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!

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.

Wiffle Ball at the Farm

So this is a little dated (2011)…but the light that evening was magical. And dang it, these photos beg to be shared. When I look at these images I am transported to summertime evenings with good people, good energy and lots of…bats. Ball bats. And what better way to celebrate a friend’s 32nd than with a wiffle ball tournament?IMG_8791web

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above photo by Rachel Herr

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above photo by Rachel Herr

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