Sunday lunch

You asked to see my kitchen; I’m giving you a peek. You asked for photo tips; I’m (reluctantly, awkwardly, remembering-there-are-many-much-much-better-authorities-on-this) offering a few. And you wondered how I eat so much without becoming enormous; OK, I’ll take that question on. I’ll even throw in a few recently tested, recently loved recipes at the end.

So what do you say? Got a few minutes for a fun FAQ in the midst of the holiday season? Let’s do this.

Q1. What does your kitchen look like?

cooking with Food Loves Writing

Above is my brother’s work space from while he cooked balsamic chicken for lunch in my kitchen Sunday. Below, he’s chopping chicken next to the stove.

adam chopping chicken

chicken cooking

I’d show you the other counters or the oven or something, but while he marinated the chicken in a sauce of balsamic vinegar, chicken broth, chopped garlic and seasonings, then cooked it in oil in a large skillet on the stove, I lost myself in roasting asparagus, boiling and then roasting red potatoes, baking rolls and listening to my friend Jackie tell a killer story, you would have loved it, and I just plum forgot to shoot the sink or the fridge. I didn’t, however, forget to photograph the important things:


boiling potatoes

roasting potatoes
*Recipes for chicken, asparagus and potatoes below

(Psst! While we’re talking about kitchens: My long-time blogging friend Kim is running an online kitchen tour that she’d love for you to participate in. Check out her recent post on tiny cooking spaces to learn more.)

Q2. Do you have any advice for taking better food photos?
Look, you probably know I have taken truly awful photos and posted them here before (and here and here), and so while I think it is so sweet that you’d ask me for photo tips, please know I’m no expert.

I’ve read some good articles and subscribe to some gorgeous sites (listed below) that keep me looking for ways to improve, and I’d encourage anyone looking to take better pictures to do the same. Also, for super basic, beginner advice that I have tried to implement, here it is: stop using the flash, try to shoot in natural light and, when shooting food, make friends with the macro setting. That’s it, seriously.

Look at the power of natural light below, compared to the above photos from my windowless kitchen:

roasted red potatoes

balsamic chicken

my plate

my full plate

See? I mean, even when you’re using your brother’s slick dSLR, natural light is still the best thing ever.

Q3: How do you eat so much? Do you exercise all the time?
happy, with a double chin

Good heavens, no. See the double chin making its appearance above? I wish I exercised regularly, I really do, and if you have any tips at all at making exercise fun in winter, please send them my way. All I can say in answering this one is that I eat small portions—and so that we’re clear, this is because my body doesn’t let me eat large portions without feeling sick (you can read more about that here if you’re so inclined), not because I have some incredible will power or discipline (I wish!).

[bonus!] Q4: So you’re accepting advertising now? What’s that all about
OK, true confession: nobody asked this question. Nonetheless, Food Loves Writing is now open to advertising from small businesses, Etsy shops, Web sites or whatever—and I’d love to talk to you about it. The way I see this, it’s good for me (a couple bucks each month) and good for you (no more ads for Hondas or weight-loss drugs or scotch tape). I’m only going to allow products/businesses that I like, and that makes me happy.

Still have a question that wasn’t answered here? Send it over! I’m sure there will be more FAQs to come. Or you can check out our previously posted list here.

On to the recipes!

Balsamic Chicken
Adapted from
Adam e-mailed me sometime last week to say he’d made this for dinner and loved it. So when he offered to help make lunch for our friend Jackie Sunday, I told him this is what it would be. Oh, people. There is nothing as amazing as what happens to this balsamic marinade when it reduces, becoming thicker and sweeter and more caramelized, seeping into the chopped pieces of chicken. When finished, the meat was fork-tender, full of flavor and covered in a sauce as dark as Coca-Cola. Just like he’d promised, we loved it, too.

1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup chicken broth
2 Tablespoons white sugar
1 clove garlic, chopped
Italian seasonings (Adam threw in dashes of oregano, basil and some garlic seasoning blend)
4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves, chopped into chunks
Olive oil, for the skillet


Make the marinade: In a bowl, whisk together balsamic vinegar, chicken broth, sugar, garlic and herbs, and place the chicken breasts in the marinade. Let sit for 10 minutes on each side.

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Remove the chicken from the marinade and reserve the rest of the marinade. Place the chicken in the heated pan and cook until they start to brown and are no longer pink inside, about 7 minutes per side. Then, here comes the fun part where the magic happens: add the rest of the marinade into the skillet, and cook until it thickens slightly, turning the chicken breasts over once or twice, about 5 minutes.

Roasted Red Potatoes
I love baby red potatoes, and this method of roasting them was the fastest I’ve tried. The key is boiling them first, which gets them almost totally cooked before they even enter the oven. Then the oven can do the magic of browning and making them crispy, what it does best.

Bag of baby red potatoes (I think it was 1.5 pounds), rinsed and chopped in halves
A couple Tablespoons of olive oil
2 to 3 Tablespoons minced garlic
Sea salt and pepper

Boil baby red potato halves in large pan until cooked through. Drain and lay potatoes on baking sheet. Drizzle olive oil all over and toss. Sprinkle with garlic and salt and pepper. Bake for about 20 to 30 minutes in a 400-degree oven (I changed the temperature a few times, so you’ll want to keep your eye on it). Potatoes are ready when the tops have turned golden and crispy.

Roasted Asparagus
We had a discussion this weekend about the difference between roasting asparagus and baking it—does a difference exist? I decided when the oven temperature is at least 400, which is what I used for these, it’s roasting. So there you go.

One bunch of fresh asparagus
Lemon olive oil (or you could use regular olive oil and fresh lemon juice)
Sea salt and pepper

Wash asparagus and snap off white tips. lay flat on a baking sheet drizzled with olive oil, and toss. Roast in a 400-degree oven (I bumped it up to 425 after about 15 minutes) for 20 to 30 minutes, tossing once. Asparagus are ready when they’ve bruised and crisped on the tops.

Shanna Mallon

Shanna Mallon started Food Loves Writing back in 2008, as a way to remember her grandma and write about her life through food. Since then it's become a place leading her to a lifestyle of eating whole foods, a new home in Nashville and the love of her life, Tim. Follow Shanna on Twitter @foodloves, keep up with Food Loves Writing on Facebook and stay inspired with the monthly newsletter.

This Post Has 22 Comments

  1. MaryAnn

    Thanks for the answers to our nosey questions!
    As far as the recipes go, love balsamic, love red potatoes, love asparagus…gonna have to try it all out!

  2. Stephanie

    Oh Shanna, I just love you. Whenever I read your posts I feel better somehow, more grateful for all the things in life that taste good. And you are so humble, but trust me, your photographs are beautiful and your writing never fails to warm my heart. I also have to balance my love of delicious food with stomach issues. I just reread your “the whole truth” post and I can so relate to all of your trepidation about eating new or problem foods. Thank you for continuing to share yourself with all who come to your site to be nourished…

  3. Sara

    this was nice to read! i totally support the ads, good for you. Thanks for the photography compliment, Hugh says thank you ๐Ÿ˜‰

  4. Kim

    This looks like the perfect dinner! Yum!

    And thanks for the shout-out about my little kitchen tour :)

  5. Vicki

    I love roasted potatoes! I definitely will add them to the list of recipes I want to make during my upcoming vacation. btw, I don’t know if anyone reads the discussion forum you set up for the Facebook group but after a cooking disaster Sunday night, Food Loves Writing was the first place I thought to go and sulk (after complaining to my husband first, of course!). I tried the recipe again last night and posted an update on the discussion forum with a question. Maybe you could tackle it in an upcoming FAQ posting?

  6. Shannalee

    MaryAnn, Absolutely! Questions are always welcome! And as far as this meal, it was excellent. Try it and let me know what you think!

    Oh, Stephanie. You. Are. Too. Kind. Comments like those are what make blogging fun, I mean it. Thank YOU for the encouraging, encouraging words.

    Sara, Thanks so much! And tell Hugh he’s welcome! The two of you are always inspiring.

    Kim, You bet! Can’t wait to see how it goes for you!

    Vicki, One of the great frustrations of the Facebook fan page is that we don’t get notified about new posts in the discussion page. Thanks for bringing it back to life. And for anyone out there who knows something about potato patties, please check out our FB page: and help Vicki out!

  7. Neel | Learn Food Photography

    Spot on about taking better pictures:

    Natural light is the best way to get great pictures. I think though that it is important to understand the composition and how to compose the food photo. this is specially important for food photograph because, not only do you have to compose a photograph – but you have to compose or set up or style the food itself too.

    I think that is what makes food photography so complex. I have used couple of things to improve my food photos:
    1. Read Your Camera Manual.
    2. Understand Your Camera.
    3. Understand Your Subject too.
    4. Answer this โ€œWhat do I want to show in the picture?
    5. Use White Plates.
    6. Use White Background.
    7. Remove Distraction from Background.
    8. Move closer to the food.

    Thank you for sharing.
    Neel from

  8. Tara Anderson

    Love that I can tell exactly where you and your tiny, little, almost invisible double chin are in that picture!

    My hood…the Pearl Street Mall in Boulder…woot!

  9. Shannalee

    Neel, Thanks for the extra tips! I love using white plates (you could say I have a small addiction to them) and white backgrounds, but I have to say there are lots of other patterns that look great, too. I want an old wood table to keep outside – someday!

    Tara, Ha! Good call – I’m impressed! My friend Michele took this picture of me about to take a picture while we were walking along Pearl Street in September. That peach ice cream was fantastic.

  10. Niki

    That is so not a double chin. NOT AT ALL!

    And I never get to take pics in natural light b/c I’m never home to!!!! The few I’ve gotten to use natural light in are from the summer, but now that it’s winter, forget about it! I’ll have to figure something out…

  11. kate

    I’m going to add one more photo tip that never fails to help me. Take LOTS of pictures. There’s nothing more depressing than taking only a handful of shots and finding ALL of them are terrible. The moment is gone and the food has been eaten. If you take a lot of shots, moving around your subject, changing angles and heights and close-ups vs. farther away options, you will end up with some good pictures.

    I think my record for sheer number of photos with one subject is 42. With the digital age, the ‘Delete’ button has become my best friend. That and iPhoto editing. But that’s a whole ‘nother post.

  12. rachel

    hey~!~ well If i get my etsy shoppe up and running again with all sorts of cool things or I start a better blog… like on feeding kids…. then I will totallly buy some ad space… thats one Im thinking of… kidddos foods….mmmmm….kind of in that “one-armed cookbook: style…lol

  13. jessiev

    what a fun article today! we love our wii (and the wii fit) – it helps a lot, and it is inside. ๐Ÿ˜‰ thanks for the yummy recipes!!

  14. Gabi

    Shannalee –

    Excellent food photography tips! And yes – the macro settings is vital. In fact some of the new point and shoot cameras have a “Food” setting on them.
    I take mine with the kitchen flood lights but I always need to adjust the white balance, otherwise everything turns out too yellow.

    That balsamic chicken – that looks and sounds terriffic! I will try it out this weekend. Have you heard of the Cream of Balsamic (Isola) sauce? It is basically reduced balsamic vinegar to a saucy consistency that goes insanely well on every Hors D’Oeuvres.


  15. Janet

    Tell us more stories. How about any crazy recipe you decided to make or undertake either on a week night or Sunday? =)

    Any bad recipes or recipes that looked simple and went horrible but you still ate it anyways because you didn’t want to waste food?

    What about memorable moments baking or cooking with your brother, mom or even dad?

    How many times do you read the recipe and instructions before tackling in the kitchen? Do you “practice” or mentally go through the steps?

    What would you like to bake next? Any plans to make a grandoise cake like St. Honore?

  16. Shannalee

    Thanks, Niki. I will hold onto your comment when I look at photos of myself, ha! As far as natural light – I definitely understand. This is the hardest part of losing the daylight in winter! I’ve taken some shots before work (either making the dish like waffles before leaving or making something at night and photographing it in the morning) but most often I just do the best I can, glares and all, at night. I will say this for my point and shoot camera – it has a lot of options and settings, and that helps a little, too.

    Kate, Great tip! Increases your odds that way for sure!

    Rachel, You should definitely blog about feeding kids. Nobody knows better than you! Maybe you could do a guest post here sometime – what do you think?

    Jessie, I have heard a lot of good things about the wii fit. My thing is I am in front of a screen all day and often at night and want to get away from it to exercise! Sigh. Excuses, excuses…

    Gabi, Good point about adjusting the photos – I often do that postprocess, too. I just use iPhoto, so it’s super basic, but it helps. Can’t wait to hear what you think of Adam’s chicken – the key is letting that sauce reduce. Man, it’s good.

    Janet, Wow, your inner journalist is really shining lately! You can bet there will be more stories here (what else?) and along with that, plenty of mistakes and failures, at least if the future is anything like the past. I had to laugh at your question about cooking with my family – with Mom and Adam, sure. Dad never, never cooks or does anything resembling cooking, ha! I don’t know what he’d do without my mom. The practice vs. wing-it question is a good one – in case I don’t do an FAQ very soon, let me just say this: I almost always wing it, which is a shame, but the truth.

  17. redmenace

    What double chin? Cuckoo! Thanks for the peek. I love the kitchen. I love the recipe. You look great and happy!

  18. Julia

    It’s great that you took time out during such a busy time to step back from the holidays. Thanks! And you know what, sometimes it’s not all about the photos, or the recipes, it’s about the voice that’s behind it all. Being real, you know? But you probably know that already, and so do your readers!

  19. Shannalee

    RedMenace, Aw, thanks! You are too kind!

    Julia, Wow, so kind. Thank you for the very encouraging words. I hope that’s true of this space on the Internet; I really want it to be.

  20. Nicole

    Hey Shanna,

    I just now discovered your blog, and I didn’t realize it was you until I came across this post. Don’t know if you remember me from college – Nicole Pitchford (Weinert).

    Anyways, I’m really enjoying your blog. And please tell Adam I said hello.

  21. Shannalee

    Hey, Nicole! Small world! Of course I remember you – I am so glad you said hi! Hope you and the family are doing well (I popped over to your photo blog through your husband’s that’s linked here, and those two kids are adorable!) – I’ll let Adam you were thinking of him.

  22. Pingback: The Question of Eating « When in Oz

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