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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Treat Yo Self, Part II

Treat Yo Self
Last week I posted a Donna Meagle inspired Treat Yo Self photo. This one is inspired by her costar, Tom Haverford. Once again, if you have no idea what I’m talking about, you should watch Parks and Rec! Or this clip.

As I said in the previous post, I’m starting my own line of greeting cards! This is the latest addition.

The cake photographed here is Isa Chandra’s Chocolate Yogurt Bundt Cake and it is, without exaggeration, my favorite chocolate cake recipe. Here is another photo I took of it for a different purpose.

Now, go treat yo self! =)

Chocolate Yogurt Bundt Cake by Vanessa Rees



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Cereal Cashew Milk Cake

Birthday Cake Cards, by V.K.Rees

Birthday Cake by V.K.Rees

This post is dedicated to the smartest, most handsomest little brother a girl could have. Happy 26th birthday, Joey (Joe, to the rest of the world)!

So, have you guys heard of cereal milk cake? I hadn’t until my food-fashionable intern, Demetria, mentioned it. I know, I’m so 3 years behind. In case you are like me and behind on cake trends, I’ll elaborate… You know how when you eat a bowl of cereal, the milk leftovers tastes of cereal-y goodness? Using cereal infused milk in this recipe results in a cake that tastes subtly like your cereal of choice. It’s damn delicious. Demetria took this already awesome concept and made it even awesomer by using homemade cashew milk in lieu of the dairy milk that is used in most cereal milk cake recipes. Cashew milk is thick and creamy which made the cake uber decadent.

Oh, and I’m selling the image above as a birthday card with the recipe on the inside. You can buy them here in about a week if you’d like!

Intern Demetria will take it from here!

Ever since I heard about Christina Tosi’s brilliant cereal milk recipe, I knew I had to try it.  So when Vanessa asked that I make a sprinkle covered, super fun, birthday cake, I knew this was my chance to try my hand at cereal milk cake. I scoured the internet but could not find a vegan recipe for cereal milk, or cereal milk cake for that matter, so I made up my own!

I whipped up homemade cashew milk and then soaked it in Fruit Loops, omitting the sugar that’s in the original milk recipe because the Fruit Loops took care of that.  The cereal milk recipe makes a bit extra so you can experience what a vegan cereal milkshake would taste like – so good.  I used the cashew cereal milk in the cake and the buttercream!  The cashew milk made for a rich, creamy cake that stays moist for very long time. The subtle cereal flavor brings you into a state of nostalgia.  Add sprinkles and you have may just have the best birthday cake ever!

For the cashew milk:
I used this recipe

Cashew Fruity Loop ‘Cereal Milk’:
adapted from Momofuku milk bar’s cereal milk recipe, makes 2.5 cups

  • 2 ¾ cup Fruit Loops
  • 3 ¾ cups of your homemade cashew milk
  • ¼ tsp of salt

I.  Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.

II.  Spread the Fruit Loops out on a parchment lined sheet pan.  Let toast in oven for 20 minutes.  Let cool.

III.  Transfer the toasted Fruit Loops to a large pictcher or bowl.  Pour the milk in and stir vigorously.  Let steep for 30 minutes at room temperatre.

IV.  Strain the mixture over a medium bowl.  Once the milk is mostly strained, using the back of a ladle or spoon, or your hand, wring the rest of the liquid out of the Fruit Loops, without pushing the fruit loops through the strainer.

V.  Whisk the salt in and store in the refrigerator!

Cereal Milk Birthday Cake:
makes 3 layers of 6” cake

  • 2 cups cashew cereal milk
  • 2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
  • 1 ½ cup granulated sugar
  • ⅔ cup vegetable oil
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 3 tablespoons cornstarch
  • ¾ teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ¾ teaspoon salt
  • ⅓ cup sprinkles

I.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  Grease three 6” pans and line each with parchment circles.

II.  In a large bowl whisk together the cashew milk and the vinegar.  Let stand for 5 minutes.  It will ‘curdle’ a bit, so don’t worry.  Add the sugar, oil, and vanilla extract and whisk until the mixture is smooth.

III.  Sift together flour, cornstarch, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.

IV.  Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and whisk until smooth and well combined.  Divide the batter evenly between the three pans.  You can use a scale to do this, but I just eyed it.  Bake 22-25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean.  Cool for 15 minutes and then turn the cakes out and let cool completely before adding any icing.

Cashew Cereal Milk ‘Buttercream’:

  • ¾ cup non-hydrogentated margarine (I used original Earth Balance)
  • ¾ cup non-hydrogenated shortening
  • 4 ½ cups powdered sugar
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • ¼ cup cashew cereal milk
  • a pinch of salt

I.  Take an electric mixer and beat together the margarine and shortening on medium speed for 2-3 minutes, or until creamy.

II.  Add the powdered sugar and beat on low until combined.  Turn the mixer to medium high speed and beat 2-3 minutes.

III.  Add the salt and vanilla and beat until incorporated.

IV.  Add the cashew milk gradually until the buttercream is a spreadable consistency, but not too liquid-y.

Finally, assemble your cake and cover it in sprinkles! Enjoy!

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