Friday, 20 May 2016

A Twist on an American Favourite

I lived in the States for over 22 years and immediately took a liking to Pumpkin Pie. I don't remember how many I baked over the years, but I do know that there was usually a can of Libby's pumpkin in the cupboard, and the corresponding can of Carnation evaporated milk.
Some years ago on a regular visit to Target store (closest UK equivalent is probably a Tesco Superstore), I came across some disposable plastic bakeware - meant for sharing baked food (and not caring about if you forgot to bring it home or it disappeared). In it was a mini cookbook which included a recipe for what I have always called "Pumpkin Cake".  I've not made many pumpkin pies since then, as most people much prefer this instead. It's probably the fastest cake to make too, once you've assembled the ingredients. So here I'm sharing with you one of my favourites. If you take it to share at work, expect it to disappear quickly!
Pumpkin Cake - Serves 12.
3 large eggs.
1 can (425g / 15oz) of Libby's Pumpkin (try Tesco Superstores or online).
1 larger can (410g) Carnation evaporated milk (don't use condensed milk!).
250ml - Sugar (when poured into a glass measure, 250ml = 1US Cup)
4 tsp - Pumpkin Pie Mix (available at Steenbergs online in the UK).
1 1/2 packages (600g) of store brand Vanilla Sponge Cake Mix.
1 package Pecan Nuts (broken or whole - approximately 250g).
1/2 a block of butter.
1. Set the oven to 180˚C.
2. Grease a large deep rectangular cake tin or pyrex glass pan (approx: 33x23x5cm).
3. In large bowl, whisk eggs then add pumpkin, milk, sugar and pumpkin pie spice mix. Stir until smooth, pour into pan.
4. Sprinkle the dry cake mix on top of the pumpkin mixture, then roughly cover with the pecans. Melt the butter (I use the same glass measure used earlier and microwave it), and pour over the pecans so it touches the cake mix.
5. Bake for 50 to 55 minutes (fan oven: subtract 5 min), check with a fork in the middle that comes out clean.
6. Allow to cool before serving (goes well with vanilla ice cream :)
Once you're done, it should look like this:

Tuesday, 17 May 2016

Open for Business

2016 has been an interesting year so far

After receiving notice of my layoff from my employer of almost 15 years last October, I was finally unleashed from having to work for someone else. I've already experienced a layoff on two previous occasions, so it didn't come as a shock. The work had become tedious, unchallenging and boring anyway, but there was always the benefit of a guaranteed paycheque. What I didn't expect to find was that the job really dulled my creativity, and kept me back from doing what I've always wanted to do.

So I signed on for unemployment, knowing full well that I wasn't going to get any money (and didn't), but the process put me on towards getting help for setting up my photography business, through the New Enterprise Allowance program. Going through the NEA started me down the road of getting my ducks in a row, making a business plan, taking classes at Business Gateway (available throughout Scotland for free), and understanding what I was up against. When I did start up, the program pays a small weekly stipend to help with the initial costs of business.

I intentionally attended Business Gateway classes in Selkirk in the Scottish Borders as I really wanted to make an effort to work outside Edinburgh. The Borders are quite unique for being so isolated and rural, making me realise how my marketing efforts would have to be primarily offline - most of the area has poor Internet and mobile-Internet connectivity. It also doesn't have a decent newspaper either, so most news passes through word-of-mouth or annoying Facebook groups (which often dissolve into written gossip). Networking with others discovered how Facebook was seldom responsible for any work, regardless of where people originated from in the area. The other surprising fact was networking with numerous people who work in the area, who said that they seldom got any work from anyone in this part of the Borders.

So at the end of the previous tax year, my business started crawling into first gear. I made a few small sales while ticking over the tax year, helping me net a nice tax rebate that went towards the new DSLR that I had my eye on. I've spent some of the money from the NEA program to help convert my garage into a studio of sorts. And now I've started working with others to take on work across Scotland.

Now I'm slowly gathering props for food photography and experimenting with styling food and shooting tethered. Food photography has two extremes - one done by a mobile phone in a restaurant (blogging) and the other takes hours to carefully compose an image and then shoot food before it 'expires'! Who knew food photography could be so challenging! I don't know of may others in the region who take food photography so seriously, because it really isn't something you can do without the right tools. Yesterday I made this little beauty:

I'm sure to the casual viewer, it's nothing more than a table with a cloth, bowl and eggs. What's not shown is the work to get the table (a very rustic pallet that was carefully dismantled, then re-assembled as a table), the eggs (from two different sources), the table cloth was cut and made from a larger sheet of cloth and of course the bowl was picked up at IKEA. The colour of the eggs is actually accurate - one of them really does look like a golden egg! All in all, probably 4 hours work, not including the travel time to pick up the pieces.

The last thing I recently acquired was photographic business insurance. Something that I've put off for as long as I could, but realise that it is an essential component of every legitimate business. So I now have coverage for Professional Indemnity and Public Liability just in case something goes wrong in a big way. Remember, we're all human, and at some point even professionals make mistakes. I've heard the horror stories of trips and falls that could cost someone more than their business - important if you're a sole trader without the benefit of a limited company structure. If you're on the look out for a photographer to work with you, make sure they're insured just in case. To be honest, insurance is probably the most legitimate difference between an amateur and a professional in the UK (since there is no defining criteria).

While I don't yet have a diary full of work ahead, the future looks bright, and work is fun. I look forward to working with you in the future.

Best regards,