January 2005

Amanda Hesser’s Chocolate Dump-It Cupcakes with Buttercream Frosting

So it’s 10 o’clock and you missed the 9:45 “Hide and Seek” at the Chelsea Clearview Cinema (which you wanted to see not because it looked good, but because it looked fun (Lisa saw it today and said it wasn’t bad and then I made her tell me the ending which I don’t normally do but for this one I just wanted to know)) and then the group of 5 people you’re with decides to come back to YOUR apartment (after you invite them, of course) to watch Paris Hilton host SNL. Only Paris Hilton didn’t host SNL last night, that’s next week—last night’s host was a rerun of Colin Farrell which I was really happy about not because I love Colin, but because the musical guests were the Scissor Sisters who I love and have never seen perform before. So that was fun.

But anyway. People are over. They’re drinking beer. What can you cook them?

A lightbulb goes off. “Amanda Hesser’s Dump It Cake.” You just dump everything in a pot and you have cake. It’s really easy. If I had sourcream I could have made the normal cake and made her chocolate sour cream frosting. But instead, I use her recipe for buttercream frosting and make cupcakes.

So the cupcakes are crazy easy. I’m not giving away the recipe because I’ve given away enough Hesser recipes, but you can easily copy it out of the book in the book store. But at this point, even if you don’t like her, just buy her book because the recipes are great. Every one so far has been a success.

I recruited Lisa to help me in the kitchen. We began by melting butter and unsweetened chocolate and sugar and water together:


You let it cool and then you whisk in milk and cider vinegar (anyone have any idea why cider vinegar is good for this cake?) and the flour baking soda baking powder salt mixture:


Pour into lined cupcake tin (I halved the recipe so it only made 12). Oh, and Lisa should get the credit for pouring the batter into the cups–she did it very well. She even cleaned it up for this photo:


It bakes for 20 minutes and they all puff up nicely and we inserted a spaghetti strand straight in (this is a good alternative to a cake tester) and it came out clean. Done!


We let these cool on the cooling rack and we made the icing. The icing’s crazy easy. It’s just powdered sugar, butter, vanilla and some milk. (I’m not telling you proportions! Haha! You so don’t know the proportions.)


Lisa insisted on frosting them. “I’m the Queen Froster!” she said. I let her do her thang.


Our guests nibbled them greedily.

“These are really good,” they said.

Seriously, they got As across the board. And they’re really easy. People even talked abou them today.

“We talked about the cupcakes again today,” Lisa said after telling me about the movie. “They were really good. We should make them again.”

And there you have it. Dump-It cupcakes. The perfect solution to a Saturday night with friends and without Paris Hilton.

Mean Lady at Pongsri

I just tried to draw a picture of the mean lady at Pongsri on Microsoft Word but then I couldn’t figure out how to save it as an image and gave up, so suffice it to say she was old and mean and had long gray hair and glasses and a dowdy husband. She was sitting by the window and we were six and sitting two over. They put us at a big long table so we had to yell to hear each other. She didn’t like that. She shot us vicious glares. Then she made eye contact with me and mouthed: “KEEP IT DOWN.” I told everyone to keep it down. But inevitably we got louder. And she fumed and shook her head and rolled her eyes and crossed her arms. She was really mean.

Dig That Crazy Chickpea

In the East Village is Chickpea, a falafel joint that I’d been to once before and went to the other day with my classmates Molly and Patty. It was perfect. By perfect, I mean: it really hit the spot. See, Patty said she was “really sick of diner food.” That’s because my classmates and I always go to diners. And Patty was sick of them.

I was sick of them too, I think, because I really enjoyed Chickpea. I ordered a falafel sandwich and it came on awesome puffy pita with lettuce and some kind of sauce: (there are two here–one’s mine, one’s Patty’s):


This is what I need in my life. Falafel sandwiches like this one. It’s new and exciting and gives me what I crave: bread, meat (ok, it’s not meat, but it feeels like meat), veggie and sauce. The falafel itself is unusual in that it’s green. The color comes from cilantro and parsley they mix in with the ground chickpeas. I like it.

Then, just to be extravagant, I ordered hummus for the table. It was so cool watching them make it. They mounded it on the platter then spun it into some kind of pattern and squirt oil in the middle and sprinkled it with what I think was paprika. They only gave us one pita to share for three but we made do:


We loved it.

“We love it!” we said.

“This is really good hummus,” said Molly.

I was overjoyed. I also bought a lemonade which was watery but a nice accompaniment to everything else. On the walk back to school, guess who we saw? Paul Giamatti. Not sure how that ties in, but somehow I think it does. Don’t you? Chickpea’s good.

Lolita is Hiding

Do you spy her?


She spies you! (But honestly, isn’t that cute how she hides there?)

On Food and Writing (Part 1 in a 62 Part Series)

When Arthur Miller wrote “Death of a Salesman” in 1948, he built a cabin “to sit in the middle of it, and shut the door and let things happen.” He built a desk out of an old door and “started in the morning, went through the day, then had dinner, and then went back there and worked till…one or two o’clock in the morning.” The play, he says, “sort of unveiled itself. I was the stenographer. I could hear them. I could hear them, literally.” [These Miller quotes are taken from John Lahr’s priceless book of profiles, “Show and Tell.”]

For everyone with a kitchen and writerly aspirations, I have exciting news for you. I believe that your kitchen is your very own fully functional Arthur Miller cabin. A zone of meditation and deep concentrated thought, your kitchen can be your very own Yoda swamp. I believe that the skills and techniques you learn from cooking will make you a better writer. I believe that’s happened to me: not only the hair club president, but also a client.

On a very basic level, a story is like a recipe. There is a beginning, a middle, and an end. This is structure. A basic structure starts with exposition, which we might liken to a gathering of ingredients. Here’s where we meet our characters, get our setting, our environment, our weather, our tone. And then: the point of attack. This is what sets the story in motion. We turn the oven on. We crack an egg. We get things moving. Willy’s come home from Yonkers and hasn’t made a sale. Biff and Happy are upstairs smoking. Linda’s worried that Willy’s trying to kill himself. How will this all turn out?

Cooking, like good writing, is inherently dramatic. We follow all the steps right but still, our souffle might not rise. Our asparagus may be soggy. The meatloaf may be dry. There’s risk involved: something’s at stake.

I challenge you to find a great work of literature (film, theater, books) where nothing’s at stake. You won’t. Godot’s gotta come, we gotta kill that shark, Frodo’s gotta destroy the ring or we’re all…gonna…die…

Process matters too. If we’re J.R.R. Tolkien, how are we going to get Frodo through Mordor to destroy the ring? What obstacles will he encounter? A giant spider? A gang of orcs? A tap-dancing monkey?

Similarly: if we’re the Amateur Gourmet, how are we going to light our Boeuf Bourguignon if we don’t have a lighter and getting the match close enough might incinerate our hand? Hold the match with a pair of scissors? Just drop it in? How will we fish it out?

Surprises in the kitchen are like surprises on paper: some are happy, some are not. If your character suddenly kills everyone in the room and is left, alone, on an empty stage with nothing to do–that surprise isn’t happy. You need to start again. If, however, the character reaches for a gun and falls over hitting his head on a frying pan which initiates a full-scale musical number starring Carol Channing that surprise is…well…happy or not happy depending on your fondness for Carol Channing.

It’s the same in the kitchen. You know this. You may be out of ginger and the recipe calls for 2 Tbs so you use cardamom instead or cinnamon or something different and it either tastes great or it tastes awful. These are the trials we go through as we cook up dinner and we go through the same tribulations when we cook up stories. We take risks. They often pay off and sometimes they don’t.

But here’s how we weave it all together. Back to the cabin we go. Writing, at its best, is a period of sustained concentration, meditation, and imagination. Most good writers I know have experienced “the zone.” It happens in writing like it happens in cooking. You’re standing in your kitchen and you’re whisking your filling while the tart shell cools and just at the right moment you lift the mixture from the double boiler and pour it into the crust and it settles perfectly. You put it in the oven and wait for it to brown. Will it brown? Will it brown? It does brown. Success. Glory. Hallelujah.

That’s what good writing feels like. You’re flying high. You’re hearing voices, like Arthur Miller. You can taste the results and yet you’re engrossed in the process.

Another thing occurs to me. Great writing happens when you care about what you’re writing–when the subject is close to your heart. Same with cooking. If you’re microwaving frozen noodles that sat in your freezer for eight months, the results will be dismal. If you make, from scratch, the recipe your great-grandmother smuggled across the ocean while fleeing cossacks in Russia, then the results may be spectacular. Or they may be awful. But they’ll be awful in a big way.

Then there’s the concept of sharing. You can bake a glorious pie and eat it all yourself; you can write a glorious poem and never show it to anyone. Or the opposite. Make a feast and feed swarms of happy people; write an epic fantasia on AIDS and watch it blow up into a multimillion dollar extravaganza with Meryl Streep and Al Pacino. (Yes, that’s an Angels In America reference.)

The comparisons are endless. Cooking and Writing both inform each other in exciting ways. I’ve argued from the writer’s perspective how cooking helps, but even from the cook’s perspective there’s virtue in writing. After all, at some point a 4-star chef has to decide what the menu will say regarding his foie gras appetizer. He (or she) has to articulate what he wants from his sous chef in a way that ensures that ingredients and time won’t be wasted. The string of words he uses–“Fry the egg and slip it on top of the bacon”–employs the same economy of means that a good writer employs. The instincts are the same.

Is it any surprise, then, that so many writers are well-fed and so many cooks are well-read? Hemingway, in my mind, is the mascot of the well-fed writer. And Mario Batali embodies the well-read cook. (Watch just one episode of “Molto Mario” and you’ll see what I mean.) It’s no coincidence that they’re both masters of their craft.

Thus I conclude Part 1 of this 62 part series. I truly believe that nothing can serve the aspiring writer better than learning his or her way around the kitchen. It may seem loopy, but the connections are deep and true. You know how some people argue that video games will make you a better pilot? It’s kind of like that: only truer.

The Return of the Breast Cupcake

My average number of hits per day is 2281.13 (according to Typepad). Then today I noticed what some might call a huge surge: 34,440. To quote Joey Lawrence: “Whoah.”

Why the sudden influx? The answer is simple:


It’s been one year since I made my infamous Janet Jackson breast cupcake, and now they’re being promoted for this year’s Superbowl. By whom?

Well for starters: CollegeHumor.com. Apprently this site is huge—it was profiled last week in The New Yorker. I’m very flattered to be grouped in with eclectic HotLinks such as How To Make a Grape Explode and Seriously Fucked Up Spiders. It makes me feel like a kid again.

Even more exciting, though, is the link featured on Dave Barry’s blog. Whoah! I love Dave Barry. That’s very exciting. Although the comments are pretty harsh. For example:

“I think he did a very poor job on that cupcake. I mean, for starters, the nipple shield frosting isn’t even metallic. And I bet it doesn’t even taste like a boob!”


“It don’t even look close.”

Points taken. But clearly if I were hit by a bus today, this would be the greatest thing I am known for. The man behind the breast cupcake. I can live (or not live, as the case may be) with that.

[P.S. I don’t follow sports, but if the Superbowl truly is approaching why not make these breast cupcakes? If you do make them, send me a picture of you and the cupcakes and I’ll maybe feature them on the blog. Happy breast baking!]

Reader Restaurant Reviews

I have an unfathomable amount of work to do this week (second week of school and all) so instead of leaving you empty-handed, how about you readers entertain each other?

Here’s how we’ll do it. In the comments for this post, write a review of the last restaurant you ate in. Not the last fancy restaurant you ate in, but simply the last restaurant you ate in. So it can be The French Laundry or it can be Denny’s. It should be very interesting.

Happy writing! (And happy reading…)

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