Okay – so it’s a little late, but I just had to post these AMAZING 4th of July cupcakes. Seriously, they are incredible. We ate them so fast the I didn’t even get a picture of all three colors. All that was left were these two:

In case you hadn’t guessed, I also made cupcakes with red frosting. :)

This recipe came from the Vegan Cupcakes Take Over The World cookbook by Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero. I used almost milk instead of soy milk, and my frosting never really got hard because I didn’t have any Earthbalance butter left. It was still delicious though. I kept it from melting off the cupcakes completely by keeping them in the refrigerator. I know you’re not always supposed to do this, but I feel like since I changed a few things it might be a little bit more okay to post the recipe… umm… fingers crossed, anyways…

Here it is:

Fourth of July Cupcakes

Cupcake Ingredients:

  • 2/3 c. almond milk (or probably any non-dairy milk would be fine…)
  • 1/2 t. apple cider vinegar
  • 2/3 c. light agave nectar
  • 1/3 c. canola oil
  • 1 1/2 t. vanilla extract (or a little more)
  • 1/2 t. almond extract
  • 1 1/3 c. all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 t. baking powder
  • 1/2 t. baking soda
  • 1/4 t. salt

Direcitons:

  1. Line muffin tins with cupcake liners; preheat oven to 325 degrees F.
  2. Mix almond milk and apple cider vinegar in a large bowl, and let it sit for a few minutes. Then beat in the agave, oil, vanilla, and almond extract. Sift in the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Mix until smooth.
  3. Fill liners two-thirds of the way full, and bake for 20-22 minutes. Test it with a knife or toothpick inserted into the center of a cupcake and see if it comes out clean.
  4. Let cool in the pan for five to ten minutes, then transfer to a wire cooling rack to cook completely before frosting.

Ingredients for Fluffy Buttercream Frosting:

  • 1/2 c. vegan shortening
  • 1/2 c. vegan margarine (Earthbalance is best!)
  • 3 1/2 c. sifted powdered sugar
  • 1 1/2 t. vanilla extract (or a little more!)
  • up to 1/4 c. plain almond milk or vegan creamer if needed
  • Red and Blue food coloring!

Directions

  1. Beat the shortening and margarine together until well combined and fluffy (I used an electric mixer). Add sugar and beat for about 3 more minutes or so. Add the vanilla and extra almond milk if needed, and beat for another 5 to 7 minutes or so until it’s fluffy again.
  2. Divide frosting into three equal portions. Keep one white, and add red and blue food coloring to the other two.
  3. Pipe onto cupcakes and enjoy!

Makes 12 cupcakes, with a good amount of frosting for each one.

 

Beer Coffee Cake

June 24, 2011

Finally…  back to the baking for me. :)  After graduating from the University of Oregon Clark Honors College, I now have the liberty to blog about fun things again (not like public relations isn’t fun, or anything…..   but seriously).

So, what’s my first recipe after graduation? A beer cake, of course! What else are you going to do with that last leftover, opened can of beer from last night’s graduation party? If you’re as crazy as me, you won’t dump it down the drain – you’ll put it to use. In all honesty though, this cake was delicious. It was a total experiment, but it turned out great, and it wasn’t even that complicated to make. I also made it half whole wheat, so you could maybe even call it healthy if you really wanted to.

Here’s the recipe:

Ingredients:

  • 1 c. packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 c. vegan Earthbalance butter, softened
  • 1/4 c. applesauce (or vegan egg replacer for 1 egg)
  • 1/2 t. cinnamon
  • 1/4 t. allspice
  • 1/4 t. ground cloves
  • 3/4 c. whole-wheat flour
  • 3/4 c. regular all-purpose flour
  • 1 t. baking soda
  • 1/4 t. salt
  • 1/2 c. chopped pecans (or walnuts)
  • 1 c. pabst (or other leftover beer)
  • powdered sugar for dusting

Preparation

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Cream brown sugar and vegan butter in a mixing bowl.
  3. Add applesauce and mix well.
  4. In a separate bow, mix together the flours, cinnamon, allspice, cloves, baking soda and salt.
  5. Alternately add the flour mixture and the beer to the creamed mixture, blending well after each addition.
  6. Stir in chopped pecans.
  7. Spoon batter into a well-oiled and floured tube or Bundt pan (I used an angel-food cake pan, which worked fine)
  8. Bake for 1 hour, or until a toothpick inserted into the cake comes out clean. Let stand for 5 minutes, then invert onto a wire rack to cool.
  9. Sprinkle with powdered sugar and place on a serving plate.
  10. Enjoy! :)

With each day that goes by, we are getting closer and closer to our final presentations, and working harder than ever in the process. One key component to our plan for GE’s Technology Services Group (TSG) is providing some guidelines as to when it is necessary to have in-person meetings. TSG employees are spread all over the world, and when it comes down to it, having regular face-to-face meetings can be a challenge, both in terms of cost and general time management.

However, having face-to-face meetings at least periodically is essential to strengthening bonds among team members while building trust and relationships. If nothing more, distributed teams should strive to meet face-to-face at least once during a project’s life-cycle.

This post outlines why face-to-face meetings are still best for building relationships, and provides some tips for when trying to decide if holding an in-person meeting is truly necessary.

If the purpose of the meeting is only for information sharing, it is possible to hold an effective meeting online, especially if the group already knows each other. However, if attendees need to build relationships and become motivated, face-to-face is by far the best way to meet.

In essence…

Ask the question: why are we meeting?

  • Is it for information sharing? If so, it may be possible to meet online.
  • Is it for relationship building? If so, you should probably meet face-to-face.
  • Is it for motivation and inspiration? Both avenues can be effective for this one.

When you’re deciding whether to have an online meeting or a face-to-face meeting, consider whether the relationships everyone will form are more valuable than everyone’s cost of traveling to the meeting.

This past Wednesday, May 4, 2011, we had the great honor of meeting Mickey G. Nall from Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide, and attending his presentation: Tradigital is the Future of Public Relations. Aside from giving an exceptionally interesting and entertaining presentation, he gave us some great advice about life in the PR world.

A few takeaways:

We in PR have to make the truth fascinating. Good PR is honest and truthful—always. PR is about masterful storytelling, but your stories must always be true.

The Tradigital Approach: The democratization of global thinking. These days, things happening locally are having great impact globally.

The Age of Deference is now the Age of Reference. People want to hear from the man on the street before they want to hear from the leaders of society. Although leaders used to be at the top the list for people seeking opinions and advice about products, the common man has taken their place.

Consumers have become co-brand managers of products. Consumer PR drives brand-specific editorial coverage that focuses on the rationale (the practical benefits) and the emotional (how the brand makes you feel). This in turn elevates the relevancy of a brand to a consumer’s life.

Media Relations & Opportunities: local news and grassroots are making a connection. It’s about the fringe, not the center.

What drives the purchase? Word of mouth.

What breaks through? The Big Idea. Tie it to the trends, make it engaging and newsworthy, and go where the media is.

The bottom line: The brand must be integral to the story and not get lost.

After presenting our plan to the exec’s at TSG, it’s time write up some solid communication guidelines to help them out. After a bit of digging, here are a few that stood out:

The importance of Face-to-face communication: Effective communication is unlikely unless there is discussion and the opportunity for questions to be asked and answered.

Various internal audiences will require different forms of communication. Some will be satisfied with simple verbal presentations, others will require documentation of significant information, etc.

Face-to-face communication is most effective when used for team leader, supervisor, manager and general manager briefings and discussions as appropriate.

Feedback should always be encouraged: Obtaining feedback and effective listening are critically important for good communication.

Effective communication will only come if communicators at all organizational levels seek out feedback and take appropriate action to ensure that the intended meaning is passed on to the relevant audience.

Employees should always be able to say what’s on their minds without retribution.

Always be committed to acting on feedback, either with clarifying communication or relevant action.

Remember – Information is not communication: Written or electronic messages should be supplemented by face-to-face communication as necessary.

The team leader is critical: Important information must be made available to team leaders in a timely manner so they can communicate it to their teams. Information should be both cascaded down the organization and communicated direct to team leaders as appropriate.

Team leaders should make clear what information is available and communicate as requested.

Effective team leaders regularly communicate with team members on a formal and informal basis, and actively seek feedback from their teams on the effectiveness of communication with them.

The importance of Training: Training in effective communication will always be available to team leaders, supervisors and managers, and communication materials and support will be provided as appropriate.

These particular tips came from a boutique consultancy specializing in employee communication and employee surveys. Check out the complete list here.

Regardless of what it means for America, Osama bin Laden’s death gives President Barack Obama an incredible PR boost  in the midst of economic troubles and low poll numbers. The real question is, how much will this boost carry over to the 2012 re-election campaign?

According to Reauters.com, even some of his harshest Republican critics have praised Obama for his efforts against bin Laden – the mastermind behind the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

Killing the former al Qaida leader will surely go far in overcoming Republicans’ claim that Obama is weak on national security issues. Remember how such strong feelings of patriotism after the 2001 attacks helped keep Bush in office when he sought re-election in 2004? Although there is still a considerable amount of time before the November 2012 elections, Bin Laden’s death could also boost Obama, especially in the area of his foreign policy credentials. So far, Obama remains the favorite against a weak, unsettled Republican field.

Regardless, Obama has the ability to greatly profit from this event, and from a PR perspective, it will be interesting to see the extent to which he continues to capitalize on this newfound achievement.

As Week 4 comes to a close, the TSG team is still working steadily to put together the perfect solution for the group’s internal communications crisis. Low and behold – could Pfizer have found us an answer?

Much like the current TSG, Pfizer discovered in 2008 that their internal communications had spiraled out of control. The company had a total of 410 information sites branching out into over 10,000 team specific sites – all lacking a consistent look and feel, providing no way to measure satisfaction and success, and costing $10 million per year to maintain. You are not alone, TSG!

The Solution? To develop one point of contact – a Pfizer World site. The redesign developed both a global addition of Pfizer World and local templates that provided “guidance without prescription.” New policies were designed to improve the intranet, not control its content. By focusing on a One Pfizer ideal for all online channels to align to, they were able to give direction without mandating the content.

The ultimate goal was to Connect, Educate and Listen to employees. Using a variety of different tools, Pfizer was able to facilitate a culture of open communication while giving employees the ability to “get the work done.” This article in HRM Today explains the situation and the results in more detail.

Could this work for TSG? If not the main solution to our challenge, it could definitely serve as a very key piece to it.

Last Thursday, we had the opportunity to hear from Kathy Fleming – VP of Corporate Communication at U.S. Preventive Medicine. You can check out their web-page here. Kathy has helped the company grow significantly since she came on board a few years ago, and their goal of being known as ‘The Prevention Expert’ is now just around the corner.

In her presentation, Kathy outlined a few Communication Fundamentals that are useful in creating any successful campaign:

  • Conduct Research: Know what your target audiences believe and want – know how the organization/product is viewed, be aware of barriers, know what information target audiences need to make a decision, and be aware of your competition. At the same time, be aware of internal needs and practicalities – what are your resources, and who can you work with successfully?
  • Have a written plan—and really stick to it: Again, know your target audiences, and concentrate your efforts where they will have the most impact. Develop goals that are both specific and measurable. Messages should be clear-cut, and easy to understand. Brainstorm uncommon creative concepts that get attention, and tell a story whenever possible. Use feasible tools and tactics that have the support from upper management.
  • Be consistent in your effort and actions.
  • Take advantage of opportunities.
  • Evaluations need to be on-going.
  • Refine your campaign as needed.
  • Most importantly – Stay the course.

With these tips in mind, it’s on to writing our own communications plan for the communication-overloaded Technology Services Group of GE. Let’s see what we can do…

Disclaimer: This post has nothing to do with baking, or cooking, or food in general. However, it does have to do with PR, which can also be pretty awesome. For the next 8 weeks, I’ll be blogging for my PR Campaigns class. Sorry for the baking break! I’ll get back to it as soon as possible–promise.

 

 

We all know by now that social media often plays an important part in PR campaigns. Facebook, Twitter, Blogging–you name it, and we’re expected not only to know how to use it, but how to use it well. In this sea of social media technology, it’s easy to get lost in all of the jumble. It’s not enough to just use social media–if you truly want to be successful, you better be able to use it strategically.

This post outlines 5 smart social PR campaigns that we can all learn from.

Enjoy!

This is an old recipe that has been tweaked and changed many, many times at this point. Along with the occasional peanut butter cookies, these were a regular in our house while I was growing up. These are also the first cookies that I ever learned how to make. From start to finish, they don’t disappoint. I have always been one of those weird people who almost enjoys the dough more than the finished product, and these cookies are no exception. On more than one occasion, I have made a whole batch of this cookie dough just for the sake of eating.

I could be wrong, but it’s possible that this recipe originally started from the back of a Nestle’s chocolate chip bag. Since then, it has been tweaked with the addition of oats, an adjustment of sugar and a combination of butter and shortening. Aside from replacing the eggs along with general veganizing, I have also switched the flour from white to whole-wheat.

Most surprisingly of all, these cookies taste just as good as I remember them. I might think I was crazy if it weren’t for the rave reviews they have been receiving from even the non-vegan testers. They are thin and crispy, with the perfect balance of chocolate chips and chopped walnuts. They’re buttery, but not too oily, and just sweet enough without overdoing it. Even Peter’s definitely-non-vegan, somewhat-skeptical dad couldn’t help himself from having more than one when he came to visit. Now, if you ask me, that’s saying something.  :)

Plain and simple, these cookies are a hit. A recipe has to be pretty good for me to stick to it and keep making it again, and these cookies pass the test.

Enjoy!

Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

Ingredients

  • 1 cup vegan Earthbalance butter, 1/2 cup vegan shortening
  • 1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 smashed banana OR 2 Tablespoons ground flax seed mixed with 6 Tablespoons water (equivalent of 2 eggs)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract (or a little more!)
  • 1 cup whole-wheat all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3 cups oats
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts (or a mix of nuts)
  • 1 16-oz package vegan chocolate chips

Preparation

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Stir/beat together the butters, sugars, vanilla, baking soda and salt until light and fluffy.
  3. Beat in the egg replacer. Stir in flour and then oats.
  4. Stir in the chocolate chips and the nuts last.
  5. Drop by rounded tablespoonfuls onto an un-greased cookie sheet.
  6. Bake for 9-10 minutes (mine were done closer to 12-15 minutes when using the banana).

Warning! This recipe makes about four dozen good-sized cookies. Making a half-recipe yields a pretty good amount, especially if you like your cookies on the smaller side.

This page from the Post Punk Kitchen offers some great tips for vegan baking and for replacing things like eggs, milk and butter. The next time you’re trying to veganize something, check it out!

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