Friday, March 7, 2014

Cocktails with Gatsby

1920's couple. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

 “There was so much to read for one thing and so much fine health to be pulled out of the young, breath-giving air.” ~ Nick Carraway, in The Great Gatsby.

I love this picture from my Granddaddy’s photo album. To my mind, it could be Gatsby and Daisy, or better, it’s Nick Carraway and Jordan Baker, enjoying a laugh on Gatsby’s patio before dancing and drinking the night away at one of Jay’s parties designed to lure Daisy across the bay and back into his arms.There are no identifying notes on the photograph, but whoever they are, they stick with me because of the way they're dressed - his long legs and 28-inch waist, the flip of her skirt and the way her head leans into him. The kicker, though, are the feet - I have a spectacular weakness for spectator shoes - and the way they're crossed in opposite directions. 
“The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald is, hands-down, my favorite novel, one I try to re-read every few years. Fitzgerald’s wordsmithing and narrator Nick’s observations are new to me each time I’ve read it as an adult, but I hated it the first time it was assigned to me in high school. The eyes of Dr. T.J. Eckleburg taunted me from the cover and I didn’t understand why Daisy didn’t leave brutish Tom and run off with dashing Jay. It’s one of those books, I think, that reads better once you’ve seen more of life. In other words, it’s wasted on so many teenagers.
I’ve read the novel many times, seen three movie versions (I thought last year’s Leo DiCaprio/Baz Luhrman version was fantastic ~ Leo was perfect in the pink suit.), and just last week, saw it as a play, produced by the Georgia Ensemble Theatre in historic Roswell. The production challenges – automobiles are significant to the story, and scenes that require a dock, two mansions and a pool, were neatly overcome and the actors met the challenges of the characters, as well. Nick’s wry humor came across more so than in other versions, and Daisy was unexpectedly sympathetic, a difficult task for a woman responsible directly for one death and indirectly for two. If you’re in Atlanta, make a date ~ it’s playing through March 16.
For a book written about an opulent life in abundant times, there’s remarkably little food mentioned in “Gatsby.” Of course, there's the sandwiches and pastries that Nick serves when he invites Daisy to tea (and a clandestine meeting with her old love, Jay.), prepared by the cook, the “demoniac Finn.” While there may not be food, there is booze ~ fountains of champagne at Gatsby’s soirees and bottles of whiskey at the Buchanan’s.
“Every Friday, five crates of oranges and lemons arrived from a fruiterer in New York – every Monday these same oranges and lemons left his backdoor in a pyramid of pulpless halves.” ~ The Great Gatsby
Old-fashioned cocktails. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books
And so, to celebrate my favorite novel, here’s an old-fashioned cocktail made with peach-infused bourbon, something I make up each summer when local produce stands offer crates of sun-ripened fruit at giveaway prices. For six weeks, fresh peaches and lemon peel soak in Kentucky bourbon, the infused mixture is then strained and combined with simple syrup and aged for two more weeks. This ambrosia can be served in a myriad of ways - on its own, in cocktails, in grown-up ice cream desserts, or as a glaze for grilled meats. The mix is called Southern Succor and just like re-reading Gatsby, it gets better with age. Cheers, old sport.
Southern Succor by Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

Southern Succor
adapted from "American Home Cooking" by Cheryl & Bill Jamison

6 peaches, peeled and chopped into chunks

Zest and juice of one lemon

750 ml bourbon whiskey

2/3 cup sugar

1/3 cup water

1. In a large glass jar with a tight-fitting lid, place peaches, lemon zest and juice. Cover with whiskey, seal jar and place in refrigerator to steep for up to six weeks.

2. After six weeks, open jar and strain out the fruit and zest. Press lightly to get all the good stuff out, but not so much as to push the fruit into the liquid. Discard the fruit. Pour the liquid back into the jar.

3. In a saucepan, combine sugar and water and bring to a boil. When sugar dissolves, cool syrup to room temperature. Stir until the sugar dissolves, then cool to room temperature. Add the sugar syrup to the bourbon, return to the refrigerator and let age for another two weeks before using.

The peachy bourbon may be between steps 1 and 2, but is still delicious in an old-fashioned, the legendary first drink to be called a "cocktail." It's sweet and fruity, and just perfect for viewing the sunset from the front porch.

Joey's Old-Fashioned. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

Joey's Old-Fashioned

Joey is a mixologist and philosopher and this is his version of an old-fashioned, with the exception of the lemon - he uses orange. Because he lives in the South, he'll sometimes finish the drink with tea instead of water.

In an old-fashioned glass (a short tumbler), place maraschino cherries, a wedge of lemon and a teaspoon of sugar. Muddle. Pour 2 ounces of peach whiskey, then a splash of water. Stir and garnish with lemon and cherry.
This post is part of #LetsLunch, a Twitter party featuring food writers and bloggers from around the world. Please visit these sites for more #LetsLunch stories.

Lisa’s Pop Cakes from Monday Morning Cooking Club
Lucy’s Old Fashioned from A Cook and Her Books
Jill’s Orange Tarts at Eating My Words
Linda’s Homemade Tagalongs from Free Range Cookies
Annabelle’s Eggs for Bren at Glass of Fancy
Linda’s Oaxacan Mole Rojo at Spicebox Travels
Cheryl’s Hemingway Hamburger at A Tiger in the Kitchen
Betty’s Leche Flan from Asian in America

Text and images copyright 2014, Lucy Mercer.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Protecting your work, for bloggers

Buttermilk Chess Pie. Baked and photographed by Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books and I'm not sharing.
 Well, it's been a busy week at A Cook and Her Books headquarters, setting the blogging and business worlds straight on acceptable uses of my pictures. It all began with my weekend rant on the unauthorized use of my photographs that are copied from my blog and posted without acknowledgment with other recipes on business websites and other blogs. 

These things usually straighten themselves out, but the emails to and fro show a real lack of understanding of what's acceptable when "borrowing" pictures and presenting them as your own. In my original story, I didn't mention that a food company used my picture to accompany its recipe for chess pie. I contacted them via Facebook and this is just a portion of the emailed reply:

To whom it may concern:

We received a facebook message stating that we had taken an unauthorized image of the Chess Pie from your blog and placed on our website. We assure you that the Chess Pie image was not taken from your blog or any blog, but if this is causing problems let us know and we will gladly remove it. We are a Christian company based on integrity and believe in doing things the right way. Again I assure you, that there was nothing unethically done in using this picture. If you have any additional questions or concerns please let us know. Thank you.

My reply stated that indeed, the picture was mine and included links to their post and my original post with a polite request asking that they take their own picture to accompany their recipe. Within an hour, this was the reply:

Thank you for your prompt response and we assure you that your photo will be taken down this week from our website. Thanks and well wishes. God Bless!

Readers' responses to my story, both on Facebook and the blog, about the aggravation of protecting my work has been encouraging. With that in mind, I thought I'd pass along a few resources, both for bloggers who may not know their rights, and businesses who may be tempted to copy photographs from blogs.

First of all, know your rights as a food blogger: A group of top-notch writers and food bloggers, including Elise Bauer of Simply Recipes and David Lebovitz (Living the Sweet Life in Paris), researched and put together some excellent information on copyright at “Food Blog Alliance.” I’ve read through many of the pieces and go back again and again. As they say, if it’s your work, you don’t have to state that there’s a copyright on it. They also provide the ever-escalating steps involved in pursuing sites that steal pictures and content.
Second, I picked up the steps to seeing where my pictures end up by using a reverse image search tutorial from the ever-so-helpful blog Kevin and Amanda. They are a treasure trove of information on food, photography and blogging. 

And lastly, for the food businesses, restaurants, bakeries and caterers who rely on small-time web designers to put together their internet package, by all means subscribe to the blog “Your Kitchen Camera.” It’s put together by food stylists and photographers, professionals whose goal is to educate non-professionals in the tips and tricks to putting together web-worthy food photography by themselves. After all, folks, if you’re surrounded by the food product, isn’t it easier to just take a picture of your actual product than it is to steal from a blogger.

Meanwhile, I'm learning to watermark my pictures, to prevent further appropriation of my work. Any tips or advice along these lines would be great appreciated. Back to food tomorrow, I promise ~

Text and images are copyright, 2014, Lucy Mercer.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

This really burns my biscuit...

Seven layer salad. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

Here in my little corner of the blogging world, I just like to flip my burgers and go home. I cook a little something or other, take a few pictures, craft a few words and hit “publish.” I share my stories with friends and family, and my online community of fellow writers. I don’t whine about Facebook charging to promote my posts. I don’t complain about traffic numbers. And whenever Google messes with SEO, frankly, that goes right over my head. But every now and again, something happens that really burns my biscuit and this is it: unauthorized use of my photographs. Honestly, I think I’d be more flattered if it was my words, but they are left alone. My humble little pictures, taken with a dinky Nikon Coolpix set on the cutest little tripod imaginable, seem to have a plain spoken appeal that makes them easy pickings for multinational companies (yes!), mom-and-pop diners and bakeries, Wiki writers, website aggregators, and unscrupulous fellow bloggers.

If you think I’m being whiny and petulant, and hey, maybe I am, why not just skip over to another page of mine? (I suggest this lovely chocolate pecan bark.) But this is indeed theft of my work. Anytime someone uses my images or words without my permission, it is considered unauthorized. There are instances when I’ve asked for my work to be credited and linked back to the original post, and that’s ok with me. The instance that comes to mind is a college professor doing work on Southern foodways and used a picture from my blog, with links and credit. If someone is not making money off of my work, I do consider allowing them to use my photographs. However, when the pictures are used on a site that includes ads or promotes a business, and they want to use my pictures without compensation, that is just wrong. Pictures, not words, are the signposts that direct traffic to blogs and visually-driven tools like Pinterest are the bitcoin of blogging. If my picture is used to direct traffic to another site, then that is stealing. It's wrong, and in some cases, just plain lazy.

Buttermilk chess pie. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

Recently, I found one of my most-purloined images, Buttermilk Chess Pie, on a Midwestern bakery’s webpage. When I saw it, I thought: "Now, let me get this straight: you bake and sell pies for a living and you have to steal an image from a blogger for your website?" When I brought the issue to the owner's attention, he blamed the website designer. Poor website designers, the kicking dogs of the internet age. Unethical designer aside, I suggest that in an age when many people, even gradeschoolers, have phones that take blog-worthy pictures, small time bakers and restaurant owners would serve themselves well to take their own pictures of the products that they sell. It’s just dishonest to the customer to show a picture of an item that is not their own.

Poultry gravy made with butter, flour and chicken broth. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

And speaking of dishonest bloggers, those who steal from others are doing a great disservice to their readers. Not that a hand-rapping would do much good there, but I suggest that readers searching for recipes be aware that pictures do not always match up with recipes. Case in point ~ my poultry gravy recipe. I used to get a spike in blog traffic each November when cooks start looking for reliable gravy recipes. Now the image pops up on everything from a Vancouver cathedral priest’s blog to a self-help guru’s the power-lies-within-you post. The gravy boat picture has been used to accompany gluten-free, vegetarian and even vegan gravy recipes. (All those recipes, by the way, sound absolutely disgusting.) My fool-proof recipe includes butter, flour, vegetables and chicken broth. Caveat emptor.

And then there's the story of my rice pudding picture. A fragment of the picture was used on a German multinational's website (since removed). All sorts of nationalities have been associated with it ~ Assyrian, Swedish, Middle Eastern and Latin, I guess it's the sort of dish that is treasured by home cooks around the globe. Many cooks may make rice pudding, but very few trouble with actually taking a picture of their creations. It tends to pop up on websites for small Greek and Middle Eastern restaurants.

American rice pudding. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

Every few months, I take a couple of hours and search the internets for unauthorized use of my pictures. I comment on the original post, or go to Facebook, and the matter is usually straightened out within a few days. No harm, no foul. I get a few (I presume) genuinely heartfelt apologies. I even turned one wayward blogger into a confirmed reader of my blog. She honestly thought it was acceptable to borrow pictures like you would a cup of sugar. That’s ok, we’re cool now.

As to keeping this from happening in the future, I feel like the cat’s already out of the bag. Other bloggers tell me they use watermarks on their photographs, and I can certainly see the value there. Any other advice for dealing with this problem?

And I'll say it again ~ the words and images here are my work and I reserve all rights. Please contact me via if you have any questions.