Test Kitchen 85 ~ Penne a la Vodka

My birthday was last week and we had an impromptu dinner party. It was quite the international affair with an Italian pasta dish made with Russian vodka paired with a delicious Spanish wine sangria.

In our house normal celebration procedure is the birthday person chooses the meal. But Sarah is, I’m learning, quite the adventurous cook and is willing to try any recipe that catches her eye so she asked if she could make my birthday dinner.  The pasta recipe came from her Audrey Hepburn cookbook and is really good. Really, really good.

What you’ll need:
1 small onion, finely chopped
pinch crushed red pepper flakes
5 1/2 TBS unsalted butter
1 cup tomato puree
1/2 cup good quality Russian vodka
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
course sea salt
1 pound penne pasta, cooked al dente
1 oz Parmigiano-Reggiano*, grated
What you’ll do:
Saute the onion and red pepper flakes in the butter over medium heat.
Add the tomato puree and reduce heat to low, cooking for a few minutes.
Stir in vodka.
Cook down for 15 minutes and pour in the cream.
Add in the pasta and turn the heat to high.
Pan fry for one minute, making sure to toss pasta so it is evenly covered by sauce.
Sprinkle with the parmigiano-reggiano and serve.

I had never heard of this type of parmesan and was a little concerned that it was some kind of specialty hard to find cheese. Turns out that it is normal parmesan cheese only better. Shaped like a stick of butter, it is a little pricey but so worth it…dry and very flavorful and nothing like the powdery stuff sold no where near the dairy aisle. I am learning that while one may need to be economical one must also occasionally splurge on the good stuff. And surely a birthday feast is just such an occasion!


Dipping In Myth

CS Lewis said, “We do not retreat from reality, we rediscover it. As long as the story lingers in our mind, the real things are more themselves…by dipping them in myth we see them more clearly.”

I can show you a picture of a lavender rose and we can agree to the reality of it’s beauty…the color, the delicate petals…the scent.

But what if we looked closer? Not retreating from that reality but leaning into it, rediscovering it almost as if seeing it for the first time.

What if we looked closer still? Looking in such a way as to have all of our senses come to bear…the reality of the ordinary mingling with memories and wisps of emotion.

The flower becoming more real as we dip it into the myth of the symbols of romance, of faithfulness and promise that we’ve come to associate with it’s form.

Now we no longer just see the ordinary beauty of a rose…now we can see something more…something that isn’t quite there but hints at a fullness of beauty that is to come.

“Nothing is yet in it’s true form.”
~ CS Lewis
Till We Have Faces

All Cracked Up and Other Randomness

I am forty-five years old and until just a couple of months ago I did not know how to properly boil and peel eggs. I am blaming my lack of knowledge and skill on the fact that I like neither boiled or deviled eggs. My sister makes deviled eggs that are, from all accounts, quite tasty which means that family functions and gatherings were covered so I really haven’t seen much need to change my status on the whole issue.

I mean, I’ve boiled eggs before but since I don’t eat them I didn’t really care if the dyed Easter eggs were cooked all the way and didn’t give a thought to how easy they would be to peel.

But Rob recently mentioned that he would like some to take to the church to have on hand for a quick and healthy snack and, it turns out, Sam likes boiled eggs. Not the cooked yolk but the egg white. Anything that boy is willing to eat I am willing to make.

So I  asked my mother about this whole egg business and she shared the secret that her aunt taught her about making the perfect hard boiled egg. No more guessing if it is cooked all the way…no more boiling them for too long and having them crack and burst out of the edges…and easy to peel shells.

(Psssst…I know I am probably about the only person on the planet who has waited almost half a century to learn how to boil an egg but the truth of the matter is that we have friends that we buy fresh yard eggs from and they are just so pretty that I love taking pictures of them and if I just randomly posted pictures of eggs like I did some kind of portrait sessions with them people would quite possibly think I am weird. I am going to ignore the fact that I run the risk of people still thinking I’m weird because I over thought the process of boiling eggs to the point that I just chose to not boil eggs. I am hoping you will be distracted by the prettiness of the eggs to be overly concerned about my egg crush. And who knows? Maybe someone will find these tips helpful.)

So here is the sure fire way to get perfectly boiled eggs according to my *grandaunt.

After adding eggs to a pot, completely cover them with water.
Bring to a full roiling boil and then turn off the heat.
Cover the pot with a lid and let them sit for twenty minutes.
Carefully drain the hot water and then run cold water over the eggs until cool.

As for peeling them I have observed a few things that might be helpful. In my experience the green and brown eggs peel easier than the white eggs. Not sure if there is an scientific reason for this or not but that has been the case for me.

I also discovered that if I crack either end of the egg and not the side I can get an easier peel. Turns out the ends have these little gaps between the egg itself and the shell that helps make sure you are peeling off the thin almost invisible membrane that separates the shell from the egg white.

*Now, as if I haven’t flown my freak flag high enough in this post with odd confessions and weird random stuff, I am going to confess that yes, I did indeed look up the proper way to address various relatives on the family tree because actually having to state a relationship with my mother’s aunt seemed a good excuse to look it up. It also helps that I now know how to properly cite the children of my nieces and nephews. (Please tell me other people have wondered about this because I don’t have any pretty pictures to distract you with on this one 😉

So is it great or grand? I think I have always referred to my parents’ aunts or uncles as my great aunt or uncle but after researching for a minute it turns out that while that is the more commonly used term, the correct term is actually “grand”. Which totally makes since if your mother’s father is your grandfather then his sibling would also be your grand aunt or uncle, right? The term “great” is supposed to be reserved for relationships that are more than one generation away.

So there you have it. The proper way to boil eggs and address your ancestors.

Oh look, it’s another pretty picture of eggs!

Playing With My Food

In the beginning, when I wanted to learn about light, I practiced with flowers. I wanted to learn how to reveal their delicate strength without blowing the high lights and how to create airy yet vibrant images. How to use light is a handy tool for a photographer, especially one that favored a clean and classical look.

Lately, I’ve been drawn to work that is less wide open light wise. Images that have a darker tone, still vibrant in color but warmer, deeper.  I’m looking for texture and low lights now. I’m finding that food seems to be my model of choice. I think it’s going to be a fun and tasty schooling.

The recipe for the pot pie can be found here. Just swap out the chicken and chicken broth for beef.

In Love With Light

Some friends of ours have started the process of building a home and I really enjoy getting updates and talking about home planning and arranging and such. The other day we were talking about bathrooms and things we like or don’t like and I mentioned that we get the most lovely light in our master bath. We have one of those large windows made up of the square blocks of glass and it makes for the most amazing diffused natural light. 

During the summer it can also make it pretty warm but during the cooler months the sunlight just makes it nice and cozy. It’s not unusual for me to find one of the cats hanging out it there soaking up the rays.

Abby woke up and wandered it to pet the cat and enjoy the warmth too.
She didn’t realize she had walked into a photo session but what photographer in their right mind good resist that hazy soft light?
I couldn’t.

Things To Remember In The New Year

1.) Hard does not mean bad.

Having to work hard for some thing makes our appreciation that much greater. Hard means can often bring us to a good end if we will just stay the course. Hard circumstances have a place in God’s working in our lives…suffering produces endurance and endurance produces character and character produces hope. And even more, that hope does not put us to shame.

2.) Change is good.

This is a doozy for me! In a sermon a few weeks back Rob mentioned that we often view change as death. And most of us resist that death, that change, because we like living the way we live. But we are a people called to death because we are a people of the Resurrection and we know that true life comes from the dying.

3.) Busy shouldn’t always be a complaint.

Obviously, too much busy can be bad. And busy for the wrong reasons can be bad. Sometimes, we like the busy because it’s where we get our identity from…how we define ourselves. Or it’s a shield we hide behind so we don’t have to deal with something or think about something. Sometimes we keep busy just so we have something to complain about.

I have a friend who is an accomplished pianists and one morning I was sitting beside her while she played this beautiful piece of music. I mentioned how busy the page looked with all the musical notes and sweeping lines and other notations. She said she never chooses a piece that isn’t busy because it makes for a more interesting listen.

Wrongly ordered busyness in our lives makes for a cacophony of sound with out of place rests and clanging cymbals of aggravation. But rightly ordered busyness creates a symphony of praise as it is worked out in the day to day doing.

For sure, if we are living the wrong kind of busy and if we allow the wrong kind of hard into our lives (the kind that is a result of our own selfish desires and demands) and the wrong kind of change into our lives (the kind that stems from never being content or just old and set in our ways) then our song follows the tune of the world.

In this year ahead I want to remember these things and move to the beat of a different drum…to heed the command to sing a new song to the Lord.

Oh, sing to the Lord a new song,
for He has done marvelous things!
His right hand and holy arm
have worked salvation for him.
Psalm 98:1
Linking up with a few friends this week as we consider the new year and new beginnings.

I Can Only Imagine

Does anybody remember an extremely popular Christian song in the late eighties by singer Ray Boltz called Thank You? The story behind the song is that he wrote it for his pastor in appreciation for his service to the Gospel and it painted this picture of how, once in heaven, all the ways our stories are interconnected will be as clear as the crystal sea we’ll be walking beside.
As an adult I am quite skeptical about the theology behind the song…it makes quite a bit of hoopla about an individual and their works and I am just not sure that’s the way it will go down but that really isn’t my point.
My point is that much has been said about heaven and what it will be like and frankly, there is much speculation and we simply won’t know until we get there. So our speculation seems pretty silly but I do think it is in our nature to ponder and wonder and dream so why wouldn’t we ponder, wonder, and dream about heaven? I just think we need not get overly sentimental or attached to what we think it will be like no matter how much the song tugs on our heartstrings.
All of that came to mind yesterday because a simple reading of a passage of Scripture in our service. Rob started a new series on the book of Romans and part of his sermon centered on the books author, Paul.
One of the Scripture readings was the story of the stoning of Stephen and that is where my imagination collided with the idea of heaven and what it will be like. 
For just a moment I wondered, if there are such meetings in heaven, what it must have been like for the Apostle Paul to come face to face with Stephen.
To borrow from another overdone and sappy song, I can only imagine.

On A Cold Winter Morning Part II

I’ve made no secret that autumn is my favorite season. 
And despite my love of the beach, winter is probably my next favorite. Maybe because my winters are Florida winters and those winters are much different from winters elsewhere.
But it does get cold here and I love the nip of the frost and the brisk feeling of my air in my lungs. 
The light is different this time of year too. It interacts with the world differently and that of course means it does with the camera as well. Or at least I notice that it does 🙂 

Winter is the time for comfort,
for good food and warmth,
for the touch of a friendly hand and for a talk beside the fire:
it is the time for home.
~Edith Sitwell

On A Cold Winter Morning

It’s not unusual after shooting a really large even such as a wedding for me to put my camera down for a few days.

My eyes, physically as well as creatively, need to rest. Clearly, I’d never make it as a full time wedding photog!

Maybe because this wedding came on the heels of the holidays and the kids were just going back to school and Rob was out of town but I just unplugged last week. I left the computer off most days and barely even looked at my phone.

It was quite nice but I found I was having a really hard time motivating myself to do anything much less pick up the camera.

Until yesterday when the world turned cold and was all but encased in ice. Twenty-nine degrees and I get inspired to take pictures…crazy, but there you have it.

I’ll share some more tomorrow but here’s a few from the front yard where the sprinklers still came on and water drops froze and sparkled in the sun and ice crunched under foot.

Poor flowers have been confused over whether or not it’s time to bloom. I think Lady Winter cleared things up!
Frozen tears…
An icy bird bath photographs well but is less than hospitable, don’t you agree?

Beautiful diamond sparkle grass.

And my ornamental peacock looks to have shed a tear.

Hydrangea, how beautiful even in cold sleep.

Jewel crusted monkey grass lined the walkway. No wonder I was inspired to pull out the camera.

The way a crow 
Shook down on me
 The dust of snow
From a hemlock tree
Has given my heart
A change of mood
And saved some part
Of a day I had rued
~ Robert Frost