Celebration Time!

It finally arrived, 2 years in the making, my MBA from New York University graduation ceremony. I celebrated by uncorking my *best* bottle of wine: a 2007 Cakebread Cellars Dancing Bear Cabernet Sauvignon. It was delicious. Delicious for two reasons: 1) it’s from Cakebread and this stuff never fails and 2) it was a long time coming. I bought the wine in 2008 at the Napa winery and promised to save it for a special moment. I think earning my MBA from NYU is a special occasion.

Graduating from NYU is a very special occasion and a lifelong dream for me. I grew up in a small town in northern New Hampshire (Woodsville) and graduated high school in 1988. I was considered a “smart” kid; I graduated 2nd in my class of 88 students with an average of 98% (they didn’t even do GPA at our school). But I wasn’t just smart, I did extra stuff. I played sports every season: cross country in the fall, cross country skiing in winter, and softball in spring. I participated in the drama club, math league (which makes me laugh now because I’m numerically moronic) and was inducted into the honor society. I did a semester as an exchange student in Germany and spent a summer at St. Paul’s School summer accelerated learning program. I did everything right despite a total lack of support from my mother and bet all my chips that a good education would be the key to a better life. Given my screwed up home life, my teachers and administrators pegged me as a bet not worth taking. My mother wasn’t much of a person; a drunk, a drug addict and an all-round mean spirited person. She let me know, under no uncertain terms, that I was truly a burden to her and essentially worthless. I believe most of my teachers and school administrators agreed.

When it came time to choose a college, I had dreams of Princeton or Dartmouth (we were dirt poor so I knew school loans would be in my future). My father offered to send me to Millersville University in Pennsylvania and keep a 3.5 GPA and he’d foot the bill. Go anywhere else and I’d be on my own. I knew my mother would be no help and I knew my “guidance counselor” would be useless. His only interest was in the baseball players who were good enough to get scholarships to local colleges. So, I took the deal. An education in the hand is worth more than two in the bush I suppose. And I’ve regretted it ever since. I often wonder where and who I’d be today if I’d gone to a big name school. Would I have done something amazing, noteworthy or even relevant? I don’t know, but I know it was something I always wished I’d done.

So, at the age of 40 I made a choice to jump in and fulfill my dream and answer the question of “what if.” I took the GMAT (could I score high enough?), submitted my undergraduate transcripts (would they admit me even though I went to an unknown state school?), wrote some essays (would they think I was too average and boring?), pulled some recommendations together (did anyone even think I had it in me?), and crossed my fingers. And sure enough, the acceptance letter came and I finally got my dream; an education from a big name school.

So the question is “now what?” I got what I wanted but it’s up to me to do something with it. This is where all the doubts and voices from my youth tell me I’ll only be average on a good day. My dream now, is to show those voices who’s boss. I will not be average. I will be better and I will continue to get better even at the age of 41.

But I digress, back to the Cakebread wine. I drank it with a nice Italian meal that my husband and I can eat off for the next few days. I love those types of recipes, ones you can make one day and eat off for a few days later. Thank you to the Joy of Cooking for this one:
Johnny Marzetti Spaghetti Pie
Combine in a large pot:
1 1/2 pounds ground beef (I used ground turkey)
1 large onion, chopped
1 large green bell pepper, chopped (I used a red pepper but the green would be more colorful)
2 teaspoons minced garlic
Place over medium-high heat and cook, breaking up the beef with a spoon, until it is browned and the vegetables are softened, about 10 minutes.

One 28-ounce can diced tomatoes, with 1/2 cup juice
One 15-ounce can tomato sauce
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 bay leaf
Salt and black pepper to taste
I also added kalamata olives
Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium-low and simmer uncovered, stirring frequently, for 20 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Stir into beef mixture:
1 pound spaghetti, ziti, or other pasta, cooked and well drained
1 cup shredded sharp Cheddar cheese (4 ounces) (I used mozzarella)
Transfer to a 13 x 9-inch baking dish. Mix together well, and then sprinkle over the top:
1 cup fresh or dry bread crumbs
1 cup shredded sharp Cheddar (again, I used mozzarella)
Bake until the top is lightly browned and the casserole is bubbling, about 30 minutes.

Served it with a baby spinach and strawberry salad. Not too shabby for my first day of greatness.


Magnolia Bakery Red Velvet Cupcake

I went to the Magnolia Bakery Greenwich Village location, which has been credited with starting the cupcake craze. Magnolia has a huge following and is a very popular bakery in the city with locations in Grand Central Station, Columbus Avenue, Rockefellar Center, Los Angeles and even a location in Bloomingdale’s in Dubai!

So with high expectations, I entered the store to a super-friendly staff and wonderful smell. I was hooked. I ordered my cupcake and was in heaven. Again, I forgot to snap a photo as I was too excited to eat my cupcake so here’s a photo nabbed from the web.
Red Velvet Cupcake

I went for the cake first, I like to get a clear sense of the cake and consistency before I go for the frosting. It was perfection, not too dry and really just the perfect consistency. I was, however, truly disappointed by the frosting. They do a vanilla cream frosting instead of a cream cheese frosting. Major bummer. Don’t get me wrong, the frosting was good, I just prefer cream cheese frosting and find it to be the best part of the cupcake.

At this point, my favorite red velvet cupcake would be a Magnolia cupcake with Sprinkles cream cheese frosting (recipe provided in previous post). For those who want to try it, here’s the recipe for Magnolia’s red velvet cupcake.

Red Velvet Cupcakes
3 1/2 cups cake flour (not self-rising)
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
2 1/2 cups sugar
3 large eggs, at room temperature
6 tbsp red food coloring
3 tbsp unsweetened cocoa
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
1 1/2 tsp cider vinegar
1 1/2 tsp baking soda

Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease and lightly flour 2 cupcake pans (24 cupcakes).

In a small bowl, sift the cake flour and set aside. In a large bowl, on the medium speed of an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar until very light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. In a small bowl, whisk together the red food coloring, cocoa, and vanilla. Add to the batter and beat well.

In a measuring cup, stir the salt into the buttermilk. Add to the batter in three parts alternating with the flour. With each addition, beat until the ingredients are incorporated, but do not overbeat. In a small bowl, stir together the cider vinegar and baking soda. Add to the batter and mix well. Using a rubber spatula, scrape down the batter in the bowl, making sure the ingredients are well blended and the batter is smooth.

Divide the batter among the prepared pans. Arrange the oven racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and bake the cupcakes, switching positions of the pans halfway through baking, until a tester comes out clean, about 20 minutes. Cool the cupcakes in the pan 10 minutes, then remove from the pan and cool completely on a rack before icing.

Frost with Sprinkles cream cheese frosting and you have a winning red velvet cupcake!

Tuckerman’s Ravine with Blue Cheese and Carmelized Onions

This weekend, I was dragged along on an adventure to ski Tuckerman’s Ravine on Mt. Washington in New Hampshire. Skiing sounds fun, it’s the getting there that’s brutal. Truth be told, the skiing was a little brutal too.

It works like this…wear comfortable hiking clothes and boots, pack extra clothes/jacket, hat, gloves, etc. in case the temp drops or the wind picks up. (Mt. Washington is notorious for having the worst weather in the world). Pack your ski boots in your pack and attach your skis to the outside of the pack. Place oversized 50 lb. pack on your back and hike 3.2 miles up Mt. Washington to the base of the Ravine. Once at the Ravine, you put on your warming layers, swap your hiking boots for ski boots, grab your skis and poles and proceed to hike up the ravine to a spot that looks like a good starting point. When you’ve had your fill of skiing (generally one run because the hike up is brutal, the picture doesn’t do the steepness justice), you swap out your gear for hiking gear, attach your skis to your 50 lb. pack and hike the 3.2 miles back down Mt. Washington.

The only one who had fun on this hike was my dog, Milo. He loved it and was my only source of joy the whole day. Him, and the big burger I had for dinner. By the time we got back down, not only did my quads burn like crazy, I was starved and desperate to eat something, anything.

And what I really wanted was a burger. My official favorite burger topping is blue cheese. It gets a little melty and is just yummy blue cheese yumminess. Add some caramelized onions to the mix and I’m in heaven. No condiments, tomatoes or lettuce; they only ruin the pure flavor explosion about to happen. I prefer my burger on an english muffin (cutting back on carbs) but that night, I went all out for the whole wheat bun. Let’s face it, I earned it!

So, now I’m back in the city and ready to re-start my red velvet cupcake madness. Just in time, Sprinkles opens in the big apple tomorrow….

$3.75 Crumbs Bakery

First up, Crumbs Bakery red velvet cupcake! I have to disclose that I’ve eaten a Crumbs red velvet cupcake before and didn’t think it was anything special. I’d go as far as to say I regretted eating it. That said I’m glad I gave them another chance.

So Crumbs is a well-known and loved bakery with locations along the east coast, IL and CA. I went to the 8th St. location in Greenwich Village for my trip; it’s right on the way to NYU so I took my cupcake to class for dinner. I should’ve taken a picture of it, but ended up taking a bite before I remembered to. Oh well.

The most important part of a red velvet cupcake is the frosting and the frosting was just right (not too sweet so my teeth didn’t hurt). I’m generally a fan of sprinkles/jimmies but am a cream cheese frosting purist so I would’ve passed on them and the crumbled red velvet cake on top.

Speaking of cake, the difficulty in red velvet is the cake texture; too often it comes out dry. Crumbs’ texture was adequate, not dry but could’ve been moister (is that even a word??). There was plenty of frosting though, so I could take every bite of cake with some frosting.

Overall, I give Crumbs a “good” rating. I will say the service at this location was excellent. I overheard a worker describing some of the cupcakes to another patron and it was clear he was a cupcake connoisseur and very good at articulating the nuances of each cupcake.

Off to the next one…

Sprinklers located throughout the building…

As I entered Kaufman Management Center to do my brand strategy presentation, I saw that sign and experienced a moment of sheer joy as I thought it read “Sprinkles located throughout the building”. I fully anticipated finding Sprinkles cupcakes located throughout the building. Sprinkles happens to be my most loved cupcake bakery and I haven’t had one since I moved from CA 2+ years ago. As i realized my mistake, I tweeted my dismay and begged Sprinkles to come to NYC….

Less than 24 hours later, i see a tweet from Sprinkles cupcakes announcing their arrival in the Big Apple! I adore Sprinkles and am anxiously awaiting their arrival, but realized that I haven’t given all the NYC bakeries a fair shake. My cupcake of choice is red velvet so I’ve decided to do a city wide red velvet cupcake tour. My goal is to find the BEST red velvet cupcakes in the city. Stay tuned for my red velvet madness updates!

For those who want to make their own red velvet cupcakes, here’s a recipe for the cream cheese frosting (which is really the best part). And for those of you who are also sans Sprinkles, they sell their cupcake mix at Williams Sonoma and the red velvet is amazing. This frosting recipe comes from them.

Sprinkles Cream Cheese Frosting
8 oz. Cream cheese (room temp)
1stick of butter, firm not cold
3 3/4 c. Sifted powder sugar
1/8 t. salt
1/2 t. vanilla extract

Using flat beater in your electric mixer, beat cream cheese, butter and salt on med/low speed until smooth and creamy (2-3 mins). Reduce the speed to low and gradually add the confectioners sugar; beating until incorporated. Add the vanilla and beat until mixed.
Do not over beat or frosting will incorporate too much air ( should be creamy and dense like ice cream). Add milk (1t. at a time) if frosting is not spreadable.

What’s your bakery and cupcake of choice? Any that I should put on my must visit list?

What to put on the table when San Diego is taken off the table….

I’ll tell you what, Steve’s grandmother’s creamy chicken thing! It doesn’t have an official name so that’s what I call it. It’s easy to make and doesn’t have amazing flavors that burst on your palate, but it delivers comfort and that was exactly what I needed.

So here’s the backstory: I’m a So Cal girl at heart (my mood is directly proportional to the weather) and we moved to the greater New York area 2.5 years ago due to my husband’s job. I’ve made the best of it, but I’m finishing my MBA, got downsized (so I’m unemployed) and need to find a job. Once again, we’re waiting to see where my husband will be transferred to make our next move. I’m not a patient woman by nature and I’m anxious to get started on my career search so when he came home and said he put his name in for a spot in San Diego I nearly jumped out of my skin. I had visions of year-round runs along the beach in Carlsbad, a really cool marketing job with some San Diego based start-up, a nice tan, surf lessons on weekends… I even started to check out the housing market and found the *perfect* house for us in my favorite beach town, Carlsbad. In short, I fell madly in love.

I was already packing up our stuff when my husband came home a few days later to report that his boss said that the spot in San Diego was neither the right job nor the right place (apparently, people go to San Diego to retire…Really?? I go there because it’s the ONLY spot on earth where the weather is agreeable to my skin, hair and mental state). He went on to report that we would need to stay put and wait for the “right” position to open up (does wait mean 30 days? 3 months? or 6 months?? God forbid it’s a year because I am seriously over humid summers, rainy springs, and super cold winters). The company mothership is in Dallas, TX so that’s ultimately where they want my husband to go. Don’t get me wrong, I’m good with Dallas. Love the housing market, there are opportunities for a budding MBA like me to cut her teeth in a marketing job and the weather isn’t bad. However, there’s no job there for my husband right now. So we have to give up a known opening to wait an undisclosed amount of time for an unknown job…
Not exactly my strength.

So, I’ll admit it, I cried. I did, I know, it’s lame but I did. I lost my love. But let’s look at this for a minute; who takes San Diego off the table and puts nothing else on the table? Now, I’m waiting again…something I don’t do well. Waiting to find out where and when we’re going to move so I can start my career search and get started paying off those student loans I’ve accumulated. Waiting…

And while I wait, I cook. Today is a comfort food kind of day and Steve’s grandmother has the answer:

4-6 bone-in chicken breasts
8 c chicken stock
1 onion
Peas (or some other vegetable you like, I use frozen as I’m too disappointed/lazy to deal with fresh)
16 T flour
1 stick of butter
Salt and pepper to taste
Frozen puff pastry

Boil chicken, salt, pepper and onion in enough water to cover for 45 minutes. Remove chicken, strain. Then, melt butter and whisk in flour to a paste consistency. Add stock from chicken 2 cups at a time until thickened. Add peas, salt and pepper to taste and simmer on low. Remove chicken from bone and add, simmer. Cook pastry as indicated on box (about 20 or 25 minutes). Remove center of pastry and fill with creamy chicken mixture. Enjoy!

Like I said, nothing but comfort here. This and a good bottle of wine will make bad news so much more palatable. Patience, it’s my repeated lesson in life. What’s your lesson in life?