Sunday, January 30, 2011

My First, REAL LIVE, Photography Class

I can't even begin to tell you what a fun Saturday I had!  I took a food photography class in Seattle and learned SO MUCH.  For those of you who know me well, you know that driving myself to the "big city" is a very rare event.  Well, I did it!  All by myself.  In the pouring rain.  Just me and my GPS. It was soooooo worth it!  My main goal was to learn more about taking great pictures.  Settings on my camera and lighting issues are still areas that don't come naturally to me. I thought this would be a good way to learn and practice at the same time.  My secondary goal was to learn about food styling.  When I take pictures, I take a cookie, plunk in on a plate, and take a picture.  I know there is more to it than that, so having someone teach me how to style food was a gift!

As I've said before, I'm not an adventurous eater, so I didn't actually eat too many of these things.  We had a professional chef create a few things for us to photograph.  Then we were given the run of the prop shelves.  We chose our own linens, plates, bowls, etc.  Clare, our instructor, came around and helped us with our questions and gave pointers.  We played with things like mirrors and reflectors to bounce light back onto the food.

She also showed us how to prop up different backgrounds, when dealing with ugly backgrounds at home.

We played with different angles for our shots.

At the end, each participant shared a few of their favorite photos from the day.  Then she gave us feedback on things that work and things that don't.  It was so helpful to hear from someone with an eye for this stuff!

This was one of my favorites.  It's so simple, but the colors and lighting really make a beautiful picture.  The top piece of information I learned was that natural light is best.  She didn't even have the overhead lights on in the room.  We just put our food on a table by the window.  I'm not lucky enough to have a wall of windows in my house, but boy does natural light make a difference!  My second favorite tip is to take your lens off of auto focus when you are shooting food.  I didn't think I'd like that, but the difference in picture quality was amazing.

Friends, be prepared for some amazing food pics coming your way!  I've learned a lot and now it's time to practice.  Hmmm.... I hear some peanut  butter calling my name.  Off to make a peanut butter pie!

If you're in the area and want to check out Clare's workshops, here is the link.

Here are a few linky parties I like to participate in.
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photo 2

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Thursday, January 27, 2011

Wild Rice, Chicken, and Shrimp Casserole and Home and Family Friday

This has always been one of my favorite casseroles.  Surprisingly, my kids love it too.

Wash a half pound of salad shrimp and put it into a big bowl.

Cook one box of wild rice and set aside.

Add one can of cream of chicken soup to the shrimp.  Chop a handful of parsley and a few other veggies to throw in the mix.  I happened to have red and yellow peppers today, so that's what went into the casserole.  Sometimes I'll use carrots, celery, or green onions.  There is no science to this casserole, just use what you like to eat.  I also add about 1-2 cups of shredded cheddar cheese, 1 tbsp of lemon juice, and 1/2 tsp ground mustard.

Before I leave for work in the morning, I like to put a whole chicken in the crockpot with a little water and garlic salt.  By the time I walk in the door, dinner is close to being ready.  In a pinch, one of those pre-cooked chickens from the grocery store works well too. I use all of the chicken, which is usually about 2 cups.

Mix it all up and throw it into the baking dish.  Bake at 350 for about 20 minutes. A loaf of bread and a salad is all you need to finish off the meal.  It looks like a fancy dinner, but the reality is, I only had to cook a box of rice and chop veggies for about 3 minutes.  Super easy!

We're ready for Home and Family Friday.  What have you been up to this week?  We love to see craft projects, recipes, furniture make-overs, and holiday ideas.  I'd love it if you'd grab my button and become a follower!

This may be the last Home and Family Friday.  Inlinks and Linky Tools are both moving to subscriptions.  Since I don't make any money from this blog, I'm not really interested in paying for this service.  I don't know if there are other free services out there.  This will be the last linky party, until I find a new linky service. Thanks for understanding.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Who Taught You To Cook?

Today, in the lunch room, the teacher talk turned to cooking.  One of my teacher friends said she doesn't cook.  (Well, she really does cook because she said she had an amazing sounding pot roast in the crock pot for dinner. But, for the most part there's not much cooking at her house.)  That got me thinking about how I learned to cook.  I've always baked and cooked with my mom and grandma.  I guess they were my first teachers. 

Family meals always consist of home cooked food at our birthday parties and holidays.
My Grandma always made this jam and cream cheese roll on Christmas.

Homemade buttermilk pancakes were the breakfast choice for opening day of fishing season.

Growing up, chocolate chip cookies and homemade bread were the after school snacks on Wednesdays.  (Wednesday was my mom's day off, so there was always something yummy.)

I don't remember ever eating anything from a box when I was younger.  Everything was made from scratch.  My mom always thought ahead and used her crockpot a lot.  Pot roasts and potatoes were usually on the weekly meal plan.

Chicken in the crockpot was usually turned into some sort of casserole.  My favorite was the wild rice, chicken, and shrimp casserole.  Regardless of whether anyone was home, the house usually smelled good when we walked in the door after school. 

My mom and grandma taught me well.  I have several "go to" recipes and, like my grandma, I always have a new experiment that I'd like to try. (Nanie's eggplant lasagna and the fish shaped tomato aspic salad didn't quite fuel my desire to try new recipes, but for the most part her recipes were a hit.) 

 I learned a little more in college.  I majored in Family and Consumer Sciences, which required courses on food science, nutrition, and food presentation.

Now, with the outburst of cooking shows, I find Sandra Lee and Ina Garter to be my cooking mentors. (As well as my grandma, mom, and mother in law.)  I love watching the cooking channel or food network.  I get new recipe ideas and learn tricks and tips I never knew before.  Rachel Ray taught me how to dice the perfect onion, a trick I never knew.  Sandra Lee taught me to only use the thyme leaves, not the thin stems.  Ina Garter encouraged me to use new-to-me vegetables in my dishes.

Who taught you to cook or bake?  Was it a family member, classes you took, or the Food Network?  Are you self taught or still learning?  Where did you learn to prepare food?  Food is such an important part of our homes, culture, and family history.  Food evokes memories.  Some of my best memories are of time when I cooked or baked with my mom and grandma.  They taught me skills that would last a lifetime. 
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Monday, January 24, 2011

Williams-Sonoma Calzones

In the fall, I shared the Pocket Pie Mold we bought from Williams-Sonoma. My kids LOVED helping make these cute little apple pie pockets and I think we all loved eating them. They were really easy, fun, and kid friendly.

When I was at Williams-Sonoma buying my All-Clad with my gift cards, I spotted this great little Calzone pocket mold. There is a video on their website about how they work.  Our calzones didn't turn out quite as pretty as Williams-Sonoma's calzones, but that's what you get when a six year old is in charge.

We made pizza dough and had little bowls filled with several different ingredients.  My kids each designed their own calzone. It's amazing how much they love dinner, when they actually make it.

Happy cooking!
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Friday, January 21, 2011

My First Attempt at an E-Book


Hi Friends!  For the past few weeks I've been working on an e-book.  It should really be called an e-booklet because it's not very big.  Our school district is not having the traditional "kindergarten fair" this year, where we meet parents and answer questions.  I thought an e-book might be a good way to share ideas with parents about kindergarten readiness.  I had  really grand plans of tons of links, lots of beautiful photos, personal stories, and ideas about kindergarten readiness.  Well, I got caught up in the research part (which I thought was really fun and interesting), and got sidetracked before I got to the fun part of adding photos and links.  So, my e-booklet is mostly stories and ideas, with a few links and photos. 
The non-kindergarten-fair is tomorrow.  Parents will be showing up to the district fair, hoping to meet their child's kindergarten teacher but they will be greeted by community members and our principal instead.  It's an interesting idea and I'm anxious to hear the response from families.  My hope is that parents will go to my school blog, hilltop and download the booklet.
Here's my big favor...
If you have a few minutes, would you please check to see if the link works for you and is easy to figure out. I have the book on this blog, as well as my school blog.
Also, I'd love feedback, ideas to include, and any editorial comments you might have. I can always make changes to the booklet.  I have read and reread this booklet many times, but I'm sure I missed something.  I'd love to have you point out any errors before the parents of my future students read it.
Thanks so much for your help!

Check out these parties I like to link up to.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Home and Family Friday

It's a day for cocoa in the Pacific Northwest. It's really cold and really rainy. Just thought I'd share a tempting photo, taken over the Christmas break.

We're ready for Home and Family Friday. There were LOTS of cute links last week. I feel like my creativity is lacking in the cold, dark, winter months. You guys inspire me!

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Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Crispix Caramel Corn


This snack is dangerously addictive and not very healthy.

I first tried this staffroom-hit-Crispix-mix many years ago, when my friend Elaine would bring it to school on treat day.  Yum. Eventually Elaine packed up all of her toys and moved to a new school, taking her yummy Crispix mix with her.  At my new school, Tamara is the Crispix mix queen.  You can always count on a big batch of this yummy deliciousness on her treat day.

This is Elaine's recipe, but I'm sure Tamara's is close.  It's all just butter and sugar anyway.

Melt 1 pound of butter in a sauce pan.  (Yes, you read that right.  I told you it wasn't healthy.)
Add 3/4 Cup corn syrup. (If you don't have corn syrup on hand, call your sister in law.  She'll drop it off for you.  She's that nice.)
Add 1/2 tsp baking soda.
Add 2 tsp vanilla
Add 2 cups brown sugar.
Stir and cook until glossy.

Meanwhile, start popping popcorn.  I usually make 4-6 bags of light butter popcorn.
Line two REALLY BIG roasting pans with foil.  (You'll thank me for that later.)
Spray a little cooking spray at the bottom.
One full box of Crispix goes into each pan.
Add 2 or 3 bags of popcorn to each pan.
Throw in a few almonds if anyone in your house likes them. They make it kind of pretty.
Pour the sticky deliciousness from the pan, all over the popcorn/crispix mixture and stir it up.
Bake at 225 for 1 hour.  Stir every 15 minutes.

Package some of the popcorn in a cellophane bag, tie it with a pretty ribbon, and take it to the sister-in-law who saved the day with the corn syrup.  She and her family will thank you.

Happy nibbling!  I dare you to have just one handful.
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Decisions, Decisions

Once upon a time, I loved my yellow and red toile. I loved it so much that I carried those colors through most of the rooms in my house. I'm kind of "over" the toile now and ready for a change.

The kitchen has been a work in progress. We stripped, sanded, stained, and varathaned the orangey-oak cabinets.  They are now a darker brown color.

The walls are getting a new coat of paint.  We are thinking a light taupe color would work well.  We don't want to go too dark and close in the kitchen. The kitchen color will also run through the downstairs hallway.  The color has to be just right since it will be in the bulk of the house.  I'm thankful that Lowe's sells sample sizes.  One was too dark and the other was too gray.

I think I finally found a good color, but I'm going to have them lighten it a little.

I have my eye on these fabrics for valances, pillows, or table linens. I can't wait to get started!

Happy decorating!
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Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Two Favorites From Last Week's Linky Party

There were some great projects linked up last Friday. I don't know what I like best about this... the hat and scarf, the sweet baby, or the beautiful photography. Easy Peasy Grandma made this set.

I'm in love with this Valentine subway art. Janet at Today's Fabulous Finds posted this. She has them in 10 different colors on her blog and you can print them for free.  I love free.  The red one is going to be printed and framed in my living room.

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Monday, January 17, 2011

Lovin' My All-Clad

In the past 15 years, I think I have replaced my non-stick pans about 15 times.  Every Christmas I put a set on my wish list, because the previous year's has gotten too scratched to use.  This Christmas, I made a better choice.  This year, I asked my family for William Sonoma gift cards for Christmas and bought myself some All-Clad. 

If you're not familiar with All-Clad, then you need to get out from under your box. I mean, you should talk to the sales ladies at William Sonoma.  There is a lifetime guarantee on these pans! Even though this pan cost as much as 15 years worth of pans, I will NEVER have to replace it!

It's almost too pretty to use. I think I might be in love.

The first thing I cooked in my omelette pan was, of course, an omelette.  I have to say I was impressed with the way the omelette cooked and slid off the pan when I was done.

Breakfast is served!
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