Monday, May 26, 2014


 Tuscany is drunk with memories. Seven years of our lives in Italy, the odd weekend or holiday in the sage green hills and silver-tipped olive trees of Tuscany, fill the cup and overflow and I am back here after much too long a separation. Flooded with sensations, the warm sun on my skin (after chilly, rainy days in France) tickling out souvenirs of driving these same roads next to my husband, two little toddlers asleep in the back seat.

 Boxes of props and hulking, bulky camera bags have taken the place of those little boys. Ilva now sitting in the driver's seat. On our way to the old Tuscan villa for a workshop. Cameras, paper and pens, excitement and anticipation, anxious for all to go well.

 Eight women around a dining table, the strains of Italian pop rock push against giddy voices, a cacophony of laughter and stories as we get to know each other, or renew friendships. Bottles of red and one of bubbly white, frizzante, illuminate the evening, the deep, velvety baritone of Barry White serenading a meal. Years of Italian vino, salumi e abbondanza di festa color this evening, as we begin the first Plated Stories Workshop.

 You are my everything.

 Tuscany the perfect backdrop, participants exuding passion and industry, bursting with curiosity and questions, overflowing with energy. There is nothing like Tuscany, ancient, lush and vibrant, to inspire. Cameras click, laptops hum, faces peer into screens with intensity and concentration.

 Socrates the donkey, the spitting image of Eeyore yet evidently much more clever if his name is a mark of proof, hovers close by, urging our attention. Lips pulled back, tongue out, teeth bared, the braying begins, much to our utter amusement. Capture it in words, capture it in images.

 Red the color of Pienza. Burnt brick, old stone flushed with time and sun, burnished and bruised. Rough yet oh so elegant. We are surrounded by chatter; Italian, yes, but English and French and a smattering of German. Tables spill out onto squares, tables pushed closely together to make room for everyone, for more souls hungry for panini, hungry for street theater, hungry for a bit of Italian noonday sun. Conversations run into each other like red Tuscan wine poured onto the pavement.

 Three little boys lined up on a low wall against the amber stone clutching ice cream cones, intent on their mission. Huddles of cyclists in cerulean blue spandex, virile, take their place, lined up like little boys on that wall, bright spots against the stone, always moving, animated voices, laughter and eating ice cream, them, too, waiting to take off.

 This once impersonal conference room is bursting with activity, barely enough to contain all of the creative energy. Props shifted around on painted backdrops, cutlery handed round, exchanged, women hunters, primal urgings. Women shifting around the room, mumblings and grumblings and the occasional outburst assisting the learning process. One spread out on the floor, another standing on a chair, all taking up the entire floor space. Ilva peeping over shoulders, pointing out, challenging, suggesting, guiding, encouraging. Photography. 

 Eggplants, tomatoes, lemons, olives, Tuscan props.

 Writing. A whole different ballgame, an entirely different kind of beast. Or is it? Expectant eyes boring into mine, waiting. Tickety tick of keyboards, the scratching of pens on paper (yes!), words read aloud, giving birth to a story. A multitude of aha moments. Eureka!

 A voyage through the countryside, a trip to Pienza. What story can you tell? A clutch of Pinocchios, a collection of copper pots, a fragrant mountain of cheeses, musky, the damp scent of churches infused with wood, incense and centuries of voices. Chanting, haunting.

 Each group has its own distinct, unique personality, its own needs, its own dynamics. Each group brings something different to the table. Curiosity tainted with doubt fills the space, excitement mingled with self-consciousness. I love nothing more, feeling the electricity pass between teacher – me – and student – them, a charged atmosphere. Can you find words to describe a smell, a noise, a taste? Can you transform an image into text?

 Finding the words to describe the Plated Stories Workshop is so difficult, even for a writer. It is a feeling, a sensation, a dance of elation and serene contentment, back and forth between words and visuals. When push comes to shove? Yes indeed for how else to nudge students out of their comfort zones, to create a momentum forward, to prod and push each one into a higher creative territory and hold them there until they find their footing?

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Monday, May 19, 2014


Eggplant three

 Long and slender, short and plump, curvaceous, voluptuous, pulp fiction. Glossy. Sleek. Polished. Round, oblong, pear-shaped. Pale mauve the color of tulips, deep garnet a ring slipped on a finger, a rope of stones around my neck, against my skin. White, the color of a goose egg, eggplant. Curiously striped, the zebra of vegetables.

 Yet not a vegetable. A fruit with a hint of intrigue, a descendent of the nightshade family, literary poison. A fruit with a doubtful reputation, melanzane, mela insane, crazy apple.

 …bringing forth fruit of the bigness of a great cucumber. Provocative, titillating. Aphrodisiac. 

Eggplant slices

 Just out of college and living in New York, I was an introverted young thing, new to this concrete jungle. An aunt, my father's sister, lived in the city at the top of an apartment building, a dizzying height, with a stunning panoramic view of the park. She invited me into her home where I became acquainted with a family, cousins, aunts and uncles I barely knew, my father's side. It was a family dinner and she prepared her famous moussaka, my first moussaka. Ever.

 I remember it as one of the best things that I had ever eaten. Smooth, creamy, savory, eggplants, white sauce, lamb, the perfect meal surrounded by family.

 My first taste of eggplant in a form other than breaded, fried crispy, smothered in red sauce, couched in a thick, voluptuous layer of mozzarella and baked. A young girl's introduction to sensations heated and sexy. Or eggplants breaded and fried crispy, stuffed into an Italian roll to be eaten, gobbled up, feasted upon in some dark-hued Italian joint. Rich and sloppy.

 Moussaka, my eggplant coming of age.

Eggplant cooking

The act of salting and rinsing eggplant to reduce bitterness is called "degorging." Dégorger in French. A very disagreeable word, visions of hands around throats, squeezing out every last drop of life. Or worse. To sweat. To sweat an eggplant, layered slices pressed into the curves of a colander, doused heavily with salt and left to sweat. Like a body left out in the scorching heat, a long hike through the desert, far from an oasis of cool water, sweet shade. A sportsman after a rousing match of basketball, the summer sun beating down on bare skin, bouncing up off of the tarmac, the blacktop, hard and violent. A trickle of liquid leaving a trail down the bumpy landscape of spine, rivulets like tears coursing down the body, steaming hot. No. Not the elegant eggplant.

 I want to think of my eggplants as delicate flowers gently weeping, maidens swathed in diaphanous gowns stepping out of lakes, dripping elegantly, washing away the bitter jolt.

 Voluptuous eggplants, firm, dense beauties, lusciously curvaceous, hinting of Old World decadence, gorgeous, fleshy women draped sensually across aubergine velvet sofas. Eggplants should never be degorged, throttled or sweated.

Eggplant patterns

I once had an ongoing love affair with homemade hummus, nutty chickpeas, velvety smooth, garlicky, lemony, a backdrop of rich olive oil. And baba ganoush. Eggplants loosed of their violet wrappings, trimmed of their prickly green crown, baked and puréed, the deep, nutty, intriguingly bitter tahini swirled in. More lemon, more garlic, a mysterious, exotic hint of cumin, the brightness of parsley.

 Each and every occasion that I needed to impress, dinner guests or a get together among friends, I whipped up a batch of each, piled into a bowl, dressed with a slither of olive oil, gold against beige, a dusting of chopped parsley and surrounded by perfect little somethings with which to scoop and eat.

 One afternoon in Milan, the sun streaming in through the long French windows, light filtered through the vines shading the terrace, a table laid out with delicacies for the nibbling, I had a group of women over. As I scurried around the apartment preparing, making sure everything was sparkling, everything was in its place, I turned to look at the buffet to find my young son, six, maybe seven years old, standing, his back to me, in front of the bowl of baba ganoush. Eating that bowl of eggplant purée as if it was better than ice cream, better than a thick slice of chocolate cake or a wedge of pizza. Eggplant purée and he couldn't swallow it fast enough or eagerly enough. Eggplant purée. Spiced and oiled.

 As if that simple baba ganoush were as precious, luxurious, as special as caviar. Caviar d'aubergine.

Eggplant circles
Roasted Eggplants With Herbs  

This is one of my favourite eggplant recipes (there's a certain eggplant salad with caper and roasted almond sauce that is a strong contender) and the proof that simple is often best when it comes to cooking. The smaller the eggplants are, the better the final dish will taste but if you can't find baby eggplants use bigger ones and divide accordingly.


4 servings 

4-6 baby eggplants; if you use larger eggplants, count on about 1/2 per person

½ cup fresh herbs, chopped; I used rosemary, thyme, oregano, mint and sage
1 clove of garlic, optional
1 pinch of chili powder, optional
8-10 tbs extra virgin olive oil

   Divide the eggplants in two lengthwise and make diagonal cuts with a small and sharp knife, first from left to right and then perpendicularly from right to left so that you end up with a crisscross pattern. Be careful not to cut through the skin.

   Chop the herbs and the garlic finely, mix with salt and chili powder in a bowl and add olive oil. Stir well and spoon the herb mix on top of each eggplant half, spread it out and push the herbs into the cuts.
    Put the eggplant halves in an oven-proof dish and drizzle more olive oil over, if needed.
    Bake in a preheated oven (200°C/390°F) until soft and slightly browned, it takes about 30 minutes. It’s important that they are really well cooked. If they get brown too early, cover the dish with tin foil and go on baking. 

Monday, May 12, 2014

Il Salicone October 2014 Workshop

We are very happy to announce and open registration for 
the second Plated Stories Workshop.

When: 3 – 5 October 2014 
Where: Tuscany, Italy 
Venue: Il Salicone estate 
Intensive Hands-On Food Photography/Styling & Food Writing Workshop  

 The workshop will be held the first weekend in October 2014 (Friday 3 October lunch through Sunday night with departure Monday 6 October after breakfast) at Il Salicone, a splendid mid-19th Century Italian villa a stone’s throw from Pistoia, not far from Florence and Pisa.

 The 3-story villa is situated in the lush countryside of northern Tuscany with views of the Montalbano hills, its vineyards and olive groves. We will have exclusive access to the villa and its secluded grounds where we will be able to write and shoot in any one of the many beautiful salons or in the gardens every day, all day and into the evenings. Rooms will be shared (some have double beds), each with a private bathroom.

 Saturday afternoon, Giulia Scarpaleggia, the author of two cookbooks on Tuscan cuisine and a hugely popular food blogger, will be teaching a private cooking class just for our group - together we will be preparing our evening meal. 

 The cost for the 3-day workshop is € 875 (euros) and will include intensive, hands-on exercises in both writing and styling/photography, as well as understanding how text and images can work together to create a more powerful story. Cost also includes 3 days, 3 nights accommodation at Il Salicone (double occupancy) and all meals (3 lunches, 3 dinners, 3 breakfasts as well as snacks and refreshments during the workshop) as well as the cooking class. Workshop cost will not include airfare or transportation to or from the venue or insurance.

 Plated Stories the blog is all about finding inspiration and tapping into our creativity; it is about discovering and strengthening our own individual voice and style; it is about pushing ourselves beyond our own limits. This is exactly what we will help you do at Plated Stories the workshop: you will be inspired to take that step beyond and you will learn how to channel your creativity in new ways for your own purpose. Come to beautiful Tuscany, Italy this autumn and immerse yourself in the art of writing and photography, whether for your blog or for professional pursuits.

 The workshop is limited to a maximum 8 participants, creating a more intimate group, allowing for hands-on work and exercises, individual analysis and coaching, roundtable discussions and lively exchange. Keeping the workshop to 8 will allow us exclusive time with each participant to review portfolios and writing, critiquing as well as helping focus and define his/her goals and skills.

The workshop is ideal for experienced food or travel bloggers as well as food photographers and writers - aspiring or more experienced. Whether you combine photography and writing or concentrate on one or the other, the workshop will help you to build up your portfolio, hone your skills and find new creative energy. 

 This is not a workshop for beginners; an understanding of the basic elements of photography such as aperture, exposure and shutter speed, white balance and ISO is necessary along with laptop and post processing software (Photoshop, Paint, Lightroom or iPhoto etc.). * A DSLR camera is required and a tripod is a plus.

Register here!

 Further questions? Or simply want to be on our mailing list and be the first to learn of all upcoming events and workshops? Email us at

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Monday, May 5, 2014


Pretty in Pink

 Although raised to be the consummate girl, as defined in the 1960's by dolls and shopping and housework, sugar and spice and everything nice, I was never really a girly-girl. I just didn't fit the bill. I was never (and could never bring myself to be) a “pink and ruffles” girl; after all, prim, feminine clothes (bordering on the cute) would have simply looked silly with my ghostly white skin and black frizzy hair, my unconventional personality. I liked the unusual in clothes as I did in games, as I did in most everything, even if it meant getting teased and laughed at. If it was bright and wild, I loved it; that cherry red skirt with the bright white zipper that scooted straight up the center front ending in a huge, mod ring pull (that somehow invited, much to my embarrassment, my grade school classmates to grab, yank and run away laughing), slender gold or chunky black belts worn on the outside of my shirt rather than through the belt loops of my pants well before it was the style (junior high mocking), fringed suede vests with orange and red-striped bell bottoms (sniggering and finger pointing) and anything with the hint of avant-garde. So much more exciting and exuberant than pink

 So what lured me towards my first pair of pink high top sneakers? What motivated me to slap a whopping – for me – twenty-five dollars on the counter of that Manhattan shoe store way back in 1985? The black pair made perfect sense for someone who was gradually but deliberately growing from deep gem-colors into a stark, well-defined, thoroughly ungirly black and white wardrobe. Those sneakers were indubitably pink. A pink some would call magenta, others would define as fuchsia. The color of dahlias and bubblegum, cotton candy and watermelon. Reminiscent of Schiaparelli's Shocking.

Bought them I did. I wore them from New York to Paris via Milan. Well-traveled pink sneakers. Until they literally fell apart, the pink scarred and stained, the bottoms worn away, the laces frayed. I am now on my second (or is it third?) pair of pink sneakers and they have, somehow or other, become my signature.

 In the Pink.

Tickled Pink

 In food, I lived the same passions. Pink wasn’t my thing. Raspberries were too insipid and strawberries, that most feminine of fruits, were best eaten straight from the plant, deep red. Strawberry milkshakes, Pop tarts or cereal I shunned, left for my kid brother who relished every mouthful, pink his favorite flavor in sugary food. I never asked for a scoop of lovely, pastel pink ice cream, what was expected of a girl, or pink frosting on my cupcakes; cloyingly sweet icing, neon-colored roses were immediately scraped off and discarded. Strawberry jam to this day makes me shudder as I push the jar away with a shake of my head. Pink food was, well, girly, at once too saccharine and too lackluster for my tastebuds. Too pink.

 In fact, I snubbed anything at all with strawberries, from pie to shortcake to Pop Tarts to sodas. Not. My. Flavor. Period. Raspberries ignored and strawberries relegated to the whole in their unadulterated form.

 All grown up, my choice has fairly remained the same. Pink, that milky strawberry and boring raspberry, is left behind in favor of dark, brooding chocolate or feisty cherry the color of blood, or coffee, earthy, heady, adult. Even bold, bright, tangy rhubarb boiled down to its pinkest does not satisfy, does not titillate with its stringy, gloppy personality. Do not order anything pink for me.


 Pink jellybeans are an exception. Lovely pink Reims Roses, those classic French meringue cookies, crisp and crumbly and sweet, glazed thickly in a cloak of powdered sugar and perfect, so utterly perfect dunked in milk. Or pink Champagne. Cotton candy. Pink grapefruits.

 Mercurio: Why, I am the very pinke of curtesie. – William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet, 1597

 A Young girl's first lipstick – metallic pink lipgloss, a pale pink barely there, shimmering, thick and sticky, handed down from mother to daughter for a special occasion. Later, traded in for a tube that glided on smoothly and smelled sweetly of berries. Rosy lips awaiting a first kiss.

Pink Slip

 Scarlet blushes, rosy cheeks, pink blooms on faded skin the color of pearls. A masculine rectangle set with crystals in shades of feminine pink: Mademoiselle, Frosted Tulip, Aurora, Amaranth, a gift from husband and sons on a birthday.

 Pink pajamas, oh yes, pink when away from the world's eyes and judgmental gaze. Pink pajamas in hot pink, mod pink, ultra pink, and pink bordering on mauve. Fandango. From head to toe, robe to slippers. Toenail polish hidden all winter long underneath hose and socks and heavy boots, cerise, fuchsia, wild berry, hot magenta. Peeping out come summer, bared to the world, a splash of color and brightness against the black, olive and tan of my warm-weather wardrobe. Fun in pink.

 'Tis the Pink of the Mode, to marry at first Sight: - And some, indeed, marry without any Sight at all. - Leigh's Kensington Gardens, 1720.


 We grew up making our own milkshakes in the blender, chocolate for me and strawberry for my little brother. My son now makes them for himself all summer long, tossing in a banana with the strawberries and always ice cubes to make the shake icier. Use more or less ice cream, milk or berries as you like for either a milkier/lighter, a sweeter/richer or a fruitier treat.

Jamie's Strawberry Rum Milkshake

1 cup (about 4 oz/115 g) thickly sliced strawberries
2 cups vanilla ice cream
1 cup (250 ml) milk, whole or lowfat
2 Tbs dark rum

 Place all ingredients in a blender and whiz until thick and creamy. Add more ice cream, more milk or more rum as desired. Serve topped with a froth of whipped cream and berries for a real dessert.

 Notes: vanilla and rum are a match made in heaven; if you don't like rum you will still love the delicate earthy, almost nutty flavor it brings to the vanilla. Freezing your strawberries before whizzing in the blender will add an icy quality to the milkshake one usually gets by tossing in a handful of ice cubes. Using whole milk will add a bit more body and fat flavor to the shake.

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