I work in the cherry business, and it’s harvest. Everyone is busy — many of my colleagues are currently working seven days a week to keep up. But recently our CEO requested my absence from the hustling office to attend a photo shoot, where we would prepare new labels for some of our retail jars of maraschinos — specifically, our line of naturally flavored cherries. I was so flattered that he thought I might have something to contribute to the shoot. It felt like quite a compliment! As I trailed the art director to the production meeting, I mostly didn’t open my mouth, instead sitting fascinated by the expertise of the staff and the surroundings (shelves and shelves of prop dishes!), as the food stylist helped us decide which drinks and baked goods we would photograph with each cherry variety.
I was totally allowed to stay on the project even though all I did was help us settle on chocolate ice cream in the meeting. The day of the shoot, I was overdressed. I wanted to look professional, but of course everyone else was smart (and professional) and wore comfortable shoes and blue jeans for the long day. Drawing from my years at a graphic design company, I’m no stranger to the long day of a shoot. But this was different; I couldn’t let our CEO down. I had to help everything look wonderful, if I could help at all.
The studio, upstairs in a huge warehouse, was a bright room with wooden floors and a full wall of natural light, and there were storage closets, shelves and entire rooms of backdrops to choose from. I was in heaven picking out subtle differences between slabs of natural wood or slate, thrilled to learn my job included selecting cloth napkins and textiles for pairing with each shot. Everything was so organized and colorful, it felt like I was right in the middle of Matt’s prop collection — really legit.
Downstairs in the not-a-prop kitchen, the food stylist’s assistant was looking for our single hero cherry from several different jars, baking cakes for the following day’s shoot, and adding thickeners to the smoothies as we balanced the blueberry shake color to be just perfect. It really took a symphony of workers to produce these shots and everyone was so positive, gracious and talented. Also, that carrot cake smelled amazing.
About halfway through the day, our stylist absent-mindedly painted a cherry with corn syrup for shine and asked me if I was with the design company or with the cherry company. I answered that I worked in financial services at the cherry company, and she did a double-take. “Finances? But you have such a good eye for this.”
So THAT was the world’s best ever compliment I’ve ever received from such a flippin talented and skilled food stylist hello!
“… ah, so you’re the client.” And then they let me choose what we would order for lunch (Vietnamese, obviously!). To their credit, the staff was so kind and the interns brought me whatever I wanted in my Americano even before they knew I was the Client. They were wonderful.
The years of experience, the talent of the phographer, stylist and retouching specialist was incredibly inspiring to me, also: their endless energy. Toward the end of the day when my feet were beginning to hurt, the staff kept up their pace back and forth between the set and the computer monitor in the next room. ”Which glass do you want for the lemonade? Are you happy with the thickness of the rim of this glass? Which cherry are we pairing the mango with?” In this fairy-tale world where everyone cared what I thought, we adjusted mint placement by centimeters, then millimeters, and I was having so much fun.
A very humbling experience to be invited along for this day! The final photos are going to be gorgeous, I’ve never seen a cherry look so pretty. You can see our work soon in a store near you — maraschino cherries are usually stocked with the ice cream toppings, or at a liquor store near the olives.
In the meantime, here’s something I attempted to photograph in our living room: a simple party nosh that I adored to make and eat as a kid, though not at parties… just in homeschool DIY. When my mom made grissini bread sticks, we sisters would get so pumped because we got to roll out the dough into long ropes and sprinkle them all over with coarse salt or poppy seeds. Almost like playdough that we got to eat for reals.
They smelled so comforting and toasty while baking, and they seemed to be so light and chewy that we could eat one after another until the entire batch disappeared. I begged my poor mother to let us make these. They are a Sophie Favorite.
The simple bread stick is at once elegant and homey, rustic and grown-up. And so simple, with a short proofing time and delicate flavor. I love their chewiness and imagine they would be happily dunked into some marinara, sweet butter or pesto-laced Greek yogurt. Best served with a glass of Oregon Pinot Noir (in my opinion), though we loved them perfectly plain as children. Enjoy!
Party Bread Sticks (Grissini)
yields 16 – 20 bread sticks, depending on length
recipe from an old Sunset cookbook of my mother’s
The note from the cookbook says that the “length of the sticks is limited only by the dimensions of your oven,” advising tethering two rimless baking sheets together with foil for the largest cooking surface, but I found my half-sheet pan to be sufficient. Be sure not to over-proof the dough, or you will end up with puffy, dry bread sticks lacking the wonderful chewiness; the oiled pan is also essential to the texture.
- 3 to 3 1/2 cups flour (all-purpose)
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 packages active dry yeast (4 1/2 teaspoons, or 1/2 oz)
- 1/4 cup olive oil, plus more for pan
- 1 1/4 cup warm water (around 120F)
- 1 egg white, beaten with a splash of water
- Coarse salt, poppy seeds or sesame seeds for sprinkling (optional)
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with paddle attachment, combine 1 cup flour, the sugar, salt and yeast. Add oil, then with mixer running, slowly add water. Beat on medium for about two minutes. Add 1/2 cup more flour and beat for two minutes. Switch to dough hook attachment and add another 1 1/2 cups of flour, using up to 2 cups to make a soft dough. Knead with mixer for two minutes.
Oil two baking sheets, the largest you’ve got. Divide dough into 16 to 20 equal pieces (I do 16 pieces, which make 17- or 18-inch ropes that fit lengthwise on a half-sheet pan) and roll each piece into a long rope (again, just make sure they fit on your baking vessel). Roll each rope around on pan to oil all sides of dough, and space 1 inch apart. Preheat oven to 375F.
Cover pans and let rise in a warm place for 15 minutes, until just puffing. Brush with egg white mixture, sprinkle with whatever you choose, and bake for 15 – 20 minutes, until lightly browned.