Father’s Day Lineup!!

Hey Guys!! So obviously it’s been a while since I’ve posted. I feel like I should give some kind of explanation, but to keep it short, life happened. The main contributor was that we took my oldest gluten free. If you don’t know what that means, it means that we took wheat and most other grains out of his diet. Yeah. Huge adjustment. Had me just shy of a complete nerves breakdown. So to save my sanity I cut out pretty much anything that was not a complete necessity. My son is still gluten free, but we’ve learned how to live with the changes and now I’m ready to pick things up somewhat where I left off.

Although there will be some changes. For instance, you’ll be seeing an assortment of gluten free and regular recipes from now on. I know there is a lot of you that aren’t gluten free, but please don’t be afraid to give these recipes a try. You can also easily modify most recipes too by just subbing for regular or gluten free flour to fit your lifestyle, so I hope this doesn’t detract any of you from trying a recipe.

To catch you all up on what we have been up to since I last posted, other then adjusting to eating gluten free, we moved at the end of February to our new home. I love it here. We have an acre all to ourselves, and I’ve already gotten 3 goats and 5 chickens.

Isn’t she so cute!! I intend on having a full fledged farm before long, but I’m still warming my hubby up to the idea 🙂 But soon I’d like to get some horses, maybe a milking cow, and a miniature pig to go with my nigerian dwarf goats.


After moving in, my husband decided to take our plan to “eventually update”, into full on demo!! I agree, that the house needed it, as you can see from the before pictures above, but we had just moved in and gotten settled. It was a lot to take on all at once, but surprisingly it all only took 3 1/2 weeks, and was so worth the inconvenience of living in a construction zone. 

 
  

Here is everything after. I am still in the process of putting my kitchen together. Since everything from my kitchen was in totes in the garage. We’ll just say that it all needs a good cleaning before it’s put in it’s proper place. Which is taking twice as long as it normally would being that when you remodel and tear down walls and chip up tile, things get really, really dusty. So while I have a notebook full of ideas, cooking and baking has yet to occur in this kitchen. Shouldn’t be to much longer though 🙂

In the meantime I wanted to list some of my old favorite recipes that would be perfect for Father’s Day!! Enjoy!! And new recipes will be coming soon!!

Breakfast In Bed Idea’s!!

Desserts for Dad!!

I realized after picking all these desserts that my current chocolate addiction is showing 😉 Have an awesome weekend!!

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Giveaway Winner!! and A Complete Wreck of a Kitchen

First, lets get to the giveaway winner!! I like to do things the old fashion way, but can I just say, Man this was a lot of writing! But now for the big moment!! And the winner is!!

Congratulations Katie Eckelmann from Chicago!! So excited for you 🙂 and I hope you get as much use out of your new Dutch Oven as I do!!

I’m afraid I don’t have a recipe to post today because until today my kitchen has been a construction zone. We have been renovating/remodeling and decided to do crown molding. Well between my kitchen, family room, and master bedroom it’s been nothing but work around here for the past week and, as a result,  hasn’t given me much of a chance to squeeze into my kitchen and cook/bake. Here is the molding inside of my bedroom before getting painted.

And here is what my kitchen and family room looked like yesterday. I felt like I was contaminated with some disease and in an isolation bubble. Just best to get my already stir crazy kids out of the house at this point :/ But now you see why not a whole lot of baking has been going on.

And the finished molding!! Ok, so I still have some cleaning to do, and I still have to paint past my kitchen, but you get the general idea. So today, I’m getting back to some well needed time in the kitchen. I’m thinking bread today. Maybe banana. Been craving that something fierce 🙂 Have an awesome day and I’ll see you soon with some yummy recipes!!

A Look Into My Kitchen!!!

Hey everyone!! A lot of people have been asking me to give a little tutorial on how I shoot my photos. And, if you know me, I love sharing whatever knowledge I can with others, but first, I should probably just let everyone know that, I am almost 100% self taught. I have read a little here and there to give me some guidelines, but all of my advice and techniques (if you can even call them that) are things I have adjusted and figured out in my own way. Why am I telling you this? Well, because I’m sure there are many of you out there that are much better then me and know the proper way of doing things. So here is my little disclaimer. I’m not saying this is the right way to do it. I’m just saying this is how I get my results.

So, to understand how I photograph my food, you probably are going to need to see my set up. Which includes my kitchen. But, first things first. Before you can even worry about set ups or lighting, we need to talk about equipment. In my opinion, your photos can only be as good as your camera will let them be. I’m not saying that people can’t get beautiful pictures from a simple camera. I’m just saying that you’re gonna have to work harder for them, and probably get less definition then with a better camera. (As a side not, if you are planning on going out and getting a camera, knowing this helped me. When picking out your camera I highly recommend going down to a store and holding them first before purchasing. Cameras are like clothes. Each one is going to fit you differently, so test drive them first because this is a big investment.)

This is my camera. It’s a Canon T2i and I absolutely love it. Seriously!! I am actually emotionally bonded to my camera. When we went on our trip to the Caribbean a couple weeks back, my husband got to use it like twice before I quickly took it away so he wouldn’t damage it. I know. Obsessive, but it’s true. My camera isn’t all I use for my pictures though. With this camera you will get a standard, but still very nice, lens which comes with it, but I only use this lens for every day pictures. For my food pictures, and especially my finished products, I use a Tamron 90mm Macro Lens. That way I can get in really close and still be able to get really clear, detailed shots. I also use a Sigma Mounted Flash on top of my camera. This gives me the ability to bounce the flash off of walls or the ceiling, and provides amazing lighting from above instead of straight on, making a better picture.

K, now that you know what equipment I use, lets talk about lighting and take a look inside of my kitchen 🙂 Lets start with my kitchen first!! Isn’t is pretty? Sorry, I love my kitchen. But this is where I not only make all my food, obviously, but also where I take all of my photographs. Which brings me into how I light my food.

I’m probably gonna tick a bunch of people off by saying this, but I don’t believe there is any one right way to light your food. The only thing I am going to say is, you will get the best results if you photograph your shots in natural lighting. These two places, (above picture), are the only two places I photograph my food. In the afternoon, when the sun completely overtakes my table and is then too bright to photograph anything over there, I shoot my photos under the window by the sink. But any other time when I don’t have direct sunlight on that table, I take my pictures there. I never ever take my pictures in direct sunlight because it will totally wash your pictures out. Right where the sun is at in the picture above is perfect, because I’m getting a lot of natural light on that table without actually having the sun on it, like it is on the floor. Make sense?

Gluten Free Chocolate Cake

Now, back to what I said earlier, I really don’t think there is one right way to light yours food, and what I mean by that is, I have read a couple of articles that say always light your food from the back, like I’ve done here. If you can see, (above picture), the light is coming from behind the cake pan and is casting a shadow toward us below the pan. So, yes, I do love this technique and it is how I photograph the majority of my pictures, but…

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cupcakes

What if you want to take a picture with lots of texture? Like this one. This picture is lit from the front casting the shadow behind it. The reason I had the light hit the front of this instead of the back is because I wanted to be able to see all those little crumbs crisply and clearly without being darkened by the shadow. So, you find how you want to light your food. Each of us as photographers has our own style and ways of doing things, so embrace it.

Garlic-Rubbed Grilled Cheese with Bacon and Tomatoes

Third rule I play by most of the time is: Get low and Get in close. Food doesn’t really like to be photographed from above, which is a mistake I find most amateur photographers make. Just think of it this way, you don’t like photos to make you look fat, and food doesn’t like photos that make it look flat, which is what photographing it from above is gonna make it do. So no photos from above!! Squat down, and play with your angles. (Of course there are some exceptions to this, but for the most part this is true.)

No Bake Nanaimo Bars

Also, don’t be afraid to get in close. This is easier if you have a lens that can capture more detailed pictures, like a macro lens, but even if you can’t zoom way in, don’t just take a picture of your whole plate of food. BORING!! Get off centered, stack it, or add something a little extra to make your dish pop.

Slow Cooker Texas Pulled Pork

Which brings me onto staging. It’s probably obvious, if you’ve followed me for a while, that I like simple, clean, crisp photographs. I don’t like to clutter my photos with a lot of extras, but that’s just my style. I’m not saying it’s the right way, it’s just my way. But every once in a while I like to mix it up and set an elaborate stage for my food.

Caramel Apple Cupcakes

Things to be careful of though. You really don’t want your photos to come off cluttered, like this one (this is my own photograph, so I’m aloud to bash it). Not only is the lighting totally wrong with that glair coming through my curtains, but there is way to much going on!! There is a pattern on the table, then there is a pattern on the plate, and then there’s the candle holder. You almost can’t even see the amazing Caramel Apple Cupcakes. So don’t over clutter!!

     

When I stage, I never ever put anything on my food to enhance it. Ever!! I try to photograph my food as intended by the recipe. This is how I get my fresh, natural look. Food is going to look best served the way it’s meant to and not to mention, it annoys the Holy Hanna out of me when I try to recreate something, just to find it’s been so doctored by food stylist that there is no way my food is ever gonna look like that. I like to represent realism in myself, my writing, and in my food. So this is what I do. Again, I’m not saying that your wrong if you want to use Elmer’s glue to add the illusion of milk drops on your food, but I plan on eating what I make after I photograph it. So I have no advise on enhancing except if you want your casserole dish to look steamy and to have that warm sheen, then heat it up, or photograph it while it’s hot.

Ghoulishly Glowing Cupcakes

Sorry, I got on a venting roller coaster. Back to staging. K, things to remember that help me is first: find a focal spot on your dish, then stage around that. This is also the spot you are gonna want to be in focus. Second: when staging, you want to create movement in your picture. No I’m not saying actual movement, like my pouring pictures, but you want to create a stage where your eye naturally moves smoothly around the picture.

Cherry Fudge Brownie Cheesecake

For instance, I like to have 3 different focal pieces in my pictures when staging, that kind of create a circle. The main focal piece is, obviously, the food. Other assisting focal pieces might be a whisk or an ingredient that I used in the recipe like cinnamon sticks or my mason jar of brown sugar. Then when I know what I want to incorporate into the picture, I try to stage everything so your eye moves from the food (1), which is normally in the center, up the right side of the picture to the next focal point (2), then to the top left corner to the next focal point (3), and then back to the food (1). That’s probably getting really deep, but you just want to try and create a flow in your pictures so your eyes have a direction of where to go, which will make your picture in turn more visually appealing.

Frosted Cookie Brownies

Other quick hints for staging. 1) Never ever have horizontal lines. Diagonals are always better visually. 2) Odd numbers are your friend. It’s better to have either 1,3, or 5 of something then 2 or 4. I don’t know why this is, but things staged in odd numbers create a better picture most of the time. 3) Don’t forget to add some green. In my windowsill I always have mint growing so that when needed, I can agrab a cluster of mint leaves to add depth to the picture. 4) Look at other peoples pictures. If you like something someone else has done, don’t copy it, but try and recreate the same feel in your own photos with your own spin on it. And really, just have fun with it and relax. If you start getting frustrated that something isn’t working out, take a deep breath, walk away, and come back to it in a couple minutes.

A secret I use to keep myself focused is, I listen to music. If you ever come into my kitchen while I’m baking, cooking, or photographing my food I almost always have music playing in the background. Cooking is my therapy, and music is also very therapeutic to me, so I put the two together and it calms me. So find something like that to help you. If you guys don’t laugh too terribly hard, I’ll share my cooking mix with you guys (above). I have everything on it from country, to rock and roll, to hip-hop, and everything else in-between. But it suites me 🙂

Jack Daniel’s Glazed Ribs

Lastly, editing. I use Picasa to edit all of my photos. Yes, I edit every single photo that I put on my blog. Some photos don’t really need much, so I crop it, watermark it, and leave it alone. But others need the color corrected, or need to be highlighted. So I use Picasa to do this and I love it. Not to mention it’s a free download, so you really can’t go wrong just trying it out. Once you figure out what everything does, it can really help you to enhance the look of your photos.

Strawberry Cream Cheese Tart

Well, I think that’s pretty much it. I know I’m probably going to post this, and remember something I just have to add, but as far as I can think of right now, these are all my little secrets. Hope this has helped some of you to discovering your own style as a photographer, and have an awesome day!!

Camera photo from http://www.kenrockwell.com.http://www.foodsnots.com/2011/09/ghoulishly-glowing-cupcakes.html

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My Caribbean Vacation!!

Hey Everyone! I’m back!! Well rested and so grateful to be home with my babies. But I had such an amazing time! Neatest experience ever 🙂 So I though I would share some of my wonderful adventures with you guys. Be forewarned though, this post is gonna have quite a few pictures in it. On this trip, I found out that I love to take picture of old architecture. We live in Arizona, where our state just celebrated it 100th birthday, so we have next to no old buildings here.

Our first stop was flying to San Juan, Puerto Rico, where we would get on the cruise ship. But first we had a chance to look around this amazing old spanish fort, where I discovered my love for photographing old architecture. (I’ll try to narrow this down to my favorites, but here are some of our Puerto Rico pictures)

In my world if you stop to take a rest you become a subject to photograph 🙂 My poor husband. He was such a good sport though. Especially because every two seconds I would tell him, “Ok, I promise last picture and I’m done.” Just to see something else that I had to photograph right after I put my camera away. But can you blame me, this place was so gorgeous!!

I loved this walkway between rooms. The curved arches one after the other were just so aesthetically appealing.

But of course, while in Puerto Rico we had to try some of the food 🙂 This was a cafe we ate at for breakfast, and I just had to stop and admire the gorgeous pastries in the window. It was too early for sweets, so I restrained myself, but…

While walking around, I was totally justified in trying some goodies at lunch time 🙂 We stopped at this little stand and I picked out this gorgeous bar. It’s like coconut, sweet potato, and caramel wrapped in a banana leaf and either set out to try or baked. It was amazing!! I don’t know what it was called cause nothing was labeled and the guy selling could barely speak english, but I’m gonna have to try and recreate this.

Last favorite pictures from Puerto Rico.

And then it was time to get on our ship!!

This was my first cruise, so it’s safe to say I was amazed by everything. Here was inside the centrum (main lobby) looking up. Then we were off to new locations.

Our first stop was at Tortola where we swam with Dolphins. Coolest experience ever. It’s amazing how smart these animals are.

Then stop two was St. Marten. I got up to see the sun rise and couldn’t help myself. Had to take some pictures of how pretty it all was with the ocean, islands, and the sun rays pushing though the clouds.

In St. Marten, we took an island tour, and our guide was so nice to make a special stop just for me at a pastry shop.

We ended up trying two of these gorgeous little desserts. This one was like a chocolate pudding cake, with a crunchy crust, smothered with a chocolate ganache. It was amazing!!

Pastry two was a raspberry mouse, layered with vanilla cake and raspberry jello, topped with fresh raspberries and drizzled with chocolate. If you like raspberries, you would love this. Yum!!

At St. Marten, we also stopped at this really cool beach right next to the airport. The planes get so close to you it’s incredible. The rest of our time in St. Marten was spent on a beach where we didn’t have to worry about strong air currents 😉

St. Kitts was beautiful, other then the fact that I got a monkey forced on me. Which my husband thought was hilarious, but we got to visit this really old sugar plantation before we went zip-lining. So I got to indulge in my new found addiction again.

This smoke stack was huge!! Here is me next to it just to show how ginormous it was.

This tree was gnarly!! Had to take a picture. I guess the used to use this tree to punish the slaves on the plantation. Enough said.

Just a couple more pictures. We did a lot of snorkeling and swimming after that point, so since I don’t have an underwater camera I didn’t get a lot of shots. But here are a couple others from walking around the rainforest and the other islands.

That about wraps up my trip. I will be posting some new recipes on Wednesday, and in the next couple of weeks I’m going to be composing a post on my set ups and tips I’ve learned on food photography. There has been some requests for that, I just want to compose some photo’s so I can illustrate how I do things. So I didn’t forget about you guys. It’s coming soon!! Have a great Monday!

Caramel Chocolate Trifle

Kind of a late post today, but you know… Life happens. I wanted to quickly get this recipe on today, since it feels like forever since we did the “What Dessert Would You Like To See Next” vote. And obviously this dessert won out of the 5. I’m still going to have to make the others, but this one had to come first, and I’m super excited it did.

I’ve been eyeballing this forever it seems. A couple of things that will just send this dessert over the top though. First, for the cake portion. I used brownie mix, but on most brownie mixes it will say “Fudge Style Brownies” or “Cake Style Brownies”. I did the cake style (which, basically all you do is add 3 eggs instead of two). This way, they aren’t super heavy, but you still get all that extra flavor.

Also, you know how when you make something there are some things you can go cheap on and others that you absolutely need to fork out the money for. Well this is like this, except with your work effort. For the whip cream, brownie/cake, toffee bits. Absolutely. Really your not going to notice the difference if you get them store bought, but where you need to put in the elbow grease is in the caramel! It’s an absolute necessity!! The caramel is what makes or brakes the dish. So, I am making you all swear, by penalty of death (or severe disappointment), that you must make this “caramel sauce“. It is not that hard, and it will absolutely make this dessert out of this world, and it merges together the toffee taste into the trifle better. Please please please!!! Just trust me.

I had to add this picture too. Here’s how it is in my house!! Anything I leave for two seconds is vulnerable. I can’t tell you how many times I have gone into my baking closet to grab something, everything will be all staged and ready to photograph, and I either have one of my three little ones chowing down, or my hubby sneaking a taste. Greatest compliment in the world, but SO frustrating!!

And just one more. We gotta include a close up for effect. Mmmm!! You know you want some 😉

Caramel Chocolate Trifle
     1 package (9 ounces) devils food cake
     2 packages (3.9 ounces each) instant chocolate pudding mix
     1 carton (12 ounces) frozen whipped topping, thawed
     Homemade Caramel Sauce Recipe or 1 jar (12-1/4 ounces) caramel ice cream topping
     1 package (7-1/2 or 8 ounces) English toffee bits or almond brickle chips

Prepare and bake cake according to package directions for an 8 inch square baking pan. Cool on a wire rack. Prepare pudding according to package directions.

Cut cake into 1 1/2 inch cube.

Place half of the cubes in a 3-qt. trifle bowl or large glass serving bowl; lightly press down to fill in gaps.

Top with half of the whipped topping and pudding.

Then top with caramel.

If you are using a toffee candy bars, chop up.

And sprinkle a generous amount over caramel/pudding layers.

Repeat layers.

Cover and refrigerate until serving. Yield: 16 servings.

Printable Recipe

Recipe from Taste of Home Church Supper Desserts.

The Ragnar!!

Wow!! This weekend was crazy! Finally fell asleep Thursday night at 11pm. I laid down at 9, but couldn’t relax. Finally after forcing myself to lay still and not think of the race, sleep came to me. My alarm went off at 2 am to give me some time to get showered, and fit in a hit to the snooze button once or two. But at 3:30 we finally were all loaded up and on our way.

We arrived at 5:30 in time to check in and make the safety briefing before Nikki, our team captain and runner #1, started. At 6:30 she took off and the race was on!! She rocked out her 8.5 mile leg and then Brianne was up.

We had to wear these lovely head lamps from 5pm to 9am. Yes, even though the sun was up. (trying to make a cute face through my nerves and disgust for having to put this thing on even though the sun had been up for an hour. Didn’t really work. LoL!!)

I was 3rd for my first 7.1 mile leg. It went relatively fast. I felt great and the run went pretty smooth. I finish in about 55 minutes, which I was pumped about. Emily, Lisa, and Matt finished off their runs for a collective total of 38 miles, and then at about 12 pm van two took over.

While van 2 was popping out their 36 miles we drove to get some food and change. After getting as cleaned up as we could in the Target bathroom sinks, and pissing off a few people waiting for us to be done, we headed to the next exchange. It was busy. But we scrounged up the last bit of shade left and tried to get a few “Z’s” before it was our turn to run again.
I probably only got about an hour of very broken up sleep, but it wasn’t long before it was Nikki’s turn to take off again.
As always I followed after Bri, and she pasted me the baton at about 9pm for my second leg. I was stinkin nerves about this one, and for good reason. It was 6.3 miles, which wasn’t that bad, but the catch was, it was going to be all uphill. The only way I was able to run through the whole thing was my husband came to run that leg with me.
It started out pretty easy. The first mile and a half was just a slight incline. Miles 2 to 2 1/2 was down in a wash, which sucked running on sand, but was really distracting. By the time I was out though, my calves were pretty worked. But my hubby was there and I felt really uplifted and motivated. We were making about 9:30 minute miles coming out of the wash as the incline came back. After about another 1/2 mile, my calves were filling it, and in a moment of weakness I told my husband, “You know, I think I would rather have one big hill and get it over with then this slow steady incline.” We both laughed as we got to the top of the hill, and started to head down for the first time.
It was only probably 150 yards until we turned the corner and I saw it. I felt my spirits just crumble and cursed myself for the earlier comment I had made. There it was!! The mother of anything that could be considered a “hill”. I moaned and looked at my husband. Pour guy. What had I drug him into. He was such a good sport though. He just smiled at me and said, “You think you can keep our pace.” No, it wasn’t a question. He was taunting me. He knows how competitive I am and he was trying to keep me going.
Not wanting to back down, I gritted my teeth and pushed up the “hill”, which I nicknamed Burtha. Half way up I was whimpering, and it was another 1/3 mile before we reached the top. The rest of the run was slow and steady up, but I was tired. I didn’t finish in under an hour like I wanted, but at that point I was just proud I ran the whole thing.
Our van finished the rest of our legs at 12:30 am and we went on to the next exchange as van 2 started up again. We finally got all settled in at 1:30 and slept till 4:30 before it was, yet again, our turn to run.
Bri took over, after Nikki, for her run at 5:15, which gave me enough time to start to get nervous about my 9 miler coming up right after she was done. My calves and hamstrings were really tight and sore and 9 miles just sounded so long after just running 13.4 miles and only 3 hours of light sleep. I worked the whole next hour on trying to stay calm.
I stretched and decided to put on my relaxing music instead of the normal heavy metal to keep myself relaxed through my run. This is how it went:
Miles 1 and 2: Uphill. Hamstrings warmed up and immediately start to cramp.
Mile 2 1/2: At the top starting to head down and hamstrings loosen. Feeling good. 
Miles 3 and 4: Feeling great!! 
Mile 5: Back up hill we go. NO!! Instant hamstring cramp.
Mile 5 1/2: At the top. Muscles don’t relax again when I start back down. Trying to distract myself.
Mile 6: Laugh at the guy that just past me that looks like Forest Gump. Still in pain.
Mile 7: Legs starting to go numb. Left calf starting to cramp. Just keep telling myself, “I can do this. I can do this.”
Mile 8: 1 mile left marker. Had to fight back the feeling to burst out into tears. Sudden boost of adrenaline and push faster. “Almost there!! Almost done!!”
Mile 9: Pass off the paton. Smack Emily on the butt as she takes off and hug my team. So happy to be done and feel so proud of what I accomplished.
Our Decorated Van!!
In the end, I loved almost every minute of this experience. I say almost, cause I would never want to run back up “Burtha”, but there is another Ragnar going out of Las Vegas in November that I’m eyeballing. I know, I’m crazy. But as per right now, I’m recovering. Mostly just tired, but a little sore. Back to my baking addiction tomorrow 😉 And I’m gonna take at least Monday’s run off to let my legs recover. Will be posting some new recipes agains soon, but until then, Have a great week everyone!!
Here is some more amazing photos. I’m aloud to say amazing cause most of these aren’t mine. Matt Blonde, the 6th runner in our van, is an awesome photographer and took these. Here is a link to his sight. Seriously!! If you need a photographer, and you live in Phoenix, check him out.
“Don’t you dare pass me!!”
“the leaner”
This guy was hilarious!! He seriously ran at almost a 45 degree angle to the right. Pour guys was probably just trying to keep it together, but his run gave us a laugh.
Cheering Emily on!!
These girls are warriors!! Grew to love them through this.