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Blogger of the Week: The Vanilla Bean Blog - A Baker's Soliloquy

August 20th 2014 / Hanna Ibraheem

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We sat down with Sarah from The Vanilla Bean Blog to discuss how she creates food with a story...

While we relish the opportunity to get wined and dined, for us Glossies, there’s nothing quite like a home cooked meal. Certain foods have the power to evoke memories, whether it’s the amazing roast that your mum used to make every Sunday, the endless pasta you ate when your Student Loan was running dry or Swiss Roll desserts from school dinners.

This is why Sarah decided to create the Vanilla Bean Blog. With a strong passion for baking, she gets a lot of joy out of providing food for her family but realised that they had no food history. Not having had any special family recipes passed down to her, Sarah decided to change this and transformed her blog to revolve around heritage.

We spoke to the wholesome food blogger about her journey of creating recipes that could be left as her legacy and where she gets her inspiration…

Firstly, what made you decide to start your blog?

The Vanilla Bean Blog started two and half years ago – I had another blog before it, which focused on daily life, crafting, and recipes, but I found the food posts to be taking over everything, and so I decided to start a space for the recipes. I realised in the process that I had no family food heritage – my mum was never crazy about cooking, and my grandparents never passed any recipes down. Baking was so important to me, and I wanted to have recipes for my children to know and love. So I started posting.

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What’s your favourite aspect of blogging and are there any downsides?

I love baking and find any excuse to do so, and so creating posts is a good way to stay in my kitchen. This can also be a downside, because it is hard to maintain a healthy diet when baking with butter and sugar is frequently part of my day.

How do you balance blogging with other interests or jobs? Do you ever go offline?

Balancing blogging and life can be a bit tricky, especially with two little ones at home. I try to have specific ‘blog times’, such as their daily quiet time and after they are asleep. My kids love to bake with me, so I try to involve them as much as possible.

I often have to make myself go offline. Social media can be rather time consuming, especially as I’m addicted to Pinterest. But I’m always glad when I leave my phone in the other room and lose myself in a good book.

Your blog is about heritage. Where do you get your cooking inspiration from?

During my college years I worked for two wonderful people, Larry and Colleen Wolner, who own The Blue Heron Coffeehouse. They made (and still make!) the most wonderful food — almost all from scratch, all local, all organic. They were doing it way before it was hip, and they taught me so much about food and about people. I saw their passion and delight in what they did and fell in love: with them, and with their food. I started making chocolate chip cookies for them on busy weeknights, and slowly they taught me everything else.

What is your personal food philosophy?

Nigel Slater wrote in his Notes From the Larder, “The art of crafting something by hand – a sandwich even - for others to enjoy is something I can always find time for. Making a dish over and over again till it is how you want it, whether a loaf of bread or a pasta supper for friends, gives me a great deal of pleasure… if we follow a recipe word for word we don’t really learn anything, we just end up with a finished dish. Fine, if that’s all you want. Does it really matter how you get somewhere? I don’t think it does. Short cuts are fine, rule breaking is fine. What matters is that the food we end up with is lick-the-plate delicious. Let us never forget that we are only making something to eat. And yet, it can be so much more than that, too. So very much more.”

I couldn’t agree more.

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How do you create new recipes? Is it a trial and error process?

I'm terribly addicted to cookbooks and find any excuse to pull out bowls and whisks and put something new in the oven. I try to make a recipe quite a few times before posting. I want it to be something I am confident about, and can write about in my own words and voice. Sometimes I will have ideas in mind, and will follow a ‘base’ recipe the first time or two, and then slowly change things up until I like it. I’ve been baking and cooking long enough that I usually feel confident changing both the ingredients and the process, if needed. Of course, there are always baking failures, but that’s just part of learning.

Have you had any cooking disasters?

Yes, of course! When I am overly confident about baking I have a terrible kitchen experience.

How do you decide which recipes to feature on your blog?

Usually they are recipes I am currently making in my own kitchen, for my family or friends.

What are your three favourite recipes?

I love making scones, rustic tarts, and chocolate cake.

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If you kept a food diary, what would a typical day look like?

It would be a list of random recipe ideas that came throughout the day, a quote or two that stuck with me from a cookbook or book, comments on whatever I baked and cooked that day, and a princess drawing stuck in there from my daughter.

Which ten ingredients do you use most often?

Flour, sugar, butter, eggs, cream, vanilla, cacao nibs, chocolate, cardamom, basil.

What five things are always in your fridge?

Coffee, sharp cheddar cheese, cream, butter, eggs.

Where are your favourite places to buy ingredients?

I frequent my local co-op quite a bit, and the Midtown Farmer’s Market in Minneapolis is amazing.

Which three kitchen appliances could you not live without?

My stand mixer is always being used. Also, they are not really appliances, but I couldn’t be without my rolling pin and pastry cutter.

Where are your favourite places to go when eating out?

With two little ones, we are terribly behind on the Minneapolis eating scene, but our family favourites are Crescent Moon Pizza, Hong Kong Noodle, and Karta Thai. If it’s just my husband and me, I love going to Lucia’s and the 112 Eatery.

Who are your favourite bloggers?

This question is always so hard; there are so many blogs I love. Local Milk, Zoe Bakes, Remedial Eating, What’s Cooking Good Looking, My Darling Lemon Thyme, The Year in Food, and Farmette are current favourites.

What does the future hold for your blog? Are there any exciting developments in the pipeline?

I am working on a few projects this next year, which I am excited about. There is a lot more baking in my future!

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