Category Archives: food photography

Holidays and friends are a natural combination

Shenandoah sunrise, Harrisonburg VA

Sunrise over Harrisonburg, VA.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I read an article recently about the importance of having friends. The timing couldn’t have been better.

It was one of those bright and beautiful mornings when I should have been exceedingly happy. American Robins welcomed the frosty day with glorious and varied song, a rare occurrence this late in the year. Having done their duty, they continued their exuberance by mobbing the heated birdbath in the backyard and guzzling the refreshing water, perhaps to soothe their rusty voices.

As often happens in our too busy lives, I forgot this welcome distraction all too quickly. We had early morning business in town. Sign here. Sign there, and we were off to a favorite coffee shop that also happens to offer gluten-free scones. But there was a first world problem. I couldn’t find a parking spot, and I didn’t want to do the drive-thru.

holiday food tray, holiday gatherings

A tray of simple foods beautifully decorated by my creative wife.

I had hoped to enjoy quality time with my wife, sip a mocha and nibble at a tasty treat. Because reality didn’t meet my expectations, I punted and drove home. I know. It was silly of me. Typical man.

Back home I found the article in an email I receive daily. The thrust of the story forced me to immediately readjust my stubborn attitude. The piece presented nothing new or earth shattering but redeemed me with just plain common sense.

In a nutshell, here’s what the writer said about friends. We need them, and they need us. He wasn’t talking social media friends either. As human beings, we need real, live, face-to-face friendships.

Numbers aren’t the point. Connectivity is. The keys, the writer suggested, were having friends who are dependable, enjoyable, and easy to talk to. It was that simple and yet that hard.

That kind of intimacy can only happen with so many people. The suggestion was to gather together a few friends who share that trio of characteristics. When it comes to friendships, quality should always outweigh quantity. The writer said the group should meet regularly to help bolster the relational bonds.

Now in our busy, bustling 21st-century lives that effort takes time and planning. It also requires commitment. That’s the dependable part.

holiday gatherings, friends

Our small group before we ate a simple holiday meal.

If you aren’t already a part of such a friendship circle, the holidays provide excellent opportunities to start. Food is a necessary common denominator in sharing with friends. It’s the equalizer, the icebreaker, and the unifier of people. Food transcends all human hesitations.

Once the group is created, it’s important to set a regular time and place to meet. Each party or couple should be responsible for some aspect of the meal. It doesn’t have to be a feast. A simple dinner will suffice.

In living in the same locale for nearly 50 years, Neva and I had all of that. We knew what we were giving up when we decided to move to the Shenandoah Valley to be near our grandchildren.

We hoped it wouldn’t be long before we would be gathering with new friends, and that’s precisely what has happened. We’ve joined a like-minded set of former Ohioans who have also resettled in the area. We meet once a month, and food and inspiring conversation are always given elements of our evenings.

Find the folks you enjoy, who are dependable, and who are affable. Begin with a holiday party. It just might be the start of a routine that will fill your life with unexpected joy, just like robins suddenly singing on a chilly December morning.

robins, birdbath

Gathering around water hole.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

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Filed under birds, column, food photography, friends, holiday decorations, holidays, human interest, photography, writing

Say goodbye to summer, hello to fall

Silver Lake, Dayton VA

On Silver Lake.

By Bruce Stambaugh

It’s another quiet morning in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. The warming sun has climbed high above Massanutten Mountain to begin evaporating the valley fog and mist wisp by wisp.

The leaves of the red maples in our yard have started their annual process of revealing their true colors and the reason for their designated nomenclature. Even before they fully blush, a few tumble one by one onto the still luscious grass beneath.

red maple tree, turning leaves

Green to red.

The school buses have already made their morning rounds. It’s quiet now, with only the sound of blue jays squawking in the distance. My wife is her busy self, the washing machine already spinning its first load. Still, I can hear the soft sound of the dry mop gliding over the oak floor. Neva is in her realm.

Orange and brown wreaths have replaced the sunny summer ones on neighbors’ front doors. Pumpkins and pots of yellow and scarlet mums beckon visitors from their sidewalk setting.

The signs of autumn’s arrival have been overlapping with those of summer’s waning for weeks now. The outer rows of massive cornfields have long been cut and chopped into harvest bins. The rest will soon follow until the silos are full. The Old Order Mennonites drive horse and buggies to church. They wheel huge tractors down narrow country roads into their sprawling farm fields with no thought of contradiction.

Shenandoah Valley farm, large farm equipment

Old Order Mennonite farm.

It was a pleasant summer, our first as residents of the Commonwealth of Virginia. Folks kept saying that this wasn’t a normal one for Virginia. With intense hurricanes brewing and massive wildfires sweeping the west, is there such a thing as normal weather anymore?

The chimney swifts that called our neighbor’s flue home for the summer disappeared days ago. Ohio friends have reported flocks of common nighthawks winging south. Shorebirds, some rather rare, made pit stops in the Funk Wildlife Area, Killbuck Marsh, and Beach City backwaters to the delight of novice and hardcore birders alike. Those, too, are sure signs of fall’s arrival.

Starlings, northern cardinals, and cedar waxwings have already obliterated the bright red dogwood berries even before the trees’ curling leaves have completely transitioned from green to crimson. The Carolina wrens provided the soundtrack to the feeding frenzies.

Old Order Mennonite horse and buggy, Dayton VA

Down the road.

Just as we did the summer, we anticipate with wonder whatever our first Virginia fall delivers. Neva will continue to play chief cook and bottle washer for our daughter’s household until the volleyball season subsides in early November. Just like all the other seasons, I’ll continue to do whatever I’m asked or told to do. Usually, it’s the latter.

Seasons come and seasons go. Life marches on. We embrace each moment of each day with joy no matter the silliness, pettiness, and egotistical disposition of those in more powerful positions than the rest of us.

That, my friends, is the way it is. We must keep on keeping on no matter the season, the situation, and the circumstances in which we find ourselves.

Rake leaves with a smile on your face. Stop and talk with your neighbors who are likely doing the same chore. Share your abundant tomato harvest or a freshly baked apple pie with others. The results will be delicious.

Enjoy the pleasant fall weather, the changing of the leaves, the foggy mornings, the brilliant sunrises, the stunning sunsets, and each moment in between. In the process, autumn will fall most graciously upon you and yours.

Rockingham Co. VA, sunset

September Shenandoah sunset.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

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Filed under birding, birds, column, family, food photography, human interest, nature photography, photography, rural life, Shenandoah Valley, Virginia, weather, writing

Stretching It

Gum Alley, Post Alley, Seattle WA

Stretching It.

During our brief tour of downtown Seattle, Washington, our friends guided us to Gum Alley. They just smiled and said we had to see it. I had no idea what to expect, but they were right. We had to see it for ourselves.

Officially named “Post Alley,” locals have dubbed the narrow street “Gum Alley” for a good reason. Apparently, it’s a Seattle “thing” to stick chewed gum onto the brick walls of the buildings that serve as the bounds of this public right of way. Its beauty is art deco personified.

Believe it or not, these walls had been cleaned of all of the gum postings less than a year ago. The young lady in the photo was actually posing to have her picture taken by a friend. As often is the case, I just happened to be at the right place at the right time to capture my Photo of the Week, “Stretching It.”

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

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Filed under architectural photography, food photography, human interest, Photo of the Week, photography, travel

Welcome to Virginia!

red ripe strawberries, Virginia

Welcome to Virginia!

My wife didn’t hesitate when our daughter asked if she wanted to go pick strawberries. Like most folks, we love just-picked berries. If we still lived in Ohio, the berries likely would need several more days before they would ripen.

Having the opportunity to pick and enjoy red, ripe strawberries this early in the season was a reality check for us. We really were in Virginia! And for the record, the berries were delicious.

“Welcome to Virginia” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

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Filed under food photography, human interest, Photo of the Week, photography, rural life

Fall Textures

gourds, pumpkins

Fall Textures.

I love to visit the local produce auction located just north of our home. After each visit there, I feel uplifted by the fragrances, colors and variety of offering the farmers bring to sell. The buyers and sellers reflect the range of produce and flowers sold. It truly is an enjoyable place.

I am inspired by the cadence of the auctioneers as I roam around the spacious grounds photographing various shots. The vivid fall colors and the crazy textures of these gourds and pumpkins particularly caught my eye.

“Fall Textures” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015

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Filed under food photography, Photo of the Week, photography

A simple but sacred sound

canning, strainer

The strainer. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

By Bruce Stambaugh

It’s a simple sound, one that would go nearly unnoticed if it weren’t for all the work involved, and the anticipated joy on a cold winter day.

This time of year, the sudden, short, pleasing pop of canning lids sealing brings smiles to the faces and hearts of many folks young and old. It’s as sweet and lovely as the produce stored inside the glistening glass containers.

When I shared these thoughts on a Facebook post, I was pleasantly surprised at the immediate response from friends. Folks across several generations testified to the pleasure and joy this momentary, miniscule explosion instills.

Kelsie, said, “Just a tiny noise, but it implies so much.” Indeed, it does.

“It is the sound of successful accomplishment,” wrote Alexander from Russia. Exactly! That pop is the universal sound of delicious meals ahead. It is the announcement of another happy harvest.

“Love it!” Patty implored. “The sound of a job well done.” Knowing her family, Patty spoke from personal experience.

“Love that sound,” Vernon mused. His family history knows that blessed soothing sound, too.

“It’s always exciting and may be why I put up with the canning mess,” wrote Joanne. Professional, honest person that she is, Joanne pretty well nailed the harvest time celebration.

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Canning does have its stresses, though. Just ask Cathy.

“Boy do I worry when I don’t hear one of them,” she commented. “It’s exciting times around here to hear those pops!”

Those weren’t frivolous exclamation points either. A canner experiences great relief upon hearing that barely audible sound above rushing traffic, ornery children, and televisions blaring. Though this tinny ping of a noise lasts but a millisecond, it represents the efforts of months of intensive work and hopeful patience. Ask any gardener.

A lot of planning goes into ensuring a productive, successful vegetable garden. From the time the first seed catalog arrives in the mail mid-winter, gardeners envision what, when and where they’ll plant their seeds and seedlings.

Those who follow the almanac or family tradition have their peas planted by the Ides of March. Given Ohio’s extended winters lately, I doubt those plans played out.

Nevertheless, those who love getting their hands dirty can’t wait to plant those first seeds or set the initial tomato and pepper plants. First, though, comes fertilizing and tilling the soil.

A lot more active verbs follow planning and planting. Collectively, buying, watering, weeding, pruning, husking, peeling, cleaning, cooking, pouring outline the ground to jar process.

For those with truck patches, it’s fun to spot the first ripening tomato. It’s horrid to discover a tomato worm, however. Like it or not, that’s all part of the natural growing process.

The hope for the cunning canner is that the sweet corn, tomatoes and apples won’t all come ripe in the same week. If they do, everything else gets set aside. When it’s time to preserve the canning and freezing commence.

With burners blazing, kitchens quickly heat up often in the warmest weather of the year. It’s a sweaty but necessary price to pay for such sweet rewards.

Jeanne summed up the preserving procedure with these questions and a one-word answer. “Tomatoes? Juice? Pickles? Yum,” she said.

Come January, I just hope I remember all that went into creating a healthy meal of tasty tomato soup, pickled beets, frozen Incredible sweet corn, spicy salsa, and homemade jam. Most of all, I don’t want to forget that satisfying sound that seals the deal.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015

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Filed under column, food photography, photography, writing