Archive | September, 2010

Fig and Honey Cakes

30 Sep

The weather today is strange…  It’s alternately pouring rain and thundering incredibly loudly.  Every hour or so the sun will peek out from behind the clouds.  To tell you the truth, I kind of love it! 

I had a ton of plans that got cancelled because of the weather; I really should have been cleaning the house, but I got a brand new box from our CSA and it had figs in it!  FIGS!

I love figs.  I really really love figs.  I actually didn’t try them until I was in my late twenties, and I mostly eat them either by themselves or in savory dishes, like my goat cheese pizza.  But the weather is just perfect for baking.  So instead of doing dishes or laundry (sorry honey!) I mixed up some beautiful fig and honey olive oil cakes.

This was another one of my “throw a bunch of stuff into a bowl and go for it” recipes – I sort of went off of my lemon, brown sugar, and olive oil cupcakes, but to add fig and honey made a big difference in how the cake came together, and I had to be careful not to add too much liquid or sugar.  I think that these cakes came out beautifully and are both tasty and moist.  I had originally intended to frost them with a fig buttercream frosting, but it’s really not necessary – in fact, I think that this cake would perfect topped with just a tiny bit of whipped cream!  Sadly, I didn’t have any whipping cream in my fridge, but just imagine the photo with a dab of whipped cream and a little wedge of fig…  Pretty, right?  You can make this into 18 cupcakes or two 8” cake layers (if you make a layer cake, you could probably make more fig puree and put that inside, and frost the whole thing with whipped cream, or you could just serve wedges of cake with whipped cream).  Enjoy!

Elisa’s Fig and Honey Cakes

  • ¼ pound figs, pureed
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • 1/3 cup honey
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1 tbsp lemon zest
  • 1 ½ tsp lemon extract
  • ½ tsp almond extract
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • ½ cup milk
  • 2 cups cake flour (or sifted all-purpose flour)

It’s easy-peasy…  Again, throw in the olive oil, honey, sugar, fig puree, zest, extracts, and eggs, stirring them all together until they’re well-blended.  Add in the baking powder, salt, cake flour, and milk, and mix.  Pour into 18 prepared muffin cups or 2 eight-inch prepared cake pans.  Bake at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes (for small cakes) or 40-45 minutes (for full-sized cakes).

These smell incredible when they’re baking, and taste awesome.  No frosting needed! 🙂  And since they incorporate both honey and olive oil, they’re incredibly moist and tender.

These tasty little cakes would be perfect if you cooked them in beautiful little molds... And they're so yummy!

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Just Post Already!!!

26 Sep

I’ve had the busiest two weeks I have had all year.  And if you’ve been around me any time this year you know how busy it’s been.  Which is why the promised garden post is still being promised.  Yup.  I’m lame.

As I said in my last post, I was waiting for news about an opportunity.  The short story is – it came through!  I’m now working part-time at my alma mater, in an absolutely exceptional office, with incredibly awesome coworkers (and I’m most definitely not just saying that!).  I don’t have a ton of responsibilities, since it’s really only a temporary position.  It’s three days a week, which is actually just the right amount right now (I wasn’t looking for part-time work, but now that I’ve got it I’m really truly glad I started back this way, because I’m getting the chance to ease into getting up at 5:30 in the morning and working for eight hours before fighting traffic on the way home).  I am SO very happy about it!

But because of my part-time job, I’ve actually had a LOT less time lately than I had for the last several months.  My “free” days have been busy, taken up with running errands and such, and I’ve actually been making myself MORE busy by taking on PR/event coordination duties for a friend’s fundraiser (ARTBEATS!, for the Children’s Cardio Foundation) and wedding planning/coordination duties for another friend, in addition to my writing (I wrote another story last week and have started doing research into publishers, etc. – and I get to go to my first Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators meeting in two weeks!) and the work I’m doing on my friend’s production company (which, I’m hoping, will launch some time soon).  What can I say?  When it rains, it pours!

I did manage to find time for something this week, though, that I’ve been planning for a while.  My friend’s daughter just turned a year old and her first birthday party was yesterday.  They had a ladybug theme and I wanted to make her a little stuffed bug of her very own.  I’m not a great seamstress and my first attempt turned out looking like a lumpy rectangle with a face, but I decided that this was something I was going to do, whether it looked exactly right or not.  My second attempt was finished Friday night (yes, I know I was cutting it close – it wasn’t for lack of trying to get it done sooner!) and I think it’s pretty cute if I do say so myself!

Words, Words, Words…

13 Sep

This is not a post about food.  It’s not even a post about my garden, although I promise to have one of those very very soon.  It shouldn’t be too long, but I had to share a little bit.

I’ve always always been addicted the written word*.  There’s an audio tape somewhere in the depths of my parents’ house of me, at 22 months old, playing with my mother; we go through making my dad’s birthday cake and I recite “The Three Little Kittens” (yes, the whole thing) and sing “White Coral Bells” (a song I didn’t remember until I heard the tape as a teenager) and, using the magnets my parents bought for our refrigerator, identify the whole alphabet and name off things that start with the letter.  For example, “J is for Father Joe” (the priest at our church at the time) “and Jenny!” (my grandmother’s dog – which is far more impressive when you realize we lived 2000 miles away from my grandmother at the time and we’d visited her once since I was old enough to understand English).

There’s another tape, a video this time, that exists.  I’m 5 years old, in Kindergarten, reading a picture book (the kind with a story and lots of words, not the kind with a single word on a page) to the camera.  Hammy to a fault (I complain to my parents when the camera is focused on my baby sister and keep looking at myself in the television), I stumble over only a single word (and correct it in short order).

My mother says I just picked up a book one day, at 3 1/2 or so, and started reading.  I credit endless hours of Sesame Street and nightly bedtime stories and parents who love books so much that our shelves were always overflowing.  I never lacked for reading material, whether it was a gift lovingly picked out for me by a family member or the product of our sometimes-more-than-weekly library outings (thank goodness there was a branch only a few blocks away, since I was known to finish chapter books in a few hours).

I fancied myself a writer from a very young age too, sometimes composing in my head a little narrative about what was happening.  I remember vividly a day when my grade school crush fell from the top of the slide; in my head it was as though I was reading what was happening on a page.  It wasn’t that I was detatched, I just liked narrating.

I kept a “regular” journal from the age of seven or eight, and then a separate one for poetry (the third one, for song lyrics and basic melodies, was started around age ten).  I liked experimenting with words and more than once would use an archaic form of something just because I liked it (“whence” anyone?).  My poems were most definitely not genius material (although I did win a few awards at school and have them published in our school paper, much to my delight).  Most of them were really, truly BAD.  But I wrote them just the same, and enjoyed the process of writing them.

As a teenager I increasingly wrote songs to express my feelings – these were also pretty bad.  I’m not too handy with a piano keyboard, despite my five years of lessons, so the tunes were written out as a series of letters.  “A, B, E#, C”, etc.  Most of these revolved around my teenage crush, who at the time was “just a friend”.  I think I wrote the last one when we (finally!) decided to date.  That one was the worst of the bunch!

In young adulthood, I worked for my alma mater, in the Adult Education department.  It was a pretty basic administrative job; I had to do a ton of accounting work, and some collections calling, but I never felt consumed by the process and could easily go home and expend creative energy.  I wrote a lot at this time – mostly scenes from Women’s Fiction novels (not bodice-ripping romances, but the larger, mass market paperback sized ones that repeatedly get made into romantic comedy “chick flicks”).  I never wrote a whole novel, or even a whole story, and I never could figure out the whole plot of anything.  More than once I’d wake up in the morning with a line or two in my head and just write until I couldn’t write anymore.  Sometimes it would be the beginning of a novel, but more often than not it would be a scene in the middle.  Rarely did the same character inspire more than two scenes.  I loved this free form of expression and sometimes I even loved what I wrote.  I still think I could come up with a pretty decent story if I ever followed one of those through.

I took a Personal Narrative class about 6 years ago.  Our assignments were simple – write a 3-5 page essay about something in your life.  I wrote about people I met on the bus during the two years I took it daily.  I wrote about my first lady-doctor appointment.  I wrote about my grandmother’s house, and the memories I had of being a child there.  I wrote about my Great Uncle, and how much my boyfriend (now my husband) was like him.

I planned to take more writing classes, and soon.  But life got in the way, as it frequently does, and I decided it was high time for me to get a “real” job, one that used my degree and my skills.  So I took some “real” classes – in copyediting, of all things, and event management, and started sending out resumes.  I got a job that ended up being very stressful, and another one after that that started off fun but soon was like a vampire with my time, energy, and creativity.

I’ve not had that job for nearly a year.  It wasn’t my intention nor was it my doing.  I’ve been working myself to the bone looking for another one, and I’m hoping that the end of this longer-than-anticipated tunnel is in sight.  But in the interim I found myself increasingly returning to the things I loved – cooking, obviously, and gardening, and tons of crafts I forgot I was good at, and singing, and photography, and writing.

Oh, the writing.

At first it was just this blog – and I’d started it years ago, when I was still at the stressful time-sucking job.  But recently I’ve found myself travelling with a pen and paper.  I have a notebook specifically for ideas, with a list in the back and pages in the front filled with stories.  To date I’ve written three full (and one partial) manuscripts.  Now, these aren’t novels, and they’re not filled with archaic words.  In fact, they’re not particularly complicated overall.  But they’ve made me incredibly happy.

Last month I read one of my childhood favorite stories to the students at the preschool where my husband teaches, and I went in again two weeks ago to read another.  About a week later I realized I had a story stuck in my head.  This wasn’t a scene from a potentially-blockbuster romantic comedy, but rather a short story for children, using poetry as a storytelling device (I’d tell you more but it would give things away!).  That’s actually the partially-written manuscript, since the poetry proved to be more difficult than anticipated (it needed a little time to percolate and will eventually be written in entirety).  The next day I had another, completely different, story.  I took an hour to myself and wrote it all down in my notebook.

Yesterday I shut myself in the office, away from my husband’s football game, and sat in his great-grandfather’s comfortable armchair and wrote and wrote.  Lists of ideas, scraps of stories, and another full manuscript.  This was the first one about humans, coincidentally – the rest were all about animals.  (You may recall I said I had three full manuscripts written – the last was a mostly-finished story about a bird who fell out of his nest, penned originally three summers ago when I found a tiny, bald baby mockingbird in my backyard; I edited it last week, and typed it out.)

Why am I sharing?  I’m not really sure, exactly, except that it makes me happy.  I feel like I’ve accomplished something, gotten back to my roots, enjoyed the creative process.  I’m actually going to be going to a Children’s Book Writing lecture next month, and I may even attempt to get these stories published professionally (even if I don’t, I’ll probably try my hand at some primitive illustrations and get them printed up in a photo book).

I don’t know how much time I’ll have to be writing in the future – I’m waiting for word about a potential part-time opportunity right now – but I feel really good about what I’ve accomplished. 

*Oh yes, I stole this line completely, from Ever After. 🙂

Nutella Cupcakes with Nutella Cream Cheese Frosting

8 Sep

Nutella is a European chocolate hazelnut spread; it’s popular in Italy, slathered on toast for breakfast.  I love the stuff and will admit to having eaten it more than once directly off the spoon (I know, it’s not a health food, but sometimes a girl’s gotta have her chocolate fix!).  I’ve been wanting to use Nutella in cupcakes for a while, and this recent Fall-like weather inspired me to finally do it!  I’d seen some recipes for Nutella cake online but they all seemed very heavy – I wanted the flavor of Nutella in a nice, light cake.  So I adapted my Asti-Spumante cupcake recipe I posted last week (by adapted I mean really heavily adapted, this cake ended up having a totally different flavor and texture!).  The result?

A delicate, fluffy chocolatey cupcake that’s not cloyingly sweet.  If you haven’t figured it out by now I like my desserts on the less-sweet side, but I love lots of flavor.  The nutella shone through as the star of this cupcake, supported by a good dark chocolate base.  The texture was anything but heavy – in fact, one of my cupcakes was so delicate that the top came off as I was trying to gently remove it from my pan – and the cakes rose to pretty peaks in the oven.

If you like Nutella, or if you’re looking for a good, easy chocolate cake recipe, you’ll love this!  It comes together in one bowl, doesn’t involve sifting flour or beating egg whites, and tastes incredible.

Elisa’s Nutella Cupcakes

  • 1/4 cup softened butter
  • 3/4 cup Nutella
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup strong coffee*
  • 1 1/4 cups milk
  • 3/4 cup** cocoa powder (I only had the “normal” stuff at home; if you have Dutch process cocoa powder you may want to use less because the flavor is stronger)
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tbsp baking powder
  • 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour

The #1 most important part of the process when making this recipe?  Scrape the sides of the bowl and the beater often!  Nutella is sticky stuff!

Beat together butter, Nutella, and sugar until light and fluffy.  Add egg and vanilla and beat until shiny and well-incorporated.  Add coffee, milk, cocoa, salt, baking powder, and flour (yes, I said add everything at once; I did it and it works like a charm here).  Mix slowly to prevent flour flying everywhere, and then beat until well-incorporated and fluffy.  Divide into 18 baking cups and bake at 375 degrees for 18-20 minutes. 

Cool and frost with Nutella Cream Cheese Frosting (recipe below).  These cupcakes are extremely delicate and on the drier side (surprisingly, given the amount of Nutella in them), so I wouldn’t recommend keeping them for more than a day or two.

Elisa’s Nutella Cream Cheese Frosting***

  • 1/2 cup softened butter
  • 1/2 cup Nutella
  • 4 oz softened cream cheese
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 tbsp cream
  • 2 cups powdered sugar

Using an electric mixer, beat all ingredients until light, fluffy, and fully combined.  Frosts 18 cupcakes.  This is a sweet frosting, between the sugar and the Nutella; I think it provides a nice contrast with the cake!

I tried really hard to get a good photo…  I think I need to get myself a camera that doesn’t freak out when there’s low light!

Nutella Cupcake with Nutella Cream Cheese Frosting!

*I’ve been thinking a lot about the texture of these.  I love the delicate softness.  But they’re a teeny bit on the dry side.  So I had a quick idea about how to help keep them moist – substitute coffee- or chocolate-flavored liquor (Kahlua or a Starbucks liquor or something similar) for the coffee.  Let me know if you try this!

**My husband tells me that I should rename these “Dark Chocolate Nutella Cupcakes”, and he’s right – they definitely have an intense chocolatey flavor.  If you like a sweeter chocolate flavor, I’d say you should halve the cocoa.

***So according to my friend Danielle’s comment (below), the “cupcakes are a vehicle for the frosting”.  If you feel this way too, be prepared to double the frosting recipe!  🙂

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