Sunday, February 19, 2012

Be Mine. (Or not. It's up to you.)

Red and white, what a delight.
Another Valentine's Day has come and gone. I survived, thankfully, but barely. I have a love-hate relationship with Valentine's Day. On the one hand, I hate having romance thrown in my face only to be reminded that I've never had a Valentine. On the other hand, I can't resist the pinks and reds and hearts, reminders of my childhood. Remember those yummy red heart lollipops? And Valentines with my name misspelled in every way imaginable (Realch- really?!). These are the souvenirs of a simpler time, a time when I believed in Valentines. A time when I believed that it was just a matter of time before I found my true love. I believed in love then.

Now, though, I don't know what to believe. I've never known love and I don't know if I ever will. I don't have a good track record. Okay, so I have no record at all. Love is just something that happens to other people. It just doesn't happen to me. One of my favorite quotes from The Amber Spyglass (which is the third book in one of my favorite trilogies, His Dark Materials-read it now if you haven't already!) by Philip Pullman is the following: "Being in love was like China: you knew it was there, and no doubt it was very interesting, and some people went there, but I never would. I'd spend all of my life without ever going to China, but it wouldn't matter, because there was all the rest of the world to visit." I think that about sums up my feelings on the subject.

And so this year, I decided to focus on my parts of the world: baking and dancing. I made some red velvet cupcakes for my bellydance class (and my coworkers). There really is so much joy to be had in giving. I love sharing the treats that I have baked, and seeing others' surprise and excitement. If I can do this much, bring happiness to the world in my little way, well then, I can say that I'm not doing too badly.

Cupcake has a cupcake shadow!
Red Velvet Cupcakes
slightly adapted from Martha Stewart's Cupcakes

2 1/2 cups cake flour, sifted
2 tbsp Dutch-processed cocoa powder
1 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups vegetable oil
2 lrg eggs, room temp
1 bottle red food coloring
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup buttermilk
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
2 tsp distilled white vinegar

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line two standard muffin tins with cupcake liners. Whisk together the first 3 ingredients.

Using an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment on medium speed, mix the sugar and oil until combined. Add the eggs one at a time, beating until each is incorporated. Mix in the vanilla and food color.

Reducing the speed to low, add the flour mixture in 3 batches, alternating with two additions of buttermilk. Stir together the baking soda and vinegar in a small bowl (you'll get a fun little frothy reaction), and mix into the cake batter on medium speed for 10 seconds.

Divide the batter evenly among the cups and bake, rotating half way through, for about 20 minutes. Transfer to wire racks and cool completely.

Cream Cheese Frosting
adapted from Martha Stewart's Cupcakes

2/3 cup unsalted butter, room temp
8 oz cream cheese, room temp
4 cups powdered sugar, sifted
1 tsp vanilla extract

Using an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the butter and cream cheese until fluffy. With the mixer on low speed, gradually add the sugar a 1/2 cup at a time, then add the vanilla. Beat until smooth and combined. Frost the cupcakes using and offset spatula, or using a pastry bag fitted with your favorite decorating tip. Add sprinkles and enjoy!

Monday, February 6, 2012

Woodland Baby Shower

Awesome chalkboard from the craft store.
In case you didn't know, my sister is having a baby. It's kind of a big deal. Things will change. Priorities will shift. Attention will be diverted. And I will get a new nephew!
A little bit of love.
I already have two very adorable nephews whom I love very, very much. As in, so much that I never knew was possible. Sometimes its so much that I want to eat their cute little chubby cheeks, but I have pretty good self-control. Instead I just cover their squishy cheeks with kisses. And I can't wait to do that with my sister's baby when he arrives.
Sign made with wood blocks and scrapbooking paper.
Said baby will be named Fox (as in Fox Mulder), so naturally, my sister wishes to decorate the nursery in a woodland theme. And thus, I threw my sister a woodland-themed baby shower. I wanted to use decorations that my sister could then use in the nursery. I like things that are multi-purpose.

The famous stump cake!

I knew right away that I would make some kind of log cake, and ended up going with this fabulous stump cake and decorated it with meringue mushrooms. As for the rest of the food, since it was a mid-afternoon affair, I went with snackables like fruit salad, veggies with dip, and assorted nuts. And punch! What is a party without punch, after all?

Lime-grapefruit punch.
It's a mushroom! It's meringue!
It's a shy little mushroom.
Mason jar, moss ribbon, string, dirt, and a votive candle.
Aw, nuts!

Note: I did not take any of these photographs. A very good friend of mine was kind enough to come take some pictures for me.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Chocolate Cake with Chocolate Frosting (because they don't make band-aids for your heart)

Mmm...nice and round...
Happy New Year! A little late, I know, but I've been busy. Actually, I was sick there for awhile. First it was shingles, which kept me away from my nephews. Sadly, my newest nephew decided to arrive right when I was at my most contagious, so I had to wait a week to meet him. But meet him I did, and he's as sweet as can be.

Normally I start out every new year with some grand resolution, something to bring about fantastic change in my life. Given that last year's aspirations failed miserably, this year I decided to go a little more low-key. My only resolutions this year are to just stay true to myself, and live a story worth telling. It turns out that living a story like that means ignoring what other people say is the right or acceptable way to do things. So I'm going to do things my way, and if I offend anyone in the process, then they don't belong in my story.

This year, I am going to throw everything I have into the universe. I'm interested to see what I get in return. On that note, I offer the universe this chocolate cake. It doesn't necessarily mend a broken heart, but it does soothe it a little. It's a simple and easy to make chocolate cake. Light, fluffy, and moist, with a sweet, chocolatey frosting. The kind of cake you can eat a large slice of without feeling terribly guilty afterward.

Slice of awesome.
Chocolate Cake
from the back of the Hershey's Cocoa can

2 cups sugar
1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup natural cocoa powder
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
2 eggs
1 cup milk
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup boiling water

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour two 9-inch round baking pans.

Combine the dry ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer and mix until blended. Add the eggs, milk, oil, and vanilla (which I forgot...) and beat on medium speed for 2 minutes. Stir in the boiling water and pour into the prepared pans.

Bake for 30-35 minutes, until the cake springs back when lightly touched and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes, then turn onto wire racks to cool completely.

Chocolate Frosting
from the back of the Hershey's Cocoa can

1 stick unsalted butter, softened
2/3 cup natural cocoa powder
3 cups powdered sugar
1/3 cup milk
1 tsp vanilla extract

Melt the butter in a small saucepan over low heat. Pour the butter into the bowl of a stand mixer and beat in the cocoa. Alternately add the powdered sugar and milk until smooth and fluffy, with the mixer on medium speed. Stir in the vanilla. Frost and serve.


Don't you want me, baby?