Sally’s Baking Addiction: March, 2019 Challenge: Lemon Bars With Shortbread Crust 🍋

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When I saw that Sally wanted us to make lemon bars, I was not too excited 😏

I love lemon 🍋, but am not a huge fan of shortbread. Just too buttery for me, but it turned out that the crust was not too thick and did provide a nice relief to all that sharp lemon flavor.

Sally has converted me once again! Everytime I think that I won’t like something, I am wrong😂 Now I am a believer!!

There are only 7 ingredients in her recipe, so the quality of each is important🌟

The first step is to bake the shortbread crust. I put the 1 cup of butter into a glass measuring cup, with a pour spout, and melted it in the microwave, just until it was melted (I didn’t want this to boil). While the butter cooled a bit, I whisked up the granulated sugar, vanilla and salt

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The melted butter was added

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Finally the flour was incorporated and stirred into a shiny dough ball, the dough is thick at this point.

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This was pressed into a 9 X 13, parchment lined glass pan

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and baked at 325F for 20 minutes.

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While the crust was in the oven, the filling was prepared. It is also quite easy to assemble!

More sugar and flour were sifted together. I made one small change to Sally’s recipe here and added the zest of the lemons 🍋, I just couldn’t help myself😉

It also turned out that all my eggs were double yolks 😂

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Another important tip Sally gave us was to use freshly squeezed lemon juice. I have to agree with her! I always squeeze it fresh.

 

After the juice was added, the lemon filling was poured over the warm crust and back in the oven for another 20 minutes, until the center jiggled slightly

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Once the bars were done, they sat at room temperature for 2 hours, then in the refridgerator for overnight. Sally recommends they be refriderated for at least two hours but overnight fit my life better 😊

Then it was time to cut! I pulled them out of the pan using the parchment paper and dusted the bars with powdered sugar

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Then cut into squares, a knife run under hot water helped make this a cleaner job!

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I was happy with the look of these 😊

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And the taste! 😋✨

If you are a lemon fan, these are for you!

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Sally’s Baking Addiction: February, 2019 Challenge: Homemade Chocolate Truffles 🍫🍬 😋

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February, Valentine’s Day, the month to celebrate chocolate 🍫❤️!

Sally’s baking challenge this month was to make chocolate truffles. This was incredibly easy! Only two ingredients, good quality chocolate and heavy cream. 😋 She did give us the option to add a tablespoon of butter for a better consistency and vanilla for flavor, both of which I did add 😉, but you could do this with only the chocolate and cream.

The first step is to finely chop up the chocolate, using a serrated knife works really well. The finer you chop the chocolate the faster the hot cream will melt it.

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I chose semi sweet chocolate to make sure that the truffles would not be too sweet, but you could use dark or milk chocolate. Sally provides some additional instructions for different cocoa content.

I added the tablespoon of butter and, carefully, heated the heavy cream in the microwave. When the cream was warm (but not boiling!), it was poured over the mixture and let to sit for 5 min.

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I then stirred the mixture until it was smooth and shiny.

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The chocolate has to be completely cooled before you can scoop it out and roll it into balls. This was faster when I poured it into a 9 X 9 pan and placed it in the fridge for a couple of hours.

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After it was solid, I scored it into 36 squares, which made smaller truffles than what Sally’s recipe stated.

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I went with 6 toppings: chopped walnuts, unsweetened cocoa power, chocolate sprinkles,   colored sprinkles and gold and white sanding sugar.

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One bit of advice that Sally gave was to scoop the chocolate and allow it to dry out for 20 minutes before rolling them into balls. This helped make a sticky job a little easier.

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They were small, but so tasty 😋

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The inside was soft, and the toppings provided a nice crunchy element. They were fine at room temperature as well, of course, we still have snow on the ground around here😂 so “room temp” may be a tad low!

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This was one of Sally’s fastest recipes! Next time I think I might add a liqueur flavor instead of vanilla. They would be perfect for the holidays 🌟

Our Long Weekend at Miraval Spa💆🏼‍♀️🧘🏻‍♀️🚵‍♀️

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Recently hubby and I visited Miraval Arizona Resort & Spa in Tucson. We went to celebrate my birthday and Valentine’s Day this year. And, although the resort was only 40 minutes from our Tucson home, it was as if we had journeyed much further. The tranquil environment, delicious food, beautiful setting and indulgent treatments were just what we needed! It’s no secret that Dennis and I are tremendously active, and our sore bodies needed a little TLC, in the form of massages 💆🏼‍♀️ and down time.

This is a popular spa and we had to plan our trip months ago. So far in advance that we sort of forgot what we signed up for😂. We had many options to choose from, and not just in the spa treatments, but the activities list was extensive! Everything from horseback riding to psychic readings was available. We tend toward active pursuits and stayed true to form. We did, however, avoid activities that we already participate in regularly.

The weather was a little cool, but we did get some sun from time to time. Our first goal was to orient ourselves to the property, so we set out to take a look around.

 

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View from the spa, overlooking one of the pools

 

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The mediation area, near the front entrance

 

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We didn’t have too much time because we were scheduled to take the slack line class! I was particularly excited about this one 🤩.

We started out low to the ground and them made our way up to the higher line. Dennis was pretty good at this!

I am really in love with this! It’s an excellent way to work on balance and strengthen the core. You will be seeing more of this on Instagram next month, as I already purchased one 😂

After our class, Dennis headed out to a yoga class that caught his attention. I decided to work on my own practice on the back patio at our room.

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And, continued looking around!

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We also spent some time in the pool 🏊‍♀️, and next to it reading. So great to just relax for a bit! We both had massages scheduled for later that night, so dinner was first.

Oh the food!! Have you been to a spa? If so, you know that the emphasis is on healthy, tasty meals😋. All dishes have the nutritional breakdown listed, and is appropriately portioned. Of course it is still easy to consume too much! It is a lot like going on a cruise, where the food is included, so you do have to police yourself😉

We (tried) to eat lite, as we had the massages later, and no alcohol since we had an early tightrope walking class the next day. Still, we had to try three desserts 😂

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The next morning, it was time to hit the ropes course. I had signed up for this experience and had them add it to my hubby’s schedule too, without telling him! That was two months ago, and I meant to tell him….really!

We went through the safety stuff, were fitted for our harnesses and the order of participation was set. Much to my chagrin, I was last😳, and Dennis was to go first.

So, up he went. The course is 35 feet above the ground and is effectively a slack line with ropes to grip as you make your way across the obstacle.

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Dennis had no trouble moving all the way to the last rope (on the right of the picture). The vertical support ropes start out close together but grow farther from one another as you progress.

As I mentioned, he was first, and I was to be 8th. So, we watched the other ladies for a while. Most made it all the way🌟

Finally, my turn!

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more clouds have moved in!

 

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Yep, I made it too! Dennis took this shot. I look like a spider in a web 🕷🕸!

We went for breakfast after this and I was in heaven. Breakfast is my favorite meal and Miraval did not disappoint!

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Pesto fried egg on a roasted sweet potato 😋

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And, steel-cut oats with more eggs! 🥚

We split up after this amazing meal. I went to the spa to hang out in the hot tub and have a facial, while hubby went to another yoga class. He had another treatment as well, so we did not see one another until the sunset hike later that evening.

The hike itself was fairly straight forward. Since we do live here half the year, we have been on many desert hikes, but never with a guide. She was wonderful and very knowledgeable about the desert environment. Not too much of a sunset though, as it was quite cloudy☁️

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She did point out this prickly pear that had a heart shaped lobe. Had to grab this image for Valentine’s Day ❤️

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We finished our 2 hour hike just in time for dinner. This time, there were no restrictions for time the next day, so we had some drinks 🍸🥃🥂 and, then a few more🤪

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We also continued to explore the menu! A few appetizers…..

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And, two more desserts to sample 😂

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We crowned the dessert winner….This sweet potato tart with white chocolate ice cream 🏆

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At some point, during another round of drinks, I noticed that I was feeling a little off.. a cold perhaps? Oh well, not tonight!

The next morning however, ya, I was starting to feel a little yucky! But no matter! We had mountain biking to do 🚵‍♀️🚵🏻‍♂️

I don’t have any photos of this as we were too busy mowing over obstacles, but believe me it was a sight to see hubby on a bike😂 definitely not his comfort zone! We did not fall and had fun, all you can ask, right?!

Dennis went off for a massage and I headed to my yoga class. I signed up for a yoga wheel experience, but when I got there, it was just me😳 I ended up having a private session in the most beautiful yoga studio.

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Just the teacher and me

 

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What a view!

By now, I was limber and feeling the full effects of my cold 🤧 Time for some hot beverages

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And, another round of hot tub soaking, and my final spa treatment. I had a sugar scrub and was all set for, more hot beverages, and dinner.

This would be our last dinner, so we wanted to have our favorite dessert one more time. As well as something really tasty for the appetizer and entrée.

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The farm fresh egg appetizer

 

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Roasted shrimp with forbidden rice entrée

Afterward, we took a walk around and saw a beautiful sunset!

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By now, I was ready for bed, with my cold in full bloom!

Our last morning at Miraval and Dennis had one more spa treatment, while I went to the core blasting experience. So glad I didn’t cancel this one!

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I had never used one of these boards before! It was fun, not super hard, but I may have been in need of a tougher class for this one. Many other folks seemed to be hurting 😂, at least I got some exercise in before we left!

One last stroll around the beautiful grounds.

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This long exposure almost looks like a cartoon

 

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And, with that, we left for the short drive home 🏠😊

Such an amazing experience. We truly felt rejuvenated, and rested. We chose a mixture of relaxing treatments and fun activities for our experience, but you could truly go more indulgent or more active. We recommend Miraval, and the spa experience in general.

I’m already looking forward to our next visit🌟

 

Sally’s Baking Addiction: January, 2019 Challenge: Homemade Bagels 😋

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Sally’s first challenge of 2019 finds us back into yeasted breads. Homemade bagels, yum 😋 Now, you probably have figured out that I do love to bake bread. However, I am not a huge consumer of bagels. Not sure why. It may have to do with the fact that they are too large and bready for my taste. But if I get to make them, well, then they can be any size I want! And, any flavor 😉

I kept it simple for this go around. I made her basic recipe, but if you want to change it up, Sally did provide a list of her other tasty varieties!

One item that is truly unique to bagel, or pretzel making for that matter, is barley malt syrup. This is what gives bagels their malt like flavor. You don’t have to use this of course, honey and/or brown sugar can be used instead. But, I decided to order it online, just to be authentic.

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I also opted to do this overnight, as I was kinda busy during this time. Actually, allowing the dough to rise slowly, overnight, allows for a delicious flavor development 😄. So, I mixed up the warm water and yeast.

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Once I saw it was activated, I added the barley syrup, bread flour and salt. And that’s it!

The mixer pulled the ingredients together, and then I kneaded it for another few minutes until the dough was firm.

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This went into an oiled bowl, covered and left overnight in the fridge, to slowly rise.

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The next morning, I allowed the dough to come to room temp, about 2 hours in my house that morning.

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Sally’s recipe called for the dough to be divided into 8 “equalish” pieces. But, you know I can’t just do that! 😂 I did weigh the dough so that the bagels would be similar.

I weighed the bowl with the dough, removed the dough, and weighed the empty bowl to find the total weight of the mixture. 838g of dough, divided by 8 came to, a little over, 104g per bagel.

I divided the dough into 8 pieces and checked them on the scale. A little extra dough here, a little less there…. And, each was ready to be shaped.

The first step was to roll it into a tight ball.

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Then flattened, and a 1-2 inch hole punched into the middle

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Seven more later….

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These were covered and allowed to rest while I prepared the water bath.

Yes, water bath! Bagels (and pretzels) need to be boiled prior to baking. This gives them the crusty exterior and helps them color properly.

The boiling water has more barley malt syrup, but you can use honey. Check out the color of the boiling solution with the syrup!

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Once the mixture had boiled, I added the bagles and cooked them 1 minute per side.

It took a little time, but this step is quite important. Once all were boiled, an egg wash was applied. I decided to add some course salt to the top. We had been given a special sea salt from our yoga trip to Mexico last year, so I used that.

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Now they were ready for the oven!

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The bagles were baked at 425F for 20 minutes, until dark brown

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After they cooled, we dug in! I know that most people associate bagels with cream cheese, and that is delicious. But I like mine with goat cheese and honey 🍯

 

A great start to this year of baking challenges 🤩 And this was not hard! It really is simple to make bagels at home, and they freeze well if you have extra😊💕

Give it a try, and let me know what you think! Or better yet, join me in the next challenge😁👩🏻‍🍳

Sally’s Baking Addiction: November, 2018 Challenge: Savory Vegetable Cheese Tart🍠🍅🧀

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Once again, I am getting this done just under the wire! 😬 It’s the last day of November and Sally will be revealing the December challenge tomorrow. Perhaps I will challenge myself to get that done BEFORE December 31st😁!

Sally loves pies!! Like, really loves them. And, every year in November, she dedicates her blog to all things pie related. This time, she went with a savory tart, which is just a flat pie😂

Sally’s savory vegetable cheese tart recipe begins with a choice of crust. I went with her All butter pie crust, so glad I did! I don’t make a lot of pies, and have never had the best of luck with these types of crusts. Usually I make them too dry, because I am worried about it turning out too wet. But I went for it anyway!

The concept is pretty straightforward. Mix the flour, salt and a little sugar together. Cut in the cold butter.

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Until it is the size of peas

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Why does every recipe say that? the size of peas…? How big is that really?🧐 my “pea size” is actually quite a bit larger 😉

Then add the ice water until it is not dry, but not too wet either 😳 Whatever.

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This recipe will make two crusts, one is needed for this tart. I let it rest in the fridge overnight. The next day I rolled it out.

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This was the best roll out I have ever made, hopefully I can replicate it again!

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The dough went into the tart pan

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Then I blind baked it for 15 minutes at 350F. I don’t have pie weights, so I went with the dried beans!

While the tart was blind baking, I mixed the second element of this dish, the ricotta filling. The cheese filling went into the warm tart shell.

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Now came the creative part! We could use whatever vegetables we liked to top the tart. Sally provided lots of great ideas, and I went back and forth as to what to choose. Finally, I settled on sweet potatoes, tomatoes and zucchini. I was worried that the tomatoes might be too wet, but I cut them thin and blotted with a paper towel, just to be safe.

I tried to do something creative 😂

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This was brushed with olive oil, sprinkled with sea salt and thyme.

And, baked until the veggies were tender, for about 40 minutes in my oven.

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And then we feasted!!😋

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My hubby really liked it. And what about the other crust that was left over?

I have always wanted to try a sweet potato pie recipe. I chose one from Alton Brown, and yeah, it was great!

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November was a good month at our house 👩🏻‍🍳❤️!

Learning From a Pro: Food Photography & Food Styling Workshop 📸

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I was blessed to have such an amazing summer! So many wonderful trips and fantastic experiences 😊. Here we are in November, about a week from Thanksgiving, and I am still playing catchup with my blog!!😳

This food photography workshop, which I attended in early October,  is just one of those amazing experiences. I first learned of Clare Barboza from a friend in Seattle.  Leslie, my friend of many years, knew about my passion for baking and had seen many of my photos on Instagram. Probably why she recommended Clare’s workshop to me 🤣😂🤣! I’m kidding! Leslie has always been very supportive of my crazy Insta adventures.

When I first began researching this opportunity, Clare was splitting her time between her two studios, one in downtown Seattle and the other in Vermont. She has since chosen to focus her business at the Vermont location, which better supports her family. I instantly fell in love with her photography style and decided, rather quickly, that I wanted to attend her weekend workshop where she would educate us on lighting, composition, and use of props in food styling. I had never been to Vermont, and it would be in the fall when everyone says it is gorgeous, so I signed up!

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Brattelboro is a cute, little town that I really did not explore 😔 I did not leave myself enough time to poke around! I flew in late Friday and out early Monday, leaving two full days to absorb as much photography knowledge as possible (and hit a local climbing gym 😉, priorities you know).

Clare’s studio is beautiful, bright and full of fantastic props for her photography.

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The left side of the studio is all windows, allowing the natural light to stream in during a large portion of the day.

Clare prefers natural light and the large set of windows allows her to alter the directionality as the day progresses.

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It helps to have a fully functional kitchen when specializing in food photography

Clare’s husband helped her remodel the kitchen area, which is airy and bright. Pretty handy guy to have around!! And, check out the view from the kitchen window.🌳

She wanted to divide this large space, and used these vintage window frames. I loved the look of these, and had to snap a pic.

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The other half of the studio was full of props! I was so jealous😂. I had a ball picking out surfaces of various colors and textures.

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Clare’s husband made these boards, again, a handy dude!

She also had vinyl surfaces of various colors and textures to choose from for backgrounds.

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Her collection of place settings!! Anything you could think of was available to enhance our scenes. Dishes, cups, silverware, bowls ….. I was in heaven💕

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This is only a portion of the full collection

We would begin each day with a short lecture/discussion about a certain topic. If you have ever attended a photography class, you will have heard of many of these same themes.

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The class getting ready to learn

Clare mixes concepts with actual hands on practice. I loved this! We had many opportunities to hone our skills. We began with a discussion on light and how to redirect it when needed. We also talked about composition, leading lines and depth of field. Many of these are topics covered in any photography class, but Clare gave us tips and ideas specific to food. And, she shared many of her gorgeous pictures and how she set them up.

Throughout the two days, we would be given five assignments. We could take as many pictures as we wanted, but had to choose one or two, from each task, for a critique on the last day. This was harder than it sounded! Sometimes I had many pictures I liked and others I couldn’t find one😲!

Our first assignment was to shoot a drink with backlighting. She provided us with different colored drink mixes, garnishes and sent us to work! At first I was not very comfortable just grabbing her supplies, and I was overwhelmed by so many options to choose from! I took over a hundred pictures and kept only 10! A theme that I would repeat many times over the course of the weekend.

I tried to challenge myself to create two different looks with this assignment.

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This was a backlit, fresh and airy feel

 

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Here I used the same drink but went for a more holiday, evening look.

Our next assignment was to photograph a charcuterie display. Clare set out a huge array of meats, cheeses, crackers and assorted goodies. This is my heaven!🥖🧀🍎

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She demonstrated her thought process, how she would approach this shoot.

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She told us the mood, or feel she was trying to create

She arranged, and then rearranged the components until she liked the composition.

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She added props to tell the story.

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And took test shots at various angles.

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Now it was our turn, yikes!

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This is just one of my many attempts

 

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I decided to add some height by rolling the salami and placing it upright.

I don’t know if I succeeded in this assignment, but I was full, as we were encouraged to eat the cheeses 😋

Lunch was included in the price of the workshop, and I thought it was the charcuterie ingredients, but Clare made us a delicious, and much healthier option. Her soup was wonderful, and really topped me off! She also offered us a tasty dessert, chocolate!🍫

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Our afternoon assignment was pasta! Clare provided us with the makings of an excellent pasta bar: several different shapes of noodles, two different sauces (red, and white), several garnishes, even bread for the pictures.

Our task was to put together an attractive dish and shoot it from above and at a 3/4 angle. Again, I took so many shots, and chose these three for the critique.

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It was so fun to see what the class came up with! We were all very different from one another.

Day 1 had come to a close, and I know I was kinda beat. Being creative on demand is mentally taxing for this science based person 😊. We had also been rather passive all day and I was in desperate need of some physical activity!

I had researched climbing gyms nearby and found one in Hadley Massachusetts, only and hour away😳 Central Rock Climbing Gym was just what I needed that night!

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Unfortunately they did not have auto belays, so I only bouldered. But I did send an inverted V4 😁 Very happy about that!

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I will definitely spend more time here, if I get the chance!

The next day was to be the “tough” day. I didn’t really know what Clare meant by that, but found out fast! She meant that we would be photographing food that is notoriously hard to make pretty.

This second day highlighted the food styling portion of the class. We discussed choosing a mood or vibe, and how to select props that enhance, but not overshadow the food.

And, we went over the dreaded color wheel 😫 I say dreaded because I just struggle with that thing!

Our first assignment was salad photography and I decided to face my color wheel issue head on! That meant trying to figure out the complementary color thing. I have seen many green salads paired with blue backgrounds, and everyone else loves it.

So…

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And I hate it! A number of other students liked this. I did like the choice I made with the linen, as it has the red stripe that I liked with the strawberries, but the rest…. oh well, I will keep working with the wheel.

The last assignment for the workshop, Clare called “the canned soup challenge”. And this was tough! We were to take a can of soup and make it look appealing, somehow.  If you have not opened a can of soup lately, give it a go, it may shock you how horrible it looks! All the “green” vegetables (like peas and beans) are a mucky shade of brown/green 🤢 One of the students chose a lentil soup and, I am not joking, it looked like dog food!

One advantage here is that I do make a lot of soups and stews and have photographed them for this blog. So I have practiced a bit already. Still, this was a tough one!

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We were allowed to use some fresh garnishes like herbs or sour cream. I tied a bundle of peppers together to add some color too and chose a monochromatic palette in the hopes that the colors would appear more vibrant. At least I liked it more than my salad🤣

The last portion of the class was a group critique of the photos we selected. This is always helpful! It is also tough because it is so subjective, one person will like what another finds distasteful. My goal is to take it all in and improve as best I can💕

With that, the workshop came to an end! I loved it and would happily join another of Clare’s classes!! I learned so much and had fun. Her teaching style is so approachable, there was nothing you couldn’t ask her😊

I finally had some time to look at that legendary Vermont Fall Foliage that everyone raves about! I went for a quick walk in the town.

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And another shot in downtown

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I met up with two of the ladies from the class for one final dinner together.

 

We drank, we ate and we talked about how ugly canned soup looks!!😂😂😂

A big thank you to Clare Barboza for all the great lessons learned! 📸🥗😉

Sally’s Baking Addiction: October, 2018 Challenge: Pumpkin Spice Toffee🍬🎃

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I know, I know, EVERYTHING is pumpkin spice right now. And, people often fall into the “hate” or “love” group when it comes to pumpkin spice. I happen to love it❤️ If you do too, then this is a great, easy recipe.

Sally’s Baking Addiction Challenge this month does involve candy making. Many people are a little intimidated by this process, but as usual, Sally has some great tips to make it simple.

The essential tools will be a candy thermometer, a heavy bottom sauce pan and a wooden spoon. Sally also recommends a silicon mat to pour the candy mixture onto. I am sure that this would be helpful, but I just used parchment paper coated with non-stick cooking spray.

There are only 5 ingredients  needed to make the toffee: butter, warm water, light corn syrup, salt and sugar. All these go into the heavy bottom and pan and stirred with the wooden spoon. This does take some patience as you wait for the color to develop.

Initially, the mixture is pale and thin

 

While the sugar mixture is boiling, you will need to periodically brush down the hardened sugar crystals that collect on the sides of the pan with cool water and a pastry brush. Sally has a video showing what this looks like.

In the video below you can see the color and consistency changing as it nears the recommended 290F degrees.

This is removed from the heat and the pecans are stirred in, and you need to immediately pour the hot mix onto the prepared pan.

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This is topped with the rest of the chopped pecans and sugar/pumpkin spice mix

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And that is it!!😊 give it some time in the fridge to set and then break into pieces. 😋

 

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This is the easiest toffee I have ever made, and the flavors can be changed to whatever YOU like💕 Give this one a try👻🎃🍬