Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Why cupcakes thriving in England, but diving in US

Some of this year's winners at Britian's National Cupcake Championship except for the Mary Poppins cupcakes, which were for display, not competition.

     Ever since the cupcake bakery chain Crumbs crumbled in the U.S. earlier this year, people have declared the mini cakes dead several times over. If only the cupcakes here could get a spa weekend in England.
     Our neighbors across the pond crowned several winners at Britain’s National Cupcake Championship earlier this month. The final judging round in Birmingham on Nov. 8 was clearly a huge deal. It was not a bunch of bakers getting together in someone’s kitchen or rec room. The contest was held on the second day of Cake International, or The Sugarcraft, Cake Decorating & Baking Show, at the National Exhibition Centre. It was organized by British Baker magazine, an industry publication. The judges included the chair of England’s Association of Pastry Chefs. The finalists had been whittled down from more than 150 entries covering categories open to amateurs and professional bakers.
     Martyn Leek, a British Baker editor, said this is the sixth year the competition has been going on.
     “For trendsetters in trendy parts of London, cupcakes are passé. They’ve moved on,” Leek said. “For the child coming home from school, they want a treat. There’s still that wow factor, an innocence.”
     As a cynical American, I was surprised that someone went to the trouble of organizing such a competition. But what was even more surprising was the number of people in attendance at Cake International. The cupcake was alive and kicking. Crowds of women and men (but mostly women) were snapping up cake decorating supplies as well as photos of cakes and cupcakes on display.
     I was left overwhelmed by The Sugarcraft, Cake Decorating & Baking Show. It was like Comic-Con but for baking geeks. I saw some cake decorating implements I have yet to see in U.S. stores. There were authors of cake decorating books doing signings at booths throughout the hall as well as demonstrations with everything from gum paste to melted chocolate. The only thing missing was people dressed as their favorite cake or dessert.
     Leek said he’s seen items like cake pops and whoopee pies being hailed as the next cupcake but they haven’t succeeded on the same level.
     “You’re either a fan of the cupcake or you’re not. There are some bakers in Britain that don’t do cupcakes. But there is an audience,” Leek said. “Whether it’s growing or waning, who can tell. Bakers who do it well sell well.”
      Manjit Reyat, who came from Coventry, which is a 10-minute train ride, said the crowd is much bigger than when she came in 2012. She said the interest likely stems from the TV baking competition show, “The Great British Bake Off.” The show, which airs on BBC One, just finished its fifth season. Twelve contestants vie to be declared the best amateur baker. Each episode has bakers facing three challenges and one person is eliminated every episode.  But they don’t just do cupcakes but tarts, croissants and desserts I can’t pronounce.
     “I think people are definitely fans of the ‘British Bake-off’ and fancy a go at it themselves,” Reyat said.
      She also thinks the size of the country may have an effect on cupcake fatigue.
     “You’re bigger out there (in the U.S.). They come and go quite quickly. It’s still thriving here,” she said.
     Alan Whatley, chair of the Association of Pastry Chefs, said “cupcakes are not on the decline, not at all.”
     "I think in England we’re very good at revisiting things and making them fresh,” Whatley said. “We’re good at keeping momentum going."
For a complete list of this year’s winners of the 2014 National Cupcake Championship, go to http://www.nationalcupcakeweek.co.uk/page/2014_winners.html.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Stuffed Bean Curd Skins

Stuffed bean curd skins are similar to egg rolls, except they are braised, not deep-fried. Also, at the Asian supermarket, the wrapper will either say bean curd skins or egg roll wrappers. Apples and oranges. So, if I can make these, ANYONE can. You will need a ground meat for your filling--pork, turkey, etc. I used turkey. After that, you can simply throw in whatever you prefer--water chestnuts, chopped shitaki mushrooms, onion. Here's what I like to use:

1 lb. of ground turkey
1 Chinese sausage link (cut lengthwise and then diced)
1/2 can of water chestnuts, chopped
1 carrot, grated
1 egg
1 cup of dried breadcrumbs
soy sauce
sesame oil
chicken broth
oyster sauce

All you do is throw all the food into the bowl. You can eyeball it with the soy sauce, maybe about 2 tablespoons. Then add a few drops of sesame oil, around 2 teaspoons of cooking wine. A couple of dashes of salt because the sausage is already salty. Then a dash of pepper. Mix it really well until it seems like everything is distributed. I like to mix with a pair of chopsticks. You can then cover the filling and leave it anywhere from a couple hours to overnight so that everything marinates.

Handling the bean curd skins is probably the hardest. One pack of these can be found in the refrigerator or freezer section of the Asian supermarket. Pretty much every store carries this brand.

You have to unfold the sheets and they can have the texture of flaky phyllo dough. Use a brush to douse them with a bit of water so they become more pliable. Use a pair of kitchen shears and cut them into pieces that are going to be rolled up later. How big you cut them depends on how big you want the rolls. I prefer pieces that are about 3" wide and 4" long.

Put about 2 tsps of filling (or more if it will fit) and the width side. Then fold in the left and right sides and roll the skin over and over. Stop just before it's completely rolled up and brush a cornstarch-water solution on the roll so the last of the wrapper will be sealed against it.

Pan-fry the rolls on one side until it's slightly brown on medium heat. Then turn them over to brown the other side. Then lower the heat and pour in some chicken broth, enough to cover the rolls half-way. I personally prefer throwing in a bit of oyster sauce at this point too. Cover the pan. The stuffed bean curd skins should be cooked in about 5 minutes. But cut one open just to check. Voila!

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Life On 'Mars'

Veronica Mars is all grown-up. So grown-up that she fits on a big screen now! It was very surreal for me to not see "Veronica Mars" on a little monitor at home.

This weekend I was in San Diego because the fan-girl in me dared to hope that I could get into a special "Veronica Mars" fan event where one did NOT need a coveted Comic-Con badge for entry.

Let me rewind a bit. I watched "Veronica" when it first aired on UPN back in 2004 up until it was canceled after a third season on the then-new CW network. I don't get cult-ish about many TV shows. I remember being pissed that VM got dropped but overly-soapy teen shows like "One Tree Hill" got to stay. So earlier this year, as soon as I read that this Kickstarter project could be the make-or-break step to reviving the teen detective as a movie, I seriously considered donating. The only reason I was hesitant was that giving money meant I might not be able to ever write about it. But the fan-girl side of me won out.

Back to present day in San Diego...I got in to the panel at the last minute after getting on a bus at 5:30 a.m. to get to the waiting spot for a precious wrist band and then having to come back at 7 p.m. as a "standby" entry. I was so elated that I got to truly feel like part of Comic-Con weekend with one of my favorite shows and at no cost. Everyone who was a regular on the show was there, including star Kristen Bell, and of course, creator Rob Thomas (not the Matchbox 20 dude). Characters represented were: Keith Mars, Wallace, Mac, Logan, Piz, Weevil and Dick Casablancas. I wanted to document some of the highlights for myself before they become cobwebs in the back of my mind.

_Making friends with the people who were in line with me. It's amazing how Comic-Con brings out geeks and nerds of all backgrounds. I met a Asian woman from Fremont, Calif., who is an optometrist. I met a woman who is a writer for the latest "Transformer" cartoon. Overheard a guy beg her not to kill off Optimus Prime _ again.

_The actors who pay Weevil and Wallace showed up in the morning with donuts for everyone. There was a film crew documenting this. So, I might be on camera someday being shown helping Francis Capra tear the seal off a box of Winchell's.

_Saw two minutes of footage from the movie that was not shown at the Comic-Con panel earlier in the day. The scene was Veronica at the check-in table at her high school reunion, which was being run by her bitchy school nemesis, Madison. Madison pretended at first not to recognize her.
Veronica: This is my 'I think you're an asshole look.' How about now?
Madison says something bitchy back.
Veronica: You've been sitting her since graduation, haven't you?

 _Kristen Bell said she had no idea why she and Jason Dohring (Logan) have "boatloads of chemistry." Rob Thomas said he's not sure how it happened. Logan was supposed to just be the "obligatory, psychotic jackass." But the more they saw them on screen, the more the writers started writing in the direction of Veronica and Logan being the "it" couple.

_Chris Lowell, who played Piz and Veronica's love interest in the last season, said he was surprised that he was going to be in the movie. He fake-cried because he knew Piz wasn't as loved as Logan (Jason Dohring), who everyone wanted to end up with Veronica. Even some of the actors admitted Piz is the better guy but they still wanted her with Logan, the bad boy. In a pathetic attempt to make Lowell feel better, his friend Ryan Devlin (who played a student who turned out to be a serial rapist in the third season), took the microphone and said "Who do you want for Veronica? Piz or the rapist?" Of course everyone cheered for Piz. Chris Lowell had a "that's supposed to help??" look on his face. LOL.

_During the audience Q&A, someone from the back said "I have a question!" It was Ken Marino, who played Vinnie Van Lowe, the rival private eye to Keith Mars (Veronica's dad). A very funny guy. "How many scenes do I have in the movie?" Rob Thomas replied "You have a love scene with Kristen. It's happening Sunday. Oh Kristen, did I forget to tell you?" Then the actors demanded that Ken serenade them. So he sang a verse of "Private Eyes," a reference to a scene he did on the show.

_Ryan Devlin said when the Kickstarter project was announced, his father, an attorney, sent him an email detailing all the possible reasons his character could be out of prison because he wanted him to be in the movie. Awwww.

_Staffers brought out a giant cake shaped like a camera lens and two giant birthday cards in honor of Kristen Bell's and Percy Daggs' (VM's BFF, Wallace) birthdays, which are three days apart. (Kristen loved it: "Seriously you guys, it's like 'Cake Wars' down here"). The cards were signed by everyone who got a wrist band to get in.

_Ryan Devlin co-founded a granola bar company that is called "This Bar Saves Lives." Money from every purchase goes to help a child with severe, acute malnutrition in the world. He said the event's sponsor, Samsung, bought 5,000 bars in honor of Bell's birthday and has been giving them out all week. Samsung's purchase will help feed 33 kids. And we all got a bar to take home.

_When asked if there could be more movies or a limited run on Netflix like "Arrested Development," Rob Thomas said "Netflix has my number." But also, he said we have to wait and see how the movie does and all the actors have other commitments like TV shows in the next year. If the movie, which comes out sometime next year, is a huge hit then they won't need Kickstarter next time.

_Every single actor couldn't express their gratitude enough. All of them seemed very genuine. They said how they see the work is different when they realized that fans are the reason they have the job to begin with. Fans were basically like "Here's my money."

Anyway, my pants could fall down on the street tomorrow and I would still say I had a fantastic weekend. Can't help but wonder if Twitter and Facebook had been as prevalent back when VM was on, would the show have lasted a little longer. But, it makes the movie becoming a reality and all the press interest surrounding it that much sweeter. Going to end with the trailer that I saw at the fan event Friday night.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Have Shower Will Travel

For the last month, I've been preoccupied with throwing a bridal shower for my cousin Jennifer. With A LOT of help from my wonderful cousin, Lisa, we were able to pull off the shower I always wanted...er...a travel-themed shower. See, our cousin Jennifer's love of traveling and seeing other countries is something she passed onto me. I don't think I would have given much thought to the idea of how other people see the U.S. if I hadn't seen how much she traveled. In college, she went away for a year to Spain. I was in high school and hadn't traveled beyond Canada. I thought it was really gutsy to spend a year in another country. I still couldn't get up the nerve to do something like that by the time I got to college. I'd been to a few other countries but with my family. Hence we were on tour buses and I learned quickly that that was no way to experience a country. So, like Jennifer, I took my own trip in 2003 through several European countries and did the hostelling thing. Boy, am I glad. I met people from all over the world who became great friends--at least for that trip. Anyway, I knew this was the theme I wanted to do. After careful and thorough research on various blogs, Lisa and I borrowed a few ideas. I think they all worked out great. And for the first time, we had people eat outside in my parents' backyard.

The most cost-cutting thing we did was incorporate old maps into our decor. Lisa was going to go down to the local AAA office but she found tons of maps in her mom's garage. This is the great thing about most Asian parents: They always have old luggage that they used to visit relatives in China or Hong Kong and they save every map they ever bought or received.

Lisa cut letters out of some map and then glued them to the doilies. She also outlined the letters with a black marker so they would stand out more. She and my mom tied string around each doily and then tied them to a string draped across the window. We also added a bunch of tchotchkes that Lisa and I had that represented other countries i.e. a ukele and a mini Eiffel Tower.

We made paper airplanes out of the maps (or rather our guy cousins did) and clipped them to the laundry line.

Lisa found her old world map (Remember the USSR and when Germany had that whole East side/West side thing?) and pinned that to the fence along with more paper airplanes. We also put out luggage. They functioned as props along with a container for a shower game.

Our deck "decked" out with a world map, luggage. A borrowed patio table is decorated with flowers and framed photo of the bride.
Another budget-saving idea for favors: I hate to say this but airline barf bags. On other blogs, I saw people had ordered little plastic suitcases, which cost like $3 each, or made suitcases out of cardboard and decorated them with stickers. Um...yeah, not gonna happen. Either too much money or too much work. So, on the flight home, I went into the lavatory and took the entire stack of barf bags to my seat. But I still didn't have enough. So I asked the flight attendant after we landed if I could have some. They ran out of a fresh stack so he actually spent a few minutes helping me pluck bags from the seat pockets. We decorated the bags with stickers and rubber stamps with a travel theme. The only drawback was that when I opened one of the bags to stuff it, I couldn't get it open. It might be because of the wad of minty gum stuck inside. YUCK!
          Lisa really enjoyed telling people to go to "baggage claim" to get their favors.

For the table, we had foods that represented different countries Jennifer visited _ sushi for Japan, chicken satay for Thailand, a pavlova for New Zealand and some tropical fruit for Hawaii for example. Major kudos to my brother Gary for cooking almost all the food and my cousin Suzie for making the pavlova.

And of all the weird coincidences, the day before I went to the Maker Faire in San Mateo. There's a section called the Bizarre Bazaar where local DIY artists sell stuff _ everything from jewelry to soap to silkscreen T-shirts. Well, a woman who runs her own design business on Etsy, (http://www.etsy.com/shop/GrannyPantyDesigns) where she upcycles maps of all things into gift tags, flower bulbs, etc. She actually sold garlands of mini paper airplanes for $15. Since we already went to the trouble of making our own paper airplanes, I couldn't justify buying anything. But I found it impossible to resist these cupcake toppers.
Lemon-vanilla cupcakes with Earl Grey tea frosting _ one of the few things I made on this table.

Sorry, but those paper airplanes are effing cute.

We also adapted a game of "How well do you know each other" by making the bride to be wear ugly clothes that were packed in the luggage every time she got an answer that didn't match with her fiance's. Overall, I think everything looked pretty close to how I pictured. I liked putting little touches too like the globe and the travel books on the tables. We also labeled the beverage area as "in-flight beverages" and the gifts table "gift shop." Except for wondering how my life came down to rummaging in seat pockets with a Southwest flight attendant, I had fun doing it. That's partly because I had the BEST party-planning partner in the world in my cousin Lisa. She wasn't too anal, she wasn't lazy. She was just right. She did all the signage, put up most of the decorations and oversaw the games and ice breaker activities. And her husband, Nelson, a longtime family friend, was a gift from party-planning heaven _ patiently helping and not complaining once. I'm lucky a lot of my family also makes for the best team.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Dear Mike...

Dear Mike,

When I found out you needed a kidney transplant, I was really scared. I didn't tell you that I was scared at the idea of your no longer being around. But that's the world I live in now. No Michael Hogan.

I wish so much that I had made the time to see you during my visits to the Bay Area this past summer. But with all the family obligations and the other now seemingly trivial plans, I told myself there would be an opportunity to catch you during my next visit. Well, lesson learned. I know that you would tell me not to feel bad. You would say there's no way I could have known what would happen.

I keep thinking about the last time we saw each other. I had just finished running Bay to Breakers in May. As soon as I showered and changed, I took a cab over to UCSF to see you. Mister, I cannot believe you actually thought we could go out to lunch while being hospitalized for post-transplant/kidney-rejection issues! Watching you sitting on your hospital bed, I was stunned by how much weight you had lost. As Eric said, we know you loved that but it was still off-putting. But what amazed me even more was how focused you were on others during your recovery. First off, I didn't bring you anything. But you thought to ask your roommate to go get me a cupcake and cake pop from a local bakery as well as that gift certificate to Baker & Banker Restaurant. I still have no idea why you thought I was the one who deserved gifts. I haven't used that certificate. I had been saving it because it felt only right to take you there for dinner. Sucks that isn't going to happen. Presents aside, I was even more touched when I asked you how Eric was doing after donating his kidney. While Eric had already been out of the hospital and back to daily living for some time, you said you wished everyone would lavish attention on him instead. You said he's the one who made the sacrifice. The best thing people could do for you was to send goodwill and gifts his way.

For all the times you drove me to new levels of exasperation, you never failed to impress me with your kindness, consideration and charm. I remember in 10th grade, we had a joint birthday party at my house for all our friends with November birthdays and I told you that my mom would cook separate food for you because while everyone was OK with pizza, you loved Chinese. So, you thought to show up with a bouquet of flowers for her. Not bad for 16 years old, Mr. Hogan. I also remember during our senior year, it bugged the hell out of you that I was still getting picked up after school by my mom because I had no car of my own. So you took it upon yourself to offer you and Dennis as my personal drivers. I still don't understand that, LOL, but that was one of your quirks that added to the Mike-ness of you.

I know you used to worry too much that if you didn't hear back from a friend -- old or new -- by phone, email, text, etc., it meant they might not want to hang out with you or didn't care about you. I'm not sure if you ever grew out of that completely. But if you saw all the lovely things people have written about you, you would know your concern was for nothing. You may be afraid that with your passing, everyone is going to just forget about you. But I can tell you, I've thought about you every day since your death. That will be true in 10 months and in 10 years.

While I mourn the loss of all the things you didn't get to do or be in your too-short time here, you'll be with me. I know I'll be somewhere and I'll ask "What would Mike think?" Your absence doesn't mean the end of our friendship. I hope you know that I love you very much.


Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Recipes--what's your type?


A couple weeks before Valentine's Day, I spotted a link to this recipe in my Facebook feed from Foodista _ bacon chocolate stout cheesecake. For some reason, I became fixated on this recipe and I felt this inexplicable need to make it. I decided to make it for Valentine's Day just because that was the next holiday, meaning excuse, coming up. It got me thinking...dealing with recipes really is like interacting with the opposite sex. 

The way I became so intent on making this cake is comparable to lust. I actually thought about how or if I would make it while lying in bed. But there were so many steps involved in the process. First, you have to glaze and oven-cook the bacon yourself and then chop it into little pieces. Second, you incorporate some of the chopped bacon into the cake batter that includes chocolate stout. Then, you have to make the hot fudge sauce yourself that goes on top. You still have to sprinkle more bacon on top. And for the finale, whip the heavy cream and pipe that around the edge. It's like a guy you've only been on a couple dates with and he's absolutely yummy but you're not sure if he's worth the effort. Yet, you really want to know if he...er...would be pleasant on your palate. You have to ask yourself are you willing to commit and do all the steps in the recipe and find out. 

In the case of this bacon-chocolate cheesecake, I found the end-product to be pleasantly decadent but it helps that I know I enjoy chocolate and bacon. For some of my friends, the experience was actually close to orgasmic. Yet, afterward, I did feel a tinge of regret because of how full one piece can make you, hehe. I suppose remorse is a comparable sentiment as well. If this recipe were a person, I think it would be a tall, dark and sexy "mimbo" that a girl wouldn't pursue as relationship material. Because as delicious as this cake was, I don't want to serial-eat it. It's something I'd eat when I feel self-pitying or indulgent. And it was so much work, another reason I will rarely be eating it. 

I am a foodie at heart but I'm no gourmand. I definitely don't want to be considered a food-snob. Yet...I see foods certain ways. A chili dog would be the guy who's too into sports and doesn't care if he makes a mess in front of you. Pre-packaged ramen is like the bland nerd who stays chained to the TV or the computer so as not to miss a gaming event or an episode of "Battlestar Galactica." Chicken soup is the guy who is just a friend and you lean on him when you want something comfortable. Quiche made with fresh garden herbs, farmer's market cheese and some prosciutto with a gruyere crust, to me, represents the gay best friend _ colorful, tasty and looks great at the table at brunch or any bridal/baby shower. Sardines or liver and onions means you should fake an emergency and leave.

Sometimes, you find a recipe that you really like and it's even healthy yet has a spicy or flavorful kick. It stays with you _ becoming a part of your culinary repertoire forever. In foodie terms, I'm really not sure what that is for me (No, not a cupcake recipe). I am not the greatest in the kitchen. That's why I so enjoy perusing the cookbooks or cooking websites. There's no harm in looking, right?

Sunday, January 06, 2013

My first time ... getting pulled over

So, I had my first "run-in" with the law this past weekend (if you don't count cops coming to your door because of a noise complaint.) I was driving down Roosevelt Street to the Phoenix downtown farmer's market Saturday morning when my friend Leah said "I think that police car is for you." I looked into the rear view mirror and sure enough, the police car was very close and had its siren lights flickering. Crap! I pulled over and then a male voice said to pull into an empty driveway. I pulled into a parking lot. Then for what seemed like an eternity, the policeman stayed in his car (probably looking up your plates--according to Leah).
"Gawd, the weekend is already starting off sh***y," I said.
I have NEVER been pulled over in my entire driving-life. The only thing I know is to never get out of your vehicle. My father did that before -- thinking he was being helpful (sigh).
I rummaged through the glove compartment and got out my registration. Then I picked it and my driver's license up and stuck my left arm out the window. 

"I might as well be helpful," I said, giving Leah a good chuckle.
The officer finally walked up and I was immediately apologetic. Honestly, I would fold like a cheap party chair in an interrogation.
"Sorry, that intersection's traffic lights are shut down so I guess I just went through."
"Why do you think I pulled you over?"
"Because I didn't stop at an intersection where the traffic lights have been shut off?"
"No. The street before that you rolled right through a stop sign."
Oops. According to him, a car in front of me stopped and I didn't. That's what I get for talking while driving. The officer then glanced down at my open wallet and he noticed I had a second Arizona driver's license.
"Why do you have another license?"
Oh gawd, is that against the law too? I thought.
I hang onto my old driver's license so I have something to use should I ever misplace my current one. But for him, I just said "sentimental value." He seemed to find that a good reason and went back to his car again. At this point Leah's trying to soothe me and I see a second police car has showed up. A second officer decided to back up his colleague and came around to the passenger side. He had Leah row down the window so he could watch her. Two police cars for little me? Geez. Next time I pass someone on the street surrounded by two police cars, I won't assume the driver must be some no-good d-bag.
The officer came back to my window and gave me back my license.
"So, what do you do?"
"I'm a reporter."
"Really?! Do you know another word for 'manage' that also starts with M?"
My first thought: WTF?! You want help with your crossword puzzle?
Leah and I looked at each other and came up with "monitor."
"Oh, that's a good one," the police officer said. Then he explained how he was writing a project for his bosses that's titled TEAM. But he hadn't yet found the right word to fill in the M. He said the last project he wrote was called "Project PIMP"  (three guesses what crime that relates to) and had been chronicled in local media. Project TEAM is related to homeless outreach, especially along the light rail.
I didn't know what to say. So I said,"Say, have you ever seen a guy dressed as Superman on the light rail?"
"Yes I have. He's not homeless. He actually does it for parties and has a business card. I also think he does it for attention."
Leah: "Gee, you think?"
It is then the officer makes my feelings go from regret to relief.
"By the way, I'm NOT going to give you a ticket. I'm just wasting your time now."
Like the good girl I hopelessly am, I didn't want him to think I was happy as though I got away with something and I took our conversation seriously. So I said: "Give me your email address so if I think of a better word, I can let you know."
He actually wrote down his number and his email on a police interrogation card; I guess he had no business cards that day.
So, I still am not sure if my being in the media actually got me out of a ticket or this officer was just in a good mood. But it was by far the most random, odd conversation I've had so far in 2013.
Next New Year's resolution: watch out for those stop signs!