Thank you, Internet, for being so kind and sympathetic in response to my last whiny gloom-town of a post.
Friday was another in a long line of grey, cloudy, snowy days. I don’t think I’d seen the sun in weeks. That added to work stress added to interview anxiety added to not seeing my husband for long stretches of time resulted in me feeling like Debbie Downer’s less cheerful sister.
It wasn’t my intention to urp grouchiness all over my blog. But it made me feel better. And your comments made me feel even better than better. I say it far too seldom, but I appreciate you, Internet!
Anyway, I spent the weekend trying to regain some equilibrium.
I think I found it!
Although I must say, the re-emergence of my favorite celestial body helped. You see, the sun peeked out for a few hours on Sunday… Okay, not so much “sun” as “pieces of sky illuminated by the sun which surely must exist SOMEWHERE.” But! It was a start!
And then yesterday, it was sunny almost all day! Actual sunshine!
Perhaps today will also be sunny! (Perhaps not, if the weatherman is to be trusted.)
(Usually he is not particularly trustworthy. Meteorologists are the Pomeranians of the science world. They get all riled up and break into frenzied hysterical yipping and get you all freaked out that there may be a burglar just outside the window with a sledge hammer in his hand with which to crush your skull… And then you look outside and realize that he is barking his little head off at a large maple leaf that just fell off the tree.)
Anyway, before the sun deigned to grace us with its presence, I needed something drastic to shake me from my funk.
My mother (not a doctor) prescribed a stiff dose of fresh flowers. My husband (an actual doctor) didn’t prescribe anything. But he did encourage me to leave the apartment and then forwarded me an article that listed some foods that “make you happy.”
I don’t know about you, Internet. But foods that make me happy include cheesecake and margaritas.
Shockingly, neither cheesecake nor margaritas was on the list. However, avocados were.
So I made a big list of Things to Buy and headed to the grocery store.
You see, I’d come up with a Three Pronged Approach to Brightening Your Mood:
Prong 1: Buy flowers.
Prong 2: Bake something.
Prong 3: Pretend that it’s summer.
Prong 1 is simple enough. The grocery store had a sale on little bulb plants, so I stuck a daffodil and an iris into my cart. Belatedly (as in, after I’d bought them and brought them home) I noticed that they require “full sunlight.” HA. So I stuck them both on the windowsill of a north-facing window (all of our windows face north) and willed them to suck up as much sunlight cloud-reflection as possible. We’ll see how long they last.
Then I added three bunches of cut flowers in bright whites, and yellows.
Prong 2 was more complicated. After many years of burning cakes and turning cookies into greasy, olive-oily messes, I have recently decided that I enjoy baking. For one thing, it’s an activity that needs little brainpower (on my part – I just follow a recipe) while at the same time requiring intense concentration.
Yes, I fully realize that the same description applies to, say, the 30-Day Shred. But I was in no mood to deal with Jillian.
Plus, my big plan was to bake something that my husband could take to work. Away from our apartment. (Spoiler alert: That plan did not work well.)
This recipe did indeed occupy my attention for pretty much the entire day. That’s because I had to make cupcakes, buttercream, and lemon curd – all from scratch.
(Some people like to do smart things like buy pre-made lemon curd. I prefer to do it the hard way. Because I am a masochist.)
(And may I just say something here? I wholly envy people who can read recipes and instantly understand what they mean. These are the same people who understand measurements like “a pinch” and “a dash.” I, on the other hand, need step-by-step instructions with accompanying photos and exact measurements. [I found, after making macarons – story still to come – that I actually prefer the precision of a kitchen scale.] Otherwise, I am pretty much winging it. Which doesn’t bode well for my baked goods.
Case in point: For the lemon curd, Helene gives these succinct instructions: “In a heavy medium saucepan, stir together the lemon zest, juice and sugar and bring to a simmer over medium heat. In a small bowl, beat the egg and egg yolk to break them up. Beat some of the lemon mixture into the eggs to temper. Scrape the mixture back into the saucepan and cook stirring constantly until it thickens up, about 5 minutes.”
For most people, I’m sure those directions are perfectly clear. But I must be missing a portion of my brain. Because for the life of me, I had no idea how to temper the eggs. I added some of the hot juice/sugar mixture to the eggs… And then some more… And then some more… Would it change in appearance? Would the eggs get warm? WHO KNEW?
So after I’d added about half the mixture to the eggs with no discernable difference, I deemed them tempered and added them to the hot sugar/juice mixture on the stove.
Can you guess what happened next? SOME OF THE EGG STARTED TO COOK.
Fortunately, I was able to strain the lemon curd and save the vast majority of it. But seriously? EW.)
Where was I? Oh yes! Cupcakes!
You will be shocked after reading about my little lemon curd incident, but I did NOT ruin the cupcakes. Sure, some of them overflowed their little cupcake molds and made little cupcake sombreros that I had to cut off. Leaving an entire dozen cupcakes looking like elementary school-age boys who’d given themselves a haircut with the kitchen shears. But I learned from my mistake, and didn’t fill the next batch as full. So 18 cupcakes turned out quite beautifully! (Also, if you’re keeping track, that’s 30 cupcakes. THIRTY.)
Let me show you one!
The sans-sombrero cupcakes turned out to be very helpful, though. Because I had to cut a small trap door into the top of each cupcake, fill the cavities with lemon curd, replace the trap door, and then disguise the whole apparatus with frosting. This took some… experimentation… to get it right.
Here’s what the inside of the cupcake looks like:
And talk about experimentation… FROSTING the damn things was a process. I made a makeshift piping bag with a quart-size Zip-loc freezer bag and an icing tip. But that didn’t prevent me from enduring some unpleasant frosting incidents.
Eventually, I had a respectable number of cupcakes that looked – in my humble opinion – quite lovely.
They ended up tasting delicious. Yes, even the ugly ones.
So my question is, is making cupcakes an all-day affair for everyone? No? Just me? Okay then.
That was Prong 2. I dare you to spend all day testing cake batter and icing consistency and de-egging lemon curd and NOT feel cheery. I mean, unless you had to make 1,000 cupcakes for a wedding or something.
So, Prong 3 was to pretend that it’s summer.
This is quite difficult considering that the whole world is covered in a thick creamy layer of snow… and the sun has refused to make more than a brief cameo in the past month.
Plus, it’s not like my husband and I can jet off to Hawaii or something. (He and I made reservations for one of his upcoming interviews and I nearly got palpitations.) I mean, we’re going to Palm Springs in March, but a) that’s been planned for ages and b) that’s way off in MARCH.
So I decided the best way to create a Faux Summer in my wintry apartment was to make some summery food.
I am not very creative, Internet. So what I came up with was fish tacos.
Fresh and tropical-esque, no?
That’s when I ran into trouble with the limes. I’d picked up a bag of (six? eight?) limes from Trader Joe’s (for somet ridiculously low price – like $1.50 for all six? or eight? of them!). But then I squeezed one to extract juice for the cilantro-lime dressing… And NOTHING CAME OUT. The couple of limes that DID have juice had very little. (Just for the sake of comparison, you are supposed to get a quarter cup of lime juice from two or three limes. It took me FIVE LIMES to get the required amount… FIVE. LIMES.)
(Aha. That’s why they were so expensive. They are juiceless limes!)
(Let that be a lesson for you: Do not cheap out on the limes!)
Then I only had two or three tiny, pathetic-looking limes left for a) the guacamole, b) the salsa, and c) squeezing on the fish tacos.
So when my husband came home, I had to send his post-call butt to the grocery store for more limes. (Limes are of Critical Importance to Faux Summer.)
(Juiceless limes not pictured.)
(By the way, I do want to add that I worked for about six hours there between noon and, duh, six o’clock. So the weekend was not all fun and cupcakes. But the work did not dampen my mood. In fact, I completed some stuff! And it felt great to Get Stuff Done!)
Dinner was delicious. It tasted very fresh and reminiscent of summer. And, since the sun had long since gone down the sky had darkened even more, it was easy to ignore the heavy blanket of snow draped across my corner of the universe.
Then we watched the Pro Bowl, where everyone was wearing leis and ridiculous hibiscus-patterned shirts. And we ate some cupcakes.
(While the frosting has a yellow tint to it, it is not lemony. It’s vanilla. The only lemon is in the curd.)
(To which my husband said, very earnestly, “I really think you need to give yourself more credit in the kitchen. These are really good.” And I died of pride and happiness.)
I don’t know if it was the Three Pronged Approach… The fact that my belly was full of delicious food… Or the mere act of Doing Stuff…
Whatever it was, the result was clear: Mood brightened!
And so far it’s stayed bright.
Although whether that has to do more with the afore-mentioned sunshine or the cupcakes and guacamole I had for breakfast is anyone’s guess.
I hope the remainder of your day is happy, Internet! And if you need some mood-brightening, might I suggest some cupcakes?