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1. Tell us who you are and what you do.

Hi friends! I’m Ashley and I’m a home cook and food photographer (and first-time mama-to-be!)

2. How did you get started in this industry? Did you always know this is what you were meant to do?

It might sound unusual but I always say that I fell into it. At the start, about 5 years ago, my intention was not for food photography/recipe development to become my full-time job—in fact, I didn’t even know it was possible. I realized my love for cooking in 2014 and started sharing (very amateur) food photos to Instagram. At the time, I was working as an interior designer and sharing food was purely a weekend creative outlet. My images started to get noticed as I took it more seriously and I was hired by my first client the following year—with absolutely no business sense, mind you. Nevertheless, it was that “stumbling” through my first client experience that taught me so much through good old trial and error. I had no idea I would eventually transition from designer to full-time, self-employed photographer 4 years later. But, I always knew I would find a way to use my design-driven creative juices. That foundation has informed everything that I do today.

3. Tell us- how have you been handling things this year?! Feel free to share any tips for staying grounded during this time.

Ah, it’s been quite the year (big understatement, right?!) It’s been rocky, at times, but I feel steadier and more at peace with each passing day. I found out I was pregnant at the very onset of COVID-19 back in early March—so those first couple of months were the hardest to process. I am hardwired for routine so I started to lean on things like yoga at home (I love the app Down Dog), baking sourdough (more than just a trend, I swear by this beginner’s guide by my friend Bella) and finding little ways to introduce normalcy. Right now, that looks like coffee dates at home with my closest friend, socially-distanced trips to my Saturday farmers market and weekly take-out dinner dates/movie nights with my husband. Above all else, my faith in God and reading the Bible helps me extinguish anxious thoughts on a daily basis.

4. Tell us your philosophy on “wellness” and what it means to you.

I love this question! In my view, personal wellness is all about being conscious—conscious about getting active minutes in my day and fueling my body with enough of the good things. It’s one big balancing act. Every day is different and I don’t let myself feel guilty for skipping my walk or yoga on a busy day. Right now, my wellness goal is to start each morning with quiet reading time, 20-30 minutes of physical activity and to up my intake of leafy greens, iron and protein. Baby needs so much to grow and knowing that can be overwhelming at times! But it’s important to remember we are not robots. Give yourself the grace you need on days it just doesn’t go as planned.

5. Tell us about some of your favorite plants (be it house plants, medicinal plants, etc). How do you incorporate them into your life?

Thankfully, my little plant family has been thriving during this quarantine! We were gifted a “money tree” that’s been fun to watch grow. On the medicinal side, I love diffusing essential oils and even using some topically. My favorite product is DōTERRA’s cooling Deep Blue Rub—a life saver for my aching lower back during pregnancy. It uses wintergreen leaf oil, peppermint, eucalyptus, blue chamomile and aloe to ease muscle tension. It’s also super calming and a little dab on my temples and back of the neck helps me to fall asleep at night.

6. Do you have any sustainability practices? If so, please share!

I love food sustainability and using scraps in the kitchen. Not only does it save money but helps to reduce food waste—and add flavor. Things like parmesan rinds, parsley stems and onion skins are fantastic in simmering tomato sauce and chicken stock. The most underrated ingredient are cilantro stems. I chop them up right along with the leaves and use them on tacos or mixed into breadcrumbs (which, are the BEST and easiest to make at home! I sprinkle them on everything from soup, salad and pasta). I recently wrote a guide on little ways to get scrappy.

7. Congrats on your pregnancy! Any surprising takeaways you’d like to share, or advice for other moms-to-be who might be reading?

Thank you! Even with the end of the second trimester looming it still feels so new and amazing to me. I’m surprised by how quickly it’s going by and all of the things I never knew about my body and this process. The best advice I can give is to remember you’re not alone in the journey. At 28, I feel like I knew next to nothing about pregnancy prior to walking through it. It’s extremely comforting to know women’s bodies were designed to do this incredible thing—and that it’s completely normal to feel unprepared. I realize there is very little we actually need when it comes to classes and technical know-how. Surround yourself with a few trusted people who will support you.

8. Your go-to recipe!

I’m a big homemade pasta lover—this is my go-to ravioli with three cheeses. For a quick, weeknight meal I often make these chipotle chicken tacos. They are so flavorful and great leftovers for lunch the next day.

9. Your favorite place to travel and why?

We grew up in Long Island and moved to Roanoke 2 years ago. Now, living away from home, Long Island has become my favorite place to visit—for the people (we both have family there) and the food (New York pizza, diner pancakes and coffee, best-ever bagels, egg sandwiches and Italian bakery cookies). We prefer life in the mountains of Virginia—it’s a new thrill to re-visit the familiar pace of New York now and then.

10. What’s one thing people might be surprised to learn about you?

Ironically, I am the biggest baby when it comes to routine medical procedures or gory movies— and my husband is a surgeon in training. I’m a neat, detail-oriented planner and rule follower—he is a spontaneous thrill-seeker. Sometimes it drives me crazy (!) but I know it’s our differences that cause us to complement one another so well.

11. The best piece of advice you’ve received?

Enjoy today. Enjoy the process. You won’t get this day, or this season, back again. It’s my true belief that each season is purposeful—some are for planting and some are for harvesting. Enjoy where you are today and it will make where you go that much sweeter and redemptive.