Category: miscellany

A day at the Queens County Farm Museum.

Queens County Farm Museum!

Many people, when they think of New York (especially an “urban” area like Queens), don’t realize that New York used to be full of farms. The entire state, particularly Long Island, was/is fertile farmland. The soil in many areas, particularly the area in Queens I’ll be discussing here, is perfect for farming being that it’s loamy (a balanced mix of sand, silt, clay & soil). That & the fact that the original settlers were Dutch farmers means that NY has a rich agricultural history. During the 1840′s in particular New York, along with Pennsylvania, was a chief wheat-growing state. Betcha didn’t know that!

Large manors emerged during the 18th century, including LivingstonCortlandtPhilipsburg, and Rensselaerswyck.[Note 3] The manors represented more than half of the colony’s undeveloped land. The Province of New York thrived during this time, its economy strengthened by Long Island and Hudson Valley agriculture, in conjunction with trade and artisanal activity at the Port of New York; the colony was a breadbasket and lumberyard for the British sugar colonies in the Caribbean.

-Wikipedia

New York still has a lot of farms, although now it seems most of them are the smaller scale ones that offer pumpkin or apple picking & hayrides in the fall. There are still tons of apple orchards not to mention full-scale farms upstate. However, you can find some downstate as well, and I’m lucky to have a couple within reasonable driving distance: Crossroads Farm at Grossman’s & the Queens County Farm Museum to name a few.

Queens County Farm Museum.

The Queens County Farm Museum dates back to 1697, & it occupies NY’s largest remaining tract of undisturbed farmland. According to the website:

 The farm encompasses a 47-acre parcel that is the longest continuously farmed site in New York State. The site includes historic farm buildings, a greenhouse complex, livestock, farm vehicles and implements, planting fields, an orchard, and an herb garden.

The farm is owned by the New York City Department of Parks, operated by the Colonial Farmhouse Restoration Society of Bellerose, Inc. and is a member of the Historic House Trust of New York City.

Our farm animals and tranquil agrarian environment provide the opportunity to leave the hectic daily pace behind for an enjoyable visit to a farm without leaving the city.

I had been to the museum quite a few times as a child, mostly for the Christmas events- which are beautiful. But a few weeks back I remembered it, and came by to pick up some farm fresh eggs, but sadly they didn’t have any left by the time I got there (which was about 10:30 a.m.!). Wahhhh. The cashier told me that they sell out super quick. So I decided to come back, and this time take some photos to share with you (however I still wasn’t early enough to get any eggs)! The farm is so beautiful. You may or may not know my obsession with farms & farmland; I know I’m probably not cut out for that life myself… but it’s amazing & intriguing to me. Especially a farm that has a 300+ year history.

The Adriance Farmhouse.

Adriance Farmhouse, Queens County Farm Museum.

The front of the beautiful Adriance Farmhouse, the oldest part of which dates back to 1772. Queens County Farm Museum.

The photos above (and the one just below) are of the Adriance Farmhouse. The farmhouse’s original 3-room structure was built in 1772 by Jacob & Catherine Adriance, with an extension added in around 1855.

In 1772 Jacob and his wife Catherine built the earliest portion of the Adriance farmhouse, which consisted of three modest rooms. Catherine and Jacob had no children and were farming primarily as sustenance farmers to provide food for themselves in conjunction with neighboring farms, some of which were owned by other Adriance family members. When Jacob died in 1797, Hendrick Brinkerhoff, his adopted nephew, bought the farm from Jacob’s executors. Hendrick died in 1806 leaving the farm to his son, Albert Brinkerhoff. Albert’s ownership marked the end of the “Adriance Era” when he sold the farm to its next significant owner, John Bennum, Sr. The Adriance family history on the farm provides us with a profound narrative of the site’s early Dutch beginnings and of farming as a way of life from as early as the seventeenth century.

- source, QCFM

Adriance Farmhouse, Queens County Farm Museum.

The farm changed hands relatively few times in the many years since. John Bennum ended up owning the farm during a rough period; the weather during his ownership was not conducive to a plentiful farm. Two severe droughts, one in 1819 & one in 1822, caused him to eventually sell to Daniel Lent in 1822. However, during his 9-year ownership Mr. Lent also experienced two severe droughts, and not only that but the flood of 1826. He could never quite catch up because of that & the new technology in farm equipment, which proved difficult to afford. Peter Cox was the next owner, and he was lucky to own the farm during a boon of agricultural growth (1833-1892).

The last private owner of the farm was Daniel Stattel (1892-1926). The Stattel family invested a lot in the farm, both financially & agriculturally. They installed the windmill (seen in the top farmhouse photo) as well. The Stattel family descendants are still involved with the farm today, providing rich oral history & background for the museum.

In the 1920′s Pauline Reisman, a real estate investor, bought it and promptly sold it to New York State for use by Creedmoor State Hospital. New York State purchased the farm in 1926 for Creedmoor State Hospital to use for rehabilitation of patients, growing fruits and vegetables for the kitchen at the hospital, and for growing ornamental plants and shrubs for the Creedmoor campus.

The Greenhouse at the Queens County Farm Museum.

As the website says:

With the exception of the farmhouse, Creedmoor demolished all the buildings on the farm, replacing them with buildings that met their needs. Though historic structures were lost, other types of historic structures were created that have in fact presented a beneficial opportunity to the Farm Museum. Buildings constructed immediately prior to the Second World War are rarely preserved in favor of colonial or Victorian era structures, but we have been given a unique opportunity to present institutional farm buildings from the 1930s that are truly unique. As the museum continues to meet its interpretive objectives, these buildings will provide the backdrop for our unique story: farming, horticulture, and the lives of the patients and staff of Creedmoor at the farm in the 1930s.

Thankfully, in the decades after, the farm was saved from what most likely would’ve been certain demolition.

Today the Queens County Farm Museum is a New York City Landmark and on the National Register of Historic Places. Museum founder and president, James A. Trent, and New York State senator Frank Padavan spared the farm from development. Senator Padavan wrote the legislation that transferred ownership from the state to the New York City Department of Parks and protected the site from development for future generations. With all the present buildings restored, the master plan for the museum is being steadily pursued. The museum provides a broad spectrum of educational programs, public events, services, and general visiting more than 500,000 people each year. The Farm Museum is the highest attended cultural attraction in Queens County. We look forward to completing our interpretation and providing valuable services to our audience.

Herb garden at the Adriance Farmhouse, Queens County Farm Museum.

The Children's Garden at the Queens County Farm Museum.

The farm has beautiful grounds. I mean, it’s massive. Much larger than it appears when you walk in. The gardens include greenhouses, crops, planting fields, animals & a petting zoo for children, not to mention the above “Children’s Garden,” where kids can use their senses to see the differences between different plants. For example, in the ‘taste’ section, there’s mint & in the ‘smell’ section, there’s lemon balm & dill. It’s awesome that you can let the kids eat & smell & touch things there, knowing it’s all safe & that they’re learning something. Specifically, where the food they eat comes from & how it grows.

The scenery is so beautiful & serene, you totally forget that you’re in a fairly urban area.

Beautiful scenery at the Queens County Farm Museum.

They sell their fresh produce & eggs at the Union Square Greenmarket as well as on premises, which I didn’t know! So if you frequent the Greenmarket, be sure to look for them. The eggs sell out CRAZY quick at the farm, though, so if you want them you have to get there a half hour before the market starts, at about 11:30 a.m., any day from Wed. – Sun. I’ve been three times & missed out on the eggs ALL THREE TIMES. So trust me, I know.

They sell flowers as well as herbs. As a matter of fact, they grow all varieties of plants & herbs & sell them in the greenhouse. I know I saw Ground Cherries for sale, as well as seeing all the usual herbs; basil, rosemary, dill, etc. You can buy them as plants or you can buy fresh cut herbs at the farm stand.

Inside the greenhouse at the Queens County Farm Museum.

Plants for sale at the Queens County Farm Museum.

Seasonal plants for sale at the greenhouse of the Queens County Farm Museum.

Sometimes, as you’re walking around you forget it’s not just a farm museum, but a working farm. Meaning there are tons of animals on the farm. Horses, goats, sheep… including these guys who rather liked me.

Hi there!

Bock bock!

Which way?

It’s important for us to protect our farmland, and respect it. Farms used to be a common sight in the U.S., now the numbers of farms have dwindled. According to the US EPA, “there are around 2.2 million farms in America, and of the over 313,000,000 people living in the United States, less than 1% of them claim farming as an occupation (and about 2% actually live on farms).” [source] Thanks to a recent boon in organic foods, the amount of farms is slightly increasing & perhaps beginning an upward path, but we have a long way to go. If we expect to fight companies like Monsanto, we need to invest more money in our local farmers. Buying real food. Preserving the heritage & history of our farms.

On that note, if you’d like to donate to the Museum, you don’t have to visit in person. You can do so online! You can “Fund a Farm animal“; they have everything from honeybees & chickens to Cotswold sheep & cows, each one a different donation level. If you’re in the area, you can become a member as well. Membership entitles you to a variety of benefits such as a gift shop discount & free admission to public events. If you live in NYC or the Long Island area, or you’re coming here for a trip, I highly suggest you make a trek out to the farm!

You can see these awesome vintage tractors.

Vintage tractors at the Queens County Farm Museum.

It doesn’t matter when you plan your visit, because there’s always something going on. During the holiday season, they offer beautiful holiday events & crafts for both adults & children. They have hayrides in the fall, and of course the spring & summer is when everything really springs to life. Of course, you can also rent out the farm (or rather, areas of the farm) for weddings, birthdays, etc.

As a matter of fact, the day I went there were not only three children’s birthday parties, complete with cow print tablecloths & farm animal balloons, but there was a wedding! It looked lovely… there was a big outside tent right in the middle of the orchard all done up with tables & rustic centerpieces, and the barn was the scene of the ceremony. I didn’t want to be too intrusive taking photos while the bride & groom were taking theirs, so you can only sort of see the chairs lined up inside the barn.

A wedding at the barn! Queens County Farm Museum.

The museum’s information is as follows:

Queens County Farm Museum
73-50 Little Neck Parkway
Floral Park, New York 11004-1129
(718) 347-3276

The Farm Museum is open year-round, Monday—Friday 10:00 a.m.—5:00 p.m. for outdoor visiting only.

Farmhouse tours are Sat.-Sun. 11:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. (April – November)

Farm stand opened June 12th | Egg sales Wed. – Sun. 12 – 5 p.m.

Internet inspiration: cupcake liner storage.

There are a couple of things I’ve learned over the past few years that I honestly never would have thought of nor realized if it weren’t for this wonderful thing we call the internet. They aren’t really important things, not for the most part, but I thought I’d share them with you just the same.

  • The internet taught me that not everyone who CAN make a website SHOULD. Yellow text is just never acceptable.
  • Pinterest taught me that there are a shit ton of alfredo chicken pasta recipes & enchilada recipes- everyone’s husband LOVES them & all of them are “top rated”! (are they really, though?)
  • Pinterest also taught me most people do not buy Ball® jars to preserve food. Silly me.
  • Facebook has taught me the most unattractive people love to post the most photos of themselves. Usually in “da club.” Usually drinking. Usually wearing inappropriate clothing for their weight/age/etc.
  • Facebook also taught me that people who didn’t like me in HS want to be my friend now, after not seeing or speaking to me for 13 years. Strange isn’t it?
  • Instagram taught me I really, really, really love to see what other people are eating & drinking. Maybe too much.
  • Instagram also taught me that there are chicks who do that “duck face” thing seriously, not joking. Woops.
  • Twitter has taught me that I like people better when they’re limited to only 140 characters.
  • Twitter also taught me that people still prefer to follow rather than lead. (whoa- DEEP THOUGHTS)
  • Blogs taught me that everyone thinks they’re funny, clever, and either a professional photographer, makeup artist or chef.
  • Blogs also taught me that most of them are none of the above.

But one of the most important things I’ve learned- aside from the fact that there are a lot of really cool people out there, who sadly, do not live anywhere near me- is that anything you want to do, or things you’ve never dreamed of doing (particularly involving the re-use of every day household items)… the instructions on how to do these things are all right at your fingertips.

And so I made these.

DIY cupcake liner storage that's display worthy! Made using mason jars & chalkboard paint.My chalkboard-writing skills only apply to larger pieces… obviously…

I have a problem with pretty cupcake liners. I always have, really, but before I baked it wasn’t as big of an issue. Before I baked, I’d see them in a store & say “Oh how cute!” then I’d promptly pass them by and pick up a frozen pizza & a bag of Totino’s pizza rolls. But once I started using them it became a thing. I bought so many I had nowhere to actually put them. For awhile, I had some out on a few cupcake & cake stands, but they were getting dirty & dusty from being in the middle of all that kitchen-witchery. So then I bought plastic shoeboxes at Bed Bath & Beyond. And I filled those up real quick, but they got overloaded and in the process began crinkling & eventually ruining the shape of my beautiful liners. Wahhh.

What’s a girl to do?

(Psst… I’m sharing this with you because if you’re here reading this, you might very well have the same problem.)

So one day I was browsing Pinterest, as one is wont to do, and I happened upon this. Genius. Why didn’t I think of that?

Well actually, I had, but I thought of it using Ball jars; and you see, based on what jars I had at my disposal I realized that regular mouth jars aren’t wide enough, and aside from that… pint jars are a bit too shallow and don’t hold as many as you’d like. But this time it just so happens that when I saw that pin, I had literally just finished cleaning out & de-labeling two 25 oz. Victoria pasta sauce jars. And as I scrubbed them I was wondering what exactly I was going to use them for. I had already made candy jars out of old sauce jars, so I didn’t want to do that again (a girl can only have so many candy jars).

Cupcake liner storage jars!

And so there I am, washing these jars & seeing this pin on Pinterest. And like I said, I had all these pretty liners… all wasted by being hidden away… it just made sense. So I made some cupcake liner storage jars out of ‘em! The Victoria jars are the PERFECT SIZE for this. Basically, you need a jar with a mouth opening of around 3″ in order to accommodate the liners comfortably. And it should be a pint & a half at least in order to make it worthwhile- you really can’t fit many in a pint jar. It just so happens the Victoria jars are 6″ high (not including lid) with a 3″ wide mouth. Wide mouth quart-sized Ball or Kerr jars would probably work as well.

The thing with these is that there really isn’t any “tutorial” involved- just get jars that the liners fit into without getting squished, and do whatever you want with them. I painted the lids with black Martha Stewart acrylic chalkboard paint (2 coats), and put chalkboard label stickers on the front. This way, if you wanted to split the liners according to holiday or color, use the labels or chalkboard lids to mark them; i.e. “Christmas”, “pink”, “stripes”, etc. The chalkboard paint comes in just about every color you can imagine, so you can match your appliances, your KitchenAid, your kitchen, you name it.

Done. Counter-ready, aesthetically pleasing cupcake liner storage, at your service!

 

*And if you wanna make some more “Pinterest Projects”, head on over to textdrivebys.com and check out my other DIY posts.

American Woman, listen what I say.

;

If you knew my grandmother Agnes, you knew she was many things. She had many talents. And you could call her many things: funny, smart, feisty, kind, the life of the party, bossy, stubborn… a redhead. But two words that would not be among those above would be ‘cook’ or ‘baker.’ When I was growing up, my grandma was into fashion, not baking cookies. My grandfather, her husband Clarence (a.k.a. Butch), was the chef in the house, but he passed away when I was very small & had been sick for a few years. So sadly, I never got to know him at his best, or see him in action in the kitchen. My mother remembers times when my grandmother was at work & my grandfather was home, and he would make them dinner, and how she loved it. That’s not to say Nana never cooked anything- she did. She had her little tricks & signature dishes: namely a delicious stuffing, macaroni salad with shrimp, roast chicken, and meatloaf. And she loved to entertain.

But my Gramps was the one who came from a family of eaters and cooks. You know that saying “People either eat to live or live to eat”? Well, Nana’s family, when she was growing up, more or less “ate to live” whereas my Gramps’ family “lived to eat.” Don’t get me wrong, my grandmother loved to eat too. But she wasn’t much into the actual making of it. In restaurants or when someone else cooked, sure. But not so much when it was up to her to cook it. She’d just as soon have a sandwich or egg salad, and she’d be just as happy. On the other hand, my grandpa loved him some good food! His family liked to eat, and there were cooks & bakers aplenty. So therefore he learned from his mother to cook and he enjoyed it, and I think I got that “foodie” (horrible word- pardon me) part of me from his side of the family. I mentioned his mother; well Midge (her nickname) was a half German/half Irish woman with a big heart, a kind soul, and a talent for the domestic arts. She crocheted beautiful things, too, and was an expert at tatting, so it wasn’t just a kitchen-related talent. But that’s where she shined.

When my grandmother first went to their house for dinner, she was amazed. Her Irish mother, mother of seven and herself the daughter of an immigrant Irish housekeeper (who was really a single mother before that term was even a term), never cooked like that. She did the best she could to feed her seven children during the Depression, and she wasn’t exactly interested in that stuff anyway. Julia Child she was not. But my grandpa’s mother Midge was in a better financial situation, really did love to cook, and made all kinds of things from scratch. Cornstarch pudding, Sauerbraten, potato dumplings… you name it, it was on the table at one point or another. My mother says she can still close her eyes and remember the smell that wafted into the hallway of her grandparent’s apartment building when she used to go there for dinner as a child. She said she could smell her grandmother’s cooking right away, as soon as they walked in. In some ways, perhaps, my grandfather’s overabundant love of food, namely sweets, was a contributing factor to him being a diabetic as well.

And let me just say before I go on… I definitely inherited the clothes-horse/fashionista gene from my Nana’s side as well as that food-lover gene.

Anyway, the last Christmas Eve before my Nana passed away, Christmas 2010, in the middle of eating some appetizers she took me aside and said, “OH! I found something, and I want to give it to you.” She motioned for me to follow her into the dining room. She opened up the right-hand drawer of her buffet and took out a book, and handed it to me. It was a 1947 copy of The American Woman’s Cook Book by Ruth Berolzheimer, in almost perfect condition (in a clear plastic red-trimmed book cover- true to form for my Nana, but I took it off for the photos).

I’d vaguely heard of the author, mainly from just searching recipes on the internet, but I wasn’t fully familiar with the book. I was really excited, though, because of a few reasons. One, it was vintage, and I love any and all things vintage… especially the fact that it was a COOKBOOK, which is the second reason why I loved it. She was happy that I liked it, and that I’d use it. I don’t know how often she’d cracked it open in the last 60-something years, but it looked pretty new. She told me to look through it and make her something delicious, and winked.

It saddens me I’ll never have a moment like that again.

It saddens me that I’ll never get a surprise gift from her again, that if I do find a vintage something-or-other of hers, it won’t be her that hands it to me. But as melancholy as those thoughts are, that’s another reason why I love things like this. Not only was it my grandma’s, but it’s a piece of history. And not just her history… but American history.

Ruth Berolzheimer died in 1965 after a long and illustrious career as a “cooking and child welfare expert” (according to her obituary). She was for years the director of the Culinary Arts Institute, and the editor/author of a number of books.

The The American Woman’s Cookbook was originally published in 1939 (or perhaps 1938?) by the directors of the College of Home Economics of Cornell University, under the auspices of the Delineator Institute – and it seems that it was descended from an earlier Delineator Cookbook. The Delineator Cookbook in turn was derived from a fashion magazine called The Delineator, which was originally produced in the 1870’s by the Butterick sewing pattern company.

The book contains over 10,000 recipes, and went to many printings of many editions. From the outset was considered a trustworthy and comprehensive resource, and I was delighted to find that for those of us not lucky enough to own a real copy, there is an online version available via the Internet Archive.

- The Old Foodie

I hadn’t actually thought much about it after that until Jay was browsing One Kings Lane a few weeks back and there was a copy from the 1940′s that had been sold for $50.00. I said, “Holy crap I have that book!” and then I realized mine, too, must have been from the 1940′s as well. This week though, fueled by a Mad Men marathon & a yen for all things nostalgic, I finally sat down and looked through the book in detail. It’s amazing, really. First of all, the meals that were eaten back then are so incredibly different than the ones we eat now. When was the last time someone you knew made a cold chicken salad in a mold? Yes, that’s right, chicken plus gelatin. Chilled. In a mold. Like a creamy chicken Jello. Yum. Or when was the last time you went to a luncheon and the hostess served peanut butter, bacon and lettuce sandwiches and coffee jelly? Probably never. Although that coffee jelly does sound good.

Most of the photographs are black and white, save for a few every 50-100 pages or so that are in color.

Check out that stand mixer! And as you can also see above, my copy clearly has the same photographs from the original late 1930′s books; the women’s hair is basically marcelled! Which, on top of making me very excited (I love Marcel waves), also leaves me wondering: were the same photographs kept the same for every copy of this book? Or did they change at any point? I can’t see the 1950′s versions having photos of women with marcelled hair in them… that would be very outdated by then. Not to mention I’m sure cooking techniques & equipment would have drastically changed by then as well. If anyone out there has a later copy, I’d love to know the answers to these questions!

I don’t know the origins of her getting the book. The printing date is 7 years after she was married, but before she moved out of the apartment in the Bronx to her home on Long Island. So it wasn’t a wedding gift or housewarming gift. Perhaps she went and bought it for herself?  I don’t know. I wish I had asked her. I wish I had asked her that night where she got it, but I didn’t. I was more interested in flipping through it and eating, and I was distracted by the excitement of Christmas. It went onto my book shelf and I didn’t take it down again until after she passed away, and then it was only briefly.

;

The canning & preserving recipes have changed, too. Not a lot, but mainly the methods (they discuss the paraffin wax technique) and timing (and sugar amounts), and the USDA would probably say to be on the safe side they shouldn’t be used. Even the way food was served back then is totally different. Lots of decorations, ruffly lettuce underneath, turnips/tomatoes/cucumbers cut into flowers, etc. Not to mention the food photography! It’s funny that food blogs now have livelier photos and better photographed food. But can you imagine what a big deal cameras were then? Hey food bloggers: think of your Nikon or Canon with the macro lens that you love so dearly. Women back then didn’t have one of those, and if they did, I guarantee you it was nowhere near the kitchen or the food.

Also in this book there are some killer drawings & diagrams, including floor plans for how a kitchen ought to be laid out- taking into consideration the “service entrance.” ‘Cause really, who doesn’t have a service entrance? Oh, and of course how to set up your dinner service, from appetizer to dessert.

;However some things are timeless. All the baked goods: cakes, cookies, desserts, etc. Those are all the same now as they were back then. Maybe there’s more shortening used in the actual cakes than there is butter, but other than that they’re the same. Meringues are the same. Boiled icing is the same. And the cuts of meat; shoulder, rump roast, etc. The butchering process is the same, as are the standards of good quality meat (“Good beef has a fresh red color, a smooth covering of brittle creamy fat and small streaks of fat distributed through the lean”).

I think, actually, this book will be my go-to guide for choosing meats and cutting them since it goes into so much detail. And of course, vegetables are still vegetables. The food pyramid may have changed 100x since this book was printed, but the stress on eating more vegetables and less fats is still the same. The general idea of entertaining is still the same, too, albeit the methods are different (no longer would you read a cookbook that said something along the lines of “Lead your guests out of the dining space into a lounge area… by the time the guests have lit up a cigarette and begun to drink their after- dinner drinks, the dining table should long be forgotten”).

Why are we so quick to assume that the people in the past have nothing in common with us today? Do iPads and smartphones make so much of a difference that people aren’t fundamentally after the same things in life? I don’t think so. We just think our ways are better. I happen to not always agree with that statement. I lean towards being nostalgic for (and often romanticize) times I never even lived in. Which is dangerous, admittedly, because it means that I’m overlooking the reality to only see the “fun things” or the novelty of it. But let’s face it: we all do that. My grandparents and great-grandparents lived through Prohibition, and if they were alive today they’d tell you it wasn’t exactly like Boardwalk Empire.

I can, of course, see the benefits in technology & modernization. A hand mixer is a gift from Zeus & Athena bestowed upon us for convenience & expedience. And these advancements aren’t just in cooking & baking, but everything. My great grandmother’s had their babies at home, no epidurals. Ask most women who have children about that. And laptops? Wow. I couldn’t live without mine, personally. I can’t even remember life with a desktop PC anymore- and that was just a few years ago! I could go on and on… but like I said, I see the benefits of that. And I can understand how much harder life was, even if only because things we take for granted today either took longer or had to be done manually. Isn’t it easier to Google than to find an encyclopedia & look something up? Don’t cell phones make emergencies easier? Isn’t satellite radio way cooler than AM/FM? Yes.

But on the other hand, these things have complicated life and dumbed people down substantially. I said it once before: smart phones are making people stupid. Basically, people are the same they always have been. Deep down. I think a lot of the priorities have changed, and not for the better. But all the way down in the very core of people… they’re the same they always have been. I just think we ALL need to get back to what’s important, and it certainly isn’t who has the latest trend in technology. And it definitely isn’t who has the biggest car, the nicest house, the most offshore accounts or the most popular blog. Build relationships with your kids and your families. Go outside. Get fresh air. Have a picnic. Or read a vintage cook book. It’ll give you a fresh perspective on things, I promise.

I’m reminded once again of how food can tie together memories & feelings, and how a simple cookbook I forgot I had can make me smile on a day when I needed to.

“Shake it like a Polaroid picture”: Cupcake Rehab got a new look.

In case you haven’t noticed the obvious; things look different around here. I revamped the entire website, from soup to nuts (haha, pun intended). If you’re lost, here’s the rundown: on the main page each polaroid is a blog post. You can access them just by clicking the polaroid or blog title underneath it, and the post will open. To access the main page again, simply click ‘Home’ above or the header image itself, both will bring you back. For anything else, just scroll down. You’ll see the search box, categories, archives and links down at the bottom of the page. The other pages, such as ‘About Me’ and ‘Press’ are still located at the top, just under the header image, like the ‘Home’ button. The categories & links don’t open in a new page, they open directly below the title, then you click the title and they go away again. Easy! The best way to figure it out is just to go around clicking on stuff. If anything looks off or funky, don’t hesitate to shoot me an e-mail. I can’t promise it’ll be fixed, because these things do tend to sometimes look different on various browsers/computers/resolutions/etc, but I’ll try to remedy the issue.

In the meantime, enjoy it. It’s simpler, cleaner, and there’s less information shoved in your face the minute you log on. Coming here and seeing all that text that looked like a novel was kind of overwhelming for some people, it was kind of a person with ADD’s nightmare. Yeah, it’ll take some getting used to for all of us, I’m sure, this blog hasn’t had a complete layout change in a very long time. Probably since 2008. And I didn’t plan on it, but it happened thanks to a stupid mistake I made that was, to use a phrase I hate: a blessing in disguise. I really needed a change, anyway, and I think it’s for the best. But the absolute best part? That it’s all done now so we can all sit back, relax, and take it in. And I can start with new posts!

In addition to all that, I added about a gazillion new links. All of them are “internet friends” of mine from way back when (over 10 years, some of them) who’ve either revived their blogs, started new ones, or were recently re-discovered by me. So if you’re bored with this site (HOW FREAKIN’ DARE YOU), then feel free to sort through my links. I guarantee there’s something for everyone in there, and most of them are run by incredibly cool, incredibly interesting people. When I say “internet friends,” for most of them that’s a poor description implying they’re nothing more than a name on a monitor & that is so not true.

And now for something completely different…

 

That’s one of my favorite things to use as decoration in the summer. A vintage Ball jar (or a new one), a vase, candle holder or goldfish bowl (or any other interestingly shaped clear glass vessel), half filled with sand and then topped with seashells, starfish and/or filled just with sea glass. You can buy a bag of sand at a toy store, or just bogart some from the beach. Same with the seashells- you can buy them in a craft store or you can just take some home with you from a day at the shore. It’s a fun project to do! Me & my mother made like 60+ of them one year as favors for my aunt’s birthday party, and I have tons of them around here at home. When those come out, I know it’s officially summertime. They look so pretty and they’re outdoor friendly too. You can even add tealights to them. Do you have any summer traditions or decorations that kick off the season? Or any fancy little things you do with seashells? Tell me!

It’s definitely summer, everyone. Get your flip flops and beach towels ready. And don’t forget to enter the Sourpuss Clothing cupcake cookie jar giveaway! It ends midnight EST on June 19th. So go enter! You know you want to.

All your burning questions answered.

Let me preface this by saying I am not in any way, shape or form the expert in these matters. All I am is a chick whose been baking weekly or bi-weekly for the last 6 years and had this blog for about 4 ½, so I know a little bit about a few things baking-wise. I am not trained, I am not a pastry chef, I did not go to school for this. I am self-taught and therefore I think in some ways I’m better at answering the basic questions that arise in every day kitchens, when you don’t have a fancy Viking range or Williams-Sonoma goldtone bakeware. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but I’m all about encouraging the average person to bake & cook, and letting them know they don’t need to invest in a brand new chef’s kitchen to do it.

I ain’t no genius & I’m definitely not Florian Bellanger (thank cupcakes!). I’m no June Cleaver and I am most likely not the person you think of when “perfect” comes to mind. But I have failed a few times, and I have made many mistakes and with most of them I’ve managed to figure out the how/why. Again- don’t think I’m being cocky here, not at all. I just hope my basic little down-home, practical knowledge can help someone else out there. So I decided to do a little Q&A on my Facebook page.

Q: Neikya Davis- I was wondering if cupcake batters should be different from cake batters. I’ve made hundreds of cakes and never have any baking problems. But whenever I try to make cupcakes, I always have issues with the cupcakes rising. And for that reason, I HATE making cupcakes. Thanks!

A: Well Neikya, I don’t think that there’s a difference in the batters themselves. I say that because most cupcake recipes can be adapted into making cakes and vice versa. I have noticed most cake recipes when used for cupcakes don’t rise quite as well as cupcake recipes alone, though. If your trouble is with the cupcakes rising but sinking in the middle during or after baking, then that could be a few things: ingredients aren’t “fresh” enough, off-brand butter or oil (as silly as it sounds, there is a serious fat difference in “cheap” butter & good quality butter), the wrong size eggs or the fact that the eggs/butter are too cold. It could also have to do with oven temperature. If that isn’t the problem, or the factors I listed definitely aren’t the problem, then it could be your baking powder or baking soda is old. It loses it’s power after a certain period of time and won’t rise. The reason you may not have a problem with the cakes is that it’s a larger surface area for one, and two they don’t have to rise as much as a cupcake does. And if that doesn’t sound like it’s the problem, maybe you’re over-beating your butter? Are you at a higher/lower altitude? Is your oven gas or electric? Is it humid or dry out? All those factors can also influence your baking. I hope that helped! If not, I suggest The Cake Bible by Rose Levy Berenbaum. She answers tons of scientific questions and gives reasons for everything.

Q: Cindy Wright- I have never had good luck making carrot cake cupcakes. Do you a good recipe? I usually bake from scratch.

A: I’ve had the same exact problem. I can’t find a good carrot cake or carrot cupcake recipe. I sorta gave up. That said, I heard this one is to die for. If you try it, please let me know how it worked out for you!

Q: Melanie Bishop- I have tried to make cupcakes with peanut butter cups or kisses in the middle. However, no matter if the candy is room temp, frozen, or just barely covered with cake batter, the candy inevitably sinks to the bottom of the cupcake. Any tips to prevent this?

A: Melanie, I’ve had this problem, but mainly with chocolate chips. I find it happens when the batter is very liquidy. I have two solutions you can try: one, coat the candies in flour first. Just put a tablespoon in a bowl and toss ‘em in it, then stick ‘em in. Two, bake the cupcakes halfway and try putting them in then. It will be tricky, and don’t burn yourself. Good luck & please let me know if it works!

Q: Dee Kozarov- I am always excited when I see red velvet cupcakes but then I taste one and the cake is always dry and the cream cheese frosting always taste cheap. Do you have any suggestions on better cake and icing?

A: When a cupcake is dry, it’s usually because it was over-beaten or there isn’t enough fat in it. Red velvet in particular can be tricky, I don’t know why. I’ve tried some duds, let me tell you. But I have found an excellent red velvet recipe that I suggest you try. As far as the icing, I hate cream cheese frosting so I recommend either a vanilla bean cream cheese frosting or a regular vanilla frosting.

Q: Jill Ritenour Wilch- I have problems with my cupcakes rising like I would like them to as well. They prefer to spread instead of rise. Anyone else find they do not fill out the bottoms of the liners either? Mine always seem a bit brown and loose.

A: Jill, you may be overfilling the cups. Or not mixing them thoroughly, and the ingredients aren’t fully incorporated. If you could, send me a photo some time. I could help better if I see exactly what you mean about the bottoms. Until then, make sure your ingredients are room temperature, get an oven thermometer if you don’t have one, make sure you mix your ingredients thoroughly but don’t overbeat them, and you fill the cups no more than halfway. Halfway is the standard, although some recipes call for three-fourths or two-thirds, to be on the safe side I usually do halfway. Could it also be that the recipe calls for either not enough/too much flour or sugar and not enough baking powder? Does it happen with all your cupcakes or just specific ones? Do they use butter, shortening or oil? Those can be factors as well.

Q: Jocelyn Lua- I was wondering if you have any way of telling if your cupcakes are gonna turn out soft & moist, or otherwise. Cos I have been baking them for some time now, but i could never know how they are going to turn out until they finish baking (even if i might have used the recipe before). And it makes me nervous as hell, cos I’ll really hate to waste food. =x

A: I don’t really think there’s a way to tell that 100% from the batter, Jocelyn. However I have found that the thicker the batter, the heavier & denser the cupcake and the more liquidy the batter the more moist and “squishy” the cupcake. However, I’ve made some batters that were quite thick like cookie dough, and I’ve gotten some lovely cakes. Again, the weather, the humidity, your oven, and the ingredients all make a difference as to how exactly a cupcake is going to turn out.


Q: Pola Sanchez-Baker- Is there any way to save a whipped cream that’s been whipped too long? It becomes butter-like and… well, just too thick for frosting.

A: In a word, Pola, no. Sorry. Once it’s been whipped that long, it’s beyond the “cream” stage and into the butter stage. It’s best to keep going, add a little salt, and make homemade butter so the whole thing isn’t a loss. That’s what I’d do, anyway. I’d make lemons out of lemonade & use it to make a homemade compound butter. Maybe with some sauteed garlic/parsley, some basil & chopped sundried tomatoes or just with some cilantro. Then I’d wrap it in waxed paper, refrigerate it (or freeze it) and use it for cooking or topping bread later on. Just don’t keep it frozen for longer than 7 or 8 months.


Q: Tina Becker- Every once in a while when I bake cupcakes from scratch, I notice they have a raw flour taste. It only happens now and then…is it just a “bad recipe” or something that I might be doing?

A: There are a lot of reasons it could be. Yes, it could be a bad recipe. If it always happens with just that particular recipe and no others, then toss it, it sucks. It could also be that the flour isn’t being incorporated well enough so it’s not “cooking.” Make sure you scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl during the mixing to get everything all up in there. Another reason could be the brand of flour has a very strong flavor; although I’ve tried many brands myself and never had that issue, it could very well be. So if you switch brands a lot and notice it only with one brand- stop using it. There could also be too much flour in the recipe, or you’re using all-purpose when you need to use cake flour. And yet another reason could be that the flour is old and therefore stale. If you don’t bake a lot and have the flour in the house for a long time, it’ll turn. Finally, are you using the right amount of salt & extract? Both of those things add flavor (and salt also helps the rising if you’re using baking powder, but that’s another unrelated issue), and without them you’ll definitely end up with a not very delicious baked good. I hope one of these can help you! Happy baking!


If you have any questions yourself, feel free to ask me on Twitter or on Facebook. And as always, you can totally e-mail me your questions any time.

A sweet $50.00 giveaway!

COMMENTS ARE CLOSED as of 12:00 a.m. 3/25/12. The winner, according to random.org, is number 35. Number 35 is Elizabeth!

Congrats, Elizabeth!

________________________________________________________

Happy Spring! I dunno about where you are but here in NY, it’s 70-something degrees & lovely. And, well, now that St. Patrick’s Day is behind us, we can take a little while to relax before the spring/Easter baking starts. But we can start planning! And isn’t it more fun to plan to bake things when you know they’re going in pretty packaging?

I like to bake. You like to bake. I mean, that’s why you’re here, right?

They don’t call me the Rosie the Riveter of baking for nothin’, you know?

But I also like shopping. I like to shop for anything; my parents used to say as a kid I’d find something to buy anywhere- even a hardware store (which is especially true now since I’m older & discovered the wonders of home & garden DIY/canning), but one of my favorite things to shop for is cupcake supplies. Cute little liners, vintage-y toppers, sprinkles, etc. It sucks me in & I end up spending all day on websites looking at it. I feel slightly nerdy about that; I could use some comrades in arms. And I want to help you in your cupcake decorating obsessions. So me & Lyns from Sweet Cuppin’ Cakes Bakery & Cupcakery Supplies are pairing up to giveaway a 50.00 gift certificate to her website… for you!

Yup, $50.00 bucks for you to buy whatever you want: liners, toppers, sprinkles, extracts, you name it. Save it for Easter baking, save it for the fall (if you can wait that long) or Christmas, use half now & half later, use it all now to buy pretty spring-themed stuff, whatever! But all I know is there are TONS of things to choose from. Like these… which I personally love.

And how do you win?

All you have to do is ‘like’ her new Facebook page, then come back here & comment. If you don’t have a Facebook, then follow her on Twitter & come here to comment. If you have both, that means two separate entries & two chances to win. If you have neither, then just comment with the promise that you’ll tell every single person you meet about her website (kidding… ). For bonus entries, become a fan of Cupcake Rehab on Facebook and follow me on Twitter too, and if you already are doing those things, you can still comment & say so. That’s two extra bonus entries! Four chances at winning.

And finally- one more bonus entry for tweeting about the giveaway! Just copy & paste this into a tweet:

I just entered to win a $50 gift certificate to @sweetsupply from @CupcakeRehab! You can too: http://cupcakerehab.com/2012/03/a-sweet-50-00-giveaway/

You could also write up your own tweet, so long as you mention me & Lyns both, as well as a link to this post (duh!). Don’t forget; after you tweet it come back here & tell me for your fifth entry chance. Each of those things I listed are irrelevant without leaving a comment for each! The comments are your entries. I’ll pick a winner on the 25th at midnight EST via random.org. I’ll e-mail the winner ASAP so make sure you leave a valid e-mail address!

Easy peasy. Any questions? Feel free to e-mail me at any time. Otherwise, happy entering!

Failure, fixation & a big f*** off to pecan pie.

Sometimes in life, you fail. It’s normal. It’s expected. And one failure, or even two or three or eight, doesn’t mean you’re a total mess, nor does it mean you should give up. F. Scott Fitzgerald, one of my favorite authors, once said: “Never confuse a single defeat with a final defeat.” This is true in everything, but most especially cooking. Even the best bakers & chefs have bad days (I mean really, you ever watch a Food Network challenge or Chopped? it’s like DISASTER CENTRAL up in that bitch); it’s to be expected. Especially for me. ‘Cause, really, why should I be any different? I’m not trained in this. I’m self-taught. I do things randomly & fly by the seat of my pants. I made applesauce cake with a brandy glaze for Jay to take on tour to Ohio with him & the band last week (because he loved the one I made for Christmas), and I had to literally ask him if I put vanilla in the glaze. I couldn’t remember, because I didn’t follow a recipe; I just made it. So really, I can’t take it too seriously when I have a failure like this (although I use top notch ingredients & have to say the waste of all those eggs & butter & flour & sugar & corn syrup makes me nauseous let alone homicidal). I actually ended up having two failures in one week, though, which I guess in the grand scheme of things is no big deal, but boy, have I been feeling lousy about it. My “good karma” kitchen stretch has gone on for quite some time though to be quite honest. I was kicking ass & taking names in the oven room. I make lemon curd in my sleep. I make such an amazing beer bread it ought to be illegal. My frosting never wilts (anymore). I MASTERED SOUFFLÈS FOR CUPCAKES’ SAKE. And then- HOLY SHITBALLS- pardon my French, but within a matter of days, I managed to mess up two different recipes completely. I think I had a curse put on me. No shit. I think it was some Hoodoo-type thing.

Anyway, it happens, blah blah blah, whatever.

But it sucks nonetheless. I’m not used to failing, I usually go after what I want & get it, and the same is true for recipes, learning new things, conquering difficult concepts, etc. Examples: I was a straight A student (except that pesky math) who learned two years worth of Spanish in 1 week when I started a new school at 13, my teacher had me doing book reports in kindergarten to avoid being bored, I applied to ONE college which I was accepted to early & my first job was a paid intern at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. So yeah, failure sucks. But it sucks even more when it doesn’t quite work out the way you’re used to. Especially when you’re psyched on hanging your fangs on pecan pie in all it’s delicious sugary, syrupy glory… & you end up with a load of crap. Which is what happened to me shortly after this lovely picture. My lovely purple pie plate, my lovely & beautiful crust, and those lovely pecans all ready to go.

I stress the loveliness of that picture, because that’s the last time it was lovely. It all went to hell in a hand basket after that… and I wasn’t even drunk (yet).

No, I lie, after the pie mixture was put into the crust, I placed the pecans in a beautiful pattern on top. That looked nice. Until it was finished baking. If I was religious at all I’d have sat there & said the rosary. That’s how awful it was. I cannot even bear to explain the mess I created. I couldn’t even take photos to show you, it hurt too much. Seriously, I’m not kidding. I spent all that time on the crust & the filling (and all that goddamn money on pecans which are like $600.00 an ounce!) only to have it end in misery. Add that on top of the cookie recipe I failed at a few nights before & you’ve got a recipe for a Xanax & whiskey-induced coma if ever I saw one. Am I fixating? Yes I am. That’s what I do when I fail at something: I fixate on it until I figure out why the hell I failed in the first place, and then I do it again the right way. But with both recipes (which were both two different desserts from two different books by two different authors, mind you) I cannot figure out where I went wrong. I did everything right. Okay, so maybe I’m not a pecan pie master. Should this really bother me? No. I make a gazillion other things every day, and most of them are insanely delicious & pretty damn aesthetically pleasing. But it does bother me. It really, really, friggin’ bothers me. And the cookies I failed at? I’ve made those before, with absolutely no problem. So what gives?

Alright, with all the problems in the world, I’m probably exaggerating & being slightly over-dramatic about a forkin’ pecan pie & batch of cookies. But this is a baking blog, where I talk about baking, and so that’s what I’m doing. I’m sure you bakers can relate to the frustration. Which is why I’m sharing this. I’ve never been one to shy away from my failures, I’ve always been honest about them. Some of them work out, some don’t. But I wanted to go into detail here because I’ve gotten a lot of e-mails lately regarding baking specifically, and some mentioned how they enjoyed my recipes a lot, even though their attempts “never come out looking as nice.” And to me, that isn’t even the point. The fact that it’s edible, it’s made correctly, it’s not spoiled & looks remotely attractive is the key. It doesn’t have to look 100% perfect, mine doesn’t! The enjoyment of the creation of it, the enjoyment of eating it, that’s what’s important. The decorating can be learned with practice. The fun of it is the creating. And who cares if it’s got frosting sliding off or they’re not perfectly domed!? You’re not on Cupcake Wars. A cupcake or cake or cookie that doesn’t look perfect is NOT a failure. Eat ‘em & your stomach will never know the difference. However, this pecan pie was not edible. My stomach could not have processed it unless I was a goat. I wouldn’t even mind, but this is my second attempt at a pecan pie. The first one was a different recipe, one by Emeril Lagasse, that I made last year or the year before and I wasn’t thrilled with it because it had chocolate in it. It also didn’t look very attractive, and I used a store-bought crust as a shortcut, so I was on the wrong path from the beginning. But at least that one was edible! This one could’ve been used to kill someone- well the crust, anyway. The middle of the pie was drippier than my 6th grade teacher. Ugh. I wouldn’t even have cared if it looked ugly as sin or had horns growing out of it, as long as I could’ve eaten the damn thing. Instead, into the garbage it went.

The point is, though, despite my fixating on this, it happens. It just does. Sometimes the stars aren’t aligned, sometimes the kitchen witch isn’t on your side, sometimes your neighbor puts a Hoodoo curse on you, and sometimes even the weather is against you. Whatever the reason, it just happens, and it happens to the best of us. So don’t let it get you down. Just toss it, smile, & move on to the next recipe. Which is exactly what I’m doing! As soon as I figure out what went wrong.

See those books? Yep. I’ll be busy for quite some time. But really what else is there to do in the winter but read, bake & cook? Oh… and eat. So yeah. Two silly little failures aren’t going to ruin my fun in the kitchen anytime soon.

But I will say this: pecan pie can FUCK OFF.……. (Censor that, Lamar Smith)

Happy Halloween.

My living room lampshade & it’s Halloween resident.

In honor of today, I present one of my favorite poems by one of my favorite authors read by one of my favorite actors; a poem I once recited in high school to a packed house, a poem that opened my little 10 year old eyes to the wonderfulness of its author… The Raven, written by Edgar Allan Poe, as done by Christopher Walken. Enjoy, & happy haunting.

30 on the 30th.

Today, right this minute, I am out of my twenties. Although, if you’re a stickler, then I have until 8:09 p.m. this evening to officially make that statement. Either way, I am no longer closer to 14 than I am to 40 (although admittedly it’s been a few years since I was).

I wish I was the age I am in that picture above, to be honest; but then again, don’t we all? I dig that Cabbage Patch Kids crown & lavender dress. Plus my hair color was fabulous- and natural! But we can’t go back, only forward. And as much of a gorgeous little thing as I was, I’d hate to have to do all that shit over again. SAT’s, math tests, high school, zits, the awkward stages, learning to tie my shoes, my 11th grade thesis paper, learning to write in script, long division, etc. Eh. Maybe I’ll stay 30. Maybe? As if I was given a choice!

So 30 it is. Three decades gone in the blink of an eye. I’m beginning to understand all that “grown-up” claptrap about “too soon old, too late wise” or “enjoy this now, it’ll be over before you know it” or “this is the best time of your life, but you won’t realize it until it’s too late.” Life really does fly by.

It’s a somber birthday for me this year. But any birthday you’re here to have is a good one, right? I’m thankful for that, for Jay, and my family, and my friends, and my pets, and all my blog readers/followers… I love you all. And no matter how sad I am or hard I have it I know there are a lot who have it worse. So no more pity party. Not today, anyway.

Happy birthday to me.