Sunday, August 15, 2010

What's Cooking: Mexican Night

(The basics: margaritas, lettuce, cheese, salsa, beef, guac, tomatoes and chips)

I can't explain to you how much I love Mexican food. It's got to be my favorite ethnic cuisine. Despite this love for all things Mexican related (in the food world), it wasn't until last month that I made tacos at home for the first time. Pathetic, I know, but I had no idea how simple it all was.

I chopped up tomatoes, lettuce and fresh cilantro. I browned 1 lb. of ground beef and added 3/4 cup of water and taco seasoning. I got out chips, salsa and shredded cheese. I squashed up an avocado, a splash of lime juice and a bit of cilantro to make guacamole. Then (the most important part) I mixed a batch of margaritas (I usually get a pre-made mix with no alcohol and follow the instructions adjusting to our tastes). After that, just add sombreros and hot sauce and you're ready to go!

Photos by moi.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

What's Cooking: Stuffed Tomatoes


Summer is in full swing, which means we have a surplus of tomatoes and cucumbers. As much as Flannel Man and I love to eat them sliced and sprinkled with salt, I thought I'd try to mix it up. I found a recipe for stuffed tomatoes and it was incredibly easy to make.

(Finished tomatoes)

Cut the tops off of a few tomatoes and scoop out the insides. Be careful not to get too close to the outside skin. Cut up a cucumber and mix the bits with feta and a tiny bit of olive oil. Once it's mixed together, fill your tomato bowls with the feta and cucumbers and you're good to go!

Photos by moi.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Homegrown Veggies

Fresh produce just tastes different. Veggies from the store taste dull and watery. These tomatoes are the very first from our garden and they smell amazing and taste even better!

Photos by moi.

Friday, August 6, 2010

What's Cooking: Lamb Chops

(The finished product, served with cucumber slices)

Lamb Chops with Lemon Mint Gremolata

8 Lamb rib chops (I made only 4, ribs are expensive!)

2 lemons zested

2 garlic cloves finely chopped (I used minced garlic)

1 large shallot chopped

1 Tbsp finely chopped fresh mint

1 tsp virgin olive oil

(Mint, lemon zest and shallots, chopped and ready to go)

1) Brush lamb chops with olive oil, add salt and pepper, then set aside at room temperature for 30 minutes

2) Then make gremolata by mixing the lemon zest, shallot, garlic and mint in a small bowl

(Lamb Chops before I cooked them)

3) Preheat the broiler with the oven rack 6 inches from the heat source. Place the lamb chops on a rimmed baking sheet and when the broiler is hot, broil the chops for 4 minutes on each side.

4) Turn off the broiler and leave the chops in the oven for 15 minutes

5) Coat the finished chops with the gremolata.

The finished product was good, but I wish I'd left the shallot out completely. I'm not a fan of onion and that taste seemed to overwhelm everything else.

Photos by moi.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Guest Post: Photography Tips

Shoot like a Pro!

Quick and easy tips for beginning a happy life with your SLR camera

Today's post comes from the talented photographer Laurel Hasner of Laurel Hasner Lifestyle Photography. Laurel has been shooting family portraits, weddings, baby pictures and more for the past decade. Today she shares a few tips to help you improve your photography skills.

I love taking pictures. So... I chose to become a photographer, and now I get to do what I love every day! What I've realized though, is that nearly everyone likes taking pictures! And it is easier than you might think. I am always encountering people with questions, who could be taking jaw-dropping images, but are holding back because they don't know where to begin. Many people already have a great camera, and simply want to take stellar shots of their kids, they simply lack the know-how. So here are a few pointers from a newborn shoot I had yesterday evening.

I wanted to get away from my trusty friend The Flash (Speedlight SB-600), and enjoy this summer's natural dusk light as much as possible. I always scout out the location before the shoot, or if it is at the client's home, I search the house and yard for good lighting and possible "sets". Always pay attention to the background! Keep it simple and look for texture. In this case, the competing textures of blanket, wood and grass happen to play together nicely to create a natural, touchable feel. (The baby makes it even better!)

(Image with hot spots)

The sun was setting and we were set up in direct, yellow light, so for the picture with the wooden bowl, I set up the metal tub on the ground between the baby and the sunlight. It gave us the shade I needed to get a smooth, overcast lighting effect with no hot spots. You can see the "hot spots" of sunlight in the picture with the little guy in the metal tub.

One of the first things I do is a white balance test to make sure it's dead on. Without that, you may be disappointed in the overall color cast of your final image. There are white balance settings on any SLR (Single Lens Reflex) camera, but they aren't always accurate enough. I use a little contraption called an Expo Disc. It is a flat circular disc on a lanyard that you can hold up to the lens, point at your light source (sky, window, soft box) press the shutter, and it will calculate your white balance for you. It's very handy. No more white or gray cards!

Without the Expo Disc however, my advice is to break out your camera's manual for this one! I know. Nobody wants to read the manual. But the test is quick and easy and accurate for every lighting situation, and you paid money for a good camera, so start with this! :) Another option, especially helpful if you've just recently welcomed this intimidating camera into your home, is to purchase a Magic Lantern DVD Guide of your specific camera. It's like camera manual Cliff's Notes in movie form. Super!

(Image without hot spots)

Another great way to take better photos instantly, is to switch your shooting from automatic to manual mode. For starters, play with the settings and see what happens when you adjust your aperture, a.k.a. that "f-stop" you've heard so much about. Aperture is just a scary word (trust me, it IS a scary word for some people!) for the diameter of the lens opening: Think: the smaller the f-value, the larger the lens opening (more light). F-stop also controls depth-of-field. So if you want the background intentionally blurry, use a wide aperture (or low f-stop).

Want to take a picture worthy of a 16 X 20" space on your wall? Turn the ISO (film speed) down to 250 or under. A lower ISO means less "noise" in your picture.

The third main, defining variable is shutter speed, which controls the amount of time the sensor is exposed to light. Crank it up to capture the split second mid-air athelete at a sporting event, and bring it back down for low light or a waterfall. Simple, right?

I use a Nikon D80 with a 50mm prime (or "fixed") lens. Prime just means that it is not a zoom lens. Fixed lenses are better quality. If I want to "zoom" I have to move my feet in closer! :) The 50mm. is a wonderful portrait lens, capable of capturing your subject's eyes or face, and blurring everything else. Yet, you can also use it to take a distant landscape in, and get a good range of clarity. The 50mm is very versatile, and not that expensive. I have used it on every shoot without fail!

Post Production: Where the real fun comes in...

I use Photoshop CS4, but you can do basic touch-ups with any photo-editing software. The main functions I use are exposure, black and white levels (or "curves"), contrast, vibrance, clarity, temperature and lens vignetting. It's mostly just fun to see what a digital darkroom is capable of, but save yourself time in this area and just take a good picture to begin with!

Grab your camera, head outdoors, experiment, and remember, photography is supposed to be FUN for both the photographer and the subject! Don't get too caught up in the mechanics of it all! Thanks for reading today! Happy picture taking!

Photos and tips courtesy of Laurel Hasner Lifestyle Photography

Monday, August 2, 2010


(My favorite travel companion)

This weekend Flannel Man and I are off on a new adventure. We have a blast traveling over the past decade and always try to make it to some new place each year. Whether we're road tripping or flying about, one of the most important aspects of the trip is the luggage we take. It has the power to be an unobtrusive element or a stress-inducing hazard.

I've backpacked through Europe a few times and I've made some huge luggage mistakes. The first time I ever went I had a romantic notion that taking my Grandma's old leather suitcase that I had recently inherited would be sweet. I could not have been more wrong. Though the suitcase was small, it had no wheels and when you're sprinting through JFK airport to catch a connecting flight, there's nothing more awkward than trying to carry a leather suitcase.

(My bag with the front backpack removed)

Since then I've tried a dozen wheeled bags or backpacks, but it wasn't until Flannel Man let me pick my dream bag for Christmas one year that I found the perfect one. I got the Victorinox E-Motion 360 Degree 26" Trek Pack Plus™ Wheeled Backpack with Docking Daypack and it has been the perfect bag. It's been through a dozen countries and various states with me and has stood up to just about anything. It easily converts into a backpack, but also has an extendable handle and wheels.

No matter what kind of bag you get make sure you do your research and pick something that fulfills your travel needs. It should have good zippers and be made of a durable material. Read reviews of the products and pay attention to the sizes listed.

Happy travels!

Photos by moi.