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Uh oh, here’ goes… Pumpkin Chai Cupcakes, Eventually

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(Warning: if you just want the cupcake recipe and not a long rant, scroll all the way down past the raging diatribe to the next picture.  Enjoy!) 

I’m feeling impulsive.  Big time.  Like, unreasonably-going-into-debt impulsive. 

This angsty feeling I’ve had the last month or so that I’ve tried to ignore by baking every single freaking day is going to get me in trouble.

I may have to do one of two things:

A)   Paint the entire inside of my house white, or ecru, or very very light gray.  (In order to provide a more photogenic background for my blog photos, of course.  I am deeply committed to this baking-writing hobby if you haven’t noticed.) 


B)   Go back to school. 

Which of the above-mentioned investments sounds less unreasonable to you?  Really, this is not a rhetorical question, I could use a little help here.  And please acknowledge that double negative so I know you’re paying attention.  (Aw quitchyerbitchin.  Did you not realize this blog would eventually try to challenge your linguistics?  Sheesh.  I will assume you don’t really want to discuss the difference between the phrases “more reasonable” and “less unreasonable,” and instead, we will move along.)

See, while some people actually buy my carefully-crafted internet persona, the truth is that I suffer cyclical bouts of major insecurity and self-doubt in both my Day Job and, surprisingly, this new blogging thing.  I just know that I could be much better at both of them.  Unfortunately it seems much easier and far less expensive to improve the skills I use in blogging (baking, writing, photography, food styling) than it is to increase my legal knowledge.  Another reason I’ve been focusing my energy on blogging rather than my real career issues is that my personality seems to work a lot better in the blog world than it does in the courtroom or the boardroom.  In baking & blogging, I can hide behind my laptop and not confront any real human beings ever, if I don’t want to.  I can even delete comments if I don’t like them.  This kind of one-sided dialogue works very well for me.  =D

I know I shouldn’t be so sensitive to criticism.  I also shouldn’t compare myself to other people but it’s impossible not to.  I practice law with my husband.  I’m pretty sure he’s the greatest lawyer I have ever met and will ever meet in my entire life.  I’m not biased, either.  He really is.  He’s brilliant, and totally cool, and a major perfectionist.  He is patient, persistent, flexible, approachable, sympathetic, understanding, creative…  Seriously, I’m not exaggerating.  He has every good quality an effective advocate, teacher and negotiator should have.  He’s also pretty darn good looking, too, which adds insult to injury.  (Luckily for me, though, he isn’t perfect.  The man is uber top-heavy and has no sense of balance so he cannot go kayaking or do yoga without falling and making himself look like a total dweeb.  Thank God he has a flaw.  I can’t tell you how much I wish I had a picture of him to insert here right now, coming up out of the water next to his kayak looking incredibly surprised and very drenched – the image in my head is priceless.)  

Okay, to my credit I do have one useful talent:  I’m generally one of the best legal analysts & writers in town.  

That’s the extent of my skills, though.  I’m impatient, skeptical, harsh, cold-hearted, inflexible and uptight.  I do not have a mind for sales or negotiating.  And my favorite word in the English language is “OBJECTION!”  Followed closely by, “facts not in evidence … attorney testimony  … SPECULATING!”  In that tone of voice, too.  With my eyes wide open in shock accompanied by jazz hands.  I have been known to mutter under my breath the occasional “pshh, whatever,” or (hissing) “liar” in court, too.  I just can’t keep my mouth shut.  

This job is for the birds.  

BUT.  I really love it.  Parts of it, anyway. And even when I really hate it, I love to hate it.  

The thing I don’t love is feeling ineffective.  I also don’t love not knowing something I want to know or should know in order to help a client move their business forward.  I also hate it when I lose the battle against my will to keep my mouth shut.  

I want to take a class on how to master the proper passive-aggressive posture and tone of voice to use when replying thusly: “Hm [thoughtful-sounding pause] interesting…” because I think that’s the single most effective and non-committal response a lawyer can make to any statement or question, no matter how crazy.  It at once acknowledges what the other person said while reserving the right to respond in substance at a later time.  Brilliant.  

I need to figure out how to do that.  

There are times I pride myself on being decisive and quick-witted.  There are times I enjoy my ability to articulate my thoughts and feelings clearly, concisely and promptly. 

There are other times I want to punch myself in the face for being a Mouth and saying something I shouldn’t have or using a totally honest inappropriate tone of voice.  

Yes, I do realize there’s not a lot about these issues I could change by going back to school.  However, another degree or some audited classes could help diminish the few insecurities I can more readily control, mainly a lack of deep understanding of tax law, bankruptcy and corporate securities.  

This is so strange, looking back.  Five and a half years ago I said there was no reason I would ever need to go back to school.  I have achieved one of the highest levels of American education available.  What the heck makes me think I need another degree???  Normal people don’t even know what an LLM is (Master of Laws, fyi).  And I should probably be able to learn more about those Lost Topics by attending seminars or webcasts, or by reading on my own.  But there’s no pressure or incentive in that.  If there’s no test, no one who cares if I attend or take notes, no fear of being humiliated in class if I don’t do the assigned reading, then I’m not likely to do it.  I learned eight million random legal things for the bar exam through self-study.  I have since forgotten nine million random legal things.  I’m a pro at crashing & test-taking.  I am not so good at learning things permanently unless there’s real pressure to do so.  Honest.  I just rely on my photographic short-term memory.  How embarrassing is that?  

I disgust myself for even admitting it.  

Anyway, what should I do?  Really.  Does anyone have first-hand experience with the Dale Carnegie program and if so, is it really possible to train yourself to overcome personality weaknesses, communicate more effectively, learn how to be a salesperson or negotiator?  

It’s either personal business training or more academic education.  Self-discipline isn’t going to cut it.  

Or should I just go to Home Depot for paint? 

Oh, you came here to see pretty pictures of baked goods, didn’t you?  How about the most perfect pumpkin chai cupcakes ever?  Mmm hm, most definitely! 

I admit, these are from last year.  And – and – I made them with a boxed mix.  Why that makes me feel guilty is beyond me.  Boxed white cake mix is the BEST.  I have not yet found a comparable scratch recipe that’s so light & fluffy and bakes up dependably every time.  My use of the Box is not for lack of trying to bake from scratch or anything, it’s truly a well-informed choice.  Guilt bedamned.  So, this is it: 

Pumpkin Chai Cupcakes

Pour one dry white or yellow cake mix into a bowl.  Add 2 tsp cinnamon, 1/4 tsp nutmeg and 1/8 tsp ginger, whisk to combine. 

In a large measuring cup or medium-sized bowl, melt 1 stick of butter (or use 1/4 cup vegetable oil, depending on whether your boxed mix calls for butter or oil, I prefer a butter-recipe white mix, though), add 1 cup cooled strong tea (this is one thing that makes these subtly chai flavored), 1cup canned pumpkin and 3 egg whites.  Blend with a hand mixer for one minute.  (For the record, I reserve the right to adjust this recipe since I wrote it down a LONG time after the first time I made these, and I’m not entirely sure the measurements are perfect – this sounds like a tad too much moisture to me.)  Anyway…

Add the wet ingredients to the dry and blend just shy of 2 minutes. 

Portion out into 24 cupcakes using a an ice cream scoop and bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Watch them carefully through the door with the light on the last 3 minutes. 

Cool in the pan for 5 minutes, then on a wire rack until the cupcakes are room temp.  

Filling – simple:  blend 1/2 cup canned pumpkin into 1 cup cool whip with a couple dashes of the same spices as in the cake mix.  Adjust to taste if it’s not pumpkin-y enough for you.  There is zero science to making cream fillings out of cool whip, it’s all taste & texture, just don’t blend it too aggressively or it will turn to soup. 

Once the cupcakes are cooled, carve a small cone out of the top and pipe the filling in with a piping bag or a Ziploc with the corner cut off.  Eat the cake scraps (quality control, my friends, it is your responsibility).    

Frosting –my favorite and here’s the recipe:  Smitten Kitchen’s Vanilla Swiss Meringue Buttercream.  For these cupcakes, I added cinnamon & nutmeg, probably a teaspoon of cinnamon & 1/4 tsp nutmeg.  Pipe frosting on top with a 1M star tip and then sprinkle nutmeg on top for that real Chai aroma. 

Enjoy!  Next time, you can help me decide what shade of white to paint my kitchen =D  Then we can talk about how great of a painter I am.  NOT!


Lightening up (mood-wise, not calorie-wise)

Last week was a doozy.  At work, anyway.  Such a doozy, in fact, we resorted to ordering Chinese take-out for dinner on Wednesday.  (GASP!)

I don’t totally mind Chinese take-out, but considering how much I enjoy making a nice dinner every night, it says something about my mood.

I was exhausted.  Not physically exhausted, but emotionally.  I didn’t even have a very productive billable week, either.  It just seemed like every single project, every phone call, every piece of mail, email and fax that came in was something negative, resistent, mean-spirited, unreasonable, illogical, or some other kind of battle.  We had a late night “town hall” type meeting with one client Tuesday night, and the embroiled tension in the room just seemed to carry over to the office for an extra day or two.  Or, like, the whole world is ticked off right now because the government is blaming everyone, deserved or not, for the broken state of our economy.  Maybe that’s just me.

See, we’re also trying to refinance our house right now and have run into a snafoo because the federal government says that we both switched jobs in the last two years, because our situation doesn’t fit within any of the boxes they have to check on the da&n application.  Oh, and being self-employed apparrently makes us inherently suspect, despite our top-15 credit scores.  Being residential mortgage applicants apparently makes us inherently stupid, too, and THAT really ticks me off.  There should be some kind of standardized test you can take which, when coupled with a rockstar credit score, exempts you from all the red tape all the 7-grade-intellect average Joes have to cross.  I’m sorry, but really, the Mysterious Underwriter is going to deny our application because the date on my check was the same as the date on the Truth-in-Lending Disclosures???  And we’re not going to get approved because the tax description doesn’t match our recorded legal description because we sold the south 10 feet of our lot to the neighbors???  What about the other 390 feet?  We weren’t using that 10-foot strip anyway!  What about the uber-safe Loan-to-Value Ratio???  What about our personal balance sheets???  GAH!  Where is the damn logic???  Whatever, this is not a battle I’m going to pick.  At once, I feel dumber than and superior to all the lemmings out there who have 3.25% mortgages… This is why my dad pays cash for everything.  Good man.

So instead of dinner I made 4 dozen red velvet cupcakes and – AND – caramel mocha blondies.  The cupcakes were for a friend’s daughter’s birthday party (and maybe for breakfast for myself on Friday, too, but only because it’s my responsibility as a baker to test my product 😉

(ps – I highly recommend chocolate coconut sprinkles as a topper on red velvet cupcakes).  The blondies were all for myself and my blondie bff =) Okay, and maybe our guys, too, but primarily they were pure self-indulgence, a craving satisfier.  Totally Michelle-inspired.  She’s the one who always orders the caramel sundae from McDonald’s (much to my horror!  I mean, isn’t the hot fudge the all-time best sundae ever???)  And she’s totally a coffee hound.  It’s one of the ways she says her husband proves his love for her – making sure the coffee is ready every morning when she comes back in the house after feeding their horses.  I mean, smart girl, right?  Coffee = love.  Yup, she should be exempt from the Federal Truth-in-Lending Act, too! 

Enter BH&G’s tried-and-true blondie recipe. 

Comfort food to the max.  Like, crying-through-an-entire-ten-episode-SoapNet-Dawson’s-Creek-marathon comfort.  

Instead of 2 tsps vanilla, use 1-1/2 tsp vanilla plus a tall 1/2 tsp coffee extract.  After spreading the batter into the pan & sprinkling on the chocolate chips, drizzle on top about 1/4 cup of Hershey’s caramel sauce.  (For the record, for Michelle’s birthday last year I made homemade caramel, but it is just not any better than the Hershey’s; I know this from experience, the jarred stuff is fine.)  It is no joke how hungry my friends can be – these were pretty much gone in one sitting.  Mmmm…. blondies…. they may have lightened up my mood for the week, but certainly not my waistline!