Saturday, February 23, 2013

Case Study 126: "The Bacon Caramel Pretzel Cupcake"

"Be soft. 
Do not let the world make you hard. 
Do not let pain make you hate. 
Do not let the bitterness steal your sweetness. 
Take pride that even though the rest of the world may disagree,
you still believe it to be a beautiful place."
- Kurt Vonnegut 

It's been "a week." Well, actually, it's been a few "weeks." Things have been a little stressful around here, so when I woke up on the wrong side of the bed today, I wasn't too surprised. 

I had pretty much given myself a hall pass when suddenly I thought: "No." Why ruin a perfectly good Saturday? After all, I had places to go, and people to see later. Something had to be done. 

An hour, a trip to the store and some psychedelic 60's Peruvian and Turkish music (just go with it)later, I had an answer. 


Well, bacon, chocolate, caramel and peanut butter, to be more precise. And a little dancing. 

I turned on aforementioned tunes and got cookin'. I whipped up the most perfectly light vanilla cupcakes, and as they cooled I melted semi-sweet chocolate chips. I laid out my pretzel flats, which were chosen for their ability to hold more things per square centimeter than the average tiny twist. And then I got to dipping. I dipped the pretzel in the chocolate and I rolled it in finely sliced pieces of crispy bacon. 

I did a little dance here, and I felt better already. I'm a firm believer that it's hard to stay mad when there's a dance party involved. I then turned to the buttercream, and seeing as my decision-making skills are off for the weekend, I went for peanut butter and caramel and vanilla, and I whipped it all up together.  

The end product? Vanilla cupcakes with peanut butter caramel buttercream, caramel drizzle and chocolate-bacon dipped pretzel flats on top. 

Coincidentally after that, my phone rang. Plans were set. The sky outside actually looked lighter. And before I hopped in the shower, I looked over my masterpieces again. All was good. I was ready to take the day. 

Monday, February 18, 2013

Notes from the Field: On family, and Vanilla Speculoos Pecan Praline and Bourbon Caramel Cupcakes

Yesterday I took a bus. 

Well, to be fair, I took a subway to the middle of Central Park South, with hot coffee and a black and white cookie in hand, and got on a bus to Staten Island. We zoomed down Broadway, past the Freedom Tower and Bay Ridge, and over the Verrazano Bridge to where my dad and uncle picked me up. We were there for Sunday dinner. It was 1pm. 

My father's parents are south for winter, but we got a little treat anyways: my grandfather and his siblings still meet for Sunday dinner each week. They are 80-96 years old and they are amazing.

Dinner was cooked by the girls, at nearly 94 and 96, but Uncle Eddie dropped off his lasagna before he left. He's the baby, and the one that came back from a trip to Italy wearing a basil leaf behind his ear. Uncle Freddy was a butcher, so he carved up the chicken, to go with the antipast, bresaola, the rigatoni and the greens and olive salad.

Dinnertime topics included getting a movie projector in 1936 and rent costs in the 30s ($25/month). They argued about the merits of having dishwashers, and Aunt Lucy proclaimed that she never wanted a machine to take away her beloved chore. My dad and uncle did the dishes. The men went to watch golf. I stayed to talk with the ladies in the kitchen, but out of the corner of my eye, I spotted by 61-year old father get on the ground, grab his 88-year old uncle's foot, place it on his knee and tie his shoe. 

And this is when I turned off my phone and really listened hard.

Aunt Ann talked about cruise ships and somehow we got into talking about deep sea fishing off Sheepshead Bay. I learned the best way to cut the head off big fish (with a saw) and escape seasickness (only drink bouillabaisse). Over Sambuca, cannoli and savoiardi, we talked about getting drunk on Courvoisier and where to buy low acid instant coffee for my grandfather. They talked about humility and each other. They talked about us. They talked about life.

These people have a longevity that amazes me, and yet, they also must have done something right. They've seen life in motion go from 8mm movie projectors to Blu-Ray discs. They've gone from sepia to black-and-white to color. They've been through more wars, births, deaths and changes of office then some of us may ever see. 

But, they are together. They know the importance of family, whatever "family" might mean, and constant support. They can hear strains in each other's voices. They took each other in during times of hardship and even today, when one is down, another stays with them for a week. They still eat together, and they are really together when they do it. They know what they have. They are reminders of a different time and place. 

So what does this have to do with vanilla cupcakes with speculoos pecan praline cream filling, bourbon caramel buttercream, and chocolate dipped waffle rolls on top? I suppose everything and nothing at all.

I always loved those articles about the people who forget to die or the island of lifelong happiness, but I have my own old person club right across the bridge. This is a lesson. This is why I am who I am today. These people are my living history; the best teachers I could have. I am very lucky.    

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Notes from the Field: The Ring of Fire

"Hey June,

That's really nice June. 

You've got a way with words
 and a way with me as well.

The fire and excitement may be gone 
now that we don't go out there and sing them anymore, 
but the ring of fire still burns around you and I, 
keeping our love hotter than a pepper sprout.
Love, John"

- Johnny Cash

Hotter than a pepper sprout. Love is many splendored thing, in all of its varied dimensions, including these vanilla cupcakes filled with milk chocolate and toffee cream filling and topped with peanut butter buttercream and chocolate shavings

Here's wishing you a holiday of loving whoever you love hard, maybe even a little too hard, this Valentine's Day.    

Monday, February 4, 2013

Notes from the field: Apple Cake and the Greatest Man I Know

"I am not ashamed to say 
that no man I ever met was my father's equal,
 and I never loved any other man as much."
- Hedy Lamarr 

Happy happy birthday, to the greatest man I know.