Saturday, June 30

For H - {Blueberry Balsamic Cupcakes}

Due to a number of circumstances, I ate many of my meals alone during the second semester of my freshman year.

It wasn't an experience I was particularly fond of. As much as I enjoy being alone, the stark contrast between dining with nine to dining with none in the dorm cafeteria kind of made me sick. But, after awkwardly trying (and failing) to make friends with other single diners like myself, I gave up and resolved to dining with books. Sometimes novels, sometimes required reading, but usually cookbooks.

I would sit with my back to the cafeteria and dig in; consuming everything before me (generally a bowl of Cracklin' Oat Bran or cereal and Sky High. Both old favorites) and pretending to be occupied. It took some getting used to but I, eventually, found myself to be a master in the art of being invisible.

One day, when I thought I was being particularly invisible, a guy I'd met once before approached my table. He had, in his hands, a tray full of post-workout essentials and, on his face, a smile. I'd been introduced to him before, briefly, when he was led to my dorm by a friend in search of baked goods, but I knew little about him. He worked out. He liked cupcakes. Besides his name... Not much.

But he was interested in my cookbook, which was enough of an ice breaker for me. We started talking about baking, which led to our mutual frustration with the lack of community kitchens available in on-campus housing and then to our shared want for a kitchen of our own. Naturally, our living situations for the following year came up, and he mentioned that he and his girlfriend, H, were looking for a third person to share their lease with. Though I had living arrangements myself, I did know someone that was searching for a place to stay. I scratched out his email address on a napkin for R, then we finished our meals, then our conversation, exchanged phone numbers, and went our separate ways.

It wasn't long afterward that I learned that my friend, a near stranger to both R and H, got in on their lease. They moved into their apartment days before I moved into mine in August of 2010, and we all hit it off instantly. The months that followed were filled with endless conversations, [at least] bi-weekly dinners, group movies, relaxed drinking sessions and more dirty jokes and good-natured curse words (mostly my own) than one can really believe.

I was their honorary roommate, a title I loved, and I spent much of my time hanging out on their futon, baking in their kitchen, and sitting on the floor in front of their refrigerator... But that's another story.

I've probably gone on and on about H before, but she is, sincerely, the greatest friend I've ever had. I know, for a fact, that I've written about her and R moving to Florida too, but I'm so damn hung up on it that it keeps coming up.

She's one of only two people outside my family that I can tell anything. But, since we aren't "phone people" and don't, frankly, have any desire to become "phone people," most of our conversations have been relegated to texting. Beyond that, we use Skype when we can and favor it for both mid-week and weekend chats - both with and without margaritas, cider and/or wine. Even if we don't really have anything specific to catch up on, it's nice to get back into the mentality of hanging out at the old apartment because, honestly, sometimes all I want to do is chill out on the couch in my scrappiest tank top, flour-covered shorts, and worn out hair and talk to my girlie. Ya dig? It's just been too long.

And as I was reflecting on this during one of our recent chats, I realized how it was that we came to be friends. It took a completely chance encounter with her boyfriend in the McDonel caf on some random day in 2010. If I hadn't grabbed that cookbook in a moment of pathetic loneliness, he might not have sat with me. If he hadn't stopped in the caf at just that moment, we probably never would have discussed his need for a roommate. And if I'd never dated that guy who introduced me to R in the first place... I'd probably have never met H.

I've been a little down these past few days, but I scrapped the "woe is me" bull shit I was, for whatever reason, planning to post.

You know? It sucks that H moved away, but I consider myself lucky to have such a great friend at all. There are always ups and downs in life. Sometimes things are amazing and sometimes things aren't. But I've learned to thrive on the mentality that all of it is worth it in the end. With time, you can adapt to anything.

Overall, I've got it good.

I'm a lucky, lucky girl.

Blueberry Balsamic Cupcakes
I topped some of my cupcakes with pastry scraps from another failed project. I liked the look, but they aren't a necessary decoration.

Printable Recipe

Lovely Yellow Cake slightly adapted from Pick Yin (via Smitten Kitchen)
This is now my absolute favorite yellow cake recipe. It's moist and light - but still somewhat dense like a good cake should be. Makes about a dozen cupcakes.

2 c + 1 Tbsp (284 g) cake flour
1/4 c (23 g) powdered milk
1 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 c (113 g) butter, room temp
1 c (200 g) sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 egg
2 yolks
1 c (237 ml) buttermilk, room temp (make your own by adding 1 tbsp lemon juice or vinegar to 1 c milk)

Preheat oven to 350F and line a muffin tin. Set aside.

In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, powdered milk, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter and sugar for about 5 minutes, until light and fluffy. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, then beat in the vanilla. Scrape down the bowl again and add the egg. Beat about 30 seconds to combine, scrape the bowl, then add the yolks. Beat to combine. Add 1/3 of the flour mixture, mix just to combine and add half of the milk. Continue adding the dry and wet ingredients in this fashion, ending with dry.

Divide batter evenly between the liners and tap on the counter a few times to eliminate large air bubbles. Bake until golden and a wooden pick inserted in center of cake comes out clean, 20-22 minutes. Cool in pans until cool enough to handle, then cool completely on racks.

Blueberry Balsamic Boiled Frosting adapted from Baked: New Frontiers in Baking
I hope you don't mind the vagueness of the jam part. You don't have to be completely accurate - just do what feels right. What is important is to make sure you cook out most of the water or else it will break your buttercream when you try to incorporate it. Otherwise... Enjoy!

1 c blueberries
1 1/4 c (250 g) sugar, divided
1/8 tsp nutmeg
2-4 tbsp balsamic vinegar, to taste
1/3 c (47 g) all-purpose flour
1 1/2 + 1/3 c (233 ml) milk
1 1/2 c (355 g) butter, room temp and cubed
1 tsp vanilla

Combine the blueberries, 1/4 c (50 g) of sugar, nutmeg and balsamic vinegar in a sauce pan. Reduce until most of the liquid is gone. Be sure you taste it and adjust the balsamic vinegar as necessary. You'll want it a little stronger than you might think just so it stands out in the frosting. Set aside to cool.

Combine the sugar and flour in a cool saucepan. Stir in the milk, then set the pan over medium heat. Stirring frequently, cook the mixture until quite thick, 10-15 minutes.

Remove the pan from heat and pour the mixture into the bowl of your mixer. Fit with the paddle attachment and whip on high speed until the outside of the bowl is cool to the touch, about fifteen minutes.

When the bowl is cool, add the butter all at once and whip on high speed until very light and fluffy. Add the vanilla and whip to combine, then add the blueberry balsamic mixture in small amounts, to taste.

Tuesday, June 12

Slap - {Strawberry Vanilla Crumb Pie}

I remember slapping him.

It was the only time I'd ever slapped anyone, having never understood the action or the justification for its delivery. I was on the receiving end of many brotherly hits, kicks and jabs as a little girl, and I never saw sense in violence as a form of expression.

To be honest, I don't even remember what he said to me to cause it. Given the circumstances, it probably wasn't a specific utterance that drew the reaction; more likely a series of unintentional stabs and confusing words of comfort that had bled and suffocated my heart over the preceding hours.

At that point in our discussion, nothing else seemed appropriate.

A heavy combination of frustration and anger concentrated itself into the weight of my right hand, and I drew it plainly across his tear-strewn face.

I was filled with a flicker of satisfaction - passing relief hidden in the sting of my burning palm - but you wouldn't know it had you seen my conflicted face. Questioning and afraid with a hint of apology, his deep brown eyes echoed mine as we stared at each other, wordless, for an eternity.

"I deserved that," he said calmly, then damned me with a hug that soothed and hurt in a way that, as dramatic as it sounds, only the brokenhearted can understand.

I packed the cocoa powder and chocolate chips I'd stashed in his cabinet, grabbed my toothbrush from behind the bathroom mirror, and, with that: we were through.

The only remaining sign of us was the mark of mascara and eyeliner on the left shoulder of his white tee.

And even that would be smoothed over and washed away soon enough.

Of course, all of this was long ago, but it came to mind today as I drove past an innocuous drugstore on a side of town that I don't often visit. I'd sat in that parking lot (seeking tissues but instead crying naive breakup tears into my sleeves) the day after the slap; brokenhearted and incapable of feeling anything but self-pity and despair.

And now, sitting alone and sleepless on this Monday night, thoughts of the past are swirling in my head. Not in a sad way this time, but rather a reflective one. I don't regret any of it, I'm not mad and I don't wish things had worked out any differently for this - or any - of the few relationships I've been in.

When I spotted the drugstore this time, I smiled. The whole thing was a growing process, and we both knew it. The rise and fall did me a world of good.

Boys have taught me a lot about myself.

Someone told me recently that I talk about them - the boys - a lot on the blog.

I hadn't noticed it, but maybe it's true.

Either way, relationships - of any kind - are worthy of great care and passion.

Care and passion inspire me to write.

No more explanation needed.

Strawberry Vanilla Crumb Pie
This got a great reaction out of my roommate who doesn't care for fruit desserts (except peach crumble. At least the boy's got some sense ;) ). It disappeared quickly at work, too!

Printable Recipe

Pie Crust

6 Tbsp (85g) butter
2 Tbsp (30g) shortening
1 c (142g) flour
1/2 tsp salt
4 Tbsp cold water, more if needed

Cube the butter and place it and the shortening in the freezer for fifteen minutes.

In a medium bowl, combine the flour and salt. Add the frozen butter and shortening, and press with your fingers (or a pastry blender or a fork or a pair of knives or however your grandma taught you) until it is the texture of coarse meal. Add the water a little at a time and mix/knead just until incorporated. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 30 minutes.

After 30 minutes, place the dough on the counter to soften for 5 minutes. On a well-floured surface, roll the dough until it is large enough to fit in a 9" pie tin - about 11-12" in diameter. As you roll, check often to see that the dough is not sticking to the counter and apply more flour as needed.

Roll the dough around your rolling pin and lay it in the pie tin. Form a decorative boarder, if you wish. Place in freezer.

Crumble adapted from Nicole at Sweet Peony
This crumble is great! I made a double batch and stashed the extra in my freezer.

1/2 c (100g) brown sugar, packed
1/2 c (71g)  flour
3/4 tsp cinnamon
4 Tbsp (60g) butter, frozen and cubed
1/4 c (25g) oats

Combine all ingredients in a medium bowl and press until the texture of coarse crumbs. Place in freezer briefly while you prepare the pie filling.

Strawberry Vanilla Pie Filling

3/8 c (74g) sugar
Scrapings of one vanilla bean
1/4 c (35g) flour
2 Tbsp cornstarch
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 qts strawberries, hulled and halved

Preheat the oven to 350F.

Combine the sugar and vanilla seeds in a bowl. Press with fingers to incorporate, then stir in the flour, cornstarch and salt. When well-mixed, add the berries and toss to coat. Pour into frozen crust and top with crumble. Bake until you see juices bubbling through the crumble in the center, about 1 hour and 15 minutes.

Wednesday, June 6

Circus - {Golden Beet Cupcakes with Dulce De Leche Buttercream}

I was working at Cedar Point at this time last year.

I spent a lot of time outdoors then, chasing go-karts on the clock and seeking peace in the off hours. Even midnight found me wandering the park in the dark; restless and unwilling to return to my stifling apartment and sleepless bed. My team leader kept me busy through scheduling acrobatics, but the 30-something hours I was working in a week wasn't enough to keep me occupied. It was mindless and uninspired work - which was how I was left to feel at the end of a shift.

To make matters worse, apart from the guys on my crew, all of my friends were hundreds - even thousands - of miles away. I got out of work around midnight and, like most towns, there was little to do after hours (unless you can't get enough of Steak and Shake and B-Dubs). Though I had "a kitchen" that I shared with my five roommates, I think the quotations say enough about my sentiments toward it. Though I desperately wanted to, I hardly baked or cooked at all while I was there, and found myself subsisting largely on peanut butter and banana sandwiches.

It wasn't so bad in the moment, but I'm convinced now that it's just because it didn't seem particularly real. From the outside looking in, it was like the world was on pause. We were spoiled. Even when I was bored and unmotivated, I wasn't. Every choice was a good one, consequences didn't exist and arguments never lasted. There were two clubs nearby with dancing and great deals on drinks (so I heard). There was ice cream, chicken tenders, french fries and pizza to be had for every meal, plus a beach and some deck chairs out back if you were so inclined.

All in all, it was an indulgent and irresponsible summer for me: having shunned the thought of internships and reality in the crucial summer before my senior year in favor of, essentially, running away to the circus.

It was an escape.

But I needed it.

I needed it to prove to myself that I can be independent. I needed it to open my eyes to the world and what I wanted from life. I needed it to learn who I am, who I want to be, and which qualities I needed to drop. I needed Cedar Point more than I needed my first year of college, and I am so very grateful that I got it.

But I escaped the circus.

I actually left early because I was very suddenly very sick of Sandusky. I got through my Junior year and... here I am.

This is my first summer in East Lansing.

I've buckled down a bit more seriously into reality, and am fortunate to be geographically closer to at least some of my friends. I'm working two jobs, both of which I love (I can't wait to tell you about the new one :D), and trying to maintain just a shred of that make-believe Cedar Point lifestyle from last summer.

This is my very last summer vacation and I'm going to make it count - in more ways than one.

Golden Beet Cupcakes with Dulce De Leche Buttercream
These cupcakes are WONDERFUL! The taste of the beets is discernible - in a good way - and absolutely lovely. A coworker said this was the best cupcake he'd ever had! The cupcake recipe is from Jaclyn at Food + Words. She's lovely and so is her blog, so... Go check it out :)

Golden Beet Puree via Food + Words
4-5 medium-sized whole golden beets, greens removed, scrubbed well
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp dark brown sugar, packed
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 c milk

Set the oven to 350F.

Lay out a long strip of aluminum foil and top with a piece of parchment paper. Place the beets on it, then sprinkle with the olive oil, dark brown sugar and salt. Wrap tightly (you want the beets fully enclosed), and bake for 1 hour, until the beets are very tender.

Remove beets from oven and allow to cool for 10 minutes, then open the pouch to release steam and allow to cool 30 minutes more.

When the beets have cooled, peel them and place in a blender or food processor with the milk. Puree until smooth and set aside to cool to room temp.

Golden Beet Cupcakes via Food + Words

1 1/4 c flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
3 eggs, room temp
1/2 c sugar
1/2 c dark brown sugar, packed
1/2 c safflower oil (Jaclyn used applesauce)
2 tsps vanilla
2 Tbsp bourbon
1 c golden beet puree (recipe above)

With the oven set at 350F, combine the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt and cinnamon in a medium-sized bowl. Set aside.

In the bowl of your mixer, combine the eggs and sugars. Beat on low for 30 seconds, then increase the speed to medium and beat for five minutes, or until the mixture is pale yellow and thick.

Turn the speed back to low and pour in the oil, vanilla, bourbon and 1 cup of the prepared beet puree. Mix to incorporate, being sure to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the dry ingredients gradually, mixing on low until just combined.

Portion the batter into liners and bake 15-20 minutes or until the cupcakes spring back when lightly pressed. Set on cooling racks to cool completely before frosting.

Dulce De Leche Boiled Frosting adapted from Baked: New Frontiers in Baking
Jaclyn provided a recipe for mascarpone cream cheese frosting, but I was in a hurry and made this from fridge scraps instead. I'm not sure how much you'll need for the dozen cupcakes this makes (I used leftover, frozen buttercream), so this might make a little bit extra, but just package it in some plastic wrap, label it, and freeze for another use.

1 c (200 g) sugar
1/3 c (47 g) all-purpose flour
1 1/2 + 1/3 c (233 ml) milk
1 1/2 c (355 g) butter, room temp and cubed
1 tsp vanilla
Dulce De Leche, to taste

Combine the sugar and flour in a cool saucepan. Stir in the milk and cream, then set the pan over medium heat. Stirring frequently, cook the mixture until quite thick, 10-15 minutes.

Remove the pan from heat and pour the mixture into the bowl of your mixer. Fit with the paddle attachment and whip on high speed until the outside of the bowl is cool to the touch, about fifteen minutes.

When the bowl is coo;, add the butter all at once and whip on high speed until very light and fluffy. Add the vanilla and whip to combine, then add dulce de leche to taste.