Category Archives: Misc.

Food Photography Tips: Part 4

Food Photography Tips: Part 4 |

Welcome to Part 4 of my series Food Photography Tips! (Click here to read Part 1Part 2 and Part 3.)

I’m on a mission to help beginners make their food photos look better, so we’re going to jump right in with some info about basic editing techniques.

I’ll be covering the basics of editing in this post, plus showing you a complete editing workflow example from start to finish.

Food Photography Tips: Editing

A lot can be done to improve your photos with the right editing tweaks. On the other hand, it’s also easy to really overdo it and make food look pretty unnatural. With that in mind, I’m going to share editing basics with you so you can start to enhance your food photography.

Editing Software

Let’s start with editing software. There are tons of programs, sites and software you can use to edit your photos. Keep in mind that free versions are usually more restricted in what you can do, whether it’s with adjustments, export options, file organization and more.

(I use a Mac so all my recommendations are specific to Mac-friendly programs. Sorry, PC dudes and dudettes.)

At the most basic, you can use a program like Preview to view and make some simple edits like exposure, contrast and saturation on your photos. You can also use iPhoto to do similar.

For web-based programs, options like give you quite a bit of functionality.

Food Photography Tips: Part 4 |

For folks who are more serious about taking things to the next level, you have options.

Aperture (for Mac) was my go-to program until a few months ago because its library system, dashboard, and controls were very similar to iPhoto.

Food Photography Tips: Part 4 |

It was a natural transition for that reason, but unfortunately, Apple is no longer supporting Aperture via new updates. I decided it was time to jump ship to a new program for that reason.

Many folks I know use Photoshop for the bulk of their food photography editing, and it can do amazing things. I tend to find Adobe products not quite as intuitive so it took a while to get used to it, and I’m only barely scratching the surface of its potential.

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The main downfall of Photoshop is its lack of filing or library system to organize your pictures. I use Photoshop for certain tasks, though more for designing graphics.

I made the switch to Lightroom a couple months back after a few failed attempts at converting. My main struggle was in understanding the library system that Lightroom utilizes—because it’s so different from Aperture—so I actually did a couple online tutorials from to learn more about it.

Food Photography Tips: Part 4 |

Turns out, after a short adjustment period, I really love Lightroom!

Basic Editing Adjustments

Let’s talk adjustments. While there are dozens you can make to your photos, I’m highlighting some of the most basic here. We can break it down simply into a few main categories: adjustments related to light and dark, color, and other interesting features like sharpness. Again, these are just some of the most fundamental.

Light and Dark

How can you adjust the lightness or darkness of an image? First is exposure, the overall amount of light in the photo. Cranking the exposure up will eventually make it too bright or “blown out.” Dialing it down makes it really dark. While higher or lower than normal exposure can lead to dramatic effects in photography, with food it generally looks bad; either the food is too shiny or you can’t see it.

Next, you can adjust highlights and shadows. Highlights take the brightest parts of your image, say, the reflection of a window on an apple and make it even brighter or conversely, dull those lightest parts down.

Shadows deal with the darkest parts of a picture. By adjusting the shadows up or down, you can make them more or less intense. I find that most of my photos need a bit of shadow lifted off simply because of how I shoot and prefer the light to hit my subjects (from the side). Sometimes, minor adjustments in highlights and shadows are all that’s needed to make the photo pop.

Lastly, trying playing around with contrast. It’s going to accentuate the difference between darks and lights in your photo—and also intensify or dull the colors—and make it more dramatic. Sometimes I’ll adjust the contrast once I’m happy with the exposure, highlights, shadows and white balance. It’s personal preference, but I like a bit more contrast in my photos because it adds visual interest without making the photo look unnatural.


Perhaps the single fastest way to correct a photo—or to make it look weird—is by adjusting the white balance. Essentially white balance is composed of two color ranges: blue to yellow (warmth), and green to pink (tint). The goal with most food photos should be an image that looks like it was shot in white light—not too yellow or blue and with a normal amount of tint. Remember to keep lamps and other light sources (unless it’s a dedicated photography light) off while you’re shooting since the tendency is for those to throw a yellow cast on to your food.

Even the most well-intentioned photographer can end up with photos that need white balancing because, for example, darker or cloudy mornings (particularly in the winter) can lead to blue casts on the food. Sometimes weather or outdoor conditions need to be accounted for.

It can be tricky to adjust white balance, but most advanced programs have pretty good auto balance features or pickers / samplers that let you pick a neutral point in your photo to set the white balance from. Think of them like a frame of reference where you tell the computer, “This is supposed to be neutral white or grey,” and it adjusts the warmth and tint for you. I like to sneak in something white or grey into my photos for that reason. Even something as simple as a basic white sack cloth can help you balance the color later.

Once you’ve adjusted the white balance, consider other color adjustments like saturation and vibrance. Caution: These are very potent features! A little goes a long way. Saturation is how concentrated the colors in a photo are. Turn it up all the way and you’ll see how garish the colors gets. If you turn it down all the way, you’ll end up with a black and white photo.

Since it’s easy to overdo saturation, I prefer to avoid it in most cases and use vibrance instead. It take just the weakest colors of a photo and bumps them up. Again, use caution because it’s still easy to overdo it and end up with something that looks like abstract art and not realistic-looking food.

Other Interesting Edits

Fixing blemishes in your photo is possible in most advanced editing programs such as Photoshop (PS) and Lightroom (LR). This is one place where I think PS excels over LR and has better functionality and spot matching.

I really try to make my photos as clean as possible before editing because, while these blemish tools can do amazing things, when you start trying to fix large areas of the photo, things can get weird fast.

With that in mind, get into the habit of wiping plate / bowl rims, dusting off your table or backdrops, looking for pet hair, etc. There’s a difference between adding crumbs to a photo on purpose or spilling some salt artfully on the table and having poorly plated food. A little neatness goes a long way later on.

Other helpful basic adjustments are things like sharpness or clarity. Again, treat these tools gingerly. Too much sharpness can make food look piece-y or artificial against its background. Sometimes too much luminance (an adjustment in LR) makes food look too soft.

One more thing to keep in mind: Most editing programs have auto functions and while I’ve found they can be quite good, sometimes the software doesn’t get it right. Be sure to always check your auto-edited photos before you post them, and remember to turn off screen darkening programs—like f.lux—and adjust the brightness of your display before you begin editing.

How I Edit My Photos: A Sample Workflow

Here’s a basic workflow I use on much of my photography. Individual photos may vary, but I try to keep things as simple as possible by using good light to begin with.

(Note: Click on the screenshots of my LR dashboard to enlarge them. I normally don’t set my blog photos up this way, but I want you to be able to see the details.)

Once I import my photos to LR, I quickly scan through and flag which ones I want to edit. (Hint: Hit the P key to flag your top picks).

Here’s a shoot I did recently for my Cabbage with Apple & Onion recipe. The original was really, really bad. (Like, really.) Taken at night with my old Canon Elph point & shoot, too close with yellow lighting and obviously, the styling was seriously lacking.

Screen Shot 2015-03-05 at 4.59.11 PM

I cooked it up again and styled it simply, but in a much more pleasing way. I took advantage of bright early afternoon, indirect light and added some burlap and my favorite kitchen towel (click here to see where I get props) for texture.

I kept the plating basic—just using the skillet I cooked it in—and put it all on top of my Erickson Woodworks reclaimed barn wood background for a rustic feel. Lastly, I blocked some light from the left to add a bit of shadowing using my trusty black foam board.

I’m using a Nikon D610 DSLR camera body. My lens choice here was the Nikkor 50mm f / 1.4 that I just picked up on sale. It’s way more pricey than my budget 50mm f / 1.8 (I used that for my whole cookbook), but it was time to upgrade.

Cabbage with Apple & Onion Recipe |

Okay, so after importing to LR, this is what I’m seeing in the Develop pane. It’s already shaping up to be much better, but this photo could use some tweaks.

First, I notice that the tint is a bit pink which I’d like to change. I also want to straighten the photo to make those barn wood planks vertical. Looks like it could use a bit of adjustment with exposure and contrast. And, I’d like to correct a couple blemishes.

Food Photography Tips: Part 4 |

Today I decided to straighten this photo first. To do that I click on the Crop & Straighten tool. It looks like a box with dotted lines. From there, I slide the Angle adjustment until the planks look vertical.

Food Photography Tips: Part 4 |

That should do it. Then, I click done.

Food Photography Tips: Part 4 |

Next, I’m going to tackle the white balance.

Shooting in RAW gives me far more options for adjusting white balance than shooting in JPEG. If you’re a novice, JPEG can work just fine, but I recommend getting comfy with RAW by practicing. (Note: RAW files are much larger than JPEGs so you’ll need an external or cloud-based storage system if you do a lot of photography in RAW.)

I’m in the Basic editing pane now, right at the top. Note the range of options LR gives me for editing the white balance because I shot this in RAW.

Food Photography Tips: Part 4 |

Sometimes, the Auto white balance looks just fine. Other times, it looks off.

You can help things along by using a white or grey object in your photo, then using the dropper / picker tool to click on a target neutral to set the white balance.

Note the Temp (blue to yellow) and Tint (green to pink) of the original. It’s a bit cool (blue) and pink for my liking.

Food Photography Tips: Part 4 |

When I try to that in this photo, I’m having a hard time finding RGB values that are very close to each other. So, I resorted to Auto, and it looks good to me. Slightly warmer and less pink.

Note the Temp value warmed up to 4050K and the Tint dropped down from +26 to +18 (less pink). I’m happy with how this looks, so I move on to adjusting other Tone settings.

Food Photography Tips: Part 4 |

If you’re new to editing, the Auto function under Tone can do a pretty good job. I find it tends to overexpose photos, so if I’m in a rush, I sometimes hit Auto, then drop the exposure back down a bit.

Here’s what happens when I hit Auto Tone. Looks pretty good. Note how the adjustments changed, including highlights, shadows, whites and blacks.

Food Photography Tips: Part 4 |

If I’m in less of a rush, I tend to adjust Tone manually, starting with exposure, then changing things like contrast and lifting shadows. Use these tools conservatively or you’ll end up with photos that look pretty freaky.

Compare the values I adjusted to what Auto did. Notice how mine are a bit more conservative.

Food Photography Tips: Part 4 |

I’m happy with my adjustments so I’m moving on to spot correction.

Now, this is a bit picky, but there are a couple spots I want to correct out of preference. When I’m editing for a cookbook, I’m way more detail-oriented than when I’m editing for the blog.

See where the arrow is pointing? I want to get rid of that bit of cabbage.

So, I click on the Brush tool (round circle with an arrow), and click on Heal. I adjust the size of the circle until it matches the size of that cabbage crumb.

Food Photography Tips: Part 4 |

Then, I hover over the blemish and click. LR picks an area of the photo to heal. I can move that around to get a perfect match.

Food Photography Tips: Part 4 |

I lift a couple other spots off the skillet handle, then click done.

Food Photography Tips: Part 4 |

This is almost ready to export, but I want to check all my changes. There are a few options here.

Use the shortcut by pressing \ on your keyboard, and it’ll toggle between a full-screen view of before and after.

Or, you can toggle between a few different split screen views of the before / after by clicking down at the bottom of the pane next to the full screen image icon.

Food Photography Tips: Part 4 |

Food Photography Tips: Part 4 |

My last step is to Export the image. I select the photo I want to export, then right click to bring up the options. (Or, use Export in the nav bar.) I use some different pre-sets most of the time, such as export file type and size, especially if I’m batch exporting for use on my blog and the photos can be the same.

Food Photography Tips: Part 4 |

Then, I add a watermark (using Photobulk or Photoshop) or text overlay (using Photoshop or for a free option, PicMonkey), and I’m done.

Here’s the finished image as it appears on the blog.

Cabbage with Apple & Onion Recipe |

I know it sounds like a lot of steps, but once you develop a workflow that works for you (and you practice enough), you’ll get really efficient.

To sum it up, most food photos are best when the it still looks natural. Personal style and artistic touches are certainly part of food photography so experiment to see what you like, but keep in mind that some basics still apply.

Click below for the other parts of this series.

Food Photography Tips—Part 1 |
Food Photography Tips—Part 2
Food Photography Tips: Part 3 |

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Stupid-Easy Beekeeping: Part 1

Steph’s Note: Today’s post is from the lovely Diana Rodgers, author of the soon-to-be-released gorgeous book, The Homegrown Paleo Cookbook: Over 100 Delicious, Gluten-Free, Farm-to-Table Recipes, and a Complete Guide to Growing Your Own Healthy Food. Diana pitched me the idea of raising bees, and my answer was a resounding yes. I’m a nature-lover at heart and this fits within the confines of not having enough space to keep any other typical backyard critters. I’ll be updating you on my adventures as I go along! I’ve already purchased my hive components, ordered my bees, and taken some classes from local experts. Stay tuned for Part 2!

Stupid-Easy Beekeeping |

I love finding out that my Paleo friends are into homesteading-type hobbies, like that one time Steph mentioned on my Instagram feed that she really wanted to keep bees. You just never know who loves to get their hands dirty!

So when I included a chapter on beekeeping in my new book, The Homegrown Paleo Cookbook, which is all about connecting with our food, I thought about Steph and wondered if she’d be interested in getting her very own colony and then telling me about her experiences.

I sent her a text and got an immediate and excited reply that yes, she was very, very interested. I sent her a digital copy of the book so she could read the chapter on beekeeping (the book lands at stores in March) and suggested she check out the San Diego Beekeepers Association, which has some great links to local beekeeping resources, including a beekeeping supply store right in San Diegolocal place to get a new colony of bees, and lots of online tutorials. How cool is that?!

I’m getting Steph all set up with a hive, bees, and all the gear so that she can have her very own backyard beehive. Not only is honey a delicious and healthy sweetener, but because of pesticides and mosquito spraying, bee populations across the country are in danger, and we need more beekeepers!

If you’d like to join Steph in becoming a backyard beekeeper, read on for an excerpt from The Homegrown Paleo Cookbook. Before you buy any bees or equipment, make sure you have any licenses your town requires, and chat with your neighbors first to tell them about your plans to keep bees. Check out the book for more on beekeeping, such as how to harvest honey and common issues beekeepers face.

Bees FAQs

How far do bees fly? Bees forage in a two- to three-mile radius from the hive.

How many hives should I get? Start with two. There will be losses every year, and having two increases the chance of at least one hive making it through the winter. Also, if one hive is low on honey, the second can help make up the deficiency.

How much honey will I get? You can get up to about 100 pounds of honey from one hive, not including what you need to leave for the bees, but in the first year it’s likely to be less.

How often do beekeepers get stung? Every hive has its own personality; some are more passive or aggressive than others. The hive’s aggressiveness also depends on the weather and the state of the hive. If a hive is healthy, it’s a sunny day, and the bees are busy foraging, then the beekeeper may not need any protection from stings at all.

Do bees really die after stinging someone? Yes, if a worker bee stings you, it will die shortly after. A queen bee may survive after stinging, but it’s extremely uncommon to be stung by a queen.

Ordering the Bees

There are several types of bees, all with different characteristics. If you’re new to beekeeping, I suggest starting with Italian, Carolina, or Russian bees. They are all gentle, productive, and hearty.

Just like chicks, bees arrive in the mail. (Steph’s note: I ordered some that I’m picking up locally.) Place your order in January so that you’ll have them by the time you’re ready to start the hive in the spring.

Your initial order of bees will be about 3 pounds, or 15,000 bees, which is just right for a new hive, and will come in a package that’s about the size of a large shoe box. Be sure to order a marked queen—the dot on her back will help you easily identify her when you check on your hive.

There are many online bee suppliers, but I’ve found that the best way to find one is to ask at your local bee club, which probably has a “new beekeeper” program. Let your post office know that you’re expecting a package of bees about a week before they’re due to arrive, and give them your phone number so that they can call you to pick them up. Make sure you have your hive fully put together before you get the call from the post office.

Stupid-Easy Beekeeping |

The Equipment

The most important piece of equipment, of course, is the hive. I suggest you start with the most common beehive, the ten-frame Langstroth, which sort of looks like a chest of drawers. You can put it together yourself or buy it preassembled. Look for the higher-quality wood versions instead of the ones made from plastic or other materials; they’re built better and will last longer.

Stupid-Easy Beekeeping |

A hive is made of the following parts:

  • Screened bottom board: The bottom board is the floor of the beehive. A screened bottom board, rather than a standard one, helps control mites: When the mites fall off the bees, they can’t crawl back up into the hive.
  • Deep hive bodies: Each contains ten frames of honeycomb. The lower deep is the nursery and the upper deep, which is added later, is the food chamber, where the bees store honey and pollen. Inside the hive bodies sit frames.
  • Frames: The bees build their comb onto the frames, which usually come with a sheet of beeswax foundation to help the bees build uniform honeycomb. Despite the name, beeswax foundation is also available in plastic. Bees are slow to accept a plastic foundation, though, so if you really want uniform comb, use natural beeswax instead. But bees will also create their own beautiful honeycomb without foundation, and the process supports a healthier, stronger hive, so consider buying frames without it.
  • Honey super: This looks like a shallower version of the deep hive bodies and is where the bees store surplus honey. You won’t need it at first; add it to the hive around the end of the second month. You can purchase medium or shallow supers, but keep their weight in mind: when full of honey, a medium super weighs about 50 pounds and a shallow super weighs about 40 pounds. As the bees produce more and more honey, you can add more and more supers to the hive, stacking them on top like Legos.
  • Inner cover: This cover sits directly on top of the super and has a ventilation notch on the front. It’s optional, but it can help insulate the hive.
  • Outer cover: This sits on the inner cover. It is often reinforced with galvanized steel, which protects it from the elements.

You’ll also need to have some other equipment on hand before your bees arrive:

  • Entrance reducer: This is placed between the bottom board and the lower hive body to limit movement in and out of the hive and control hive temperature and ventilation. It can also help bees defend against yellow jackets and robbing bees, since it reduces the size of the entrance. Use the entrance reducer in a new hive and during cold months, to keep the hive warm while allowing bees to come and go. Once the hive is established and when the weather is warm, you can remove it.
  • Queen excluder: Used only during the honey season, this keeps the queen from laying eggs in the honey super.
  • Hive-top feeder: This small box sits directly on top of the upper hive body, under the outer cover—no inner cover is used with a hive-top feeder. Adding sugar syrup to the feeder is an easy way to keep your bees fed.Stupid-Easy Beekeeping |
  • Smoker: Produces cool smoke that helps calm the bees, so it’s easier for you to inspect the hive.
  • Bee brush: It’s optional, but this can help you gently brush bees off the hive in order to access the frames.Stupid-Easy Beekeeping |
  • Hive tool: Use this tool to scrape beeswax off the hive and loosen the parts of the hive, so they’re easier to pry apart.Stupid-Easy Beekeeping |
  • Protective gear: At the minimum, you’ll need a veil and protective gloves. You won’t need the gloves early in the season, though; they’re primarily for honey harvesting, and without them it’s easier to be gentle with the bees. Coveralls are optional and range in price and thickness. If you opt not to wear coveralls, make sure you wear light-colored clothing and tuck it in, so bees don’t crawl inside.

After you purchase your hive and equipment, you’ll need to know how to introduce the bees to their hive, how to check on the hive and what to look for, and how to feed the bees before they are producing their own honey—it’s all covered in The Homegrown Paleo Cookbook.

Even if you’re not in a position to raise your own bees right now, learning about them is fascinating. I’m so excited that Steph is on the path to becoming a beekeeper, and I can’t wait to hear about her experiences.

Questions? Leave them in the comments below!

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Stupid-Easy Beekeeping |


Photographs courtesy of Diana Rodgers.


How to Clean a Cast Iron Skillet

How To Clean a Cast Iron Skillet |

Today I’m sharing with you the easiest tips for how to clean a cast iron skillet.

If you follow me on Instagram, you know I love my cast iron cookware. It’s versatile, cleans up easily, and goes from stovetop to oven seamlessly. There’s something magical about the delectably brown, seared crust you can get on a steak from a cast iron skillet. I don’t use it to cook everything, but it’s in regular rotation in my kitchen.

How To Clean a Cast Iron Skillet |

Cast iron isn’t perfect though (for example, it tends to heat very unevenly), and figuring out how to clean a cast iron skillet can make even the most brave kitchen warriors a little uneasy. There’s definitely a list of dos and don’ts, but luckily you’ll master the basics quickly.

A well-seasoned cast iron skillet will act almost like a non-stick surface. It’s not going to be slippy-slidey like Teflon, but food should stick minimally and the pan should clean up with some warm water and a little scrub from the rough side of a sponge.

The more you use your cast iron and the more you pay attention to some very basic maintenance, the better it’ll do. If you skillet loses its seasoning because you’ve cleaned it with soap, it’s rusty, or food is just sticking a lot more than usual, it’s probably time to re-season it.

Lodge, known for its cast iron which is made the in the USA, has instructions for how to re-season cast iron on its site. I like to season my cast iron in the oven using Lodge’s instructions when I first get it home anyway.

If you’re looking to get started, I really love this 5-piece Lodge set and you can often find it on sale on Amazon, or check your local Target or Ace Hardware.

How To Clean a Cast Iron Skillet | How To Clean a Cast Iron Skillet |

[Note: Lately when I’ve shared photos of Lodge cast iron, I’ve gotten pushback because the company does use GMO soybean oil to season its skillets in-factory. Here’s how I look at it: Am I stoked they use it? Not terribly. But if I suggest buying from a company that doesn’t use soybean oil but the cookware is made overseas, I am scolded for not supporting Made in USA products. If I suggest Made in USA cookware, I’m scolded because of the soybean oil issue. My solution: If you buy Lodge and the soybean issue bothers you that much or there’s a soy allergy involved, remove the seasoning and re-do it with your oil of choice. Directions for that can be found on The Google. Even if you buy vintage cast iron from an antique or thrift shop, you don’t know what kind of oil was used in it before you, so you may want to re-season. Of course, you could always buy foreign-made if the soybean oil issue is that bothersome, but do you really know what oil was used by those manufacturers anyway? My opinion on it: Buy domestic, season it again when you get it home, and move on with your life. Don’t over-analyze to the point it makes you crazy.]

But what if you’re just wondering how to clean a cast iron skillet from normal use? Don’t be intimidated! Follow these steps.

1) Wipe out any excess fat.

2) Use warm / hot water and a dish brush or the rough side of a sponge to loosen any stuck on bits. Alternatively, you can deglaze your skillet if you’ve used it to cook meat that’s left brown bits (called fond) in the bottom and either use that liquid as the base of a sauce or just toss it out.

3) If you have really stubborn, stuck on bits, add a bit of kosher salt as a mild abrasive. You can use a mild soap, too, but be sure to follow step 4. If you use harsh soap, abrasives or the dishwasher, you’ll strip the pan of its seasoning.

How To Clean a Cast Iron Skillet | How To Clean a Cast Iron Skillet |

4) Immediately wipe your pan dry to prevent rusting, and add a small amount of oil to preserve the seasoning. The more saturated the fat—think coconut oil or lard—the less likely it’ll be to oxidize. It’ll be ready to go for the next time you want to use it.

How To Clean a Cast Iron Skillet | How To Clean a Cast Iron Skillet | How To Clean a Cast Iron Skillet | How To Clean a Cast Iron Skillet |

Click below to watch my video about how to clean a cast iron skillet!

That’s it! Now you know how to clean a cast iron skillet!

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How To Clean a Cast Iron Skillet |

Here’s How Self-Talk Can Kill Your Mojo

Here's How Self-Talk Can Kill Your Mojo |

The power of words can’t be denied.

Whether you speak, write, or think them, they can motivate you to new heights or make you feel like the biggest loser on the planet.

And yes, actions can speak pretty loudly, but when you’ve got all sorts of crazy self-talk rattling around in your brain, it can kill your mojo faster than a New York minute.

I’m talking the chatter in your head about everything from what you eat (pretty relevant since you’re reading this on a food blog) to how you look to the thoughts that cross your own mind on the daily.

“I should really stop eating so much crap.”

“I should really tone up these flabby triceps.”

“I should really stop being so short with my sister.”

I should, I should, I should. Or what’s even tougher: I can’t, I can’t, I can’t.

And while, some of these things might be valid, it’s my argument that they way you think about them has a powerful influence on the outcome.

Even if nobody hears you ever utter this kind of negative self-talk, it’s killing your swerve. I mean, have you ever just wanted that voice in your head to shut up for just a minute?! (If you’re like me, then yes. Maybe several times a day.)

Example: I used to race bikes. Downhill bikes. Full face helmet, maximum throttle, adrenalin-pumping downhill bikes. Every time I went into a tricky, bouldery section and thought, “I’m gonna crash,” you know what happened right? I started focusing on all the things I wanted to avoid and…splat!

Thoughts became actions. And while actions are powerful, sometimes we’re blocking ourselves from the outcomes we want to see happen simply because of how we think. (Did that just reverberate in you a bit?)

Our words and thoughts manifest into actions.

Here’s another example: I came to a critical juncture when I wanted to leave my old job and concentrate on Stupid Easy Paleo full-time. I kept thinking, “Everyone will think I’m nuts to leave a secure job. What am I trying to prove? I’ll probably fail spectacularly, Hindenburg-style.”

For a long time, it prevented me from taking action on what I wanted: to do THIS. To teach about nutrition and make yummy recipes and reach out to you with the help you need when you need it.

Finally, someone very special I met through B-School, a coach-turned-friend Allegra, helped me get out of that feedback loop of “negative thoughts beget inaction” and smacked me silly. (Okay, that’s hyperbole. She helped me think it through and get back on track.)

And here I am.

If you’re like I was and want to figure out how to make your passion into a career but you’re feeling stuck, check out these absolutely-free training videos about B-School. I’m not kidding when I say that it gave me the tools to follow my dreams…and brought people like Allegra into my life.

(And if you’re struggling financially, there will be B-School scholarships available so sign up so you get details on that.)

So, my challenge for you today: Remember the power of words. Talk to yourself like you would a trusted friend. There’s a time for firmness, but always a need for kindness.

xo Steph

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Here's How Self-Talk Can Kill Your Mojo |

Tell me: What questions about mindset can I answer for you?

p.s. If you decide to sign up for B-School and do so through my site or links, I’m giving you an exclusive bonus package of mentoring and awesome goodies because I want you to succeed T H A T much. xo

p.p.s. I did B-School in 2013, and it changed my life. I believe in the program 1 billion percent and in what it can do for you. I’m a B-School affiliate partner, and may earn a referral fee if you sign up for the program using my links. See that chick at the top of the sidebar? That’s Marie. She created the program that so impacted me.

p.p.p.s. This is part two in a 3-part series about turning your passion into a career. Click here to read part one and here to read part two. While you may be here just for the recipes (totally cool!), there’s a chance you might have your own blog, want to be a nutritionist / health coach, have aspirations of owning your own personal training business, or just need some extra motivation in life. I’d love to connect with you more about that!

Ch-ch-changes…To the Site

Stupid Easy Paleo Site Changes |

Wanted to update you about some of the changes you may have noticed happening here on the Stupid Easy Paleo site!

When you spend half a year writing and photographing a cookbook, things can get a little crazy in your online “room.” Dust bunnies accumulate under the bed and clothes pile up, but there’s no mom to scold you. Over the past few months, with so much going on, a lot of “virtual dust bunnies” started to pile up. I spent the time I did have posting new recipes and articles and not so much on maintaining the site.

But now, I’m cleaning house, doing some much needed organization, and implementing some improvements to make your Stupid Easy Paleo viewing experience as awesomeazing as possible.

Let me show you some of what’s new!

Home Page

Stupid Easy Paleo Site Changes |

1) You may have noticed the “new” logo is finally on the home page! Now, this awesome streamlined logo (created by Yes Design Shop) is front and center. Look for some more changes coming to the header soon.

2) The biggest change is probably to the menu. I realized there were too many things to choose from; quite the opposite of keeping it stupid-easy. Look for changes in the Books and About options, coming soon.

3) We’ve (by the way, when I say “we,” I mean my husband and I; he’s an Apple Genius by day, all-around website badass by night) continued to implement the new site fonts and colors. You’ll notice hyperlinks are now a cool cyan color…much easier on the eyes than red.

4) If you haven’t checked out the video trailer for The Performance Paleo Cookbook yet, it’s nestled at the top of the sidebar.

New to Paleo Page

Here, I got rid of the drop-down menu of Start Here and instead combined this great newbie information all on one page. Those logos are clickable (not here in this post though…they’re just screen captures) and will take you right to the pages with the resources you’re looking for.

Stupid Easy Paleo Site Changes |

Resources Page

I combined the old Articles menu choice into Resources for one consolidated list of informational posts, free guides and other goodies.

Stupid Easy Paleo Site Changes |

I combined the old Articles menu choice into Resources for one consolidated list of informational posts, free guides and other goodies.

Other Stuff

We’re working on improving several aspects of posts, such as getting all the recipes into the Easy Recipe format. This will help you print it more efficiently and make everything look uniform. With almost 400 recipes, you can imagine it’s taking a while to retrofit all the old content.

I want to quickly mention mobile vs. desktop vs. tablet displays. We’ve tested the design of this site on basically every browser that exists—even Opera!—and have worked to make it user-friendly for everyone. We’ve also run the site through cell phones, laptops and desktops to make sure everything displays correctly.

That being said, sometimes there are snafus we don’t know about. It’s the Internet after all, and weird stuff pops up that we didn’t anticipate. If you ever notice something not working, would you do me a favor? First, update your browser. If that doesn’t fix the problem, shoot me a message through the contact form, not on social media. Take a screenshot of the issue and when I reply, have it ready to attach. Our devices all display the site correctly so unless we can see the problem you’re seeing, it’s hard to know how to fix it…and we’re all about solutions. Thumbs up!

We’re also working on improving the Shop experience, too.

Do you have any suggestions for improvement? Shoot them over to me in the comments below!

Performance Paleo Book Tour: Part 1 Recap

Performance Paleo Book Tour: Part 1 Recap |

The first leg of the Performance Paleo Cookbook book tour wrapped up on Sunday, and it was an amazing experience! (Another cool thing: The cookbook was ranked in the Top 100 Adult Non-Fiction books during its first week!

Ciarra from Popular Paleo—she wrote The Frugal Paleo Cookbook—and I hit the road on January 8 for the first half of our tour. In all eight cities, we chatted about our books and how to use them, and met the most wonderful people. It was really a whirlwind: We had only a day (or less!) in each city, so there wasn’t much time to sightsee, though we did hit up a couple key spots along the way.

We also left signed copies of Performance Paleo and Frugal Paleo in each store we visited, so if you weren’t able to make it out to the events, you still may be able to snag an autographed one if you act fast. (Check below for specific store links / locations.)

The best part of the book tour was meeting you. So much of this job requires sitting behind a computer screen and chatting to you over social media. And while that keeps us connected, it’s nothing like seeing your faces and hearing your stories. Stories about how Paleo has fueled your sport; helped you reverse your diabetes; restored your weight to healthy levels; and given you a new lease on life.

I walked away from each event newly inspired by you. Thank you.

We started with an enthusiastic crowd in Seattle at the Barnes & Noble—Northgate.

Performance Paleo Book Tour: Part 1 Recap |

We stopped next in Portland. Here, we got the star treatment with a fantastic Paleo dinner at Departure, and had a sold out, standing-room-only signing at the Cultured Caveman restaurant!

Performance Paleo Book Tour: Part 1 Recap |

Next it was on to San Francisco for a signing at Book Passage in the Ferry Building, along with friends like Fat Face Skincare, ZenbellyLiving Loving Paleo and Yes Design Shop stopping by.

Performance Paleo Book Tour: Part 1 Recap |

We rounded out our first weekend with a stop in Salt Lake City where we visited our friends Whole30 and signed books at the Barnes & Noble—Sugarhouse.

Performance Paleo Book Tour: Part 1 Recap |


On a side note, we had amazing support from some of our favorite companies to keep us fueled up and happy during our journey. We had snacks from Barefoot Provisions, Epic Bar and RxBar; handy fish oil and vitamin D packets from PurePharma; skincare solutions from Fat Face Skincare and essential oils from doTERRA. These are all brands we love, trust and personally use, so check them out!

Performance Paleo Book Tour: Part 1 Recap |

I flew back to SoCal for a few days and Ciarra went back to the PacNW, then we regrouped in Texas for our second weekend.

We started in Dallas where we signed books at Barnes & Noble—Lincoln Park, then made our way to Austin.

Performance Paleo Book Tour: Part 1 Recap |

No trip to ATX would be complete without a visit to our absolute favorite coffee spot, Picnik! A huge crowd greeted us at Barnes & Noble—Arboretum, and we had a quick dinner at 24 Diner with Fed+Fit. Super good!

Performance Paleo Book Tour: Part 1 Recap |

The next day we flew to sunny Phoenix, where we got to meet everyone—including my girl Weed ‘Em & Reap—at the Barnes & Noble—Desert Ridge.

Performance Paleo Book Tour: Part 1 Recap |

From there we traveled to my home city, San Diego. We had another sold out crowd at Barnes & Noble—Mira Mesa, and I finally got to see Paleo CupboardClean Eating With a Dirty Mind and meet friends like Da-Le Ranch and Just Love Your Guts in person for the first time. We rounded it out with a really special dinner at Sausage & Meat, complete with their Bacon Fat Deviled Eggs!

Performance Paleo Book Tour: Part 1 Recap |

If we didn’t come to your city yet, don’t fret. I’ll be hitting up Orange County, CA on my own soon. Ciarra and I will be back out on the road this spring in the Midwest and on the East Coast. We’re letting the weather get a bit better so we don’t miss any flights or potential connections. Stay tuned for dates! I’ll be posting them here on the blog and updating my Facebook page and Instagram as soon as I know more.

I can’t say it enough: Thank you for supporting this cookbook! It really means so much to me.

With love,


Which cities are you hoping we visit next? Leave them in the comments below!

Pin this!

Performance Paleo Book Tour: Part 1 Recap |

Food Photography Tips: Part 3

Food Photography Tips: Part 3 |

Welcome to Part 3 of my series on Food Photography Tips! (Click here to read Part 1Part 2 and Part 4.)

I’m on a mission to help beginners make their food photos look better, so we’re going to jump right in with some frequently asked questions. Part 4 will deal with basic editing techniques so stay tuned for that!

Food Photography Tips: FAQ 

Okay, I’m pretty new to all this, and I’m still kind of confused about how to use ISO, aperture, and shutter speed. Help!

There’s nothing worse than having to guess at camera settings. Sure, even basic cameras have automatic settings, but when you can learn to adjust them yourself, you open up a whole new world of possibilities. The thing about ISO, aperture, and shutter speed is that they must all be pretty balanced to get the shot.

Yes, editing software such as Photoshop, Aperture, and Lightroom can all help manipulate the final image. However, getting the best shot you can with the camera—then using editing software to make any final tweaks—is not only the best way to really practice, it’s the most efficient way to work.

Let’s look more closely at the hat-trick of settings commonly called “shooting in manual”: ISO, aperture and shutter speed.


ISO is a measure of your camera sensor’s sensitivity to light. The higher the ISO, the easier it is to get a properly exposed shot as light gets dimmer. Now, before you go max out the ISO on your camera, consider this: Higher ISO is generally associated with grainer shots, sometimes called noise.

Full-frame cameras (like my Nikon D610) with larger sensors are the most forgiving at higher ISO setting. Simply put, more sensor area means your camera can make the most of limited light. Higher ISO is also great for lower light situations and vice versa. The catch is that higher ISO settings often mean slower shutter speeds which can make hand-holding tricky.

On the other hand, crop-frame cameras (like my Nikon D3200) have smaller sensors and are therefore less sensitive to light. What does that mean? Generally, you’ll have to shoot with a lower ISO, say 100 or 200. If that’s the case, you may have to work a little harder to make sure your images are properly exposed, such as choosing a slower shutter and using a tripod. Lower ISO settings are also good for bright outdoor shots or action.

Let’s see what adjusting the ISO does since a visual may make the point for you.

Here I shot the same basket of onions from the same location at the same time of day. Note what happens as I adjust the ISO. These are all shot with the same aperture (f / 2.2) and shutter speed (1/400). Also, you can tell I didn’t use a tripod because the camera angle changes slightly, but I wasn’t trying to be super precise.

Food Photography Tips: Part 3 |

Note that as the ISO doubles, the resulting in the photo getting twice as light. Higher ISO = more sensitive to light which works well in this indoor shoot. Now, could I have adjusted the shutter speed to get away with the photo on the far left (ISO 125) being properly exposed? Yes. I’d have to slow the shutter speed down from 1/400 to say, 1/40 or 1/50. I’d likely need a tripod since the long shutter speed is more likely to result in blur.

Here’s something interesting to note:

Using my photo editing software, I was able to auto- and manually correct the exposure to something that look acceptable. Again, I’d rather rely on the program to make minor tweaks or account for unfortunate lighting when I have no choice, not shoot using trial and error, then hope the software can fix it. But, you have to do what you have to do.


In a nutshell, aperture (or f-stop) is how narrow or wide your lens opening is. Apertures come in a wide range and greatly affect the depth of field (or bokeh) a shot has. The best way to describe bokeh is that an object is in focus while the background of the shot is blurred…either a little or a lot.

Your options for aperture depend on the lens you’re using. For example, my old zoom lens had a range from f / 3.4 to f / 11. The Nifty Fifty lens I use most often starts at f / 1.8 and goes up from there. My 105mm macro lens starts at f / 3.

It can be confusing since the lower the aperture number the wider the lens, which means more light gets into the camera. Shooting on a low aperture is one way to make the most of lower light situations. It also results in more bokeh, which can be great for side-on shots but tricky for overhead shots where the objects are all different heights.

The higher the aperture number, the narrower the lens, resulting in less light entering the camera and less depth of field. There will be less depth of field and more of the frame will appear in focus. This works well for overhead shots, but in order to get proper exposure, the shutter speed generally has to slow down to make up for the smaller aperture letting less light into the camera. The solution is often to use a tripod for overhead shots with medium to high aperture numbers, especially if your conditions are a bit on the darker side.

These are all shot with the same ISO (1000) and shutter speed (1/400).

Food Photography Tips: Part 3 |

Be careful when using aperture. Using a very low aperture value can make it hard to focus on certain objects, especially round or cylindrical things like glasses. And too much bokeh can make it hard to tell what the food actually is!

Shutter Speed

The shutter is the handy dandy part of the camera that closes when you actually push the button to take the photo. Just like you can adjust ISO and aperture, you can also adjust shutter speed.

Shutter speed is generally displayed as a fraction like 1/10 or 1/400 or in whole numbers like 1″ or 2″. A fast shutter, such as 1/250, means the shutter takes 250th of a second to close. A slow shutter, like 1″, takes one second to close. Try playing around with just the shutter adjustment and actually listen. You can hear how fast or slow it closes.

These are are shot with the same ISO (1000) and aperture (f / 3.2). Notice how as the shutter speed slows, the images get brighter because more light hits the sensor. It also means the image is more subject as your hand moves. Using a tripod alleviates this problem quite a bit.

Food Photography Tips: Part 3 |

Generally, the darker the conditions, the slower the shutter needs to be to allow enough light into the camera to get the shot, and vice versa.

Lately, I’ve been shooting on aperature-priority mode, displayed as an A on your camera’s main adjustment wheel. This means I choose the aperture and the camera decides on the shutter speed.

Usually, I set the ISO ahead of time on that given day depending on the conditions or the job I’m doing. Then I pick the aperture I’d like to use and the camera figures out the shutter. In the image below, I had my ISO set to 1000, then picked f / 2.2 as the aperture. The camera chose a moderately fast shutter to accommodate for more light entering due to a wider aperture.

The image below is unretouched, and I think it’s a pretty good one in terms of overall balance: ISO 1000, f / 2.2, shutter 1/200.

Food Photography Tips: Part 3 |

 Do you use a tripod?

I have a tripod and use it about 20% of the time. I have a relatively small space to shoot in—on my dining room table or my couch—so a tripod usually gets in the way. I LOVE the freedom that hand-holding the camera gives me. Now, there are some benefits to tripods: It’s easier to create consistent shots in a series when you want to work at the same angle / position, and you’re less likely to end up with blurry shots or things that are out of focus.

If I’m working with low light—say, my aperture is on a more moderate setting and my shutter speed is slower…typically below 1/60 or so—I prefer the tripod because I don’t run as much risk of any hand movement blurring the image. Put another way, if low light forces me to run a slower shutter speed, I usually break out the tripod.

With all this taken under consideration, I tend to use a tripod if I absolutely have to, but I prefer to go without. A great tip is to hand-hold your camera to find the angle you want for a particular shot, then set up the tripod to duplicate it. (Bill Staley told me he’s been using that method lately, and it’s really smart.) Investing in a moderately priced tripod that will last is probably wise if you’re serious about improving your photography.

Here’s the tripod I have. It does pretty much everything I need it to, has many adjustments, and is lightweight.

What’s the difference between RAW and JPEG?

RAW and JPEG are two types of image formats that DSLRs can shoot in.

Think of RAW like a digital negative that’s not processed. It gives you, the “developer,” more options when you’re editing that image. RAW images are intended to capture the subject most closely to how it looks in real life. This all sounds great but just know that RAW files are very large and usually require some external storage device or they’ll fill up your hard drive. (You should be backing up to external- or cloud-based storage anyway, but it’s just something to note about RAW.)

JPEG is a common file format for images, but its downfall is that the image is compressed and doesn’t contain as much original data as a RAW file. Each time a JPEG is edited, the image quality degrades which is why it’s not really suitable for print projects. When you upload photos to a blog or social media site, there is usually some compression that occurs anyway. So, if you aren’t keen on printing, you can simplify the process a bit and work with smaller files if you shoot in JPEG.

Think of JPEG like making a photocopy. Each time you press the “copy” button, the resulting

When it comes to setting your camera to RAW or JPEG, it’s helpful to know what your goals are. If you have any inkling that your photographs will be used for print, you should probably be shooting in RAW.

Click below to skip to other parts in the series.

Food Photography Tips—Part 1 |
Food Photography Tips—Part 2
Food Photography Tips: Part 4 |

Questions about anything in this lesson? Leave them in the comments below!

Pin this for later!

Food Photography Tips: Part 3 |

Food Photography Tips: Part 3 |

Just In Time For the Holidays!

Just In Time For the Holidays |

Just in time for the holidays, our new batch of Stupid Easy Paleo goodies is here! If you’re looking for something fun for someone on your list—or you want to treat yourself—pick up something from the store!

Quantities and sizes are very limited, though, so if there’s something that piques your interest, I highly recommend ordering right away.

Everything is lovingly hand-packed and shipped by me, usually on the same day orders arrive (unless it’s a Sunday), so you’ll be sure to have your gift in hand before the holidays. Domestic shipping is free, and we even ship internationally, too. I’ve sent shirts to Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the UK just to name a few!

I don’t usually post apparel up as a blog post, but there were many people who said they missed the posts I made on social media back in October. I want to make sure that as many folks see it as possible!

Here are some of my favorites:

Metal Campfire Mugs

Stupid Easy Paleo Logo Enamelware Mug |

Trapzilla Sweatshirts (super-limited supplies)

Women's Trapzilla Sweatshirt |

Healthy Happy Harder to Kill Shirts (t-shirts and tanks…these are going fast!)

Women's HHHTK Tank Top |

Quadzilla Shirts (t-shirts and tanks)

Women's Quadzilla Tank Top |

Hangry Dish Towels

Hangry Flour Sack Towel |

And there are still a few Quadfather t-shirts left for the guys!

Men's Quadfather T-Shirt |

Every time an order comes in, it humbles me so much. I just sent a shirt to the Northwest Territories of Canada and one to Australia! I am so incredibly grateful for all the support you give me daily by reading the blog and chatting with me on social media. Without you, this site wouldn’t be here.

Much love,


Thai Culinary Adventure: Chiang Mai Cooking School

Steph’s note: This is the second installment in my recap of the Thai Culinary Adventure I took with Paleo Nick and 18 other fantastic friends. Read Part 1 here and Nick’s recap of our trip here.

When I last left you, our train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai was lumbering through the darkness of the Thai countryside. Daylight broke, and we were greeted with the sight of trees in every conceivable shade of green…

Thai Culinary Adventure—Chiang Mai Food & Markets |

Cat checking out the local sights as we stop to hook up another engine…

Thai Culinary Adventure—Chiang Mai Food & Markets |

Curious little dog…

Thai Culinary Adventure—Chiang Mai Food & Markets |

Jesse without his face behind the camera for once…

Thai Culinary Adventure—Chiang Mai Food & Markets |

Nick reciting his Thai numbers to this guy…

Thai Culinary Adventure—Chiang Mai Food & Markets |

Another couple hours, and we arrived in Chiang Mai (about 48 hours after starting out on our trip). In case you’re wondering if the train option is right for you, here’s my honest opinion: If you don’t mind being mildly uncomfortable for 14 hours, the lack of fancy toilets, the potential for bugs, or want to save some money…go for it. If you want to get to Chiang Mai as fast as possible or want only the best accommodations, take a flight instead.

Welcome to Chiang Mai…

Thai Culinary Adventure—Chiang Mai Food & Markets |

We lugged our bags out of the train, stuffed ourselves into two vans and drove to our home for the next week, the Eco Resort just east of the Menam Ping river. It’s walking distance to the old city square and the markets. I definitely recommend it! We settled in and took advantage of the free day to get some food and amble around.

Eco Resort loves you…

Thai Culinary Adventure—Chiang Mai Food & Markets | Thai Culinary Adventure—Chiang Mai Food & Markets |

Famished, some of us opted for lunch as soon as possible which turned out to be directly across the street from Eco Resort at a tiny, family-run restaurant called Inpoo Food Shop. We tucked into perfectly spiced red curry, silky Pad Thai, and other favorites while we recounted the long journey from Bangkok.

I heart this soda water…

Thai Culinary Adventure—Chiang Mai Food & Markets |

A soft-spoken Thai woman and her husband, Som and Payute, run the eatery and cook outside on three small propane stoves. They’re truly lovely with warm smiles and big hearts. We ate there several times over our trip, and Nick even arranged a special event there. (More on that in future installments.)

Som’s kitchen…

Thai Culinary Adventure—Chiang Mai Food & Markets |

That evening, we strolled the night bazaar and the following day was our visit to Chiang Mai Thai Cookery School. Chef Thanapon Punya picked us up and took our bunch to the Sam Yaek Market, where we got a lesson in Thai ingredients. Here are some of the sights from the market…

Thai Culinary Adventure—Chiang Mai Food & Markets |

Scrubbing coconut meat before it gets shredded…

Thai Culinary Adventure—Chiang Mai Food & Markets |

All the rice…

Thai Culinary Adventure—Chiang Mai Food & Markets |

Cutting rice noodles…

Thai Culinary Adventure—Chiang Mai Food & Markets |

Fresh veggies…

Thai Culinary Adventure—Chiang Mai Food & Markets |

Chef Thanapon quizzing us on Thai produce (we did okay)…

Thai Culinary Adventure—Chiang Mai Food & Markets |

More veg…

Thai Culinary Adventure—Chiang Mai Food & Markets |

Stalls selling all manner of things…

Thai Culinary Adventure—Chiang Mai Food & Markets |

All the lemongrass…

Thai Culinary Adventure—Chiang Mai Food & Markets |

Smiles from Nick and Noura…

Thai Culinary Adventure—Chiang Mai Food & Markets |


Thai Culinary Adventure—Chiang Mai Food & Markets |

Yes, that’s a fried grub. I ate two…

Thai Culinary Adventure—Chiang Mai Food & Markets |

Cleaning fish…

Thai Culinary Adventure—Chiang Mai Food & Markets |

We were in Chiang Mai for the Yi Peng Lantern Festival. These are kathrong, offerings floated down the river during the festival. They’re made of banana trunks, palms, flowers, candles, incense and other decorations. We saw them all over the markets in Chiang Mai…

Thai Culinary Adventure—Chiang Mai Food & Markets |


Thai Culinary Adventure—Chiang Mai Food & Markets |

Weigh in…

Thai Culinary Adventure—Chiang Mai Food & Markets |

So many colors…

Thai Culinary Adventure—Chiang Mai Food & Markets |

Cutting green papaya for Som Tam Thai (Green Papaya Salad)…

Thai Culinary Adventure—Chiang Mai Food & Markets |

…and cooking school…

Thai Culinary Adventure—Chiang Mai Food & Markets |

Banana leaf cups for Khanom Kluay (Steamed Banana Cake) (gluten-free)…

Thai Culinary Adventure—Chiang Mai Food & Markets |

Wok handles…

Thai Culinary Adventure—Chiang Mai Food & Markets |

Prepping ingredients for Tom Kha Gai (Chicken Coconut Soup)…

Thai Culinary Adventure—Chiang Mai Food & Markets |

Cooking Gaeng Phed Plaa (Red Curry with Fish)…

Thai Culinary Adventure—Chiang Mai Food & Markets |

Plated red curry…

Thai Culinary Adventure—Chiang Mai Food & Markets |

Chrisann helping make sticky rice…


Thai Culinary Adventure—Chiang Mai Food & Markets |

Phad Hed Ruam Khao Pod Orn (Mushrooms with Baby Corn)…

Thai Culinary Adventure—Chiang Mai Food & Markets |

Prepping the banana cakes…

Thai Culinary Adventure—Chiang Mai Food & Markets |

Cooking the soup…

Thai Culinary Adventure—Chiang Mai Food & Markets |

Plated green papaya salad…

Thai Culinary Adventure—Chiang Mai Food & Markets |

The whole gang!

Thai Culinary Adventure—Chiang Mai Food & Markets |

Stay tuned for the next installment of our Thai Culinary Adventure!

Non-watermarked photos courtesy of Anderson York.

Questions? Leave them in the comments below!

Thai Culinary Adventure: Bangkok

Thai Culinary Adventure—Bangkok

A couple months ago, Nick Massie (better known as Paleo Nick) asked me if I wanted to go to Thailand on a culinary adventure. It didn’t take me long to jump at the chance to check another country off my travel bucket list. As type this, I’m lying on my fold out bed on the overnight train to Chiang Mai…my first chance to be horizontal in about 48 hours. It feels fantastic except my body’s trying to decipher which day it really is, but the jet lag sort of fades to the background as the food and sights and sounds of this trip fill my senses.

If you’ve ever seen The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, you’re quite aware—and probably fond—of the scene where the troop of twelve Dwarves tumble through the door at Bag End in pairs and trios. The early part of our journey has been quite the same. My trip started on Sunday night when I left San Diego along with two others from our group. After a quick flight to San Francisco, we were joined by four others, expanding our merry tribe to seven.

Thai Culinary Adventure—Bangkok

We tucked in for a very long flight (all told, 13-1/2 hours I think) to Taiwan, accompanied by some epic turbulence and binge-watching every tv show on the in-flight entertainment. Many hours later, we touched down in Taipei, picked up another member and boarded another flight to Bangkok. That’s a total of twelve, if you’ve been counting!

Once there, we greeted another three folks flying in from all over. Upon exiting customs, my hunger got the best of me so I pulled up to a little booth and snagged some fresh spring rolls and a box of pork sautéed with rice noodles and veggies for about 130 baht (roughly $4).

Now, I’m sure you’re probably wondering what / if / how I’m going to “keep it Paleo” when I’m in a country renowned the world over for it’s culinary delights. How will I know what they put in the sauce? What kind of oil do they cook with? Don’t I know that rice isn’t Paleo?!

My simple answer to this is that on a vacation that will come once in a lifetime—unless the universe has other plans—I’m going to enjoy the noms. Food is such a strong part of any culture, and to deny myself the chance to experience this beautiful country, I’m not staying strict Paleo when I’m here. I know there’s sugar in the sauces, it would be absurd for me to ask a street vendor about cooking oil, and that my body reacts fine to white rice because I’ve tested it. For more on my take on eating Paleo while traveling, click here.

Once we gathered everyone up, we stuffed ourselves into the train from the airport right into the heart of Bangkok and made a quick transfer until we were right out front of CrossFit BKK. Henrik and Nick arranged for us to do a Paleo seminar, so we tumbled in the door, set down our bags and started talking. There were some really great questions posed by the audience, and I really loved how we talked about adapting Paleo based on Thai culture and food availability.

Thai Culinary Adventure—Bangkok

Our answer: Just eat as much whole, unprocessed, nourishing food as possible. This isn’t a quick-fix diet. Instead, it’s a framework for choosing the best food you can a majority of the time for the rest of your life. After the seminar, CrossFit BKK was kind enough to offer our tribe the option to do a workout or to just shower for the first time in about 36 hours which I quickly took advantage of. Their facility is pretty rad with both an indoor and a much larger outdoor rooftop training area. If you’re ever in Bangkok, hit them up!

From there, the afternoon was wearing on so our now-expanded group of fourteen traipsed to the train station via another metro…

Thai Culinary Adventure—Bangkok Thai Culinary Adventure—Bangkok Thai Culinary Adventure—Bangkok

…and we happened to have enough time to snag some really tasty food from a couple street vendors…

Thai Culinary Adventure—Bangkok Thai Culinary Adventure—Bangkok

…like skewered meat…

Thai Culinary Adventure—Bangkok

…and Pad Thai.

Thai Culinary Adventure—Bangkok Thai Culinary Adventure—Bangkok Thai Culinary Adventure—Bangkok

With our bellies full, it was finally time to board the overnight train to Chiang Mai. It looks circa 1960s but it’s clean and functional despite it’s age. It wasn’t long after we pulled away from the station that it was impossible to keep my eyes open…for about 6 hours.

Thai Culinary Adventure—Bangkok

True to form when I travel, I’m struggling to adapt to the time change. Appearances tell me everyone else is asleep right now as the shiny striped blue curtains are pulled across virtually every sleeping berth. It’s about 2 am, and we’re not quite halfway there.

As I gaze out the window, I can make out bits and pieces of what’s out there in the darkness: the moonlight glinting off the train tracks and silhouettes of palm trees going for what seems like eternity between towns. Kids sitting three to a motor scooter as they laugh and speed down a side street and people eating at a roadside cafe in the middle of the night. Gorgeous temples with intricate adornments. Roads that look like American freeways complete with green road signs with white lettering. If the writing wasn’t in Thai, I’d think it could be in Miami.

Every station we roll through has its own unique character. Phitsanulok was quite expansive with folks sleeping on hard wooden benches women setting up food stalls in the middle of this ebony dark night. Sila-At was deserted except for one man standing in the middle of the platform with his arms folded across his chest.

The train whistles sounds and fades into the black as we approach yet another town. It lumbers and lurches in what seems like a rhythm and lulls me back to sleep.

Stay tuned for more dispatches as we reach our final destination: Chiang Mai.

Food Photography Tips: Part 2

Food Photography Tips—Part 2

Welcome to Part 2 of my series on Food Photography Tips! (Click here to read Part 1Part 3, and Part 4.)

I’m on a mission to help beginners make their food photos look better, so we’re going to jump right in with some basics on styling. Plus, keep reading down for a killer giveaway from my friends at Erickson Wood Works.

Here’s the thing with food photography: It’s an art. Sure there are technical things to master like using your camera settings correctly, but SO much of it is what you create from your own ideas and from your heart. There isn’t any one style that’s right, and you’ll find over time you may develop your own signature look.

I’ve seemed to gravitate toward simpler styling, some shadowing and highlighting bold colors in the food itself. Other folks are known for their dramatic shadows and moody shots, others for their chic and polished look, and still others for their “smashed” food shots.

My best advice is to experiment and see what you come up with. Don’t feel like you have to copy a certain style to have it be “right.”

Once you’ve set the stage by optimizing the right location and light, it’s time to turn your attention to the aesthetic quality of your photos.

Food Photography Tips: Styling

The only limit to styling is your imagination, as cheesy and cliche as that sounds. There are some basic pointers that can help you get started, however. I learned a TON from the online course Story on a Plate and Tasty Food Photography, and they were highly influential in my work on the cookbook. Their lessons were indispensable then and now as I continue photographing for myself and others.  First, I’ll discuss some of the elements of a good photo, and then how to stage it.

Element 1: Props

You needn’t go crazy with props, but as you become more comfortable with your food photography you may want different props to shoot with. Props can be anything from the components of a table setting (plates, bowls, glasses, flatware, etc.) to interesting serving wear to linens to kitchen gadgets and of course, the food itself.

A look inside my prop cabinet…

Food Photography Tips—Part 2

My rule of thumb is that whenever I’m shopping, I keep an eye out for interesting props. Sometimes I walk out with nothing, sometimes a few things. If I see something I like, I always get it then and there. I’ve gone back to get an item a few days later only to find it was gone. Huge bummer. I also usually only buy one of something. It forces me to mix and match and cuts down on the amount of storage space I need.

Where to find awesome props? The possibilities are pretty much endless, but here are some of my favorites:

Some of these stores are pricey, so I always comb their sales rack or sales page looking for good deals.

There are no rules about which colors or patterns to use or avoid. I try to find props with interesting shapes or textures that lend visual interest to the photograph without upstaging the food. If you’re just starting out, you may want to invest in some basic / classic pieces, especially white / basic designs and avoid the really flashy pieces. It’s hard to go wrong with simpler props, and you’ll get more mileage out of them versus a really unique piece that will be really obvious the 6th time you’ve used it.

For linens, again, use your imagination. I have a mixture of colored and white linens, mostly dish towels but some napkins, too. Believe it or not, my favorite linen is a 99 cent Ikea dish towel with a simple red stripe. I really love soft, thin fabrics instead of actual linen or terry cloth because they aren’t as bulky and have a nice drape to them. I store my linens crumpled up in my prop cabinet because I love the visual interest that wrinkles bring. Burlap is also a cool fabric, and you can usually find it at craft stores.

Element 2: Backdrops

The surface you shoot on can really make a difference to the mood of your photo, and there are so many different options out there. If you have a nice table, there’s nothing wrong with starting with that and branching out over time. Countertops, floors, and chairs make good surfaces too, depending on the material. I’ve shot on top of old, beat up sheet pans, oversized metal trays, marble pastry slabs, pieces of slate, fabric covering a table, and even my wood floor.

By far my favorite option though are wooden backgrounds designed for photography.

I’ve made my own from salvaged wood (this one is my favorite)…

Paleo Vanilla Hazelnut Creamer with Homemade Cold-Brew Coffee |

…and from wood I purchased from the hardware store. (Click that link for the full tutorial.)

Vanilla Berry Chia Pudding |

The other option is to buy a pre-fab background from an online crafter. They range from vinyl printed to made like wood (which, when the shot is close, sometimes betrays itself as not wood) to reclaimed pieces or those made to look aged  / distressed.

Generally, I like boards that are 2 to 2.5 feet x 2.5 to 3 feet in dimension. This leaves enough space for pull-back / wide shots.

Recently, I found Erickson Wood Works on Etsy that makes double-sided, lightweight boards in a variety of finishes. When it comes down to the cost of making your own (especially if you’re not very crafty or lack the basic tools), these are VERY cost effective. EWW is a small, family-owned California company, and their quality and service is fantastic.

Here’s an example of their boards:

Butternut Squash "Pasta" Sauce—Paleo & Whole30 |

Moules et Frites—Mussels & Fries |

I’m SO pumped to offer my fellow food bloggers and photographers the chance to win one of THREE double-sided backgrounds from Erickson Wood Works! The winners will each choose from two of Erickson’s signature finishes. Cool, right? That’s $100+ value for each winner. To enter, use the Rafflecopter widget below.*

Food Photography Tips—Part 2

Food Photography Tips—Part 2

Food Photography Tips—Part 2

Enter below!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Element 3: Planning the Shot

Again, there’s no real right or wrong answer with how to style a shot, but there are some basics that can help you construct a great looking picture.

Probably the most basic way to arrange a shot is called the Rule of Thirds. When you look through your camera’s viewfinder, imagine the field of view divided into 9 small boxes, Brady-bunch style. Placing the focal object of the shot at the corners of these boxes can really help make a photo look more interesting. Put in other terms, centering your focal object can kind of look boring.

That’s not to say that a gorgeous plate of food centered can’t look dramatic and striking! It certainly can…

The Performance Paleo Cookbook |

But setting your subject off to the side, even with some parts of the props out of the frame can really look awesome.

The Performance Paleo Cookbook |

I usually start the process of shooting a recipe by choosing my location, then selecting my props. I think about things like the color of the food and the feeling I’m trying to convey. Is it rustic? Casual? Refined? Playful? I tend to choose my props based on the mood I’ve selected.

For example, when I shot this soup, I wanted to create a feeling of fall so I picked a copper tray and a small bowl made of horn because they were both warm / darker colors. The soup really popped!

Curried Kabocha Squash Soup—Paleo & Whole30 |

For this picture (from my upcoming cookbook), I wanted to create more of a process shot. This is great for recipes where you end up with multiples of things, like these little jars or other individual servings. I set up the photo as I was really topping each jar with blueberries, and I chose simple props that were silvery / had interesting shapes to play off the round jars. (The background? An old beat up baking tray.)

Lemon Vanilla Custard with Blueberry Sauce

As much as I can, I try to visualize what I want the shot to look like before I set it up. I don’t always end up with that I envisioned, but usually it’s pretty close. And sometimes, to be honest, I just wing it and see where inspiration takes me.

I try to think about what, if any, food I’m going to include in the shot and save some while I’m prepping the recipe. For example, in the squash soup recipe, I saved the seeds and toasted those in the oven, then used them as a garnish and a prop element in the photo. When possible, save the BEST-looking food for the shot. Generally, you can get away with more when food is cooked than when it’s raw. For example, in the blueberry sauce above, it didn’t matter at all what the berries looked like. In the shot of the Blueberry Pork Patties though, I saved the best berries for the garnish.

Now I’ll walk you through how I set up this photo of a Blackberry Thyme Kombucha Slushy…

Food Photography Tips—Part 2

Once I select my location, props and background, I begin by setting up a skeleton of a shot without the food. I’ll take several photos with a “stand in” such as an onion (or in this case just the empty mug),  adjusting my camera settings as I go. I added some frozen berries (which I wanted to start thawing) and some thyme leaves.

Generally, I shoot on ISO 500 to 1000, f / 2.5 to 3.5, though that varies depending on the subject and the lighting. This shoot presented a challenge because the berries are very dark and the background, very light. Since I wanted mostly overhead shots, I set my aperture to 7.1 which results in less bokeh since a larger depth of field can be tricky from above. Since that means the lens opening is smaller, my shutter speed was slower to let in more light. (Note: The following photos are unretouched.)

(Settings: ISO 1000  f / 7.1  1/320)

Food Photography Tips—Part 2

I knew this felt too dark, so I added a piece of white foam board (helllllo, cheap reflector) on one side.

(Settings: ISO 1000  f / 3.2  1/1600)

Food Photography Tips—Part 2

I try to start with fewer props than I think I need, then add as I go to comfortably fill the frame. I think there’s a tendency with newbies to overdo it with props and crumbs and sprinkles of this and drips of that. Less is generally more. Here, I decided I wanted more berries and few more sprigs of thyme. Notice I still haven’t poured the frozen drink!

(Settings: ISO 1000  f / 7.1  1/320)

Food Photography Tips—Part 2

I felt sufficiently happy with my styling, so I went and made the frozen drink, then poured it. I knew over time it would start to settle, so I wanted to do the next shots pretty fast. Having this set up ahead of time made that possible.

(Settings: ISO 1000  f / 7.1  1/320) Notice this still feels really dark. To compensate without changing aperture, I changed the shutter speed to make it slower which allows more light into the camera.

Food Photography Tips—Part 2

The result…It’s a bit overexposed, but that can be fixed in editing.

(Settings: ISO 1000  f / 7.1  1/60)

Food Photography Tips—Part 2

Here I changed the composition and angle of the shot a bit. I ended up not liking this as much as the overhead shot, but I encourage you to change things up and see what you get. You never know! Note: I changed the aperture to f / 4.5 since I moved away from an overhead shot. Notice how the shutter speed changed from 1/60 or 1/80 to 1/200…much faster since the aperture was more wide open (lower number) which allows more light into the camera.

(Settings: ISO 1000  f / 4.5  1/200)

Food Photography Tips—Part 2

I also shot this recipe in both orientations: portrait and landscape. Having both orientation options is really key because you never know when you may want to use photo for a future project that requires one or the other. Keep your options open.

(Settings: ISO 1000  f / 7.1  1/80)

Food Photography Tips—Part 2

Probably the best advice I can give is to keep things looking as natural as possible!

Click below to skip to other parts in the series.

Food Photography Tips—Part 1 |
Food Photography Tips: Part 3 |
Food Photography Tips: Part 4 |

Pin this for later!

Food Photography Tips—Part 2

Food Photography Tips—Part 2

Have a question? Leave it in the comments below, and I’ll get back to you!

Food Photography Tips: Part 1

Food Photography Tips—Part 1 |

Some simple food photography tips can take your pictures from boring to beautiful, and today I’m sharing Part 1 of a four-part series. (Click here for Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4.)

It wasn’t too long ago that I was taking pictures with my iPhone in poor lighting (or even worse—with the bright glare of a flash), but through trial and error, some education, and lots of practice, I improved enough to confidently shoot all the photos for my award-winning cookbook.

From this…

Food Photography Tips—Part 1 |

To this… Food Photography Tips—Part 1 |

A Few Thoughts on Cameras

Shooting photos with your phone isn’t the worst thing you can do. Many of them now have great-quality cameras built in that work really well under bright light situations, but there are definite drawbacks. Let’s say you’ve been dutifully snapping pics with your camera phone and blogging them for a while, and then you decide to compile your recipes into a book (electronic or print). The resolution is likely to be too low to create a quality product, and you’ll be stuck shooting them again.

If you’re serious enough about blogging that you devote several hours a week to it, my advice is to get an entry-level DSLR (digital single lens reflex) camera. I started with a Nikon D3200 which came with a 18-55mm zoom lens, and it was perfect for learning with. If you’re a Canon fan, a comparable camera would be something like a Rebel T5.

I shot these photos with my Nikon D3200 and the stock zoom 18-55 mm lens that came with it.

Food Photography Tips—Part 1 |
Food Photography Tips—Part 1 |

On the other end of the spectrum, if you’re brand new to DSLR cameras, I don’t think it’s wise to run out and spend $3-10k on a high-end full-frame deal. You may decide you really want to switch to another manufacturer (remember, lenses aren’t universally compatible), and you may even decide to stop blogging in a few months. It’s easy to upgrade in the future. For my cookbook, I upgraded to a Nikon D610 after about a year practicing with my entry-level D3200.

Food Photography Tips—Part 1 |

Top: Nikon D3200 with zoom lens, Bottom: Nikon D610 with 50 mm f / 1.8 lens. (Note the slimmer body of the D3200 because it’s got a smaller internal sensor and results in a cropped frame.)

Why get a DSLR? You can customize settings like shutter speed, aperture and ISO to really control and work with light—because after all, it’s your camera’s ability to capture light that really makes or breaks the shot. And, as a food blogger, how you portray your recipes through images is what gets people’s mouths watering! If you’re a newbie, these are cameras you can really grow into. Point and shoots and camera phones are less expensive, but their capabilities are limited.

Food Photography Tips: Crop-Frame vs. Full-Frame Cameras

The advantage of the D610 (or other full-frame cameras) is not only a larger sensor but lenses that shoot true. With a 50mm lens on the D3200 (crop-frame) the width of the field of view is cut down. With the same lens on the D610 (full-frame) you get a wider field of view.

Compare the following three photos taken while I was standing in the same spot with different camera / lens combos.

This was taken with the D3200, entry-level camera with the stock zoom 18-55mm f / 3.5-5.6 lens. (Setting: ISO 500 f / 4.5.) While the field of view is quite wide, it’s also quite dark. An aperture of 4.5, while somewhat open, is still pretty closed for lower light situations. The widest aperture this lens has is 3.5. I prefer something with a lower option.

Food Photography Tips—Part 1 |

This was taken with the D3200, entry-level camera with the Nifty Fifty 50mm f / 1.8 lens. (Setting: ISO 500 f / 2.) Notice how it’s a lot brighter (due to the wider aperture / lower f-stop number) but the field of view is a LOT narrower.

The 50mm, when used on this camera, is not a true 50mm lens. It’s cropped. It makes shooting things like food somewhat tricky because you can only be a certain distance away before things get blurry. Notice how the background is far less in focus than the photo above because the aperture is lower.

Food Photography Tips—Part 1 |

This was taken with the D610, full-frame camera with the Nifty Fifty 50mm f / 1.8 lens. (Setting: ISO 1000 f / 3.5.) It’s still bright but the field of view is a LOT wider than the photo above.

Remember, I’m standing in the exact same spot. The 50mm, when used on this camera, IS a true 50mm lens. It makes shooting larger table settings easier because you can capture more of the scene.

Food Photography Tips—Part 1 |

Here’s a side-by-side comparison…

Food Photography Tips—Part 1 |

A: Crop-frame camera with zoom lens

B: Crop-frame camera with fixed 50mm lens

C: Full-frame camera with fixed 50mm lens

Conclusion: Crop-frame cameras are great entry-level DSLRs, but to make use of lower light situations you may want to pick up an inexpensive 50mm lens with a low aperture number like f / 1.8. If you’re shooting a book or other extensive project, a full-frame camera will shoot a wider field of view.

What about lenses?

The lens I use the most is a 50 mm f / 1.8D, what’s often called a “Nifty Fifty.” (50mm is the focal length and 1.8 is the “lowest” aperture setting possible with this lens.) It’s incredibly versatile and really great for shooting subjects that are relatively close, as is usually the case with food.

An aperture of 1.8 (which means the lens’s diaphragm is at its maximum width or “wide open”) translates to getting that desired depth of field feeling you get from an item being in focus while the background is a bit blurred. Another word for that is “bokeh.”

Food Photography Tips—Part 1 |

The dark chocolate coconut peppermint cup and my hand are in focus while the background items are blurred. This is called bokeh. (This photo was actually shot with my zoom lens so I was able to get really close while hand-holding the camera.)

Be aware that the Nifty Fifty is a fixed lens, meaning there is it doesn’t zoom in and out like the lenses that come stock on most entry-level DSLRs. That means you have to move closer or farther away; the camera will not do it for you.

Many food photographers work with macro lenses which are wonderful for capturing tiny details. Macro lenses are usually quite expensive compared to Nifty Fifty lenses. If you’re an experienced photographer looking to add to your quiver, it might be a great purchase, but I don’t recommend it for newbies.

Note that some entry-level cameras lack the ability to auto-focus using some lenses, including the Nifty Fifty. There is no internal motor to drive it. When I was using my D3200 with the Nifty Fifty, I had to manually focus everything.

Before you go out and purchase a new lens, I recommend getting out to a local camera store if possible to check things out and get a feel for it. Remember that lenses are specific to your camera manufacturer. A Nikkor lens for Nikon will not work with a Canon, etc.

I learned how to really use my camera’s settings by taking an online course through Creative Live called The Photography Starter Kit. (There’s no incentive for me to recommend this course. I just happened to really love it and found it incredibly useful.) Other really helpful resources: Tasty Food Photography and Plate to Pixel.

So, How Do You Stage a Basic Shot?

Taking a great photo is all about how you manage and manipulate light, and since I only shoot with natural (sun)light, that’s what I’m going to present here.

Food Photography Tips: Location

Check out the windows and doorways in your house that provide good light. It won’t always be the kitchen or dining room! For example, my kitchen windows are tiny and the only surface nearby is a cramped countertop.
Food Photography Tips—Part 1 |

I do most of my shooting in the dining area (morning hours)…
Food Photography Tips—Part 1 |

or next to my couch (afternoon hours).

Food Photography Tips—Part 1 |

In this photo, since it was 3 pm and the sun was on the west side of my house, I shot with my surface right on the couch.

Food Photography Tips—Part 1 |

As a general rule, I avoid shooting mid-day because the sun is overhead and the light just seems flat to me. My favorite times to shoot are 9-11 am and 3-5 pm, depending on the season.

If you don’t have a tripod for overhead shots, consider moving your photos to the floor so you can stand above the subject or even stand on a small step stool.

Food Photography Tips: Light

I try to have light coming from only one direction to simplify things and make it easier to manipulate. For this shot, I closed all the other blinds in my living room / dining room and shut the front door. That gave me light coming in through this west-facing window only.

Food Photography Tips—Part 1 |

Try to avoid actual patches of sunlight hitting somewhere in the frame. You want to light up the food, but if there are patches of sunlight in the shot, your camera’s light meter has a hard time figuring it all out. Put another way, you’re likely to get a photograph with some very dark and some very light areas. While purposeful shadowing is a great technique to create a mood, severely over- or underexposed food photos are virtually useless.

To soften the light coming through a window, consider hanging a white curtain or a piece of transluscent plastic over it. Works wonders!

I’m a huge fan of side light because I really like the subtle shadows and highlights it creates, but light hitting the food from the front and the back can also look great. You can experiment by moving around the food so the light hits different places.

Here are some more behind-the-scenes photos where I shot with side lighting (the process shots were done with my iPhone and the final photos with the D610 with 50mm lens)…

Food Photography Tips—Part 1 |

Food Photography Tips—Part 1 | stupideasypaleo.comFood Photography Tips—Part 1 |
Food Photography Tips—Part 1 | stupideasypaleo.comFood Photography Tips—Part 1 |
Food Photography Tips—Part 1 | stupideasypaleo.comFood Photography Tips—Part 1 |
Food Photography Tips—Part 1 |

Here’s an example of backlight…

Food Photography Tips—Part 1 |

I had been just playing around with settings here. In retrospect, if this were an actual shoot, I’d probably have stuck a reflector in there to throw a bit more light onto those sprouts.

Here’s a different example of a shot I did on my dining room table. This was taken in the morning at about 9 am with translucent plastic over the window to cut the harsh rays coming in. The light was coming in from the left, and I wanted to take advantage of the shadowing in the bowls to create some drama.

Food Photography Tips—Part 1 | Food Photography Tips—Part 1 |

Okay, that’s all for Part 1! I hope these food photography tips have given you a jumping off point for understanding things a bit better.

Click below to jump to the other posts in this series.

Food Photography Tips—Part 2
Food Photography Tips: Part 3 |
Food Photography Tips: Part 4 |

Click here to pin this!

Food Photography Tips—Part 1 |

Have a question? Leave it in the comments below.

DIY Photography Background: No Tools Required!

DIY Photography Background |

DIY Photography Background—No Tools Required!

Steph’s note: This is another post in a series for fellow bloggers who are interested in improving their food photography and blog posts. You may also be interested in How to Take Better Food Pictures.

Creating a DIY photography background to make your pictures stand out is really simple, and this version requires no tools. I was inspired by this post and ended up with a lightweight, double-side, portable board that I can tote around the house, looking for the best light.

You could certainly scour your neighborhood yard sales for scrap wood with that authentically distressed, worn look. (That’d be a notch in your re-use belt.) But if you don’t have the time or access, this is a great alternative.

My local hardware store had these lightweight “hobby boards” in different types of wood. I chose poplar because it had the lightest color and was the least expensive. The sizes available to you may vary, so my quantities may not work for you, but do the best you can with the concept. I chose the 48″ long boards because I wanted a long enough platform. Somewhere between 36″–48″ should be long enough. Any shorter than 36″ and you may run into problems with portrait shots, especially when they’re straight on from the subject.

I was able to assemble mine, let it dry overnight for good measure and paint it the next day. It dried quickly because I watered down the paint. Choose a FLAT finish so the paint reflects very little light.

If you’re looking for more tips and tricks to improve your food photography, check out this awesome resource, Tasty Food Photography.

Supplies for this DIY Photography Background:

  • Four 48″ poplar hobby boards
  • Eight 24″ poplar hobby boards
  • Wood glue
  • Paint in your chosen color(s)—I got sample sizes in aqua and brown—with a FLAT finish
  • Paint brush
  • Disposable container to mix the paint and water

How to make the DIY Photography Background:

Find a clean, dry, flat surface to construct the background on. You may want to use a drop cloth or old sheet to protect the surface from paint and glue. Lay the 48″ boards flat and leave a small gap between each one, about 1/16″. I wanted the appearance of planks instead of one solid surface, but do what you like. Be aware that if you make the gaps larger than 1/16″, you’ll be able to see the boards underneath when you complete it.

DIY Photography Background | stupideasypaleo.comDIY Photography Background |

Do a dry run and arrange the 24″ boards perpendicular to the longer boards. There will be some wood overhanging and if you have a saw, you can trim the excess. I didn’t because I had no access to tools. Once you’re happy with the arrangement, you’ll start gluing. DIY Photography Background |

Squeeze a moderate amount of wood glue across the long board, going section by section: Apply enough glue for one short board, then lay the short board down, pressing firmly. Be careful not to squeeze glue into the gaps or it’ll show when you take the photos. Continue this until you glue down all eight short boards. DIY Photography Background |

Gently lay some heavy books on top of the boards and let them dry for at least 3 hours. Overnight is better.DIY Photography Background |

The next day, get ready to paint your boards. I created a wash by combining the paints with water in a 1:1 ratio. This allowed the paints to dry quickly and helped create a layered effect.DIY Photography Background | stupideasypaleo.comDIY Photography Background | DIY Photography Background |

For the blue side, apply a thin layer of brown paint. Allow it to dry completely. Then, apply layer of blue paint in an uneven fashion. Do this by dabbing the blue paint, then smoothing it out by brushing it in both directions. The idea is to allow some of the brown paint to show through to create a worn look. I applied two or three layers.DIY Photography Background | DIY Photography Background | DIY Photography Background |

For the brown side, use the same technique as above, but only use the brown color. That’s it! Once it was dry, I was able to start shooting on it right away.DIY Photography Background |

Click here to pin this!

Questions? Leave them in the comments below!

DIY Photography Background |

Paleo Holiday Gift Ideas for the Foodie on Your List

Paleo Holiday Gift Ideas |

Paleo holiday gift ideas for the foodie on your list may seem tricky, but rest assured: I’ve combined some of my favorites – both homemade (if you’re crafty like that) or store bought – to assist in your quest to spread holiday cheer!

Paleo Holiday Gift Ideas #1: Homemade Extracts!

Extracts are great for flavoring all sorts of dishes, from coffee to baked goods, but they can be pricey in the store for what you get. Making them at home is so simple, but it takes a bit of time. If you’re thinking of making these for holiday gifts, start them now! Know what’d be nice? Making a trio of three flavors for the foodie on your list.

I make them in a plain mason jar, then transfer to a decorative bottle like this or this with a hand-written tag or label. These recipes all make one cup of extract.

Paleo Gift Ideas Homemade Vanilla Extract |

Homemade Vanilla Extract

  • Split the vanilla beans down the middle and put in a mason jar. Add 1 cup of vodka or brandy. Let the vanilla beans steep for at least 4 weeks. The alcohol will darken in color. You can leave the beans in.

Homemade Orange or Lemon Extract

  • Zest from two oranges or three lemons
  • 8 ounces (240 mL) vodka or brandy
  • Use a veggie peeler to remove as much of the zest as you can from the citrus. Add 1 cup of vodka. Let the zest steep for at least 4 weeks. Strain the zest out and bottle.

Homemade Mint Extract

  • 1/2 cup mint leaves, washed
  • 8 ounces (240 mL) vodka or brandy
  • Crush the mint leaves and put in a mason jar. Add 1 cup of vodka. Let the leaves steep for at least 4 weeks. Strain out the leaves and bottle.

Bottles like these are great for gifting extracts:

Paleo Holiday Gift Ideas |
Paleo Holiday Gift Ideas |

Paleo Holiday Gift Ideas #2: Homemade Spice Mixes!

These recipes make about 1/2 cup. Mix them up, put them in a decorative jar like these mason jars, attach a homemade label and you’re good to go! I could see making a gift set with a few spices mixes and extracts (or mix and match). I’d be super stoked to get that as a holiday treat!

Paleo Holiday Gift Ideas Homemade Gingerbread Spice Mix |

Homemade Gingerbread Spice Mix (see the full post here)

Homemade Pumpkin Pie Spice Mix

Homemade Taco Seasoning Mix

Paleo Holiday Gift Ideas #3: Cookbooks!

Long gone are the days when you couldn’t find Paleo cookbooks…now there are titles to fit every single niche. Here are a few of my favorites – tried and true from Paleo’s best food bloggers – that I highly recommend:

Paleo Holiday Gift Ideas Well Fed |

  • Food For Humans by Michelle Tam and Henry Fong (aka Nom Nom Paleo). What can be said except that Nom Nom Paleo is a classic Paleo site loaded with flavor-making recipes and amazing photography! You can pre-order the book…it comes out on Dec. 21, 2013!

Paleo Holiday Gift Ideas Food For Humans |

  • Gather from Bill and Hayley Staley (aka Food Lovers Primal Palate). Want a gorgeous book for someone who loves to entertain? Gather is the one!

Paleo Holiday Gift Ideas Gather |

Paleo Holiday Gift Ideas #4: For the Novice Cook!

If the Paleo foodie on your list is just starting out and needs to build up her / his kitchen arsenal, I highly recommend these staples:

  • Crock pot. Bar none, this is one of my favorite kitchen tools. If you’re trying to buy a useful gift for someone who’s really busy, I can’t think of something better. Want to make it extra special? Print out a copy of my (free) PDF Crock Pot Guide for some recipe ideas.Paleo Holiday Gift Ideas Crock Pot |
  • Cast iron cooking set (the one in this link is still on sale!). I love my cast iron pans…they go from stove top to oven really easily for dishes like stews and frittatas.Paleo Holiday Gift Idea Cast Iron Pots |
  • Spiralizer. This little device makes oodles of veggie noodles from everything from zucchini to butternut squash. Paleo Holiday Gift Ideas Spiralizer |

Paleo Holiday Gift Ideas #5: For the Experienced Cook!

If the Paleo foodie on your list is more experienced and or for someone who has almost everything, check these out:

  • Vitamix. What can I say? This is the Cadillac of kitchen blenders. I have one. It’s worth the cost (IMO) for someone who loves to cook. Soups, homemade mayo, nut butters, nut milks…they’re all possible (and more) with the Vitamix, and they last forever!Paleo Holiday Gift Ideas Vitamix |
  • Le Creuset 3.5 Quart Dutch Oven. These Dutch ovens are enameled cast iron and stand up to stovetop and oven cooking…anything you need braised or cooked slowly does so beautifully in these pots.Paleo Holiday Gift Idea Le Creuset |

Paleo Holiday Gift Ideas #6: For the Life Long Learner (aka Nerd)!

If the Paleo foodie on your list is into learning all (s)he can, check out these options for e-courses and books:

  • Real Food. Real Good. eCourse by yours truly. This is great for anyone who’s really a beginner and wants to learn more. Click the link for more info.Paleo Holiday Gift Ideas Real Food Real Good eCourse |
  • It Starts with Food by Dallas and Melissa Hartwig of Whole9. This is *the book* for learning about how problematic foods affect us and why.Paleo Holiday Gift Ideas It Starts with Food |

Paleo Holiday Gift Ideas #7: Fun Gifts for Anyone!

Still searching for a gift that’d be just right for your Paleo foodie? Let me know below and I’ll see if I can give you some ideas!

Crock on the gas stove over black background

Why Peanuts Make People Go Crazy


Nuts. Crazy.

A few weeks ago, I posted an answer to a reader (hey Kyle H.!) question:  “Peanut butter. Yay or nay?” Poor Kyle. Little did he know he would spark a debate more heated than a Georgia peanut field on a hot July day, and I could feel the peanut frenzy building with comments like:

“So eating a peanut isn’t paleo, but using kitchen chemistry to concoct paleo cakes and cookies is ok?” 

“But are peanuts unhealthy???”

“Still eating it. I love peanut butter and really don’t think a few tablespoons on my apple is going to hurt me.”

“Native indians of south and central America have been eating peanuts for the last 7,500 years. I wonder if they’d consider them nutritious or not.”

Peanuts are tasty and apparently quite controversial.

(By the way, I am thankful for the dissenting opinions and questions and am in no way trying to single anyone out!) What became obvious to me is that certain Paleo guidelines aren’t well understood. You see, when I think of Dr. Loren Cordain – the first to write a book about this way of eating, cleverly titled The Paleo Diet – I picture his face superimposed on a painting of Moses with the Ten Commandments shouting things like:

“Thou shalt not eat peanuts or any legume!”

“Thou shalt not eat cheese! Haha, that one’ll really crush the dairy-loving spirit of the people!”

Paleo’s come a long way since the movement started and as such, has evolved over time. People figured out that damn it, trying to eat a diet with no salt or no vinegar or no butter just wasn’t as sustainable as a lifestyle because it was, well, boring. What started out as “rules” rationalized by scientific evidence have faded into conversations like, “Well, this Paleo thing sucks because we can’t eat bread or cheese or peanuts or anything fun…,” without understanding the why.

So here’s the downlow on peanuts. They’re NOT nuts. They are a bean – more technically called a legume. Legumes aren’t considered Paleo for a few reasons:

  • They contain a relatively large amount of a compound called phytate which binds to minerals in the food itself, limiting the availability to us when we eat it. (Interesting to note, so do nuts. Try not to crack out on them.)
  • Most legumes are very carb dense compared to the amount of nutrition they provide. If you’re saying you eat peanut butter for the protein, I’m calling you out ;) You eat it because it’s delicious and fatty (and if those are your reasons, that’s fine). Peanuts are an exception to the high carb issue but fail the Paleo test for some of these other reasons.
  • Legumes contain lectins, specific proteins known to cause damage to the gut lining. The protein peanut agglutinin can do naughty things to your intestines.
  • Peanuts specifically are prone to contamination with aflatoxin.

Legumes DO have nutrition. There’s no debating that. It’s not like opening your mouth and shoveling in a spoonful of rocks. You’re going to get fiber and protein and minerals and vitamins from legumes. What you’re NOT going to get is as much nutrition compared to equal quantities of meat or produce. Usually, legumes require soaking or sprouting to reduce the phytate, and most folks just don’t want to go through that effort to make them more edible / less harmful.

It’s not always black and white, right?

Most Paleo people have decided not to eat them because Cordain said so the downsides outweigh the upsides and so avoid them. If you feel like someone can just pry the peanut butter spoon from your cold dead hand and you’re not willing to give it up, then the good news is that it’s your choice. Simple, right? You can choose to be Paleo + peanut butter or Paleo + lentils if you want. I promise no Paleo police will show up at your door. Just be honest about maybe not feeling as good or being as healthy if you make it a regular player in your diet. If you’re willing to make the trade, it’s up to you. This is where finding what’s best for your body but being honest about how good you feel is so important.

If you’re trying to get started with Paleo but you keep holding back because it’s hard to find a good source of reliable information, I’ve solved that problem for you in my new e-course.

You may want to take all legumes (and grains and dairy) out of your diet for at least 30 days – using a protocol like Whole30, then reintroduce systematically to be more aware of any sensitivities you may have. Folks with Celiac disease or other autoimmune issues are highly recommended to avoid these foods completely, but even if you’re not in that boat, you may be somewhat sensitive to them.

What to eat instead of peanut butter? Lots of other options exist, but remember that nuts also have phytate so overdoing it with those isn’t necessarily better. Virtually any nut or seed can be made into a butter. If it’s store bought, make sure it doesn’t have extra sugar and weird chemicals. Here are a few suggestions:

If you want to make your own, you’ll need a food processor or a powerful blender.

Do you still have questions about peanuts or legumes? Let me know in the comments below.

Whole and chopped peanut on old wooden table

Fall Seasonal Produce Guide

When I was a kid, I tried to emulate Bugs Bunny.

I remember pulling carrots out of dirt from my grandparents’ backyard garden. They’d barely get a wash under the outdoor spigot before I was crunching away on the subterranean gems, root hairs tickling my face, the frilly tops thrown into the compost heap. Reminiscing on that garden has inspired me to eat more seasonally in the last few years.

Eating with the seasons used to be a lot easier: produce wasn’t trucked in from thousands of miles away or floated on boats across oceans; folks tended to shop locally; and small farms or even backyard gardens yielded different produce depending on the time of year.

Now that fall is here, there’s a new bounty of tasty things to try: hard squashes galore, apples of every red hue, and cauliflower – perfect for ricing – are just a few of my favorites (scroll down for some autumn-inspired recipes).

Click for my free Fall Seasonal Produce Guide (PDF):

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The Paleo / Primal / ancestral movement is definitely shedding more light on returning to this way of eating. If you can’t grow your own or there isn’t a farmer’s market near you, consider including some seasonal fruits and veggies into your weekly mix. Why? They’re likely to be fresher, and if you buy local, haven’t traveled very far. It’s also a great way to force variety into your diet so you’re not eating broccoli every night for the rest of your life and only snacking on sliced apples. This’ll help stave off boredom and get some diversity into the micronutrients you’re consuming.

I’m not saying you can only eat produce when it’s in season, but challenge yourself to try a new fall veggie or fruit. You may find something unexpectedly delicious! [Note: exact availability is often highly dependent on country and even region.]

Here are some of my fall-star recipes: