***Update 5/24/2010: Congratulations to Barbara for winning a year’s subscription to Australian Gourmet Traveller! And thank you to everyone who shared your wonderful, amazing stories of personal achievements for this giveaway!!***

A year ago this week, I dusted off my neglected WordPress account to blog, with nary an idea as to what I would write about or for whom. Leaving behind the comforts of a cushy paycheck, it was a decision that acknowledged the need to stop existing and to actually start living life by exploring those interests that really ignited me: Food. Photography. Writing. People. Travel.

I felt like a novice ice-skater in the early posts: anxious and hesitant, spending more time agonizing over the content and form of a post than with the activity of writing itself. With time, the experiments began. I started to try different voices, going through them like jeans on a rack, trying on a range of colors and cuts in the quest for the perfect fit.

Then there were the photographs. I had almost forgotten how satisfying it was to hear the camera’s click with every press of the shutter, and it wasn’t long before I got to know my camera intimately well, immersing and absorbing every iota of camera- and photography-speak.

Needless to say, it has been an amazing year of growth, breath-taking experiences and new friends. You’ve probably read many a food blog that’s gone on and on about the doors that an online journal has opened for them, and I can tell you that it is all true.

With blogging challenges like this and this, and attending the first-ever BlogHer Food Conference, it was difficult to tear myself away from my new playground on Twitter, which was constantly ablaze with creative ideas and smart minds tossing witticisms and words of support back and forth. And let’s not forget that crazy month of 30 desserts, or that weekend of food styling and photography heaven in Long Beach, and that trigger-happy Sunday in San Francisco spent looking through the lens. All happy and inspiring moments, which, if you had foretold to me in early 2009, would have elicited anything but belief.

But the real reason why I managed to have this memorable year, is YOU. It was your comments and emails of kindness and encouragement that have kept me on my toes, exploring new flavors and ingredient pairings, pushing me to hone my photography and styling skills, and just experiencing food in a whole new light. With your support, you’ve shown me that this wasn’t a lofty, idealistic dream borne out of a disenchantment with a 9-to-5 routine. You’ve actually helped make it a reality.

So to thank you, both regular commenters and blog stalkers alike, here’s Bon Vivant’s very first giveaway: I’m giving one lucky reader a year’s subscription to Australian Gourmet Traveller magazine, a prize worth US$140 (for international subscriptions).

You’ve heard me wax lyrical about their annual cookbook, now you get a chance to drool over insanely beautiful food styling and photography paired with inventive recipes, every month!! That’s 12 issues of inspiration. What’s not to like about that?

Best of all, this giveaway is open worldwide. Yes, whether you live in Iceland, Mongolia or South Africa, you get an equal chance to win a year’s worth of this gorgeous magazine just by leaving a comment below with your answer to the question:

What was your proudest moment in the past year?

The rules are:

  • Leave your comment before Midnight Pacific Time on Sunday, May 23. This gives you one entry in the draw.
  • To double your chances, become a fan of Bon Vivant on Facebook and email me to let me know that you’ve become a fan. If you’re already part of the fan page, you can indicate that in your comment.
  • The winner will be picked by a random number generator and the results announced the week of May 24.
  • Any plagiarized content, trackback from spams, non-goal oriented comments, and comments containing abusive or inappropriate languages don’t qualify.
  • Please provide a valid email address so that I can award you the prize if you win. I will not share your contact information with anyone else.
  • If you win, you have to reply to my email within a week to claim it. Otherwise it will be forfeited and awarded to someone else.

While you’re pondering on your answer to my question, perhaps you might want to munch on some of these Kumquat-filled cupcakes to pass the time? I stumbled upon these cute citrus fruits a few months ago – when they were at the height of their season – and fell in love with them at first bite. Their sweet-sour freshness on the palate and fragrant chewy skin, make them yummy capsules of Vitamin C. Prepared in a compote, with this recipe, they easily became a permanent fixture on our breakfast table, savored with breads and pancakes for as long as supplies lasted. When I saw them again at our local grocery store (which seems to have a regular supply of the fruit), I knew I had to find a way to use them in a cute and dainty dessert, and so these cupcakes were born. Bon Appetit!

Kumquat Cupcakes With Coconut Buttercream
Makes 14 cupcakes

Kumquat Compote:
Adapted from Seattle Bon Vivant

1 pound/ 455 grams kumquats, rinsed and ends removed
7 ounces/ 200 grams fine granulated sugar
Juice of 1 lemon

Quarter the kumquats or chop into eighths (for bigger fruits), removing the seeds and placing them in a small tea or cheesecloth bag.

Place the kumquats, sugar and lemon juice in a saucepan with the bag of seeds and bring to a simmer. Remove the pan from heat and pour its contents into a glass dish. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

The following day, remove any loose seeds and return the mixture to the pan, bringing it to a simmer. Skim away any scum that appears on the surface while cooking on medium high heat, stirring constantly for about 5 minutes.

Remove the bag of seeds and leave the compote to cook for another 5 minutes, still stirring. Bring to a rapid boil for a minute, then turn off the heat. Immediately pour into sterilized jars and leave to cool and refrigerate before using.

6 ounces/ 170 grams unsalted butter, softened
9 ounces/ 255 grams granulated sugar
3 large eggs (about 6 ounces/ 150 grams)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
14 ounces/ 400 grams all-purpose flour
1½ teaspoons baking powder
A pinch of salt
12 ounces/ 370 grams milk

Preheat the oven to 350F/ 180C. Beat the butter at high speed with an electric mixer until creamy, then add the sugar and beat on medium-high until light and fluffy, which should take about 3 minutes.

Add the eggs one at a time, waiting for the previous egg to be fully incorporated before adding the next. Add the vanilla extract.

Combine the flour, baking powder and salt in a separate bowl, then start adding all the flour and the milk to the butter/sugar mixture in batches, alternating between the flour and the milk. Pause after each addition, to allow the flour and milk to be mixed thoroughly before the next addition.

Scoop the batter into cupcake papers about half to three-quarters full and bake for 30 to 40 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean. Leave to cool on wire racks.

5 ounces/ 140 grams shredded coconut
4 ounces/ 115 grams unsalted butter, softened
3 tablespoons heavy whipping cream
5 ounces/ 140 grams powdered sugar, sifted

Spread the coconut on a lined baking tray and toast in an oven pre-heated to 300F/ 160C for 15 to 20 minutes, until it turns a golden brown. Remove from the oven and let it cool.

Beat the butter with an electric mixer until it achieves a creamy, paste-like texture. Add the cream and sifted sugar and continue to beat the mixture until smooth.

To assemble:
With a melon baller or a teaspoon, make a cavity in the middle of each cupcake and fill with a teaspoon of kumquat compote. Seal each cavity with some of the cake sponge that was removed and pipe or spread the frosting. Sprinkle each frosted cupcake with the toasted coconut flakes and chill for at least an hour before serving.