roasted broccoli

roasted broccoli

roasted broccoliI thought instead of showing you all some fancy staged photo of a bowl of roasted broccoli, that I would show you my kids actually eating and liking it!  I know that if I hear about someone’s kids digging a veggie then I’m more inclined to make it up for my kids.  So, hopefully by seeing my kids enjoying this super healthy veggie, some of you may be more inclined to make this up for your troops!  I’m also letting you all know that this is not going to be a fancy post with jaw dropping photos, but instead it’s going to be a quick and simple post showing you all a quick and simple family approved recipe.  That’s how Marin mama rolls these days.  I’m a full-time working mama, working on some easy family approved recipes for you all!

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how to roast red peppers

how to roast red peppers

how to roast red peppersToday I thought I would share with you all a quick and practical post on how to roast red peppers, because I know there are some of you out there that may not know how to. Roasting red peppers is super easy, and roasting them brings out their natural sweetness. The roasted red peppers that you buy at the market are good, but they really don’t hold a candle to red peppers that you roast at home in your oven. You can roast a few red peppers at a time for a particular recipe, or roast a bunch to use in various recipes throughout  the week.  I used roasted red peppers for soups, sandwiches, pizza sauces, in omelets or scrambled eggs and as a topping for pizza. There are truly so many uses for them.  Once you start roasting your own peppers you won’t go back to buying them.

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lacinato kale salad video tutorial

lacinato kale salad

lacinato kale salad (1 of 1)-2Yes, you read the title right, I’m posting my first attempt at an instructional cooking video. Woo hoo! I actually wouldn’t call it an official cooking video because I make a few mistakes in the video, and my head totally gets cut off in places, but as I said, it’s my first attempt, and making videos is not really my forte. I almost didn’t post the video because it’s not a perfect and I’m kind of embarrassed by the way I look and sound on camera. I mean come on, everyone hates seeing themselves on video, right?  You see yourself and think, wow, that’s really how I look to people, but then you realize that your friends and loved ones love you just the way you are, so it’s not so bad, right? There’s a point when you just have to get over yourself, put yourself out there and let it be, and that’s what I’m doing today.

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easy overnight steel cut oats

easy overnight steel cut oats with blueberries and honey

easy overnight steel cut oats with blueberries and honeySo most of you know that I was a cereal addict since the age of 17.  I literally ate a bowl of cereal everyday, usually grape nuts topped with some other kind of fiberish cereal and granola. I’m one of those people that wakes up hungry and can’t sit around and wait a 1/2 hour for breakfast to cook, so cereal was the breakfast of choice, or should I say breakfast of convenience. Steel cut oats were reserved for those fancy hotel vacations or breakfast out with the family, as I was under the assumption that steel cut oats were a labor intensive and timely breakfast to whip up. I changed that way of thinking though when I cooked up my hot quinoa and oat cereal for the first time. I learned the trick to a quick breakfast of steel cut oats, and that was to bring them to a quick boil and then let them sit out overnight. I still eat cold cereal on occasion, but lately I have been devouring these steel cut oats, my 5 minute quinoa cereal and my quinoa and oat cereal.  I would have to say that my breakfast routine has changed for the better!

So I’m posting this recipe for those fellow cereal addicts out there as well as those of you that want a quick and nutritious breakfast but were intimidated by the whole steel cut oat cooking process. This is seriously one of the easiest ways to cook up steel cut oats and I bet this will change your morning breakfast routine. So grab your tablet or laptop and join me in the kitchen as we cook up some steel cut oats.easy overnight steel cut oats

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how to keep strawberries fresh

how to keep strawberries fresh

how to keep strawberries freshIt’s strawberry season folks! Yippee! So today I thought I would share with you a quick tip that I learned from my friend Carolyn on how to keep those ripe strawberries fresh. Carolyn is the queen of the farmers market and always has great kitchen and produce tips for me.  She is sort of my go-to person for anything cooking related. Anyway, she showed me this simple, but helpful tip a few years back, and it’s really helped to keep my strawberries fresher longer.

First off, try and buy local strawberries if they’re available. Buying local mean they’re fresher and will last longer, and local produce always tastes better than something that has been shipped in from another state. When you return home from the market, check any berries for mold and then be sure to throw away any moldy berries. If the moldy berries are left with the good berries, then the mold will spread to the good berries as well. Also, don’t wash your strawberries or take off their green stems. You only want to wash your strawberries right before you’re ready to use them. Strawberries retain water and they will get soggy and soft.

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carrot, grapefruit and ginger juice – no juicer required

carrot, grapefruit and ginger juice - no juicer required

carrot, grapefruit and ginger juice - no juicer required I know, I’m a day late in posting and I’m not doing my usual weekly menu, Sorry! I know there are those of you that rely on the weekly menu for dinner ideas, so I promise I will be back with that next week. This week I’m taking a bit of a blogging vacation, as my kids are on spring break and I’m going to spend quality time with the family and re-energize and re-charge (I’m so in need of some re-charging). I didn’t want to leave you all hanging for a week without a recipe, so I’m going to show you this simple, 3 ingredient juice that you can make without a juicer or with a juicer if you have one!  Yippee!

Remember when I showed you all how to make a mean green juice without a juicer?  Well, I’m showing you another one of my favorite juices. This juice is both sweet and sour with a zesty and spicy kick to it from the ginger. I love downing one of these after a morning workout, as it reenergizes me and puts a kick in my step. John loves to have this in the morning before he heads off to work, as it wakes him up. This juice is packed full of fiber and chock full of vitamin C, and who doesn’t like or need a bit of that this time of year. You can make this juice in your juicer, but if you don’t have a juicer, don’t fret, I will show you how to make this juice without one.  Ok, let’s get this party started!

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How to de-stem and thinly slice kale

DSC_0006 kale

DSC_0006 kaleOk, so I have a lot of kale salads on the blog, (9 if you’re counting) so I thought it might be nice to share a post on how to de-stem and thinly slice kale, instead of always linking you all to my lactinato kale salad recipe where you have to scroll down the post just to get the info.

I already did a post on how to keep kale and other greens fresh, and since then I have received a lot of positive comments from readers and friends saying that those simple tips have made their lives so much easier when it comes to preparing a salad at the end of the day. Kale is one of those lettuces that keeps well. If washed and stored properly, it will keep up to 2 weeks. Most kale salads last up to 3 days in the fridge. That means if you make a kale salad on Monday, you will have leftovers Tuesday and Wednesday.  I mean who doesn’t like a salad that you can make ahead or better yet have leftovers of?

A note about purchasing lacinato kale:  Don’t purchase lacinato kale that feels tough and paper-like.  It will not breakdown and thus will not absorb the dressing even when you massage it.  Kale is best when its soft and pliable, (feels like regular lettuce) as it absorbs the dressing and is tender when eaten.

Ok, here are the step-by-step photos for de-stemming and thinly slicing kale.

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how to cook spaghetti squash

spaghetti squash with tomato sauce

spaghetti squash with tomato sauceToday’s post is sort of a recipe, but really more of a “how to” post. I’m going to show you all how to cook spaghetti squash.  I figured if I didn’t have a clue the first time I cooked one up, then there are those of you that are in the same boat. Spaghetti squash is a delicious and nutritious alternative to pasta.  It’s loaded with fiber, nutrients, vitamins and is high in potassium, which helps lower blood pressure, plus its fun to eat. When cooked, the inside of the squash shreds into long, thin noodle-like strands resembling spaghetti pasta.  I didn’t believe it until I actually made it and saw the transformation.

The squash is pretty mild in flavor and really tastes like pasta.  I have to admit that my kids and hubby were not entirely satisfied with the squash as they would be with a traditional spaghetti pasta.  To make it more of a satisfying meal, I either have to top the squash with some meatballs or if I’m keeping it vegetarian, then I need to add a side of garlic bread for my carb loving kids.

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how to keep kale and other greens fresh

fresh

Ok, I’ll be frank with you all, this isn’t the most exciting post I have ever put out there. As I was writing it, I kind of yawned a few times and thought to myself, am I really writing about how to keep lettuce and kale fresh, really?  I’m writing this post because I want you all to see how easy it is to whip up a nightly salad on the fly without having to buy the pre-washed bagged lettuce or kale.

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how to make a “mean green juice” without a juicer

mean green juice without a juicer

So, there’s this new juice bar that just opened in Corte Madera for all you locals called, Juice Alley.  It’s an amazing little juice bar that has tons of different organic juice concoctions, vegan snacks and bars. I’m so excited as I love green juices and I also love that it’s right next to my gym.  What a great and healthy treat to pick up after a hard workout, right?  So, I tried their kale and ginger juice.  Let me just tell you that it was amazing and the ginger just popped in my mouth. I knew I was going to have to figure out how to replicate it at home, as this daily juice thing was going to turn into a pricy habit.  I googled the ingredients, and of course, there were 100 different recipes.

So here I was looking to juice, but I didn’t own a juicer.  I didn’t let that stop me though, so again, I went on the Internet and googled, “how to juice without a juicer,” and I found exactly what I was looking for. OK, honestly, what did we do before the Internet?  I really can’t seem to recall how I found information.  Did I actually go to the library and look through encyclopedias for questions such as this?  I really don’t remember, and I feel like we were in the dark on a lot of things. I can only imagine what science is going to create next that will make the Internet seem obsolete like encyclopedias.

Getting back on topic here, basically if you have a blender, you can juice. Yes, you can, trust me. You don’t have to just drink smoothies or pulpy concoctions. You can drink a smooth and refreshing juice.  All you need is a blender and this handy little bag, called a jelly strainer bag.  You can find these at most kitchen or hardware stores that sell kitchen appliances.  I picked mine up at the local Ace Hardware in Larkspur, for those of you that are local.  They cost $ 4.99 for 2 bags.  BTW, don’t get the metal contraption that is sold with some of the bags, just buy the bags.

To clean the bags, just use some dish soap and rub the bag together till it’s clean and all the soap is off the bag. Then place the bag on top of a glass or something similar to air dry.  These bags should last quite a while.  I have used my 10x already and it still looks new.  
mean green juice without a juicer

how to make a “mean green juice” without a juicer:

recipe adapted from reboot your life
makes 22 ounces
printer friendly recipe

  • 6 to 8 kale leaves, washed and de-stemmed – I used 8 leaves and used lacinato/dinasour kale because it’s not as bitter tasting as curly kale, but you can use any kind of kale.
  • 2 green apples – cored and cut into chunks – There were not any organic granny smith apples, so I picked up some Mutsu apples, and they were perfect.
  • 3 – 4 stalks celery, cut into chunks – I used 3 stalks
  • 2-inch piece of ginger, peeled –  I love ginger and think it adds a pop of flavor to the juice, so I put in quite a bit.  If you’re not a big fan of ginger, than start out with a smaller piece, say 1/2-inch to 1-inch piece.
  • 1/2 lemon – peeled, but you can leave on the white pith
  • 1 cucumber peeled and cut into large chunks
  • 1 cup filtered water

Below are the ingredients before they’re prepped.Here’s how the ingredients will look after they’re prepped.To peel ginger, just take a spoon and gently scrape off the skin from top to bottom.  The skin is thin, so minimal effort is required.Pour 1 cup of water into your blender.  Add in the chopped apple, chopped celery, chopped cucumber and peeled lemon, and blend away till liquified.  Add in the ginger and the de-stemmed kale leaves and puree till smooth.
Take your jelly bag and wrap it over a large measuring cup or bowl.

Pour your juice into the jelly bag.

Don’t worry if your bag slides off the bowl, you just want to make sure that your juice goes in the bag. You can aways hold it open with one hand while pouring with your other hand.Once all the juice is poured into the bag, remove the bag from the measuring cup or bowl and gently twist the top of the bag closed.  Slowly twist the bag so the juice escapes.  Keep twisting and squeezing the bag until all of the juice is released.

WARNING:  Ugly hand pictures below!Look at all that pulp that was left in the bag.  It’s a beautiful color, but not something I want to be drinking.  It actually looks like moss, doesn’t it.

My compost was very happy to receive all that pulp.
Pour the juice into a large glass, canning jar or Lifefactory bottle, and refrigerate it, as it will be a bit warm.  I was anxious to drink my juice, so I threw it in the freezer for a few minutes to cool.
Make sure you shake it (if you have a glass with a lid) or stir it before you drink it, as some of the juice will settle.
It helps to have a glass or bottle with a lid so you can shake your juice when it settles.
It’s recommended that you drink the juice the day you make it.  It really goes down easy and tastes great. It actually tastes sort of sweet and citrusy, at least to me.  What’s great about juicing is that you’re in control of the ingredients. You can add to or delete any of the ingredients you wish.  My friend Yvonne loves the taste of celery in her juice, so she adds more celery and less ginger, as she’s not a fan of ginger.
I do recommend you try it with the 2-inch piece of ginger sometime.  I’m not a huge fan of ginger, as it reminds me of my early pregnancy days, but that first juice from Juice Alley was packed with ginger and that flavor stuck with me.  The original “mean green juice” recipe called for a teaspoon of ginger, but when I tried the juice, it just didn’t have that “wow” factor I was looking for, so I added more ginger and I got the “wow” factor.
mean green juice without a juicer
Ok, I really want to know how many of you are actually going to buy the bags and make the juice?  I had lunch with my friend Andie yesterday and she asked what this new juicing contraption was that went with my vitamix.  I excitedly told her about the bags and she said, “Oh, I think I’ll just stick with my juices from the Bay Club and save myself the work.” I had to laugh at that statement because honestly, it’s what most people will do!  I love you Andie.
Do you like to juice?  If so, then you have to try my carrot, grapefruit and ginger juice.
carrot, grapefruit and ginger juice, no juicer required
Happy juicing everyone!

Tips on how to pack a waste-free school lunch and snack

greenideas
Most of you moms are getting ready for your kids to go back to school.  You’re going through your checklist of school supplies, trying to figure out what to you need to buy and what can be re-used.  My kids started school this week, so I got off to an early start.  Luckily, I didn’t have to buy a new lunch box or lunch containers, as I had an ample supply from previous years.  Both of my kids’ schools encourage kids to pack a waste-free lunch as well as snack.  It’s California, go figure.  I’ve had a few years to perfect the art of packing a waste-free lunch, so I thought I would share with you some of my favorite items and as well as some tips.

Above is a typical lunch I pack for the kids, it has a fruit, entree and beverage.  I like to pack the kids’ lunch in glass containers, because they are the best and safest containers to eat from.  No BPA worries with glass, plus with glass you taste the actual food.  Glass doesn’t leach a metallic or plastic taste, as with plastic and metal containers.  The best thing about glass is that it’s dishwasher safe, and can be re-used again and again. For those of you that are worried about using glass, I get it, but I wanted to let you know that Eli who is almost 8, has been using these containers in his lunch since pre-school, and has yet to break one.  He is all boy, so that’s saying a lot.  You don’t have to go out and buy new containers.  Take a look in your cabinets, and see what you have on hand already, and get creative.  If you need to purchase some new containers, hit the Container Store or Bed Bath and Beyond, as they both have a great selection.

I absolutely love these lunch bags from Built .  I have one for both Zoe and Eli, (John has one as well) and have had them for 5 years.  They totally last!  The best part about them is that they are machine washable.  Yes, you heard me right; they can be washed every week!  How great is that?  I love the cleanliness of these lunch bags, and the fact that they are made from neoprene, so they keep the glass safe.  You can get them in all shapes, sizes and colors.  Check them out!
The other product that I absolutely love and couldn’t live without, are these glass water bottles from Lifefactory. I honestly have about 20 of them in my cupboard ranging from the 9oz and 16oz (shown below) to the 22oz.  These are the best bottles to drink from.  I mean do you drink from plastic or metal at home, probably not, then why would you want to drink from plastic or metal on-the-go when you can drink from glass?  Makes sense, right?  The entire bottle and cap can be cleaned in the dishwasher.  Your water or beverage will taste the way it’s supposed to taste, and not have a plastic or metal aftertaste.  I use the 9oz bottles for the kids’ lunch as they fit perfectly into any lunch box, and the 16oz is what my kids take to school to drink throughout the day.  Eli likes to use the flip cap top at his desk for easy access, and Zoe prefers the twist cap to keep in her locker. We also use these bottles at all sporting events, well, basically everywhere. 
When I’m packing the kids’ a hot entree, (usually leftover pastas, soups and various entrees) I use theseThermos stainless steel containers.  I just heat up some water in the tea kettle, pour it into the thermos, twist on the cap, and let it sit anywhere between 5 and 15 minutes to warm up the container.  When I have heated up the entree, I empty out the hot water, dry the container, and then put in the leftovers.  The leftovers always stay warm till lunch-time.  Now that’s what you call a “hot lunch.”You don’t need to go out and buy and fancy napkins or special silverware, just use what you already have.  I have tons of cloth napkins that I have picked up over the years, so I just throw in whatever I pull out of the drawer.  I also use our everyday silverware for both the kids’ lunches and snacks. 
When it comes to snacks, I try and use re-usable containers as well.  I love both of these snack bags from Snack Taxi and Resnackit.  They’re both machine washable, so if you pack a messy snack inside like banana bread, it will clean right up.  If I pack a snack that needs to be kept cool, like a cheese stick or yogurt, then I will throw an ice-pack in there.  I also love these BPA free plastic containers from Klip-It.  They work for those fragile snacks such as popcorn, crackers etc.  
All of these ideas may set your wallet back a few dollars, but they will pay for themselves in time, as these products last and can be used year after year.  When you add it all up over time, you will actually be saving money while saving the earth at the same time.  You may also have to throw a few more items in the laundry as well as the dishwasher, but you’ll get use to it and you’ll feel really good about the positive impact your making.  You’re teaching your kids the value of recycling and re-using items in your home, as well as creating less waste. It’s virtually a win win for your family and the earth.  
Do you have any ideas, tips or suggestions that you would like to share?  Questions?  If so, comment below, I would love to hear from you!  

roasted beets

beets

Finally a new post!  Can you believe it?  I took a mini blogging vacation as we were visiting John’s family in Minnesota. John’s parents, brother, sister and all their kids live there (6 cousins for my kids to play with). We always plan our Minnesota trip the week before the kids start school, as It’s a great way to close out the summer and the kids come back on Minnesota time, so getting them up for the first day of school is a breeze. Unfortunately, we were lame on taking photos. I think I have more photos of food than I do my family, so sad and so lame. I’m definitely going to change that though.

John and I treating ourselves to an ice-cream after our 3 hour bike ride at one of our favorite old haunts, Sebastian Joes.  Zoe took the photo with ice cream in hand.

So as you can see from the above photo, I ate tons of ice cream and basically ate tons in general.  That’s what you do on vacation, right?  When I got home I was craving salads, kale (no surprise there) and meatless meals.  I was also craving beets, so I decided to roast some up and take some photos along the way.

roasted beets:

  • fresh beets – I typically roast up 2 beets at a time
  • extra virgin olive oil - I use 1 tablespoon for 2 beets
  • salt and pepper to taste – I just use a pinch of salt and omit the pepper

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  
Wash and peel the beets and then trim off the stems and root ends. 
Don’t worry about the reddish/purple stain on your fingers, it will come up when you wash up.
Slice the beets into 1/2 -to-1-inch thick wedges (make sure that they are even in size).  
Throw the beet wedges onto a sheet of aluminum foil.  Drizzle with some olive oil and season with a pinch or two of salt.  
You can also use pepper here, but I chose not to.
Create a roasting pouch for the beets by placing them in the center of the foil, and tightly sealing the foil around them. 
Roast for 40-60 minutes, or until the beets are tender when pierced with a fork.  
The cooking time will depend on the size of your beets and also on your oven.  Sometimes it take 40 minutes for my beets to roast while other times it has taken 50 minutes.  
Check them at 40 minutes and then gage the cooking time from there.  
Let the beets cool a bit and then refrigerate them in a sealed container till needed.  Cooked beets taste best when consumed within 2 days.  You can use roasted beets in a variety of dishes from pastas and risottos to salads.  I actually have 2 great salad recipes that incorporate beets, that I will share with you soon.  

mango avocado salsa and how to dice a mango

DSC_0002

This salsa is a preview to another recipe that I am showcasing on Monday, cilantro lime chicken tacos. This salsa and those tacos are rated a 10+ in my house and they pair so perfectly together. This salsa is a great stand along recipe, so I wanted to showcase it as a separate recipe, rather than combine it with another where it might get lost. 

This salsa is super easy to throw together and all of the ingredients are in season right now and as fresh as can be.  I love this salsa because it’s not your standard red or green salsa. It’s a unique combination of flavors and textures.  We love serving this salsa alongside some tortilla chips. Bring this to your next summer potluck and I guarantee it will be gone, you might even want to make a double batch.mango avocado salsa:

recipe adapted from Martha Stewart
makes 3 cups
Printer friendly version

  • 1 avocado, halved, pitted, peeled, and diced medium
  • 1 ripe mango, peeled, pitted, and diced medium
  • 1 small red onion or 1/2 of large red onion, diced small – I can’t seem to find small red onions around my neck of the woods so I always use 1/2 of a larger onion
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro leaves
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice  (1 lime)
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt

Note:  Martha’s recipe included 1/2 to 1 habanero chile, (stem and seeds removed and minced) but I chose not to include that in this salsa because it would then be to spicy for my kids.  Feel free to add this to your salsa, if you want it to be spicier.
Prep all your ingredients.  Squeeze the 2 tablespoons of fresh lime juice, dice up your red onion, chop up your cilantro, dice up your avocado and mango.  
Note: If you are not familiar with how to dice up a mango, I will show you the step-by-step instructions below.  
Get out a large bowl and combine all the above ingredients, add the tablespoon of olive oil and the 1/2 teaspoon salt.  Gently combine all the ingredients together.  
That’s all there is to it!  
This salsa goes great with grilled chicken, pork, seafood, beef or just to serve on the side with some crunchy tortilla chips.  
I wanted to show you a photo of a champagne mango.  You may notice these mangos in the grocery store and don’t be afraid to give them a try as they taste great. Be sure to get ones that are soft and wrinkly, as shown in the below photo or else they won’t be sweet.  You will cut and dice these mangos the same way as a regular mango.
DSC_0002
Next, I’m going to show you how to dice up a mango.  My friend Cathie stopped by to pick up her daughter as I was making this salsa, so I asked her to demonstrate it for you, as she is an expert at mango slicing and dicing.  Thanks Cathie!  
First off, wash your mango.
Mangos have a flat, oblong pit in the center of them, so you don’t want to slice down the center of a mango.  You will want to cut the mango on both sides of the pit, as shown below.  Hold the mango with one hand, stand it on its end, stem side down, and cut from the top of the mango, down one side of the pit.  Repeat on the other side.  
Note:  If you hit the pit, try to cut a curving arc around it.  Also, the flatter sides of the mango are the better sides to cut off.  
Take a mango half and cut/score vertical lines into the cheek using a small paring knife. Make sure the knife tip goes all the way down to the skin, but not through it as you score the lines. The further apart you score the lines, the thicker your slices will be.
Turn the mango and make another set of vertical lines to make a checkerboard pattern.
Note: You can make these slices thinner or fatter depending on how big you want your mango chunks.
Turn the scored mango cheek inside out by pushing the skin up from underneath.
 Gently scrape the mango chunks off with a paring knife.  
 To get the most of your mango, use a paring knife to peel off the outer skin on the remaining piece of mango surrounding the pit.
Slice off any remaining mango meat on the pit and then cut those pieces into small chunks.
 There you have it, some diced mango!  Feel free to slice up your mango into smaller pieces if you want.
Thank you Cathie for being my hand model today. 
My blogger buddy Sharon from Likikoi Joy, made up this salsa for a party. I just loved her Instagram photo, so I asked her to send it to me! I think it’s helpful to see other people’s photos of dishes besides mine!  Don’t you just love the bowl she used?   
IMG_20130707_101316
BTW, I wanted to give a shout out to my brother today.
Happy Birthday Aaron.  I love you so much!

food photography workshop, part 2

foodphoto
SO, I have been trying to practice what I learned in the photography workshop (here’s the link to part 1 of the food photography workshop), but I will be honest, its been hard trying to concentrate on photography with the kids around 24/7.  I’m not complaining at all, I’m actually loving and savoring having them around, it’s just that I can’t concentrate or really work on the blog as much as I would like (hello, mothers guilt).  Ramping up my food photography is definitely on my to-do list this fall when the kids are back in school and a routine is set (Oh, how I love routine).  

I really wanted to get out part 2 of what I learned at Denise’s food photography workshop, before I forget it all.  Remember, these are my takes on photography and I’m not claiming to be an expert at all!

Below are some props that every food photographer needs; 2 white foam boards, 2 black foam boards, one handmade light diffuser called a scrim.  The scrim really helps a lot on bright sunny days, because it diffuses bright, harsh light.  You can make a scrim by cutting out a frame in a piece of cardboard and then taping some velum paper to the back, or you can even use some wax paper and tape it to the back.  You could also use a white sheet in front of your widow to diffuse the light or some regular old white copy paper, basically whatever you have on hand and whatever your budget allows.  I like the scrim frame below because its easy to move around and position where you want, and you don’t have to worry about taping a sheet or paper to the window each time.  All of these items can be purchased at any art supply or craft store, and will set you back about $20 or so.

Below is my mini studio, and an example of how I set up my boards.  I use my den most of the time, as it has the best light and is close to my kitchen.  To make trekking back and forth easier, I use one of my rimmed baking sheets to carry my props and food to and from the kitchen.  I just prop up the foam boards with something heavy behind them. You can also tape the two boards together in the back and they will just stand up on their own.
You can already see the difference the in the mood between the white and black boards.  The white evokes a bright and happy daytime mood while the black is a bit moody and creates a night-time or rainy day feel. 
Below is an example showing you where I typically set up the scrim.  I will move the scrim around (up or down) depending on where the light source is hitting the food.  
The white boards are great when there is not enough light, as white reflects light and helps to brighten up the food and the scene you are creating.  You will want to place the white board on the opposite side of the light source.  If you want more light or you just want to create a clean, crisp background, put the other white board behind the food as a backdrop.  
 
Black boards absorb light, and are great to use on bright days, or just when you want to create a mood or showcase the colors in your dish. I find I’m more drawn to using the black boards, as the food and colors really stand out against the black backdrop.
 
I’m showing you some contrasting examples below between the white and black boards.  
I like the look the white board gives the chicken curry below.  It’s a summertime dish so the white background helps to set a fresh and bright sunny mood, like summer.
You can also see the difference in the pizza photos below.  I used a white board and parchment paper to create a lunchtime feel for the photo below.
I used a baking sheet and black boards to create this mood below.  
The black transforms this lunchtime pizza into a dinnertime or appetizer pizza.
I also think the pizza stands out more against the black.
I took this photo below at the workshop.  When I look at this photo, I think of a wintery or rainy afternoon, and that I’m setting out a tray of cookies to enjoy with a nice glass of tea or coffee.Ok, so onto the one piece of equipment that I’m so excited to use come wintertime.  I want you to take a look at the photo below and tell me if you think it was taken in the day or at night?
It was taken in the day, but it was in a dark room.  Isn’t it amazing?  This photo below shows you how dark the room was.  All we had for light was this Lowel fluorescent light unit.  I’m so excited for winter photography, because I can finally take some decent dinner photos with this light.  This light is great for those times when there is no natural light available (like in the winter anytime after 5:00).  I know most food bloggers are not fans of using artificial light, but I cook for my family, and I only photograph what we are actually eating. We don’t eat dinner at 2:00 in the afternoon, so this light is going to be a major help.
 Here is a photo showing you the set up.  You will notice that the white board is set up on the opposite side of the light source to reflect the light from the unit onto the carrots.  
In low light situations, like the one above, you will definitely want to use a tripod, because when the light is low, your shutter speed tends to be slower, (1/60 sec or slower) and any slight movement or shake, will result in blurred photos.
Ok, I hope these tips were helpful!
 

food photography workshop, part 1

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Guess what I did this weekend?   I went out of my comfort zone, and attended a semi-private food photography course, instructed by Denise Woodward, with my best blogging buddy, Em. Isn’t she a doll?  I was in this photo, but cut myself out of it as I was squinting up a storm.  It wasn’t pretty!

I’m so glad I took the workshop with Em, as we were both totally clueless about our DLSR cameras, and had been taking all of the photos for our blogs using the automatic settings on our cameras, I know, LAME! 

This course was so eye opening, because I finally learned about aperture, shutter speeds and ISO’s.  I really had no clue as to what those meant before taking this course, seriously. Denise helped Em and I get out from shooting in automatic,(yaay) and shooting in manual! Em and I were there from 10:00 till 4:00, and we were spent by the end of the day. It was literally information overload, and when I got home I was ready for a glass of wine and a brainless movie with the family. John, the kids and I hit DJ’s for dinner, and then went to see Spiderman. It was the perfect ending to a perfect day. 
Here is a photo that Em took of me being the “serious” photographer, thanks Em.
We learned so much that I want to share it all with you, but I can’t fit it into one blog post. I will highlight on some of the major points today, and add another post later.  
 
First off, you need to invest in a tripod. I thought I didn’t need on, but when the light is low, your shutter speed tends to be slower, (1/60 sec or slower) and any slight movement or shake, will result in blurred photos. I thought I had steady hands until Denise turned down the lights and I took some photos without a tripod.  They were blurred and not crisp.  When I used the tripod my photos were clear and perfect. Luckily, I have a tripod in the garage somewhere that I am going to start using. If you don’t have a tripod, here is a link to the tripod that Denise uses and highly recommends.
I just took this photo of Denise’s tripod to show you what it looked like.  
Here is the photo that I took with the tripod.  As you can see, everything is crisp and clear.

Aperture:  

The aperture is the size of the lens opening (called the f-stop or f-number). It controls the amount of light that is let in: a larger aperture (f/1.4) lets in more light, while a smaller aperture (f /16) lets in less light. A larger aperture (lower f/number) will have your subject in focus, and everything in front of and behind it blurry. This photo below was taken with an aperture of f/1.4.  You also will want to have a larger aperture if you’re shooting in a low light situation.
A smaller aperture will have your subject in focus, and everything in front of and behind it quite focused as well. This photo below was taken with an aperture of F/16.  
If you’re ready to move from shooting auto to manual, then you should start out shooting in the aperture priority or aperture (A) setting on your camera.  When you’re in the aperture setting, you set up the aperture (or f-stop) while the camera automatically calculates the appropriate shutter speed to expose the image correctly (so you don’t have to worry about setting that).  As you become more familiar with how the camera calculates the shutter speed to the aperture setting, then you can try moving over to the M or manual dial on your camera. In the manual setting you will manually set up the shutter speed as well as the aperture. I am going to keep working at the A setting for now, and slowly move over to the M setting as I become more familiar with shutter speeds.
 

ISO:

ISO is kind of complicated to explain, but here is a great link if you’re interested in learning more.  Denise told Em and I to keep our ISO at 400 for food photography.  You can increase it to 800 or higher at night-time to let in more light to the camera, which will then result in a faster shutter speed.  The shots will be a bit grainer and more “noisy” the higher you set the ISO.  Feel free to experiment with the ISO at different settings as you get more use to working manually with the camera.  

White Balance:

Keep your camera set to auto white balance.  You can change the white balance when you edit your photos, if you wish.  
 

RAW vs. JPEG:

For food photography, Denise recommended for us to shoot our photos in RAW.  This does take up more memory on your camera, but its well worth it. 
 
Below are some more of the photos I took while playing with different apertures and lighting.  
If you live in the bay area you should definitely sign up for a course with Denise.  Just go to her website and email her.  She co-hosts small private classes (8-10 people) as well as instucts private and semi-private classes at her home studio.  I highly recommend the semi-private or private class, as Em and I got all of our questions answered, and got some major one-on-one attention that you might not get in a class setting.  Denise also has a mouthwatering cooking blog called, Chez us, that you should check out.  


All I can say is learning photography is like learning any new hobby or sport, it takes lots and lots of practice, and that is what I am going to be doing over the next few months.  I am vowing to only shoot in manual mode, so wish me luck!  


In the next post I will go over lighting for nighttime or low light photography situations, and some props that are must needs for any food photographer. 

Got leftover spaghetti? Check this out…

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This post is quick and there are no fancy or staged photographs, but I just had to post it as my friends are always asking what I do with all the leftovers I have.  Well, here is one great idea that I just felt compelled to share with you all NOW!  
 
I had tons of leftover spaghetti & meatballs sitting in my fridge that I was planning on pawning it off on the kids for lunch today.  I was just going to heat it up in the microwave or the via the stovetop, BORING!   I then saw this post on Yummy Mummy this morning and got inspired.  This is such a quick and fun way to serve up boring leftovers.
 
Here are the easy-peasey steps below!
 
Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.  
Take your leftover spaghetti and put it into a ramekin of choice.  Zoe chose the larger and Eli chose the smaller one.  Top each with some mozzarella cheese.  
Bake in the preheated oven for about 30 minutes or so.  
You end up with pasta resembling this below.  
The spaghetti gets all crispy on top and the mozzarella cheese melts into the pasta.
YUM!
The verdict?  
My kids loved the spaghetti this way and were begging me to make it again tomorrow.  
SUCCESS in the Grandy house!  
Gotta love that!
Happy weekend everyone!

Marin Mama’s tip for keeping herbs fresh…

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Are you tired of picking or buying fresh herbs only to have them wilt and go limp after a day or so?  Well, I was tired of it.  I would go out and buy this beautiful cilantro or parsley only to have it wilt and become useless the next day.  A friend taught me a wonderful and easy trick to keeping my herbs fresh that I would like to share with you today. It’s a super easy trick, which really works, and keeps fresh herbs fresh and useable for about two weeks.

Tips for keeping herbs fresh:

  • Snip off the bottom of the stems.
  • Don’t pre-rinse your herbs as you want the leaves to be dry – rinse them as needed
  • Fill up some glasses or small storage containers with a bit of water and place the stem ends of the herbs into the water.
  • Loosely cover the herbs with a plastic bag.  I know, a plastic bag?  It really does the trick though!
  • Store the herbs covered with the plastic bag in your refrigerator.

 

Tip:  Be sure to change the water after a few days if it discolors.
As Barefoot would say, “how easy is that?”