October 9, 2012

There’s nothing quite so great as watching a friend coming into his or her own.

For the first two years of Blue Jean Gourmet’s existence, Sonya Cuellar was this site’s exclusive photographer; I never could have gotten this blog off the ground without her.

Sonya is also an extremely talented painter.  Self-taught, her work betrays an innate talent for manipulating color and texture.  Jill and I are proud to hang several Cuellar originals in our home, and even prouder to call Sonya a friend.

Over the last year, Sonya’s artistic career has really taken off.  She started taking classes at Houston’s Glassell School of Art to hone her technique, and the resulting paintings have demonstrated an increased level of sophistication.  In January, she was selected for the John Palmer Escapist Mentorship Program, which has pushed and challenged and stretched her to take on new projects and promote herself and her work in new ways.  She’s taken to the whole thing like a duck to water, and I am so proud.

Recently, on our way home from an otherwise lovely trip to Memphis, Jill’s camera was stolen.  Thankfully, Sonya was willing to step in and become blog photographer again for the short term, until we can replace Jill’s camera.  Today’s cake image and others you’ll see in coming weeks were taken by Sonya.

To celebrate Sonya’s blossoming career and expose more folks to her beautiful work, we concocted a little giveaway!  To win a custom-painted messenger bag OR iPad cover like the ones pictured here, just follow these steps:

1. Head on over to Sonya’s website and take a look at her Paintings gallery.

2. While you’re there, like Sonya’s artist page on Facebook or follow her on Twitter.

3. Post a comment here with the title of your favorite of Sonya’s pieces!


 The giveaway will be open until Friday, October 12th at NOON CST.  At that time, I’ll randomly select a comment number and inform the winner via email.  Due to shipping costs, this giveaway is open to residents of the United States and Canada only.

Many thanks to Sonya for letting me give away one of her awesome pieces–I have the bag pictured above and I love mine!  Go enter everyone!

 ***UPDATE***  We have a winner!  Congratulations to Sunny, with randomly selected comment #10.  I will contact you via email to get your mailing address!



Inspired by this article about baking with tea, and riffing off of this recipe, I give you this not-too-sweet and very moist cake.  I think it would work very well at brunch and, of course, it goes extremely well with a cup of tea!

I probably didn’t push the chai flavor as far as it could go—it wound up being more of a backdrop for the pistachios, which was fine by me.  If you want a more aggressively tea-flavored cake, go ahead and bump up the amounts for the spices.



2 cups all-purpose flour

1 cup almond meal

1 cup sugar

1 tsp. baking powder

1 tsp. baking soda

pinch of salt

1 ¼ cup buttermilk

4 T browned butter

1 tsp. vanilla

2 eggs at room temperature

4 T good-quality loose-leaf black tea (or cheat and cut open some tea bags)

1 tsp. ginger

1 tsp. ground cardamom

½ tsp. cinnamon

¼ tsp. black pepper

for the glaze:

1 cup powdered sugar

approximately 2 T milk

½ tsp. vanilla

pinch ground cardamom—optional


for the topping:

½ cup raw unsalted pistachios, shelled & chopped


pan: I used an 8” spring form pan lined with a piece of buttered parchment, but an 8” square would work as well

oven: 375°

Combine the dry ingredients: flour, almond meal, sugar, baking powder, soda, & salt.  Whisk in the tea and spices.

Make a well in the center of the dry mixture and pour in the browned butter, eggs, vanilla, & buttermilk.  Stir the mixture until just combined.

Pour the batter into the pan and bake for 30-35 minutes, or until the cake has browned on top and cooked through (test with a toothpick).  Cool on a wire rack.

To assemble the glaze, whisk all ingredients together.  You may wish to adjust the consistency with more milk or powdered sugar, then drizzle over the top of the cooled cake.  Sprinkle the pistachios on top of the glaze and serve!


  1. Okay, 1. that cake looks aMAHzing.

    2. It would be really hard to choose just one favorite painting! I think vantage Point and Draw Near (because of the book pages) are tied though.

    And 3. I love that bag!

    Comment by Christina — October 9, 2012 @ 3:43 pm

  2. Thanks for the info about Sonya. I enjoyed looking at the art on the web site. My favorite piece is Light Splashed. I loved looking at the different aspects of facial features that I noticed more and more as I looked at the painting for longer. I also like the colors used in that one.
    I can’t wait to try the cake! It looks delicious, and not only because it is photographed so beautifully!

    Comment by Lisa — October 9, 2012 @ 4:37 pm

  3. i followed Sonya on twitter {i’m @poetpassionbakr.} my favorite work of hers is “White Balance” ~ gorgeous!

    thanks for a chance at the giveaway!

    Comment by Dani H — October 9, 2012 @ 4:48 pm

  4. So glad you blogged that beautiful cake! Can’t wait to try it! On my way to Sonya’s website!!

    Comment by Mamot — October 9, 2012 @ 8:27 pm

  5. This cake looks great…you know how much I LOVE CHAI!!! I’m *totally* stealing this recipe…:)
    You do such great work!

    Comment by jody stevens — October 9, 2012 @ 8:52 pm

  6. it is a toss up between “rise up” and “electric fence”. as i don’t do twitter i can not follow her or i probably would as i like her work.

    Comment by jacquie — October 9, 2012 @ 8:54 pm

  7. I love your recipes. I love Palmer’s work and have thought about applying for his program. Just a little chicken.

    I like her hand painted merchandise, especially the bag in the middle of the first row. # 2 is the 3rd bag on the 1st row.

    Comment by Deborah Melanson — October 9, 2012 @ 9:15 pm

  8. My favorite is a painting called ‘Rust’ – striking colors in an abstract that reminds me of a landscape. Love the cake Nishta, because it’s loaded with pistachios!

    Comment by Dragana — October 9, 2012 @ 9:27 pm

  9. Sonya has so many terrific pieces. From the 2012 album, I’m a big fan of the album cover – “Far and Wide.” I also really like “Light Splashed,” but if I had to pick a favorite, it would be a toss-up between “Impossible” and “Ultramarine.” Her work is so consistently good though – makes it terribly hard to choose!

    Comment by Chadwick Holmes — October 9, 2012 @ 11:50 pm

  10. Wow that cake looks amazing. I looked at Sonya’s site and I really like the picture titled “breaking day II”. I liked her on FB as well 🙂

    Comment by Sunny — October 10, 2012 @ 6:05 am

  11. Hey! Btw, this cake looks amazing. My favorite (and it was hard to choose) is entitled “Farm House.” It brings up so many childhood memories. Thanks for sharing this artist with me!

    Comment by Claire Rhodes — October 10, 2012 @ 7:43 am

  12. Thanks everyone for the wonderful comments and thank you for taking the time to check out my website!

    Deborah – APPLY FOR THE PROGRAM. You won’t regret it. I was chicken too and applied on the last day applications were being accepted. Best decision ever.

    Comment by Sonya Cuellar — October 10, 2012 @ 11:02 am

  13. Wow. Such great work, and that bag is gorgeous! My favorite piece is Circle in the Sand. Lovely! ANd this cake is fantastic! Wow!

    Comment by Russell at Chasing Delicious — October 10, 2012 @ 7:39 pm

  14. I love the piece “Three Men Wait.” I have no training at all in art, so I can’t even tell you why, I just love the way it looks! 🙂

    I love your pictures too…I’ve recently been working on gaining control of aperture, and I am so impressed when I see it done well!

    Comment by Megan — October 10, 2012 @ 8:45 pm

  15. I visited Sonya’s website and enjoyed all of her art – paintings, photographs and merchandise – but the one that touched my heartstrings was the photo of the turtle – it brought me back to staring into the eyes of my pet turtle, Hezakiah, of some 40 years ago.

    Comment by Sue — October 10, 2012 @ 9:04 pm

  16. Sea Change. I adore the messenger bags.

    I have never baked with tea…. Very intrigued. Also interested in attempting to modify this into a cookie recipe.

    Comment by Shailey — October 11, 2012 @ 8:26 am

  17. As a huge fan of Sonya I would have to say my favorite is “Into the Ocean.” I love the mixed media on paper and it captures what I sometimes feel going thru this life. For me going into the ocean is a peaceful place and to see it on paper on one side, the deep red symbolizes the times where chaos and disaray go on in my life, and as color fades into the blue a peace falls on me and brings me to a place of calmness just like the ocean.

    Comment by Angi — October 12, 2012 @ 8:04 am

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