Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Interview & Rich Chocolate Mud Cupcakes

I was recently contacted by, a part of part of the for an interview on my experiences as an Expat. If you would like to see the link, click here. Below is the interview

My name is Susan Minihane. I grew up in New York state, lived in Manhattan and Silicon Valley California and now I live in Sydney, Australia.

1. Why did you move abroad?
My husband and I moved abroad for some adventure and to live outside the box. When we first were married we almost took a year off to travel the world. Instead we did the practical thing - bought a house and had children. Ten years later, when my husband was considering switching jobs, we decided he'd look for work overseas. Initially our goal was to move to mainland Europe. However, a great job came up in Sydney, Australia and we moved there (here). Many expats get transferred to countries by their jobs. We chose to move abroad consciously and willingly.

2. How do you make a living?
My background is in Human Resources and Recruiting. I have been a headhunter and corporate Recruiter. My favorite job was working for Google in both their California headquarters and Sydney office. They are all that and a bag of chips! It's really a worker's utopia there and a wonderful environment to work in. One of Google's motto's is 'instead of asking why, ask why not?' I love this creed and it helps guide me in my decision making. In 2013, I started a small baking business, Suzy Q's Cupcakes, because I love baking and couldn't find a decent cupcake locally. It was one of my many "crazy" ideas that I actually followed through on. I doubt I would've started this business in the US. However, living overseas I've gained confidence. Anytime I am struggling or feeling shy about something, I think to myself that I moved overseas not knowing anyone or anything and I've survived and thrived - I can do it.

3. How often do you communicate with home and how?

I usually speak with my parents every week via the phone or Skype. My sister is on Facebook and we speak on the phone as well.

4. What's your favorite thing about being an expat in Australia?
My favourite thing about being an expat in Australia is living on the coast. You can use the ocean 9 months a year here. We're water people and enjoy going swimming, snorkelling, boogie boarding, surfing, and boating. The beaches here are gorgeous and the water is very blue and clean. It is surprising that the water is so nice and that I can snorkel right off the beach and see amazing fish and yet a 20-minute ferry ride away from downtown Sydney, a major city. There is great shopping, food, culture, etc. there. It is the best of both worlds. 

I also think it is a great place for my daughters to live. They can have a childhood similar to the one I had growing up. It is quite safe, there are no guns, education is more well rounded, sports are part of life, etc. Australia has less people and less problems. Australians also work hard but they work to live. They enjoy their time off and seem generally happy, pleasant people. 

5. What's the worst thing about being an expat in Australia?
The worst thing about being an expat is that you never feel like you completely fit it. That saying, 'stranger in a strange land' is quite true. There are social nuances, traditions, holidays, language, food and much more that will always be foreign to you. You don't realise until you move away from everything you know what is ingrained in you from your home country.

6. What do you miss most?

Originally it was food and shopping but now after 5 years of living abroad, it's family and friends, hands down. They are irreplaceable and it is a long, expensive flight back to the US to visit.

7. What did you do to meet people and integrate in your new home?
I am quite social and have children so it was easier to meet people through my daughters' schools. I also started playing competitive tennis again and joined a book club. As an expat, you really have to be assertive, friendly, and put yourself out there. I have found it interesting in my area of northern Sydney. People are big travellers, they go all over the world on holidays. However, when they are home, they are quite provincial. Most have family nearby and friends from when they were in preschool. They are busy with their families, life and old friends. Some are wary of expats as many move back home. I had to make a concerted effort to meet and find Australian friends. We also were fortunate to move to a suburb where there were other expats. I would encourage anyone who moves overseas, to try and find local friends but also other expats from their home country. It is very comforting to have those friends, especially it you are feeling lonely. We have a group of American expats that we celebrate holidays w ith which is great as Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday and it's not celebrated down under.

8. What custom/ habits do you find most strange about your adopted culture?

What is most strange to me in Australia is their language. While it is English, it is full of slang. My most read blog is on this topic. After 5 years here, I still learn new slang sayings and different ways of saying things every week. I also find it bizarre how orderly people are - you walk on the left side at all times, you wait nicely in the queue for the ferry/bus, you don't jaywalk, you wait for the light. You don't honk your horn, only if it's very necessary, you use your manners. There seems to be a moral code and high level of social decency which is nice to see. 

I also find Australia's relationship with England and the monarchy quite strange. While the government is officially a constitutional monarchy, the Queen of England is a figure head. She lives on the other side of the world and rarely visits. Yet, she is on most of the money here, her birthday is celebrated, there are more Range Rovers than you have ever seen, and the royals are all over the tabloids. There are also some of British expats living here who think they own the country, like it's still colonial times. Yet from my perspective, I don't get it at all. England was awful to Australia. The country was founded on England trying to get rid of their convicts by sending them to the other side of the world to an unsettled, uncivilised country....not very nice. I am very surprised that Australia hasn't broken away from the Queen and become a republic.  

9. What is a myth about your adopted country?
Australians are lazy and drink beer all day. All men are like Crocodile Dundee or hot lifeguards. Kangaroos bounce around in the street. Australia is backward and people are in constant threat of getting killed by a shark, spider, snake, etc. None of these are true except perhaps a lot of hot lifeguards :).

10. Is the cost of living higher or lower than the last country you lived in and how has that made a difference in your life?
The cost of living is very high in Sydney. It is crazy! In the US, there is the Dollar Store while in Sydney there is the 2 Dollar Store - no kidding. That's about right - everything is 2x the price of the US. This has made a difference in my shopping habits. In the US, I loved to shop and was quite a consumer. In Australia, with prices so high, I now think twice before buying things and ask myself more, 'do I really need this?' With energy costs, I hang my clothes out in the sun to dry (like the rest of the country) and also will put a sweater on before putting the heat on.

11. What advice would you give other expats?
  • Go for it! It is great to live overseas and see a different part of the world.
  • The first year is hard; know that going in. In fact, anytime you move to another city, place (even in your home country) it is hard. Go gentle on yourself and know that it'll take some time to make friends, figure out where to shop, find a doctor, etc. There are lots of big things and little things to learn and it will be more challenging in a different country. Keep your chin up and persevere. See what I've learnt as an expat.
  • Living abroad is a great time to start a clean slate. You can be whomever you want to be. No one knows your past life. (That sounds like a convict comment but just encouraging people that it is alright to try new things personally and professionally)
  • When in Rome be a Roman - enjoy your new country and immerse yourself in its' culture, customs, food, etc.

12. When and why did you start your blog?Suzy Q
I started a blog a few years ago when I was talking with an Australian friend. I would ask questions and make comments about Australia. She encouraged me to try writing a blog. I had always thought of writing a cooking blog as that is one of my hobbies, but there are already thousands of cooking blogs so I thought I could combine an expat and cooking blog together. It is a lot of work but I enjoy it and it's the closest thing I'll have to a travel diary.

Well hopefully that answers some questions about me in case you are wondering. Now onto the best part - food! I mentioned above how I started Suzy Q's Cupcakes 2 years ago after not being able to find good cupcakes locally. I love my little business and I am passionate about it despite earning peanuts! Besides occasionally writing this obscure blog, it keeps me creatively challenged and very happy. My family is most happy with my newish line of work because they get to be taste testers and get to eat all the leftovers. Recently, my husband celebrated his birthday. Unlike a woman he said he didn't "need" anything for his birthday but wanted a rack of lamb and chocolate cupcakes. Easy peasy. Save all those gifts for Mother's Day!
Like their name says, these cupcakes are rich....very rich. They have espresso and 200g of chocolate. They are dense and moist but also have some crumble to them. The lolly girls, my daughters, ate them of course but told me later that they were too strong for them. So baker beware! These Rich Chocolate Cupcakes may be best served to chocoholics, adults, and those who like to eat strong delicious desserts. And if you want more rich chocolate cupcake recipes, look at my blog that has Red Wine Chocolate Cupcakes.
Rich Chocolate Mud Cupcakes

Makes 16
Prep 30 mins
Cook 25 mins
Bakers Notes: With any cooking, the quality of your ingredients have a huge affect on the outcome and taste. In this recipe, using high quality *unsalted* butter, high quality chocolate, and strong coffee will greatly improve the taste of this cupcake.
(original recipe from, this cook made several changes):
3/4 cup (around 200g) *unsalted* butter 
1 cup (215g) sugar
1 cup (around 200g) chocolate, chopped (I used dark, milk chocolate is fine too)
1/4 cup (30g) cocoa powder
1/3 cup (80ml) espresso or strong coffee
1 cup flour (150g) Plain Flour
1.5 tsp Baking Powder
1/4 tsp Salt
3 eggs, lightly beaten (room temperature is best)
adapted recipe from Hershey's Cocoa
1/2 cup (110g) *unsalted* butter, melted
2/3 cup (65g) cocoa powder
3 cups (375g) powdered/icing sugar
1/4 cup (62ml) whole milk

1. Preheat oven to 325F or 160C fan forced. 
2. Combine butter, sugar, chocolate, cocoa powder, coffee in a saucepan. Heat slowly (you don't want to burn butter nor chocolate = bad cupcakes). Stay at stove and stir constantly until fully melted. REMOVE from burner.

shiny and smooth, no lumps and not too hot
3. Add flour, baking powder, and salt and whisk to combine. 

shiny and smooth and now thicker
5. In a separate bowl, lightly hand whisk/mix 3 eggs. Make sure the chocolate mixture is not too hot as you will end up with egg drop cupcakes and will have to start all over. Add eggs and hand beat quickly.

make sure the chocolate batter is not too hot; fold eggs in quickly
6. Pour or spoon mixture into baking cups and cook for 25 mins. Use toothpick or grill kebab metal stick to make sure cupcakes are baked through. To start the cooling process, you can turn them 1/2 way (see below).

Cupcakes will cool faster on their side
7. While cupcakes are cooling, make the Fudge Frosting. Melt butter in a saucepan or microwave and pour into mixing bowl. Add cocoa and beat through

make sure any lumps of cocoa are gone; should be smooth
8. Add powdered/icing sugar and milk slowly in 3 lots and beat after each addition. When finished, beat on high for 4 minutes. You must beat the frosting for a long time to add air and "fluffen" it up.

frosting is fluffy, light and has increased in size due to 4 mins of mixing
9. Icing the cupcakes: make sure cupcakes are completely cool before frosting them. If they are at all warm, the frosting, which is high in butter, will melt. You can use a spoon to spread frosting OR cut the side of a plastic sandwich bag on the diagonal and frosting cupcakes that way. Or alternatively, you can buy decorated baking cups, sprinkles and tips from a crafts store, grocery store, even Big W and create fancy cupcakes like the bottom photo. 
Another use for a plastic bag; better than a sandwich :)

much prettier than using a knife, heh?

"Fancy Nancy" cupcakes; easy for me to make as I have all the supplies.
They are now easier to find locally at craft store, grocery stores and BigW.

Special design for SuzyQ Under Down by GeCe