May 31, 2012

Very Cherry...and an Almond Oatmeal Crust

Happy Thursday to you!  Just thought I'd pop in for a quick hello

Last weekend was pretty wonderful here...warm weather, time with my family and, of course, food. We had a get together at my parents' house on Monday. Our gatherings always involve something to nibble on and, while we all tend to really watch what we eat, we did decide to make an exception that day, splurge and have dessert.

Our minds were all aflutter with possibilities. "Oh, what should we have?" we wondered. My sister eventually came up with the idea of ice cream with a smorgasbord of toppings. Yes, it's true...we went crazy with the idea. There was to be no half-hearted treats here. It was a feast for the eyes, as well as the taste buds....strawberries, pineapple, chocolate, caramel, crushed cookies...the list went on and on.

I very rarely buy ice cream, not to mention all the goodies that go on top, so needless to say, my children were thrilled!

Although I've been vowing to stop, I spent a lot of time baking last week...trying to come up with a simple, yet delicious sweet crust.  Why I do this to myself? I don't know.

While one would normally think of eating ice cream in a bowl or a cone, I figured that a crust would be a good base for our dessert and that way I could test my recipe on everyone too! Excellent plan, don't you think? My first attempts at playing crust creator resulted in something that was a bit too crunchy, to say the least, but I finally got it to where I want it...a nice and chewy oatmeal crust with a hint of almond.

While I do admit to having a sweet tooth, I also really love fruit. As I was preparing my dessert and getting ready for the all important taste test, I thought about the bag of cherries that I had just bought. Ripe and red, I figured they'd look and taste pretty good with that oatmeal crust and a bit of chocolate. Ummm, was very good.  A little too much so, since I had another "taste test" later that day ;)

Almond Oatmeal Crust

Makes four 4" tart crusts.

  • 1 3/4 generous cup quick oats 
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup almond meal/flour
  • 1/4 cup oat flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 6 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 3/4 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1 tablespoon honey

In a medium size bowl, combine the quick oats, brown sugar, almond meal, oat flour, cinnamon and salt. Set aside. In a separate container, melt the butter and then add the almond extract and the honey. Add the wet ingredients to the dry and stir well.

Divide the mixture among four mini tart pans with removable bottoms, being sure to press the raw crust into the sides and bottom of the pan. Place the tart tins on a cookie sheet and bake at 325 degrees for approximately 13-15 minutes. Do not overbake or the crust may get too hard. Let the crust cool and then remove it from the pans.

Top it with whatever your little heart desires...or just eat it like a big cookie. Yes, it's very good that way too :)

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Well, lovely people, that's all I have for today.  Hope you have a great weekend!


May 24, 2012

A Girl, a Sunset and a Caterpillar

As the days grow longer and summer draws near, the sights and sounds of the world beckon me closer, especially those that dusk brings.

I head outdoors with my girl by my side. Golden bands of light trickle down around me and warm my skin...the wind whispers through the leaves, birds flutter among the tree tops and frogs begin their evening serenade.

We walk along, feet bare, taking in the world around us. The sound of children playing can be heard in the distance. I feel small, little pebbles beneath my toes and then, the prickle of grass. My little one is searching for the flutter of butterflies, forever entranced by their mosaic of colors and soft, delicate wings. She stops. It isn't a butterfly that has caught her interest, but a caterpillar.

She gently picks it up, runs her fingers over it's smooth, little body and peers at it closely. "Caterpillars turn into butterflies," she tells me.  

She lets it slowly wiggle across her hand and laughs at the way it tickles her skin...taking delight in all that it does.

After spending a few moments watching the small, little creature, she gets up and places it on the branch of a tree. "He needs to be safe and have leaves to eat," she tells me. I laugh in agreement.

I take her hand as we head toward the house. All the while she chatters...revealing little things she's learned about nature in her five, short years and, as I often do, I think to myself about how wonderful it would be to live someplace warm and sunny...a place that feels like summer all year round.


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May 18, 2012

And Now for Something Yummy

You know how I always say that I need to quit eating sweets and baking things because then I want to eat them? Well, it doesn't seem to be working. I made cobbler three times this week, which also means that I ate cobbler three times this week too.

In my defense, I was trying to get the recipe just right. Happily, the third time was a charm, so now I can move on to eating something else like, I don't know, maybe more salad.

The weather here has been sooo wonderful! Nice and warm and sunny. Oh, how I love it! It makes me feel like having a picnic...but taking food photos outdoors is the closest I've gotten. My daughter really likes picnics too, but she absolutely adores blueberries so there wasn't going to be any picnics with these desserts. No...she wanted to eat her share the moment they were done. When she saw me gathering up my photo supplies, she sternly said, "Only take ONE photo, Mommy!"

I've never really thought of myself as a blueberry-lover. Growing up I remember my uncle looking forward to wild blueberry picking season. I don't know that I've ever noticed blueberries growing anywhere all nestled in amongst the flora and fauna. Perhaps I haven't really been looking as well as I should have...I do know there are a few patches of rosy raspberries here and there up at the lake though.

In any case, I really love how this blueberry cobbler turned out. Here's the recipe if you want to try it too.

Blueberry Cobbler

Makes four individual servings.

          Fruit Mixture
  • 2 1/2 cups blueberries
  • 1 tbsp. butter, melted
  • 1/4 tsp. vanilla
  • 1/2 tsp. lemon juice 
  • 1/2 tsp. sugar for each ramekin
  • 3/4 cup flour
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 2 tbsp. butter, melted

First prepare the fruit mixture. In a small container, melt butter and then stir in vanilla and lemon juice. Pour the mixture over the blueberries and stir gently. Divide blueberries among four ramekins. Top each portion with 1/2 tsp. of sugar.

For the topping, mix together flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Set aside. In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg, vanilla, milk and melted butter. Add the wet mixture to the dry. Divide dough into four portions and spoon on top of blueberries. Sprinkle dough with a little sugar, if you like. Place ramekins on a cookie sheet and bake at 350 degrees until the crust is golden, which is approximately 25 minutes. Serve slightly warm with whipped cream.

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I hope you all have a wonderfully happy and sunny weekend!


May 08, 2012

Let's Talk Photos

Hi everyone! Hope you're having a good week so far.

As I told you in my last post, I decided that that I was going to talk a little bit about photography since it's the topic about which I probably receive the most emails. The two main things that people seem to be interested in are what kind of camera and lenses I have and also if I could offer any photography tips. Well, I'll do my best to answer both of those questions right here.

Okay, let's first talk about equipment. It's seems like there's always the question of Nikon or Canon...Canon or Nikon. When I was shopping for a new camera, I had a hard time choosing since I didn't know too much about photography, but after a little research, I ultimately decided on a Canon Rebel T2i and an 18-55mm lens. Its not the fanciest set-up, but I don't think a person could go wrong with any of the cameras from either brand.  I chose Canon since they were supposed to be easy to use and, frankly, I just needed to finally make a decision.

I've had my camera for about a year and a half, and while I really like it, I also have dreams of upgrading. It seems like most people who love photography, either as a hobby or profession, are always thinking about what other equipment they'd like to add to their collection. The hardest part is getting your pocketbook to match your desires or having patience to save for that special something.

Once you have your camera, the next thing I would suggest is one simple, but important thing, which is to read the manual, over and over.  If you can purchase a nice, big, in-depth manual for your camera, such as this one...DO IT!  I have found that reading that big book, rather than the little teeny, tiny thing that came with my camera, to be so helpful. I would also recommend the book, Understanding Exposure to gain a better grasp of aperture, shutter speed and lighting. For additional reading materials, there are also lots of wonderful photography blogs and sites that offer great tutorials and endless inspiration, a few of which you can find on my sidebar.

Okay, time for some tips...there's only a few and they're nothing too earth shattering.

When I think about photography and my workflow, there are three elements that come to mind...composition/styling, shooting and post-processing. Since I think I'll do a separate post about composition, I'll just jump to my shooting basics and you can glean from that what you will.

First, I should say, I'm mostly a natural light photographer. The pictures in this post were shot outdoors, which is something I do quite frequently. I generally take my photos either early in the morning or later in the day since the light is softer...with my preference being late afternoon. Since the majority of the things I photograph are little vignettes with flowers or food, I usually take everything outdoors and arrange it all on a big board, which I then move around on the ground to adjust to the changing light. The best placement seems to be areas that are brightly lit, but not in direct sun...a little backlighting or dappled sun is nice though. As I'm working, I'll take things away and add new items, varying the heights, textures and colors to see what seems to look best. I don't really plan things out, preferring to let things flow naturally. To brighten up my shots and reduced any shadows, I use a white foam board to bounce light back onto the subject.

This probably goes without saying, but when you're taking photos try and remain as still as possible...don't be all herky-jerky. Keep your elbows tucked close to your sides and your body stable. And when you're pushing down the shutter release button try to do it slowly and smoothly.

As for my camera settings, I prefer aperture priority mode, although I am trying to be better about using  manual more often. To get some background blur, I generally keep the aperture pretty wide open and, more often than not, I'll also increase the exposure compensation to lighten the photo up a bit too.

Okay, once I'm all done shooting, I use Photoshop Elements for post-processing. While it's definitely a program that takes awhile to learn, I'd never be able to get my photos close to my liking without it. It seems as if there's always something to lighten, brighten, darken, sharpen or erase. Sometimes I'll use textures or actions from Kim Klassen or Florabella to alter the look or feel of my photos, except when the photo involves food which, I feel, looks best in its true colors.  Although I could probably put together a few basic posts about photo-editing, I don't really want to, nor do I think I'm the best person for explaining all that's involved. If you're looking for some great tutorials, Ashley at Ramblings and Photos has a lot to offer.

Well, that's that. Hopefully, that wasn't too boring for you. Does anyone have any tips or anything they want to add?

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Lastly, you may or may not have noticed, but I haven't felt much like blogging or visiting lately. I just thought I would mention that since I don't want anyone to feel like they're being ignored or anything. I hope to get back in the swing of things this week.

Have a good day!