Flicks and Eats

Life is like a box of cupcakes…

Cupcakes in Black

I have opened up the “blog field,” so to speak, and invited many of my friends to guest blog for my site. I am happy to say that Wil (a.k.a., Wiru) Turner, my athletic trainer and dear friend from the University of Michigan, is the first to accept this challenge. I hope you enjoy his review of Cake in a Cup (Toledo, OH) as much as I did.

 

The G.A.T. had a reunion at Molly's Cupcakes.

There are two things I love in this world—G.A.T. (super exclusive club of three members—Rachael, Kari, and myself) and food. On second thought there are three things—G.A.T., food, and sandy oceanic beaches. If I add my family and friends, my list is well over 50 things. I also love movies. Oh, how can I forget TV shows like The Office? Then, there are sports, namely, college football on a brisk fall Saturday. Wait, I can’t forget slurpees (only from 7-11, no imposters) and beer. Ok. Ok. Let’s just say that there are a more than a million things that I love in this world. Now, this is embarrassing… I will have to use my trusty Neuralyzer from Men in Black that Will Smith kindly allowed me to borrow to erase what just happened. Will and me, we’re BFF.

*Bright Flash Envelopes You*

So, um, yeah there are a few things I love in this world. One thing that stands out is the deliciousness of a cupcake. If you truly know me, you’d know my intense love for cupcakes. Cupcakes are works of art that scream to be devoured and savored. At least that’s what I hear in my head when I happen upon cupcakes sitting “innocently” behind a layer of glass. Cupcakes are not innocent. They will relentlessly taunt and tease you until bought and consumed. I can never resist, my will power is a sapling in a cupcake storm. I’ve even walked four miles (roundtrip) to get one….er several. You just can’t buy one. They would get lonely. Because they are born out of sweetness and love, they are out of this world. Maybe Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith should investigate. I could go on but let’s get to the point.

On a recent visit to Evanston, Illinois, I made it a point to meet up with a few of my favorite people—Rachael, Ian, and Kari. Many things were discussed and consumed one of which included cupcakes from one of my now favorite cupcakeries, Molly’s Cupcakes (too bad they don’t deliver to Ann Arbor). Since Rachael and I share a love of cupcakes, I shared some pics of a cupcakery in Toledo, Ohio I had recently visited. Rachael immediately offered a chance for me to be a guest writer on Flick and Eats. I was extremely honored. Without further ado, here is my review (Hey, that rhymed).

 

Hostess with the Mostest, Toffee Crunch, and the Pretty in Pink cupcakes from Cake in a Cup, Toledo

Cake in a Cup is a small cupcakery in a little strip mall just off US Route 23 in Toledo, OH. It’s conveniently located near Scramblers Marie (a.k.a., Café Marie) which is also great for a nice meal especially breakfast. Upon entering Cake in a Cup, I was greeted by a blast of sweet goodness which sent my salivary glands in overdrive. A very friendly employee welcomed me and offered to describe their cupcakes. Cake in a Cup has over 25 cupcakes in their repertoire. I was also informed that their list of cupcakes changes monthly, and seasonally. Sadly, all of their 25+ are not available on a daily basis. Therefore, I had to choose from their limited daily offering on this particular Sunday. Typically, about eight cupcakes are offered daily. Red Velvet (best seller), Vanilla, and Chocolate cupcakes are offered every day.

For those who cannot wait to consume their sugary goodness, there is a small seating area which consists of two tables surrounded by a few chairs. The decorations were minimal but let’s be honest, the cupcakes upstaged everything within the cupcakery. Even though I had time to stay, I decided to try my luck and got some to go. I hoped I wouldn’t get icing and crumbs all over my car from a potential fit of cupcake rage. Remember, these things scream at you! Rachael would be very happy to know that Cake in a Cup offers great packaging for their cupcakes. No one wants their cupcakes mixing and no one wants to deal with a mess of icing all over the container. That’s a travesty and who has time to scrape the box? Well, maybe I would make time. Needless to say, the cupcakes and I made it home safely.

I chose the Hostess with the Mostest, Toffee Crunch, and the employee-recommended Pretty in Pink. Hostess with the Mostest is basically a hostess chocolate cupcake all the way down to the signature squiggle on top, except better. At first bite, I was flooded with childhood memories of eating a Hostess two-pack with a large glass of ice cold milk. Cake in a Cup’s version was very moist, the cream in the middle was light, and the chocolate ganache on top had big chocolate flavor. I was quite impressed and wished they came in pairs.

Next up was the Toffee Crunch. This cupcake consisted of a vanilla cake filled with crunchy chocolate covered toffee (hence, its name) with a vanilla butter cream icing, topped with chocolate covered toffee. While delicious, I felt that there was just too much toffee candy. It was like eating a candy bar which wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, but I wanted a cupcake.

Last and certainly not least was the Pretty in Pink. I’ll admit I was a little embarrassed ordering it, but that all faded when devouring it. The Pretty in Pink is a light and moist strawberry cake (with real strawberries baked within the cake) topped with a light strawberry cream cheese frosting, again made with real strawberries. Ok, I have a serious confession to make. I am not a huge fan of frosting. I know what you are thinking… How can I love cupcakes and not enjoy the icing? I do not understand it either, but it’s true. I do eat some of the frosting but most of it is left on the side. My apologies to the cupcake gods! For me it’s all about the cake. But occasionally, I come across a frosting that I cannot refuse. Pretty in Pink had that kind of frosting. I couldn’t help but eat it all.

If you find yourself driving through Toledo by way of US route 23, make sure you take a detour at Central Ave (exit 13). You will not be disappointed. While you are at it, feel free to pick up a couple cupcakes for me.

Rating:  ★★★½☆ 

posted by Rachael in Cupcakes and have Comments (2)

Best in Cupcakes

 

Tres Leches cupcake and Strawberries and Cream cupcake from Tiny Dog CUPCAKE! in Evanston, IL

There’s something you should know about me, I have two left feet. Also, I love cupcakes. Fortunately, having two left feet does not hinder my ability to eat cupcakes. Though, it does hinder my ability to dance. I can’t dance, I can’t dance! I’m not kidding, I was born with two left feet.

If you bought that, go watch Best in Show and give this another try later. Also, don’t believe everything you read.

Ian and I had been looking forward to the debut of Thor in theaters and it “just happened” that Tiny Dog CUPCAKE! was right around the corner from the Century 12 theater in Evanston, IL. I tell Ian all the time, “You’re so lucky that I love action movies (etc.) and not chick flicks.” Really, I’m the lucky one.

[Ian] and I have an amazing relationship and it’s very physical, he still pushes all my buttons. People say ‘oh but he’s so much older than you’ and you know what, I’m the one having to push him away. We have so much in common, we both love soup and snow peas, we love the outdoors, and talking and not talking. We could not talk or talk forever and still find things to not talk about.

We actually live pretty close to Evanston and have passed this cupcakery on the way to the movie theater several times. For this movie, we had time to grab a few cupcakes to sneak into the theater. I always feel like such a rebel when I sneak in pop, candy, and cupcakes inside my Mary Poppins purse. For one, I like to test how much my purse can hold. For another, I want to see how rebels feel when they do rebellious activities.

I decided to sneak in cupcakes from Tiny Dog CUPCAKE! (I’m not using CAPS unnecessarily). In fact, I will call people out on using CAPS unnecessarily (check out Justin Bieber’s Twitter feed) or using more than one exclamation point. I mean seriously, the multiple exclamation points do not mean someone is more excited, it means they are more annoying, and do not know how to follow proper punctuation rules. Maybe this is their way of being rebels. I’ll let two slide, but that’s pushing it. Anyhow, Tiny Dog CUPCAKE! got it right with one exclamation point. They also got their exterior and interior décor right. If I had to describe it in one word, I’d say, “Fun.”

Excuse me if this off the subject a little bit, but just take a guess at how much I can bench press. Come on, what do you think? Take a guess. 315 pounds, at the top of my game, maxing out at 500!

Since we were sneaking these into the theater, I could only fit a box for two cupcakes in my purse. Their cupcake selection varies each week, but every day they offer Classics such as Red Velvet, Vanilla, and Raspberry Swirl as well as Premiums (e.g., Triple Chocolate Mocha, Salty Caramel, The Dillo) and Gluten-Free versions of their classic flavors. We opted for the Strawberries and Cream and the Tres Leches.

Adrenaline pumping, I carefully fit the box in my purse above the two cans of pop and fiber bars. Do not judge me, I need hourly snacks. Otherwise, the “claws” come out. We bought our tickets, waltzed right in, and no one said “nay.” My rebel side wished they had. A little tidbit for you—we’ve discovered that you can save a ton of money on movie tickets if you see the “early bird” showing, which is the first showing of the day.

Without any shame, we popped the tabs on our pop and busted open the box of cupcakes right away. We each took one, took a bite, and passed it off to the other. While people were sharing popcorn, we were sharing cupcakes. The cake of the Strawberries and Cream was very dry, but there was a sweet filling with real strawberries, not the stuff out of a can. The frosting resembled whipped cream and was drizzled with strawberry topping. If the cake had been more spongy, I would have liked this. Speaking of strawberries, I have yet to see an Angel Food cupcake drenched with strawberry topping and completed with a whipped cream frosting. It should be done. Ian just gave me the idea to try a strawberry rhubarb cupcake this summer. Recipe to come.

The Tres Leches cupcake is where the love was. Pastel Tres Leches means “Three milk cake” in Spanish. True to its name, the cake tasted like a butter cake soaked in three kinds of milk—evaporated milk, condensed milk, and heavy cream. The whipped cream frosting was similar to that of the Strawberries and Cream. Best of all, it was topped with tiny slices of mango which created a tart but sweet experience with every bite. Lo amé.

Tiny Dog CUPCAKE! is just a tiny cupcake shop trying to make a difference in a great big world. True to their slogan, “Tiny dogs are not afraid to take on things bigger than themselves,” Tiny Dog CUPCAKE! donates part of their profits to national and local Evanston charities. Now, that’s something to bark about!

Now tell me, which one of these dogs would you want to have as your wide receiver on your football team?

Rating:  ★★★½☆ 

posted by Rachael in Cupcakes and have Comments (3)

Raising Cupcakes

 

The trio is back together again at Apple Tree Cottage for Carrot Cake cupcakes.

I’m from a small town called Owensville, located in the boondocks of Cincinnati, OH. Or, as Ian affectionately calls it, Owenstown. Not to say Owenstown (ahem, Owensville) is unsophisticated, but it has a unique rural charm which is second to none. Don’t worry, I haven’t heard of a local climbing in their neighbor’s window and stealing one of their children.

Edwina’s insides were a rocky place where my seed could find no purchase.

It’s a two-light town with a Nascar-themed drive-through pit stop (for twelve-packs, of course), a shack off of Route 50 where the locals grab a pint and take a load off, county fairgrounds, countless farms, and people who are just livin’ for God and country. Just talkin’ about my hometown warms my heart. My parents still reside back in the woods with a few recent developments—dozens of chickens, an enormous garden, and a pond stocked with fish. I guess this is how empty nesters cope with their two daughters graduating from college, getting married, and beginning their adult lives. They’ve sent their baby chicks into the world but I should remind them, home is where the heart is. “Awe.”

This Easter, Ian, our pup, and I went to Cincinnati to spend some time with the family. Even though there are some bonafide cupcakeries in the Cincinnati area, I went a different route this time. A charming antique shop that sells primitive and unique boutique style home furnishings, flowers, and baked goods just opened up in my hometown. It’s run by my childhood best friend’s sister’s friend. This sounds like a soap opera, without incest. Even better, this little place sat right next door to where Lindsey, my childhood best friend, and I went to elementary school. Cue The Way We Were by Barbra Streisand. “Memories…”

On Easter weekend, my sister and I met Lindsey and her baby boy, Colten, at Apple Tree Cottage for what was sure to be a stroll down memory lane. While we perused the old-fashioned signs and country home décor, Colten ran around with a sucker in his mouth, courtesy of Lindsey’s sister’s friend, the owner. In the middle of the quaint store sat a table displaying a variety of homemade goods such as chocolate-covered strawberries, pies, and no bake cookies. Amidst the baked goods, a platter of carrot cupcakes shone in all of its magnificence. After speaking with the owner, I learned that she gets up early every morning to singlehandedly make all of these treats for the day, and she has kids. For those of you bakers (and mothers) out there, you can appreciate the time and effort.

I snagged two carrot cake cupcakes (my favorite) and placed them in the sturdy little baked goods box she gave me. This place just opened up a few weeks ago, they aren’t even a “cupcakery,” and they still have better boxes than several of the places I’ve visited. I cradled the box of gems close to my chest and scurried on home.

A bite of this cupcake reminded me of my grandma’s famous carrot cake. She’s the one who made carrot cake my favorite kind of cake. This cake was very moist and fresh. Each bite included slivers of carrots and subtle spice. The whipped cream cheese frosting was light and creamy and complemented the cake nicely. Overall, it was a delicious homebaked treat made from wholesome ingredients. I’d go back for another. One of the best parts—two of these cost me $1.80 (with 3% tax for using a debit card). I’m not even mad, that’s amazing. If you’re ever in Owensville and want to satisfy your sweet tooth, drive past the Dunkin Donuts and pull into Apple Tree Cottage. You can meet some nice folks, eat some homebaked goods, and even walk out with a jar of pure maple syrup. It’s places like these that remind me where I came from.

p.s., Along with the chickens, pond, and industrial-sized garden, my parents also tap their maple trees and boil the sap down to make pure maple syrup, or rather, pure deliciousness. Lately, they’ve been trying their hand at shagbark hickory syrup. Stay tuned for a recipe for Lemon Pecan Cupcakes made with shagbark hickory syrup and a link to buy my parents’ home-produced syrup.

Rating:  ★★★★☆ 

posted by Rachael in Cupcakes and have Comments (4)

Thor

Thor

As a comic book fan, it has been a thrill seeing the recent string of successful films coming from Marvel Studios over the past decade, beginning in 2000 with X-Men and continuing with its sequel and the first two in the Spider-Man series. With only a small number of misfires (I’m looking at you, makers of the bloody awful Fantastic Four movies), Marvel’s latest offerings have brought a touch of class to the superhero genre. Now with both Iron Man films and an Incredible Hulk reboot out, the stage has been set for the eagerly awaited Avengers in 2012. Only two more pieces to “assemble” remain: the upcoming Captain America and Thor.

Of all the titles in Marvel’s classic lineup, Thor is probably the one I looked forward to the most. Just mentioning the title brings to mind interdimensional rainbow bridges, fire and ice giants, and majestic cities in the clouds. Based on Norse mythology, Thor’s adventures have always been grandiose, even Shakespearean, in drama and scale.

Who better to tackle this than Kenneth Branagh, one of the finest contemporary director/actors of the Bard’s tales. His take on Thor is a brilliant combination of action, emotional depth, and humor, with dazzling effects that owe much to the era of Walt Simonson (who is given a nod in the credits).

Over a thousand years ago, the Scandinavians revered a race of powerful beings from the extradimensional realm of Asgard. When the frost giants of Jotenheim stage an uprising to conquer the nine realms, beginning with Earth, Odin (Anthony Hopkins), king of the Asgardians, leads a mighty war against them and steals the source of their power. He relates this story to his young sons, Thor and Loki, one of whom will one day become the heir to the throne.

Fast forward years later. During a ceremony to honor Thor (Chris Hemsworth) as the successor, a small band of frost giants breaks into Asgard. In retaliation, the headstrong Thor leads a group of his warrior friends and Loki (Tom Hiddleston) into Jotenheim, breaking a long-held truce. As punishment, Odin strips Thor of his power and his magic hammer Mjolnir and banishes him to Earth.

Thor is discovered by scientist Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) and her team in the middle of the New Mexico desert. When Mjolnir is found miles away, S.H.I.E.L.D., that crazy espionage agency that always seems to know what’s going on, gets involved and steals Jane’s research (which we know, by now, will probably play a role in a future film) and bars access to Mjolnir as they study its strange powers. Meanwhile, back on Asgard, Loki has his own ideas as to whom should be king, and Thor’s warrior friends begin to grow suspicious and lead a secret mission to bring back Thor.

Given the lofty production design and dialogue of the scenes set in Asgard, Thor is easily a film that could run the risk of taking itself too seriously. However, many of Thor’s attempts to fit in on Earth strike just the right amount of humor. Much of this credit goes to Hemsworth, who plays bold and heroic just as convincingly as he does charming and gallant. And, let’s face it, he does look every bit the part of a dashing god of thunder.

Other strong performances include Portman, who brings a likeability factor to everything she does, and Hiddleston, whose Loki wears his inner turmoil for all to see. But a particular nod goes to Hopkins, who brings gravitas to Odin as both a benevolent father and a commanding force to be reckoned with. You’ll never be able to send your child to his room and ground him with the same amount of panache as when Odin casts Thor out of Asgard.

Also worth noting is how true the effects team stayed to (or even improved upon) the Asgard of the page. Bifröst, the rainbow bridge that transports people to the different realms, never looked more impressive, and the enchanted suit of armor known as Destroyer has Jack Kirby’s stamp all over it.

Some of the scenes feel a little rushed at times, and the movie probably could have even been a little longer. Given how familiar I am with the material, I’m not sure how confusing it is to those who haven’t read the books—I’ll have to ask Rachael. Also, for those who like their stories neatly contained, it does lack some closure. However, with at least one Avengers movie right around the corner, I have a feeling we’ll be seeing more of Thor, Loki, Jane, and hopefully Odin in the near future.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

posted by Ian in Flicks and have No Comments

Cupcake Wars: The Cupcake Strikes Back

Samoa, German Chocolate, and Boston Cream cupcakes from Cupcake Station, Ann Arbor

Find delicious cupcakes in Ann Arbor, I will. Cake Nouveau did not live up to my high expectations, nor to the amazingness that is Ann Arbor. Deep inside, I knew there had to be a cupcake master somewhere in the Maize and Blue city. My instincts were right, per usual. The Force is with me.

Cupcake Station appeared as a beacon of hope on the starry horizon, like the Millennium Falcon. Star Wars nerd… The storefront resembled that of a train station from the old west, except with a fresh coat of paint on the sturdy brick face. “Good to the last crumb” was painted down the side of the store in bold print. My blood sugar rose in anticipation of the sweet nectar of cupcakes.

When we walked in, there was a selection of cards and merchandise to the left and a large brick fireplace (not a working one) in the back corner. In one of the niches, there was a modern red pleather couch with four fantastic framed pictures of cupcakes hovering above it. On the coffee table in front of the couch was the little peg game from Cracker Barrel. You guys know what I’m talking about. I love that game. But what really had me salivating was the large selection of perfectly crafted cupcakes right in front of me.

After much deliberation, Ian and I selected the Samoa, German Chocolate, and Boston Cream cupcakes. I had my eye on at least a few others, but if I’m going to fit in the door of the other establishments, I have to limit my intake. However, I regret not getting one of their Bump-a-licious cupcakes—Signature Bump-a-licious or the Mystery Bump-a-licious (changes each month). These cupcakes feature bumps of deliciousness which are then dipped in more deliciousness. For example, the Mystery Bump-a-licious featured this April (which isn’t so much a mystery) is the Raspberry Tart—lemon cake, frosted with raspberry white chocolate cream cheese bumps, dipped in white chocolate and sprinkled with pink jimmies. I want me some bumps. Bump, bump, bumpity, bump.

Once I heard that the Boston Cream was a donut in cupcake form, I said, “No more, you need say.” The Boston Cream consisted of a very moist vanilla bean cake filled with creamy custard, topped with smooth chocolate ganache, drizzled with white chocolate, and finished with a buttercream flower. Why can’t donut shops garnish their Boston Cream donuts with a buttercream flower? I could eat one of these everyday for breakfast.

I selected the German Chocolate cupcake to honor my German heritage, and also because German chocolate cake is germazing (German + amazing). Their German Chocolate cupcake featured their signature dark chocolate cake with homemade German chocolate frosting, which was then topped with pecans and coconut and drizzled with dark chocolate. A bite of this brought back childhood memories. My aunt, uncle, and cousins lived next door to my family when I was growing up. For our birthdays, my Aunt Tina would whip up a German chocolate cake (she made the best). Before having it delivered by one of her children, she’d cut out a piece from the center for herself. Classic move, Aunt Tina. It was actually pretty smart since that cake would be gone in no time.

Girl Scout: Well, I’ll tell you what. I’ll buy a cup (of lemonade) if you buy a box of my delicious Girl Scout cookies. Do we have a deal?
Wednesday: Are they made from real Girl Scouts?

Quick, name that movie. We could all name our favorite Girl Scout cookies at the drop of a hat. I dropped a hat. “Samoa!” Search your feelings, you know it to be true. My mom had connections and she would stockpile these things like she was preparing for Y2K. God bless her. I’m sure if we looked hard enough, we’d find an old box of Samoas hidden in a random crevice of my parents’ house (similar to gifts in the Griswold household). Any one person in my family could probably demolish a box of these in less than a minute—it’s a talent. I’m making my family sound like the Klumps.

Size matters not. Look at me. Judge me by my size, do you? Hmm? Hmm.

Naturally, I about leapt from my seat when I saw Cupcake Station’s website advertising their famous Station Samoa. I always scout out cupcake places online before I go. The Station Samoa was made of an incredibly moist vanilla bean cake which was filled and frosted with creamy buttercream, rolled in toasted coconut, and drizzled with caramel and dark chocolate. Holy Samoa! It’s like I died and went to Girl Scout heaven. I immediately regret saying that.

On that note, The Cupcake Station must be on your to-do list the next time you hit up Ann Arbor. For (THE) Ohio State fans out there, you can order online.

Rating:  ★★★★★ 

posted by Rachael in Cupcakes and have Comments (5)

Cupcake Wars: The Phantom Cupcake

 

Kristin and some spooky cupcakes from Cake Nouveau, Ann Arbor

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…. there were cupcakes…

For the last few Halloweens, I’ve returned to my alma mater, the University of Michigan, to celebrate the creeptastic holiday with my fellow softball alums. It’s become a tradition. After dressing up as Captain Hook one year and Peter Pan the next, my husband was slightly worried about my choice of characters, namely, that one was a man and the other a little boy. Fair enough, Ian. The next year, he insisted I go with something a little more girly. Supergirl to the rescue! I remember saving a lot of lives that night. I also remember trying to fly, unsuccessfully.

This last Halloween, a few of us dressed up as characters from Clue. Heather was Professor Plum with the lead pipe, Kristin was Miss Scarlet with the candlestick, and I was Mrs. White (the maid) with the rope. I remember strangling a lot of people that night. Along with “killing” people with our oh-so-dangerous weapons (mine was an actual rope from Lowe’s that Ian tied into a noose), we threw some “terrifying” cupcakes into the Halloween festivities.

Because my cupcake adventures began after I left good ol’ Ann Arbor, I was not aware of any local cupcakeries during my time at Michigan, assuming there were any open at the time. Now, cupcake joints are sprouting up all over the place like weeds, ones I do not want to spray with Weed-B-Gon®. I just had a funny image of myself spraying the side of a cupcake building with weed killer and shouting “Die!” I’ll only do that to the places I really don’t like. Then, I’ll probably be arrested. I don’t want conjugal visits, I want cupcakes.

The rising popularity of cupcake bakeries gave way to the show Cupcake Wars. If you’re an avid viewer, you’ll know that Cake Nouveau from Ann Arbor was featured on here. Since Cake Nouveau is a celebrity cupcake place, Kristin and I figured it had to be worth checking out. The bold pink, green, and purple storefront roped us in. The décor consisted of a cute hodgepodge of furniture, including a tiny pink plastic chair for the kiddies, and Kristin. In true Halloween spirit, the place was decked out with fake spider webs and skeletons.

Their daily cupcake selection consisted of four flavors—Red Velvet, Vanilla, Chocolate, and Pumpkin. In addition, they had a selection of Halloween-themed (e.g., eyeballs) candies and cookies. Kristin and I opted for all four cupcake flavors to share over our morning coffee.

The Red Velvet was decorated with gummy fangs and a drizzle of blood (gel). I never drink…wine (pronounced “vine”). The cake was decent but the cream cheese frosting was subpar. Since I’ve had Molly’s Red Velvet, I’m very judgmental of any red velvet. Therefore, I shall not linger here.

The Chocolate was topped with a plastic spider and black sprinkles, and the Vanilla was adorned with a couple pieces of candy corn. Both were cute but quasi dry. My least favorite part was the frosting. It was oily and practically flavorless, similar to the frosting on the Pink Princess from Bittersweet. Kristin and I ended up scraping off the frosting and eating the cake.

Most notable was the Pumpkin cupcake. It proudly displayed a candy corn pumpkin that was immediately plucked from its position. The icing did resemble that of the Chocolate and Vanilla cupcakes, but the cake was noticeably moister and more flavorful. I would equate a bite of their pumpkin cake to a bite of pumpkin pie, in cake form. When excited, Kristin talks so fast that she accidentally combines words. In this case, the Pumpkin cupcake was termed “Pumpcake!”

Overall, Cake Nouveau provided a playful atmosphere, cute garnishes, and some good memories, but I could use a little more FLAVA FLAV. Stay tuned for the next review, Cupcake Wars: The Cupcake Strikes Back (Cupcake Station, Ann Arbor).

Rating:  ★★★☆☆ 

posted by Rachael in Cupcakes and have Comment (1)

The Cupcake Redemption

 

The Mocha cupcake from Cupcake Counter, Chicago

Warden Norton: I believe in two things: discipline and the Bible. Here you’ll receive both. Put your trust in the Lord; your ass belongs to me. Welcome to Shawshank.

The Shawshank Redemption, one of my favorite movies of all time, portrays a story about Andy Dufresne, a young banker who spends nearly two decades in Shawshank State Prison for the murder of his wife and her lover despite his claims of being innocent. At first, prison is a living hell for Andy. His time at Shawshank Prison becomes more endurable after he befriends a fellow inmate, Ellis “Red” Redding, and finds himself protected by the guards after the warden begins using him in his money laundering operation. Ultimately, this is a story of hope.

(Story plot note: Without permission from the warden, Andy played an Italian opera over the prison speakers. Because of it, he had to spend two weeks in the hole.)

Red: I have no idea to this day what those two Italian ladies were singing about. Truth is, I don’t want to know. Some things are best left unsaid. I’d like to think they were singing about something so beautiful, it can’t be expressed in words, and makes your heart ache because of it. I tell you, those voices soared higher and farther than anybody in a gray place dares to dream. It was like some beautiful bird flapped into our drab little cage and made those walls dissolve away, and for the briefest of moments, every last man in Shawshank felt free.

Andy: That’s the beauty of music. They can’t get that from you. You need it so you don’t forget. Forget that… there are places in this world that aren’t made out of stone. That there’s something inside… that they can’t get to, that they can’t touch. That’s yours.

Red: What are you talking about?

Andy: Hope. Remember Red, hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.

Cupcake Gallery left some scars that needed to be mended and Cupcake Counter was up for the challenge. Located on Madison street (dangerously close to Crumbs Bake Shop), Cupcake Counter is practically a hole in the wall. I’ve found that those can be the best kind of places. Like my sister says about our little ol’ hometown of Owensville, OH, “If you blink, you might miss it.”

On my first trip to Cupcake Counter, I had a few friends to accompany me—Flick (a.k.a., Flicka Flick from my home city), Elle, Sarah, and of course, Dana. We flocked into Cupcake Counter and filled the place with our excited chatter. In addition to their four “everyday” cupcake flavors—Butter, Chocolate, Red Velvet, and Carrot, they also have a “surprise” selection which includes flavors like Lemon, Tiramisu, Maple Pecan, and more. Not to mention, they have a few additional treats such as ice-cream sandwiches. As a first-timer, I chose their Red Velvet and Carrot cupcakes. True to their name, Cupcake Counter has a small counter with four bar stools but we opted to head next door to Argo Tea Café for more space. I need elbow room when I eat cupcakes, and a drop cloth.

Carrot cake is my favorite kind of cake. Loyal readers already know this, and for that, I applaud you. For real, I’m clapping right now. Their cake was spongy and super moist. As for the flavor, I’ve had carrot cake with more spice and I’ve had carrot cake with less spice. This fell right in the middle, which is not a bad place to be. The cream cheese frosting was thick and perfectly proportionate. Orange sprinkles adorned the top. All in all, a solid performance. The Red Velvet cupcake had a similar cake texture and frosting. The flavor was decent but I still say Molly’s Red Velvet cupcake takes the cake.

Most notable, however, was the Mocha cupcake (“surprise” flavor) I ordered on my second trip to Cupcake Counter with Kristin. Who says one trip is enough? Get fat, or go home. This gem consisted of a chocolate cake with fudgy chocolate baked into the top. Frosted with a buttery mocha buttercream frosting and topped with a chocolate-covered coffee bean, a bite of this cupcake and I died and went to chocolate/coffee heaven. I’m confident there will be coffee in heaven, and pets. My favorite part of this delectable creation was the frosting. The proportion, flavoring, and texture were perfect.

Cupcake Gallery may have discouraged me, but Cupcake Counter renewed my faith in cupcakeries. They may be small, but they bring big flavor. Get busy eating, or get busy dying.

Red: I find I’m so excited, I can barely sit still or hold a thought in my head. I think it’s the excitement only a free man can feel, a free man at the start of a long journey whose conclusion is uncertain. I hope I can make it across the border. I hope to see my friend and shake his hand. I hope the Pacific is as blue as it has been in my dreams. I hope.

Rating:  ★★★★☆ 

posted by Rachael in Cupcakes and have Comments (4)

Insidious

When I first saw the previews for Insidious, I thought, “Now that looks like a creepy movie!” Then I saw the phrase, “From the makers of Saw and Paranormal Activity,” and I was somewhat ambivalent. Would it be a sadistic grossfest, or would it be a nail-biting, tense thriller? I’m happy to say Insidious is more Paranormal than Saw. Directed by James Wan and written by Leigh Whannell—the two men who brought Jigsaw to life but then killed him, sort of—Insidious is a successful throwback to some of the classics of the horror genre.

As with any haunted house tale that we’ve already seen (The Shining, The Amityville Horror, Poltergeist, and so on), we meet a family moving into their new house. Sure enough, the house comes equipped with lots of creaky doors, floors, and an attic that would convince me to have the realtor brick it off before I moved in. By the end of the first couple days, things have already started moving around on their own, doors open by themselves, and strange whispers are heard. I know—you’re already saying, “I’ve seen this same thing happen in I-don’t-know-how-many movies.”

You would, of course, be right. One of the great touches of Insidious is that it flirts dangerously with becoming cliché, and yet, through brilliant camera work, mysterious atmosphere, and clever misdirection, it manages to draw us into the story with an increasing level of dread. Many shots are left with just enough space in the periphery to build tension. Something’s going to appear, right? Maybe? I frequently felt myself sinking lower in my chair.

Tragedy strikes the family when Dalton, one of the young boys, falls on his head and goes into a coma that lasts for months. Mom, a stay-at-home songwriter, looks after Dalton and the baby during the day and soon begins to sense an evil presence within the house. Dalton’s brother makes a statement one night that made my skin crawl, and Dad seems to prefer working late nights at school over going home. Meanwhile, where is Dalton, and what’s in his room with him?

To tell you any more would be a crime. What I can say, unfortunately, is that the second act takes a wrong turn. Have you ever played that old campfire game where one person begins a story and passes it off to the next person? In this case, that next person wasn’t as imaginative as the first guy. One thing that made both Paranormal Activity films so successful was the idea that the unknown is always scarier. What we can’t see or define is a hundred times more terrifying than a drawn-out textbook explanation.

Despite some of the distractions that derail the story, Insidious is an extremely effective film with some of the most frightening scenes I’ve ever witnessed. The mood is augmented by a jarring soundtrack that owes a lot to Krzysztof Penderecki (whose music featured heavily in The Exorcist and The Shining), and that’s not a bad thing. Another strength of this film is that I found myself actually caring about the characters rather than berating them for their blandness or stupid decisions.

The real test of a good scary movie, though, is how well it stays with you. After seeing The Ring, I didn’t turn my TV off for three days. The night after seeing Insidious, while Jake and Rachael slept soundly, I lay there in the dark, hoping for sleep to come so I wouldn’t hear the whisperings coming from the closet or see the dark silhouette standing in the doorway.

Rating: ★★★½ 

posted by Ian in Flicks and have No Comments

Oh Cupcake, Where Art Thou

 

The Piña Colada cupcake from Cupcake Gallery, Chicago

Groupon has my number. They posted yet another Groupon for a cupcake place and being the fat kid I am, I had my credit card ready before you could even say “fat kid.” Therefore, Cupcake Gallery moved to the top of our list.

Arriving at Cupcake Gallery, we couldn’t help but notice the seemingly temporary vinyl sign across the storefront. It was if they just opened, but I don’t think they did. Entering the establishment, I got the same impression. The furniture was mismatched and behind the counter, there was a disorganized shelf of paper towels, plastic cups, etc. We walked up to the display case of cupcakes and they had about a dozen flavors from which to choose. I asked the server (who happened to be the manager, Darius) if he had any recommendations. He nonchalantly suggested a couple favorites. When we pulled out our Groupon, he seemed kind of annoyed. This is the second time that we’ve gotten a semi-bad response using Groupon and it’s certainly not Groupon’s fault. Don’t they realize that Groupon is an advertising opportunity?

I ordered the Chocolate Peanut Buddy, the Cookie, and the Piña Colada cupcakes, which were packaged in upside down plastic cups. We sat down at the patio furniture to partake in cupcakes. I took a large bite of the Chocolate Peanut Buddy and the frosting practically came tumbling down on me like a creamy peanut butter avalanche. There are worse things. Chocolate syrup was drizzled on top of the smooth frosting and and it was garnished with chocolate chips and crushed peanuts. The cake was dry, but I was pleasantly surprised by the sweet peanut butter cream filling. As my sister would say, “Nugget.” Overall, the flavor was decent but the cake could barely hold up the frosting. I’d say it was a 4 to 1 ratio of frosting to cake. Holy frosting!

The Cookie cupcake (according to their website, it’s no longer available) was so so. The cake was crumbly and the frosting was just plain buttercream. A petite cookie adorned the top of this cookie creation like a French beret. Stay tuned for a cookie dough-stuffed cupcake recipe. My friend, Kristin, will be guest blogging about it soon. The worst of the three was the Piña Colada (also not on their website). The cake was bland and the frosting tasted a tad sour. The best part was the toasted coconut sprinkled on top. Perhaps, a shot of rum would have been a good chaser to this cupcake.

The first impression is important and needless to say, I wasn’t impressed. Though Cupcake Gallery has potential, I don’t feel the need to return. I wouldn’t turn down one of their cupcakes if it was placed in front of me, but I doubt I’ll go out of my way to give it another shot.

Go to sleep you little baby
Go to sleep you little baby
You and me and the devil makes three
Don’t need no other lovin’ baby
Go to sleep you little baby
Go to sleep you little baby

Rating:  ★★½☆☆ 

posted by Rachael in Cupcakes and have No Comments

Pastelillos

 

The Valrhona from More Cupcakes, Chicago

Once upon a time, there was a quiet little cupcake place in the French countryside, whose people believed in tranquilité. Okay, well, More Cupcakes isn’t quite located in the French countryside, but I’m sure they get some of their ingredients there (e.g., valrhona chocolate).

One day, a sly wind blew in from the North… and brought us to More Cupcakes. Advertised as a “modern art museum-meets-cupcake boutique,” the architectural lines were sleek and the décor was minimal. The cupcakes were displayed behind a sheet of glass like pieces of art. But unlike a real museum, an alarm won’t go off if you press your face against the glass. Though, I doubt it’d be appreciated.

The flavors range from ordinary to peculiar. Though some flavors are standard (e.g., red velvet, black & white, yellow cake with chocolate frosting), the presentation and quality of ingredients are far from it. The other end of the spectrum includes flavors such as BLT and strawberry with feta cheese. Odd? Yes. Tasty? I’ve heard mixed reviews. The inventive creations yet to be tried, and the tastes yet to be discovered were saved for another trip, next time. Instead, I ordered some of what More Cupcakes is considered best at—their salted caramel and signature cupcake, valrhona.

After finally getting through the More seal on the packaged container (as one yelper comically referred to as the seal on Christ’s tomb, that only Jesus could open), the salted caramel was first. When More says they’ll give you more, they mean it. Their cupcakes are often larger than the average cupcake (as they should be for the price—$3.50 to $6 per cupcake) and this particular one was cram packed with flavor, almost to a fault. The cake was dry but perhaps that was intended since the center was filled with a rich caramel. The frosting was subtle and smooth with a few specks of black salt sprinkled on top. After eating this entire concoction, I wish I could have gone back several bites and stopped while I was ahead. It was incredibly rich and I could have easily split it with my partner in cupcake crime.

Several hours later, after partially recovering from the first cupcake, I split the valrhona with my husband. The valrhona: a dark, extremely moist chocolate cake, loaded with creamy chocolate filling and frosted with a pure chocolate ganache. Sinfully delicious. I wanted More. My advice—give anything chocolate a shot at More Cupcakes, you won’t be disappointed.

Goodness or righteousness isn’t about what we don’t do, what we deny ourselves, or who we exclude. Instead, goodness is about what we embrace, what we create, and who we include.

Rating:  ★★★½☆ 

posted by Rachael in Cupcakes and have No Comments