When You Want to Learn How to Cook Like the Pros…

This is not my typical blog post. But I know that a lot of my photography clients are busy professionals and/or parents so they may benefit from this little experiment I started about a month ago to try out some of those curated meal delivery programs. We’re a busy family – two working parents, little children. I don’t have time to figure out what to cook every night, how to cook it, and even do grocery shopping for it sometimes. But convenience usually means pre-packaged meals with lots of preservatives or take-out food that is not healthy for you. I wanted to improve my cooking skills, widen my horizons (cook more variety), eat healthier meals (fresh ingredients), and control our portion size. If my kids liked it – BONUS!

Everyone has their favorite of these companies (there are so many of them!). I didn’t know which to choose, so I decided to subscribe to 4 of them until I found the one I like. Here is what I found out:

HelloFresh – I tried 5 meals from this company: Peppered Rib-Eye Steak with Truffled Mashed Potatoes & Green Beans Almondine, One Pan Hearty Pork Chili, “Little Ears” Pasta with Sausage, Baby Broccoli and Pesto, and Warmly Spiced Chicken Thighs with Sugar Snap Peas and Basmati Rice. I really liked this company. The dishes were very yummy, visuals were great, and explanations were easy to follow. The website was a little bit clunky to navigate. You can easily skip meals the weeks you don’t want them. This one allowed you to choose from 3 different plans. A Classic Plan (2-4 people, 3-4 meals per week), a Veggie Plan (2-4 people, 3 meals per week), or a Family Plan (4 people, 2-3 meals per week). It was about $9.99 per serving unless you opted for the Premium dish (usually steak) that week. They did send me a lot of marketing emails which was annoying but I am sure I could have opted out of that. I would give this service 4/5 stars.

Plated – This is supposedly the Rolls Royce of home delivery meal services. It provides you up to 19 different recipes to choose from each week, but their prices are a bit more than others. I was not as impressed as I thought I would be. We tried Sausage-Stuffed Portobellos (which was a total fail on my part), Steak au Poivre, Chicken Francese, Beef Patty Melts, and Saucy Meatball Sliders. The food was amazingly good. The preparation was ridiculously complicated and time-consuming. Some of the recipes had me make my own dressing. I don’t have time for that! There are some things I am ok with getting from a bottle. A couple of the meals felt more like a lunch-type food than dinner. The serving size was good, though and we were thoroughly full afterwards. This one also offers the option of dessert, too. If you want to be a gourmet chef with the extra work, then this service is for you. You really have to love to cook to do this one. I’d give it 3.5/5 stars.

Home Chef – I was kinda hooked on this service from the beginning when I saw a friend post about one of her meals on Facebook. On my first order, I got this very nice binder and all of my recipes were hole-punched so I could keep them nicely organized and archived for future use! All of the services provide your recipe cards (so you can duplicate it on your own) on glossy card stock, but this one went the extra mile with the binder! We tried Hickory-Seasoned Salmon, Parisian Bistro Steak, Mozzerella-Stuffed Chile Rellenos Burger, and Blue Cheese and Green Onion Crusted Bone-In Pork Chops. The food is really good, recipes are simple enough that I didn’t feel like I was cooking for an eternity, and the recipes are more our taste (flavorful, but not too out there)!! I am only docking it half a star because on one of my recipes they forgot two of the ingredients, but I emailed them from their website and in less than 5 minutes I had a very apologetic and heartfelt reply and $7 credit. The prices are very reasonable, too. 2 servings, 2 meals per week costs about $40 with shipping. I would give this one a 4.5/5 stars.

Blue Apron – Lots of people rave about this company and everything is very well put together and I had no isues with the customer service or the packaging or freshness of the ingredients, but the recipes were so eclectic. My husband & my palettes are just not that refined I guess. He was not a big fan of the things I cooked from them. I made two meals from Blue Apron: Barramundi & Tzatziki Sauce with Summer Vegetable & Freekeh Salad and Soy-Glazed Pork & Rice Cakes with Bok Choy & Marinated Green Beans. I didn’t even know what half of these ingredients were.

I learned so much over the past few weeks but here are the top 5 things I learned from this ‘experiment’:

1) These meals require A LOT of Olive oil. Probably should buy a jug of it next time you are at the store.
2) They use words that I don’t understand. I am a very basic cook. Before I started on this adventure, I could pull off a simple baked chicken dish, meatloaf, spaghetti or an egg sandwich. That’s about as complex as my own mother cooked, too. I never learned words like “zest” or “beaurre mannie”. It’s like a whole other language. Thankfully some of these companies explained it for me on their recipe sheets otherwise Google was my friend.
3) Along with fancy words, comes fancy kitchen tools. I had to buy a lemon zester, a garlic mincer, a potato masher, etc. These were not things I had in my kitchen previously. I suggest buying it from an online retailer like Amazon or a cook shop in town than buying it directly from one of these companies because it is much cheaper that way.
4) Good luck trying to cook with children around. I recommend waiting until a responsible adult is home to watch the children because cooking these meals require intense focus and things can get very hot. I nearly burned myself a few times, and I definitely burned the broccolini a couple times. Distractions are not good. Also, my little children were not adventurous enough to try many of these meals, so I still have to cook something separate for them.
5) They aren’t kidding when they say read the recipe all the way through before you start. It’s complicated, people. You don’t need any surprises along the way.

In all seriousness, using these meal delivery companies has definitely upped my cooking game. My husband is impressed by my cooking skills now. Heck, I am impressed by my new cooking skills. I definitely could not do this every night though, especially the nights where we are running around to various activities and don’t get home till 8pm. That’s why they invented McDonalds and Chinese take-out. You need to carve out a good 60-90 minutes to prepare these meals. They lie when they say 30-40 minutes. So we’re going to do this probably 2-3 nights per week only. I really like how much I am learning from it! The one thing I don’t like about this type of service is the amount of waste each week (large box, ice packs, containers for every little ingredient), but it sure is convenient! And time is money. Just don’t forget to skip the weeks you are out of town or you’ll have a nice festering package of food on your doorstep (not speaking from experience), and with services like this it is subscription-based so you have to remember to cancel it if you aren’t interested in receiving it anymore.

The winner from my experiment is HOME CHEF! (Click the link to get $30 off your first order if you want to try it out!)

P.S. the photos taken for this blog post were taken by my iPhone in my poorly lit kitchen 🙂

2017 MOV Women in Leadership Conference {Jill Kirtland Photography – Mid Ohio Valley Event Photographer}

This blog post is well overdue. I wanted to write about this amazing experience I had this year so many times, but well life got in the way and I never got the chance to sit down and actually put my thoughts on “paper”.

Last year I learned about this event that the Chamber of Commerce of the Mid-Ohio Valley put on called the Women in Leadership conference. It was too late by the time I heard about it to attend and I was very disappointed because I love conferences that empower women business leaders! So this year I made a point to not only join the chamber of commerce but also to attend that conference. Well, next thing I knew I was being asked if I wanted to join the Special Events committee to help plan this year’s Women in Leadership conference on June 23rd! It sounded like something that I would enjoy doing since I love planning conferences (did a lot of that in college for Circle K, the collegiate version of Kiwanis). I was having lots of fun brainstorming ideas with other amazing female business leaders in the area during their first meeting and then we got into the nitty gritty of who was going to do what. Of course I volunteered to be the official photographer of the event because that’s what I do – event photography (except weddings)! Since last year’s photographer moved out of town, it was very logical for me to replace her. But then they needed a co-chair of the event to help things go smoothly! I have a serious problem with volunteering for things, because next thing I knew I was raising my hand for that as well!

I have to say I don’t regret that one bit. It was a great experience to work alongside all these brilliant women and to help create a very empowering day for local businesswomen. I loved the energy in the room as the women listened to our keynote speakers talk about communications and mindfulness, did some stretching (wellness) activities, shopped the vendor tables, or came over to my booth to update their LinkedIn headshots. It was a really amazing day and I loved every moment of getting to know all these wonderful local ladies. If you have not had a chance to attend the Mid-Ohio Valley Women in Leadership conference, I highly recommend it! And thank you to Jill Parsons and Megan Hardway for agreeing to let me be the co-chair (with Lisa Johnson of PDJ Accounting), as well as the photographer! Check out some of the photos below!

2017 Mid Ohio Valley Women in Leadership Conference - Jill Kirtland Photography

Marietta, Ohio – Clickin Walk 2017 {Jill Kirtland Photography}

Last year during the first week of May I participated in my first Clickin Moms Clickin Walk event in German Village in Columbus, Ohio. It was so much fun to get together with a group of ladies who were all into photography to get out of my comfort zone and do street photography! Clickin Moms sponsors this event in various locations all over the world every year. Two people from each location lead those who register around town on a specific route and sometimes either before or after the walk meet up at a restaurant for further networking. Some people travel from out of town for it, just like I did last year (traveled two hours).

This year I decided to stay local due to time constraints and co-lead the walk with one of my Intro to DSLR students Abby Haught on May 7, 2017. We led the event in the beautiful river town of Marietta, Ohio whose tagline is “Ohio’s First Adventure.” This picturesque town sitting on the Ohio River boasts historic buildings, quaint shops, historic monuments, bridges, and a relaxing park. Two hours did not seem like quite enough time for us to capture all that Marietta offers. That day the sky had big fluffy white clouds and a beautiful blue backdrop that only a photographer could dream up. It’s almost as if Bob Ross had painted the sky for us.

We had about seven people join us that day soaking in the warm sun and fresh air, focusing on the beautiful architecture and subtle details of Marietta. To me capturing the buildings at special angles, the people enjoying the park, the history and the atmosphere was crucial. I also experimented with various lenses and devices.

I used my Canon 5D Mark IV with my 70-200mm lens on these photos.

Clickin Walk 2017 - Marietta, Ohio - Street Photography - Jill Kirtland Photography

On these photos, I decided to use an iPhone 6, sometimes with my Olloclip lenses (wide angle or fisheye) and sometimes without but I did use VSCO filters.
Clickin Walk 2017 - Marietta Ohio - Street Photography - Jill Kirtland Photography

Processed with VSCO with b5 preset

Processed with VSCO with c1 preset

Processed with VSCO with g3 preset

On these photos, I used my Lensbaby Twist 60 specialty lens on my Canon. This a fun lens that gives swirly effects and vignettes depending on how you tilt the lens.
Clickin Walk 2017 - Street Photography - Marietta, Ohio - Jill Kirtland Photography
Although my specialty is not street photography, I do enjoy dabbling in it on occasion. Clickin Walk is not just about exposing myself to a different genre of photography but also networking with other photographers and sharing that passion. It’s truly a fun day!

BrAva Mom Prom 2017 – Raising funds for Childhood Cancer Research! {Jill Kirtland Photography – Mid Ohio Valley Event Photographer}

On April 28, 2017, five hundred women came together all dressed up in gorgeous formal dresses in Marietta, Ohio to raise money for childhood cancer. Over $42,000 was raised this past weekend through admission tickets (that sold out online in mere minutes!), raffles, and donations. The BrAva Mom Prom committee worked very hard this year to put on an amazingly well-organized event.

From the BrAva Mom Prom website: “BRidget Crock and AVA Nichols are the inspiration for BrAva Fight. The nonprofit organization, based in the Mid-Ohio Valley, seeks to help other families facing the same challenges and to raise awareness of childhood cancer. Every day, in this country alone, 46 children are diagnosed with cancer. Because of the wonderful efforts of our community, our volunteers, and our sponsors, BrAva has been able to give more than $120,000 to local families affected by childhood cancer and to CureSearch for childhood cancer research.” Their mantra is “Until there is a cure!”

It was an amazing night full of delicious food catered by Marietta Brewing Company, scrumptious desserts donated by Lisa’s Sweet Shop (Beverly, Ohio), dancing (DJ’d by Premier Productions), and socializing. For a full list of sponsors, click here.

There was a very emotional moment during the night when 3 women were recognized by being Queened. These women have endured something that no one ever hopes to endure: their child either is battling cancer or has battled cancer. Not a dry eye was in the room.

To lighten things up later on, a flash mob erupted on the dance floor as hundreds of women followed their fearless leaders in a fun dance.

What a night! I was so honored to be a part of the photography team for this event. I was tasked with capturing all of the candid moments of the night (outdoors and indoors). I feel very strongly about giving back to the community through special causes such as this one. As a small business owner, I try to donate my photography services or a raffle item to a few charity events each year. I hope to do it again next year!

Here is a photo of the BrAva Mom Prom photography team (Life Happens Studio , Melissa Rose Photography and Jill Kirtland Photography).

There were so many amazing moments captured as well as photos of all the lovely ladies who attended and you can view the gallery here! All money from the photo purchases will be donated directly back to BrAva!

Perry Family – In-Home Lifestyle Session {Jill Kirtland Photography – Mid Ohio Valley Lifestyle Photographer}

What is stopping you from hiring a lifestyle photographer? Many times I have potential clients who say things like, “Oh my family is not that exciting, you wouldn’t have anything to photograph.” or “I hate my house.  I don’t want photos in my home.”  or “My house is so messy and chaotic.” or “I really love studio photos because I want a good family photo to put on my wall and give to the grandparents.”

All legit concerns but I promise you this:  1)  You’ll love the ease of not having to get too dressed up, get everyone together and in a car to get somewhere on time, and try to get your children to cooperate in front of a studio background.   2)  You’ll look back at your lifestyle session photos and love how your family was captured in that moment in time, in your home, as you are.  Yes, there may be chaos and there may be clutter, but that’s your life.  That’s everyone’s life with little kids (or big kids or pets or spouses – really anything!).  3)  You get to include your pets!!  Not many studios are receptive to you bringing all your pets to be included in the family photos!  4) If one kid is having a meltdown, I can take photos of the other kid playing or photos with the parents. There is so much flexibility and creativity with lifestyle sessions.  5) You can capture raw emotion in the moment.  And you don’t have to look at the camera!! During a studio session, perfect smiles and looking at the camera is expected.  That’s very challenging with children (and sometimes husbands, too).

What does this look like, you ask?   Here is a session I did recently with the Perry family.  They have a 2 month old and a 2 year old and 2 dogs.   This is as chaotic as it gets (speaking from my own experience with 3 kids and a dog), and yet I was able to capture this life of theirs in an authentic and beautiful way.  I know they will cherish these photos forever and they will look great hanging on their walls, telling their story!  I even got what I call ‘photos for grandma’ (posed family photos) – in the comfort of their living room!