...because home doesn't happen overnight.

food photo tips 1

So something funny happened. I used to strongly dislike cooking, but now I don’t. I still wouldn’t call it my passion (there are no plans for Food*Tweaking, ha!) but sometimes I actually find myself enjoying it.

What happened? I’m not exactly sure, but it didn’t happen overnight. I think a few things came in to play. I have more time to cook now that I stay at / work from home. My kids have become little foodies, critiquing my skills and offering to help out with meal prep. When I went dairy free, out of desperation I tried new recipes and ingredients and it exposed me to a whole new world of cooking. FYI – We aren’t completely dairy free anymore, but I haven’t bought cow’s milk in years. Now, Steve eats a mostly paleo diet and I try to accommodate him when I can.

I’ve also been using Blue Apron regularly for almost a year after our friends recommended the service. It’s helped me get out of the dinner rut of spaghetti and tacos – both of which I love but they aren’t very adventurous. I’m giddy every time the refrigerated box of fresh ingredients shows up at my doorstep. Especially when it’s the FIFTH snow day in a row and we’re low on food and I have no desire to brave the cold for groceries. I really like the new family plan which feeds our family of two adults + three children and then some. The new family meals are meant to be served family-style and are more affordable.

I’m so grateful for recipes shared online that I started sprinkling my favorite quick & easy go-tos in with other home-related content on the blog. Obviously, that forced me to take photos of food. All of a sudden cooking became yet another fun, creative outlet when viewed through my camera lens. *BONUS* – I get to eat the subject matter!

I’m definitely not a food styling expert by any means but I thought it might be fun to share a few of my food photography secrets. Kind of a behind-the-scenes look at recipe posts.

*I always photograph food in natural light. (But not always in black socks. No judgments! It was, like, -20°F!!) After some trial and error, I discovered that the best spot to shoot food in my house is on the floor just inside the french doors in our mudroom / dining room. The doors are north-facing and the bright, indirect light is perfect. Placing the food on some sort of backdrop on the floor makes it easy for me to get overhead shots. I’m not naming names because it isn’t my secret to tell but I know one highly regarded food blogger who styles and shoots food in her garage with the door partially raised because that’s where the best light is in her house. Whatever works! I also consider the mood of the dish when contemplating lighting. In general, for brighter, lighter foods I’ll shoot in the late morning on sunny days. For richer, more comforting foods, I’ll shoot on cloudy days or in the early evening.

*I always consider composition. It’s almost like decorating a room but on a much smaller scale. Sorta like creating a mood board but with food. A food board? Instead of lining up all the ingredients, I’ll arrange them organically. I try to balance colors and textures within the frame. My goal is for it to look pretty but imperfect and real. I’ll cut lemon slices, peel garlic, “spill” a little salt or crumble cheese. A little mess is okay! I add practical props. Measuring spoons and small bowls work well. I’m itching to add more props to my bag o’ tricks because my current inventory is lacking.

*I leave out raw meat and raw fish if possible. The same with labels unless they’re particularly helpful. They just don’t look all that appealing to me.

food photo tips 2

food photog tips 3

*I include one or two significant, in-progress shots. Again, I’m no chef and the recipes I share aren’t crazy complex so images of every step usually aren’t necessary. My kids really enjoy prepping so I’ll usually snap a few shots of them. (When we prepare a Blue Apron meal, Everett’s job is to read the instructions to me step-by-step. It knocks out his reading homework for the day. Win-win.) Needless to say, it’s difficult to supervise the kids, photograph and cook at the same time!

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*I shoot several different angles of the finished product. That’s mostly for fun. I never know which angles are going to make the cut until I edit the photos. If the kids are cooperating, I’ll set the table quickly. If not, it might be just a few close-ups. If the dish is especially decadent, I like to include a half-eaten or empty plate, too. It’s a good “the end” image.

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The recipe shown here is one of the new family meals offered by Blue Apron. It’s the chicken scallopini with roasted broccoli & whole wheat farfelle. Paleo Steve ate only the chicken (I left one breast free of flour) and broccoli. The kids and I loved it all! The roasted poblano chilaquiles with sunny side-up eggs and avocado sound pretty amazing, and the filipino-style beef picadillo with chayote squash & jasmine rice is a family favorite that I keep on standby.

If you have been wanting to try Blue Apron, now’s your chance. The first 100 readers will get two meals free-of-charge when they place their first order! Just click here. And, as always, shipping is free.

Do you have any tips for food styling or photography? Any great food stylists I should check out for inspiration? Were you surprised by the food on the floor in the mudroom? My black socks? Ha!

*This post sponsored in part by Blue Apron. Thank you for supporting the brands that support this blog.

P.S. – The evolution of my photography.

images: Dana Miller for House*Tweaking

*THIS GIVEAWAY IS NOW CLOSED.*

Congrats to Kathy (in Canada!) who would choose a custom, round rug to place under her small laptop table.

FeltBallRug (5)

Today’s giveaway is from Felt Ball Rug, a company that specializes in artisanal felt ball rugs and fair trade production. Surely you’ve seen these rugs making the rounds on the internet. Yes? I love their nubby texture, and they can be quite colorful, too. They’re ideal for nurseries, playrooms and small family rooms. And I’ve heard they’re just as (if not more) popular with four-legged family members.

FeltBallRug (6)

So the concept of felt ball rugs is nothing new, but what strikes me about this particular company is the way they are empowering women through their fair trade practices. These beautiful rugs are handcrafted by women in Nepal. The country has one of the poorest economies in the world. The literacy rate for women is ~45% in comparison to ~72% for men. The company trains and employs local women, giving them the opportunity to work from home while caring for their families. Some of the women create the individual felt balls while others construct the actual rugs. The company pays their employees roughly 2-3 times the average pay for the area. As a result, the women are able to live comfortably and send their children to school. You can witness the company’s social impact in this heart-warming video.

felt ball rug options

Felt Ball Rugs is dedicated to maintaining fair trade practices while offering a high quality product. All rugs are made from 100% New Zealand wool. Shipping and returns are free and offered worldwide. You can choose from round or rectangle rugs, neutral or multi-color. You can even design your own custom rug.

Do you need a felt ball rug in your life? Find giveaway details below.

PRIZE: One winner will select a round (2’11” – $215 retail value) or rectangle (2’7.5” x 3’3.4” – $278 retail value) rug of their choice from Felt Ball Rug’s collections OR of their own design. Yes, the winner may choose a custom design! (These smaller rugs are perfect for baby’s tummy time, lazing pets and / or meditation.)

RULES: You must be at least 18 years old and have a shipping address (no P.O. boxes please). This giveaway is open worldwide! One entry per email address.

TO ENTER: Follow Felt Ball Rugs on instagram here then leave a comment on this post sharing which rug you would choose if you won and how you would use it.

DEADLINE: Enter before 9:00 p.m. EST on Thursday, February 26th. One random winner will be announced Friday, February 27th.

Good luck!

images: Felt Ball Rugs

*THIS GIVEAWAY IS CLOSED.*

Congrats to Trudy and Nathan who would like to try the orange apple fruit chews and the pineapple coconut bar, respectively.

I’ve had requests to share what a typical day is like for me. The thing is, every day is different and not all that exciting. But I figured, what the heck!, and documented a random day earlier this week. Spoiler alert: it’s not as glamorous as you think. I’m just a normal mom trying my best to make it through these long days and short years without letting my health, sanity and passions fall by the wayside. Get ready for some very candid, very real photos. (It was a no makeup, no shower day. Not all that unusual actually.)

morning

midnight – 7:45 a.m. I’m up with Mabrey eight times during the night. I thought she had the “big kid” bed all figured out but I was wrong.

6:30 – 7:45 a.m. Steve gets the boys up and off to school so I can catch some zzzzz’s but, in reality, I just lie in bed replaying the night’s events on the back of my eyelids like a bad movie. I am exhausted before the day even starts. Mabrey throws open the door. Good morning! She is unfazed by the lack of sleep. I get up, wash my face, make the bed and plod to the kitchen for breakfast.

8:00 – 9:00 a.m. We eat breakfast: fried uncured ham, toast with honey from one of Steve’s co-worker’s beehives (it’s the best honey I’ve ever had) and green juice that Steve made. Mabrey leans over several times while we’re eating to tell me secrets. I love you, she whispers. Suddenly last night doesn’t seem so awful in retrospect. Steve is working from home today. I thank him for the juice and for getting the boys off to school. I empty the dishwasher, load it back up with dirties and clean up the kitchen.

mabrey bath

cheetah

9:00 – 10:30 a.m. I attempt to edit some photos for a blog post while Mabrey plays with Play-doh but it’s nearly impossible. She wants me to play with her. I feel like I’m half-assing both tasks so I shut my laptop and try to keep her happy and quiet while Steve works nearby. After a while, Mabrey and I go to my room so I can get dressed. In the few minutes it takes me to dress, Mabrey sneaks into the bathroom and rubs big clumps of Steve’s hair gel into her own hair. I try combing it out but it’s useless. I give her a bath while Cheetah supervises.

naturebox snacks

tennis snack

we're off!

10:30 – 11:00 a.m. Mabrey and I prepare to run errands. I have a tennis drilling session at noon but need to grab a few things from the store first. I make a list: toilet paper, paper towels, one of those childproof doorknob covers to prevent Mabrey from wandering the house at night. I pack Mabrey a NatureBox snack for the trip to the store: mango orange fruit chews + praline pumpkin seeds. I also pack her a lunch to eat in the nursery at tennis while I’m drilling. If I eat lunch before tennis, I’m sluggish. Instead, I pack NatureBox’s dark chocolate berry trail mix, a banana and my water bottle. We’re off! I feel like I’m forgetting something.

target

11:00 a.m. – noon Mabrey eats her snack while I grab a few things. We check out. As I’m loading up our purchases, I remember that I forgot to grab Mabrey’s lunch I had packed at home. (I knew I was forgetting something!) I tell her. She loses it. I drive back home, grab her lunch and drive to tennis. I scarf down my banana and a palmful of trail mix. I pull into the parking lot right at noon. Mabrey has fallen asleep in her car seat. I feel a twinge of guilt and wonder if I should skip tennis to take Mabrey home for a nap she most desperately needs. Mabrey wakes up excited for “school.”

noon – 2:00 p.m. I drill with a fun group of ladies. (I played tennis in high school and just picked up a racket again in October after an 18-year hiatus.) I play like crap but it feels good to sweat it out. I get a boost of energy. I pick Mabrey up from the nursery. Her “teacher” informs me that Mabrey was unusually tired. Mabrey falls asleep on the way home.

lunch

2:00 – 2:45 p.m. I put Mabrey down for a nap. She doesn’t fight me at all. I’m so hungry. I eat lunch: cajun stew leftover from the previous night’s dinner + an apple with peanut cookie butter. I unload the car & Mabrey’s lunch bag and clean up the kitchen. Again. I scoop Cheetah’s litter box. I need to shower but don’t have enough time.

everett home

everett snack

everett snack

steve snack

2:45 – 3:30 p.m. Everett gets off the bus and pretends to fall down in the driveway while all the kids on the bus watch. (He does this every day. The first time he did it his bus driver stopped the bus to make sure he was okay. Everett = drama.) I make him oatmeal with almond milk and top it with NatureBox’s french toast granola + strawberries. He eats every. single. bite. He does his homework. I offer Steve – who eats a mostly paleo diet – NatureBox’s coconut date energy bites. He strikes a corny pose for the camera then threatens to post a picture of me eating in my pajamas on the internet.

layne home

layne snack

3:30 – 4:00 p.m. Layne is home from school. He brings in the day’s mail. He chooses a snack: carrot, apple, NatureBox’s praline pumpkin seeds. I sort the mail and parent-teacher communication. I’m reminded that I am chaperoning Layne’s field trip the next morning.

4:00 – 6:00 p.m. It’s too cold to play outside. Layne and Everett watch a movie while I edit photos (finally!) and attempt to wrangle my inbox. I am so behind. I really want to write a post but Mabrey wakes up from her nap. We cuddle for a while and I start contemplating dinner.

dinner help

everett color

layne reads

everett note

6:00 – 6:30 p.m. Mabrey helps me prepare dinner while Everett colors and Layne reads. We listen to Nickel Creek on Cone. Everett gives a love note to Steve who is hiding in our bedroom finishing up work. He decides he’s done and joins us in the kitchen.

dinner

6:30 – 7:15 p.m. We eat dinner: bacon-wrapped pollack, asparagus cooked in sesame oil with lemon mayo. Plus white cheddar mac-n-cheese for the kids. Plus rosé for me. The boys whine about the asparagus but they eat it anyway and we talk about how everyone’s pee is going to stink later. Each kid gets a mini frozen coconut sandwich bar as a reward for finishing their dinner.

tetonic plates

packing lunches

7:15 – 7:45 p.m. It’s kitchen cleanup time. Again. The kids bring their dishes to the sink. Steve loads the dishwasher while I wipe down the counters and sweep the floor. The boys get their pajamas on and brush their teeth. Mabrey needs a little help with hers. Layne shows everyone his school project on tectonic plates. All three kids commence play-wrestling in the living room. I pretend not to hear the words “butt” and “poop.” Steve packs the boys’ lunches for the next day and gets a little help from Mabrey. I go to feed Cheetah but discover Mabrey has already fed her…a week’s worth of food…in her water bowl.

7:45 – 8:05 p.m. We meditate.

8:05 – 8:30 p.m. Bedtime stories for Everett and Mabrey. Hugs, kisses, lights out. I realize I forgot to buy a doorknob cover for Mabrey’s room earlier in the day. It was even on my list! Steve rushes off to buy one just in case we need it. I really hope Mabrey sleeps.

8:30 – 9:00 p.m. Layne reads then heads to bed. Steve is back with a 4-pack of doorknob covers. We decide to hold off on installing one until Mabrey is awake. Don’t wake a sleeping dragon!

9:00 – 10:00 p.m. Steve sits next to me in the living room while I edit MORE PHOTOS. At 10:00, he gives me a quick kiss and goes to bed.

cheetah

10:00 p.m. – 12:45 a.m. With Cheetah snoozing at my side, I finish editing photos, write a post and respond to the most pressing emails in my inbox. I throw in the towel. I need a shower still but I’m too tired. I’ll have to get up extra early the next morning to squeeze in a shower. I change into my pajamas, wash my face, brush my teeth, set my alarm and slide into bed. It’s frigid and I think about summer and warm sunshine and wonder why the hell I live in Ohio. But I’m grateful for our snug lil’ house, my healthy family and a full day. Cheetah curls up at my feet. I’m out within minutes.

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Ground-breaking stuff, eh? Like I said, every day is different. On the days I don’t have tennis, I try to work out at home. Some nights I stay up until 2:00 a.m. cranking out a post just because that’s the only time I have to do it. Once a week, I get groceries. About once a week, Steve brings home dinner. We try to keep things pretty healthy most of the time but indulge every now and then.

NatureBox snacks are a great fit for our lifestyle. We pack them for school, work and on the go. I love that they are free of high fructose corn syrup, partially hydrogenated oils, trans fats and artificial sweeteners / flavors / colors. The kids love the way they taste. Eaten on their own or paired with fresh produce, yogurt, oatmeal, etc., they are the perfect pick-me-up. With over 100 snacks to choose from, there’s something for everyone. (I was stoked to see many new options!) I like to keep them on hand for when our groceries are running low and I can’t make it to the store. The subscription service  allows me to choose new & healthy snacks each month. Are you interested in giving NatureBox a try? Keep reading for details on how to win a free 6-month subscription!

PRIZE: Two winners will each win a 6-month subscription to NatureBox.

RULES: You must be at least 18 years old and have a shipping address (no P.O. boxes please) within the U.S. or Canada.

TO ENTER: Browse the ample snack selection here. Then leave a comment on this post sharing which snack you’d most like to try.

DEADLINE: Enter before 9:00 p.m. EST on Thursday, February 12th. Two random winners will be announced Friday, February 13th.

WHILE YOU’RE AT IT: Join NatureBox today and score a FREE sample box of their most popular snacks. Click here to get started. Free trial is available for new and U.S. & Canadian subscribers only. Not valid on gift subscriptions and may not be combined with any other offers.

Good luck and healthy snacking!

*This post is sponsored in part by NatureBox. Thank you for supporting the brands that support this blog. Even if you don’t end up subscribing, I hope you enjoyed a behind-the-scenes look at my everyday.

images: Dana Miller for House*Tweaking