Monday, June 22, 2009

Robin Sharp - Mastering the Art of Kosher Cooking

Several years ago I discovered the amazing photography blog of Robin Sharp. Her style really caught my eye, as you know I'm huge on visuals. I started following her blog, drawing inspiration from her and her gorgeous photos. Recently she started a fabulous new photo blog documenting the creation of kosher dishes and I knew it was time to feature her amazing work. Her impressive client lists boasts companies such as Pepsi, Johnson & Johnson, New Balance, and Frommer's Travel Guides. Trust me, you'll want to pay attention to her.

What made you want to start a blog about kosher cooking?

I started Mastering the Art of Kosher Cooking when I began my conversion to Judaism. My fiance is Jewish and I've been slowly learning about the culture and the values of Judaism. Pretty early in our relationship I realized that if we got married I would want a Jewish wedding and I would want to live a Jewish life with him after we were married. His family were originally kind of hesitant to accept me, but once they did they became just as close as my own parents and siblings. I've learned a lot about Jewish cooking from R's grandmother (or, as she's called by the family: Baba Luba) and because I no longer have living grandparents of my own, I understood how important it was to preserve her recipes. We had started a cookbook on paper at home, and I thought: Why not blog about it? Everybody else is doing it. Haha. So the blog is kind of a mix of me learning her recipes and creating kosher recipes of my own, plus a few thoughts here and there about my conversion.

And of course, the ever present cliché - What inspires you?

I get inspired by a lot of things. As far as the blog goes, I'm inspired by food magazines, other food bloggers, and of course the name of the blog was inspired by Julia Child's book, Mastering the Art of French Cooking. I'm also inspired by my conversion classes. It seems that almost every Jewish holiday has food as its focus. So as I learn about the holidays, I learn to cook the traditional foods that go along with it. This year I made Hamatashen on Purim, cauliflower latkes on Chanukkah and an apples and honey pie for Rosh Hashana.

What has been your favorite dish to prepare so far?

I think that it has to be Baba Luba's chicken soup. It takes a while to prepare: You have to tear apart a whole chicken and cut up the vegetables, and then you have to let it simmer for as long as possible (like, 5-7 hours is perferable) and then you have to make the matzoh balls to go in it. But it's the epitome of Jewish comfort food and the fact that it takes so long just makes it all the more worth while. Plus it makes the whole house smell like your grandma's house, and during the winter it steams up our kitchen windows and makes you feel so warm inside.

What has been your least favorite?

Hamantashen. I don't know if I'll ever be able to make a good batch of hamantashen. They're these cookies that are shaped like triangles and they traditionally have prunes or poppy seeds in them, but I wanted people to actually eat them so I used raspberry and apricot jam. The problem is that I can never get the dough quite right, so it always ends up falling apart and the triangles bleed jam all over the cookie sheet. It's such a mess! But this year it was fun because I did it with my neice, who quickly got bored of the "making" part and while we were filling the cookies with jam, so she made herself the Official Jam Cleaner Upper, which soon turned into Official Eater of the Jam Straight From The Jar. Her parents picked her up and she was covered with flour and jam!

How do you keep up with your job at the university, photography business, planning a wedding, AND your blog?

Jeez, when you say it like that it sounds like so much! Really, it balances out perfectly. I'm really fortunate to have my job in the photography department at the university because I only work there 3 days a week, but it gives me a steady paycheck and allows me to keep current because it's my job to know about the latest technological advances in cameras and equipment. On the other two weekdays I'm either out at a photoshoot or I'm delivering things to clients or I'm updating my portfolio and website, which are constantly changing. I tend to find time to cook things for the blog on days when I don't have a heavy photography workload. R and I are pretty much planning our wedding in our spare time. We're having a fairly simple wedding, so the amount of planning we have to do is manageable. The wedding's still almost a year away, so maybe you should ask me this question in 7 months and see if I'm still managing to keep up with everything!

Any cooking gadget you're dying to own?

I got a Kitchenaid mixer last winter and thus fulfilled a lifelong dream. R thought that it might end up as a counter decoration, but I've used it a fair bit! It definitely comes in handy when making doughs, like the one in the peirogie recipe on my blog. It cuts the work in half. The next thing I'd like to buy is a juicer, actually. When R and I were in Israel in May we drank the most amazing freshly squeezed orange and carrot juices. Plus, in Israel they make this drink called "Lemon-nana", which is lemonaide and mint (which is called nana in Hebrew). We have mint growing like crazy in our garden this summer and I'd love to try making some Lemon-nana with it, but I don't have the patience to squeeze that many lemons by hand!

What accomplishment in your life are you most proud of?

That's a tough question! Career-wise it was probably the first time that I had my work published in a magazine. It's harder to say what accomplishments in my personal life bring me the most pride. If I can manage to plan our wedding with as many DiY elements as I'm currently intending, that will be a big one for me.

Name 3 future goals you have;

-To publish a cookbook that would be a collection of the recipes from Mastering the Art of Kosher Cooking. I'd take the photos, of course. :)

-To shoot for Gourmet, Martha Stewart Living, House Beautiful and Bon Appetit. Their photographs are a huge source of inspiration to me and I would love to
someday be a source of inspiration to other young photographers.

-To finish my conversion and have a Jewish wedding that's a true expression of who R and I are as a couple without spending a fortune. We've set a modest goal. I really want to look back on our wedding and feel like it was a perfect day and a perfect reflection of US. I know that everybody wants that from their weddings, but so many people end up giving in to all of the pressures and buy a big poofy dress and get monogrammed napkins and rented linens. That's not what we're about and I'm making sure that we steer clear of all of that.

Check out Robin's work:
Mastering the Art of Kosher Cooking
Sharp Photo
Her Flickr

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