Thursday, September 04, 2008

The Power of Suggestion

I don't want to give The Anonymous Lurker a complex or anything, but do you see what you made me do? One little comment where you request that photos of the food be posted here along with the recipes, and just look what happened. I am not the typical oldest child. There is an unexplainable desire to please that comes from somewhere within me, and even after I politely declined to post recipe photos, I found myself not eight hours later crouching over a garbanzo salad with my camera, working on getting just the right lighting and wiping the edges of the bowl clean like a crazed food stylist.
I have obsessive tendencies, you see. Just a few short years ago, I decided I needed to learn how to cook something besides spaghetti and burritos if I was going to be any good at this whole stay-at-home-mom business, and so I picked up a cookbook at a yard sale. Now my bookshelves are groaning from the strain of so many cookbooks, I read food literature instead of detective novels, cooking magazines have taken the place of fashion publications in the mailbox, and most of my day revolves around planning for dinner. And has anyone noticed what this blog is about?
I know better than to even attempt food photography. I read Orangette and 101 Cookbooks nearly religiously, and both of those bloggers are expert in both the food styling and the photography itself. Learning how to cook was enough of a stretch for me, I thought, why even attempt actually learning how to use the digital camera's features as well? Besides, my camera isn't the Canon SLR that all good food bloggers use, so I get sticker shock every time I even think about upgrading.
And like I said, I can get a bit obsessive.
Plus there's that whole eager-to-please nonsense that plagues me.
Yet here I find myself, camera manual in hand, desperately trying to recall some of the tips my little brother gave me when he last visited with his own fancy-schmancy camera in tow. I had even shown him Orangette's blog so he would know what effect I was after, and then I had posed my own shot and sheepishly passed him the camera so he could fully appreciate how horrifying my dinner appeared when I tried to capture it on the camera. "Natural light," he told me patiently, as if to a small child, "Not a flash." And then he moved the plate closer to the window so that the light came from the side, turned the flash off, came in a little lower instead of from directly above, and snapped the picture. It was like night and day, ya'll.
That was six months or so ago, and as I'm sure you may have noticed, there haven't been any food pics here until today. And I feel terribly nervous about the shot above, even though I followed Josh's instructions to the letter (I think). This photograph is far from being perfectly composed, and the colors aren't ideal. Nor is the focus exactly spot-on. And, oh, if we're all totally honest about it all, that particular photo doesn't really make you want to run right out and make that dish now, does it?
And I do so want you to make it for yourself. I found this recipe in this week's New York Times Dining section, and it jumped right off the page (er, computer) at me when I saw it. THEIR photo was much more appetizing, of course, but it wasn't just that; even the title grabbed me: The Old Chickpea Learns a New Trick.
I love garbanzos. I'm sure I have said that before. I snack on them out of hand, find them essential atop a simple green salad, and serve them any number of ways, including with couscous, pasta and orzo. And just so you know, you should never, ever get between Little Miss Piggy and a bowl of chickpeas. She'll eat you alive.
I haven't always had the best of luck with The Minimalist recipes. I completely adore Mark Bittman himself and read his blog every day, but the whole minimalism concept doesn't do all that much for me when it comes to cooking. In my experience, anytime your goal with a recipe is to do the most with the least, well, the end result comes out lacking in some way or another. I prefer more in-your-face type dishes.
But this recipe kept coming to mind and when I still couldn't shake it this morning, I stopped what I was doing, pulled out a bag of dried garbanzo beans and started them to soaking. I was going to be out this afternoon and knew I wouldn't get dinner on the table until late, so this salad seemed perfect anyhow. Dried beans are, in my opinion, perfect for days like that. I was able to soak and cook the beans this morning, so all I had to do when I got home was pull the salad together.
And oh my, I really enjoyed this recipe. It is truly simple, just some beans, chopped onions and peppers, a little lemon juice and a couple of North African-leaning spices, but the taste was so bright, so fresh, and so completely interesting without being, you know, weirdly different. I served it atop a bed of Lundberg's Gourmet Brown Rice Blend (which The Carnivore and I cannot possibly recommend enough) as a companion dish to some pan-fried fish, and thought it would also make an ideal lunch. The Carnivore wasn't the biggest fan, and I don't really know what to say about that except that there is no accounting for taste.
Except for his taste in women, of course. That's impeccable.
CHICKPEA SALAD WITH GINGER (adapted from The New York Times, serves four)
  • 1 Tbs ground cumin (or 1 Tbs cumin seeds, lightly toasted and then ground up)
  • 3 cups cooked chickpeas (garbanzos)
  • 2 large bell peppers, or 4 smaller farmer's market mixed peppers, cored, seeded and diced (I used a jalapeno as well, a little heat never hurt anyone)
  • 1 red onion, diced
  • 1-inch piece ginger, peeled and minced (or 1 tsp jarred minced ginger)
  • 3 Tbs fresh lemon juice
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 Tbs chopped fresh cilantro leaves
  1. In a large bowl, toss all ingredients except for cilantro.
  2. Taste and adjust lemon juice, salt and pepper as needed.
  3. Top with chopped cilantro.


Mama JJ said...

FINALLY!!! Food pics! I've been CRAVING them.

Now, stop obsessing and start clicking and posting. Please! Push your limits and put about five food pics in one post. Intentionally make one blurry and fuzzy---that should help to ease the perfectionist tendencies (or maybe it doesn't work like that?) We're really not that difficult to please---at least I'm not, anyway.


Sarah Beam said...

Oh, Mama JJ - I've already gone off the deep end. I made a batch of granola today and put a bowl on the table to take pictures of it before I would allow anyone to dig in. As if I wasn't annoying enough already...

Anonymous said...

Haha, I forgot I even commented on here! I didn't realize there was so much involved in taking photos of food. I appreciate it though!

Except... the thing is... I once had a bad run-in with chickpeas. Like the kind where I ate them in some kind of salad dish with tomatoes, and then got the stomach flu that night. Aaahh my stomach is recoiling already, just at the thought. Trust me, it was a bad, bad thing! Normally I can barely even read the word before I start gagging. So this is definitely a recipe I didn't want to see a photo of. I appreciate the thought though!

- The Anonymous Lurker

Sarah Beam said...

Oh, Lurker, now you're just being difficult.

Morgan's Mom said...

Yum! Another chickpea recipe :) My husband will hate you for this!

BTW--I was digging through Mark Bittman's "How to cook everything" and I made the BEST batch of zucchini, corn and tomato basil soup this weekend...

Sarah Beam said...

Morgan's Mom, I'm pretty sure I should be the official spokesperson of the National Chickpea Society. It's getting out of control.

That soup sounds incredible, and since I picked up all those items at the farmer's market this weekend, I think I'm going to have to pull down my copy of that cookbook and give it a whirl. Thanks for the heads up.

Meg an Aggie in Frisco said...

Great photo! Now the net time you make the crispy potatoes snap a photo!

ps you and your mom have inspired me to start a little garden in my side yard, and have me going to my local farmers market.

Sarah Beam said...

Meg - I bet your farmer's market is the bomb. I'm actually a little envious.

Anonymous said...

Good for you. I hate cooking. I suck as a SAHM. Tried blogging once and I suck at that too. Maybe I should go to work or something. Oh, you have a really nice kitchen. - different anonymous lurker

Sarah Beam said...

Different Anonymous Lurker: I think you need a cookie.