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!

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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.

 

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.