We can only be said to be alive in those moments
when our hearts are conscious of our treasures.
- Thornton Wilder
When I was five, maybe six years old, my mother came to me and offered me the chance of a lifetime, something up until that moment had merely been a dream. "Shall I sign you up for dancing school? It's your turn!" Dancing school! Dancing school was heaven on earth in my young mind! I watched with envy, with awe each time my sister was fitted with a costume, the glamour of the satin, the sequins and spangles, the fringe and the jaunty hats, sweeps of feathers and tiny cat ears perched on her head. I watched with envy, with awe each time my sister took to the stage, smile splashed across her face, upright and confident, and tapped her way into the hearts of the audience with grace and joy, the clickety clack of the taps the most beautiful sound in the world to my young ears.
A thrill rushed through my kindergarten body as I imagined myself under the lights, wrapped in pink tulle and shimmering sparkles, pretty little ballet slippers hugging my feet, arms elegantly curved above my head. I would execute perfect pirouettes, glide gracefully across the wood amid cheers from the friends and family watching. My sister had been dancing for how many years… five? Six? My brother joined the dance troupe in his turn and now it was mine. How I desired that! I can still evoke images of my brother dressed all in green, pointed elf hat on his head, weaving in and out of a row of bobbing sunflowers swaying gracefully back and forth, faces turned upwards, smiling as he tipped the invisible contents of a large watering can over their petals. Heaven, indeed.
How I longed to be on stage.
Yet… I remember the very adult-like conversation I had with myself, two sides battling it out for supremacy. The yearning to dance, the craving for accolades. And the fear. The fear of standing up there in front of everybody, in front of a crowd. Of forgetting the steps, losing my balance. And fear won. I never joined Sue and Michael on stage, never took dancing lessons, much to my eternal regret.
And I have carried this fear with me my whole life, the fear of making, well, a spectacle of myself.
Which is why writing suits me. I might have to talk to people, interview someone, but one-to-one, a good old tête-à-tête, is perfectly all right, once the first handshakes are exchanged and the first question delved into. Teaching is even really fine because writing is something I am so passionate about and I love sharing that passion and motivating others. But standing in front of a room full of people my knees turn to jelly, my hands shake, my teeth begin to clack… the clickety clack of the tap shoes that I never put on. Writing allows me to work alone, no eyes upon me, no crowd with expectations. I sit with only my imagination, my thesaurus and my laptop to keep me company, each chipping in their fair share, and we have a lovely time, calm, cool, collected and working, nose to the grindstone, with no one watching.
And then one day I found myself onstage.
Accepting an award. All eyes upon me. Plated Stories, the blog, my creative collaboration with Ilva Beretta, my words, her gorgeous photography, won the IACP 2014 Award for Best Photo-Based Blog. Her amazing photos swept them off their feet, but I like to think that it is the combination of images and words intertwined, our concept of capturing the emotional, sensual and nostalgic facets of food, that won it for us.
Photo courtesy of Leigh Loftus
(Yes, my pounding heart leapt into my throat, I felt dizzy and faint, I stumbled up onto the stage and blathered a thank you, never forgetting to mention Ilva and her spectacular photography... How, I wonder, does anyone do this calmly?)
Ilva and I began Plated Stories just one year ago and its popularity proves the primal need to reconnect to food personally, to be transported to a place where food stirs up stories rather than just recipes. Where an emotional connection to food trumps anything political, practical or matter-of-fact.
When you write or expose a private, personal thought, emotion or memory provoked or triggered by food – flicking peas across the diningroom table at your sibling, eating sno cones at the public swimming pool or a Mister Softee soft serve ice cream in the middle of winter on the streets of New York or stealing down into your grandmother's musty basement to get a peek at the rows of jars filled with homemade jam shimmering in the half light – when you share a set of photographs of food, ingredients, utensils or objects in a way that is unexpected for a food blog, photographs bright and vibrant, hazy and romantic, dark and mysterious – it inevitably sparks emotions and sets off memories in every reader, long lost ideas and stories and feelings, thus making those words, those images, that food universal. This is what Ilva and I strive to do every week with Plated Stories.
A food blog in which food is simply the muse.
I stood on that stage thrilled and terrified, accepting that award for Ilva and I, heart pounding, words spilling out breathlessly, yet never have I been happier or prouder. Or more honored. Not an easy moment for me but one I wouldn't have missed for all the world.
If I could only have been in tulle and sequins and pink satin point shoes.
Photo courtesy of Denise Woodward
More than anything I do professionally, working with Ilva is my favorite thing... working with Ilva is inspiring and motivating and I couldn't ask for a better, more talented partner. And we thank our readers, our friends for making Plated Stories a joy to do every day. And thank you IACP for the honor.
To discover more about IACP (International Association of Culinary Professionals) conferences, visit my blog posts on IACP Conference New York City (with tips on how to prepare for an IACP conference) and IACP Conference San Francisco. To see all the photos I took of the conference, check out the Facebook photo album I have been putting together.