One is the loneliest number that you’ll ever do.
I’ve been waiting weeks to share this milestone with you: My first birthday in the blogosphere. The real one-year anniversary for this blog flew by sometime in early September while the redesign was still in the works, so the party had to wait. So now it’s time to break out the big balloons and silly string, let the honking toys a-herald one successful year of not eating out. Oh, and check out my new look.
This leads me to the question that many have been asking me all year: Just how long will I continue this shenanigan of “not eating out” as a standard diet. And the answer still is, I don’t know. There’s plenty of more dishes to debauch, and disasters in the kitchen to be had. In fact, this category is looking so weak, I think that’s what I’ll focus on in the upcoming year. As the song by Three Dog Night continued, “Two can be just as bad as one.”
But moreover, I’ve discovered in that it isn’t so much a matter of a “year of cooking dangerously,” like the Julie & Julia project, for instance. It’s no longer a prank. It’s something that’s become very much ingrained in my lifestyle — like a yoga class — and I would frankly feel weird parting with it. With lunch-bringing down to a science, know-how on what to buy at the grocery store that will produce a week’s worth of different dishes, and many, many more dishes and ingredients yet to be tackled, I think I’ll keep chugging along for now. Why not?
This obnoxious, fourth grader-sounding rebuke is my 13th reason for not eating out: Why not? You might say, “but chefs are so talented and they create such amazing food.” Yes — in fact, I’m really craving a trip to Penang right now, for some curry mee or something else I know I’ll never taste at home. But, it’s not like I’m deprived of restaurant food, and I’ll get back to it later on. Trust me. Okay, so that’s one reason.
Why else not? “Convenience,” the Devil’s Advocate tries. Funny, given that there’s a convenience store on every other block in my neighborhood — more than take-out food — I really have no excuse not to opt for something more prepare-able. As for the precious time factor, this might sound like more of a stretch, but consider the average wait time it takes for your food to get cooked. You could be doing that instead. And I could care less about the other reasons why not, because I’m ready to share with you my birthday cake recipe!
Cakes are a special occasion for me, indeed. I like to improvise, and measure with my fingers. Hence, I’ve rarely baked a cake that came out… right. Plus, cake recipes are usually for two 9″ layers and I don’t even have the pans. But I’ve got one muffin pan and bought some cupcake liners to make six celebratory cupcakes. Six? The cookbooks sneeze at this measly number. As if it were hardly reason to bother baking in the first place. Yet, by quartering the basic cake recipes I looked at, adding a little more of everything to try and get the math right, and adding a few drops of almond extract instead of vanilla for something a little different, these cupcakes somehow came out perfectly. It must have been a once-in-a-year birthday gift.
(Have you ever hear the way Jacques Pepin pronounces almond? “Aal-mund.” Now I can’t say this word without thinking of that. I think I’ll adopt this pronunciation for no reason whatsoever.)
Cherry Almond Cupcakes
(makes 6 cupcakes)
for the cake
2/3 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup milk
3 tablespoons butter, softened
1 egg, at room temperature
1 teaspoon baking powder
pinch of salt
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1 teaspoon very finely chopped dried cherries
for the frosting
4 tablespoons butter, softened
1/4 cup confectioner’s sugar
1 tablespoon milk
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
1 tablespoon very finely chopped dried cherries, for garnish
1 tablespoon chopped almonds, for garnish
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a medium-large mixing bowl, beat the butter with the sugar for 2 minutes or so. Add the egg and almond extract and continue beating until the mixture is smooth and creamy. Add the baking powder and salt. Gradually add the flour and milk, alternately, beating to incorporate each new addition. Beat until smooth in consistency. Fold in the dried cherries. Fill batter into individual baking cups set in a cupcake or muffin tin. Batter should just almond reach the top of the cups. Bake for about 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the middle of a cupcake comes out clean. Remove from oven and let cool.
Make the frosting: Beat the confectioner’s sugar with the butter vigorously until the mixture begins to form sharp peaks when the whisk is lifted away. Add the almond extract and milk and beat until once again thick and creamy. Once cupcakes have cooled completely, spread the frosting onto each one with a spatula. Combine the chopped nuts and dried cherries and sprinkle on the tops of each cupcake.
(for 6 cupcakes)
7 tablespoons butter: $0.85
2/3 cup all-purpose flour: $0.20
1 egg (at $3/doz): $0.25
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon milk: $0.40
1/3 cup sugar plus 1/4 cup confectioner’s sugar: $0.40
3/4 teaspoon almond extract: $0.25
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon dried cherries (at $4/3 oz.): $0.50
1 tablespoon chopped almonds: $0.40