Karen Lo was born in London and raised in Australia by Malaysian-Chinese parents. This exposure to different food cultures meant that she grew up with an appreciation for cooking and cherishes meals shared with friends. Karen admits she could never live "in a world without butter, sugar and eggs" and her blog, Citrus and Candy, chronicles her cooking and baking adventures – with picture-perfect results.
We talk to Karen about her London roots, her go-to pumpkin soup, and her tendency to stray from recipe instructions.
What's the difference between the English and Australian appetite?
I don't think I can really speak for English appetites, but one thing I do notice is that Australians, in general, are very open and adventurous in trying new foods. It's no surprise, given the rich multitude of cultures and authentic cuisines we have here – especially in Sydney and Melbourne. It's a fantastic country for food lovers.
How have your Malay-Chinese-Hokkien background and London roots influenced your cooking?
My London roots have been more of an influence on my cooking, especially with desserts, since there's not as much of the sweet stuff in Malaysian and Chinese cuisines. I love hearty meals and I think English food is amazing, despite popular belief. At the moment, I'm learning to cook Malaysian for myself, since I've come to the realisation that my family isn't going to be around all the time to provide me with laksas and nasi lemaks!
What’s the story behind the name Citrus and Candy?
I wish I had a funny story about the name, but, to be honest, they were just two random words that popped in my head and I knew instantly that it sounded right. And, yes, I do love citrus a lot.
How often do you stray from the recipe?
I don't think I've ever strictly followed a recipe. I always want to add more of something, change an ingredient or add wine, beer, sherry or spirits to the dish. I love cooking with alcohol.
Ever had any disasters in the kitchen?
I can be really clumsy and easily distracted in the kitchen so, yes, I've had plenty of disasters, both messy and painful. Let's just say, don't ever burn pomegranate syrup. If you do, never ever dispose of it in a plastic bag over a glass bowl. Cleaning up burnt caramel, melted plastic and broken glass isn't fun. And the smell still haunts me.
How has your blog changed since you launched it?
My blog started off with restaurant reviews and very little recipes. But then I started to cook more at home and ate out less. Plus, I really enjoy taking photos at home and writing about recipes, so I made the conscious decision last year to cut out reviews from my blog.
What do you cook when you’re too tired to bother?
I love making all kinds of soups when I'm lazy. I can use whatever is in my fridge and pantry, it requires minimal prep and cooking, and I can easily make a big batch of it to last me for ages. My pumpkin soup is usually my go-to lazy recipe.
How has becoming a food blogger introduced you to unusual foods?
It hasn't really exposed me to the unusual, but it has opened me up to foods that I never appreciated before, such as cheese. Although I could never love a smelly cheese ever.
Your food is beautifully presented – has your blog made you a better photographer?
Definitely. When I started blogging, I had zero knowledge about cameras and photography, so I had a lot to learn when I bought my first DSLR two years ago. I cringe when I look back at my early food photos, but, on the other hand, it makes me even more proud of how far I've come.
What would you cook for your last meal? To impress the prime minister? To feed 20 of your friends?
If it was my last meal, I'd rather not cook, to be honest! I'd have someone else prepare a feast of fresh seafood and desserts while I sit back and relax.
As a cook, I'm all about comfort food rather than making good impressions, so I'd probably look to a classic roast for the PM. Or maybe I should showcase my heritage and cook her an authentic Malaysian dinner (if only for the irony). To feed my friends, I'd cook massive communal dishes because I could never feed 20 people any other way! I make a mean ragu, so I think a giant pot of that, plus many bottles of wine, should tide us over nicely.
What do you think of the food blogger community?
The food blogger community is fantastic. It's always nice talking to people who are equally passionate about what they eat and bounce off ideas with those who love to cook and bake like I do. Plus, they understand my whinges about bad lighting and baking tantrums! I've met so many amazing bloggers, some of which have become my closest friends.
What would your blog followers be surprised to learn about you?
A majority of the recipes on my blog are desserts, but I admit that I'm just as happy with a plate of fried chicken and chips than with a rich chocolate dessert. I crave salty things more than sweet.
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