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I reach into the cabinet to take out two well-worn stainless steel mixing bowls, its clean surface bearing the scratches of past culinary projects.  Almost automatically, I grab the glass measuring cup and silicone mixing spatula from their usual places.  From the pantry, I retrieve the sugar, flour, and baking powder and set them on the kitchen table.  Next to this set up is a piece of scratch paper on which I had carefully listed the ingredients that would mingle and coalesce in these bowls to create something beautiful.

Working swiftly, I measure out the powdery flour that is to be the cupcake body, some of it spilling over the edges of the measuring cup and onto the wooden kitchen table to make small piles of white dust.  Next, I add the baking powder and baking soda that would give the the cake volume.  I grab the whisk with the blue handle and begin to sift, turning everthing around rapidly to destroy clumps and to trap air between the fine grains.

In the second bowl, I pour in the thick coconut milk, the viscous olive oil, and the pale yellow champagne infused with the aroma of peaches.  Into this mixture, I scrape a cup of strawberry puree, the black seeds and tiny lumps of fruit still visible in the dull red juice.  This is the bowl that contains the essence of the cake–from the pinkish hue to the sweet scent of fruit and fermentation.  Finally, the wet mixture is brought together with the aerated flour, the moistness holding everything together like glue.

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As the cupcakes bake in the oven, I pick up a new stick of softened butter, bruising the sides with my fingers to test its readiness.  It breaks and smashes against the whirring metallic whisks; the electrical grinding drowns everything else in the kitchen.  I mix in powdered sugar, coconut milk, and concentrated champagne that had been simmering on the stove.  The stiff clump turns into soft buttercream–a beautiful, fluffy white frosting with a noticeable alcoholic bite.  It is rich without being overly filling.

Gingerly, I wiggle the cupcakes out of their tin molds and let them cool for the night.  In the morning, I choose a cake and decorate its top with a ring of frosting, garnishing the small pillowy mount with sliced strawberries.  But it’s not over yet.  I grab my camera and head into the living room.  I choose the wooden table stand for its checkered pattern and nice grainy texture.  I adjust the curtains to let in the soft, morning light, and find to my delight that the red curtains illuminate the room with a warm hue.  For the next fifteen minutes, I take a barrage of photos.  At first, the shots are mediocre, then, some near misses.  And, finally, the right shot.  This is perhaps, the part about baking that I enjoy the most.  Not the first bite or even the kitchen process.  It is this final picture.  Because I know that everything in this photo, from the beautifully decorated cake to the perfectly exposed and focused image, was created by me.  It doesn’t get more exhilarating than that.

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Strawberry Champagne Cupcakes from Love and Olive Oil

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Spring is coming and going, and I’m missing it.  I see color popping up everywhere—tulips, daffodils, cherry blossoms—from the neighbor’s garden to the small patches of shrubbery next to the parking lots.  Splashes of yellow next to the river and pavements covered in soft flower petals.  After months of looking at dirty white and rusty brick red, it’s wonderful to finally see sprouts of green again on lifeless branches. This is one thing I’m going to miss about Boston.  The winters here really make you appreciate Spring.

But so far, the only time I’ve had to enjoy Spring is the hour or so that it takes for me to get to and from work.  My plans to take walks have been thwarted by rainy weekends and general listlessness.  Hopefully, I can get myself out of the house this week before Summer takes us by surprise, which probably is in a week or two.

Who ever thought that making jelly out of heavy whipping cream would be so good?  At least I like it, and it’s perfect if you’re expecting company or need a quick sugar fix during the week.  Use almond extract for a more fragrant and refreshing flavor than vanilla.  The strawberry sauce gives it a tarty kick that prevents the dish from being overly rich.  The two together makes for an incredibly silky dessert that disappears fast, before you even realize that you’ve just ingested a cup of heavy cream.

When I was a little girl, I used to do my homework on the dining table while my mom watched to make sure my penmanship was acceptable.  One time, I was wiggling my loose tooth with one hand while using my other free hand to write.  The tooth was so loose you can hear it squeak every time I wiggled it.  And I was positively enjoying myself, bending the tooth sideways to see how far it could go and then pushing it back into place.  Somehow I guess all this tooth-wiggling annoyed my mom until she insisted that she “help” me extract the tooth. 

I knew she was going to yank it out, just like she did when I accidentally stapled my thumb and she fooled me into letting her take a quick peep at the embedded staple (which ended up with me sulking behind the couch with teary eyes for a good hour after the “betrayal”).  So naturally, I fought tooth and nail against her coy tricks, screaming my head off as she cornered me in the bedroom.  All of the ruckus just riled her up more and in a moment of genius (?), she smacked my face.  Which only convinced me, all the more, that she was a psycho monster.  She smacked me again.  And the next thing I knew, she was smiling and holding up my tooth in her hand.  Now that I’m older, she swears that she was acting in my interest.  Twisted, is what I call her.  

Growing up, my brother and I were relatively well behaved kids.  Of course, once in a while we totally deserved a spanking.  Like when he peed in every corner of the house.  Or when I threw a tantrum and bent all the slats of the venetian blinds in my room.  When my mom pulls out the golf stick, we’d know there would be hell to pay—like cows when they’re standing in line to enter the slaughterhouse (I don’t know why I brought up that analogy, but it seemed fitting). 

Anyways, the golf stick was made of red plastic and used to be part of some toy golf game. It became my mom’s “discipline tool” of choice after my brother and I hid her bamboo stick.  Boy, I wish we had stuck with the bamboo because the golf club was absolutely fear inspiring.  We were never hit that hard, but a smart smack from the stick was enough to leave a bright red clubhead-shaped mark with grooves.  Somehow I don’t think the manufacturers of that game ever thought their product would be used for this purpose.  Of course, now that I can look back on these memories with amusement, I tell myself that I have to find my own golf club for when I have kids some day. 

When I think about my mom, I think about the warm smell of her moisturizing lotion that lingers on my cheek after she gives me a good night kiss.  I think about the story, “Boy who cried Wolf,” that she used to tell me when I crawled into her bed.  I think about her forcing me to memorize the multiplication table.  I think about her panicking to take me to the hospital when my fever hit 106 degrees. I think about her telling the saleslady, loudly, that I was definitely not a size 36 and needed to get a smaller bra. I think about her praises and encouragements.  Her tears and frustration.  The sound of her laughter and the weight of her embrace. 

I think about the pride in her eyes when she holds up my college diploma.  Because I was finally achieving the dream that she couldn’t fulfill herself. 

I’m so used to running to my mom to receive praise or comfort, that I forget to say that I am so proud of her too.  I want to acknowledge all the years she struggled to raise two kids in suburban America, far removed from her home in Hong Kong.  The efforts she made to read the English on my homework so she could try to answer my questions.  The money she saved to hire a piano teacher.  And learning to drive on the highway so she could take me to extracurricular events.  She is the most heroic person I’ve ever known. 

I hope she knows how much she inspires me. 

Last week I made a Strawberry Almond Cream tart for my coworker’s barbecue.  It was really simple to make since there was limited baking involved.  Most of the work was just assembling all the elements together, but the result was beautiful.  It almost looked store bought. 



I loved the smell of the strawberry puree warming up on the stove.  It thickens into a jam-like consistency and I wish that I had saved the leftovers to eat with bread or spoon over ice cream.  Mmm…  Since I used an 8 inch pan instead of the 9 inch called in the recipe, I halfed the amount of graham crackers needed for the crust.  I was worried that it would be a tad too thick.  I was considering using vanilla wafers instead, but I’m glad that I decided against that.  The cinnamon in the crackers is a better complement to the cream cheese. 

One of my coworkers said that he likes the close-up pictures of food on my blog.  I told him I only try to take close-ups because the rest of my kitchen is a mess.  I’m only sparing everyone the unpleasant sight of my apartment. 

We enjoyed the tart at the barbecue while watching Star Wars episode 5.  It really was a perfect day to grill food on their porch while dried flower petals fell around us.  The strawberry tart was the perfect finale to a wonderful meal. 

Thanks for reading.