I love a good cupcake almost as much as I love a good story. If you give me a fantastic cupcake hand-in-hand with a great story, well, that’s about as good as it gets.
That’s exactly what I found in a cupcake booth at the weekly Scripps Ranch (San Diego, CA) farmers market. Escondido high school Juniors (soon-to-be-Seniors) Lauren Ball and Sawyer Epp started City Cupcakes a year ago. Looking for a way to make money but keep control of her schedule, Lauren took a cue from her entrepreneur parents and decided to set up her own business. Having cast about, she set her sights on cupcakes and asked her friend Sawyer to join her in the venture. I’m not sure how good they were when they first started out, but I can tell you that 5,000 cupcakes later they’re fantastic. And it appears that being high school students is precisely part of the reason:
Lauren said she originally used recipes from a cookbook her aunt gave her, but has changed them to include only natural ingredients such as actual vanilla beans rather than extract.
“I know a lot about chemistry,” she said about another secret to her success. “For my sophomore science project, I did the chemistry of cakes. Now when I’m creaming butter and sugar, I’m thinking of what the sugar’s doing. It’s a lot of knowledge that adds to the value of the product.”
Lauren has created 10 cupcake recipes, including vanilla, chocolate, red velvet and carrot, and Sawyer said she has created a secret recipe for frosting.
My two favorites are the red velvet and the coconut. Let me start with the red velvet. To me, it’s perfect, and what I mean by that, is that I want to eat the whole thing, not just the icing. It’s the cake itself. Dense and moist and flavorful. I often find that cupcakes can be too light or too dry which is not the case here. And then there’s the icing, the thick, rich, cream cheese icing. I love it. Topped with a tiny heart, it will delight your taste buds.
As for the coconut, again, they’ve got it right. The cake is a lighter than the red velvet, as it should be, but equally as moist and full of flavor. And there’s so much shaved coconut atop of the vanilla icing that you know you’re eating a real coconut creation, not some poor imitation.
Every once in a while Lauren goes to the extra effort of making “minis” which sell for $1 (regular-size cupcakes are $3). They pop into your mouth in one bite and leaving you wanting more. It’s an effective marketing idea, and it certainly worked on me.
Having started their business at the Escondido Farmers Market, the two now sell at Scripps Ranch, Crusin’ Grand, and Del Sur, as well. The teens do not yet have a website, but both are available on email (email@example.com) or by phone. And they happily take custom orders.
With summer jobs more difficult to come by this year, Lauren and Sawyer are proof positive that it’s possible to take destiny, and the creation of a summer job, into your own hands. Find what you love, make a plan, and start small. You never know what can happen.
End of story.
I grew up in Northern Ontario, right across the river from the great state of Michigan. Most summers, my family ventured over the border, driving south through the Upper Peninsula, across the Mackinac Bridge, down to Traverse City. It was a major event. We stayed at the same hotel, swam in the same pool, ate at the same restaurants. As a kid, it was summer, and I loved it.
If you’ve never been, it’s worth the trip. Especially in July. Especially during the National Cherry Festival. Yes, there is such a thing. And, yes, it’s a big deal. This year, the festival runs from July 3rd through July 10th, during which there will be a wide variety of activities, including an airshow and a car show, concerts at the Bay Side Music Stage, a beach volleyball tournament, and a whole range of daily cherry, food, beer, and wine events.
In honor of the cherry, which is now in season, here are some mouth-watering recipes to consider: Chocolate Cherry Brownies courtesy of 101 Cookbooks; a Cherry Cobbler from Everyday Food which the boys from The Bitten Word posted on their blog; or Smitten Kitchen’s Cherry Cornmeal Upside-Down Cake. And if you like cheesecake, try Paula Deen’s Miss Georgia’s Cherry Pie. Or you can always do as my five-year-old niece does, and simply sit down and eat a whole bowl of them, one perfect, round bite at a time.
If you’re looking for a last-minute getaway, consider Traverse City. It offers a fabulous, all-American summer vacation. And, you’ll no doubt eat well, too.
This is the gist of author Aimee Bender’s new novel, The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake. In the book, Bender uses magical realism to tell the following tale:
On the eve of her ninth birthday, unassuming Rose Edelstein, a girl at the periphery of schoolyard games and her distracted parents’ attention, bites into her mother’s homemade lemon-chocolate cake and discovers she has a magical gift: she can taste her mother’s emotions in the cake. She discovers this gift to her horror, for her mother—her cheerful, good-with-crafts, can-do mother—tastes of despair and desperation. Suddenly, and for the rest of her life, food becomes a peril and a threat to Rose.
The curse her gift has bestowed is the secret knowledge all families keep hidden—her mother’s life outside the home, her father’s detachment, her brother’s clash with the world. Yet as Rose grows up she learns to harness her gift and becomes aware that there are secrets even her taste buds cannot discern.
The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake is a luminous tale about the enormous difficulty of loving someone fully when you know too much about them. It is heartbreaking and funny, wise and sad, and confirms Aimee Bender’s place as “a writer who makes you grateful for the very existence of language” (San Francisco Chronicle).
After finishing this, I went to Amazon.com and found that it was indeed a book into which I could “Look Inside.” I started reading, and from the first bite (pun intended), I was hooked. On page 10, Rose describes her first experience tasting the emotions of the cook – in this case, her mother, who has prepared her birthday cake:
I could absolutely taste the chocolate, but in drifts and traces, in an unfurling, or an opening, it seemed that my mouth was also filling with the taste of smallness, the sensation of shrinking, of upset, tasting a distance I somehow knew was connected to my mother, tasting a crowded sense of her thinking, a spiral, like I could almost even taste the grit in her jaw that had created the headache that meant she had to take as many aspirins as were necessary, a white dotted line of them in a row on the nightstand like an ellipsis to her comment: I’m just going to lie down. … None of it was a bad taste, so much, but there was a kind of lack of wholeness to the flavors that made it taste hollow, like the lemon and chocolate were surrounding the hollowness. My mother’s able hands had made the cake, and her mind had known how to balance the ingredients, but she was not there, in it.
I could go on, because, while reading the excerpt, I did. But now, I need to run off to the bookstore to buy it – sorry Amazon, but I just can’t wait – so I can devour the rest.
Here is the June update for what’s in season.
Apricots, blueberries, cantaloupe, cherries, peaches, strawberries, watermelon.
When it comes to recipes to prepare using this month’s s selection, check out Rachel Ray’s Black Bean and Corn Salad. I ate this one last weekend. It is simple to prepare, healthy, and refreshing – the perfect side dish for a backyard barbeque (of course, I never have a problem with the perfect standby, corn-on-the-cob). Another great salad idea I came across combines lettuce, in this case peppery arugula, and watermelon, along with feta cheese olives, and red onions. And if you want know what to do with fresh apricots, Peter Wolfe, of Wolfe Ranch in Brentwood, CA, has published a varied list of recipes on his website, including Apricot Stuffed BBQ Chicken, Apricot Sunshine Breakfast Cake, and Fresh Apricot Dessert Topping, which I can’t wait to make:
2 cups sliced fresh apricots
1 Tbsp. granulated sugar
2 Tbsp. apricot nectar or orange juice
Muscat dessert wine
Mix everything together. Use as a topping for pound cake, ice cream, frozen yogurt, etc.
As always, you can refer to the Epicurious Seasonal Ingredient Map for more detailed, state-by-state information.
We sometimes forget about pork, especially in the summer, when beef steaks and burgers reign supreme. And when we do remember it, we think of the oven and roasting, and who wants to be stuck in the kitchen when it’s a sunny 80 degrees in the backyard?
There is a solution to this dilemma. Think pork tenderloin – marinated and cooked on the grill. It is a low-calorie, lean meat (less than 25% of the calories come from fat), that is “a good source of Riboflavin, Phosporous and Zinc, and a very good source of Protein, Thiamin, Niacin, Vitamin B6 and Selenium.” (On the down side, it is a bit high in cholesterol – see below). Here’s delicious recipe that is sure to garner rave reviews. Originally published in The Free Lance-Times, Fredericksburg, VA, in the summer of 1998, it’s still making the rounds.
Two-for-one Pork Tenderloin
Serves 4 at two meals or 8 at one meal
2 tablespoons rice-wine vinegar or white vinegar
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 tablespoon reduced-sodium soy sauce
1 tablespoon honey
2 cloves garlic
½ teaspoon dried red-pepper flakes, optional
1-1/2 to 2 pounds pork tenderloin
To make the marinade: Cut the limes in half and squeeze the juice in a 2-cup glass measure. Add the vinegar, vegetable oil, soy sauce, and honey. Peel and mince the garlic and add it to the measure. Add the red-pepper flakes, if desired. Whisk the mixture well to blend in the honey.
Place the meat in a self-sealing plastic bag and pour the marinade over the meat. (Scrape out any honey that clings to the dish.) Seal the bag and refrigerate.
To grill: Heat a gas grill on high. Cook 6 minutes and rotate the meat a one-third turn. (Pork tenderloins tend to be shaped like triangles.) Cook 6 minutes more and rotate the meat another turn so all sides brown. Cook 8 to 10 minutes more, until the internal temperature reaches 160 degrees. (Visit “She Wears Many Hats” if you want to see helpful photos of the grilling technique.) Serve at once or refrigerate until ready to serve.
(Per serving: 125 calories, 5 g fat, 49 mg cholesterol, 18 g protein, 2 g carbohydrates, .01 g dietary fiber, 73 mg sodium.)
Just add some grilled vegetables (red and yellow peppers, zucchini, yellow squash, and mushrooms) and a Lemon-scented Quinoa Salad, and you’ve got the perfect summer meal.