Thunder, Flowers, Cookbooks

comments: 17




Good flowery, rainy, thunderstormy morning to you! I’m writing from here in my office where we’ve had all manner of thunder and lightning this morning. This is very unusual for Portland, Oregon, where rain tends to fall as a dull curtain of mist instead of a dramatic, rolling cacophony of sound and shattering light. I have a new app on my iPad called “My Lightning Strike” and I kept my neighborhood moms’ chat punctually informed of all nearby strikes (one just 700 feet from our house, and one across the street from Rebecca’s) because a bunch of lightning happening right as everyone is getting the kids to school is a bit stressful (and, I have to repeat, really unusual here). But everyone now seems to be safely installed wherever it is they should be this morning, and although our power just went out and came back on (everyone in moms’ group’s did as well) and the sky is dark dark dark, the rain seems to have mellowed into a drizzle, and I’m going to keep writing and saving this document every three minutes, just in case.

Thank you for all of your enthusiasm and encouragement over my cookbook idea! I’m so excited! I’ve had a busy week of running around and playing Pickleball and having lunch with someone almost every day (very unusual for me, actually [laughing]) and am just today getting a chance to catch up. But I wanted to post about some of the details of my process so far. These details will be kind of random because — it’s all pretty much happening in real time. So I’ll just jump in and get going with the first thing I did!

1. I made a very comprehensive recipe list from the blog.

One great thing about having a blog, especially having a blog for so long, is that pretty much anything that we’ve cooked in the past eighteen years that we’ve been proud of or that we eat regularly has made its way onto the blog. So I started here. I went backwards through the “Cooking and Baking” category on my sidebar and just wrote down every single thing that we had made and photographed. And it was over a hundred different things. That was pretty shocking. I put all of the names of the recipes into a table in a Word document, and organized them by categories like “Breakfast,” “Main,” “Soup,” and “Sweets.” I also kept track of the date on which a thing appeared on the blog, whether I wrote down the whole recipe or had taken a photo of it, so that I could go back and find it if I needed to.

2. I went through my recipes in my recipe box, in my little notebook, in my Paprika app, in my binder, in the stuff my mom had given me years ago, in Andy’s binder, in Andy’s handwritten notepad pages, and in some of the magazines we’ve kept since we were first married.

There were definitely a few things that in these sources that I had forgotten about and wanted to include.

3. I looked at the recipes themselves and started to think about which ones to include.

Once I had the giant list, I started looking closely at the recipes and thought about whether these were things I had made from other peoples’ recipes or whether they were my own or my family’s recipes. We immediately eliminated anything that was solidly from another person’s recipe that we make but just don’t change at all, and wouldn’t want to change. (But I was also reminded that I really loved those recipes and want to cook them soon, even if they won’t be in my book, so I still recommend doing this step!) Some were definitely in a gray area so I wanted to know what the actual copyright laws are around recipes in general and found several resources for further information:

This resource at the Copyright Alliance gives an overview.

Here is a great blog post by David Lebovitz that discusses using other peoples’ recipes.

And an article from

Basically, if you use someone else’s recipe in any way (even if it’s just on your blog or web site), you definitely want to give attribution (and a link, if you’re online) to the original writer at the very least, and you will need to rework and rewrite the recipe to make it your own version of the recipe if you want to publish it. This is pretty commonsensical, but you can find many other discussions of this topic online that will help clarify any questions you have about it if you just start searching a bit.

4. So now I’ll whittle down the recipe list even more.

I think I’m aiming for around fifty recipes, which should be about half of my original list, but the number will be whatever it is. I would like to finalize it very soon so I know. I think I will do that this weekend.

5. I think the categories will be:

Sweets and Other Things

I also plan to write an introduction, chapter openers for the categories, and maybe include some old blog excerpts if they are relevant. I’m guessing I will also include:

Cook’s notes (discussions of ingredients, what you should have on hand, etc.)
Resources (web sites I’ve loved and cooked from, shows about food I love, YouTube channels, etc.)
Table of Contents (but will this have each recipe listed?)
Measurement conversion charts for overseas readers
Other stuff?

6. I plan to have large photos for every single recipe.

I will either re-shoot those photos (they’ll have to be verticals) or dig into my archives to look for the hi-res I have from whenever I originally blogged that recipes. And I will also be slurping up many other photos directly from the blog through the years and including them on “collage”-type pages. Those photos from the blog will print small — 2.4”w X 1.8”h at the most — because they are sized specifically for my blog, not for printing, and there is no way I could go back and resize every single one of the photos I want to include or we’d be here for years. (I will definitely talk more about photo sizing and photo considerations in later blog posts, but I just kinda wanted to write this down so I had an idea of what I need.)

* * *

I’m not a professional chef and this isn’t a fancy food blog — I’m just a home cook who likes to cook (sometimes!!!), and has to cook most of the time, and even loves to cook occasionally, and my cookbook will definitely reflect that. This will be a book of family recipes from our moms and my dad and our grandmas, along with ones that Andy and I have made over the years, some completely original and some definitely adapted. It will be a book that represents the way we eat here, at home, in our very tiny, very un-fancy kitchen, with our little will-try-anything girl, as we make the meals that Andy and I both ate as children, and while we were becoming adults (many of my favorite recipes I started making in college!), and during the past thirty years of living and learning and cooking together with our family and friends and the people, all of you, who read and have read this blog.

* * *

Some stuff I’ve listened to, read, or ordered this week that you might be interested in:

  • I’ve been listening to a podcast called Everything Cookbooks which is hosted by three cookbook authors named Molly Stevens, Andrea Nguyen, and Kate Leahy. I’ve listened to the first four episodes, titled, respectively, 01: Should You Write a Cookbook, 02: Do you Need a Cookbook Agent, 03: Cookbook Proposal Writing Tips, and 04: Let’s Make a Cookbook Deal.

This is obviously (so far) a podcast about publishing a cookbook with a traditional publisher, but since I’ve done a couple of books with a traditional publisher I’ve been interested in what they’re talking about and there is a lot of great information and discussion here for anyone writing a cookbook, self-published or traditionally published, I think. I’m going to keep working my way forward through the podcasts because I have already gotten some great recommendations from this one for further reading, including some books, such as Recipes Into Type by Joan Whitman (I’ve ordered it, haven’t gotten it yet) and The Recipe Writer’s Handbook by Barbara Gibbs Ostmann and Jane L. Baker (ordered, haven’t gotten yet).

I am very much looking forward to having those books as resources.

  • I’ve also been listening to a podcast called Cookbook Club, which is hosted by Sara Gray and Renee Wilkinson here in Portland. They pick a different cookbook every month (not all of them new), make a bunch of recipes from it, and then talk about what they’ve cooked and what they thought about that. It’s really fun to listen to and I’ve gone to the library and checked out several cookbooks they’ve used.
  • I’ve been watching Nigella Lawson’s newest show on BritBox called Cook, Eat, Repeat. I always, always love Nigella and have been watching her shows since her Domestic Goddess and Nigella Bites days, and I just love her. That’s all. I checked out all of her books that I didn’t already own at the library the other day and I just love reading what she writes. So I read them like novels, from the introduction right through.
  • Unrelated to cooking: I am also watching The Diplomat on Netflix and it’s very fun to watch although I think it’s too smart for me (I literally have no idea about half of what they’re saying, literally — it’s so fast, and I am a tired mama, and I need to watch it twice in order to figure out what the heck just happened). But I love Keri Russell and Rufus Sewell, too, and they have pretty great chemistry. (I have a soft spot for Keri Russell ever since Felicity, which Andy and I used to watch every single week. That was a pretty amazing show about growing up, honestly. I think it was really underrated.) The Diplomat is super fun to binge.
  • I also bought the book Book Design Simple and Professional by Nancy Starkman but I haven’t had much of a chance to get to it yet. I’m not really there yet, but I feel glad to have it for when I am ready.

I looked at many, many cookbooks at the library and on my own shelves for inspiration, and just thought about what I liked about them and what types of things in them I wanted to include in my book. I also thought about what I didn’t love about some of them and made notes of that. More on these kinds of specifics in future, as well.

A few cookbook editors emailed me or commented (still need to get back to you all and thank you personally — until then, thank you!) and their comments warrant much further discussion (that we will have), because they were all talking about style sheets, and every single thing they said was super helpful. I had already been thinking about style sheets (if you don’t know what a style sheet is, stay tuned — we will discuss) but their comments really stressed to me the importance of of creating a style sheet early in the process rather than later, so in my next post I will be talking all about style sheets — what they are, why we need them, and how to make one.

If you are joining me on this self-publishing adventure, please comment with a link to your own blog or  Instagram or wherever you would like to send us so that we can follow along! I will re-post all links here at the end of each post so that they are in one place. And to the people who sent emails sharing their own previously published cookbooks or cookbook dreams, thank you so much and please comment here again (in this post, so everything is in the same place) if you'd like me to share your blog (or whatever you have) with the group. I truly would love for this to be a collective experience as it really sounds like it's something that at least a few of us are interested in exploring. So whether you are at the point where you want to share, or are just following along as we go, welcome! And please don't be afraid to join in at any point on this journey. It's a big project, and it's going to take a while, so I look forward to settling in and having a great time together. XO


I assume you have seen Rufus Sewell as Will Ladislaw in Middlemarch?

Also, and I’m sure you know this, but for the overseas readers of your cookbook that you mentioned, while U. S. cups are 240 ml, Japanese cups are 200 ml, so it might be good to point that out somewhere.

You are amazing! I can’t believe the enthusiasm with which you are approaching something that sounds (to me) about as fun as filing taxes. But I am sure the finished product will be stupendous!

Although I've read your blog for years and years, I don't believe I've ever commented. I'm very interested in your cookbook process and am so glad you are sharing it with us.
I started a recipe blog years ago, mainly for my young adult kids who kept asking "can you send me that recipe, Mom?", and I didn't want to write it out three times. I have another, more active, slice-of-life blog, but when I mention recipes, I always link to the recipe blog so I have them all in one place.
Looking forward to following along.

Just one thing to add from a librarian and former book editor and indexer: you do not need to put every recipe in the Table of Contents—that’s for your “main groups,” i.e., breads, breakfasts…What you do need is a great index at the back of the book. I highly recommend hiring a professional indexer or deep diving yourself into the what/how of creating an excellent and useful index; that’s where every recipe should go, cross-referenced by ingredients.

I love this journey for you and will follow along. I think watching The Diplomat made me a foreign policy wank. In that, I started using terms I heard on the show in life about true situations. I enjoyed it very much.

Susan from Tsawwassen says: May 05, 2023 at 12:52 PM

As a long-time reader of your blog (which I adore), I congratulate you on your new project of "love". Your excitement speaks to me as I read about your process. I hope one day to publish a photography book on where I live and I look forward to following you on your journey. In fact, I am interested in anything you have to say or share (insert smiley face). You very much inspired me many years ago as to how I photograph my surroundings. Love you to and I know this will be a great success and a joyful venture for you and your family!

This is exactly the kind of cookbook I was just wishing for! I’d been thinking about the community cookbooks that were in my mom’s kitchen — the preschool co-op, local small charities, etc, would compile regular people’s recipes for fundraisers, and the recipes tended to be homey and fairly simple (and aware that most people had limited budgets). They’re wonderful time capsules, too, with their relatively simple layouts, limited color schemes, line drawings instead of photos, and spiral binding.

This is so interesting! I am very much looking forward to your next post. I work in publishing and we do have style sheets... but I think the definition in terms of cookbook publishing is different. (My type of stylesheet is a file that contains all the styles that are referenced by XML tagging.)

Christine says: May 07, 2023 at 05:59 PM

I have never commented before but have been enjoying your blog for years. The cookbook sounds amazing - who doesn't need another cookbook! But, as a Brit I am wondering if you will be using cup measurements only? I do have one but find it very irritating and inexact to use and continue to weigh ingredients. It may be too time-consuming for you to give gram equivalents (like what is a stick of butter?) but overseas readers would be grateful.
Hope the project is successful whatever.

Theresa Strauss says: May 08, 2023 at 02:35 PM

I have read your blog for years, watching Amelia grow into a lovely girl. I am so in favor of you writing a cookbook, over the years the pictures of food you have made your family has inspired me. What about a chapter on holiday foods?
I was taken aback and had to read it twice, you are playing pickelball? Oh,Dear,that is such a slippery slope. My husband plays four mornings a week. It is addictive. He has so much fun and has met so many wonderful people, but be aware it is addictive.
But, then most good things are. Success in your new project.

This is me speaking as a reader and home cook, not as an editor--I strongly prefer cookbooks that list all the recipes in the table of contents. If the TOC at the front of the book just lists the chapters, then I like to see a TOC of recipes at the beginning of each chapter. Basically I want to be able to skim for ideas or find recipes quickly and easily, and in my opinion a TOC works better for that than an index.

I think The Diplomat is so much fun! Am urging all family and friends to jump into it! So much look forward to seeing what develops with your journey to a cookbook!

Kristen from MA says: May 15, 2023 at 08:56 PM

Wow, there really is a podcast for everything! (I love podcasts in general.)

I’m looking forward to reading about style sheets.

Hello! Been reading your blog for many years, and always enjoy it thoroughly. Yours is my favorite! Glad you heard from cookbook editors...I am one too. My advice was going to be about recipe style (style sheet), so I'm glad you already got that! Also, a good index is very important. You'll need to consider how you'll break it down, and what to include. It's a very exciting and intensive project to undertake. Good for you! Please feel free to reach out if you have any unanswered questions about recipe editing. Have fun!

I will buy any book you write :)

Hi Alicia,
wooow it's a great idea! I have followed you for many years, but now still more. thank you for sharing with us your study and ideas. I love cook and write my best recipe.

diane willard says: May 21, 2023 at 07:38 PM

I have read your blog for a number of years. I have always been impressed with your photos of your cooking. I have had to pull my tongue in a few times too many. So glad you have decided to put together a cookbook. I wish you the best of everything in making it happen.

Hosanna says: May 22, 2023 at 05:26 PM

I’m so excited you’re making a cookbook! You blogged about an African peanut stew we love and of course your cloudburst frosting is a birthday regular at our house. Can’t wait to watch this process and read your book! Everything you do is amazing.

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About Alicia Paulson


My name is Alicia Paulson
and I love to make things. I live with my husband and daughter in Portland, Oregon, and design sewing, embroidery, knitting, and crochet patterns. See more about me at