Friday, October 26, 2012

Case Study 120: "The Ginger Pear Cupcake"

Today is for reunions and it looks like the weather is going to play along.

Days like this always remind me of fall in Bologna. The gray sky, the smell of the coming November rain and the first sights of marzipan in the pasticerria windows.

It reminds me of how we roused late and brewed caffe in our tiny perk before indulging in biscuits and Nutella from the jar. How the light would peek around the corners of the narrow streets, and in the early morning the grates would go up at the Mercato delle Erbe as the statue of Ugo Bassi pointed ahead.  

It makes me remember our homemade haircuts and long lasagna lunches. Parties at the house, marked by Nina Simone and hash cigarettes. The long walks up the six hundred and sixty-six portici that led to the sanctuary on the hill. And most of all, it brings memories of long afternoons at Il Cortile Cafe, where the day faded to night and we started every evening with prosecco by candlelight and listening to Django Reinhardt covers played live.

And so it's nothing but fitting that on a gray late October day, I'll reunite with my best Bologna people right here in New York. 

Back then we ate. And we ate. And we ate. For fun, for sustenance and really for no reason at all. We always went back for seconds, we never did it with shame. All of our senses and our gastronomical dreams were awakened and brought to life. And so, there's no way in hell that I would welcome friends to America empty-handed without the best that fall could offer. 

Fresh ginger and molasses cupcakes with vanilla-pear buttercream and dark chocolate candied ginger shavings on top. Yes, I think that will do. 

Today we'll stroll arm and arm like we used to. We'll take in an early aperitivi in a dim light cafe before the rest of the working world joins in. We'll drink prosecco, chats about boys and share memories about the dear old days of our adventures abroad nearly eight years ago. And as true friendship always goes, nothing, nothing, will have changed at all.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Notes from the Field: An anniversary.


Four years ago, I started a blog. 

I'm not quite sure what drove me to this madness. Perhaps it was because I was twenty-three, over the top and running with a pack of international Philadelphia foodies that were 8-15 years older than myself. Or maybe it was because I needed a place to diary my travels as a young anthropology major working in the insurance industry and trying to make sense of it all. Journals were never my strong suit, so maybe this could work. Regardless of the reason, "The Cupcaketologist" came to existence in October of 2008. 

It started fast, and I had plenty of tasters. My first posts were lofty. I baked chocolate salted caramel cupcakes, inspired by some odd Marcello Mastroianni dreams. My chef friend approved, but advised that next time I should use Maldon

Next came one of my signature and most beloved cupcakes ever made: honey and fig cake topped with goat cheese buttercream and a carmelized fig.  

Now I had everyone's attention. I even created a logo (by hand,using old recipe books that I folded, glued, scanned, and inserted into the blog).

I did bacon before bacon was cool.

I concocted disastrous malted egg cupcakes after a rough day of work and made the epitome of my confectionary dreams come true: the foie gras cupcakes that had me dancing around my kitchen like a fool.


I featured pets.

I chronicled my travel diaries through cupcakes. From Newport to Austria, England, France and to Italy more than anyone could even count.

I baked my way through birthdays, breakups, and more than one career change.

I made a lot of cupcakes inspired by New York. From Woody Allen's New York...

To the architecture of New York (I was reaching here)...

To a recent spin around Central Park in the fall.

My cupcakes won awards, raised money, and were commissioned for parties, companies and gifts. 

It's funny to think of blogging today and what it was back then. Now people do it for money. They do it for fame. They publish books from their blogs and they travel around the world as marketers for brands. 

I'm not sure that this will ever be like that for me. My blog has introduced me to a lifetime of experiences, and I think those are things more valuable than anything easy to spend. It's opened doors to friends, to conversations and to a whole side of myself that sees baking as a therapy, a passion and an art. A side that bakes to soothe, to make sense of my crazy imagination, to feed my friends and to translate experiences from my past and present into something tangible and good. I also did it for the writing.

This blog has followed me from a tiny Naudain Street galley to my Wall St. apartment with a dishwasher (!!). From kitchens in France and the South Coast of England to nearly every Philadelphia oven I could find. These are the moments, the times and the places that in some wild, whimsical and very strange ways have helped define life in my 20s.

Thank you for being part of my journey so far. 

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Case Study 119: "The Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookie Cupcake"

Good God, it's lovely out there. There's something about autumn in New York that makes it more wonderful than the smell of roasted nuts, burning leaves and cold hayrides together. It's the light. 

Put on your headphones and head to Central Park. Dave Brubeck should come first:"Take Five." There are young women walking arm and arm down Park Avenue in capes and brogues. The church bells at St. Ignatius Cathedral toll 6pm and there are tourists huddling on the stairs of The Met. The street musician dressed like Michael Jackson drops his horn to play their hasty photographer. Head north and a bespectacled gentleman in a navy blazer strolls past Guggenheim, trailing cigar smoke behind him. A Westie in a plaid coat trots leash-less at his side.   

Cross the Rhododendron Mile and take a lap around the Reservoir. Now your song is Duke Elligton's "Take the A Train," but you're still on foot. The sun begins to set and the light on the water is illuminated a sort of yellow tinge under the watchful eyes of The Eldorado's twin peaks. Golden indeed. Head back across the Eighty-Six Street Traverse to the Great Lawn and weave down to the Lake. Put on the Armstrong and Fitzgerald version of "Autumn in New York." Stop to see the way the Weeping Willows cast monster shadows across the water past the Boathouse.  

Take off your headphones as you climb the steps at Bethesda Terrace. A lone trumpeter stands where the shade meets the sun through the arching elms on The Mall, and he wails a dirty wah-wah version of "Summertime." In memorium, you think, but you carry on. Under statues of literary greats, an accordionist plays Edith Piaf's standard "Autumn Leaves." Your heart aches a little every time you hear it, but it's in the way that only fall can cause an ache, by juxtaposing warm sentimental feelings with a time of year when everything dies. Turn on Coltrane's "Central Park West" and make your way back uptown. 

Back in my kitchen, I can't help but keep things cozy. Candles are lit, windows are cracked open, and I throw on wool socks and flannel while my oven heats up. I bake and I bake and I end up with these deliciously airy pumpkin cupcakes topped with coffee and vanilla bean buttercream and a pumpkin chocolate chip cookie on top. I eat them for breakfast, I deliver them to friends and on my way back home, I head back to the park.

This is how I dreamed it up. As a child, I imagined New York as a sort of love affair, and it always took place in the fall. We'd hide away in the dark of Bemelman's while the sun set gold outside, secretly wishing and praying that on any other day but Monday, Woody Allen would stroll right into The Carlyle and fill the air with a clarinet sound even moodier than the clinking of ice cubes in Scotch and the quick swishing of white-coat waiters.

I'd smooth out my skirt and he'd straighten his tie. We'd throw on our trenches and slip outside - skipping first across Fifth to the Ramble, where we'd make a dash for the steps of the Museum of Natural History. We'd ascend, step by step by step, until he stopped. And time would slow, nothing else would exist and the chilling city would whirl at a million light years' speed around us, just as is does on every other day of any other year.

If you come to the city and open your eyes and ears, you'll find it. There's romance all around, and there is no season and no city that reminds you of that quite like autumn in New York.