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The Soundtrack of Our Life: An Essay and Photo Collaboration with Danielle Tsi

A few months ago, my friend Danielle and I decided to come together for a creative collaboration. I had written a little essay about food, music and the life that Matt and I share together, and we thought it would be fun to give a little visual perspective to it. I knew I would ask Danielle if she wanted to shoot some photos to bring my words to life.  We decided to invite a few friends over for dinner, create a beautiful table setting, play some records, and capture the experience that I describe in my essay — the way that food and music, together, play such a vital role in my relationship with my husband, as well as my relationship with my friends. We, and I would guess many of you, connect through taste and sound; it is what makes our home feel like home. Danielle is a talented photographer and food stylist and we’ve gotten to know each other well through blogging, so the collaboration came together very naturally. Danielle and her husband, Matthieu, were largely behind the scenes of our photoshoot, which included our friends/neighbors Hannah and Jeff. But, as the light turned to dusk, we lit some candles, crowded around our (old and small) kitchen table as a group of six, and kept the wine flowing. There was plenty of cheese, cold cuts, olives, and chickpea stew. As Matt flipped record after record on our turntable, we let ourselves get lost in conversation.

Below is my essay, The Soundtrack of Our Life, and a few of the photos Danielle took over the course of the evening. Be sure to hop on over to her beautiful site, Beyond [the Plate], for more photos.

In our home, the rhythm of life beats to song. Whether it’s just the two of us, we’re having friends over for dinner, or throwing a party, silence is never an option. But it is silence, precisely, which I find myself in, whenever I am home alone. In solitude, I turn to cooking in silence.

My husband is an avid vinyl record collector; his records inch out my cookbooks day by day. He listens to music in all forms — digitally, on vinyl, and CD — and in our home, we play a mix of all three. When we are cooking in the kitchen together, we start with the A side of a vinyl record and when Matt hears the hissing sound of the record spinning, playing nothing at all, he quickly washes his hands, runs to the record player, and flips to the other side. Our evenings often start with him asking, ‘Any requests?’ Some days, I am particular; ‘The Decemberists!’ I’ll say. Others, I’m nostalgic — ‘Beirut!’ and others still, I let him run his fingers over a dozen new additions to his collection and pop something on that’s completely unique.

After returning from a trip, Matt lugs along his vintage finds; cumbia and tango, jazz and instrumental. We relive those trips in the cozy confines of our long kitchen, where we bump elbows as we chop, reach for pots, and maneuver our various kitchen gadgets.

There is no party or gathering in our home without a soundtrack. Carefully curated, and artfully executed. Early guests gravitate towards the red-laquered turntable which plays the evening’s early tracks. A mood is created. An ambiance, of sorts. As voices elevate and windows open to let in extra air into our second floor apartment, the music changes, too. We switch to digital and more bass. Music is never far from Matt’s mind, even when he is circling the room, I’ll see him pause and evaluate the status of his setup. He lights up when someone asks him what’s playing, or makes a request.

The convivial nature of our home, and what makes it a place where we create, share, feed and entertain our friends and family, is inherently tied to our two loves: food and music. And, to my surprise, cooking alone — without music — reiterates just how closely connected the two are for me, and how intertwined music is with cooking, and sharing, and creating a space where people want to connect and reflect.

I am, by nature, a social person. When I find myself alone, I turn inward, but I continue to cook, refusing to give in to a bachelorette lifestyle. I pick up fresh vegetables and put on my apron. I preheat the stove and spray down the counters. I turn on a candle. But I never turn on the music. I rush through the process. I’m not as meticulous with my measurements, I’m unafraid of extra salt and a random spice. And I sit over my bowl because, alone, it’s always something eaten out of a bowl. I listen to the silence, reminding myself that the music is the kinship that I miss. It is what makes whatever is in my bowl have meaning, energy, passion, and a beat.

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