronicity…especially in local asparagus season.

  10. James Cochrane

    It is becoming much more popular for people to take pictures of their meals that restaurants in New York City are starting to frown on it. It’s not that they don’t want their food portrayed. It’s because people are really starting to go crazy and do stuff like stand on their chairs to get a better angle of their food. Plus when the flash goes off in the restaurant, this can be annoying to patrons. I am not commenting on my opinion about this as it really doesn’t bother me if people want to take shots of their food. But this is what several restaurants are adopting at this point in time. Thanks for the post. That salmon dish with the asparagus looks awesome!

  11. Instagram junkie

    I always feel uncomfortable taking pics of food in public but at the same time I feel the need to do it and share it. At home I take a million pix of my food but of course I don’t tell anyone

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