Monday, August 31, 2015

Ovaltine Chocolate Peanut Butter Milkshake (Pete's "Blanche")

Sharing memories of my friend Pete and his special Ovaltine Chocolate Peanut Butter Milkshake

I had to take some time off from blogging to come to terms with the loss of my very dear friend, Pete. Although, over the last several years, we sometimes could go months without seeing each other, we'd stay in contact through text messages, a friendly online game of Scrabble or Words with Friends as well as phone calls. For the last 14 years, our friendship came in waves: hot and heavy for a four or five month stretch and then when life got busy or someone new came into his life, our friendship would get pushed to the bottom of the priority list. At first that would bother me but as one tends to do for people we love, I came to accept this as a part of the cycle of our friendship. A friendship that started 16 years ago this month when he was at my newspaper's offices for a job interview. I got onto the elevator, he and the graphics editor he was interviewing with were already in it, and our eyes locked. He grinned that grin, reached over to shake my hand and said, "Hi, I'm Pete. Can you tell him to hire me?" I smiled back, turned to the graphics editor and said, "He's perfect. Hire him."

A few weeks later, he started at the newspaper and within a few days, we made a work lunch date. I took him to my favorite lunch spot and found out he knew who I was by name before he started at the newspaper but not by face so when he put the two together, he told me that he knew he had to get to know me. My illustrations for features and news sections of the newspaper were in heavy demand during that time winnning me awards and a bit of recognition in in-house, national and international newspaper design competitions. Being a native San Diegan, his father had often clipped my illustrations and sent them to him to show him the work. He told me he loved them and wanted to talk about my approach, process and what I found inspiring. We spent that first of many shared meals talking about art, photography, family and religion and made plans to get together over the weekend to continue our conversation.

And that was it.

I was hooked from that very first lunch.

Have you every had a boyfriend that became the yard stick you measured all others that came after? That's what Pete became for me. He had a way of making me feel important and interesting whenever we were alone together. He was a gentleman to a fault, a kind and loving man who adored women and loved to give and receive big bear hugs. He was a thinker and loved to discuss big philosophical questions and “what if” scenarios. A runner and weight lifter, we bonded over many hours of lifting weights together, hiking, and exploring. He loved to dance and cook and I have memories upon memories of us in the kitchen together making breakfast, lunch and dinner and dancing around the kitchen and dining room to eighties music the entire time.

That first year of our relationship, we spent nearly all of our free time together. The relationship was super intense emotionally – too intense, in fact, which pretty much guaranteed that it wouldn't last. It ended painfully which took both of us quite some time to recover from. But within the year following our breakup, we found our way back to each other as the kind of friends that had known a deep intimacy and could still emotionally connect and understand each other in a way no one else could. That's not to say we always got along perfectly. Like most intense friendships, we'd get hurt or annoyed with each other some times but as he was fond of saying every time we found our way back to each other, our souls were meant to be in each other's lives.

That's what makes his loss so incredibly painful and shocking. There is a lot of regret and guilt mixed in with the grief. Now looking back at conversations over the last two years, I wish I had been more perceptive and seen the weird behavior for what it was: cries for help. Could I have been a better friend? There is no doubt. Would that have been enough? That is the question that will haunt me the rest of my life.

I'm trying to reach past the guilt and instead fill my mind with memories of him laughing, of our exploring new places together, playing disk golf and mini golf, creating art together, being silly and spontaneous, working out together, praying together, cooking together, and all the tender moments between us when everyone and everything else melted away.

Today is Pete’s birthday. He would have been 45 years old. This recipe I'm sharing today was one of his specialities. He made it for me the first time I went to his place for a movie night at the very beginning of our relationship. We watched "When Harry Met Sally", a favorite of both of ours, and ate wok-popped popcorn (another specialty he taught me) and slurped on these Ovaltine peanut butter milkshakes he called "Blanche" (I can hear his exaggerated pronunciation of buh-lawn-sssshhh in my head every time I type that). I’ve been meaning to post this recipe for quite some time now. A few years ago, when I was still living in my own place, he was over my house making it for us (I always made sure to have Ovaltine in the house just in case he came over and just in case he felt like whipping up some blanche) and I asked him if I could share this on the blog. He was delighted and gave an enthusiastic yes but I never got around to it.

Until now.

This one is for you, my dear, sweet friend. May God grant you the peace you so desperately searched for in this life.

Until we meet again… xo ALA

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Farewell to a friend

I sit here weeping, grief washing over me, trying to make sense of something completely nonsensical. A dear friend is gone, the emptiness left by his passing growing more each day as I realize I will never be in the presence of his quirky, loving and gentle being again.

He would have been 45 at the end of this month. Our friendship would have celebrated 16 years the end of next month. We began as friends, became more for a brief time that eventually evolved into a friendship unlike anything either of us had ever had. Our friendship formed through love, tears, hurt and ultimately compassion and forgiveness, we always found our way back to each other. He was fond of saying that no matter what, we'd always be connected because something in his soul recognized the kindred spirit in mine.

The photo above is from a neighborhood park and it's the last place I saw him 4, maybe 5, weeks ago. We lived in the same area, our neighborhoods butting up against each other. I was walking Starbuck, he was finishing up his run around the park. We embraced, hugging a little longer than normal. Did our souls know it would be the last time? We spoke for a brief 30 minutes and made plans for a real visit again soon. A few more text messages over the next week followed and then life got busy.

And now he's gone.

I'll be taking some time off as I come to terms with my loss but I will return in September with reports from the International Food Bloggers Conference in Seattle.

I leave you with this: You never know when the last time you see someone will be the last time you see them. Be kind. Be present. Be thankful.

xo, ani

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Moroccan-Spiced Grilled Eggplant & Red Onion Pizza

Store-bought pizza dough is given a Moroccan flair topped with grilled eggplant, red onions and an easy homemade sauce that is all spiced up with heaping spoonfuls of Mina Harissa, giving this pie tons of flavor!

You guys! This pizza! Oh, man is it heaven. These days, I don't eat pizza very often because, you know, carbs + keeping diabetes at bay do not a good marriage make but ooooohhhhh, every once in a while, you just gotta because life is too short to not have the occasional food indulgence. And here, well, it isn't too over the top because, hey!, meatless. Plus we didn't get too crazy with the cheese and  – bonus! – no white flour. In fact, we're keeping it easy with store-bought ready made whole wheat pizza dough (although, if you're feeling ambitious, you could always make your own dough).

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Super Easy Homemade Pizza Sauce

If you're a long-time reader, you've heard this before as I've waxed on many times about my dad's Italian food-making skills. Some of my fondest childhood memories involve birthdays with trays of homemade lasagna or bowls of spaghetti and meatballs that he spent days making for us. Family gatherings (we're talking sometimes upwards of 15 people at some celebrations!) and Italian food was always such a treat!

Oh, and then there were surprise pizza nights on some Saturday evenings with dad making his pizza sauce from scratch, sometimes the dough, as well. Often though, he'd have ready to shape and bake pizza dough in the freezer for these "I'm in the mood for pizza" kind of evenings. He used to make, what he called, pepperoni pizza rolls which were among our favorite of his creations. Making his sauce from scratch, he'd slather it on a big ol' slab of dough, pile on the pepperoni slices and tons of shredded mozzarella, then tightly roll it up, jellyroll-like, and bake it. We were chomping at the bit waiting for it to come out of the oven only to have to wait for it too cool down for what felt like an eternity before dad would slice it for us, revealing the perfect pinwheel of pizza goodness.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

{Weekend DIY} How to paint photo backgrounds for food photography

I've been making my own tabletop photography backgrounds since the early 90s. Back then it was mostly for studio work for my day job and to use in creating my photo illustrations with hand-painted backgrounds like this one and this one. Continue reading for complete tutorial …