I always have a hard time pinpointing my favorite time of year, as I love different seasons for different reasons. If pressed, however, I believe that right now is truly my favorite. I love stepping outside on a dewey evening, to be surrounded with the scent that is summer. Dusk is the most enchanting time of day, when the hectic daytime activities come to a halt, and you can enjoy the cool evening air, while the fading sun leaves a blazing pink path in the sky. There’s no better way to capitalize on an already perfect summer evening, than to have a bonfire. I think the picture above kind of says it all. Of course, it’s even better at the beach, because really, what isn’t?

I won’t deny that choosing to write about bonfires this week is just an excuse to talk about s’mores. I can’t help it! They’re just my favorite. If you’re not me, and think that a bonfire requires other types of food- besides the most delicious food ever created- I would suggest travel-friendly, make ahead dishes. I’ve been making this simple Balsamic Caprese Orzo Pasta Salad almost weekly. It’s a new summer staple, and I would highly suggest it. If you have time, Homemade Graham Crackers are definitely worth the extra effort. For now, I draw the line at homemade marshmallows, but maybe that’s just because I don’t yet have a Kitchenaid. No matter what, your bonfire will be the perfect end to an August evening, and a way to make the remaining days of summer last just a bit longer.

1. napkins, 2. plate, serving bowl, ice bucket, 5. marshmallow branch

Image Credits: table, orzo, s’mores, bonfire

So- true story, I was in a sorority in college. I did my undergrad at Johns Hopkins University, so the nature of Greek life was pretty toned down in comparison to other schools. We didn’t have a house. I wasn’t constantly decked out in apparel. And I definitely was not hazed. It was rather low key due to the fact that everyone had schoolwork on their mind first.  But it still felt like a cohesive group. I made some of my best friends from college in that sorority- girls that I still see often and am in constant communication with, girls I anticipate being friends with for the rest of my life. I also made a ton of other close friends, either through long nights or silly activities, that when I see now I still have that special connection with. I’ll be the first to admit that the whole “sisters” and “sisterly bond” thing doesn’t really describe the nature of my experience in a sorority, but nonetheless the friendships I made still matter very much to me.

Lucky for me, there are probably 25+ girls from my sorority living in the NYC area. In June we started doing monthly get togethers. We rotate homes, everyone brings food, and then we just hang and chat. When I went in June there were girls there I hadn’t seen in close to five years (since I graduated), and just the sound of their voices brought back a flood of memories from the time we had spent together in college. It was kind of unreal. And it made me realize just how valuable this network of girls I have in my life is. I know sororities can get a pretty bad rap, and truthfully, had I been at another school I likely would not have joined one. But now being able to experience having this rich group of friendships in close proximity, I’m so thankful for having been in one.

Oh, so this cake? This is what I brought to last night’s get together. It’s a spin off of the buttermilk cake I made a few weeks back. I might like this version a bit better, mostly because it’s generously topped with a luscious cream cheese icing. Have I mentioned I detest frosting cakes? I’m all about recipes where you thickly slather the top of the cake with icing, rather than all around. Makes life way easier. Also, I simply cannot get over the crumb of this cake. It is so incredibly tender. Your guests won’t be able to either. So whichever version you choose, I urge you to make this buttermilk cake in some form or fashion this summer. Enjoy!

Strawberry Buttermilk Cake with Strawberry Icing

Make the strawberry purée:

  • 10 medium to large strawberries, cut in half
  • 2 T sugar
Preheat oven to 375°. Toss together the strawberries and sugar in a shallow baking dish and bake for 10 minutes. Let cool slightly before puréeing until smooth in a Cuisinart. Set aside purée.

For the cake (cake slightly adapted from the Joy the Baker Cookbook):

  • 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 3/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 6 T unsalted butter softened
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup buttermilk
  • 1/3 cup strawberry purée

Preheat the oven to 375°. Butter and flour a 9 inch cake pan or cast iron pan and set aside.

Whisk together the dry ingredients. Using a stand or hand mixer, on medium speed beat together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy- about 3 minutes. Add in the egg and then the egg yolk, beating until just combined after each addition. Lastly add in the vanilla and beat until just combined. Lower the mixer to low speed, add in half the flour mixture, and beat until just combined. Add in the buttermilk and beat just until the flour disappears. Add in the remaining flour and beat until the flour disappears. Use a rubber spatula to bring together the batter and ensure everything is well incorporated. Lastly, fold in the strawberry purée and stir until just combined.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan, spread evenly. Bake for about 30 minutes, until the cake is a deep golden brown and a cake tester or tooth pick comes out clean. Let cool completely.

Make the frosting:

  • 8 T unsalted butter, softened
  • 4 T cream cheese, softened
  • 1 cup confectioner’s sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 5 T strawberry purée

Beat together the butter and cream cheese until smooth. Add in the sugar and vanilla and beat until light and fluffy. Fold in the  strawberry purée. Place the frosting in the fridge for 20-30 minutes to firm up before spreading thickly across the top of the cake. Serve immediately.

Are you a nester? I know that term usually relates to moms to be (and no, I’m not pregnant), but I’m totally a nester. I love tending to my home, cooking up big batches of food for the week, organizing my cupboards, throwing things away, and just making things feel cozy. Today marks the end of a big work project for me, so more than ever I’m looking forward to a weekend at home getting things in order, reading, sleeping, seeing friends, and just getting caught up on life in general. I can’t believe it will be August next week. August! Didn’t this whole summer just begin? I really don’t want to hear about another fall trend. The thought of throwing on a polka dot sweater right now makes me perspire even more. It will be full on summer around here for the next five weeks.

Thanks again for your warm comments on Monday’s post. Did you catch this week’s amazing Plate to Pixel post done by an actual professional photographer? And here are a few recipes that you should most definitely take advantage of while it’s summer and there’s so much amazing produce in season. If anyone has any amazing seasonal recipes I need to whip up, please let me know!

Have a great weekend! xx

Image Credit

We have been long time admirers of Camille’s gorgeous lifestyle and entertaining blog, Camille Styles, and are honored to have her sharing some favorites today! Camille and her contributors have the best tips for throwing a perfect gathering, or cooking an inspired meal. We hope you love her website just as much as we do!

Favorite restaurant? Austin is such an amazing food city, it would be impossible to choose just one! Uchiko serves the most innovative sushi - every bite is perfection. Fonda San Miguel is a classic interior Mexican spot with to-die-for tacos al pastor. And my brand new favorite, Elizabeth Street Café, is Vietnamese-French fusion in the most charming setting - I get their almond croissants for breakfast and banh mi for lunch. (Here’s my ultimate guide to Austin eats: http://camillestyles.com/2012/guide-to-austin-eats/)

Favorite savory dish? Grilled margherita pizza.

Favorite sweet? Vanilla bean ice cream with fresh peaches.

Drink of choice? Agave margarita with salt. (Pssst- Camille’s recipe here)

Favorite Austin summer activity? Shopping at the farmers’ market, then strolling downtown for breakfast tacos on a Saturday morning.

Summer entertaining tip? I plan my summer menus around seasonal, fresh produce - when they’re displayed in an artful way, they need very little else! See how I made a simple fruit platter party-worthy at this recent dinner party I threw at my house.

Thanks, Camille! Austin is a city that has so much to offer, and that I can’t wait to visit someday.

Image Credits: Elizabeth Street Cafe, farmers market (all others courtesy of Camille Styles)

You guys are in for such a treat today! My friends Lainey and Ben, owners of Bluerock Design, a Boston based graphic design and photography studio, have put together today’s Plate to Pixel post. Ben, an actual professional photographer (unlike me!), is walking us through the world of focal length and perspective. Ever wondered what all those numbers on lenses actually mean? I have, and today I’m thrilled I actually get to learn!  And be sure to hop over and check out Lainey and Ben’s amazing work..  If you’re in the market for graphic design or photography services, I can’t recommend them enough. Take it away, Ben!

I was really excited when Clara asked us to contribute to her fantastic blog. I wanted to share a trick with you about how the focal length of your lenses can alter a scene in dramatically different ways simply by moving your feet. The technique I’m sharing is very simple, and with a lens or two in your camera kit you’ll be ready to experiment with this effect.

In photography, focal length determines the angle of view for a photo. The wider the angle of view, the more of the world your lens can take in. Wider angle lenses tend to be in the 12-35mm range. Normal lenses—which approximate what the human eye sees — tend to be in the 40-60mm range.  Anything over 70mm qualifies as a telephoto lens. There are also two general types of lenses, prime lens and zoom lens.  A zoom lens can cover a range of focal lengths, 16-35mm, 24-105mm, and 70-200mm are some common examples. A prime lens has one fixed focal length.

The diagram below shows that as the focal length gets longer the field of view becomes smaller.

Depending on the focal lengths available on the lenses you own, you can alter the same scene simply by changing the focal length and using your feet to re-frame your image. Wide angle lenses tend to exaggerate perspective and have a lot of depth of field—everything seems in focus even with a large aperture lens. A telephoto lens tends to flatten and compress the space between you and your subject. This is helpful when the situation has a backdrop you don’t want to include. When a busy crowd or building ends up distracting the viewers attention away from the subject in the foreground you can use those longer focal lengths, back up until the framing is right for your photo. This frames the foreground the same way and ends up isolating and compressing the subject. It also brings the background closer, flatter, and often more out of focus. If you happen to have a beautiful backdrop or want to push it further away into space, a wider focal length lens would be a good idea.

I photographed a cutting board and some delicious Abbaye de Belloc cheese with some organic grapes, blueberries and garden basil. In the example shot at 24mm you can see the front stoop and lawn from the front yard.

As the focal length increases to 50mm, the background appears to be drawn forward and the house is no longer visible.

By 200mm the soft blue hue of the out-of-focus hydrangea accent the food in the foreground.

The interesting thing about these three images is that the size of the cheese platter remains the same. With long lenses over 70mm, backgrounds tend to appear larger and closer to the foreground. Wider angle lenses push the background further away and include more of it. To achieve these effects I simply backed up and zoomed in!

Another interesting tip about food photography is that by shooting at an angle that simulates the way you would actually be eating the food—as if sitting in front of the food— it appears more natural, and appetizing. I tried it with these photos and they’re making me hungry!

I hope these techniques help you find new and creative ways to frame all of your photographs. The equipment used in this example were a Canon EOS 5D Mark III, full-frame DSLR, Canon 24-105mm f4L IS and 70-200mm f4L IS lenses. All images were captured at f4.

Thanks for reading, hope you eat it up!