Sunday, February 27, 2011

Cupcakes to Grow Old With

Des Moines, IA
Shop: one special Des Moines retirement community
Cupcake: Vanilla accompanied by pink punch
Review: I didn't actually try any, but the guests sure gobbled them up!
Didn't I tell you that cupcakes have a tendency to follow me?  During my time in Des Moines I asked around for a good cupcake recommendation but didn't find any leads.  Funny thing is, the cupcakes found me.  I joined a few Delta Gammas to volunteer at a Retirement Home Birthday Party.  There were over 70 attendees and an entertainer who played songs on the piano and sang along.  He also took requests like "Meet Me in St. Louis".  After the performance we were to serve punch and, you guessed it, cupcakes!  While working as a consultant this year I interact primarily with women my age and spend little time with older men and women.  This Birthday Party was a necessary crash course refresher on appreciating life and remembering the good times.  One woman at the party was turning 103 and she was still as conversational and lively as I imagine she was as a young woman.  Individuals shared stories of their favorite birthday ever, and I wasn't surprised that almost all of them included family.  Some people shared stories of friends they have had since childhood and it made me think "will this be the same for my friends, or kids younger than me"?  
Though it's taboo, social media and non-intimate conversations cause me to keep in touch with more people, but remain close with fewer people.  It's easy for us to move on from friend to friend because we have the ability to get in contact easily and quickly.  My grandma and the people at this birthday party didn't have the luxury of texting their friend down the road, they had to plan for weeks in order to make a play date.  This meant that getting a call or hanging out created strong connections and people appreciated every minute they had with friends.  Will I remain close with friends in the same ways?  This party made me rethink the small and special memories I have with friends.  Elderly people have always made me appreciate simple things more, too.  The best way to celebrate simplicity: a birthday party with cupcakes, punch, and sing along songs.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Home Sweet Cupcakes in the Big Sky

Missoula, MT
Shop: Bernice's Bakery
Cupcake: "Love-ender", Rose
Review: This was my original favorite cupcake bakery.  They do a lot more than cupcakes, and true cakes are their specialty, but the little guys are just as good. The frosting on these is crisper than the usual soft and fluffy cupcake.  The firmness is perfectly accented by the soft cake below it.  All together the flavor is right on and the cupcake is firmer than any other I have had, but this makes for a mostly no-crumbles experience.

Can't talk... eating cupcakes, watching documentaries, and having the time of my life in Missoula, MT.  While I won't be writing a full journal about this trip, I will tell you that Bernice's Bakery was on my priority list of places to visit.  They do cupcakes the right way, as well as other cakes and delicious croissants. 

Rose Cupcake

A cute Valentines couple
"Love"ender Cupcake

Lovin', Viewin', Squeezin' 'Cakes

Missoula, MT

Shop: My Mom's homemade cupcakes
Cupcake: Vanilla with cream cheese frosting
Review: Everything about my mom's cupcakes is perfect, especially when she bakes enough to share.  I was able to give these out to BSDFF staff, my friends, and I had a few myself, too.
Or was it "Lovin', Touchin', Squeezin'"?  Either way, my visit to Missoula, Montana was a much needed, fulfilling vacation with family.  It was Valentine's Day and my dear mama and her friend came to visit.  I was definitely feeling the lovin'.  When I wasn't catching up with friends, festival staff and my past professors I pretty much watched documentaries all day.  If you know me at all you know this is my favorite activity.  I was viewin' at any spare moment and saw films ranging from "Love, Etc." to the International Documentary Challenge, to Yo La Tengo playing the "Sounds of Science" live.  I'm only a year out of school but I can already tell that the one place that will always take me back to my roots is Missoula.  Just by sitting at that bar stool or watching the Mountain Line bus go by I am reminded of the growth I had during my college years.  When I visit Montana now I embrace, or squeeze if you will, any last memory of how I lived my life as a young, mostly unemployed, but carefree girl.
Mom knew some homemade cupcakes would make my Valentines Day special.  She and grandma are better bakers than any bakey I've been to all year.

Delightful Surprise Donuts

Wichita, KS
Shop: The Donut Whole
Treat: Rocky Road Donut
Review: This donut has crunch, flavor, and supurb texture.  Honestly I like my donuts a little softer than this one, but the flavor outweighed the overall density.
During my time in Wichita I asked for a good cupcake place but failed to find a good review.  I did hear about this fantastic donut shop, though, and happened upon it one night.  Much like my favorite cupcake shops, The Donut Whole does a classic treat in unique and new ways.  They have probably 30+ donuts that they rotate between, ranging from classics to vegan, gluten free, and crazy new flavors.  I actually meant to get a vegan one but they only sell them one day of the week (bummer), but was happy with this recommendation by the sweet counter worker.
Wichita was one of my first true visits to the Midwest (excluding Indiana and a childhood visit to Nebraska).  I expected nothing but corn fields, friendly people, and a very quaint and innocent lifestyle.  For the most part this is what I found, too, but the city also presented me with a few suprises.  First of all, people are so sweet and friendly that they tend to explore new ideas and try new things just on the basis of being friendly.  The Donut Whole presented me with a much more "indie" and "hipster" scene than the rest of KS, but this is an appreciated and important area of the city.  Ideas and people are calm, but uniqueness is encouraged.  Like the donuts I had, they're classic but willing to think outside the box.  My donut experience was a really nice surprise, as was my entire time in Kansas.  
ps: don't tell Wizard of Oz jokes, they've heard them all before.


Washington D.C.
Shop: Georgetown Cupcakes
Cupcake: Strawberry Champagne, Red Velvet
Review: Everyone should try either their Red Velvet or a unique flavor, as these are specialties of Georgetown Cupcakes.  The frosting is fluffy but not too soft, and the cake was a wonderful and full consistency. Perfect size.  One less bite would have been too little, but one more bite would have overfilled my sweet tooth.  Bottom line, it keeps you wanting more. Oh, and by the way, the TLC show DC cupcakes is about them.  They have a huge reputation nationwide that I agree with, but this was by no means the best cupcake I've ever had.

Washington DC presented me with a drive to succeed and try new things, much like the business practices of this highly competitive cupcake bakery.  I was absolutely delighted by the women I met in DC, they were incredibly hospitable and all had ambition to make the world and their community a better place.  In fact, the reason I got to see and try multiple cupcakes is because of a new DG friend I met who works at Georgetown Cupcakes.  As a surprise to me she brought home two boxes of cupcakes after her work shift and shared them with everyone!  What a great treat in my already pleasant and motivating visit to DC.  DC was a place that gave me the drive to work hard and have a more positive influence on the world, probably because of all the politics and international community in the city.  Their small businesses are the same way- they work hard to be the best they can be and strive to please their customers.  I felt very much at home in DC.  Their cupcakes represent the rest of the city- well known, well-crafted, unique, but not always perfect.
Red Velvet
Ps: the blog background features one of my half-eaten Georgetown Cupcakes.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Confidence 'Cakes

Shop: Delta Gamma at DePauw
Cupcake: store bought Chocolate and Vanilla
Review: Just as expected, a good thing in a world with many surprises. Yummy, pretty soft, plain flavor.

If I learned one thing from my three trips to Indiana this year it's that you really can't judge a book by it's cover.  Look at these cupcakes, for example, and you see your average, store bought chocolate and vanilla treats.  They probably even look a little stale.  
While they're not exciting and fancy, I know exactly what I'm getting into when I buy one.  People are like this too.  Often times I try the fun looking and colorful cupcakes because I somehow think it will make my life more exciting, but it's not something I would ever try again.  Give me a chocolate cupcake any day though and I'm on it.  I have a lot of friends in these two categories, too.  Some are fun to hang out with every once and a while, but my stale old vanilla friends are the one's that I think about daily, send birthday cards, call late at night, and the one's I trust. I guess that's the most important thing to me, trust.  It gives me the confidence that I'm making the right choices and will have someone to back me up if I slip.  

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Thick Skinned 'Cakes

Shop: Mad Hatter's
Cupcake: the Turtle
Review: My first bite was a huge surprise as it doesn't taste at all like the candy, but more like a nutty/ice cream/donut concoction.  The frosting was very stiff, but don't mistake this for stale.  It tasted like a cream puff drizzled in chocolate.  If you're not in the mood for an inch of thick creamy frosting, this is not for you.  The nuts on top did add a nice crunchy treat, though. Overall I was satisfied, but not blown away.

This may be an unfair first stop because Mad Hatter's is better known for fair trade coffees and decadent cakes.  Regardless, I stopped in to try their cupcakes.  I was impressed with the selection, about eight varieties in all.  Mostly flavors I'd seen before (e.g. Strawberry Chocolate, Lemon Cake).  I almost went for an old classic, then I saw the "Turtle" cupcake.  Immediately I thought of the turtle candy that is chocolate with nuts and caramel.  Delicious.  
Down in NC at Duke University I learned about working within the walls of a prestigious University, which means I also grew a thicker layer of skin.  Enjoying Duke as a female students takes a little more work than at other Universities, mostly because of the male powerhouse athletics and their existing stereotypes of being a macho school.  It took me a little extra work to find cupcakes here, too, because I really never left the Duke campus.  With hard work it's sometimes more difficult to understand the rewards you earn.  Women leave Duke with a really excellent education, but often move on to work in male dominated work environments.  It's not an easy journey but the reward is fulfilling if you're ready for it.  My stiff frosting cupcake also wasn't easy to like at first, but it grew on me.

Best Friend 'Cakes

Shop: Cupcake Royal
Cupcake: Lavender and Egg Nog
Review: More frosting than almost any other cupcake I have had.  The flavors are distinct and taste just like they are supposed to.  The Lavender has a strong taste and smell, and I actually chewed on a couple small pieces of lavender.  It's bright purple and delicious.  This is possibly my favorite cupcake ever.  Egg Nog was also delicious and so perfect for winter time.  The taste and creaminess of the frosting was right on.  They offer a special cupcake each week, so watch for holiday or seasonal treats when you go!
Shop: Trophy Cupcakes
Cupcake: Red Velvet
Review: This was a classic Red Velvet but with above average taste.  I would definitely recommend this place for a classic, not too much frosting and not overwhelming flavor.  This place takes cupcakes seriously and each one is professionally and carefully decorated.  This is an especially good shop if you're not up for anything crazy.
(while I ate cupcakes my droid ate my photos of them...)

The real origin of this blog was my visit to Seattle, WA for New Years 2011.  I drove over with my sister and a friend, and stayed with my best friend and unofficial personal life mentor.  We bummed around for a few days taking in as much as Seattle as we could in one weekend.  We saw my favorite sights: the sculpture park, the sound/ocean, and the funny people who live in Seattle.  We also saw some things that were thus far Seattle secrets to me, including the Freemont Troll, a pick-and-listen record shop in Capitol Hill, and lots and lots of cupcakes. 
Seattle may have some of the greatest cupcakes in the nation, mostly because they take this treat very seriously.  Ask someone in Seattle where to find a cupcake, and they're sure to give you one of two answers: Cupcake Royal, or Trophy Cupcakes.  Seattlites constantly debate about which is the better shop.  After two trips in two days to Cupcake Royal, I knew who made my favorite Seattle cupcake.  The 'cakes are huge, ridiculously rich, and the frosting is so soft you'll want to sleep on it.  The variety is also a huge plus.  They've got Red Velvet, Lavender, Raspberry Chocolate, and "The Kate" named after a former employee and topped with yummy pink frosting.  Each week they have a special holiday or seasonal cupcake.  Egg Nog anyone?  The attitude of the staff is hit or miss, ranging from bored to smiley and sweet.  I guess this is expected in the hipster community of Capitol Hill.  Cupcake Royal has shirts, buttons, and cupcake trays for sale, all making you feel part of their little cupcake community.  
I also tried Trophy Cupcakes in Freemont.  They have a more clean-cut vibe, although they did offer some funky buttons at the counter.  I actually bought two cucpakes here, one for me and one to bring my mom back in Spokane.  I've got to say, this cupcake was awesome, but a different world than Cupcake Royal.  The debate between these two shops reminds me of the debate over Seattle and Spokane.  Both are great, one has a better reputation.  Both have grungy sides, but one uses that as it's appeal.  Both curb my appetite, but one is so fun you always want to come back for more.  
More than anything this trip gave me a new meaning of what friends are for.  The friends I keep are those that love me unconditionally, even if we don't agree.  They will join me and support me in all of my crazy endeavors, just so I have support.  All of my friends are in different cities than me, but when I see my true friends we embrace like nothing ever changed.  Like cupcakes, you can find friends everywhere, but really good one's are few and far between.