Inspiring Words

Five quotes that resonate with me today:
“I think a lot of people wait to feel a certain way about themselves before they are willing to take a chance… And I think sometimes you have to take a chance in order to feel the way about yourself that you want to feel.” – Debbie Millman


“Be a good steward of your gifts. Protect your time. Feed your inner life. Avoid too much noise. Read good books, have good sentences in your ears. Be by yourself as often as you can. Walk. Take the phone off the hook. Work regular hours.” – Jane Kenyon


“In an age when the vast majority of our cultural material is reduced to “content” and “assets,” factory-farmed by a media machine that turns creators into Pavlovian creatures hooked on constant and immediate positive reinforcement via “likes” and “shares,” here comes a sorely needed reminder that art operates on a wholly different time scale and demands a wholly different pace of cultivation. (I’m reminded of Susan Sontag: “Our task is not to find the maximum amount of content in a work of art… Our task is to cut back content so that we can see the thing at all.”)” – Brain Pickings, Maria Popova


“When you’re speaking in the truest, most intimate voice about your life, you are speaking with the universal voice.” – Cheryl Strayed


“Love words, agonize over sentences. And pay attention to the world.” – Susan Sontag


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In March I was inspired by Pisces.

“Pisces are selfless, spiritual and very focused on their inner journey. They also place great weight on what they are feeling. Yes, feelings define Pisces, and it’s not uncommon for them to feel their own burdens (and joys) as well as those of others. The intuition of the Pisces-born is highly evolved. Many people associate Pisces with dreams and secrets, and it’s a fair association, since those born under this sign feel comfortable in an illusory world.”


April will be all about Aries. I’ve put this moodboard together to get inspired. If you want to see the work as it comes in, follow me on instagram.

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The V.K.Rees team and I recently left Brooklyn to go spend a few days in the country. We exchanged concrete for grass and buildings for trees. We drank many Clementine Thyme Cocktails. It was delightful and I was inspired. This was the result.

Food styling by Ali Chiappinelli. Hand Modeling and Photo Assistance by Mélanie Duault and Christine Soares.


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Spring Produce

One Sunday afternoon in May I got a text from my friend / food stylist Lauren LaPenna that said “Dude, I’m at the farmer’s market and the produce is bonkers. We have to shoot it.” Okay, that’s not exactly what she said. I can’t find the original text. The point is, the next day Lauren came over with a bundle of beautiful produce for us to photograph. From there, letter artist Martha VanEtten worked her magic. The result was, well, pretty damn cute…



Spring Produce by V.K.REES

Spring Produce by V.K.REES


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West Falls

West Falls by V.K.Rees
If you follow me on Instagram you’ve probably seen me tag my lovely prop stylist, Kelly Shea, in quite a lot of photos. A few months ago Kelly told me that she and her boyfriend were moving out of their Brooklyn apartments, had bought an old VW van, and were taking a 5 month road trip around the country. My first reaction was panic over who was going to prop style for me while she is away. Kelly is super talented and a joy to work with- not easy to replace. After I got over my selfishness, I was excited for her. And super jealous.

Kelly and Brendan aren’t just taking a long road trip. They completely renovated their van and have turned it into a film production studio on wheels. I took a still life photo inspired by West Falls (above) and got some shots of them and their van the day before they left (below). Kelly is going to tell you a bit about what they are doing because, well, it’s badass and I wanted to share it with you guys…


Brendan and I have recently moved out of Brooklyn and started a creative studio called West Falls. We will be traveling the country in a 1984 VW Westfalia camper van and connecting with companies and brands that are making beautiful products in America. After working for years in the film and advertising world, we decided to do our own thing.  Our focus as we travel the country is to create high-quality video and photo content for smaller brands who are put off by the high prices, long timelines, and muddied voice of working with big agencies.

We have connected with United By Blue  a Philly-based company who gives back by donating their time and efforts to clean up oceans, rivers, and waterways.  We, like UBB, believe that giving back is an important part of owning a company and we couldn’t be more excited to be associated with them ( #bluemovement).

Throughout our trip we will be creating a video series about american makers and doers [the Vancrafted series], posting daily to Instagram about our adventures [@vancrafted], and creating thoughtful blog posts about some of the emotional aspects of life on the road, starting a business, and finding ourselves [vancrafted.us].

West Falls by V.K.ReesWest Falls by V.K.Rees

West Falls by V.K.ReesWest Falls by V.K.Rees

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¡Cinco De Mayo!

Oh man, I love Mexican food. I love tacos, and guacamole, and salsa, and nachos, and fajitas, and quesadillas. And rice and beans. Oh, and margaritas. So, Cinco De Mayo, a holiday that celebrates Mexican heritage and culture? I’m so in.

These recipes are inspired by the gloriousness of Mexcian food. Thank you, Mexico, for bringing corn chips and avocado together, for blending fruit and tequila into one, for combining tomato and spices into a perfect dip. Mexico, you win food.

Some fun facts about Cinco De Mayo:

– It is a day set aside to pay tribute to the Mexican army’s defeat of France at the Battle of Puebla during the Franco-Mexican War.

– Cinco De Mayo is not that big of a holiday in Mexico. It’s not often celebrated with a big meal or any other kind of festivity.

– In the US, Cinco De Mayo has evolved into a celebration of Mexican culture, especially in areas with many Mexican-American residents.

¡Feliz Cinco De Mayo!

These delicious recipes were developed by Demetria Provatas and the food styling is by my dear friend Lauren LaPenna. Check out how Lauren braided the corns husks. So cute, right? Thanks ladies!

Cinco De Mayo by V.K.ReesCinco De Mayo by V.K.Rees

Cinco De Mayo by V.K.Rees

Cinco De Mayo by V.K.Rees

Demetria will take it from here…

Cinco De Mayo is my brother’s birthday (Happy birthday brother!!!), so generally the day has revolved around his meal wants and desires which, surprisingly, never involves Mexican food.  Growing up, my Cinco De Mayo’s were generally spent in a steakhouse or Italian restaurant, sharing pasta or blooming onions with my brother, without any mention that there might be  another holiday going on.

So, when Vanessa asked that I help out with the recipe creation for this photo shoot, I was so excited to try out all the Cinco De Mayo recipes I had never been able to in the past (no hard feelings brother).  This means Mexican Street Corn, Stuffed and Grilled Avocados with Mango Salsa, Mexican Salad Boats, and the necessary – crazy delicious Strawberry Jalapeño margarita. With food stylist Lauren LaPenna helping me to perfect and execute each recipe and Vanessa taste testing along the way – I have to say – we created a feast for the ages.  These recipes are solid gold.  We’re a dream team!

Also, I would highly recommend taking all the leftover salsas, salads, and cream sauces – dumping them all over nachos and reveling in the best nachos you ever have.

– by Demetria Provatas of Engrained Baking

Cinco De Mayo by V.K.Rees
Vegan Mexican Street Corn

6 husked corn on the cob
1 cup cashews
2 tbsp coconut milk
4 tbsp lime juice (about 2 limes)
½ cup almond milk
2 tbsp nutritional yeast
1 clove roasted garlic
1 tsp chile powder
½ tsp salt or to taste
¼ bunch cilantro (for garnish)
chile powder (garnish)
lime zest (garnish)

I.  Submerge corn in water and let soak for at least an hour.
II.  While the corn is soaking you can make the vegan cream sauce.  Combine all of the ingredients (except the corn) into a blender and blend on high until a smooth consistency.  Cover and set aside.
III.  Heat your gril or grill pan until very hot.  Grill corn on both sides until charred, about 2-3 minutes per side.
IV.  Place the grilled corn on a large plate and drizzle your cream sauce across the top. Garnish with cilantro, chile powder, and lime zest.  Serve and impress all your friends!

¡Radicchio Fiesta Boats!

2 radicchio heads
1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
1 can black beans
7 red radishes, sliced
1 grilled corn, cut off the cob
2 leaves romaine, sliced
1 avocado, diced
½ red onion, thinly sliced
½ teaspoon salt

 I.  Preheat oven to broil.  Slice tomatoes and other ingredients while preheating.  Broil halved tomatoes for about 1-2 minutes, or until charred.
II.  Place all ingredients except radicchio heads in medium sized bowl and toss until combined.
III.  Take the leaves off of the radicchio heads and scoop the salad into the center of sturdiest, whole leaves.
IV.  Drizzle Jalapeno Lime Vinaigrette over the salads and serve with your other impressive dishes!

Jalapeño Lime Vinaigrette

1 – 2 jalapenos, sliced
½ cup olive oil
¼ cup lime juice
1 clove garlic, minced
½ teaspoon salt

Combine all ingredients, mix together thoroughly, and serve on radicchio salad boats!

Mango Salsa Stuffed, Grilled Avocados

3 avocados, halved
2 Mangos, diced
1 medium tomato, diced
1 small jalapeño, diced
1 tbsp lime juice
1 scallion, diced

 I.  Heat grill to high
II.  While grill is heating, place all diced ingredients in medium sized bowl and toss in lime juice. Set aside.
III.  Place avocado halves face down on grill and let sit for 5-8, or until charred.  Take off grill and let cool.
IV.  Scoop mango salsa into avocados and serve, completing your amazing cinco de mayo arrangement!

Strawberry Jalapeno Margaritas

Strawberry Jalapeno Puree
makes about 4 servings

1 lb. strawberries
1 seeded jalapeno
2 tbsp lime juice (about 1 lime)
½ cup sugar
½ cup water

I.  Slice seeded jalapeno into 4 large pieces.  Quarter the strawberries.
II.  Place strawberries, jalapeno, sugar, water, and lime juice into small pot and heat over medium high for 12 – 15 minutes or until strawberries have broken down.
III.  Remove jalapeno slices from mixture and let cool.  Once cooled, pour into blender and blend on high until thoroughly pureed.

To make a single Margarita…

 ½ cup Strawberry Jalapeno Puree
¼ cup lime juice
1 cup ice (2 handfuls)
1 oz tequila.

I.  Pour all ingredients in a high speed blender and blend until smooth
II.  Enjoy your crazy delicious frozen Strawberry Jalapeno margaritas

Check out Engrained for more recipes!!

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Spring and Tea

After months of shlepping around Brooklyn in snow boots, wearing sixteen layers of clothing, and opting to have absolutely everything delivered rather than step a foot outdoors,  spring is finally here. This post is inspired by the arrival of spring in all its glory. Melting snow, cool mornings, pouring rain and blooming flowers.

Prop stylist Kelly Shea, food stylist Lauren LaPenna, tea enthusiast Demetria Provatas and I combined our powers to  create this post.

My talented intern and culinary student, Demetria, researched tea blending and came up with a white peony lavender tea. Ms. Provatas tells you all about it below. Be sure to check out her blog to see some behind the scenes photos of this shoot!

Spring Tea, Photography and Art Direction by Vanessa Rees, food styling by Lauren LaPenna, Prop styling by Kelly Shea.

Spring Tea, Photography and Art Direction by Vanessa Rees, food styling by Lauren LaPenna, Prop styling by Kelly Shea.Spring Tea, Photography and Art Direction by Vanessa Rees, food styling by Lauren LaPenna, Prop styling by Kelly Shea.Spring Tea, Photography and Art Direction by Vanessa Rees, food styling by Lauren LaPenna, Prop styling by Kelly Shea.Spring Tea, Photography and Art Direction by Vanessa Rees, food styling by Lauren LaPenna, Prop styling by Kelly Shea. Spring Tea, Photography and Art Direction by Vanessa Rees, food styling by Lauren LaPenna, Prop styling by Kelly Shea.
Spring Tea, Photography and Art Direction by Vanessa Rees, food styling by Lauren LaPenna, Prop styling by Kelly Shea.Spring Tea, Photography and Art Direction by Vanessa Rees, food styling by Lauren LaPenna, Prop styling by Kelly Shea.Spring Tea, Photography and Art Direction by Vanessa Rees, food styling by Lauren LaPenna, Prop styling by Kelly Shea.

In Vermont there was an English style tea shop cozied up on the bottom floor of an old Victorian home.  It sat alongside the river and gazed out to scene of stark, green mountain peaks and large stones supporting the muted colors of the riverside homes – essentially comprising every component of quaint Vermont cute.  I would go there in the morning, before my classes, sit at the table overlooking the river, and quietly drink my tea, marveling at the serene, sun drenched space.  It was there that I had my first white tea.  It was a lovely blend that was silver needle white tea, rose petals, and a hint of vanilla – and I was hooked.  The white tea comes from the same plant as black and green tea, but it has a much more delicate, slightly sweet taste that avoids the bitter and acidic taste that can come with black and green teas.  When the white tea was paired with the rose petals and vanilla it was nothing short of pleasant, delicate, and even vaguely ethereal.

So, when coming up with a tea blend of my own I returned to the lovely white tea and decided to go with the more full flavored of the white teas – white peony.  The white peony includes young leaves in addition to the top buds or leaf shoots, whereas silver needle is only the leaf shoots, making the silver needle more delicate, more subtle, and more expensive, and the white peony with a fuller flavor and greater potency.  I decided I would pair it with other calming, and light, floral flavors to complement the the delicate white tea.

When brewing your own tea at home it is important to check the amount of time your tea needs to steep to avoid the bitter and astringent tastes that can come from over steeping.  Each tea – black, white, herbal, green, pu-erh, red, and so on – has a specific time and temperature that is most ideal for steeping and allows you to get the fullest and most pleasant flavor from each. The time and temperature will often vary slightly by blend and strain from there.  Here is a basic and super cute illustrated guide you can refer to when brewing teas at home.  Have fun blending!

White Peony Lavender Blend
By Demetria Provatas of Engrained Blog

Makes about 30 cups

1 ½ cups  Organic White Peony
½ cup Organic Lavender
⅓ cup Blue Cornflower Petals
¼ cup Chamomile
2 tablespoons Hibiscus

I.  Make sure all ingredients are dried.  Mix all together gently in a large bowl.  Package in paper bags, jars, or make your own small tea bags by putting 1 tablespoon in an empty tea bag, close and tie together with string.

II.  To brew heat water to about 175 degrees Fahrenheit/80 degrees Celsius.  Let sit for 3 minutes.  Pour water over 1 tablespoon of tea blend per 8 ounce cup.  Let steep for 4 – 6 minutes.  Enjoy this lovely, relaxing, and lightly sweet blend!

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