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!

Easter Funday

It’s really too bad laughter doesn’t burn more than 1.3 calories per minute because I would feel a lot better about all the food I ate today. With my family, you just never know what will happen next. They are fun, loving and down right entertaining. Here’s a glimpse at our Easter Sunday Funday.

Hell-o spring.

Hell-o spring.

There’s no question that my PawPaw is legit.

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Oh yes.

After we ate, we did our annual Easter egg hunt. The adults always try to be extra clever in the hiding spots. See for yourself. Ha!

Egg in broom

…in a broom…

…under this handle…

…tucked in the rocks…

…in Luke’s shirt…

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…in Aunt Brenda’s hair roller…?

Ready. Set. Go!

Mirra found Brenda’s right away!

Ella found one in Brook’s cup!

Score!

…making sure they found all of them…

Eggcellent rewards.

I wanna play!

Once the kids collected their rewards, they hid eggs from the adults…

Get in line.

Be nice kids!

George, doing things his way.

This is serious business.

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...a little friendly competition...

…a little friendly competition…

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Lastly, a little prank that didn’t go quite as planned. 🙂

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Note: airborne plastic egg

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…then she threw a real egg…

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…and it bounced off his arm, and onto her car…

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…but it was still hilarious…

Bread with Mommy

Mommy makes the best bread. I asked her to come over one morning and teach me the ropes of her family envied recipe and technique. Her experienced hands showed that dough who’s boss! We made what we call “Three Generation Rolls” where she rolled a small ball of dough and then my daughter and I did the same. We put all three in one muffin pan and it was very obvious which one of the three my mother man-handled. It was grey and cold outside and warm and delicious inside. Hope your not wearing your new shirt ’cause this post is mouth-watering!Dough and Hand 1

Fried Bread

Breadmaking 1

Breadmaking 2

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Rising dough

homemade rolls

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Mommy's hands and dough

Rolling in the dough

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cinnamon rolls

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buttering bread

fresh baked bread

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cinnamon roll icing

holy cinnamon rolls

cinnamon rolls with nuts

cinnamon roll taste test

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