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Creative Cookies: Chef mixes love of dough with digital delight
In Callye Alvarado's kitchen and dining room, the sight of camera equipment and a brightly lit computer screen is just as common as trays of cookies, cookie cutters and bags of icing in assorted colors.
If you're a regular in the dessert-blogging world, you may have heard of Alvarado, better known for her cookie-decorating blog, The Sweet Adventures of Sugarbelle, www.sweetsugarbelle.com. With hundreds of comments made a month on her blog and more than 9,000 followers on Facebook, the Seminole, Texas, resident is a rising star in cookie decorating.
“She's only been doing it for a short period of time. It's been taking off more than we've expected,” Alvarado's husband, Bernie said. “We've got people all over the world following her. I'm surprised.”
Callye Alvarado first got her start baking and decorating cookies as a way to cope with her grandmother's death in January 2009. With no formal training, the Internet served as her teacher and guide.
Pretty soon, Alvarado's cookies gained attention among family and friends, enabling her to sell cookies directly from home. At the height of her business success, Callye Alvarado was up in the early morning hours and making 10 dozen to 20 dozen cookies a day, Bernie Alvarado said.
But Alvarado's homegrown business was soon shut down permanently after an anonymous tip was sent to the health department in November 2010. Although there were no problems concerning her cookies, Texas law prohibited the sale of food from residential kitchens. (The law changed Sept. 1, allowing for home bakery businesses.)
The shutdown became a blessing in disguise, Bernie Alvarado said, as Callye Alvarado turned to blogging for her creative outlet instead.
“One way or another I wanted to make cookies. I was so into it I didn't want to just give up,” Alvarado said. “I like blogging so much now. I get a lot more room for creativity. I can do what I want. It's kind of more inspiring.”
Like many food blogs, Alvarado's blog has photos of elaborately decorated cookies and gives step-by-step guides on how to recreate the sweet treats. Alvarado's uniqueness, however, lies in her girl-next-door style prose and her creative intuition to repurpose cookie cutters.
Alvarado's latest cookie endeavors have been 3-D cookies, using flower cookie cutters to make a flower pot or using football cookie cutters to make a pirate ship.
“She can see so many different things. It makes cookie decorating more accessible to more people,” Glory Albin, of Glorious Treats blog, said. “And the way she writes in a more approachable, informal way makes her seem like she is a Texas girl we can easily like over the computer. You don't feel like she's hiding anything or holding anything back.”
Albin and Alvarado first began their online friendship through seeing each other's cookie pictures posted on the photo-sharing website, Flickr. When Alvarado began taking more of an interest in blogging, Albin helped her friend along.
The friendship is rare in the food-blogging community, Albin said, with many bloggers seeing each other as competitors instead of collaborators or friends.
“Because we knew each other on Flickr first, it didn't feel competitive,” Albin said. “By the time we were both into serious blogging, we liked each other too much to care that we were competing.”
From Albin and other blogs, Alvarado learned how to make her blog accessible to readers. And to grow her following, Alvarado has to constantly update her blog with new and innovative ideas — an easy task for someone who finds inspiration in almost anything.
Callye Alvarado blogs sharing recipes, step-by-step instructions and more at http://sweetsugar belle.com.