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Nothin' like a cupcake to get you through the Monday after you stayed up too late watching the Oscars

Feb 27, 2012

I can't recall a time I've ever watched the entire Academy Awards show. For one, it's just not that interesting, but mainly it's because it's such a time commitment, and 11:30 is really pushing it on my bedtime (which is 10:30 but is often pushed to 11:00).

But when my neighbors down the hall invited me to their Oscars party, I couldn't say no. I first got to know them after I'd been stood up on a blind date -- I rode up the elevator with one of them, she asked me how my night was, I told her, and she replied, "Ugh. Come over and have wine with us." Not only did I have wine, but I had their leftover scallops with fig reduction drizzled beautifully on a white plate and homemade oatmeal raisin cookies for dessert. Plus they listened to me go on and on about how much I hate men in this city. So I couldn't say no to an Oscars party, even if it meant being really tired the next day.

They said they'd provide food, but I had to bring something. All I had was old bananas and rum. Thanks to Pinterest (well, really Betty Crocker, but I'm trying to plug my Pinterest here), I found  the perfect solution!

Bananas Foster Cupcakes 

1 box Betty Crocker® SuperMoist® yellow cake mix

1 1/4 cups water
1/3 cup vegetable oil
3 eggs
1 cup mashed very ripe bananas (2 medium)
1/2 teaspoon rum extract
3/4 cup dulce de leche (from 13.4-oz can)
Rum-Buttercream Frosting
1 cup butter, softened 
Rum Butter-Cream Frosting
3 1/2 cups powdered sugar
2 to 3 tablespoons milk
3/4 teaspoon rum extract 
  • Heat oven to 350°F. Place paper baking cup in each of 30 regular-size muffin cups.
  • Make Cupcakes. In large bowl, beat cake mix, water, oil and eggs with electric mixer on low speed 1 minute. Add bananas and rum extract; beat on medium speed until combined, about 30 seconds. Fill muffin cups 3/4 full.
  • Bake 18 to 23 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center of cupcakes comes out clean. Cool in pans 10 minutes; remove from pans to cooling rack. Cool completely before filling and frosting, about 30 minutes.
  • In center of each cooled cupcake, cut out a cone shape 3/4 inch in diameter on top by 3/4 inch deep, using a sharp paring knife. Cut off pointed end of each cone, reserving tops. Fill each cavity with about 1 teaspoon dulce de leche; cover with reserved tops, pressing in lightly.
  • Make Rum-Buttercream Frosting. In large bowl, beat butter with electric mixer on medium-high speed until light and fluffy. Add powdered sugar slowly, beating on low speed 30 seconds, then on medium speed 1 minute or until incorporated. Add 2 tablespoons milk and 3/4 teaspoon rum extract, beating until light and fluffy. Add a few drops food coloring at a time, beating between additions, until desired color is achieved. (If frosting is too thick, beat in remaining 1 tablespoon milk, 1 teaspoon at a time, until desired consistency.)  
For the most part I stuck to the recipe, except:
 1) I used Myer's Dark Rum instead of rum extract. It was leftover from a tiramisu experiment (that was aaaaaaaaaaaawwwwwwwwwwwwesome). I'm not a good baker because I hate measuring, so instead of figuring out how much rum instead of rum extract to use (probably should have been half of what the recipe called for), I added extra. This proved to be good and bad -- bad because the cupcakes caved in, but good because cutting out a cone shape in the cupcakes was super annoying. Instead I just put a dollop of the dulce de leche on the top where it caved in.

2) I beat the dry cake mix for 3 minutes before I added the wet ingredients. This is a trick I learned from my mother -- somehow it makes the cake denser. I don't love boxed cake mixes because they are so light yet full of calories. It feels like I'm being jipped. This way, it's closer to a Sprinkles (Sprinkles is still superior of course, but it's a nice alternative).

3) I made my own dulce de leche. This was the most challenging ingredient. I couldn't find it at the grocery store, and my Internet search led me to Williams Sonoma where a jar of it costs $11. Thanks to WikiHow, I found out you can make your own with a can of sweetened condensed milk. Simply poke holes in the top, place in a pot of simmering water, and keep the water level up and simmering for three to four hours. Time consuming, yes, but at $1.79 a can, it's worth it. After three hours the milk become gelatinous, and when you get it to the consistency you want, dump it in a bowl and whisk it then refrigerate. Done.

Also, if you've never made your own icing, you're doing it wrong. Homemade icing is so easy and it's soooooooo much better than store bought. 

Needless to say, the cupcakes were a hit at the Oscars party and were a happy addition to the the Asian pork lettuce wraps with all kinds of fixins my gourmet chef neighbors had made (I ate at least four). Plus, I got bonus points with my coworkers with the second batch, giving me a pass on basically being a zombie today. 

(P.S. Am I the only one who's never heard of "Hugo"? I thought "The Artist" was going to sweep last night!)

My Funny Valentine's Day

Feb 14, 2012

As a perpetual Singleton, I pride myself on not being sad on Valentine's Day. I've always had a positive attitude about the day, for several reasons:

1) It's made up by Hallmark to make money, right? I mean, it celebrates the day some Catholic guy was imprisoned or murdered. (I know I've heard this somewhere before -- Wikipedia is being unhelpful at the moment.)

2) I love giving advice to people (check out how positive I was in college!) and especially telling my girlfriends how awesome they are.

3) It gives me an excuse to buy pretty valentines and mail them to my favorite people (mostly said girlfriends, whose cards I use to reiterate just how awesome they are).

4) Nothing has any calories in it. That's a law.

5) Every one of my past V-Day dates have been terrible to the point of comical. I've never once had a good date on this day, and if I did I don't remember it.

Today has been rough though, not gonna lie. I take that back -- the day was great. Megan sent me flowers at work (and gave me explicit instructions to tell people they were from a guy so people in my office would be impressed). I received two valentines from my awesome friends. And I got a slew of text messages, mostly from people who received my valentines and were thanking me and reminding me they love me and miss me.

For some reason, it was right before I went to yoga that I thought about the dude who broke my heart. I tried really hard to think about how much I hated him and how pathetic he is, but the more I tried, the more my heart swelled with gushy feelings for him. I decided I am off the market, dating myself, I guess.

I cried, washed my face and took out Noli for her evening walk. I wasn't feeling sorry for myself per se, but I was feeling rejected and alone. Noli and I walked by our local car mechanic shop, and the guys who work there all walked up to her to pet her. "Happy Valentine's Day, by the way," Noli's favorite -- who is actually pretty cute -- said to me, looking up from his stooping position where he was scratching Noli's ear, while she shut one eye out of attention-whore ectasy.

A few steps later I passed by a restaurant that serves DC's hottest hipster guys, and one of them ran out and said, "I'm so glad I caught you! You're so pretty, I had to talk to you."

Me, PRETTY? I thought. I had on no makeup and was in my yoga clothes with my hair pulled back.

"Do you have a man?" he asked.

"Yes, I do ," I found myself saying. "Thank you, though. That was really nice."

"Well, happy Valentine's Day anyway," he said, grinning at me. I couldn't believe how ballsy he was. I chocked it up to it being the 14th.

During yoga I strained my neck, causing a muscle spasm and making me wish yoga were over. Usually I enjoy clearing my mind during yoga, but I was in so much pain I couldn't focus. Instead I thought about all the weddings I have to attend this year. Then I had a moment of clarity. I'll fly in Cute Boy! In my head, it would be just like "The Wedding Date" except I wouldn't have to pay him, just pay for his flights.

I couldn't wait to tell someone about it, so when I went to CVS to pick up a prescription, I called a friend and told her my clever idea.

"NO, you are NOT that desperate," she insisted. She then proceeded to ask me to tell her not to g-chat with a guy who has not intention of dating her but enjoys her attention, proably almost as much as she enjoys his. So I dished it back to her and told her she is not that desperate but to enjoy the g-chatting because honestly I wish I had someone to g-chat with tonight.

Once our conversation wrapped, I walked to the counter, and the pharmacist attempted to cover up a chuckle as he rang me up.

"Gotta talk my friends off of their ledges," I said.

"Yeah, me too," he said, still looking down. "That's why I am so glad I have a legitimate excuse as to why I'm not going out tonight."

As we talked about the Valentine's Day a little more, I remembered that most of us are single (we outnumber the Marrieds now), and it's not necessarily a bad day, as we're supposed to think is.Also, I was beginning to notice just how good looking my pharmacist is, as well as helpful.

So here's to Valentine's Day, the day I get to eat whatever I want (salt & vinegar chips for dinner, chocolate all day long and strawberries and champagne to wash it all down), and the day that serves as a reminder that being a Singleton is not all bad, but the possibility of not being a Singleton could be right around the corner...or at CVS.