Food Photography

All We Do and All We Did... by Roni Delmonico

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Some things are very true...  Like how "food is memories."  Like how the song remembers when. Like how fast time goes by and how you should cherish every moment.  Like how hard you love in the time that you have.  And how hugely your heart expands with your table.

Mornings are so much quieter these days.

But dinner time?  It was always our special time.  For 6 years before kids came along, we made a point to eat dinner together at the table.  We were only in our twenties then and it was one of the first pieces of furniture we ever bought; a sweet little pine trestle table we picked out together from the Bloomingdales catalogue.  We thought it was so fancy and at $200 it was the most expensive piece of furniture we owned.  It had a knot in it that looked like an owl, two eyes staring up at us while we ate and talked well into the night.  Later, my son and his best friend rolled out Christmas cookie dough and dropped half of it on the floor, while eating the other half before it ever made it to the oven.  We played cards with our friends.  We covered it with paper tablecloths and birthday cakes year after year.  It was a welcome, sturdy, dependable gathering place for a very long time.  We eventually outgrew it and it landed in a yard sale, years ago.  I didn't know then... what I know now.

I find myself wishing that I still had that table.  That table means a lot to me.  It is part of our history. Wherever it is now, it still is.. I suppose.  It lives in so many photographs.  I hope maybe out there somewhere, some other couple in their twenties might be sitting down to dinner, laughing and finishing a bottle of wine at an old yellow pine table with the face of an owl in its surface.  Wise old thing.

We've got time that's all our own now... that  time has finally come.

That's how it is.  Yup.  That's how it is.

When the Muse Is Bowling for Soup with Tim McGraw by Roni Delmonico

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Lately I've been thinking a lot about how images invoke memories; how they lock in a moment in time and save it for savoring later.  I don't take pictures of things.  I record memories on my heart.  When I'm shooting flowers... it's often about my emotion at the time and I'm pretty sure if you linger over anything in my "Poetry" library, you would have a very good chance at guessing if I was laughing, or crying... feeling dark, or sensual or adventurous.  Art is an expression of something always.  That's so cool.  It's a gift we, as artists... don't often take enough time to ponder.  I talk about the marriage of words to photographs all the time.  Some of my more abstract work can simply be appreciated for what it is.  Color, form, lines... I hope it puts a little beauty out there into the universe.  But what of these photos of things?  What do they say?  Can you know... if the photographer doesn't tell you?  In some instances, photographs like this will bring back memories of your own.  But let me tell you 10 things, this photo represents for me that make me smile and might make you smile too.  Maybe then you'll find yourself opening an image from your iPhone, and remembering your own story with a smile.

1. My son cooked dinner for me last night, so I didn't have to. Smile.:)

2. It was raining all day in the house, but it was sunny in my heart. Smile.:)

3. Fresh thyme smells divine and I grew it myself this year.  Smile.:)

4.  Soup in a crock is guaranteed to taste better than soup in a bowl. Smile.:)

5. When my son was little, I took him to a Shania "Twin" concert and spent the rest of the evening with a very mad little boy who I definitely didn't impress.. much. He asked Alexa to play Shania TWAIN while he was cooking.  Smile.:)

6. When Shania was done singing about how unimpressed she was, we spent an hour and a half taking turns asking Alexa for the next song.  We listened to Bowling for Soup (hahaha), Michael Jackson, Jesse McCartney, Josh Gracin, Tim McGraw, Taylor Swift, Garth Brooks and Five For Fighting.  It was a musical stroll down memory lane.  Smile.:)

7. Melted cheese rocks my world.  Smile.:)

8. We ate dinner by candlelight, just the three of us, while the thunder rolled and the lightning struck.  (I still do love a good thunderstorm!) Smile.:) 

9. My son is a really really good cook!  Smile.:)

10. Tim McGraw is still my standard and I had no idea my son knew that, until he played one of his more obscure songs for me and said it was the definition of "smooth."  BIG Smile.:)

In the end, I played one for him that means a lot to me.... Funny how this guy always seems to show up when the muse does.:)

Veggies In A Sky Blue Bowl by Roni Delmonico

There was a time in my life when putting a "simple meal" on the table meant a box of macaroni and cheese mixed with tuna and peas.  (And yes, it's embarrassing even admitting that but hey, I was young and naive.. it had protein, dairy, wheat and starchy vegetable after all...plus it was orange and green! - balanced meal, yay! ;-))

These days, simple means something entirely different.  I love to cook and I'm pretty good at complicated recipes that take an entire afternoon. Lately, though, I have found that using just a few fresh ingredients from the garden and presenting them in an appealing way, goes a long way toward satisfying hunger.  Zucchini, tomatoes, basil... they're like fleeting friends, aren't they? They just don't taste the same once the days get shorter and autumn's cooler temps chase away summer's more playful spirit.  I can't believe we are already into September!  

I've been adding a few food staging props to my cabinet, a little at a time.  I found this pretty little sky blue bowl at a thrift store for a dollar. Did you know vegetables taste even more heavenly if swirled together in a sky blue bowl? Now, if only I could buy more storage space at the thrift store too!  I never really gave much thought before to food styling but it's actually pretty fun and it's the one place I can get away with a touch of girlie decorating in this house full of manly appetites!   

Life has been so sweet lately.  Filled with people and things that matter to me a great deal.  It's been quiet and meaningful and loving.  I am so grateful for that and it fills me with peace as we head into a new season... and all its simple pleasures.

Recipe is here.:)  I just used walnuts in the pesto in place of cheese and sprinkled a handful of pepitas in at the end. (Pepitas are raw pumpkin seeds... lots of nutrition there!  I like these. :)) 

Thirty One Flavors by Roni Delmonico

When I was eighteen, I lived with my dad in a little apartment in Southern California.  I have a lot of memories of that time with him, and each of them is a jewel I keep deep inside me in that space for all my most precious things.  I called him one morning freaking out and he couldn't understand a word I was saying so he rushed home and found me in the kitchen with his welding mask, gloves, boots and pants on holding them up with one hand and wielding a spatula in the other. I was screeching something about cockroaches and smacking them with my very ineffective weapon while trying to make sure I didn't have any exposed skin in case one decided to jump up and bite me. I've never seen him laugh so hard in my life.  Turns out they were only little crickets and dad took care of them in short order while I sheepishly returned his welding gear to its proper place.  He still loves to tell that story.

We lived on the second floor of the apartment building and I sometimes did the shopping and cooking.  I think that's when I really began to learn what foods I personally preferred and which ones I didn't because I had a lot of freedom to choose. My parents had recently divorced and my brothers and sister lived with my mom. I had just broken up with my boyfriend of several years so I think we just kind of understood where the other was at.  He turned his walk in closet, into a "prayer closet" and he kept his piano and guitar and all of his music in there and I would lay in bed at night with my window open listening to the sound of his voice singing softly to me from behind his closed door mixed with the traffic noise from the freeway outside.  It was actually a beautiful way to fall asleep.  We had a Christmas tree covered in tiny blue lights and silver tinsel because he loved to decorate it that way and I could see it from my bed.  I still smile when I see a blue tree, which isn't very often.:) We had this crazy siamese cat who would run around the apartment and claw his way up the drapes until he reached the top and then throw himself off like a kamikaze.  I thought it was pretty funny but I don't think dad did.  

Sometimes, on the weekend we'd head down the street to Baskin Robbins Ice Cream shop where they had 31 flavors to choose from but we always chose the exact same thing. Dad liked banana splits with hot fudge and I always ordered a Pralines and Cream ice cream cone. It didn't really matter to me what we were eating.  The best part was that we'd take it outside to a bench and then just talk to each other in the sunshine.  I tried to eat mine really slow.  I treasured that time with him so much.  It was relaxed and special and I never had to be anything but me.  Every once in awhile we'd switch it up and head to the Thrifty Drugstore. They didn't have as many flavors but they scooped out their ice cream with these funny cylindrical scoopers so it came out looking like a short tube.  You could get 3 scoops for a dollar back then but I usually opted for just two.

Over the years, dad developed a lactose intolerance and now he can't eat dairy without some uncomfortable consequences.  But he's coming to visit me in a few weeks and I've been experimenting with non-dairy ice cream that uses coconut cream as its base.  I even found some pretty yummy non-dairy chocolate chips to go on top.  And I have a very comfy bench under a willow tree by the water in the sunshine just waiting for him.  He still loves to talk story.

I saw an interesting video yesterday where a woman interviewed several adults about how they feel when they eat chocolate and then asked the same question of a few children.  The adults said things like "guilty", "like I'll have to go for a run after work now", "like I'm numb", or "I just don't eat it".  But oh from the mouths of babes... The children said, "happy", "grateful", and "good".  I think someone should come up with the "Eat Like A Child" diet.  

I wish you all a happy, grateful, good memory filled food day today.:)

The Joy of Eating and BEING Whole by Roni Delmonico

Last Friday I took my two youngest sons in for their annual physicals.  Now that they are in their teens, I wait out in the waiting room for them so they can have some privacy and speak candidly with their doctor without mom putting in her two cents.  (It's hard... I usually have about 25 cents.;-))  On this particular visit, their doctor actually came out to the waiting room and said, "Mrs. Delmonico, may I have a word with you in back please?"  Uh oh...

He led me into an exam room and I wish you could have seen the look on his face (and probably on mine as well).  He said, "Your son Eric tells me that you have been eating more healthy in your household and I just need to verify that's actually true?"  I burst out laughing.  I couldn't help it... it was such a relief. I walked in there thinking something was really wrong and realized quickly that we were about to have an interesting conversation about my latest views on the psychology of eating.  

After assuring him that indeed, Eric was being truthful, I explained to him how at the beginning of summer, I had made the decision that I would no longer bring processed foods full of additives and chemicals I cannot pronounce into our home.  I told him that I was focusing on feeding them primarily whole foods, with little or no ingredients lists, and that I made a deal with my children that I would make sure they had three square meals a day and some good quality snacks and that if they wanted junk after that, I wouldn't harp on them about it but they would have to buy it with their own money and convince their older brother to drive them wherever they needed to go to get it.  

In the beginning, it wasn't easy.  For the first three weeks, they experienced a lot of the same withdrawal symptoms I had when I was in my "Kill all the things" phase.  They were going to the store up the street every other day for ice cream and potato chips.  I tried to keep my frustration in check and just kept putting healthy meals in front of them, giving them choices, hoping for change and did my best to model good behaviors myself.  I had a learning curve too and what finally worked in the end was this.  I started focusing on taste. How we have forgotten this beautiful gift we've been given.  Taste is such an amazing, wonderful, joyful, exceptional gift!  We are designed to linger over and savor our food.  And I am working hard on finding and creating meals that actually make the people I love best in all the world, really want to do that.  Taste.  Linger.  Savor.

So what was the very unexpected result of all this effort?  My youngest son lost 6 pounds of body fat in just under 4 months and is leaner and more muscular going into this football season, than he has ever been.  My middle son, maintained his weight for the entire year and has clearer skin than he did last year at this time. Both are in perfect health.  Their doctor said, "I need you to understand... I called you back here because this never happens.  Whatever you're doing, keep doing it!"  Teenage boys losing weight is often a sign for alarm. But teenage boys losing body fat and gaining muscle due to a healthy diet void of processed, empty calories is not something he sees every day.  That was a huge eye opener for both of us and is incredibly motivating for me to keep at it with my boys.  I left there on Friday wanting to dance.  It's working!

Every night, we sit down together as a family and share a meal.  We've always done that because it is something that has been important to both my husband and myself for their whole lives.  We connect so well as a family during this time.  We laugh, tell stories, talk about our day and the latest news, and share concerns... feeding our spirits and nurturing our connection to each other, while nourishing our bodies.  Without a doubt it is my favorite time of the day.  It's even better these days.  Whole food tastes so good

A few fun things about our table:  (*No affiliate links here, just sharing some favorite things). First, the recipe for the meatballs and sauce. This one is paleo friendly and came from Cindy's Table. It's been a summer favorite in our house.  SO so so delicious!  The beef came from Abbott Farms, right here in Baldwinsville; the pork, from WW Longhorn Ranch. The zucchini was fresh picked from my son's garden an hour before dinner and we used a spiralizer to make noodles out of them. Really fun, and a tasty way to use excess zucchini in the garden.  It doesn't replace good quality pasta in our house - I serve it in addition to.  I am married to an Italian after all.;-) More often than not, the boys will choose both pasta and zucchini!  There are two different kinds of bread, fresh from our local Farmer's Market: a Manakish za'atar and a round European Peasant loaf that each have ingredients easily pronounced and recognizable. I made the salad dressing in less than a minute using a stick blender (This is one tool I avoided for the longest time thinking I had no need of one - silly me!)  Start with a cup of olive oil, throw in some thyme, a teaspoon or so of dijon mustard, a dash of salt and pepper and some strawberry or raspberry vinegar to taste and whiz with a stick blender.  Super simple, super yummy. (One note, use a light tasting olive oil.  If you make your salad dressing with full bodied olive oil, your kids will likely turn up their noses. Don't ask me how I know.:))The salad base is a really wonderful mild red Boston Bibb I've fallen in love with this summer, tossed with grapes, apples, bits of raw cheddar cheese and some absolutely wonderful spiced almonds I just discovered from the folks at Our Daily Eats, based right here in upstate New York! And as always... we use a freshly grated parmesan.  (My mother in law taught me that and I've never looked back!)  

Food photography is challenging in my house because food gets eaten faster than I can photograph it. It is consistently disappearing before I can adequately work with it, but you know, I think I'm ok with that.:)  Bon appetit, my beautiful family.  I am so happy to feed you well!

Farm To Table by Roni Delmonico

Do you know where your food is coming from?  

Five months ago, the only honest way I could answer that question was... from my local grocery store.  Like most people I know, I thought very little about the source of my food and simply went to the store, once a week, on autopilot and picked up about $150 worth of the foods we had been eating for decades without ever considering where it actually came from or what was in it. I tried to be careful with our budget and shopped according to what was on sale, what got dinner on the table the quickest, and whatever "sounded" good. Then... I saw the documentary film, Food Matters and a video on YouTube titled "Meet Your Meat", narrated by Alec Baldwin.  (I do not recommend that you watch that particular video without full awareness that it broke my heart in all kinds of ways and places to see what we are doing to animals in order to feed our insatiable appetites. Awareness isn't always easy.  You've been forewarned.)  

It isn't my intention to preach on the horrors of factory farmed meat right now, though I can't promise that I won't get up on my soap box on this issue at some point in the future.  I do however, hope that you'll begin to actually give some thought to where your food is coming from and how it gets to your table. Now that my eyes have been opened to a few things I had no idea about, I feel a pretty deep conviction about doing something responsible with that information going forward.  

The best bit of advice about eating that I have ever heard is this:  Stop worrying about eliminating things from your diet, and start adding good things back in. It's simple really... toss fad diets out the window, eat real food in season, food that you can pronounce, and food that comes from a source you know and trust. (And yes, for my family that still includes pasture raised, grass fed, free range meats from time to time).

Our bodies were created to love certain things intuitively... connection to others, sunshine, clean water, fresh air, play, exercise, and nutritious foods full of micronutrients that are often missing in our polluted and depleted environment today.  But so many of us are severely lacking in some or even all of these things and then we wonder why we're often sick, tired, depressed and hopeless that it could ever be any different. But it can.  It really can.  

Knowing that the food you eat is grown with care for the environment, farmers, animals, and your own health will only add to your joyful experience.
— Guide to Good Food

It helps a lot, if you choose to change the way you eat.  I have been at war with food and I've had body image issues for three decades. I have never thought of eating as "the simplest joy we all have." Until now.  Now that I know where the food I am eating comes from.. how it is grown, how it is raised, and how it is prepared - choosing the farmers who bring it to my table for me in ways that align with the convictions of my own heart and truly appreciating their efforts to do it sustainably and humanely and with respect for the land and animals that feed us.  I encourage you to dig deeper.  

Do you know where your food is coming from and what is in it?

**A great free iPhone app to help you connect with locally grown food:  Farmstand App

Chocolate Cake For Breakfast! by Roni Delmonico

 Chocolate Espresso Hazelnut Frozen Torte.  Recipe by Susan Powers at  www.rawmazing.com . Photo ©Roni Delmonico and The Photographer's Palette.

Chocolate Espresso Hazelnut Frozen Torte.  Recipe by Susan Powers at www.rawmazing.com. Photo ©Roni Delmonico and The Photographer's Palette.

I'm in a great mood this morning.  The creative juices are flowing, I've been writing a lot and I have some fun ideas for how I'm gonna finish out the year here. I'm excited about sharing it all with you.  Go grab a cup of coffee and sit with me for awhile. I'll cut you a piece of cake and believe it or not, it's actually good for you! Stay with me now... good for you doesn't have to equal yucky. I've got some interesting things to tell you! 

About a month and a half ago, I came across a book called It Starts With Food.  It was written by a couple named Dallas and Melissa Hartwig, who are big on tough love, small on tolerating excuses, especially when it comes to health and fitness.  I totally dig their style. Around the same time I began reading their book, my sister in law invited me to attend a six week Raw Food class with her on Wednesday nights.  I had had some limited exposure to the Raw Food lifestyle in the past and thought it might be a nice fit with my first Whole 30 Challenge.  I completed that challenge on July 30th and we just finished Week 5 of our Raw Food class.

I have been so inspired by both experiences, and there's way too much to tell you about that journey in one blog post so I've decided to spread out what I've learned in posts over the remainder of this year and to tie it all together by working my way through Nicole S. Young's book on Food Photography. I'll be sharing not just the photographic results with you, but also talk to you about the incredible things I have been learning about myself, about the psychology of eating, and about the ways we are falling short in providing the nutrition our bodies really need, sometimes, even hurting our bodies, without ever being aware of it. So much of what I've learned this year, I had never heard before and it was very eye opening.  I'm betting some of it will be new to you as well.

The fun stuff: I'm going to invite you into my kitchen regularly and talk to you with an open heart and mind about food and food photography: why I am eliminating some foods and adding others, why I choose certain equipment and angles when shooting food and the well informed reasoning behind all those choices. (Going forward and once I figure out how to do it, I will be including affiliate links to my favorite books, ingredients, kitchen supplies, and photography equipment sometimes, but only for products that I have used personally and find value in, and in the least invasive way possible.  My goal is to make it easier for you to find those things too, and to offset some of the costs of providing quality content, not to make you crazy with sales and flashy ads). I'm going to share the recipes for the healthy food photos I am creating and show you where to find the awesomely inspiring people who create them. I'm going to tell you about my favorite kitchen tools and gadgets, and teach you a few things about the lenses and camera equipment I use to get the job done.  I'm going to talk to you about the ingredients I'm using and why they are good for you. I'm going to indulge from time to time without substitution, because that's real life and I do have some decadent, not so healthy favorites that play an important role in my memory and in my family's history.  I'm going to share personal stories with you about my struggles with weight and my issues surrounding food over the past three decades. I'm going to tell you what I've learned about the incredible connection between mind and body and how that connection is important not just to the nourishment of my physical body, but to my creative and entrepreneurial spirit as well. I will introduce you to some of the truly forward thinking and compassionate professionals who have impacted my health recently in powerful, life changing ways. I'm even going to tell you stories about my immediate and extended families and the special foods that have brought us together through the years and why that matters to me so much.  I'm going to travel and share some local flavors with you when I do.  Through it all, I will be cooking and photographing food that will nourish our bodies with nutrients that have been sadly lacking in our modern age of fast and convenient.. making chronic pain, food addictions, illness, depression, neurological disorders and in far too many cases, premature death the norm, when it is in many cases, entirely preventable, simply by choosing carefully what we put into our mouths and our minds. And I'm going to do my best to photograph and write about all these things in ways that might encourage you to rethink what you're putting in your mouth, and help you begin to take back your own health and vitality so that you can truly thrive and feel happy. Imagine that.:)

Yesterday was a celebration for me and while I wanted to mark that with something special, I did not want to find myself on a sugar bender, undoing all the wonderful things I had accomplished by cleaning up my diet, eliminating alcohol, dairy, soy, processed food, sugar, grains, and legumes for an entire month.  I finished 30 days of beautifully clean eating, and discovered a host of things I want to share with you, while on that journey. It was good... it was very very good.:)  Dallas said that somewhere in the middle of it all, I might want to "kill all the things."  He was right, and it became a running joke in our house, that only made it all the more fun, as we navigated this crazy whole food terrain as a family.  Thankfully, I never did kill ALL the things. But I did slay some demons that had long been on my back... most of them existing comfortably on the cushy sofa I had installed for them in my foggy, junk food saturated mind.

We had chocolate cake for breakfast, and thanks to a totally Rawmazing, Susan Powers, it was not full of empty calories that make you feel bloated and uncomfortable and entirely guilty when you're done eating it and it required no baking whatsoever.  I hope you'll enjoy this new direction with me.  I look forward to it so much! Food photography hasn't had a strong place in my portfolio which is a direct reflection of my poor relationship with it in the past.  It is something I've wanted to improve upon for a long time and this seems like the perfect way to stay motivated, while engaging you, encouraging you, informing and maybe inspiring you to greater heights and healthier habits right along with me!