Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Case Study 96: "The Sweet Bourbon Pecan Spud"

Tomorrow is the first day of autumn.

The temperature has already dropped.  Women are wearing tights.  And that post-work promise of a few bright hours of sun, for lazy strolls and long runs, is quickly turning into a rushed dash home to grasp anything that resembles daylight. It's getting hard to keep up the summer fight...

So here is my promise to the new season.

For the rest of September, we will throw on boots, and crunch through the golden grass, as we remember the salvation of a fall weekend in childhood spent in an orchard, a pumpkin patch or a pile of leaves.  Clear blue Saturdays will be savored.  We will brush our fingers through the flannel in our drawers and take notice of the speckled corn husks in the markets. We'll accept it. 
When October rolls around, we'll miss the smell of barbecues at dusk, but smile anyways, because somewhere down the street a fireplace is burning midday. We'll get crazy at a Halloween soul shakedown in the woods, and make pies from the dozens of apples picked on a cool weekend.  The hot cider will get spiked with whiskey and cold fingers will get tucked into someone's jean pockets. 

By November, we'll celebrate. There will be big a raucous group of people and a birthday party, in an orchard, or a vineyard or a bar.  Rainy days will be the hardest days to wake up for, and so we'll complain and grumble, but carry on anyway with endless cups of tea, warm bowls of soup and a hot toddy to tuck us in before bed. We'll finally pack away those summer dresses for good, and wear wool over our tights.  

We'll make plans, and start counting back the days on the calendar, thinking about what we did, what we're going to do, and how to make sure we got it all in before the last good day of the year. 

"The Sweet Bourbon Pecan Spud" is a sweet potato cupcake topped with a bourbon pecan buttercream and a maple glaze pecan on top.  The cake is light and fluffy and surprisingly, not overmoist.  The buttercream is nutty, with a touch of vanilla bean and a boozy kick.   Tis' the season for gourds, for roots and for nuts, and in my kitchen, I say the more the merrier. 
Autumn to me will be for driving around the windy roads of Westchester County, top down and heat up, as the criss-crossing tree branches above bear new gold on their fingertips.  It will be for pulling wool socks over cold knees, an Aran sweater over the fading tan and lined leather gloves kept close enough in reach for the hands that holds the chill a little longer everyday. And it will be for the dusty records of Neil Young, crackling alongside the candles on the deck that no longer keep the bugs away, but rather shed a little warmth as the moon rises over the lawn.  

Although summer is over, I think I'm finally ready to make the most of fall.  Like I said, it's all about acceptance and promises.   

So, how will you celebrate the season? 

Friday, September 16, 2011

Notes from the Field: Cupcakes to go...


Lately this has been my favorite way to transport little treats.  It's mess free, reusable and even cheaper than an individual cake box.  Not to mention infinitely more charming.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Case Study 95: "The Big Apple"

"Chapter One. He adored New York City. He idolized it all out of proportion. Eh uh, no, make that he, he romanticized it all out of proportion. Better. To him, no matter what the season was, this was still a town that existed in black and white and pulsated to the great tunes of George Gershwin. Uh, no, let me start this over..."
-Woody Allen 

In two short weeks, I will celebrate one little circle around the sun here in New York City.

The Manhattan that I grew up with, the one I dreamed about as a child, was Woody Allen's paradise.  It was based on my parents' stories from the 70s and my own uptown dreams of romance on the steps of a museum at dusk.  Fueled by music and lighting, I imagined what I knew: ballets at Lincoln Center and family dinners before The Met.  New York was knishes at delis, bocce ball courts in restaurants and foie gras at Payard's.  I savored the painted walls of Bemelman's, the front pews at St. Patrick's, and the glamour of Fifth Avenue stone architecture lit by the evening sun through the trees of Central Park.   

As I grew older, of course, this all changed. I spent college summers catching the last train home to suburbia after spending long days trekking through labs uptown and monkey colonies downtown doing neuroscience research.  The classics turned old, and the grandeur lost its hold.  There were concerts at Rumsey Playfield, secret restaurants and movies in parks. I found art in modern galleries and photography.  I drank sangria in garden bars and martinis on rooftops, and on one hot night, I got piggy-backed through the streets in a miniskirt to see Pearl Jam.

When we change our lives, we jump into the unknown, and this time the depth of my abyss was three-fold.   The city I dreamed of, the city I knew, and the city that I realistically live in are very different things.  And so, the past year has been filled with experiences that, even with all of my expectations, I could have never imagined.   

On my first day of work, I accidentally drove through the Battery Tunnel and got lost in Brooklyn.  I continuously missed turns, subway stops and ran for trains in heels at the end the day.  When something in my life didn't feel right, I walked out the door and headed straight for the Brooklyn Bridge.  There I took in a light breeze and the understanding that if you stand right in the middle of something for just long enough, you can see all sides clearly.  
  I took myself to concerts and movies and cafes alone.  On my birthday, I sat for nearly an hour on the Bighorn Sheep bench in the Museum of Natural History at eleven o'clock in the morning.   I took the time to see my city in the eyes of a traveler, and when I started working again, those of cynic.  

I cursed at the subway and the deathly smells lingering over ten blocks on Broadway in midtown.  I danced in a graffiti-filled sweat den in the Village with a twenty-three year old filmmaker until three in the morning.  I was romanced by an academic with a vintage copy of Salinger on a grassy knoll in a Staten Island park.  I threw dinner parties in my apartment, on my rooftop and by the water.  I ran along the Hudson daily. I baked, I relaxed and I snuck into bed early more nights than I thought I would. 

"The Big Apple" is an apple and walnut cupcake topped with a brown sugar cream cheese buttercream.  It is sweet and earthy, crispy at the edges, and sturdy and strong. Just like good old New York City. 

I have met so many wonderful people in this city so far, who, whether they're still with me or not, have changed my life forever.

But the truth is, I'm still finding my place.  With my next move comes a new space, a new neighborhood and a new year to explore.  Everything is uncertain and opportunities are endless, because in New York City every turn could stop you short, or push you forward or leave you on your way.  My chapter one might be wrapping up, but our story has really just begun.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Notes from the Field: Sweet Sunny September Friday.

 No needs for words today.  

But the rain has finally stopped and the sun is out.  

I've been listening to Friday songs and dreamy tunes. I've been watching the afternoon light through the trees and feeling pretty elated about the fact that summer has decided not to go, yet.  An anniversary approaches, and I love New York City more than ever.  

This all, and a pending weekend on the beach away with friends, makes for one very happy cupcake.  

Banana cake with peanut butter buttercream, a chocolate dip, and sweet little flags that wave in the slight September breeze. 

For a birthday girl that I love real hard.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Case Study 94: "The Ultimate Maple Bacon Peach Donut Cupcake"

 This is the cupcake.

This is the cupcake that was inspired by a lazy New York City brunch of pancakes, summer fruits, bacon and love.  Bacon, in my book of course, is love, in case you didn't know.

This is the cupcake that you bring to your lov-ah on a cozy Sunday morning. The cupcake that you creep out of bed and brew coffee for.  The cupcake that you bring back to their bedside table, or if you play your cards right, it is your bedside table that you spy it on when you blink those bedroom eyes open.

  This is a Jersey peach cupcake topped with maple vanilla bean buttercream and a maple-glazed donut sprinkled with Applegate Farm bacon. 

  The second part of an ultimate breakfast cupcake series.  It is sweet and salty and creamy and crunchy.   It is oh-so-heavenly and completely sinful all at once. Which is how all the best things in life are, am I right?

This is the cupcake to take you into fall with a kick of June and the smokiness of October.  The cupcake to celebrate a summer of trips and parties, late nights, bare feet and all sand everywhere.  To toast the lovely little romances that took you on bikes and boats, from starry bays to warm summer rain.  The cupcake to slowly ease the pain of socks and sweaters, turning rum to whiskey and fireflies to fireside as you drink up the last golden light of the Indian Summer to come.

This is the cupcake.  Just trust me on this one.