When I got to Kodiak, I had no intention of buying baking supplies. It seems really silly to buy even one bag of flour to be in a place for just a month, but then – I ended up with more time on my hands than I expected, and without any knitting (also a mistake), I got fidgety to start baking. Baking, as I’ve talked about, is very soothing for me. Obviously I like eating the results, but the sheer physicality of mixing the ingredients is just very soothing to me. It appeases some strange animal part of my brain that needs things to do with its hands, and I love it.
The weird thing about living somewhere new, with none of your own things is this: first of all, I just discovered that I don’t have a colander. I eat a lot of noodles, that that turned out to be a really big problem. So, I bought this apartment a colander. The other thing is that it obviously doesn’t have a stand mixer. I feel like I’ve been pretty upfront about the fact that I always use my stand mixer, but that I know that other people either don’t have them, or don’t use them. I had a friend at school who, when she didn’t have a stand mixer, would use a hand mixer, which was almost always hilarious (and messy) to watch. The real thing I’ve discovered since living here so that, yes, my stand mixer is nice (and oh, how I’ll be glad to go back to her), but I also kind of love using my hands to mix cookie dough. It’s messy, yes, but it’s not sticky the way bread dough is, and the smoothness of the butter against the graininess of the butter is this weirdly charming combination.
The other thing that’s been exciting in food-blog world is this: I don’t consider myself to be particularly style-conscious in the food styling sort of way. I always aspire to be, but I don’t have many things in the way of props, and this blog has always been haphazard at best, so it’s probably not too surprising that it hasn’t been a part of my focus. But then – when I don’t even have my mugs, or my plates, or whatever it is that I’m used to having (even tea towels, which have showed up more lately), it’s suddenly a bit more challenging. I rummaged through the few plates that comprise the kitchenware of this apartment and fortunately found a remarkably cute, if chipped, small plate, which certainly worked better than nothing.
Here’s the thing about photography, stylistically: everyone’s got their own style, and it’s awesome. There are things that draw me into a good photography, whether it’s a landscape or the photograph of a cake. Good lighting is key, and while many other photographers have talked about how they achieve this, for me – it’s purely by luck. When I lived in Washington, I had the most amazing windows in my kitchen. They made up an entire wall, and they faced south, so whenever it happened to be sunny, I had the most amazing, gorgeous natural light. In Arizona, my kitchen has no windows, and while I can bring my props/food/what have you into my living room, I almost always bake and cook in the afternoon, when my living room is mostly in the shade. Natural light here is even harder to come by; if it’s not raining, the (outstandingly awesome) pine trees block much of the natural light. It’s ultimately up to me to decide how I move things around so that I can advantage of as much light as I can – ideally, I’d love to work with some sort of reflecting device to get more light (white foam board is a pretty common tool, or so I hear), but I’ve never gotten around to it.
And props – well, I’m clearly not a huge props girl. I try to buy kitchenware that I think is beautiful in its own way, but I’m frankly convinced that the most beautiful thing I own are my cake racks, so that tells you the level of my standards. It just depends, and while I’m trying to be more conscious of how I style everything, it’s definitely a work in progress. It’s a fascinating thing to think about, and I love seeing the myriad of ways that other people style their food – it’s gorgeous, and it’s fun to see. I’ve never thought much about it, nor put much time into describing my photography style/background/recommendations, but I think the most important thing is to decide what you like, and put exactly as much time, money, and effort into it that you want, and no more. It’s easy to get so wrapped up in a thing, and forget the rest (I’m really good at this), but still you’re left dissatisfied. I think limits are good, and I definitely have to set monetary limits, which is as good a place to start as any. From there, it’s just experimentation.
The other thing to think about is this: what inspires you? Both of my parents were avid photographers in their early twenties. We have my dad’s old black and white pictures from Saudi Arabia (yes, you read that right), the Sierra Nevadas, and Bolivia hanging all over our house. We have boxes of negatives from both of them, and we have some amazing candid pictures of my family members lying around (my dad has this incredibly and enviable ability to take splendid candids). I’m inspired by many of the people that inspired them – Ansel Adams, Imogen Cunningham, and other early photographers. Imogen Cunningham in particular has the exquisite attention to detail that I think many food photographers draw from, and Ansel Adams has the most (as trite as it might be) delightful aptitude for catching details in large scale works. My earliest photographs were of nature, and it remains the thing that I’m most excited to photograph. I love architecture, portraiture (although I find it extremely intimidating!), and obviously food, but nature photography is by far where I am the most comfortable. Perhaps because it is undemanding of you, as a photographer, to make a certain point – it’s more fluid, more interpretive, and it is, to me, soothing. What inspires me, however does not inspire everyone, and that’s utterly okay as well.
I got to thinking about all this today as I was trying to make use of the sunshine (!!) that was pouring through my windows. As I dug through the cabinets to find a good plate, I thought maybe it would be nice to share my (obviously haphazard and understated) philosophy. It’s a bit long-winded, but I love art, and I love talking about photography and the digital age. It’s exciting to me to see people able to take advantage of an art form, where so many others are more exclusive.
As for the thing that inspired this monologue: these cookies were the talk of the internet a couple of years ago – before I got into baking, before I really knew about cooking blogs, and long before I started my own blog. The thing about these cookies is that not only are the dead simple, they have no eggs (uh, hello eating straight from the bowl with no fear), and they are seriously good. I would have to assume they are, since they’d previously been so popular, but it’s one thing to see them on two of your favorite sites, and it’s a whole other thing to make them twice in one week and then eat…well, all of them (oops?). I already have an idea to test out, a further riff on them, if you will, once I’m home.
9 tbsp salted butter, room temperature
2/3 cup lightly packed brown sugar
1/4 cup sugar
1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup cocoa powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine butter and both sugars until fluffy and combined. Add flour, cocoa powder, salt, and baking powder, and mix until pebbly (the dough may come together more than this, which is fine, but try to avoid mixing it completely). Press dough into a log, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for three hours (or freeze for thirty minutes in a pinch).
Alternatively, combine butter and sugars in a mixing bowl, either using a fork or a pastry blender (or your hands, as I did the first time I made this recipe) to combine. Add flour, cocoa powder, salt, and baking powder and press together using your hands. You will want to make sure that the butter absorbs the flour and cocoa powder; you will be looking for the dough to turn a slightly darker brown, and slowly come together. Press the dough into a log, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for three hours (or freeze for thirty minutes in a pinch).
Pre-heat the oven to 325 degrees. Cut 1/2″ sections of cookie dough, pressing together any pieces that fall off, and place on cookie sheets. Bake for twelve minutes. The outside will have a slight crust, but the inside will be almost fudgy.