9.10.2010

Figs & Joy {In the unlikeliest of places}


l.i.c., ny

Far be it from a Midwestern Methodist to be so bold as to make deals with God. It has always been in my nature to believe He was always there, gently guiding and providing. But a few years ago, when I was reading a book on spirituality by a well-known guru, I was struck that the author wrote that she had a pact with God.  Whenever she doubted something in life, she would ask for a little token to remind her He was there.

Ever since then, whenever I see something growing in an unlikely place, particularly something edible {like a fruiting cherry tree growing stubbornly out of cracked concrete on a city block, or purslane pushing wildly out of a neglected flower bed shaded by towering buildings}, it has become a subtle reminder that out of ugliness can come beauty; a simple lesson of seek and ye shall find.

~

A few weeks ago, when we were shooting my cookbook in Queens, there were a thousand details that needed my care.  Some seemed to require monumental effort, and I wasn’t sure how we would get everything we needed gathered in one place. The day before the 6-days of shooting began, Lillian and Lindsay, my food styling assistant duo extraordinaire, ran to the local Greek market several blocks away on my behalf to pick up the remaining produce for the shoot.

I had all the shots laid out in my mind, and though I thought it was still early for figs in New York, I had a vision of a dreamy bowl of them—the quiet stillness of their tear shape with all the surprise and delight of their glimmering goodness hidden inside.

“I know it’s a long shot, but look for beautiful figs,” I called as they ran out the door.

The two came back an hour later, bubbling over a bag of tiny purple figs, some still dewy as if they had just been picked straight from a tree. They nearly exploded with excitement as they told me how they had found them sitting heaped in a big enamel bowl behind a chain link fence just a few blocks down from me. While they poked about, out came a gentleman farmer who sold them several handfuls of his freshly harvested figs for just two dollars.

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Two dollars for bag full of ripe, locally grown figs? I had been prepared to pay a small fortune for them, or for the likely event that the figs they found might have come from Chile, or Morocco. How had I lived in this neighborhood for almost three years and not known I could buy fresh figs right down the block? 

In many ways, the figs became the token reminder during that harried week, that there are beautiful and good things always within our reach, sometimes rather easily. And they turned out to be the star of more than one of my favorite shots in the book {which you’ll have to wait to see}. 

~
After the dust of the shoot settled, I met Lindsay for dinner and a date to hunt down the fig man. He was there, just as they had described, behind a chain link fence with his pot of plump purple and green figs just waiting for the curious.

The curious, in this case {me}, turned out to have many questions. How many figs trees did he have? How long did they take to get that big? Where did he learn to grow them? 

While we talked, I learned that our fig man’s name is Antonio, and that he had planted the three sprawling fig trees in the side yard of his row house over the last ten years. Through the fence, he gave us a little tour of his garden and told us of the hard work it takes to keep it all going.

“I’m 88 1/2 years old, you know,” He volunteered.

“Well, I would have guessed 72!” 

“I wish I knew everything I know now when I was 72!”

~

Antonio came from his home near the border of Italy and Croatia to Astoria many moons ago. I’m so glad he did, for he provided me with figs and joy in the unlikeliest of places, and a divine reminder that sometimes, out of nowhere, our needs are met. If only we are looking.

9.03.2010

Blackberry Magic {and one delicious casualty}



In the making of a beautiful food photo are dozens of details that have to line up just right. Props have to be picked so not to steal the show from the food. Linens need pressed. Light needs evaluated. The food needs to be created and cooked and placed just so. And on top of all that, there has to be a little magic ~ that little something that makes the food pop off the plate and into your soul so that you are compelled, if not utterly convicted that you too must have a plate of magic.

Twice this summer, I spent an entire week with a team of six talented ladies who are each bringing their expertise and eye together to make sure my very first cookbook is beautiful. We gathered props from our own collections and begged and borrowed linens, plates and platters. We scoured grocery stores and garden stores and farmer's market for the freshest most locally grown ingredients. And then we began.

During these weeks of method and madness, there were moments when all six of us screamed "it's gorgeous!" and gathered round to stare and stare and stare at a plate of uneaten food.

One such moment happened midweek just before lunch time. I stacked up a plate of my fat oatmeal-yogurt pancakes and piled them high with Greek yogurt and blackberry crush. The sun came in and fell softly upon every swirl and curl, bouncing off the berries in a luscious glow. And then, after Sara Remington {the very talented photographer I'm lucky to have on my team} got the very last photo, six forks descended upon the plate like we'd been starved for a century.

One of those forks fell on clumsy hands {mine} and soon one dark, delicious drip made itself at home on Sara's linen. I am very, very lucky I know how to cook. Sara took her turn at the pancakes, declared them delicious and turned a blind eye to my mistake.

I wish I could share some blackberry magic with you while they're still in season. You'll have to wait for the book to get the recipe {sorry, you're going to hear that from me a lot in the next year}. I promise, it's worth the wait. But don't wait until then to go out and make some magic of your own. Summer still looms in luscious berries and the last of summer peaches and nectarines, early figs and plums. Go out and discover them!

In the meantime, you'll be hearing a lot more about the talented beauties behind my book, and of the many moments behind the scenes that make a book what it is before it gets into your hands.
My Photo
New York City, United States
Sarah Copeland is a food and lifestyle expert, and the author of Feast: Generous Vegetarian Meals for Any Eater and Every Appetite, and The Newlywed Cookbook. She is the Food Director at Real Simple magazine, and has appeared in numerous national publications including Saveur, Health, Fitness, Shape, Martha Stewart Living and Food & Wine magazines. As a passionate gardener, Sarah's Edible Living philosophy aims to inspire good living through growing, cooking and enjoying delicious, irresistible whole foods. She thrives on homegrown veggies, stinky cheese and chocolate cake. Sarah lives in New York with her husband and their young daughter.