Saturday, September 29, 2012

Notes from the Field: What's more American than apple pie?

This morning I woke up - refreshed, bright eyed, ready for a long day of fun around the city - and prepared to make cupcakes for a bon voyage party. When you're a cupcake baker, the answer to "what's more American than apple pie?" is always "apple cupcakes." And so, I put on some moody music to match the gray sky outside and set to coarsely chopping my apples from the farmers' market.
My favorite apple cupcake is adapted from a fail proof cake recipe passed down from an orchard that my family used to pick-our-own at in New Jersey thirty years ago. It's hearty and spicy and chock full of fresh fruit. This time I topped it with a plain vanilla buttercream and called it a day.... 

Or did I?


Well shit. I thought. Am I satisfied by that? Sure, there's nothing more "American" than apple pie, but I've never set out to be average. This is AMERICA, for Christs' sake, we've never been like anybody else. 
And so I got back into the kitchen, pumped up my tunes and churned out a batch of baked pumpkin donuts. And then I dipped them in butter. And then I rolled them in cinnamon and maple sugar and put them on top of the cupcakes. And I looked at my masterpiece and decided it was good

Being full of opportunity and equality means being more national than Old Hollywood, a Ford Buick and a Georgia peach combined. I believe that innovation and freedom are better than Monticello, the redwood forest and the entire state of Texas all at once. And on a cloudy September afternoon in Manhattan, you can bet that New York state apple cupcakes with vanilla buttercream and pumpkin cinnamon sugar donuts on top are much more Americana than that that plain old patriotic pie.   

And like a third grader at the end of a presentation, I can say, that's what being American means to me.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Notes from the Field: 21 days to Fall and Maple Pumpkin Fig Cupcakes

On the first of September, I put on my bikini and took a trip to the boat. The water was cold and the sun was weak. I cancelled my plans, a trip and a date, and relaxed in anticipation of what would come next.

On the fourth I slept late. I worked in my pajamas and made sense of my closet. I ran in the park and caught up with friends. On the fifth, there were butterflies. There was rose' and sidewalk pizza and a late night neighborhood bar. There was a kiss. Maybe two. On the eighth, I painted my nails one last coat of Clambake. A late summer storm rolled in and when it broke, we ate pulled pork and watermelon in the backyard. On the twelfth, I woke up and the air was cool. I got news, or what one could be a certain kind of gift, and I packed my bags and headed north to see what it was all about.

On the fifteenth I hopped the jitney east. The air was perfect and the sun was warm. I wore boots below bare knees and frolicked in sun scorched vineyards. We drank too much wine and donned captains' hats for dinner. We drank rum, lit sparklers and talked for hours at the table under the backyard tree strewn with streamers and lights. We slept with the windows open; we wore towels for warmth. 

On the sixteenth, the beach past the Swordfish Club was dotted with hundreds of monarch butterflies. Where they were going, we had no idea, but they pushed past the wind down the beach and stopped for nobody. The water was warm and the waves crashed tall as we drank mimosas in our rolled up jeans. 

On the seventeenth, I hopped the shuttle and took my next step. I worked hard during the day and settled into a new pace at night. I drank cold white wine and shame danced my way through a few good miles on a hotel treadmill in the middle of New England suburban slum. 

Yesterday I woke up and cancelled my plans. I boarded the helicopter home, and as we approached New York, the clouds turned dark. We flew low and fast, as did my cab uptown, where I dropped my bags, strapped on my sneakers and bee-lined it to Central Park. I crossed Lexington to Park, and caught the wind of three ladies in bobs and Chanel No. 5 by the Met. The 86th street Hot Dog man donned a yellow plaid scarf. I skipped up to the reservoir and ran a lap. The perfect song came on, and I thought of you. I ran another half, past the brown water reeds and was reminded that you can only really welcome a season by ending another first.

I went to the store for figs and came out with pumpkin as well, which in the end might just be the perfect pair as we start to tilt a little further from the sun. From here, on the cusp, I think pumpkin cupcakes with a maple buttercream topped with fresh figs, candied pecans and maple sugar will help celebrate the both seasons just fine.  

I'm not sure what will happen this fall. Maybe I'll hit it big at work, make strides and shake hands. Maybe I'll pick apples and pumpkins and make a batch of Christmas limoncello much better than the last. Maybe I'll spend my birthday abroad. Maybe I'll fall in love again.

For now, all I know is that today is September 21st. I know that this weekend will be for dinner parties, dark cocktails bars and Sunday football. I know that I'll watch the leaves turn gold each week in Massachusetts and when Thursday arrives, I'll watch the New York City skyline approach and get that same feeling of love for the city I've now called home for two years. I know that I'll have expectations, and things might turn out differently, but I'll be ready for whatever comes at me because that's what new seasons give you. Another chance. 

So are you ready? Here we go...

Friday, September 14, 2012

Notes from the field: On a very special 30th birthday...

We met on the internet. 

It started with a few mutual interests - namely the sea, the sun and a little South Coast English town called Brighton. Our first date was at The Mermaid, where we shared a silver tower of shellfish big enough for a party of grandpas in the Catskills. And we resolved, no matter the distance, to stay in touch. From there, the rest was history. 

We ate lobster rolls and reminisced about Bills. I showered her in champagne, confetti and sparkler fire as she finished her 29th lap around the sun. She dried my breakup tears with a wild weekend away and a crazy night at a beachside bar with rum punch, handsome young men and late night lifesaving egg sandwiches. 

There are some people that you meet and feel like you already know, and that right there is where the connection lies. 

Not long after that first sip of wine, you're gifting each other rainy day bouquets and finishing each others' sentences. You're sharing burgers and Bloodies at J.G. Melon and throwing back champers cocktails at your local pub. You are turning random Manhattan weeknights into spectacularly good shows - what with the endless bottles of champagne, back garden chats and dessert on the house - and the entire bar joins in to celebrate the nuttiness of life around you. You are touching base from Germany, from Vegas, from San Diego, from Philadelphia, from New York. You're talking about boys, work, lighthouses and travel dreams. About life, loss and the middle place in between it all.

Some people came into your life at the right time, even though I think that somehow they've been there all along. See, I believe that there are many types of soulmates. Past what we already know, we find soulmates in those that we are attached to forever, usually family, whose souls are as complexly entwined with ours as the double helix strands that tie us together. We can find soulmates in people that we attach onto, for however brief a time, and no matter what, they leave a lasting mark on us as they drift away. 

But then there are those people that were meant to be with you. They respect everything about you and expect nothing from you all at once. They think about you just when you think about them. They tell you you've "nailed it" even when you haven't because they know that sometimes life's failures are just too good to have a laugh about. They stand up for you, they challenge you and for Christ's sake, they just get you.

And so, when they tell you that their favorite flavors are banana, Nutella and sea salt, you make it work and whip up fluffy banana cupcakes in a HobNob crust with Nutella filling and fleur de sel caramel buttercream and hand painted Belgian chocolate seashell on top.

Happy 30th birthday, my sweet sweet Suze. You are a wonder and a joy, and this shines true in the people and the love around you. I'm so happy to get to share a brain, a thousand bottles of champagne and a little piece of my soul with you. To this weekend, and to many many more.