Friday, June 29, 2007

Triple Vanilla Cupcakes - Magnolia Cred

Welcome, friends, to another edition of cupcakery a la Jenn. Today I present to you the pleasures of the famous Magnolia Bakery Vanilla cupcakes.

I started with this recipe, the only additions/changes I made were to use about half a teaspoon extra of Spice House Double Vanilla Extract and top it all off with Pure Vanilla Sugar.

I had planned to make my own vanilla sugar, but as I'm a working girl with a social life, that never quite materialized. Ah, well... the best laid plans, as they say.

I must say, homemade sugar or no, everything turned out rather gloriously.

I think the most entertaining part about all of this is seeing for absolutely certain what went wrong with the frosting my very first batch of Easter cupcakes. In my inexperience, apparently I didn't realize that a) that this is an old-fashioned butter and sugar icing recipe and not exactly buttercream, thus it is functionally different b) the order in which you add the set of mixing components was INCREDIBLY important and c) that you do in fact have to add a shit-ton of confectioner's sugar before you reach the desired consistency(I believe there was 6 cups to 2 sticks butter and a cup of milk) d) that it's texture and appearance changes as the frosting "sets". Not "sets up" as in hardens totally like cone dip but similarly.

I haven't tried one yet, since it was 10:30-ish when I finished and my guinea pig pooped out. But I have a feeling they're fabulous. I'll probably have one for breakfast or something.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

While I Slept, He Died

A little sick to my stomach, a little sad, a little -too little- time spent remembering whatever I could. I dated him years ago. Probably about 5 or so. Maybe 4. I haven't seen him for at least two. I knew he was in trouble. I didn't know how bad things had gotten.

I guess he was trying to get help.

I guess he was trying to go clear.

That's what I'm told.

I'm also told the coroner determined his time of death at about 4am on Saturday morning. So... while I was sleeping, he was dying.

It breaks my heart. He was so young. I really robbed the cradle on that one but he was fun and funny and sexy as hell. Like his older brother when we were much younger and intimate. God, so young. Younger than my sister even.

I remembered on my way to the bank this afternoon that he would sleep in my bed after I would go to work and while I was out on errands I would stop home (supposedly briefly) and we would do what the truly young do when you swear you won't take very long to do it. I remember when he took me out for a really nice dinner one night, someplace where they charged you separately for the salads and what a good time we had. I remember listening to him DJ once or maybe twice at a local bar. I remember the half tattoo he gave my ex-fiancé before my ex-fiancé figured out I was shagging him. (Ah, sweet revenge. That's for the half computer you left me, I thought at the time.) I remember his scar. I remember his lips and his voice.

It's messing with my head that someone I slept with is dead. I can hardly believe it. I'm as much too young for that as he was too young to die. It's just such a damned waste.

And the worst? I haven't really let myself cry. I cried a little. I think, though, just to show myself that I could. But it didn't feel very real.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Points of Interest - Link-o-Rama

A friend of mine sent me a link to this weirdness. Some of you may have heard of "Math Rock." Which I tend to find to be a nonsensical, discordant, a-rhythmic collection of noise. (My personal opinion is that it's far more about the instant indie-geek cred you're handed when you say you love math rock. Certain people perk up and think, "Wow, you're really committed." Nobody really likes it. It's just further evidence in my "Culture of Exclusion" theory. Which is part of the larger "Differentiation" campaign of the individual in an effort to establish social niches based on a disdain for conventional culture. I blame the marketing industry for forcing people to market themselves in everyday life. But more on that some other time. Thank you, Danah Boyd.) Think Animal Collective on crack. Sometimes it can be interesting, certainly, but it's generally nothing I go out of my way to listen to.

On to comics:

Cover shots courtesy of

I understand the Battles YouTube vid link came to him via Warren Ellis, my favorite outcast. I read Fell last night, which is a collaboration twixt the aforementioned Ellis and Ben Templesmith, creator of one of my absolute favorite series, Wormwood: Gentleman Corpse. His artwork is rather stimulating and his hero irreverent. Just like I like 'em. And Fell is fantastic. Nab a copy on Amazon if you can.

Moving right along I take the long way round to my next point - despite the fact that Ramon Perez & Rob Coughler have seemed to be taking a rather long vacation from any heft as far as their comic is concerned, I've always enjoyed Butternut Squash. It's definitely worth a read through the back-posts if you've never read it. (I am soooo glad they're done with the Rob & Cola's adventures in other people's comics "plotline." It was worse than the top 3's - Questionable Content, Scary-Go-Round, Sam and Fuzzy - occasional week of a thousand guest comics that I never read because at least that special torture generally has a clear end in sight. The Rob & Cola thing went on forever. Although, I find it kind of amusing that during the worst of their "vacation" they won a Canadian webcomic award. For which they totally whored for votes.)

Ah... here we are, welcome to my point - I find I am particularly sensitive to June 8th's posting. I personally vow to spare the local coffee-slinging set my whining.

Saturday, June 9, 2007

Munkey Brains & Other Delicacies

More than 5 years ago now I wrote a story. It has no title. It has never been typed. But it is a singular work I have been saving until I can wrap my mind around a concept I have no conception of quite yet. But when I find it, I'll know. This I believe. (She said to no one in particular, but most especially not NPR.)

The story is about one's notions about other people. How they take on a shape and a life of their own inside one's mind as you think about them. The story is about a monkey who lives in a jungle that has invisible boundaries. He is mourning, he cannot remember where he came from or how he came to be in the jungle. He is alone there. The jungle is stormy sometimes and tempestuous and sometimes a princess comes to visit him. Eventually, though, she always leaves and does not come back for a long while. The monkey is sad and has a deep desire to understand his origins.

One day he asks his princess about his mother. She laughs and replies that he has no mother. The monkey does not understand this.

So he asks, "Where did I come from then?"

"From me." She replies, without elaborating.

Eventually, having had enough of the princess's mysterious replies the monkey decides to go exploring. He finds a cave. Which turns out to be a long passageway or tunnel, with roots sticking out everywhere. The monkey climbs, upward, until he arrives at a door. On the other side of the door is an office. It's dusty. And messy. There are file boxes and cabinets everywhere. Some of the cabinet drawers are open. Files are everywhere. Pieces of paper litter the floor. But, somewhere in a musty corner he finds a pile of boxes. They are wrapped with beautiful paper and tied up with ribbons and bows. Some are old, very old - some look quite new. Not knowing what to make of them, he chooses one. It is small-ish, the wrapping paper is a faded purple and the ribbons are white. Slowly, carefully he undoes the ribbon and then even more slowly and more carefully he peels back the fragile yellowed tape. The paper unfolds like a flower opening. Inside is a pale pink box. He opens the flaps of cardboard and inside are pictures. Snapshots. Candid and still. They are all of the same person. A man with dark hair and a wide, easy smile. Silvery pieces of metal seem to drip from his nostrils. On his arm are dark blue depictions of something or another. In one he wears a vest and is walking, expressionless. In another he sits at a red table, holding a cup, laughing. Another his mouth is wide, his arms outstretched with lights set upon him. There are little slips of paper too. With things written on them. Some are typed. But the monkey cannot read.

The monkey is now utterly confused.

He gathers together the contents, finds a broken old chair and sits down to look at them. He isn't sure why, but somehow the pictures feel... significant. As he studies the snapshots, despite her absence, he feels the unmistakable presence of the princess. Somehow, he thinks, she involved. That is certain. He looks at the man, who really is little more than a boy and feels a sort of... affinity. Yes, an affinity with him. Though he isn't sure why. He feels somehow familiar. Something about the way his eyes crinkle up when he laughs. Something about the way he looks at the photo-taker. Something, about the eyes. Yes, the eyes. The monkey stares and stares but gets no further. Finally, he feels his brain is running in circles and takes one of the snapshots, tucks it away and carefully puts back together the box.

This is a clue, he thinks. It must be.

He climbs back down the passageway and back into the forest. There has been another storm in his absence. And when he arrives at his tree, he finds the princess. She is sitting on the tree he once called home. It has been uprooted. Felled. She isn't smiling. She looks rather unhappy, in fact.

"Where have you been?" She asks, petulantly.

"Exploring." Says the monkey.

"Well, don't do that. When I come here to see you, I want to see you - all right?" This does not sound very much like a question to the monkey. No, it sounds a great deal more like an order. Or a threat.

"I'll remember." He assures her.

"Do that. I have to go now, I have other things to do but please be here next time. Though, I may be a while." With that she rises, turns on her heel, and begins to walk away from the monkey.

"Wait! I found something that I want to ask you about!" He cries.

She stops in her tracks. "You found something? What do you mean, you found something? Just where did you go?!"

"I don't know where I was. I found a cave and went in and when I came out I was in a new place I'd never been before. And I found this."

The princess snatches the picture away from him. She looks hard at it and he watches, frightened, as the color drains from her face and her expression hardens. Anger makes her eyes alight.

"Found this? You found this. Was it simply lying about or did you go digging through my things?"

The monkey looked at her. His mind raced. He'd never lied to the princess before. He'd never had occasion. But now, suddenly, there seemed no other option. He knew instinctively that telling her he'd opened one the of the boxes was the worst possible thing he could say.

"Yes. I found this. It was on the floor. There were lots of papers and things on the floor. It's kind of messy in there."

The princess stares hard at him. She cocks her head. She considers. Finally, she softens.

"Okay. You found it. Don't ever go exploring again. You live here. No place else. This is yours and no where else. Do you understand?"

"Yes. I understand. This is mine. No place else. I understand."

The story goes on. The monkey goes exploring again despite the princess's warning. He finds two more rooms. But none are so fruitful as the office.

I wrote this story about someone I had been thinking about for years. Many, many years ago I thought I loved him. Hell, I even thought I knew him and understood him. That, it turned out, was pure fantasy. But still, he had been an albatross that arrived and flew alongside sinking ships. Whenever a relationship was about to end, my thoughts would turn to him. As things grew worse in the relationship, my state of panic would increase. I would feel a burning need to see him, to talk to him. What exactly that would've accomplished at that time I wasn't sure. I wasn't even sure what I would have said if I had seen him. Maybe I would have come to this realization sooner but I suppose it came when I could understand it.

One night, years ago now - maybe 6 or so - I went to a friend's house and he was there. I believe he had just gotten out of a relationship - sort of. I was still engaged. My affianced had decided to go home. I had decided to stay. He and I talked and talked. I was enjoying it very much when our hosts decided it was time for them to go to bed. We still had more to say, I guess, so we decided to take a drive. Our conversation ranged over a variety of subjects. He said things that confused me. Things that didn't make sense in terms of what I thought of him, what I thought he was all about. And then suddenly it dawned on me. This person that I had been thinking about for all these years, this person I still fancied myself in love with had NOTHING WHATSOEVER to do with the real, living, breathing him. They could not have been more different. I remember feeling the love seeping out of me, into my seat, down to the floorboards, and dripping - like water from an old car's exhaust pipe - onto the pavement below. I was leaking love and ideas built on falsehoods. At an alarming rate.

Now there is a new monkey in town. This one's a howler. It's nothing so dramatic as the first, I learn my lessons sometimes. And at least now the monkey is as aware as I am that he's a figment of my imagination. One day "poof," he'll get sick of performing for me and be gone in much the same fashion as the first. Though, I wonder why it is my brain chooses monkeys. I suppose because the individuals they represent made a big noise in my head without ever saying anything. Like the din of primates. I suppose I could think of them as inanimate objects - like giant rocks heaved into the freeway run-off pool of my mind - but that doesn't hardly seem appropriate. They are organic and mutable. They change to suit whatever tack my thoughts are taking. Rudderless sailboats lost at my sea.

I finally finished Murakami's Wind-Up Bird Chronicle early this morning. Things happen in an alternate reality that effect the physical world and that set me to thinking of this story. I hadn't thought of it in a while. Murakami's Mr. Wind-Up Bird set me thinking of myself. Kumiko, of the monkeys that live in my head. Perhaps there really are alternate realities for each of us. Perhaps we are all quietly living other lives we know nothing about. Perhaps the true alternate universes exist in the ideas and memories of us that live in the minds of other people. Maybe somewhere there is a meaner me or a sweeter me. A me that has absolutely nothing to do with the consciousness that peeks out at the world from behind this particular pair of eyes. That moves these particular limbs and thinks these particular thoughts, that creates these particular ghosts to rattle the window frames in the night.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Chocolate Cupcakes with Blueberry Cream Filling

Recently, one of my friends asked me how someone so skinny as me could be so cruel as to take up a fattening cupcake hobby. I've been asking myself that question a lot recently as I rack up the mixer mileage and I think the answer is simple. I love to make cupcakes. Truly. I do.

Will my new obsession undo all the hard work I've done? Perhaps. I tend to think that the muscle I've accumulated over the last year or so will hopefully make it possible for me to ably process the added caloric intake of the one or two cupcakes I eat out of every batch I make. But I'm not sure, really.

Anyway, ages ago when contemplating what to do with my life I seriously considered attending the culinary arts program at the technical college here in town. At the time I was afraid to have to start from the very lowest end of the totem pole in the professional kitchen and also afraid that undertaking my passion professionally (i.e. - be a slave in someone else's kitchen) would kill the joy. I may have been wrong but I guess at this point I've chosen my path and I'm more than fine with it. But the fact remains, I love coming up with new and interesting ways to serve food and lately that love presents itself in a little brown natural paper cup. With frosting.

So today I present to you a rather cobbled-together recipe. It's worked before a la some pumpkin-dark chocolate cupcakes I made last fall for my ex's friend's birthday party and here's hoping. The cupcakes are in the oven now and soon I will attempt to adapt a cream recipe using a random blog entry and a solid recipe. Let's see what happens - shall we?

I present for your consideration the method:

Coconut & Lime's Chocolate Cupcake recipe - with a few noteworthy additions

Basically I followed the recipe verbatim excepting:
1. I added about 1 tbsp. blueberry juice concentrate to the milk & vanilla mixture
2. I added about 1.25 oz. of Trader Joe's Belgian-style dark chocolate, very finely chopped to the final batter

Here's one of the first batch out of the oven

I think I underfilled the cupcake wrappers on the first batch. I think they look a little anemic.

But apparently, the second time's the charm.

On deck, Chockylit's Basil or Mint Cream recipe becomes Jenn's Blueberry-Lemon Cream by way of mixing Chockylit's recipe with a blog entry from Joseph Hall on the subject of simple syrups. Noteworthy additions being that I used 1 cup blueberry juice concentrate, the juice of a whole lemon and about a full tablespoon of rosewater, which I heated until 1 cup of sugar dissolved. I will mix this with the whipped cream.

Now, the cream recipe I doubled. Two cups of heavy whipping cream and I think I actually only used 8 tbsps of the blueberry syrup to fold into the cream, however.


Well, as it turns out, over-working your cream can be... uhm... interesting. One moment it's fluffy and light and glossy and gorgeous... and the next... it's REALLY fluffy and heavy. As I beat the simple syrup in to my cream I discovered this interesting little tidbit. I think next time I'll just fold it in with the spatula. None the less tasty for the wear, tho. I'll say that about it. I may or may not have sampled a, uh... little bit.

I spooned the "fluff" into the cupcake cavities. Another thing I learned - if you make small cupcakes like I do, use a small knife and be quick and shallow with your cuts. Otherwise you end up digging a little hole in the poor thing anyway and possibly take out a sidewall. After putting the tops back on, I turned my attention to making the mint chiffonade and melting my white vanilla chocolate. (God bless Green & Black) It melted nicely and I then spread a small circle of white chocolate on top. For this application I melted about 3/4's of a 3.5 oz. bar in a double boiler and worked it a bit until it was smooth.

For the decoration I used up almost a whole package of the mint leaves you find in the produce section, and created a chiffonade, I rolled the leaves the long way to create the long ribbons. And pressed some dried organic blueberries on top of that.

Here is the final result

Behind the little piece of gorgeousness you'll see the evidence of my pack-rattery. I could NOT bring myself to throw away the bits of chocolate cupcake that I cut out to make room for the cream. Why? What am I going to do with them? I don't know. And also, I don't know.

I must say I'm pleased with the final result. (A single girl standing alone in her kitchen, shoveling a cream-filled cupcake into her maw late at night might traditionally be cause for concern on a man-related depression issue, but I think I deserve an exception. Slaving for 6 1/2 hours seems to me to create a justified sense of entitlement.) Although you can't outright taste the lemon and the rosewater, you can taste a tang which might be attributable to the lemon. The cupcakes are light and fluffy so thank you again for a great recipe to start from, Rachel at Coconut & Lime. Hopefully the retiree I baked them for appreciates how hard I worked for her. It's 12:30 now. I have to be across town by 7:30 - 7:45 tomorrow which means I need to be up around 5. And this morning I had to be AT an event at 7:00. I woke up at 4:00. Yikes! Sleepiness.