“I can’t go back to yesterday…”

“I can’t go back to yesterday – because I was a different person then.” – Lewis Carroll

Lately, I’ve felt this need to write again.

Weird, I know, considering that almost all I do these days is write — recipes, articles, updates, newsletters, tweets, reviews — but none of it is really, well, personal. I don’t know if this is for me, or for you, but I have this great desire to share how I feel and what I think about things lately. Everything.

I’ve been thinking about the past a lot lately. My last posts here, last year, the last few months. It has been a whirlwind of weird, to be quite honest. New job, new friends, new car, new camera – so much has changed, and yet so much has changed the same.

In the movie script that is my life, a new chapter has certainly begun. A new cast of characters, a new set of props; a new perspective and paradigm, new challenges for this heroine to meet (and conquer?) Everything feels different — in a good way.

Two years ago I was just starting my senior year of college. Feels like last week, sometimes, and eons ago at others. I remember all of my classes, walking around campus, parties I went to, places I visited, photographs I took. At the same time, there is a sort of detachment — was that really me?

Last year I was waiting. Waiting for someone to come home, waiting for things at work to calm down, waiting for something to change, waiting. I was lost in post-grad limbo, both immobilized and invigorated by the realization that school was over. It was fall, and I didn’t have textbooks to buy, stationery to moon over, syllabi to memorize, term papers itching to be planned, researched, written. I went to work, I came home. Life was blissfully monotonous, until it was horrendously monotonous. So I changed it.

Eight months ago I got another job. Writing. About food. I remember the job description read like my wildest dream had crash landed in my backyard. An unpaid, temporary position with a relatively new company, doing something I had never really done before but knew instantly I would love. And I did. I do. My personal life closely resembled a post-apocalyptic wasteland, but so what? Shit happens. I was finally doing something with my life, going somewhere, making plans, really and truly thinking about my future. And I got kittens. Two tiny, fuzzy, loving creatures to satiate my raging desire for something small to take care of and hit the snooze button on my biological clock.

Six months ago everything started. I went in for a FNA – fine needle aspiration, a type of biopsy. I laid back and let someone stab my neck a kabillion (okay, 6) times with a ginormous (no, really) needle. It was terrifying. It didn’t hurt, not really, but it was creepy as all get out. Work was getting better, I was seeing more of my family, meeting some new people, looking at cars and apartments.

Five and a half months ago everything started to shift and slide and change. I was diagnosed with cancer. I was in a new relationship. I didn’t know what to do. So I bought a car. 1 fast, red car, 2 doors, 3 series, 4 months of searching, 5 gears, 6 cylinders, 7 CD changer (don’t ask), 8 wheels (winter and summer, thanks for asking), 9 poorly wired lights, 10 hours to learn how to drive it. It was glorious.

Five months ago I was in the hospital. Five long hours, four surgeons, three days, two nights, one complication. I was terrified of the surgery, that the tests would come back wrong and I would have to wait six months and do it all over again. Scared that this was the beginning, not the end. But you know what I remember most? Everyone who visited. Who took time out of their day to stop by and smile at me and make me feel like I wasn’t alone, marooned on a sterile, cotton-covered island connected to monitors a world a way. It’s funny, the people who cared the most and made it a priority to stop by were the last people I would have expected — but the few who I had been sure would come visit, who would sit with me and make me laugh (although it hurt) were no where to be found. Except one. One person who changed the whole game, who was there when it really mattered, who meant so much when everything seemed to matter so little. Thank you.

Four months ago I went back to work. It was anticlimactic at best. I decided to go grad school. I met new people, forged new bonds, and for once, couldn’t care less.

Three months ago I was radioactive. Really! I was the Girl in the Bubble for a week, tucked away in a far away corner, behind a door at the end of the hall.

Two months ago I thought it was over. Life as I knew came to a crashing, horrifying halt. I couldn’t taste. First, salty. Then sweet. Then umami. I still had hints of bitterness and sourness, but hardly. I cried. I cried more over this side effect of the radiation that I did over my diagnosis. Food is my world — my job, my hobby, my art, a basic requirement for survival. I stopped eating. It was an awful chore – everything tasted the same, the only thing that mattered was texture — and let me tell you, without flavor, some foods feel revolting.

Last month everything finally seemed to sort itself out. My taste came back, slowly. I let go of a lot of things and I invested myself in others. I noticed a change. In myself, in my world, in my thought process, my priorities, my tolerance. I didn’t sweat the small stuff so much. I took on new responsibilities, I advocated change, I sought progress, I threw down the gauntlet. Change was coming, so get ready.

And now, here I am. Content. My personal life resembles a wetland rehabilitation project, but I’m okay with that. I have other things to focus on, enough demands on my time, and just the right amount of excitement to keep things interesting.

Foodie finds food!

Peas, Herbs and Garlic Scapes

So much awesomeness for my last day in Boulder! The second day of Food and Light, wonderful lunch at The Kitchen, and an unbelievable dinner at Frasca Food & Wine. In the midst of all this, I have decided that I want to live in Boulder – not necessarily right now, because I’m pretty sure I could barely afford a broom closet, but eventually – maybe in the Whittier area… hmm..

The workshop was, of course, fantastic. Diane Cu and Helen Dujardin led discussions on artificial and natural lighting, exploring speedlights/flashes/strobes as well as bounces/scrims & diffusers and how to use these different tools to properly light a given subject and create different effects. Super helpful and informative, both in terms of techniques but also tools and future purchases (aka more additions professional wishlist).

Mmm lunch!

After our morning session, I returned to The Kitchen for another fabulous gluten-free lunch. Instead of the lamb burger, I got in touch with my inner Italian with a prosciutto and burrata sandwich with arugula, mint and balsamic dressing on grilled Udi’s bread – YUM! – with a warm Yukon potato salad. I headed back to the gallery for our afternoon session, which featured two awesome demos on food styling by Diane and Helen, highlighting their different approaches to planning and composing a shot – so cool!! Our afternoon session ended with a little bit more shooting, followed by five photo contests with two winners each, judged by both our instructors and peers. It was so amazing to see everyone else’s photos – so now I’ll share them with you here!

After we wrapped up for the day, I headed over to Frasca Food & Wine for one of the single-most amazing meals of my life. A warm roasted beet salad with blistered grape tomatoes, burrata cheese and radishes in a light vinaigrette followed by a gorgeous risotto of chicken conserva with Chanterelle mushrooms, thyme and leeks – it was smooth and delicious, a perfect blend of flavors – and so light! I daresay, it was almost refreshing, even in this heat! If I could have that every day, I could die happy (probably of a heart attack, but that’s beside the point!). Finished editing photos and packing, now it’s time to veg out in my hotel room before my 8h30a shuttle ride to the airport and home to Seattle!

Mmm cherries!

Cherry Chile Chocolate from Chocolove

Donut Peaches

Baguette and Olives

Food and Light

Dried Chiles

What a day! The first day of the Food and Light workshop was fantastic, although it started off a bit rocky. I set my alarm last night and, exhausted, fell asleep around 9h30. I must have turned off my 7h00 alarm in my sleep, because I awoke at 7h46 in a panic – the workshop begins at 8h00. I ran around like an idiot getting ready, shoving my contacts in, grabbing my camera and laptop, etc. and – to my utter amazement – appeared, presentable, on time at the gallery across the street! But oh man, what a way to start the day!

The first part of the workshop covered the pretty basic fundamentals of photography and the camera, etc. and spent a lot of time doing hands-on work with different props and other things. Grabbed an unbelievable lunch at The Kitchen – “Boulder’s Community Kitchen” – which stocks locally sourced ingredients (including Udi’s gluten-free bread!!) and is generally eco-friendly (the kitchen runs on wind-powered electricity and the used oil is recycled to run the owner’s car). I had their amazing fire-grilled lamb burger with pepper, tomato and mango chutney on Udi’s bread, with french fries and a green salad with a big, refreshing glass of iced tea – delicious, filling, and perfect in the heat!

Fire-Grilled Lamb Burger & Fries
Grilled lamb burger on Udi’s gluten-free bread from The Kitchen

The second half of the workshop included a lecture on lighting and lenses, then more hands-on work-time in the gallery with cool props, great people and our fabulous instructors. Here are a few examples of what I’ve been up to… and a link to the Food and Light Flickr group – let me know what you think!

Dreamy Raspberry Cupcake

Fresh Blueberries

Fresh Strawberries and Raspberries

Colorado, ho!

Gorgeous, no?

Well! Just arrived in Boulder and I am so excited for the Food and Light workshop tomorrow and Tuesday. Located in the Rembrandt Yard art gallery, right in the heart of historic Boulder, my attendance at the two-day workshop is a graduation present from my family – aren’t they wonderful? I could laud their amazingness for pages, but I wouldn’t want to bore you. In any case, the workshop is taught by four of my all-time favorite photographers: Diane Cu and Todd Porter, Helen Dujardin and Jen Yu. If you really try, I’m sure you can conjure up some idea of my excitement!

I’m staying in the charming, historic hotel near the Pearl Street Pedestrian mall – it’s all dark wood, chintz fabric and highbacked chairs – basically, super cool. I took a leisurely stroll (almost two miles…) to the 29th Street Mall to have dinner at the wonderful Laudisio and boy, is it worth it!

Antipasto: gluten free breadsticks and a Bibb lettuce salad with pancetta, fennel, grapefruit, chevre and a grainy mustard vinaigrette.

Primo: Polenta baked with creamy spinach, ricotta and Gruyere, with a puttanesca sauce and fresh tomatoes in a crisp parmesan cup.

“Living Bibb” insalata

Polenta alla “Boulder”

I am alive!

Okay yes, I am alive and yes, I made it home safe and yes, I have pictures and posts for all of the days between May 14th and now. I just haven’t quite gotten to them yet – but I will! Stay tuned!

Guido Reni a go-go

Near San Gregorio Magno
Remnants of the Early Christian monastery at S. Gregorio

Well today was pretty interesting – we met at Palazzo Pio before walking around the corner to SS. Trinit√† dei Pellegrini, one of only a handful of churches in Rome who have revived the Tridentine Rite – at least for Sunday Mass. Why is this relevant? Well we arrived at the church at 8h30, just as morning Mass was ending and the priest was nice enough to turn on the recently-installed electric lights after he had cleared the altar so that we could best view Guido Reni’s Holy Trinity altarpiece from 1624-26. Unfortunately, we couldn’t stage our discussion in front of Reni altarpiece because there was one particular woman, in her seventies or eighties, who was still praying. We wandered back to the classroom and discussed the work before hopping a series of busses to S. Gregorio Magno al Celio and particularly, the Oratorio di Sant’Andrea al Celio which features two amazing in situ frescoes: Guido Reni’s St. Andrew Led to Martyrdom and Domenichino’s Flagellation of St. Andrew. Unfortunately, while it’s amazing that the frescoes are still in situ, they have suffered over the centuries and really, really do not reproduce well. We spent an hour or so discussing the two works, both individually and in relationship to one another, before heading back to the Rome center for more time with Caravaggio.

The debate really focuses on the different conceptions of narration in early 17th century painting. Both Reni and Domenichino were trained at the Caracci Academy in Bologna, but they chose very different modes of representation for these frescoes. There was an anecdote, described in letter from the 1610s, just a few years after the frescoes were finished, which captures the essence of the issue – the story goes like this…

One morning, an old woman and her grandson enter the oratory – presumably to see the new paintings and for reasons of personal devotion. They pause in front of Reni’s Martyrdom, but the grandmother says nothing. Turning around, they pause in front of Domenichino’s Flagellation and the grandmother immediately begins narrating the story to her young grandson, explaining who the characters are and what is being represented.

This story was used as evidence for the greater success of Domenichino’s fresco because, critics wrote, the story was thus more legible than in Reni’s painting and Domenichino’s obvious mastery of affetti provide the perfect models for the viewer’s expected response. I disagree. I don’t think for a moment that Reni’s isn’t “as good” or doesn’t function as well – it just functions differently. The Reni is much more intellectual and the composition more complicated – the whole thing really requires solemn contemplation (the perfect fresco for an oratory space) rather than acting as a visual trigger for a known story. At the same time, this type of meditative image was falling out of favor in the post-Tridentine/Counter Reformation era where the main goal of sacred imagery is clear legibility, historical accuracy, and effective didacticism (even to the illiterate).

I’ll be honest, I’m rather sick of St. Matthew at this point – reading about Jews and usury and how Matthew’s status as a Levi tax-collector was the most sinful a sinner could be blah blah blah. I’m starting to hate on St. Matthew, I’ll be honest, and at this point, I don’t give a fig about which figure is which – I was joking with my professor that I plan to argue that St. Matthew isn’t even in the scene and is off using the restroom or getting a beer or Manischewitz or something. Ugh. On a positive note, I did get my grade back on my presentation – whew! – did much better than expected and I feel 1000% better about my life right now – thank goodness.

Family Fun with the Farnese

Palazzo Corsini
Palazzo Corsini (it’s not the Farnesina, but it’s across the street!)

Well our morning began at the Farnesina, the ‘little Farnese’ villa on the Trastevere side of the river, right next door to John Cabot University. Fortunately for our apartment, we were able to meet the rest of the group on site (rather than crossing the river back and forth in quick succession) which gave us an extra 15 minutes to sleep in – a much needed break, albeit brief, after such a crazy week. Honestly, it feels like all we have been doing is go go go for the past ten days, and with no sign of the pace letting up before we end in Venice- that would be after finals, if you’ve been following closely.

In any case, Kristin delivered an amazing presentation on Raphael’s Cupid & Psyche Loggia (1518-19) in the Farnesina before we headed back to the classroom to discuss Annibale Carracci’s ceiling (1597-1600) in the Palazzo Farnese (the big palace) across the river, abutting the Campo de Fiori. Unfortunately, the Palazzo Farnese is now the French Embassy and access is severely restricted. While past programs have been able to schedule appointments to view the gallery, the French government really hassled our program this time and we were unable to get in – talk about a major disappointment. Ah well, the ceiling is totally epic and while the quadratura does not reproduce especially well, the overall effect can still be understood from photographs.

That being said, we discussed the socio-political context of this highly controversial ceiling – modeled in part on both Michelangelo’s ceiling for the Sistine and Raphael’s loggia at the Farnesina, Annibale’s ceiling features scenes from the love-lives of antique gods and goddesses: Jupiter and Juno, Venus and Adonis, Bacchus and Ariadne, etc. The frescoes are beyond suggestive and honestly, border on pornographic – so how was this commission perceived in the context of a Cardinal’s Roman palace in the shadow of the Vatican? Quite strangely, one might imagine, especially considering it was a Farnese pope (Paul III) who convened the Council of Trent in the first place. So what gives? Well, as it turns out, this was during the papacy of Clement VIII (Ippolito Aldobrandini), a very conservative pope (think Theatine), whose family was trying to marry into the Farnese – and it was a bitter, violent negotiation, more like warfare than a marriage contract, with both sides lying to one another in turn. Rumor has it that the ceiling was actually meant to be in celebration of this marriage – and maybe just a bit of an ‘eff you’ to the Aldobrandini pope and a whole-hearted ‘Welcome to the family!’, don’t you think?

Still waiting for my presentation grade (cue panic attack) so that I can work on the follow-up paper due on Tuesday by midnight – yikes!