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For her blog, Princess Tofu, Phi Tran creates dark, moody, gorgeous photos of her fascinating vegetable-rich recipes.
Here, the blogs you should be reading right now with recipes and thoughts from their creators.
The Blog: Princess Tofu
Phi Tran is a San Francisco–based photographer and multimedia editor who creates genius vegetarian dishes, like Matcha Gnocchi with Ginger, Orange Butter and Butternut Squash.
Your style of vegetarian cooking is so interesting. What is your secret? What recipes are you loving right now?
Smoke is my favorite flavor, so a lot of my recipes are just different ways to get that umber note onto the palate. My smoke addiction is pretty irrepressible on most days. I actually am pining for a cold smoker just to make smoked raw egg yolks. We are lucky to have access to great fresh eggs from our market twice each week, so I fill myself up with eggy protein on most days. If I want an especially decadent treat, deviled tea eggs are small pleasures that fit into my tiny hands.
With my love of smoke, I was rather surprised that my comfort this season is this recipe: pumpkin and chive spaetzle with peas and chanterelles (no smoke! no grill!). During the summer, we grill watermelon “steaks” for a robust salad topped with julienned shiso leaves, chunky feta, pistachio nuts and lime. We grill as often as possible, just to stoke a friendly fire.
After a small savory snack or even a massive meal of vegetables, I’m either lusting for tarts filled with copious amounts of fruits, purchased or foraged, or this opulent anise buttermilk sweetened with candied kumquats. Even if you’re not vegetarian, desserts seal a perfect meal.
What inspires you as a photographer?
Everything’s just light and shadow to me—I think I identify with the shadowy bits a little more than most people. About 10 years ago, I began creating charcoal drawings as part of my architecture curriculum. The medium’s nature is pretty stark, as are most of my architecture drawings. Combined with my love of farm stuffs, it has evolved into a Brutalist farmhouse style that I would never have predicted.
Like many other bloggers, I am also wholly enamored with the works of Gentl and Hyers. Their modern chiaroscuro aesthetic captures the temporal nature of light effortlessly. We must see through the same foggy lens and are equally affected by moody slivers of northern light, despite being on diametric coasts.
Where do you source a lot of your props?
This is going to sound absurdly unremarkable. On most days, I just saunter over to Crate and Barrel or Sur la Table, where I can easily snag a simple plate or a little bowl. I like my basic pieces fraternizing with hand-painted backgrounds, vintage accessories and cheap cloth from the discount fabric store down the street. Walking there makes me feel a bit hungry for textures.
There are other bloggers who are better at sifting through detritus or garage sales or Etsy, but that’s definitely not me. I’m no luminary when it comes to treasure hunting or upcycled expendables. I frequent thrift stores and estate sales about a few times a year to stock up on bits of used goods, but it’s so uncommon and requires more dedication than these lazy bones are willing to commit. Instead, I’ve managed to convince myself that accidents make the best accessories. I’m a natural klutz, so an incidental drop here or a generous spill there makes things feel less sterile and more inviting, or just plain human.
What ingredients are you loving right now?
Local chestnuts, fresh turmeric root, brussels sprout stalk, black garlic, pomelo rind, Chinese chives and marshmallow root. I’m a terrible hoarder of unusual ingredients. I use them to perk up familiar brassicas and roots. Generally, I just buy everything I see and use it on whatever techniques I am trying to master. I think this winter will be brimming with savory mousse and tsukemono (Japanese pickles). Pomelo rind misozuke (miso pickle) is an example of the crazy experiments I’d like to fuse with these materials and methods.
What three blogs are you most excited about right now?
I love the food blogging community. Without the encouragement and support from the blogs I frequent, I’d be sinking into my own muck of food-induced daydreams rather than sharing, as I ought to. For me, it’s the excitement of the conversations that gets nurtured into a fulfilling culinary tenderness. I’m absolutely blessed to call Heather, Shelly, Beth, Sarah and Carey foodie friends—even though we’ve never actually met. I think they’ve poured so much of their own spirit into their blogs. It’s just as earnest as any other relationships I keep with real, physical personas.
Linda’s work from The Tart Tart is another that I’m growing to love. Did I mention I couldn’t count?
Kristin Donnelly is a former Food & Wine editor and cofounder of Stewart & Claire, an all-natural line of lip balms made in Brooklyn.