Meet the newest feature on The Sugar Hit! Blog Talk/Real Talk is all about the Bloggers, Writers, Cooks and Otherwise Awesome Folks who inspire me, and make this community so exciting. I’m getting in touch with the people who I admire and finding out where they get their inspiration from, how they got started, and what advice they have to share. Are you excited? You should be!
My first guest is the incredibly talented, knowledgable and hilarious Elizabeth LaBau from Sugar Hero! Elizabeth produces the kind of mind-blowingly original and BEAUTIFUL cakes, cookies and confectionery that really make my skirt fly up (personal favourites include this cranberry chocolate cake, these pistachio chocolate chunk cookies, and these chocolate cookie cups. Yeah, I like chocolate).
Not only is Sugar Hero! amazing, but Elizabeth has also written The Sweet Book of Candy Making, and is the author of the About.com Candy site. She is truly one talented and productive lady! How does she do it? Let’s find out!
Sarah: Firstly, tell us one thing about you that we wouldn’t know...
Elizabeth: I had a very short-lived career as a rock star. A few years ago I got the opportunity to sing on stage as part of a backing choir for Ray Davies, the lead singer of The Kinks. It was only for a few performances, but it was an absolute blast, and if this blogging thing doesn’t work out, I might hang up my apron and put on my leather rock star pants once more.
Sarah: That’s AMAZING! But I could totally tell that you’ve got the music in you! So blogging. I do it, you do it. Why do you love it?
Elizabeth: I love the immediacy of blogging, and the community. It kind of blows my mind that I can make something in my kitchen, snap a few pictures, and literally a few moments later, a stranger halfway across the world can see what I was just eating. [I’m the slowest at writing blogs, so that has never actually happened, but at least it’s possible.] It’s been amazing to connect with fellow bloggers and readers, and make genuine friendships and bond with them over our shared love of food.
Sarah: If you had to give an overall theme to your blog, what would you say it was?
Elizabeth: Creative, modern, FUN dessert recipes with a twist! I love experimenting with unexpected flavour combinations, textures, and visual presentations, because I think dessert should be playful. No one ever physically needs dessert—it’s a bonus at the end of a meal, so why not have fun with it?
Sarah: Amen to that! I’ve also noticed that you are basically a wizard at making candy. You know everything there is to know about it. You’ve written a book and you write a website on the subject. Where did it all start?
Elizabeth: Honestly, I fell into my candy writing career! It was completely unplanned, but it’s been a wonderful ride. I finished a pastry program at a culinary school and was working at a bakery. My hours at the bakery were cut, so I started looking for additional flexible part-time work, ideally from home. I applied to a lot of different random writing jobs, and ended up getting accepted at About.com, writing their candy website. I’d majored in English, and writing has always been a love of mine, but there was a still a learning curve, and I’m so thankful that About.com took a chance on me.
Sarah: I bet they’re thankful too! But back to Sugar Hero! What I love about your blog are your incredibly creative concoctions. Where does your inspiration come from?
Elizabeth: Aw, thanks Sarah! I love this question, because I always picture a big, dusty book on a library shelf titled “1001 Amazing Top Secret Recipe Ideas.” Don’t you wish there actually was a book like that?! The truth is sadly much more boring. Basically, I steal ideas from everywhere—restaurants, favourite childhood dishes, random candies I spy in the store, etc. I keep a running document on my computer with recipe ideas, as well as a file on my phone, and I jot down phrases, ingredient combos, or whatever else springs to mind.
One of my favourite games to play is “How Can I Turn X into Y?” Take a dessert that you love—a type of cookie, maybe, or your favourite cake—and try to turn it into a completely different dessert, using similar flavours or components. This often yields a fun and unexpected dish. I’ve done it recently with Dirty Coke Fudge, and earlier this year with Moon Pie Pie. And of course, it’s not limited to desserts…but why blog about anything else?
Sarah: Why indeed?! I love that you keep a runing journal of inspiration – that’s such a great idea. What advice would you give to someone thinking of starting a blog, or who wants to take their blog to the next level?
Elizabeth: Work like a dog. No joke. I think because blogging has a low entry point (you can do it for free!) it’s seen as a casual hobby, something tossed off without much thought or effort. And yes, it can definitely be a low-key hobby for some people! But if you’re looking to take your blog to the next level, treat it like it is the success you want it to be. Make deadlines and hold yourself accountable. Keep a regular posting schedule. Always strive to improve your content. Become active in social media, and really spend time getting to know the blogging community around your niche. Respond to reader comments and emails quickly, with warmth and respect. Don’t lose the joy, but also don’t lose sight of the fact that success follows work.
Oh, and I’m pretty sure that “be yourself” is a required answer to this question, so: be yourself! There are a million different ways to write a blog, and you’ll make yourself crazy if you’re constantly comparing yourself or imitating others. Do what feels right to you, and forget the rest.
Sarah: If you didn’t have a food blog, what would your creative outlet be?
Elizabeth: Some sort of visual arts—I used to do a lot of painting, and I’d love to get back into it at some point. I also have high hopes of really learning to sew, so I can make all those cute things I keep pinning on Pinterest, but I’m still a beginner!
Sarah: What three things have you pinned lately that blew your mind?
Elizabeth: This Ira Glass quote on work and creativity
These pressed flower cookies
These “Unusual Words Rendered in Bold Graphics” –I love the illustrations and the definitions!
Bonus: this crazy gorgeous chocolate tart
Sarah: What recipe do we have to make from your blog, like right now, this instant, DON’T WAIT?!
Elizabeth: Man, this is tough. It’s like choosing a favourite child. I’ll have to say a recent favourite has been this Chocolate Raspberry Mousse Cake (pictured above). Or if you want something seasonal, I love these Gingerbread Chocolate Chip Cookies.
Sarah: What song should we listen to while we’re at it?
Elizabeth: Vampire Weekend – Ya Hey. I’ve literally written entire blog posts while listening to this song on repeat. This might explain more about my blog than any of the previous answers.
Sarah: What one thing have you learned that made your blog better or changed the way you work?
Elizabeth: This isn’t quite an answer to that question, but it has definitely improved my blogging life: I joined a Facebook group for food bloggers. It’s been an invaluable resource for learning about the nuts and bolts of blogging, and for asking specific questions about ad networks, sponsored posts, wordpress plug-ins, and other blogging nerdery. That’s kind of a specific answer, so I guess the general answer would be: find an online community where you can connect with your fellow bloggers and get advice from folks who’ve been doing it a long time!
Sarah: If you could go anywhere in the world, right now, where would it be?
Elizabeth: London! I studied there for a year, and ever since them, have been scheming about ways to live there again. It sounds a little crazy, but this California girl loves her grey skies.
Sarah: Best way to spend 5 minutes?
Elizabeth: I should probably say “reading poetry,” or something impressive like that, but the truth is, I’m a sucker for fashion and celebrity gossip blogs—so I’d have to say, taking a 5-minute work break to read Tom and Lorenzo or Go Fug Yourself is pretty awesome.
Sarah: Best way to spend $5?
Elizabeth: Two chicken tacos, extra guac! Lunch of champions.
Sarah: FREESTYLE (is there anything else you wanted to add?)
Elizabeth: Haha, I have nothing to add, but I AM doing some rad freestyle dance moves right now. Pop! Lock! Turn it into a snake!
And then we popped and locked off into the internet together! MAN it was fun talking to Elizabeth. I told you she was hilarious, right? But also so generous with her time, and with such great advice! Did you learn something? Have you got The Kinks stuck in your head now? I certainly do. You can follow Elizabeth on Facebook, Twitter, and visit her at Sugar Hero!
So what do you think of this new series? Is there anything you would like me to ask future interviewees? Love to hear from you!