Archive for Foodie
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Welcome to the Home Sweet Home blog circle, where a group of talented photographers around the world share why their hometown/state is the most fantastic place to visit! Should you find yourself in Texas, feel free to follow along with this series to find some of the most amazing hidden gems in the Lone Star State. After reading this post, be sure to follow the blog circle around the world to Anna Francken’s blog in Utrecht, The Netherlands. Her photography is always stunning and full of delightful European details!

This month D and I traveled to San Marcos, Texas to visit my baby brother in his college town. For those of you oblivious to Texas geography, San Marcos about four hours slightly southeast from Abilene right smack dab in the middle of the gorgeous Texas hill country. My husband was in shock at the terrain {“You mean Texas has hills??? and roads that don’t just go straight???”} and we had the best time touring the town, despite the monsoon like downpour all weekend.

Like any place, what do you do when it’s raining out side? You make your way to the local brewery and sit down for a pint. In our case, my brother PT had found the most amazing local brewery in Blanco, TX called Real Ale Brewing CompanyThis delightful town sits about 45 minutes north of San Marcos. He’s been trucking it up there since the beginning when the tastings were free for as much as you could stomach. Currently it’s still the best drinking deal in town with samplers starting at just $4.00!

Real Ale Brewing Co began brewing in 1996 with a passionate heart for being Texan and brewing in Texas. Their goal is to brew the best possible beer around because “Texans are a thirsty bunch”! Real Ale Brewing is a unique company in that they only sell beer in the great state of Texas so that they can focus on quality rather than quantity.

We’re Texans. We care about Texans. So, we want to make sure the people we care about have the highest quality beer possible. And let’s face it, Texans are a thirsty bunch. – Real Ale Brewing Co

They start with water from the nearby Blanco River using no preservatives or artificial colors. We’re talking artisan ale here folks. They have everything from a Belgian Style Tripel {Devil’s Backbone} to a Rye IPA {Full Moon} to a German-style Pilsner {Hans’ Pils} to the ever popular, and my favorite, a blonde ale {Firemans #4}. They have 9 signature beers followed by 3 heavy hitters in a larger size. Plus their seasonal brews, PLUS their Brewers Cut and Mysterium Verum. It’s a brewers paradise I tell you.

D and I each started with a sampler, mine included the Devils Backbone, Hans’ Pils, Full Moon, & Brewhouse Brown Ale, while D’s only varied by The Devils Share. I was floored!!! I hadn’t had beer this tasty since living abroad. My brother’s Scots Gone Wild was matured for 12-14 months to deliver tart flavors that will blow your mind! It’s beautiful to see such craftsmanship both in a product and all of their marketing materials. You can buy awesome t-shirts, tour the brewery all while sipping their tasty wares. They’re even dog friendly!

This company has it down and I HIGHLY recommend that you visit them should you find yourself in the hill country. Stop in, they say they’ll “welcome you with open taps”!

So take that road trip you’ve been meaning to take this summer and head out to the Real Ale Brewing Company in Blano, Texas. Their address is 231 San Saba Court Blanco, Texas 78606. Call their office for more local information on opening times and tours at (830) 833-2534. If you’re a love of a quality hand crafted beverage made by those who are passionate about Texas, you will absolutely LOVE it!

Be sure to hop on over to Anna’s blog next to see her view of her home in Utrecht, The Netherlands. Add a comment or hit the like button to show some love!

Until June’s insight into the great state of Texas, I am wishing ya’ll a beautiful month!

Did you know that you can have posts from Kirsten Ashley Photography’s Blog sent directly to your email? Be sure to sign up here! Emails not your thing? Then check out Kirsten Ashley Photography’s Blog on Bloglovin! Here you can follow along just like on the old Google Reader and never miss a post!

 

 

 

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Happy Halloween everyone!!! As a treat this month’s Happiness Through My Eyes is debuting on this fantastic holiday. For those of you new to HTME, several amazingly talented photographer friends of mine have teamed up to create a blog circle posting about the happiness in our lives once a month. The fantastic part is that these ladies are literally spread out all over the world! This month I link to the fantastic Ana Quiroga in Barcelona Spain. Ana and I share a love for food, tea, and Le Creuset! She has an incredible photographer’s eye and I adore her creative style! To see her happiness this month click HERE.

I always thought birthdays were about presents and cake. Sure there was plenty of celebration involved too, but it is only later in life after marrying an incredible intelligent {albeit full of himself} man that I realized birthday celebrations could be something more. To my husband D, birthday’s are all about the experience. Anything that could give you a great story {ie:“So there was this one time in Prague when we locked ourselves in a room for an hour to see if we could escape…”} is so much more fulfilling than anything tangible. So began the tradition of celebrating birthdays with an experiential vacation.

For my birthday this year I chose Prague, a HUGE bucket list travel destination! We chose to drive the six hour journey in a rented car, stopping at Esso stations along the way through Germany to get gas. I was all kinds of excited as neither of us had been this far east. D had done spectacular research on things to do, architecture to see, and restaurants/bars to stop and replenish our energy. So I came up with the top ten reasons to visit Prague to share with you this October! There was definitely an abundance of happiness to be had on this fantastic vacation!

I’m really not sure how we managed it, but our Air B&B apartment accommodations were one street over from the Rodeo Drive of Prague. Out my front door and down the street was a five star hotel with a five star heated parking garage {complete with a car wash!}. My jaw hit the pavement strolling past Tiffany’s, Gucci, Fendi, Jimmy Choo {shoes!!!}, Hermes, and La Perla, just to name a few! There was a moment where I cursed my suitcase and everything in it because I knew whatever I wore, I’d look like a hobo in any of these stores. I went inside a few, determined to ignore the disapproving sneers at the holes in my comfy flats and my north face rain jacket. While I was unsuccessful at beating back the stares, the shopping was glorious. So many beautiful things, even if you just walk past the windows!

The most quoted phrase from my husband on the trip was “The Eastern block this…..” and “The Eastern block that….” or “Welcome to the Eastern Block….” which was soon shortened to “The EB”. The culture of Prague is unlike anything I have encountered yet on my travels. The language for starters is fascinating. It has been a long time since I visited a country where I had trouble pronouncing “Hi” and “Thank You”, much less remembering them. Also the currency made me feel like I was spending thousands and thousands of dollars… as one hundred Czech Krone {100 Kč} = $4.58. So I’m pulling out 1000 Kč bills from the ATM feeling like I’m draining my bank account only to do the math and find out that the equivalent is about $46. Ha! Definitely an awesome part of the adventure.

Dude, Prague is OLD…. Like amaze-balls old. Prague was founded in the 8th Century by Libuše and her husband, Přemysl, founder of the Přemyslid dynasty. During the 14th century, the Holy Roman Emporer Charles IV reigned until 1378. My brain explodes at the thought of how much history this city contains. How many souls wandered these streets and the stories they could tell…. The Czech Republic {formerly Czechoslovakia} has been a crucial territory during both World Wars, the Cold War, and the Velvet Revolution suffering from destruction and bombings and bloodshed. I was amazed to see how much beauty the city still holds, as the major landmarks seem untouched, simply weathered by time. If you are at all a history buff, the city is your ticket to historical paradise.

Enter the best bar experience OF MY LIFE. Folks who know me are aware of how fancy pants I am when it comes to cooking and tending bar. Nothing ordinary for this girl, only complicated drinks like lavender martinis, vanilla passions, cherry chocolate bourbon soda, and tangerine gimlets strike my fancy. I have often thought, “If only there was a bar that served ONLY fancy pants drinks. Where nothing is ever simple, and flavors run wild.”. Well, I am ecstatic to tell you that my dear sweet husband found the bar of my dreams. The Hemingway Bar sits one block off the river near the Charles Bridge. You have to make reservations in order to get in, and I high recommend that you sit at the bar to witness the most incredible mixology/bar service of your life. Right away I was tipped off to the stellar branding as we sat at the bar noting their slogan “Fine Mixology and Luxury Spirits”. Simple, timeless, & classic. The staff is all male dressed in slacks collard shirts and suspenders. They all have an air of 1920’s speak easy charm. I had died and heaven is really a bar…..

Our bartender, Peter, is simply the best. Menus were brandished seemingly out of no where upon our arrival as we were greeted and helped into our seats. My first drink was the ELIZABETH HADLEY RICHARDSON which contains the following: El Dorado 12 years old rum, Sandeman Port Tawny, Creme de Griottes chocolat from Gabriel Boudier, star anise tincture, and spray of Xante, paired with a chocolate chip cake for tasting in it’s own mini cake plate complete with glass cover. I was floored. I didn’t know ANY of these ingredients. Watching Peter work his magic was like watching a mad scientist chemist. The drinks were mixed in beakers or shakers of various sizes. Flavors and alcohol were added in different size pony & jiggers or eye droppers or spray bottles. Cocktails were stirred with long swivel spoons and various size ice cubes, every one tasted by Peter himself before it was served to ensure quality. Each signature cocktail had it’s own particular glass, and garnish. It was the most elaborate display of mixology I had ever seen. Watching him shake the drinks was my favorite part, as he had a style and flair all his own.

The Hemingway even does a special presentation on absinth as they stock 43 different kinds from several countries. Their bar stock alone is enough to make anyone’s mouth hang open agape. They stock over 200 rum varieties, 16 types of gin, 14 types of vodka, 15 different tequilas, 14 blended scotch whiskeys, 62 whiskeys separated by country and region, a variety of vermoths, bitters, ports, and the most impressive champagne list I have born witness to. Did I mention you can also order cigars in the smoking section downstairs?

So if you should find yourself in Prague, The Hemingway Bar is a MUST EXPERIENCE. Every drink we ordered was fabulous and watching Peter mix the cocktails was even more enticing. He even made me my own signature cocktail based on my pallet preferences! We were sad to leave knowing we would never have another bar experience like this one ever again. I give five starts to this bar for achieving high class atmosphere and first class drinks.

Oh the doors. They speak for themselves, literally. With so much decor and detail I was able to add at least a dozen or so to my fenestrations collection! Some of the more ornate doors guarded embassies while others welcomed individuals into places of worship. There were so many that I could hardly put my camera away before spotting another one and pulling it all back out again!

D is also a huge fan of puzzles. He is always playing logic games and I envy his ability to think outside the box. He found the Mind Maze and it was one of the most fun experience I have ever had on a vacation! Mind Maze is a live action adventure game where you are locked in a room for 60 minutes. Using only your brain to solve logic puzzles and find clues the goal is to find your way out of the room in the allotted hour. D and I thought it would be the ultimate team building experience….. and how right we were! We chose to do the alchemist’s chamber mind maze, which looked like something out of Harry Potter. I am proud to say that we were able to find our way out of the room in the given amount of time! We worked well together and he figured out some bits and I figured out others. I’ll admit I was really nervous that he would figure everything out first and I’d be standing there gawking at his brilliance. Parts of the maze were super challenging and once we figured things out there were many times where we felt stupid and had the “ohmigosh DUH!” moments. If you like to solve riddles and puzzles, this is another MUST DO activity while staying in Prague. D and I left the Mind Maze on an adrenaline high that lasted us the rest of the day!

I wish I could tell you more, but I don’t want to give anything away to future players. Be sure to make reservations in advance. The maze can be played in a group of two to five people. The staff is super nice and they will give you hints over a walkie talkie if you get stuck and need help. Are you game?

While in Prague, be sure to walk across the bridge up to the Prague castle. The castle really isn’t much other than it’s a rather large complex with gardens all around, but the view down on the city is well worth the hike. My breath caught in my throat upon first glimpse of the marvelous city of spires. Also, the walk along the river is quite scenic offering different vistas along each side of the valley.

I definitely experience some of the best meals of my life while on this vacation. I have to hand it to my husband as he did the research knowing that I like fancy pants cuisine way more than I enjoy fancy pants cocktails. Most of these evenings I left my camera at home to enjoy the meals without the added pressure of photographing everything and worry about poor lighting. The following two restaurants were my favorite and I will explain each in turn.

LA VERANDA – Elišky Krásnohorské 10/2, 110 00 Praha-Josefov, Czech Republic +420 224 814 733
AH-mazing food. The best quail and pumpkin risotto I have ever tasted in my life. This restaurant is Michelin rated with an excellent wine list. Their dessert menu is also to die for. It has a cozy atmosphere and be sure to sit upstairs if you can. It also happened to be right next door to our apartment. Score!

GRAND CRU RESTAURANT & BAR – Lodecká 1181/4, 110 00 Praha 1-Nové Město, Czech Republic +420 775 044 076
Best meal of my LIFE. Astonishing French cusine served only they way the French can. I had the largest Halibut steak I have ever seen. My husbands lamb with fig was melt in your mouth scintillating! This restaurant is known for its wine stock {over 1000 different kinds!} so we had a wine pairing with every course. These paired wines were absolutely outstanding! I highly recommend getting the cheese course before your dessert. And as always, NEVER pass up a French dessert! Their resident sommelier was extremely informative and knowledgeable about every wine that was served at our table that night. We could have stayed at this restaurant forever with its warm glow and insatiable aromas! As this place is extremely sought after, call in advance to make a reservation to be sure you get a seat!

There were many other amazing places we ate along with food from street vendors and local bakeries! A Czech bakery is a must for breakfast with their delightful Turkish coffee and kolaches!

Prague is a city of architectural wonders…. One that practically rivals Paris in it’s ornate Renaissance / Baroque styles. The you have modern marvels like the “Dancing House” by renown architect Frank Gehry, that leave you breathless in awe. There is more of a juxtaposition of styles in this lovely city of spires. Every where you look there is grandeur, everything you see has such exquisite detail that you find your self staring unabashedly. I was also quite fond of the colors that adorned the buildings and rooftops in Prague, as the palette is unlike any other. Boulevard upon boulevard of tall hand carved town-homes…. almost too much beauty to take in at once!

All I wanted for my birthday was to have an iconic shot of the Charles Bridge that I took myself. In true pro photographer form, D and I got up at 5:30 AM to make our way to the bridge. I could scarcely believe how empty it was! This particular tourists attraction is usually packed with people and street vendors alike which makes it practically impossible to get a clear shot during the day. It was so peaceful in the wee hours of the morning, just me, D, and the bridge {plus or minus a few other photogs}. I was super excited to shoot while manually focusing as the light was too dim for auto focus. It was such a dream to get the shots I wanted! If you are a photographer and are looking to get this shot, getting up early is the only way to do it!

Don’t forget to follow the blog circle around the world! Visit Ana’s blog in Barcelona and see her happiness HERE.

Until next month’s happiness… Wishing everyone a lovely November and Happy Halloween!

Did you know that you can have posts from Kirsten Ashley Photography’s Blog sent directly to your email? Be sure to sign up here! Emails not your thing? Then check out Kirsten Ashley Photography’s Blog on Bloglovin! Here you can follow along just like on the old Google Reader and never miss a post!

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August 11, 2014
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MONDAY

1 :: Work Day – I have a shoot today with the awesome Savanna Hoyle, so today’s MIAM will be short and sweet! There is just too much prep work involved to put out a full fledged MIAM. Hopefully you’ll still get some Monday cheer to help you push through your day!

2 :: Weekly Photo Recap – Here is what you missed last week! Be sure to follow me on Instagram to catch the daily photo of the goings on in the studio!

Kirsten Ashley Photography & Design | Little OnesKirsten Ashley Photography | Venice, Italy | Traveling TuesdayKirsten Ashley Photography & Design | Sunflower Fields ForeverKirsten Ashley Photography & Design | Custom Calligraphy | Brush LetteringKirsten Ashley Photography & Design | Brugge, BelgiumKirsten Ashley Photography & Design

3 :: Watermelon Feta Mint AppetizersOH yeah. This happened in my kitchen this morning. Inspired by the prompt “Watermelon” for the #christinagrevephotochallenge, I really wanted a fun clean editorial foodie setup. Especially since I don’t have kids to photograph… {Watching little ones engorge themselves on this juicy summertime treat makes my heart so happy!} For those of you who want to make this tasty fresh appetizer that will broaden your foodie pallet horizons, all you need is cubed watermelon, a melon baller {to scoop out holes}, feta, finely chopped mint, balsamic vinaigrette, sea salt and fresh cracked pepper. Mix all of the ingredients minus the watermelon in a bowl. Use the melon baller to scoop out holes in the watermelon cubes. Fill the holes with the prepared filling. Finally drizzle with balsamic vinaigrette! Viola! Hello tasty summer appetizer!

Happy Monday Ya’ll!!! It’s my hope that Monday In A Moment brightens the beginning of your week so you can power through to the end!

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Then end of April is upon us, which means we’re already 1/3 of the way through 2014! My favorite months are all lined up in a row, the good seasons eagerly anticipating their turn to shine. April has been busy, but I still wanted to give you something to sink your teeth into for my happiness this month. If you’ve never been a part of a coffee tasting, you’re about to… get ready, get pumped, and love some coffee. To continue forward in the Happiness Through My Eyes blog circle, please join Anna Francken owner of Anna Francken Photography in the Netherlands as she delves into the joys of her heart for April. Anna and I met in Amsterdam in Sept of 2013 and I was delighted to find we had so much in common! We share a love for sealing wax and wax seals, old school dip and fountain pens, pretty mail, delicious food, wine and of course, coffee. Be sure to check out her post for this month! Her photography always makes my heart happy… AND she writes in Dutch & English, ’cause that’s how she rolls!

 

Once upon a time, long long ago, I was a Starbucks barista. Yes indeed. I was the shiny happy face that greeted you while you placed your order or chatted it up with you asking about your life as I handmade your custom Starbucks beverage. Aside from all of the caffeine deficient crazy folks that would stumble into our store, I really did enjoy this job. I had awesome co-workers, a fantastic boss, received a free pound of coffee every week, and free drinks while on shift {practically every day}. Don’t be fooled though, the job was hard work. I remember when I first started and my boss told me that it would take me about three months to have all of the drinks memorized and the step by step process of hand crafting a drink perfected. I thought she was nuts. I was the elitist overly smart kid with a masters degree… how hard could it be? I have never felt so foolish in my life. It was the hardest I have ever worked to be good at something. My inability to multi-task bit me in the ass every single day. However, when I finally managed to learn the system, I became pretty good at it and grew comfortable enough to build relationships with the regular customers in our store.

Kirsten Ashley Photography | Happiness Through My Eyes | April 2014  | A Proper Coffee Tasting

As a part of your training, you are taught how to properly conduct a coffee tasting. You can probably guess how ridiculously excited I was. Like a kid being taught to make sugar cookies for the first time. Starbucks, ever the corporate system, gives all of their employees a coffee passport. This book literally looks like a passport but contains all of the corporate information on each coffee blend as well as your own notes once you have completed a tasting of each blend. Guys, you know me… I’m an eager beaver over-achiever. I lit up like a slot machine on a jackpot pull. “You mean I get a handy dandy notebook to tell me all about the different kinds of coffee AND I get to write in it too?” Jaw dropping excitement. They even give you a sticker {GOLD STAR!!!} for each coffee you taste so you can “check it off” in your passport. If you make it all the way through and taste all of the blends, you are then promoted to a “Coffee Master”. Sadly, I never made it… our store was always too busy.

To conduct a tasting there are equipment essentials. You will need :: a french coffee press or italian moka pot, coffee grinder, whole bean coffee, water, and paring treats to bring out the flavors in you coffee. If you don’t own a french press, some of my favorite brands are Bodum, La Cafetiere, & Le Creuset or this pretty red press. I would go ahead and spend the money to purchase a nice one. The one you see pictured in these photos is a thermal press, which is really nice if you brew a full pot, and want to keep it warm and refill your cup. A french press is traditionally used to conduct a coffee tasting, but living in Europe has also made me a fan of the Italian moka pot. This three piece coffee maker produces a stronger espresso-like cup of joe that is extremely flavorful and packs a caffeine punch. Which method is better? It really depends on your personal preferences. The French Press will give you a rich cup of coffee that is a far cry above what comes out of a percolator, while the Italian moka pot gives you a traditional European style cup of coffee that has a similar consistency to espresso. If you are a true coffee lover, you will be delighted with either coffee brewing appliance.

There are several key components to a coffee tasting which include properly brewing coffee in a press, tasting characteristics, and the tasting process.  Lets start with grinding the whole beans. If you don’t want to bother with grinding your own, most coffee shops will happily grind your beans for you at the correct coarseness. The pro’s of having your own coffee grinder, is that the grounds are fresh and can make all the difference in taste. The image above shows the difference in grinds. The french press grind is more coarse than what you would put into a coffee percolator. I tend to grind mine a little finer because I really enjoy strong coffee. But be aware that the finer your grinds, the more coffee sludge will magically appear at the bottom of your cup of joe, kind of like tea leaves. I don’t mind the sludge, but it really bothers some folks. Most french presses are eight cup presses and will require a quarter pound of coffee grinds if you are measuring using a scale. Your press should also come with a coffee scoop that measures slightly bigger than a tablespoon. For my everyday coffee, I use six scoops for a full press, even though the instructions say to use eight. This may or may not be because my husband and I have different definitions of what “strong coffee” means. Your press will also come with instructions that tell you how many scoops you need to make a proper pressed cup, so have no fear!

To brew coffee in your press, measure the appropriate amount of grounds into the bottom of your press. Boil water on the stove using a kettle or saucepan {don’t laugh, I did this before we owned a tea kettle when we were first married}. When the water is boiling or your kettle is screeching at you, pour enough boiling water to fill your press leaving about 1/2″ to 3/4″ space at the top for the lid recession. DO NOT press the coffee. Let it sit unpressed for FOUR MINUTES. I know it’s painful to wait, but I promise you it’s worth it. When your timer dings {because you set a timer for FOUR MINUTES right?}, gently push the plunger down to press the coffee. Be careful not to press too fast or coffee can spurt out of the spout and burn you. It’s not fun and makes a huge mess. Also hold the whole contraption steady. I have a friend who smashed her press to smithereens… completely by accident. {facepalm.} Note that the longer you let the coffee sit in the press the stronger the brew will be. 

Now on to the characteristics of a coffee tasting. There are four “tasting terms” that are important to note while tasting your coffee blends. This is very similar to wine or liquor tastings, so if you’re familiar with either of those techniques, you’ll feel right at home! The four terms are: Aroma, Acidity, Body, and Flavor.

  1. The Aroma is all about how the coffee smells. The scent of the blend is directly related to the flavor of the coffee you are tasting. It is important to smell your coffee first because it is a well known fact that what we smell directly influences what we taste. Example terms of descriptive aromas are:  earthy, spicy, & floral.
  2. The Acidity of your coffee in a tasting doesn’t refer to how it would rate on a litmus test, it is referring to how it reacts to your palette. As you taste the coffee you will taste the acidity on different parts of your tongue, the front back and sides. Highly acidic coffees are often described as “bright, tangy with a crisp clean finish”. This is similar to how citrus tastes in your mouth. Low acidity coffees are smoother and more mellow. The taste tends to linger longer in your mouth.
  3. The Body of the coffee means the weight of it. Does it feel light or heavy in your mouth? Starbucks had us compare it to the different between non-fat milk, whole milk, & heavy cream. Full bodied coffees will linger and coat your tongue where lighter bodied blends will have flavors that dissipate quickly with a light finish.
  4. The Flavor of the coffee refers to how the coffee tastes. It is helpful to pick out the bolder flavors first and work your way through the blends complexities. Different people taste different things first, which is why it’s really fun to do this with a group. Some example flavores are cocoa, cherries, hazelnut, citrus, or vanilla. Paring blends with different foods can really enhance the flavors in the coffee, causing you to taste them immediately. See below for different food pairing options.


There are five steps to tasting your coffee: Smell, Slurp, Location, Bite & Slurp, and Write. Below you will find each step explained in full detail.

  1. Take a Big Whiff :: Just like in the explanation of the aroma above, smelling your coffee is the first step to tasting your coffee because your sense of smell is directly related to what you taste. Cup your hand around your mug, stick your nose in and take a big whiff. What do you smell? What kind of flavors pop up? Notice anything in particular? Discuss the aroma.
  2. Slurpity-Slurp :: I know your mother taught you to never slurp… but Momma ain’t here. Acutally, slurping your coffee is the best way to taste it because it allows the liquid to properly coat your tongue to ensure you get all of the flavors. So go on, slurp it up!!
  3. Location, Location, Location :: As you are slurping, note where the flavors are hitting your mouth. Is it the front, or back? Does it coat your mouth? Do the flavors die away quickly? Take mental notes
  4. Take a Bite & Slurp Again :: Now it’s time to pair food with your coffee. Take a small bite of your food pairing and spread the flavors out in your mouth. Now take a small slurp of coffee again. Note how certain flavors are greatly intensified. What are those flavors? Do different foods bring out different flavors? Which flavor is the most powerful?
  5. Write it Down Y’all :: Be sure to write down all of the information gleaned above about each coffee you taste. Much like tasting wine, it can be fun to keep a notebook of different coffees you have tasted from different regions. This way you can always look back and compare. Not to mention keep track of which coffees were your favorite and which ones you didn’t like at all.

Above you see some of the foods I enjoy pairing with coffee tastings. Good staples are good quality chocolate {milk & dark}, lemon cake, berries, nuts, cinnamon, & vanilla, & caramel. I also wanted to let you know which foods pair best with the coffees pictures in this post.

  • For Ethiopia Blend :: Pairs best with lemon and herbs. Citrus-y savory foods like lemon bars or lemon rosemary sables would be a great pick!
  • For Gold Coast Blend :: Pairs best with maple, chocolate and caramel. This blend goes AWESOME with breakfast and the lotus cookies paired above. It also happens to be my favorite blend from Starbucks!
  • For Komodo Dragon Blend :: Pairs best with herbs, cinnamon, & oatmeal. This coffee is extremely earthy so it pairs well with earthy natural foods.
  • For Tribute Blend :: Pairs best with chocolate, berries, and vanilla. Taste the flavors zing when paired with cherries or cranberries!

So there you have it. You are now educated on how to conduct a proper coffee tasting!!! W00t!!  This can be a really fun party to plan as an excuse to get your girlfriends together. Most of the time, people have done this with wine or liquor, but never with coffee. I am always amazed at what I find that I don’t enjoy. It’s never what I would have expected! I hope that you will go forth and taste your heart out. Coffee lovers of the world unite! I also want to shout-out a HUGE thank you to my father for sending SIX POUNDS of Starbucks coffee all the way to Germany. His kindness and love inspired this months happiness, for what could be better than opening a 14″ x 14″ box full of caffeine??? Thanks Dad! I love you!

I hope you’ve enjoyed my happiness for the month of April! Don’t forget to continue around the world to the next blog in the circle written by the lovely Anna Francken HERE! Be sure to leave a comment and show her some love!

Until next month y’all! May you find a small bit of happiness in every day.

Did you know that you can have posts from Kirsten Ashley Photography’s Blog sent directly to your email? Be sure to sign up here! Emails not your thing? Then check out Kirsten Ashley Photography’s Blog on Bloglovin! Here you can follow along just like on the old Google Reader and never miss a post!

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MONDAY

1 :: Wedding Season is Upon Us – Everyone I know in the bridal industry is already stretching their muscles for the long sprint to the end of summer as wedding season has begun! My instagram feed is full of flower arrangments, dresses, photographers, and venues alike. As I was a June bride myself, I get giddy when I think of other girls planning their own special day. Yes, if you’re a control freak like me if you try to do too much it does feel overwhelming. My biggest advice is to outsource anything and everything you can to people you trust with tasks that suit their strengths. Utilize your bridal party and close family and friends that you know will be in attendance. Trust me, the last thing you want to be worrying about as you enter your reception is “Where did the straight glass vases for the bridesmaids bouquets disappear to?” while your brand new husband is desperately trying to get you to forget about it and look at all the joy around you. So tuck in as I highlight some of my wedding favorites this year!

2 :: THE shoes – If you love shoes and your wedding footwear is to be the creme de la creme, then shopping the Nordstrom bridal boutique is for you! My jaw dropped as I scrolled through the options. Whatever your price range, from Manolo Blaniks to Nina, they have you covered. I could easily recommend beautiful magical stiletto heels, but this week I am going to recommend options for the outdoor bride. Having that stiletto ruined in mud and grass is NOT ideal, so lets look at some other possibilities shall we? If you do go with heels, Nordstrom makes these handy dandy “heel protectors” in a variety of colors so that those points don’t sink into the ground. GENIUS. Click on a shoe to take you shopping at Nordstrom & Etsy! 1) David Tutera – ‘Blue’ Wedge – $118.95 2) Etsy – Navy Blue Wedding Shoes/Ballet Flats with Ivory Lace – $67.00 3) Sarah Jessica Parker – ‘Bobbie’ Sandal (Nordstrom Exclusive) – $365.00 4) Betsey Johnson – Blue ‘Gown’ Sandal – Was: $129.95 SALE: $97.46 5) Jimmy Choo – ‘Kole’ Sandal – $1,595.00 6) Nina – ‘Emma’ Crystal Embellished Ankle Strap Pump (Online Exclusive) – $118.95 7) David Tutera – ‘Winter’ Wedge Sandal (Online Only) – $164.95

David Tutera 'Blue' WedgeSJP 'Bobbie' Sandal (Nordstrom Exclusive)Blue by Betsey Johnson 'Gown' SandalJimmy Choo 'Kole' SandalNina 'Emma' Crystal Embellished Ankle Strap Pump (Online Exclusive) | NordstromDavid Tutera 'Winter' Wedge Sandal (Online Only) | Nordstrom

3 :: just CAKE – OMG, the cake. Seriously it’s my favorite part about any wedding. I say, try to do what you can to have an outstanding tasting cake that also looks beautiful {trust me your guests will thank you}. Sounds impossible right? Not so much. Do you due diligence with cake tastings. Do you research and find vendors in your area that have what you are looking for and make an appointment. Destination wedding? I highly recommend you plan a trip to the location just to do vendor recon. Have family in the area with great taste palettes? Fantastic. Have them  attend your cake tasting appointment for you. Trust me, they won’t mind, for who doesn’t love free cake? I’ll have you know that my father and brother did my cake tasting for me and managed to locate the BEST vendor in town that suited my needs. When I was able to come home from Germany, we went back to discuss the final details such as flavors and design. So here are my top cake design picks for this wedding season!

Beautiful lace wedding cake by Cotton and CrumbsLace Wedding cake from Layered Bake Shop McKinney Texas!Vintage bird cakeRomantic creation ~ Cake Design: Cotton and CrumbsSouthern Belle inspired #wedding cake ~ Kelsea Holder Photography, Zest it Up Events | bellethemagazine.comPink + Gold http://www.theperfectpalette.com/2013/11/10-wedding-color-palettes-you-need-to.htmlOmbre Flowers

4 :: Custom Wedding Calligraphy Addressing – You are in luck! Kirsten Ashley Photography & Design now does custom wedding calligraphy addressing! From outer envelopes, to inner envelopes, to menu’s, to place cards. The sky’s the limit on ink and envelope color combinations! Contact me to chat about what I can do to make the day you say “I do!” customized and lovely!

Custom Wedding Calligraphy | Kirsten Ashley Photography

5 :: Stay Organized – Just another tip… stay as organized as possible. Newly engaged? March your cute butt down to an office supply store and pick up a binder and a set of twelve tabs. Choose the things that are the most important to you, your main priorities. Where do you want to spend the bulk of your budget? These categories get a tab of their own. Here was my list: Chapel {or church}, Reception, Cake, Shoes, Dress, Flowers, Photography, Invitations, Save-the-Dates, Rehearsal Dinner, Bridesmaids, Groomsmen, Transportation, & Honeymoon. Also, utilize Pinterest!!!!! This social media platform has revolutionized the way brides can view the vendors in the wedding industry. Binders not your thing? Create a board for every high priority topic and pin your little heart out. Need insipiration? My wedding boards are still up and running… feel free to take a look! Wedding Colors | Wedding Hair | My Shoe Obsession | Reception Decor | Just Cake | His Ring | Bridesmaid Dresses | Bouquets/Boutineer

6 :: Free Shipping on Prints & Canvas – This week from April 21th – 23rd {Today through Wednesday} Kirsten Ashley Photography & Design is having a Free Shipping Flash Sale on all prints and canvas. Have you have a session with Kirsten Ashley Photography? This free shipping offer applies to you! Simply access your private gallery via the client page and add prints and/or canvas to your shopping cart. There is no coupon code necessary. If you spend a minimum of $15 on an order you will receive free shipping at the checkout! This free shipping offer also applies to the Fine Art Print categories : Mother Nature, Foodie, Architecture, Adventures & Fenestrations. Get in on this free shipping offer before it ends on Wednesday!

Happy Monday Ya’ll!!! It’s my hope that Monday In A Moment brightens the beginning of your week so you can power through to the end!

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5

That’s right folks! The end of February is here which means it’s time for me to share my happiness for the month. I am still giddy with excitement at being a part of this blog circle! To read the next post in the blog circle, please click the link to take you to London, England to the blog of Rebecca Spencer. Rebecca is a super amazingly talented photographer and was recently given the award for the Guild of Photographers to 10 photographer’s of the year!!! Huge congratulations to her, and be sure to check out her award winning work, you are in for a real treat!

This month my happiness was reluctant to leave the french pastry realm, so I zeroed in on my other favorite: French Madeleines. Once upon a time back when I was an architect working for OPN architects, I was having the worst day. I don’t remember exactly what happened, but it was one of those days where everything went wrong and I could barely hold back the tears that were threatening to escape. My husband {my fiancee at the time} was already living in our home in Germany. He would call me once a day over lunch so we could connect despite the seven hour time difference. On the phone that day, he told me to keep my chin up and surely things would turn around and get better. Sometime that afternoon, the receptionist was at my desk with a large box from my favorite Cedar Rapids french pâtisserie Croissant Du Jour. It was full of Madeleines!!! I swear their entire stock was in that box. My husband had magically delivered my favorite french cookies to my office and completely made my day! What he doesn’t know is that he made everyone else’s day too as I shared the magical deliciousness with all the OPN staff. While my love for these sweets began long ago, this particular day solidified the idea that french pastries can turn ANY day around no matter what bad things happened!

These light “cake-cookies” are one of my most favorite treats {other than macarons of course!}. I just adore their beautiful shell shaped bellies that set this cookie apart from any other. They are amazing with coffee and can be made in almost any flavor including almond, lavender, chocolate, and lemon. Many of you have probably seen these cookies a three-pack mass produced and sold at Starbucks, but I have to tell you that nothing compares to stepping into a french pâtisserie and tasting one made that day by an authentic french artisan pastry chef.

So this begs the question, Do you have to be a five star authentic french artisan pastry chef to make these delightful treats? I’m super happy to report that you don’t. You know what’s even better? These cookies are FAR easier to make than macarons!! {Woo hoo!} So the hunt began for the best recipe. What do I mean by the best? Iconic desserts like this can have a million variations and can even get “Americanized” {audible gasp} so I wanted a recipe that was authored by an authentic frenchman/woman. I stumbled across this recipe from 101 cookbooks by Heidi Swanson and was immediately hooked by the story behind it. She picked up this recipe from her friend Lanha, who got if from her sister Kaly. Lanha says “I enjoy making madeleines for Silvio {her French husband} because they remind him of his life in France.” SOLD. After perusing through the recipe it was actually easier than Martha Stewarts {SCORE!} and is authentically french {YES!}.

What is a madeleine exactly? Well there are only six ingredients {if you don’t count the flavor}: eggs, sugar, salt, flour, butter, & vanilla. I was kind of shocked. I expected to have go on a scavenger hunt to locate some particular kind of french marzipan or rosewater. The great thing about these cookies is that most of the time, anyone has all of these ingredients already in their kitchen on any given day. If you husband calls you at lunch and proceeds to tell you {not ask you} that Dave and Margery are coming over for dinner, you can whip up a batch of madeleines for dessert in no time!

Of course I made notes on the recipe so that your madeleines can be the absolute best on your first try. Note that these tips are based on my oven in my home at my altitude here in Germany.

  • Specialty Pan :: Unfortunately, these cookies require their own pan made specifically for baking madeleines. Most cooking stores have them, but mine {pictured above} is from William-Sonoma and can be purchased here. It’s important to note that madeleine pans usually come in two sizes: regular and mini. The only difference is that the mini madeleines bake in the oven for less time. How do you know  if your pan makes regular or mini madeleines? If your madeleine is mold is smaller than a large egg it’s a mini pan.
  • I’ll take my Butter Browned :: Browning the butter is what makes these cookies stand out from all of the other recipes I looked at. I know that it seems tedious, but the rich nutty caramel flavor the butter adds, is a key ingredient. Without this process you simply have plain ‘ole melted butter… and who wants their madeleines to taste plain? Not this girl! It does take a little bit of time and I’ve included a photo collage of shots throughout the process to give you an idea of what to expect.
  • Use a Timer :: It’s important not to underwhip/overwhip the eggs. Using a timer works like a charm!
  • Grease & Flour :: Do NOT skip this step. Even if you pan is “non-stick”. I did it once just to see what would happen and I had to peel my madeleines out of the pan with a knife. They looked like the zombie madeleine apocolypse. I was super heartbroken and frustrated… but fear not! Greasing and flouring your pan works like a charm every time! You can grease with butter {be sure to use unsalted}, crisco, or even cooking spray {I tried it and it works!}. Flouring the pan is easy, but due to the shape of the pan {and perhaps the person doing the flouring} it makes a mess. It’s recommended that you do this part outside, but I live on the 9th floor of a highrise and I’m not about to shake flour down on an unsuspecting German pedestrian. I spread out a long sheet of papertowels and sift flour on top of the pan to cover it. Then I shake it around allowing the flower to drop onto the paper towel making sure to knock on the back in the end to shake out any stubborn bits. Then you can simply fold the paper towel and shake the leftover flower back into your flour canister! Yay minimal mess!
  • Cookie Scoop It :: The batter in it’s final state drives me nuts. It doesn’t pour, your can’t transfer it with a spoon, and most of the time I make a huge mess… until I discovered that using a regular cookie scoop makes life SO much easier! You’re able to scoop small portions of batter and ladle it into the pan without spilling!
  • Don’t Deflate :: After baking your first round of madeleines you’ll find that your batter has all of these air pockets. Don’t stir it! Deflating the batter will make dense madeleines. Simply keep on scooping like normal.
  • Take Out & Release :: In the recipe it says to de-mold your madeleines immediately after taking them out of the oven. VERY important. Just dump them out onto a cooling rack shell-side up.
  • Wash Your Pan :: Between batches it’s important to wash your pan, then re-grease and re-flour. Yes I know it’s a pain… but the batch usually only makes about three pans full at most. So quit your whining and do it!

So here is your recipe courtesy of 101 cookbooks. It is her exact recipe with photographs by Kirsten Ashley Photography. Any comments from me are made in blue. Enjoy!

French Madeleines by 101 cookbooks & Lahna & Kaly
Makes 2 -3 dozen regular madeleines

Ingredients

1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter (6 ounces)
2 tablespoons softened unsalted butter (for greasing pan)
3/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
4 large eggs
a pinch fine-grain sea salt
2/3 cups sugar
zest of one large lemon {I use about 1/2 t of almond extract instead of lemon zest to make almond madeleines.}
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
powdered sugar

a bit of extra flour for dusting baking pan

Special equipment: A madeleine baking pan, regular or small

Instructions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Melt the 1 1/2 sticks of butter in a small pot over medium heat until it’s brown and gives off a deliciously nutty aroma, roughly 20 minutes. Strain (using a paper towel over a mesh strainer) – you want to leave the solids behind. Cool the butter to room temperature. By doing the butter first you can complete the rest of the steps while it is cooling.

While the melted butter is cooling, use the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter to grease the madeleine molds – get in there and make sure you get in all the ridges. Dust with flour and invert the pan tapping out any excess flour. Lanha uses “cooking spray” with flour to simplify this part.

Put the eggs with the salt in the bowl of an electric mixer with a whisk attachment. Whip on high speed until thick – you are looking for the eggs to roughly double or triple in volume – approximately 3 minutes. Continuing to mix on high speed, slowly add the sugar in a steady stream. Whip for 2 minutes or until mixture is thick and ribbony. Now with a spatula fold in the lemon zest and vanilla (just until mixed).

Sprinkle the flour on top of the egg batter, and gently fold in. Now fold in the butter mixture. Only stirring enough to bring everything together.

Spoon the batter into the molds, filling each mold 2/3 -3/4 full. I use a small cup filled with batter to keep things clean and manageable, it is easier than using a spoon.

Bake the madeleines for 12 – 14 minutes (7-10 minutes for smaller cookies), or until the edges of the madeleines are golden brown. Remove from oven and unmold immediately. Cool on racks and dust with powdered sugar. {I skipped the powdered sugar step as I like my madeleines plain!}

 Madelines are such a lovely treat for me! They definitely take me back to my time spent visiting France over the years. They make delightful gifts to friends or family in these cute boxes made from recycled cereal boxes! I hope you enjoy this food photoshoot as much as I did. Lunch in Paris by Elizabeth Bard is a great read and so SO french! Be sure to check it out!

I truly hope you get a chance to bake this french cookie and share it with your friends and family. They never disappoint! Should you want a personal lesson in making madeleines be sure to email me at kirstenashleyphotography@gmail.com and I’d be delighted to set up a baking day for us!

To continue to the next link in the “Happiness Through My Eyes” blog circle, head on over to Rebecca Spencer Photography as she writes about happiness through her eyes in London, England click -> HERE!

Wishing everyone a most marvelous Friday!!

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February 24, 2014
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MONDAY

1 :: The Tudor’s Will Rein – The most exciting news this week is that BOTH my father and my brother will be coming to visit us here in Germany this summer!!!!!! I am so beyond excited!!!! It’s been so long since my baby brother and I had an adventure together I’m psyched at what awaits us! All of the forestry/nordic walking trails/food is going to blow my father’s mind! So lookout Deutschland, the Tudors will rein this summer!

2 :: Design News – I am happy to announce that Kirsten Ashley Photography will be become Kirsten Ashley Photography & Designs throughout the course of the next six months. It seems no matter what I do, design work {paper goods, hand lettering, and graphics} keep popping up in my job projects! I already have had the pleasure of creating a branding identity for several photographers in the Kaiserslautern Area, so it’s high time I moved forward with this side of my business. I will also be offering custom calligraphy, invitations, place cards, and menu’s just to name a few things! Get excited folks, because this means I get to do more to suit YOUR needs!

3 :: Love Me Some Neutrals – I have had some really awesome finds at DSW lately. Something about the neutral pallet is hugely inspiring to me this week. Beige shoes make way for bright colored frocks and bold tops. Not to mention they make me feel like spring is here!!! Click on  shoe image to take you shopping at DSW online! 1) Audrey Brooke – Hylda Color Block Pump – $59.95 2) Crown Vintage –Divina Wedge Sandal – $49.95 3) BCBG – Paris Dromka Pump – $74.95 4) BCBG – Paris Jaze Metallic d’Orsay Pump – $59.95 5) Bandolino – Tayka Gladiator Sandal – $69.95 6) Tahari – Sophia Platform Pump – $69.95

Audrey Brooke Hylda Color Block PumpCrown Vintage Divina Wedge SandalShop  BCBG Paris Dromka PumpBCBG Paris Jaze Metallic d'Orsay PumpShop  Bandolino Tayka Gladiator SandalTahari Sophia Platform Pump

4 :: Flavor Punch – This week’s Pinterest recipe picks are all light dishes with a zing of zesty flavor. I hate feeling SO FULL at the end of a meal and these dishes seem juuuuuuuust right. I am especially psyched to try the shrimp bisque! Click on a picture below to take you to the recipe! Don’t forget to follow me on Pinterest and never miss a recipe pick! 1) Quick Shrimp Bisque 2) Lemon Garlic Bacon Avocado Pasta Salad 3) One Pan Mexican Quinoa 4) Beef Tenderloin with Balsamic Tomatoes 5) Parmesan and Spinach Orzo

Fast Shrimp BisqueThis 30-minute comfort dish combines crisp bacon, creamy avocado, and shredded Romano cheese. Lemon juice, olive oil, and garlic make a simple sauce: http://www.bhg.com/recipes/pasta/easy-pasta-recipes/?socsrc=bhgpin021614avocadobasilpasta&page=19One-Pan Mexican Quinoa - a quick and easy vegetarian dish that's great for lunch or dinner.You only need 5 ingredients to make this restaurant-worthy Beef Tenderloin with Balsamic Tomatoes.Parmesan and Spinach Orzo | Cooking Classy

5 :: Happiness Month Two – It’s almost the end of February ya’ll! This means that the next installment of the “Happiness Through My Eyes” blog circle will be coming out soon! This month is all about another delightfully french dessert: Madeleines! Here’s a sneak peek at what went on in my kitchen this weekend!  Keep a lookout for the blog post this Friday!

Happy Monday Ya’ll!!! It’s my hope that MIAM brightens the beginning of your week so you can power through to the end!

 Hit the subscribe button to the left to receive the Kirsten Ashley Photography Blog in your email whenever it’s posted! Like this post? Hit the like button or leave a comment to show some love! OR you can constantly follow Kirsten Ashley Photography’s blog with Bloglovin.

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2
January 31, 2014
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I cannot even begin to tell you how excited I am about this post. Upon hearing about the idea of becoming a part of a blog circle I was immediately intrigued… and what better than to be among an incredibly talented group of women! The theme “Happiness Through My Eyes” formed by Ana is genius as it leaves room for so much creativity and interpretation. So without further ado, I give you my contribution for January. To go to the next blog in the circle by talented Louise Freeland from London, England, click HERE {the link has been updated!}.

 

Happiness for me, culminates in one specific category: sugar. Long ago I was graced with the nickname “The Sugar Queen” because of my ever-lasting love affair with sweet treats. My husband often goads me and asks me how someone can consume so much sugar on a daily basis. I simply turn to him and laugh as if the question doesn’t even merit an answer. And living on the France/Germany boarder for 2 years has brought one of my old favorites to levels of near obsession: Macarons! I’ve always had a soft spot for these delicate Parisian sandwich cookies, and being so close to the real thing has driven me to become passionate about their creation as well. I’ve made them for parties, for fun, and especially to enjoy a large batch in the comfort of my own home without spending 50€ for 24 macarons {Geez Ladurée… I love you and you’re worth it… but I cannot afford you even on a weekly basis}.

Over Christmas I set out to make cinnamon macarons for my traditional December Christmas cookie swap. I hadn’t made them in about eight months, but I figured it was like riding a bike.  Then…I couldn’t find my foolproof recipe.  And…it was raining {worst possible weather for trying to make these cookies!}.  And then…they cracked in the oven, leaving me without a single macaron that was pretty, pink and perfect.   I was horrified, disappointed, frustrated and exasperated and “insert inappropriate expletive here!!!”  *sigh* I couldn’t for the life of me figure out what went wrong, so I simply chalked it up to “a bad day to make macarons” and tried to move on let that be my excuse.

One sleepless night shortly thereafter, while my husband lay sound asleep and snoring by my side, I was overwhelmed with curiosity to figure out what had happened to my christmas macaron batch. Really and truly, I just couldn’t let it go that the whole ordeal had been a disaster… and I wanted vindication! So I set out to look up a foolproof recipe. At 3am, deep in a narcoleptic stupor, I stumbled across a blog called “The Brave Tart” written by Stella Parks. The name of the blog had me hooked… the brave tart… I wanted to be a brave tart! Her fantastically comical in your face writing style made me giggle with delight. Her dishes simply screamed “Bake Me! Now!” She was named “one of America’s Best New Pastry Chef’s in February 2012 by Food & Wine Magazine.” She has also made macarons three times a day since 2011. Who better to trust than someone who does it repeatedly EVERY DAY? Surely she knows here stuff. At this point I was game to trust this creative soul in love with chocolate who had spent a considerable amount of time and dedication to to de-mystify the macaron process for over-eager-beavers like me.

I want to give Stella all of the credit for this post. Without her Recipe, Macaron Mythbusters, Macaron Ten Commandments, and All About Hollows, I’d be lost. Hell, so would we all. So please, for the love of macarons, go read “The Brave Tart” Blog links posted above. I do mean READ them.  They are a wealth of macaron information {and a joy to read}.

I have found in my macaron journey that reading and researching have been the most helpful way to learn. It’s a common myth that macarons are impossible to make. That’s why I loved Stella. She has done everything to make the process as streamlined and foolproof as possible. She’s also tried the recipe a million ways… when it’s raining… in the humidity of a basement… when she’s listening to Huey Lewis and the News… everything! What she figured out and what I am slowly learning is that there is a method to the madness.

That’s why I love her Macaron 10 Commandments. Because these are the rules you MUST actually follow if you want your macarons to be consistent. After making two batches of  Stella’s recipe {one blue and one yellow} I sat down with pen and paper to write notes about specific things I think it’s important to pay attention to. These things are specific to MY house and MY oven… but it’s good to know where you can go wrong.

  • Sift Twice! :: It does make a difference! Don’t get lazy on me and only sift the almond flour/sugar combo once. Also, pay attention to the large chunks that won’t go through the sieve…. According to Stella, those can tear straight through your glorious macronage and crack your macarons. When I measure out my almond flour initally, I actually pre-sift exactly 4 oz of almond flour that goes through the sieve. Because I use a scale to measure, the weight is always precisely calculated and I don’t end up with large chunks of almond that don’t fit through the sieve.
  • 10 Minute Beating :: When I read Stella’s method of beating the egg whites I was in shock. Beat them for 10 minutes? Seriously?!?!? Yep. Seriously. This girl knows what she’s doing. Just trust and follow her timed instructions. You will end up with the most beautiful dry meringue.
  • Macronage :: This step can make or break your macarons. I know, I’ve done it. I don’t say that to scare you… I say it to caution you. This term describes folding the meringue and the sugar/almond flour mixture together.  The first batch {blue macarons} I folded 25 strokes + 15 strokes + several {like 8-10} more because I felt it wasn’t incorporated enough. These macarons came out with little or no “feet”* because I had deflated the meringue too much. The second batch {yellow macarons} I folded 25 strokes + 15 strokes + 1 or 2 more. I concentrated on oversmearing when I folded the batter so that by the end of 40 strokes my macaron batter was in a molten lava like state. I want to note that it looked thicker than I thought it should… but I really liked the way this batter piped and the second batch had really good “feet”.  {*Feet: the term used for the frilly bottom of a macaron}
  • Scrape It Down! :: I remembered reading about this in the Macaron 10 Commandments… and it’s seriously true. Scrape the bowl down as often as possible so that everything mixes evenly. If you have a rogue unmixed ribbon of meringue it can cause all of your macarons to crack. In the first batch {blue macarons} I had several macarons crack in a row. Needless to say, the yellow macarons turned out much better.
  • Whack That Sheet :: This part isn’t a joke either. Make SURE you whack your baking sheet against a table-like surface to get the air bubbles out of your piped macarons. I even go back through with a straight pin and make sure all of the bubbles at the surface that haven’t broken are popped. This can also make your macarons crack as the air rises to the surface during baking.
  • No Drying Time?!?!? :: Yep. You read right. This is why Stella is my hero. The step of drying your macarons for 30 minutes to an hour always cheesed me off. I don’t have enough patience to  allow the glossy caps to mattify. With Stella’s recipe you can pipe your macarons and then pop those suckers right into the oven! They still yield glorious feet! I was in awe. **Note: Stella mentions in Macaron Mythbusters that “if your macarons are slightly overmixed, about 15 minutes of drying will give them a better foot.” So in my first batch because I had overmixed the batter I should have let it sit for 15 minutes and the macarons would have yielded a better “foot.”
  • °F vs °C :: I don’t know about you but when I have to convert °F to °C my brain glitches. I immediately cringe because I worry that my oven temp, which I set by hand not digitally, is going to be off. Since 300°F = 148.889°C I have reason to be cautious. Stella suggests buying an oven thermometer to make sure your oven is actually set at 300°F. I’m tempted to do so… but for the time being I use trial and error and a knife to dig a groove into my dial at the exact perfect temp {don’t you dare judge!}.
  • Where’s Your Rack? :: I complete agree with Stella that knowing your oven is a very important commandment {See Macaron 10 Commandments}. In my first batch {blue ones!} I tested the oven rack in three different places to try to find the perfect location. My oven has four oven rack slots. The first go round I had the cookie sheet in the second to bottom rack: the back row of Macarons cracked beyond repair. Next, I placed the baking sheet on the very bottom row: ALL of the macarons cracked. Out of sheer desperation, I moved to the shelf second from the top: it worked like a charm. All but one of my macarons were perfect!  So pay attention to where you oven fan blows and your rack location. It sure makes a difference!
  • Cool ’em Upside-down :: I read Stella’s “All About Hollows” blog post discussing the in’s and out’s of why macarons turn out hollow. She recommends several options, one of which was cooling them upside-down. The science is similar to the way you cool an angelfood or chiffon cake upside-down on top of a wine bottle. The sheer weight of the macaron tops will cause the insides to fall giving you a hollow macaron. If you dry them upsidedown however, the inside cools but doesn’t deflate. Genius huh? Let me tell you… it works like a charm! So when you take your macarons out of the oven, simply flip the parchment paper over {your macarons shouldn’t release from the parchment until they’ve cooled} and cool them upside-down.
  • Just Wait :: Apparently macarons are supposed to “cure” for 24 hours in an airtight container before they are “ready.” I thought this was ridiculous {I know, I lack serious patience} until I tried it simply by accident. I couldn’t eat all of the macarons I made in one day so I stored them for the next day… I was amazed at how much better they taste on day 2, 3, 4…. etc. So my solution is this: the day you bake your macarons, eat some! They’ll still be delicious…. but know that the next day you’re in for a real treat because they’ll taste even better!

Here is Stella’s recipe from “The Brave Tart”. I want to make it clear that this is her EXACT recipe. I take no credit for the recipe itself. I did photograph my experience as I walked through her recipe to help you understand that it is possible for an average non-pastry chef  to make beautiful macarons with her recipe! Any additional comments from me are highlighted in blue.

 French Macarons – by Stella Parks aka “The Brave Tart” {with photographs by Kirsten Ashley Photography}

4 ounces (115g) blanched almonds or almond flour, or whatever nut you like
8 ounces (230g) powdered sugar*
5 ounces egg whites (144g), temperature and age not important!
2 1/2 ounce (72g) sugar
the scrapings of 1 vanilla bean or 2 tsp vanilla extract {I omitted the flavoring so the filling flavor would shine!}
1/2 tsp (2g) kosher salt

Preheat the oven to 300° and have ready a large (18”) pastry bag, fitted with a plain tip. If you haven’t wrangled a pastry bag into submission before (or if you have and found it frustrating), these 12 tips for using a pastry bag will make the process mess and stress free; take the time to read them before you get started and you’ll do great!

You’ll also need two parchment lined sheet pans ready too.

I am hopelessly impatient and given to rushing, even when I know better. So to prevent my macarons from growing ever larger as I pipe, I use a 1 1/2” cookie cutter to trace out guide-circles (about an inch apart) and then I flip the parchment paper over, ink side down. {This is a great idea, but even this perfectionist skipped this step}

If you use almond flour, you lucky dog, simply sift it with the powdered sugar and set aside. If a significant portion won’t go through your sifter, however, you’ll need to grind them up until they do.

{I used Red Mill pre-ground almond flour. So I’m a lucky dog. However, I was able to find whole almonds at the commissary if you want to try your hand at making your own almond flour.}

In that case, or if you’re using whole nuts, bust out your food processor. Process the almonds and powdered sugar for about a minute. Take out the mixture and sift it, reserving whatever bits don’t pass through the sieve. Add these bits back to the food processor and run the machine for another minute. Sift again. You should have about 2 Tbsp of slightly chunkier almond bits, but hakuna matata. Just add those into the dry mix.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the egg whites, sugar, vanilla bean (not the extract), and salt and turn the mixer to medium (4 on a Kitchen Aid). Whip for 3 minutes. They will not seem especially foamy at that point.

Increase the speed to medium-high (7 on a Kitchen Aid) and whip another 3 minutes, then crank the speed to 8 for go another 3 minutes.

At that point, turn the mixer off and add in any extracts/flavor/color and whip for a final minute on the highest speed, just to show it who’s boss (and to evenly distribute the color/flavor). I highly recommend not adding any flavor or color if it’s your first time, or if you’re wanting to learn about macarons. Additives make learning trickier. If you’re not here to learn, just to eat, then carry on!

At the end of this minute, you should have a very stiff, dry meringue. When you remove the whisk attachment, there will be a big clump of meringue in the center, just knock the whisk against the bowl to free it. If the meringue has not become stiff enough to clump inside the whisk, continue beating for another minute, or until it does so.

{Top left: egg white / sugar mixture at 3 minutes beating at speed 4. Top right: egg white / sugar mixture at the end of the next 3 minutes beating at speed 6. Bottom left: egg white / sugar mixture at the end of the next 3 minutes beating at speed 8. Bottom right: egg white / sugar mixture at the end of the final minute beating at speed 10. The large ball in the center is what came out of my beater.}

Now dump in the dry ingredients all at once and fold them in with a rubber spatula. Use both a folding motion (to incorporate the dry ingredients) and a rubbing/smearing motion, to deflate the meringue against the side of the bowl.

First timers: the dry ingredients/meringue will look hopelessly incompatible at first. After about 25 turns (or folds or however you want to call “a single stroke of mixing”) the mixture will still have a quite lumpy and stiff texture. Another 15 strokes will see you to “just about right.” Keep in mind that macaronage is about deflating the whites, so don’t feel like you have to treat them oh-so-carefully. You want to knock the air out of them.

Undermixed macaron batter: quite stiff. If you spoon some out and drop it back into the mix, it will just sit there and never incorporate. Do this test before bagging your batter and save yourself the trouble of baking of undermixed macarons!

Overmixed macaron batter: has a runny, pancake batter-like texture. It will ooze continuously, making it impossible to pipe into pretty circles. Um, try not to reach that point.

You can evaluate your batter one stroke at a time, no rush.

Essentially, the macaron batter needs enough thickness that it will mound up on itself, but enough fluidity that after 20 seconds, it will melt back down. I’ve heard people describe this consistency as lava-like, or molten, and that’s pretty apt.

Transfer about half the batter to a piping bag. (When your bag is too full, the pressure causes the batter to rush out in a way that’s difficult to control, making for sloppy macarons.)

Pipe the batter into the pre-traced circles on the baking sheet. Stop piping just shy of the borders of the circle, as the batter will continue to spread just a bit.

After piping your macarons, take hold of the sheet pan and hit it hard against your counter. Rotate the pan ninety degrees and rap two more times. This will dislodge any large air bubbles that might cause your macarons to crack

{Photograph taken after 1st batch is piped and smacked so air bubbles are dislodged}

Bake for about 18 minutes, or until you can cleanly peel the parchment paper away from a macaron. If, when you try to pick up a macaron, the top comes off in your hand, it’s not done.

Once the macarons have baked, cool thoroughly on the pans, before peeling the cooled macarons from the parchment. Use a metal spatula if necessary.

{Second batch of macaron caps cooled!  I was amazed at how easily these released from the parchment paper. You can tell by the undersides that they are not hollow!}

Fill a pastry bag fitted with the buttercream {you can use buttercream, jam, lemon curd, etc! – kw} of your choice and pipe a quarter sized mound of buttercream into half of the shells, then sandwich them with their naked halves.

Macarons, against all pastry traditions, actually get better with age. The shells soften and become more chewy, mingling with the flavor of the buttercream too. So, while of course you can eat them right away, don’t hesitate to store them refrigerated for up to a week. If at all possible, set them out at room temperature for a few hours before consuming, because cold buttercream is kinda gross.

*Cornstarch-laced powdered sugar isn’t a problem for macaron making, but it is a problem for Passover. You can buy cornstarch free powdered sugar here.

 

Once the shells were finished, I filled the blue macarons with a blueberry white chocolate ganache and the yellow ones with a deliciously tart lemon curd. After I made both batches of macarons, the food photographer inside of me begged for a foodie photo shoot. I wish you all the best of luck in making these macarons! Remember, the more times you make them, the more you’ll understand the ingredients and your oven. Keep at it and never give up!

Thanks for joining me through this macaron adventure. If you are interested in a personal lesson in making these delightful treats, please email me at kirstenashleyphotography@gmail.com and I’d be happy to set up a cooking day!

To continue to the next link in the “Happiness Through My Eyes” blog circle, head on over to Louise Freeland Photography as she writes about happiness through her eyes in London, England click -> HERE!

Wishing everyone a most marvelous Friday!!

**Watercolor Macaron credit to Lucileskitchen.

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It was seriously a great year. In fact I’m kind of in awe of everything 2013 managed to pack in. Living an Air Force life, the years seem to alternate…. this year we didn’t have to move…. and although D deployed, it was a short one. I have also struggled to find a word to describe my inward need to see different places in the world. Your first suggestion is “Wanderlust” right? Well, that’s not quite it as I have extremely strong ties to home. The Websters definition of wanderlust is : strong longing for or impulse toward wandering. I don’t have an impulse to wander. I have an impulse to see and do and be…. in as many parts of the world as possible all the while coming back with an overwhelming joy to be home. I’m the quintessential definition of a travel-lusting yo-yo. Zinging to a destination and always being pulled back where I belong. But I digress…. I visited more places this year than I could have ever hoped for.. and I am sincerely grateful. I thought I’d put together some of my favorite shots from the year combined. Enjoy!

As 2014 begins, it’s incredible to have this collage to look back on. It inspires me to “adventure-on” this year… That whole never leaving home without your camera thing? Totally worth it. Thanks for walking though this glimpse with me and I hope to be able to shoot just as many interesting things for this year!

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MONDAY

That’s right folks! This week’s Monday in a Moment is completely dedicated to the Cyber Monday shoppers! So many of you are probably wondering what this coupon means…. I am happy to announce that the savings are TWO FOLD!

1 :: 30% OFF Fine Art Prints & Canvas – Click on this link to view all of the FINE ART PRINTS available for purchase or you can click on a category to view the individual galleries. The categories are: Foodie, Adventures, Architecture, Mother Nature & introducing the NEW Fenestrations category! See an image you like? Add it to your cart! You can also select how your photo is cropped by clicking on the “Preview & Configure” link in the Confirmation window. Don’t forget to type in the coupon code: kapcybermon13 at the end of the checkout for 30% savings!

2 :: 30% OFF Prints & Canvas for Past Clients – Have you had a session with Kirsten Ashley Photography in the past year? You can order prints & canvas at 30% off using the same coupon code: kapcybermon13! Simply access your session’s private gallery with your password and add the items to your shopping cart you wish to purchase. Then enter the coupon code at the end of your checkout! This offer only happens once a year so take advantage of the one day only sale!

I wanted to wish everyone a very happy holiday season! I hope that you all get a chance to spend time with family and friends. Enjoy those moments as they are so very precious. I also wanted to let you know that due to the holidays and hosting company {Hi Chelsea & Worth!!!!!!} my blogging will be intermittent until after the new year. I have big plans for Kirsten Ashley Photography for 2014, so stay tuned!

Thanks for coming back this week! It’s my hope that MIAM brightens the beginning of your week so you can power through to the end!

 Hit the subscribe button to the left to receive the Kirsten Ashley Photography Blog in your email whenever it’s posted! Like this post? Hit the like button or leave a comment to show some love!

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