minestrone | foodloveswriting.com

You should know I didn’t set out, at the beginning of this week, to bring you two back-to-back soup recipes. I mean, yes, here I am, standing before you with a bowl of minestrone, all while, three short days ago, I went on and on about pureéd roasted carrots, but, thing is, while Tuesday’s post was born out of necessity, a sort of Bon Appétit-inspired scrambling to make something out of nothing in the fridge, today’s post has been brewing for weeks, ever since Tim and I took a quick trip to St. Louis to see our friends Joanna and Brad. A few gulps into the homemade minestrone they gave us Saturday night, sitting around the table in Brad’s grandma’s kitchen after hours outside enjoying the brisk November air, I knew two things: (1) There is nothing like homemade beef broth and (2) I wanted more.

Rainbow Chard + Tomatoes | FoodLovesWriting.com

Conveniently, the week before Thanksgiving, Tim slow-cooked grass-fed beef ribs for dinner one night (they were amazing! so fork-tender! falling off the bone! and, like so many of the things we end up eating on regular weeknights, not at all based on a recipe! Never fear, however, because I’ve already begged Tim to make them for dinner again sometime soon—only this time, while I follow him around with paper and pen). Anyway, after we ate, I didn’t even bother saving the bones in the fridge; instead, I set to work right away.

All the bones went straight into my largest stock pot, along with enough water to cover them well. I added a little vinegar and brought the mixture to a boil, then reduced it to a simmer; between that night and the next day, I kept reducing the liquid and adding water for a total of six hours, until we ended up with a rich and fragrant, beautifully dark, nourishing beef broth, which we strained and put in the freezer.

Then this week, I remembered my plans for minestrone.

Pot of Minestrone | FoodLovesWriting.com

The basic idea with minestrone is to sauté a mirepoix (i.e., blend of chopped celery, onions and carrots and a fun word to say!), which in this case also includes garlic and chopped rainbow chard stems, until soft and the onions are translucent. Add greens and (sweet) potato. Add tomatoes and herbs (thyme). A little bean purée, a lot of broth and a cheese rind later, and you have a chunky, hearty soup that screams winter comfort. The last touches are more beans and some fresh parsley, with as much salt and pepper as you like. We also like to toast a couple slices of bread—maybe dip them in oil and leftover dukkah spice? thanks Gemma for that idea!—to get into full last-day-of-November-or-not hibernation mode.

Minestrone Soup | FoodLovesWriting.com

While I was making the soup, at different moments, I would stand there looking at the bulging pile of rainbow chard or the arrestingly red grape tomatoes, thinking, “How beautiful!” and want to grab my phone to capture what I saw.

And as I did, as I pulled out my Canon and reached for my phone, as I tagged my greens #currently and went to stirring the broth, I kept asking myself the same question I’ve been asking myself since Jess posed it on November 15 and Jacqui followed up four days later: Why do I take pictures of my food? What does it mean to me?

Winter Minestrone | FoodLovesWriting.com

If there’s one thing you should know about me, it’s that I care about motive. If you ask me out to dinner but reveal you didn’t want to come, all that matters is why you did and what I think of that. If you hate cooking and think it’s dumb to post a picture of a cookie, all I want to know is why.

So when Jess and Jacqui put the question out there, “Why does it matter to take pictures of food?” I, with my analytical brain, was surprised to realize, as often as I take pictures of the things I eat, that finding my own reasons for doing so wasn’t easy (note I’m talking more about Instagramming my dinner than I am about shooting photos for a blog post, which involves an immediately obvious rationale). Why do we want to post our breakfast? Why is it it fun to photograph a piece of cake?

Like Jess, I think I photograph my dinner, sometimes, because something about it grabbed me and because I want to capture everyday beauty. Like Jacqui, I photograph food because the beauty of food makes me happy and gives me pleasure, and I’m enamored with everything that surrounds the table.

Really though, it’s all of those things and more of those things, and the many reasons for why we snap a shot of lunch could change as often as we do, I’m sure.

polaroid

But, right now, the best answer I’ve been able to hit at, the one that rings most true for me, is that, mostly, I take pictures of food—and of trees and of Tim and of the way the light hits my bed at night, like in the Polaroid above, which I found at my parents’ place last week, because, somehow, for me, the very act of clicking a shutter, of forcing myself to stop and consider, can be what John Ruskin said we could only find by not just looking at a leaf but by drawing it (as discussed in one of my favorite books).

Arrington_grapeleaves

Taking a picture of something before me, which in my current lifestyle is often food, can be the best way I know to teach myself to notice, to consider—to see.

What do you think? If you’re like me and often find yourself caught by the look of that meal on your plate, what makes you photograph it? I would love to know.





Winter Minestrone
Adapted from Giada’s Winter Minestrone Recipe
Serves 4 to 6

This minestrone should really be labeled Giada’s minestrone, because, save for a few substitutions and personalized instructions, the recipe is basically hers. The generally principles as mentioned in the post are not hard to remember, though, so feel free to tweak.

Ingredients:
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
2 garlic cloves, chopped
Stalks from a bunch of rainbow chard, chopped
Leaves from a bunch of rainbow chard, chopped
1 small sweet potato, peeled, cubed
1 cup grape tomatoes, quartered
a spring of fresh thyme
1 1/2 cups cannellini beans, soaked and cooked ahead of time*
4 cups beef broth**
a 1-ounce piece of Pecorino rind
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
Salt and pepper, to taste

Directions:
Heat the olive oil in a heavy, large pot over medium heat. Add the chopped onion, chopped carrots, chopped celery, chopped garlic and chopped chard stems. Saute until the onion is translucent, about 10 minutes. Add the chopped rainbow chard leaves and cubed sweet potato; saute for 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes and thyme. Simmer until the chard is wilted and the tomatoes break down, about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, blend 3/4 cup of the cooked beans with 1/4 cup of the broth in a processor until almost smooth. Add this pureed bean mixture, the remaining broth and the Pecorino cheese rind to the vegetable mixture. Simmer until the sweet potato pieces are tender, stirring occasionally, about 15 minutes. Stir in the rest of the beans and the parsley. Simmer until the beans are heated through and the soup is thick, about 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Discard Parmesan rind and thyme sprig if you can find it.

Ladle the soup into bowls and serve.

*You could alternatively use canned cannellini beans.
**We went with an unseasoned homemade beef broth, so if you choose a store-bought version, look for low sodium so you’re able to control the salt in the recipe.

Shanna Mallon started Food Loves Writing back in 2008, as a way to remember her grandma and write about her life through food. Since then it's become a place leading her to a lifestyle of eating whole foods, a new home in Nashville and the love of her life, Tim. Follow Shanna on Twitter @foodloves, keep up with Food Loves Writing on Facebook and stay inspired with the monthly newsletter.

This Post Has 23 Comments

  1. little kitchie

    sounds like a great, cozy meal for a cold night! don’t apologizing for posting 2 soup recipes in a row – i say keep them coming! i love soup season. :)

    i agree the photographing food – or anything, really – is a great way to slow down and notice with intention. looking at something through a lens enables you to notice the beauty, not only of whatever you’re photographing, but of the light, the surroundings. i love photographing our dinner because it helps me enjoy the process of cooking that just created the meal, instead of just sitting down and gobbling it down (though we definitely do that sometimes, too!)

  2. Kim

    I photograph my food (other than for my blog) to remember the moment surrounding it.

    Usually, my normal nightly dinners are completely boring, routine, and uneventful. I stink at planning weeknight meals because I’d rather be doing something else (like blogging, exercising, or spending time with my boyfriend).

    But when I take pictures it is because my food is “worthy” of it. It’s something special, different, unexpected. And those times are when I am doing something of a similar sort and want to remember it for later.

    Partially, this is because I have a terrible memory and my sense of time is unlike anyone else’s. A month ago can seem like yesterday to me and the day before is forgotten. I forget important events and my memory is almost completely wiped of certain events (not because they were bad! even good memories!). It sucks. So that’s why I take pictures.

  3. Jacqui

    There is nothing wrong with back-to-back soup recipes. Tis the season, right? And I’m so with you on taking photographs to see differently, and to notice things. To take a step further from the plate of food and see the entire picture of gathering and everyday life. Have a great weekend, Shanna!

  4. Erin

    What an interesting question. I think I take pictures of food (or any other part of my life) because photos capture memories. I can look back a month ago or a year ago and remember what was going on in my life. It’s the same reason I journal, and the same reason I blog, and the same reason I can spend hours flipping through childhood photos at my parents’ house.

  5. Vicki

    Being a Chicagoian who hates winter, it’s usually a long four to five months depending on how long the cold and snow hang around. But soup and Christmas and snowy days when you don’t have to leave the house are to me the few nice things about the season. Will be sure to add your/Giada (who by the way is my culinary hero and I met her at Taste of Chicago in 2011!!) soup to my recipe list. As for taking pics of food, I don’t do it very often but I find it’s a great way to share meals I’m either proud of making or proud of ordering. And it’s great to get feedback from other people on Facebook with their likes and comments. It’s like having a virtual dinner conversation with friends.

  6. Lan | angry asian

    to me, a picture says this moment was a happy moment and i want to capture it. it means that the timing was so important to me that i put down everything, and i do mean everything, to come watch it. then again, i also take moments of sadness & try to capture it too because it was a real moment, a real emotion that tho is negative, shouldn’t be forgotten.

  7. Abby

    Such a thought-provoking question. I like to record moments, but also to capture beauty or clarity. Sometimes a meal (or the side of a dish, or my favorite table linens) has the simple clarity that I want in other parts of my life, and I have a deep need to capture that so I can look back on it later.

  8. Erin

    I happen to be thinking about this exact topic while I was photography the CSA produce. I couldn’t help but think that I’d been doing these simple photos for three years now, often photographing the same things. I think for me it is two-fold. Each thing holds a beauty and I’ve found food to have an aspect of beauty and comfort. I’ve also realized that food has given me an excellent medium to guide progress- my photos sure don’t resemble what they did.

    As for the soups- I was also just thinking that I haven’t eaten enough soup recently. This looks delicious!

  9. Shanna Mallon

    I’m still soaking in all your thoughts, but, I just wanted to check in quickly to say how much I’ve enjoyed the discussion here (and hope it continues!). I’ve loved reading through your responses and thinking about intentionality and memory-making and finding beauty and chronicling growth. There’s so much rich learning when we start asking whys.

  10. Megan Gordon

    Love this. Just woke up after a late night working, clutching my coffee with another day of work ahead … needed this. Really thoughtful, Shanna. Sam gives me a hard time sometimes about how all I do is take photos of food (Instagram etc.) but really if you think about it, this is our daily life. So it makes sense. Happy weekend to you and Tim. xo

  11. Allison @ The Bleu Whale

    Great responses! For me, it’s important to photograph my food because a photo is forever a memory. Looking back on that slice of cake or that bowl of soup will bring me back to that food; what it tastes like, why I love it, the last time I ate it, etc. And giving in to those memories makes me want the food all over again and it makes me want to keep eating. Taking a photo and keeping a memory allows you to always remember it, to crave it, to keep it with you forever, and ultimately it keeps things going and moving to start making new memories.

  12. Ruthy @ omeletta

    I love this. I think that I, too, photograph my food because the mere sight of it makes me happy. A beautiful plate is something that thrills my black little heart, and by photographing it I can both hope to share that thrill with others and also maintain it for myself to enjoy later. Bad photography of food makes me grit my teeth, but it may not look bad to the one who took the photo; they were probably after the same thing.

    It can all get a little out of hand at times, especially in a Twittery, Instagrammy world, but I think that the sheer joy of good food is one that people want to both keep and share, hence the photography of what is a somewhat random thing.

  13. Jess @ Feast With Me

    Oh my god I could eat the entire pot of soup right this minute. You had me at homemade beef broth. Oh and at cheese rind. And a lot of other place buts that’s besides the point.

    I love your point about stopping to enjoy every day beauty – that is why I take photos of my food. Other than blogging, food just makes me smile. It reminds me, when I see the photo of the potato pancakes I made a few days ago, how happy I was when I was frying them up, how excited I was to share them with my boyfriend. A lot of it has to do with memory, for me anyway. :)

    ~Jess

  14. Felicia

    Hi shanna!

    thank you for sharing what your food photos mean to you – it’s funny, somehow I’ve never thought of why I take photos of food other than for the obvious reason of sharing it on my blog. But this post, as well as the one by Jacqui and Jess (which you linked), have provoked some thoughts.. and I’d like to dwell on the idea for a bit, and maybe I’d find a deeper reason and share it on my blog.

    thanks for inspiring once again!

    love from buenos aires,
    felicia

  15. Kathryn

    Oh yes, this is something I think about often as my boyfriend makes fun of me for snapping a picture before we can eat! I think, like you, it’s about seeing something differently. It is so easy to make yourself a quick meal, shove it on a plate and not really think about what you’re eating as you gobble it down. Taking the moment just to see it – to really see it – makes me feel so much more connected to my food.

    PS lovely new site!

  16. Alicia

    I think taking photos of my food started as a way to share with others what I’m eating, whether it’s something I made or something at a restaurant. Sort of like, “look how delicious healthy food can look. I swear it tastes as good as it looks.” But now it’s such a habit that I find myself taking photos of my food even when it’s a recipe I’ve already shared or I know I won’t post it anywhere. Food is so beautiful, and so colorful. It’s like a form of art!

    I will definitely be making this soup, btw. And I’ve always loved your food photos.

  17. Pingback: Why do I photograph food? « Cooking up a Storm, Dish by Dish :: Felicia Lim

  18. Shanna Mallon

    You guys. All of you. Such thought-provoking conversation here! Wishing I could gather all of you around my table, iPhones and cameras in our hands as we get ready to eat, chatting about the psychology of food photos and Instagram and what it means to us. I’ve loved your thoughts — thank you for sharing them!

  19. Pingback: Sourdough Banana Bread French Toast | Food Loves Writing

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