Baking Day: Maple Syrup Cupcakes

When I was a kid, before I started writing, I wanted to be a chef. I even watched Food Network back in its infancy (remember Ready, Set, Cook?). To this day I still watch a lot of Food Network and Cooking Channel – Chopped, Cutthroat Kitchen, Unique Eats/Sweets, etc. Unfortunately though, since I never had a kitchen of my own, I didn’t really carry over that hobby into adulthood outside of my television viewing. I can make a mean grilled cheese or egg breakfast, but I was always “too busy to cook.” It was easier to let my mom make her twenty- or thirty-minute meals for dinner since that’s what we were used to eating. Perfectly tasty, don’t get me wrong, but she rarely goes outside her repertoire.

So now that she’s had jury duty for three weeks, I’ve been cooking her usual meals. Bolognese using jar sauce, linguine and clam sauce (from a soup can), breading chicken cutlets and throwing them into the oven – all simple stuff even I couldn’t mess up. It’s gone over pretty well so far since no one has any expectations of my cooking ability. Naturally, whenever I get the slightest bit of confidence in any department, I decide to get a little creative. Why not bake cupcakes from scratch for Mom’s birthday? We’re typically a “box mix” family (immediate family at least – my cousin is an actual pastry assistant), but how hard can it be to throw together a simple vanilla cupcake?

*sigh*

A simple recipe gets much more complicated when you don’t have all the ingredients. Much like a game of Chopped, I spent a good amount of time reviewing what ingredients I had and figuring out what to do with them.

Here’s how my experience went.

Step 1: Pick this vanilla cupcake recipe from FoodNetwork.com.

Step 2: Do we have baking powder? Mom has to have baking powder somewhere, right?

Step 3: Spend half hour looking for baking powder. Find all the way in the back of last cabinet I could have checked.

Step 4: Gather other ingredients. Holy crap, we’re almost out of sugar. How can we be out of sugar? That’s a staple! Well, there’s some in here, maybe I have 2/3 cup…almost…close but no cigar. How bad would it be if I threw in some confectioners sugar to make up the difference? Probably bad. Do we have sugar packets?

Step 5: Round up every sugar packet I can find. Still short of 2/3 cup. Thanks to all my food TV viewing, I think about using a substitute to use with the sugar. Honey? For once we don’t have any, of course. Wait, maple syrup! That could be good!

Step 6: Google for another recipe that uses maple syrup and less than 2/3 cup of sugar. Success! I don’t have “imitation maple flavoring,” but what the hell, I’ll improvise.

Step 7: Hesitantly prepare all my ingredients. Wet ingredients look good, mix together flour and baking powder (leaving out salt because we have salted butter – thought of that thanks to a comment on the Food Network recipe).

Step 8: Hit next obstacle. Recipe did not clarify at first to mix milk and syrup in third bowl, so I put them both in with the dry ingredients. Oops. It looks like the beginning of a cookie dough. Well, I’m not wasting the flour, so this goop is going in the wet mixture whether it likes it or not. I’ll just go to town with the electric mixer and hope for the best.

Step 9: Brute force works. The batter is smooth. Cupcake liners go into tins, batter into liners (with a good amount of spillage that I clean up after), trays into the preheated oven. Yay! Set the timer and clear out of the kitchen before I’m cooked along with the cupcakes. Maybe I’ll wait until the fall before I try this again.

Step 10: Remove trays from oven, test with a toothpick. They look presentable!

cupcakes1

Step 11: Taste test. Moment of truth time.

cupcakes2

And it’s good! Not bad at all, I can definitely taste the maple syrup. Since it’s still very hot in my house I decide not to frost them until later. We have Cool Whip so instead of frosting I mix it with some vanilla extract after dinner.

The End! I might try some new recipes next week, so if those turns out to be anything like this, I’ll make some more culinary-themed posts.

The Sweet Spot

Usually I get post ideas by overthinking everything. Over the last few weeks, life has become so boring that I’m trying not to overthink everything because it drives me crazy (in a bad way). Seriously people – all I do is go to physical therapy or do my exercises. I socialize a bit but not enough to take up most of my week. So in my effort to not obsess, I’ve deprived myself of my main source for blog post ideas.

This isn’t all bad though. Boring can be positive, just like “exciting” can be negative.

Focus on my writing projects has drastically improved. I actually finished the first novella in my series and started the next one. Define Reality 2 is going well thanks to my outline. Meanwhile, a random burst of inspiration led to the outline for a short story. I’m going to enter it in contests when it’s written. I’ve said this before, but when my Define Reality series is complete, I also plan to query agents for the first time ever. This is the first project I’ve felt comfortable enough to send into the world (as in the world of publishing, instead of just posting online).

Recently, I wrote a post listing all the writing techniques I’ve accumulated over the years. I think it’s finally blended together to form a sustainable writing practice. The ideas I build on lead to full outlines, and I spend more time worrying about character voices or themes. I finish first drafts then still want to edit them. I’m still not comfortable volunteering details about my work “IRL” (because who honestly cares?) but I would send it to people if they asked to read it.

I’m ready to query agents. I’m ready to consider criticism and edit a piece until it works. Maybe, when my knees are taken care of, I might look into writing classes with the intention of actually taking them. Hell, maybe I should look into online programs now. (Though I can’t help feeling creative writing courses are a waste of time at this point – I’d rather just write.) This might be the boredom talking, but I’m ready for the next step – whatever it turns out to be.

 

I feel like I’ve been busy this week even though I barely left the house. Now that I’m more mobile, I can do things like cook for myself and do laundry. My knee is still kept straight in a brace but I can get around the house without even using my walker. So, while I can do more, it still takes me longer to do these things. Between this and spending a total of 4.5 hours on my Continuous Passive Motion machine, I haven’t had much time to write…or do much else, really.

As of this morning the CPM is officially gone! A tech from the rental company picked it up this morning, so I got 4.5 hours of my day back. While it really helped at first I don’t think it was doing much this last week. (Plus the doctor’s office said to stop.) I’m still doing exercises, but now I can actually, you know, take a couple hours to write.

I have a good outline for the next Define Reality novella. It’s not a full script, but I made a list of every single scene, and I’m even getting ideas for other novellas in the series. If/when I reach the end of this project, I might actually consider querying agents.

Lost Summer

I finally realized how much I’m missing because of my operation. It’s the middle of July and I haven’t gone anywhere other than physical therapy. Sure, I’ll go hang out at someone’s house, but it’s not the same as getting ready for vacation. My paternal realitives are packing for their annual vacation and for once, I won’t be going with them. Of course this year they choose Atlantis in the Bahamas. I keep telling myself it’s no big deal because I’ve been there already (ten years ago with my stepfather’s family), and I wouldn’t have been able to do much anyway thanks to my knees. Even before surgery I wasn’t getting around well. 

I often think about what this summer would have been like if I didn’t get surgery. I’d be driving my car, finally, and going on countless job interviews. So maybe it wouldn’t have been a fantastic summer anyway, but at least I’d be packing for the Bahamas right now. And I would be going places with my friends instead of having them over my house. 

Times like these I remind myself that I’m having these surgeries for a reason. I want to walk without worrying about my kneecaps popping out. That’s going to be a pretty big difference. Already the operated knee feels stronger than my other knee. (Though it’s worth mentioning my other leg feels stronger too because of all the exercising.) Even if I’m still going on job interviews next summer, I’m looking forward to walking without fear. This will give me confidence to go out – instead of staying home because I “can’t walk that much.” Hopefully next summer will be the best one yet.

A Pantser Who Plans

“Pantser” and “Planner” are terms I picked up from then NaNoWriMo community. While I gave up on ever writing 50K words in a month (I prefer my own pace because forcing a story never works for me), I still support those who take on the challenge and adopt some of their philosophies. A Pantser is someone who writes by the seat of one’s pants, meaning without an outline to guide them, while a Planner…well, plans. Neither label is better than the other  – in my opinion – and the choice completely depends on the individual.

Until recently I was a Pantser. Whenever I got inspiration for a new idea, I’d be so excited about it and start the first chapter right away. Then I would hit a wall by the second chapter. At most I made up scenes as I went. This alone made me abandon many stories because I never bothered to chip away at said wall. I’d lose interest in the idea, conclude it wasn’t as great as I thought it was, and move on to the next Great Idea. I never wanted to stop and re-examine the characters, plot or potential themes. My inspiration moved on so I went right along with it.

Inspiration is a tricky devil. It makes mediocre ideas THE BEST THING EVER and distracts me from investing in my current work. Before the story had any depth, I’d get distracted by the shiny new idea waiting to be developed. Without an outline or any idea of how the middle will flow into the conclusion, I had difficulty committing to the story. Why bother when a dozen other ideas sound much better than the one right in front of me?

My novella series “Define Reality” turned me into a Planner. It originally started as a television script, so for once I already had every single plot point mapped out. This made a huge difference when I finally wrote the novella version. I could focus on characters and theme instead of worrying about where the hell I was going with all this. Oh sure, I still had to figure out a bunch of stuff along the way, but the basics were there. I also felt comfortable adding things knowing how they fit into the overall picture. Even though I didn’t write the novella in a thirty days, I finished in less than six months and was happy with the results.

I think I will always “pants” a little bit. There will be times when I’ll go totally off-outline and add in scenes I concoct during the writing process. Going forward though, I want to put more effort into outlining the whole story. If nothing else, it’s a relief to know I won’t end up in the Middle of Nowhere without map.

Book Review: “Louisiana Longshot” by Jana DeLeon

A plot reminiscent of “Miss Congeniality” mixes with the small town zaniness of a Stephanie Plum novel in this story about an undercover CIA assassin. Fortune Redding expects nothing but boredom when she’s forced to hide out in Sinful, Louisiana. This changes when, on her first day of acting as the great-niece of an elderly woman who recently passed, the estate’s dog digs up a human bone. “Sandy-Sue Morrow” (the real identity of an ex-beauty queen vacationing in Europe) gets pulled into the mystery against her will by a secret society of old ladies who claim to run the town. So much for lying low – all Fortune can do is hope the deputy doesn’t run a background check on her fake name and blow her cover.

While Fortune’s antics can be a little over-the-top, I enjoyed her unlikely friendship with locals Gertie and Ida Belle. The character of Fortune herself is rough around the edges (as expected given her career) but grew on me throughout the story. Fortune’s sarcastic narrative provides a funny commentary on the situations and characters around her, particularly her new friends. The mystery wraps up after surprising revelations about Marge, the deceased great-aunt who left the house to Sandy-Sue.

You can download the first book of the “Miss Forune” series for free here.

Who Rocked Physical Therapy?

*points at self* I did! Woohoo!

After a month of weekly trips into the city and consistently disappointing my doctor, I FINALLY got the all-clear during my visit on Thursday. Before that it had been very aggravating because no matter how much I did, my muscle spasmed, my leg shook, and at times I didn’t have a leg to stand on. Switching to the walker and doing my exercises gave me the confidence to believe that everything’s really okay now and nothing will happen to my “new” knee.  There are times where I can almost walk without holding on to anything. My doctor was so impressed with my range of motion and stability that she even had me get fitted for a smaller brace that would allow me to bend my knee when walking. The best part? I don’t have to go back for SIX WEEKS! 

Unfortunately I can’t use the smaller brace just yet. My new goal is to do a straight leg raise without my brace, because that means I’m ready to switch. 

Worrying about my recovery was upsetting, so for the last week or so I’ve stayed in post-writing project limbo. Today I’m looking forward to editing and maybe starting my next story. I didn’t think I would be so relieved after my appointment but the validation made a huge difference. I’m still doing exercises regularly, but now I can relax knowing I’m on the right track.