Cupcakes and Cashmere

My column for week of July 6th:

“Having things to look forward to throughout the year, whether centred around a holiday or not, is what life is about.” So says Emily Schuman, author of “Cupcakes and Cashmere” and “Cupcakes and Cashmere at home”. She is a girl after my own heart. She is not as perfectionistic as Martha Stewart (though my plan for retirement is to be awarded for a white collar crime I have committed and be incarcerated in luxury like she was for whatever it was she did—had something to do with stocks, right?). Nor is she too basic and simplistic—throwing on a gunny sack to entertain guests while stirring up a pot of vegetarian chili (not, in a Seinfeldian aside, that there is anything wrong with either jute burlap or vegetables.)

Schumann is all for relaxed elegance, comfortable sophistication, and cosy casualness. After all, if you write two books with “cupcakes “ in the title, you must be somewhat relaxed. Have you ever tried to eat a cupcake without getting an icing moustache? I have tried to eat the little critters with a fork but that just seems ostentatious and a little bit paranoid. Admittedly you can eat a cupcake neatly, but that means not getting both cake and icing in one bite, and what is the point of that?

Schumann is much like me in that she finds preparing for and looking forward to a holiday or event is just as exciting as the actual soiree. She says that it is always “the preparations beforehand” that she loves the most, whether it is picking “out my pumpkin for the perfect jack o’lantern in the middle of October or stringing up heart lights for Valentine’s Day–those are the memories I treasure most.”

Like me, she loves looking forward to things. Having something on your calendar that is just a little bit “special” is living and reliving the event even before it occurs. Many times I have a fantastic event all planned out in my mind, with the perfect décor and food and outfit all picked out. The fact that by the time the event arrives I can barely get the dusting done, the food fixed, and don my jeans instead of the lovely dress I was planning on does not diminish my dreams at all. And there are times that I have pulled off an event dressed just right, with a killer recipe or two, and candles accompanying just the right décor for the event.

Schuman admits to being a little “corny and cliché” and anyone who has ever read this column (or blog or FB post) knows these two adjectives describe me to a T. I love corny and cliché, with the belief that anything corny (tried and true with heart) and cliché (something that always has some truth at its heart) are two of life’s most pleasant elements. Like Schuman I believe that “what goes on the table—from the food to the flowers—is really only as important as who is around it.”

For her celebration of “ Friendsgiving” Schumann says she sends a “proper card” as an invite to the event. The Fare is Thanksgiving in nature featuring ye olde turkey and all the fixings and whipped cream for the pumpkin and pecan pies. I mention the whipped cream because she has an exclamation point behind it on her menu. None of the other foods warranted an exclamation point.

She has many unique ideas for all kinds of events, but two in particular caught my attention. The first is her “Tuesday night dinner party” which she says “doesn’t have to be that much more than a lift”. I am all for this kind of party—its gets you through that first part of the week with something to look forward to, and helps get you over “hump day” with the glow of a pleasant evening past. She suggests keeping the menu simple. I suggest that no matter what you decide to serve it should not be accompanied with Styrofoam plates and plastic wine glasses. Crystal and china with flowers on a beautifully set table make Tuesday into something to remember.

The second party that really caught my imagination is the “Summer nostalgia party”. She centres her parties around “board games and treats” and suggests Kool-Aid with tequila and High-C with vodka. Hamburgers and hot dogs accompanied by other “old school treats” including S’mores are on her go-to menu. She says that “a game of Twister will help set the mood” while playing old summer hits. I say that a game of Twister will set the mood for a trip to the emergency department for me, so I may settle for a more sedate set of croquet (though I will probably catch my toe on a cage and quite possibly break my neck). My brother Jim did not nickname me “Grace” for nothing.

Can you eat a cupcake elegantly? Or still play a game of Twister?

Things that make you go hmmmm…..

 

My weekly column:

I am not Arsenio Hall. I do not drive from Cleveland to LA pondering things that make you go hmmm. (According to Wik E. Pedia, a frequent joke in Hall’s opening monologue was that he still lived in Cleveland and drove to Los Angeles every day to host his (now defunct) show, and on these alleged long drives he pondered life and came up with “things that make you go hmm,….”) His running gag also inspired a 1991 song by the same title which climbed to #4 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. This trivia is brought to your attention today as a way of introducing a few of the things that make me go hmmm…..:

1. In the Books & Writers section of the National Post on Saturday, Maryak Siddiqi did a book review of “The Tastemakers: Why We Are Crazy for Cupcakes But Fed Up With Fondue” by David Sax. I am going to read this book for one reason, and one reason only, and it is this quote from Sax, which makes me go hmmm… Siddiqi says that Sax “crafts an excellent and extremely fun takedown of health trends. It’s a giant paragraph-long rant that begins, ‘Eat more fibre, but be sure to eat less carbs. Drink three glasses of milk a day, so long as you avoid lactose and dairy. Beef is filled with much-needed iron and protein, but you should steer clear of red meat entirely….’. Now does this not make you go hmmmm? No wonder we are so confused as to what to put into our mouths—one day coffee is bad for you, the next day it is the best thing since sliced bread—and don’t get me started on sliced bread which is now at the top of many people’s don’t ever eat list.

2. A certain brand of barbeque sauce which I favour but never buy unless it is on sale is on sale this week at one of the grocery stores. It is usually about $4 a bottle but is on for a buck a bottle for a few short days. So I picked up three. Two are called Original Bold and the other is Chicken and Rib Renegade . Curious as to what the content difference between the two is, I read the ingredient label, thinking that something that was Bold would be much different than something touted for chicken and ribs (which come to think of it is another thing that makes me go hmmmm… as chicken is fairly delicate in flavour and ribs are, dare I say it…much bolder). So here is the ingredient list for the Bold Original flavour: sugar, water, tomato paste, cooking molasses, vinegar, salt, modified corn starch, natural hickory smoke flavour, mustard, dried onions, spices and garlic with a note in bold letters that says Contains Mustard.

The other barbeque sauce for renegade (not complacent) chicken and ribs is made up of—wait for it, wait for it: sugar, water, tomato paste, cooking molasses, vinegar, salt, modified corn starch, natural hickory smoke flavour, dried onions, mustard, spices and dried garlic. It also has the warning in bold letters Contains Mustard.

Now just in case you did not notice the difference, the Bold Original has mustard listed before the dried onions. That is it. That is the only difference—which may mean that the Bold has a little more mustard than the Chicken and Rib Renegade and fewer dried onions. This makes me seriously go hmmm…

And the bold letters seeming to warn us that there is mustard in both concoctions has me slightly concerned. Is there a subgroup of people made up of the mustard police out there? Is mustard really that significant that it must be pointed out so audaciously? This mustard thing makes me go hmmm…. with some trepidation. Why is the mustard being pointed out here? Should we be worried? Hmmmm…..

3. Cupcakes. Why are they so popular? Sure they are cute and made of cake and sometimes decorated beautifully. But I do not get it. Most are too big to bite into without ending up with an icing moustache, and who enjoys having to wipe off their mouth after every bite? I understand kids loving cupcakes—the messier the better. But someone who suffers from TMJ does not have a prayer of eating a cupcake neatly unless employing a fork, which seems to cancel out the whole raison d’etre for consuming a cupcake. This one may not make you go hmmm…but it does me. So I give it a personal Hmmm………….

Life is full of things that make us go hmmm…..these are only the tip of the proverbial iceberg (one of those big guys that are melting, causing us angst, and making us go hmmm…with some alarm.)

What makes you go hmmmm…..?