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Kearin Armstrong

When I met Kearin Armstrong for coffee in Melbourne, she turned up with a six-pack: of doughnuts. ‘I didn’t have time to get three different types’, she said. ‘But I hear these are really good’.

This, from a New Zealander who came to Melbourne for the weekend to check out the ‘baking game’ in Australia. A little market research, apparently, for her blog, the Winsome Baker of Wellington. (Alongside expanding her wardrobe of course.)

Something that inspires me about Kearin is how seriously she takes her side jam. I picked her brains over coffee, and doughnuts, to learn from a multitasking pro.

So, how’d it all start? What were the first steps?

I’ve always loved to cook, and follow a lot of food blogs. A little voice inside me thought 'maybe I can do this too'.

When I realised  you could have a private blog it let me practice until I was ready to go ‘public’. No one could read my content but I could go through the motions of actually writing and creating things and getting used to the process.

When I was ready (well not really, my partner said ‘what are you waiting for’), I just unlocked it and thought ‘damn, I’m really doing this’.

A lot of the people I talk to who are keen on starting their own blog, website, or own biz get really caught up in defeatist ‘but’ statements. Like: ‘but there are so many others out there better than I am’, or ‘but I’ve never done it before’. There seem to be a ton of food blogs out there. What was your take on what you were doing vs what was already in online?

I was told that the difference between being a professional writer and someone who just writes stuff - is doing it every day. If you’re making yourself do this everyday; well then it just becomes habitual.

If you look at stuff on the Internet; they spent hours making it and making it look beautiful. Taking like, 100 photos to find the perfect shot. It’s intimidating. For people to be able to take the recipe and expect it to look exactly the same, well it’s just not realistic.

For me, it was about helping people really see baking for what it is. The actual baking part isn’t that hard, It’s mostly a lack of confidence that makes it seem hard. So I wanted to show people the ‘real’ side of it; break it down and basically show them ‘you can do this, too’.

I’ve definitely had my share of baking fails. I’ve cried over recipes that didn’t work out. Mostly I curse, but don’t tell my mother.

I’m supremely impressed by your scheduling skills as you know. You mentioned to me once that when you have a schedule, you’re all good. But what happens when things don’t fall into schedule? How do you get back on track?

[Laughs] If I schedule it, I’ll definitely do it because it’s in the schedule and that way it doesn’t get on top of me.

When I first started the blog, I’d work all week, try a recipe on the weekend, bake it, sample it, shoot it, write it up and publish it on the weekend. It all got a bit much. And my social was all over the place. [laughs] that’s still a work in progress actually.

Part of it was just giving myself the structure and the other part was realising this was supposed to be fun. This was my side project; no one was going to die if I didn’t upload a recipe every week so I’ve taken a few breaks when I needed to.

I suppose I’ve learnt I don’t need to achieve a ton of stuff every day, or even amazing things every day. It’s just about doing a little bit every day. ‘Every step forward is a win’, even if it’s a small step.

You and I have both shared the delightful cocktail that is anxiety and depression. What have you personally found helpful for managing your mental health with running the blog and keeping down a full time job?

Apart from the work getting on top of me stuff we were just talking about, I get anxious about interacting with people (as a general theme), so ‘putting myself out there’ is one of  the hardest parts of this whole thing for me. But there’s gotta be someone on the internet that’s interested in what i’ve got to say, right?

In terms of how I manage it, most people with a mental illness will know how important exercise is to how you feel. In my day job, I sit all day. If I don’t get out to move around at lunch I feel it. . I’ve got a weights set up at home, so I lift every day first thing in the morning. It’s part of my routine now so I don’t talk myself out of it anymore.

I also go for runs a few times a week. It makes me feel strong and more confident in what I’m doing. I actually get some of my recipe ideas while I’m out running! It’s probably the rapidly falling blood sugar.

Essentially that’s what I’m ‘selling’ through the Winsome Baker I guess. Confidence in the kitchen. Baking is easier than it can seem but heaps of people are really fearful of it and of making mistakes. Hopefully I can change that for some people.

“Baking is actually not that hard!

I do not believe you.

I grew up with mum cooking all the time and I feel totally comfortable creating things from scratch. But for lots of my friends or colleagues, the idea of setting one foot into the kitchen is daunting.

If one person tells me they’ve been able to get confident and actually make something for themselves, I get super excited about it. A friend of mine texted me recently to tell me they’d made the roasted tomato tartlets; she was so proud and so was I!

Do you think there’s been a return to making things from scratch, like a ‘revolt’ of sorts against convenience culture?

I think baking is a generational thing. My parents [baby boomers] baked but their generation was the first to really not need so many of those skills. There’s definitely been a resurgence around baking in young people. Even preserving is having a resurgence right now and it’s really cool. It’s so satisfying to create something and be able to say ‘yeah - I made that!’

I hear a rumour that 6pm on a Sunday night is a good time to hover around your kitchen for ‘Tasting Sessions’. Would you consider baking lessons or similar in the future?

I’d definitely consider it. My ultimate goal is to help other people to cook for themselves and give people confidence in the kitchen. For me it’s about empowerment and education. I think when people feel that pride and satisfaction of making something for themselves they’ll be hooked. It would also be great to boost my confidence in front of people, one day I’ll take the plunge!

For now, I just force-feed my colleagues on Monday mornings and have my friends come over and help me eat it.

Check out The Winsome Baker here. Images by Breeana Dunbar.