September’s Foodie Penpals recap

Have you ever read those charming newspaper interviews with especially elderly citizens? Maybe it’s a small town thing. I find them fascinating, but as soon as I get to the paragraph where the sprightly 105-year-old attributes her longevity to “never snacking between meals,” I can’t help but roll my eyes. I am a devoted snacker, and if I live to be 100 you can bet I’ll chalk it up to the goods that kept me from completely losing my mind out of hanger.

That’s why I was so pleased to get a box full of new snacks in the mail last month. In August I signed up for Foodie Penpals, a terrific program that lets you exchange edible gifts with participants all around the country. I packed up local spices, honey, and various snacks and sent them off to one of my partners, and within a few weeks I received my own box from my other partner, Bethany.

I realized after our first email exchange that I’d given Bethany very little information about myself, other than, “I don’t like fennel.” Helpful. But she must have sensed my need for snack food, because she sent me a wonderful assortment of sweets and savories.

First glimpse…

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Here For A Hot Dog: Maine part 2

I have been rising early enough to be able to tell that fall is beginning to wheedle its way in. Our chilly mornings have some bite to them, and I think hopefully, maybe today I can wear my sweater. Today? But I shed the sweater by 11 am and switch to a tank top by 2.

Napa Valley’s summers are persistent, and at times I love the dusty depth of the early fall heat. There’s no chance I’ll get confused, though. I know my summer is over because I’ve had my Brunswick hot dog.

Empty Cottage. Photo: Luke Myers

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Hyve Honey Ale from Uinta Brewing Co. in Salt Lake City

I’d like to direct you to McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, where there is another installment of one of my favorite features, Open Letters To People Or Entities Who Are Unlikely To Respond.

The most recent Open Letter, Dear People Who Take Pictures Of Food With Instagram, is a hilarious, cringe-inducing commentary on many things I love: food, hipsters, and social media. It will only take a quick glance before you chuckle because you know exactly what the author is talking about, and you may even recognize yourself in her pointed description of the “Instagram Visionary.” It’s a wry takedown of the “everyone’s a food critic” phenomenon, something I used to loathe but have come to love.

There seem to be two camps when it comes to the people who think about food photos. There are those who ask that familiar question about food blogging, “Who wants to see a picture of your lunch? Who cares what you had for breakfast?” and there are those who answer earnestly, “I do! Want to see mine?”

Obviously these people are not on the same page.

I used to belong to the former crowd. As a kid, I read the dining section of the newspaper with some horror, thinking “You can’t bring a camera into a restaurant. How rude. They’ll know you’re a critic. You’re blowing your cover!” That was before food bloggers let their meals get cold while angling for the perfect shot, and definitely before the iPhone made its way to the table. With that gadget, the sanctity of the communal meal was destroyed forever. Or so I felt–all the arranging of dishes, snapping, deleting and re-snapping of photos and the inevitable “share with friends” who weren’t at the table instead of those who were was distracting and so gauche. My poor father put up with a lot of scolding in those days. Like Katie from the McSweeney’s essay, I just rolled my eyes at the food paparazzi.

Until I became one of them. It was my food blog obsession that did it, of course. I started reading, then cooking, then trying to document my dinner, and one thing led to another and now I’m working on social media for Leite’s Culinaria. My exposure (heh–you follow me, photo nerds?) to the wonders and pleasures of Instagram has increased hugely, and I’m all for it. I do want to know what and where you’re eating, because chances are I want to eat it too, and without your photo record I would forget about it. Checking out Instagram photos of your friends’ meals feels like a politer version of sneaking bites off someone’s plate, albeit less satisfying. And if you’re subtle, tactful, and appreciative of your food, all the better.

Of course, I still recognize the silliness of it. I hadn’t actually tried Instagram for myself until this evening. I’m working on a special project that should make an appearance here by Sunday if all goes well, and some photographic evidence was key. I don’t have the stillness of hand nor financial stability required to feel confident using a fancy camera around food, so the iPhone it was. What a corner I have turned.

This endeavor shed new light on the particular trials of intro food photography, and now I see why we social media people look absurd to some of you. I also forgive anyone who ever made me wait to eat with their endless plating and arranging. I get it now. One minute you’re peering through the lens trying to see if the camera is even on, and the next you’re obsessed, awkwardly clambering onto the stove in order to get a good shot. Lighting? Please. Now I understand why the pros insist that natural light is best. You will notice that I took my efforts outside to practice on a beer, and produced a photo that was cut off, out of focus, weirdly shadowed, and off-center. Those were not artistic choices.

But I’m sharing the shot anyway, just in case you were jonesin’ for a new beer suggestion (and let’s be real, it might encourage me to practice). And to the Instagrammers: I want to see your lunches. Be shameless. Snap away.

A Bit About Just A Tidbit

“Just a Tidbit”? Why would I tease you with such a diminutive idea? Shouldn’t I ply you with the written equivalent of rich food and drink so you’ll want to linger and chat with me a while longer, symposium-style?

Well, not yet. First of all, I’m no M.F.K. Fisher. Until I hit my stride, I’ll keep it short and sweet. Second of all, I’ve got a soft spot for the whole concept of the tidbit, an affection that has its roots in a distressing childhood misunderstanding.

My parents, being the creative individuals they are, would often assure their picky and hungry daughter that she could have “a little tidbit” as a snack before dinner. This was always a delightful idea and should have satisfied us all. However, we had a problem. Upon mention of the tidbit, I began dreaming of a very specific, utterly tantalizing snack that had never yet found its way to me in spite of my parents’ promises. I imagined that it involved peanut butter, maybe some pretzel-y crunch, and was the perfect union of sweet and savory goodness (years later I discovered a certain grocery’s peanut-butter-stuffed pretzel nuggets, and it was as though the heavens had opened up). I wanted this tidbit so, so badly, and found myself disappointed time and time again by my snacks. There were simply no tidbits to be found in our kitchen, ever, nor could my parents comprehend why their offerings frustrated me so.

I don’t recall us ever talking about my confusion. Eventually I stopped wondering, “But why didn’t you give me a tidbit?” and must have discovered the sad truth about tidbits, the catch-all treats, on my own. I’ve always loved the term, though, and it seemed the most appropriate name for this site, where I’ll be feeding you bits and bites of my thoughts about food. Perhaps I’ll start a candy company someday and make my dreams of a tiny snack come true, but for now, I’m content to tap away right here at Just A Tidbit. I promise, it won’t spoil your appetite.

Oh but please–don’t even get me started on the elusive “morsel”.