Updated: Sep 7, 2020
On March 24 I started working on a project called Take Out Only in response to the impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on restaurants in my area. In my work as a food photographer, I work with a lot of restaurants, both established and new. This is a huge hit for them. When most restaurants fail in the first year, something like this can put even a restaurant that has been in business for years out of business...fast. The impact of this virus has touched so many industries, my own included.
I wanted to bring attention to the places that I've worked with, and the ones that I have never even been to. To let people know what they're dealing with, how they're still
operating, what they're doing to stay safe, both for themselves and their customers. Using what I can out of my talent set, this is my way of saying thank you, we know you're struggling, how can I help.
I've been working with Lee Lee Thompson, publisher of the magazine The Perpetual You shooting some products for their upcoming catalog. For the last three weeks we've met on a Tuesday morning or afternoon at the warm and welcoming home of Anna Ramirez, an equally warm and so welcoming artist. There we shoot the unique and woman-positive products with models that nestle in the green corners of Anna's property, or hoola-hoop around the open yard as I shoot them with the featured products. The models are women who are part of the Perpetual You Makers. They're friends, artists and amazing women.
Last week after we had completed our work for the day, which really did involve lots of hoola-hooping around the yard, Lee Lee, Anna and I stayed on after the models left and chatted for a while in Anna's sunny kitchen. We talked about many things, and somehow the conversation turned to Bloodroot. Not the flowering plant native to the eastern part of the United States and Canada. Rather, we were talking about the vegetarian restaurant and feminist bookstore located on a cozy inlet of the Sound in Bridgeport. We made plans to take a field trip after our next shoot to check it out. This past Tuesday we had our last shoot. After we finished up, we piled into Lee Lee's sticker covered Saab and headed out.
About 25 minutes later we pulled into a quiet residential street that was right on the water. I was looking for a typical restaurant-type building. Something with a grand entrance, a flashy sign. A huge paved parking lot. Instead what we found was a weathered cedar-shake sided, simple building, with a small faded sign and a simple blue door.
We parked in the lot next to the large field stone patio that was scattered with tables and chairs. Plants and flowers that grew a little wild lined the edges and created little spaces for people and birds to gather. A path lead to the blue door that was topped with a white wooden silhouette of a reclining mermaid with flowing hair.
Normally, we could walk under the mermaid into the restaurant and take a seat. Instead, there was a sign on the front door that read "Order Take Out, Pick Up Here." We knew this before we headed down, so we were prepared. Like every other restaurant right now, people were not allowed to gather here.
We pulled out our phones and called up the Bloodroot website to see what was on the menu. They are an ethnic vegan and vegetarian restaurant, with the menu shaped by the season and local foods. They only offer what the earth's rhythm offers. The menu isn't huge, like a a 24-hour diner that has pages upon pages of standard fare. Instead they offer about 5 soups, an eclectic mix of salads; one that is made of beets, oranges and pepita's. There's a spicy red lentil soup, mushroom walnut paté appetizer, homemade potato bread... all for starters. Entrees consist of large portions of spicy Thai "chicken" (tofu glazed with that spicy sauce), chilled Szechuan noodles with peanut sauce and eggplant in black bean sauce. I really wanted to try the chilled Vietnamese summer rolls with coconut peanut sauce. They state that menu may differ slightly at any given time. They follow the seasons. But there was an even more pressing influence on the menu right now, so what we could chose from varied some.
The menu offerings were slimmer, but equally intriguing and pulled from their core menu.
I decided on the linguine with artichoke and asparagus sauce. It was garnished with gremolata (garlic leaves, parsley and lemon rind). "Perfect early Spring entree!," they touted. I love anything with lemon, and lemon with garlic: sold! Lee Lee ordered the Thai chicken and Anna some soup (I missed her exact choice!). We phoned in our order and then got out of the car to stroll around until the 20 minutes prep time had passed and we could pick up our food.
The air was cool, but the sun warmed us some as we waited, chatted and laughed together. When 20 minutes has passed, we headed in. We were soon greeted by a petite woman in a blue cozy pullover and jeans coming down the field stone path. She spotted my camera and commented enthusiastically about it. "Beautiful camera!," she said. I thanked her and walked closer. She was holding a guest check and I think she was checking to see if we were the ones who had ordered what was on the paper. We fessed up and she turned to walk to the door and we happily followed.
I cannot tell you what greeted me when I walked in the door in enough detail to express my instant curiosity and intrigue. My camera will have to fill in the gaps that my words cannot.
Stepping through the door we entered one large room. The ceiling was vaulted and held up by rough wooden beams. There were no dividers to break up the space, but tables of all sizes, shapes and hue were arranged there. The chairs were just as varied, tall backed or low, ornate or simple. Hanging from the cross beams were woven tapestries and blankets of earth tone colors. In the back, over the left front window hung a large quilt of purples and greens, the pattern not familiar to me, but striking. A hutch was filled with a variety of tea and coffee cups, boxes of tea and a crock of sugar. The wall the hutch was against was lined with picture after picture, framed in all types of frames. The faces in the frames were those of women. Ones that I'm sure had departed long ago and some that looked like they were in their prime in the seventies. I didn't see anyone I could name. Just face after face, calmly gazing over the almost empty dining space
To the right of the door as you come in is a sturdy wooden desk. It has a phone and a credit card POS machine on it. A lamp casts a warm light across the stack of Bloodroot cookbooks and literature in a basket. Pads of guest checks and pens scatter the surface neatly. Standing behind the desk was a woman in a dark grey sweater. It was a thick sweater, knit with a intertwining pattern and later I could see it had a hood with a tight tassel. She had white hair that was pulled back and gathered. She wore a blue shirt and jeans, and was standing next to the woman who greeted us on the way in. They were about the same size. She had a beautiful face, lined with experience, kindness and wisdom that came through instantly when she moved her mask down. I liked her right away.
I had met Selma Miriam and her partner Carol. Selma is one of the original members of the collective that founded Bloodroot 43 years ago. It had originally started as a weekly feminist cooperative exchange in her home in 1975. The restaurant was opened in 1977 with two other members. There were a series of part time workers that later joined the collective, one of them being Noel Furie, who I was about to meet.
Noel was seated on a stool behind the window where customers picked up their food in ordinary time. There are no waitresses at Bloodroot. You place your order and pick it up at the window. Bus your own table and get your own tea and coffee from the hutch. Now Noel was seated there next to the bag that contained our order. She too had long hair that was pulled back loosely, wore glasses and smiled brightly at us. I liked her vibe.
Everyone kept their distance from the other, as we are supposed to. We had our masks. We know so well what to do now. Noel stayed behind the passe and Selma and Carol stayed behind the desk. I didn't even ask if I could start photographing them or the restaurant. I didn't think they'd mind and quickly learned that Noel and Carol both were photographers too. In fact, Noel does all the photos of the food for their yearly calendar and their cookbooks. They images are beautiful. She told me she only uses natural light. That Selma makes the dishes, and she shoots them. I get the impression no fussy styling is involved. They're presented as they are served.
Anna and Lee Lee took the food and headed out to the patio to enjoy it. I was too intrigued by this place and these people to eat. I have to admit, I was happy that the place was not opened for business as usual. That there weren't diners filling the tables, getting in my way while I explored. Selma, Noel and Carol were so welcoming and I felt an instant bond to these ladies.
I did eventually head out to eat, getting there when there was just enough of the vegan cheese taster left for me to sample. It was honestly, amazing. If you go, you have to try it. I tried a bite of Lee Lee's dish and then dove into my linguine. It was bright and springy, as they promised. I ate about a quarter of it and then we all shared the shredded parsnip spice cake (with cream cheese frosting). It was topped with candied ginger and had walnuts. We all shared the too small piece and then headed back in to look around more and talk to these interesting women.
There's a bookstore at Bloodroot. We passed through it as Carol lead us to what was called the Mermaid Room in the back. This was a medium size room, filled with chairs on one side that faced an open area. This is where meetings and classes are held. The aqua colored walls are adorned with Noel's photographs of the inlet outside, a full moon captured in one. Family photographs, collages and a large painting of mermaids cover the rest. Carol took us back through the bookstore and wanted to show us the Hall of Women, she called it. We followed her to a narrow hallway that led to the back of the building. It was lined with clippings and images of feminists and other female figures. Top to bottom. Carol stopped in front of the New York Times articles about the 2020 presidential candidates featuring Amy Klobuchar and Elizabeth Warren. "I really loved her," she said tapping the image of Warren with her knuckle.
I feel like there's not much that I can say about how Bloodroot is being affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, beyond the obvious. Everyone wears a mask, there are no diners allowed to dine in. We stay a distance from each other. We didn't get to talk about how brisk or sparse business is. The phone was ringing pretty steadily when I was there, Selma taking orders on her guest check pad. I was more interested in the people who created this place and the history of it. As well as the visuals of it.
Something about Bloodroot reminded of all the important women in my life that are no longer with us. My mother. My Aunt Deb. My Grandmother and her sisters, my great-aunts. I think that's part of why I liked it here so much and was really drawn to Selma, Carol and Noel. They are close to the age my Mom would be now. I hope I get to see the women of Bloodroot again and talk more about their lives and history. I want to eat in their dining room when it is full of people, when the women's music is playing and I can help myself to my cup of coffee at the hutch.
I didn't get to photograph the food, even what I ordered for myself. I bought a copy of their book Our Daily Lives have to be a Satisfaction in Themselves and had been eyeing this seductive chocolate cake that was in the kitchen all night, so I ordered a slice to go. The experience was what I wanted to capture and save. The time with my friends Anna and Lee Lee, which is always rich and full, was accentuated by this time here.
The food is definitely part of what I loved about discovering Bloodroot. I want to hear from the women of the collective how food ties into their beliefs and experience more. I'm just starting to learn the history from the book I bought. I plan on going back and hopefully making more formal portraits of the women there. I want to get into the kitchen and explore the nooks and crannies where the history collects. I hope I can.
Please note: I practice social distancing guidelines, shoot with long lenses to look like I'm closer than I am, get in and get out to stay out of the way and do not go in to kitchen's unless invited, stay far back from food and I check my temperature before going out