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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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!

Joshua Tree National Park

Only slightly more than 1000 miles away from my home here in Montana, lies a small National Park in the heart of the Mohave desert of southeastern California. Franklin Roosevelt designated this area (without needing Congressional approval) a National Monument back in 1936. Congress changed its status in 1994 to that of a National Park.

The Joshua Tree is a unique and unusual plant and although this park is named after it, do not expect to see an abundance of Joshua Trees here, especially in the eastern half of the park. I carefully researched, then charted out my brief 16 hour stay on this, my maiden voyage to Joshua Tree, and was rewarded for my efforts.

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I entered the park from the Joshua Tree Visitors Center, NW entrance. This is a very small, understaffed facility with limited parking lot and long lines of eager tourists like me, wanting to question a ranger, or to buy a souvenir. Not worth the time so just proceed into the park, stopping at the West Entrance Station to pay, retrieve your map, and ask a question or two.

Immediately you’ll find wonderful rock piles of huge boulders of every size and shape. Picturesque vistas abound! I was there in February so the park had not yet greened up but the day was a perfect blue-bird sky with just under 80 degrees temperatures, wonderful for hiking.

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One of the major attractions I was looking forward to was the walking tour of the Keys Ranch homestead. Nothing I read warned me to make a reservation in advance, so I was very disappointed to arrive at the gate finding it locked with signs warning me to stay away. It is rare to find cell phone service anywhere in the park, so I reluctantly turned around.

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Road to Keyes Ranch

Hidden Valley was a great stop with an easy 1 mile loop trail of walking among the rock formations and desert flora and fauna. More than anything, I hoped to spot a desert tortoise but did not. A lovely picnic area too.

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The color and shape of this boulder coincidently lined up giving the illusion of my sporting a third arm!

Transitioning from our below sea level elevation, we headed up to Keys View, at over 5000 feet, to overlook the valley, mountains, and desert below us. We could clearly see both the San Andreas fault and the Salton Sea. Cooler temperature, somewhat windy, and with lots of people jockeying for the viewpoint, we did not stay long but headed back down to the desert floor and wide-open spaces!

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The roadway is curbed, with limited pull-outs. And the signs for various landmarks are typically only at the turnoff, giving no warning. (And no place to turn around and go back) My advice is to go slow and have a navigator with the map giving ample warning for upcoming attractions you’re wanting to see. I cannot imagine the chaos of being in this park on a crowded day. Seems like more than radiators would be boiling over.

I noticed a larger than normal Joshua Tree with a pull off across the roadway. It was only later, when viewing the photos, that the enormity of this tree was realized. There are no signs alerting passerby’s to this remarkable tree that is hundreds of years old. You see a Joshua Tree grows about 3″ per year for the first 10 years. The growth rate slows to half that for the remainder of its life, upwards of 1000 years. I think this tree was my most favorite thing to see in all of JTNP. And I hope you’re able to spot it too. I’d give you specific directions, but I don’t have any.

My second most favorite place in the park, was the Cholla Cactus Garden. Now, I did not have this on my “my do” list for the park, and only stopped here because it’d been a rather dull drive for 20 minutes or so, with nothing notable to see. (I mentioned to my companion that I pitied the people who entered from Cottonwood or Twentynine Palms visitors centers, going only on the north-south road. The most interesting and diverse sights in the park are on the road to the west of that north-south roadway. And if I had only driven that portion of the park, I would have been left wondering why anyone saw the importance of making this a park!

That being said, we arrived at the Cholla Cactus Gardens as the sun was slipping behind the western mountains. Although there were a lot of people out among the cacti, it was still a stunning sight to see. Erase from your thoughts any typical definition of “garden”. Mother Nature alone has planted and tended to this area, a wild-field of Cholla’s just barely starting the spring bloom. I think you’ll agree it was beautiful!

 

Once more, our road trip scenery became rather dull and monotonous as we continued south at the end of a perfect day of wandering. We stopped at the park exit, to see my first sight ever of a desert oasis. This area was closed off with an industrial strength chain-link fence (unable to find any angle for photographs that didn’t have the fence in it) to keep visitors out of the oasis. This wasn’t worth the stop. There are several other oasis in the area, like Thousand Palms Oasis Preserve, well worth a side-trip.

Overall, I truly loved Joshua Tree National Park and was so happy for our decision to include it in our travel plans. I can’t wait to go back again for a more extended stay, and will definitely make reservations to tour the Keyes ranch–a good reason to go back! I hope to camp in the park next time, to witness sunrise and sunset over the giant rock formations, and to take some of the longer hikes.

And next time, I’ll try to make my trip in March, even though the temperatures will be hotter, the blooms should be on the desert plants, adding frosting to the cake of this delightful place.

 

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!

 

I’m Excited!

Recently I walked into my favorite Spokane restaurant, Chaps, for brunch. As I was at the counter contemplating how to par down my desired selections to a reasonable, manageable order, I had the unexpected pleasure of meeting Celeste Shaw, the owner. Our conversation was sparked by a small, sterling silver Montana state necklace around my neck. Turns out Celeste is also a Montana girl. Within minutes we were sharing our love for our State, vintage everything, food, and each other!

I mentioned I was a photo-journalist and she mentioned she was preparing to release the Flea Market Style magazine. Our connection went from spark to all-systems-go!

Waiting for the premier issue to hit the newsstands took a lot of patience but it did, I devoured the issue with glee, and once I had the feel for where she wanted to go with this new baby of hers, ideas to complement started flowing from my creative brain!

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Congratulations Celeste and co-editor Ki Nassauer on your delightful publication! I look forward to pitching some ideas for future issues as I hop on board this vintage styling train!

 

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