The Most Devine Cupcakes You Will Ever Make

Posted on Updated on

Lately, I have been craving cake LIKE NO OTHER. I have an unreasonably large sweet tooth, and once I get a craving, there is no looking back.

On days like these, I usually turn to Pinterest for some much needed winter baking inspiration. Pinterest has a fabulous selection of recipes, from healthy dinner options and unique cocktails to mouthwatering cakes and rustic pies.Usually, my Pinterest adventure leads me to some sort of innovative food blog that makes me feel bad about my own blog because it’s way cooler than mine. In this case, it was yourcupofcake.com, by fellow Oregonian Lizzy Mae Early! I love reading blogs from other Oregonians. Anyways, I’ll get to the point. You’re dying to see this recipe, right?

I want to share one of my favorite cupcake recipes that I stumbled upon last year when looking to satisfy my unrelenting sweet tooth. It was fairly easy to follow and didn’t take a terribly long time to make, so I would recommend this to anyone who wants to step outside of their boring cupcake box.

Alas, banana cupcakes with peanut butter cream cheese frosting. Need I say more?

For the banana cupcakes you will need:

  • 1 1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • i stick (1/2 cup) softened butter
  • 1 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 cup mashed banana
  • 2/3 cup buttermilk

For the peanut butter cream cheese frosting you will need:

  • 8 oz cream cheese
  • 4 tablespoons softened butter
  • 1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
  • 3 cups powdered sugar
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 8 fun size butterfingers (I used a crushed Hershey bar)

Directions

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees
  • Sift together flower, baking powder and salt. Set Aside.
  • In a separate bowl, cream sugar and butter until light and fluffy.
  • Add one egg at a time then add mashed banana.
  • Alternate adding flour and buttermilk until everything is combined. Don’t over mix.

18

Fill cupcake liners 2/3 full and bake for 15-20 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out.

24

For the frosting:

  • Beat cream cheese and butter until light
  • Add peanut butter and let mix for two minutes
  • Alternate adding powdered sugar and heavy cream (Only add as much powdered sugar as you like because some like it sweeter than others.)

Just a heads up, the recipe gave me WAY more frosting than I needed, so unless you plan on piping heaps of frosting on each cake, cut the recipe back by a 1/3.

155

There they are! Okay, they aren’t exactly pretty, but my stomach didn’t know the difference. They were the most moist, dense cupcakes that I have ever made. I was honestly impressed with myself.

I will say that next time I make these I am going to experiment with a peanut butter buttercream frosting. Don’t get me wrong, normally I am a sucker for cream cheese frosting, but the cream cheese added a tangy element that didn’t mesh as well with the banana cake as I would have liked. But they were scrumptious nonetheless!

Be on the lookout for more recipes coming soon!

11 Tips for Better Writing

Posted on Updated on

If you have ever sat down with the intention of writing an essay, a news article or even something as simple as a blog post, you know how overwhelming it can be to open up a blank word document and type up that first sentence.

I felt it myself when I flipped up my lap top to write this blog post. We tend to put an enormous amount of pressure on ourselves because our writing is a reflection of our personality. We want the content to be relevant and witty, the sentences to be grammatically correct, and most of all, we  want to be interesting. It’s scary putting yourself out there for the world to see. But, the more you write, the less vulnerable you feel.

Which brings me to my next point: when it comes to writing, practice makes perfect- hence why my J452 professor has us write two blog posts a week. I’ll admit, it’s actually pretty fun, and kind of freeing. For once, I get to write in my most conversational tone and I won’t be graded down for being “unprofessional.”

Anyways, I digress. I know how it is, you have all of these great ideas swimming around in your head, but you don’t know how to get them organized and condensed into something worth reading. Well, hopefully, some of these tips will get you headed in the right direction. Inspired by David Ogilvy’s 10 Tips for Clear, Concise Writing, I came up with my own list of tips that I tend to follow.

1. Free yourself from distractions: Leave your cell phone in the other room, turn off the TV and get down to business.

2. Write in the morning, if you can: You will be more productive after a great night’s sleep and a delicious cup of coffee.

3.Choose a topic that you are passionate about: For obvious reasons. However, if you must write on a topic that you are less than thrilled about for a class assignment or something silly like that, do some research and find an interesting angle! If you aren’t invested in the topic in any way, your audience will be able to sense it.

4. Identify your audience: Are you writing for twenty-something travelers or a group of middle-aged business men? Make your audience feel important by personalizing each sentence and using jargon that they are familiar with. Plus, identifying your audience will help shape your content.

5. Create an Outline: Taking an extra 30 minutes to organize your thoughts will make the writing process so much smoother.

6. Avoid the fluff: The only benefit from using words like “extremely” or” very” is a higher word count.

7. Make it readable: Short paragraphs and headings will make it easy for your audience to pick out the key points.

8. Put the most important stuff at the top: People tend to have short attention spans, so make sure you get the main point across within the first couple of paragraphs. If your reader comes away with ONE key point, what do you want that key point to be?

9. Be conversational: Nobody talks like a robot, so don’t write like one! People like reading things they can relate to, so throw some personality into it.

10. Edit the next day: You will find the most mistakes when you read with a fresh set of eyes. Also, don’t be afraid to read your work aloud to yourself. This is a great way to identify wonky sentences and punctuation errors.

11. When all else fails: Cuddle with your cat.

5 Life Lessons I learned from Working in a Restaurant

Posted on Updated on

11009931545_212c7c29c6

Whether you are interacting with a client or serving pizzas, you will have to deal with customers to some degree in your career. Throughout college I have been working part-time at a restaurant to ease the financial burden of attending a University, and I’ve been surprised to see how many of the skills I will be able to take with me when I embark on the real world. Here are five things I learned from working in a restaurant that can apply to (almost) any career.

1. How to hustle under pressure. This is something that you are forced to learn very early on in your customer service career whether you work in retail, food or hospitality. Imagine that it’s a busy Friday night, food and drink orders start rolling in, and a keg blows while you’re pouring a beer for an impatient customer. Ugh! Now you have to hold up the line to run to the back, move a heavy keg and pray that it doesn’t spray all over you while you tap it. Then, you have to run the beer to the table and run back to the counter and continue to take orders while constantly keeping your eye on the expo window to see if there is any food to take out. *sigh.* Yep, nights like these are stressful, but more often than not a customer will notice your hard work and praise you for it or give you a tip. And believe me, those little things are what make the stressful nights bearable.

2. Patience is key. This rule applies to customers and coworkers. Don’t rush the kitchen when they are  working hard to make food and ESPECIALLY don’t rush a customer when they are deciding what to order. Take the time to help out first-timers with the menu and offer advice about what’s good. Hungry customers take food very seriously, so if they seem unsure, ask them questions about what they are in the mood for and give them recommendations; after all, you know the menu better than anyone. If they are being rude, remember that they are hungry and cranky, and being inpatient will end badly for both of you.

3. Kill ’em with kindness. You aren’t only representing yourself, you are representing the company that you work for. People will talk down to you and they will treat you like you’re stupid- unfortunately, that’s just the nature of the job. Remember to stay calm and be polite- this mantra will get you far in any industry.

4. Teamwork. Think of your coworkers as a team fighting to reach a common goal; whether it’s to get as many people to sign up for a rewards program or to simply run a smooth dinner service. When it starts to get busy and mistakes are being made, don’t lose sight of the goal. Your team is there to help you succeed, and without them you would be running an establishment by yourself. Not a good time.

5. Build relationships with your customers. After working somewhere for a while, you will get to know the clientele and what they like. Pretty soon you will start talking to them about their grand kids and what they got them for Christmas while typing in an order that you have memorized because they get the same thing every time. Going that extra mile to remember an order will impress your customers and make them feel important. Even if you don’t have time for a long chat, it’s really rewarding when a repeat customer refuses to be helped by anyone else other than you because you made such a lasting impression during his or her previous visit.

So, those are some of the things I have learned from working in a restaurant. While I sometimes dread going to work because of the long hours and the odd people, I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything. If nothing else, I have gained so much more respect for other people who work in customer service and I will forever be a great tipper. *wink.*

How Julep’s Social Media Strategy Snagged Investors Attention

Posted on Updated on

6001112875_4bc5339dc7_z

Customers aren’t the only ones responding to the young beauty brand’s buzz on social media, investors are quietly eavesdropping on the conversation as well. According to this article from Forbes, Julep’s unique social media strategy has attracted the attention of investors who are willing to drop a pretty penny on the company, and here’s why:

Julep customers have the option to become a “maven,” where you can pay $19.99 per month for a box full of hand-picked makeup, nail-care and skin-care items at a discounted price. Before signing up, you have to take a style quiz online,which tells the company what kind of products and colors you’re interested in. What sets this Seattle-based company apart from the famous Birchbox, is the fact that Julep will send you an email each month with a preview of what your customized box will contain, and if you aren’t happy with their selections, you can request to send it to a friend or ask for different products. This program is brilliant, really, because women tend to gossip…a lot…especially on social media. During a time when blogging is all the rage, beauty bloggers will eat this stuff UP. They are looking for any excuse to try a slew of high-end products and either praise them (hopefully) or absolutely tear them apart, and the longer Julep can stay on a beauty blogger’s radar, the longer it can reap the benefits of free marketing.

So, what better way to get someone to try a product and talk about it than to ship a box right to their front door? (Yes, $19.99 is a bit steep to pay month-to-month, but when you figure that an average bottle of Julep nail polish is a whopping $14, you are definitely getting a bigger bang for your buck by becoming a maven.) Anyways, what I am trying to get at here, is that word-of-mouth marketing is HUGE in the beauty industry, and Julep has a real knack for getting its products talked about, thus, grabbing the attention of some pretty high-profile investors.

Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and beauty blogger reviews have become the go-to mediums for customer feedback. Being active on social media allows Julep to see what products are flying off the shelves and what products are duds. If a limited-edition nail polish gets rave reviews, Julep is more than likely to make it a permanent product, thus satisfying the customers that can’t live without it.   What’s most impressive about the beauty brand, is that Julep will not delete or hide negative comments or complaints from customers; Julep actually RESPONDS. “We’re not telling customers what they want, we’re responding to what they want,” says Jane Park, Julep Beauty’s founder and CEO. If there is one thing that customers appreciate these days, it’s transparency, and Julep prides itself on being honest and responsive.

From an investors point of view, it’s refreshing to see companies take such a hands-on approach. Julep actually listens to it’s customers, which is a huge contributing factor to its success- and investors want in on this success. Big names like Maveron (Howard Schultz and Dan Levitan’s venture arm), Version One Ventures and Precedent Investments (whose funders include Will and Jada Pinkett Smith, and Jay Z’s Roc Nation) have injected a total of $26.9 million into the company over the past two years. Not too shabby.

Pinterest: A Not-So-Healthy Obsession

Posted on

I, like millions of other women, spend way too much time on this pesky site. I’m obsessed. Whenever I have down time- waiting for the bus, putting off homework, or waiting for a class to start, I’m scrolling through my home page to see what everyone’s pinning.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with Pinterest, it’s” a pinboard-style photo-sharing website that allows users to create and manage theme-based image collections such as events, interests, and hobbies. Users can browse other pinboards for images, “re-pin” images to their own pinboards, or “like” photos.” (Yes, this is the definition from Wikipedia.) I pin to several boards that cover a variety of interests including fashion, food, health, home goods, hair, beauty, etc.

Pinterest is a great place to find wardrobe inspiration, new recipes and DIY projects, but it’s also a great place if you’re looking to lower your self-esteem. Yeah, I said it. As much as I love seeing what’s on trend this season, it’s a constant reminder of all the things I desperately want but can’t have. Whether it’s an unattainable body, a $1,500 dollar Louis Vuitton or ridiculously long hair, everything on Pinterest is disgustingly perfect. Try scrolling through the “Health and Fitness” category without reading an “inspirational” fitness quote next to an image of an extremely tan woman in a sports bra showing off her eight pack. Barf.9841402416_b2760f111e_n

Pinterest is not the only culprit; Images and status updates on other social media sites such as Instagram and Facebook could be linked to perpetuating the same unhealthy thoughts on body image. Young girls are constantly exposed to images of sexualized women whether it’s on billboards, magazines, television or the internet. Similar to the impact that advertising has on women, social media can make girls feel like they aren’t beautiful unless they look a certain way or use a certain product. According to psychologytoday.com, “social media presents you with countless opportunities (if not demands) to describe in words or pictures your physical attributes.”  We seek approval from others by sharing status updates or photos that shed ourselves in a light that we think is appealing. Similarly, when we see an update that a friend has posted we are quick to compare our lives with his/hers. “Does she have a better job than me? Does he make more money than I do?” These are probably just a few of the questions we have all asked ourselves before.

Based on what I’ve read, very few studies have been conducted to prove there is a significant link between social media and body image. However, I found several articles and blogs on the issue- a few of them are linked above. Based on my own personal experiences and  experiences of friends, I think it’s important to be aware of the negative impact that Pinterest and other social media sites can have on one’s self-esteem. A negative self-image is no joke- it can lead to anxiety, depression and eating disorders.

It’s safe to say that I have a love/hate relationship with Pinterest. Let’s be real, I probably won’t ever stop using it because I do get some fabulous ideas from it, but I will have to remind myself to proceed with caution.

Food Network: Behind the Scenes

Posted on Updated on

Is the Food Network becoming less about food and more about entertainment? As a die-hard Food Network fan, it pains me to say that it probably is.

It’s been interesting to watch the network evolve from a slew of educational cooking shows to this new era of reality competition. Don’t get me wrong, some of those competitions make for great television- I am a sucker for Chopped and Iron Chef America. I just love the drama! However, I miss the traditional shows such as Good Eats with Alton Brown and Emeril Live with Emeril Lagasse. Call me old fashioned, but there is something inspiring and mesmerizing about watching a talented chef prepare a meal while explaining the step-by-step process in his own words. A wave of nostalgia flooded my mind when I heard that the network completely stopped making its own cooking shows. I know this sounds dramatic, but it felt like a piece of my childhood was gone forever. All that’s left are the memories I have of my mom and I watching old-school cooking shows while preparing Thanksgiving dinner, or waking up on rainy weekend mornings and making breakfast recipes that we learned days before.

3200203890_7aaafd4b17_nSo, why the shift from internal production to competitions? From Scratch: Inside the Food Network, a tell-all book by Allen Salkin, reveals some scary truths about the once groundbreaking television station. Apparently, ratings have significantly declined just within the past year. You can imagine the pang of anxiety that hit Food Network when it found out that HGTV took the cake in terms of viewership in the first half of 2013. Producers needed to re-win the hearts of viewers by offering a fresh take on food entertainment. Thus, the competition format emerged. Salkin explores this phenomenon in his new book as well as a variety of other juicy topics including the scandal with Paula Dean.

It’s no secret that the end goal of any big television network is to make a profit, but it’s not everyday that a book comes out revealing the specific ways a particular network reaches said goal. The facts in this book will be a major eye-opener to Food Network fans to say the least, however, I would be surprised if it caused a full-fledged public relations crisis.

Salkin makes a point to say that he truly believes the “hosts genuinely want to educate the public about food,” and I would have to agree. I don’t think any behind-the-scenes book could convince me to think that the hosts have a hidden agenda. And, to be honest, I would actually be heart-broken if I found out Michael Simon HATED cooking and only competed on Iron Chef America for the paycheck. On the flip-side, it is obvious that the Food Network has its own agenda, and like Salkin suggests in his book, sometimes those two agendas don’t match up.

So, I will pose this question again: is the Food Network more about entertainment than it is food? Yes, just like every other television network. Does that fact discredit the chefs in any way? No, not at all.

Why am I writing?

Posted on Updated on

I created ‘A Fresh Take’ for my strategic public relations class, but I am secretly excited to have an excuse to blog every week. I will use this outlet to explore the freshest PR techniques as well as a variety of other topics such as food, lifestyle and a bit of entertainment. As a “millennial” who is about to embark on this adventure called the “real world” I want to connect with people who are going through the same disappointments, triumphs and anxieties that come with being a twenty something young professional. I want to learn from the best public relations professionals who know the ins and outs of the industry. I want to be inspired by food journalists who get paid to eat fabulous dishes and write about them. But most of all, I just want to write.

I love that the public relations industry is so expansive because it gives me the opportunity to dip my toe into the waters of a plethora of fields. While I am most interested in communications as it relates to food, lifestyle and entertainment, I am not at all opposed to branching out into other areas such as crisis communications or event planning.

Throughout my time at the SOJC I have gained hands-on public relations experience through PRSSA and Allen Hall Public Relations, a student-run firm. I was also a communications intern for the Eugene Police Department where I helped launch a social media campaign, interviewed crime victims and produced videos. My newest adventure is to take on the role as communications intern for the Springfield Public School District. While I have only been there for a short time, I have already learned so much about writing and designing content for the district.

I am set to graduate in June 2014 from the University of Oregon’s School of Journalism and Communication with a major in public relations and a minor in business administration.