New York Times bestselling author, slow cooking expert and mommy blogger next door
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Totally Together

Food Photography, Realism, and False Advertising

June 22, 2012 by · 13 Comments 

photo credit: Why Photos of McDonald’s Burgers Look So Much Better Than The Real Thing

Are food bloggers and food magazines practicing false advertising when they spend lots and lots of money and time staging finished food photos?

A part of me thinks, No. This is the matter of the business. People need to be lured in by the photo in order to stick around to read the recipe.

But another part of me thinks, Yes. Unless you’ve spent a few hours carefully cutting and assembling and plating and styling a regular ol’ home cook is not going to achieve the same results.

Is that false advertising? Or do home cooks and consumers just acknowledge that’s the way the world works?

What I Really Think.

(hey, I’m a blogger, we’re all just narcissistic navel-grazers, right?)

I don’t think I’ll ever be known as a food photographer. I get an email almost everyday through the slow cooking site by an “up and coming” food stylist/photographer (not the same person, different people— that would be weird if it was the same person every time!) who offers his/her expertise in food photography and styling to make my after photos “more appealing.”

I’ve read *numerous* food photography articles, online and in books. I’ve attended seminars.

but at the end of the day, I’m happy with my current method of pulling the food out of the pot, throwing up a light here and there and taking a picture.

My photos have definitely improved since I began my 2008 year— you can see a marked difference between my January shots and my August shots, and that is because I took Kalyn and Elise’s advice and got a new lens and a tabletop photo studio. We already owned a DSLR.

this is currently the set-up I have which costs a grand total of $608 (amazon affiliate links):

canon rebel, 50 mm lens, and a table top photo studio (note: my set is by Lowel EGO and they don’t seem to have the set I bought 4 years ago for a reasonable price anymore.)

it’s a lot of money.

and I still am not “good enough!”

My big concern with excessive food styling and photography is when the results no longer look the way it would when the home cook recreates the recipe.

I like honesty. I like seeing something and then doing it on my own, at home, and having the same results— regardless of whether or not it’s a recipe, craft, or a DIY project.

This is why I turn to blogs and not magazines. I KNOW magazines have a room full of stylists and lighting directors to get “the perfect shot.” I’ve worked with them. I know what they do.

I know that if I pull my roast out of the pot at 6 hours it will retain it’s shape and photograph better. But it’ll TASTE better at 8 hours, and that’s what picture I’ll snap.

This is where I fall behind my fellow food bloggers. Photography isn’t a hobby of mine; and for many it is— that I understand. What I don’t understand is the desire to style a plate for a few hours by using tweezers to place a sesame seed here or there, or spray a bit of oily water on lettuce to make it shine.

I don’t care if the photo will be “pinned” more. I’ve already written about my concerns with Pinterest.

I’ll repeat myself again: This is real life, not a magazine.

So I ask:

do we as food bloggers want to put out an end result that isn’t achievable by many/most? Do we want that on our conscience?

My friend Jen and I have talked about this quite a bit. She is an actual photographer with way more expensive equipment and expertise than I’ll ever have. She knows how to style and light, but she agrees, as I do, that the extra pageviews aren’t worth compromising integrity. Look at her side-by-side comparison of the Barbie Cocktail making the rounds on pinterest: not cool.

not cool at all.

What To Do About It.

Honestly, what I’d love is there to be a standard understanding that what-you-see-is-what-you-get when it comes to food blogging and photography. I’d love a disclaimer about how many pans of brownies were destroyed trying to get that perfect, no crumbly edge, brownie stack with wax paper. Where did you get the wax paper squares, anyway? How did you measure them out perfectly?

How long did it take you to get that “perfect shot?”

How many times did you say “just a minute” to your kids? How cold was the beef stew when you finally got to eat it? Did you scoop it right from the pot, or did you wash off some of the potatoes and carrots to make them not slimy and place them in a pretty way?

How many photoshop tweaks did you make? Did you improve brightness? contrast? color? did you rub out the slightly burnt corner?

am I making too big of a deal about this?

maybe. probably. but whatever. I was hit hard with the ethics stick. :-)

One Minute Muffin Recipe

April 14, 2012 by · 34 Comments 

low carb muffin (one-minute, naturally gluten-free, high-protein)

     I haven’t been taking the best care of myself the past few weeks. I’m on a deadline for a new cookbook and the dirty little secret of cookbook writers is that while you’re recipe testing you eat really, really well, but when you’re actually writing? You eat lots of fast food and consume litters of chocolate bunnies.

I guess I should clarify that by saying that You means Me. I’m sure there are some better disciplined people who would never eat a chocolate bunny.

I seem to not be that person.

Anyway, I’ve begun to emerge from my sugar coma and have fallen in love with the One Minute Muffin. It’s not a crockpot recipe. :-)

Instead, it’s healthy, inexpensive (after you buy the flax meal), packed with fiber, and low-carb. My kids will tolerate them, but aren’t falling over themselves to eat one. They still prefer chocolate to One Minute Muffins. They also still have ridiculously high metabolisms…

The Ingredients:

1/4 cup flax meal

1 egg

1 tablespoon butter

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon cinnamon (not pictured, sometimes I use pumpkin pie seasoning)

1 1/2 teaspoons sweetener, I use honey

1 tablespoon fresh or frozen blueberries (or smashed banana, shredded apple, etc)

hearty coffee mug sprayed with cooking oil


The Directions:

 Put the first 6 ingredients in a large glass measuring cup or bowl, and whisk to combine. No need to melt the butter or get it to dissolve–if it’s still in a clump, it’s okay. Mostly try to get the baking powder evenly dispersed. Now stir in the blueberries or whatever fruit you’re using. Pour into a greased coffee mug and microwave on high for 1 minute.  Let it sit for a bit, then pour onto a plate; or you can just eat it out of the mug with a spoon. The butter will have melted and made a tiny bit of a “sauce” with the melted blueberries. YUM.

The Verdict:

This is a pretty customizable recipe; feel free to swap out the honey with splenda, agave, brown sugar, etc. There isn’t a drop of flour, making this a naturally gluten free muffin, and if you use non dairy butter it could certainly be dairy-free and I’m imagining an egg-replacer would work okay. If you change up the ingredients and it works, let me know!

It tastes good. Not oh-my-gosh-this-is-the-best-muffin-ever, but actually pretty good considering it’s made completely out of flax meal and has just a tiny bit of sweetener. You can certainly junk it up by adding lots of sugar and more oil, but it’s really actually pretty good just like this. I like that the flax has so much fiber and the egg has a nice shot of protein so if I eat this along with my morning coffee I’m pretty sustained until lunch time.

have a great day, and enjoy your muffin!


day 44 & 45–Valentine’s Day and President’s Day

February 13, 2010 by · 2 Comments 

44 & 45

It’s finally the weekend! I’ve had the longest short week in the history of the world. The kids were home Thursday and Friday, which was nice, but we packed SO VERY MUCH in the first three days of the week that I’m still catching up.

I’m sort of exhausted, actually.

But! I’m on TV today at 8:45 or so am on a local channel. It’ll be a fun experience, but because of it I’ve needed to cook two extra things in crockpots (creme brulee and pomegranate beef), find clothes that actually fit (I’m going to wear a maternity top, but somehow my regular jeans fit? beyond weird.), and squeeze in a visit to the nail place. I didn’t get a hair cut, which means my last hair cut was in October. shh. don’t tell anyone.

and this site was down, which was kind of frustrating.

Thank you for all of the sweet emails—I think it’s back to normal now.

The last time I remember Valentine’s Day being the same time as President’s Day weekend was in 1997. or was it 98? I’m not really sure, but I do know that it was the first and only time I’ve gone skiing.  It was fun, but I don’t see me doing it again any time soon. I think I’d rather sit in a cozy place with a good book.

anyhow, This Weekend:

have a wonderful Valentine’s Day!

keep up with the Daily 7 as much as you can so it isn’t a rude awakening on Tuesday morning

have the kids help out around the house, moreso than usual. They are home, and therefore and making more messes. Put them to work!

yesterday: V-Day prep

Super Soft Gluten Free Sugar Cookies

September 10, 2009 by · 18 Comments 

You know those super soft bakery cookies they sell in the supermarket that are covered in frosting? The orange ones come out for Halloween, and the pink for Valentine’s Day. I wanted them. I needed them. But they had to be gluten free, and the only sugar cookies I’ve made gluten free sort of resembled (and tasted) like hockey pucks. These cookies don’t. I put in tons of butter, but baked them at a pretty high heat to keep the cookies from spreading all over the place. We all absolutely loved them, and these will now be my new go-to cookie when I need to make something to bring to the PTA bake sales that we can eat.

Yup. I bake and then buy my own baked goods. Other people do that, too, right?

The Ingredients.


3 cups gluten free flour mix (I used Pamela’s Baking Mix)

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

2 teaspoons cream of tartar

1 cup room temperature butter

1 cup white sugar

3 room temperature eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla

parchment paper

The Directions.

Sift flour mixture with baking powder, baking soda, and cream of tartar. Set aside.  In a separate bowl, mix together on a low speed with a hand or stand mixer the butter, eggs, vanilla, and sugar. Slowly add in the flour mixture until evenly incorporated.  Refrigerate the dough for about an hour, or until it is easy to handle. Preheat oven to 400 degrees, and line cookie sheets with parchment paper.

Roll small balls of dough, and place onto cookie sheet, giving ample room for spreading. I was only able to get about 6 on some of my cookie sheets. With your finger, depress each dough ball a bit in the very center. This will help the edges to stay fluffy, and not just the middle of the cookie.

Bake in a 400 degree oven for 6-8 minutes, or until the very tops of the cookies have begun to turn golden. Remove from oven, and slide the entire sheet of parchment onto the kitchen counter to let the cookies fully set. When cool, frost with your favorite frosting and add sprinkles, if desired.

The Verdict.

These are very soft cookies—the softest gluten free cookies I’ve ever been able to achieve. I overcooked the first batch (10 minutes was too long, oops!) and even the burnt ones retained their soft chew. I haven’t tried to roll them out to make shapes, but my gut feeling is that it won’t work. It’s super tricky to roll out GF dough, and since there’s so much butter in here, I think the shapes would melt into a blob. Although I haven’t tried it, I think the dough would freeze quite nicely. I’d guess you could get 3 dozen out of a batch, maybe more, depending on cookie size and how much dough you eat.

ps: I’m so sorry that the site has been acting wonky and those who visit through a reader were getting multiple posts. The site was apparently hacked, but Jennette is working on it, and that shouldn’t happen anymore.  The comment section still looks a bit funky, but we’ll figure it out. Thanks so much for your patience.

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