Archives for the month of: June, 2011

Anyone who knows me from my Seattle days and even my New York days to some extent knows that I bake a mean chocolate chip cookie.  In fact, at one point, they were world famous.  They were shipped to New York when I lived in Seattle, I baked them for bands touring through and I shipped them to a few fans UK when I lived in New York. I used the old faithful Toll House recipe back then and it was a hit. You can’t get Nestle Toll House chocolate chips very easily here and when you do find them, the price is highway robbery.  I settle for either the tiny packs that are on offer at the local supermarkets or I chop up a chocolate bar for chunky chips.

Biscuits or cookies are a favourite accompaniment with tea and coffee in the Punch Comms office.  Generally the boys take turns buying old faves like the hob nob or custard creams.  This time, I said to them, “If you buy the chocolate chips, I’ll throw in the eggs and flour and bake you chocolate chip cookies.”  The challenge was set.

Sugar and butter

Mixing the batter

Since I’d grown so used to the Toll House recipe, I decided to set myself even more of a challenge.  I was going to try a new chocolate chip cookie recipe.  Lo and behold my favourite patissiere, Eric Lanlard, recently featured his Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe on LoveFood.  He hasn’t steered me wrong yet, so I’m giving it a go…

Milk and Dark Choc Chips

Bowl of dough

The recipe itself is a bit different.  This one calls for half the white sugar than brown sugar, rather than the same amount in the Toll House recipe.  It also calls for one egg and one yolk vs two eggs in the Toll House.  And, the butter is melted rather than creamed with the sugar.   I also combined dark and milk chocolate chips just to shake things up a bit.

Scoops of Dough

In Eric’s recipe, he suggests using an ice cream scoop to measure out the cookie dough on to the baking sheets.  This is a great idea.  I always had a hard time making equal amounts of dough with a regular spoon.  I didn’t want such large cookies, so instead of an ice cream scoop, I used a measuring tablespoon.

Cookie Stack

The verdict is in… the cookies are VERY tasty.  The cookies are bit crispier than their Toll House cousins, but very light in texture.  These will go perfectly with the tea and coffee break at work tomorrow. Oh and tomorrow is Social Media Day, a perfect way to celebrate – getting social and eating cookies!

While not exactly a wrap up of the events at CyberMummy, it is inspired by the fantastic event.

(starting with a small rant)
The recurring theme during CyberMummy11 was ‘niche’ – that to stand out, you needed to find your niche. I think niche is becoming a buzz word that is useful to sum up what makes a blog interesting or diversifies it from the rest. To be honest, it’s not niche that drives me to look or read certain blogs, certainly the subject matter is important, but most importantly it is the quality of the writing or photos or the aesthetic of the blog. ‘Niche’ will only get you so far.
(stepping off the soap box now).

I’m a new blogger, but I have been a blog reader for many (many) years. I had been thinking about starting a blog for years really. I ran a website back in 2004 that was set up like a blog, but was mainly there to promote the bands I worked with. I didn’t consider myself a blogger. I left that up to the New York bloggerazzi at the time (The Modern Age, Melody Nelson, New York Doll, Jinners, Divestar, etc). I was just the hanger-on. I thought about setting up a blog when I moved from the US to the UK but I didn’t think anyone would care. I thought about setting up a blog when Mini G was born, but my life soon became occupied with taking care of a brand new little dude. I finally took the plunge earlier this year in January and I am kicking myself for not having had the courage or the discipline to do it sooner.

What kick started my motivation was reaching out to bloggers through my job.  I work at a PR Company and we reach out to writers of blogs for various clients and campaigns. I wanted to know what the ‘secret sauce’ was to receive positive responses. This then prompted me to figure out how blog platforms work in general. What kind of code can you embed on a blog? (The geek in me is showing) How do photos work on a blog? What are bloggers writing about? Anyway, I wanted to learn more.

I bake, I love baking, I love reading about baking so I read a lot of baking blogs. I thought yes! I finally found my voice. I can write about baking. I photograph everything I bake already. I am going to start a baking blog, but because I also love other things like TV, funny things that Mini G does and other kitchen related things, I decided on a title that encapsulated it all… hence ‘Cupcakesandotherstuff’.

Cupcakephotopanel **I didn’t bake this cupcake, but I did photograph it during @cosmicgirlie’s photo panel**

And now, I am learning more. I still don’t know what the ‘secret sauce’ is for getting bloggers to respond or cover stories, but on this journey I have discovered that I love writing my blog. And I know it will give me more insight, perspective and enthusiasm which will cross over to my work.

EricaSarahHolly

I am very glad I wanted to learn more because otherwise, I wouldn’t have heard about CyberMummy. I wouldn’t have met all of these amazing – yes, absolutely amazing – women (and men) and bloggers who all have something to share and something I can learn from. I was inspired by Sarah Brown. As a politician’s wife, you can sometimes forget that she is a mom, just like me. But she made a point that really resonated with me. In her keynote speech she said, “Social networks give you a voice to enable change”. It’s amazing to think of the power and influence one has with a blog, Facebook page or Twitter account. And listening to Rachel Johnson reminded me that once you publish something, it’s out there – whether in print or in cyberspace, so make sure you are behind what you say 100%.

MariaErica

And, if I hadn’t wanted to learn more, I wouldn’t have met new friends like @mummytips and @verybusymama and @mim_tweeta and @cosmicgirlie and there are way too many to list here (this blog post is already the longest I’ve ever written!).

Soooo… to wrap it all up, through this journey I have found my niche… it’s just being me.

Cupcake

I am live blogging for the very first time from CyberMummy11. Please don’t judge if this goes terribly awry. As a blogger who is keen on photography, I am very excited about this one!
@cosmicgirlie has just been told not to swear… Let’s see if she can do it.

CosmicGirlie takes the stage

You just have to take a good photo the first time. Editing later to make it look good is not necessary.

When taking photos, you need to think about angles. Composition is really important. Framing can enhance any photo. Composition is setting up the picture.

Before

Make your subject more interesting by either tilting the camera, stepping back or crouching down to a different angle. These can help make the photos “quirky”.After

Composition: think about where the angle is going. If you crouch down, you instantly make your subject matter taller – pointing to the sky. Focus on a point of reference for interest. Frame the face, drop down and tilt, this brings out the character and detail in the subject matter.

Action

Don’t just stick the camera in front of faces and snap. Think about the composition.

Do a quick assessment of your subject. Don’t focus on features they may be self conscious of; perspective can change the image into something possibly unflattering into a beautiful portrait.

Sian portrait

Photographing children:

Most often the best photos of children are candid. Begging a child to smile never works and usually comes out unnatural.

Capture the moment. Catch the child doing what they are interested in. Be patient, these photos take time to capture, but are worth the wait. The photos will look natural and not forced or posed. Children’s photography = be natural.

Photographing food:

Food photography is very difficult and is a profession in itself. Food photos take a lot of time to set up to look good. Lighting, sprays, gels and even fake food are all keys to making food photography look good.

Before cupcake

After cupcake

DISCLAIMER: **Cupcakesandotherstuff does not use any of these methods when photographing food, as you can probably tell.**

Using reflection and different angles can help add interest to a simple subject.
Glasses far

Make the viewer question: “What is it?” Crop images when taking the photo not in editing. Create abstract view to make the viewer question what it is and create intrigue. Using techniques like these is quirky, artistic, interesting and makes people think.

Glasses near

Editing can’t make a rubbish photo look good. Start with good composition, lighting, focus. If you don’t have a good photo from the camera, you will have a difficult time making it look good using editing programs. Within reason, you can create better photos in editing if the photo is a bit too dark.

A more expensive camera doesn’t necessarily make your photos better. Learn to use the camera you have before moving to on a more expensive camera with fancy bells and whistles.

Using DSLR, think about aperture and ISO. These are more advanced terms, but will assist in taking photos in low lighting.

If you have any questions for @cosmicgirlie for photography, you can check out her blog.

@ericawhiteman live blogging from @cybermummy – out.

Martin and I were able to have what I guess is called a “date night”. Mini G went to Nanny and Poppy’s for a sleepover and we hit the open road down to London to celebrate a dear friend’s marriage.

The reception was a brillant low key party with AMAZING (yes, it deserves all caps) food at a cafe in Stoke Newington called Lemon Monkey.

In addition to the indulgent smoked meat platter and lovely cheeses, the cupcakes were a real treat. I was curious to see how they got them almost cylindrical. One of the bakers at the cafe has some tins (according to the staff). I must find out what sort of tins they are. They make the cutest rustic cupcake. The cream cheese frosting was so moreish, I found it hard to stop – but I did. No need to put on those lbs I recently lost!

lemon monkey cupcake

Ahh, date night. We don’t have enough photos together anymore. I’m behind the camera most of the time.

night out

At wedding receptions, one tends to chat with everyone. Martin and I got into a conversation about food, baking etc with two lovely ladies, Analise who let me in on her secret to the best crumble ever (a pinch of ground coriander in the crumble mixture – who knew!?) and Lisa who turns out to be a reader of Cupcakesandotherstuff! I know people read my blog, I can see from my stats, but to meet one in the flesh who isn’t my dad or someone from my Twitter feed or Facebook page. So here’s a shout out to Lisa – thank you so much for reading!!

new fan Lisa

I need to get out more often. I’ll definitely be heading back to Lemon Monkey. When I find out what sort of tins they used, I’ll be baking my own cylindrical cupcakes…

Hi… I’m Erica, also known as EricaAmerica and here is my meet & greet:

Cybermummy11
Name: Erica Whiteman

Blog: Cupcakesandotherstuff

Twitter ID: @ericawhiteman

Height: 5ft 6

Hair: medium brown

Eyes: Green

Likes: baking, mexican food, coffee, crime drama (tv), crime fiction (books), music, taking photos, food, cookbooks, my dudes

Dislikes: being without coffee, prepackaged sandwiches with mayo, spinning beach balls

Oompa Loompa and Mrs Teavee

There are four fathers in my life. My dad, my husband, his dad and his step-dad. Each play an integral role within our family. This post is dedicated to them.

This morning while driving home from London, Martin and I were discussing the distance from where we live to London and that it wasn’t that much different than driving from Roseville (where I grew up) to San Francisco. Since it was Father’s Day, that conversation made me think of the trips my dad and I used to take to The City to take photographs. We’d wake up really early, stop and get donuts and drive 120 miles to the magical city. My first excursion was when I was about five or six years old and according to legend, I took a whole rolls worth of photos of a stop sign at the bottom of a hill. Although my medium and subject matter has changed since then, my interest in photography has not. Thanks Dad, Happy Father’s Day!

Me and Dad

My husband is a fantastic dad. There aren’t enough words to express his amazing qualities as a dad. Patience and humour are the first to spring to mind, lots and lots of patience. Happy Father’s Day, honey!

Martin and mini G

Poppy plays an important role in our lives. He entertains the silliest of whims that Mini G throws his way and we appreciate everything he does for us. Happy Father’s Day, Poppy!

Poppy and mini G

This is one of my favourite photos of my dad and my son.

Pop and mini G

And while we don’t see them as much as we’d like, Martin’s Dad and his Dad – also Pop – (oh that’s five fathers!) are also very important to us. Happy Father’s Day, Mick and Tom!

Generations

Daddy and mini G

To celebrate Father’s Day, we had tea and chocolate cake. It wouldn’t be a celebration in our house if there wasn’t cake. We also challenged each other to River Rafting on the Xbox Kinect Adventures. I let Martin win, since it’s Father’s Day and all…

Chocolate cake for father's day

This post is a bit different than the rest, even a bit sappy, but I just wanted to take this opportunity to recognize the Fathers in our lives.

I come from California so it makes sense that I am a huge fan of Mexican food. The UK is severely lacking in selection and variety of condiments to accompany Mexican style meals so Martin and I decided to make our own hot sauce.

Using guajillo and chipotle dried chilis I procured from a recent trip to Whole Foods in London, we created a VERY HOT hot sauce for our evening meal.

guajillo and chipotle

I love chilis so I get a bit silly when I am around them.

chili moustache

Make sure to de seed your chilis, otherwise you could cause a four alarm fire in your mouth.

de-seed

We mixed garlic, a bit of brown sugar and vinegar to create the sauce.

garlic sugar chili

And then blitzed it in the food processor mini blender.

blitz

And, voila…Hot sauce!

Hot sauce

This will last a few weeks in the fridge in a well sealed glass container and is the perfect accompaniment to chicken or pork.

Part 2 of the Annabel Karmel’s New Complete Baby and Toddler Meal Planner 20th Anniversary edition continues, this time with one of my favorite things to bake – Cupcakes!

Annabel Animal Cupcakes

This cupcake recipe is a bit different to the one I normally use, but it works well for decorating.

Getting ingredients ready

The cake is not too dense and Annabel’s recipe uses lemon zest, which is a nice addition. She recommends 2 tsp, but zest is hard to measure so I would use the zest of one small lemon or ½ of a large lemon.

Batter

Popular with the kids

The cakes come out flat on top, which makes it easy to spread icing sugar glaze and add candied treats to create animal faces.

fresh out of the oven

This style of cupcake decorating is not my forte and was quite a challenge. Getting the icing sugar consistency just so took a while and a lot of extra icing sugar, but I got there in the end.

Pig Cupcakes

Mini G’s favourite was the pig, so that’s what I did. I think he looks one cool cochon.

Happy child

Mini G seems to agree too!

Annabel Karmel’s New Complete Baby and Toddler Meal Planner Cookbook is celebrating its 20 year anniversary. Being a mom/mum who’s into cooking and baking, I was asked to choose a few recipes and review it. My little dude, Mini G, was very excited about this request. He loves watching cookery programmes, especially Annabel’s Kitchen on CITV.

I’m no stranger to Annabel Karmel. Just over four years ago when Mini G made the move from liquids to proper food, I turned to her for guidance with her puree book.

Avocado Puree

The Complete Baby and Toddler Meal Planner is ideal for new mums who are trying to get their head around what their child should be eating and is a great reference for those revisiting, like me. Mini G has turned into a very picky eater. I know it’s a phase, but an annoying one. I can’t really complain though. I was the WORST when I was young. I wouldn’t go near anything where I could see an onion or mushroom in the dish (sorry, Mom!). I think I survived off of meat and cheese somehow. It’s no wonder I have weight issues (but that’s for another time…)

Having a book like this to start with when the kids are young can set a precedent, encouraging them to eat a well-rounded meal. These recipes aren’t super-strict and uber-healthy. They are normal and tasty. In fact, the recipes in the Toddler section are not “dumbed down” for bland palates, but full of flavours like basil and garlic, so they can be enjoyed by the entire family.

Ingredients

So here we go… I really wanted to get Mini G involved so he knew what he was eating and to get him excited about the meal. We sat down together and looked at all of the recipes. I read out the recipe choices and asked him to choose one that he liked the sound of and the first choice was Spaghetti with Two Tomato sauce.

Kitchen helper

The recipe serves four and it was just Mini G eating this one, so I cut it in half and I used fusilli instead of spaghetti (Mini G’s choice). Let’s see how it went:

The recipe called for skinned tomatoes, so I immersed my tomato in boiling water for 10-20 seconds. Make sure you don’t let it sit for longer or your tomato could burst and become waterlogged. Then just run a knife gently around the circumference of the tomato and gently peel the very top layer away. Make sure to de-seed too. A seedy sauce won’t go down well with the kids.

skin tomato

Next, I chopped the onion quite finely. It’s quite important to cook until softened. In this recipe it says 5-6 minutes, but this is a guide. Your onions may take longer. I like to cook them as long as possible to bring out the sweetness. Keep stirring throughout so they don’t burn or brown too much. This is especially important with garlic too. If you brown/burn the garlic, it will taste bitter.

Chopped onion

Here I added the chopped fresh tomato, the chopped tin tomato, basil, sugar, et al to the softened onion and cooked on a low heat for 20 minutes. (Note: I left the garlic out of this recipe as it has the same effect on Mini G as it does a vampire)

combining

Mini G helped weigh out the fusilli for his dinner.

Pasta helper

And the finished product…

Two Tomato Sauce Pasta

The Two Tomato Sauce and Pasta was a hit. He ate it with no complaints and even said it was “Yummy!” I don’t get to cook for Mini G all that often, and lately when I do get the chance, it’s a struggle. I think the combination of the tasty recipe and that Mini G loves Annabel Karmel made it a much easier job for me. I’m looking forward to trying a few more from the book… watch this space!

Yum

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