My First Food Photography Contest!

DSC_6023A good friend sent me the link to a food photography contest with encouragement for me to enter it, combined with lots of compliments on my food photography. I went to the website, read the rules, and jotted a note in on my calendar to fit this challenge in before the end of the month deadline.

Let me tell you a little about this unusual and oft times stressful September I’ve had.  First of all, my sweet, little community has been bombarded with forest fire, smoke, soot, and ash since mid-July. Twice, I’ve been ordered to evacuate my home–mandatory–within 10 minutes. The first time it was for 12 days. The second time it was just for an afternoon. But I’ve lived with the evacuation warning threat for over a month.

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From my front porch, September 3

I don’t know if you’ve ever been charged with deciding what possessions are the most important to you but its a very hard thing to do. Especially if you’re at all like me–not a hoarder–but a collector of fine things. Until recently I had a wonderful vintage store where I sold the unusual and treasured home and garden collectibles. Naturally I’ve kept the things that I just couldn’t part with. I’m also a watercolor artist so my walls are filled with a lifelong collection of moody sepia toned cowboys, horses, and cattle drives.

And as a mom, I’ve got three kids worth of treasures, and a grandchild’s treasures–gifts to me that their little hands have fashioned and created. Of course, the usual can’t leave behind items, like photograph albums, grandma’s cookbook, grandpa’s pocket watch and hundreds of other family heirlooms.

Did I mention my antique classics book collection? Leather bound, many first editions?

And I’m trying to make time to enter this great food photography contest!

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As I first realized the threat, back when the forest fire was just thick smoke looming up from behind the mountains near our home, I made a rational and reasonable list of the treasures I would take. But each hour of each day found me adding to the ‘can’t live without this’ growing pile of boxes. I debated on just packing up my whole house except for the easy-to-replace things like the printer, table lamps, and canning jars. Reason won as I gave myself the mature-toned voice of “everything’s replaceable” speech.

All’s well that ends well–my house didn’t burn, though the beautiful forest in the mountains around me are ruined for many generations to come. And I’ve spent the past week trying to move four pickup loads of valuables back in. Did I mention I had a huge yard sale at a friends house last weekend? There’s a few boxes of remnants from that fiasco–things she had that I decided I needed. (I’m really just a collector, not a hoarder!)

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My beautiful Rocky Mountains with layers of burn from the forest fire

Then my son fell from a ladder, broke his wrist bones in multiple places, requiring surgery. So I volunteered to be his nurse and driver for a few days.

I work managing two vacation rental homes–both of which are closing down for the season last week and next. Packing, moving, cleaning. Two. Houses. Maybe I kept a few collectible things, but not as much as I could have!

During this month I’ve also gone camping for 3 nights, attended one funeral, had two crowns replaced on my teeth, had 6 girlfriends for a sleep over party, made it to my masseuse once, physical therapy twice, and oh yes, my lawn mower and pickup truck both broke. We had our first snow already–I won’t even get started on what preparations   are needed for this weather phenomenon. (It put out the fires! Yay!)

And I’m entering a photo contest!

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Today the sun came up over a bright blue sky. Through my soot covered windows, as I appreciated the warm, bright beams of light, I decided that the time was right for me to do the set up for my photo entry.  Did I think about going back to review the rules? No. Never even entered my foggy brain. I’d already made the #cutthecheese2017 sign and laid out my favorite trendy cutting board. But now I removed the grapes I’d laid on it a week or so ago, because they were too shriveled to merit tasty food quality photography.

Grabbing my salami and a few cheeses left-over from my camping trip, a few plums scored at Farmers Market this morning, and some my sweet vintage silver, I quickly fashioned a lovely cutting board vignette. Moving it around from counter, to coffee table, to dining table to capture the best sunlight and shadows, I took about 30 photos from various angles, heights, and settings.

The phone rang–my mom wanting to chat. As I transitioned to daughter talking to her mom, I remember making the semi-conscious decision that I was finished with the photo contest shoot, and could now proceed to eat my beautiful arrangement. It was, after all, past noon.

Slipping my camera’s memory card into my Mac, I opened the website for the John Boos Cutting Board Food Photography Contest to upload my best photo. Opps. Now I remember! I was supposed to take a documenting photo of me shooting the food photos! And I was encouraged to take a few shots of my set up to help other would-be-food-photographers learn. Well I certainly messed this one up! No more food, no more wonderful light, and no more time to do it again.

So the lesson I’d like my readers and food-photographer students is this; Review the directions before disassembling your model. And stay focused on the job rather than talk to your mother. It might also help if you eat before the shoot so the temptation from your stomach doesn’t over-power your brain.

I’ll submit my photo because I really need to tell my friend that I did what I said, and entered the contest.

Thanks cuttingboard.com and John Boos cutting boards for putting on this fun contest. I’d be thrilled (and floored) if I won, but who knows … they did suggest humor and my harried, over-wrot, weary self took them seriously without intending to.

Here’s to a relaxed October with no stress. Cheers!

I shoot RAW with my Nikon D810 camera, using my 50 mm lens, and my Manfrotto tri-pod. I shoot in my home using natural light. I do not own reflectors or bouncers or a light box, though if I win this contest, those will be quickly purchased!

As my blog intro explains, I’ve been passionate about photography since I was a young girl. As my blog attests, I love to cook (and eat) and photograph food as I journey through this fun life.

I hope you’ll consider following my Instagram feed — Montanacarole as I’d love to meet you and see what you’re up to as well! And I encourage you to enter this contest also … but you’ll need to act fast as there’s only 5 days left! Be sure to mention that I sent you!

https://www.cuttingboard.com/cutting-board-boos-contest

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Cottage Tomato Soup with Toast

DSC_2715-2It’s the end of harvest time for garden produce! And with the extra-warm summer we’ve enjoyed here in Montana, this years tomato crop is abundant and affordable.

I’m a huge advocate for using seasonal produce to maximize freshness so this month’s recipe for my creamy tomato soup is no exception. Select fully sun-ripened tomatoes that are slightly soft to the touch. A mix-and-match of varieties adds flavors, though I much prefer the locally grown heirloom tomatoes I find at Farmers Market.

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While you’re shopping, be sure to buy some Montana grown yellow onion and basil (if you’re not lucky enough to have them growing in your own garden). And of course, a loaf or two of fresh baked bread!

With the crisp change of season into Autumn, the freshest garden vegetables at hand, and the unbeatable #1 favorite soup of American kids, you’ll find this nutritional and tasty soup the perfect choice for family dinner this month.

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Homemade Tomato Soup

2 T olive oil
1 large onion, peeled and finely chopped
3 cloves of garlic, minced
3 lb. ripe tomatoes, peeled, then diced
4 c. chicken or vegetable stock
1/2 c. fresh basil leaves, finely chopped
1 c. 1/2 n 1/2 cream
1/2 c. parmesan cheese, grated
8 1” thick slices of french bread, buttered on both sides

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Preheat your oven to 300 degrees. Place buttered bread slices on a baking sheet and bake until lightly browned, 10 minutes. Set aside

In a large soup pan, over medium heat, add the oil, onion, and garlic and sauté until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes and stock. Raise the heat to high and bring to a gentle boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover with a lid, and cook until the tomatoes are softened, about 20 minutes. Remove from the heat. In a blender or food processor, puree the soup if you like it smooth. If you prefer chunky soup, eliminate this step. With the soup back in the pot, over low heat, add the cream and basil stirring well until the soup is hot again. Add salt and pepper to taste.

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To serve, place a slice of your toasted bread to a soup bowl then gently ladle the soup on top. Garnish with sprinkles of parmesan cheese adding a basil leaf for a garnish.

Makes 8 servings.

As an alternative flavor option, add a few drops of your favorite red hot sauce or jalapeño pepper juice with the other ingredients during cooking for a spicy hot tomato soup!

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Girls Just Wanna Have Fun and Good Eats!

DSC_3234Earlier this year,  I had opportunity and joy in joining a Dallas girlfriend for a springtime road trip through some wildflower strewn Texas hill country. We meandered down back roads, stopping at every food truck we could find. Easter dinner was a flavorful Crawfish Boil along the highway! IMG_8808

We enjoyed some amazing foods but the best of the best, was the watermelon slushy I bought from a food truck at Chip and Joanna Gaines’ MAGNOLIA MARKET in Waco.

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Me with my Waco Watermelon Slushy

Crisp flavor, refreshing coolness, and good old-fashioned watermelon flavored goodness through a straw! Mine was served in a mini-seedless watermelon. It was so delicious, I couldn’t wait to get home and make my own! I hope you’ll give it a try too! It’s on my menu for a colorful Red, White, and Blue 4th of July backyard BBQ.

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Because my guest list is large, I decided to try using a regular big sized watermelon, well chilled, rather than individual mini sized melons. I stood my watermelon on the flattest, most stable end—ensuring that it was balanced with no risk of tipping over. Then I took a long, sharp bladed knife and cut the top off. I wanted a hole large enough to easily insert my vintage ironstone serving ladle, to dish out the slushy into paper cups.

Then I removed an inch or so of the fruit from the inside of the melon, allowing me room to work and for the addition of more ingredients later. Plus, I didn’t want my slushy to be spilling over the edge once I inserted my immersion blender into the melon cavity.

With the immersion blender on high, I began to slowly and gently pulverize the melon’s fruity inside. Being careful not to cut into the rind or puncture it, I used the blender to scrape down the rounded sides, easily turning the firm flesh into mushy slush. This took about 15 minutes until my watermelon rind bowl was filled with beautiful slushy juices.

I then added ½ c of honey into 1 c of boiling water and stirred until it was dissolved. I let this cool, then added the sweetened water to the melon. I also squeezed in a few tablespoons of lime juice, to really make the watermelon flavor pop!

I kept the melon on a tray in the refrigerator until serving. I provided several additional flavor options for my guests to add to their individual glasses, like ginger ale, and Rose’ wine, if they wanted more of a wine cooler idea. (This watermelon slushy is a great base for fancy cocktails too, if that’s your party style) I found some fun, wide style, paper straws for us to use in slurping our slushies.

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My watermelon punch bowl was a big hit with my party guests. I hope you and yours will find it equally delightful!

Round ’em up for Cowboy Caviar

Montana has a rich western past, with endless trails and tales of cattle, cowboys, and camping. This yummy choice gives tribute to our past with a recipe that does double time as a salad or appetizer. Some call it “Cowboy Caviar”, while I like to call it a ‘must serve’ at every summer get together. It’s just that good!

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Cowboy Caviar

Mix the dressing together in a pint canning jar:

1/3 c. olive oil
1/3 c. red wine vinegar
1/2 t. cumin
1/2 t. chili powder
1 TBL fresh minced garlic

Put a lid on it, shake well, and set aside for a few days to let the flavors work their magic.

This is not a make-ahead dish, as the avocado’s will brown and the cilantro will wilt. So, 15 minutes or so before eating, prepare the salad part of this caviar.

In a glass, medium sized bowl, add 1 can (drained) of sweet corn and 1 can (drained) of your favorite bean. I’ve used white beans for this meal. DSC_4089Chop and add to the corn and beans, 2 large ripe tomatoes, 2 large ripe avocados, 1 bunch of fresh cilantro with stems removed, and 3 green onions.DSC_4090DSC_4093DSC_4081

Lightly mix the ingredients while slowly adding the dressing. Serve immediately over a few crisp lettuce leaves for a salad course, or with chips, as an appetizer salsa. The rich flavors and delightful crunch of corn make cowboys (and girls) coming back for more!

Serves 4 as a salad and 8 as an appetizer. It tastes amazing whether you’re sitting in the saddle, a deck chair, next to a campfire, or floating around the pool!

Simple Pleasures

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I’ve always been a good Girl Scout. “Be prepared”. (Or is that the Boy Scouts motto?) Either way, I’m always (usually) prepared.  Like today for example. A friend stopped over on her way home from some holiday shopping.   I offered her a cocktail and a snack while she relaxed and showed me some of her awesome last minute Christmas gift finds.

One of my favorite holiday cocktails–always festive, refreshing, and yummy–is a cape cod with a couple of smashed frozen cranberries and a sprig of fresh rosemary. Sugared rim is an option.

Recipe

1 shot Montana Silver Vodka

2 shots Ocean Spray Cranberry juice

1 shot Sprite (or other fizzy sweet drink)

6 smashed frozen cranberries

Put all ingredients in a shaker with about 1/2 cup of crushed ice. Pour into your favorite festive cocktail glass and garnish with a fresh rosemary sprig

 

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Add some Boursin soft cheese flavored with shallot and chive on some freshly warmed baguette bread and we had ourselves an impromptu holiday gathering!