Sunday, May 22, 2011

Trail Blazer: Challenging body, mind and spirit

Call me: Ken
Decade born: 1980’s
Favorite cupcake: Trail Blazer
Making a difference: Helping kids turn obstacles to opportunities

You might think of obstacles as blockades. Ken thinks of them as hurdles -- to be vaulted over, rolled under or pushed through!

As a diver for the Navy, Ken learned to negotiate a buoyant, airless biosphere filled with peculiar and sometimes dangerous creatures. On land, he challenges a drier environment through the non-competitive running discipline, Parkour

A Parkour practitioner, called a Traceur, runs along a route dense with obstacles. The challenge is to efficiently traverse that environment, scaling walls, leaping gaps, swinging, flipping and always pushing forward. It takes physical and mental discipline as well as creative techniques to master the art. As you speed through trails and courses, you look for the most direct path that can be traversed safely and use well-practiced moves.

As a Parkour instructor, Ken helps kids learn and practice the art of turning obstacles into opportunities. By challenging their limits, boys and girls gain confidence not only to conquer the physical world, but also any struggle they may face.  Traceurs dare to confront personal impediments, blazing new trails into hidden potential, turning obstacles into opportunities.

That’s why the Trail Blazer cupcake is perfect for Ken. This “Choco-nilla” cake is a real original, topped with fudgy frosting, caramel and a pile of Ken’s favorite Northwest trail mix.

This is Ken’s cupcake: Innovative. Spirited. And plenty of FUN.

Make “Trail Blazer” cupcakes:

You’ll need to mix up two kinds of batter. A hearty buttermilk-vanilla cake and a rich milk chocolate one. Think full, strong flavors! Pour the heaviest one in the bottom half of the cupcake liners, then the lightest one on top. Either leave them in layers or swirl gently together.

When cool, pipe a ring of fudgy frosting around the edge. Ken likes confectioner’s icing best because it solidifies into a tough support for the other toppings.

Spoon some gooey caramel into the center, then top with a nutty trail mix.  Happy trails! 

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Free Spirit: Creating hope for a new generation

The willingness to share does not make one charitable;
it makes one free
. -- Robert Brault

Call  me: Elaine
Decade born: 1920’s
Favorite cupcake: Free Spirit
Making a difference: Providing care for Native American children

Elaine remembers the little Oklahoma railroad town where she was born. Many of her neighbors were members of the Choctaw tribe. They were descendants of the first Native Americans who traveled the Trail of Tears into exile from their homelands.

Throughout America’s history, the Choctaws had a generous reputation of providing humanitarian aid to needy Europeans. But Elaine recalls seeing these now-obscure people living in horrendous poverty.

“One day, my sister and I accompanied our mother to deliver some clothing and a sack of apples to a poor Choctaw family,” Elaine recalls. “The parents and two little girls were living in a dugout – a sort of cave carved out of the side of a hill. When we gave the girls the apples we brought, they didn’t know what to do with them. They had never eaten an apple before, so we showed them how.”

It broke Elaine’s heart to think that these children were so poor, hungry and neglected despite their praiseworthy, self-sacrificing heritage. “So when I found out about St. Joseph’s Indian School and how they were changing lives by providing education and other essential care for needy or orphaned Native American children, I knew I wanted to be part of it.”

A true friend is someone who sees your trouble and frees your spirit, carving out a road of possibilities for your future. The Free Spirit cupcake (gluten-free, sugar-free and lactose-free)  is perfect for Elaine -- a precious friend of Native American children.

Make “Free Spirit” cupcakes:

Start by whisking up a gluten-free carrot cake recipe. Try Sandra Ramacher’s easy recipe in Healing Foods or find one online that you like. Divide batter into muffin pans lined with cupcake papers. Fill only half way, or you’ll have trouble getting them out of the pan in one piece.

The icing is easy, but takes some patience (see instructional video below), or just follow these simple steps:

1.     Whip 4 egg whites till frothy, then add a half teaspoon of cream of tartar and continue whipping till stiff peaks form
2.     Drizzle in a cup of honey, which you have boiled for about 10 minutes
3.     Whip until the meringue comes to room temperature (hint: place a cold compress on the sides of the bowl to speed up the cooling process)
4.      With the mixer running, add 3 cubes of butter, one tablespoon at a time, and whip till fluffy

Your icing may work out perfectly the first time you try, but if the texture is soupy, it means the icing was too warm when you added the butter. If it’s lumpy like cottage cheese, it got too cold. Just keep whipping and it will behave eventually!

Frost the cupcakes, and sprinkle with zested orange rind. If you want a little more sweetness, drizzle a spiral of (room temperature) honey boiled 10 minutes with orange zest and 2 tablespoons of orange juice. Use the leftovers for almond-flour pancake syrup!

PS: Here’s a little known fact: Many people associate Code Talking with the Navajo Nation, but this way of transmitting secret messages was actually pioneered by the Choctaw Indians who served in the U.S. Army during World War I.

Video instructions:

Sunday, May 8, 2011

First Kiss: A mother's privilege, a child's treasure

There is an instinct in a woman to love most her own child -- and an instinct to make any child who needs her love, her own.  --Robert Brault

Call me: Wendi
Decade born: 1970’s
Favorite cupcake: First Kiss
Making a difference: Being a Mom 

Wendi says she’s “just a mom.” To this mother of four boys, that means . . .

Nurturing her sons’ hearts and minds to become Godly men.
Loving, honoring and respecting her husband.
Mentoring young moms in crisis to ensure they have a healthy pregnancy and are fully equipped to provide for their own children.

And that’s just a start!

Although Wendi and her husband, Scott, feel tremendously blessed to have four healthy, energetic sons, this compassionate woman always wanted to have a daughter. So when their church announced an opportunity to sponsor a needy child through World Vision, her heart leapt at the chance.

The boys helped choose a little “sister” to become part of their family: 4-year-old Temere from Ethiopia The kids even pledged part of the money they earn to pay for their sister’s sponsorship.

It’s only been a few months, but already the boys are getting a bigger picture of what it means to truly be a family. Through World Vision, they’re doing more than providing for Temere’s daily nutrition, education and physical needs. By exchanging photos and writing letters, Temere knows she has a family in America who loves her, prays for her and has hope for her future.

That’s what a mother’s love does. Inspires. Nurtures. Sacrifices. Still, being a mother is not without its rewards . . . and that’s why “First Kiss” is the perfect treat to honor someone like Wendi: a classic yellow cake with a golden pastry cream center topped with a mound of glazed strawberries on a nest of sweet buttercream frosting. 

Sure, doctors will tell you there are complex biological reasons a mother kisses her newborn (sampling pathogens to stimulate memory B-cells that develop antibodies the baby needs). But it’s really much simpler than that: love.

Life begins with your mother’s first kiss. It's her privilege -- and a child’s treasure forever.

Make First Kiss cupcakes:

 Start by cooking up a rich pastry filling. Try this recipe if you don't already have one, or use a thick vanilla pudding. 

Bake cupcakes from your favorite yellow cake recipe or mix.

When the cupcakes and pastry cream are cooled, use a Bismarck tube to pipe in the golden center.

Wash, hull and cut fresh strawberries into bite-size pieces. Stir in a strawberry pie glaze. (See video below for a tip on how to hull strawberries even if you don't have a hulling tool!)

Edge your cupcakes with buttercream frosting so the strawberries won't fall over the side. Pile on the glazed strawberries and top with a dollop of buttercream frosting. Whether you're honoring mom, dad, a birthday kid or just whooping it up, you'll never forget your First Kiss.

PS: Here's a little-known fact. Strawberries are not actually berries at all. They are a member of the rose family called "Fragaria." So next time you want to show your mom or sweetheart your love, instead of a dozen roses  . . . why not try a dozen strawberries?

Video instructions:

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Sweet Lemons: Transforming Adversity

Call me: Ray
Decade born: 1920's
Favorite cupcake: Sweet Lemons
Making a difference: Helping children with special needs

In Ray's self-published autobiography, Adam's Apple, he tells the story of how adversity has made him who he is today -- from a bullied, lonely kid living in a dark basement to becoming an innovative educator, film producer and writer.

Through his 88 years, Ray traveled some rough roads. But rather than see himself as a victim, Ray counts himself blessed -- appreciating the positive people who made an impact in his life. "When you start feeling sorry for yourself," he writes, "the best cure is to look for someone you can help."

Along the way, this talented singer, fiddle player and pianist has devoted literally decades of volunteer time to charity work. Not the least of which was the Barbershop Harmony Society (formerly S.P.E.B.S.Q.S.A.). During the organization's 36-year partnership with Heartspring (formerly Institute of Logopedics), they raised over $16 million to benefit children with special needs.

Appropriately, "sunshine yellow" is Ray's favorite color… and the "Sweet Lemons" cupcake is his favorite treat. That's because this 5X great-grandfather has a penchant for taking what seems like the bitter fruit of life and turning it into something sensational.

Make "Sweet Lemons" cupcakes:

Make cupcakes from your favorite lemon cake recipe.

When they are cooled, use a Bismarck tube to fill with lemon pie filling (canned, or make it yourself). (See video below.)

Whip up a fluffy meringue frosting and, using a large star tip, swirl a double layer on top, piling it high on each cupcake.

Zest a lemon and mix it with a few tablespoons of crystal clear Wilton sugar sprinkles. Decorate the tops of your cupcakes with these sweet/tart bright yellow sprinkles and surprise someone who needs a little sunshine in their life today!

Video instructions:

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Friend Me: BFFs who show TLC 121

Call us: Randy and Lindsay
Decade born: 1970's
Favorite cupcake: Friend Me
Making a difference: Supporting leukemia and lymphoma research

Randy and Lindsay's pregnant friend, Jen, was laying on the floor playing with her little boy when she ran her hand across her neck and felt a lump. The most frightening part of her diagnosis was finding a cancer treatment that would not harm her unborn baby. Jen delivered her healthy baby boy, and 6 days later started chemotherapy. Thanks to the latest in cancer research, this devoted mom just celebrated a year since the treatment began, and is able to nurture and enjoy her growing family.

Randy and Lindsay have joined others in raising funds for research that could help people like Jen find victory over this often fatal disease. When this caring couple shaved their heads as an act of solidarity in their friend's battle against cancer, they were able to raise $2,030 for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society online.

Another fundraiser Randy and Lindsay do each year is the Crop Walk… correction: their dog, Ivy, does the Crop Walk. Ivy raises donations online for local and worldwide hunger programs. WOOF!

The perfect cupcake to celebrate this family's special joy in helping others is the "Friend Me" cupcake. A chocolate cake with peanut butter center, topped with dark chocolate ganache, a splooch of icing, and a pretzel! Why the pretzel? For one thing, baking pretzels (from scratch!) is one of Randy's specialties. For another, the pretzel has long represented friendship and prayer -- two hallmark traits of this very special couple!

Make "Friend Me" cupcakes:

"You must be a friend," said Corduroy. "I've always wanted a friend." (from Corduroy by Don Freeman)

Start by dipping and decorating your pretzels (see video instructions below).

Then whip up the filling: half a cup of natural peanut butter with around 5 tablespoons of powdered sugar. Set aside.

Make a batter from your favorite chocolate cake recipe or mix. Pour batter into cupcake papers, drop in a teaspoon of peanut butter filling, cover with a little more batter and bake.

After cupcakes cool, pipe a line of frosting around the edge. Squeeze on some chocolate ganache. Allow ganache to cool. Using a medium sized star tip, pipe a pretty splooch of icing on top and press in a pretzel. Share your creations with 2 dozen of your closest friends.

Video instructions:

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Endless Love: Unbreakable family ties

Call us: Don and Jackie
Decade born: 1950's
Favorite cupcake: Endless Love
Making a difference: Supporting Salvation Army

Although they met through mutual friends, Jackie thinks of Don as her gift from heaven sent from her mom.  It didn’t take her long to fall in love with this romantic man and his precious five-year-old son, Spencer.

The three of them got married (Spencer got a ring, too!) on April 9, 1994. A few years later, they were blessed with a darling daughter, Maddie,  and the four of them share an unbreakable family bond of love that started with a providential meeting of hearts.

There’s no doubt that their marriage turned life around for more than just the two of them. That’s what love does — it has the power to change lives. Today, Don and Jackie support the Salvation Army for that very reason. This organization is all about showing love to folks who may be down on their fortune, and need a way to turn things around. To see how the Salvation Army (“Sally’s”) transformed one homeless man’s life, check out Richard LeMieux’s book, Breakfast at Sally's.

Without a doubt, the “Endless Love” cupcake is the perfect choice for this devoted family. Featuring 4 different chocolate components, and topped with a romantic double-dipped cherry, these flavors blend beautifully to bring your mouth and heart into harmony.

Make Endless Love cupcakes:

Make your double-dipped cherries first from Maraschino cherries with stems. Here's how:

  • Liquify red Wilton "melts" in the microwave (Check JoAnn's or Michael's). 
  • Add a spoonful of coconut oil or vegetable oil to thin out only slightly.
  • Dip cherries to the top and let cool on parchment paper.
  • Melt dark chocolate, adding coconut oil or vegetable oil as needed.
  • Dip cooled cherries a second time, but only half way up.
  • Put cherries in refrigerator while you make the cupcakes.
Make the filling by whipping up a chocolate mousse.

Make cupcakes from any chocolate cake recipe or mix.
Let cupcakes cool. Using a Bismarck tube, pipe the mousse into the center of the cupcakes (see video below).

Swirl on a white chocolate frosting. If you're like Maddie and like your frosting extra sweet, make a batch of confectioner's icing and whip in about 4 ounces of melted Baker's white chocolate. (Don't try to use melted white chocolate chips... you'll have a disaster on your hands!)

Melt some dark chocolate and pipe it on in a swirl. Top with a double-dipped cherry.

Video instructions:

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Heart of Gold: a man and his cupcake

Call me: Steve
Decade born: 1950's
Favorite cupcake: Heart of Gold (chocolate and peanut butter)
Making a difference: Mentor for at-risk kids

Steve remembers being a kid, spending Saturday afternoons in front of the TV watching guys like The Crusher, Mad Dog Vachon and Dick the Bruiser create high drama in the wrestling ring. Between rounds, Steve spread peanut butter on Hershey bar squares and stuck them in the freezer. By the time the next commercial came on, his snacks were frosty cold and ready to enjoy.

Nowadays this grandfather spends one free afternoon a week being a kid again -- not watching wrestling, but mentoring an at-risk child. It may involve playing a game, working on a craft, or just taking a walk and talking about "stuff."

That's why the "Heart of Gold" chocolate cupcake with a golden peanut butter filling and fudge frosting is a perfect celebration for Steve. A sweet guy with a heart of gold!

To discover more about mentoring, call your local school or go online to:

Make Heart of Gold cupcakes:

Make filling first by whipping a half cup of natural peanut butter with around 5 tablespoons of powdered sugar (depending on how sweet you want to make it). Set aside.

Make batter from any chocolate cake recipe or mix.

Pour a couple of tablespoons of your batter into the cupcake papers. Add around a teaspoon of peanut butter filling. Top with batter and bake as usual.

For the fudge icing, follow your favorite recipe or:
  1. Whip a stick of butter with electric mixer till softened.
  2. Begin adding around 4 cups of powdered sugar a little at a time, dripping in a bit of milk (1/4 cup) as needed and continuing to beat till fluffy.
  3. Mix in a teaspoon of vanilla.
  4. Melt 3 ounces unsweetened Baker's chocolate squares and drizzle into the frosting while beating at high speed. Whip for another 3 minutes or until smooth and fudgy.
  5. If you want stiffer icing, add more sugar. Softer use more milk.
  6. Frost the cupcakes and sprinkle with crushed peanuts or mixed nuts.