Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Notes from the Field: A goodbye.

"To live in this world
you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it
against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go."
- Mary Oliver

Where do you find hope? 

Four and a half years ago, I discovered a creative outlet to soothe a restless and creative mind. I had constant ideas dancing through my dreams and hands that needed to make. I was in between some things and uncertain of others, and so, "The Cupcaketologist" was born. 

At first the cupcakes were an inspired focus. They fed culinary dreams that were yearning to come true. They had me dancing around the kitchen like a fool, transforming everything from goat cheese and prosciutto to zucchini blossoms and foie gras into decadent delights. They were a hobby, they won awards, and at times, there were a source of income. My blog willingly took a backseat when I was too busy being happy and it gave me a place to explore heartache when I needed it most. These cupcakes helped me cope.

This blog has followed me from Philadelphia to Connecticut to Manhattan. I've baked in kitchens all over the world. Writing "The Cupcaketologist" even led me to create another blog, and in that little journal's short life, I met some of the most important people in my life history thus far: people who are important chapters, lifelines and best friends. I'm in awe over the wonders that I've seen, experienced and felt through it all. 

When I was nine, I was pure zen. I was even, balanced and the only kid on the swim team whose mother led her through finish line visualizations. At eighteen, I was bottled awareness. I was mature past my own good and above the teenage drama that plagued the high school halls. At twenty-one, I started searching, and a few years later, that search led me here: to a place where I could process the world around me by way of a focus and words.

The word "ethnography" quite literally means to “write (or represent) a culture.” My cupcakes were inspired by places I've traveled and the people I've met along the way. They were truly, in my mind, a series of case studies, whether the topics explored were foreign, brand new or completely personal. By way of a common medium, they attempted to make sense of the broad experiences one might uncover in a lifetime.

I've learned so much about the world in these four years. I've learned about myself in ways that I don't know I could have otherwise. 

I've been thinking about this for a long time, and I'm out of words that need to be shared in this space. I will be a baker, a writer and a dreamer for life, but it's time to say goodbye here. More importantly, it's time to discover whatever is next and just enjoy making, creating and being in the now

This blog gave me joy and opportunities. More so, it gave me hope. It helped me get lost, come full circle and discover myself again. I'm so thankful to have been able to share the stories of that journey with you. I'm speechless that you kept following after all of these years. Thank you for traveling along with me.

In peace, love and cupcakes, 


Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Case Study 128: "The Roasted Strawberry Basil Cupcake"

OK. So we might have fast-forwarded to summer this week. 

Like any good culinarian, this got me jonesing for warmer weather things. Like sunset runs and day-drinking and taking my shoes off in absolutely any presence of grass.

It also got me excited for summer fruits. And flavors. And the sweet sweet magic that occurs when you combine sugar and berries and put them in the oven. 

These cakes are a product of that. 

Roasted strawberry cupcakes with sweet basil-vanilla bean buttercream and balsamic-basil candy on top. 

They're like any other strawberry cupcakes...except better. And more exotic. First, I tossed good ripe strawberries with a little sugar, olive oil and coarse sea salt and roasted them in the oven for about 25-30 minutes. I mixed these into the batter of a normal strawberry cupcake recipe that's never failed me in the past. For the buttercream, I steeped basil with sea salt, sugar and milk for 10 minutes, strained it through cheesecloth, and used it in my standard vanilla bean buttercream recipe. And balsamic basil candy? Just reduce a little maple syrup, balsamic vinegar, sea salt and dried basil in a pan until it bubbles, and turn it out onto parchment to cool, before breaking up and sprinkling on top.

We might be a little premature in saying that summer has in fact arrived prior to June 21. After all, the days still have to get even longer and the sunsets need to turn a little more gold until I can proclaim it the fairest of the seasons. But my god, if these days are any indication of what we have to come. I. Can't. Wait. 

Friday, March 29, 2013

Case Study 127: The Spring Hummingbird Cupcake

 “sweet spring is your
time is my time is our
time for springtime is lovetime
and viva sweet love"
- E.E. Cummings

Forgive me for being so quiet lately, but I was busy letting the month of March be so good to me. Luckily, amidst it all, spring finally arrived. We tired of snow, the sky turned blue and the dormant bulbs started pushing green shoots through the ground. 

I've got spring fever, and I've got it bad. 

Whatever you do, get outside this weekend. Throw on some shades, lose the socks and try to avoid the shady side of the street. Drink up some crisp nearly April air. Let the spring sunlight wash away the winter sins.

And if must spend some hours indoors, make them worth it and bake up these very spring-like Hummingbird cupcakes with cream cheese buttercream, flaked coconut and malted eggs on top.

Get awakened. Be new. And viva sweet love.  

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Case Study 126: "The Bacon Caramel Pretzel Cupcake"

"Be soft. 
Do not let the world make you hard. 
Do not let pain make you hate. 
Do not let the bitterness steal your sweetness. 
Take pride that even though the rest of the world may disagree,
you still believe it to be a beautiful place."
- Kurt Vonnegut 

It's been "a week." Well, actually, it's been a few "weeks." Things have been a little stressful around here, so when I woke up on the wrong side of the bed today, I wasn't too surprised. 

I had pretty much given myself a hall pass when suddenly I thought: "No." Why ruin a perfectly good Saturday? After all, I had places to go, and people to see later. Something had to be done. 

An hour, a trip to the store and some psychedelic 60's Peruvian and Turkish music (just go with it)later, I had an answer. 


Well, bacon, chocolate, caramel and peanut butter, to be more precise. And a little dancing. 

I turned on aforementioned tunes and got cookin'. I whipped up the most perfectly light vanilla cupcakes, and as they cooled I melted semi-sweet chocolate chips. I laid out my pretzel flats, which were chosen for their ability to hold more things per square centimeter than the average tiny twist. And then I got to dipping. I dipped the pretzel in the chocolate and I rolled it in finely sliced pieces of crispy bacon. 

I did a little dance here, and I felt better already. I'm a firm believer that it's hard to stay mad when there's a dance party involved. I then turned to the buttercream, and seeing as my decision-making skills are off for the weekend, I went for peanut butter and caramel and vanilla, and I whipped it all up together.  

The end product? Vanilla cupcakes with peanut butter caramel buttercream, caramel drizzle and chocolate-bacon dipped pretzel flats on top. 

Coincidentally after that, my phone rang. Plans were set. The sky outside actually looked lighter. And before I hopped in the shower, I looked over my masterpieces again. All was good. I was ready to take the day. 

Monday, February 18, 2013

Notes from the Field: On family, and Vanilla Speculoos Pecan Praline and Bourbon Caramel Cupcakes

Yesterday I took a bus. 

Well, to be fair, I took a subway to the middle of Central Park South, with hot coffee and a black and white cookie in hand, and got on a bus to Staten Island. We zoomed down Broadway, past the Freedom Tower and Bay Ridge, and over the Verrazano Bridge to where my dad and uncle picked me up. We were there for Sunday dinner. It was 1pm. 

My father's parents are south for winter, but we got a little treat anyways: my grandfather and his siblings still meet for Sunday dinner each week. They are 80-96 years old and they are amazing.

Dinner was cooked by the girls, at nearly 94 and 96, but Uncle Eddie dropped off his lasagna before he left. He's the baby, and the one that came back from a trip to Italy wearing a basil leaf behind his ear. Uncle Freddy was a butcher, so he carved up the chicken, to go with the antipast, bresaola, the rigatoni and the greens and olive salad.

Dinnertime topics included getting a movie projector in 1936 and rent costs in the 30s ($25/month). They argued about the merits of having dishwashers, and Aunt Lucy proclaimed that she never wanted a machine to take away her beloved chore. My dad and uncle did the dishes. The men went to watch golf. I stayed to talk with the ladies in the kitchen, but out of the corner of my eye, I spotted by 61-year old father get on the ground, grab his 88-year old uncle's foot, place it on his knee and tie his shoe. 

And this is when I turned off my phone and really listened hard.

Aunt Ann talked about cruise ships and somehow we got into talking about deep sea fishing off Sheepshead Bay. I learned the best way to cut the head off big fish (with a saw) and escape seasickness (only drink bouillabaisse). Over Sambuca, cannoli and savoiardi, we talked about getting drunk on Courvoisier and where to buy low acid instant coffee for my grandfather. They talked about humility and each other. They talked about us. They talked about life.

These people have a longevity that amazes me, and yet, they also must have done something right. They've seen life in motion go from 8mm movie projectors to Blu-Ray discs. They've gone from sepia to black-and-white to color. They've been through more wars, births, deaths and changes of office then some of us may ever see. 

But, they are together. They know the importance of family, whatever "family" might mean, and constant support. They can hear strains in each other's voices. They took each other in during times of hardship and even today, when one is down, another stays with them for a week. They still eat together, and they are really together when they do it. They know what they have. They are reminders of a different time and place. 

So what does this have to do with vanilla cupcakes with speculoos pecan praline cream filling, bourbon caramel buttercream, and chocolate dipped waffle rolls on top? I suppose everything and nothing at all.

I always loved those articles about the people who forget to die or the island of lifelong happiness, but I have my own old person club right across the bridge. This is a lesson. This is why I am who I am today. These people are my living history; the best teachers I could have. I am very lucky.    

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Notes from the Field: The Ring of Fire

"Hey June,

That's really nice June. 

You've got a way with words
 and a way with me as well.

The fire and excitement may be gone 
now that we don't go out there and sing them anymore, 
but the ring of fire still burns around you and I, 
keeping our love hotter than a pepper sprout.
Love, John"

- Johnny Cash

Hotter than a pepper sprout. Love is many splendored thing, in all of its varied dimensions, including these vanilla cupcakes filled with milk chocolate and toffee cream filling and topped with peanut butter buttercream and chocolate shavings

Here's wishing you a holiday of loving whoever you love hard, maybe even a little too hard, this Valentine's Day.    

Monday, February 4, 2013

Notes from the field: Apple Cake and the Greatest Man I Know

"I am not ashamed to say 
that no man I ever met was my father's equal,
 and I never loved any other man as much."
- Hedy Lamarr 

Happy happy birthday, to the greatest man I know.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Case Study 125: "The Summer Citrus Cupcake"

Guys... I'm officially over winter. 

I knew it would happen soon enough - the charm of a errant snowstorm would reel me in enough to announce a love affair with the cold. But there's been no skiing yet this January, and quite frankly, I need a tan. Now, I summer hard and well, and what I've learned in my time is that every good summer girl needs an accomplice. I like to call these my "summer sisters" and for the past few years, I've been dealt a very strong hand.

She and I had rekindled our friendship at a Beach Boys concert, and as far as I'm concerned that in itself is the basis of everything. We kept in touch throughout the winter, but once June rolled around, the spark was lit. 

We went to polo matches. We lied in the grass and drank Dark n' Stormies until the horses went home. We went to Block Island. We drank mudslides and had serious dance parties at Yellow Kittens. We ate hot dogs at all hours of the days, went on a magical late night swim amongst bioluminescents and went skinny dipping at 2AM skinny in Sachem Pond. We celebrated New Years Eve with homemade pinatas and took over an island with 200 of our closest friends we just hadn't met yet.

I remember one fourth of July weekend, when we convened under the arbor behind a grey stone house. We threw back a few, and cut through the hedges lined with blue hydrangea as the sun melted over the Long Island Sound and the night turned blue. Twenty of us, in our best summer Nantucket reds, eyelet whites and gingham blues, trekked past ponds and manors, drinks in hand, down the winding Connecticut roads toward the shores of Tokeneke Club. 

There were candlelit cabanas, Seabreezes and fireworks at every angle across the water to New York. There was a seven piece soul band, and now barefoot, we twisted and shouted until no brow was dry against the American flags along the front of the dancefloor. 

The next night we hit the water and strung our boats together like a barrel of monkeys for hours in the misty night, until we sped back to the house to make pizzas with whatever we could get our hands on. We danced to 90s rap hits on marble countertops and drove vintage motorbikes across the lawn at three o'clock in the morning.  

Summer is like a spark to the ridiculously spontaneous - those people who light up like fireflies when the hot sun goes down. And those long summer night talks that happen - the happy ones, the sad ones and the hundreds of talks about men - are memorialized in a way that seems almost eternal. That's the thing about summer sisters. They cement a time and a place in your memory that carries us through the remaining cold damp months of the year. 

Tonight we'll set out on the town to celebrate. And though it's the middle of winter, there will be margaritas, plenty of summer spirit and these creamsicle cupcakes with blood orange-vanilla buttercream and candied blood oranges on top

Happy happy birthday, to my summer sister Z. I am so lucky that our paths brought us together again, and I'm fortunate to call such a loyal woman, filled with incredible drive and values, my friend. To continued success and balance, my dear. To more life conversations and real talk, to romantic Greenwich dinners and to many many more nights of mayhem in every month of every year.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Case Study 124: "The Winter Baby Shower Cupcake"

There are so many things they never tell you about growing up. But that didn't stop me from wondering...

I had a great childhood. It was a lot of riding bikes until dark up and down the southwestern Connecticut hills. In the summers we'd live on pool decks, listening to our boombox and swinging high on the swim club swings. In the winters we'd build snowforts and sneak into town after dark, when the streets were white and the tiny clock on Main Street was the only thing that lit our way to go sledding down the elementary school's hills. My youth was idyllic and romantic in every way...but the minute I turned eighteen, I was ready to go.

Give me red lipstick and martini bars. Give me Italy and a corner office. Give me all night dance parties on great lawns and let me kiss a lot of boys.

Well I'm there now, and if I had to recap the past ten years of adulthood, I'd say they've been pretty great. Lots of adventures and lipstick, men kissed and cocktails drank. There have been graduations and moves and even a bunch of weddings. All of those things I knew would eventually come along. It's just, well, nobody prepared me for how utterly amazing and surreal life becomes when your people start making....people.

I was lucky enough to have at least one nephew as a primer before this started - albeit one very high set bar of a primer. But then, as my friends have grown up, more babies have rolled in. I got two at once, with blue eyes and sweet hearts; then there was a little lady, born with crazy hair, chunky legs and the exact spirit of her mother at eleven years old, when I met her.

Yesterday we celebrated the (very) soon birthday of my first New Yorker baby friend. There were lots of mimosas, MetroCard rattles and laughs about the nuances of raising babies in modern times and in the city. There were strawberry-stuffed vanilla cupcakes with vanilla buttercream and little baby penguins and icebergs on top to welcome this sweet winter child. But in the end, it wasn't any different my other friends' baby showers because it was all about love. About love, about wonder and awe and about how that all comes together when people make PEOPLE (will this ever not be mind-blowing?).

I can't wait meet this new tiny friend and see how see or he grows. I've had the fortune of watching my friend hit some big milestones, but I really really can't wait to see how she grows as a mother, a wife and mostly, just in life. Because while our time on earth is amazing feat, there's no denying that the miracle of life is even more miraculous in itself.

Monday, December 31, 2012

Notes from the Field: The countdown is on...

"We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time."
- T.S. Eliot

As 2011 came to a close, I made a promise to myself that 2012 would be better. It was going to be my "Champagne Year," twelve months marked by growth, success and love to outdo the tough ones I had just been through. 2012 delivered.

It was a year of travel, on helicopters, in cars and on every train-line in the Northeast. It was a year of romance. New love and lost love, friend love, baby love and dozens of great Manhattan date stories. It was a year of joy. A year of wild Tuesday nights, 2AM skinny dipping, far too much champagne and a lot of best/worst decisions made. And most of all, it was a year of hope. A year of seeing hope in even the bleakest situations, finding hope in the simplest wonders of humanity and acknowledging how having even the littlest amount of faith can change the chemical reaction between your body and the world.

Sitting here on the last day of this year, I can't help but reflect on how just the smallest moments, like meeting a person or changing your view of a situation, can change your life forever. I'm amazed at how virtues like patience and acceptance can completely change the impact of experience in your life. And most of all, I marvel at how allowing yourself to explore people and places for the sake of exploring - with nothing to lose, except maybe yourself for a bit if you're lucky - can bring you back to what you knew all along about yourself.

Tonight I'll celebrate with a few of my dearest, a lot of bubbles and good vanilla cupcakes with gold painted champagne buttercream. 2012 may be coming to a close, but as we know, every end is in fact another good opportunity to begin. And so I raise a toast to the beauty and good fortune that this year has brought me, and look forward to much much more champagne in 2013.   

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Case Study 123: "The Winter Wonderland Cupcake"


"Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village, though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound's the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark, and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep." 

 - Robert Frost 

Robert Frost was popular in our household growing up, and having a New England childhood, this poem was a favorite of mine. There was just something about the imagery of those dark woods, the never-ending snowfall and a quiet journey. I'll always fondly remember the cozy and romantic feeling it gave me this time of year. 

The winter solstice falls on Friday, and I have to say is, dear God, let there be snow this year. And if there is not, at least let there be vanilla cupcakes with vanilla buttercream and flaked glitter, coconut and gold painted woodland creatures on top. 

Monday, December 17, 2012

Case Study 122: "The White Christmas Tree"

I have to be honest here...it took me a bit longer than usual this year to get into the Christmas spirit. 

This had me concerned because normally, Christmas is my jam. See, I'm nostalgic almost to the point of fault. I find joy in the smell of roasted nuts in the night air on New York City streets. I relish in falling asleep early in my childhood bed, with that safe feeling that my parents are still awake in the living room. And there is no greater sound than the whirring of our aging cookie shooter gun that, after thirty Christmas seasons, still churns out the best damn butter cookies in all of the land.

Now this year, Thanksgiving came early. I've been on the road, heading north to south and back again, all in a week's worth of time. And last week the weather in Manhattan hit sixty-three degrees. 

Whatever the reason, last week I finally decided something had to be done. I strung garland around the antlers on my wall. I trimmed our family tree. I baked Christmas cookies by candlelight. Yet, still the feeling held out. 

Until about nearly four o'clock on Tuesday afternoon. 

It was a cold day in Massachusetts, and from my desk, tiny lights twinkled around a little tree as the sky turned dark from gray to blue. I had no meetings, just work to do, and so I plugged in and pressed play. I passed the kitschy eighties holiday tracks. I even made it through the Vince Guaraldi Trio just fine. And then I hit Sinatra, "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," and I was a goner. 

The thing about Christmas is that it defies time and space. It reminds me of years past, when nobody was tethered to anything but each other. When we sat by the fire, the kids rolling around like puppies on the floor and the adults telling stories on the couch. It makes me think of driving through cold streets, bundled up in the backseat as we checked out Christmas lights and slowly crept through snow-dusted Connecticut roads. And it reminds me that no matter how hard I try to bring back those feelings again, the world will never be exactly the same as it was those days. People grow up, time moves on and though we can never go back home to that place, the way we hold onto it is what sets the foundation for what we make our Christmases today. 

I literally cannot wait for next week. I can't wait to bake more holiday cupcakes, like these gingerbread cupcakes topped with vanilla and orange peel buttercream trees and edible glitter. I can't wait to finish work and snuggle in for a few quiet weeks. I can't wait for my dad to keep the fire going all day long. And I really can't wait to see my nephew in footie reindeer pajamas and his little round face on Christmas morning. But that's the thing about Christmas. The spirit, the memories and that real Christmas feeling? It's timeless.  

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Case Study 121: "The Bourbon Salted Caramel Pumpkin Cupcake"

Are you feeling what I'm feeling? 

It's the end of November, the early frost is setting in and we've all reached the same point: pumpkin fatigue.

And from reading the title above, I know what you guys are thinking. Holy bananas,this chick isn't going to whip up another pumpkin cupcake, is she?  

Well, I am. 

But wait, here's the thing. This is the end... the very very end(until 2013). I promise. There will be no more pumpkin chocolate chip cookies, or gold-flecked caramel figs. You see, by the time we reach Friday, when we're all full from that big day where we eat all of the things, we'll have already started to be served new stuff like peppermint, Christmas carols and dreams of potato latkes with wings(personal dreams, but...as you were).

So let's think of this as "one last hurrah." One last fling before the ringing Hershey Kiss commercials hit TV and that baby polar bear slides down a glacier and somehow finds a bottle of Coca-Cola.

I think pumpkin cupcakes topped with bourbon salted caramel buttercream and spiced shortbread leaves will do the trick, don't you?

Good. So here's what we're going to do. First we'll whip up the fluffiest pumpkin cupcakes in all of the lands. I'm going to suggest you get all crazy and use "organic" pumpkin if going the canned route here because the consistency is perfect for creating said fluff. 

Then, while the cupcakes cool, get down and dirty with some caramel sauce. This isn't your mother's best friend from high school's mom's caramel sauce. No, this one has salt. And bourbon. I used this recipe. Now tread lightly here. If you put a spoon from the cooking bourbon salted caramel into your mouth, you will get burned

When the caramel has cooled COMPLETELY, make your frosting using a basic vanilla frosting recipe. But instead of using milk and vanilla, use the bourbon salted caramel. See where I'm going here? Use your eyes and watch the consistency.

We've reached the grand finale. Time to frost those cupcakes! Are you ready? Let's go. 

Pipe or schmear your bourbon salted caramel buttercream onto your cupcakes and top with something festive. It's Thanksgiving, which stands for abundance and overload and thankfulness of things, so this could be sprinkles, some form of cornucopia tchotchke or my choice, spiced shortbread leaves (recipe here).

We're done! One last hurrah of Pumpkin Cupcakes. See, that was easy. 

Now go forth and eat!