January 24, 2010


I have long been a fan of lavender. What started as a vague liking of lavender has become a near obsession.

My college roommate bought me a lavender sachet as a gift from France - more than ten years later, it's still in my drawer, despite the fact that it really doesn't smell like much anymore.

I visited Matanzas Creek Winery winery when I was still living in San Francisco. Don't tell the authorities, but I snipped a little stem of lavender from a bush and stored it in a Krispy Kreme hat that sat in our car for 5 years.

I started a few lavender plants from seed this year, which yielded about 2 stems of flowers in total. I'm hoping 2010's crop will be a bit fuller.

So this week, I'm making a dessert dedicated to my favorite flower: rosemary cupcakes with lavender frosting. An odd combo? Perhaps. Lavender-licious? Definitely.

It seemed like it would be pretty straightforward. Find a standard cupcake recipe and frosting recipe and add some herbs and flowers. Easy, right? Eh, I may have hit a few bumps on the way.

I went to epicurious.com - my trusty go-to site for recipes - and found this recipe for a simple white cupcake. Decent reviews, and it looked pretty simple. I made the recipe as stated with a few modifications. I accidentally used more butter than the recipe called for - 5/6ths of a cup instead of the 2/3 of a cup that the recipe calls for. Oops #1. That is a lot of butter. Yum/yuck. For anyone who doesn't do a lot of baking, it's a little gross to see how much butter it takes to make a measly cupcake. Truthfully, I don't think that more butter really hurt anything except my waistline.

This is where things get craaazy! In place of the vanilla, I used 6 tsp of dried rosemary crushed into the smallest pieces I could muster with my bare hands. Oops #2. It turns out that spears of rosemary get a little bitter when you chew them. I recommend a mortar and pestle to get the pieces as small as possible. Then mix it in with the flour and milk.

Warning! This recipe produces a lot of cupcakes - 18 to be exact. I don't recommend making this many unless you have a planned outlet for them. Perhaps you can write a blog and distribute them to friends who read your blog?

I popped those bad boys in the oven and let them bake for a while. I must not be used to using my oven very much. Oops #3. At one point, instead of turning off my oven timer, I accidentally turned off the oven. No wonder the cupcakes seemed to stop baking at one point. They were a tiny bit crustier on top, but generally no worse for the wear.

As for the frosting recipe - personally, my favorite part of a cupcake - it was a no-brainer. I used Sprinkles' recipe for its famed vanilla buttercream frosting. I then mixed in 9tsp of whole lavender flowers (easily found at my Jewel's spice section). I think this was maybe Oops #4. Similar to rosemary, I think the essence of the lavender would have been a little better if I had just crushed the buds a bit more with a mortar and pestle. Also, Chris made me add more lavender to the recipe because he didn't think the flavor was strong enough. I think you could get away with 6tsp and still be in good shape.

Again, this frosting involves a lot of butter and a lot of sugar. 18 cupcakes = 4 sticks of butter in total. Sprinkles tells you that this is enough frosting for 12 cupcakes, but I frosted 18 cupcakes and still had some left.

I used an offset spatula to frost the cupcakes, and voila! Lavender-licious.

So, in the end, how did these cupcakes turn out? Not too shabby! I would definitely make these again as a unique alternative with the modifications I stated above. If you're interested, try it out for yourself. It was fun and weird to toss ingredients in to my cooking that I wouldn't normally use.

Happy baking!

(Recommended) materials used for this project:

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2/3 cups unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 3/4 cups sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 1/4 cups whole milk
  • 6 tsps rosemary, crushed with mortar and pestle
  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Prepare cupcake tins as directed as directed in the recipe you are following.
  2. Sift the flour, baking powder, and salt together in a medium bowl.
  3. In a separate, larger bowl, cream the butter. Gradually add the sugar, creaming until light and fluffy.
  4. Add the eggs one at a time, and beat well after each addition.
  5. In a small bowl, combine the milk and vanilla.
  6. To the butter mixture, add about one quarter of the flour mixture and rosemary and mix well. Add about one quarter of the milk mixture and mix well. Continue alternating the flour mixture and milk mixture, beating after each addition until smooth.
  7. Pour the batter into the cupcake tins. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until the cake springs back when touched.
  8. Remove from oven and let cool for about 10 minutes, then turn the cupcakes out of the tins and onto a rack to finish cooling completely.
  1. In a bowl combine butter, sugar and salt. Beat till blended.
  2. Add the milk and vanilla and beat for an additional 3 to 5 minutes or until smooth and creamy.

January 17, 2010

Hike Up That Skirt

My mother told me when I was younger that learning to sew would be an essential life skill. As a wife, I would be responsible for taking care of all the housework and ensuring that my husband's pants were properly hemmed. It turns out that my mothers' sewing mini-courses didn't really stick with me over time, so my skills are a little sub par. Luckily, I had a pretty strong backup by going to college, finishing grad school, and having a career.

Still, I can't deny that knowing how to sew is a useful skill. This week, I've tried to put my skills to use - not on my husband's clothes, but on my own. It is an experiment in how I can improve my current wardrobe. No, I'm not extremely petite. I'm actually 5'4", which is the height of the average American woman. Unfortunately, clothing manufacturers seem to think that we're all Glamazons with 45-in inseams.

I protest! But in the meantime, I have to make do with what I have. Short legs, meet long skirt:

I've had this skirt for a few years now, and every time I wear it, I feel like it makes me even more of a midget than I already am. My legs shrink and become stumpy, and not even the highest heels can rescue the look (as evidenced by the photo above). Short girls, you know what I mean!

As a side note, I've discovered that shopping at teen-oriented stores (like Forever 21) can actually be a better bet than the petites section at a chain store like Banana Republic because of the skirt length and variety of styles. Apparently teenagers like their skirts shorter. And their quality lower.

Anyhow, I decided to take on the gargantuan task of figuring out how to hem a circular hem. If any of you have tried this before, you know that it's not totally easy to create a circular hem that's even and attractive. So, I took advantage of the layered construction of the skirt and decided to make the part that I was hemming invisible by showing only the fluffy crepe layer  (the shiny one that's not currently at the bottom):

So, rip, rip, cut, snip, off come 6 inches of skirt! It was pretty easy to get all that fabric off because of all the seams on the back of the skirt, and there was even enough fabric to leave room for a hem that I could hide underneath the bottom layer.

Using my mom's trusty old sewing machine, I did the best I could to shore up my loose end.

I have to admit that I wasn't being that careful with the hem since I knew it would be mostly hidden, but my hem was REALLY crooked. Plus, when I got to the side seams, there was a fair bit of shortcutting required to make it all join together.

Still, I think that you can't really tell from three feet away - I can just tell that I have knees again!

So, what do you think? An improvement? Creative? Ruined? It's the right time to be thinking about performance reviews, so I'll be wearing the skirt to work next week to get some face-to-face feedback.

Materials used for this project:
  • A skirt that's too long
  • Scissors
  • Seam ripper
  • Black thread
  • A sewing machine

January 10, 2010

Trying My (Blackened) Hand at Drawing

To continue my holiday theme, I want to tell you about the fantastic Christmas gift my husband purchased for me this year. I have to say that among ideas he has come up with, this was a pretty good one - a course of art classes at Lillstreet Art Center. Nice work, Chris! I forgive you for the L.L. Bean moccasin debacle.

Despite my mother pressuring me to take jewelry making (I mean, really? What am I going to do with learning how to texture metal, Mom?!), I decided to go with Beginning Drawing.

So, I told you in my first blog post that I'm not the best artist. I was constantly ruining my GPA with stupid B's in art class. Luckily, I no longer have a 5th-grade straight-A streak to maintain, so there's a little less pressure on doing well in this class.

It's a good thing, too. My weak drawing skills didn't totally fail me, but I definitely was not as skilled of an artist as the other 5 people in the class. And people, that includes drawing circles.

We used vine charcoal and some compressed charcoal for this class. For those that know me really well, this whole art class is kind of an issue for me because I hate getting my hands dirty. I'm the girl who only uses four fingers to eat ribs. The other six are up in the air as if I'm drinking two incredibly tiny cups of tea. And for someone who hates messes, damn, I had no idea how messy charcoal could really be. There was dust everywhere - under my fingernails, in every crease of my hand, smudges on my face... I felt like I needed to be wearing a smock and sweatpants that I never want to wear again. I digress.

We started off slowly by literally drawing circles; then we upgraded to spheres:

Not so creative. But then, we started learning more about shading techniques, sizing, and positioning of an object on the page to manipulate how the object is perceived. We drew an apple:

...and an orange with a vase:

Personally, the apple was my favorite object of the evening. (Do you like the little shine on the top left?). However, the orange picture is the only one in which I made an artistic decision. That table actually ends another foot and a half to the left and another foot in front of those items. But I wanted to keep the focus on the orange and vase.

We learned that realistic depictions of things aren't the goal in drawing and artwork. It's about manipulating the artistic scene or setting so that you show your viewer what you want them to see. For someone who tends to get caught up in telling the truth about everything and in trying to depict how things ARE, this is a pretty freeing revelation. I can actually lie to you about how I saw things, enhance your experience, and not get into legal trouble! (Marketers, you know what I'm talking about!)

Stay tuned for future projects. I look forward to sharing more lies with you.