Russ Crandall, the blogger at The Domestic Man, chats with WordPress.com about the Paleo lifestyle, the challenges of writing about (and photographing) food, and how his blog became a book.
From Food Blog to Cookbook: The Domestic Man
Russ Crandall established his blog, The Domestic Man, to chronicle his culinary and gardening adventures and a lifestyle modeled after the Paleo diet, which focuses on natural, unprocessed foods. Over the years, his recipes have evolved to focus on fundamental, traditional, and historically relevant meals.
Today, we’re happy to announce the release of his cookbook of the same name, The Domestic Man, which pairs recipes with short histories of dishes — and mouth-watering full-page photographs. The cookbook is for both novice and experienced chefs, Paleo eaters looking beyond the traditional Paleo diet, and people who want to test out the Paleo way.
We chatted with Russ about the blog-to-book process — and his food photography tips, too.
Tell us how your blog was born.
My wife and I moved into a house of our own in 2008. Having spent the past ten years living with roommates or relatives, it was the first time I had a kitchen all to myself, and I started getting interested in cooking. It was also the first time I had a backyard, and I decided to try my hand at gardening. I started chronicling my cooking and gardening adventures as a side project, and in 2010 The Domestic Man was born. Over the years, I decided to focus the blog exclusively on gardening.
What’s the story behind your blog name?
Initially, it was meant to be tongue-in-cheek, that I’m a man doing (and enjoying) chores that were traditionally not assigned to men. A few months later, I adopted a Paleo-style diet in order to address some serious health issues I’d been experiencing for several years. After changing my diet and focusing on traditional recipes, the blog title began to take on a secondary meaning: that humankind has become domesticated, and we have lost touch with our lineage.
Up until recent history, we’ve passed down traditions and skills — cooking included — from generation to generation. It’s been an inherent component of the human condition for millions of years, and we’re not doing it any more.
For people who don’t know much about the Paleo diet, can you talk more about it?
The Paleo diet is a way of eating based on scientific study and evolutionary evidence to figure out the optimal diet for our age. Essentially, the diet focuses on whole, nutritious foods like animal-based proteins, vegetables, and fruits, while avoiding foods that are detrimental to our health like most grains, legumes, and processed foods. My interpretation of the diet is a little different than a typical Paleo diet in that I’m more lenient when it comes to rice and dairy as long as they don’t negatively affect you.
The Paleo diet is counterintuitive to current cultural norms; low-fat, whole-grain diets have been promoted as the key to health for the past fifty years, despite the fact that our health has been in serious decline ever since we started vilifying meat and fat (which was the result of shoddy nutritional science). Current science shows that when sourced from healthy, pasture-raised animals, foods like meat, eggs, and fats are some of the best foods we can eat.
When first feeling out the diet, I discovered I was eating what I like to call June Cleaver meals: meat, starch, and vegetable. That got me thinking: most traditional meals follow that same pattern as well! So I started incorporating traditional and international foods into my diet and on my blog. Classic dishes like bangers and mash, beef bourguignon, lamb vindaloo, or even a bowl of pho are perfectly Paleo in my book.
How did the book deal come about? Do you have advice for food bloggers who want to publish?
Writing a cookbook has been something I always wanted to do. I recognized that no one in the Paleo community had written a book on traditional foods — everyone seemed to be trying to invent new recipes instead of looking at the way we’ve been eating for thousands of years.
So I sent book proposals to some publishers, offering to write a cookbook based on traditional foods. After a couple months of negotiating, I signed a contract with Victory Belt Publishing, the publisher that has released nearly all of the bestselling Paleo books to date.
My advice to food bloggers who want to publish in the future is to start practicing now. If you focus on writing the best posts you can, with the best recipes possible, the cookbook part might fall into place. Publishers are looking for authors who are already creating quality products.
Was the blog-to-book process what you expected? What challenges have you faced?
Writing a blog post is very different from writing a cookbook recipe, and I found out very early on that I wasn’t equipped to deal with the standards and attention to detail that comes from writing a collection of 100+ recipes all at once. I wasted a ton of time learning how to write a proper recipe — time I could’ve been using to develop new recipes (or sleeping).
A friend and I photographed the book ourselves, which was another challenge. We tackled the photos in two different two-week stints, often cooking and shooting about seven dishes per day. It was a lot of fun, but long hours — we usually went from 8 am to midnight every day between prep, cooking, shooting, and grocery shopping. Dealing with leftovers was also quite a challenge! I ended up making quick trips to work to drop off food that didn’t fit in the fridge.
We love the photography on your blog. Do you have photography tips to share with others?
Shoot using natural light. I’m such a stickler for natural light that I only cook and shoot blog recipes on the weekends. That’s why I only post one recipe a week; it’s more important for me to take quality pictures than to have more content or a larger online presence. There are artificial lighting solutions that can mimic natural light, but we just don’t have space for lights. I shoot all of my photos in front of one small window as it is.
Photography is the same as all of the other arts in that the best way to get better is to mimic the greats until a style of your own develops. If you’re making a mashed potatoes recipe, do an image search for mashed potatoes and figure out what pictures you like the best, and then try and keep those pictures in mind when you take your own.
Although having a nice camera helps, it won’t make your photos that much better. I upgraded from a $500 camera to a $2,000 camera and was disheartened to find that it didn’t make all of my pictures perfect. Style and composition are more important than having the best equipment. Think of your camera like a musical instrument: the best guitar in the world can sometimes make a bad song sound good, but it can’t turn a bad song into a good song.
Thanks for chatting with us, Russ!