Plentiful Cookbooks, Photography, Julia Child
and Pistachio Pudding

I have a weakness for cookbooks.  There, I said it. That wasn’t so bad.  Yes, a cookbook weakness is definitely what I have.

I’m sure I’ve mentioned my passion for fabric and patterned crafting paper here before, but now I’m adding cookbooks to that list.

Perhaps this particular fancy wouldn’t seem so questionable in my household if I actually used my cookbooks more often.  After all, I’m not the most skilled cook in the kitchen.

My husband, Boris recently asked me why I have so many books filled with recipes when I rarely ever use them. “For the pretty pictures of course”, I replied.

While that response drew a hearty laugh from hubby, I wasn’t kidding.

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It’s true, I love cookbooks for the pictures.

My affinity for these books relates to the way the food is styled, lighted and ultimately so deliciously photographed that it makes me almost want to take a bite out of the page.

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If a book makes you want to take a bite out of it, that must be a pretty powerful book.  While photographs can create a favorable impression about a cookbook, I think the same can be said about blog photos.

I really enjoy practicing new photography techniques, using props and staging and generally discovering better ways to make my blog photos look good enough to… well, to take a bite out of them.

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Of course, many early cookbooks included detailed hand-drawn illustrations like the ones in Mastering the Art of French Cooking, by Julia Child, Louisette Bertholle and Simone Beck.

I think it would be pretty neat to see a companion version of this classic cookbook featuring all these great recipes in glorious, full-color photos.


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While I just started reading a new biography on Julia Child, I recently finished reading My LIfe in France .

What a wonderful book filled with Ms. Child’s observations about living, loving and cooking in France.  I was particularly drawn to the intensity and determination she brought to bear as it related to her efforts to write her first cookbook, her “cook-bookery” as she called it.

She spent 10 years researching, testing and tweaking her recipes and manuscript before finally getting it published.

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Did you know Julia Child was nearly 50-years old when that first masterful cookbook was published?  Shortly after that she launched her successful PBS television series; The French Chef.

A reminder to us all that you’re never too old to pursue your passion.

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How timely that there’s a new movie that depicts Julia Child’s life, fortitude and wide-reaching influence on those who aspire to do great things in the kitchen (and elsewhere).

I haven’t seen this film yet but with the incomparable Meryl Streep (in the photo below) portraying Julia Child in Julie and Julia  you know the movie is going to be delicious.

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OK, enough about Julia Child (and Meryl) for now.

Getting back on track here with my obsession with cookbooks and photography, I’m so glad bright, glorious, deliciously colorful photos rule the day when it comes to modern day cooking tomes.

When I look through cookbooks these days, I often think to myself, “I want to create pictures just like that”.

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I think there’s so much that can be gleaned about photographic staging from simple shots like the trio of photographs on the back of a dessert book shown in the photo below.

Consider the ice cream sandwich in the center shot which I was particularly drawn to.  When shooting ice cream sandwiches, stacking them can make for a much more dramatic shot.

The same kind of stacking technique can also create visual interest when shooting cookbooks, as you can see in the very first photo in this post.

Blog cookbooks dessert

Check out the cover photograph in the book Outdoor Entertaining.  It’s beautiful and it gives me some great ideas on how to stage some of the handmade and embroidered napkins that I often share on this blog.

Keep your eye out for an upcoming tutorial how to make double-sided, handmade napkins like the one on my table here.

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You may have noticed I have a particular fondness for books by Williams Sonoma (always inspiring photos + one of my favorite stores), but I also love cookbooks that combine my interest in photography and crafts.

Provence quilts and cuisine combines tasty-looking recipes along with beautiful scenes from Provence, France.  Interspersed between the recipes and locale pictorials you’ll find quilting projects that are just as lovely and easy to make.

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Take a look at one of the double page spreads in the Provence cookbook in the photo below.  That French bread practically jumps right off the pages and the tomatoes look so delicious and fresh-picked.

The various projects are equally well-photographed.  You can almost feel the texture in these pictures thanks to the extreme closeups.

That’s a good technique to keep in mind when photographing your own blog subjects.

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Speaking of French cuisine, A Table in the Tarn: Living, Eating and Cooking in Rural France is another beautiful cookbook.  This book details the efforts of two food lovers who restore an old manor house and ultimately transform it into La Manoir de Raynaudes which became a popular boutique guest house in rural southwest France.

A Table at the Tarn is filled with lovely photos of food and the rural French landscape as well as dozens of mouth-watering acclaimed recipes from the Manoir’s own menu.

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Every day, I learn more and more about photography techniques including lighting (my weakness), staging and project placement for the best result possible.

My study of cookbooks (among other materials) has been a wonderful resource that not only helps me develop my photographic eye, but also touches on all the skills I want to improve.

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I think you get the point of my ode to the cookbook.  They’re certainly good for more than just cooking.

Perhaps one day, I’ll get around to using these books for the recipes inside.  I’m sure my family would like that.  Until then, I’m happy to keep snapping away.

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You may be asking right about now, how pistachio pudding factors into this discussion.

I snapped this pudding picture a few weeks ago.  While it may not be cookbook or magazine quality, it was inspired by the kinds of photos I’ve spotted in my dessert books.

I just love how the texture of the waffle-bit is so clear, I can almost taste it through the screen.

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By the way, look for the pudding photo in the shot above to surface here again soon.  It will be featured in an upcoming blog post on how to make homemade waffle cones along with some awesome ideas for serving them.

As I continue to try to improve my photography and attempt to make my pictures even more attractive and appealing, my ever-growing collection of cookbooks helps me with that effort in a big way.

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In the meantime, I think you can see how plentiful cookbooks, photography, Julia Child and pistachio pudding are all related in my world.

Now, I’m off to practice my picture taking… with cookbook in hand of course.

When I’m done, maybe, just maybe I’ll open one of my cookbooks for a recipe.


  • Michelle

    Wow you have dedicated so much to produce such wonderful work. Viva la France.

  • Katherine Marie

    Now I understand why I’m obsessed with WS cookbooks (AND we can’t forget their magazines…) I pour over them with such unbridled happiness because I love the photographs!!!! I’m that way with the Pottery Barn books/magazines too. Have you checked out their book series?
    Your cookbook collection is wild!! What inspiration!

  • Anonymous

    Those books are indeed a big help. I think I’m going to purchase a set of these recipe books. I want to learn how you do these deserts that you posted here on your blog.

  • boracay island Philippines

    So this is where you get your delicious deserts. Thanks for sharing your resources on making beautiful and yummy deserts.

  • PLT

    Food porn. Hilarious!

  • laura

    Ok…you never confessed just HOW many cookbooks you own. Fess up…how many are in your collection??

  • Barbara Jacksier

    And I thought I had a lot of cook books! I’m quite envious and not just for the lovely photos.
    Altho I like few things better than looking at food porn, I try to take in the essence of the recipes or style of cooking. When I cook, I believe all of that knowledge is my head somewhere and gets translated into dinner (but not as exactly as if I actually followed the recipes.) Does that make sense? It does to me, so when you decide to try cooking, I know you’ll be terrific.
    Meanwhile your photos are always scrumptious.

  • Helen Tilbury

    I love your blog & have added you to my list! I never thought about it before but you are right! Now I know why I love cookbooks too…and children’s books for that matter! The illustrations & photographs are just awesome & offer some great inspiration not to mention photography tips. Will dewfinitely be looking with that “third” eye from now on! What great effort you put into your posts & I think your pistachio pudding photograph is as good as any…just off to get some ice-cream right now…it is the closest thing to it that we have right now LOL!

  • Hena Tayeb

    wow those are alot of cookbooks.. you must be an expert in the kitchen by now

  • Penny

    Too fun Lisa! I would rather photograph my cooking than do the actual cooking itself! I’m no good as a cook but have TONS of cookbooks. Baking’s where it’s at for me! Beautiful photos!

  • gabrielle

    hi funny i just did a post on cooking and julie and julia movie, you should go see it you will like it. I too have a lot of cookbooks and I don’t nearly use them enough as I should. I need to add you to my blog roll I like what i see.

  • Gina

    I love it that you said you didn’t actually use them much! I love to drool over the food pix and imagine making wonderful meals but with my family all grown up and gone and me hardly home enough to make a salad, it’s just not going to happen any time soon. Still…I keep getting the cookbooks and then I purge some and then I get some more and then I purge some and then I get some more….

  • Julie Marie

    Hi Lisa, I collect vintage cookbooks too, and also vintage recipe boxes and old recipe cards from them…. I love the ones ladies would write on “this one is good!” or something like that! And I love the old ones that say whose recipe it was… “Nana’s Brownies” or something… Your blog is beautiful! Julie Marie

  • JO

    Hey there !!! …. I too have an array of cookbooks that dont get used…. a few where I get my inspiration and change the recipe around….and many that do just sit there…..
    What fun it is though…. to browse…. on a lazy day…. through the pages and let your mouth water…. as you savor the exact photos that you mentioned in your post wishing you could make that perfect dish to please even the most finicky eater…….
    As for Julie Child …it was such a pleasure on a Saturday afternoon when it was cold outside to watch her cook one of her famous dishes….
    Thanks again for a deeeelightfully deeeeelicious post…

  • Cassandra

    I collect cookbooks too (among other things) and I love them. Your photos always impress me and you can tell you work hard on it. Great job.
    Now off to browse through some cookbooks! LOL!

  • Jackie

    Ah Lisa… can’t wait to see that movie. I love Meryl. Great post and I know what you mean about the photography. That is what usually draws my attention as well. Men think so practical, don’t they. LOL Mine would say the same thing. 😀 I love the way you’ve decorated the table with the Sonoma book… dreamy! Wish I could do that! 😀

  • Damaris Estrada

    Lisa, I have been reading your blog for a while now. And what makes me keep coming back for more are all your AMAZING pictures!! WWOOWW!! I love to just look at them, YOU are very inspiring!! What a BEAUTIFUL life you live!! Keep writing and photographing!! Thank YOU!! Damaris

  • MixedGreenGirl

    Thank you for your entry…it made me laugh because you know the saying, “don’t judge a book by its cover?”…I am SO guilty of that! If a book has a beautify image(s) how can we not be drawn to them? I love the honesty of your posts! 🙂 So fun!

  • Judith Norman

    Yes, Lisa, photos are key for cookbooks. Color photos – the more the better. I won’t even consider purchasing a cookbook without color photos. No sketches for me! As always, great post.

  • traci

    oh my lisa, that is a lot of cookbooks. they are beautiful. i love books of all kinds so these appeal to me too. the williams sonoma – family meals one looks good to me. i am not a huge cooker either. i always have huge plans to become better but then with busy, almost grown children, no one is here to eat them. oh well.

  • Elaine Tutman

    If only my cook books could talk. They would herald some of my truimphs and failures as a young, beginning hostess and as an older acclaimed cook. In 1966 I bought “Woman’s Day Encyclopedia of Cookery” one book at a time every other week from the grocery store. There are 12 volumes. They are still in constant use, dog-earred pages, splattered with butter and flour, filled with memories. (Mom)

  • Thimbleanna

    Oooh, I can’t wait for the waffle post! You’ve got some great cookbooks there. I love cookbooks too and I keep trying not to buy anymore, but I’m not very successful. I just picked up Apples for Jam in the sale section of Williams Sonoma for just $15. I’m anxious to look through it. We just enjoyed Julie and Julia this weekend — I think I liked the parts about Julie more, because of the blogging link!

  • Sharon Dodd

    The waffle sticking out of the pudding in your last photo looks like a pizzelle to me. I have fond memories of out neighbor, who was Italian, bringing us freshly made pizzelle cookies at Christmas. Such a great memory, that I had to buy a pizzelle maker of my own when I had a home of my own. Then, throught moves, it got lost, so I had to order another one – now my grown son likes them.

  • Sheri

    I saw Julie & Julia this afternoon and think it is a delightful, and Meryl Streep is wonderful as Julia, and Amy Adams was funny as Julie. I like Stanley Tucci as Julia’s husband Paul. I loved how Julia was fearless when it came to cooking.
    After the movie, I walked to Border’s (what I love about NYC, the ability to go to a movie and walk 10 blocks to a bookstore) and purchased “Mastering the Art of French Cooking”, and Julie Powell’s “Julie & Julia, my year of cooking dangerously. I think I will pick up a copy of “My Life in France”. I understand about having photos in a cookbook, but Julia’s book is very instructive in showing how people how to cook. I think her book is an essential reference book. I like Mark Bittman’s “How to Cook Everything” as another good reference book, and have the other 40 cookbooks with pretty photos, lol. I want learn how to bone a duck, stuff it with pork and veal stuffing, and wrap in pastry dough. I need to have a dinner party to serve that dish. I am excited and wonder if this inspire people to cook

  • Dena

    Like you, I love collecting cookbooks. I love browsing through them because they’re full of ideas that I can translate into my own creations. Thanks for your suggestions on photography. I’ll have to try some of them when I’m taking pictures for my blog.

  • Stephanie

    I completely understand! I have a little cookbook collection myself…nothing nearly as grand as yours. Do you remember the Galloping Gourmet? Loved watching him.

  • Shell

    I never thought of using photos from a cookbook for photography inspiration. You are so right it is a great source. Especially books on chocolate. (I know I am bias since I love chocolate.)

  • Allie

    Obviously I have the wrong kind of cookbooks – oh yum! I don’t cook but I love taking pictures…..I’m saving pennies for a new camera that will do what I want it to. Your pics are wonderful, Lisa!

  • Candace

    Wonderful cookbooks, Lisa! I remember cracking up my junior high home-ec class with an imitation of Julia Child – it was so unlike me, but so much fun – and we were making a dish from Mastering the Art of French Cooking in class, although I can’t remember which one it was (it was so very long ago)! I, too, love the Williams Sonoma cookbooks and have nearly all of them – I love how easy they are to use and the wonderful photography!

  • Adrienne

    You have a TON of books!!! I want to come to your house! LOL I LOVE cookbooks!

  • Jocelyn

    I can remember watching Julia Child in her later years on PBS. She was always so interesting and really made hard recipes look doable. I love to collect cookbooks too. Although my Better Homes and Gardens red checked book is the one that I have used for over 30 years. Now my daughter is using it 🙂