fabulous princess cupcakes

Thursday, October 29, 2009

We're celebrating Laura's birthday tomorrow with a wig and fondue party (which hopefully won't become a wig in fondue party), so I spent the evening baking cupcakes.

Tonight's creation: Strawberry Cupcakes with Champagne Buttercream Frosting.

I used the strawberry cupcake recipe from Crazy About Cupcakes. I thought this would be fitting since Laura gave me this book for my birthday last year. And I chose strawberry because her favorite color is pink.

The recipe was pretty simple -- nothing out of the ordinary. The only real challenge was the strawberries. It's October, so fresh strawberries are pretty much out of the question. I had to go the frozen route.

And unfortunately, Krystina Castella -- author of Crazy About Cupcakes -- doesn't really explain the difference between using fresh vs. frozen fruit. She goes so far as to say she prefers fresh because frozen tends to have more water, but she doesn't actually tell you what to do with that excess water or discuss how said water may impact a recipe. She also doesn't tell you if the fruit should be thawed before use.

I probably should've done a quick Web search for advice, but I was pressed for time -- baking on a weeknight is tough (and I also wanted to get a workout in -- today is a cross-training day and I needed to lift). So I winged it. I thawed the strawberries and tried to drain the excess water as best as I could before slicing the fruit.

And then I discovered that slicing was an issue too. Krystina says to slice the strawberries, but she doesn't say what size the pieces should be. I prefer smaller slices for cupcakes because bigger ones remind me of breakfast muffins. So again, I winged it.

I put the first batch of six cupcakes in the oven. (I started with standard-size cupcakes, and then switched to minis.) They seemed to take a little longer than normal to rise, and when they rose, they didn't get that high. (Excess water issue?) Also, they looked like breakfast muffins that were bleeding -- really pale with red gashes. I know Halloween is two days away, but this wasn't the look I was going for -- we want fabulous-birthday-princess, not I-survived-a-zombie-attack.

So I added just a dab of red food coloring, and my batter became a lovely shade of pink -- much better! And I filled the cupcake tins 3/4 full instead of 2/3, and that helped with the rising situation.

As for the frosting, I tried to follow Krystina's recipe for Champagne buttercream, but there were a few things in her version with which I disagreed. (Why add vegetable shortening? Really? No other frosting recipe I've ever tried has called for shortening. And she also doesn't sift her sugar. I like to sift because it gets the lumps out.)

So guess what? Once again, I winged it.

Here's my version.

Champagne Buttercream Frosting

Frosts 24 mini cupcakes

3 cups powdered sugar (you can add more if you want a stiffer consistency)
1 stick butter, at room temperature (note that room temperature is hugely important -- the butter is much easier to work with)
2-3 Tablespoons sparkling wine (I chose Cava and recommend Segura Viudas -- it's inexpensive and it tastes good)
A few pinches of edible disco dust, optional

Sift powdered sugar into a large bowl. Add butter. Mix with an electric mixer until the consistency becomes thick and whipped. Add sparkling wine (you may want to add a tablespoon at a time, tasting as you go). Mix. If the frosting isn't stiff enough, add more powdered sugar.

Frost the cupcakes. (I like to go the whole nine yards and use a pastry bag and fancy tip -- it's fun.) Finish by using a dry teaspoon to sprinkle a little disco dust on each cupcake. (I found the spoon easier than using my fingers -- the dust seemed to stick to me.)

The verdict? Tasty and very pretty. In fact, it's all I can do to keep from eating the entire batch right now. Must remind myself: They're for Laura. They're for Laura.

hot dog pizza

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

If given enough beer, yes, I probably would eat this.

how I met wolfgang puck

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Abridged version

I went to Spago and he came out of the kitchen and it was awesome.

Unabridged version

I woke up at 4 a.m. to meet the winemaker (Ted) and the marketing gal (Dana) at the Santa Rosa airport, take the 6:25 a.m. flight to L.A., grab a quick breakfast and arrive at Spago by 10 a.m. to set up for the final library tasting event.

But our flight was delayed until 7, which became 7:30, which became 8:15. And then eventually our flight was cancelled completely. And since we were flying out of Santa Rosa, which only has one flight to LAX each day, we had to jump in the car and haul ass to Oakland in time to catch a 10 a.m. flight.

We had about an hour to make the drive.

Picture this car ride: I was in the driver's seat, weaving in and out of traffic and trying not to get into an accident because I do not want to be the Pubber Who Killed the Winemaker. (No library tasting is worth this.) Meanwhile, Ted was texting his wife and erupting in sporadic fits of laughter because really, what else can you do in this situation but laugh? And Dana was in the backseat, frantically attempting to reach the company travel agent -- who wasn't at work yet -- to make sure we'd have tickets for our new flight.

And the clock was ticking away.

We were just north of Novato when I got a call from my boss telling me she had gotten approval for us to use the company jet.

And suddenly, our travel nightmare ended. I turned the car around, and we drove back up to Santa Rosa, parked at the private air field and boarded a Pilatus. (I really, really want to be a billionnaire one day, so I too can have my very own Pilatus with its leather seats and baskets of snack foods and lovely pilot named Bruce who offers to have sandwiches waiting for you on the return flight.)

And within 15 minutes of getting on the plane, all three of us were asleep.

We made it safely to L.A. and arrived at Spago with five minutes to spare. The tasting and lunch went smoothly. (It was exciting -- every seat was filled, which isn't something that happens often in L.A. -- trade and media are notoriously jaded in this market.)

And I got to meet Wolfgang Puck. He came out of the kitchen, and it was awesome.

the runner's library

Monday, October 26, 2009

Just in case training my body is not enough, I have decided to further prepare for my very first marathon experience ever by checking out nearly every running book from the library.

That's right. They don't call me Type A for nothing.

Currently, Chi Running: A Revolutionary Approach to Effortless, Injury-free Running, Nancy Clark's Sports Nutrition Guidebook and Run Faster: From the 5K to the Marathon are perched in a pile on my bedroom floor. I am also on the waitlist for Born to Run. And I recently finished The Looniness of the Long Distance Runner.

I have to say that this last book, written by Russell Taylor, is awesome.

First of all, the book is hilarious. And in the truly dorky way that a runner can understand. For example, Taylor writes about choosing a nemesis -- someone he absolutely has to beat in a race -- and how this choice is usually based upon how annoying the other person is. This rings so true for me, as my secret running goal is to one day beat the guy who shows up for Wednesday night group runs wearing a pair of orange Crocs. I am not even kidding you. I cannot stand this guy. And it is purely because of his orange Crocs. Who the hell runs in orange Crocs? Even more upsetting: This guy is always faster than me. But one day, I tell you. One day.

And I love what Taylor says about being nervous for a race. He writes:

I overhear a pair of peeing runners discuss how nervous they feel. One of them even claims to have thrown up. I don't really understand this. How can one be nervous about a race which only the elite few will finish in under three hours? There's so much time in this race -- too much really -- time enough to fall over and pick yourself up again, time to stop to tie your shoelace, to dawdle for a drink or a chat with a friend, to take souvenir photos and see the sights.

So true, right? Note to self: Remember this advice at CIM time.

Finally, there's the chapter about random marathon trivia. Did you know that the winner of the first Olympic marathon in 1896 was Spiridon Louis, a farmer and water deliveryman from Greece who trained by running alongside his mule twice daily on his delivery trips? And apparently, the marathon distance wasn't 26.2 miles until the 1908 Olympics in London. Queen Alexandra wanted the race to start on the lawn at Windsor Castle, so in order to do this, an extra mile was added on. And then to please the queen once again and end the race in front of the royal box at the Olympic stadium, an additional .2 was added. (Damn you, Queen Alexandra.) And women weren't even allowed to run the Boston Marathon until 1972.

So yes, I am geeking out. And loving every second of it.


Saturday, October 24, 2009

It seems we are getting restless.

I had numerous conversations this week with friends from different parts of my life about plans for the future.

One is trying to determine if she still wants to live in San Francisco and "rent forever."

Another is tempted to take a break from everything and spend time traveling: "We don't have kids yet, so why not?"

Two more have already loaded up the U-Haul and driven to L.A. We said good-bye to them Wednesday night at the Hopmonk. No more wine business for them. They want to get into photography.

And a very close friend told me yesterday over pho that she's been offered an internship in entertainment PR, and she's pretty sure she's going to accept, which means she'll be heading down to Santa Monica soon.

And I think: Who's next? Or perhaps, more importantly: What's next?

here's the beef

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

For the past two months or so, I have been working on a library wine tour for one of my brands, a Napa Valley pioneer that was part of the infamous Paris Tasting in 1976. (If this sounds familiar, it is. This is not the first time I've worked with a historic Napa producer. You'll remember that my last brand was also a Paris Tasting alum.)

Anyway, part of the preparation for this series of library events involved tasting through the entire Cabernet Sauvignon portfolio. (I know, I know -- my life is incredibly rough.) This took two days and involved about 100 wines. I'm not kidding -- this was tough. It's no easy feat to taste Napa Cab back to back to back. The tannins do a number on your tastebuds, and your teeth turn a remarkable shade of purple. I had to work really hard to stay focused; with this many wines, it was tempting to stop paying attention to nuances and say everything tastes the same (which is definitely not true because a 1967 is going to be profoundly different from a 1997).

How to prevent palate fatigue?

Meat. And lots of it.

Our winemaker swears that eating "meat roll-ups" counteracts the tannins in Cabernet and refreshes the palate. So while we were tasting all of these wines, we were also helping ourselves to a gigantic plate of meat. And I guess it worked because we survived and were able to pick out a very nice selection of wines to show during the library tour, which launched last night with a tasting and dinner at Boulevard, that good ol' bastion of fine dining in San Francisco. (And yes, I'll admit it -- this was actually my Very First Time at Boulevard. When I told that to our dinner guests, they looked at me like I was crazy. Apparently, it is a sin to be a foodie and not eat at Boulevard.)

Wines shown included the 1969 Cabernet Sauvignon (the very same wine that was in the Paris Tasting), the 1987 Cabernet Bosché, the 1987 Sycamore Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, the 1995 Cabernet Bosché and the 1995 Sycamore Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon. All in all a great lineup and a wonderful evening, and our guests seemed really pleased. (Crossing my fingers now and hoping this leads to ink. Dear writers: Please write.)

The performance repeats again Thursday at Martini House in St. Helena and next week at Spago in Beverly Hills.

What can I say? Fun stuff.

in other news: harvest

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Oh, that's right -- this blog is also supposed to be about wine.

So here is a glimpse of passerillage. This method of making dessert wine involves drying out the grapes -- basically, letting them shrivel up like raisins -- so their flavors become more concentrated. It's time-consuming and labor-intensive, and because the grapes shrink so much when they dry up, you need a lot of them to make a small amount of wine.

One of the wineries I represent makes a Sauvignon Blanc-based dessert wine using this method. On Monday, we had a passerillage party. The whole team got together to sort Sauvignon Blanc grapes -- picking out leaves, bugs (yes, bugs -- I picked out a moth and several spiders) and any fruit that didn't look or smell so great -- and lay the clusters out in a single layer on screens to dry. You can see the setup in the photo above. (By the way, the guy in the striped shirt is the assistant winemaker, who introduced the process to the winery.)

After the grapes were laid out -- it was sort of like putting puzzle pieces together -- the screens were stacked on top of each other in a big storage container that resembled the trailer on a big rig. The grapes will sit in that storage container until they shrivel up, and then the juice will be pressed out of them, most likely in December.

feet: a love letter

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Dear Feet:

I know I test you. There are the flip-flops that completely lack arch support, the heels that put you on tip-toe, the boots I wore last weekend to LovEvolution that resulted in a giant blister. I know I don't always make the best choices.

But I can't imagine my life without you.

I depend on you to hit the brakes when an asshole driver cuts me off on the way to the office. I rely on you when I need to take a journalist tramping through a vineyard or pour wine hour after hour at a festival. You slog through my Friday nights while I wait tables at the wine bar.

I position you in 45-degree angles during yoga class and make sure you're shoulder-width apart for squats. I force you to lunge. (And I hate lunges.) And I sometimes forget the flip-flops -- with their lack of arch support -- when I shower at the gym, thereby putting you at risk of disgusting fungal illnesses.

And I ask you to run, mile after mile, pounding the road over and over again because my brain has decided that it wants to me to be a runner. I twist your ankle, take you to physical therapy (where you are subjected to poking, prodding and x-rays), submerge you in ice baths, wrap you in athletic tape, make you run more. Occasionally, I turn your toenails black and then feel embarrassed when I have to explain to the pedicure lady why you look sad.

You endure so much, yet you never let me down.

And this morning, you were amazing. Despite the training interruptions and my lack of confidence, you gave me a PR: 2:08:44 -- exactly 16 seconds faster than even my wildest dreams had hoped.

Pieds. Piedi. Pies. Paa. Pés.

So beautiful and wonderful and strong in any language.

With much gratitude,

P.S. We are getting a 90-minute massage tomorrow night.

cute kittens calm nerves

Saturday, October 10, 2009

I cannot stop watching this. I probably watched it at least 12 times yesterday, and every time, I would laugh hysterically until I started crying. (I also forced my coworker to watch it. Poor coworker.)

And now here I am, awake before it's even light out on a Saturday morning, watching this video and eating cereal. (The fact that I can eat and watch this is quite possibly another sign of my insanity.)

But at least these cats get my mind off of tomorrow's endeavor. And at least the absolutely bizarre hours I'm keeping at the moment (did you know I was in bed last night by 9?) mean I'm on the right sleep schedule for the 7 a.m. race start.

sometimes, you can't win

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Three days left now until Healdsburg.

Went for a 3-miler last night after work. (I'm tapering, so mileage is pretty low at the moment.) Conditions were perfect: The weather was cool and crisp (I love fall), my foot wasn't bothering me and I was able to focus. And I actually finally had a really good run with a decent time, even though my route had a few gradual hills.

Satisfied, I came home, stretched and went to wash my face. And when I saw myself in the mirror, I discovered a Giant Bird Poo in my hair. Seriously: Absolutely Giant. And fresh. And if it had fallen about an inch to the right, it would've landed in my eye.


go, turtle, go

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

I am supposed to be extra-cautious with my diet this week: Lots of complex carbohydrates, no alcohol, minimal fats and pretty much no new or experimental food that could in any way cause GI distress. (Hence tonight's dinner: "Nachos" made with onions, pasilla peppers, heirloom cherry tomatoes from our potted tomato plants outside, corn relish, soyrizo and feta.)

Yes, it's pre-race week. There are exactly five days left until the Wine Country Half Marathon in Healdsburg.

This is my third half marathon this year, so it seems like I should have more confidence, but instead I feel iffy. My training was interrupted by an injury and then a cold, and my runs just haven't been as strong or as fast as I would have liked them to be. I was really hoping to PR at Healdsburg and possibly get my time down to 2:09, but now my goal is just to finish without looking like I'm about to collapse (especially since my parents will be watching, and they will freak out and try to convince me to give up running forever if anything goes remotely wrong).

So I am struggling right now. I am frustrated that I am not faster and better. I am impatient and stamping my foot (my right foot, since my left foot still hurts a little) and wondering why -- even though I've joined a training group and have a coach and follow a personalized training plan and read every dorky running book I can get from the library and have the shoes and the Body Glide and the Garmin -- it's taking so damn long to improve.

It's funny -- you'd think with running it would be about getting to a destination as quickly as possible. But what I'm learning is that it's actually the opposite -- more like slowing down, figuring out your limitations, accepting them and then trying carefully to overcome them -- and forgiving yourself if you don't succeed right away. It's a tough lesson.

Given this, I really should be viewing Healdsburg as just another training run. It's preparation for CIM, which will be the real test (first full marathon ever -- yikes). And it's a small step in what will hopefully be many more years of running.

on being old

Sunday, October 04, 2009

At work, there is a 21-year-old intern who makes it a point to remind everyone that we are "so much older" than he is. During his first week, he asked me: "Where do I meet young people around here?" And then when we had our department barbecue, he showed up two hours late and announced: "I didn't realize it started so early. But then again, old people do things earlier."

I laugh at this kid. He has no idea that us "seniors" can still party it up, dress like freaks and spend all day dancing in the streets in hot pants, only to wake up refreshed the next morning and go for a six-mile run.

Oh, youth: You have so much yet to learn. And you should also think -- even just a little bit -- before you open your mouth.
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