Category Archives: Photography

Spinach Lasagna Rigatoni

My mom makes the best lasagna in the world. Seriously. Everyone agrees. I know how to make it too but it’s super Labour intensive and uses about 20 pounds of cheese, so I like to call it a once a year meal.

I was craving it today, though. But also lazy. And so Spinach Lasagna Rigatoni was born, and it is truly delicious.

Spinach Lasagna Rigatoni

  • Rigatoni or ziti pasta
  • Ground beef
  • One onion, chopped
  • Lots of garlic, minced
  • 1 tbsp parsley
  • 1 tsp thyme
  • 1  tbsp fennel seed, or to taste. Not everyone loves fennel but I swear it’s super important.
  • Oregano, if you want it. It hurts my tummy so I don’t tend to eat it.
  • 1 jar spaghetti sauce, I used Original Ragu
  • 1 can diced tomato
  • 1 tbsp sugar, more if needed to tame the sourness from the tomatoes
  • 2 cups frozen spinach
  • Salt and pepper
  • Ricotta
  • 2 cups mozzarella cheese
  • 1/2 cup white sharp cheddar
  • Parmesan
  • Fresh parsley for serving

Preheat oven to 350.

Get a pot of salted water boiling on high for your pasta. Once boiling, add your pasta and cook till al dente.

Meanwhile, heat a large, heavy pot on medium. Add ground beef and brown. Add onions and garlic and cook until softened, stirring often. Add spices.

Add the jar of spaghetti sauce, can of tomato and sugar. Taste at this point for sweetness, add more sugar if needed. Add salt and pepper to taste. Microwave your spinach for a few minutes to thaw it, then add it to the sauce.

Simmer on medium for about 20-30 minutes, stirring often. The longer the better. Once you’re done, pour the finished pasta into the sauce, and stir until well combined. Pour the mixture into a large rectangle baking dish.

Spoon small chunks of ricotta over the dish. I used my hands to break it up and distribute it as evenly as possible. Then top with the three cheeses. Sprinkle a little bit of basil or parsley on top.

Pop in the over for 35 minutes. Remove from oven and serve immediately topped with fresh parsley.

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Cauliflower = Carbs

Did you know that you can use cauliflower instead of carbs for like everything? No? You’re welcome.

Cheesy Cauliflower Pasta Casserole

1 onion, diced
5 cloves garlic
Chicken, ground sausage or ground turkey
1 can of diced tomatoes
1 tbsp sugar
Basil
Parsley
Salt and pepper
1 head cauliflower, chopped
1 small container ricotta
1 small container cottage cheese
1 cup parmesan, plus some for sprinkling on top
2 eggs
1 tbsp flour or cornstarch in a little water
Cayenne pepper
Nutmeg
Reserved parmesan
1 half cup mozza for sprinkling on top
Panko

Preheat oven to 375

Heat pan with oil, cook onions and garlic until translucent. Add whatever protein you are using and cook through. Add in can of tomatoes and sugar to taste. I always like to add a smidge of sugar when using any tomato sauce to cut down a bit of the acidity. Add in cauliflower, and cover. Cook for seven minutes.

While cauliflower cooks, mix ricotta through nutmeg in a bowl. When cauliflower mixture is done, mix both together in a buttered casserole dish and bake 20 minutes covered. Remove lid, bake a further 20 minutes. Allow to cool until slightly thickened.

CONSUME.

Based on this recipe: http://www.food.com/recipe/crusty-cauliflower-and-ricotta-casserole-315600

Apres Vacay

I am so, utterly obsessed with Thai food right now. It’s getting bad. I mean I think if I try to serve Josh one more dish of peanut sauce linguine, or another bite of lemongrass and ginger chicken, he’s going to throw it at me.

This admission, however, doesn’t mean I’m going to stop anytime soon.

After returning from a 10-day trip to Canada (post coming soon on that one), I had a very sparsely populated cupboard, but it had been literally 10 days since I had had any Thai food, so obviously I was pretty desperate. I had half the ingredients for sweet and sour pork — except for the pork. Sub in chicken, add a few other pantry items, and the recipe made itself. It was so damn good, we were pretty much licking our plates clean.

Apres Vacay Sweet and Sour Chicken
with Sticky Coconut Rice

2 tbsp olive, peanut or sesame oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 small yellow onion, sliced into rings
Boneless skinless chicken breasts or thighs (Can also use pork), cut into chunks
Julienned carrots (I happened to have a bag of already cut carrots in the fridge)
2 tbsp fish sauce
2 tbsp rice vinegar
2 tbsp ketchup
Shiracha to taste
2 tbsp brown sugar or honey
1/3 cup coconut milk
1 tbsp corn starch mixed with 2 tbsp warm water
Chopped fresh basil

In a large skillet, saute onion and garlic over medium heat until translucent. Turn up heat slightly and add chicken, stir frying until cooked through. Add carrots and stir fry until they soften slightly. Mix fish sauce, vinegar, ketchup, shiracha and honey or sugar in a small bowl until blended. Pour into stir fry.

Cook, stirring often until sauce coats mixture. Add coconut milk and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes. Remove lid. If sauce doesn’t thicken, add corn starch with water and allow to simmer, stirring every so often for five mintues more. Remove from heat, and allow sauce to thicken slightly. Serve with sticky coconut rice, and garnish with fresh basil.

I definitely recommend going the extra mile and making the sticky coconut rice. I used most of the can, and then used the rest in the recipe. It’s so sweet and creamy. Way better than just using water. Josh makes an awesome, perfect sticky rice every time, so I always let him take care of the rice. 

The Grumpis

I have had a bad day. It was an inactive, boring, long, drawn-out kind of day, and while there were only like two minor things that happened that were really worth being grumpy over, I let it get the best of me.

And so, I called my Mom when I got home. Yes, I’m 25 years old and still, there are few things that perk me up quicker than my Mommy.

Unfortunately we can only talk so long on the phone, so I decided to keep the goodness going by listing things that make me happy. Number one should reveal to you why this is a therapeutic exercise for me.

Things that make me happy:

– Writing
– A good scoop
– hummus
– the click of a camera shutter
– music that makes me want to dance
– gardening
– cooking
– stupid cheesy puns, eg. Josh hands me a giant whisk at Sur le Table, and says, “You’re taking a really big whisk here.” Annalee laughs forever.
– framed photographs
– sitting cross-legged on the ground with my horse grazing around me, especially when he knocks me over with his nose trying to get the grass under my butt.
– wine, of course
– road trips
– mountains
– warm Earl Grey tea
– my dad in his crazy 30-year-old cut off shorts, because it usually means he’s barbecuing
– a shopping cart full of fresh veggies
– running before work
– rhododendrons
– sparingly, yet properly used em dashes
– pictures of my nephew discovering the world
– a freshly made bed, and the action of crawling in it
– fighting over small couch spaces with my sister
– snuggling with my shih tzu Molly
– a free gallop up a hill on horse back, and his mane in my fingers as I hold on
– reading recipe books
– hand writing
– emailing my Grandma
– pretty much any second spent with Josh
– Anna Maria Island, Florida
– camping
– singing “Tennis Court” by Lorde really, really loud with Josh in the car
– singing “I Believe in a Thing Called Love” really, really, loud with Ally in the car
– a cold, worcestershire-filled Caesar with pickled beans and asparagus

It’s not definitive, but it is a happy list.

Love,
Annalee

Our new seventh-floor home in Alexandria has a patio that looks out on the Arlington and Washington, D.C. skylines. The weather hasn’t been great the past few days, yet still, I’ve found myself out there thinking — reflecting. How did I get here?

I was born in a teeny tiny mining town in Northern Ontario, and grew up in the beautiful Canadian Rockies that will forever be what I call ‘home.’ Yet, here I am, at 25 looking out on the most powerful city in the world.

What went right — or rather wrong, if you think about where me life was headed in 2009 before I met Josh? I think it’s absolutely crazy that I now live outside of the capital city of the United States. There was seemingly nothing in my life that forecasted such a dramatic change and adventure in my life. Or was there?

When I was a teenager, I was absolutely obsessed with the pop punk band Good Charlotte. I knew everything about them. I knew the lyrics to every song, could name all their favourite bands and brands. I knew where they lived, where they grew up and where they went to high school.

And that is where my journey to Washington, D.C. seems a little less weird. Why? Because I now work for TSS Photography in a little Maryland town called Waldorf, and this weekend I’m doing a photo shoot at a little Maryland high school called La Plata. Why is that weird? Why does this make my life seem a little less random? Because Good Charlotte’s founding members grew up in Waldorf. Good Charlotte’s founding members went to La Plata High School.

Waldorf Worldwide, indeed.

This doesn’t explain everything. But I can’t help but feel my teenage obsession foreshadowed my adult life just a little. When I stare out at that skyline, watching an endless stream of jetliners land at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, it all makes a little more sense.

Love,
Annalee

Love/hate

Under the table, under the stairs. That's where Josh and I brew.

Under the table, under the stairs. That’s where Josh and I brew.

I think I’ve spoken before about my dislike of beer — and my happiness and love of Josh’s happiness when he tries new beer.

For Christmas I bought him a homebrew kit. He was giddy. We have so far turned out two beers, one complete, and one currently bottled and becoming carbonated in our tiny closet under the stairs. Having just written that, I wonder why I didn’t insist on calling it the Harry Potter Ale, or the Butterbeer or something else HP related — but I digress. The first was the Handlweizen, named because Josh had a ridiculous moustache when he made it. It’s obviously a wheat beer The second, and still in progress brew, is the Wok This Way IPA, named so because we didn’t have a big enough pot, and ended up using my newly purchased, thousand-gallon wok.

The first brew really went off without a hitch. We used a kit both times, but the Handleweizen was active and bubbly, constantly releasing gasses from the yeast. We bottled it with friends, had a great time, and two weeks later we were drinking it.

Wok was a little different. Again we used a kit. We had hoped to snag a Pilsner, but Josh’s favourite brew shop, Beer Hound Brewery, is closing up shop and moving to Culpeper, where it plans to expand from a nanobrewery to a microbrewery. Nanos and micros, what’s the difference, right? Turns out it’s huge. Anyway, the shop had only two kits left, so we went with IPA. Besides the wok mix up, Josh didn’t buy enough distilled water, and ended up using tap water. A week after the brew process, not a peep had been heard from the yeast. Nothing at all. We worried. Eventually, Josh claimed he saw one little bubble come out. He called me over to the dank closet to check it out. I saw nothing. I gave up after several minutes when my knees began to ache as we huddled around the bucket. Beer brewers are weird.

We let Wok go an extra week and a half. Kind of because of the yeast issue, but also because we got busy and forgot. Every once in awhile I’d ask Josh if it was okay to leave it, and his reply was generally, “I have no idea, but what can it hurt?” As the legendary Charlie Papazian says, “Relax, have a homebrew.”

And hurt it did not. We ended up bottling two weekends ago, and much to our surprise, the beer had accumulated 5 percent alcohol — the same as the Handle. What the heck happened?

We still don’t know, but we bottled it up. This time I got to help a bit more. With Handle, I really just ate snacks and chatted with friends over some wine while Josh and our lovely brewing companion Veronica did the heavy lifting. This time I filled the bottles and splashed beer all over the place, again with wine in hand. It was a really fun night.

I may not like beer, but there’s something about the brewing process that I certainly do love. Maybe it’s the odd spontaneity, the never knowing, the second-guessing, the surprise taste at the end. Whatever it is, I sure do like it.

Picking up that brew kit was some of the best money I ever spent. I think my only complaint so far is that I am constantly picking up, washing and finding a place for pop-off beer bottles. I’ve created a bottle hoarder. Oh well.

Love,
Annalee

Newness

There is a lot afoot in the Grant Armstrong household. Pictures are town off the walls, holes are being filled, boxes are being packed. Dust is being stirred up — Annalee is sneezing a lot. That must mean, yes! We’re on the move to Alexandria, VA after a wonderful few years in C-ville. Well, two years and a bit for Josh, and one year and a bit for me.

Spelling Bee fail. It only took one strike to get out.

Spelling Bee fail. It only took one strike to get out.

We’ve loved this town, and the people in it. We loved the food, the wineries, the cherry blossoms, the kickball games, walking downtown, strolling the Mall, all of it. But opportunities for both of us are elsewhere, so off we go. With three weeks to go until we move in to our new apartment, I’m happy to report I am actually organized. Yes, with two weeks to go until the move, I have boxes packed. My winter clothes are ready to go, my shoes (with the best ones on top in case I need them) are in a reusable shopping bag, and my scarves, mittens, hats and winter boots are put away. I men, if we left right now I’d be as organized as I ever have been for any move in my lifetime. Just ask my family, who for some reason keep agreeing to help me move (suckers).

Our new apartment is amazing, and we’re really excited to get the keys. It’s close to the Metro and we got everything on our list — except in-home laundry. But we were willing to give that up if it meant the perfect kitchen, a patio for me to grow tomato plants and read on, and enough storage space for Josh to brew keg after keg of beer, if he so chooses. We got all of those things, and more. I can’t wait to start cooking in that kitchen! We may even need to buy new kitchen gadgets.

Hit Meadowcreek Golf Course on Saturday, and I kept up with Josh!

Hit Meadowcreek Golf Course on Saturday, and I kept up with Josh!

We’re wrapping up our final weeks in Charlottesville trying to tick off items on our C-ville bucket list. The cherry blossoms are almost at peak, the daffodils and violets are in full bloom already — this city is giving us the ultimate goodbye, although it’s not making it easy for us to up and leave. On Saturday we did nine holes of golf, and I did really well. Not only did I keep up with Josh, but I beat him on the final par-3 with one over. He got like 6 because he sucks at putting. It was such a good day.

Today, though, it’s raining and I’m back to work after a really great weekend. A rainy day is the perfect day to be at work.

Love,
Annalee

The Echo

I have an emotional attachment to my car that goes far beyond my appreciation that it gets me from A to B faithfully.

The Echo became mine three years ago, when my Mom and I traded cars. Before that, she bought it in 2002 a few months after an older gentleman bought it, drove it for about 20,000 km and decided it wasn’t for him. Essentially, we got ourselves a new car without a new car price.

I giggled my way into my 25th year with Josh at the wheel after attending a wine festival in Virginia for my birthday. He gave the gift of a DD.

The little black Echo has been my trusty sidekick through many adventures. I learned to drive standard on it; I stalled it; I crashed it (three times); I navigated through scary winter highway conditions in it; I drove it from Kimberley, B.C. to Charlottesville, VA; It made the trip up the Alaska Highway and back; It’s driven to Vancouver Island more times than I or it can count.

Yea, if the Echo could sing a proper tune instead of the squealing belt sound its been making of late, it would belt out the Johnny Cash song, I’ve been Everywhere.” Get the belt pun? Love it!

It’s been through a lot. The list of adventures we’ve had together has grown and grown over the years. The one constant was never the destination, it was that the Echo made it every single time, without any major mechanical failures. I’ve only once been stuck on the side of the highway with it, and that is because I ran it out of gas on the way to college in 2007. Once my sister brought me a jerry can full, it started right back up, and off I went — albeit a little late for psychology class.

I’ve also sung loudly to every punk song I’ve ever loved. I’ve screamed “I believe in a thing called love” with my sister. Done the Starships shuffle with Ally and Josh, listened to weird rap, etc. Lady Gaga sing-alongs were constant, and sometimes, it was chill indie music.

I briefly mentioned that I crashed it three times, let’s explain a little about that fateful summer. I ran over one deer after some terrible person left it in the middle of the road. I passed someone going 40 km under the speed limit (totally legit, right?) and upon pulling back into my lane, there she was. Dead, bloated, unavoidable. Bam.

Less than a month later, heading out to my Dad’s house, another small deer ran out in front of me. My only thought — which I yelled loudly — was “COME ON!” But there was nothing I could do.

Later, my Mom joked that next time I crash her car, could I make sure I wreck the front end so she can get the big deer butt-shaped dent fixed? Sure, Mom, whatever you say.

Fast forward a month after that, and I lovingly obliged. Fumbling with my iPod, I rear-ended a car, which rear-ended a truck that had stopped in front of me. I got a ticket for following too close, and I somewhat learned a lesson. Mom got her new front end. You’re welcome, Ma!

A trip to the Shenandoah National Park earlier this fall, via Echo of course.

A trip to the Shenandoah National Park earlier this fall, via Echo of course.

After arriving via Echo in Charlottesville this February, we had to switch over the insurance, register it in Virginia and whatnot. In the process of being inspected, a very bad mechanic replacing my windshield broke my right passenger side mirror. I was getting it priced at Toyota while deciding if we should fix it or not when I casually mentioned to the Toyota technician that we drove it 3,966 kilometres from Kimberley, B.C. The guy was astounded. “You seriously drove it that far?” to which I replied, “Was I not supposed to?” My impression was that Toyota made vehicles that were made to be driven, and man did I ever drive my little Echo.

The Echo was there the day I ran my first ever 5k. It was also there to speed me home afterward when I got a migraine. Not the first time it's had to do that.

The Echo was there the day I ran my first ever 5k. It was also there to speed me home afterward when I got a migraine. Not the first time it’s had to do that.

I’ve learned a lot about cars in the process of owning my Echo. By that I mean my Dad has taught me a lot, and I have largely ignored his lessons. Every time I needed an oil change, it was my Dad who did it for me up until the last year when I moved. Every time he would get into his coveralls and an old sweater, crawl under the car grunting and complaining, showing me things. Pointing out parts. I’d nod, knowing full well the exact process of the oil change. But why do it myself when every oil change meant father-daughter time on the ranch? And so, I never did it myself — but I swear if Dad had ever remembered that he had already taught me how to change the oil 50 times, I could have done it. He also taught me how to change a flat tire, which I never had to do. He showed me how to check all the fluids, which I did do sometimes, and he even helped me get it painted and repaired after a lot of rock damage was done to the hood.

I am writing this, of course, because the trusty Echo is no longer trusty. After replacing the transmission and clutch in August, it is once again back in the shop, and our new vehicle, a Nissan Murano, will be arriving this weekend. It’s no longer feasible to keep my little Echo running, when we have another perfectly fine vehicle to drive.

Our last trip in the Echo was this weekend. We went out to Afton Mountain Vineyards with a good friend, had lunch and a glass of wine in the beautiful December sun.

I love my little car. I’ve grown up in it. But as they say, when you love something, sometimes you have to let it go.

Annalee

I’m a work in progress

I’ve discovered that I have a ridiculous face that I make when I’m trying to figure out lighting in a room. I squint one eye, grit my teeth and open one corner of my mouth. It’s really attractive.

I also wish it’s something I knew well before now. I can imagine how great I’ve looked over the years on shoots. It could simply be that never before have I been challenged so much. Maybe this is a new look. I’ve started doing studio lighting with TSS Photography. It’s been great, working with positioning, diffusers, etc. It’s stuff I’ve never done before.

The past two weeks we’ve been in Lynchburg crammed into this tiny circular building, tasked with setting up a green screen and a giant backdrop for team photos. It is on first glance, physically impossible. Halfway through the shoot we had to yank my tall middle light out of position to fit all the kids in a shot for a team photo, and it buggered up everything. I had one little guy waiting for his photo and a shadow I couldn’t eliminate. This is when I discovered the look. Well, not discovered, rather realized that it occurred without my knowledge.

Oh well, if my brain works better when my face is screwed up and hideous, at least the photo will be perfect.

Love,
Annalee.

Super Rad

On Saturday, for the first time in my life, I ran for an entire five kilometres without stopping. It was a triumph, a physical ability I had never dreamed I’d ever be able to accomplish. But I did, and at the finish line I jumped for joy and was ready to go for another couple k. We did the Color Me Rad 5k, which I am lovingly calling the Colo(u)r Me Rad 5k, being Canadian and all. It was an awesome day, we had a ton of fun. We especially enjoyed the dinosaurs along the route that were dressed up for Halloween. A brontosaurus dressed as a bunny? Come on! Hilarious.

Afterwards we were on our way out for victory mimosas, when I got a migraine. Josh had to rush me home and tuck me into bed in a dark room for a few hours. OIt was a sad end to a very great day, but such is the life of the occasional migraine sufferer. They never have good timing.

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