I am thankful for.....

Sunday, November 27, 2011

"Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it." ~ William Arthur Ward

Thanksgiving.  My favorite holiday, second in line to my birthday.  Fall brings on a warm feeling that naturally has you going through a mental checklist of  things to be thankful for and dreams of new beginnings for the upcoming year. 

This year the holiday started in the early crisp morning to complete a turkey trot.  It was my first event of this kind but I hope it becomes another tradition with great friends.  Somehow completing a 2 mile walk/jog made me feel better about consuming the large meal to come.  Next it was on to food, football and most of all, family!  My Mom prepared a great meal of turkey and all the fixings, with a little help from Jamie Oliver.  No, the gnarly toothed chef did not make a visit to our family kitchen but he inspired the turkey rub and it turned out fabulous.  The best part of the meal for me was seeing the pride on my Dad’s face as we enjoyed corn, green beans, squash and raspberries all from the family garden.  The day was topped off with a Green Bay Packers win and more quality family time.

I did partake in some black Friday shopping.  Nothing too crazy, my sister and I started shopping at a reasonable time of 9:30am.  I managed to get a few Christmas gifts and a little “just because” gift for myself, the 2012 Wilton Yearbook.  Think toy catalog for bakers.  I will definitely be starting my wish list soon.  I ended my shopping day at the least busy store, the grocery store.  I picked up a few ingredients to test out a new recipe.
I introduce to you, Tasty Sweet Cupcakes newest flavor, Peppermint Hot Chocolate Cupcakes! 
The base is my favorite chocolate cake recipe with a touch of peppermint added.  The topping more than doubled the height of  the cupcake alone!  Who can resist TWO layers of frosting?  The first layer is chocolate frosting rolled in crushed candy cane.  The top layer is marshmallow frosting with a dusting of hot chocolate powder and homemade peppermint white chocolate swirls and snowflakes.  Unintentionally the swirls turned out looking like steam rising from the rich cup of hot chocolate.  The only thing left to do was sample.  Let me just say, this cupcake is a meal in itself.  Not a well rounded meal but a tasty sweet one.  This cupcake definitely required a fork.  I’m thinking the next batch of these will be made in minis.  The family was once again on hand to sample my newest creation and the rest were delivered to friends today.  It’s nice to know I always have taste-testers to help me out.

So tonight I’m enjoying a glass of wine and once again going through my mental checklist of all things for which I am thankful.  The list is long and that gives me a warm calm feeling.  As days, months and years go on, items on my list may change but family, friends and football remain.  Oh, and cupcakes too!

Cupcakes: Not your average travel companion.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

I have always loved cupcakes but my passion for cupcakes came in the most unusual of places.  The land of "shrimp on the barbee" and Crocodile Dundee doesn't conjure up images of rich velvety cupcakes. While on a dream vacation in Australia the cupcake earned its place at the top of the dessert pedestal. On a half day trip abseiling, an extreme sport similar to rappelling, in the Blue Mountains of Katoomba.  My instructor was cool and calm as he set up for our scariest and most difficult descent, 30 meters. 5 meters was child's play like going off a big rock, 30 meters was like going off a skyscraper.  The wind was strong, so strong that our instructor had to attach rocks to the ropes to stop the violent swaying of the ropes.  I tried to look over the edge to see what the hell I was getting myself into but was quickly reminded that without a harness attached to the rope the winds would easily blow me off the side of the mountain.  As our instructor singlehandedly staged our ropes and prepared us for abseiling, it was clear he could see how nervous we were.  To calm our nerves his light hearted topic:  Cupcakes! 
He told us about a wonderful shop just accross Katoomba St. from his office of High-N-Wild Mountain Adventures.  He described his favorite flavors, I would love to tell you his recommendation but the howling wind was drowning out his voice as his conversation turned to shouting. Though the fear of this crazy descent was still in the pit of my stomach, I now had a goal.  After this extreme adventure I would reward myself with one of the decadent cupcakes described by our instructor. The thought of a decadent cupcake brought me to my happy place allowing me to relax and enjoy the amazing views of the Blue Mountains. 
The ride was awesome and once at the bottom I released the rope from the intricate weaves and knots to climb back up and do it one more time before heading back into town. While in the van along the winding mountain road (my adrenaline still pumping from basically jumping off a skyscraper) I received the worst news of the day. Our instructor recalled the bakery was closed on Tuesdays.  Just my luck it was Tuesday and therefore Blue Mountain cupcakes was not going to happen.
My descent into the Blue Mountains
Our train was leaving for Sydney shortly and I knew chances were slim I would ever return to Katoomba, let alone this amazing feeling of adventure, accomplishment and mouth watering desire for a cupcake.  It was this right place at the wrong time misstep that started my new tasty travel tradition. Some people seek great bbq or pizza joints but I would now try the lands greatest cupcakes during my travels.  I seek out the sweetest of treats and will now share my experiences with you.  I may never return to Katoomba, but because of my experience in Australia, I've now sampled cupcakes in Boston, Washington DC, San Diego and several places in between.