What We Leave Out of Photos

I’m of the old school that believes photographs should flatter the subject.  This makes it extraordinarily difficult for me to really get the aesthetic of Eldest’s THOUSANDS of selfies of his nostrils.  And when I say “get” what I really mean is “not totally hate.”

I will probably go to my grave without ever taking a selfie from below with my nostrils as the main subject, but then again, I can count on one hand the number of selfies I have ever taken.  I am the family photographer, so I am usually behind the lens.  I guess that means that one of the most significant things that gets left out of my photos is myself.

I just have no urge to photograph myself from arm’s length (or a selfie stick’s length).  I like to photograph others, and I like them to look right into the lens, and I really like to capture their best and brightest smiles.  The kind that light up the whole face.  I like to leave out noise and logos and often, even, setting, because what I want to remember is the face and the smile.

I don’t think I have more than a dozen photos of my kids crying, and I don’t think many of those were taken on purpose.  I’m not a documentary photographer.  I want to reminisce on good times in the moments with the photo albums.  That doesn’t mean I am whitewashing.  It means I have no need of the memory of sadness or anger or humiliation.  They don’t belong in a photograph album.

I have a few of them sleeping, because that’s the most tender and most vulnerable moment you can capture, and I need to see those baby faces in sleep for ever, but I will not allow others to photograph them sleeping.  A group of tourists tried to do that to my boys on the top of a roofless double decker bus in London, when they’d passed out with jet lag, and I got angry.  You cannot take photographs without permission, and sleeping children (and husbands) can’t give that.

Permission is something that I never leave out of my photographs.  I ask permission to keep the images of sleep, and now, I ask my kids’ permission to post to facebook.

On facebook at the moment, my profile picture is of the Library Lion from the New York Public Library, because I was there and I wanted to show off and I wanted to celebrate being away from my children and I wanted to honour the iconic lion.  Not all honourable motives, but the photo of the lion is flattering, even if it is shot from below.

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One thing you will never see as my profile picture is a picture of my children.  They are not me, and I am not them.  I love them will all of my being, but they do not stand for who I am.  They are their own persons.  And I am mine.  I may often be missing from our family albums, but I don’t leave myself out of my profile.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Juicer

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juicer (n): an intensely delicious kiss on the cheek whereupon the lips of one are pressed firmly into the cheek of another lasting for at minimum 5 glorious Mississippi-seconds.

Variations:
-the kisser’s hand cradles and presses the head of the receiver, creating counter-pressure to intensify the kiss.
-the kisser’s lips attach to the cheek with an open-mouth creating a suction seal, producing a delicious, slurpy sound when pulled away.
-rarely, but much loved by the receiver, the kisser, while lips attached to the cheek, vocalizes Muuuuuu-wah!

Guest Post: Jose Carlier on How to Photograph Kids with a Phone Camera

IMG_3199I am so excited to welcome Jose Carlier to the blog today.  Born in Holland and raised in Iran, Jordan, Egypt, France and other assorted locales, Jose is a New York-based photographer whose nomadic sense of adventure is evident in her every frame.  Whether she is shooting fashion for a magazine or environmental portraits of kids, Jose’s pictures are whimsical, bold, and unexpected.  Trained at Brooks Institute of Photography in Santa Barbara and published globally, Jose, a mother of two, has most recently focused her lens on kids.  She starts with an unexpected outdoor scene, places high-energy children in it, and captures the can’t miss moments.  Check out her work on her website, Instagram and Facebook.

 

 

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10 tips for shooting portraits with your phone camera

(I use the iPhone 6)

1.  My #1 rule would be to take a step back.  Phone lenses are wide lenses, and they distort the face when you get up too close.  Shoot from further away, and you can always crop your image later during your editing process.

2.  Keep the background simple.  It’s easy to lose your model in a busy background.  If they have light hair and/or clothing, try a darker background so that they will pop out and a lighter background if your subjects are darker.  Also, be careful that you don’t have branches, poles etc. sticking out of your model’s head (when using a busier background).  I love old walls as a background (they have tons of character).  I don’t love graffiti (way too busy unless clothing is styled specifically with the graffiti in mind).

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3.  We have always learnt to keep the sun behind us while shooting so that we don’t get shadows on our models’ faces.  I recommend that, but it’s also very popular at the moment to shoot with the sun behind the model while exposing for the model’s face (press on the face on the phone screen to expose for it prior to shooting).  Experiment with the position of the sun and you can get fun flare effects.

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4.  Shoot from above.  If you are lower than your model’s face you will have a bigger chance of capturing multiple chins ;-)

5.  I find that lots of kids’ eyes are sensitive to sunlight and you will end up with lots of images with 1/2 closed eyes.  If I notice that they are blinking a lot, I will ask them to close their eyes, I will count till 3, and then shoot when they open their eyes at 3.  Prevents discomfort and bad images.

6.  When you are setting up your shot you can touch the screen to set your focus and exposure.  Play around with the exposure.  As you touch different areas of the scene on your screen you will notice the image getting darker or lighter.

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7.  Don’t ZOOM in!  Remember as you zoom in you will lose a lot of photo quality.  It’s better to crop the image later or step in a little closer to your subject.  Don’t get too close or you will get distortion (see tip #1).

8.  I never use flash.  I don’t like the effect you get at all.  The newer phones are incredible, and you can get great results in low light situations.  Try tip #6 to expose for the darker areas.

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9. I was amazed to discover that most of my friends didn’t realize how many editing options we have on our phones.  On my iPhone 6 I can go to edit on a photo and press on the 3rd icon (looks like a clock), ignore the options, and go to the 3 horizontal lines (list icon) and click on that.  It then opens up light, color and b/w options so you can get really specific.  For example getting rid of the dark shadows without changing the rest of the image.  Most photo addicts have other photo editing aps (I love Snapseed) but I use them less and less as each new phone camera gets better quality and editing options.

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10. Filters.  Lots of photographers stay away from filters because they feel it’s a crutch.  I think that if you have a good image to start with, you can improve it with some filters and it’s fun to play around with them.  Actually if you have a bad image you can also use filters to save it :-)  Just don’t go too crazy.  Pick a few favorites and stick with those and create your own style.

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How to Transfer a Photograph Onto Wood: Easy DIY Tutorial

Sorry for the glitch this morning where the post was published without photographs (in a post about photography!).  I think I have chased the ghost in the computer away. 

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Ever since catching a few photo transfer craft projects online, it’s been on my to do list.  I love natural materials so I focused on transfers to wood blocks. In the spirit of discovery for photography month here at 4 Mothers, I’ve just my first batch delighted to report that I think this is a keeper!  It’s easy (easy enough to do with patient children), takes few materials (fewer than I saw listed in other online tutorials), and makes a memorable and inexpensive keepsake or gift. You do know that Father’s Day is around the corner, right?

 

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What you’ll need:

– a block of unfinished wood (from the dollar store, or scrap from the hardware store)

– a photograph printed from a laser printer onto regular copy paper (note: the photo will end up being a mirror image unless you flip it on your computer before you print it.)

– Mod Podge or gel medium

– a sponge brush (or paint brush, which I used)

That’s it!  I went to the art store because I couldn’t find my jar of Mod Podge, and was all ready to buy that and a gel medium. The beautiful thing about art and craft stores is that the people there actually practice these things, and the young salesperson told me that Mod Podge and gel medium basically do the same thing. This fellow earned instant credibility as he had done transferred lots of photos in his time, including onto wood. Loved walking out of the store with just one product and more cash in my wallet.

What You’ll Do

1.  Cut the printed photograph to fit the wood to your liking.

2.  Paint a layer of Mod Podge onto the picture side of the printed photograph.  Be gentle here, especially if using a paintbrush rather than a sponge brush. I thought I was but my brush took off a corner of the picture.

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3.  Paint a layer of Mod Podge onto the wood’s surface where you want the photo displayed.

4.  Place the photograph picture side down onto the Mod Podged wood, so that the two Mod Podged surfaces meet.

5.  Smooth out the photograph with a flat sided tool (I used my rewards card from the art store, naturally).

6.  Let dry completely (2 to 3 hours).  (The art guy dries his for 24 hours “to be safe” but I like to walk wild, and just a few hours worked out over here.)

7.  Cover photo paper with a wet rag for a few minutes.

8.  Rub the white of the paper off the wooden block.  You’ll do this with a rag or your fingers by gently massaging the paper in different directions. The key word here is gentle; if you’re even a bit rigorous, you will rub the photograph off too and expose the wood underneath.  The goal is to remove the white surface of the paper while leaving the printed surface intact.  I think a bit of exposure of the wood is okay since the overall look is pretty rustic (I left mine alone), but you could also fill in the spaces with a grey marker as needed.

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You’ll probably need to repeat steps 7 and 8, going through the rubbing process more than once.  I thought I was done the first time and was surprised at how cloudy the photo was after it dried, so I had to get back to it.  Do it as many times as you need to until you’re satisfied with the image.

9. Once you’re finished removing all the white paper and the photo is dry, apply a layer or two of Mod Podge to the surface to seal the deal.  (It’s a sealant as well as a glue.)

That’s it!  This is one of those rare craft tutorials that is actually easier than it looks.  Hands on time was much less than an hour, and it’s pretty satisfying work. My son watched with pleasure as I transferred a photo of his first sleepover – this would be an easy sell for crafting with patient kids, and I think it would make a lovely gift from a child to anyone.

You can use any type of wood you like, as long as it’s unfinished so the photograph will stick (some people use sandpaper for extra grit; I didn’t need it), but I used a nice thick block that can easily stand up on its own.

Finally, the glory of this DIY project is that it’s both fun and forgiving. The goal of paper on wood is not to reflect perfection (for the birds, as they say) but beauty, through the people and images you find it in.

How To Take Timeless Family Portraits

BethAnneJones-102Years ago I hired a photographer to capture my family. The boys were ages 4, 3 and 1 and I was desperate to hang onto their cuteness . . . and populate a very barren, very large wall.

Family portraits run the gamut from the cheap(er) and cheerful to investment photography. Since I wanted these prints to be enlarged and framed, it was important to me to have a professional whose artistic eye and professionalism I admired. I splurged and hired a high-end photographer who took beautiful photos of my family and years later I still cherish them. These photos are classic in part due to her creative genius but also her guidance on how to create lasting, timeless portraits.

Thinking of capitalizing on the warmer weather and lush greenery, and taking family pictures this summer? Before you do, heed some this advice I compiled by asking photographers for their best tips on creating classic photos.

Research!

Take the time to research a photographer. When you’ve narrowed it down, be sure to set a meeting and go through their portfolio. Ask lots of question about their process. Do they prefer to do staged photos or candid? What equipment do they use? How are the photos presented? Are the prints colour corrected and photoshopped as necessary?

Price is something that is best discussed up front. Is there a sitting fee in addition to the proofs? How many proofs are provided? Are photos ordered in packages or a la carte? Know what you plan to do with the photos. This will help to determine the dimensions and overall cost.

Location! Location! Location!

Researching the location is just about as important as the photographer. You’ll want to choose somewhere that is comfortable and maybe even familiar to your family. If walker-bound grandma is going to be in the shoot maybe hiking along a bramble path isn’t the best fit. If wearing stilettos in your photo is a must, a cobble stone street may be great for posed shots but not as natural for candid shots of you chasing around after your toddler.

It’s also worth noting the natural light. Know what time the sunlight is soft as opposed to beating down. Squinty eyes, sweat stains, and shadows don’t make for the best photos. Neither does the dog parade or all you-can-eat rib festival encroaching on your frame. If choosing a public place, ensure there are no events scheduled on the day that might conflict with your plans. Also, permits are required for many locations. A good photographer will know this, but it’s worth checking into so you’re not disappointed.

What To Wear!

This is where things can get tricky.   Remember the 80s? Perms and frosted lipstick were the beachy waves and smoky eye of today. Hair and make-up should be simple and natural or else you may find yourself groaning over your look in a few years time.  imgres-3

Clothing can also be a challenge. White can make you look larger and washed out, and black can look severe. Stick with clothing you feel comfortable wearing that reflects your personality but at the same time is not too trendy or flashy and unless you’re being paid to advertise for Gap, keep clothing with logos in the closet.

imgres-2Planning outfits for the entire family is an exercise in patience and good humour. Remember that episode of Modern Family when Claire loses her mind trying to make sure everyone is picture-perfect in their all-white ensembles? You don’t need that stress. Instead, make sure everyone is in the same colour palette but not matchy-matchy. I’ve never understood the appeal of family photos where everyone is wearing jeans and a black top, or khakis and a white-button down. It looks less like a family photo and more like a greeting card from your local Walmart staff.

I love this photo. It pretty much sums up everything not to do if you want to create a timeless photo! Thanks Awkward Family Photosimgres-1

Be Yourself!

It may sound obvious but be yourself. Take some time with the photographer and take some silly shots to help loosen up or play with your kids with the photographer snapping in the background.

Don’t be afraid of “time and place”.  The night before my family photos my middle son scratched his older brother ALL OVER HIS FACE. It looked liked poor Jack had been locked in a closet with Cujo. He still has the scars to this day. I had a Claire (from Modern Family) moment, and cried to the photographer that the pictures “were ruined” but she calmed my nerves and reminded me that photography is for capturing the now. She graciously photoshopped several of the images but she didn’t do them all, and for that I am actually grateful.

Lastly, speak up! Most photographers shoot with digital so you can preview the shots on-site. If you don’t feel good about the direction of the shoot, you need to say something. Photographers take pictures, they don’t read minds.

 

 

How to Take a Still Life with Your Phone Camera

As I mentioned in my post last week, I have been really energized by the practice of carrying my phone along on my walks and trying to capture some of what I see around me.  The fact that I give myself the task of capturing one good image from each walk means that I am looking around me more carefully, and when I see something interesting, I am then thinking about how best to frame it, capture it, translate it.

Here are some of the steps to capturing a great still life in nature.  If you are inspired to go out and take any photos after reading this, please post them and tag us on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook.  I’d love to see where your walks take you.

1.  Pay Attention.

What moves you?  What brings you a moment of joy?  Pay attention to your surroundings and tune into what’s important to you, what catches your eye.  What has been capturing my attention lately is colour and light.  Who can resist the bright flowers and the crisp greens of spring?  I took this picture on a really bright day, and what caught my attention was the way the leaves cast shadows on each other.

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The shadows multiplied the shades of green, and highlighted that really juicy pale green of the young leaves.  I tried it from several angles and distances.

This was too close to capture the feeling of the wide bright sky:

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And this captured the blue sky but not the intensity of the bright light, and the background is too busy:

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I finally realized that I would have to get underneath the tree and shoot towards the sun from an angle only possible from the ground, so I sat down on the sidewalk and got this:

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Now I had the shot that captured what I was seeing: new leaves, green shadows, bright light, blue sky.  This was taken with my iPhone camera with no filters, and it’s pretty close to the final image that I published on Instagram.  I then edited and framed the photo in Phototoaster so that the leaves on the bottom were off centre and in sharp focus, leaving the background foliage blurry, and I made the colour more intense.  These are effects that I added after the fact with my photo editor app: Phototoaster.  I love Phototoaster.  I am not the kind of person who likes to experiment or play with technology because I don’t have the patience, but Phototoaster is the exception.  With this app, you choose a photo from your phone camera album (the original is not changed), and then you have fun and play.  You can add shading, intensify colour, blur the edges, make it black and white or sepia, choose a texture that makes it look like an oil painting or an old photo.  So many possibilities and so much fun.  Taking the picture is really only the beginning; most of the effect comes from using the photo editor.

2.  Get Close.  Really Close.  Closer!

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I lost some of the resolution by using the zoom to get so close to this tiny lilac blossom, but I still like the final effect.  Get as close as you can without using the zoom to get the best resolution, and then play with the zoom when you edit.

3. Compose.

I did not want that lilac flower to be in the centre of the square photo, so I composed the photo with it off-centre, and the eye travels from bottom left to top right with the movement of the stalks.  Figure out where you want the eye to go.  Do you want symmetry or asymmetry?  Do you want attention all in the foreground, or do you want to keep details from the background?

4. Crop.

I do all my cropping in Phototoaster so that my original is not changed.  It’s a really important step that allows you to cut out any extraneous “noise.”

5. Edit.

This is the really fun part!  I have so much fun taking a photo through different incarnations.  When I took this photo, I wanted to capture my sense that the poppies were on fire.  Something about the early morning light shining through those fragile, feathery petals looked like flame.  This is as shot:

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And then to intensify the colour I played around with focus until I got the best impression of fire that I could.  I actually had a hard time deciding between these.

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6. Frame.

It’s the final step to making your image pop.

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Oral vs. Written Family History: Not the Only Options

Which is the better way to preserve memory, stories told or stories written?  The debate is a long-entrenched one, with written documents claiming ascendency over the oral tradition in the western world.  So suspicious are we of oral testimony, even when you swear an oath in court, you do so with your hand on the Bible, a written text.

As anyone who has ever lost the contents of her computer’s hard drive or suffered a flood or a fire or an over-zealous co-habiting purger will know, written documents are exceptionally vulnerable.  The written record is only as good as its ability to survive the elements and the whims of fate.

My husband is an avid Franklin expedition historian, and he has been writing about the search for the missing ships of the ill-fated English captain for years. When researchers finally found the lost ships of the Franklin expedition, they were right where the Inuit had said they were all along.  I admit to feeling delight at that confirmation, not least because it validated the oral tradition.  I felt an odd sense of satisfaction in knowing that the written tradition that I hold so dear had not come through in this case.  I am overly dependent on writing and on photographs for recording history, and I like to think that something like a needle in a haystack could be found with stories that have been told for hundreds of years.

The oldest piece of English literature, Beowulf, is a marvel to me.  How did the bards manage to pass that poem down through time and generations?  How many hundreds and thousands of times did people gather to hear it before it was written down?

How do we know that what got written is definitive?  Does definitive matter?

It does in court, which accounts, perhaps, for covering both bases by swearing on the Bible.

There are other ways to confirm a spoken promise, though.  We also seal deals with handshakes, and it’s that tactile element of history that’s got me thinking these days.  In last week’s posts, Beth-Anne, Carol, Kerry, and I all chose objects to illustrate our family history that we can touch, and even though some of these are out of reach of small hands, some of them do get frequent handling.  I like the idea of capturing history in things that get frequent handling.

As poor as my memory is (Very poor.  For my own purposes, I’m squarely in the written and photographic record camp because I cannot be relied upon to remember anything.  I hoard books not just because I’m a bibliophile but because they are a (false) security blanket.), I do remember a designer on a TV show once saying about a very expensive front door handle that it was worth the price.  “It’s something that you will touch every day.”  That has stayed with me.  Something you will touch every day is worth paying more for, and something you touch every day would also surely be a wonderful piece of family history.

a knitted quilt my mother made, a treasure

a knitted quilt my mother made, a treasure

How does a tactile record of family history look?

I’m about to find out.  For Eldest’s Grade 8 graduation, I am having a quilt made for him from a selection of his old hockey, camp, school, books, movie and sports t-shirts.  They tell a story of who he was as a kid, a story that he will throw over himself every day, whether he sits to watch next season’s hockey games or read the next Hunger Games-like series that captures his imagination.  I picture him bundled up in it, and that’s the kind of (security) blanket in which I have full faith.  It is a gift I plan to give to his brothers, too, and to all three of them I will say the same thing:  If you ever tire of this and are tempted to throw it away, don’t.  Bring it back to me, and I will give it a home until the stories it tells speak to you again, as I hope they will for many, many years to come.

Family Heirlooms According to a Purger

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Yesterday,while other families spent the day outdoors enjoying the soaring temperatures and sunshine followed by a festive display of fireworks, I spent it indoors doing something that gives me great pleasure.

Purging.

Closets, drawers and cupboards that is.

I delight in giving things the toss to the donation bin or garbage bin, it doesn’t matter; the high I get is the same. Thankfully, my partner in life shares my need for clutter-free living. Some extol the comfort they feel in keeping playbills and movie stubs, bric-a-brac and dated magazines, first teeth and hair clippings. I simply can’t relate.

Years ago we moved house and before any piece of paper, item of clothing or page of a book was packed, it had to pass muster. Do I really need this? Do I really want this? Have I looked at/used/wore/thought about it the past year? The past two years?

I held up a stack of my wedding programs. Toss. The pale blue cardstock littered the recycle bin save for one. A small shoebox overflowing with cards and letters was given the once over before dumping much of its contents in with the programs. I have saved a few items: baptismal outfits and meaningful, heart-felt cards and pictures (rarely get rejected), but for the most part, rightly or wrongly, I like to attach my emotions to people and memories and not to stuff.

I am not a complete Scrooge. I do own things that I care deeply about. Our champagne flutes that I carried around Europe on my back come to mind. Recently there was a casualty and our set of 6 diminished to the odd number of 5. My husband and I both looked at the cracked glass, and for a minute there was a moment we wished we could turn back the clock and be just a bit more careful, but it was short lived and I mitigated the blues by toasting the fun times we’d had with that glass.

The pottery my boys made, the hand-knitted blankets and sweaters, and my grandmother’s ring are among the material things that I own and would be sad to lose because they are truly irreplaceable.   I like to think that I have a carefully curated collection of material items from books to clothing that won’t burden my sons too terribly when I die.

I don’t expect the boys to keep much, and I’ve made the task an easy one. Just like my mother and grandmothers (all extremely Spartan women), I have little to bequeath.

But if I am to tell the tale of our family’s history through one object, it is one that is explicitly off-hands to curious, little fingers. It is the cake topper that adorned my grandparents’ wedding cake 67 years ago.

The bride and groom are stoic, with linked arms and pursed expressions, as if knowing that marriage and the years ahead are not made of taffeta and butter cream.

This small, ceramic figurine serves as a reminder of the long marriages that make up my family’s tree. Certainly they weren’t marriages without flaws and struggle. Certainly they weren’t marriages that were perfect or even near to, but certainly they were marriages built on something to last decades and serve as the foundation for a generous number of descendants.

When the time comes, many years from now, for my family tree to add branches, I will carefully pass the bride and groom down to my boys to serve as a symbol of unity, commitment and yup, hard work.

Ceramic Bowl, Used for Making Yorkshire Pudding

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I can hear the sound of fireworks as I type–my neighbours out celebrating Queen Victoria and our fossilized connection to the English crown–but to me, nothing says England like a dinner of roast beef and Yorkshire pudding.

Although I grew up with a Canadian passport, England was the country that most felt like home because it was where we went between countries, on most holidays, and to live for some stretches of time.  My grandmother was in Yorkshire, my aunt in Bristol, and my parents had a house in Surrey for a few spells.  In all three homes, come Sundays, you would smell the roast in the oven and feel the excitement of a special day.  And in all three homes, a Sunday roast meant Yorkshire pudding.  My grandmother scorned the use of an electrical beater and would beat the batter by hand, and the sound of her rapidly mixing the batter is on the soundtrack of my childhood.

We made it two different ways, either as one large rectangular pudding in a baking tray or as individual puddings in muffing tins, but whichever way it was made it was always the most popular part of the meal.  Yorkshire pudding does not keep, but we never had to worry about leftovers because it was always devoured.  My brother, a notoriously fussy eater, could have lived on it.

When my grandmother died and we went back for the funeral, one of the few things my mother chose from the contents of the house was the ceramic bowl my grandmother used for making Yorkshire pudding.  It was an object that held so many memoires of family gatherings and good times.  It had magic in its years of use.

The fact of my mother’s having singled out such an ordinary thing to cherish from my grandmother’s house speaks volumes about the combined power of food and memory, the power of these things to connect us through generations and over oceans.

I now include Yorkshire pudding on the menu for my special dinners.  They are not the weekly Sunday staple of my childhood, but a highlight of holiday meals, and my boys are proudly carrying on the tradition of leaving no leftovers.  I’m now vegetarian, so I like mine served with the mushroom gravy and lentil walnut loaf from Oh, She Glows, roasted potatoes and a mountain of green beans, but anyway you make it, it’s a crowd-pleaser.  This is a good recipe from The Guardian, and I would add that it’s very important not to open the oven door during the cooking time, otherwise the puddings will sink.

Sound of the batter being beaten and the sizzle when it hit the pan, the smell of the roast out resting while the puddings cooked, and the last-minute frenzy to gather all of us and get the meal on the table–all of those sense memories are captured in this simple bowl.