Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Creating a Personal Brand

Stand out.  That's what most people want to do when they're looking for a job in real life.  It's not the sort of thing most of us want to do on the Internet.  If people know who you are, they might find out where you live; they might find out your bank details; they might try to sell you drugs to enlarge organs you don't even own.  Sure, you could be a massive blogger, or tweeter, with hundreds of followers; your opinion might be sought by media pundits and traditional journalists; but most of us want to keep ourselves to ourselves.  The Internet is somewhere we can say things we could never say in real life.  'Hello I'm 'easily-searchable-identity' isn't one of them.

This week however the course I'm on recommended Googling yourself, coming to terms with the fact that this information is out there, and then gathering it into a consistent, flattering portrait of how you want to show off to the world.  Deep breaths.  I put my real name into Google.  About four genuine results came up (I have an S, not a Z, and I have never been on MySpace).  One was my Facebook, which is locked down anyway.  One was my LinkedIn, which I barely use, and is utterly professional.  But there were some surprises - a testimonial on my university website; my account activity on, who I briefly worked for as a beta-tester and book-reviewer; and my Lulu storefront, where I make no effort to sell either version of my fantasy novel.

Unsurprisingly this blog - 'Ishamel''s blog - did not come up.  Not even on the third page.  This is a little puzzling, because I have pointed prospective employers here on the bottom of my CV for almost a year now. It never occurred to me to open my profile here, add a little piccy of me, a bit of info, some contact details.

Reader - I'm still too scared.  I still keep my email address private as much as possible.  But I have added the same photo of myself to my profile here as I have for LinkedIn.  I'm changing my name.  And, reading through those links from Googling myself, I saw nothing which I would be ashamed for my boss to find.  As for this blog?  Two people have told me it's pretty and interesting, and one of those people is now teaching me to do her job.  So I suppose my brand is 'pretty and interesting'.  I could do a lot worse.

Monday, 20 June 2011

23 Things to Make and Do

Hello all!  My few regular readers will know that this blog is a vehicle for me to share my handicraft and baking projects with the world.  Maybe one day I'll get round to developing the instructions and recipes here into a book; maybe not, maybe I'll just get round to picking up some more followers...  but for a while, I'm running another function alongside the usual Simple Things to Make and Do.

It's a professional development programme called the 23 Things.  Each week, one or two 'Things' are covered, which can range from how to use Twitter to how to present yourself in a professional context.  It's aimed at librarians, but also other media people.   I'm trying to get an entry-level job in publishing, and being new-media-savvy can be a really important skillset for those jobs.  Getting some advice on how to make this blog more useful would be terrific, and I could really do with career-progression advice. So for a few weeks, I'll be blogging in posts tagged 'cpd23' about each of the Things.  Hopefully it'll serve as a repository for some good advice, and also help me keep track of what skills I've gained.

Despite these posts being part of a wider programme with hundreds of other participants, I've decided to try and keep my usual post format going of intro/bold heading/instructions.  After all, the Things are supposed to be 'recipes' for success... and one of them is 'building your personal brand,' which requires consistency.

Week One
Thing One - Blogging
Well, I'm a little ahead of the game here!  Starting a blog with Blogger is a very Simple Thing to Do indeed; it's keeping the post count up with content of interest that's the difficult bit.  Hopefully I manage that well enough; certainly being unemployed has resulted in plenty of projects to document.  This little programme should also help up the numbers, and stimulate my imagination.

Thing Two - Reading Other Blogs
I have to admit it - I'm a bit of a snob when it comes to internet content, but then I don't have a great opinion of my own writing either.  The 23 Things programme was the kick up the arse I needed to go out and try and find interesting, like-minded people.  Wasn't the internet supposed to be all about meeting people you'd never met and exchanging profound ideas?  And hopefully I could increase my own profile as well - maybe a fellow cpd23er would find this blog, decide they loved my cake and keep coming back.

With this in mind, I searched through the programme's participants list and picked a couple of blogs to read at random.  Some were empty, not having started the week's Things yet; a couple were very, very library-orientated and were clearly established discussion groups for other librarians.  One involved a picture of the author's dog.  But I did find two kindred spirits - young professionals, a little sceptical or nervous about the whole point of this blogging thing, but clearly determined to make a go of it in style.  I've left comments on each of their first posts, and subscribed to their blogs.  Little acorns, great oaks etc; I already feel more connected and professional.  It's a sort of electric green inner glow...

Saturday, 18 June 2011

Hazelnut Latte Buns

Okay, so maybe I make far too much cake for my own good.  But there's only so many cover letters a gal can write in a day...

A Note on 'Beating'
Beating a cake mix isn't like beating a carpet or your wife; it's a specific technique.  Tilt the bowl away from you so that the mix gathers at the far side.  Now paddle furiously at it in a steady rhythm with your wooden spoon, as though trying to turn a coracle or log canoe away from a waterfall in a Harrison Ford film.  You should find that it makes a very satisfying 'doff-doff-doff' noise, which is the sound of air getting trapped in the wake of your spoon and hitting the batter, becoming incorporated and making those tiny Aero-bubbles you find in great sponge.  Every so often you can group the mix into one blob again by scraping around the edges in a big circle.  It can also help to rotate the bowl every so often.

Hazelnut Latte Buns
You Will Need: large bowl, wooden spoon, cup, fork, butterknife, chopping board, large knife, coffee-making apparatus, scales, teaspoon, muffin tin.

2 beaten eggs
4oz butter (kerry gold if possible)
4oz sugar
4oz self raising flour
approx. 50g hazelnuts
small cup of strong black coffee
1 capful vanilla essence

1) Butter six of the tin-holes.  Chop or blitz the hazelnuts very finely, and put a teaspoonful of crumbs into each hole.  Roll around the holes to coat the sides, leaving some at the base of the holes.  If you have nuts left, drop a few whole into the base of each hole as a surprise for nommers.
2) Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C.
3) Cream the butter and sugar; add the egg a little at a time.  Beat to a smooth batter.  Add the vanilla.
4) Beat in the flour 1/3 at a time; alternate flour with coffee, until the mixture is latte-coloured, fragrant and batter-like, but not runny.  You want it to hold its shape on the spoon when a spoonful is lifted out, but easily drop off the back of said spoon.  Add the coffee very slowly, and don't necessarily use all of it.
5) Beat almost excessively to a very light and fully combined mixture; try to get plenty of air in.
6) Divide the mixture evenly between the tin holes, and bake until fully risen, and a skewer in the middle comes out clean.  You may find that the buns erupt slightly as the unbaked centres rise through the baked outer shells; don't worry, that's normal and makes a lovely light cake!

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Sesame sponges

Captain's Log, Lifestyle supplement: When tired of writing speculative work-experience emails and doubting your own worth as a human being, remind yourself that you can make cake.  Damn nice cake.

Now that I've decided to call these sesame sponges, it's reminded me of two childhood memories: my father reading me the Arabian Nights, in which the wicked brother can't remember the password 'open sesame' and tries 'open cumin!' (i.e. open, come-in oh the lulz).  Also the bit in Winnie the Pooh when Owl's house has blown down, and Roo identifies an object as a 'spudge': 'You know what a spudge is Owl?  It's when your sponge goes all-' '-Roo dear!' interrupts Kanga.

Appropriately enough, these little noms were inspired by baklava, the middle eastern sweets/pastries/things which are sold the length and breadth of Edgware Road and contain sesame and honey.  Also, one of them (the one I instantly nommed) did turn out to be a spudge.

Sesame sponges
You Will Need: muffin tin (slightly deeper holes than a normal fairycake tin), wooden spoon, teaspoon, very small saucepan, large bowl, scales, cup, knife and fork.

4oz soft butter (I recommend Kerry Gold, it seems the softest brand)
4oz golden caster sugar
2 beaten eggs (with fork in cup)
3oz self-raising flour
1oz ground almonds
approx. 50g sesame seeds
approx. 6 teaspoonfuls clear honey

1) Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C.  Grease 6 of the muffin-holes with butter, and pour about a teaspoon's worth of sesame seeds into each one.  Shake and swirl the tin until the seeds have coated the base and sides of the holes.  Might be an idea to stand over the sink or other large, wipeable surface for this one (mine went under the toaster.)
2) Cream the butter and sugar.  Add the beaten eggs a little at a time.  Beat in the flour and almonds together, a third at a time, and combine to a smooth batter.
3) Divide the batter evenly between the six seeded holes.  Bake in the hot oven until risen and a skewer comes out clean, about 10-13 minutes.
4) Melt the honey gently in the little pan until very runny but not simmering.  Poke little holes in each cake (still in the tin) and spoon a 6th of the honey over each one.
5) Leave to cool, a good while.
6) Turn out onto a serving plate or cooling rack, by putting said plate/rack face down onto the tin, and flipping both together so that the cakes come out upside-down.  This will be very tricky and result in failcake trifle if the tin is still hot, so be patient!
7) You could serve as a cake with tea, or still warm as a pudding with honey icecream and/or creme fraiche.

Monday, 13 June 2011

First Aid for Jam

Every so often, you just make a mistake.  After a lot of chutney-making, which involves a very long boil until a spoon drawn across the base of the pan leaves a trail, I lost my touch with jam.  After dad asked me to use up some plums, I created the most ridiculously toast-ripping plum toffee in a jar to be imagined.  Luckily, a little troubleshooting on the internet found a solution.

You'll need two saucepans, the offending jam, a butter knife and some water.  Half-fill one of the saucepans with water, and put the jam-jars inside, with the lids off.  Slowly bring the water to a simmer, and edge the butterknife down the edge of the blocks of jam inside until they are coming away from the sides.  If need be, clean and heat the knife in the simmering water as you go.
Upend the jam jars into the other saucepan, and prise the jam out.  Pour some of the hot water into this pan, and mush up the blocks of jam.  Now bring the watered-down mix to the boil again until you have acquired a real jam set.  Test this by dropping a blob into a cup of icy water, or onto an icy plate.