Saturday, January 10, 2009

Girl Gourmet Cupcake Maker OR Satan's Cupcake Maker From The Hot Stinky Place

I am planning, some year, to do green reviews here. Or reviews of catalogs. Or fun household products. Something. What follows is a kind of review of something that's neither green nor a catalog and which didn't even work correctly. However, we learned some stuff and wound up having a good time.

Jeffrey asked for one of those cupcake baker thingies for Christmas. Then he saw a commercial for them and realized it was called Girl Gourmet and lost his mind. (Pause for a mini-rant about why in the heck with folks like Emeril and Bobby Flay and that dude in orange plastic clogs do we still have baking toys marketed only to girls? Why?) Will and I explained that it was perfectly fine for him to ask for the cupcake baker thingy and he would have a grand old time with it. Well, Nana hooked him up and a few days ago, I broke it out.

And by "broke it out," I mean actually got out my pocket knife and jimmied that sucker out of all of the plastic twist ties and flat holdy pieces and tape all that mess necessary? I washed all the silly little bowls and spoons (pink and teal as the 80s, y'all) and waited with bated breath for the Bug to get home.

He was excited to try and pour out the packets of mixes by himself and measure out the water. I bit my lip practically through, but I kept my hand still by some miracle and let him do his thing:

River was clearly as skeptical as I.

We got the cupcake in the cupcake cooker mahoojy and then waited the requisite minute and a half until it was cooked. Jeffrey sneaked a lick of batter out of the bowl and immediately gagged. I reasoned that uncooked batter isn't always yummy, although...honestly, have you ever tasted bad cupcake batter? Yeah, me neither.

The cupcake cooked and Jeffrey was impressed by the whole thing. I personally thought the cupcake looked like a piece of poo. And smelled odd. Jeffrey was very proud.

While we waited for Jeffrey's cupcake to cool, we mixed up one for River. Her's, while not looking like poo, gave off the distinct odor of sweetened Play-Doh. More concerning, it sort of tasted like that, too.

*Can I pause here to comment on the loveliness of my bebes' hands?*

When the cupcake was cool, Jeffrey and I started mixing the frosting per the instructions. It must be said that it smelled like artificial strawberry death. Also, the amount of water recommended by the instructions rendered a bowlful of small pink pellets but not anything even remotely resembling frosting. More water had no effect at all until suddenly, I was stirring a puddle of pink ooze. It was like a magic potion gone terribly, strawberrily wrong. The only thing to do was to add a bit of the vanilla frosting powder.

Now, I've been baking for a month and a half straight, using good vanilla and pure chocolate and freshly shelled pecans. That must be the reason why that frosting smelled (and tasted...holy egg beaters, the taste) so...wrong. As in, "This frosting is not of this world and must be sent back to whatever alien factory produced it." Still, I was going to do this thing. So I stirred and mashed unholy vanilla lumps and finally produced a frosting-ish substance that we spooned into the cupcake frosting mechanism.

Here's where the fun began. The purpose of the frosting mechanism is to produce puffy swirls of frosting atop the cupcakes. Our frosting wasn't puffy to begin with, but even if it had been the right consistency, it never would have swirled while riding along on the cupcake holding tray doojywhopper. Our cupcake looked sad, my friends. And then Jeffrey discovered that if you pumped the mechanism with any kind of enthusiasm whatsoever, it splattered frosting EVERYWHERE in swirling arcs of fake pink sweetness.

For a moment, Jeffrey and I sat in silence as frosting dripped off River's ears.

Then we burst out laughing. I laughed so hard with my boy that the entire thing became worth it, especially when River joined in with a few artificial "hahaha"s of her own. We sputtered over the definition of "gourmet" and generally acted like fools all over my kitchen.

The cupcake, when "frosted", was hideous.

Jeffrey ate it anyway.

Rivers was only marginally prettier, probably because I used less water and the frosting looked like fat white caterpillars versus oozing pink death-ooze. But it smelled like vanilla-flavored Play-Doh and tasted the same. In fact, it sort had the same texture, too. Shudder.

To sum up: the Girl Gourmet Cupcake Maker does not produce gourmet cupcakes, although Jeffrey and I have now taken to calling any disgusting sort of food gourmet. It doesn't produce gourmet frosting, either. I'm thinking, though, that if one used a homemade butter cream in the mechanism, it might work as long as you didn't get too excited while pumping the mechanism.

Or, hey, get a can of ready-made. Cupcakes are pretty easy to whip up from scratch or from a box and really, that was the whole purpose of the cupcake maker in the first place: to spend some fun learning time together.

And we DID have fun.

Speaking of, must go...I need to to scrape some more frosting from the walls.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Owls at Dusk

Late this afternoon, I spent some time winterizing my garden beds. I'm a bit late, I know, but better late than never, right? In any case, I gathered up the piles of fallen leaves, chopped up the pieces of fruit I chunk out whenever they go bad in my fruit bowl, crumbled the thrown egg shells, spread all of it out and then covered it up with the leaves. It looks all nice and tidy and I am proud of my little garden, but the best part of everything about today was this:

The entire time I was serenaded by Great Horned Owls searching for love. Being out in the warmish air, feeling the cool earth under my hands and knees, hearing the ethereal, plaintive calls was...magical.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Toast Cups and Fireworks

Does anybody else feel like it's the weekend? Whew, I am ALL confused about which day it is.

Anywho, this weekend...I mean...over the past few days (sheesh), we rang in the new year with our friemily, per tradition. What a riot it was to have eight kiddies running (or creeping or wiggling) around the house as we prepared our feast for the evening. Will and I went BONKERS at the Fresh Market in Nearest Large Town and my lovely ladies (and Vince) helped me create quite a spread.

First on the list were toast cups filled with chicken salad. I know. Foo to the fy. The recipe I was following for both was from The Gift of Southern Cooking: Recipes and Revelations from Two Great American Cooks by Edna Lewis and Scott Peacock (read a bit about them here). The toast cups were simple: roll out bread, cut out circles, butter the circles, smoosh into mini-muffin cups, and bake. Easy, peasy, and very pretty, too:

The chicken salad was a bit more problematic. First, I was going to make homemade mayonnaise to go in it, but couldn't find pasteurized egg yolks, and with kiddies and a dude who battled C-Diff potentially munching on the stuff, I was loathe to try it. So I went with store-bought. Then, the proportions were all odd to me. Either Miss Lewis and Mr. Peacock were using truly gargantuan chicken breasts (or my chickens were puny) OR there was a typo, but if I'd added the amount of mayonnaise specified in the recipe, it would have been a very unappetizing mayonnaise and chicken soup. The seasoning was great, though. I loved the licorice-y twist that tarragon added. I substituted apples for the Jerusalem artichokes (I wouldn't know a JA if it came up and bit me on the butt) and enjoyed the sweet touch, but I think next time, I'll either amp up the amount of apples or use some really firm grapes instead (or track down some JA). The finished cups were nice-looking and delicious. I feel a bit guilty about the left-over bread from cutting out the circles and am contemplating some kind of bread-puddingy thing composed of layers of the smished bread pieces and apples and cream. Throw some nutmeg in...lawsy, that sounds good, doesn't it? Um. Toast cups:

I also made venison sausage balls:

and Vince created some of his famous chicken satays and peanut sauce. Seriously, I kind of wanted to cuddle up with my new stand mixer and the satays and peanut sauce and make the world go away. That is some GOOD eatin':

We also had a cheese tray, some taco dip, mango salsa with blue corn chips, cream cheese with a spicy muscadine jelly made by my Aunt Nunu, a pickle and olive tray featuring almond-stuffed olives (which we deemed the "adult olives" while making supper for the kids), and Hello Dollies:

Um, we also had a lot of alcohol. Here are Vince and I being artistic. Or, you know, drunk:

It was too windy on New Year's Eve for our traditional (and, hi, illegal) fireworks, but we made up for it the next night. Fireworks are hard to capture with a little point and click, so check out some kiddies instead:

OH--and I got two garden catalogs over the weekend (week? whatever...): Baker Creek and Seeds of Change. I'm sooooo excited! I also got some of those annoying ad packets filled with gardening stuff, one of which featured a catalog for gardens for cooks, which I am all over like white on rice.

Off to go eat lunch--a makeshift stew of leftover black-eyed peas, collards, and pork tenderloin with a topping of crumbled cornbread washed down with cold milk. Yay, 2009!!!