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Honest Mussels

Phew. I’m back from my second trip to New York City in less than three weeks, and needless to say, I am ready for a long nap. It’s nice to feel grounded for a bit…at least for a few more weeks, before we head off to Sicily! While in New York, I had a very special opportunity to meet some of my favorite bloggers face to face at my friend Veronica‘s rooftop dinner party. Lovely ladies including Yossy, Sarah, Nicole, Cathy, Barb, Diana, Elizabeth and Sarah brought some seriously delicious food while out of towners including Kathryne, Kimberley, Laura and I chipped in with the beverages. Plus, my friend Kristin was there, too!

Talk about a rowdy bunch! Food bloggers sure know how to party. We had some lively conversation, but one topic in particular struck a chord. We got to talking about the aspirational nature of many of the publications and blogs that surround us. A number of folks have actually written blog posts in opposition to this trend. They’ve showcased their messy kitchens, and confessed to things they’re afraid to tell us. The general tone has been a sort of backlash against the perfectly styled presentation of content and media, and the return to ‘honesty.’ As someone who’s become obsessed with design blogs and Pinterest, I can definitely fall into the trap of feeling like nothing I do or own is ever good enough. My kitchen is dark and small. My shoes aren’t designer-made. My photos go through a vigorous editing process. And my dinner parties are generally filled with stress, sweat, and occasional last minute disasters. So the question is: should we be more real?

The answer is somewhat convoluted, at least for me. On the one hand, of course I want to be real with you. I’m pretty damn honest in every post I share with you, but that doesn’t mean I don’t edit myself. An important life lesson here: editing is important, actually. On the other hand, I appreciate beautiful things as much as the next person, and I think that’s why so many of us spend hours on Pinterest and beautiful food blogs. I also think that — whether it stems from jealousy, competition, or a motivation to be better — having so much aspirational content surrounding us pushes us to be better. I’ll be the first to admit that the more beautiful blogs and publications I read, the higher the bar I set for my own content. I realize that in my real life, I’ll never have the kinds of kitchens that I pin, or the sorts of dinner parties that I read about in magazines like Kinfolk, but all of these images give me ideas.

My life is not perfect. Whose is? But, like watching a good movie, going to a museum, or taking in a fashion show, our minds are inspired by the aspirational images, writing, and moving pictures that surround us. In order not to go crazy, we all have to remind ourselves that it’s all carefully edited.

From experience, I know that for every beautiful food photo, there are 50 that are throwaways. I could show them all to you. The ugly ones. But why? I think you, my readers, are smart folks. I don’t think it’s a secret that the images I share on this site are styled. They are all of the food that we eat, but these dishes are also placed on dainty napkins and tied with baker’s twine. I don’t regularly eat my tacos wrapped in parchment baker and twine, but what’s wrong with a pretty picture?

I find different things in different sites and publications; I turn to some for good, honest writing, I turn to others for beautiful inspirations, and to some…for both. I hope this is that kind of place for you, where you can enjoy a good dose of honesty and realness inside a space that is (at least I like to think) curated, styled, and designed. I think that celebrating the life we live, imperfections and all, is great, but I’m also a big believer in always wanting more — out of life, out of myself. It is what pushes creativity beyond your comfortable boundaries. What’s left when you want nothing more?

In all of this talk about beauty, I’d like to share a recipe that is quite beautiful in its simplicity: a bowl of mussels. Before you turn the page, let me tell you: this isn’t your typical bowl of mussels. Unlike the traditional steam method, this recipe calls for placing raw mussels on a baking sheet and baking them in the oven. Topped with a cilantro butter that melts into every crack and crevice of each shell, these mussels are some of the most delicious, and easiest-to-prepare, dishes I’ve made in a while.

Baked Mussels with Cilantro Butter
*serves two as a main course
adapted from Gourmet

2 pounds of mussels
3 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
one large bunch of cilantro leaves, roughly chopped
1/2 stick unsalted butter, cut into pieces
salt and freshly-ground pepper

1. Preheat your oven to 450 degrees F. Clean your mussels: scrub and de-beard them, and then place them in a bowl of room-temperature tap water. We let ours ‘breathe’ for no more than five minutes (this allows them to release some of their dirt).
2. Spread the mussels on a large, rimmed baking sheet.
3. Combine the butter, chopped cilantro, garlic, salt and pepper in a food processor and blend until the cilantro in fine and incorporated into the butter.
4. Drop spoonfuls of cilantro butter over the mussels, then slip the baking sheet into the oven. Bake for about 15 minutes (until the mussels are all open). Toss any unopened mussels, then use a ladle to scoop mussels, along with the melted cilantro butter, into bowls. Serve with crusty bread.

Musical Pairings: Japandroids – Celebration Rock + Baked Mussels with Cilantro Butter

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Posted by Kasey

Kasey is the food editor and co-founder of Turntable Kitchen. She loves dark chocolate, warm crusty bread, and traveling to new places. She speaks Russian, but does not like vodka.

  • Oh I love this Kasey! There are some people who are so sneering of, for example, beautifully styled food pictures and it makes me so sad. I’m all for honesty but if I want to see a messy kitchen or some food dumped on a plate, I only have to look at my own. I love looking at photographs and reading stories that inspire me – not to copy them so much as to excite me as to the possibilities that are out there and that make me want to do everything I do a bit better.

  • I’m with you big time, Kasey. I’ve wrote about this kind of weird grey area between wanting to present something beautiful, but not wanting to bother with the fuss of it all in an attempt to keep things authentic. It’s a constantly shifting duality.

    Ultimately, we all do this because we love to create and present ideas, the simple beauty and the relatable aspects of our lives to others. There’s that awareness that writing, images and public expression of creativity is edited, but that doesn’t make it any less inspiring to me. I spend a lot of time looking at blogs, pinterest boards etc (don’t we all) and it admittedly frustrates me at times, thinking about deficiencies in my own writing and creativity process. But at the end of it all, reading fantastic blogs like yours (and those of all the other amazing women at the meet up) makes me want to do better at my own endeavors. It drives me to aim higher and produce better quality work. So thanks for that!

    Holy long comment! Rambling is kind of my jam sometimes 🙂

  • naturallyella

    Hurrah Kasey! I completely agree with you! I find it so easy to get sucked in to the giant “I’m not so sure I’m good enough” pit on the internet and while it fuels me to try and be better, it can also completely play with my emotions. I pushed back against this idea of perfect but it ultimately led me to cultivate a style that was uniquely me. I think the internet and blogs are a wonderful source of inspiration and it’s really up to us to remember that life is messy, for everyone.

  • Wonderful post Kasey. I think so many of us relate to these issues. Ultimately, we all face the challenge of finding the sweet spot in our unique online space, to present an authentic version of ourselves, while simultaneously knowing what to edit and leave out without losing the honesty factor. I have to say that you do a great job at this! I always appreciate the honesty in your posts and am glad you brought this up for all of us to think about.

  • sarah kieffer

    Well said, Kasey. I agree with all your sentiments – I don’t want to constantly feel bad about myself because my images/writing/content isn’t ‘perfect’, but I also love pretty images and feel inspired by them. I try to remind myself that there will always be someone doing it better than me, but I can always do my best, work on evolving, and do what I enjoy doing.

    I love your blog, love coming to this space. You’ve made it very lovely and inspiring.

  • Thank you, Kathryn! I agree that I need look no further than my own kitchen for ‘reality’…that’s part of the reason I go online. I think it’s great incentive to be better.

  • I love long rambling comments! And I LOVED getting to meet you in person. What a special, special treat. I love the challenge of making food – even when it’s messy – look beautiful. And I definitely remember the post that you wrote. As I said, I think the answer to whether or not we should be more real is a difficult one. But, as you write, in the end, reading great sites makes you want to do better for yourself. I think we all just need to be aware of our own limits, and realize that real life isn’t perfect…that doesn’t mean we can’t escape to fantasies. Hope you had a smooth trip home!

  • Don’t we all get sucked into the ‘I’m not so sure I’m good enough’ pit? It’s the pits! I think what’s really awesome is, like you say, having all of this writing and images surround us makes us strive to be better, but it also helps us create really unique spaces..ones that reflect who we are. And great sites like yours straddle the line between honesty and beauty so well. I also totally agree that it’s good to remember that everyone’s life is messy…even if it’s just offline!

  • I’m blushing, Nicole! Thank you, truly. I also think you should know how bold and wonderful it is that you chose to take your blog in such a unique direction. It’s truly inspiring in so many ways. And it proves that there is every opportunity to do some really amazing, totally new things on the Internet…and be true to yourself…with or without the messy kitchen.

  • Meganjgordon

    Such a breath of fresh air on this rainy, hectic, harried Tuesday. Great post, Kasey! Sam and I talk about this a lot in relation to Instagram: it’s not like you ever post a super mundane picture of your Friday night (i.e. here I am with a warm beer watching a Netflix movie!) No, you post the exciting ones … no one wants to see warm beer. So glad you had a nice time in NYC. I’m long overdue for a trip. Looking forward to seeing you next month! xox

  • Man, you guys! You lady! You sure know how to make a girl feel loved. I can’t tell you how much I agonize over typos, mistakes in my recipes, bad lighting in photos…not to mention the stuff in my ‘real life’ – my lack of kitchen space, the fact that I still haven’t replaced my 10 year old Ikea chairs in my living room…It’s good to know that we all struggle with the same insecurities, and while occasionally sharing them, we want to focus on the things we want, the things we may not have, the things we strive for, the people who we want to be (always better, always reaching).

  • Such a good follow up to our discussion on Friday. xo

  • Great post, Kasey! I love beautiful photos and I’m thrilled when I have the time to photograph one and it turns out nicely. But on the whole, I just snap and go. Long ago I stopped comparing my blog to other blogs. Sure, I wish my photos were better, but I’ve never been a perfectionist which probably would cripple me into NOT doing anything!

    As for these mussels, I love how easy they sound. I’ve never tried baking them because I love the traditional wine/butter sauce, but I’m sure I could give these a try one of these days!

  • Well written, Kasey. In my opinion, technology and blogs are rapidly changing. In the beginning, a blog was simply a journal, an honest, unblemished look into someone’s life. The medium is evolving, and I think we just need to be aware of the person’s point of view. Make your blog a journal, make it a curated space of beautiful things, make it relaxed or make it professional. Readers will gravitate to what’s interesting to them. At la Domestique, I put a lot of honest time and effort into creating an aspirational space. : ) That mussels recipe is genius, by the way.

  • Thank you for this. I think the main thing we’d all do well to remember is … to just keep it real. I mean, yes, pretty twine is sweet and definitely style the photos if you feel impelled to do it (and I must say yours are always lovely) but if there are times when it doesn’t happen – that’s OK. I think it’s a daily struggle, though, not to compare ourselves to others! Which I guess is just part of this life thing: messy and imperfect and grand all at the same time. Also – darn, I gotta make these mussels soon (for my folks, who love mussels). And – is that corn salad peeking out from the corner?

  • Hear, hear! I couldn’t agree more. Editing is inevitable and by editing, I hope to inspire others with my recipes and not distract them with irrelevant details. I had such a great time meeting you and hanging out on Veronica’s roof—what a night! Apologies again for arriving late to your hotel, the subway mishap had me all flustered!

  • I am so with you and Sam on the observation about Instagram! I tend to use it more heavily when I’m traveling, or see something particularly pretty/fascinating. Good comparison! I can’t wait to see you next month!! Hope that a lovely, relaxing weekend awaits you!

  • Thanks, lady! Always such a pleasure to see you! xoxo

  • I love your blog, and I think it’s so cool that you’ve stayed true to who you are…your point about being a perfectionist and that interfering with actually doing stuff is so true, too…It’s why I’ve always been upfront about the fact that I don’t shoot all of my photos in perfect, natural light. It’s not life! We all have to decide where we draw te line, what makes us feel comfortable, how much of ourselves we want to share…Thanks for being an inspiration! Also, despite how it may seem, these mussels are just as juicy as the steamed kind…and there’s plenty of butter sauce to drizzle them with!

  • Thank you, Jess! I completely agree that the medium is evolving and there is lots of room for different points of views. I remember some of the first blogs are read were definitely more journal-like (that was their purpose!) I think there’s room for both. I also think you’ve created a very beautiful space, and made it very much your own, so kudos to you for keepin it real.

  • You make such a great point…We don’t always have to feel like there’s this line that we can never cross…sometimes, you’re right, we should just allow ourselves to let it go (maybe the light wasn’t perfect, the setting wasn’t right, but you still want to share it…even if it’s less than your ideal). I think not worrying too much about what everyone else is doing is def. key. And yes, my favorite corn salad!! Fresh corn, tossed with plenty of lime juice, s + p. Summer!

  • I loved spending time with you Kathryne!! No worries at all about being late. I loved how real you were, and opinionated, and go-getter. I wish for so many great things for you now and in the future! You continue to inspire me and I hope this isn’t the last time we get to hang out…in real life 🙂 x

  • I love this post… I promise, NO ONE would want to read my blog if they saw what came out of my camera un-edited the first day we started trying to take photos of our food. And, like you, we eat dinner at night… very late most of the time… so we don’t always have the luxury of having “honest light” at our disposal.

    I’m really inspired by your recipe – I don’t usually eat muscles and I never thought I’d want to attempt them… but I think I’m going to surprise my husband and make these this weekend… he’s gonna be quite shocked 🙂

  • Warm fuzzies! Thank you, Kasey, that means a lot. Let’s find another excuse to hang out again soon!

  • El L Cool J

    As someone who lives on the coast in musselville I have never heard of baking them, but I am super game to try… Next mussles I try are this kind!

  • Sometimes I get intimidated about the blogs I read and follow, because everything looks so perfect; the dishes, the background, the food itself. And even though I do get inspired by many of them, otherwise I wouldn’t read them, I sometimes feel deflated when I try to take my own photos or style my own food. I think that it’ll not measure up. But, I am myself, with my own point of view, and my own limitations that I don’t mind if they show or not. I just love doing what I do.
    I love your honesty, about everything. It is quite refreshing.
    Mussels are my favorite shellfish. I love them cooked in every possible way. I have never tried them baked before though. Thanks for this.

  • Ha! Yeah, when I first started taking food photos I approached them more like showing people what I eat, as opposed to actually hoping people would want to eat the food I make! I eat mussels quite a bit (probably because they’re so easy to prepare, and generally are super low-fuss). Would love to hear what you thought of the recipe if you try it!

  • You live in musselville? That sounds awesome! Let me know how it goes!

  • Hi Magda, I can totally understand. I think the important thing to remember when you have a blog is that you’re not competing with anyone. There are plenty of professional food photographers and stylists out there that shoot phenomenal photos. I know I’m not them, and that’s ok! I go there for inspiration, and I remind myself that these people do that for a living. I really appreciate you stopping by, and your thoughtful comment. If you’re doing it because you love it, and you keep working at it, you’ll inevitably get better, but you shouldn’t lose who you are in the process.

  • Kasey, it was great meeting you last week in real life! This is such a well-written post; the discussion last Friday definitely made me think about aspirational vs. more realistic content. When I first started reading food blogs in 2005, you could post snapshots from a point-and-shoot camera (sometimes dark and blurry!) and people would still flock to the blog as long as the written content was good. Nowadays, it seems like the written word doesn’t count for much anymore. Our attention spans are shorter, and Tumblr-style blogs with gorgeous photos aggregated from other blogs could very well get more traffic than a site with more “realistic” photography. That said, I’m also one of those people who is addicted to Pinterest and absolutely love a well-shot photo. I guess it just helps to balance your reading and draw inspiration from all sources, not just very stylized blogs, and to keep in mind your own strengths when producing content.

  • Thank you, Diana, for the lovely, thoughtful comment. It was so nice to hang out in real life. Congratulations on the book! It’s so exciting. I completely agree that those places where beautiful photography is balanced with quality writing are the ones are keep coming back to. As a writer, I can’t emphasize enough just how much good writing matters (whether you have beautiful photos or not!). In this new media world, I actually think there’s plenty of room for everyone.

  • Kasey, thank you for sharing your thoughts in such an elegant way. I think a lot about how “real” and honest I am on my blog. My kitchen is also tiny, there are no windows, I store my pots and pans on hooks in my “living room”, the recycling piles up to an embarrassing height before it makes it out of the door, but that is not what my blog is about. It’s about pretty treats photographed in pretty light and to me, that’s just as real as the pile of dishes sitting in my sink. I guess in the end, all I can hope is that people connect with and appreciate what I am doing and I’ll try to be inspired by talented bloggers rather than be intimidated.

  • I agree with every one of your points on this topic, Kasey and I’m afraid I have nothing to add because you worded it so eloquently! I love the idea of baking mussels with herb butter. Sounds wonderful!

  • Thank you, Yossy! It’s so nice to hear from so many fellow bloggers, and know that we all live in imperfect worlds, and have tiny little dark kitchens 🙂 My site is a place I come to for reflection, but it’s my clean house, and I like it that way! I’m so glad we had an opportunity to spend time in person, and I must say, your blog makes me feel like curling up with a good book, a blanket, and some warm treats.

  • Thank you, Nicole, that is so sweet! I may or may not eat mussels 5+ x/month. I love them! Nothing is easier, or feels more elegant. Have a wonderful weekend!

  • ellcoolj

    So i had the chance to try them tonight and it was fantastic. I only wish I had read the fine print and gotten a loaf of crusty bread… Other than that it was a great night. I paired it with a salmon for a real seafoody kind on night! Thanks

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