Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Case Study 92: "The Eton Mess"

When I was a kid, I had a pair of undies with a Union Jack on the bottom.  And that's when the trouble began.

My favorite Beatle was George.  I liked Monty Python more than Adam Sandler.  My mother had a dog of an English uncle named Terry, and well, to be honest, he seemed like kind of a good time.  And from the first moment my brother sat me down and forced me to watch Top Gear, I kind of wanted to makeout with Jeremy Clarkson (I know, what?  Gross. I can't help it).  

 And so, in my dreams, I would move to the UK and marry a dark and handsome man and he would bumble on and on and I would laugh forever.  We'd live in a stone cottage with big wet gardens and dogs, I would make roasts and trifles and drink Pimms all the time.  I would be the next Nigella Lawson, but with a tinier chest (!!).  We would have lots of children with the loveliest names and nicknames, and they would call me mummy.

To my English friends, past, present and future, I am sorry.  
But, well, I was biased from the start. 

 I tried everything to get there.  My dad nearly got us transferred there for work.  I lived abroad, in a big house, with Englishmen who studied physics and rolled cigarettes and charmed me with their horrible North London Italian accents.  I spent weekends in a penthouse over Hyde Park watching the clouds roll by on Sunday mornings after too many drinks.  I tormented myself with a trip to the South Coast, and traipsed about Brighton and the beaches with a dear friend and her gracious family.  I applied to graduate school, only in the UK, and was an inch away from acceptance, until the universe and admissions at Oxford told me they had other plans.

And about this time last year, I came to terms with the fact that I was going to remain an American for the time being. 

Luckily, I had a friend who loved America a lot, in fact, enough to make me realize that it was A-OK to stay. So I moved to New York, I fell back in love with my home state, with New England, and I immersed myself in it all.  I got a great job, and it even gave me the option of someday moving to where I always thought I would be.  

Well.  All of my friends are starting to plan moves to England.
And I am coping with it by baking cupcakes. 

Let's just call it proper kitchen therapy, ok? 

These Eton Mess cupcakes are made up of the simplest ingredients. Victoria Sponge cakes, topped with a light whipped vanilla buttercream, strawberries and crunched up meringue. No really, God Bless the Queen and you, my English friends, for making this such an easy and simple delight.  The recipe was even sent by an old friend in Chichester, and the wrappers from a friend in Brighton. It tastes like summer, even in the heart of winter, which was, to be frank, the last time I had it, and there is no crime at all in something like that.

For now, I am still here.  I might even be here forever. I mean, it sure is great in the U,S of A.  I have sunshine and close family.  I can afford many things.  And lucky me, I will have plenty more people to visit in the good old U.K.

But, well, it sure does make me wonder...

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Case Study 91: "My Mother's Tart Cupcakes"

It seems I love to start my posts with a disclaimer, so here I go with another one:   
I am made up of the contents of this cake.

My mother is a fantastic cook.  She is an even better baker.  She is the reason that I am who I am in the kitchen today.  But she is even more so the reason who I am in general.

She is strong.  She is brilliant.  She could problem solve her way out of a paper bag, and is the reason that I found myself actively seeking to climb Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs while still changing the glitter rubber bands in my braces.  

She is so very good at what she does, but she never acts out of anything but compassion.  She is proud of everything that she has and we do.  She is the most humble person I know.  She appreciates a good cocktail, a good pair of shoes, and is completely aware of when it is just necessary to get to a spa.  She is the worst singer I know, but this is counteracted by the fact that she has totally natural rhythm.

She is so beautiful it hurts, but she is also so unassuming that her aloofness lights up a room.  She likes to worry, but she says that's her job.  I always thought that was a general mom thing to do, but as you grow up and realize that not everyone was dealt the same mom card, you learn to appreciate it even more. This is because she loves unconditionally.   

 "My Mother's Tart Cupcakes" are vanilla cupcakes filled with vanilla bean pastry cream, topped with vanilla buttercream and an array of fresh summer fruit.   They are cold and refreshing, sweet and simple and decadent.  They are a version of the fruit tart we have always eaten in the summertime.

    My mother was born in July.  She began making this tart before I was born, and still has the recipe cut out to prove it.

  I know because I used it to make the famous custard that normally fills cold pie shells before getting gloriously crowned with fruit.  I know because as a child, like most children wait for their jello to set up, I remember waiting not so patiently for this hot divine custard to cool in little cups in the refrigerator, and wondering how hard it was to sneak a spoonful and not let its indent be seen.  And I know it because although my mother's first hospital meals when I was born were coconut cake, the recipe cut out of the magazine is dated several months prior to my own birthday.  
Therefore meaning...

I am made up of the contents of this cake.  

I sometimes jokingly fear that I am destined for a Gray Gardens-esque life with my mother, you know, minus the feral cats and plus my father.  She is, after all, my best friend and my confidant, my partner is crime, and quite possibly the most effortlessly glamorous person that I know.  But in the end, I am so thankful to be bound to her for reasons of fruit tarts and coconut cake.  And I am even more grateful that she is the most marvelous example of a mother that could ever even exist. 

Happy Birthday to my big Momoo.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Case Study 90: "The Ultimate Blueberry Donut Cupcake"

This is a very naughty cupcake.

Pure goodness, tastebuds dripping, sensory wonder and awe.

I love breakfast.  I talk about this often.  I could eat a thousand breakfasts and no dinners and be happy as a clam. That being said, I've never really been a donut girl. 

 Give me poached eggs, give me greek yogurt with a handful of fruit, give me a box of cereal and I could probably finish it in one sitting. Give me a cookie, and make it crispy and I will dip that thing in coffee all day.  

But there are certain donuts that I most certainly break for, and this is one of them(I'll also eat anything by Fleming's Donuts on the Outer Cape, but that's another story).
  Cakey goodness, dipped in butter and rolled in cinnamon sugar. 

(That is the gut-wrenching sound that comes from my stomach and out my mouth when I think about it)

So naturally, when I finally invested in a donut pan (because seriously, who wants to fry when it's ninety degrees and scorching outside?), it somehow made sense to me that the first things these donuts needed were blueberries.  And not just any blueberries.  Maine blueberries (they're the best, clearly).

Sweet Maine blueberry cupcakes topped with a light amber maple vanilla buttercream and homemade cinnamon sugar donuts.  

To me this tastes like every summer dream breakfast table all rolled into one scrumptious delight.  Like I'm sitting outside in my skivvies and an old t-shirt, barefoot by a lake in the late July shade at 8 AM with a hot cup of coffee and a wet dog by my side, under the watch of a big ass American flag. 
Breakfast, donuts, cupcakes, summer.  BOOM. 
The Ultimate Blueberry Donut Cupcake.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Case Study 89: "The Red Velvet Rope"

I play a little game called court tennis.

Maybe you've heard of it?  Maybe you haven't.  But for what you do know about modern lawn tennis, squash, and any other game of racquets today, just understand that this sport is the granddaddy of them all.

Though it's history is a bit murky, court tennis evolved from a type of jeu de paume from the twelfth century, and was played in the courtyards of French monasteries. It was enjoyed by Napoleon and Henry VIII, and rumor has it that Anne Boleyn herself was arrested whilst taking in a match.   It was played in the Louvre and at Versailles, and is mentioned in literature more than any other game.  Perhaps this is why they called it the "sport of kings."

Court tennis is a game of short chases, played off penthouses, the floor and walls.  There are only nine courts in the USA, seven if you count the ones used regularly, and a handful in the UK, France and Australia.  It is played by a small population who like to travel up and down the east coast for tournaments, black ties and general debauchery.  

"The Red Velvet Rope" cupcakes are red velvet cupcakes with a whipped cream cheese buttercream on top.  They're topped by a vintage 1960s gentleman and lady tennis-playing duo, donning their finest whites appropriate for the court.  They will make their way up to Newport tomorrow for the annual Velvet Rope tournament.  It's a weekend of long nights and short chases, and, well, I'd say more about that, but... I think I'll stop there.

They say that court tennis is a mix of lawn tennis and chess, with the precision of billiards and the quick judgment of polo.  I say that it is a damn good time.  So here's to stiff drinks, swift racquet swings and a great weekend for all, behind the velvet rope. 

For more on court tennis, check out this article.

For the best red velvet recipe, see here.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Case Study 88: "The Man Repelling Meringue"

The quickest way to a man's heart is through his stomach...

That is, of course, unless you're cooking up lemon meringue.  Yes.  That's right.  I have discovered the ultimate man-abhorred dessert, and it's not because it looks like a cream puff.  

In a very scientific poll conducted this morning through the mediums of mobile text messaging and internet email chatting, I discovered that most men hate lemon meringue...and roughly ninety-nine point nine percent of women love it.

Well, this threw my little anthropologist ladypants in a tizzy

Of course, I had to know more.  So I went to my next source of knowledge, and googled the hell out of it.  Men, lemon, tastebuds, poor taste, women, sweeter... things got a little out of hand, but you get the idea.   Answers to my query included:

"Can lemon make Bud taste like lemon?" 
"The science of man cake."


And yet, no real evidence surfaced, except for the possible (probable) fact that men likely have fewer taste buds than women.

Well gentlemen, I'm out to prove you wrong.

 Slightly lemon flavored vanilla cupcakes with a dollop of lemon curd and a toasted whip of meringue on top.  Perfect palate cleanser for a day of beers, beach and BBQ.  Perfect light delight to help you keep your girlish figure.  Perfect way to woo a lady (because hell, apparently they all like this).

So here's my question:  am I right or am I wrong?   
Men, do you actually secretly dream about lemon meringue?

I mean, as far as I'm concerned, these babies are one small step for cupcakes, and one more giant leap away from man-kind.  

(Kudos, as always to the Man Repeller, who is so inspiring)

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Notes from the Field: God Bless America

"After you flew across the country we
 got in bed, laid our bodies
 delicately together, like maps laid
 face to face, East to West.
My San Francisco against your New York, your
 Fire Island against my Sonoma, my
 New Orleans deep in your Texas, your Idaho
 bright on my Great Lakes, my Kansas
 burning against your Kansas your Kansas
 burning against my Kansas, 
your Eastern Standard Time pressing into my
 Pacific Time, my Mountain Time
 beating against your Central Time, your
 sun rising swiftly from the right my
 sun rising swiftly from the left  
your moon rising slowly from the left my
 moon rising slowly from the right until
 all four bodies of the sky
 burn above us, sealing us together,
 all our cities twin cities,
 all our states united, one
 nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."
-Sharon Olds 

  America, romance.  Let's celebrate this 4th of July with the best plans that could be: surrounded by the people we love and with double vanilla cupcakes topped with vanilla bean buttercream and fresh summer berries.  Happy Independence Day.