What do you do if you suffer from permanent wanderlust? If you are yearning for the sun and foreign cultures? If the stress of daily life has you in its clutches and the next holiday is still so far away?
Some people might look at old travel photos, but this tends to make me even more wistful. What helps me is to stand at my cook top and cook! I believe that food does not only fill your stomach, it feeds the soul, it awakens memories, it makes you happy. Practicing mindfulness while preparing a meal can keep you grounded in the most stressful times and bring rest to your soul. And, on top of this, it can help a little in assuaging the longing for faraway places.
We had a wonderful time appeasing our longing to be in New England, where we went on a road trip last summer, with a companionable evening with friends and homemade pulled pork burgers. However, if my longing for tropical markets, sunny climes, and exotic fragrances is too strong, then I’ll cook Thai! Thai cuisine abounds with inspiring aromas, freshness and exoticism… for me, it really is what one would call “soul food”.
As a blogger, I love capturing the preparation of my wanderlust-favorite-dishes with my camera in order to share it later with my blog readers. This combines several of my passions in one.. my love of good food, my permanent desire to travel (which I can thus indulge in – mentally at least), and my joy in taking photos. I enjoy arranging ingredients and searching for the right perspectives for my own picture language. When I do this, I can lose track of the world around me. I can forget that outside it is February and uncomfortably cold. I forget that I felt stressed by day-to-day activities only a short while ago. Food photography becomes a type of meditation.
There are quite a number of exceptionally gifted food photographers and food bloggers who continue to inspire me. The individual picture language of Dietlind Wolf, Katie Quinn Davies’ “What Katie Ate” and Kathrin Koschitzki’s “Photisserie” are so distinctive.
I also love the picture compositions by the “Green Kitchen Stories” team and those of my dear fellow blogger Jeanny of Zucker, Zimt & Liebe.
Over the last two years I have learned that you don’t necessarily have to be a professional food stylist to take expressive pictures of food. Generally speaking, I love unusual viewpoints for my photos and this can also be transferred to photographing food. For example, often I would take a photo almost horizontally across a table top, focusing on a particular detail. I like the tension between focus and blurring which is created by a shallow depth of field – from a bird’s eye view, too. Although this is more or less customary in food photography, I don’t always use a tripod when taking photos.
Because I like a change in perspective, I am often too impatient to keep on re-positioning the tripod and I end up taking “free-hand” photos. The lens I use has a 50 mm high-speed fixed focal length. Natural light is indispensable, preferably side-on! The incidence of light, however, is also a matter of taste, and it is exciting to observe to what extent it can change the appearance of the food.
Matt Armendariz has written a wonderful book which helped me a lot during my first serious steps into food photography. It is called “Focus on Food Photography for Bloggers“. One thing I particularly like about him is that he offers assistance without being dogmatic. While many professional photographers initially demand that you become familiar with your camera and learn to take photos using manual settings, he says: „Don’t feel bad for only shooting in auto mode. Be easy on yourself. It’s okay to shoot auto!” Personally, I find that very refreshing!
Talking about refreshing… in Germany we have a neat saying when it comes to preparing meals: “Your eyes eat too!” How true.
And now of course, after my photos have probably made your mouth water, I couldn’t leave you without the recipe for this Thai meal…
Pomelo-Shrimp Salad (Yam Som Oh)– 4 servings
ca. 300 g (10 1/2 ounces) shrimps
2 small red shallots
3 spring onions
1-2 bird’s eye chilies (if the small ones are too hot for you, you might want to use a milder red chili instead)
2 tbsp peanut oil
1 tbsp sweet-hot chili sauce
2 tbsp palm sugar syrup (or alternatively 1 tbsp brown sugar)
3 tbsp rice wine vinegar
3 tbsp freshly squeezed lime juice
1 tbsp fish sauce
3 tbsp roasted, chopped peanuts (unsalted)
fresh mint and cilantro leaves
Peel the pomelo and remove the thick, white fibers from the fruit. This can be quite laborious, obviously the pomelo doesn’t like to be eaten. Then pull apart the segments with the pulp and completely remove the tough skin as it is inedible. Divide the yellow pulp by hand into bite-size pieces and set aside.
Wash and drain the shrimps. Cut the shallots into thin rings. Heat the peanut oil in a pan and briefly fry the shrimps for 5 minutes, until they are a nice, red color. Add the shallots and fry briefly. Let it cool down.
Wash and trim the spring onions and cut them into pieces. Cut the chilies into thin rings. If you don’t like your meal too hot, remove the seeds from the chilies beforehand. But be mindful that the heat will definitely blow away the wanderlust!
For the dressing, combine the lime juice, chili sauce, rice wine vinegar, palm sugar syrup, and fish sauce in a small bowl, together with the chopped chillies.
Carefully mix the pomelo pieces, shrimps, shallots, spring onions, fried shallots, and freshly torn leaves of mint and cilantro in a bowl. Drizzle the dressing over the salad just before serving, mix carefully once more, and top with chopped peanuts as a garnish.
This northern Thai salad is usually served with sticky rice. However, I sometimes like to prepare it with a bit more dressing and combine it with cooked glass noodles.
Enjoy your meal!.. ขอให้เจริญอาหาร! (kŏr hâi jà-rern aa-hăan!)
Nic has been a blogger since 2006. She loves traveling and good food. She is a freelance textile designer, compulsive DIY person, and passionate photographer.