Custom Stout Floats for Dad!

By Kim Vargo / 05.24.15

Every year, Scott and I like to treat each other on our respective Mother’s and Father’s Days. Although we don’t currently have children of our own, we are very proud parents to four rescue pets that we love, as we say, to the moon and back! As a result, we may take the dogs on a picnic lunch in the park, or we might go on an extra long walk with the pups around the neighborhood. This, of course, while indulging on sundaes from the local Tastee Freeze.

I had a fun treat in mind this year for Scott, and I was excited to make it extra personal by using photo bottle labels from Pinhole Press! Although you can apply the label directly on the bottle, I peeled ours off first for a seamless look. After allowing the bottles to soak in a bowl for 30 minutes, the labels scraped off with little effort. I surprised Scott with the photos I chose, and he got a good laugh out of it! Mission accomplished.

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Both being avid beer lovers and appreciators, I wanted to mix things up and test out a Father’s Day dessert – stout floats. It’s easy, delicious and quite sinful in the best possible way. We’ve made the shake version in the past, but this simplifies it one step further, and it is every bit as sweet. The ingredient list is nothing more than your favorite stout and a scoop of vanilla ice cream:

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A great porter will work just as well, but we opted for the Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout. Bonus points if you choose a beer with chocolate or vanilla on the label! Simply pour the beer into your favorite drinking glass and add a heaping scoop of ice cream. (The more ice cream, the better, I think!) Adding a festive paper straw makes you feel like a kid again – and isn’t that cheery feeling the best part of being a dad?

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We poured an additional float so we each had one, and we took them outside for a little front porch indulgence. Our drink of choice had our pups, Jack and CC, begging for a taste, to which we may have gave in. Only a little.

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If you’re feeling more adventurous, 6 scoops of ice cream blended with one bottle of stout or porter will serve two shakes. The most perfect treat for the adults, don’t you think? Here’s to a happy Father’s Day to all of you amazing dads out there, and may you feel like CC as you’re showered with affection from those you love!

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Reward Your Walls with White Frames

By Kim Vargo / 05.14.15

There is no shortage of framed photos and artwork around our home, and no matter what room we’re in the middle of deconstructing to reconstruct, we’re always thinking about what we’ll hang on the walls once the paint has dried. It always feels like such a finishing touch; a reward for all the hard work we’ve put in.

Most recently, we’ve spent the last few months of nights and weekends on our kitchen remodel, which has gone on much longer than expected – although with our less than pleasant history of working with contractors, this shouldn’t be a surprise. While there are still a lot of hold ups preventing us from crossing that finish line, I couldn’t help but to begin displaying items we love around the room. Sure, we’ll have to cover everything up with a drop cloth when our back ordered door arrives for installation, but in the meantime, we can still make things look nice!

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 I was thrilled to see that Pinhole now has the option to frame your prints in white, which has always been our first color choice! Scott and I took this opportunity to sift through images of past adventures together, with the idea that we’d keep things food-themed. We landed on a quirky snapshot taken inside a popular California burger joint, and we opted for a 5×7 photo matted within a Pinhole Press 8×10 white frame.

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 Earlier this year, we refinished a vintage hutch for the kitchen, and despite looming construction on the horizon, I excitedly set it up! Glass decanters, brass chargers and a penguin ice bucket were begging to be unpacked, and you may ever remember our ceramic peacock from this post:

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That little peacock actually houses dog treats for our pups, which is why Jack is always so eager to sit by the hutch and wait. Our boy will sit, shake, high five and dance for that small reward!

And in the interest of shaking things up (perhaps it has to do with the spring cleaning frenzy I’ve been on?), we ordered a larger 11×14 framed photo from a recent vacation to Portland. We have a large gallery wall that connects our kitchen to the dining room, and the dining room to our living room. I swapped out a small print for the new photo, with the intention of putting the “old” print in our kitchen – eventually!

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With many more photographs and prints stashed away in unpacked boxes (yes, still, from our move in 2013!), I love that the art and photos on your walls doesn’t have to be so permanent. There’s so much joy in rotating memories in and out of rooms as your life evolves and unfolds.

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10 Ways to Improve Your Food Photography

By Bree Hester / 04.21.15

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Taking beautiful photos of food is more challenging than one might imagine. After years of being a portrait photographer, I did not think that it would be difficult to take pictures of food. I decided to start a food blog and figured that taking drool-worthy pictures would be a piece of cake. (No pun intended.) Turns out I had a lot to learn.

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Once I figured out a few key things, my food photography improved dramatically. Not only did I have to take photos, but I needed to learn some food styling tricks to help me create a scene, not just put some food on a plate.

 

Here are my top 10 tips to improve your food photography:

1. Use natural light whenever possible. Natural light is the most flattering and you can alter the mood of your photo easily just by changing where the light source is coming from. And if the light is not found in your kitchen, try another room. I have shot in my garage, bedroom, living room – where the light is, my food will go. Reflectors will be your best friend. I use white foam core or a white binder to direct light where I need it.

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2. Use a higher aperture. Food really needs to be crisp and clear. One way to achieve this is by using a higher aperture. I like to shoot somewhere between 4 and 5.6. You still get nice depth of field, but have a better chance of getting everything in focus.

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3. Give your photos a sense of place. Having only a plate in the scene doesn’t tell much of the story. Add a fork, glass of water, or a crumpled napkin to make it appear that someone is actually participating in the scene.

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4. Shoot quickly. You don’t have a lot of time to work with food. It wilts, dries out, or changes its appearance quickly. Set up your shot (including props) b​efore y​ou add the food to the scene. When the food is ready place it in the scene, and save time by having everything in its place. From there, work quickly to get as many different angles and shots as you can.

5. Only use a garnish that makes sense. I use ingredients that are actually in the dish to garnish plates and area around the plate.

6. Start clean. And then mess it up. For instance, when I am shooting something like a pasta dish, I start with the cleanest shot I can get. Then I mess it up. Maybe I twirl some pasta on a fork, or break the bread that is served with it, spill a little sauce, or take a bite out of it. Same with props, start with simple propping and then add to it instead of removing as you go. You can always add but you can’t always take away.

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7. Shoot things in groups of 3 or 5. Even numbered groupings don’t lead your eye around an image like odd numbered groupings will.

8. Take lots and from different angles. The beauty of digital photography is that we can take lots of images. Often, I can’t tell if something is out of focus or there is something distracting in the image until after I have downloaded my card and inspected closely. Recompose your shot in camera multiple times. Take a lot of images and from different angles. Straight on, close up, ¾, and overhead are popular food angles.

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9. Keep some tools close by to help you. I always have long-nosed tweezers, Q-Tips, paper towels, clean paint brush, and baby wipes nearby when I am working on food shots. This will help with crumbs, fingerprints on plates, and a myriad of other issues that you will come across. Having a small tool kit is so helpful.

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10. Collect interesting things to use as props. I have lots of linens in different colors and textures, salad size plates (food looks better on smaller plate – it doesn’t get lost and create a lot of white space), utensils, and containers that I use to prop my food shots.

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Homemade Dog Cookies + Doggie Bags for All!

By Kim Vargo / 04.09.15

It’s been a bit of a rough winter for our two rescue pups, Jack and CC. Walks have been shorter due to the cold, they’ve each gotten the sniffles (and proceeded to pass them back and forth between each other incessantly), and although spring is finally here, it’s been far too long since they’ve rolled around in a patch of green grass. Wanting to show them some extra love, I whipped up a batch of super simple homemade dog cookies inspired by this recipe!

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With only 5 ingredients, it took less than 10 minutes for prep and 30 minutes in the oven. I used regular baking flour and organic oats, but for sensitive stomachs or allergies, gluten-free flour and oats can be substituted all the same.

 

INGREDIENTS

6 oz jar of sweet potato baby food
1 ¼ cup flour
½ cup rolled oats
2 Tbsp honey
1 egg, beaten (optional)

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There’s hardly a tutorial for this recipe, as you simply want to mix the first 4 ingredients together – everything but the egg. Once it’s been properly mixed, it should be non-sticky and easy enough to ball with your bare hands.

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I sprinkled additional flour directly onto my countertop and flattened the dough with my hands to a height of approximately ¼”. Using a small heart-shaped cookie cutter to create my shapes, I then laid them out on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Tip: The cookies do not grow during the baking process. Feel free to load those baking sheets with as many as will fit!

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At this point, you can brush the beaten egg onto the tops of your cookies before baking, as this will give them a golden brown finish. I then popped my sheets into a preheated 350-degree oven and allowed them to bake for 30-35 minutes. In total, this recipe made 2 dozen cookies.

Once cooled, I bagged a handful of the treats for Jack and CC’s very best doggie friends using these Pinhole labels and party bags! Scott and I took the kiddos on a walk and dropped them off to their pals in the neighborhood, which resulted in a handful of adorable photo texts and videos of the happy recipients!

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Of course, our two eagerly gave the cookies a healthy test run. They were received with paws applause, and we rewarded their tricks with many, many treats. Until they were gone, these two wouldn’t leave their dinner station until they’d been given a proper dessert – to which we happily obliged. (Can you even resist these mugs?)

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I’ll be keeping this recipe at the ready for future love sessions, as our supply didn’t last long! We still have a handful of goodie bags, so you better believe that their gang of puppy friends wouldn’t mind, either.

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Almond Biscotti Recipe for Mother’s Day

By Bree Hester / 03.30.15

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My family’s recipes are just as valuable to me as family photos. They are rich in tradition and history and I treasure them more than anything. The problem is that a lot of the recipes that my mom, grandmother, and sister use are not written down. Or they have steps or ingredients missing. Not always helpful. And the end result? Well, not always how I remember them.

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For Mother’s Day, I thought it would be nice to make a recipe box of family recipes that I can keep to pass on to my children. I collected recipes that we use often at holidays, birthday meals, or remind me of members of our family. I was careful to write down how I made it, and hopefully, they will turn out for years to come. I will make a few more recipe boxes to give to my brother and sister, and cousins. We are going to keep our family recipes alive for generations to come.

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My mom’s favorite dessert is almond biscotti, freshly whipped cream, and fresh berries. I make these biscotti for her whenever she comes to visit and send them to her on her birthday. These are a crisp, twice baked, almond cookie. Perfect for dunking into an afternoon coffee or tea.

This dough will seem dry when you are mixing it, but it does come together. You can add a tablespoon of water if you like.

 

Almond Biscotti

¾ cup blanched whole almonds
4 Tablespoons cold butter
½ cup plus 2 Tablespoons sugar
1 large egg
½ teaspoon almond extract
1 teaspoon vanilla or vanilla bean paste
1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
2 Tablespoons cornmeal
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 325°. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Roast the almonds on a baking sheet until the begin to color, about 3 minutes. Finely chop ¼ cup of the almonds. Coarsely chop the remaining almonds. Set aside.

Add the butter and sugar to the bowl of an electric mixer. Mix until completely combined. Add egg, almond extract, and vanilla.

Add cooled almonds, flour, cornmeal, baking powder, and salt. Mix until combined. The dough will be dry. If it does not come together, add a tablespoon of water.

Divide the dough in half. Roll into logs. (Add a little flour to the counter if starts to stick.)

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Place onto the prepared baking sheet, about 2 inches apart, because they will spread. Pat down slightly. Bake for 20 to 30 minutes, or until slightly brown and firm on the surface. Take out of the oven, cool for 10 minutes, and slice on an angle with a serrated knife. Put slices back in the oven, and bake for another 5 to 10 minutes, or until crisp and golden brown.

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Let them cool completely on a wire rack. Serve with whipped cream and fresh berries.

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