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Pressing Forward

LollieI once heard someone say that if you surround yourself with people you aspire to be like, it will inspire and motivate you to achieve similar success. That notion resonated with me, so I set off to surround myself with creative people who excel at the things I’m interested in; blogging, food photography and recipe development.

I was very successful that way. Indeed, today I am not only connected with successful food bloggers, photographers and cookbook authors, I’m actually friends with them. And while this has been an amazing blessing, it’s also been a curse.

Every day when I check my Facebook feed, I’m bombarded with posts that show another amazing food picture, an announcement of a cookbook deal and stories of milestones met. And while I am sincerely happy for my friends, I can’t help but feel badly about my own progress with my personal food blogging goals.

And this is kind of hysterical if you think about it because even though I haven’t written on A Beautiful Bite in five weeks, my traffic continues to grow. It grows in spite of myself.

So what’s the deal? Why am I not writing on that site? Because I am artistically paralyzed. Try as I may, I cannot master food photography. It’s one of those things that I struggle with. Sure, my pictures aren’t awful. They are fairly decent and if I didn’t have a basis of comparison, I’d probably be rather pleased with my progress.

But because I cleaved to that notion of surrounding myself with people who excel at food photography, I can’t help but admit that it isn’t what it should be. Or what it could be if I just tried harder.

Not one to give up easily, I reached out to one of those fabulous friends on Facebook who’s always posting gorgeous pictures to ask for some guidance as to what I’m doing wrong. And being the generous type, my friend Lollie agreed to spend the day with me, teaching me how to properly use my camera.

Thank God for generous friends.

LollieLollie shoots with a Nikon while I shoot with a Canon. That doesn’t sound very different to people who don’t understand photography. But trust me, it’s a big deal. She basically had to figure out how to use my camera before she could teach me what I was doing wrong.

She even went as far as to look at my pictures on A Beautiful Bite to get a feel for what I was missing. Once again, I’m lucky to have friends who care enough to devote the time to help me.

Pound CakeBetween sips of coffee and searches on Google for Canon help, Lollie made the necessary changes to my camera settings that will help me take better photos. Oh, and she showed me the difference a tripod can make to a photo. No more handheld shots for this girl.

Pound CakeThe above image is one of the shots we took this morning. Already I can see a difference as the image is sharper and warmer in tone than the images I’ve taken previously. A major step in the right direction.

And while that is all well and good, that’s not the point of this post today. What I want to do today is encourage you.

If you are struggling with learning something new, don’t give up. I know that it’s easy to fall into that mindset that we are too old to learn a new trick. Because when I’m struggling with my camera, this is my fall back response. I’m too old to learn something new.

But whenever I start to feel that way, I remind myself of Julia Child.

Did you know that she was in her 50′s when she became the Julia that we know and admire today? Did you know that she was 37 when she enrolled in Le Cordon Bleu? And that she was 49 when she published her first cookbook which was quickly followed by her television show at the age of 50?

I don’t use this example because I aspire to be famous like Julia. That is not one of my goals. What I draw from her life is the spirit of not giving up. To learn and grow every single day. Even in the face of frustration. Even if I don’t compare to my peers. Even if I can’t produce the same quality of work that my friends are producing, it’s ok.

Every day that I learn something new, it’s a step above where I was yesterday. Learning does not come easy to me when it comes to this one thing. But with each day that goes by and with the assistance of friends who truly care, I am moving forward and my skills are improving.

And even if I learn at a snail’s pace, can you imagine where this snail will be in a few years if she keeps slugging away?

How about you? Is there something that you would like to do but you find it challenging? Is there a new skill you’d like to learn but are too intimidated to try?

Hood Sour Cream Meal Makeover Cook-Off

HoodA couple of weeks ago I was invited to compete in a cook-off that required that I use Hood Sour Cream as a base ingredient for a dinner entree. And you all know how I love a cook-off. So of course I was all over that.

Hood Sour CreamI use sour cream regularly and Hood is my go to brand because I appreciate how they donate to causes I support like The Great American Milk Drive which donates milk to families who are struggling financially. It’s a great cause which I encourage you to read about. Brands that give back are worth supporting in my book.

Hood Sour Cream EventThe competition kitchen was super cool. All of the bloggers had their own work stations and access to whatever tools we needed in the kitchen. They even had people there to wash our dishes when we were done. Sadly we could not bring them home with us.

Melanie and FriendsThis competition was rather strange as I was competing against my friends. And as it turned out, it was more like a delicious dinner party than a competition. My friends are good cooks.

Sarah Hood EventHere’s Sarah having her dish recorded. Did I mention that there was a production crew? This was serious stuff. Sarah’s Sour Cream Chicken was delicious and I will be serving that to my own offspring soon.

Southwestern Pot PiesMy recipe was a Southwestern Chicken Pot Pie served up in individual servings. A big hit with my kids and popular with big people too. Recipe to follow at the end of this post.

Leah's KugelThe winning recipe of the cook-off was my friend Leah’s Sour Cream Kugel which was the cat’s meow. I love kugel. Actually, I think all of the recipes were worthy of blue ribbons. I didn’t try a dish that wasn’t wonderful at the cook-off. And I am now convinced that my friends really ought to invite me over for dinner more often.

If you are a pot pie lover, give my Southwestern Chicken Pot Pies a whirl. They are hearty and zesty. A great way to warm up on a chilly day. Great for littles and adults alike! For more dinnertime inspiration, be sure to visit Hood.com.

Southwestern Chicken Pot Pies
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup onion, chopped
1/2 cup poblano peppers, roasted and chopped
½ cup chopped red pepper
½ cup corn kernels, roasted
½ cup black beans
¼ cup cilantro, chopped
1/2 cup flour
2 cups chicken broth
1 cup Hood sour cream
1 ½ cup cheddar or Monterey jack cheese
2 Tbsp Southwestern spice (see recipe below)
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
4 cups cooked chicken, shredded
1 pie crust
1 egg

Southwestern Spice Blend
2 Tbsp chili powder
1 Tbsp cumin
1 Tbsp paprika
1/2 Tbsp black pepper
1 tsp cayenne pepper
1 Tbsp salt

In a large dutch oven, saute onions in butter until translucent. Add peppers, corn, black beans and cilantro. Add flour and stir to coat.

Turn heat to low and add chicken broth, sour cream and cheese. Cook until cheese is melted. Add Southwestern spice, salt, pepper and lastly, the shredded chicken. Stir to thoroughly combine.

Take off heat and spoon into individual ramekins. Top with pie crust. Lightly beat egg and brush over crust. Sprinkle a little salt over top and bake in a 350º oven until golden.

This is not a sponsored post. Hood did give me a gift card to cover my ingredients and transportation costs.