Sunflower Cupcakes for our Anniversary

June 30, 2013

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Hmmm….Talk about laziness. I made these adorable little Sunflower Cupcakes for our anniversary! Yup…our anniversary which is way back in April! April 26th to be exact, and I am just now getting around to posting about it. Oh well, better late than never I suppose and I definitely wanted to share the recipe for these little gems with you. I Love, Love, LOVE cupcakes. I’m sure that comes as no surprize to anyone who has been following my blog for any time now. Indeed I love them so much that when my husband and I were married, 4 years ago now, we decided to forego the traditional wedding cake and have a tower of sunflower cupcakes instead.

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So I thought I’d do up my own version of sunflower cupcakes for this year’s anniversary. Mine looked a bit more rustic than our wedding version. But on the plus side, I did not use fondant at all, but my all time favourite frosting, Swiss Meringue Buttercream. And the center of my cupcake sunflowers was an Oreo cookie!

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Who doesn’t love Oreos?!! If there are some Oreo haters out there, which I simply can’t imagine, but then again folks never cease to amaze me, you could sub out the cookie for a bit of chocolate frosting with some chocolate sprinkles or mini chocolate chips sprinkled over top of it for texture. We were quite pleased with the Oreos. It was like having a cupcake and a cookie all at once, which is a definite win if you ask me.

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Every year we dream about spending our anniversary in some exotic locale. It never seems to work out that way for some reason or another. Though to our credit we did actually manage to get away from home this year. We went off to a lovely little cabin retreat in Fayetteville West Virginia.

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I know I’ve blogged about Fayetteville before, but I just adore the place. It has an abundance of hiking trails with drop dead gorgeous views.

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And although it is a pretty tiny town, it has several top-notch restaurants. I know I’ve mentioned Diogi’s before, which is our all time favourite Mexican Restaurant. Pies and Pints serves up stunning handmade pizzas and plenty of delicious craft beer to wash it down with. And this year we visited the Secret Sandwich Society for the first time. Let me tell you, it completely knocked our socks off! After a long day of hiking we were able to relax out on their breezy deck with some unbelievably tasty sandwiches served up with homemade ketchup and pickles…oh and perhaps a couple or four or so bottles of beer.

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And although we are always sad to leave, we are consoled somewhat by our usual stop by Tudor’s Biscuit World for some ginormous breakfast biscuits on our way out-of-town. That’s right! A veritable WORLD of biscuits. And when I say ginormous, I am not exaggerating. Basically you have a huge biscuit wrapped around hefty portions of egg and sausage with a serving of hash browns thrown on top as well!

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You can hardly get your mouth around this monster! It is a wonder I can get my husband, or puppy, to leave that town at all! (see all of our Fayetteville Photos here)

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But back to my adorable Sunflower Cupcakes. I won’t fib to you, these guys took a bit of work.

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The baking of the cake part was easy and tasted superb. The vanilla bean really shined through. Though I suppose if you are a fan of chocolate cupcakes, you could substitute your favourite recipe in here. The dark colour of a chocolate cupcake base would look a whole lot more like dirt, but I really like vanilla cupcakes and they were for my anniversary, so decided to indulge myself here. It was the decorating of the cupcakes that was a bit time-consuming and fiddly. Let me just say M&M’s are pretty small, as if you weren’t aware of that fact, and getting those lady bug spots on them was really interesting. Not to mention it took me a little bit of practicing with the Wilton tip #352 to get those flower petals done properly.

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A little patience goes a long way here. I’d recommend doing things in an assembly line sort of way. You know, all the lady bug spots, stick all the Oreos on the center of the cakes, then pipe all the sunflower petals on, then perch all of the lady bugs up on top. Get some good tunes queued up and the time will go by pretty fast. That is if you don’t get pastry bag induced carpal tunnel syndrome in your hand by the end of it. But they were so worth it! Not only a visual delight but also really delicious and reminiscent of our wedding day as well. They went along famously with our Veuve, but then what wouldn’t?!! Just perfect for our  4th anniversary! Keep your fingers crossed for us for next year’s travel plans…I’m eyeing St. Petersburg, Russia or maybe Positano, Italy. Any suggestions?

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Sunflower Cupcakes

recipe adapted from: Damn Delicious (for the cupcakes) Runcible Eats (for the frosting)

yield: 21 Cupcakes

Ingredients:

for the cupcakes:

  • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup cake flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 4 large egg whites, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 1/3 cups sugar
  • 1 vanilla bean, seeds scraped
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

for the frosting:

  • 5 Large Egg Whites
  • 1 1/2 Cups Sugar
  • 2 Cups (4 sticks) Butter, cut into 1/2 inch cubes, cool but not cold
  • 1/4 tsp Salt

Directions:

For the cakes:

Preheat oven to 375°F.  Line two 12-cup standard muffin tins with paper liners; set aside.

In a large bowl, combine flours, baking powder, baking soda and salt.

In a medium bowl, whisk together milk, sour cream and egg whites.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with paddle attachment, beat butter, sugar and vanilla bean seeds on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 2-3 minutes. Beat in vanilla until well combined. With mixer on low speed, add dry ingredients and sour cream mixture alternately in 3 parts, beginning and ending with dry ingredients, beating just until incorporated.

Scoop the batter evenly into the muffin tray. Place into oven and bake for 15-18 minutes, or until a tester inserted in center comes out clean. Remove from oven and cool completely on a wire rack before frosting.

For the frosting:

Now for the frosting. In a medium bowl, whisk the egg whites and sugar together. Set the bowl over a pan of simmering water but do not let the water touch the bottom of the bowl. Heat the mixture until the sugar is completely dissolved and the color is milky white, about 2-3 minutes.

Transfer the egg mixture to the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, and beat on medium-high speed (start slowly at first) until smooth and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Remove the whisk attachment and replace with the paddle attachment. Add the cubed butter and beat on medium-high speed (start slowly at first) until smooth and fluffy, about 5 minutes. If the buttercream looks like it is breaking, don’t worry, it will eventually come together.

Add the salt and beat for 5 seconds to combine. Add food coloring to frosting until desired shade of yellow is reached. I used Wilton’s Gel food coloring in the Lemon Yellow shade.

Place frosting in piping bag with a Wilton #352 tip attached.

Cupcake Assembly:

Set out 11 Oreo cookies. Carefully pull each cookie apart, like you may have done when you were a kid, taking care not to break either cookie half.

Pick red M&M’s out from bag and set aside. Using chocolate decorator’s frosting pipe on a little head, line down the center of the back and a few spots on either side of the line to turn each M&M into a lady bug. I have also seen this bug decoration done with black food colouring and a small paint brush.

Pipe frosting around the underside edge of cookie half and place in the center of the cupcake. Pipe petals of frosting going from the edge of the cookie out to the edge of the cupcake. Place the petals right next to each other. Once one row of petals is done, add a second row slightly off-set from the first.

Put a little dot of frosting on the underside of each ladybug M&M and stick it on top of each flower.

Enjoy!

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Newfoundland 2011

August 31, 2011

Lea & Jay at Petty Harbour Newfoundland

Back in the last week of July, Jay and I took a fantastic holiday to St. John’s in Newfoundland, Canada. We have been a couple of times in the past (see my previous posts: Off to Newfoundland Again, Ant in a Teacup, and Out with the Old) and absolutely love it there. We’ve always gone at the end of July, beginning of August and it is a truly blessed relief from the sweltering Virginia summers. Although the temps were 102°F (39°C) in Falls Church, the mercury never went over 65°F (18°C) in St John’s, for the entirety of our visit. Bliss! Now, I will say, one does see quite a bit of fog (even when it is sunny)

Sunny Fog over Signal Hill

and certainly more than a couple of raindrops have been known to fall in Newfoundland. For me that weather is right up my alley, whereas I understand it may not be desirable for some. However, the temperature isn’t the only thing that brings us back to St. John’s that time of year. The George Street Festival is also a huge attraction for us. For six days each year, they close George street off to traffic and hold the festival. There is a big main stage in the middle of the street where featured bands play until about 11:30 pm. However, the party doesn’t end there. George Street is a fairly short street-about 3 blocks-but it is jammed packed with pubs and bars of all sorts-literally about 45! To aid festival goers in being able to quickly get liquid refreshments, “speed bars” are set  up outside all of the pubs. I mean you wouldn’t want to have to walk all the way inside a bar to refresh your cocktail…would you?  Once the main stage activities end, bands in most of the bars start playing. The fun goes on until daybreak! This year one of our favourite bands, Great Big Sea, was opening the Festival.

The guys in the band are from the great island of Newfoundland, so we knew excitement would be running high and that was definitely the case. Even though it poured down rain for a good bit of the show, spirits were not dampened.

It was great fun. We did a lot of hiking on this trip as well, up to Signal Hill

Jay on the way up

Lea at the Queen's Battery

and out to Cuckold’s Cove

Cuckold's Cove

a long hike (perhaps a little longer than we intended) from Ft. Amherst to Freshwater Bay

Jay at the beginning of the trail

Still hiking...

a hike around Petty Harbour

Petty Harbour

and a hike out to Quidi Vidi lake

Quidi Vidi Lake shanty

and a hike up in the clouds.

It was a wonderful holiday. Great weather, great music, great food, and gorgeous surroundings.We’re just sorry it was over so soon! We’re hoping to spend more time there next summer. Don’t miss all of the rest of the great photos we took on our trip. Click here to see our Newfoundland photo gallery.

Food will once again be the focus of my next blog. Think boozy cupcakes….YUM!


In search of a moose….

October 21, 2010

Jay and I just returned from a fantastic holiday in Camden, Maine. We had first began thinking about visiting the state of Maine while we were suffering through our excruciatingly hot and steamy summer. This past summer was even hotter than the usual tropical Virginia offering. It was bad news for both Jay and I who prefer much cooler climes. After visiting St. John’s, NewFoundland  for the George Street Festival in July/August 2008 and 2009, we started thinking about finding a cooler place “to summer.” The highest the temperature reached during our stays in St. John’s was 76 degrees-and they considered that a horrible heat wave! So we looked into purchasing some vacation property there, but much to our dismay found that it would be difficult to do so since we are not Canadian citizens. So we decided to go check out Maine, as far north as we could get (bar Alaska) in the good old U.S. of A. Unfortunately, we were not able to get away this past summer. October was the first opportunity we had to visit, so we decided to travel up and see the leaves change.

Camden is a beautiful little town situated at the point where mountains come down to meet the sea.

Main St. in Camden

Camden shops on stilts

Camden shops over falls

It was a perfect size town for us (about 5,000 people)-on the smaller side but large enough that there were plenty of restaurants and shops. When we first arrived in town, we set about getting some provisions to take with us to the Inn-snacks, sodas and of course some alcoholic beverages-champagne and vodka.

Maine Style Snack

Champagne,Veuve to be specific,-as if there were any other- was right there in the grocery store. We had looked about for liquor stores though and hadn’t seen any. Apparently in Maine one purchases liquor from what is known as an “Agency Store”-which is just a store which is licensed to sell the stuff. In Camden’s case this turned out to be a Rite Aid Pharmacy. Weird! An aisle of liquor among the cold remedies and candy!

Rite Aid Liquor Aisle

Buying Supplies

We stayed at the Inn at Ocean’s Edge in their pool house suite. The property was truly gorgeous, looking out over Penobscot Bay. There was a spectacular, heated infinity edge pool, hot tub and sauna available for the guests. Very relaxing!

The Inn at Ocean's Edge

Pool House suite

Balcony view

Pool House interior

Relaxing in the hot tub

Penobscot Bay

Sunrise from our balcony

We were only there for a short time, but we were able to visit Acadia National Park-where we took in the vista from atop Cadillac Mountain and went for a hike along seaside cliffs,

Atop Cadillac Mountain

Windy Mountain top

Sandy Beach

Cadillac Mt. viewed from Beach

View from seaside cliffs

Go for  2 hour sail around Penobscot Bay on the Schooner Olad (man… was that seriously COLD-air temps of 46 degrees and blowing about 25 mph!),

Schooner Olad

Jay raising the sails

Brrrrr!

Drive to the top of Mt. Battie to gaze down upon the town of Camden, followed by a hike up to Maiden’s View high above Megunticook Lake in Camden Hills State Park,

The town of Camden from Mt. Battie summit

Lea with harbour back-drop

Maiden's View Trail

Jay clears the path

Maiden's View of Megunticook Lake

Hang On!

and see lots of fun plants along the way.

Mushrooms!

 

More Mushrooms!

Tree Mushroom!

Oh…and the food! Seriously, every single meal we had was perfect! Lots of seafood-lobster and clams. Jay doesn’t eat seafood, what with the possible life-threatening allergic reactions and all, but there was always plenty of yummy options for him to choose from. We went to Cappy’s Chowder House twice and both times the food was excellent-great lobster chowder, clam chowder, burgers, home-made breads…YUM!

 

Cappy's Chowder House

There was a really great deli-The Camden Deli-(we wish we could find sandwiches like this around here!) and a wonderful italian restaurant-Paolina’s Way-best thin crust I’ve ever had! The food at the Inn in their Edge restaurant did not disappoint either-Jay had an herbed pork loin over hand cut pasta,I had an unbelievable lobster risotto. After some pre-dinner cocktails and a bottle of Montepulciano D’Abruzzo, we were thrilled we only had to stagger a few steps down a scenic, and thankfully well-lit, wooded path to arrive back at our room!

The Edge Restaurant

Did I mention how lovely the scenery was? (as if you hadn’t noticed…) Stunning! Vibrant colored foliage under clean, clear, crisp blue skies! I even woke poor Jay up once to point out how many stars were visible in the the sky. Temperatures right up our alley-the highest it got was 61 degrees one day and at night there were actually frost warnings a couple of times. The only thing we were a little disappointed about was that we have yet to see a moose. We looked for one several years ago when we went to Vermont. No moose there. So we had high hopes for spotting one this time. Nope…total moose free zone. Oh well…I guess it will give us a goal for the next time we visit!

To view all of our pictures from Maine-check out our Maine gallery.

Wishful thinking!


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