Chocolate Cupcakes

January 28, 2012

Yesterday was National Chocolate Cake Day. In other words, I found a good excuse to make an unnecessary treat. I came across a terrific chocolate cake recipe and thought I’d share it with everyone.

The recipe is slightly modified from a recipe by Ina Garten, whom I adore. If you don’t own one of her Barefoot Contessa cookbooks, you should. This one is my favorite. You won’t be sorry.

When I saw her chocolate cake recipe, I knew it had to be good. It wasn’t good. It was superb.

What makes this recipe unique is that it includes a cup of coffee in the batter. I wasn’t sure if I was going to like it, but the cake turned out to be moist and delicious, with just a slight hint of coffee flavor.

Chopped Chocolate

I should note a sizable change I made to the recipe. It calls for buttermilk, I don’t keep buttermilk in my house regularly. This is a trick passed down from my great-grandma, whom we appropriately called “Cookie Grandma” for her grandmotherly kindness and perpetually stocked cookie jar. The tip? Use regular milk and add a little white vinegar to it. Don’t add too much because it will curdle. Play around with it. For a cup of milk, I’d add about a tablespoon of vinegar.

Ingredients (yields 24 cupcakes)

  • 24 cupcake liners
  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups fine granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cups good cocoa powder
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 cup buttermilk, shaken (or see my advice above)
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup freshly brewed hot coffee
  • Chocolate Buttercream, recipe follows


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Place cupcake liners in cupcake pans.

Sift the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and salt into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and mix on low speed until combined. In another bowl, combine the buttermilk, oil, eggs, and vanilla. With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the wet ingredients to the dry. With mixer still on low, add the coffee and stir just to combine, scraping the bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Pour the batter into the prepared pans. Fill each cupcake liner 3/4 of the way full.  Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool on cooling rack.

Chocolate Frosting:

  • 6 ounces bittersweet chocolate
  • 1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 extra-large egg yolk, at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 1/4 cups sifted confectioners’ sugar

Chop the chocolate and place it in a glass, heat-safe bowl set over a pan of simmering water. Stir until just melted and set aside until cooled to room temperature.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium-high speed until light yellow and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the egg yolk and vanilla and continue beating for 3 minutes. Turn the mixer to low, gradually add the confectioners’ sugar, then beat at medium speed, scraping down the bowl as necessary, until smooth and creamy. On low speed, add the chocolate to the butter mixture and mix until blended. Don’t whip! Spread immediately on the cooled cupcakes.


A Self-Portrait

January 27, 2012

As I mentioned before, I am participating in a photography challenge hosted by Darcy at  The challenge is to take a photo every week for one year: Project 52. Each week has a different theme. This week, the theme is a self-portrait. It turns out I’m not very good with the timer setting on my camera. I had a lot of difficulty getting the right settings for the lighting and the photos ended coming out kind of grainy looking.

Here are my best efforts.

I tried to capture myself in my most “natural habitat”. This is what I look like, in my home, on any given day.

I have a lot to learn about shooting on a tripod with a timer. I should probably keep reading, experimenting, and learning so my photos can come out a little better for next week’s challenge.

Previous Project 52 submissions:
1. Made with Love
2. I Dreamed a Dream– Note: I missed this challenge because we were without power (for 3 flipping days, I might add).
3. Self-Portrait

Ordinarily, I don’t speak publicly about my faith in great detail. I think it is a pretty personal aspect of one’s life. However, as my toddler becomes more demanding, I can’t help relating his frivolous demands with what so many of my prayers must sound like. I thought it was best described in picture.

Life with Louis: What We Need

Life with Louie: What We Need

 Disclosure: I am not saying my husband is God and I’m a saint. Let’s not go giving anyone inflated egos now. We are pretty cool though, just ask us.

Lately, my son has been requesting that I sing three very specific songs to him before he goes to bed: 1) Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star, 2) Mary had a Little Lamb, and 3) Hush Little Baby.

We follow our usual bedtime routine, but all of the sudden, about a week ago, he started asking me to sing to him after he is tucked in. He always asks for the songs, individually, in that order.

After stories, brushing teeth, and potty, I tuck him in and he will look at me and say “Twinkle Twinkle”.  I sing it to him and say “Good night.”

“Mary Yittle Yam” he demands. I sing it. He shuts his eyes. After the song is over, I kiss him and say “Good Night” again.

“Angry Birds” he says, 3/4 of the way asleep. I know he means “Hush Little Baby,” so I sing it.

Night after night, it is the same thing and I admit, I love it.

Tonight, he wakes up at midnight. I changed his diaper and got him back in bed, all tucked in, and he starts the routine all over. “Twinkle Twinkle,” “Mary Yittle Yam,” and “Angry Birds.”

Near the end of “Angry Birds” he was fully asleep, but I can’t just stop in the middle of a song, so I finish it up. I sing the last line “Mama’s gonna buy you a mocking…” and he whisper-sings, in his sleep, “biiiird.”

It was the cutest thing EVER. I wish I had it on video.

Made with Love

January 10, 2012

I am a person of many hobbies. When I find something I am interested in and enjoy doing, I consider it a hobby. Therefore, I am a hobby photographer. I am learning with every click of the camera and I am enjoying my journey.

In effort to improve my skills, I came across a blog of a real photographer. She has amazing tutorials on how to fix common photo problems. She is encouraging her readers to work on the skills she teaches by challenging them to partake in what she calls “Project 52“: one photo per week for one year.

I like this idea. I want to improve my photography skills, but don’t want to commit to too much. One photo a week? I think I can handle that. Even though I missed the first week of the game, I am joining in.

Every week of the challenge has a different theme. This week’s theme is “Made with Love.”

It wasn’t hard for me to think about what I wanted to shoot. There has been something I wanted to photograph for some time now, but wasn’t sure how I was going to get a shot that I liked.

As I have mentioned before, I nurse my son. As his second birthday comes closer, I know the end of that relationship is very near and I am ready for it. He will be two next month. I haven’t decided (or figured out?) how I am going to wean him, but before I do, I knew I wanted to remember the feeling and experience with a beautiful, yet modest photograph. I’ve been planning this photo for some time in my head.

There is only so much planning you can do. Eventually, you just need to do it. Today was that day. Before his nap, I set up the tripod, positioned it right where I wanted it, set the timer and took the shots.

These are the results. My first Project 52 submission. A memory made with love.

My Winter Skin Cure

January 9, 2012

Has winter got you feeling dry, cracked, and sneezy? Me too. It’s no fun.

Your hands burn from dryness and your poor cracked skin catches on every blanket you wrap around your chilled body.

A few weeks ago I had a cold. For me, the worst part of a cold is blowing my nose so much it turns red and starts to peel. This time, I found a secret weapon: Lanolin.

Lanolin, which is a thick oil produced by sheep to protect their wool, is no secret to anyone who has breastfed a baby. It is commonly used to “soothe, heal, and protect dry, cracked skin” and is marketed to nursing mothers for fairly obvious reasons.

When my cold set in, I dreaded my impending transformation into Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer. Determined to avoid it, every time my nose started to burn from obsessive tissue usage, I would dab a little Lanolin on it, and the redness would fade almost instantaneously.Lanolin

So, a couple nights ago when my hands were suffering from the winter dryness, I decided to give it a go. It worked!I can’t believe I’ve had this little tube of wonderment in my house for the past two years and I never thought about using it for other areas that may be dry and cracked. I’ll never use anything else.

Now that I know the secret, I wanted to share it with you. I hope it works for you. A word of warning if you use it on your nose; it smells a little funny when it is that close to your nasal passages.

The best part is it is all natural with no strange chemicals.

*This should be quite obvious, but I feel I should disclaim; I am not a health or medical expert. I am only stating what has worked for me.

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