Monthly Archives: July 2011

Winthrop with Friends and One More Rolled Food

Seems like just yesterday we were in Winthrop running the Sunflower. We like it so much that we recently went back with friends. We don’t travel with friends often. We like our friends too much to inflict ourselves on them. Here are a few things we learned from the experience:

1. If the guy renting you the paddle boat says it’s too windy to go out far on Patterson Lake, you should listen. He’s the expert. You’re a city slicker who’s about to discover how darned hard it is to paddle boat into strong currents. In the midday sun. With two whiny eleven-year-olds in the back, who, it turns out, were wise beyond their years when they told you not to go out so far.

And if said boat rental guy motors out to see if you’re okay, don’t let your pride get in the way of accepting a tow back to shore. Injured muscles or injured pride. You decide.

2. Girls will be girls. They will buy fake mustaches from the camp general store and romp through the campground like a hirsute band of biker babettes.

3. Food cooked on an open fire is overrated. If you were camp cook for a wagon train of pioneers, they’d all starve:

That’s country gravy. Made by this here food blogger.

I’d have eaten coon before I’d eat that. Or the hot dogs we found littered in an open field.

But more on country gravy, and how to actually make it work, in another post.

4. Take a game the grownups can enjoy while the kids play after dinner. We brought Bananagrams. But don’t quit playing if Nacho Man claims he’s won. He makes up words.

Sadly, he doesn’t always realize they’re made up words.

5. And finally, pack a meal for the long drive. Try something different:

Try Spam musubi.

I’ve eaten Spam lots of different ways, thanks to my dad, but never with rice and yaki nori. A good friend taught me how to make this. Although we didn’t see it when we were in Maui, my friend says it’s big in Hawaii for its flavor and portability. Apparently you can buy it at convenience stores. I think it’s amazing the foods you can buy in convenience stores there. Like samosas in London.

This is fast, easy, and different than peanut butter slapped onto bread. You need 3 cups of cooked short grain rice. I mixed 2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar and 1/2 tablespoon of sugar in a small bowl, then gently mixed it into my cooked rice with a rice paddle.

Crack open a can of Spam. I have Spam Lite–yes, it’s an oxymoron. Find a way to release the Spam from its container. It’s suctioned in there pretty tight. Slice it into 8 equal slices and fry each side in about 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil on medium heat for a few minutes. Remove from the pan.

Mix 1 tablespoon soy sauce with 1 tablespoon of sugar in a small bowl and pour it into the pan. Return the Spam to the pan and flip each side in the mixture. Remove from heat.

Open a package of roasted seaweed, or yaki nori. You won’t use all of it for this recipe, but the rest can be sealed in a Ziploc bag and kept in the pantry.

Lay the yaki nori on a clean cutting board. If you have a Spam musubi rice mold, which  my friend happened to pick up for me at our local Uwajimaya grocery store, use it as a guide for cutting the yaki nori to width. This mold is the exact size for a piece of sliced Spam. Who’d have thought that Spam would generate a set of specialty kitchen tools?

Place the mold in the middle of the sliced yaki nori.

Use a rice paddle to place rice in the mold until it’s about half full. Gently press the rice down, making sure it fills each corner of the mold.

Put a piece of glazed Spam on top of the rice. Then, add enough rice to fill the mold, being sure to gently tuck it into the corners.

Take the lid of the mold and gently press it against the rice.

Holding the lid in place, carefully lift the mold away.

Gently remove the lid from the rice. You might need a clean knife or rice paddle to do this.

Lift the bottom of the yaki nori and cover the rice and Spam. Then, do the same with the top of the yaki nori.

Flip the Spam musubi so that the seam is on the bottom.

Spam Musubi

makes 8


1 can of Spam or Spam Lite

3 cups cooked short grain white rice

2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar

1/2 tablespoon sugar

1 tablespoon soy sauce

1 tablespoon sugar

yaki nori

vegetable oil for frying


1. Prepare the rice. Mix 2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar and 1/2 tablespoon sugar in a small bowl and gently mix into the cooked rice with a rice paddle.

2. Slice the Spam into 8 equal pieces. Fry in about 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil on medium heat for a few minutes on each side, or until browned. Remove from pan.

3. Mix 1 tablespoon soy sauce with 1 tablespoon sugar. Add to pan and return Spam slices, turning to coat both sides evenly. Remove from heat.

4. Trim yaki nori to match the size of Spam musubi mold. Place mold in the center of the trimmed yaki nori.

5. Add enough rice to half fill the mold. Use a rice paddle to carefully tuck it into each corner of the mold.

6. Add 1 slice of Spam.

7. Cover with rice.

8. Press the lid of the mold on the rice to compress the rice a bit. Then, carefully lift the mold while holding the lid into place.

9. Tuck the bottom, then top, of the yaki nori over the rice and Spam. Flip over so the seam is on the bottom.

10. Eat immediately, or wrap individually in plastic and refrigerate. These taste best if eaten within a day.



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Spring Rolls with Skirt Steak

I’m on a roll with foods you can roll. Also about foods that, if you’re going to make the effort to go to a specialty market for ingredients such as lemongrass, Thai basil, or rice paper, make use of these ingredients if you can’t stick them in the freezer or pantry.

All that tofu from the lettuce wraps made me hungry for red meat. So after trimming the fat off a 1 1/2 pound skirt steak, marinate it in a mixture of 1/2 cup of soy sauce, 3 tablespoons of vinegar, 3 tablespoons of sugar, 1 tablespoon of minced ginger, 2 cloves of minced garlic, and some cracked black pepper for 8 hours.

Meanwhile, prep the rest of the ingredients: half a bag of rice noodles (enough to equal 4-6 ounces), 1 cucumber, peeled and cut into long, thin slices, 1 big handful of cilantro, ends trimmed, Thai basil that’s lasted us through two other meals in the last seven days, and 1 diced tomato and 1/4 cup thinly sliced onion steeped in 1 tablespoon of vinegar and 1/2 tablespoon of sugar for about 30 minutes. If you get done early, you can put everything you’ve prepped in the refrigerator and forget about it until dinnertime.

Grill the meat for about 3-5 minutes per side, then cover in foil. Slice.

Set up an assembly line with all the ingredients.

Pour hot water into a large bowl and run a piece of rice paper through it in a circular motion. Pile the noodles, vegetables, meat, and garnishes in one corner, pull in the sides, and roll.

This is Lupe’s roll: cucumber, rice noodles, and a little meat on rice paper.

This is Rue’s roll: rice noodles on rice paper. After two of these, she just wants rice paper. I can’t get angry at her because that’s what I used to ask for as a kid. Don’t underestimate the palette-pleasing power of a piece of wet rice paper. Do feel free to underestimate its nutritional power.

This is mine: cucumber, rice noodles, rare meat, cilantro, Thai basil, and quick-pickled tomatoes. I honestly can’t tell you if there’s a proper order for layering ingredients on the rice paper. It all tastes the same going in. You can change up the order with each roll and see if you taste a difference. Might need to try lots of them.

Spring Rolls with Grilled Skirt Steak

serves 4


1 1/2 pound skirt steak, fat trimmed (I like to slice it into two smaller pieces to make it easier to work with)

1/2 cup of soy sauce

3 tablespoons of vinegar

3 tablespoons of sugar

1 tablespoon of minced ginger

2 cloves of minced garlic

cracked black pepper to taste

half a bag of rice noodles

1 cucumber, peeled and cut into long, thin slices

1 big handful of cilantro, ends trimmed

Thai basil

1 diced tomato

1/4 cup thinly sliced onion

1 tablespoon of vinegar

1/2 tablespoon of sugar


1. Marinate the skirt steak in the soy sauce, vinegar, sugar, minced ginger, minced garlic and black pepper in the refrigerator for at least 8 hours, turning at least once.

2. Prepare the rice noodles according to package directions and refrigerate if necessary.

3. Prepare the cucumber, cilantro, and Thai basil. Refrigerate if necessary.

4. Mix 1/2 tablespoon of sugar in 1 tablespoon of vinegar in a small bowl until the sugar is dissolved. Add the diced tomato and sliced onion and marinate at least 30 minutes. Refrigerate if necessary.

5. Grill the meat for about 3-5 minutes per side, then cover in foil. Slice.

6. Set out all ingredients. Once the rice paper is wet, you need to work quickly.

7. Pour hot (not boiling) water into a large bowl and run a piece of rice paper through it in a circular motion. Add noodles, vegetables, meat, and garnishes in one corner, pull in the sides, and roll. Serve with nuoc mam (optional but highly recommended).

Nuoc Mam


A little goes a long way; I usually combine 1/4 cup of the fish sauce, vinegar, and sugar with 1/2 cup of the water, and it makes plenty for a large family dinner or to save. This will keep in the refrigerator for a very long time.

1 part fish sauce

1 part vinegar

1 part sugar

2 parts water

chili paste to taste


1. Combine the fish sauce, vinegar, and water in a large bowl.

2. Add the sugar. Stir until dissolved. Test and adjust flavors if needed.

3. Add chili paste to taste.

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Lettuce Wraps

We really like to wrap our food around here: rice paper, tortillas, and now lettuce. Basically we’ll use anything but bread and pita pockets these days.

I craved P.F. Chang lettuce wraps when I was pregnant with Lupe, though that may not be saying much as I seemed to crave everything during that pregnancy. This vegetarian option uses lemongrass and ginger to season the tofu and, in a nod to Vietnamese cooking (also because I had lots of Thai basil on hand from making a pot of pho for my sister) is garnished with carrots, Thai basil, and bean sprouts rather than served with dipping sauce.

The prep time for this meal takes much longer than the cooking time. Because you’re frying a bunch of finely chopped stuff on high heat, you want all the ingredients to be ready to go.

Tofu. For me, it’s like vanilla ice cream. I like it a lot better when there’s other stuff with it. Take a block and cut it into cubes about the size of your thumbnail:

Set the cubed tofu over some paper towels to dry.

Mix 1 tablespoon soy sauce, 1 tablespoon fish sauce, 1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar, 1/4 teaspoon sesame oil, 1 tablespoon brown sugar, and 1/2 teaspoon chili paste in a small bowl. Set aside. If you don’t have all these ingredients, you can just use soy sauce and sugar–something salty and sweet that will glaze the tofu a bit. I like the fish sauce and rice wine vinegar for tang, the sesame oil for its flavor which I can’t describe except to say that I like it, and the chili paste for heat.

Mince 1/2 cup of onion or 2-3 shallots, 2 cloves of garlic, and enough fresh ginger to equal 1/2 -1 tablespoon, depending on how much you like ginger.

Prep the lemongrass. Lemongrass is readily available at Asian markets and although the price per pound seems steep (anywhere between 3 and 4 bucks), a stalk doesn’t weigh much. You only need one stalk for this recipe, and you’ll probably have leftovers to freeze.

Peel away the outer skins. Then, chop off the bulb at the base of the stalk, and trim the top so that you’re left with the meatiest part of the stalk.

Slice from the bottom of the stalk, where the bulb was. About 1/2 to 2/3 of the way up toward the tip, the lemongrass becomes woody. You can freeze this part for seasoning soups or using as a skewer for barbecued meat–more on that in a future post.

Put the sliced rounds in a food processor and process until it looks like you have little lemongrass shavings–about 1-2 minutes. What you don’t use for this recipe can be frozen and used later.

Heat up a large skillet or wok. Medium-high heat works well. Add 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil to the hot pan and cook the onion and lemongrass for 3-4 minutes, stirring often. Then, add the garlic and ginger and stir constantly for 30 seconds. The tofu and mushrooms go in next and need to cook for about 5 minutes, or until the mushrooms are cooked and the tofu is warm. Toss in the water chestnuts–I left mine in the large wheels straight from the can but you could chop them to make them the same size as the tofu.

Up to this point, what’s cooking in the pan is a pretty uniform color, like tofu that’s gotten a ten-minute Seattle summer tan. Like me. Add the sauce you prepped earlier. Stir and take the pan off the heat. Use a slotted spoon to remove the mixture from the pan and set it in a bowl.

Set a piece of lettuce on a plate. Add a couple tablespoons of the mixture, then top with carrots, Thai basil, and bean sprouts (which we didn’t use because my sister and I ate all of them in our pho). You’ve got crisp, soft, cool, warm, spicy, and minty in every bite. Pretty exciting stuff for tofu.

serves 4


1 14-ounce box of firm or extra-firm tofu, cubed to thumbnail size and patted dry

2 tablespoons vegetable oil for cooking

1/2 cup minced onion or shallot

2 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 tablespoon minced ginger (or 1 tablespoon if you like ginger)

2 tablespoons minced lemongrass

1 8-ounce can water chestnuts, chopped

4 mushrooms, sliced (or enough to equal 1/2 cup)

1 tablespoon soy sauce

1 tablespoon fish sauce

1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar

1/4 teaspoon sesame oil

1 tablespoon brown sugar

1/2 teaspoon chili paste

1 head Bibb, butter, or green leaf lettuce

1/4 cup shredded or matchstick carrots for garnish

Thai basil leaves for garnish

Bean sprouts for garnish (optional)


1. Separate lettuce leaves. Wash well, remove firm ends, and set aside to dry.

2. In a small bowl, mix soy sauce, fish sauce, rice wine vinegar, sesame oil, brown sugar, and chili paste. Set aside.

3. Heat oil in a large frying pan or wok over medium-high heat. Add onion and lemongrass and cook for 3-4 minutes, stirring often.

4. Add ginger and garlic and cook for 30 seconds, stirring constantly.

5. Add tofu and mushrooms and cook 4-5 minutes, stirring frequently, or until mushrooms are cooked and tofu is warm.

6. Add water chestnuts.

7. Add seasoning and mix to incorporate.

8. Remove from heat. Spoon 1-2 tablespoons into a lettuce leaf and garnish with carrots, Thai basil, and bean sprouts, if desired.

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Function is from Mars, Form is from Venus

Nacho Man once told me that if he was a bachelor, all he’d need is a futon and a hot plate.

If that’s all he had, I have no doubt that he’d still be a bachelor.

But instead, he married me. And as we’ve grown up together, we’ve tried to create a cozy home together. It hasn’t been a smooth process. All I can say is that for someone who claims to only need a futon and a portable stove to get through life, he sure has a lot of opinions.

For instance, he thinks that hanging the barbed wire wreath I bought at Second Saturdayz over our entry gives our house a warm, Inquisitiony feel:

“It came from a ranch in Winthrop,” I say. “You know how much we love Winthrop.”

Nacho Man grunts as the extension ladder wobbles beneath him, and I’m glad I can’t hear anything else he might have uttered with that grunt.

Me: “Um, it’s not quite centered up there.” And then I duck and cover.

Rue has a lot of her mother’s aesthetic in her. Case in point:

Why yes, that is a plastic potato taped to the wall. Coincidentally, she did this the exact same day that I bought the barbed wire at the flea market. Uncanny, isn’t it?

This is the part where you imagine yourself standing around this piece of art at a gallery with a bunch of people in berets, wine glasses in hand, talking about the artist’s brilliant minimalist approach, art as social commentary, and otherwise trying to make up a bunch of nonsense about the deeper meaning of a potato taped to a wall.

Sometimes, it’s just a potato taped to a wall.

Lupe draws her inspiration from books:

This is how she’s passing the time until Tom Angleberger’s sequel to The Strange Case of Origami Yoda, Darth Paper Strikes Back, comes out in August. This started as a way to give fun valentines to her classmates and now she can’t turn it off. I find them littered around the house, these little reminders that Yoda’s looking out for us. Her process, with lots of detailed photos, coming soon.

And as for Nacho  Man, the would-be futon-sleeping, hot plate-cooking bachelor, well, the dude just wants to save a buck:

So we recently decided that we don’t need cable television, that the time and money saved would be great for our family. The only problem is that we had this nice flat-panel television and lousy reception. Nacho Man spent some quality time at the Radio Shack, researching our options for an antenna that would pick up HD channels, and then he uttered the phrase that never fails to give me chills:

“I can make that for free.”

“Really?” I asked. I was trying to be supportive, but all I could think was that Nacho Man can hardly make the bed. And I’m the one who likes to use the power tools. And the only thing he makes me on a regular basis is angry.”Um, okay, great. Maybe that would be a fun project for you and the girls.”

And off they went.

Forty-five minutes later, the contraption you see here was sitting above our television.

Homer Simpson and MacGyver had a love child, and our television had a crystal-clear picture.

This shoebox-duct tape-clothes hanger-diorama-looking wonder has too many benefits to list. For one thing, it was free. No sense spending five bucks on a sleek antenna when you live in a household with barbed wire and potatoes attached to the walls. It’s versatile. With a simple rotation, we can pick up signals in Seattle or Tacoma. How do you like that? And I think it goes without saying that it makes an awesome theft-deterrent device. And finally, if we find a rodent in the house, we can also use this to trap it.

I can’t speak to the (insert throat-clearing sound here) technology behind the device, so I’m going to turn things over to Nacho Man:

This was a fun project and one I highly recommend you undertake with a willing child, no matter how much your wife objects. Start by watching this video for inspiration.  Lupe and I didn’t have all the parts outlined in the video so we improvised.  Lupe worked on the cardboard, foil, shoebox, and glue while I concentrated on cables. We didn’t have a terminal block but I dug up an old Balun I had previously bought at Radio Shack. One end plugs into the coax cable but what to do about the other end?

I found the solution in our kitchen junk drawer: metal binder clips. Perfect for this MacGyver. I clipped them to the two ‘U’ ends of the Balun, making sure there was metal on metal contact.  Then, I cut an old metal coat hanger to make a left and right antenna.

Tape everything up.  Lupe and I used duct tape to secure the cables to the shoebox and we powered up the TV.  We got a decent picture for about 25 channels.  I still had half a coat hanger wire so we looped it into the openings of each binder clip.  We ran the antenna scan on the TV again and picked up an additional 5 channels.  Our TV will display a signal when the signal strength is over 45%.  Most channels are in the 80-90% range.

We can pick up better signals for certain channels depending on which direction the shoebox antenna is pointed.  You can use this website to figure out where to point your antenna for the best signals.


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Grilled Shrimp Tacos

The first thing that strikes me about this photo is that my tortilla isn’t a perfect circle.

The first thing that strikes me about the previous statement is that I need to let some things go. This was a mighty tasty meal. Easy, too.

It’s hard to give hard and fast measurements here. Plan on two large or jumbo shrimp per taco. The tortillas are on the small side, so figure at least two per person, but more like three. And by three I mean four.

We blended a lot of flavors and textures in this dish: spicy, creamy, cool, crunchy, but you don’t have to make the shrimp caliente. Straight up grilled shrimp would be delicious. We started soaking some skewers, then bathed the shrimp for 30 minutes in a mixture of 1 tablespoon tomato paste, 1 tablespoon water, the juice of half a lime, 1 teaspoon cumin, 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes, and 1/4 teaspoon cayenne, then whisked in 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil.

Meanwhile, we mixed up 2 cups of finely sliced cabbage, 1 cup julienned jicima, a hearty 1/2 cup of thinly sliced red onion, and a handful of cilantro, ends cut off.

Then, I got this crazy notion that a little tartar sauce would really make me happy. But I didn’t have pickles or pickle relish. However, I did have a jar of pickled jalapenos that is a staple in our house, on account of the nachos. We may run out of milk for the girls on a regular basis, but there are always pickled jalapenos in the house. So I tossed 1 teaspoon of diced pickled jalapenos, 1 teaspoon of the juice from the jar, and 1 teaspoon of minced red onion into 1/4 cup mayonnaise.

Full fat mayonnaise.

I mean: Full fat mayonnaise!

We needed 16 corn tortillas, which we’ve begun to make since they’re easy and crazy delicious homemade. By tortilla number 11, I felt like a one-woman tortilla factory. To keep homemade tortillas soft and warm after you’ve cooked them, just set them in a heated tortilla warmer or glass baking dish and cover them in a paper towel.

Nacho Man fired up the grill while I skewered the shrimp, and after 2-3 minutes of cooking per side, we were ready to assemble: corn tortilla, 2 shrimp, and some slaw and chopped tomatoes. A drizzle of tartar sauce.

And then I decided that these tacos needed just one more thing: some queso fresco, or soft Mexican cheese. It has the texture of feta but is mild and creamy. I find it in all our local supermarkets and it runs about four dollars for a round. You can divide that round into smaller pieces and freeze them for later use.

And here it is:

Fold it over and take chow down.

Grilled Shrimp Tacos

serves 4


1 pound large or jumbo shrimp (at least 32 shrimp), peeled, deveined, and marinated, if desired (see marinade recipe below)

16 corn tortillas

slaw (recipe below)

tartar sauce (recipe below)

2 limes

2 large tomatoes (optional)

Mexican cheese for garnish (optional)


1. Marinate shrimp, if desired.

2. Prepare slaw, tartar sauce, and garnishes.

3. Cook tortillas.

4. Place shrimp on skewers that have been soaked in water. Cook shrimp over grill approximately 2-3 minutes per side, or until shrimp are opaque.

5. Assemble shrimp, slaw, tomatoes, and tartar sauce in tortilla. Sprinkle with Mexican cheese.



1 tablespoon tomato paste

juice of 1/2 lime

1 tablespoon water

1 teaspoon cumin

1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes (more if you like it extra spicy)

1/4 teaspoon cayenne (or more)

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil


1. Mix all ingredients except olive oil in a small bowl.

2. Whisk olive oil into bowl.

3. Pour mixture into a glass dish or quart sized plastic bag and add shrimp.

4. Refrigerate 30 minutes.



2 cups finely sliced cabbage

1 cup julienned jicima

hearty 1/2 cup of thinly sliced red onion

handful of cilantro, ends trimmed


1. Combine ingredients in a medium sized bowl and set aside.

Tartar Sauce


1/4 cup mayonnaise

1 teaspoon finely chopped red onion

1 teaspoon died pickled jalapenos

1 teaspoon juice from pickled jalapeno jar, or 1 teaspoon vinegar


1. Combine all ingredients in a small bowl.

2. Taste and adjust seasonings as needed.

Corn Tortillas (makes 16)


2 cups masa harina

1 1/4-1 1/3 cups water

1/4 teaspoon salt


1. Combine masa harina, salt, and 1 1/4 cups water in a medium sized bowl.

2. Mix with a wooden spoon until a soft dough forms, about 2-3 minutes. If the dough seems dry, add a little more water and stir.

3. Roll the dough into 16 balls. Cover with a damp cloth or paper towel.

4. If you don’t have a tortilla press, roll out each ball between two pieces of wax paper until very thin. The tortilla will be about 5 inches in diameter.

5. Set an ungreased skillet or frying pan over medium-high heat.

6. Carefully peel away the wax paper and cook tortilla for about 50-60 seconds per side.

7. Cover the cooked tortillas in paper towel and set in a warm tortilla warmer or glass baking dish.

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Gluten-Free Chocolate Buttermilk Cupcake Buffet

Happy Monday.

This recipe came about when I found out that Lupe turned down a cupcake at a class party. While she can have gluten, it causes her eczema to flare up so badly that she decides it isn’t worth the discomfort. Which means she has a lot more will power than her mother. Which also means she deserves a gluten-free cupcake that rocks her world.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and line your muffin tins with paper cups. Depending on how much batter you pour into each paper, you’ll get between 22-24 cupcakes.

Sift 1 1/4 cups of gluten-free flour blend, 1/2 cup baking cocoa, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 1 teaspoon baking soda in a bowl.

Beat 1/2 cup of room temperature butter on medium speed for several minutes, or until smooth. Add 1 1/2 cups of sugar and beat until all the sugar is incorporated and the mixture is fluffy. Add 3 extra large eggs and blend well, followed by 1 teaspoon vanilla extract.

Combine 3/4 cup buttermilk with 1/4 cup water in a measuring cup. Alternately add the dry ingredients and the buttermilk/water mixture to the mixer, mixing well after each addition.

Pour slightly more than 1/4 cup but less than 1/3 a cup of batter into each muffin paper. These puppies rise and spread, so even 1/3 a cup of batter causes them to have muffin top. Which, strangely enough, is the same thing that happens to me after taste-testing too many cupcakes.

Bake at 350 degrees 20-25 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted in the middle of a cupcake comes out clean. Remove the cupcakes from the muffin tin and cool on a wire rack.

Then it’s time for buttercream frosting. For a good basic buttercream, cream 1 cup of softened but still chilled butter for several minutes on medium high speed, until it’s very smooth.

Turn off the mixer and add 3 cups of powdered sugar that you’ve sifted. I like to put my powdered sugar in a fine sieve and push it through with a wooden spoon or measuring cup. None of that gentle shaking to coax the lumps out nonsense. Turn the mixer on low speed, gradually increasing the speed to medium.

Add 3 tablespoons of milk (or more if you want a thinner frosting) and a pinch of salt and mix well.

And that’s a good basic buttercream. If you want to create different flavors, then divide the frosting into the desired amounts in separate bowls and:

1. Go minty: add 1/4 teaspoon peppermint extract for every 1/4 cup of frosting. Stir well. Garnish with mint leaves. This will give you a strong but not overpowering mint flavor. Play with the ratio to find the one that’s right for you.

2. Go chocolaty: add 1/4 cup of sifted cocoa powder for every cup of frosting. Usually you would add it with the powdered sugar, but I wanted to stretch one batch of frosting into several flavor options. And it mixes up just fine. You could also add 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla or almond extract.

A few other notes on frosting:

1. If you want a thicker frosting, apply with care. It tears up those crumbly gluten-free cupcakes something fierce. And then you have to eat the destroyed cupcakes to hide the evidence.

2. Actually, I use the torn-up cupcakes and turn them into an homage to one of my favorite cakes: the Brooklyn Blackout. Just crumble up a cupcake and sprinkle it over the tops of some frosted cupcakes. It’s the baked goods equivalent of taking one for the team.

3. This frosting thins beautifully with a little more milk.

Gluten-Free Chocolate Buttermilk Cupcakes

makes 18-24


1 1/4 cups gluten-free flour blend

1/2 cup baking cocoa

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 cup room temperature butter

1 1/2 cups sugar

3 extra large eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla

3/4 cup buttermilk

1/4 cup water


1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and line muffin tins with paper.

2. Sift dry ingredients into a bowl.

3. Beat butter on medium speed several minutes, or until smooth. Add sugar and blend until all sugar is incorporated and mixture is fluffy.

4. Add eggs and vanilla and blend well.

5. Combine buttermilk and water in a measuring cup.

6. Alternately add dry ingredients and buttermilk/water mixture to butter/sugar/egg mixture, blending well after each addition.

7. Fill each cupcake paper (I usually go 3/4 of the way up) and bake 20-25 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted in the center of a cupcake comes out clean. Remove cupcakes from muffin tin and cool on a wire rack.

Buttercream Frosting

frosts up to 24 cupcakes


1 cup butter, softened but still slightly chilled

3 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted

3-5 tablespoons of milk


1. Beat butter on medium-high speed for several minutes, or until it is very smooth. Turn off beater.

2. Add sifted confectioners’ sugar to butter and slowly work mixer speed up to medium. When the butter and sugar are well blended, add 3 tablespoons of milk and continue to mix until thoroughly incorporated. Add more milk if you prefer a thinner frosting.


Mint Buttercream Frosting:

1. Add 1/4 teaspoon of peppermint extract to every 1/4 cup of finished buttercream frosting you plan to use. Stir well.

Chocolate Buttercream Frosting:

1. Add 1/4 cup sifted cocoa and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla or almond extract to every 1 cup of finished buttercream frosting you plan to use. Stir well.

Brooklyn Blackout

1. Sprinkle crumbled cupcake on top of a chocolate-frosted chocolate cupcake.

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Crafting ‘Til We Drop

There’s been lots more crafting than cooking in our house this past week. Glorious, messy, time-consuming, experimental crafting that’s left me too drained to blog. But oh, what fun.

If you haven’t read Inkblots by Margaret Peot, you’re missing a fascinating look at the history of inkblots and an opportunity to get creative.

Lupe gives it a try. This first one didn’t turn out quite as she planned…

Here’s attempt #2. What do you see?

We had hot (okay, so I’m the kind of wimp who thinks that 80 degrees is sweltering) and sunny weather, which meant it was time to break out the solar print kit Grandma Sandy gave us a year ago. Yes, there really have been so few sunny days between then and now that we have yet to use all the paper.

Rue made the happy face on the far right out of bits of clematis leaves. And Lupe, my crazy-cat-lady-in-training, made a feline-inspired print out of a hydrangea leaf, ferns, and bits of twig.

Soy paints stenciled onto burlap to DIY my own version of burlap-covered glasses I spied that were going for nine bucks a pop at a fancy store in town.

And finally, I’ve been working on a little something for a special girl’s upcoming birthday. Lily, if your parents are reading this, they’re going to get a preview of your birthday gift. It’s inspired by the greatest thing I’ve learned from children ages 1-5:  Y’all love felt pieces.

So now, you’ve got a set of your own!

It comes with soft felted squares, rectangles, triangles, circles, and half circles packed into a chic little carrying case for the girl on the go. Everything is sized so that two rectangles are the same size as the square and two half circles match the size of a full circle. Think of the math! Think of the discoveries! Think of the design possibilities!

I know. Pretty amazing, right? At least I hope you think so because…

Sorry, no gift receipt.

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