Knitting Contrissmas: Day 12: Anita Chu

Winner from Kristin Nicholas— a set of 3 .pdf patterns, The Quarters Cap, The Kristin’s Creative Christmas Stocking,  and The Sunflowers and Zinnias to Knit and Felt is Marolee! Congratulations!!

Knitting Contrissmas, Day 12! Today we have Anita Chu from Dessert First—- a favorite food blog, one you’ll love if you don’t already! Something for your Sweet Tooth! (Cause you know you have one!)

Anita has graciously offered a SET of her two wonderful cookbooks to the WINNER of today’s giveaway! Comment by Midnight CST on December 17th to win—- and good luck to you!

KC: Thanks so much for visiting with us Anita—- I’m a big fan and hope I can introduce some other creative people to you!

KC: You’ve taken professional pastry courses that have led you to your current position in the food world—– what did you learn to make that you hadn’t tried before? Of course, what is your favorite pastry to make and eat? Are they two different things?

AC: Before I went to pastry school, I usually made simple things like cookies, brownies, and coffee cakes. Going to a professional course gave me the confidence to try more complicated recipes that seemed out of my league, like croissants, tempered chocolate, and wedding cakes. I’m really glad I went through the experience!

AC: I really enjoy working with tarts and coming up with all sorts of different fillings. As for my favorite pastry to eat, it varies  – sometimes I just want some ice cream, other times a slice of cake, but I usually won’t say no to something sweet!

KC: The photography on your blog is really lovely, what kind of camera do you use? Any lenses that make you smile? (I spend my working life in a photography studio so of course I’m doubly interested!) Most bloggers are fairly passionate about taking better photos for their own blogs, do you have any tips for them?

AC: Thanks so much for the compliments! The quality of food photography on blogs today is so high, I feel like I’m barely keeping up! I use a Canon Rebel XTi with a 50mm/f1.4 and 100mm/2.8 for the majority of my shots. I recently got a Panasonic Lumix GF1, which I really enjoy as a lightweight walkabout camera. Some of the outdoor/travel shots on my site are from the GF1.

Today there’s a wealth of food photography resources available, a big difference from when I started out. I had to figure out a lot of things on my own through trial and error, which actually is still one of the best ways to improve your photography. My personal tips for taking better photos include: 1) Practice (intelligently). With digital cameras today, it’s easy to take 100 pictures and weed out the bad ones. But I try to take a few shots, look at them and figure out what I like and don’t like, make some changes to the setup, then take some more shots and re-evaluate. The more I can quantify what works and doesn’t work in a shot, the easier it becomes for me to recreate those qualities in future shots. 2) Look at other food photos. There’s a ton of inspiration out there, and it’s also good to keep up on trends and styles in current photography. Sometimes, if you’re stumped creatively, find a photo you admire and try to reproduce the styling, lighting, etc. By figuring out how to recreate the photo conditions you might pick up some new techniques or come up with an idea for your own photos.  3) Invest carefully in tools and props. No, you don’t need to spend thousands of dollars to be able to take good photos. On the other hand, there are many tools out there that can help you, if you know what you want. For example, instead of buying a ton of expensive lenses without knowing what their purpose, determine what lens you might want to achieve a certain shot – a macro lens, a wide angle lens, etc. Often times there are many inexpensive solutions to problems – I drape a sheet or tack up parchment paper (yes, parchment paper!) on a window to diffuse the light or use aluminum foil as a bounce – no need to buy the pricey “real solution”. Also, it’s easy to go overboard with prop acquisition, but having a good basic set of white plates and some interesting backgrounds like wood or slate can help you achieve some beautiful shots very simply. I see food photography moving away from the overly styled, twenty props-around-the-food aesthetic and swinging back to a focus on the food itself. So practice with lighting and capturing the unique colors and textures of your food.

KC: I’m going to grab my camera right now, great tips, thanks so much!

KC:  Are you a creative person outside of the Food Realm? (Knitting, crochet, painting, sewing, etc)?

AC: I wish I were more of a DIY-er! I think my creative impulses are best expressed through writing, baking, and photography, which is why my blog works so well for me. I do write about and photograph subjects besides food – some of those photos are starting to show up on my Instagram.

KC: Do you read blogs in the creative sphere?

AC: Yes – see above! Even if I can’t draw or knit to save my life, I love learning about other creative people! (*Note from KC— meeee toooooo!)

AC: I became addicted to wedding blogs when I was getting married, like Style Me Pretty, or my florist’s blog, Huckleberry Karen. One of my favorite local creative/style blogs is sfgirlbybay. And if you count fashion as creative (I always admire a well-put-together outfit), I love the Chloe Conspiracy.

KC: As a ‘professional blogger’ as well as someone deeply involved in the wedding industry I always love to hear that people get the wedding blog bug!

Field Guide to Candy by Anita Chu

 KC: Who inspires your pastry vision?

AC: I always name Pierre Herme – he exemplifies the best traditions of French pastry while constantly coming up with fresh and modern twists to keep his products intriguing and new. I also love the plethora of Bay Area talent – Emily Luchetti, Alice Medrich, Michael Recchiuti, who all embody a love of beautiful ingredients, showcased simply and without excess fanfare.

Anita at the launch for Field Guide to Cookies

 KC: There are so many avenues for creative expression in the food world, what is your favorite— photography, styling, writing?

AC: Writing has always been my first love – some of my earliest posts on my blog are a lot more verbose and flowery. I still really enjoy it, but sometimes it’s hard to get into the right frame of mind – the dreaded writer’s block. Photography has really stepped up as a quick and easy way to capture your frame of mind in a simple image – with Twitter and instagram, I sometimes feel like I’m cheating on writing by putting up pictures instead!

KC: Can you tell us about the two cookbooks you have authored? “Field Guide to Cookies” and “Field Guide to Candy”?  I have to tell you the photos in both have made me incredibly hungry!!!

AC: I was contacted by Quirk Books about doing a cookie book, which turned out to be Field Guide for Cookies. This was super exciting for me as I’d only been blogging a year or so, and the idea of a cookbook still seemed like a far off dream. I had a really great experience with the book and Quirk – the field guide format totally dovetailed with my nerdy historic-research tendencies. After the book came out, Quirk asked if I’d like to do a companion book, and that’s how Field Guide to Candy came about. Both books contain tons of information I dug up on the history of many different cookies and candies – tastiest research I’ve ever done.

KC: What’s next for you professionally Anita? I have to say I’m looking forward to whatever! :)

AC: I’d love to do some more cookbooks – and I’ll announce it on my blog if anything happens. I’m also working with other bloggers on a collaborative project that we hope to unveil early next year!

KC: Are you planning any yummy handmade gifts for Christmas this year? What ‘traditionally holiday’ goodies do you look forward to baking this time of year?

AC: Well this year I’m going back to Hong Kong to visit family, so that usually means bringing back some baked goodies for everyone! I’m a big fan of making almond buttercrunch for the holidays, and usually I’ll make some holiday-themed cookies as well, like gingerbread or linzer cookies – another favorite of mine! I just made my first gingerbread Christmas tree with some star cutters – my husband loved it!

KC: You live in the Bay Area, certainly well known for great food in all categories, I’m jealous! Is there a particular place that you love to eat?  (Super hard question, I’m sorry!!!!)

AC: This is always a hard question to answer in the Bay Area – it totally depends on your mood and budget! For sweets, Mr. and Mrs. Miscellaneous (ice cream), Tartine (bakery), and Michael Recchiuti (chocolate) are my go-tos. Favorite Mexican: La Taqueria in the Mission. Japanese: Ino Sushi and Izakaya Sozai. Italian: SPQR and Cotogna. Fancy night out: Gary Danko and Benu.

KC: I know that you were featured on Foodista as a featured blogger as well as in Saveur’s First Annual Best Food Blog Awards where you were nominated in the Best Baking and Desserts Category! As a prominent food blogger what is your secret to writing a great blog?

AC: Thanks so much – I’m blushing! I think I was lucky to have started my blog several years ago, when there wasn’t as much competition and all of us were still trying to figure this blogging thing out. I just kept plugging away and eventually worked out my voice and style. That actually ties into my first suggestion for having a successful blog: 1) Keep at it. It’s a sad truth, but many blogs are started and abandoned within their first year of existence. The longer you keep consistently posting new content, the bigger your database will become, and people will recognize your site as a resource. 2) Ask yourself who would read your posts. On the flip side of 1), it’s better to post less often but offer some quality content, then to post frequently about nothing. There is a lot of information on the internet these days, and you want to contribute in a meaningful way. Sometimes when I think of an idea, I do a search on Google and I’ll find that there’s already ten posts on the subject. That can be frustrating, but then I’ll think, how can I put a new spin on this idea, make it my own? If I don’t know, maybe it’s better to come up with a different idea. 3) Post about what interests you. Don’t get hung up on trends and SEO games. Blogs were originally begun as a creative outlet for people to put down their thoughts and dreams, not as money-making ventures. I still believe the best blogs out there succeed because the authors are able to connect with readers and share a part of themselves in an honest and meaningful way. So don’t be afraid to share your own, unique perspective on food, life, and everything else.

Anita's Fig and Pistachio Cake (My Fave)

KC: One of my favorite blog posts of yours was from this fall, the Fig and Pistachio cake—– omg. My favorite things in the world! I baked that cake and confess to eating half of it all by myself! The photography was particularly stunning and led me into making my own version. Do you have a favorite recipe/blog post?

AC: That’s a tough one! I do have a list of my favorite posts on the right hand side of my site – ones where I was particularly proud of the writing I did, or the recipe I came up with. Check them out and hope you enjoy!

KC: Thanks for your super helpful videos on Chow—– will you be doing any other video pieces? Personally, I’d love to see more!

AC: Hmm, thanks for letting me know! I was lucky enough to work with Chow to create these videos when my cookie book came out, and I thought they did a great job. I’d love to work with them again – maybe it’s time to ring them up!

KC: I have your recipe for Brown Butter Cake with Caramel Buttercream on the side of my fridge and promise myself to make it and yet have not! Do you have something you’d love to make but haven’t done so yet?

AC: I hope you enjoy that cake – it’s a favorite of mine! I’m currently looking to explore baking traditions from other parts of the world – Asian, Middle Eastern, and Eastern European desserts are topics I know a little about, but I’d love to dig more into the subject!

KC: You know I have to ask you what your favorite gadget is in the kitchen, can you ever have too many?

AC: It’s a toss up between digital scale and my trusty KitchenAid mixer – two things I can’t bake without! I always walk into Williams-Sonoma or Sur La Table and want to leave with everything, but if I’m honest with myself (and about the limited storage space in my home), you don’t NEED a specific gadget for every little kitchen task. Sometimes they’re fun to get, but I’ll usually ask myself how often I think I’ll use a new tool. If it has potential to get regular usage, sure (I like buying different sizes and shapes of pans and baking vessels – good for food styling). But a popcorn maker and a donut maker and a whoopie pie maker and a cake pop maker? Sorry, I’d be out of counter space!

KC: Counter space?

KC: Anita, let’s wrap up with any thoughts you have about baking wonderful things in a time of year many people are too busy to even think about it!

AC: Actually, I always find time to bake – it’s the packaging and gift wrapping that always get me! I’ll happily stay up late baking cookies or making candy, and then realize that I still need to package it all the next morning! I tip my hat to all the amazingly creative DIYers who come up with new adorable ways to wrap their presents every year. You’ll be lucky to get your cookies from me with a bow stuck on them! That said, I do love the holidays – all the decorations and music and good food make it my absolute favorite time of year.  I totally believe it’s the thought that counts – even if you don’t have time to bake a pie from scratch, but you get one from the store and pretty it up at home, that’s fine. And in the Bay Area, where there are so many fabulous local food artisans, I wouldn’t blame people for wanting to buy their treats instead of making them!

AC: Thanks so much for your thoughtful questions and for featuring me on your site! I can’t believe I’ve been blogging for so long – I’m still learning new things every day, meeting new fab people, and getting new inspirations. I know I’ll never get tired of baking, and I hope I never get tired of blogging!

KC: I hope you never get tired of blogging either Anita, I really enjoy seeing pastry and beautiful baked goods through your eyes!

Remember: Comment by Midnight CST on December 17th to win a SET of her two wonderful cookbooks, Field Guide to Candy and Field Guide to Cookies

***and delicious good luck to you!



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  1. Posted December 12, 2011 at 4:23 AM by cyndi | Permalink

    I have a HUGE sweet tooth and would love to win the cookbooks so I can continue to support my “habit” ;-) Your holiday blog entries have been wonderful this month. Thanks

  2. Posted December 12, 2011 at 6:21 AM by Gill | Permalink

    Congratulations to Kristin and thank you for introducing me to Anita!

  3. Posted December 12, 2011 at 8:22 AM by Suellen | Permalink

    I would love to win your books – always looking to develop my creativity in a new way!

  4. Posted December 12, 2011 at 8:59 AM by Laura | Permalink

    I would love to win the cookbooks. Everything shown is so beautifully made and look so delicious! The pink cookies in the box have really caught my eye!

  5. Posted December 12, 2011 at 10:37 AM by Sheila | Permalink

    Oh, I need some new cookbooks!

  6. Posted December 12, 2011 at 10:59 AM by Andria | Permalink

    I’m a huge baker and these would make a great addition to my library. Thanks for the great giveaway!

  7. Posted December 12, 2011 at 11:33 AM by Savannagal | Permalink

    What amazing looking treats. Oh how I wish I could bake like that. Practice, practice, practice. Thanks for the giveaway.

  8. Posted December 13, 2011 at 2:35 AM by Tricia F. | Permalink

    I really am enjoying all the interviews! Thanks for doing them. The cookbooks would be a fun addition to my kitchen. Anita is very talented.

  9. Posted December 13, 2011 at 7:30 AM by Nicki | Permalink

    Love learning about Anita. I learned about your site from Charlotte Lyons blog. I was the food editor of Mary Engelbreit’s late magazine, and love anything to do with baking, cooking, etc. Thanks for this great info.

  10. Posted December 13, 2011 at 8:05 AM by Pei-Yee | Permalink

    Thanks for the interview! Been reading Anita’s blog for a while now – her recipes are great Excited to discover yours!

  11. Posted December 13, 2011 at 8:53 AM by Yas N | Permalink

    I adore cookbooks, especially dessert-based ones, and would love to get a copy of yours! I am such a fan of Anita’s blog. It has wonderfully elegant yet creative desserts.

  12. Posted December 13, 2011 at 10:56 PM by Chris | Permalink

    Oh my, I could eat everything! Thanks for introducing me to Anita’s yummy world

  13. Posted December 14, 2011 at 2:32 AM by Trine | Permalink

    What a great interview! I really enjoy Anita’s blog; for some reason it had skipped my attention that she had also published books! Good to know!

  14. Posted December 14, 2011 at 4:14 PM by Michele | Permalink

    What beautiful works of confection art! The books sound wonderful!

  15. Posted December 15, 2011 at 3:46 AM by Yolanda | Permalink

    Thank you for the lovely interview. It’s always neat to be able to learn more about the person behind the blog!

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