Polka Dot Cottage

Book Review: Shooting With Soul

Posted July 23rd, 2014 by

Shooting with Soul by Alessandra Cave, a book review at Polka Dot Cottage

I did a little dance when this book came in the mail a few weeks ago. It is so perfect for me right now. I don’t know if you’ve noticed the lack of crafty show-and-tells around here lately, but I just haven’t been cranking out the projects. Maybe it’s the fact that I don’t want a pile of wool on my lap in the summer (so, no knitting or crocheting to speak of). Or maybe it’s that I don’t want to make a gigantic sewing or polymer clay mess in my workspace (aka the dining room table). It could be either of those things, but I think it’s just more likely that right now all of my creative urges are being filled quite nicely by photography.

It happens. You know how cyclical I am with my creative urges. It’s just photography’s turn.

So, you can imagine then, that a book called Shooting With Soul would be right up my current alley.

Shooting with Soul by Alessandra Cave, a book review at Polka Dot Cottage

Shooting with Soul by Alessandra Cave, a book review at Polka Dot Cottage

Shooting with Soul by Alessandra Cave, a book review at Polka Dot Cottage

The book starts off with some charming pictures of adorably vintage cameras. These photos illustrate the more technical topics of the book: Choosing a Camera, Types of Lenses, etc. The entire first chapter is a good place to start if you are still gathering up your photographic equipment or if you would like to better understand some of the technical aspects of photography, such as exposure.

This, however, is not a technical manual so much as a guide for feeling your way around with a camera. And that is perfect for me. I’m at a point in my photography where I am comfortable with the basics and I am comfortable with my camera. A manual wouldn’t interest me much at this stage except as a handy reference to tuck away on the book shelf. But a book like this? Oh this one is going to see some action in the coming weeks!

The author shares this “magic recipe”:

(See) + (Think) + (Feel/Connect) + (Shoot) = Great Image

That sounds a bit vague, I know, but you are not left alone to figure it all out. The rest of the book is spent in pursuit of Great Images through 44 exercises.

Shooting with Soul by Alessandra Cave, a book review at Polka Dot Cottage

The exercises are definitely my favorite part of this book. They remind me a lot of the prompt-based Picture series of classes that I’ve taken with Tracey Clark. Alessandra Cave (she’s the author – did I not mention her? oops!) recommends spending about a week with each prompt, to really dig deep and explore it. That’s a good approach, and one I may go back to sometime, but I have a different idea for now:

August Daily Photo Prompts!

You probably know by now that for 2014, my daily photo project for the year has had a different theme every month. I’ve decided that during August, the theme will be Shooting With Soul, and it will be based on the exercises in this book. I plan to choose a new prompt each day, doing the 31 exercises that grab me the most.

August daily photo project at Polka Dot Cottage, featuring the book Shooting With Soul

You’re invited to join me (as you have been every month this year). You will need to get a copy of the book, of course, and then you can just choose whichever prompts you would like, one-a-day in whatever order you would like to do them. Be sure to use the #pdcsoul hashtag wherever you share your images so that we can all follow along with each other.

Even if you have use for a daily photo project right now, if you are interested in exploring photography as a means of expressing yourself in an artful way, I think you’ll like this book. Each of the 44 exercises includes an explanation of the theme, two or three example photographs, and a sidebar of Instructions, Techniques, and Shot Ideas. Cave provides plenty of guidance through each exercise, while still leaving enough room for your own personal interpretation.

Intrigued? You can get Shooting With Soul at amazon.com or your favorite local book shop.

(The usual disclaimers apply re: books received, reviews given, and links provided.)

Wineberry Crisp 2.0, now healthified

Posted July 21st, 2014 by

Allergen-Free Heart-Healthier Wineberry Crisp, at Polka Dot Cottage

A few months ago, we were hosting a little party and we had a few guests who were avoiding wheat and dairy. I needed a delicious dessert that didn’t include either of these things. I found a promising recipe in Cybele Pascal’s cookbook The Allergen-Free Baker’s Handbook and adapted it to fit my needs (and the ingredients I could find).

Additionally, I made a few changes aimed at reducing the fat and sodium content so it would be heart-healthier for Neil. The resulting strawberry crisp was much better than I had expected. I’ll admit I had been skeptical. I mean, the very essense of a fruit crisp seems to hinge on the presence of all-purpose flour and butter, doesn’t it? I was glad to have been proven wrong.

So, when it came time to pick the wineberries last week, I thought maybe I should try combining my old Wineberry Crisp recipe with the allergen-free, heart-healthier strawberry crisp recipe.

Allergen-Free Heart-Healthier Wineberry Crisp, at Polka Dot Cottage

This new recipe is vegan, gluten-free, wheat-free, dairy-free, and low-sodium. I want to call it low-fat as well, but I am not sure what the threshold is for “low” when it comes to fat. I’ve included the nutrition information below so you can decide for yourself.

And it tastes significantly better than you’d expect after reading all of those “-free” and “low-” adjectives. I would go so far as to say it’s quite good. Make it for dessert, and enjoy the leftovers for breakfast!

Allergen-Free Heart-Healthier Wineberry Crisp, at Polka Dot Cottage


Allergen-Free Heart-Healthier Wineberry Crisp, at Polka Dot Cottage


  1. Preheat the oven to 350F.
  2. Throw the two types of berries into a bowl, cut the peaches into small bits and throw those in. Sprinkle the granulated sugar over them, stir, and set aside.
  3. Grease a 9×9-inch baking dish. Transfer the fruit mixture to the baking dish.
  4. Whisk together the flour, xanthan gum, baking powder, and sugar. Add the oats and combine. Melt the buttery stick. Add it to the dry ingredients, a little at a time, tossing between each addition. Mix until you have a large crumb. Sprinkle evenly over the berries.
  5. Bake in the center of the oven for 30 minutes. Decrease the temperature to 325F and bake for 20 minutes longer, or until the top is golden brown and the fruit is bubbling up around the sides. Let cool to room temperature before serving.
Nutrition Facts
Serving Size: 1 serving
Servings Per Recipe: 16
Amount Per Serving
Calories:  166
Calories from fat: 56 (34% of tot cal)

% Daily Value*

Total Fat   6g 9%
     Saturated Fat  2g 10%
Cholesterol   0mg 0%
Sodium   63mg 3%
Total Carbo    26g 9%
     Dietary Fiber   3g 12%
     Sugars    17g
Protein   2g
Vitamin A       14% Vitamin C     17%
Calcium         4% Iron      8%
*Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet.  Your daily values may be higher or lower depending upon your caloric intake.

Allergen-Free Heart-Healthier Wineberry Crisp, at Polka Dot Cottage

A note about specialty ingredients

Some of these ingredients are sort of weird, if you are not used to baking for restricted diets. I’ve linked to them online so you can see what they are and buy them if necessary (the amazon links are affiliate links).

If you are not worried about being gluten/wheat-free, you can replace the gluten-free flour and xanthan gum with an equal amount of all-purpose flour. You can also replace the gluten-free oats with regular oats.

If you are not watching your salt intake, you can replace the featherweight baking powder with regular baking powder.

The soy-free buttery sticks can be replaced with salted butter, but be aware that doing so will double the saturated fat content of each serving and the recipe will no longer be dairy-free or vegan.

TWiP: Definitely July

Posted July 19th, 2014 by

This Week in Pictures, at Polka Dot Cottage

Welcome to TWiP, aka This Week in Pictures.

Hey, I noticed that those of you read Polka Dot Cottage in the android app, have been seeing super big images in the weekly TWiP posts. I think I have figure out why this is, and I think I have fixed the problem. If that is not the case, please let me know so I can try again to fix it!

Thanks :-)

We’ve been enjoying a quintessential summer week. From our annual trip to the Boston area, to fresh-picked berries at home, and visits with family, it’s definitely July!

(FYI, my Project 365 this year has changing monthly themes. July is “Summer” and I am using Tracey Clark’s daily photo prompts from her Picture Summer class.)


365: Summer 12/31 – Simple Solitude – (Translation: find solitude amid togetherness) The boys and I are spending the afternoon together in a hotel room, so this is a timely prompt. While I was busy trying to get a compelling shot of the book I was reading, I glanced to my left and discovered that one of us had done a pretty good job of carving out some of his own solitude in our little space.

Instagram: A little nighttime shopping and a fancy icy drink before we go back to the hotel for a swim :-)

Instagram: This is the first year I feel comfortable letting them be in the pool without me. Sweet Freedom! :-) #summerreading


365: Summer 13/31 – Juicy Fruit – For this prompt, I was resigned to taking a picture of a nearly-too-old banana we’d brought with us on our weekend trip. Luckily, I saw this display while shopping for snacks for the car ride home. Much better.


365: Summer 14/31 – Summer Breeze – A cheat, perhaps? But it really wasn’t particularly breezy and I was too busy nerding out on something else to really get creative with air currents ;-)


365: Summer 15/31 – Picture Postcard – There was very little sun today, and all of the lawn furniture is soaking wet, but at least I can make it *look* like I was hanging out in the back yard all day :-)

Instagram: Vanilla tea, alphabet cookies, knitting, and Murder in Mesopotamia.


Instagram: Fresh-picked wineberries. #yummy #local

365: Summer 16/30 – Summer Light – (Translation: capture the glow of light in an unusual way). I like the backlight on these berries, and the way it shines through them to give them translucency.


Instagram: Summer lunch :-)

Instagram: Maybe this will make up for my unhealthy lunch :-)

365: Summer 17/31 – Visual Interest – (Translation: Capture an unusual perspective.) I have three things to say about this picture: (1) I don’t usually sit on my bed in the middle of the afternoon, but there was such a nice breeze coming in the upstairs window. (2) This is indeed a perspective I usually don’t shoot. (3) Next time I try this, I will do it before I’ve accumulated a days’ worth of dirt on my soles. Yikes.


Instagram: It’s a gorgeous morning for breakfasting outside. And taking pictures of dump trucks. (They have been paving my street this week.)

365: Summer 18/31 – Playtime – Grandma + Grandpa blew up a gigantic beach ball today.

Instagram: The kids and I are spending the night at Grandma & Grandpa’s house, and I am hanging out in my old room writing tomorrow’s blog post. Good night!

Thanks for taking a peek at this week’s photos! If you want to see this stuff as it happens, please feel free to follow me on Flickr.

I may already have plans to blog about some of these things in greater detail over the coming week, but be sure to leave a comment if there’s something in particular you want to know about!

Weekend Favorites

Posted July 18th, 2014 by

Happy Friday!

You know, in the summer, I am lucky to remember what day it is. When the kids are in school, it’s important for me to keep track of the family schedule. But these days, when there is an erratic schedule if there is one at all, I run the risk of forgetting to put together the weekly favorites post on time.

I haven’t forgotten yet, but it’s been close a few times!

On Flickr

The mosaic below represents other people’s pictures that spoke to me this week. Be sure to click on the titles below the mosaic, if you want to know more about the image or the photographer behind it.

(follow me on flickr)

Weekend Favorites, at Polka Dot Cottage

1. layout decided, 2. Good Evening! More spoils from the CSA! #fromwhereistand #themugchronicles #csa, 3. pendant, 4. barrel beads, 5. Carved Polymer, 6. bangle blogged for www.craftliners.blogspot.nl, 7. When yesterday evening I was sharing my plans for today, I wished I’d get up early… eeeer.. earlier than usual. I didn’t know my body would take it that seriously. Hey, 5 a.m. ? Oh… #coffee #cup #colorful., 8. Loner’s odds’n’bits #woodlandtale #clothes #doll, 9. otter vase, 10. little flower*, 11. Touch Me Softly…, 12. Anillo y pieza calabrote para pulsera, 13. Untitled, 14. DSC_2128, 15. Walk in the rain., 16. やぁ!おはよう!

Around the Web

I spend some time earlier in the week sharing my favorite crafty links through social media. And then I repeat them here on Fridays.

  • Expressing Your Voice Through Social Media – a podcast episode from After the Jump. Gracey Bonney of Design*Sponge hosts this radio show, which I only recently discovered but am very much enjoying. In this episode, she talks about social media and how to use each of the most popular channels to let your true voice show through. I listened to this while cleaning the kitchen. Now my kitchen sparkles and I have a few ideas to try out when I’m at the computer.
  • Weathered facets – an example of the work of Margit Bohmer, via Polymer Clay Daily. I see Margit’s work all the time on Flickr, and I love it. Here Cynthia features her on Polymer Clay Daily and shows one of her new pieces.
  • Russian Join – a yarn technique demonstrated by Stolen Stitches. I keep meaning to try this technique for joining a new ball of yarn when knitting (or crocheting), but I haven’t done it yet. Do any of you use this technique? It’s explained well here, for those who are unfamiliar.
  • Adventures in Branding with Tara Swiger – on Oh My! Handmade. Makers in business: this is a great interview between Tara (who has a website) and Jessika (who rebranded it). It gives some insight into what a collaboration between makers and designers looks like and gets you thinking a bit about your own brand.

That’s it for me. I’m off to do something fun and summery now. Have a great day!

It’s Wineberry Season!

Posted July 16th, 2014 by

Wineberry Season, a roundup at Polka Dot Cottage

I picked a whole quart of these juicy red treats this afternoon, braving thorns, underbrush, and all manner of pesky little flying creatures, and there are still plenty left on the vine.

It’s a shame I can’t entice my children to collect berries as enthusiastically as they once did. Maybe I need to institute a “you can’t eat them unless you pick them yourself” rule…

Wineberry Season, a roundup at Polka Dot Cottage

If you have wineberries where you live, you might like to know that they make a delicious fruit crisp when paired with blueberries and peaches.

This past spring I made a few allergen-free strawberry crisps (since so many people in our families are avoiding wheat or dairy these days) and I think I’m going to combine that new recipe with the one I linked to up there and see how it goes. If it goes well, I will share! [update: duly shared!]

The berries freeze well if you can’t use them right away. I was finishing up last year’s harvest in my green smoothies a few months ago, in fact.

I haven’t had a lot of luck turning them into jam in the past – I find it too fiddly to figure out the correct amount of pectin and sugar. And besides, I think I may be over my jam phase. Maybe.

They are so good right off the vine. I say this as someone who is not much of a berry person. I do enjoy these though. Perhaps it’s the novelty of having them grow right in my back (and front, and side) yard that makes them so satisfying a snack.

Wineberry Season, a roundup at Polka Dot Cottage

Wineberry Season, a roundup at Polka Dot Cottage

I almost always bring in a new friend or two with a batch of berries. This guy was escorted gently back outdoors and left to find somewhere-not-my-kitchen to hang out.

Here are some wineberry resources for your nibbling pleasure:

  • Wildman Steve Brill has recipes.
  • WNYC did a wineberry story a few years ago.
  • Mother Earth News also did a story back in 1982, brought to you now via the wonders of republishing old stuff on the internet.
  • While I was picking this afternoon, I listened to Erica Wides’ Let’s Get Real podcast on Heritage Radio. The topic was Berries and the Bullsh*t, and she talked quite a bit about picking wineberries. I found it entertaining, but beware the NSFW language, if you’re not listening alone.
  • Got vodka? Make wineberry cordials!

Happy berry picking :-)

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