Wasn’t exactly sure how I felt about this one. Lemon is such a summer flavor it seemed odd to me to enjoy it on one of the coldest days of the year. Then again, lemon is kind of a universal flavor with a really refreshing taste that can also be homey and comforting. I figured I would just roll with it.
In the morning, I found a recipe online that looked pretty tasty and I wrote down everything I would need at the grocery store. Then I went on with my day. That’s when the day got the best of me. Not that it was a bad day, I just had an appointment in Warwick so it brought me away from my home base. After my appointment, I met up with Lola and we did some holiday exploring in East Greenwich where we had recently gone to dinner and vowed to come back during the day. Well we did and East Greenwich is still a pretty and bustling seaside town. We went for a quick lunch at a place called Jigger’s Diner which was a great little cozy spot right on Man Street nestled in between two other restaurants. It’s an actual dining car diner with nearly 100 year history in the town. It has a giant menu with great food and great service too. Perfect little lunch spot. Afterwards we crossed the street to a store called the Green Door and poked around there. Apparently they have a second floor apartment that they only open two or three times a year and by chance, today was one of those days. We weren’t exactly sure why that was or what was so special about it, but it was beautifully decorated and presented and there were lots of cozy little trinkets to buy. It was a great spot and restored my faith in holiday shopping. We went to a few other stores but with the wind chill and temperature, it was hard to walk around without having your face frozen off. We kept our efforts brief.
We headed back home and when I got back on the island, it was almost five. I stopped at the grocery store to pick up my supplies for the cupcakes. When I was walking down the bakery aisle, I happened to catch site of a cake mix by Betty Crocker which was a Super Moist Lemon Cake (and it boasted it was made with pudding). I looked at the box, then looked at the flour and sugar and baking powder and lemons in my cart, then looked back at the box. It was getting late. I knew by the time I made the cupcakes and they cooled enough to frost, I’d be looking at a late night. So, I grabbed the box mix. Don’t judge me. Truth is, there’s nothing wrong with a cake mix – it just save you some time. I knew that if it was the start of the day, I could bang out a scratch made cupcake batter in no time. But it was late, so I decided to team up with Betty again. I was ok with that. Plus, I figured I could make homemade frosting. That would make it a little better.
I got home and fired up the oven. Cake mixes are really an invention that makes life easier. Normally, if I made a cake from scratch, I would have to take out 7 or 8 ingredients, 5 or 6 measuring devices, two giant bowls, a sifter, a bottle of tequila (for the cook) and make a big mess. Then I’d have to clean all that up. Don’t get me wrong, a scratch made batter is always a bit more delicious and it makes you more proud of the work you’ve done. But with the cake mix, I dumped it into one bowl, I added water, vegetable oil and three eggs, mixed it up and I was done. Easy-peasy and easier-peasier clean up. I did get a little Sandra Lee semi-homemade and zested some lemon peel into the batter for a little extra lemon flavor, so it wasn’t all Betty Crocker. The cakes were ready in about 16 minutes and they looked good.
Next up was frosting and I turned to the recipe I had recently used for cupcake frosting from Magnolia Bakery. This is the best frosting ever. You heard me – ever. The recipe I had found for lemon cupcakes in the morning had paired her cupcakes with a vanilla frosting, and I thought that the vanilla and lemon would be a good combo too. The frosting is made with pure sin – two sticks of butter, eight cups of sugar, milk and vanilla. You just blend it together and then it starts to thicken into this sugary, heavenly fluff. This was more messy than making the cake mix, but worth it in the end. I added some yellow food coloring to the frosting to give it a lemony feel, although I probably should have used more because they came out very lightly lemon colored. I frosted the cupcakes right after the frosting was done.
Lola was sitting in her spot by the heater watching me (well, not really watching me, but just keeping me company). I gave her the first one along with a little glass of milk. If Lola is reading or otherwise intellectually occupied, she doesn’t usually notice what I’m doing even if I’m right in her line of vision. I’ve used this to my advantage over the years and have been able to sneak presents by her while she is standing right in front of me. I can hide in plain sight. Tonight, she didn’t notice that I had made the cakes using a mix. I confessed this to her after I gave her the cupcake and she stripped the cupcake of its foil cup. She noticed right away that the cake looked moist. I told her it’s a cake mix, so I can’t take the credit for that. I also told her that the box said they used pudding in the mix, so that’s probably why it looked moist. This intrigued her and also confused her, soliciting a few follow up questions:
Lola: You made them from pudding?
Me: No, I made them from a box. There’s pudding in the mix.
Lola: So they all have pudding in them?
Me: No, just this kind.
Lola: Lemon cakes all have pudding in them?
Me: No, just this mix does.
Lola: It’s a pudding then?
Me: No, it’s a cake mix. With pudding.
This went on for a bit. I think she was hungry and when she heard the word pudding, she remembered some cookies I had made with pudding in them (which she loved). She was probably trying to connect the two. She was also just trying to understand (Lola has an unquenchable thirst for knowledge) and trying to transition from being in the middle of her reading something that was probably intense into a conversation about cupcakes. It’s hard to make that switchover so there’s always a transition phase. This is one of the many reasons why life with Lola is always fun (for real).
Then Lola bit in to the cupcake and after a few minutes of allowing the taste of everything to melt in her mouth and over her palate, she gave me a look that means I struck gold. Her eyes kind of closed and she emits this moment of euphoria meaning that she really likes it. I wish I could video that so you could see it, because it’s very rewarding to have your food reacted to as such. The cakes were nice and lemony. I know that lemon cake seems a bit unusual, but it’s a great flavor in a cake (just ask Sansa Stark). Plus the frosting is a sugary, vanilla piece of heaven, and I went a little heavy on the frosting. A success.
Betty Crocker to the rescue again. I really did have a moment of turmoil when I decided to shift to the cake mix. I felt like I was cheating. But this quest is not about making the best or in the most authentic way, it’s about celebrating. So sharing a really delicious cupcake with my favorite person in the comfort of our kitchen is really what it’s all about. Plus, there’s nothing wrong with using a mix – it just gives you more time to do the other things in life that you need to get done. Betty Crocker knew that and made it her ficticious life’s mission. So we salute Betty today with a delightful treat with oodles of frosting. That’s probably just how she wanted to be remembered. Cheers!
Next Up: National Chocolate Covered Anything Day (where’d I put those sardines?)