The Bodacious Blogger’s Essential Ingredients

I’ve never been great at following recipes, perhaps because my first works of fiction were faux cakes and pizzas baked in my magical kitchen. (Okay, the sandbox.) My recipe ineptness has its perks, though. First, it’s made coming up with my own concoctions practically necessary. (I’m happy to report that they no longer taste like air or sand.) Second, it prepared me for writing, on the page and in the blogosphere.

Like baking a cake, there is no one “right” way or “perfect” recipe to achieve blogging success. But there are useful guidelines…

Essential Ingredients for Blogging Bodacious-ness

1. Authenticity. We hear this word a lot in regards to blogging, for good reason. Writing about issues and topics we care about, in our own voice makes for captivating posts. Our blogs should be natural extensions—or reflections—of us and what our brands represent. In other words, bake your own “cake” from scratch, using your own ingredients (your thoughts, beliefs, knowledge…). Readers can tell if we use a mix or swap the bakery label for our own. 😉

2. Readability. Ever looked at a recipe and felt so daunted by the tiny print, long lists of unpronounceable ingredients or lack of photos? I personally believe that posts should be as long as they need to be. Breaking up longer paragraphs with spaces, bullet points or photos, and using clear fonts and non-distracting themes can help ensure a comfy reading experience.

3. Takeaways. Imagine going to a cooking demo and leaving with an empty, ravenous belly. Might be okay if the chef was highly entertaining, but if not, your low blood sugar and emotional upset would probably prevent you from visiting again. Blogging works similarly. Giving our readers some sort of takeaway, be it entertainment, inspiration or how-to tips, functions like welcome and thank you gifts, bundled into one.

4. Supportiveness. When I was a kid, I loved going door-to-door selling everything from candy and cookies to 1-child plays. But I was weird. And have grown up since then. Not only is pushiness counter-productive for writers, but ineffective. (Thank goodness!) Supporting others creates connectedness and community. Visit others’ blogs. Follow those you find intriguing. Post thoughtful comments when a post strikes you, and share links you enjoy. (Not convinced? Read social media guru Kristen Lamb’s post, 10 Ways to Increase Your Likability Quotient.)

5. Effective Titles. Would you have read this post if I titled it, Random Stuff? “With 500,000 new blog posts published per day on WordPress.com sites alone, we can’t afford to use vague or boring titles if we want our blog to stand out in tweets or in someone’s Google reader,” Marcy Kennedy, one of my favorite bloggers, wisely said. For more of her insight, read Four Little-Known Factors that Could Destroy Your Blog’s Chances of Success.

Bloggers Who Take the Cake
The proof is in the pudding, right??? The following bloggers bodacious supreme, in my opinion. They have their ingredients and style down pat, never cease to inspire, entertain or teach, and continually bring joy to my cyber-villa. I’ve awarded each blogger one of my cake concoctions.

Natalie Hartford takes the Pink Rainbowlicious Cake for bedazzling the blogosphere with her unique enthusiasm, color and pizazz. She’s as sweet as her blog is PINK! She spilled some of her fab blogging secrets here: Keeping Your Blogging Mojo Alive and Burning.

Tameri Etherton takes the Berry Yummy Oatmeal cake. She’s wholesome, fun and nurturing, with no need for added sweetener. Because Tameri loves happy endings, her natural cake has sweet surprises inside.

Louise Behiel takes the Sassy Salmon Cakes. Louise never fails to educate and inspire. Her gluten-free cakes are fortifying, like her posts, and delicious, much like her friendship and support. She recently shared 8 Steps to an Emotionally Rich Family, and drew a brilliant comparison between old-fashioned radios and kids.

Kourtney Heinz takes the Flourless Chocolate Cake for her rich writing skills and ability to savor every bit. No room for extra fluff in this writing woman’s life! You’ll see what I mean when you read her captivating post, Looking at Who You Were. Loved loved loved it.

Amber West takes the Fortune Cookie Cupcake for her entertaining, inspirational and grin-inducing posts. Her Friday Inspiration series is loaded with insight, and she’s consistently one of the first to lend a helping hand.

Susie Lindau takes the Crazy Cake. Whether Susie is giving us glimpses of her “wild ride,” throwing blog bashes or sporting flash fiction, her blog is a crazy-cool treat. Oh, and she’s also a mass murderer

Roni Loren takes the Hot Fodue Cake. Her novel, Crash Into You, caused more perspiration than the stairclimber I read it on. If you know what I mean. It’s one of my favorite reads of 2012, and her writing/blogging posts are some of the best. As for the “cake” portion of this recipe, that’s up to YOU. 😉

Nigel Blackwell takes the Blappleberry Pie Cake for his ability to blend education, entertainment and wit. His post, A Non-Controversial Sockumentary, is one of the most entertaining post I’ve ever read.

Jennifer L. Oliver and M.G. Miller take the (Practically) Instant Chocolate Cake, for Jennifer’s fine author interviews—her latest of which featured M.G. and his spectacular book, Bayou Jesus. Read it. Once you start, you won’t want to waste time slaving over baked goods. This whole grain cake takes minutes in the microwave. And it’s delish.

Debra Kristi, Coleen Patrick, Fabio Bueno and Ellie Ann Soderstrom take Health-Nut Choco-Copia Cake for their versatile mix of upbeat, inspiring posts on everything from mythology and HILARIOUS mistaken song lyrics, to family pets and sustainable agriculture. You can’t go wrong with these sweet tweeps. Ya just can’t.

So there you have it. My baker’s dozen. (Told you we bloggers can break rules. ;)) What blogging ingredients do you find most important? What kind of cake might your blog be?

****If you’re interested in preparing one of the cakes above, hop over to my Facebook author page and place your vote!****

Cinnabon’s Healthy Cousins

The first time I attempted whole grain cinnamon rolls, they came out like little brown hockey pucks, only harder. But hey, they were nutritious. Slather on some frosting and bon appetit! Sort of. I happen to like grainy, dense foods. But I and my stomach continued to dream of soft, doughy, healthy Cinnabon-style treats most anyone would enjoy. The kind you instantly crave at the airport. One whif and OH MAN…!!!

Okay, enough confectionary lusting. Several attempts later and I’ve done it, I think. If you try them, please share your thoughts!

CINNAMON ROLLS WITH WHOLE GRAINS, BLUEBERRIES AND LOTSA YUM!

Ingredients:

3 Tbsp ground cinnamon
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup granulated or raw sugar
1 packet active dry, rapid-rise yeast
1 tsp sugar
1/3 cup canola oil
1/2 cup warm water (110 degrees, approximately)
1/2 cup warm soy milk
1 tsp salt
1 egg
2 – 3 cups whole wheat flour
1 – 2 cups white or white whole wheat flour
1/4 cup spreadable butter w/canola or olive oil (or soft regular butter)
Fresh or frozen (thawed/drained) blueberries
Frosting of choice

Instructions:

  1. Mix together the brown sugar and cinnamon. Set it aside for later.
  2. In a small bowl or mug, dissolve yeast and 1 tsp sugar in warm water.
  3. In a large bowl (mixer bowl if possible) combine milk,  granulated sugar, canola oil, salt and egg. Add yeast mixture and 2 cups of flour—1 white, 1 whole wheat. Beat until smooth, either with a hand mixer, large spoon or your mixer’s dough hook. Gradually add more of each type of flour until a stiff ball forms. Continue to knead by hand or machine. (If you hand-kneed, about 8 minutes should do it. In a mixer, it’s more like 5 – 6.)
    If it looks like this (EW), add flour.
    It should look more like this—doughy and firm, not sticky or crumbly. Think…elastic.

  4. Place dough into a large greased bowl. Cover with a thin cloth and allow it to rise someplace warm, like under your overhead oven light, until doubled in size—about 1 to 1 1/2 hours.
  5. Punch down dough and let it rest for 5 minutes. (Okay, most bread recipes say to do this. I never do. Do as you wish. Just please don’t turn me in to the baking police.)
  6. Roll dough out onto a floured surface into a rectangle. (I roll out a large circle and cut a rectangle. You can make fun little blobby things with the leftovers. Up to you.)
  7. Brush the softened butter over the dough. Sprinkle on the cinnamon and brown sugar mixture then the blueberries.
  8. Tightly roll up dough and pinch edges together to seal then cut 8 rounds. (Recipes usually suggest slicing round with thread or floss. I use a knife. Karate CHOP!)
  9. Coat the bottom of a baking pan with nonstick cooking spray or canola oil. (Whatever size floats your fancy.) Place the rolls close together in the pan.
  10. Bake at 350 degrees for 25 – 30 minutes or until golden brown.
  11. Top with frosting, if desired.
    **I frost only the ones we’ll eat right away. Otherwise, the frosting soaks in. Serving the frosting on-the-side gives partakers the option of extra sweet or none at all.

If you’d like some festive music to accompany your baking adventures, check out EVERY DAY IS CHRISTMAS. It’s available for viewing/listening here and for purchase on iTunes. Proceeds benefit the National Center for Adult Literacy.

These rolls have become a holiday staple in my kitchen. What would we find in yours?? What sweet treat do you wish was nutritious? (I just make uptake the challenge… ;))

Happy Mistakes (Oops! Blueberry Banana Bread Recipe)

We all make mistakes. Some teach us valuable lessons. Others, we wish never happened. Happy mistakes are serendipitous.

This scene from the movie Serendipity defines them well:

Jonathan: This is the ultimate blend to drink. How’d you find this place?
Sara: I first came in because of the name: Serendipity. It’s one of my favorite words.
Jonathan: It is? Why?
Sara: It’s such a nice sounding word for what it means: a fortunate accident.

Believed by some to be acts of fate, these “fortunate accidents” are all around us: the “wrong” relationship, or relationships, that lead us to Mr./Mrs. Right; the incorrect turn that lands us at a fabulous site; staining our favorite top so we must get a new one. 😉

The other night after placing a pan of banana bread in the oven, I had that “something’s not right…” feeling. Eggs. Completely forgot them. Rather than take the loaf out and scramble some in (not that I’ve done so before…or anything…), I left it. It still looked banana-bread-ish, after all. I threw in a few chocolate chips, because most everything tastes better with chocolate, and chalked it up to an experiment. Everyone who’s tried it has gone nutso over it. Gotta admit, I dig it, too.

So…next time life gives you brown bananas, but perhaps no eggs, why not bake this?

Oops! Blueberry Banana Bread 

  • 1 cup whole wheat four
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/3 cup firmly-packed light brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup canola oil
  • 1/2 cup low-fat milk w/1 T. vinegar* (I use almond or soy milk)
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 3.5 – 4 medium-sized ripe bananas, mashed
  • 1 cup fresh or frozen blueberries (no need to thaw)
  • 1/2 cup dark chocolate chips (opt.)

    *To make a healthy buttermilk substitute, place 1 tbsp of vinegar in a half-cup measuring cup, then fill it to the top with low-fat milk.

Directions:
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. Coat a standard-size loaf pan with nonstick cooking spray. Stir flour, baking soda and salt together in a large bowl. Add the brown sugar.In a medium bowl, combine oil, milk/vinegar mixture, vanilla extract and mashed bananas. Add this mixture to the dry ingredients. Gently stir in the blueberries. Pour batter into the pan. If desired, sprinkle the chocolate chips on top. Bake for 50-60 minutes or until a toothpick placed in the center comes out clean.

Nutritional perks: Rich in fiber and antioxidants, low in sugar and saturated fat and cholesterol-free. The canola oil adds healthy omega-3 fatty acids, which play an important role in brain function and moods.
What about you? Any happy mistakes to share? Recipes gone wrong the ultra-right? Perhaps we should start an “OOPS” cookbook… 😉