Blueberries and Sunshine

Last week my phone fell to it’s death. On it’s way down I tried to catch it and instead, slammed it down to the floor even harder. I’ve never claimed to be graceful. I murdered my phone; an open and close case of phoneslaughter. Since then, I’ve taken more photos with my camera. My real camera. While I’m no stranger to lugging that thing around, it’s just not always practical. But last Friday morning, it was beautiful outside, the kids and I were heading back to Ratliff’s Blueberry Farm and the combination of those two things just sounded too cute to leave my camera at home. This was our second attempt at blueberry picking. The first time we tried, they were all picked out before I finished my morning coffee! We woke up early enough to get there before the masses and we weren’t the only early (wise) birds. Our goal was to get enough to make a big batch of blueberry pancakes for Sunday brunch for our friends. With buckets hanging around their necks, the kids moved from bush to bush, picking the bluest ones they could find. At the checkout tent, we transferred our berries to the jars we brought along and the kind ladies told me the blueberries would taste best if I set them out on the counter for a couple of days. I trusted them and they were right. Those pancakes were the best I’ve ever made…and I’ve made a lot of pancakes. Go pick for yourself…soon they’ll all be gone and you’ll be heading home with a Christmas tree instead (same farm, different season).Ratliff Blueberry_IMG_8428Ratliff Blueberry_IMG_8424Ratliff Blueberry_IMG_8421Ratliff Blueberry_IMG_8415Ratliff Blueberry_IMG_8390Ratliff Blueberry_IMG_8410Ratliff Blueberry_IMG_8414Ratliff Blueberry_IMG_8418Ratliff Blueberry_IMG_8400Ratliff Blueberry_IMG_8392Ratliff Blueberry_IMG_8391Ratliff Blueberry_IMG_8399Ratliff Blueberry_IMG_8417Ratliff Blueberry_IMG_8411Ratliff Blueberry_IMG_8423Ratliff Blueberry_IMG_8425Ratliff's Blueberry_IMG_8759 Ratliff's Blueberry_IMG_8757 Ratliff's Blueberry_IMG_8766 Ratliff's Blueberry_IMG_8768

This was the last shot I took before the pancakes were made and soon after – gobbled right up. Ah well.

 

Say Cheese, Pumpkin.

I have never made a cheesecake. And after this shoot, I can now say: I still have never made a cheesecake but I have seen one made. Seen it right through my camera lens. I first met Isabelle at the Blue Nile (RIP). She was the friendly bartender and I was the loner at the bar, staring at my planner, eating nachos and replying to emails. She would make me a white Russian and keep me company from time to time. Since then, through various social media, I’ve come to know Isabelle as a true lover of kitchen-time…and insects, and the wonderful little trinkets of this weathered-world that go overlooked by the masses. I knew she was a perfect candidate for October’s Celebrating Life shoot.

Last Saturday, Isabelle invited me over on a chilly fall morning to help….er watch her do some baking in her adorable apartment in the heart of Harrisonburg. When she greeted me at the door it’s as if she was holding the smells of fall mornings hostage. A warm, comfortable wave of baked  pumpkin hugged my face and my cheeks rosied at the latch of the door lock behind me. What a great reflection of the soul a home is. I let myself get lost in her comforts before getting down to business. I mean, pumpkin cheesecake is surrrious business.

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"That's Logan's little pile."

“That’s Logan’s little pile.”

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As Isabelle measured and tossed ingredients into the mixing bowl, she told me about the glass jar of vanilla on the table. Her sister makes homemade vanilla each year as gifts for the family. When they are finished with the jar, they return it to her to refill. She also shared that she got most of her ingredients locally at the Friendly City Food Co-op which is walking distance from her place. She described that she loves to give her adored knickknacks away to spread joy because they’re just things that she’ll find joy in replacing on her next round of thrift shopping. Some of her things hold sentimental value…like the artwork on her fridge. And her cat. When I asked about her home and her style inspiration she put it simply: “it’s all about color and comfort.” And I guess she nailed it…because it all visually worked and I was dang comfortable. Isabelle loves baking and sharing the sweet goods of her efforts with local friends. On the evening of this particular day, she would head off to the Shendandoah Mountain Bike Festival to volunteer her time shuttling bikers and sharing her homemade cookies at the cookie table (<—every event needs one of those!). She talked about her dreams of opening a local, French-inspired bakery. She spoke kindly of her family and her parents and her life. I have only one wish for my time with Isabelle that day…and that is that I could’ve stayed just a bit longer. She is a joy to be around and her loving, positive outlook on her life is refreshing. And yeah, the cheesecake was dank!FriendlyCityLensPumpChs11FriendlyCityLensPumpChs12FriendlyCityLensPumpChs18FriendlyCityLensPumpChs20FriendlyCityLensPumpChs7FriendlyCityLensPumpChs22FriendlyCityLensPumpChs23FriendlyCityLensPumpChs21FriendlyCityLensPumpChs24FriendlyCityLensPumpChs25FriendlyCityLensPumpChs26FriendlyCityLensPumpChs27FriendlyCityLensPumpChs30FriendlyCityLensPumpChs29FriendlyCityLensPumpChs31FriendlyCityLensPumpChs35FriendlyCityLensPumpChs33FriendlyCityLensPumpChs36

I hope you find some time today to enjoy a friendly face in your community, bake something that makes the smell of your home hug someone’s face, support a local business that bakes goods with love and purpose or, perhaps, indulge in a hefty slice of pumpkin cheesecake. Here’s a recipe that look a-friggin-mazing. And here’s one that doesn’t even require and oven (and it has lovely photos too). Happy National Pumpkin Cheesecake Day!

And be sure to check out more from my Celebrating Life series!

 

Ashley & Her Dumplings

There are a few roads and chunks of land in Rockingham County, just west of Rt. 42 near Linville, that act as a time machine for me. Gravel turns, belly-flipping hills, broken fence posts, chicken houses, touched-by-time barns, cow-trampled dirt, a storm following the ridge-line in the distance…they serve as photographs to moments passed. To me, these moments are treasures. Little golden trinkets of knowledge practically useless to speak of, yet undoubtedly priceless in the making of me; parts to a whole. This chest of images was spread out before me last week as I drove passed these real-life photographs, on my way to photograph a new memory.

Apples are one of those things that remind me of my Nanny. She was a hard working woman that started picking in the Timberville orchards in her pre-teen years. She used to buy and peel apples for me when I visited her on the weekends as a child. I decided on National Apple Dumpling Day as my Celebrating Life shoot for September in honor of her. When Ashley Sauder Miller told me about her grandmother’s apple dumpling recipe, it took me about four seconds to reply to her…I was sold.

It has been five years since Ashley lost her father and only three years since she lost her grandmother but they are very much alive in her home. For Ashley, her rooted appreciation for cooking didn’t come solely from her grandmother. While Ashley wrangled three of her four children to the kitchen counter, kept multiple conversations going at once, measured ingredients and made me coffee, she reminisced about her dad’s presence in the kitchen when she was a child. She told me a story, one I’m personally familiar with, of the aromas that fill a home during a big cook…and the sounds. These things create connections to your younger self. Just as the salty air and sound of the sea; just as the smell of those ol’ jeans you wore to the last bon fire; just as your sweaty little puppy-dog-smellin’ son after playing outside in his fort all day. Her dad did this for her…he created memories and connections…and meals.

Her content children helped with both dumpling prep and dumpling devouring. They left and rejoined us and went to play again and then helped some more. Those kids don’t even know the information their noses and ears and tastebuds are recording with each moment like this. None of us do I guess. Her son, Sullivan, returned to the kitchen to tell me about their recent visit to get milk from Mt. Crawford Creamer and then he helped mix ingredients with his hands and spoon and then he zoomed his bike around the front porch. Her youngest daughter, Taitum, carried unrelated cabinet findings to a pile in the center of the kitchen floor as her way of helping…all while eating, what seemed to be, an everlasting apple. Her other daughter, Finnly, who was home from school sick, helped stir the sugary, cinnamon-y, glazey topping on the stove then retreated to the sofa for some r&r ‘toon time.  And poor Teagan, the oldest, was stuck at school all day. Wamp.

As Ashley chopped, boiled, mixed and baked, loved on her children, wiped noses and laughed and talked the echoes of her father and grandma filled her kitchen in the form of smells and sounds and love. John and Zona were surely smiling from above…with their mouths watering.

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John, Ashley’s dad, holding her as a baby.

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An old photo of Zona, Ashley's grandma, oversees the apple dumpling making.

An old photo of Zona, Ashley’s grandma, oversees the day’s dumpling making.

Happy Apple Dumpling Day!
Go enjoy the smells and creations of your loved ones!

And be sure to check out more from my Celebrating Life series!

Rice and Roll

I have made sushi a total of two times in my life. And by made I mean someone else cooked/cut/prepared everything and I rolled up a bunch of colorful stuff, dipped it in wasabi soy and ate it. One of those two times was at a surprise birthday party my best friend planned for me and the other time was at my friend Todd’s house. Even after both experiences, I was useless in remembering how it was done. Kind of like singing a song with no music. Once the radio is up and the lyrics get going, I’m all “shooooot, I got this!” but if I’m flying solo it’s like watching one of those awful auditions on American Idol. So when planning for June’s Celebrating Life post, I skimmed right past National Donut Day and National Chocolate Ice Cream Day (to my children’s dismay) and landed happily on June 18: International Sushi Day. If my past behavior was any indication, I knew the day would end in a shark-like feeding frenzy and I would soon forget all the steps…again. Luckily, this time I came armed with two things that rarely let me forget anything: my camera and my children. 

My friend Hannah, being the patient, child-loving, occasional sailor-mouthed, teacher and friend that she is, offered to make sushi with us. She collected all the ingredients from various cabinets and assigned jobs to each of my children. My daughter was in a bit of a funk (she doesn’t like sushi…or much of anything for that matter) but when Hannah put a sharp, “dangerous”  kitchen tool (aka the vegetable peeler) in her hand, she perked up for a moment and focused on her task. Meanwhile, my son did some chopping and peeling and Hannah brought the rice over for a taste test.

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Hannah's salt and pepper shakers!

Hannah’s salt and pepper shakers!

Friendly City Lens Sushi 2Everyone helped prep the ingredients for our rolls: rice, cucumber, crabstick, roe, avocado, nori, wasabi, salmon and shrimp. Hannah explained how in Korea sushi is called kimbap (or gimbap). From what I understand, kimbap is similar to the sushi we made except larger and not always filled with seafood…sort of like the Korean version of a sandwich. You can switch up the filling (seasoned veggies, beef, chicken, tuna, etc) in the same way we could switch up a sandwich: a turkey sandwich or a pb&j or a rueben. She also told us about her upcoming trip to visit family in Seoul, Korea. Her husband has never been before so she has Post-it notes placed around the house with both the English and Korean version of everyday items like “plate”, “bowl”, “towel”, “bathroom”. I was glad to hear this because after seeing the notes in the bathroom, I assumed she was just leaving little works of art everywhere…I mean, it wouldn’t really surprise me.
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International Sushi Day with Ha44International Sushi Day with Ha45International Sushi Day with Ha46International Sushi Day with Ha47International Sushi Day with Ha48A lot of the sushi ingredients we used here were purchased at Friendly City Food Co-op and Food Maxx. If you can’t make your own sushi today, go support your favorite sushi spot! If you’re local, you’re in luck! You can devour some excellent rolls at Sushi Jako, Oriental Cafe, Beyond and Kyoto. And if you’ve never tried sushi before, it’s a good day to be adventurous. Happy International Sushi Day!!

 

Today is not National Macaron Day.

This post is a testament to one of the most delicious mistakes I’ve ever made. May is home of National Macaroon Day. May 31st, to be exact. There it was, jotted into my planner, making it fact. For this month’s Celebrating Life post I wanted to photograph a macaroon maker, working his or her macaroon magic at home in their kitchen. With some word-of-mouth references I quickly landed a sweet, willing candidate…and cute to boot! When I arrived at Amelia’s house to invade her space for the afternoon, she greeted me at the front door with a big smile, warmly welcomed me into her home, offered me a glass of water…then straight up schooled me. “People always confuse macarons with macaroons,” she explained as she showed those eggs who was boss. Wait, what? Ah geez. That’s me. I’m the people.

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MacarOONS are chewy and made with coconut. MacarONS are made with almond meal and resemble a cookie-like sandwich. They basically share the same list of other ingredients, but let’s face it: as delicious as they both are, macarons are the Homecoming Queens and macaroons are sitting at home in their sweatpants, eating a pint of Kline’s peanut-butter-cookies-n-cream, watching reruns of Girls. After some brief research, I learned that they both started in Italy but the recipe branched into the two directions where macarOONS became more popular with the European Jewish folks and macarONS became a thing of France. Which is why you may know them as French macarons rather than just plain ol’ macarons. Went to foodiversity; servin’ up some knowledge. Aw sookie! Seriously though, you have no reason to trust me. I just used high school, Hollywood and binge eating to prove a point.

As I photographed Amelia in her kitchen, her daughter and the two boys she was babysitting that day played contently in the room around us. Crawling in and out of the sliding door, tossing sippy cups for more water, piecing together giant puzzles on the floor, tugging at her apron and coming in for leg hugs. All the while, Amelia mixed batter, refilled their water, cleaned her work surface, translated the child-grunts, carried on conversation with me, babbled with the kids and distributed about four rounds of gold fish crackers. What a sweet juggler-of-the-daily-circus she is.

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When Amelia pulled the macarons out of the oven, she pointed out their feet. “They gotta have feet,” she explainedThat’s the raised up, crispy-looking bottom half of the cookie that is not as smooth and fluffy as the top half. She had lavender and buttercream ready for the first batch of decorating, followed by cocoa powdered macarons filled with a family recipe for caramel cream that she whipped up on the spot. The kids acted out my thoughts as they tried to snatch a filled macaron at each hint of her potential distraction. It was also hitting that weird hour of nap time when kids turn into zombies on the verge of self-destruction…fearless of consequence. Must. Eat. Coooo-kieeee.

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Even though this was intended to be a shoot to celebrate National Macaroon Day…it is not. I didn’t even shoot macaroons for cryin’ out loud. But I did learn something new and meet a pretty cool gal…and that’s really why I created this whole series to begin with. It was great spending the afternoon getting to know Amelia and taking a glimpse into another hardworkin’ mama’s life…and learning that I’m a culinary idiot, but I’m trying ova hea! I didn’t know anything about Amelia before knocking on her front door, other than she was kind enough to invite me into her home for baking and photos. And after checking out her work online, I’m thankful I knew very little because I would’ve been intimidated by her craftiness! Amelia does creative design/styling and has a growing portfolio of handmade details to make any event extra special and unique. 

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The most precious unintentional smear of flour on her face is a document of hard work in the kitchen…with a super sweet payoff.

The most precious unintentional smear of flour on her cheek is proof of her hard work in the kitchen…with a super sweet payoff.

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 As I drove home to my children with a packed plate full of freshly made macarons, I felt a wee bit smarter, a wee bit plumper and whole lotta happy.

Stop by your local bakery and taste a macaron today…then tomorrow, celebrate National Macaroon Day by trying one of those coconut goodies. You can feel smarter and plumper and happier, too.

MacaronSmall07Check out more from my Celebrating Life series by clicking here.

 

Beau Knows…Ravioli

There I was, in a pickle. And when you’re in the kind of pickle I was in…the my-ravioli-makers-have-all-fallen-through-and-I-only-have-six-days-to-photograph-and-compile-a-National-Ravioli-Day-post kind of pickle, you call the most knowledgeable local food guru you know. In my case, this culinary angel was Amanda Cannon. In less than ten minutes, I had a “very handsome” ravioli maker to photograph. Boomtown! 

When I arrived at Amanda’s cozy cottage, I was greeted by a mischievous black cat, “Bad Kitty”, who led me to the door while offering intriguing conversation. Chatty cat-hy. Amanda prepared a cup of coffee for me, introduced me to her boyfriend, Beau, and left.
bsomecIMG_0267bwbsomecIMG_0265 bsomecIMG_0263bsomecIMG_0301What a great way to meet someone for the first time, in the comfort of a home, with warm coffee in one hand and my camera in the other PLUS the lingering thought of homemade ravioli filling my gut in the near future. Lay off me-I’m starving! Beau is the sous chef at Bella Luna Wood-fired Pizza which gives him instant credibility. Bella Luna came to town with great anticipation and did not disappoint. Probably because they hire kick-ass people for front and back of the house, like Beau. Starting the noodle dough from scratch, he got out the ingredients and kindly explained the whole process to me: a ravioli virgin.
bsomecIMG_0297bsomecIMG_0279 bsomecIMG_0313 bsomecIMG_0333bsomecIMG_0316bsomecIMG_0353 bsomecIMG_0364Once the milk was heated for the ricotta, Beau added apple cider vinegar to create the milky, curdy separation. <–Clearly I’m a pro now. After a few moments, however, Beau realized that he accidentally used light cream instead of milk. In his defense, the two cartons looked very similar. Waddayagonnado? He started the ricotta again from scratch. I’ve never tasted fresh, warm ricotta before but his was deeeelicious.bsomecIMG_0272bbsomecIMG_0340collagebsomecIMG_0306 bsomecIMG_0311 bsomecIMG_0322collagebsomecIMG_0357It’s awesome watching someone in their zone…doing something they love. There was joy on Beau’s face, there in the kitchen. In the chopping, the mixing, the cooking, the mishaps and even in the cleanup. A chat about this sort of thing was brought up when he noticed that I took a photo of the dirty wooden spoon in the sink. In my effort to explain why I saw this as photo-worthy, I recalled the book “The Sun My Heart” by Thich Nhat Hanh. There’s a section in the book that discusses dish washing. It’s quite transformative, but here’s the gist: “…the idea that doing dishes is unpleasant can occur only when you aren’t doing them…. If I am incapable of washing dishes joyfully, if I want to finish them quickly so I can go and have a cup of tea, I will be equally incapable of drinking the tea joyfully.” Since reading this book I try to find those beauties in my daily life; in my job; in my chores. Folding warm clothes, shoveling the (constantly falling) snow, making my bed, hand dryers, rainy days, rush hour traffic jams…you get the point. I have countless photos of my sink. It’s not just a sink full of dirty dishes. It’s proof that I just made epic pumpkin pancakes for two happy kids that sit full-as-ticks on the sofa. It’s evidence of the existence of the last 2 hours of preparing a feast for my friends. It’s beautiful, really.

Beau’s history, naturally, is different from mine but his time in the Army offered circumstances that led him to a similar philosophy: “Embrace the Suck” as he put it. When he found himself in really awful places and less-than-desirable conditions, he would remind himself that even that would have a say in who he is and will become as a man. He is no doubt a stronger human for taking life, and all that it has thrown at him, in stride.
bsomecIMG_0319bsomecIMG_0330bsomecIMG_0281bsomecIMG_0284 bsomecIMG_0295 bsomecIMG_0372bsomecIMG_0376 bsomecIMG_0384 bsomecIMG_0386 bsomecIMG_0396bsomecIMG_0435c bsomecIMG_0421 bsomecIMG_0400collage bsomecIMG_0429bsomecIMG_0351Ravioli stuffing was ready. The dough was ‘resting’ (shhh!) in the fridge and the clouds parted to reveal the beautiful, blue, Saturday sky. The cats, Bad Kitty and Bijoux, were becoming increasingly vocal as aromas of sun dried-tomato white sauce poured out of the kitchen. It was time for the exciting part, noodle stretching! (That may or may not be what the process is actually called.) A familiar kitchen tool appeared (the bench scraper/knife) followed by a new one: the pastry cutter/crimper. All this newness was so.exciting. And I’m not exaggerating. Beau demonstrated the crimper but also explained how a drinking glass can easily be substituted. The sauce on the stove was turning into a mouthwatering, gravy-esque thickness. At this point, he was doing the traditional kitchen dance that occurs just as everything begins to come to the end of its cooking cycle, all at the exact same moment. So there’s Beau, with a strainer full of ravioli over a sink full of dishes with cats circling his feet like two inverted vultures waiting for a noodle to fall to it’s death. And there I was, standing there with my camera in hand. Laughing. Ha! Sorry, Beau.bsomecIMG_0409 bsomecIMG_0426bsomecIMG_0441 bsomecIMG_0447 bsomecIMG_0451 bsomecIMG_0452 bsomecIMG_0476 bsomecIMG_0485 bsomecIMG_0496collagebsomecIMG_0499 bsomecIMG_0506 bsomecIMG_0508 bsomecIMG_0510 bsomecIMG_0513 bsomecIMG_0515 bsomecIMG_0524 bsomecIMG_0530 bsomecIMG_0535bsomecIMG_0577 bsomecIMG_0575 bsomecIMG_0572 bsomecIMG_0566bsomecIMG_0567 bsomecIMG_0555 bsomecIMG_0570bsomecIMG_0610bsomecIMG_0584

Then…magic. All the chaos gets placed on a plate like the edible masterpiece it is. I even noticed a happy little basil-tomato face smiling up at me…then I ate it! Happy National Ravioli Day everyone! Go indulge yourself in some tasty carbs, wouldya?!bsomecIMG_0588 bsomecIMG_0608 bsomecIMG_0602

Read more about my Celebrating Life series here. And get caught up on the January & February posts!

Lucina’s Tortillas

With two shoots under my belt and flurries swirling towards my windshield, I darted up Rt. 11 on the brink of flight. Running late. As usual. A text came through: “Take your time. Latinos are an hour late for everything. No worries.” Well ok then. The text was from Anneke, my former teacher, current coworker, friend, professional spreader-of-joy…and, today, the interpreter. Anneke arranged this particular shoot after I did a call for tortilla chip makers on my photography page as part of my year-long Celebrating Life series. Being the connector that she is, she worked her magic and even agreed to come along. For this shoot, we were celebrating National Tortilla Chip Day by making homemade tortillas in the Cardoso household. Not chips…but hey, it’s my series so I can bend the rules, yeah?

When Lucina opened her kitchen door to greet us with a warm hug and a smile, a sense of comfort came over me. She was wearing a pink pearl-button apron that made her feel like family. My grandmother (Nanny) had variations of this apron for every day of the week. And just like Lucina, she wore it as a uniform of sorts for her day-to-day living.  As I stepped into the kitchen a wave of bakery-esque sweetness smacked me in the face: freshly made cinnamon biscuits. Aw lawdy. Just hangin’ out in that blue bowl on the table like it was their job. I was immediately drawn to this unintentional still-life basking in the natural light. I swear though, in the half a moment it took me to press my shutter button, Lucina was elbow deep in a bowl of Maseca, flour and water.

Habiendo completado ya dos sesiones fotográficas, que realmente es un día completo de trabajo en sí, iba volando por la ruta 11 con poquito de nieve cayendo en el parabrisas.  Iba a llegar tarde para la tercera cita a las 11:30.  Tarde.  Como siempre.  Entonces, recibí este mensaje de texto: “Toma tu tiempo.  Todo empieza una hora tarde para los latinos.  No te preocupes.”  Bueno, pues.  El mensaje era de Anneke, mi profesora de la prepa, actual compañera de trabajo, amiga, y profesional repartidora de alegría… y, hoy, intérprete.  Anneke coordinó esta sesión fotográfica después de que yo anuncié en mi sitio web de fotografía que buscaba a una persona que hiciera tostadas como parte de mi proyecto “Celebrando La Vida.”  Anneke arregló esta sesión fotográfica.  Siendo la que sabe contactar con todos, hizo su mágia y hasta aceptó acompañarme.  Para esta sesión fotográfica, celebramos “El Día Nacional de las Tostadas” haciendo tortillas de maíz en la casa de Los Cardoso.  No fueron tostadas, pero es mi proyecto y yo puedo manipular las reglas, ¿no?

Cuando Lucina abrió la puerta de la cocina para saludarnos con un abrazo cariñoso y una sonrisa, me sentí inmediatamente cómoda y a gusto.  Llevaba un mandíl rosado con botones brillosos que me hizo sentir como si fuéramos familiares.  Mi abuelita, (Nanny) llevaba mandiles semejantes a éste. Ella tenía un gran surtido y uno para cada día de la semana.  Y, así como Lucina, lo llevaba como algún tipo de uniforme para su rutina diaria.  Al entrar la cocina, me llegó a la nariz un aroma dulce de pan horneado: gorditas de trigo.  ¡Ay Dios!  Allí, no más estaban en el plato hondo azul, tapadas con una servilleta como si su único trabajo fuera existir. Inmediatamente me llamaron la atención en toda su belleza y bajo la luz natural.  Juro que en el segundito que me tomó sacar una foto de las gorditas, Doña Lucina estaba hasta los codos en la masa.
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brandy somers tortilla34 IMG_6681 IMG_6680 brandy somers tortilla05 brandy somers tortilla06 brandy somers tortilla03brandy somers tortilla08 brandy somers tortilla09Not a utensil in sight. Just Lucina’s experienced hands, a counter top and a green bowl. She poured water over the Maseca and flour until it just felt right and continued to knead the dough until it was a plump lump ready to have lots of little corn tortilla babies. Next she went through a prep ritual of laying a hand-crocheted cloth on the table (aka hot, airborne tortilla landing strip), pulling out the iron tortilla press, and lighting the gas range with a yellow Bic® (another thing my Nanny did). The woman knows her way around the kitchen, to say the least. Lucina has raised three children who have grown to love her cooking and they all come back home to Ma, eager to enjoy her made-with-love tortillas.

No había ningún utensilio a la vista.  Sólo las manos expertas de Lucina, un mostrador y un plato hondo verde.  Echó agua sobre la Maseca y un poco de harina hasta que la masa se sintió correcta y la siguió amasando la masa hasta que se transformó en una pequeña montaña perfecta de masa lista para hacerse tortillitas.  A esto le siguió un ritual de preparativos que incluyó poner una servilleta para recibir las tortillas recién hechas en la mesa (también conocida como una pista de aterrizaje para las tortillas calientes), sacar la prensa, y prender la estufa con un encendedor amarillo Bic® (igualito al de mi abuelita, Nanny).  Esta mujer sí conoce bien su cocina.  Lucina tiene tres hijos a quienes les encanta su cocina y vuelven a veces a la cocina de su Ma, para comer sus tortillas amorosas recién hechas.
brandy somers tortilla10 brandy somers tortilla13 brandy somers tortilla11 brandy somers tortilla12brandy somers tortilla17 brandy somers tortilla20 brandy somers tortilla21 brandy somers tortilla22 brandy somers tortilla23 brandy somers tortilla24 brandy somers tortilla25 brandy somers tortilla27 brandy somers tortilla18I observed Lucina’s painstaking repetitiveness: pull, pat, roll, place, press, removed, put on the griddle, wait…wait for it…turn it!, wait…watch it become a balloon, remove, frisbee throw that sucker onto the pretty little cloth. Sounds easy enough, right? She let me have a go at it and I had directions coming at me in English and Spanish and like a child, all I really wanted to do was toss tortillas around the room! The tortilla I made had a hole in it. Ah well. Here I am 32 years old, making hole-y tortillas when Lucina was hauling water from a nearby natural spring in El Dormido, Mexico to make tortillas with her nine siblings at the age of seven. 7! And on this particular day, I was just a fly on the wall for something she concocts 2-3 times each week. On top of working a full-time job and cooking other full blown meals for her family. Impressed.

Observé la repetición meticulosa de las acciones de Lucina:  agarrar, arrollar, colocar, aplastar, remover, poner en el comal, esperar…esperar un poquito más… ¡voltearla!, esperar…  esperar hasta que se haga una almohadita, removerla, y tirarla como un disco volador en la servilletita.  Parece fácil, ¿no?  Me invitó a tratar de hacer una, y las instrucciones me llegaban al oído a la vez en inglés y español, y como una niña, ¡lo único que quería hacer era echar las tortillas calientas por todas partes!  La tortilla que hice tenía un hueco.  Ah, pues.  Aquí estoy yo, con 32 años, haciendo tortillas con huecos, mientras Lucina, a la edad de siete años acarreaba agua de un manantial en El Dormido, Guanajuato, México para hacer tortillas para sus nueve hermanitos.  ¡A los 7 años!  Y en este día que la visité, yo no más era una mosca en la pared observando algo que ella hace dos o tres veces a la semana.  Además, trabaja a jornada completa y prepara comidas caseras para su familia.  Impresionante.
brandy somers tortilla16brandy somers tortilla26brandy somers tortilla28 brandy somers tortilla31brandy somers tortilla37When one tortilla was on the griddle, the next one was on deck. When one tortilla was complete, the next one was on the griddle. Over. And over. And over again. Until the plump lump was gone. There must be some peace in a routine like this. Some predictability and appreciation for something tried and true. A familiarity in the dough. The kind that connects you to your past through your hands that were once so young and inexperienced. A connection that carries over to the people you feed and love.

Mientras una tortilla se calentaba en el comal, la próxima estaba esperando su turno.  Cuando una estaba completa, la siguiente estaba en el comal.  Una y otra vez.  Y otra vez.  Hasta que la montaña de masa se hizo montañita y desapareció completamente.  Ha de haber un sentido paz en una rutina así.  Alguna previsibilidad y reconocimiento para algo comprobado. Una familiaridad con la masa.  Del tipo que te conecta con el pasado por las manos que antes eran jóvenes y carecían de experiencia.  Un vínculo que se comunica a los que alimentas y a quienes quieres.
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By the time Lucina finished her batch of homemade corn tortillas and wiped every last crumb off the counter (just like Nanny would have), I had surely worked off the cinnamon biscuit I devoured upon arrival. As quick as my stomach grumbled, the spices of warming mole drifted up my nostrils. I couldn’t list all the ingredients if I tried but there was mention of bananas and chocolate and cloves and …almonds(?) and pork. Anneke and I sat by the window and drooled over the bowl of mole and rice Lucina had prepared for us. We wasted no time picking up a tortilla shaped utensil and scooping that goodness into our mouths. What a lovely way to spend a cold February morning.

Para cuando Lucina había terminado de hacer sus tortillas de maíz y limpiado hasta la última miga del mostrador (exactamente igual a lo que hubiera hecho mi abuelita), seguramente yo había quemado las calorías de la gordita de trigo que me comí al llegar.  Cuando empezó a rugirme la panza, el aroma de un mole calentando llegó a mi nariz.  No podría hacer una lista de todos los ingredientes si intentara, pero oí mencionar una banana, chocolate, clavo, almendras, y cacahuete (?) y carne de cerdo. Anneke y yo nos sentamos junto a la ventana y anticipamos con gusto un plato de mole, carne de cerdo, y arroz que nos preparó Lucina.  No perdimos ni un momento antes de agarrar una tortilla y servirnos todo lo sabroso frente  a nosotras.  ¡Qué linda manera de pasar una mañana fría en febrero!
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It seems that when I follow my passion, my grandmother says hello. “Hey, Birrrdieee.” I can just hear her…plain as day. On this chilly morning, Nanny said hello to me through Lucina. Through her pink apron, her yellow Bic lighter, that lacy white table cloth, her joy in a clean home and her insistence on feeding me until I pop. To Lucina: muchas gracias por un día muy especial.

Me parece que cuando sigo mi pasión, mi abuelita me dice “hola.”  “Hola, Pajarrrrritaaa.”  Puedo oírla… en pleno día.  Esta mañana fría, mi abuelita, Nanny, me saludó por medio de Lucina.  A través de su mandíl rosado, su encendedor amarillo Bic, ese mantel blanco tejido, su placer en mantener un hogar limpio  y su forma de insistir que comiera hasta más no poder.  A Lucina:  “¡Muchas gracias por un día muy especial!”

Read more about my Celebrating Life Series here! and here (pg 7)! And check out January’s Celebrating Life post on National Pie Day here!

Herr Vanilla Pie

“Mimosa ingredients stocked, dead stink bugs swept up. See you tomorrow!” <–that might just be the most flattering text I’ve ever received from a woman. That’s what local pastry chef (and more importantly, my friend) Rachel Herr sent the night before our shoot.  At the beginning of January I did a call for pie makers, and lovers, on my photography page to kick off my year long series: Celebrating Life. Out of all the responses, Rachel’s story stood out to me because it involves memories and family and tradition…plus, her grandmother was mentioned and I was a goner. There’s a large chunk of my heart reserved for grandparents. A big, mushy, full-of-rummy-games-and-french-toast kind of chunk. Besides, Rachel is an amazing pastry chef (<–page 30!). I’ve been on the receiving end of her drool-worthy creations many times both in her home and at Local Chop and Grill House. I was thrilled for an opportunity to photograph her doing something she loves, and that also holds sentimental value. Rachel wrote: “…My dad makes one, and only one dessert…vanilla crumb pie with molasses.” Now, Rachel makes this pie for her family and enjoys a sweet bit of nostalgia with every oozing bite.

IMG_4932above: Rachel holds an old photo of her mom and dad…wadda bunch of cool kids.
IMG_4594 Rachel said that Vanilla Pie is a recipe from her “grandmothers old falling apart Mennonite cookbook.” Below: Grandma Kauffman’s tried and true Mennonite Community Cookbook, inscribed to Rachel ten years ago.
IMG_4603 IMG_4604 IMG_4609 IMG_4638 IMG_4626 IMG_4627IMG_4644 IMG_4650 IMG_4656 IMG_4666 IMG_4660IMG_4687 IMG_4694 IMG_4696 IMG_4675IMG_4739IMG_4830IMG_4705IMG_4706IMG_4708 IMG_4713 IMG_4724 IMG_4729 IMG_4758 IMG_4757IMG_4784 IMG_4774 IMG_4781IMG_4788 IMG_4795 IMG_4807 IMG_4810Here’s a little Rachel Herr trivia for ya: What is Rachel’s favorite kitchen tool? ….A bench scraper. You can cut, divide, clean up…and, well…. scrape. But those orange handled scissors came in handy too!
IMG_4828IMG_4840 IMG_4847IMG_4855 IMG_4853 IMG_4863 IMG_4864Once the pie was concocted and placed in the oven, Rachel whipped up mimosas and dishwater. Warmth and sunlight and molasses-y aromas filled the room.IMG_4875 IMG_4882 IMG_4887 IMG_4889 IMG_4893I have a thing for birds…and not in a Portlandia kind of way. Not really in a bird kind of way either…but that’s a-whole-nother post… Anyway. It wasn’t until seeing the following series of photos that I realized the bird watching I was doing in the Herr household.  1) A cute grandma-esque birdie tea towel. 2) An original bird print on the refrigerator. 3) A drawing by Rachel’s son, Cole, that has an avian feel, if you ask me. 4) Rachel’s husband Mike’s impressive list of birds seen from their kitchen window. By the way, if you’re reading this Mike, we totally saw a Great American Bustard. 5) A stuffed, and I quote, “Rock Dove, also known as a pigeon” on the office wall. Normal. 6) The yellow eagle on Rachel’s shirt. And Mike, just kidding. It was a Red-tailed Hawk. I think. IMG_4598IMG_4835collage IMG_4672IMG_4904IMG_4938 IMG_4916IMG_4905 IMG_4910When the pie was finished we did what any respectable pastry chef-photograper duo would do on a Sunday morning and we took the pie for a walk around the house for photos.
IMG_4959 IMG_4963IMG_4970 IMG_4998At long last the time came for tasting. Somehow in my snap-happy frenzy, I forgot this shoot would end in delicious satisfaction. Good gawd. I will spare you the visual documentation of our first taste. They’re pretty hilarious images but I don’t want those as part of my digital dossier from here to eternity. And I’m sure Rachel and Ella would concur. Just imagine a bunch of faces enjoying something really awesome. Yeah…IMG_5006 IMG_5015 IMG_5050Rachel, in her happy place. Go ‘head girl…dance.IMG_4950

Read more about my Celebrating Life series here.

Tres-giving

I am not complaining about my bulging waistline. Really, I’m not. It was a labor of love that I would do all over again tomorrow. I am so so thankful that my day was filled with three separate events, each with amazing family and delicious friggin’ food. I paced myself. I did. But as you scroll…you’ll see why there is more of me here this evening than there was this morning.

#1: Harrisonburg: Lunch

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#2: Luray: DinnerfclIMG_1967fclIMG_1960 fclIMG_1962 fclIMG_1963fclIMG_1978 fclIMG_1964 fclIMG_1966fclIMG_1969fclIMG_1984 fclIMG_1979 fclIMG_1971 fclIMG_1972 fclIMG_1974bw fclIMG_1988 fclIMG_1990 fclIMG_1977fclIMG_1987fclIMG_1998 fclIMG_2000 fclIMG_2002fclIMG_2008 fclIMG_1993 fclIMG_2010fclIMG_2020fclIMG_2016

…love comes in droplets...

…love comes in droplets…

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#3: Woodstock: Dessert Drop-in (cakes made by a sweet lady named Peggy Keller)fclIMG_2039 fclIMG_2029 fclIMG_2057 fclIMG_2053 fclIMG_2022 fclIMG_2025 fclIMG_2026 fclIMG_2024fclIMG_2035fclIMG_2041bwfclIMG_2051 fclIMG_2048

Happy day everyone.

A lake named Anna

The sun was beaming as I packed the car with a cooler, the kids and a Ben and we headed over the mountain to enjoy a day at Lake Anna for a friend-reunion of sorts. As I was driving I realized that the last time I drove over that mountain to see Toff and Cara, I was using printed mapquest directions. And possibly listening to a cd burned from my napster downloads? Haaaaa. Ancient. It was also before they became parents of sweet little Trip and Meg. Time leaves us. Too too fast. We were welcomed at the Newcomb lake house to lots of open international arms but the hugs didn’t last long as the kids were ready to enjoy the water!

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fclIMG_3280b fclIMG_3284c fclIMG_3283bw fclIMG_3282bwfclIMG_3317fclIMG_3426 fclIMG_3292 fclIMG_3285fclIMG_3372fclIMG_3358fclIMG_3368 fclIMG_3369fclIMG_3362bwfclIMG_3386fclIMG_3400fclIMG_3321fclIMG_3296bwfclIMG_3316bw fclIMG_3309 fclIMG_3319 fclIMG_3325fclIMG_3327fclIMG_3333fclIMG_3371fclIMG_3408 fclIMG_3410 fclIMG_3394 fclIMG_3388fclIMG_3300fclIMG_3339fclIMG_3416fclIMG_3311 fclIMG_3301fclIMG_3382 fclIMG_3377fclIMG_3341fclIMG_3449fclIMG_3435 fclIMG_3443 fclIMG_3442fclIMG_3424 fclIMG_3425fclIMG_3402 fclIMG_3455bw fclIMG_3462Day 2.  A slow, easy morning filled with lots of coffee, crossword puzzles, dogs and amazing food. The shrimp and grits that Sam and Elizabeth concocted were so good that I didn’t even get a chance to photograph them. After brunch we all waddled down to the lake to float like buoys until our food digested. Australia is a lifetime away, it seems, and any time with these guys feels like a ticking clock is dangling over us. I miss their faces already.

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…note the vanilla slice: Toff and Cara’s number 1 seller at their bakery (activate saliva)…
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Blake took a moment to teach Trip an American greeting: The Fist Bump. Blake still giggles at Trip repeating “Pound it!” with his young Australian accent. fclIMG_3483 fclIMG_3501 fclIMG_3497fclIMG_3505bwfclIMG_3541 fclIMG_3508bwfclIMG_3542 fclIMG_3510fclIMG_3535 fclIMG_3534 fclIMG_3526 fclIMG_3521bw

Copyright © 2013 · Photos by Brandy Somers. All Rights Reserved · friendlycitylens.com & brandysomersphotography.com. This material may not be copied, downloaded, altered, cropped, reproduced, or printed without express written consent. Thank you for respecting my creative property.