Thursday, May 5, 2011

Send-A-Pyrate-To-Camp 2012 Fund

SO VERY much going on right now, my friends.... much of which I can't talk about yet because it would spoil the surprise.  But I'm working on a couple of things together with some newly discovered allies and... well, just you wait!!! You will be pleasantly surprised!

In the meantime, that kid of mine, The Pyrate, is doing thangs too!  This semester, which should have been his second semester of 8th grade, has been challenging for him because, he's been advanced to 9th grade after completing 8th grade in ONE SEMESTER!  9th grade has been more demanding of him in terms of organization, and we've had to go through some real exercises in self discipline and independance and learn some lessons in making decisions for the big picture instead of the little one.  He's doing really well.  Grades are great and he's chugging along.  For more on his fantastic school, check out K12 now!
We went to a college fair a month or so back and that alerted me to the fact that since he is accelerating through two years of school in one, I might want to ummmm.... perhaps facilitate the beginning motions of planning for college.  We started researching and have the beginnings of a solid list of schools that have solidly funded marine biology programs.  It's been fun and very exciting to start exploring each school and it's different pros and cons.  On his list are schools of every size and ranking... some state funded and some private, and a couple of the Ivy Leagues even.  He's been really gaining perspective about the big picture since we started that exploration.

During this exploring we looked at requirements and admissions strategies for both the state-run colleges and the Ivy Leagues so that we would be prepared with a well-rounded resume to be not only eligible for admission, but that the next 3 years represent him appropriately as a rockstar and what that means to the admissions officers at the different schools.  You can read about what I'm finding out on my notes tab on facebook.  It's interesting stuff.  Especially when it comes to the Ivies and their admissions process.  These days, you have many options... You can go straight down the middle or shoot for the stars and save the middle for your backup and, armed with the right information set out on a master plan to make your aims pay off.
One of the things the Pyrate is doing is applying to volunteer in his field of interest.  He will hopefully be accepted this summer to work as a volunteer docent at the Cabrillo Marine Aquarium's aquatic nursery and as a youth counselor at the Long Beach Marine Institute's summer camp.  He's also applied to begin the L.A. Zoo's youth docent program in the fall.  All of these are pretty exciting tidbits.
In the fall, he starts 10th grade with honors and ap courses and will take two courses at a local community college as well.  If this sounds like a lot, you don't know the Pyrate.  Today he finished his entire day's worth of school work by 11am.  This kid has the opposite problem from my own... he has TOO many hours in the day.  We are attempting to fill some of them with things he will enjoy, learn from, and build confidence socially.  His summer will be full with these adventures!
Can you believe we are already planning for next summer?  There are two summer programs he wants to apply to.  One is the Summer Institute for Gifted Learners... an academic program that takes place on the campuses of the countries top universities, and the kids stay for three weeks (!!) on campus, and attend academic classes in their subjects of interest and fun supplement classes to help them with different sorts of study and learning practices.  He is aiming to attend the program at UC Berkley next summer.
The second of the two programs is the Brown Environmental Leadership Lab in Rhode Island.  This two week program is right up the Pyrate's alley, as attendees will stay in tents right on the shores of a beautiful bay, and study issues related to the environment, shoreline ecosystems, and more!  It looks like a wonderful program.  We hope to send him to that one too!
These two camps are extremely expensive so we are establishing a fund to raise the tuition  and airfare to send the Pyrate to them.   If we get 50 people to donate $200 each (you could do a lump sum, or that's $20 a month...), we would be able to send him off on this voyage!  We invite you to participate via the link to the right in the column or visit the website we've set up for the purpose of raising funds.  All donors will receive a monthly newsletter directly from the Pyrate with updates on his fundraising progress, school work, summer volunteer adventures, and more.  And the best part is that you'll receive a personal and exclusive invitation to a donor appreciation/bon voyage party in May 2012.    Whatever amount you are able to donate is appreciated!
Well, I've got to get back to this secret stuff I'm cooking up over here.... My news is coming soon!!!!
Til then love and light... xoxoxo

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Repost: Deacon Fielder Strikes Again...Boston Fielder and his Muthawit Orchestra

finally, a release i'm reposting...

I came to be acquainted with the inimitable Boston Fielder about half a decade ago, believe it or not, on Myspace.  I'd been writing a blog there while promoting my music and building up a following which consisted of myspacers worldwide.  We were mutual fans of each others music.  

At some point I'd posted a blog chronicling a particularly challenging period in my journey and the next day, in my inbox there was this message from him... It was raw, straightforward, scolding, as if he'd ordained himself an authority on the subject of Brig Feltus, and it was a profound moment for me.   I'm telling you this up front because there's no use in pretending to be unbiased when it comes to Boston Fielder, the Muthawit Orchestra, or Underground Railroad Broadcasting Alternatives, aka URB ALT.   We have been devoted friends for longer than linear time can define.  We knew each other in another lifetime even.  I'm sure of it.  I am a proud member of the URB ALT Family.  

 I'm telling you up front because though this is meant to spread the word about the art this man creates, it is unabashedly personal.  Let my honesty about this fact represent my confidence that what you will experience will more than justify my love of all things Muthawit!
So by all means, explore for yourself when you're done here.  You'll find me to be an honest report on the virtues of the man and his art.  I am confident of that much. 
The music of Muthawit Orchestra will not be contained in the structure of conventional musical genre descriptions.  But, oh... it is in every way music, encompassing all genres and none all at once... neo-classic, jazz, rock, funk, bluegrass, gospel, experimental, metal, psychedelic, blues, electronica...and it's own indescribable something-or-other which can only be experienced and never explained.  You can forget about trying to put this man's art into a box and tying it up in a nice neat bow.  If there is any thematic, that be it. 

You will be challenged.  You will be challenged to free your mind, to let go of your own preconditioning, break loose of the chains of stereotype, archetype, and cultural characterization.   The Muthawit orchestra's sound is beautiful noise that will touch your most guttural conscience and your most ethereal dream scapes as well.  It is frightening and sexy and comforting and confusing truth all wrapped up in compositions you can relate to despite your own conditioning.  If you are afraid of your tail feathers shaking, do not listen.  If you are afraid of arousal, do not listen.  If you fear your own emotions, this is not music for you.  Go and have a cup of tea and carry on. 

Every time I listen to this music I rejoice.  lol... I choose my friends wisely, you see...  

URB ALT is also Mr. Fielder's brainchild... a community of artists, filmmakers, photographers, poets, musicians, and their admiring relatives and friends, all attempting to live on the cutting edge of free thought and inspiration.   For me personally it has been a place where I can get to know others like me... alternative thinkers who don't quite fit the manufactured grooves of this groupthink society we all live in.    He will say differently but for me it is a movement, by pure definition of the term.   You see, I have been moved more than once since becoming a member of URB ALT.  Movement is the nature of the beast!  
Boston's orchestra ensemble Muthawit releases its next album soon and I am honored to have been one of the first to hear its jewels pre-mastering and I couldn't wait til the proper time, so I'm telling you all about it now and getting a jump on all the promotional hype that's coming down the road closer to release date.  

As far as I'm concerned, the character of the artist will tell you a lot about their art.  This man is extraordinary in every way that I know him, and has many layers of depth, not to be digested all at once.  
Being his friend is a constant temptation to be greedy. There's stuff I just intuitively know about him but don't have to think about most of the time because it's beneath the surface.  His surfaces, when you meet him, are slow, and easy going, and gentle, just like his southern drawl.  
But don't be deceived.  Every now and then he says something or does something and I'm reminded about that other stuff beneath his skin... things that can be intimidating when one considers to look straight on.  
(Do you think people understand you? Not really. If they did they'd run...)
I gotta look with sunglasses, because he's like the sun.  Most know the sun is strong, so we resist the urge to look at it straight on.  The timid don't bother looking at all, won't even stand naked in its rays for fear of getting cancer, and in the process end up with vitamin deficiencies because of it. The foolish, in their greed, forget and try to look straight into it, and end up with scorched corneas.  
That's what he's like.  Seductive ease on the surface, and raging nuclear energy underneath!  His music is evidence of all that stuff beneath the surface, organized a bit, and recorded for posterity, which is a good thing because his sub-surface stuff evidently doesn't like repeat it self in order to keep you on your toes!

As if to prove my point, while I was writing this last bit a minute ago Fielder emailed me a disclaimer warning me not to hold him to his answers because he plans to contradict himself regularly over the next few months... Schizophrenia Convenia he calls it apparently.. ( one of a thousand Bostonisms I've had the pleasure of cracking up over all these years.)  THEN  a minute or two later, a post-post-disclaimer requesting to add Igor Stravinsky, Samuel R. Delany, and Jack Kirby to his influence list... Did I ask for an influence list? Perhaps he was referring to his heroes... Uncle Baldy, and Co...  He also informed me that this is one of a handful (literally) of interviews he's ever allowed. 

What? I haven't said much of anything about the new album? Perhaps you should go back and read this posting again and pay attention this time. 

Other than that? Have a listen here and then you'll just have to wait!

Below is a quicky email interview I sprung on him today without warning.  These are his off-the cuff answers.  Thank you Boston for your friendship, for your music, for your wisdom, and for your most admirable existence!!   May your purse reach you...

What is Muthawit? A loving homage to my elders, peers, children and folks who use common sense.  
When did you start Muthawit? When I was 7 years old.
What was your inspiration for its creation?  My grandmother's singing voice and my grandfather's speaking voice.
What is the Urb Alt Movement?  Following the North Star is a movement that inspires me personally but I wouldn't call URB ALT a movement.  The financial component would make that hypocrisy.
What makes the Urb Alt Movement important in these times?  I don't know that URB ALT is important.  Is making people feel good about themselves and others enough to say that it's important?  Hmm. 
Would you compare Urb Alt with other movements in music history? Pouring glass as slowly as possible into a pitcher.
What kind of people are participating in your movement?  People who probably don't consider it a movement because movements tend to have a head, the head is lopped off by history and then it dies, is placed in a museum or cryogenically frozen in a state of mediocrity.
Who are your musical heroes past and present day?  Uncle Baldy, Marvin Gaye, Alice Coltrane and that old dude who used to sit on the front row of the church is Tupelo and chanted "Yap, Yeah, Yap, Yeah" during Reverend Pulliam's sermon.
In 10 lines of PROSE or less, describe your musical compositions in poem. "Beauty. Booty. Baby. Bounty. BOOM."
Do you think people understand you?  Not really.  If they did they'd run.
Does being understood matter to you on a personal level?  It means everything and nothing.  Too much to do.
Does it (being understood)matter to the successful spreading of the music?  Only if the music is good does it matter and even then pirates will hijack it on the seas of change before the purse reaches the hands of the chosen.
What do you believe your art contributes to the world?  Joyful cacophony and a good reason to get out of bed or stay in bed depending on the situation.
Is there a subject matter you are afraid to write about?  No.
Is there a subject matter you love to write about?  No.
What is the story behind your new album's title Men and Women?  The death of individualism, the rise of the IRS in the micromechanics of governing and the joy of watching tadpoles swim downstream.
What was the most joyful moment in creating the music on this album?  Mixing PMS Junkie.  It was a bloody good time.
What challenges did you face in making this album?  Tenant revolt.
Is your music influenced by any esoteric or ethereal experiences?  Mainly dead people who walk with us and share our experiences.  They like to dance and eat popcorn.
Did you have any experiences of transcendance during the creation of the music on Men and Women? If so, explain.  I got regular sleep for the first time in well over a year due to roommate overhaul.  It released a torrent of positively kinetic energy.
Which song is your favorite and why? What's it about?  My favorite didn't make the album cause it hasn't been written yet.  It'll be the greatest song ever written in history.  Better than anything Lennon and McCartney or Liberace could produce on their best day.
When will the album be available in stores?  May 9th.  Mutha's Day.
What are your thoughts on overcoming incomplete paradigms in life?  A paradigm by nature is complete.  It's a simple signpost of change that has served it's purpose.
What are you dreaming up for the near future artistically?  Children.
What are you dreaming up for the near future personally?  Protection.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Introducing SALUMAXIMUS: The Great Sea

Nothing makes me prouder than my kid.  He's the one thing I've been responsible for that I KNOW I'm doing the best I can, and that my best is pretty darn impressive!  I allow myself that even in those times when it feels like nothing else I do is right.  Part of raising this beautiful, brilliant child, has included nurturing his passions.  I've been nurturing his passions since he could demonstrate he had them.  Starting at about 3 or 4 years old when he would scream and holler bloody murder because he didn't want to get out of the tub without me reading the Little Fish book to him one. more. time.  "I'm a little fish, I like to get all wet, I have a little octopus, he's my little pet, we swim swim swim, we swim swim swim, we swim swim swim some more,  we swim swim swim, we swim swim swim, until we reach the shore!"  Every bath time he made me read that padded waterproof book at least 20 times.  It will forever be imprinted on my brain... every line, every picture.
He has been in love with water and marine life since at least that far back, and I made it a point to feed that love as often as possible.  It would not be far into his first years of elementary when he told me he wanted to be a marine biologist.  That seems like a million years ago....way back when we were members at the L.A. Zoo and the Long Beach Aquarium, and, yes, platinum card holders at Sea World San Diego and we milked those memberships for all they were worth and then some.  He had ocean themed birthday parties year after year, and as he got older they became Pyrate parties, because how many times can you really have whales and dolphins for a party before it starts to be uncool to your son and his friends?  We took vacations that were always near a body of water where we could snorkel and explore the ocean, including Puerto Vallarta, Florida, and the Bahamas.  We took a spring break road trip up the coast of California and visited every aquarium, marine life rescue center, marine life reserve, and university lab/aquarium we could find between L.A. and San Francisco.  One of the highlights of that trip was a beach near Santa Cruz where we walked 3 miles down a series of bluff and cliff trails to the ocean where and saw hundreds of enormous elephant seals basking on the beach in the sun.  A couple of years ago, for his birthday he requested a high school marine biology text book from a homeschool website, and marine specimens and a dissection kit from a science education website. We've been contributing to his personal library of books on related subjects since he began to use words.  He has swam with dolphins, manta rays, and 2 years ago we had the unforgettable opportunity to swim in the open waters of the Gulf of Mexico with Whale Sharks bigger than a large school bus! 
This year has been an exciting time for the Pyrate.  He's managed to complete a full year of 8th grade in a semester, and was advanced midyear to 9th grade.  By the fall he will be starting 10th grade, with almost all AP classes, and taking 2 courses at the local community college.  He's really excited and has the best kind of confidence building.... the kind you get when you work hard for something and finish it well and with acclaim.
Soon he will begin training to be a camp counselor at the Long Beach Marine Institute where he'll assist in teaching younger kids about the ocean, ecology, and marine life.  He has also applied for a position as a docent at the Cabrillo Aquarium in the Aquatic Nursery, and the youth volunteer program in the fall at the L.A. Zoo.  We've also begun the overwhelmingly complex business of college exploration.  So far there's a couple of Ivy League institutions, and one UC institution on his favorites list....oh yeah, (selective amnesia) and Alaska University of the Pacific.  And somewhere in the midst of all of that, he'll be taking his first ever scuba certification course and training.  A very exciting time indeed.  Which brings me to the purpose of this post...
The Pyrate has just launched SALUMAXIMUS: The Great Sea, a blog where he will share things he's doing, articles about marine life and ocean ecology, and anything else he feels like sharing related to the topic.  If you have a teen child, please share his blog with them.  But it's not just for teens.  The information he will be posting is interesting for people of all ages.  So check it out soon, and join us on this amazing ocean voyage!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Ginger Mint Lemonade

This recipe, (sorry there's no picture) is my favorite anytime beverage to make when we have company.  I pull out my fancy 1940's punch bowl to serve it in and it reminds me of my grandma Elee Hollins and how she'd have the entire family... about 20 of us over on Sunday afternoons after church for family Sunday "dinner" (which was really like an early supper at around 2pm).   There was almost always roast chicken, steamed rice, gravy, sweet dinner rolls fresh from the oven, either green beans or greens straight from grandma's garden, and a big punch bowl full of lemonade, made from fresh tart lemons, usually from a tree in the backyard, squeezed by hand.   Hers didn't have mint or fruit floating around in it, and she used regular granulated sugar.  Mine is an updated, organic, sparkling, and has a slightly herbaceous taste which goes well with all kinds of foods.   On a hot summer day, it's hard to resist and from what I've found, keeps party guests coming back to the punch bowl over and over and over.

This recipe yields about 12-16 servings depending on the glass size.  You can make the syrup ahead up to 4-5 days, and add the rest the day you'll serve it.  Multiplying the recipe works great too.  I usually triple or quadruple it at the syrup stage and lemon squeezing stage so that at parties I can quickly refill the punch bowl when it is inevitably empty. 

1 cup of Water
2/3 cups of Evaporated Sugar Cane Juice, Turbinado, or Raw Sugar (or 1 cup of honey, maple, etc)
4 inch piece of fresh Ginger

Heat all 3 ingredients in a saucepan til boiling.  Reduce fire and simmer for about 10 minutes.  Cool completely.

1 recipe of Ginger Syrup (see above)
1 cup of fresh squeezed Lemon Juice
1 bunch of fresh Mint leaves
1 cup of Blueberries
5 cups of Sparkling Water
4 cups of plain Water

Mix syrup, lemon juice and waters in the punch bowl or other beverage vessel.
Break the mint into small sprigs and crush them in your palm to release the flavor.
Add mint and blueberries to the liquids and mix everything together.  Add ice and serve!!

Sparkling Peach Sangria

As spring arrives, I thought to myself, "Self, it's time to add some refreshing beverages to the readers' arsenals".   To start off, I'm sharing a super-easy recipe for Sparkling Peach Sangria because people are still talking about the batch I made last summer for an all ladies pool party I hosted at my house.  So, here it is, ladies! (and Gents...)  
You'll need the following ingredients to make 4 drinks, however you can feel free to add other types of fruit as well.  

2 Firm Ripe White Peaches
1 bunch of Green Grapes
2 Granny Smith Apples
1/2 cup Peach Schnapps
1/3 cup Superfine Sugar
3 cups chilled Rose' or White Zinfandel wine
2 cups Sparkling Water or Lemon-Lime Soda (such as 7-Up)
1 cup pineapple juice

Cut up peaches and apples into bite-sized chunks, add all fruit and sugar to the peach schnapps, mix and cover for at least a couple of hours, but ideally overnight.  When ready to serve, put schnapps mixture in pitcher or serving vessel and add wine, pineapple juice, and sparkling water or soda.  Mix well.
Serve over ice!  YUM!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Thai Spice Cupcakes

So, the second cupcake flavor we're planning for my sister's shower is a Thai Spice cupcake.  I wanted to make something unique that would go with the Thai menu theme... something more interesting that boring plain white or chocolate, and something that was more about the flavor than about doing something outrageous for the frosting decoration.  So far, I've settled on a Lemongrass Vanilla Cupcake (see "find it" section for recipe), and a this one which we did a test run of today and boy oh boy are these Thai Spice Cupcakes good!  The unexpected savory-sweet flavor profile of curry, mango, vanilla, mint, and jalapeno, upon first bite inspires a raised eyebrow, and an "oh wow!", the tangy mango curry filling sends you over the top and into a moment of ecstacy and the mango butter cream?  To diiiiie for.  Really.  You'll want to sit and savor this extraordinary treat for as long as you can stretch it out.  But enough of the foreplay, here's the recipe for making one dozen!  I suggest making the mango curd the day before so that it's already done and ready to use. 


1 tablespoons curry powder
2 tablespoons minced jalapeno
1 tablespoon minced fresh mint
1 tablespoon minced fresh cilantro
1 cup finely diced mango
1 recipe Vanilla Bean Cupcakes (see "cupcakes" in the "find it" section to the right)

To Assemble:
2 cups Mango Curd (see Lemon Curd recipe with alternate instructions to make it Mango)

1 cup Mango Curd (see Lemon Curd recipe with alternate instructions to make it Mango)
1 recipe Vanilla Buttercream (American Style)

Make your Vanilla Bean Cupcake batter according to the recipe instructions then add the curry.
Fold in Jalapeno, mint, cilantro, and minced mango gently. 
Bake according to directions.  They will not be golden brown.  They're done when a toothpick comes out clean when inserted into the middle of a cupcake. 

Allow to cool completely. 
Make the mango curd.  
Make the Vanilla American Buttercream.  
Fold 1 cup of mango curd into the buttercream.  If it's too thin, you'll have to add more sifted powdered sugar until it's thick enough to hold shape when frosting your cupcakes.
When the cupcakes are cooled completely, push a finger down into each one leaving a hole.
Using a turkey baster, fill each hole with some of the remaining mango curd.
Then frost the cupcakes with the mango buttercream frosting.  
Garnish with mint or cilantro sprigs.


Lemon Curd

Here's a quick lemon curd recipe.  You will use it in some of my other recipes but it's also really tasty on toast, biscuits, pancakes, home-baked gingerbread,  etc... You will need a double boiler or a metal bowl that can sit on the rim of a large sauce pan.

1 1/4 cups sugar
1 cup lemon juice
1/4 cup lemon zest
4 eggs
1 cup butter cut into 1 inch cubes

Fill a large saucepan with a few inches of water and boil.
Set a metal bowl or double boiler on top.

Add sugar and lemon juice to the bowl/double boiler and combine until well mixed.
Add the lemon zest and eggs, wisking well as you add them.
Continue to whisk while the mixture cooks.  You cannot let this cook undisturbed the eggs will coddle up on you.  So just keep on stirring/whisking until your curd is thick sort of like a thick creamy soup chowder.
Run the mixture through a sieve and discard any solids and zest.
Stir in butter then chill.

TO MAKE MANGO CURD:  Substitute mango puree for the lemon juice, keep lemon zest in.
TO MAKE IT GRAPEFRUIT:  Substitute grapefruit juice for lemon juice and eliminate the lemon zest.

You get the idea... you can make many kinds of fruit curd this way!!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Lemongrass Cupcakes

These cupcakes are part of the plans for my baby sister's bridal shower coming up in a couple of months.  We are doing a Thai themed menu, so it was important to me that we don't just have some generic flavor cupcakes that don't fit in with the distinct flavors of the Thai food that will be served on that day.  This is the first of 3 different flavors planned for the cupcakes for that party. 
The subtle exotic flavor of lemongrass infuses these cupcakes for just a hint of something different.... lending a bit of a tea-like flavor with a hint of citrus.  I think I am in love.  My first run of these was a bit too sweet but I think I'm happy with the alterations I've made and that you will love these as much as I do.  For this recipe you will need to look up my recipes for Vanilla Bean Cupcakes and Buttercream Frosting (American Style).  You can find them both in the Find It directory in the column to the right under several obvious categories, or perhaps if you're lucky the links at the end of this post! xoxo

For the cupcakes you'll need:
1 recipe of Vanilla Bean Cupcakes
1 1/2 cups of Lemongrass Simple Syrup

For the Lemongrass Simple Syrup:
4 stalks of lemongrass
5 cups of water
4 cups sugar

For the Frosting you'll need:
1 recipe of Buttercream Frosting (American Style)
1/2 cup of Lemongrass Simple Syrup (see below)

Start by getting your Lemongrass Simple Syrup going...
Chop up your lemongrass into half inch bits and bring with the water to a boil in a large pot.
Once boiling, add the sugar, reduce the heat, and simmer for at least an hour.

While that's going, make your cupcakes just according to the recipe directions and get them in the oven at 350 degrees to bake.

While your cupcakes are baking and your syrup is cooking down, make your buttercream frosting and set aside.

When your cupcakes are done baking, remove them from the oven, and while they are still hot, dip each one, for about 3 seconds into the lemongrass syrup so that it soaks a bit into the top, then set aside to cool.

Return the remaining syrup back to the stove and cook again for another hour or more, then cool completely.  You can speed this by placing in the freezer for a while.
When the syrup has cooled it should be a loose honey-like consistency.  Strain off the lemongrass and set aside
Once cooled you can fold 1/2 cup of this syrup in to your frosting til thoroughly mixed, beating again if you need to in order to properly incorporate it.
Frost your cooled cupcakes and they're ready to go!!! I garnished mine with a bits of the cooked lemongrass that I strained out of the syrup. Enjoy! 

Buttercream Frosting (American Style)

In our country, Buttercream is, for the most part, at bakeries, not at all made with butter.  It's usually vegetable shortening.  Although that may be a bit more healthy, I can't condone buttercream frosting without butter in it, so I have gone back to the roots of the matter and come up with my own comprimise... You can find the palm shortening used in this recipe in your grocery's organic foods section.  It may be labeled vegetable shortening, just check the ingredients to confirm it's palm oil that's used to make it.
Other than that?  What can I say... when enjoying cupcakes for a special occasion, there's really no need to fuss around about things such as whether or not something is more healthy or not.   So just enjoy and move on!!

You have to make this the same day you intend to use it because of the butter and milk in it.  If you want to make it vegan then use vegan margarine and soymilk in place of butter and milk in the recipe... if you insist! :) It can be made in advance in that case.
Makes enough frosting for a dozen or more cupcakes.

1 cup palm shortening
1/2 cup unsweetened butter
5 cups organic powdered sugar sifted (5 cups measured before sifting)
1/4 cup milk
2 tbsp pure madagascar or bourbon vanilla extract

Mix the shortneing and butter in the bown of a stand mixer on high until smooth and fluffy.
Slowly add the powdered sugar with the mixer speed turned down low or you'll get it back in the face!
Then add the vanilla
Then add the milk last.
Scrape down and mix on high for about 15 minutes til your frosting is smooth and fluffy.  If it seems like it's not thick enough, go ahead and add more sifted powdered sugar and mix until smooth.
Make sure your cake is completely cooled before frosting!

Vanilla Bean Cupcakes Recipe

Today I was testing out a recipe I plan to use for lemongrass cupcakes for my sister's bridal shower.  In order to share that recipe I have to first share the basic Vanilla Bean Cupcake recipe I use because from time to time I will share the unique ways I alter it to create interesting flavor profiles. 
So here is that recipe.  It is better than most typical white cake recipes.  The technique used in mixing the ingredients is also different and makes for a more moist and tender cupcake... a goal that is very difficult in cupcake baking because of the size of each cake.  I learned this technique from a book called Who You Callin' Cupcake, which, if you want to be able to make something different from your average cupcake, is the book to have.  Anyway, here is my version of their Vanilla Bean Cupcakes recipe.  Enjoy it as is, or use it as a base as instructed in some of my other cupcake recipes.

Makes 1 Dozen

1/2 cup organic sugar or organic cane juice
1 2/3 cups of organic all purpose unbleached flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter (unsalted)
1/2 cup skim milk
2 eggs
1 tablespoon of pure madagascar or bourbon vanilla extract
1 vanilla bean (run a knife down the length and split open then scrape the seeds out to be used for this recipe... you can put the scraped out hull in a container of sugar to make vanilla sugar)
 **if you don't have a vanilla bean just use 1 additional tablespoon of vanilla extract***

Preheat your oven to 350 and line your traditional size cupcake pan with cupcake liners.
In a stand mixer bowl, combine first four ingredients (dry stuff)
Add butter to the bowl and mix on low til a grainy meal is formed
Add 1/4 of the milk slowly til the mixture looks like a paste
In a separate bowl, combine eggs with remaining 1/4 cup of milk, vanillas.
Slowly pour the wet mixture into the stand mixer bowl til it is incorporated into the paste and forms a batter.
Scrape down the sides and mix on high for a few seconds until smooth.

Fill the cups in the pan to within about 1/2 inch from their top edges.
Bake for 10-20 minutes.  Tops will not be brown... but will be softly golden around the edges and a toothpick will come out clean when they are done.  They will also feel stable to the touch of your fingertip on their tops.

Cool completely before frosting! Voila!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Pyrate's Soupe L'Ognion (French Onion Soup)

Yesterday the Pyrate made the BEST FRENCH ONION SOUP I HAVE EVER HAD!  I will never crave it again from elsewhere... not even that French bistro at the Grove promenade.  If you are a fan of French Onion Soup, you will fall in love all over again when you learn to make it at home from scratch.  It is truly a beautiful thing.
You'll need oven proof dishes, either porcelain, ceramic or stoneware individual crocks, ramekins, or bowls.  We used porcelain ramekins, which worked fine except they are a pain to get clean again... you have to soak them in baking soda and hot water overnight to get the baked-on brown stains off.  The picture below is not mine.  Just wanted to give you something to look at.  We forgot to take pics before we ate ours!  Ha!  Sorry!

This recipe was inspired by one we saw Alton Brown (the food scientist dude) make on the Food Network with some slight alterations because his ended up with not enough onions and even the entire recipe was a bit scant to truly feed 6 people like he said it would.  

7 large sweet onions (red or sweet maui or a combination of both as we did for ours)
4 tbsps butter
sea salt
1 cups of white wine (we used a chardonnay)
32 oz of beef broth (or vegetable if you prefer)
12 oz of chicken broth (or more vegetable if you prefer)
2 cups of apple cider
1 bouquet garni (thyme sprig, bay leaf, and parsley sprig tied together with kitchen twine)
1 loaf of country style bread
sea salt and fresh ground pepper
2 cups of grated Gruyere

Cut onions in half then thinly cut into half-moon slices, mix together if using two kinds.  
Melt the butter in the bottom of a dutch oven or large soup pot over medium low heat. 
Spread a layer of onions over melted butter and sprinkle layer with a pinch of salt.
Repeat layering onions and sprinkling with a pinch of salt til all onions are layered in the pot.  Do not stir.
Leave to cook down over medium low heat for 15-20 minutes then stir. 
Continue cooking and occasionally stirring til onions are carmelized to a dark mahogany and reduced to about 2 cups.  This will take about 45 min. to an hour, and don't worry if it seems it's burning.
Add the wine and cook over high heat until liquid is reduced and is syrupy. (We had a chuckle-worthy moment when we got to this part because the Pyrate imitated Julia Childs as he sloshed the wine into the pot without a measuring cup. )
Add broths, cider, and herbs, turn down fire, cover, and simmer for 15-20 minutes.
Place oven rack on top notches of oven and heat your broiler.
Cut bread in rounds large enough to fit soup bowls.
Place the slices on a baking sheet and drizzle with a bit of olive oil.
Broil in the oven til nice and toasty, turn and repeat on the other side.
Season soup mixture with salt, pepper.
Add a splash of cognac. We used about 1/4 cup.
Remove herbs and ladle soup into crocks leaving one inch from the top.
Place bread round on top of soup and top with grated cheese.
Broil until cheese is bubbly and golden.
Be sure to watch it so that it doesn't burn.

's Been A Long Time, I Shouldn't-a Left You....

Well, well, well, look who's decided it's time to get these squeaky gears turning again over here!!!!  It's been at least 8 months since I last wrote you.  There's been much under foot.  I decided in the late spring of last year that I was completely over trying to make traditional schooling work for the Pyrate.  Between bullies, peers out of control, over populated classrooms, not up to par gifted student programs, and a complete lack of concern about any of these issues by school officials and staff, I'd had enough.  But what was most hurtful was the fact that I am raising a exceptionally gifted child who has the potential to be a prodigy and nobody seemed to care about what that means.  The Pyrate, bless his heart, has textbook characteristics for what is known about children who are highly gifted.  School work was easy and therefore frustrating, socializing was precarious because his mind works faster than most kids his age, and he needed special attention in the area of keeping organized.  He needed academic attention and consideration that he didn't get in public school OR previously the private schools he was in. He needed to be able to work at his own pace, doing curriculum that was both entertaining and challenging, he needed peers on his level so that he didn't feel the need to diminish himself to fit in, he needed more intensive guidance with organizational and study habits.  He was never going to discover his potential in a normal school.  So I signed him up to attend the California Virtual Academy.  It's an online California charter school based on the K12 virtual educational system.  K12 is a program built by the top scholars and researchers in the fields of cognitive learning and child development.   We started in September when the Pyrate started 8th grade.  I am happy to say that this was the best decision I have ever made as this child's mother.  It has changed his life tremendously.  At the end of the first semester, not only did he have straight A's, he'd finished an entire year of school... his entire 8th grade curriculum in one semester.  The school approved his early advancement to 9th grade, so he's now taking 9th grade classes and one 10th grade honors english because he took the 9th grade one in his 8th grade curriculum.  I have never seen him happier, and part of that is because he has been allowed a set of circumstances that give him the opportunity to truly see what he is capable of.  Instead of diminishing himself to fit in, he and his new friends challenge each other and goad each other to keep up with whoever is ahead.  I am able to work more intensively with him on issues regarding organization, and just as importantly he gets more direct guidance from me in regards to values I believe are necessary in becoming a young man.  It's a profound difference from what he got out of his former life where my only influence was in the evening hours and weekends.  Some are of the mind that he's missing something be not having the influence of a normal school.  Well, we tried that and he was miserable, bored, frustrated, exposed to things no child should be exposed to, and worse of all, had no idea how smart he was.  Now he knows and just that one thing has been enough to make him a happier teenager.  He'll be applying to join Mensa at some point this year, and the Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth, both whose members are children of phenomenal talent and academic ability.
That's what I've been up to.  It's been like a boot camp of sorts for both of us, getting used to how homeschooling works, learning to be his learning coach,  him learning to be more active in the planning and execution of his education.  It's been challenging and exciting and nowhere near as difficult as most people think it would be.  If you find that your child is having trouble in any way in normal school and you have the ability to school them at home, this program is available free of charge, as a charter in most larger cities in the US and the program is also available as a teach-on-your-own curriculum for purchase wherever you are.  They also have an international school as well .  Some US cities even have coops or flex facilities so your kid actually goes to a live facility to do their schooling through this same program.  If you think your child is too unruly for you to want to deal with them at home, I think you'll find that they behave much better at home than they do when you're not there... the one person who really cares, to keep them in check for real, like no teacher will ever do.  Check it out!
Other than homeschool, there's not much else to tell.  LOL  I've been deep in it for a good while.  My next blog is going to be about this doggone soup the Pyrate made for dinner last night.  Then the first part in a series on how to plan a special event party.  I will share step by step planning for my sister's wedding shower that takes place in May.  If you like to host guests in your home, you will like that a lot.
Music is on hold in the moment, perhaps some new stuff on the horizon soon... I'll keep that close to the vest til there's something substantial to tell.... xoxo
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