Photographer Profile

My name is Melissa Howell and I specialize in custom portrait design for your home. You can visit my official photography website at to view more of my work and to contact me to set up a consultation.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Pumpkin Pie Ice Cream

I have never been a huge fan of ice cream. Sure, I like it, but it's not my first choice when it comes to dessert. That has all changed now that I have my own ice cream maker. I have been experimenting with all kinds of ice cream flavors, and I am super excited to share this one. It tastes exactly like pumpkin pie, with actual pie crust pieces in it. This is the perfect ice cream for fall. If you love pumpkin pie, you'll adore this ice cream.

2 cups heavy whipping cream
1 cup whole milk
2/3 cup sugar
1 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1/2 tsp. ground cloves
1/2 tsp. ground allspice
1/8 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1 cup pumpkin puree (I used my own home made puree rather than the stuff in the can. If you want your ice cream to be more orange, you'll need to use the canned variety)

For the crust:
1/2 cup flour
1/4 tsp. salt
2 1/2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
1 Tbsp. cold water

Mix flour and salt. Add oil and mix until it looks like coarse crumbs. Sprinkle with water and mix again until dough pulls together. If it is too dry, add a little more water. Put aluminum foil in a shallow metal pan and roll dough out onto it. Sprinkle with sugar and cinnamon if desired. Bake at 450 degrees for 8-10 minutes (until edges begin to brown). Cool, then break into bite-sized pieces.

Bring cup of milk to room temperature (or warm in microwave). Add sugar and stir until sugar dissolves. Add all the other ingredients and whisk together until well mixed. Put in refrigerator to chill before adding to ice cream maker (about 3 hours, or if you don't want to wait, you can put it in the freezer for about an hour, give or take). Add to ice cream maker and follow the manufacturer's directions. When soft-serve consistency, transfer to airtight container and gently fold in crust pieces. Freeze for several hours, or overnight. Overnight is best, as it allows the flavors to really meld. When ready to serve, top with whipped cream.

Monday, October 17, 2011

For Your Enjoyment...

For the next two weeks, I'll be taking a hiatus from this blog, as my children are on fall break and I intend to enjoy it with them. In the meantime, please enjoy the following video. I can't remember how many times I heard my own mom say, "You can't even taste it!"

Friday, October 14, 2011

In Which a Famous Photographer Comes to Visit

The night before last, I had trouble sleeping. You would have thought I was a small child, giddy with the prospect of Santa's arrival. Instead, I was eagerly anticipating the arrival of Nichole Van Valkenburg (otherwise known as Nichole Van) who is a famous, enormously talented photographer. I want to be like her when I grow up. Except that I think I'm older than her.... But seriously, when you look at her work, your jaw drops and flies come in and out of your mouth, because you never close it. Each image is so awe-inspiring.

So when I got word that she was coming to Denver for a day and a half and was offering a mentoring session while here, I jumped at the chance! I was so lucky that I got to spend time with her (and her adorable husband) and learn some radically new photography techniques.

We hit it off right away. We both went to BYU, and she even taught English there! Anybody who teaches English is my friend, because they are the only ones who might understand my fetish for proper punctuation and spelling. (I was reading an ice cream book yesterday, and they said to add "4 egg yokes" to the mix. I immediately wanted to write a letter to the book editor notifying him/her of this egregious error). Nichole and I also have 3 children, all the same ages! (Well, her kids are 10, 7, and 3, and mine are 9, 7, and 3, so close enough).

We hiked to a little spot behind my neighborhood and set up all the lighting equipment, and Nichole taught me how to get a completely different look than the one I typically employ. Here are some shots she got of me during the session:

Awesome, right? Hardly anything was done to these in Photoshop. The sunburst is not trickery. It was actually produced by the lens on the camera. After we came back to my house, I fed them homemade Pumpkin Pie Ice Cream (recipe coming soon!) because Nichole is a foodie, and quite frankly, this ice cream is to-die-for. I had to share.

Nichole was so generous and fun and friendly. I feel SO LUCKY that I got to spend a couple hours with her and learn from a master! Thank you, Nichole!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Friends in Fall {Franktown Family Photographer}

About eight years ago (give or take) we were eating at Chili's. I think it was my first time ever eating at a Chili's. In a booth across from us sat a young, attractive couple with two children who were about the same ages as our small children. We struck up a conversation. This was very out-of-character for me, because I do not generally initiate conversations with strangers. But for some reason, I felt comfortable talking to this couple, and we became unlikely friends. We had Thanksgiving at their house a few months later. We've gotten together for playdates. I gave a photography presentation at their MOPS group. And finally, last weekend, I got to do their family portraits. Their children have gotten a lot bigger since we first met at Chili's, but they're still just as adorable. I had a wonderful time during the shoot. The fall colors were incredible, and their son even found an indian arrowhead in a streambed! Thanks, guys, for talking to a stranger at Chili's. Can we come over for Thanksgiving again? :)

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Chicken Tikka Masala

I love Indian food. There's something so exciting me about trying exotic flavors, especially when I know nothing raw or slimy is involved. I got this recipe off the Pioneer Woman's site, although it's not actually her recipe (it's Pastor Ryan's). This is comfort food, and I love how the colors all work together, especially with the turmeric rice and peas. This is not spicy or weird. My 3-year-old eats it. It's just plain yummy :)

2 chicken breasts
1/4 cup plain yogurt (or sour cream, or honestly, you can skip this altogether, although some Indian food purists would probably get mad at me for saying so)
1 Tbsp. butter
3/4 cup heavy cream
14 oz. can diced tomatoes
1/2 large onion
2 cloves garlic
1 inch chunk of fresh ginger
1 1/2 Tbsp. Garam Masala spice (found in the spice section with all the other bottles of spices). It's a mixture of cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, cumin, black pepper, and coriander.
Ground coriander
Kosher salt

Fresh cilantro
Chili peppers

Start by seasoning the chicken breasts with kosher salt. Then sprinkle both sides with some coriander and cumin. Then coat the chicken breasts completely with the plain yogurt. (This is the part I think you can skip if you like). Set the chicken on a metal cooling rack over a foil-lined baking sheet and place it about 10-12 inches below a broiler for 5-7 minutes per side. You want the chicken to get slightly blackened (not charred, like a burnt offering).

While the chicken is broiling, cut the onion into large chunks. In a large skillet, melt 1 Tbps. butter over medium-high heat, then add onions and sautee until they are slightly browned. Mince or press your garlic and ginger and add to the onions, along with about 1 1/2 tsp. of salt.

Next, add the Garam Masala spice and also hot chili peppers if you have opted to do this. (I have never added peppers, but I think I would like it). Add your can of diced tomatoes. Continue cooking and stirring, scraping the bottom of the pan. Add about 1 1/2 tsp. sugar. Simmer for about 5 minutes. Add your heavy cream, and then add your cut-up pieces of broiled chicken. Serve over plain Basmati rice and top with cilantro if desired. Or you can make the turmeric rice with peas. It doesn't really taste any different, but it looks pretty :)

Turmeric Rice With Peas
2 cups Basmati rice
4 Tbsp. butter
1 tsp. salt
1 Tbsp. ground turmeric
4 cups water
1/2 cup (or more) of frozen peas

Add all ingredients except peas to a rice cooker. Turn on and walk away. When the rice is done, throw in the peas and close the lid. The steam will cook the peas and they will retain their lovely green hue.

Now you have a truly impressive dish!

Monday, October 10, 2011

I Ran a 5K!

Last year, a friend of mine started running 5Ks. She told me about the "Couch to 5K" training program that she used to get ready. Even though I hate running, I thought this would be a good goal for me. I figured I could get in shape before our trip to Europe, since we would be walking a lot. The Couch to 5K program is a 9-week training program that is supposed to gradually work you up to running a 5K. About week 5, my knees started hurting, and I knew if I continued running, they would just hurt more, and then I'd be hobbling around Europe instead of walking around Europe. So I had to give up.

This year, I decided to give it another go. Jacob and I went to a running store and had them watch me while I ran. They have a treadmill with a camera on it so they can see how your feet are landing. They play it back in slow motion to see if you are pronating inward or outward, and how much. Then they recommend certain shoes based on what will help you correct your run. So $100 later, we walked out with new shoes and new hope.

I was hoping that I would learn to like running during my 9-week training. Alas, it was not to be. And even with the new shoes, my knees started hurting again around week 7 or 8. But they didn't hurt as badly as before, and I was NOT going to give up when I was so close! I decided to find a 5K that would coincide with the last day of my training program. That way I wouldn't have to keep training while waiting to run an official race, all while the weather was getting colder and colder.

This left me with two choices: Run a 5K with a bunch of dogs (don't ask) or run on a dirt trail on the side of a mountain. I chose the latter. My 5K was the "XTerra Marathon of Trail Races" held at the Cheyenne Mountain State Park in Colorado Springs. Having been to the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, which was literally on the side of a mountain, we figured a mountain would also be involved in the race. We were correct.

We left at 6:00 and dropped off the kids at my long-suffering neighbor's house, and set out for Colorado Springs. Of course, wouldn't you know that the first snow of the season decided to honor us this day. It was snowing so hard that we could not see the road. It was very scary. Had I been the only one that was signed up for the race, I would have just forfeited the $25 and stayed home. However, Jacob also decided to join me, so we were out $50 if we didn't go, and I wasn't about to waste that kind of money! After a while, it got lighter and we could see the road more clearly. When we got to the race site, it was raining. I would have preferred snow for the race, but Mother Nature clearly has a rotten sense of humor.

I was surprised at how many people were waiting in the rain for the race. Most of them turned out to be the ones signed up for the marathon and half-marathon. Either they are crazy running fanatics, or they didn't want to waste their money, either. It was my goal to run the entire 5K, but it soon became apparent that this was not going to be possible. The trail was very rocky in parts (all rocks, no trail) and due to the rain, the rocks were very slippery. The trail had also turned into thick, slippery mud in many locations, and running through that would have meant a one-way ticket onto your kiester. So I ran on all the parts that were safe to run on, and consoled myself with the fact that I had in fact run two 5Ks without stopping earlier in the week during training.

Jacob had not trained at all. He was worried about being beat by girl. He actually beat me by about a minute, but I contest that it's only because his legs are longer than mine. If we had run a 5K on a paved surface in good weather, I'm sure I would have beaten him :) But no matter. I did the 9 week training perfectly without missing a day, and I never walked when I should have been running. So now I can give my knees a rest and think about whether or not I ever want to run again!

Friday, October 7, 2011

What's Wrong--3 Discussion

This is one of the first pictures I took when I was just starting out and trying to figure out what I was doing. I had hung some white muslin in front of my sliding glass door and set my daughter in front of it. The light was diffused, but flat, and there wasn't enough to turn the backdrop white. (Actually, you really need artificial lights to get a truly white backdrop). I had no idea about the rule of thirds, so her head is too high, she wasn't looking into the camera and there is no light in her eyes. This is a total "blah" picture.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

What's Wrong-3

Here is a lovely (ahem) picture from my earliest days when I had no idea what the heck I was doing. Now it's your turn to tell me everything that is wrong with this picture! Don't hold back. My feelings won't be hurt :)

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Which is Your Personality Type?

I recently read a book called It's Just My Nature. In it, the author, Carol Tuttle, describes 4 different personality types and their characteristics. When I was younger, I used to take every personality test available. I've done the Color Test, the Myers Briggs Test, and others I can't remember the names of. It's Just My Nature doesn't have a test to determine your personality. The author purports that it's easy to figure out personality tests and answer how we WANT to be rather than how we really are. For example, if one of the choices on a personality test goes something like this: a. critical, b., accepting, c. inattentive, d. personable--it would be hard to choose. Nobody wants to think that they're a critical person, even if they are. So we would answer with a more positive, albeit inaccurate description of who we are. In Carol's book, she lists characteristics and gives examples of each of the types, and we are to determine which feels most real and truthful to us.

To give you a little taste of what's in the book, I thought I would do a short synopsis of each of the types, starting with Type 1. (Note: I am not an expert on this subject, and this is more my experience and interpretation of the different types than exactly what Carol explains in her book).

Type 1 individuals are called "Bright/Animated" in Carol's book. These are the people who always have a lot to say, have many friends, and are the life of any party. They are naturally optimistic and cheerful. For this reason, I personally love to be around Type 1 people. They make me feel better about myself without even trying. They can also carry a conversation almost entirely by themselves, which is very helpful for a person like me who is more introverted and can't always think of what to say. Type 1 people also love to decorate for the holidays, and they are very creative. They have lots of ideas, but don't always follow through on them before they move on to the next one. They are typically late (just too many ideas to think about to bother looking at the clock!) but they have a zest for life and naturally lift the mood of any room they are in. Type 1's love variety (they may often change their hair) and can often get over disappointments and failure quickly and move on. As a child, they were often told to "settled down" or "stop moving."

I have two children who fit this bill. They bring joy everywhere they go and are so animated and fun. My 3-year-old's favorite thing to say is, "That's o.k." As in right after she breaks something of yours. She gets over it quickly, although you may not! I am not a Type 1. Are you? Leave a comment and let me know if this describes you or someone you know. And if you want to learn more, you can always click on the link above and get the book. In the coming weeks, I'll be talking about the other three types, so stay tuned!

Monday, October 3, 2011

Last Chance for Fall Portraits!

It's that time of year already, and the leaves will be here and gone before we know it! I only have one day available this month (October 15th) to do photoshoots before the leaves fall. If you were waiting to schedule your shoot, don't wait any longer! My slots will fill up fast! Call me at 303-346-4597 to book your session today!