Sunday, August 30, 2009

Case Study 29: "The Wondercake"

College was a veritable mess of post teen wonder, and the start of another life journey - the kind where you don't even have to try to lose yourself in exchange for finding something. Six Augusts ago, I left my suburban Connecticut youth behind (already more mature than most, I was convinced), and was ready to attack the urban Ivy League life. But of course, this type of trip never runs as smoothly as anticipated. "The Wondercake" is a nutella-filled chocolate cupcake with vanilla bean buttercream encrusted in M&Ms and sprinkles. It's reminiscent of the long days in the libraries followed by late night dance parties and cookie pizzas. It's leaving the scheduled carpools behind for what we thought was independence and free thinking, but was really still coloring within the lines. It's sweet and colorful and a bit messy all at once, but isn't that life?

College was a whirlwind, and was it over too soon? I think 4 years of reckless wandering and hopeful deliberate soul-searching was just enough. They always said we'd come out on a path when we graduated, with heads straighter on our shoulders and a clear distinction of what and who we wanted to be as adults. But I think most of my peers and I came out a little more lost than when we started, and the real life journey started when we got our diplomas.

But it was there that we learned how to let go of our parents' hands and jump, to take steps and make choices more on our own. And we carry on, filled with memories, awe, and doubt in a world that seems even bigger and more gloriously unconquerable than before.

Recipe: "The Wondercake"

Chocolate Cupcake (Adapted from Dave Leibowitz's German Chocolate Cake)

Makes Approximately 2 dozen cupcakes:
3 ounces bittersweet and milk chocolate chopped and melted

8 ounces (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature

1 ¼ cup + ¼ cup sugar
4 large eggs, separated
1 and 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
¼ cup dutch processed cocoa
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt 1 cup milk
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
¼ vanilla bean, seeds scraped
1 cup Nutella

1. Preheat the oven to 350°, fill 2- 1 dozen cupcake pans with liners.

2. In the bowl of an electric mixer, or by hand, beat the butter and 1 ¼ cup of the sugar until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Beat in the melted chocolate, then the egg yolks, one at a time.

3. Sift together the flour, baking powder, cocoa, baking soda, and salt.

4. Mix in half of the dry ingredients into the creamed butter mixture, then the milk and the vanilla extract, then the rest of the dry ingredients.

5. In a separate metal or glass bowl, beat the egg whites until they hold soft, droopy peaks. Beat in the ¼ cup of sugar until stiff. Fold about one-third of the egg whites into the cake batter to lighten it, then fold in the remaining egg whites just until there's no trace of egg white visible.

7. Divide the batter into the prepared cupcake pans and bake for about 18-20 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool cupcakes completely before filling and frosting.

9. Using the “cone method”, fill each cupcake with 1 teaspoon Nutella, and replace top.

Vanilla Bean Buttercream

2 sticks butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
¼ vanilla bean, seeds scraped
¼ cup milk
4-6 cups confectioner's sugar
3 cups M&Ms, smashed

1. In the bowl of an electric mixer, or by hand, beat the butter until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Beat in the vanilla and vanilla bean.

2. Add 1 cup confectioner’s sugar and mix until combined. Mix in ¼ cup milk.

4. Mix in remaining cups of confectioner’s sugar, and additional milk depending on consistency and preference.

5. Frost cupcakes as desired, and roll in M&M bits. Serve at room temperature, preferably with friends, and drinks.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Case Study 28: "The Root of Enlightenment"

Multi-faceted. That's how I'd describe the sources of my inspiration. People, print, and nature. Words, sounds, and images. Eyes open to the world, for better or for worse. But in an age when everything is tweeted and blogged, to then be retweeted, and reblogged, it's certain that someone has been just as inspired as I am by the very same thing.

"The Root of Englightenment" is a German chocolate cake with an earthy frosting atop: a buttercream steeped in vanilla bean, nutmeg, and ginger root. It is then topped with a chocolate buttercream and a walnut.

But the concept of being authentic, the act of creating something from nothing, well I'm certain it still exists. In an age of mass production, consumerism, and noise, we can still make art if it comes from within and awakens another's senses.
Because when you create something, and show someone else a new way of viewing the world, what it evokes in that person is something unique. It's a completely original moment, and that is inpirational in itself.

To also be inspired, check out
Art in the Age, maker of Philly's own liqueur ROOT.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Case Study 27: "The Peach Pit"

"Summer afternoon- summer afternoon; to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language..."

As a child, I always imagined Henry James reclining in a pasture somewhere in the English countryside, hat by his side, journal across his lap and sweat upon his lip. And as a single cloud passes across the sky, suffering from a state of both heatstroke and awe, he slowly utters the two most beautiful words that I too ever knew, and realizes that he need say no more.

Regardless of its validity or not, I lived my childhood summers in search of the beauty I imagined he spoke of. I splashed through June and July in Connecticut's ponds and pools and adventured through the trees and backstreams of the deep woods far from the safety of recognizable houses. In my teenage years, I rowed throughout the Long Island sound and jumped off old steel bridges into Lake Lillinonah, and spent my nights chasing the summer moon, with Nick Drake bellowing from my Jeep and as I ran through tall grass fields under the stars.

But when August rolled around, things slowed down. The humidity crept in, and more and more we sought breeze and shade. I read books lying across a long-gone horizontal branch in my favorite tree, and lay sweating on top of my sheets at night in an un-air conditioned house. I caught the wind on my bike, and devoured the fruits of deep summer: berries, melons, and peaches.
"The Peach Pit" is a peach and vanilla bean cupcake with a fresh peach buttercream covered in cobbler crumbs. It's topped by maple-brown sugar buttercream and a little ripe peach slice.

Though I spend most of my days now in a flourescent lit cubicle, and my parents gave in years ago to central air, every once in awhile, I roll down my Jeep's windows on a hot day to feel the August air. Or I get lost on a Connecticut trail. And occasionally, I still sneak outside alone late at night to see my old love, the big summer moon. September may be fast approaching, but summer is not over yet...

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Notes from the Field: Out to sea.

A move to finish, words to write, an summer's end to find...

"All of us have in our veins the exact same percentage of salt in our blood that exists in the ocean, and, therefore, we have salt in our blood, in our sweat, in our tears. We are tied to the ocean. And when we go back to the sea — whether it is to sail or to watch it — we are going back from whence we came. "

John F. Kennedy, September 1962

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Case Study 26: "The Cocopassione"

I once heard somewhere that there are people who march through life to the end in a comfortable bliss, taking it and all of its challenges as they come. Of this group of beings I know one thing - I do not belong.

Last week, while playing court tennis, the pro pulled me aside and said, "Hey, will you just wait for the ball? You keep rushing at it, and each time you attack, you miss it completely." And that's exactly it. Full of passion and aching to taste it all, I also charge life like a wild bat out of hell.

"The Cocopassione" is a coconut cupcake with coconut frosting and shredded coconut on top. Rough around the edges, but exotic and delicate, it is crowned by a tart passionfruit buttercream.

My favorite poet (and another Cape Codder)Stanley Kunitz wrote about life like this often:

"Outdoors all afternoon

under a gunmetal sky

staking my garden down,

I kneeled to the crickets
underfoot as if about to
burst from their crusty shells;

and like a child again
marveled to hear so clear

and brave a music pour

from such a small machine.

What makes the engine go?

Desire, desire, desire.

The longing for the dance
stirs in the buried life."

By living through the bad feelings, I think you can begin to see the good. And also learn to love intensely and find ridiculous beauty in the most remarkable and unexpected places.

I guess it's just that desire, desire, desire that keeps me going on, rather than comfortably numb. It's the passion to completely experience life, its ups, its downs, and to its fullest,
and to not miss a thing.