January 2019

Over the Christmas break, I found myself with enough time on my hands to try a funky little photo tutorial I’d found online. (I mean, I could have done something productive like housework, but isn’t playtime what vacations are all about?)

You might remember this photo from the amazingly fun impromptu family photography session we had at Watson’s Mill in Manotick in between Christmas and New Year’s Eve. I absolutely love outdoor family portraits in the winter, especially when it’s just below (but not too far below!) freezing and overcast so the light is soft and even. The hint of tiny snowflakes in the air was just the icing on the cake. And if some drifting snow flakes are awesome, MOAR SNOWFLAKES must make it better still, right?

I followed this tutorial to add moving, drifting snow to a still photo, and while it’s far from perfect (there’s a little hitch where the video loops, and the speed is a little off) it was fun for a first try.

Fun, right? I learned a lot, since it was the first time I’ve ever used the Timeline feature in Photoshop. Let’s just say it’s convenient to have a spouse who happens to teach Photoshop at the local college on hand when I get a little lost. But I figured out myself how to resize it because apparently it’s one of WordPress’s peccadilloes that you need to upload a .gif in full size in order for it to play.

Yay me! New tricks for this old dog.

It’s possible we still have just a little bit of winter left to get through, so if you can’t wait for spring for your family photo sessions, now I know how to make the winter ones just a little bit more fun!


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If you’ve been reading the blog for a while, you know that Chef Michael Smith is my food bae. I credit him for pretty much single-handedly empowering me to cook, something I’ve grown to love doing over the past few years. This year for Christmas, though, after watching the Netflix series together, Beloved gave me Samin Nosrat’s Salt Fat Acid Heat, and it is hands down the BEST cookbook I’ve ever read. It has 200 pages of food science, art and magic, woven together with humour and great stories, and then 150 pages of recipes based on the principles in the beginning of the book.

I couldn’t wait to take the recipes out for a test drive! The first one that made my mouth water was Pork Braised with Chilies. One of the ingredients was eight dried chilies. I’d never purchased dried chilies before, but was sure I’d seen then somewhere in my travels.

My first stop was the produce section of the grocery store. Don’t they keep them beside the sun-dried tomatoes in the little pouches? Nope. Mexican foods? Nada. Spices? Ethnic foods? Nope.

Thwarted, I rescheduled the menu and tried Farm Boy the next day. Farm Boy rarely disappoints, but the first person I asked for dried chilies took me to the ground spices section and the next two just shrugged apologetically. I grabbed a can of chipotle peppers in adobo sauce and figured I’d make due with that. We were on our way home from the Barrhaven Farm Boy when we passed the street we used to live on, and the little shopping plaza with — the Indian food shop! I bet they have dried chilies.

Hoo boy, did they ever! To my delight, I got what seemed like a lifetime supply of dried peppers for the astonishing price of $2.50. (We lived for years on the same street as Nasa Food Centre, a South Asian grocery store, but never went in. Tristan said the smell was an assault to all his senses, but it left me drooling and promising to go back!)

They were so beautiful that I had to dump the bag onto the counter and have an improptu photo shoot before I started putting some in the pot.

There were so many of them!

Do you love spicy food? ME TOO!

So, two questions. First, seriously, how do you spell the plural of chili? Is it chiles, like on Samin Nosrat’s site, or chilies? Spell check favours the latter, but also throws an error on the u in favour, so it’s not exactly reliable to me. And second — what the holy heck am I going to do with all those peppers? I used six of what must be a hundred! Ideas?

Oh yeah, and the pork braise is smelling amazing, too. If it tastes half as good as it smells, Samin may be my new kitchen BFF. I’ll keep you posted!


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I found a great Shepherd’s pie recipe a couple of years ago, and it became one of my Dad’s favourites – so much so that I stopped making it for about a year after he died, just because it reminded me a little too much of him. Last year, I tried out a couple of vegetarian and vegan versions (this Minimalist Baker vegan one is especially good) and to my delight, the kids actually liked the lentils in lieu of meat. So then I had an “aha” moment and pulled them together – half the lamb (because ouch, lamb is expensive) and all the lentil and potato goodness. Here’s how we do it. This will serve 5 – 6 comfortably, and I make it in our 5Q dutch oven.

1 cup green lentils, rinsed
2 cups water
1 – 2 bay leaves
Generous pinch of kosher salt
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 large onion, peeled and chopped
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
300g ground lamb
1 cup low sodium broth
1 156 ml (5.5 oz) can of tomato paste
1 teaspoon chopped fresh or dry rosemary
1 cup frozen peas
4 russet potatoes, (peeling optional – I don’t) and cut into small chunks
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1/4 cup sour cream

90 minutes before dinner is served, add rinsed lentils, bay leaves and water to a small saucepan. This article gives good tips on how to cook lentils. Bring to a rolling boil and then turn down to a simmer. After approximately 10 minutes, add salt and continue simmering another 10 or 15 minutes, for a total of 20 to 25 minutes. The lentils should be underdone and still slightly tough. Drain any excess water.

Preheat oven to 375F.

Heat up a dutch oven on medium-high. Add canola oil and heat until it shimmers. Add onion, carrots and lamb, breaking up lamb with the back of a spoon as it browns. Cook 7 to 10 minutes, until meat is no longer pink. Carefully drain the fat and return dutch oven to stovetop. Add the broth, tomato paste, and herbs. Simmer until the juices thicken, about 10 minutes, then add the frozen peas and the lentils. Stir until combined

Meanwhile, add potatoes and enough water to cover them to a large pot, toss in another generous pinch (or handful) of kosher salt, and bring to a boil. Boil until fork tender, approximately 15 to 20 minutes. Drain, add butter and sour cream and mash. Scoop the potatoes onto the meat and lentil mixture in the dutch oven and use a fork to even out the top and make cross-hatching marks for browning.

Bake, uncovered, for approximately 30 minutes. If you can get the peaks of the cross-hatched potatoes to brown just a bit, you win!

Served here with steamed green beans tossed with lemon, butter and salt, and pickles. Yum!

By the way, you can sub out the ground lamb for any ground meat, but technically then it’s cottage pie instead of shepherd’s pie. I always thought those shepherds were doing a questionable job, turning their wee lambs into pie, but it IS delicious, so there’s that.

🙂


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A lot of amazing things will happen in 2019. In July, Beloved and I will celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary, and then in August I turn (gasp!) fifty!

I wanted to do another photo challenge to mark this amazing year, but another 365 photo-a-day project felt too ambitious. A 52-week photo challenge is perfect! And I liked the #Dogwood52 photo challenge because each week has a prompt, and I figured that would keep me from being lazy and maybe push my boundaries a little bit.

Right off the bat, I was stumped. The first weekly prompt is ‘take a picture that tells us who you are, without actually showing your face.’ I’ve been thinking about it for days. How to tell the story of me in just one photo? Mom? Writer? Photographer? Friend? Collector of vintage crap? Lover of books and grunge and spicy food? And then it occurred to me to include ALL THE THINGS!

#52in2019 #Week1

It’s me in 50 items! I like that some of them serve double and even triple duty on facets of my personality, like the photo books are family AND photography, and the Monty Python card deck says I’m equally happy playing cards or riffing about how your father was a hamster and your mother smelled of elderberries.

And yes, the blog is in there too. I haven’t forgotten entirely how to blog, but I might be a little rusty. Here’s to getting a little more practice in on that, too, in 2019.

It’s going to be an awesome year. Let’s do this!

What would your collage about items that tell the story of YOU have in it?

#dogwood52 #week1 #dogwood2019 #52in2019


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I don’t know why more families don’t seek winter family photo sessions. It’s certainly different from a family photo with the bright blues and greens of high summer, or the saturated colours of autumn, and granted, you need to be a little bit more diligent in playing along with the weather – there’s a fine line between pink cheeks at -10C and frostbitten noses at -25C. But there’s something magical and utterly Canadian about being bundled up with scarves and mitts against gently falling snow – and in the case of this almost-impromptu winter session, a treacherous coating of ice so bad we had to be deliberate with every single step!

Winter family photos at Watson's Mill

Of course, it doesn’t hurt when you have a beautiful family, a cute dog, and a great location like Watson’s Mill in Manotick for your background. I love it when all the elements come together!

Winter family photos at Watson's Mill

Winter family photos at Watson's Mill

Lucky for me, in addition to being charming and lovely and willing to negotiate icy walkways and paths, this family had a great sense of humour, and responsed with good humour to my prompts and suggestions.

Winter family for blog 1

Winter family photos at Watson's Mill

And they came with ideas of their own, like recreating a family piggy-back shot from years past. (We had to find a non-icy spot to pull this one off!)

Winter family photos at Watson's Mill

I always know a photo “works” when it makes me smile while I’m editing it. It’s good to know that sisters can be just as much fun as brothers!

The other really nice thing about winter family portraits is that my weekends are usually wide open, so chasing that perfect not-too-cold and not-too-snowy and not-too-messy weather is a lot easier. If you’d like to try winter family portraits, I have all sorts of ideas for great locations – get in touch and book your session today!


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