Thursday, December 31, 2009

Case Study 42: "The Resolution"

I have a confession to make: I am not great at making resolutions.  I actually can't remember a single one.

Either I'm more of a Lent-keeping kind of girl, or I've simply always believed that every tomorrow promises a fresh start- to hit the gym, to not meals out of cookies and champagne, to read more, or to do whatever it is people typically promise to do.  Better yet, I've never looked back on any year, as wild, as imperfect, and as unpredictable as it could be, and shaken my head, thinking that I could have lived it differently.  2009 was a perfect example of that, and this New Years' Eve, I resolve to not live the next year any other way.  

It was a year that spanned the charts.  A year full of surprising and awe-inducing love, changes and sudden losses, and new life.  A year in which transitions of wandering and searching were trimmed with sojourns of reflection and closure, and I discovered inspiration in the most lovely and unusual places

"The Resolution" is an orange and vanilla creamsicle cupcake with champagne cream filling and vanilla bean buttercream on top.  It's sweet and fresh, and rings in the new year with metallic dust and glitter flakes.  Sparkling and golden, it shines in reflection of the past and is aflame with hope for what is to come.

I guess I've always viewed life less like a pie, and more like a french gâteau.  What I mean is that on this last good day of the year, I am filled with nothing but gratefulness for the experiences and people who have added layers to my mille-feuille of a life.  Seeing it from both sides now, my future will always grow stronger because of them. 

2009 was a perfectly imperfect year, and though you might never know it, I couldn't have done it without you.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Case Study 41: "The Marron di Natale"

"Chestnuts roasting on an open fire..."

...And so begins my most beloved Christmas carol.  The dishes have been cleared, the fire softly burns to embers, and full bellies turn in, seeking golden slumber salvation after infinite courses of holiday celebration. But lit by the soft glow of the Christmas Eve light, and snuggled somewhere between grandma's struffoli and anisette biscotti, lies the true scent of an Italian Christmas, waiting for Christmas Day.

"The Marron di Natale" is a chocolate cupcake filled with fresh chestnut cream, and topped with a Frangelico buttercream.  It is then drizzled in a chocolate glaze and crowned by hazelnuts and gold dust.  It is rich and earthy, nutty and creamy, and most definitely fit for a king.

It's not about the gift-tag rush, the bows and paper, or what fills the the stockings that really makes this the season to be merry.  These flavors, the abundance, the familial celebration...well that is what Christmas will always mean to me.    

Wherever you find yourself this Christmas and holiday season, wishing the best to you and yours from the kitchen of the Cupcaketologist.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Case Study 40: "The Frozen Moon"

"It's dreamy weather we're on
You waved your crooked wand
Along an icy pond with a frozen moon
A murder of silhouette crows I saw
And the tears on my face
And the skates on the pond
They spell Alice."

-Tom Waits

They say a picture's worth a thousand words.  Memory is bland without a sense of smell. But for me, there is no sense stronger than sound.  

Sound spurs a mood, creates a moment, and inspires creativity.  I still own nearly every mixtape, cd, playlist I've ever made, and there must be hundreds.  Because these veritable life diaries hold a power, beyond sight or smell, to take me back somewhere.

"The Frozen Moon" is a vanilla cupcake with frosty blue vanilla buttercream. Simple at it's best, it is topped with traces of snow sprinkles and evokes the enchanting cold stillness of winter.

Senior year of High School. I'm ready to graduate, and it's more than evident by the miles I've put on my Jeep. December and an early college acceptance roll by, and I hit the back-roads, where the air is crisp and my car knows just where to go.  My cds all begin with the same dreamy song by Air, and have titles like "Driving Around with the Moonroof Open on a Cold Night." But there was one song that captured what I was searching for: "Alice" by Tom Waits.  

Sounds, subtle yet powerful, set the scene. A metronome of tick-tocking piano notes hold visions of lustful clock-watching. It's brooding, the horns are haunting, and his voice is full of smoke.  My destination is certainly not a place, but an emotion as lyrics speaks of icy ponds, dark silhouettes, and forbidden love.  So I drive on, up Route 57 and past the snow-filled fields and motionless tree skeletons that hang against a frozen moon.

Since words just won't do it justice, I'll let Tom tell the rest...

Friday, December 18, 2009

Case Study 39: "Untitled (The Nightmare Before Christmas)"

"The moon that hung over the new-fallen snow
Cast an eerie pall over the city below,
And Santa Claus's laughter now sounded like groans,
And the jingling bells like chattering bones..."

Every year, around this time, I go into production. My house becomes a veritable mess, filled with sugars, yarns, glitter and flannels, serving as a sort of secret fortress of kitsch in which I am driven bring the ideas that enter my mind to life.  Tim Burton once said "one person's craziness is another person's reality," a mere afterthought for a sort of mad scientist who makes doodled imagination-gone-wild come to life.  A daydreaming boy of tragic toys turned dissatisfied Disney animator, Burton took to the pen, the brush, and the camera to make his inspired and satirical views a reality.  Extramarital affairs with machines and crustaceans spawned Robot and Oyster boys; a Voodoo girl was fated for loneliness less each heartbreak puncture her core deeper.  And a forelorn skeleton, seeing the light on the other side, haphazardly tried to bring a little Christmas heart to spooks of Halloweentown.    

"Untitled (The Nightmare Before Christmas)" is a red velvet cupcake with cream cheese buttercream and twisted black buttercream swirls.  Dreamed up, sketched out, and Burtonesque at its best, it's jagged, imperfect, and topped with madness.

It's Christmas Eve, 1994. After hours of "seven fish"-feasting , fireside tumbling, and spritzer cookie sneaking, my cousins returned home to their own sleepy little Connecticut town.  We'd creep into our rooms and turn down our beds to reveal mysterious new flannel sheets.  Tucking in, the candles in our windows still sparkled behind the blinds, blinking a sort of morse code to the North Pole that this house was indeed a worthy stop. 

But sleeping never lasted long. I would spring awake, at 2 or 3 am, engulfed by darkness, to noises on the rooftop.  I was instantly scared, certain that amidst the snow drifts were Santa's reindeer parallel parking above my head, yet intrigued by a potential sighting of the man in red himself. But weary in my 10-year old bones, I faded back to sleep before giving it an afterthought.  

Though I'll never know who it really was caught in those icy swirls above, I can only trust that as the mysticism of Christmas whirled around me, my imagination around the holiday ran savage.  With craziness as my reality, the season will always inspire me to pull from my twisted dreams and create.  After all, a Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good fright...

To be inspired yourself, check out Tim Burton's retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art until April 26, 2009 in New York City.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Case Study 38: "The Royal Tannenbaum"

"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."

-Robert Frost

For me, the Christmas season never kicked off with pre-Thanksgiving radio repeats or the mingling of Halloween candies with the candy canes in the drugstore aisles. No, for me it always began with a car trip.  We'd bundle up in flannels and down jackets, as Christmases were colder then, and stock the trunk with twine and bungees, an extra saw, and a pocketful of profanities.  After warming our hands by the barrel fires, we'd grab hot ciders for the journey, and set out to farm, with the most glorious un-Charlie Brown fir as our harvest's hope.

"The Royal Tannenbaum" is a light chocolate cupcake with peppermint buttercream branches and pines. Decked out with the finest silver dragées and fresh snowflakes all best trees deserve, it is crowned by a glorious sugar cookie star.

Running past those boring balsams, we'd dash further across the scotch pines, and after hundreds of thousands of kid-measured miles, in the deep heart of the seemingly abandoned woods, we'd find it.   Our royal tannenbaum.  We'd measure it against my brother's ever-changing height, lay down the blanket, and saw. And saw. And after slinging those reserved profanities, and sawing some more, with one glorious crack it would be ours.

Ours to drag back to the car as the sun started to fade into what I  was certain could be Aurora Borealis.  Ours to dig our fingers into, keeping safe grips on our precious catch, as the cold winter's air snuck in the open car window. And ours to bring the first sign of those lovely dark and deep winter Christmas woods into our home.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

What's been cooking in Cupcaketology besides confections...

We interrupt this cupcakecast to report that life catches up with you sometimes.

A transatlantic trip, letting go of a loved one, a tennis tournament and a full-fledged arms-flailing launch into holiday season has had the Cupcaketologist running head first away from November.

Luckily, time passes, months end, and the most wonderful time of the year arrives. Just wanted to let you know that besides cupcakes, something sassy's been brewing in the Cupcaketologist's kitchen.

By demand, I set up a little shop on Etsy to feature the tartan knit stoles ("Tartan Hugs" as they've been deemed!) that I've been furiously whipping up in the past weeks.  In true swinging Betty Draper-style, the handmade stoles are reversible (knit on one side, plaid on the other), faux fur trimmed, custom made to order...  and oh so warm! 

We will resume normal cupcaking operations this weekend...