A Perfect Pairing from Simple & Crisp

 

Simple & Crisp photography by www.paolathomas.com

 

One of the fun things I did during my blog hiatus was attend the International Food Bloggers Conference here in Seattle, where I came across the Seattle brand Simple & Crisp.

Jane Yuan launched Simple & Crisp after she was looking for a healthy, gluten-free alternative to crackers. Her homemade, delicately dried, fruit crisps – they come in Orange, Apple, Pear, and, seasonally, Blood Orange flavours – are the perfect accompaniment to cheese, appetizers, cocktails and desserts.

Jane is also a marketing genius (as befits an ex-PR person) and has come up with the idea of challenging bloggers, photographers and foodies to come up with ‘perfect pairings’ for her crisps. If you want ideas of what to do with the crisps just search on the hashtag #perfectpairings on Twitter or Instagram, or anywhere really and you’ll be inundated with mouthwatering pairing ideas.

Simple & Crisp photography by www.paolathomas.com

The idea I came up with takes one of my favourite salads up a notch.

I paired the crisp, sweet, yet slightly bitter oranges (think your favourite marmalade) with a salty swirl of smooth, creamy goat cheese, and some succulently sweet roasted beets all topped with crunchy pistachio pieces, savoury thyme and a little rich balsamic glaze.

Simple & Crisp photography by www.paolathomas.com

The combination of bitter, sweet, savoury and salty flavours and crisp, crunchy, smooth and juicy textures made my mouth extremely happy. So much so that when the photoshoot ended I sat down in the the studio and ate  EVERY. SINGLE. ONE of the props. It was lunch. I was hungry. What can I say?

Simple & Crisp photography by www.paolathomas.com

Anyway, if you’re looking for ideas for appies for a holiday cocktail party, you could do a lot worse than try these. I’ve seen the crisps in the Seattle area at PCC and WholeFoods or you can buy them online at Simple & Crisp.

Full disclosure:  In return for getting a discounted ticket to IFBC I am obliged to write three blog posts about either my experience or the sponsors. Additionally I was sent some free fruit crisps by Simple & Crisp when I mentioned I would like to blog about them. However, the choice to write about the company was mine alone and I did that because these things are flipping delicious!

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A New Dawn

 

A New Dawn photography by www.paolathomas.com

*Tap microphone* Is anyone out there?

I know it’s been forever and a day, but I’m back!

And hoping against hope that at least some of you will be able to find me.

Welcome one and all to ‘mirrormirror’s new home. Pull up a seat, have a slice of cake and make yourselves comfy.

I’ve spent the last few months working with the amazing Kaytlyn of Beneficial Design and the guys at Foliovision to design a lovely new online home and  transfer the old blog over from Typepad to WordPress  (yay! I now have widgets and stuff, and can do amazing things like, you know, reply to comments. )

I’ve even got a shiny new blog URL. Please add www.mirrormirrorblog.com to your blog address books.

It’s all still a bit of a work-in-progress, so if you spot any glitches, hitches, bugs or things which you really don’t like, please let me know.

And also, drumroll, do  you remember this post? Where I confessed that I wanted to be a food photographer? Well, I thought about it and worked on it and have spent the last few months pulling together a photography portfolio to match the blog. I’m so proud of this baby I want to burst. Come and check it out at www.paolathomas.com.

I’m going to do another post about my photography very soon where we can talk about it at more length. Suffice it to say for the moment that creating a photography portfolio is hard y’all (<—  my new favourite American word).

But that’s enough housekeeping. I’m just SO happy to be back and promise I’ll be blogging here regularly from now. I’ve missed you lovelies a heck of a lot.

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Lightning over Seattle

 

Lightning over Seattle photography by www.paolathomas.com

 

Finally getting a little time to catch up with myself and BREATHE.

Our vacation in Menton passed very successfully (yes, you will be inundated with pictures just as soon as I have time to process them) and father-in-law has been and gone.

The summer here in Seattle has been one of record-breaking and mind-blowing loveliness; day after day of clear blue skies, temps in the mid 80s, mountains and lakes sparkling in every direction, balmy warm evenings etc. etc. and we have been living on the beach, in the pool and up on the roofdeck.

The heady weather ended with a bang, literally, on Friday evening, when a massive thunder and lightning storm lit up the skies around Seattle. Because of the lack of humidity thunderstorms are rare round these parts, but this one was a doozy, with the lightning owning the sky like the 4th of July (with apologies to Katy Perry). For much of the time it wasn’t even raining directly above us, so I took the opportunity of getting out on the roofdeck (not as crazy as it sounds as the lightning was a still a long way behind the city at this point).

It’s the first time I’ve ever photographed lightning, but I balanced my camera on the railing, followed the rules for photographing fireworks and took a bajillion pix, pressing the shutter when I thought lighting was due rather than waiting for it to happen.

And yes, I got lucky.

 

Lightning Over Seattle photography by www.paolathomas.com

 

If truth be told I find this sort of photography, though it gives spectacular results, to be the most unsatisfying kind of photography. It’s the very definition of ‘taking’ rather than ‘making’ a photo – I didn’t have to quietly observe, find interesting angles or perspectives, stalk the light or make compositional choices. All I had to do was own a good camera, have a nice view, find the right settings and then point and shoot.

Still, there’s a undoubtedly a satisfaction in taking photos like this off your card and I was thrilled to have one of my photos featured on the Seattle Times blog. I suggest you click on them to view them properly.  The blog format doesn’t really do them justice.

 

Lightning Over Seattle photography by www.paolathomas.com

 

I’m sort of back blogging I think. After nearly a solid month of travel things are starting to wind down now and we have a couple of gentle weeks until the summer’s grand finale – the Minx is going to her first ever overnight camp! We will be without her for four nights. I think my entire parenting life has been gearing up for the moment.

 

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School’s Out for Summer

 

So henceforth there’s going to be an awful lot more of THIS going on in our lives.

 

School's Out photography by www.paolathomas.com

 

School finished last Friday (I still can’t get over how LONG the school vacations are here), so we’ve got a summer full of camps and visits and trips planned.

I’m painfully aware that this is probably the last summer that the Minx will truly be my little girl (can you believe she’s already eight?) so I mean to make the most of it. I think it will be good for me to slow down a bit too. All the stress-related issues I talked about at the beginning of the year are much better, but I’m still not sleeping as well as I should and a summer of fun in the sun, relaxation, stress-free photography, reading, cooking and dreaming is just what the doctor ordered I think.

I’m hoping to get fitter (just started using a Fitbit yay!), learn stand up paddleboarding, read lots of books, do a few workshops, cook up a storm and host lots of parties.

We have trips booked to Menton again (leaving on Saturday!) – we have rented an apartment there for three weeks – and to Canoe Island, and Grandad is coming to stay. The Minx will be going on her very first overnight camp (leaving mummy and daddy to have our first consecutive nights away together since she was born).

 

School's Out photography by www.paolathomas.com

School's Out photography by www.paolathomas.com

 

I WILL continue blogging, but only when it really feels like the right thing to do (though I have got tons of things I want to talk to you guys about).  If you want daily updates though, please come and find me on Instagram

Instead this summer will hopefully be all about this

 

School's Out photography by www.paolathomas.com

 

this

 

School's Out photography by www.paolathomas.com

 

this

 

School's Out photography by www.paolathomas.com

 

and this

 

School's Out photography by www.paolathomas.com

 

I hope yours is too.

I’m hosting ‘Mom Camp’ tomorrow. In the morning I will be teaching five eight year olds how to make pie and then we’re doing on a photography scavenger hunt. Think of me…

 

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Wonderful Whidbey Island

 

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No Photoshop filters were harmed in the construction of this photo.  It really did look like this.

 

I’ve been feeling just a tad overwhelmed over the last week or so – moving eleventy million tons of STUFF back into the remodeled kitchen and bathroom; shooting some pics for a friend’s cookbook (yay!); holding the fort while the Husband was in China and generally rushing about like a crazy person.

 

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So when the lovely Clare Barboza told me there were still places left on her 2013 Farm to Table Photography Workshop this weekend on glorious Whidbey Island (just across the water from Seattle), I was wondering whether it might be a bridge (or indeed a ferry ride) too far.

 

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But with the aid of some dear friends taking the Minx for a sleepover, a wonderful Husband babysitting through his jetlag and some frantic late night packing I managed to make it work.  And I was SO very glad I did.

 

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I met some mindblowingly talented and just plain delightful women, ate fabulous food (thanks to the amazing Sean, Joe and Christine), drank too much wine; enjoyed gorgeous weather, sunsets, rainbows and scenery; and generally spent some quality time with my camera, which I always find to be incredibly soothing for my soul. We stayed at at the exceptionally comfortable Willow Pond Lake House; visited two farms -  Willowood, where they grow organic vegetables and Little Brown Farm where they keep goats and make the most delicious cheese and butter; shopped at the very cute Bayview Farmer’s Market and then got to style and shoot the farm produce.

 

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As with the Gulf Shores workshop I have MUCH to think about and process (and I will be blogging both at much more length), but in the meantime here are a few photos of the gardens at the house and from a pond nearby.

Can you see now why I loved it so much?

 

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Many thanks to Melissa (seen squatting above), who taught me how to ‘paint’ beautiful abstracts like this.

Stay tuned for the full story of the baby vegetables and the baby goats.

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Amtrak Train Journey from Seattle to Vancouver

 

On Friday I did something very extraordinary and made the trip from Seattle to Vancouver ON. THE. TRAIN.

Of course I used to take trains all the time when I was in Europe, but here on the West Coast (is it different on the East Coast?) trains seem to be few and far between and are a very much mistrusted form of transport.

 

Amtrak Train Seattle to Vancouver

 

You have to time your Amtrak train trip to Vancouver perfectly – the train only goes once a day, though there is a bus service.

 

Amtrak Train Seattle to Vancouver

 

Which is the most tremendous shame, because once on board you are rewarded with the most stunning journey.

The clouds and rain on the way to Vancouver were quietly beautiful, as the train hugged the coastline and seemed to fly across the water, before turning inland past the pastoral idyll of Skagit County.

Amtrak Train Seattle to Vancouver

 

Amtrak Train Seattle to Vancouver Amtrak Train Seattle to Vancouver

 

And then on Sunday I was welcomed back to the US by the most glorious sunset imaginable.

 

Amtrak Train Seattle to Vancouver

 

Amtrak Train Seattle to Vancouver

 

Amtrak Train Seattle to Vancouver

 

Amtrak Train Seattle to Vancouver

 

Amtrak Train Seattle to Vancouver

 

Amtrak Train Seattle to Vancouver

 

Amtrak Train Seattle to Vancouver

 

It really was ridiculously beautiful. Pacific Northwesterners, you have to do this journey at least once.

I’m back in the CreativeLIVE studios once more doing a Lightroom workshop with ace photographer and Lightroom genius Jared Platt. I highly recommend you download this course if you want to get to grips with Lightroom once and for all.

   
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Canoe Island French Camp

 

This blog post is by way of a little favour to a friend.

 

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You probably already know how much we love Canoe Island French Camp in this family, and that’s before the Minx has even been to one of their residential camps on her own.

We always have an idyllic time at their Family Camps and I had a magnificent time on my own at Patisserie Camp last year. 

 

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Canoe is like a little Garden of Eden dropped into Puget Sound – a perfect little island with its own forest and beaches and astonishing views in every direction. The camping here is high class – you sleep in brand new waterproof canvas tipis and have access to a comfortable club house with a pool, games room and proper indoor washing facilities. There are opportunities to learn French if you’d like – many of the camp counsellors are French – but it’s by no means obligatory and the French atmosphere just adds a delightful touch.

 

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And the food is unbelievable, created by the resident chef and a young pastry chef who take the delectable produce from their own gardens and the surrounding islands and turn it into utterly scrummy restaurant-quality meals. And then there’s the sailing, the kayaking, the tennis, the yoga and the opportunity just to curl up in a hammock looking out to sea with with some knitting or a good book.

 

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The very nicest thing, though, is the laid-back and utterly relaxing vibe. Connie and Joseph, the camp directors, are kindness personified and do everything to make sure your stay is as comfortable as possible.  And everyone who works there, even the resident animals, are just so friendly and charming.

Every Spring Connie and Joseph run weekend camps for adults, which allow grown ups to participate in all this magnificence and also contribute to a scholarship fund for financially disadvantaged kids, so they too can benefit from the incredible learning opportunities at Canoe. Each time I spend a weekend there, I feel like I’ve been on a week-long vacation.

 

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Connie asked me if I could promote these weekends on the blog and I am delighted to do so – Canoe is one of my happy places.  If you live anywhere close to the Pacific Northwest and want to do some yoga, some art, some cooking, or just learn French, then I can’t recommend these weekends highly enough (and although the price of your stay includes a donation, they really are excellent value for money as you get looked after so very well).

Get more details about the adult camps here.  I think you’ll be seeing me and  the Minx at the Mother’s Day Camp. 

   
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Project 52 PRO: A Weather Poster

 

This week’s Project 52 PRO challenge was to shoot a poster for the Seattle Chamber of Commerce advertising the weather in Seattle. 

Seattle is of course famous for its rain, but also has glorious clear bright days of sunshine, the most amazing sunsets and the most incredible cloudscapes it has ever been my good fortune to see anywhere.

For the entire week of the challenge though, we were blessed by unremittingly boring, flat, grey, overcast skies leavened by the occasional bouts of weak-willed drizzle.  Not even the rain was photogenic.

So plans had to be changed and this is what I ended up submitting.

 

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Please ignore the amateurish graphic design – we weren’t being critiqued on that, though I’d love to improve my graphic design capabilities (can anyone recommend any good books or courses I could do?).

And although this isn’t at all the sort of photography I want to do, it was interesting and challenging to spend the afternoon with my coffee machine in the kitchen, trying not to get too many distracting reflections on the shiny bits.

   
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Project 52: Portrait of a Stranger

 

So a couple of weeks ago, I kicked off Project 52 PRO – a year of critiqued professional level photography assignments, with ace commercial photographer Don Giannatti (although Project 52 PRO is no closed, you can always sign up any time for the free version Project 52).

The first assignment was a tricky one for me. We had to make a portrait of a stranger – someone we’d never met before, even someone we’d just approached in the street with our cameras.  And they had to be aware that we were taking the shot and be participating in it, no candids allowed. 

It was difficult for me, not because I’m particularly nervous about approaching people, but because I have very little interest in actually making portraits and hardly ever do anything other than the odd snap of the Minx.  There’s a pressure to people shots which doesn’t exist with still life or landscapes – you want to create something interesting and hopefully beautiful, but you can’t push people, especially strangers. around like you can with food.

 

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I cheated a bit with my first portrait by posting on here and on the Seattle Bloggers’ Unite Facebook page, to see if I could find a willing victim er, client. 

First out of the blocks was the gorgeous Inward Facing Girl Melanie Antley Biehle.  I’d been wanting to meet her for a long time, so it was no hardship at all to arrange a meeting in a local coffee shop which I knew had pretty light.  (Go read her blog – it’s excellent and thought-provoking).

It did feel like I was breaking the spirit of the assignment a bit though.  I’d followed Melanie via her blog and on Facebook and she really did seem like a friend, even though we’d never actually technically met. 

So I decided to challenge myself to just walk into local shops, and see if I could find someone willing to pose for me.  I struck gold in our beautiful local stationery and paper Paper Delights, where the very pretty assistant agreed to pose for me in between serving people buying Valentines’ cards, and where the window displays and light were made for photography.  We managed to put this shot together in about five minutes.

I ended up submitting the Melanie shot, because I found her wistful expression gazing out of the window to be more intriguing; though I’m prouder of the Girl in the Shop as I had to screw up my courage to ask her and had a much shorter time to get the shot.

Which shot do you prefer? Do you prefer portraits where the subject is looking away or one where they’re engaged and looking at the camera?

Thanks to everyone who emailed me offering to help.  I’m sure there will be many more chances to be my photographic victims as the year progresses.

   
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Five Great Things to Grow in Your Pacific Northwest Garden

 

   

I asked my great friend Nazila Merati to write a guest blog post for you while I was away sunning myself in Palm Springs.

Nazila is a very good friend to have.  Throughout the summer months she delivers an endless supply of beautiful fresh produce grown on one of her two allotments (p-patches) and in winter she delivers cookies and homemade rocky road chocolates made with her own homemade marshmallows. See what I mean?

Since she is one of the most green-fingered (green-thumbed, I believe you crazy Americans say) people I know, I asked her to share her thoughts on easy vegetable crops to grow here in the Pacific Northwest. Since the climate here is very similar to that of the UK, these tips would work there as well, and can be easily adjusted for other parts of the US and Europe.  You can find Nazila at Flora and Flying or on her food blog BanamakPlease show her some love.

 Over to Nazila…

 

 

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Spring is popping up all over Seattle and through much of the Northern hemisphere based on the images I am seeing in my social photo streams. I’m a big fan of rejoicing the return of spring through sappy tweets about daylight, romancing the first fat pussy willow, snapping a picture of the first snowdrop, but honestly, my biggest thrill is digging into that cold soil and getting things started.

What, you say it is too cold to go outside? Pshaw, I say. Go put on your big girl wellies you bought to match your hipster beret, double glove up and head outside and survey your back forty. If that is not an option, go look at your meager raised bed in front of your house with the shriveled remains of last year’s bean plants and dead basil stalks. (I believe she is referring to me here:- Paola)

Now that you have gone and looked, it isn’t all that bad is it? Sure there is stuff to clean up and a few weeds to pull out, but the moist soil makes this task so much easier. Look carefully, do you see your tiny chive patch reemerging? Your mint for mojitos? Rosemary to make chicken skewers survive? Fabulous. The bones of your perennial herb garden made it through. Now go inside, make a nice cup of tea and devise a plan about how you are going to succeed growing a small manageable garden of things you actually like to eat and do well here in our temperate Northwest. Here is my list of five things that are easy to grow, give a lot of bang for your gardening dollar, and increase your smug factor when entertaining.

Snap Peas – I suggest growing bush snap peas instead of pole peas because everyone promises to put up netting for a trellis and very few people actually get around to it. Bush varieties seem to yield better and are easier to pick in my opinion. Seeds or seedlings can go in the ground as soon as the ground can be worked which in Seattle is now. The shoots can be consumed along with the young pods. They are great for salads, stir frying, and eating out of hand. Two varieties to look for include Ed Hume’s Oregon Sugar Pod Pea and Territorial Seeds Avalanche Peas .

Swiss Chard – Swiss chard has replaced the ornamental cabbage in many landscape applications. The bright lights variety with its orange, yellow, red and vivid pink stalks and veins makes it a great addition to a small garden as it produces like crazy and through a few frosts and can be used at many stages of maturity. You can start it from seeds, but my recommendation is to go to any local nursery and pick up a 4” pot of seedlings. Plant a few colors in your vegetable patch and then throw a few into ornamental pots for a splash of unexpected color. Use young leaves in salads, mature leaves with kale etc. in braising mixes and throw some in a lemony lentil chard soup. My pick would be Territorial Seeds Bright Lights (you will find many growers will have this available as seedlings) or if you like a monochromatic look and a more traditional chard, try Hume’s Silverado.

 

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Lettuce – As I look at the four dollar heads of Buttercrunch lettuce I am buying this time of year, I secretly wish I had a hydroponic set up just to grow lettuce. The price for something that is so easy to grow starting in April and if you are careful about the type you grow, through November here in Seattle. I am a big believer in growing your own lettuce from seed or from seedlings, just remember that it will mature around the same time, so planting in succession is important. If you like variety in your greens, I recommend growing a patch of mesclun mix with a bit of bite from mizuna and arugula. A patch, if well-tended and harvested regularly, should last you a month or two. Plan to do another sowing of seeds two weeks after the first planting to prolong the growing season. If you are a head lettuce person and are not sure what you like – try putting in seedlings. Some nurseries will have seedlings in different varieties – try out a few through the growing season. My mesclun pick is Hume’s Mesclun Mix. My favorite lettuce varieties are Territorial’s Tom Thumb for its petite adorableness and taste and the beautiful heirloom variety Speckles.

Tomatoes – Who doesn’t like a fresh tomato picked right off the vine? In a small garden with at least six hours of sunlight, try for something with great appeal that is easy to harvest, does not require staking and promises a big return on investment not based on the poundage of tomatoes harvested and canned, but on the number of ways you can use that fruit. A cherry, pear, grape or currant tomato will fill this requirement quite well. If you are a dedicated gardener, then you have already started your seed trays full of the tomatoes you will tend all summer. If you are a practical gardener, you might have taken notes on what didn’t work last year and avoid that variety entirely this year. If you are me, you will read the tags on the seedlings at the first big plant sale and pick something with the best name and the fewest number of days to maturity. This is probably not the best way to proceed, but look for varieties that say they do not require staking, are compact, yield lots of bite sized tomatoes with sweet fruit. I am a fan of growing at least two of these types – a yellow and a red variety. Some varieties to look for include Sun Gold and Juliet and Yellow Canary. Sun Gold and Juliet will require cages and staking. You can’t go wrong with the Juliet, it will produce until the first frost.

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Leeks – The Leek is misunderstood by Americans and is revered as highly as Jerry Lewis is by the French. They are simple to grow, take up so little room, make a great onion substitute for those who want a little onion flavor but can’t handle sulfur and side effects of the rest of the allium family. They also look pretty – the blue green leaves that can look grey in certain light are gorgeous in the fall. You can plant a row in the spring to harvest in the summer for use in sofritos, soups, grilled alongside lamb. Plant a row later for fall and winter harvest. I believe that the novice gardener should start with leek sets,sold either in bunches like onion sets or in 4” pots if you are looking for specialty leeks. My picks for leek varieties to last you through your first vichyssoise until your last chicken pot pie is Cook’s Garden’s Blue Solaise Leek.

Gosh, there are so many other things I would recommend you grow, but these five things are good places to start. The peas and lettuce will start you off right, the chard and lettuce will keep you green and strong, until the tomatoes and leeks start coming in.

Happy gardening.

 

Thanks Nazila!  Let me know in the comments if you’d like to see more gardening on the blog. I’m into year two of my little raised beds and need all the tips I can get.

   
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