By Sarah Khanna
I grew up wearing shades of watermelon, tangerine and aqua; colors I was taught by my mother. In our home, there was never use of the unadorned word blue, only baby blue, navy blue, royal blue and petrol. This is how she saw the world and what drove us, my sister and I, to look out for new colors and to use them regularly; compelling color names like vermillion and viridian were the winners where I was concerned.
Only later did I notice that the everyday brown never made an appearance in our house. The closest we had gotten to finding something “brown” in our closets or rooms was in fact a cross between terra cotta and rust. When winter would come and the city’s people would shed their summer spirit to shroud themselves in tones of wet sand and dusty leaves, my mother would be the lady crossing the street in the scarlet coat.
On a clear day in Abu Dhabi, she took me, her newly turned 11-year-old, shopping. Enthusiastically, I picked up a brown button-down dress and asked her what she thought, hoping that she would agree that it was the dress for me. “I don’t like brown,” she said as she walked a few steps ahead to lift up a dusty rose blouse, delicate and demure.
Soon after my university years, I took a trip alone to Abu Dhabi to reconnect with friends and the city I had seen solely through the biased eyes of my childhood. There, I bought a fitted brown t-shirt and several other brown garments that surprised my mother upon my return and me for breaking away if only a little from my love of standard black.
In my mid-twenties, I started taking fewer photos of muted faces in black and white and more photos of food, dipped in gloss and drenched in color. It was apparent through time that brown did not hold well in still life and could rarely come alive aside from molding itself into the egotist of brown food, chocolate. For the simplest and most delicious of brown foods, sauces included, I would have to learn to make them shine; to garnish with parsley, with julienned shallots, with cheese tuiles.
But brown dishes are not the only thing I learned to eat voraciously while shielding my mess of a plate from my scrutinizing camera lens.
I am yet to photograph a bone-in shank that looks appetizing and a while back, I struggled with coconut milk mussels before getting a shot that would flatter them with their quivering soft insides, a tell-tale sign that we may not all be beautiful on the inside.
Some foods shine on their own and excel under a macro lens while others struggle, pleading with you to place them on a layered table setting with a few star props in natural light. When photographing your food for others, it is imperative to do some organization for it is never a picture-perfect snapshot moment, even when it’s the most vibrant of red velvet cakes.
Find your grandmother’s detailed silver spoons and old cookbooks to place in the background, even tattered pages and parchment paper work to give your photo some depth. Consider your surroundings and learn to work with them. You will find that you need not an awe-inspiring place to work in; just some stable sunlight, a reliable camera, a simple dish and your imagination.
Double Blueberry Cake
1 cup of self-raising flour
100 grams of butter
2 eggs + 1 egg yolk
½ cup of fresh blueberries
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
For the blueberry sauce:
2 cups of frozen blueberries
½ cup of water
½ cup of sugar
2 tablespoons of lemon juice
The zest of one large lemon
2 tablespoons of cornstarch + 2 tablespoons of water
½ teaspoon of vanilla extract
Begin by creaming the butter and the sugar in a stand mixer until completely blended and fluffy. Add the eggs and egg yolk and mix again for 30 seconds. Add the flour gradually, allowing every ¼ cup to incorporate into the batter before adding the next ¼ cup. Scrape the sides of your bowl every now and then to make sure everything goes in. Pour in the vanilla essence. In a separate bowl, toss the blueberries in some extra flour until coated then add to the batter. This will allow the blueberries to hold their place avoiding having them pool at the bottom of your cake tin. Add to a small greased loaf tin. This is not a big cake and is meant to finish quickly in both prep work and eating time. Pop your cake into the oven at 170 degrees Celsius. There is no need to preheat. Allow the cake to bake for approximately 45-50 minutes (until a knife comes out clean). When done, remove from the oven and allow to cool for 10 minutes before extracting from the tin.
Blueberry sauce: In a medium-sized saucepan, combine the blueberries, water, sugar and lemon juice on medium heat. Stir often until it comes to a low boil. In a separate bowl, stir the cornstarch into 2 tablespoons of cold water until dissolved. Gradually stir the cornstarch into the blueberry mixture. Simmer on medium-low heat and stir every so often until the sauce has reduced and is thick enough to coat the back of a metal spoon. This should take around 7 minutes. Take the sauce off the heat when ready and stir in the freshly grated lemon zest and vanilla extract. If you’re using vanillin, stir it in when adding the cornstarch. Feel free to add more sugar; some blueberries are not as sweet as others. To thin out your sauce, add in a few drops of hot water at a time and stir until you reach your desired consistency.