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Loved it! (13th edition)

I love stumbling across beautiful things that are new to me.  This is why I love to read other team members’ “Loved It!” articles.  It’s also why I was so taken with the photography of one of our readers, photographer Kimberly Peck.   The combination of something new (an artist I hadn’t yet discovered) and something familiar (farmland photos that reminded me of home) immediately drew me in.  Don’t miss her strikingly bare photos of the inside of an old farmhouse.  Captivating.

They Draw & Cook features illustrated recipes from artists around the world, like this quirky and delightful breakfast recipe for Avocado Egg Toast.

My newest family approved dinner recipe is Baked Ravioli, shared by What’s Gaby Cooking. It’s definitely getting thrown into the meal rotation.

And I scored several points this month when I made Deep Dish Peanut Butter Pie with Chocolate Covered Pretzel Crust for my husband on our anniversary. Thanks, Yammie’s Noshery. 

Yes, I see I skipped lunch.  You are on your own for lunch, but I want to leave you with a message from Brave Girls Club.  If you are feeling a bit discouraged, take five minutes to listen to Melody Ross read her book, “You Are Going to be Okay.”

Art. Food. Encouragement.

I love it.

This article was written by Clair.

 

 

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Let Your Child Take Charge with These Fun and Free Weekend Activities

michelle rowe/ the creative mama

The Creative Mama welcomes Michelle Rowe, a child care specialist, with a guest post full of creative ideas for family activities.

Looking for something unique for your family to do this weekend?  Use these activities as springboards for having the kids come up with creative ways that you can spend the weekend together:

Kid’s Date

Let your little one decide how you’ll spend your weekend time together. In addition to seeing how he will fair when he gets to be the boss, you’ll learn about what interests him by paying attention to the activities chosen for the date.

Take a Long Walk

From famous authors who associated their success with planning plots over long walks to walk-talk therapists who find their clients feel more at ease when in motion, walking can release creativity and create more in-depth discussions. Throw on a pair of sneakers and explore your town, a nature trail, or a neighborhood. Not only do these walks spur conversation, but they provide much needed cardiovascular activity.  Don’t forget to let your kiddo be the trail guide.

Produce a Show

Kids love to express themselves and their lives through plays and shows. Engage the entire family in producing and putting on a show. Even if it’s just for the stuffed animals on your daughter’s bed, putting her mind to work in creating a “script” and designing costumes is a low cost, high fun way to spend a weekend day.

Create a Game

Game night is a staple of most families’ recipe for togetherness. Take it a step farther by collaborating with your kids to amend, adjust, or make up a whole new game. Create a board, design pieces, and write down the rules. Encourage fun on the fly by trying to play the game and adjusting or adding rules along the way. Not only does this take the focus off of who wins and who loses, but it provides kids with an outlet to create a game they want to play. 

Make Dinner an Adventure

Set aside a night for adventurous eating. Select a new vegetable, protein, or fruit and let kids help prepare the dish with you. If you have picky eaters, starting off with a pasta base that they can flavor with sauces, seasoning, and cheeses may help ease them into embracing this new adventure. 

Make Art

Engage your children in a new form of art. Paper mache, crochet, and collages are all great, simple forms of art that children of all ages can create. Think outside the box and employ your own skills to help the kids come up with something unique.

Family Mystery Night

The reason mysteries are so popular is because everyone likes trying to solve a good one. Create a family mystery with clues, red herrings, and suspects. A “Who Stole the Ice Cream?” investigation can encourage creativity by letting kid’s critically think about where to go and who to question next. Make a fun prize at the end for when the kids “solve” the family mystery.

Story Night

Kids love telling tall-tales so give them the opportunity to shine. Whether it’s around a backyard fire or a “make believe” one in the living room, gather around and tell your tallest tales. Get everyone in on the action and see who can tell the biggest whopper.

As you can see, there are many creative ways to spend the weekend with your children. Make this weekend one to remember by trying something new and learning together. Have fun. Be creative. Try out one of these ideas and see what you discover.

Michelle Rowe headshotWith over 20 years of experience in the nanny world as an award-winning nanny, agency director, and parenting author, Michelle LaRowe is considered a leading industry expert. A mom herself, she loves to educate parents and nannies on the importance of quality in-home childcare. Find out more by visiting @eNannySource on Twitter. 

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#TCMeveryday April Images

It’s beginning to look a lot like spring!  Browsing through all the #TCMeveryday images it looks like you’ve all had a fun month making the most of warm sunshine, blooming flowers, baseball, spring break road trips and finding a bit of beauty in your everyday.  So many wonderful, colorful images sharing the long awaited signs of spring!

@thewhitekitchenblog        @sewquiltmom      @joymadeit      

@lizzie_jane      @naomiliester      @kellyharper75      

@songbird70      @magandastudios      @hopskip

Our hope with this monthly feature is that you’ll connect with other creative minded mamas, documenting their days.  Remember to tag you images with #TCMeveryday for the chance to be featured each month.  We want to celebrate the wonderful ways you capture this season of life!

 

 

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Food Photography 101: Styling

Food styling is something that I’ve struggled to learn the basics of over the short time I’ve been food blogging.  Unlike the more precise, technical aspects of photography, like learning to use the manual settings on your camera, food styling relies a lot on gut instinct, practice, and a lot of trial and error.

So, rather than giving you a prescriptive lesson on styling your food photos, I thought I would take you on a journey of what styling looks like on a blog shoot in my little studio. (Hint: get ready for a lot of trial and error!)

I often start thinking about what I want my photos to look like as I’m making (or even before I’ve made) the food I’m going to photograph.  I think about the story I want the photos to tell:  Why have I made this food? When would I eat it?  What would I eat it with?  What feelings does eating this dish invoke for me?

I had already decided, with this pistachio, cardamom and honey granola recipe, that I wanted to convey a warm, brightly lit breakfast: feelings of coziness and relaxation would abound in this series of photos.  I first chose a bowl for my granola – one that, to me, looked down-to-earth and everyday.

Pistachio Cardamom and Honey Granola

You can imagine how the look and feel of my granola shoot would change if I used a more modern, clean-looking bowl and linen, like this:

Pistachio, Cardamom and Honey Granola

I also started to play around with linens and backdrops.  When starting out with food styling, it’s a great idea to begin collecting some linens, backdrops and dishes that you like.  The fabric store is a great place to get swatches that look like napkins:  I often use quilt scraps in lieu of buying actual table linens.  Antique stores are a goldmine of cutlery and dishes.  Using well-worn, matte cutlery is a trick of the trade:  shiny spoons and forks reflect light, and sometimes even the image of you taking the picture!  Try to look for smaller dishes as well:  I often plate my food on side plates so that I’m better able to get the entire dish into the frame of my photograph.  As for backdrops, I hit up my local hardware store and got some interconnecting wood panelling which I painted different colours.  A few large tiles are a great choice as well, as they can look like a countertop in a tightly framed photo.

Pistachio, Cardamom and Honey Granola

So, thinking that I definitely wanted to go with my white panelled backdrop, I started playing around with linens.  In the first photo, you can see I experimented with a monochromatic look, using the beige linen.  Then I used my trusty colour wheel and wondered if a blue linen would contrast and bring out the brown in the plate and food.  Still not happy, I changed the entire look, using a large piece of grey tile and a grey linen napkin, and had an aha moment.

What do you think?  Would you have made a different choice?  

Pistachio, Cardamom and Honey Granola

I usually start with a nice tight shot of the food that I’m photographing.  Then I start adding in various props to richen the photo and help me to tell a story about the food.  Here’s a word to the wise:  many food photographers, when they’re first starting out, get really really close to their food, trying to capture all the beautiful details in the dish.  While this can generate some beautiful images, you want to make sure you back away from your food enough so that your viewer knows what they’re looking at.

By way of adding in props, I started with a latte in an earthenware mug I chose for the way it paired with the brown stripe around the bowl.  The simple addition of a drink to your image is a great first prop to experiment with. (Tip:  because beautifully aerated milk in a latte tends to liquefy again after sitting for a few minutes, I actually did all of my linen and backdrop experimenting, as well as my initial food-only shots, before making the latte.  Timing is everything!)  

Pistachio, Cardamom and Honey Granola

I didn’t like where I initially placed the mug, so I moved it.  Here’s a lesson in photo composition:  you want to create “movement” in your photo, or a way to cause your viewer’s eye to move across the photo, taking in details as it goes.  In the photo below, my eye starts by looking at the bulk of the granola at the bottom of the bowl, then follows the spoon, arcing towards the top left of the photo before crossing over to the latte and back around to the granola.  In the photo above, I just felt like the photo’s movement didn’t appeal to me as much.

What do you think?  Would you have moved the latte?

Pistachio, Cardamom and Honey Granola

I chose to make granola for this tutorial because it’s kind of an “ugly” food:  brown, somewhat uniform in appearance – the kind of food that is notoriously difficult to create beautiful photographs with.  That’s why I chose to style this granola in a bowl with yogurt, honey and a sprinkling of pepitas.  A simple jar of granola risks looking a bit drab, but adding green seeds, white yogurt, and caramel-coloured honey creates visual interest as well as telling more of a story about how I would eat the granola.  This scene plants me immediately in an imaginary world where I eat a leisurely breakfast on a sun-dappled table.  (Maybe I could have even added the corner of a newspaper in the photo, to make it look like I actually had time to read the news!)  If the idea of pistachio, cardamom and honey granola wasn’t appealing enough to make me want to try this recipe or keep reading this blog, then perhaps I can captivate my viewers with the imaginary world into which I’ve invited them.  Especially, if they’re like me, they are are actually balancing a toddler in their lap and making a play dough snake with the other hand while shovelling this granola in their faces before rushing the kids out the door.

The most obvious prop in your food styling is always the food itself.  Try saving a few of the individual ingredients for the food you’ve made and place them around the dish as a way to enrich your photo.  This is especially effective if the food you’re featuring is something quite homogenous-looking, like granola, where each individual ingredient isn’t always decipherable in the photo.

Pistachio, Cardamom and Honey Granola

My next move was to add the jar of granola, to see how that affected the look and feel of my photos.  I started with the jar upright…

Pistachio, Cardamom and Honey Granola

And then I tipped it over and spilled some, carefully ensuring that the angle of the jar and the spilled granola contributed to the movement of the photo.  See how your eye tracks from the bottom, follows the spoon handle up toward the latte, jumps over to the jar, and follows the granola back down to the bowl?  

Pistachio, Cardamom and Honey Granola

What do you think?  Do you prefer the simpler photos with just the granola, or the ones with a few other props added in? Usually, in my blog posts, I like a mixture of both.  But some blogs, like Faux Martha, for example, stick to simple backdrops with minimal propping to create beautiful, food-centric images.  Thinking about and responding to the kinds of photos that you like to look at the most is your first step along the way to cultivating a food photography style that is all your own.

Pistachio, Cardamom and Honey Granola

My next task was to try a few different angles.  Though this isn’t necessarily a food styling technique, trying to shoot from a variety of angles changes the way your props look in the frame, and can create a more interesting image.

Pistachio, Cardamom and Honey Granola

Pistachio, Cardamom and Honey Granola

Which angles do you like best?  

Then, finally, I tried to add a bit of dynamism into my photo by scooping up a bit of granola and yogurt, to make it look like I was mid-way through eating my breakfast.  I tried to add in my hand holding the spoon, but had a bit of a hard time getting the angle right, so I left it as is.  

Pistachio, Cardamom and Honey Granola

And that, my friends, was a wrap.  Though I’ve shown you many of the photographs I took as I navigated the process of styling my granola shoot, I would probably only use two or three in my actual blog post.  

Which photos would you pick?  What would you have done differently?  As you can see, the same person photographing the same granola might make completely different food styling choices.  There’s no right or wrong way to style a food photograph, only your way.

And, because I hope I’ve thoroughly enticed you with these photos, here is the recipe for the granola.

Food Photography 101:  The Series

Part 1:  Lighting

Part 2: Lenses

Part 3: You are here!

 This article was written by Jessie.

 

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Dancing With Light

The Creative Mama, Maegan Beishline
As a photographer, light is something I am always noticing, always appreciating, always admiring… whether I have my camera in hand or not. I watch how it illuminates, cradles, wraps around, and bathes whatever it touches. As the seasons change, I watch how the light moves and shifts, becoming more and then less and then more again. Afternoon follows morning, night follows evening, and the light through it all is constantly changing. Its beauty fills me with awe and even its absence has much to say.

Early on in my photographic journey, I realized how crucial light was to creating good images. Without proper exposure and an understanding of light, a good shot can be unsalvageably ruined. Without good light, images can be flat, lacking depth and story. But with proper exposure, good light, and the skills to work together with both, ordinary moments and everyday things become magical. Over the years, my ignorance of light turned to intimidation, then to reverence, and then to love. I no longer fear specific lighting conditions, but rather I enjoy the ongoing challenge to improve my skills. I happily accept light’s request to dance, and I let her lead me into all sorts of new places within my photography.

If you should find yourself admiring light…and if she should beckon to you, asking you to dance…I beg you, allow her to sweep you off your feet!

The Creative Mama, Maegan Beishline
The Creative Mama, Maegan Beishline
The Creative Mama, Maegan Beishline

This article was written by Maegan.

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Eclair Dessert Squares (a family favorite)

eclair dessert squares recipe at the creative mama

I’m really excited about a new blog feature that is coming soon to The Creative Mama– it is Reader Recipes! TCM can’t wait to gather and share your favorite recipes. What is your go-to dish for a weeknight dinner? How about your favorite treat? Please share with us a recipe that your family asks for again and again. You may just find yourself as a guest poster in the TCM spotlight. (See details at the end of this post.)

I’d like to share one of the crowd pleasers from my recipe box. I often make this treat when we have company or when I need a something sweet for a potluck. While it’s not fancy, it tastes every bit as delicious as something that is. It’s dreamy. Because my finicky kids have yet to learn to appreciate finer desserts, having the Eclair Dessert Squares as an option keeps them from subsisting on the pie and cake toppings of ice cream and Cool Whip alone. (I even brought Eclair Dessert Squares to Grandma’s house this past Thanksgiving.) It worked.

The simplicity of this recipe and its ingredients makes it ideal for enlisting the help of little hands. (At the very least, the youngest can “help” by munching on a graham cracker.)

eclair dessert squares recipe2 at the creative mama

ECLAIR DESSERT SQUARES

Graham crackers
two 3 oz packages of vanilla instant pudding mix
3 1/4 cups milk
9 oz carton of whipped topping
chocolate frosting (may use already prepared frosting or make your own)

1) Combine pudding mix and milk in a medium bowl. Beat for 1-2 minutes. (Does anyone still use a hand mixer like me? I don’t mean that I’m cranking away… but an electrical mixer that you hold by hand. Anyone?)
2) Fold in whipped topping.
3) Line the bottom of a 9×13 pan with whole graham crackers.
4) Spread 1/2 of the pudding mixture over the crackers.
5) Add another layer of graham crackers, followed by the remaining pudding mixture, and one more layer of crackers.
6) Carefully spread chocolate frosting over the final layer of crackers. (Frosting that is room temperature and the use of a warm knife makes for a smooth finish.)
7) Let dish set in the refrigerator at least 8 hours or overnight.

eclair dessert squares recipe 3 at the creative mama

Chocolate frosting
3 cups powdered sugar
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1/2 cup softened butter
1 tsp vanilla
1/4 cup milk

Mix all ingredients in a medium bowl. Beat until smooth. If needed, add more milk by the tablespoon for a smoother consistency.

eclair dessert squares5 at the creative mama

Let me know if you give Eclair Dessert Squares a try. I hope it’s a hit with your family!

reader recipe details for the creative mama

This article was written by Clair.

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12 Months

Captures of our last 12 months. Cousins. Grandparents. Family. Ties that bind.

 

It’s always a bittersweet time in the life of a military family when the one year mark approaches… one year before we begin another transition, one year to enjoy the time we have left, one year to foster relationships or let some go, one year to prepare for the goodbyes, one year to do “all the things” we wanted to in the place we are stationed.

Florida will be a tough place to leave. Leaving is always hard, but this is home for me— where my roots are. And this is where family is, family we have never lived near until now. We learned what it was like to have cousins romp in our backyard on a regular basis, and grandparents for sleepovers and movie dates–and babysitters. We loved getting to know grandparents on a more than week or two at a time level. We cherished great- grandparents to sit with and pass idle time with and serve and love on. These will be hard things to leave… so very hard… because this will be the end for us here — and we won’t likely be returning. There is such finality in this move.

My children are older now. They will know what they are leaving.

And today, I am wistful about it all.

I love our family. I love our life.

But sometimes the leaving isn’t easy. Because I love it here too.

And so I begin to make my lists of the people I want to soak in, of the places to tread, of the food to try…

of the life I want to live these next 12 months.

Sometimes a countdown is like being given a second chance. You get to focus on the things you should do, the things you want to do.

And you get to shut things out that aren’t important.

My house will be less clean. My days will be less wired. But our hours will be fun and friend and family full. And we will be connected in real and authentic ways.

I will photograph more. I will make room for memory making.

We will make it count. This year.

This 12 months.

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