Friday, January 29, 2010

Case Study 50: "The Golden One"

"No single event can awaken within us 
a stranger totally unknown to us.  
To live is to be slowly born." 
- Antoine de Saint-Exupéry


If determined by nothing but my first meals in the world, I suppose I was destined to love baking.  In the days after my birth, my mother, a lifelong culinarian herself, stuffed her face with what she claims was the most heavenly coconut cake in the world.  And so, 50 cupcakes later, here we are. 

When I started The Cupcaketologist nearly a year and a half ago, it began as a place to share never-ending baking adventures.  But I think it has evolved into more: a story of how food and life are bound together by people and places, by trial and error, and by imagination and dreams.  A study in how experience can inspire creativity in the kitchen, and how creativity in the kitchen can then inspire self-discovery.


True to my roots, and in honor of a golden anniversary in cupcaketology, "The Golden One" is a coconut cupcake with Italian meringue frosting and sweetened coconut, and topped with a golden fondant heart.  

So with 50 cupcakes past, and who knows how many to come, the only thing I have to say is thanks!  Thank you for your feedback, thank you reading, thank you for eating, and most of all, thanks for being part of something special and fun.  I look forward to whatever adventures we have to come together, both in the kitchen and out.      



Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Ethnographic Study 1: Neon Neon


One could argue that every bit of art, tangible, imaginable, and yes, edible, is derived from some inspired moment. So, it brings me nothing but absolute pleasure seeing both cake connoisseurs and oven averse alike diving into their own endeavors in cupcaketology, and telling me all about it.  Over the next weeks, I will share the inspirations, trials and successes of the baking adventures of dear friends, in their own words. 

To kick off the series, we'll travel to the south of England to explore the hilarious kitchen artistry of the ever-inspiring Molly, rad girlfriend and Creative Director mastermind behind The Neon Hive. 

The Neon Tannenbaum  

"It's difficult to pinpoint the exact moment that inspiration, the bravery, the delusion to bake struck. Having spent an afternoon hanging out in a friend's vintage pop-up shop, an evening chillaxing with an overly indulgent pile of magazines, an idea began to brew...

The holidays were approaching and they guaranteed lots quality playtime with 7 year old god child, Lola, so conjuring up something to keep us (both) entertained was much needed. Lola's always loved all things arty, crafty and the more glitter, the better! But she's also loving playing waitress these days, and after our lazy summer in the south of France, I've learned she's acquiring an eager desire to learn to cook.  Entertainment was clearly going to be centered around "making a mess" - one way, or another. 

Whatever possessed me to believe cupcakes and minimalist monolith trees were the answer still escapes me but we had our creative mission set.


Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Case Study 49: "The Roadrunner"

"There are clubs you can't belong to, 
neighborhoods you can't live in, 
schools you can't get into, 
but the roads are always open." 
- Nike  

 

I'd be the first to tell you that I wouldn't exactly call myself a "runner." Since the 70s, my parents have been road-racing all over the place, but I think I developed my sea legs before I ever stood gracefully on land.  

True to the stars, this little Scorpio hit the water as soon as I could, perfecting my dive at age 4, and reeling in state championships by 11.  My swimming career sunk at 14, and my height skyrocketed above my peers, so again I chose to float and joined a rowing team. National championships aside, I got to taste waters all over the world in a scull.  But when my rowing career came to a close in college, I had no choice but to drift back ashore. 



The two major things you take with you after a 16 years of elite athletics are an unwillingness to give up and the knowledge of how to feed a body in motion.  "The Roadrunner" is a banana-pecan muffin with a whipped honey cream cheese topping and sprinkled with cinnamon-sugar crumble.  Jam packed with yogurt, oats, ground almonds and wheat flour, they are perfect after a morning run or to fuel you through the day.

There's something lovely and addicting about runner's high, and something even more exciting about how it feels after finishing an actual race.  My father and I ran our first half-marathon together on a glorious early fall morning in 2009.  As we jogged toward the starting line, The Beatles "I Feel Fine" blasted over the loud speaker.  In true Daddo form, he whipped out a few air guitar riffs and we were off to logging a memory I'll never forget.  

As I sign up for my next half-marathon in England and start counting down, I'm glad I finally made peace with the ground after years of aqueous adventuring.  Though I'll probably never run a full marathon or win any medals for my fancy footwork, it's safe to say I'll continue hitting the road.  After all, it's always open.



PS- Road tested and runner approved!  The great thing about making these muffins is that you can pop them into a gallon bag and freeze them, and store your cream cheese topping for about a week in a sealed plastic container.  Breakfast in a pinch, and oh so fancy.


Sunday, January 24, 2010

Case Study 48: "The Waterlilies"

"Sweet childish days, that were as long
As twenty days are now"
-William Wordsworth




My parents had just called.  The Loire valley was divine and they were staying in a chateau, but that dream would just have to wait. It was mid-afternoon and my imagination was busy.  

Fueled by snacks, my cousins and I finally set afoot, as the summer sun leaked through the tree-tops that reached miles up into the sky.  Socks pulled high and probably toting a bag of essentials(bandaids, magnifying glass, and most likely more snacks), we ran down hill and located the brook, the estuary of our adventure, and took it to the right.  We ran past the skunk cabbages, through the mud, and skipped stones, with beads of sweat appearing on our foreheads.  On and on we trekked, until we reached the middle of the sticky underbrush where the brook waned, and our jaws dropped open.  Tons of golden frogs were scattered on the eroded bed amongst the rocks.  It was beautiful.  Looking up, the daylight was dwindling, and farther from home than ever we decided to turn back.

Summers with my cousins were filled with these adventures, and the deep woods behind their house held what I was certain were the secrets of the world.  We escaped back there most days together, and alternated it with trips to their pond.  We built castles in the sand, and plunged into the cool waters, but what I couldn't wait to do was take to the open water.  

We would strap on our life vests, grab a canoe, and lift off.  Skimming the shores I'd sneak a few wild blueberries before turning the corner and ceasing paddle.  The waterlilies.  Reaching that part of the pond demanded silence, and drifting through the lilypads was like floating in a dream.  On a good day, we'd reach down and cut one low at the stem and give it a new home in the bathroom sink, watching it open and close with the sun.


 
"The Waterlilies" are cinnamon-sugar cupcakes topped by an Italian meringue buttercream and scattered with waterlilies and pads.  They are light like our childhood adventures, and whimsical like all the best memories of them are.

My cousins and I still look back on the "Land of the Golden Frogs" and waterlilies with wonder and awe.  Did those creatures really exist? Was it as wonderful as we remembered? Our woodland adventures have been replaced with school and careers, but I can't help thinking that any such moment, the kind where you truly experience something and never look back, is what still makes life magical. Even if they're quick and fleeting, those are the instances that somehow leave you with hope.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Case Study 47: "The Queen Bitch"

"She keeps Moet et Chandon
In her pretty cabinet
'Let them eat cake', she says
Just like Marie Antoinette
A built-in remedy
For Kruschev and Kennedy
At anytime an invitation
You can't decline"

- Queen 



The majority of my childhood companions were not quite members of what we might call "the fairer sex."  Though with a definite affinity for Barbies in lieu of Transformers, and a perfect Tinkerbell polished nail whiz by age 4, I just never mastered my gossip and hound skills enough to get on with the Queen Bees of the playground. I was too busy aspiring to be an Amelia Earheart traveler, Summer Sanders gold medalist, and international Bond girl of mystery to care.  I was also pretty content with my situation, and adventuring and avoiding drama with the boys left me with little aim to wish for more lady comrades than I could count on one hand at any time.  

When I left home, male and female relationships seemed to get a little more complicated every year that passed.  But after weeding through the underbrush of a semester or so at school, I scored the most divinely brilliant Amazons in the collegiate jungle, and things changed.  Assembled in the mess of exhausting athletic seasons and wild dormitory bonding, I found a type of friendship that I had only shared with a few lifelong friends and the women in my family that inspired me to dream and strive.  Strong-willed and determined, intelligent and talented, these are women who aren't afraid to be caring and good while stubbornly fighting for what they want.  I can't imagine surrounding myself with any friends unlike such genuinely real femme fetales.  Sassy, yet saucy, and anything but typical, they are women not afraid to kick ass. 


 


"The Queen Bitch" is a Victoria sponge cake filled with strawberry preserves and topped with a fondant encrusted whipped buttercream.  Sturdy, strong, and crowned royale, she's literally a dame among men.

They say that Queen Victoria was one independent and determined broad during her 63 year reign of the UK into the 20th century. Leading a nation into expansion and a people toward progress, she was the namesake of an era and nothing short of utterly awesome.

Before her coronation in 1837 she wrote:"I look forward to the event which it seems is likely to occur soon, with calmness and quietness. I am not alarmed at it, and yet I do not suppose myself quite equal to all; I trust, however, that with good-will, honesty, and courage I shall not, at all events, fail."  She was full of motivation, in awe of what laid before her, and destined for nothing but greatness.  

Though I still keep my main men closer than ever, the Queen Bee dramas of bygone schooldays definitely faded into obscurity.  Ladies, take heed from Queen V. herself, and never forget to rule.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Case Study 46: "The Cooky Wook"

"We all have an essential self, but if you spend every day chopping up meat on a slab, and selling it by the pound, soon you’ll find you’ve become a butcher. And if you don’t want to become a butcher (and why would you?), you’re going to have to cut right through to the bare bones of your own character in the hope of finding out who you really are. Which bloody hurts.” 
- Russell Brand 



A good friend just told me that she had two hopes for 2010. First, to take herself more seriously, focusing on the things that matter most, and second to take herself less seriously,above all not forgetting to do something important: breathe.  I think this is brilliant, because it urges us to think of bearing life's storms less like natural disaster survivors and see them more like a weatherman's blooper reel. Though I like to think I typically dance the fine line of inappropriateness and dignity with ease, the truth is, I think only good things can come of being cognizant of where we stand, and then just letting loose. 




"The Cooky Wook" is a chocolate cookie cupcake bursting with marshmallow filling, and topped with a cookies and cream buttercream and mini Oreo.  It's simple and basic, yet full of a mess of sweet childhood Fluff.

In a rare case of taking life advice from Russell Brand, maybe we need to keep an awareness about ourselves in life, but not get too wrapped up in constantly digging to the core to find out exactly who we are.  And then maybe we just need to go bonkers a little, ignoring the instincts to hold back and looking at life more like an adventure. A character from " Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil" waxes about the most important rule: "Always stick around for one more drink. That's when things happen. That's when you find out everything you want to know." What might come from a little nonsense, senseless fun and a mess just might be clearer than what you were so serious about before.


Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Case Study 45: "The Banana Frita"

I didn't think it would happen this fast, but it's here... 



Typically saved for mid-February or early March, the cold bleak big chill has hit me earlier than usual, and I want out.  Though it was Camus who said "In the depth of winter I finally learned that there was in me an invincible summer," I like to think the heart of summer has always lived inside me, and it sounds like a little bossa nova.  

A child of the Graceland generation, and no stranger to an un-American sound, I fell in love with Brazilian music in early high school, where a local restaurant in my hometown also featured a side of bossa with the Friday night menu specials.  And so I ate it up, wetting my appetite with Getz and Gilberto, and making entrees out of Jobim and Caetano Veloso.  As I got older, my palate evolved and the music got sexier.  I danced past the old Mendes samba and into the next generation with João's daughter Bebel's own sort of nueva bossa nova and the remixed old Verve Records.  And through it all, I imagined it as it were, "tall and tan and young and lovely..." and my dreams grew larger than Corvocado: to caress the beach sand, to feel that light and careless sway, and most of all, to escape my little suburban town and taste it all firsthand.   



"The Banana Frita" is a banana cupcake topped with a sweeten condensed milk buttercream and crowned with a cinnamon sugar fried banana slice.  It's smooth and creamy, and sweet and dreamy, all like my bons sohnos of a delicious beachside shimmy against the darkness of this bitter January eve.  

Even if you can't head south, the power of imagination lies in its ability to spice things up. So shut the doors, turn up the heat, and do a little kitchen samba. You might hear those Ipanema waves rolling closer than you think...


(Pssst. Want an instant beachside feel? Pop over to Pandora.com and hit the Bebel Gilberto radio station.  Que bonito!)

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Case Study 44: "The Situation"

"From now on you are excluded from dinner then. You are excluded from surf and turf night. You are excluded from ravioli night. You are excluded from chicken cutlet night." - Mike "The Situation" Sorrentino



Trash television got a whole lot trashier this fall when a bunch of totally juiced guidos and tanned guidettes hit Seaside Heights to see what happens when people stop being polite and start getting realThough a not so unfamiliar formula, MTV revealed the perfect equation in the glorious fist-pumping goodness that is the "Jersey Shore."  

 
Fist pumps galore at The P, Avalon, NJ, Summer 2009

Hookups, open shirt grinding, and bar-side face punches run rampid as Rhode Island guido DJ Pauly D, bragging an entire suitcase of hair gel,  tries to get down with ham and water loving praying mantis JWoww.  Pickle-hungry Poughkeepsie princess Snooki is as serious about bringing home guidos as she is about preserving her prized pouff.  Vinny's always ready to come out to play, and the love triangle between Sammi Sweetheart, Ronnie, and The Sitch pushes housemates to threaten crimes worse than death ("Yo I will cut your hair while you are sleeping ok?"). And don't even get me started on Angelina leaving.  What was she thinking?  That's like leaving The Beatles.



"The Situation" is a protein powdered, muscle milk-inspired vanilla cupcake with over-embellished graffiti swirled vanilla buttercream on top.  Classier than a thong bikini or a night at Headliners, it's on a whole 'nother level.  Oh shoot, we got a situation here.

  
Lifting and Dancing, Avalon, NJ, Summer 2008

Even if you've never experienced the magic along the New Jersey state shoreline, one can surely appreciate the playground that sets the scene for classy girls interacting with rhino juicehead guys.  After all, Italian sausage eating and possibly bulletproof hair aside, it's no half-assed firecracker of a storyline.  Just a couple of kids, like you and me, with something inside of them, feeling the beat, and searching for love, friendship and sunsets-- erm--sunrises in the heat of a sizzling summer. 



Stay fresh.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Case Study 43: "The Bright Young Thing"

“Masked parties, savage parties, Victorian parties, Greek parties, Russian parties, circus parties, parties where one had to dress as somebody else, almost naked parties in St. John’s Wood, parties in flats and studios and houses and ships and hotels and nightclubs, in windmills and swimming baths ..." -Evelyn Waugh 



The "Bright Young People" were an elite and flamboyant circle of twenty-somethings in the late 1920's and early 30's London.  Glamorous, campy, and gin-soaked at best, they ran the English roads, with hopes of bringing a bit of senseless fun back into their depressing post-war world one costume party at a time. Cecil Beaton and Waugh aside, they were not an overly influential bunch.  But these tabloid runners were simply determined to enjoy themselves, and to do it in decadence.

 
Photo by Wendy Bevan from Italian Marie Claire, November 2009   

As new years promise new opportunities, these opportunities beget nothing but brilliance, creativity, and spontaneity.  Taking cue from this other generation unbalanced by economic catastrophe, I propose that we live a little more lightly; frivolous not in our intentions, but in our dispositions. I propose that we hold more frequent and impromptu celebrations, because every day deserves to be rewarded. And I propose that our adventures be constant and unending.

 

"The Bright Young Thing" is a vanilla cupcake crowned by a swiss meringue buttercream frosting.  Pouffed by divine pane degli angeli leveners, it is light and airy, whipped and sweet, and simply mahvelous.


 Photo by Wendy Bevan from Italian Marie Claire, November 2009

A member of the Bright Young circle said in the 1939 play “After the Dance”:  “Whatever people may have said about us when we were young, they could have never said we were bores.”     

Let the festivities commence.