Robert Ramsay Cellars

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The better I get as a photographer, the more I enjoy shooting people. You have to be totally in charge of your camera to shoot people successfully – to catch the intimate moments, genuine smiles and the light shining just so on their faces.

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Unlike food, people don’t sit around patiently while you spritz them with olive oil and tweak their garnishes, or spend ages futzing with the settings on your camera. You need to be able to think on your feet, make the most of the available light and instantly know which button on your camera does what, and for a long time that totally freaked me out.

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You also need to create genuine rapport, to make people who aren’t used to having their photos taken relax and connect with the camera. I’m not sure I could ever do that in an anodyne studio, but I’ve grown increasingly to love taking environmental portraits of the chefs and food artisans I meet every day.

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I’ve found that when people are in their natural habitat – describing and showing you the work that they love – all fear of the camera melts away, and my job as a photographer becomes exponentially easier.

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Of course it helps if you have, as I did on a recent shoot at Robert Ramsay Cellars , the world’s most photogenic family, complete with tiny blonde four-year old; a female winemaker who looks like Kate Middleton, and stacks of barrels and boxes, that bent and shaped the light amazingly.

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Because when you have those things, magic happens.

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The wine in those barrels is pretty magical too. I’m a particular fan of their rich, smooth Par La Mer blend. Thanks so much to the Harris family and winemaker Casey Cobble for being such great sports and making my job so very easy.

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Summer’s End

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It was the best of summers here in Seattle. Day after sultry golden sun-filled day, followed by night after velvety warm summer night spent drinking pistachio sours with friends up on our roof deck. (One day I’ll blog the recipe for these).

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I’m always conflicted about summer. On the one hand there’s the obvious glorious summeriness of it all (see above), which I love and adore, but on the other school is out (for thirteen weeks no less), so sometimes it seems I spend more time driving the Minx to various camps and desperately trying to cram all my assignments into a few hours than lying on a lounger working on my Vitamin D levels.

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HeronPoint

This year though, I was determined that things would be different. We’d already been to Europe in the Spring, so we decided instead to rent a house out on Whidbey Island, and just hang out as a family. I had in mind the sort of place I wanted – near Coupeville, my favourite town on Whidbey, close to the beach, and just as comfortable and relaxing as being at home

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But soon, after spending long hours poring over vacation rental sites with a fine toothcomb, we were starting to despair. Everything was either too big, or too small; too booked or too expensive; frankly rather shabby or decorated in various distressing shades of shit brown (all too common unfortunately in the Pacific Northwest).

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Until, out of nowhere, the most perfect little house popped up. Close to Coupeville, right on a point with beaches to the front and side, and newly decorated in soothing shades of grey and blue.

Heron Point Beachhouse

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I spent the whole summer wondering what on earth would be wrong with this place but when we arrived in August it was immediately clear that it was absolutely, utterly, perfect.

We met the charming owner and it turns out the property was being remodeled over the spring, only became available in May, and had been immediately booked solid.

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See, manifesting WORKS people! Soon I will be a skinny blonde millionaire with a three-masted yacht, a Brazilian toyboy and lavender farm in Provence.

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I  was deeply, fabulously content here.

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We watched the sun rise over Mount Baker through the huge glass windows, as herons tiptoed daintily over the sand dollars left at low tide.

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We paddleboarded out in the tranquil bay – thankfully avoiding the orca that hung out near the point – kayaked round the mussel beds and rented a yacht from a local skipper.

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The Minx (on the right) and her friend who stayed with us

We ate wonderful foods crafted by local artisans, produce which had woken up that morning on a nearby farm and pretty blue eggs that our neighbours were selling on an honour system. A local roaster crafted a coffee blend just for us and dropped it round personally.

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We found the best places for lunch, dinner and wine and ate vast quantities of fresh mussels and clams, plucked out of Penn Cove that very morning. We instigated a ‘no electronics’ rule – and did bizarre things like read books, play board games, do jigsaws, and make art.  I joined a nearby yoga studio for morning sessions and watched the sun go down over the point every night.

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We laughed. A lot. And I felt all the knots in my shoulders and in my mind slowly unwind.

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I even got through a ton of work, though it didn’t really feel like work. Instead they were fun day trips with writing attached. Here are some ideas for things to do in Coupeville, in Port Townsend and on San Juan Island, which I wrote and photographed for Seattle Refined. And here are some ideas for restaurants on the island which appeared in Zagat’s.

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Since we’ve been back, it’s been one thing after another – the Minx is off to middle school, our beloved Flora was hit and killed by a car and I’m just coming to the other side of a snotty cold, but through it all memories of my happy place keep peeking through.

And I’m only able to tell you about it now, because we’ve already booked it again for next year.

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Hello Autumn.

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Captive Spirits Distilling

There are some days when I just adore this photography gig of mine.

Captive Spirits Distilling - photography by www.paolathomas.com

I met Holly from Captive Spirits Distilling at the Seattle Street Food festival, where she was handing out samples of their Bourbon Barreled Big Gin.

Captive Spirits Distilling - photography by www.paolathomas.com

Captive Spirits Distilling - photography by www.paolathomas.com

For those of you who aren’t into artisanal gins (which are booming in the Seattle area at present) then you should rectify that immediately. This stuff was insanely good – golden, citrusy and buttery smooth with smoky undertones of bourbon – and it makes for awesome cocktails. It seems that the rest of the world likes Captive Spirits’ gins too as they won some big deal awards last year, including a Gold Medal for Best Contemporary Gin in the International Wine & Spirits Competition for the Bourbon Barreled Big Gin, making it the first American gin to EVER win in the gin category. Their unaged Big Gin took a Silver in the same competition.

Captive Spirits Distilling - photography by www.paolathomas.com

Captive Spirits Distilling - photography by www.paolathomas.com

Captive Spirits Distilling - photography by www.paolathomas.com

Captive Spirits Distilling - photography by www.paolathomas.com

Captive Spirits’ story is all the more amazing when you realise that Holly and her husband Ben, together with their business partners and a small staff, craft the gin and market it worldwide from a small garage in Seattle’s Ballard neighbourhood, and I spent a wonderful morning there recently photographing the bottling process at the distillery.

It truly had everything to thrill a photographer’s heart – soft, creamy light, gleaming copper French stills, sparkling bottles, beardie hipsters, charming owners and Rosie, the world’s most photogenic dog. I could literally have stayed there photographing all day.

Captive Spirits Distilling - photography by www.paolathomas.com

Captive Spirits Distilling - photography by www.paolathomas.com

I was so inspired by their story that I pitched it to Edible Seattle which resulted in me taking the portrait above of Ben, Holly, Rosie the dog and the stills, Jean and Phyllis.

Captive Spirits Distilling - photography by www.paolathomas.com

It also led to me pitching and writing a round-up of artisan gin producers in the Seattle area for Seattle Refined. All of which appears to be leading me on a dangerous new craft spirits obsession. I will report back. 

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Looking for Orcas in the San Juans

 

Orcas in the San Juans - photography by www.paolathomas.com

This weekend we were dropping the Minx off for an eleven day camp at magical Canoe Island in the San Juan Islands, a couple of hours north west of Seattle (overnight camp!!!) and decided to make a weekend of it. On a bit of whim, we booked ourselves on a whalewatching trip to see the islands’ pods of resident orcas in the San Juans. Long time readers of this blog may remember that we’ve been twice before and not spotted even the fin of a single whale -  the mythical orcas were obviously a figment of the Washington Tourist Board’s imagination.

We set off on a glorious afternoon through the beds of bull kelp.

Orcas in the San Juans - photography by www.paolathomas.com

Orcas in the San Juans - photography by www.paolathomas.com Orcas in the San Juans - photography by www.paolathomas.com

The Husband and the Minx were excited.

Orcas in the San Juans - photography by www.paolathomas.com

We spotted bald eagles

Orcas in the San Juans - photography by www.paolathomas.com

and very charming seals

Orcas in the San Juans - photography by www.paolathomas.com

and other whalewatching boats (always a good sign).

Orcas in the San Juans - photography by www.paolathomas.com

And then, behold! A fin!

Orcas in the San Juans - photography by www.paolathomas.com

In fact several fins.

Orcas in the San Juans - photography by www.paolathomas.com

Orcas in the San Juans - photography by www.paolathomas.com

Coming closer

Orcas in the San Juans - photography by www.paolathomas.com

and closer

Orcas in the San Juans - photography by www.paolathomas.com

Orcas in the San Juans - photography by www.paolathomas.com

until, peekaboo I see you!

Orcas in the San Juans - photography by www.paolathomas.com

Wildlife photography is HARD, people! The boat is always gently rocking, the boats are not permitted to get too close, and those pesky whales would pop up and disappear when you were least expecting it. These pics are the best out of dozens and dozens I took, of several different orcas. Male orcas have straight side fins and females have curved ones, and that’s mostly all you get to to see.

Orcas in the San Juans - photography by www.paolathomas.com

We also had the company of a whitesided dolphin who kept racing our boat before moving over to the side to breathe. Our captain was really excited by this as apparently they’re rare in the San Juans and it was the first he had seen all year.

Orcas in the San Juans - photography by www.paolathomas.com

The movement blur on the below was unintentional but I like it…

Orcas in the San Juans - photography by www.paolathomas.com

Orcas in the San Juans - photography by www.paolathomas.com

After a while the dolphin spurned us, to go and play with one of the orcas! I would have loved to have had an underwater camera at this point.

Orcas in the San Juans - photography by www.paolathomas.com

Orcas in the San Juans - photography by www.paolathomas.com

Orcas in the San Juans - photography by www.paolathomas.com Orcas in the San Juans - photography by www.paolathomas.com

Orcas in the San Juans - photography by www.paolathomas.com

 

After that we headed back to Eastsound, and into the most glorious sunset. The stunning beauty of the day and of those playful giants of the ocean will live for a long time in my mind. Sometimes magical is not a strong enough word. How lucky we were.

 

Orcas in the San Juans - photography by www.paolathomas.com

Orcas in the San Juans - photography by www.paolathomas.com

Orcas in the San Juans - photography by www.paolathomas.com

Orcas in the San Juans - photography by www.paolathomas.com

Orcas in the San Juans - photography by www.paolathomas.com

Orcas in the San Juans - photography by www.paolathomas.com

Orcas in the San Juans - photography by www.paolathomas.com

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Urban Campfire in Seattle

The LUCKY 7

I just wanted to mention a fabulous event happening in Seattle next week, featuring two amazing women I’ve come to know and love in the past year.

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The two quotes above are from Susan Hyatt whom I have been honoured to have as my life coach over this past year. We’re not quite finished yet but already the changes in my life have been profound and meaningful. I sort of started life coaching on a whim, but I truly would recommend it to anybody who wants to get the best out of life. As you know I’m not a very woo-woo sort of person, but it really has been immensely valuable. Who knew?  (And Susan herself is a darling and a walking talking inspiration to all busy enterpreneurial women out there).

Urban Campfire in Seattle - photography by www.paolathomas.com

Susan is just one of many incredible women speaking at this year’s Urban Campfire in Seattle organised by the phenomenal Melody Biringer.  I met Melody properly last year at Camp Mighty, though she’s been big news on the Seattle and nationwide networking scenes for a long time as the founder of CRAVE. Here’s an interview with Melody, conducted last year before the first Urban Campfire, and here’s the list of speakers she’s gathered together for this year’s event.

Fortunately, given what she does, Melody is very fond of s’mores.

Urban Campfire in Seattle - photography by www.paolathomas.com

I’d love to catch up at Urban Campfire if you’re going. Let me know in the comments or buy your tickets here.

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Weekend Link Love

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Oh it’s been SO long since I did one of these.

The weather continues to be absolutely glorious in Seattle but we haven’t quite been making the most of it as both the Husband and the Minx have been down with gastric flu, while I’m just sitting here waiting to get it. Before that though it was a week of sunshine-y walks, beautiful sunsets, watermelon cocktails, paddleboarding (I’ve been taking lessons! I love it!), and delicious vegetables.

I’ve also been enjoying this lovely wire ‘bonjour’ from Anthropologie which I’ve hung in my bedroom on the wall next to my bed. It’s a bit pricey for a little thing, but it delights me every time I get up, so for me it’s worth it.  And I’ve been bowled over by my fabulous new Whitney English Day Designer planner August 2014 edition, which I’m sort of in love with. I feel like my life is going to be utterly and perfectly organised going forward, which is not too much to ask of a planner is it? (New January planners come out on August 15th and I’ll be writing a fuller review of mine before then so you can be perfectly organised too).

Here are some things I’ve noticed in my travels around the web this week.

Lakshmi at PureVege does the sort of food photography that makes my heart twist in envy and awe. Utter perfection.

As you know I’ve been doing a lot of travelling recently. Some of these fabulous travel tips could have come in very useful over the past few months.

My friend Melanie Biehle found these simple, graphic posters of cakes by UK branding agency Purpose. They make me want to make a Battenberg cake immediately (it was one of my favourite cakes as a child, and I miss them here in the US).

British author Zadie Smith gives us 10 truthful rules of writing.

Obviously I truly and desperately need a personalised rolling pin (don’t we all?)

And I am so, so, so, so, so, so, SO tempted to download the Kim Kardashian game that everyone is talking about. Have any of you tried it? How quickly will it rot my brain?

On the blog over the last week or so, I posted some more pics of Tuscany and a tribute to the chef I met there and a recipe for Mixed Fruit Clafoutis. Will try to up the bloggery over the next week or so.

How are you all enjoying your summers?

Sunset - Photography by www.paolathomas.com

(The sun did this last night, just before sunset. I’ve never seen anything quite like it).

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Skagit Valley Tulip Fest

Skagit Valley Tulip Fest - photography by www.paolathomas.com

It’s the that time of year again where I bore you with photos from Skagit Valley Tulip Fest, about ninety minutes drive from Seattle. For those of you still in the depths of winter, I apologise.

Skagit Valley Tulip Fest - photography www.paolathomas.com

Skagit Valley Tulip Fest - photography www.paolathomas.com

Skagit Valley Tulip Fest - photography www.paolathomas.com

You’ve gotta love a road trip where you get to see this out of the car window.

Skagit Valley Tulip Fest - photography www.paolathomas.com

But unfortunately several thousand other people had the same idea.

Skagit Valley Tulip Fest - photography www.paolathomas.com

Skagit Valley Tulip Fest - photography www.paolathomas.com

Skagit Valley Tulip Fest - photography www.paolathomas.com

Skagit Valley Tulip Fest - photography www.paolathomas.com

Skagit Valley Tulip Fest - photography www.paolathomas.com

Skagit Valley Tulip Fest - photography www.paolathomas.com

Skagit Valley Tulip Fest - photography www.paolathomas.com

I even got to try out the pano feature on the iPhone for the very first time (no one can accuse me of being a gearhead) which was super duper impressive.

Skagit Valley Tulip Fest - photography www.paolathomas.com

After a glorious day we chased the sunset back to Everett, where we stopped off for fish and chips.

Skagit Valley Tulip Fest - photography www.paolathomas.com

Skagit Valley Tulip Fest - photography www.paolathomas.com

Not a bad day on the whole.

If you’re in Seattle the fields are at their absolute peak right now. I’ve never seen them so pretty. Previous dispatches from the tulips here, here and here.

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Cover Girl–Edible Seattle

Talking, as you probably weren’t, of my burgeoning food photography career, there was much excitement in da house a few weeks back when I was asked to step in and shoot the cover for the late Spring edition of Edible Seattle.

Cover Girl-Edible Seattle photography by www.paolathomas.com

I worked with editor Tara Austen Weaver to realise her vision for the cover and the inside pages, and in the process we learned a lot about styling and preparing jam doughnuts (or, if you really must, jelly donuts).

Cover Girl-Edible Seattle photography by www.paolathomas.com

Cover Girl-Edible Seattle photography by www.paolathomas.com

For example, it’s quite tricky to style a tower of three doughnuts so it doesn’t look like a little nodding donutman.

Cover Girl-Edible Seattle photography by www.paolathomas.com

We ended up remaking the doughnuts and cooking them for slightly less time, so that they were softer and more pillowy.

Here are few more images from the shoot that didn’t make the cut.

Cover Girl-Edible Seattle photography by www.paolathomas.com

Cover Girl-Edible Seattle photography by www.paolathomas.com

Cover Girl-Edible Seattle photography by www.paolathomas.com

However if you’re looking for a recipe, it’s not mine to give. It’s from Beth Maxey and you’ll have to buy the more recent edition of Edible Seattle to get your mitts on it. It does make truly excellent doughnuts (it is possible I sampled one or two), and they’re not half as tricky to make as you might have imagined.

Believe me Tara and I know.

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Weekend Link Love

 

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Here is a photo from my winter wanderings around the golf courses of Whistler and here are some more tidbits from this week’s wanderings around the Internet.

This article about focusing not on goals, but on systems is really resonating with me. I’ve been trying to improve it over the last year, but nobody in our house is good at systems and I spend SO much time looking for things or reinventing various wheels. I’ve also started watching this CreativeLIVE course from Ari Meisel on the same subject and it’s definitely furnishing plenty of food for thought so far.

At the same time, I don’t think the systems within my body are working terribly well (I’ve put most of the weight I lost recently straight back on) so this article about losing weight without dieting made a lot of sense. I think there’s a lot that needs to be fixed and I don’t want to struggle AGAINST my body anymore.

This article TOTALLY works with this year’s quest for more ‘deliciousness’ in my life.

Whereas this time capsule Paris apartment is my dream home. Surely the movie of this story must be coming out some time soon?

And finally these bodymaps of the physical manifestations of human emotions are just mindblowing. Here’s wishing you lots of happiness and love in 2014!

We’re having one last weekend of festive fun – hosting a British Christmas party and then going to see the panto today, followed by SingalongaSoundofMusic on Sunday -  and then #maythelordandallthesaintsandangelsbepraised everyone goes back to school and work on Monday.

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So This Is Christmas

 

I was planning a more thoughtful blog post this morning, but then this morning THIS happened, so the kid and I are at home and planning to go sledding and bake gingerbread cookies.

So This Is Christmas photography by www.paolathomas.com

I think this will be my last blog post of the year, as we are again off to Whistler on Sunday. If you’re at all interested in our exploits I will of course be Instagramming the shit out of them. Come and be my friend here

Have the most wonderful end of the year wherever you are, thank you for all your emails and comments and interest in 2013 and I look forward to seeing you on January 2nd.

I’m so excited by my new blog and really can’t wait to see what 2014 brings.

It was a bit of a ‘soft launch’ of the new blog this month, so I could iron out a few wrinkles. Back with a VENGEANCE in January though. You won’t know what hit you. 

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