Sites We Love: Sunshine and Smile

Gorgeous photos? Check. Engaging writing? Check. Seriously inspiring recipes, tips, and culinary curiosity? Check, check, and check. The best food blogs all seem to have a lot in common—but what separates them out are the strong personalities behind them. In our Sites We Love series, we sit down with some of our favorite bloggers to find out how they do it—and why it’s as much fun for them as it is for us.

Today's site we love is Sunshine and Smile, where India-native Kankana Saxena shares stories and pictures of her travels, home, and mouth-watering experiments from her California kitchen. Kankana's inspired recipes, from zesty fish curry to baked persimmon crisps, marry indulgence with local ingredients and global flavors. Here's what Kankana has to say about her site:

Live since: January 2011

Posting rate: At least once per week

Geographic location: California, USA

Why is the site called Sunshine and Smile? Summer is my absolute favorite season, and my husband's broad smile cheers me up everyday. You have to meet him to know why I say that! So when my husband was setting up the website, the name just popped up immediately.

What's been your most popular post? I woke up one morning dreaming of salmon, so that afternoon, I prepared Salmon with Creamy Dill Sauce. Yeah, I can get crazy that way! It was a very light and healthy meal plus super easy. People loved it. It has the most number of visits so far, and I still receive emails from people about how much they relished it. Such emails always brighten my day.

What's your favorite post? Every single post I've shared so far is very close to my heart, so I can't really pick any one post as my favorite. Having said that, there are certain posts that have a lot of memories attached, and every time I re-visit them, it makes me smile. To name a few, it would be my husband's favorite Shrimp Stuffed Ravioli with Pesto Sauce, my childhood pick Beetroot Patty, celebrating our first anniversary on Napa Wine Train, our Trip to Paris and a visit to my home in My Love for Street Food.

Credit: Arvind Saxena

What's something great that you've learned or that's happened to you since starting your blog? Blogging helped me discover a newer side of me that I'd been ignorant of. As a kid, I would rather play in the backyard with my brother than learn how to cook alongside my mom or grandma. My love for food developed much later in life and now, it feels like my life revolves around it. Besides learning about different baking techniques and understanding the art of cooking, the blog has also introduced me to this beautiful community where help is always around the corner. All I have to do is ask. I feel so honored and proud to be a part of this community. Blogging also gave me another huge gift; it gave me a passion for photography. In this virtual world of food blogging, you don't get to touch, smell or eat the food you see on a blog. But if it is presented beautifully, it can surely make you drool and ask for more. I've found I can set the mood, tell a story and create a connection with good photography. That's how the journey with my camera started. I started seeing things differently. I learned to look for beauty everywhere I go, and my camera is always with me to capture the moment.

What's the usual process for developing one of your posts? To start, I definitely test the recipe a couple of times before I share it on the blog. Once that's done, I start planning the photo shoot depending on my schedule. I always photograph by the window in natural light, so planning is extremely essential, especially during winter when it gets dark sooner. As I prepare the dish, I simultaneously look for the props, fabrics, and backdrop so I can create a virtual picture of how to style it. I keep everything ready, and once the dish is complete, I immediately start the shoot. Most of the time, I take photos the same day I prepare the dish, unless it's something like cookies, muffins or condiments, which I tend to push to the next day. At times, it works like magic and within an hour, I'm done with the entire shoot, and there are some tough days when it takes more time. The next day, I'll edit the photos and start writing the story behind the post. It's typically a 2 to 3 days process of preparing, photographing and writing. Once I am happy with both the photos and the writing, I share it on the blog.

What are your favorite ingredients and tools? I gawked at the kitchen for 10 long minutes to answer this question. Well, it turns out I have no favorite tools. Whatever I have in my tiny kitchen is precious to me. From my gorgeous blue KitchenAid to my rustic onion and garlic holder, I love them all. As for ingredients, I love shrimp, paneer, spinach, fenugreek leaves, whole wheat pasta, couscous, beans, egg, sun dried tomatoes, Himalayan salt; the list is getting too long! I develop favorites easily and sooner or later, I find something new to add to my preferred list.

Credit: Kankana Saxena

What are your favorite food and cooking resources? Inspiration for cooking comes from several places. Besides the many blogs I visit every day, there are cookbooks that I own and borrow from the library, cooking shows from Food Network and Cooking Channel, and my favorite magazines, like SAVEUR, Bon Appetit, and Real Simple. And these days, I find a lot of inspiration from Pinterest, too.

What photography equipment do you use? We bought a Cannon 5D Mark II recently, upgrading from a Cannon Rebel T1i. I absolutely love my new camera. For food photography, I prefer 50mm f/1.4 lens and for travel, I mostly use my Tamron 18-270mm lens.

Where else can we find your work? I contribute my recipes to Honest Cooking. Some of my recipes are featured in other sites like eHow, Yummly, The Kitchn, Huffpost Taste and a few other websites.

What food blogs do you follow? It's not easy to keep a count, especially because every other day, I discover a new blog to follow. The list is really long but here are some that I visit more often: Cook Republic, Cooking Tackle, Indian Simmer, Happyolks, Simply Reem, Rosas Yummy Yum, Pure Vegetarian, Tartelette and Roost.

Do you know a blog or blogger who deserves to be featured in this space? Email a nomination—including a link to the site and a few sentences on why they're worthy of love—

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