Month: April 2010

Cupcake craze

An article on CNN last month pulled me in with the title:  Cupcake Passion More Than a Trend.  Early on in this article, the author disputes the existence of a trend by reminding us that if this is a trend- it is a pretty long-lasting one -that started with Sex & the City and the Magnolia Bakery in the Village.  I have actually been to this bakery.  It is the quintessential cupcakery.  I even took pictures:

The bakery is small and filled with the soft, sugary smells that go perfectly with the pastel colors throughout.  The summer day my sister and I stopped in, it was filled with young women laughing and glistening with a sheen of sweat– busily baking, frosting, wrapping, and ringing up cupcakes as quickly as customers could fill a box. This was stop #3 on our cupcake tour of NYC and we made it only to a stoop around the corner before we sat down and devoured a cupcake and a half a piece in a matter of minutes.

This “trend” has spawned I would imagine hundreds of new businesses all over the country whose specialty is this tiny little cake that evokes so many memories for so many.  Close your eyes and try to remember your first cupcake experience.  Maybe it was your first birthday… I know I cannot remember that far back, but someone close to me claims he can.  For anyone over 40, the cupcakes you remember as a child did not come from the Kroger bakery or from any bakery… they came from your childhood kitchen, baked by your Mom for your class birthday party.  As a young parent, I found such joy in recreating those moments for my own children, taking baked cupcakes for my boys on their birthdays to preschool and later elementary school for class parties.  I even had a special carrying case to carry them in.. it held thirty cupcakes and got them to school with every dollop of frosting completely intact.  Unfortunately, today in quite a few of our schools, home-baked goodies aren’t even allowed and only store-bought confections can be doled out at class parties.  I assume this is due to the proliferation of children with food allergies and the need to know exact ingredients and have some measure of accountability, but how sad that the few moms and dads who actually have time to bake are no longer allowed to contribute in this way.

Homemade cupcakes can still be found at home parties and even weddings.  Young mom’s  and kids everywhere are now out doing us by making cupcakes that are literally works of art.  My sister and her teen daughters have even made some of the cupcakes featured in the wildly popular cupcake book Hello Cupcake!

Go to Amazon and type in ‘cupcakes’ under books and you will find 1,111 hits.  I even found a cupcake book about the Magnolia Bakery.

The cupcake wedding cake has become somewhat of a trend in the past five years or so.  This choice is often cheaper than a large, elaborate cake and a larger variety of flavors can be offered for guests.  

The Cupcake Bar in Cary, NC [who knew] sells cupcakes flavored like your favorite drinks with flavors like Mojito, Mint Julep, Strawberry Daiquiri, Mocha Latta, and Chai Tea.  They also have house favorites like red velvet and traditional flavors as well as filled cupcakes.  Top shelf cupcakes are $30 a dozen plus a delivery fee [if delivered to your home or office].  They appear to be doing a booming business despite the economy.

The gourmet cupcakes found at these homespun businesses are a giant improvement over the grocery bakery cupcake and even a notch up from ordinary homemade cupcakes.  But, at often more than $2 a cupcake, they are pretty costly.  I can see buying these for an office function or a party or occasion, but not simply picking them up for the family very often.

Two female marketing majors fresh from the UNCW school of business are whipping up interesting and delicious flavor combinations at Coastal Cupcakes in downtown Wilmington.  Last year they developed the bacon cupcake that tastes like, yup, bacon. It’s on the savory side– a crisp cupcake infused with crunchy bacon pieces and covered with a creamy sweet maple cream cheese frosting along with some sprinkles of sea salt.  People line up out the door to get these cupcakes and they have sold out nearly every time they have had them.

Cupcakes first appeared in the early 19th century.  Some people say they were named for the cups they were baked in and some people think they were named for the measurements needed that were mostly measured in cups.  I picture them as a very 60’s confection, but apparently they were no more popular in the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s than they are today.  They are simply a nostalgic item since so many people associate them with their childhoods.  In England they are known as ‘fairy cakes’ since they are just the right size cake for a fairy.

The original cupcake bakery is Sprinkles in Beverly Hills, CA which now has almost 10 locations with a dozen more to come shortly.  A Sprinkles is even in the works for Charlotte, NC.  Most of the cupcake bakeries that have sprung up all about the country have modeled themselves on this original chain.  They are pricey, though, with some upwards of $50 a dozen plus at least a $15 delivery fee.  If you’re figuring, that is more than $5 per cupcake, so I would say they’d better be more than just good.

According to an article I read on Slate, the bubble is already here and the crash is coming.  This author believes that the cupcake is an affordable luxury riding the coattails of the recession and that after the recession recedes, the cupcake bubble will burst.  I personally do not see how cupcakes alone can float a bakery, especially in a small city or how numbers of cupcake bakeries can compete in larger markets, but I do love a cupcake.

And, oh, Megan & Hannah, keep dreaming of your own cupcakery… maybe you can combine it with your Mom’s love of books [and maybe even Dad’s love of sports in general and golf specifically] and give BN a run for their money in WF 🙂

Cinco de Mayo

This morning when Antionette asked if the chickens had been born, we told her no, they would not be born until Cinco de Mayo.  She promptly asked, “what is Cinco de Thymo?”  So, I thought I did a fairly good job explaining this holiday as a day when people in parts of Mexico celebrate a war victory from a long time ago with parties and celebrations and that we would be celebrating the birth of our chickens.  Later, when Bailey came into the classroom, Antionette said; “guess what… our chicks are going to be born on Cinco de Mayo!  Do you know what that is… Cinco de Mayo?”  When Bailey said, “no,”  Antionette told her ‘Cinco de Mayo is a holiday where Mexicans hang chickens.’  How she got that out of our conversation… I will never know 🙂

Chicken Lottery

Four days ago, on April 14th [tax day eve], my students and I placed 23 eggs into an incubator in the classroom and began studying embryology.  This is my very first foray into hatching chicks and so I am as excited or more excited even than my students.  Between researching the unit and entertaining a guest speaker this week, I am learning right along with my class.

Here are some random and interesting facts that I have learned.  We need to keep the incubator temperature around 100 degrees.  A hen’s normal temperature is 107˚.  The humidity in the incubator must be kept around 50% until a few days before hatching, when it should be raised to between 75 and 85%.  Most of the eggs you buy in the store are not fertilized– if you find a red dot on the yolk, then that egg was fertilized.  Once fertilized the eggs can hang out for days with the embryo in sort of a state of suspended animation until someone decides to either incubate them or sit on them.  Once they reach an internal temperature of 85%, development of the baby chick will commence.  Chickens need Roosters in order to lay fertilized eggs.  Chicken sex, however, is not what you would think it would be… it is really just an exchange of fluids between the rooster and the hen.  After they are born, baby chickens can live for like 48 hours with no food or water, but once removed from the incubator and mom, should be given baby chicken mash and plenty of water.  The water, however, should be offered in such a way that the baby chicks will not drown themselves, for instance in a shallow pan filled with marbles where they can drink around the marbles.  For some reason, perhaps their recent exit from a watery environment, the chicks are drawn to the water and will fling themselves into it and drown during the first days of life.

The chicks are due to be born on Cinco de Mayo, so we keep teasing they will be ‘Latin chicks.’  Of the 23 eggs, statistically, about 50-75% of them may end up with chicks developed and capable of pecking their way to freedom.  So, I wonder, almost daily, how many we will end up with and what they will look like.  The eggs were taken from four types of chickens:  Rhode Island Reds [whose chicks are sort of calico brown and yellow], Delewares [who produce the ubiquitous fluffy yellow chicks], Barred Rock Hens [dark brown chicks], and Bantams [I think also yellow chicks/white adults].  So, we could have any combination of breed and gender.

If you know me then you know that one of the items on my bucket list is to raise chickens, so I plan to take three hens home at the end of this project.  I live in a neighborhood and have no place to put three chickens, but I plan to order a portable chicken coop that looks like an A framed chalet.  I found it on the Internet and one of the places you can purchase it is, wow,  You can really find nearly anything on Amazon.

It’s Sunday and I actually went in to the school three times yesterday to check on my eggs and make sure they are still at the right temperature and humidity.  Last week was spring break and it flew by, but now that we are hatching eggs, the time is creeping slowly by.  We are only on day four and today the embryos are about the size of butter beans.  We may get to candle them this week in order to see which are developing the way they are supposed to.




Egg Hunt at the Senior Center

If you read the title first, no doubt you might be imagining a sweet spring scene– a green, grassy yard with a spattering of kindly elderly folks slowly and happily making their way about the lawn and joyfully collecting a few eggs.  That is what I would picture– but no, that is not what happened at the hunt our students helped with last week.

disclaimer:  I am writing about this secondhand.. as told to me by fellow teachers and students who were actually there at this senior free for all.

Last week, my co-workers, Holly and Tammy, took their EC high school students to the local Senior Center to hold an Easter Celebration that included lunch, a visit from the ‘Easter Bunny,’ and an egg hunt outdoors.  They came back exhausted, but laughing with a new perspective on the elderly:  and I quote:  “they are mean.”

Now before I even heard the story, I did agree, that indeed, a lot of old people can be mean.  As a younger person, I had the notion that all elderly people were sweet and kind, but as I have gained more experience in the world [and met more old people], I have come to the conclusion that the state of getting and being old does not make one nicer.  In fact, it might make you less nice.  I think if you were charming and had good social skills as a younger or middle-aged person, then you might keep that into old age.  You might lose some of your positive edge, if getting old involves some physical or emotional pain or if life has dealt you a lot of hard knocks, but if you were mean in youth, you will be mean [or meaner] in old age.

I have a neighbor who used to drive me crazy being rude and hurting my feelings all the time.  I used to wonder how an old woman could be so awful, and then one day I had a lightbulb moment and realized that she had been like this all her life.  As a young person, she was most likely controlling and socially and verbally inappropriate, as she aged, instead of getting softer and more enlightened, she just became a harder version of herself.  That finally explained why even her children and grandchildren who lived in town, rarely came to see her.  But, I digress.

The senior center egg hunt went something like this:  Our students carefully hid three large grocery bags brim-full of plastic eggs filled with jelly beans along with some wrapped candy eggs.  The senior hunters were then escorted down the ramp and out to the yard.  Some of them were in wheelchairs, mind you, or had canes to assist them, but they all had their bags or baskets ready and were then let loose to find eggs.  According to Tammy, it was a indeed a free-for-all, with the younger seniors who were more ambulatory, raping the green canvas of eggs in less time than it takes the average person to brush his/her teeth.  The less ambulatory seniors had hardly maneuvered their wheelchairs down the ramp and onto the grass or used their canes to amble out onto the grass before it was over, and “poof” and they were left holding empty bags and baskets.

I asked if there were any acts of altruism– if perhaps, any of these more physically fortunate seniors shared their vast egg bounties with the others who were less competitive?  The answer was “no; no one shared.”  In fact, on their way to the grassy egg containment area, a few of these very excited seniors almost knocked over some of their less steady friends to get a jump on those eggs.

The stunned students and teachers who would have gladly helped the less physically able stood helplessly by as the eggs were swooped up by crazed ‘seniors’ running wildly about.  These ‘fast ones’ were the ones who drove to the senior center that morning from their homes and parked their cars in the parking lot between Main and Foushee; some of them seemed like they were barely seniors at all.  Much of the older and slower crowd had arrived by van from nursing homes and senior housing projects.

Prior to this, all had gathered for lunch inside the center.  Even this was not pleasant.  Many of those lunching complained about the food.  “Is this all we get for our money?,”  a few of them were heard to exclaim.  Now, I have to tell you that the cost of the meal was $2.00 [yes, two dollars], and for this price they were given a hot dog, chips, two cookies, and a milk.  One student serving was asked by a scruffy-looking man with very few teeth, if he could have two hot dogs.  When the reply was negative, he asked for another buttermilk, and when told that each person was to have only one, he yelled, “I don’t see why; I’ve already had four!”  This was the same man who later, after stepping outside, asked the student who was dressed up as the Easter Bunny [in a full bunny suit] if she had a cigarette.

All in all, this was an eye-opener for many of our students and for our teachers as well. Holly said she couldn’t wait to get out of there, but looking back on it, she did have to admit it was all pretty funny.  By the way, Tuesday evening was the county egg hunt for children, which is always another really keen study on human nature.  Virtually all of the children act nice, and most of the adults act like idiots trying to help their offspring ‘win’ and in turn teach them what is really important in life:  getting the most eggs is much more important than the fun of helping someone else or sharing.  And, we wonder how elderly people ever become greedy or mean..