This week my hometown of Huntsville, AL is hosting TBEX (Travel Bloggers Expo), a group of professional travel bloggers coming together to explore a new destination, listen to speakers and make connections. I was one of the lucky few that got to attend a Travelography Workshop with esteemed travel photographer Ajay Sood at the Huntsville Botanical Gardens. It was an amazing workshop and I won’t do the disservice of giving away all of Ajay’s secrets (take a workshop with him, you won’t regret it), but here are two assignments he gave us in the workshop.
Here’s the little birds! Aren’t they adorable!
The first one was to create a multi image photo essay that had a cohesive theme. I covered the gorgeous butterfly garden, which opened a couple of weeks ago. I spent an hour in there and got to see mating turtles, mating butterflies, these flightless birds (they weren’t mating, but probably had just finished up), tons of flowers, a waterfall, happy people and more.
The second one was to great a stand alone image. A birdy in a bottle tree.
This first day of the workshop was so good, I can’t wait to see what the rest of it holds.
Last year my husband and I took a trip to Japan and had a thrilling 3 weeks there. We visited Kyoto and stayed at a traditional ryokan, (inn). Staying in the ryokan was an amazing/overwhelming experience that included getting naked in public (a story for another day), a 12-course dinner, beautiful sites and a traditional Japanese breakfast. We ate numerous meals, but the ryokan was the most interesting. The hubs and I visited the Otagi Nenbutsu-ji temple, which is a buddhist temple with over 1,000 quirky and interesting statues. We LOVED it! The statues were placed in 1981, so they aren’t particularly ancient, but they are still wonderful.I was especially happy to find a statue holding a camera. A kindred spirit!After site seeing we had a lovely experience at the ryokan and the next morning we were given the choice of a ‘western’ or ‘japanese’ breakfast. We laughed at the stupid westerners that couldn’t handle a Japanese breakfast and promptly opted for the most traditional breakfast possible! It seemed like a great idea until we sat down to the table and had NO idea what were were about to eat. I love trying new things, but this was definitely out of my comfort zone. You know that experience you have when you got to a fancy restaurant and suddenly realize there is much more cutlery than you are know what to do with. Why are there 4 forks, what is this mini plate for, am I supposed to use the small spoon for dessert, soup… ? This was just a taste of what it was like to eat traditional japanese breakfast. There were so many plates and ornate boxes with little treasures inside. I didn’t what was garnishment or food. At one point I managed to ask what to do with this cup of liquid only to discover it was just a cup of tea, which was the only thing I knew what to do with. It was beautiful and amazing, but we had no idea what were eating and what sauce went with what. A lot of it was delicious, but a lot of it we weren’t sure about. This could have been because we were pairing sauces with the wrong food. I did recognize rice, soy sauce, fish (pretty sure) and maybe.. tofu. The service was impeccable. Though the employees didn’t speak English, and we struggled with awful Japanese, they still took care of our every need and made it a great experience for us. The view was so beautiful it was surreal. Boats floated by and I kept feeling like I’d fallen into a movie. It was one of the highlights of our trip!We were awkward and confused, but I would do it again in a heartbeat.
Last weekend I participated in my 4th food blog tour to celebrate a Restaurant Week. They are always fun and interesting, so I thought I’d give an inside look of this year’s tour.
The tours actually start out kind of awkward, especially if you don’t know anyone. You’re just eating with a bunch of strangers and though you’ve read their profiles you don’t really know much them. I’m always worried that I’ll do something stupid, because I usually do, this year I misplaced my shoes and may or may not have accidentally mooned someone when a gust of wind caught my skirt. I was fulling immersed in photographing a beautifully plated dish and didn’t pay attention to how windy it was getting. To that person walking by on the sidewalk I’m sorry.. or you’re welcome.
But in the end the bloggers all become fast friends, because we are brought together by food and the experience of eating 3 meals together. In the beginning we are so polite and proper, but by end we are sharing food off each other dishes, recommending places to get good photographs, and laughing and joking with each other.
And it always nice to read each other’s experiences on the blogs afterwards and I recommend you do the same.
Katherine photographing some amazing sides at the Toybox Bistro. Photo on the left courtesy of KatieActually.com
We also risk life and limb to get a shot. As a photographer you get yourself worked up about ‘finding the right light’ and ‘making sure you captured the ambiance of a place’. You know that friend that is SO annoying Instagraming every piece of food that goes in their mouth, and then your food, and then the food of the people at the table next to you, well that is child’s play when it comes to a food blogger. I come to a restaurant with a full camera bag, I shoot with a reflector and sometimes a tripod. I climb up on chairs to ‘get the shot’. So obnoxious. The nice things is I am not alone on a food blog tour!
Jennifer photographing at Beignet Cafe. She’s a shorty like me so Charles kindly steadied her chair so she didn’t die. Worth it though! Her photo is on the left courtesy of SweetTMakesThree.com.
It is also nice because you have people who help aka egg you on to do something crazy.
Stephenie Walker: http://www.rocketcitymom.comDid I get the shot? Yes I did! Thank-you to Charles from TheSaltedTable.com for making sure I didn’t break my neck or really embarrass myself by getting stuck in a chair and having to have firefighters cut me out or some nonsense like that.
This week I’ve been participating in a food blog tour to kick off Huntsville’s Restaurant Week. Fellow bloggers and I visited three restaurants and got the inside scoop about what specials they would be offering from August 12th until the 21st.
Alas, all good things must come to an end, but what a sweet end it was. The last day of the food tour found us at Beignet Cafe. I recently went on a trip to New Orleans, so I came into Beignet Cafe wondering if they could match the culinary delights I’d experience in The Big Easy and boy did they ever. The food was equal, if not superior, to the Cajun cuisine I’d experienced several weeks earlier.The restaurant itself is really cute, with simple, but cheery decor. Live flowers adorn every table and french signage gives the cafe an authentic NOLA feel. Of course, we started the proper way with sugar laden, warm and oh so wonderful beignets and full cups of Café du Monde, chicory coffee. At this point it had started raining, but that only added to the comforting effect of our soft pastry starter.
I did not made a good wardrobe choice that morning and was wear a black shirt, which was covered in sugar after my first bite. It was worth it! All of the bloggers order different dishes so we could try lots of items. I started with a cup of gumbo. It was excellent, with pieces of chicken, seafood, vegetables and the perfect level of spices.For my entrée I had the Dirty Grits, which were covered in chunks of andouille sausage and chicken, cooked in Cajun seasoning. It was a perfect comfort food, spicy, but pleasant with creamy grits and savory toppings.There was also a gorgeous Strawberry Feta Salad topped with blackened chicken and balsamic vinaigrette.The Egg Bake with fresh fruits looked delicious, but I forgot to sample that. It seemed like a hit though. You could get three varieties of Egg Bakes: Veggie, Classic or Meat.
I might not have eaten the Egg Bake, but I did get a photograph of it. You know you have your priorities out of order when it is more important to photograph of a meal than eat it. (eye roll) #photographerproblems
We were all quite content, but owner Denise had one more surprise for us: Tres Leche Bread Pudding. One word: Heavenly.
I always wondered why Southerners loved bread pudding so much, because honestly bread pudding kind of sounds unappetizing. The first time I heard about it I envisioned chocolate Jello on top of Wonder bread. Yuck! But this Yankee admits she was wrong (again) and that Tres Leche Bread Pudding is delicious and decadent. Thank-you to Denise and the wonderful staff at Beignet Cafe for hosting us bloggers on this last day of the blog tour!!And thank-you to the CBV for inviting me to the 2016 Food Blog Tour. As usually it was a great experience.Make sure you check out my fellow bloggers posts about Beignet Cafe.
As celebration of a growing food community in North Alabama the Huntsville/Madison County Visitor’s Bureau will host Huntsville Restaurant Week. From August 12th until the 21st restaurants across Madison County offer specials that range from $5 to $30, allowing patrons to dine in wide variety of eateries over this 10 day period.
To kick off the event several top-notch bloggers (and myself) get to sample the special deals and blog about it.
Fun(free food + blog idea) + A=(happy food bloggers)5Solve for A (Show your work)
Day 2 of the blog tour found us at the Toybox Bistro and I’ll admit I was really excited about this one. I’ve been hearing great things about the Bistro, but I haven’t tried yet and this was a great excuse to visit (not that you need an excuse).
I’m going to get to the food, which was exceptional, but let me start with the ambiance, which was surprisingly fun and exciting.
As the story goes owner Michelle was married to Steve, who was a big collector of all things nerdy. He had a huge stash of geeky toys from just about every genre and when he passed away Michelle wasn’t really sure what to do with it all. At around the same time her BFF Bill, who has extensive experience in the restaurant industry wanted to “build a place where he can cook some funky food and serve some cool beers and just let people hang out.” Out of this came the funky, geeky amalgamation of nerd meets foodie, The Toybox Bistro.The decor is epic. No matter what your fandom is, you will probably find a corner in the Bistro that represents your love. There is Pokemon, Mario, Star Trek, Star Wars, Magic, UNO, Voltron, Rudolf the Red Nose Reindeer, Hungry Hungry Hippo, etc, etc, etc.
I forgot to look if they had a cricket bat for Shawn of the Dead.
There are canisters of legos to bring to your table, but honestly it is so exciting to just look around that you won’t have time to build anything.Each table and corner is unique, so you’re bound to have a favorite nook or cranny. Even the ceiling is covered with model space ships, nostalgic board games and over 150 Pez dispensers. It is hard to not feel nostalgic in this place. For a photographer it is a dream restaurant to get pictures. And we haven’t even gotten to the food!! After you have marveled at the toys and games, had childhood flashbacks, pointed out nerdy things to the other people at your table, you start to realize that you actually came to eat, so you peruse the menu.
I forgot to see if they had a cricket bat for a Zombie Apocalypse.
The menu is as nerdy as you’d hope, with dishes such as the Redneck Luigi, The Sonic Gut Buster and Fires of Mt. Doom Chili.They also have cool culinary dishes that explore the joys of comfort food, such as Waffled Mac & Cheese, Lobster Rolls, Fried Wickles and the northern favorite, way northern (like Canada north) Poutine (fries, with gravy and cheese curd).
Because food bloggers are great at sharing we all ordered a bunch of specials and had a little of everything!
See all of the bloggers working together!!Our first dish was the PB & Yay Burger with the poutine that I just mentioned. The burger was a fresh (never frozen) 6 oz patty with tomatoes, red onions, tons of bacon, pepper jack cheese and peanut butter. Yep, you read that right, peanut butter. It was surprisingly awesome. The next sandwich was the C3PO, which is a hand breaded chicken breast with bacon bescemel sauce, more bacon, tomato, ham and crisp lettuce. I liked both sandwiches, but this one was my favorite. It also came with a side of fried wickels. Oh so yum!Then came Mac and Cheese Waffles. I know, right! The best part of Mac and Cheese the is crispy, melted bits and this entire dish was covered in it. Yum!!At this point I was post-Thanksgiving dinner stuffed, but just like with Thanksgiving there is always room for dessert. And this dessert was spectacular: Cherry Cheese Cake Rangoons.
Warning: the portions are generous is an understatement, so make sure you come hungry or at least with loose-fitting clothes.
Make sure you check out my fellow bloggers posts. There was so much to see and talk about that I know they all covered a lot of stuff that I didn’t even touch on.
‘Tis the time of year that North Alabama foodies rejoice and get their taste buds ready: Huntsville Restaurant Week! This is the 5th year of Huntsville Restaurant Week and from August 12th until the 21st patrons can enjoy speciality menu items at great prices from numerous restaurants across Madison County.
As part of the kickoff to Restaurant Week several fellow bloggers and I visited three eateries to get a first look at their specials. I’ve had the pleasure of participating in this Blog Tour for 3 years running. I love it, so please feel free to keep inviting me back! (Not so subtle hint)
I’ll include a link to each of their posts at the end, so make sure you give them almost as much love as you give me!
Our first stop was Grille 29. Last year the blog tour had brunch here (the shrimp and grits were to die for!) so I had very high expectations, which were surpassed yet again. You can check out last years post here.
We started with Roasted Cauliflower Soup, which was garnished with crispy prosciutto and greens. I’m a huge veggie-aholic, so I found this dish completely addictive. I seriously dreamed about it that night.Next we sampled a Southern classic, fried green tomatoes, topped with pork belly and blue pimento cheese. It was also scrumptious! Next came the main course Flat Iron Steak, enhanced with a roasted shallot reduction, topped with house-made Pico de Gallo and sweet potato straws, over cheese grits. Are you hungry yet, because just writing this post is making me drool.When we knew we couldn’t possibly eat anymore, dessert came out and we mustered the courage to go on.
We started with a Lemon Lava Cake, which was stunning. It was a delicious dessert, but it was also a beautiful dessert, which really warms a food photographers heart.Then came a Chocolate Peanut Butter Truffle, which I’ve had before and loved before. From what I could tell it was a fan favorite. And last, but certainly not least, was the Cheesecake of the Day, Turtle Cheesecake.Everything was delicious! While we were photographing food on the patio a jealous lizard kept on eyeing the Lemon Lava Cake. Sadly for the lizard, we didn’t have any leftovers.All of the food was created under the watchful eye of Executive Chef Cara Thompson. Make sure you attend Rocket Chef at the Merrimack Hall on August 8th and cheer for Chef Cara as she competes against other culinary geniuses for the title of Rocket Chef. All proceeds from the event go to the Food Bank of North Alabama, so it feeds your soul as well as your belly.More about Grille 29 please visit: