Four Quick Tips to Improve your Instagram Photography Right Now

First, announcement time: I’m teaching an Instagram photography course on March 26th in Seattle! More info/how to register at the end of the post. On to the fun stuff!

This is focused on Instagram, but it’s also meant to improve your overall photography. And while there’s no quick way to get a better photographer besides practice, there are tools and techniques you can start today. As in, right now. Let’s get going!

(Note: I am assuming here that you have some comfort with taking pictures on Instagram. I’m going to do an intro to Instagram photography post later, but these tips will still help if you’re just starting out.)

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Talking Cupcakes with Jennifer Shea of Cafe Trophy & Trophy Cupcakes

So a few weeks ago I went to Cafe Trophy and got fed. Um, I should be more honest: I got fed a lot.

And then founder Jennifer Shea came over and we chatted – mainly about the Birthday cupcake, because, um, have you seen this thing?

via GIPHY

Now you’ll notice that this is being posted in March, which is too late – the Birthday Cupcake is gone for the season, right? Not. So. Fast. This is some exclusive info, people. Read on to hear about the future of the Birthday Cupcake, the growth of Cafe Trophy, and upcoming menu options. I’m hungry already.

Look, I just want to get to the cupcakes. Read on! Read more

February 2017 Portland dessert roundup

I’ve been in Portland on Instagram for the last few days, so it’s time to round things up.

Here are some of the sweets I grabbed in Portland that I definitely think you need to try out. Have you visited any of these places yet?

(Disclosure time! Off The Waffle and Olympia Provisions gave me free food. On to what you care about: where to snack.)

Cacao

Various locations; website

If I’m in Portland, this is always one of my first stops. And for good reason: it’s one of the few places to pick up the epic Only Child Chocolates and Batch PDX. They also carry Soma bars I’ve only ever seen in person there. And there are most of the local brands, from Ranger to Xocolatl.

I mean, look at that bar! My response is totally reasonable. Read more

Instagram hashtags 101 (with free downloadable hashtag book!)

You know hashtags are important in Instagram, and you keep on putting off researching them. Let’s cover the basics here so you’re good to go! (And if you need more tips, there’s a free hashtag booklet at the end!)

What is a hashtag, anyway?

Yup, starting from scratch. A hashtag is a word with a pound sign in front of it, like #love, found in public posts. These can help new readers find your work and also help you find posts to engage with.

When you search a hashtag in Instagram, you’ll be shown the Top Nine – the nine most engaged posts in a ~24 hour period – and the most recent posts in that category.

Your goal, should you choose to accept it, is to try and get in that top nine. It keeps you visible longer, which can get more comments.

They’re not just for you to plug in and ignore

They’re also a great way to search for relevant posts to engage with! And since the most recent posts (say, within 15-20 minutes) might have their posters still online, they might say hi back. (And possibly follow you.) It’s a win-win! Read more

An afternoon with Olympia Provisions’s Pastry Chef Mandy Groom

I never thought I’d go into a charcuterie place and leave excited about dessert.

Way back in January, Olympia Provisions pitched me to chat at the Winter Fancy Food Show. Thing was, I’d already been planning to go to Portland, their home turf, so I asked if I could check out their restaurant. Their PR person said they weren’t sure if there was a story for me, them being a charcuterie-focused place and all.

At the show, co-owner Michelle Cairo started telling me about their pastry chef, Mandy Groom. And there were photos. Um, yeah, I had a story. A few days later I went to Portland, and met Mandy in person. I also tried her winesap apple sorbet, which I already consider to be one of the best desserts I will eat in 2017. (Seattle, I’m sorry, you need to go and eat her stuff. If you do, I know you’ll forgive me.)

If we’re going to be fancypants, Mandy’s approach to dessert is relaxed, with a love of savory, layered elements, and subtle takes on childhood snacks. (She calls it earthy, I call it fun.) And it’s just fun to eat. I mean, she wants you to eat her sorbet and meringue ‘chips and dip’ style. Not what you expect from a fancy casual place next to Smith’s tea tasting shop.

And Mandy herself is a joy to chat with. The interview is basically an hour of Mandy talking and my squeaking with delight as she described what she was making or going to make. I haven’t felt that inspired by someone’s takes on dessert in ages.

Also: Olympia Provisions, sell the dang meringues by the bag already. I will buy them.

On to the interview! Read more

Drinking the Trend: Talking drinking cacao with Dr. Eric Durtschi of Crio Bru

Drinking cacao, or brewing cacao, is trending. Which makes sense: it’s soothing like drinking hot cocoa, full of antioxidants, and it’s fairly low calorie with a chocolate boost. And I am all in for finding ways for everyone who wants to drink chocolate to enjoy it.

Drinking cacao is what it sounds like: cacao beans, crushed past the nib stage, so you can steep/brew it like coffee or tea. I first found out about it at Intrigue, where Aaron also makes it into cacao au lait. (Which I wish he would sell, because it is glorious, even if it takes a while to steep.) Then last year it felt to me like it was everywhere in bean-to-bar land: Creo Chocolate had a version for sale at the NW Chocolate Festival, and now Crio Bru, the biggest brand, is going the k-cup route with their blends.

So when I was at the Winter Fancy Food Show, I was excited to get in an interview Dr. Eric Durtschi of Crio Bru. After all, bean-to-bar still is barely mainstream, drinking cacao even less so. And Crio focuses its branding on being a coffee alternative, which is pretty fascinating to me. I also don’t drink coffee, which probably explains it, but still.

(I mean, I only now have a french press because ESPRO gave me one this month for a Victrola Coffee collaboration launch. That’s how new I am to actually making this trend at home.)

Here’s the interview! Have you tried drinking cacao yet? Read more

A tale of two berry bars: Soma and Dick Taylor

This post feels like a jerk move because I have yet to see either of these bars in Seattle. (Seen both brands, not these bars.) Doing it anyway because we can’t get nice things unless we ask, and we can’t ask unless we know about stuff. So, it’s tasting time!

First, a note: these bars are still available online as of the time of my writing this. This will not last.

Dick Taylor vanilla raspberry bar

($5; available online and in their Eureka store.)

Full disclosure: I was given this bar since I’m on their PR list and I asked nicely. (Do I need to offer a “do Jess’s job for a day” giveaway or something? Because I can do that.)

Enough disclosure talk. Let’s talk about the bar!

At first glance, it feels like a fancy kitkat bar. The small 72% bar breaks into four pretty batons, all wearing the Dick Taylor logo, and on the back are super tiny raspberry bits. Read more

Lessons learned from nearly 300 Instagram posts

I’ve been on Instagram since April 2016, and now I’m nearing eleven thousand followers. Whoa! Since I’ve learned so much getting just to that level of growth, so I thought it was time to talk about lessons learned.

Here’s my single biggest lesson: post at a rate that makes sense for you and your schedule. I used to post three times a day on Instagram. I liked it, but for my content style, it’s simply not viable. For one thing, I can’t eat that much dessert in a week to keep up, even if it seems like I could. (I’d need to eat 25+ desserts a week to keep up because I eat at each place twice and need a buffer. Maxing out at 10-15 a week feels so much better.)

The people who post three times a day often have stuff that involves less prep, like quotes or user-generated content, or might do a set from a series. To which I say, rock on! That’s not what I’m posting, and that’s fine.

Also, I now post between 8:30 and 9 am because that’s when I can consistently get posts up. I know my audience is more online around 9 am, but that’s not always feasible. (Thank you so much Instagram for not allowing scheduled posting.)
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When you need last-minute Valentine’s chocolate: grocery store chocolates

It’s nearly Valentine’s Day, and you might have forgotten to pick up some chocolate. That’s okay! Because you’re in Seattle, the magical land where grocery stores are trying to become chocolate shops on the side. (You should still totally go check out chocolate stores and support them; this is for people who are in last minute panics.)

I’m doing this in alphabetical order because that’s what makes sense to me. I’m not covering everyone because there are a lot of small shops.

(And where would I go? Met Market, New Seasons, and Uwajimaya. But those are just my personal preferences.)

Bartell’s Drugs

Locations: All over. There’s probably one near you. Or two.

The good stuff:

  • Their team is really trying to bring in decent brands – and unique products. Like they’re the only place I’ve seen the new single origin Theo dark milk sipping chocolate.
  • Some of the best sales on Theo you’ll get in town.

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Level up your Instagram food shots – with nail polish

I’m going to add more Instagram-related stuff here, as that’s something I offer as a service. There will still be plenty of dessert stuff, I promise, I just want to add information on being a better Instagrammer while I’m at it. Yay!

In case you haven’t noticed, I’ve upped my nail polish game a lot over on Instagram. And here’s the thing: all of it? Planned.

I regularly get asked if I just use whatever I have on, and the truth is that I rarely paint my nails for fun these days. I have fairly flat nails, so stuff flakes/chips super fast. (Like Simply Nailogical did that test where she wears gel with a peel off base coat and it lasts a few days? Umm, I get a few hours of wear if I’m lucky.) Also, painting my nails takes time I could be spending eating.

So yes, my polish is planned. But that’s also because I’ve found that just grabbing a random polish can be really bad for an image. The short answer is that some polishes don’t help an image, but it’s easier to see it than explain it. Read more