What a task I had… to try every cupcake shop I stumbled upon in America (and there are LOTS of them) on my quest to find the best cupcake in America for Love Swah. How I must suffer for my “art”.
The quality of American cupcakes overall, particularly chain cupcakes, was high and much better than the cupcake chains in Australia (you know who you are, you dry and overly sweet places). There were a few major fails (see Magnolia Bakery below), but on the whole this was a very delicious and satisfying search! Now, to the gym.
Starting from #8 – my least favourite, all the way to #1 which I am awarding America’s Best Cupcake!
Magnolia Bakery is one of New York’s most well-known cupcake shops, made famous by Sex and the City. Does it live up to the hype? Certainly not. Which is why I am awarding it last place in my cupcake search.
Honestly I was quite surprised and disappointed. I have their cookbook and frequently bake their cupcake recipes with great success. The red velvet cake was dry and flavourless, and the icing was overly sweet and I couldn’t taste the cream cheese. I ate barely half before throwing it in the bin. My friend had a similar experience with her chocolate cupcake.
#7 Kara’s Cupcakes - 3249 Scott Street, San Francisco
I couldn’t work out why my vanilla cupcake with passion fruit filling tasted overwhelmingly of marzipan. I later found out they top their cupcakes with marzipan (which I am allergic to as it contains almonds) instead of fondant. This annoyed me and they need to make this clearer. Apart from the “marzipan incident” it was a pretty ordinary cupcake. The base was dry and bland, and the icing a little too sweet. The passion fruit filling was delicious though.
Could cupcakes that are vegan, gluten-free and refined sugar-free taste any good? Well, no. These didn’t. And they were expensive (US$4.75 each)! The flavours were good (lemon and carrot) but the cake was dry and the icing a weird chewy texture (almost like modelling clay… weird).
I was very excited when I walked into Crumbs. So many giant cupcakes in unique flavours such as Cookie Dough and Stuffed Pecan Pie! I decided to sway from my usual preference of lemon/vanilla/red velvet and get a White Hot Chocolate cupcake. This was a vanilla cake filled with white chocolate mousse topped with vanilla cream cheese frosting edged with mini white chocolate chips and topped with marshmallows and white chocolate drizzle. WHOA.
It was sweet. Very sweet. But given the above description you would assume that. It took me several attempts to eat it over a few hours. I late found out Crumbs uses high fructose corn syrup which I found really disappointing (and explained the sickly sweetness). Overall it was a good cupcake but I don’t think my blood sugar levels could handle another.
Miette is so cute and I am sure I will talk about it again in future Sweet USA-related posts. Their chocolate cupcake was rich and moist and the vanilla icing was delicious and creamy but not too sweet (finally!) This cupcake was a strong contender but not the best one I found in my search. Miette does, however, win the award for best confectionary – their Fleur de Sel Caramels were out of this world. Why didn’t I buy 50?!
#3 Eleni’s New York - Chelsea Market, 75 Ninth Avenue @ 15th Street, New York
Eleni’s is a nut-free bakery filled with an amazing array of cookies and cupcakes. I will definitely be talking about it more on future Sweet USA posts. I tossed up between the lemon and red velvet cake before finally settling on the former. I can never go past a lemon cupcake. The cupcake was moist and icing was lemony and delicious. I also heard their chocolate cupcakes are amazing after I left, so please try one for me!
Sprinkles claims the title of the world’s first cupcake bakery and the progenitor of the gourmet cupcake craze. That’s quite a big claim! I joined the long queue of cupcake-fans and finally got my hands on a lemon cupcake. The lemon cupcake was moist and bursting with flavour. The lemon-vanilla frosting was heavenly, it was the perfect texture and had the right amount of lemon zest. I was a very happy Swah.
And the number 1 cupcake in America? Drum roll please….
#1 The Little Cupcake Bakeshop - 30 Prince Street, New York and 9102 Third Avenue, Brooklyn
The red velvet cupcake was so so moist (I hate that word, but it needs to be used several times in this post) and the cream cheese icing actually tasted like cream cheese. Unlike whatever the hell Magnolia used. In fact this red velvet cupcake was almost as good as mine! Haha. The coconut cloud cupcake was light and flavoursome with a strong coconut taste and hit the spot. These cupcakes won for overall flavour, texture and taste. Yum!
*Notable mentions – Billy’s Cupcakes, Georgetown Cupcakes and Sugar Sweet Sunshine are other great cupcake stores that were not visited on this particular trip.
What do you think of my list – have you tried any of these cupcakes on your travels and do you agree or disagree? I’d love to hear your opinions!
I’m back from my American adventures and a bit jet lagged. So while I get myself together and start writing city-based guides, I wanted to share some handy general America tips with you if you’re planning a trip.
ESTA is required for international travellers who wish to enter the United States under the Visa Waiver Program due to enhanced security requirements. You will have to pay a $14 fee.
♥ Travel insurance
Don’t even think of entering America without comprehensive travel insurance. You could end up paying thousands of dollars in medical bills if something unfortunate happens to you on your trip. Buy this the second you book your travel!
The concept of tipping is a little foreign to us Aussies, but it’s a vital part of survival for those in the American service industry. Tip around 20% for restaurants and cafes (unless the service is terrible), $1/drink at a bar and around 15% for taxis.
I used this handy site to book all my restaurants across America, from West to East coast. While not all restaurants take bookings, it’s very handy to book with one that does especially on a Friday or Saturday night, or when in Vegas (there are always queues in Vegas!) You don’t want to waste your precious holiday time queuing, do you?
Another site I used regularly, especially for booking a last minute taxi to the airport at 2am ;p They send you an email confirmation and will give you a call prior to double check. Sure beats standing on the street hoping to hail one down.
♥ Buy a SIM when you get there
Make sure your phone is unlocked before you leave and upon arrival hit up your local T-Mobile stand for an American SIM card. I paid $20 for the card plus $40 for a month of unlimited calls and internet (very important for Google maps and Instagram!) While ofcourse you could rely on your roaming (very expensive) and wifi (not always available) I highly suggest getting a local SIM card as it made my life immensely easier – from receiving confirmation calls from taxis, to checking my location on Google maps when I was lost.
♥ Buy heaps of makeup
Makeup is SO much cheaper in the States and I spent a lot of money at Sephora, but saved heaps in the long run. For example my foundation is $90 in Australia and $60 in America, and my blush is $45 in Australia and $29 in America. Stock up!
Do you have any tips on travelling to America? Share with us below!
My last (but certainly not least) guest post comes from the lovely Amy of Oh, My Design Blog. Amy’s blog was one of the first Aussie design blogs I read (and commented on!) and I am a huge fan of her work. Her taste is second to none and she has rounded up some gorgeous travel accessories for you all to covert.
Hi there, Love Swah readers! I’m Amy, a graphic designer, and I blog over at Oh, My Design Blog. Today I feel super special because the lovely Swah has invited me to guest post! Since Swah is off travelling the States (lucky her!) I have done a little round up of my favourite travel bits and pieces. I have been travelling a lot recently, but for short periods – I pack my little over night bag and off I go. My trips have made me a little more savvy in the packing department than I used to be!
1. Keep Cup: I bought a Keep Cup about five years ago and it’s still going strong. I fill mine with green tea for long car trips. If you use it instead of throw away cups, you help the environment, and you can design your own on their site by selecting different cup, lid, band and plug colours.
2. Country Road tote: The classic Country Road tote is my overnight bag of choice. They’ve been around for years and years and now they do them in every colour and pattern imaginable. And they are tough, really tough.
3. Sense & Sensibility designed by Mr Boddington: I’m a bit old school with my books. I don’t have an e-reader, I much prefer the feeling of turning the pages of a book. Mr Boddington designed some lovely Penguin Classics covers which are too gorgeous to resist.
4. Aesop Jet Set Kit: I always take miniature versions of my toiletries when I travel. I usually fill up plain little bottles with my usual body wash, shampoo and conditioner, but if you’re after a treat there’s this lovely little set from Aesop.
5. VS EcoDry Dryer: It’s a bit sad, but I can’t go anywhere without my hair dryer! It’s just one of those things. I travel with this one, its pretty small but still packs a punch.
Thanks Amy! My already exhausted credit card will need to obtain all these things, now! ;)
Next week I’ll be jetting off to LA and I can’t wait! This trip has been in the works for 6 months and it’s crept up awfully fast – in fact I am suddenly begging time to slow down as I try and get work finished before I leave. Never mind, I’m super excited and hope you can share your USA tips with me too!
I’ve been to America several times before, but am always on the hunt for great restaurants, bars, cafes, shops and the weird and wonderful (for example, I plan on going on a water slide that goes through a shark tank in Vegas). I’m visiting:
♥ Los Angeles
♥ San Fransico
♥ Las Vegas (Never been)
♥ New Orleans (Never been – and we’ll be there for Halloween!)
♥ New York
So please share any suggestions you have and I’ll be eternally grateful xxx
As an avid fan of yoga, I’ve always wanted to try a yoga retreat. And after discussing it with an old friend (who was equally overworked and stressed), she offered to come with me and help me cross it off my 30 Before 30 list. We researched many different yoga retreats and most were either too expensive, too far away or a bit too “basic” (we’re not going to slum it on our holiday!)
The retreat that best suited our budget and location needs was Billabong Retreat. Located just 45 minutes from Sydney, we were able to book a 4 night retreat for under $1000 each (we put 2 x 2 night retreats back to back for maximum relaxation). This price included accommodation in their Treehouse Cabin, all meals, yoga classes, meditation classes and full use of the facilities.
We arrived at Billabong Retreat on the Wednesday afternoon in a bit of a panic – my friend’s car had started making terrible noises as we approached the retreat. It turns out a screw on the break pad had come loose and it needed to be towed! Deep breaths now. We hurried off to our first yoga class.
Set in a beautiful purpose-built wooden yurt, the yoga room is surrounded by windows looking out to the bush with beautiful stain glass panels in the ceiling.
The style of yoga here was much gentler and more relaxing than I was used to – it took me a class or 2 to fully get into it, but before long I was really enjoying focusing on my breathing and stretching, as opposed to getting a work out. Here is the lovely Basia, one of our yoga instructors.
The retreat centre was perfect for unwinding in-between yoga and meditation classes and meal times. With plenty of comfy couches, chairs and a hammock, I spent many hours sprawled out here reading, napping and gazing out into the bush.
We returned to our rooms to unpack and prepare for dinner. We spent the first 2 nights in the Treehouse Cabin and the second 2 nights in a Treehouse Room. Both were perfectly fine although the Treehouse Cabin has more privacy and an outdoor bath on the balcony!
The meals at Billabong Retreat were healthy, organic vegetarian food. Cooked daily by the lovely chef Mignon, there was always a huge array of flavours and textures, meaning you never got bored (nor hungry, there was always seconds available!)
Here we are helping out in the kitchen :)
An example of a main meal – Miso soup with shiitake mushrooms, omelette, asian greens and brown rice – this was absolutely delicious.
Some snacks on offer during the day - spiced ginger cake and kale chips.
And of course there was always dessert! Which made me very happy. These were stewed pears with almonds, served with a side of ricotta cream. I had advised the retreat ahead of time about my almond allergy and they kindly prepared me a separate dish whenever necessary.
Breakfast was always delicious and featured coconut porridge, fruits, granola, bread and an assortment of teas.
My favourite was the coconut porridge, I ate it every single morning!
There is also an option to book in a facial or massage at the retreat (at an additional cost) and I can’t recommend the massage enough! An hour of bliss located at the Waterside Pavilion by the billabong was truly relaxing and indulgent.
We also enjoyed going on bushwalks and exploring the local area.
We met a horse named Billy who was wearing a fancy jacket.
He was very friendly but disappointed we didn’t have any food. Not sure he would appreciate kale chips.
And this is what I looked like after 5 days of no makeup or hair washing. Very happy and relaxed and thinking high waisted black yoga pants are a good idea.
And finally, a succulent. Because I love them so.
So overall, how did I find the retreat? I had a hard time unwinding during the first day. I was still in a “go go go” frame of mind and it look some time to unwind, relax and realise it’s ok to do nothing for once. By the end of day 5 I didn’t want to leave – I felt refreshed, energised and positive which stayed with me for days afterwards. I’m not going to lie, I did miss meat though (funnily enough I was vegetarian for over 10 years). But I would love to do it again next year!
I am sure by now you are dying to give this retreat a go too. And I have good news! Book a mid-week retreat by 30 November and save $100 per person by using the code ‘guests100midweek‘. Enjoy :)
A few months ago I was approached by JJ from 84th & 3rd to see if I wanted to design a new iPad magazine that Jackie M was launching on Malaysian food and travel. I jumped at the chance – I’ve designed several print magazines before but I’ve never created an app and was dying to learn. It was a steep learning curve, fuelled by many a Youtube video and online tutorial, but slowly and surely I became confident at navigating my way around the often-confusing InDesign DPS system and now I feel like a pro!
I was fortunate to be able to work with Jackie’s delicious recipes, JJ’s amazing food photography and a huge array of great articles to design a magazine that reflected the look and feel of Jackie’s style. I had never interacted anything using DPS before but soon enough recipes were opening and closing, videos were playing, articles were scrolling and links were working. There were many long nights and weekends spent working on this, plus a trip away and 2 bouts of sickness thrown into the mix. But we got there in the end and have created a piece of work we are all truly proud of!
After a few back and forth moments with Adobe, we submitted the app and waited with bated breath. Would it be approved to the app store? And sure enough a few days later it was! Hallelujah! Opening up Itunes and seeing something I helped create in the App Store was a great moment.
Download the magazine now and check it out for yourself! Oh and if you are interested in being a future contributor please drop JJ an email at editor (at) trulymalaysian.com
And if you have a design project you’d like to work with me on please email me :)
I’m not very good at relaxing. I always have to be doing fifty million things at once in the fear I might get bored and…. self combust? I’m not sure what I think will happen. But after working far too many 70+ hour work weeks in a row, my body had a little breakdown and I got very sick. So I thought now would be the perfect time to try something I have always wanted to do… a relaxing holiday, at a yoga retreat!
The concept of a relaxing holiday is very new to me, as all my previous trips have been action-packed holidays where I try and cram as much amazing culture, history and food as possible into a short space. I generally come home feeling like I need a holiday from my holiday. However, I’ve never been attracted to the idea of a beach holiday – lying on the beach for a week? How boring! Not to mention too much direct sunlight.
I’ve been practicing yoga for around 4 years now and have been dying to try a retreat (it’s even on my 30 Before 30 list). So for the next 5 days I will be staying in a cabin in the bush, doing 3 yoga classes daily, practicing meditation (something I’m terrible at), getting massaged, catching up on reading books and eating healthy food. Exactly what my body and mind needs right now (before I destroy it on my upcoming trip to America! More on that another day).
I will be taking my camera and notebook with me and will be reviewing this retreat in a future blog post if you want to give it a go too. My friend I am travelling with has enforced an internet-ban on me whilst I’m there, so I’ll be quiet on social media for the next few days (how will I cope?!)
Have you ever been on a retreat (yoga or otherwise) or do you want to give one a try?
The lovely guys at Zinio recently contacted me and offered Love Swah readers the chance to win one of 10 one-year digital magazine subscriptions!
So who are Zinio? They are a digital magazine company with literally thousands of top magazines from around the world. You can browse and purchase subscriptions or single issues instantly from your computer or mobile device to read wherever and whenever you like – on your iPad, iPhone, Android mobile phones and tablets, laptop or desktop. This is perfect for travelling or when you want to read on-the-go, plus it’s good for the environment so everyone wins really.
They have some of my top magazine titles available including Donna Hay, Vogue and Frankie, with a huge array of food and travel magazines (always my favourite!). Enter now for your chance to win and let me know which title you would love if you won from Zinio
If you want to try Zinio out for yourself, they currently have a special on 5 Issues for $5! This deal ends July 26.
I was recently invited by Rachel (aka CreamyMiddles) to accompany her on an all expenses paid weekend away in Canberra – yes please! This is all part of a great marketing concept known as The Human Brochure - they invited 500 humans to come and experience Canberra first hand and then spread the word online (using the hashtag #humanbrochure) about all the great things we get up to.
We set off Friday afternoon and began our drive to Canberra. Bad traffic meant we arrived late, missing the bus to our welcome meeting, gah!
Fortunately the guys at Human Brochure had a backup plan and we were swiftly driven to the War Memorial in time for the welcome speech.
We were led on a tour around the War Memorial, the stained glass window inside the tomb of the unknown soldier was gorgeous.
And they had laid out a DAMN good dessert spread, I was in heaven!!
Then it was time to return to our hotel and properly explore it. East Hotel, is a 4.5 Star hotel pitched as a “contemporary design and lifestyle experience”. It’s pretty freaking amazing, from the modern artwork on the walls to the retro-styled furniture (and our room was larger than my apartment!)
The East Hotel’s mustard chair proved very popular with everyone who saw it and I spent a lot of time Instagramming in it!
Design quotes in the foyer
We were up early (for a Saturday!) and off to our first stop… Parliament House! The moody clouds provided a perfect backdrop.
Rachel and I were approved for security clearance! Phew.
I loved the ceiling inside Parliament House.
And there were beautiful courtyards…
And we were lucky enough to be allowed into our Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s office!
And then I stared at the flag pole… I think I prefer it from this angle.
Food time! Hooray! We had lunch at Two Before Ten, a fabulous cafe with great design.
Lunch was delicious and included great coffee, duck rillettes with figs, trout with brioche, tomato and ricotta salad, fresh baked grisini and a fennel salad.
We met Hank the Coffee Roaster and his human Sam gave us a talk on roasting coffee beans (which smells like popcorn to my untrained nose).
In the afternoon we headed off to the National Gallery of Australia. This “floating” ball was amazing.
What are we here to see? Toulouse-Lautrec ofcourse! Lautrec had a thing about painting redheads and prostitutes.. and in those days only prostitutes wore red lipstick. As a (faux) redhead who happened to be wearing red lipstick at the time, I was bought to the front of the group by our guide and declared that Lautrec “would have chased you through the streets of Paris to paint you”. Cheers.
Rachel viewing one of his works.
I bought a poster of my favourite work of his.
We headed off to the Sculpture Garden for champagne (as you do) and I was taken away by this amazing installation by Indonesian artist Dadang Christanto. It certainly had a bit of an Antony Gormley feel to it.
This fog sculpture by Fujiko Nakaya was another favourite of mine.
What time is it? It’s dinner time! We were off to Italian restaurant Mezzalira. My favourite was the ricotta, pumpkin and leek tortellini with burnt sage butter, delicious!
Next up was beetroot risotto, stinging nettle and caprino (cheese) – also very tasty and I will be trying to make this at home. I love bright pink risotto!
And our main, rare salt crusted Rangers Valley beef with cannelloni bean, roast beetroot, tarragon and horseradish. I’m usually a bit funny about eating meat so pink (I was vegetarian for 10 years after all!) but this was perfectly done.
And finally, cannoli with ricotta, rum and chocolate, pistachio and cherries.
I arrived back to my hotel and squealed with delight as they had left us another gift, this arvo it was wine, and that night it was salted caramels! Hands down the best salted caramel I’ve ever had.
Quite a few of us were nursing hangovers of varying degrees the next day (curse you matched wines) but we fortunately had a very pleasant morning – they gave us picnic blankets and breakfast boxes and we picnicked in the gardens of Old Parliament House.
We also sat for a group photo on the steps of Old Parliament House and there was a paparazzi shoot off!
That afternoon we headed off to the Old Bus Depot Markets, an amazing weekly market full of delicious produce and showcasing the wares of emerging designers.
I got *very* excited by these handmade cupcake stands from vintage crockery! I bought the mint green one on the far left :)
Our final stop on our whirlwind tour of Canberra was the Canberra Glassworks. We each got to design and make our own glass tile which was loads of fun! Here I am, concentrating very hard on my tile.
And here I am looking like a complete dweeb in my gumboots and safety glasses. Also samples of the coloured glass I used and my tile ready for the kiln (I will upload a picture of the finished tile when it has been posted to me!)
And we finished off the day with an amazing exhibition by glass artist Kirstie Rea. Beautiful!
An amazing weekend and huge thanks to the guys at Human Brochure. I had such great fun participating in all the activities you organised and had a great time promoting Canberra! Now I can say more than “Canberra has nice bike paths” next time I get asked :)
I’ve been seeing some amazing travel videos springing up on Vimeo lately and have been bookmarking each to share them with you. They sure are giving me itchy feet to explore the world again! I’m excited my new camera has HD video – I am looking forward to creating travel and food videos in the near future. Enjoy!
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