{Review} The Brutal Telling by Louise Penny

6449551If you’ll recall, I sped-read Louise Penny’s A Great Reckoning during spring semester in order to write an arts review for class. Since then, I had tucked her away in my mind with a note to read more of her books.

While perusing the table of books at Costco a couple weeks ago, as I am wont to do, I stumbled across her again, and being my very cheap self, took a photo of the cover as a reminder to borrow it from the library. The Brutal Telling is the fifth book in Penny’s  Armand Gamache series, and A Great Reckoning the most recent. In fact checking that statement, I just discovered that a new Gamache novel, Glass Houses, will be published in August!

While only my second Inspector Gamache novel, I can already tell that Penny has a penchant for incorporating themes of secrets, truth, and façades. I admire the consistency, and she does it well, all whilst weaving in minor themes, notes, and commentary that, although not the focus, draw an acute attention to themselves.

The discovery of a body in Olivier’s bistro in Three Pines, Quebec rattles the tiny, welcoming village. Instantly, all are plunged into an unfamiliar world of secrets and brutality. As the blame constantly shifts and lies create a façade, it seems that more questions will be created than answered. It begs the question of what is more dangerous: the truth, or the comfortable walls that conceal it?

As the case drags out, Olivier’s past is unearth in a brutal telling, revealing an insecure, greedy man hidden behind the generous, well-loved bistro owner the villagers have come to adore. But, while his secrets are revealed, the process also raises an important question about how we love: conditionally or unconditionally? Do we have the power, or more importantly, the will, to love unconditionally? What are the boundaries? How far will we go when we feel someone we love has betrayed our trust?

All the while, Clara’s about to receive the artistic recognition of her dreams…until her agent makes an ugly remark about her friend, Gabri, Olivier’s partner. As Clara wrestles with her conscience and swings between silence, safety, and acceptance; and courage, risk, and dignity; she must decide how important it is to stand up for friends and family. Is it worth sacrificing her dream to defend her friends and stand up for what she believes is right?

And, remarkably, there is the entrance of a rookie Sûreté agent, Paul Morin, whose courage, gusto, and willingness prove to us that there is much more than what meets the eye. Sometimes, we must stand out from the crowd, withstand the ridicule, and put ourselves out there. If we want our dreams badly enough, we will weather the judgement, the laughter, and sometimes, disdain to prove ourselves and take the risk. In Inspector Gamache, he continues to testify to the power of kindness to strangers, colleagues, and friends.

In regards to A Great ReckoningThe Brutal Telling was lacking somewhat in character development. We see the struggles of Olivier, Clara, Peter, and others, but few come to favorable resolutions, if any at all. Instead, the issues are suspended, perhaps to be continued in the next book, perhaps to be laid to rest.


Berry Pavlova


I have spent the last two weeks as my mother’s main office minion, and therefore forwent Monday’s blog post. I beg forgiveness.

So, when I actually rummaged around the fridge, wondering what I should make, I remembered that I had too many egg whites in a Plentea bottle, nearly forgotten from the time I had made Audrey’s chocolate cake and used 16 egg yolks. Not all of the whites survived because there were some broken yolks, but by the time I was finished experimenting I still had around 6-8. They remained hidden in the fridge until I remembered them, which is actually ok because old egg whites will whip up better.

I passed sophomore year under the tutelage of Fred, baking-boy extraordinaire, and picked up a thing or two hanging around him whilst he created his edible masterpieces. Mostly how to be creative and fun in the kitchen. So, this normally plain-Jane whipped out all the stops, as in, this project took me three days to complete. And, there’s rose water involved, just for kicks.


First, we’re going to make the meringue. Egg whites and sugar are whisked in a double boiler to pasteurize the eggs. This is swiss-style meringue. Italian meringue is made by pouring boiling sugar syrup into egg whites whilst simultaneously whipping them at high speed. I feel that swiss meringue is a bit safer. Everything is cooked, and then whipped. No splattering 300-degree syrup. Using a piping tip and bag, create meringue bowls. The size is up to you.

This recipe could easily be made in one afternoon. While the meringues are crisping in the oven, start on the coulis. Coulis is a plant sauce; fruit is usually used for dessert, vegetables for savory dishes. Our farmer friends sent us strawberries, and as the fruit was looking overly ripe, I decided to make strawberry coulis, but any berry will do. If you want the coulis to set a bit, add some gelatin, or agar agar if you prefer.

Finally, whip the cream—by hand if you’re brave—and add a teaspoon of rose water. Don’t be tempted to pour in more; rose water is, while floral and heady, exactly that. Too much, and it’ll probably smell like rotting roses. Yuck.


By this time the meringues should be high and dry. Try one. They are…ephemeral. Shatter the delicate shell, and it melts daintily in your mouth.

Choose a fun, swirly tip and transfer the whipped cream to a piping bag. Pipe generous swirls into the meringue bowls, topping with coulis and raspberries for decoration. Have some friends on had to help you eat the pavlova; I spent my afternoon frantically looking for takers. Cousin Ben will be saving the day.

Berry Pavlova


1 batch meringue

I based mine off of The Boy Who Bakes, doubling the proportions. You’ll have enough for little meringue cookies, too. Cut in half if you wish.

6 room-temperature egg whites (BUT! Always separate a cold egg to prevent the yolk from breaking)

Scant 2.5 (480g) cups sugar

  1. Preheat the oven to 225˚F. It is important that the temperature is precise! Meringue is very delicate and finicky.
  2. Using a hand or standing mixer, whip egg whites on high speed. When soft peaks begin to form, gradually add the sugar and whip until glossy and stiff. If you can hold the bowl over your head without dumping meringue on yourself, it’s ready.
  3. Using a piping bag and tip, pipe the meringue onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. The bowls should be approximately 3” wide. Start piping from the center of the circle, making your way outwards, and then slowly build up on the last ring, creating a wall approximately 2” high, or whatever you prefer.
  4. Bake for 1-2 hours, allowing the meringues to crisp, and then turn off the oven and let the meringues sit in the oven, allowing them to completely dry out.

Fruit Coulis

350g berries

0.25 cup water

3 tbsp sugar, or to taste

up to 0.25 tsp gelatin, to set

  1. In a saucepan, heat berries, water, and sugar until fruit becomes extremely soft. Gently mash with a spoon, breaking up the fruit. All the liquid to cook down; it should have the viscosity of smoothie.
  2. Pour the coulis through a sieve to remove seeds and skin. Allow to cool. Store in the fridge.

Whipped Cream

2 cups very cold heavy whipping cream

1 teaspoon rose water

sifted powdered sugar to taste (optional, and I’d just go by the tablespoon)

  1. Using a standing mixer, hand mixer, or your actual hand/arm, whip cream and rose water until soft peaks form. Begin adding sugar, a tablespoon at a time, tasting along the way. Stop whipping when stiff peaks form. Go too far, and you’ll have rose-water butter.



  1. Place whipped cream into a piping bag fitted with the tip of your choice. I used an Ateco 807.
  2. Pipe generous swirls of whipped cream into the meringue bowls. Drizzle with coulis and top with raspberries.
  3. Serve immediately, or, if you must, store in the fridge for a few hours.


Maialino’s Olive Oil Cake & Coconut-Lime Sorbet


This summer I have eaten many life-changing foods. Lamb chops, panna cotta, olive oil and balsamic, coconut lime sorbet… I must say, working in a cooking store really does open your eyes to all the food possibilities.

On the weekends, sometimes we’ll do a demo, and one of these weekends happened to be an ice cream demo! Can I get a HOORAY! ? And, as the title of this post suggests, the demo involved coconut lime sorbet. At first, I was skeptical. You would not be surprised to know that my favorite ice cream flavor is vanilla. Plane Jane, and I like it that way. But, as I am wont to do when I am in charge of a demo, I tasted it.

The bright, tart, citrus of the lime beautifully complimented (and was also mellowed by) the subtle, light, sweet coconut milk. The pairing worked, and I was surprised. Usually, if I want to be “adventurous,” I go for a fruit sorbet or chocolate ice cream. No toppings, no mix ins, and of course, no funky flavors. Ever. But, gosh darn, one taste of this sorbet and I was hooked! It took an obscene amount of self control to not eat all the samples. I feel like I should receive a medal or something for restraining myself.

A couple days later, I made Padre buy me some limes at the grocery store, and off I went to re-create the recipe. I used a little more cream than I ought to have, so it’s not essentially a sorbet, more like an ice cream.


What I discovered was that the cream really mellows out the lime, which I did not like. The recipe I present now cuts the amount of cream in half. But really, the cream is just there to help with the texture, not the flavor. Coconut milk and lime juice alone make for somewhat of an icy texture, so the cream smooths it out. At most, you should only require a fourth of a cup.

As far as the olive oil cake is concerned, about a year or two ago I was pursing Food52 and stumbled across a recipe for Maialino NYC’s olive oil cake. It was one of the site’s most popular recipes, next to the one for chocolate cake, which remains my go-to recipe, despite the number of blogs that I read the number of cookbooks I have amassed. The olive oil cake has been on my “to make” list for a while, and after being introduced to some mighty fine olive oils at the cooking store, I took the plunge, bought a bottle, and whipped up (in one bowl, no less), this cake.

If you do not like the taste of olive oil, you’d be better off with the sorbet alone, although you needn’t be a connoisseur to appreciate the cake. Savor the light fruitiness of the oil, and tight, soft crumb, and the delicate crust. Food52 describes the cake as almost pudding-like, and they’re about right. Try it, even if you feel skeptical. And if you do like it, don’t be Padre, who cut himself a hunk and crammed it in his mouth. That is not the proper way to enjoy such a dainty, delicate dessert.

Paired together, the cake and sorbet make a good match. I would, however, highly recommend adding the lime zest to the sorbet (I skipped this to save myself from washing another utensil) and scaling back on the cream. The coconut milk and olive oil combined really can overpower the lime. I admit, the strength of the olive oil and its ability to mask other flavors surprised me, as it is generally unassuming if you aren’t looking for it.


Here is the cake recipe. Instead of 1.25 cups of milk, you could substitute for 1 cup of creme fraîche. I did this because that is what I had on hand.

Coconut-Lime Sorbet

2.5 cups coconut milk

0.5 cup cream

0.25 cups lime juice

2 tbsp lime zest

1 cup sugar

  1. Make sure to freeze the ice cream bowl the night before, per manufacture’s instructions.
  2. Zest limes and place in a large bowl. Microwave limes in 10-second increments until slightly warm. Using the palm of your hand, roll limes on a hard surface to release the juice. Juice the limes and add juice to the bowl.
  3. Add cream, coconut milk, and sugar. Whisk to thoroughly combine. Pour into an ice cream maker and freeze per manufacture’s instructions. Approximately 20-30 minutes.
  4. Eat or freeze immediately.

Twin Peaks, San Francisco


In continuing with our mini California adventures, we chose to see what all the hype was about with Twin Peaks. Sadly, I have yet (yep, still) to figure out how to use Muni, which is the transportation system that mainly consists of buses and trolley cars from the 1930s… It’s not the most efficient thing to grace mankind, and I’m also just a bit lazy when it comes to figuring out public transportation, so that’s why I’ve never been to Twin Peaks before. It’s quite far from downtown.


Neither peaks are too peak-y. It’s an extremely brief climb up to the top, where you are graced with a serene panoramic view of a chaotic monstrosity. While googling “places to park at Twin Peaks,” I did find a fun fact, courtesy of San Francisco Recreation and Park: Spanish settlers called Twin Peaks “Los Pechos de la Choca.” Google the translation. Twin Peaks is second in height only to Mount Davidson, which measures 938 feet to the Peaks’ 922 feet. All of the bay is visible from the Peaks, and Mount Diablo towers in the distance.


As we observed the metropolis below, it sprawled out majestically before us, the Golden Gate sheathed in mist. Downtown SF seemed a doll’s world, in its proper place; the towering giants reduced to matchsticks, nothing from above.

Like slugs, the cargo ships chugged in the bay, and neatly, gridded, the city sits, waiting. Serenity is made of the chaos of the city, simply by observing it, instead of being in the throws of it.

As the monster is brought to its knees, you too, from your vantage point, forget your own smallness. Now you are the master of the city that lays at your feet. But you, like it, are destined to the same—to be blown away, into the sea


This is why I love cities. Not for being in the midst the unforgiving, threatening cityscape, but for the ability to observe the behemoth from a peaceful perch. It’s an idyllic scene, removed from the actual dirt, noise, and general unpleasantness that a city brings. It makes sense now, why people kept country homes. The city is overwhelming.

Ironically, as I made note of all of this, a garbage truck pulled up behind us, and the scent of rubbish wafted over our noses…

When you look at a city’s skyline, it’s akin to being awakened and seeing the glimmer of hope, adventure, and possibility. It’s romantic and dreamy, the compact arrangement, the geography laying before you. You feel on top of the world.


Twin Peaks

501 Twin Peaks Boulevard

San Francisco, 94114

Parking at the top




Cinnamon-Sugar Doughnuts


Three days ago, it was blisteringly hot outside and I was laying on my floor, trying not to die of heat stroke and to keep up with my Italian lesson. Dad waltzed in, and said, “DOUGHNUTS!”

“OOOOOOOO, really?” I exclaimed. I was down for a Krispy Kreme or two. “Downstairs?”

“Nope,” he grinned. “We’re gonna make ’em!”

I was skeptical at first, because doughnuts usually entail frying, and I am not the biggest fan of the processes. Honestly, a Krispy Kreme doughnut would have sufficed.


But, BOY OH BOY AM I GLAD THAT DAD HAD A DOUGHNUT EPIPHANY. These doughnuts are delicious. Sugar-y, soft, airy, slightly spiced with cinnamon. I have been looking for this brioche recipe for years. I exaggerate not. For the past few years, I have been enticed, mystified, and frustrated with the brioche recipes that I have tried. The crumb was too tight. It was a little dry. The dough didn’t rise as much as expected.

Zoe Nathan strikes again with her brioche and her doughnuts. I’ll be referring to this from now on. A note, though: This recipe requires overnight refrigeration. A good or bad thing, depending on how you look at it. Not great for procrastinating, forgetful, unplanned bakers (me), but great for everyone else. And if I could pull this off, you can, too.

The recipe makes one brioche loaf (perfect for french toast, bread pudding, sandwiches, pain aux rasin, and other glorious creations) or these doughnuts. Can’t go wrong either way, although I’d like to see how it turns out as the pain in pain aux rasin. 

Back to the doughnuts, though. Here’s what the dough looks like after you’ve taken it out of the fridge and cut out the circles:


Very flat.

Here’s the dough after one hour in a warm(ish), draft-free place (the oven, turned off):


Pillow-y, squishy, (cute!), and puffy. Perfection? Yes.

The frying time varies; the book said two minutes per side, but we had very well-done doughnuts. 15 seconds worked for us.

You can roll them in cinnamon and sugar, glaze, or fill the doughnuts…if you’re feeling un-lazy and curious (not me), try all three. At the same time.

Brioche Doughnuts

(from Huckleberry by Zoe Nathan)

3 tbs whole milk (we used cream)

2 tbsp active dry yeast

1.75 cups (215 grams) all-purpose flour

1.75 cups (215 grams) bread flour

0.25 cup + 1 tbsp (55 grams) sugar

1.5 tsp kosher salt

5 eggs, beaten

1 cup (220 grams) unsalted butter, softened

Sugar & cinnamon, for coating

  1. Gently heat cream until warm. Mix with yeast and set aside.
  2. Place flours, salt, and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer with the eggs. Add yeast mixture. Beat on low speed until combined.
  3. Add butter in 1-2 tablespoon increments, mixing on low speed. The butter will not incorporate right away. After all the butter is added, turn the mixer to medium high speed and mix for 5-7 minutes, scraping down the bowl from time to time.
  4. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
  5. In a stainless steel pot or dutch oven, pour in 3 inches of canola oil. Use a candy thermometer to measure the temperature, and heat to 375˚F.
  6. Transfer dough to a heavily floured work surface. Using a rolling pin or your hands, press until 1.25” thick. Cut out doughnuts (we used the rim of a glass jar and a piping tip). You should have 10-24, depending on the size you choose to make the doughnuts.
  7. Fry the doughnuts 15 seconds per side, or long enough to obtain a golden brown color. Prepare the cinnamon sugar mixture and immediately toss the doughnuts after frying. Eat!
  8. These will keep for a few days, tightly sealed.

{Review} The Paradise Prophecy by Robert Browne

10110260John Stuart Mill was on to something when he wrote about achieving the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people. The question of how to achieve this remains mind-boggliningly relevant as we look for solutions to the world’s problems, and it is also a question that Robert Browne expertly wrestles with in The Paradise Prophecy.

With a plot that brilliantly combines history, mystery, and classics for a Dan Brown-esque thriller, Browne transports key figures of John Milton’s Paradise Lost to present day as they all race, in good against evil, to be the determiner of the world’s fate. Tangled up in the action, albeit unwillingly, are Batty and Callahan, and it is unsurprisingly the two humans who, through their actions, ask the hard questions.

First, there is Callahan. She’s skeptical, at best, about religion; tough as nails; no-nonsense; and no frills. Callahan sees what she wants to see, and it troubles her when events don’t line up otherwise. “Seeing is believing” is her mantra, and she holds tight until proven wrong. Proven wrong she is, which leads readers to question her decision and, perhaps, their own life philosophy: Callahan was in Mill’s camp. Greatest happiness for the greatest number of people. She was willing to sacrifice an innocent to save the world, but at what cost? Callahan also chose out of fear for herself.

Are we willing to sacrifice innocence as the price for survival? Extrapolated, will we choose the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people? It is also important to look at what drives this decision, because it must somehow, always, benefit ourselves as well—no one would choose the greatest good for the greatest number unless they stood to benefit in some way.

Batty, perhaps, wrestles with the heavier topic: the freedom of choice. Batty’s made many poor choices, but it all boils down to one. He must decide whether or not to sacrifice the innocent; the choice is his and his alone. Does he save the world and kill a blameless child? Or, does he spare her, and face unknown, and potentially devastating consequences?

“This is about choices. And the intent behind those choices, and proving to the father that humans are still capable of making the right ones. And this is a choice not made through malice, but out of love. A love for humankind.” -St. Michael to Batty

As St. Michael points out, intent can make a choice evil or good. Whether Batty kills out of malice or love will make the difference, and it’s something we can confront in our lives, too. What are the motives that drive our actions? Selfish gain? Selflessness? Sometimes, what we feel is right may not make sense. But that’s where intent and motive come into play.

“‘If creating some kind of utopia on earth requires me to take the life of another living, breathing human being, I’m sorry, but you can count me out. Self-defense is one thing, but this is flat out murder.'” -Batty

In deciding not to sacrifice the innocent, Batty does right by his conscience and the child, at the risk of potential havoc. His decision only highlights the paradox: If he had chosen to sacrifice the child, it would have only been because of his sense of obligation to prevent the world’s destruction. Obligation obstructs free will and the freedom of choice, because the choice Batty made would not have been solely his own. It would have been heavily influenced by outside factors.

“Free will, Batty thought. That’s what it ultimately came down to. And what so many people thought of as weakness—the ability to empathize, to care, the thing that seemed so absent in the world of late—was really man’s strength. His lifeblood.”

Audrey Hepburn’s Chocolate Cake

Update 7/9: Seized chocolate will indeed cause a dry cake. New texture is mousse-y, almost creamy, but not ganache creamy.

Today Haley and I had our quintessential meet-up, which consisted of the usual: Watching an Audrey Hepburn movie and baking something sweet! We decided, after deliberating, to try Audrey’s chocolate cake recipe, in honor of our our second friendiversary and in commemoration of our first official hangout. The hangout, you may have guessed, involved baking (cream puffs by Joy the Baker!) and and Audrey movie. Roman Holiday was my first Audrey film, and I haven’t looked back. So thanks, Haley! It’s always fun with you 🙂


The recipe for this cake comes from Audrey at Home: Memories of My Mother’s Kitchen, written by her son, Luca Dotti. It’s equal parts memoir and recipe book, in which Dotti combines anecdotes from his mother’s life with a beloved dish that held significant memories of the time. This cake in particular evoked memories of the liberation of Holland after WWII. According to Dotti, chocolate was one of the first things his mother ate after a long period of starvation. Chocolate and condensed milk brought by the brand-new United Nations.


Just some notes before you start-

You absolutely must combine the cream and chocolate together before melting the chocolate. Otherwise, the chocolate will seize, and the chocolate will become grainy. To simplify the processes, I would heat the cream and then pour it over the chocolate to melt it. It’s easier than melting everything over a bain-marie or double-boiler.

There may or may not have been too much meringue in the recipe. I will be revisiting this with new results. Egg whites give structure to baked goods, and the cake came out a bit dry as opposed to creamy, so I suspect that, if the seized chocolate was not the problem, then the egg whites were.

Finally, you can serve this cake with whipped cream or ice cream. Really, you could serve it with whatever you fancy. I went with a simple Philadelphia-style vanilla ice cream: Cream, milk, sugar, and vanilla. If your torte come out dry like mine, the topping will add a little moisture and cut the intensity of the chocolate.


Audrey Hepburn’s Chocolate Cake

(From Audrey at Home: Memories of My Mother’s Kitchen by Luca Dotti)


11 ounces (300g) unsweetened dark chocolate, chopped

0.25 cup whole milk (I substituted cream)

1 stick/0.5 cup (120g) unsalted butter

8 eggs, separated

1 cup (200g) sugar

3 tablespoons flour

1 tablespoon powdered sugar

  1. Preheat oven to 400˚F.
  2. Heat cream until just below a simmer. Place chocolate in a bowl. Pour cream over and let sit for 3 minutes. Gently whisk to create a ganache. Add butter and whisk until combined. Whisk in egg yolks.
  3. Beat egg whites until soft peaks form. Gradually add all the sugar and beat on medium-high speed until still and glossy.
  4. Place 1 cup of the beaten egg whites (meringue) into the chocolate mixture and use a spatula to fold gently. This will lighten the batter. Continue adding in 1-cup increments until all the egg whites are combined.
  5. Buter and flour a 10- or 12- (25- or 28- cm) inch pan (I used a springform pan). Pour batter into pan and bake for 30 minutes.
  6. Turn off oven and let sit for 5 minutes. Then remove from pan and cool for 10 minutes. Serve with ice cream or whipped cream.

Ice Cream

This ice cream is very soft and melts quickly. Eat immediately after serving.

1.5 cups cream

1.5 cups whole milk or half-and-half

1 cup (200g) sugar

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 teaspoon kosher salt

  1. Freeze your ice cream bowl overnight.
  2. Heat cream and milk/half-and-half until just warm. Whisk in sugar and salt to dissolve.
  3. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
  4. Pour into ice cream bowl and churn for 30 minutes. Transfer to container and freeze for at least 1 hour. Serve.




Despicable Me 3: Minion Cupcakes!

Despicable Me 3 was released today and can I just yell, I AM SO EXCITED! Partially because the plot looks good, and mostly because there will be MORE MINIONS. I love the minions. They’re so happy all the time, it’s impossible to be sad when you see them. And, I dearly love a good laugh!

In honor of movie number three, I decided to go all out with minion mini cupcakes. This is a testament to how much I adore these guys; I pulled out all the stops: Fondant for the eyes and food dye. So much dye. More than I’d care to admit. I wouldn’t have done this for any other character, movie nor otherwise. The minions, however, are super worth it.


I went with mini cupcakes because regular cupcakes just won’t do. Minions are mini, after all. To color them, I used Wilton food gels in golden yellow and azul. I decided to forego the cupcake wrappers so that the wrapper color would not impede the minion aesthetic.

Yes, I’m a little bit obsessed.

The eyeballs were also pretty easy. (Believe me, I wouldn’t have tried if they were difficult to make. Maybe I would, because, minions, but then again, I am lazy.) I made some cheater-pants fondant out of marshmallows, and drew the eyes using Americolor edible pens.


I had some serious thoughts about dyeing my fondant blue and then drawing Gru’s symbol on top, but by the time it came to actually executing the idea, I was overwhelmed with too many cyclops eyeballs and no will to continue on. Fondant is messy, and I didn’t care to scrub powdered sugar from obscure places in the kitchen.


This was an all-day affair…but do it for the minons! I have to say, I’m pretty proud of myself for coming up with this on the fly. Maybe it’s time to revise and make a few tweaks!

I smashed a bunch of recipes together to create these minions, so here they are:

-Despicable Me 3: Minion Mini Cupcakes-


Make the fondant the day before, then wrap tightly in plastic and foil to seal.


(From Georgetown Cupcake’s Katherine Kallinis Berman and Sophie Kallinis LaMontagne)

1 stick (0.5 cup/113 grams) softened unsalted butter

1.25 cups whole milk, room temperature

2 eggs, room temperature

1.75 cups/347 grams sugar

2.5 cups/240 grams flour, sifted

2.5 teaspoons baking powder

0.25 teaspoon salt

2.25 teaspoons vanilla

  1. Preheat oven to 350˚F.
  2. Gently mix flour, salt, and baking powder in a bowl.
  3. Combine milk and vanilla.
  4. Beat butter and sugar until pale, 3-5 minutes on medium-high speed.
  5. Add eggs and beat until fluffy, 1-2 minutes
  6. Add half the flour mixture and beat on low speed, then add half of the milk. Repeat.
  7. Line cupcake tins with liners or butter and flour (or spray with nonstick spray and flour). Fill tins two-thirds full. Bake for 15-20 minutes until the cake springs back when pressed.
  8. Cool completely before icing.

American Buttercream

3 sticks unsalted butter (1.5 cups/226 grams), softened

1.5 pounds powdered sugar, sifted (kinda optional)

0.5 cup whipping cream or milk (water ok)

1-2 tablespoons vanilla extract

Wilton food gel, “golden yellow”

  1. Beat butter until pale, 3-5 minutes.
  2. Add powdered sugar and pulse to combine. After sugar is completely incorporated, turn mixer to medium high speed for another 2-5 minutes.
  3. Scrape down bowl. Set mixer to “stir” and slowly add whipping cream until you reach the desired consistency. Add vanilla and whip at medium high speed for 2-3 minutes.
  4. If using, add food coloring, a drop at a time, until you achieve the desired shade.



  1. Roll out your fondant with a generously-dusted (with powdered sugar) rolling pin to 0.25 inch. Using a 1-2 inch cutter, cut out rounds for the minion eye.
  2. Use an edible marker to draw the minion eye and goggle outline. You can also do two eyes using a smaller cutter.
  3. Pipe round blobs of frosting onto the cupcakes. I used an Ateco 807 tip. Top with minion fondant eye and press gently to adhere.
  4. Take lots of pictures. Eat. Maybe don’t eat the fondant.


What kind of name is that? I thought to myself as I found the town on Google Maps. Carmel is by the sea … isn’t that obvious? Pushing the annoying redundancy out of my mind, I hoped out of the car and marched to the beach, brothers and Cousin Ben in tow.



I hate the beach, but I also am peculiarly drawn to the sound of the violent, graceful waves, the salty air that plays with your nose, and the vastness of the landscape. People seem to have this notion that all of California revels in glorious weather, with warm breezes and inviting ocean. Southern California, maybe, but up north? Chilly. Really, that’s being generous. Icy or stinging, that’s a bit more accurate. Such was the water at Carmel-by-the-Sea, but the water did not dampen the town’s charm nor its beauty.



There is a walking path that stretches along the coastline, providing magnificent, serene views of the ocean and the quaint homes that make up the neighborhood. At the end of the path there is an outcrop- rocky, but if you’re willing to climb, you are met by the peacefulness of the sea and a gentle breeze. The ocean stretches endlessly before you, and there is an excellent view of the coast extending north and south: Pebble Beach (which is actually not a beach(?)) to the north; and imposing hillsides and forrest to the south.


Venture into town, and it’s like stepping into a European countryside, although the cottages are sandwiched together, as is characteristic of California. The streets are narrow, the architecture charming, and you’re sure to find a good pastry or two. One shop sold a lovely, delicate cinnamon pastry—perfect after a long walk along the coast.







{Review} The Race for Paris by Meg Waite Clayton

23460961How daring must we be, for how long must women fight for the recognition of equality? When will all men stand up and say, “yes, you matter, too, as much as we do”? Meg Wait Clayton, in a beautifully crafted novel, uses two brilliant heroines to make the point that not much has changed…but it could, if we are brave enough to stand up. Based on real female war correspondents reporting during World War II, Clayton delivers sharp social commentary, as relevant today as it was in 75 years ago, with fearless heroines proving that determination and good friends can get you just about anywhere.

As the scene unfolds at a hospital camp in Normandy, the readers are introduced to three journalists whom Clayton skillfully uses to portray a few common mindsets prevalence even today.

Olivia “Liv” Harper is a daring, headstrong, and extraordinary photographer, defying even her husbands wishes as she heads to France. Jane is a young journalist, writing for a Nashville newspaper owned by the family for whom her mother works as a maid. Marie is Jane’s fellow journalist and stiff on following the rules. She may not like them, but she will not break them, nor allow herself to think beyond them.

When Liv defies direct orders to remain at the camp, Jane, hungering to see and write about more than field hospitals, takes the risk and follows Liv. As they experience life at the front, Liv and Jane find themselves fighting against the obstacles that come with being females amidst the sea of male war correspondents, but also find allies along the way.

There is a great need in the world for men like Fletcher Roebuck and Hank Bend. In aiding Liv and Jane, from driving them to the front against orders, to keeping the women safe and distributing their stories and photos when they were denied access to the men’s press camp, Fletcher and Hank showed their support with something much more powerful than words. They acted.

Of course, they weren’t perfect, as revealed in Fletcher’s character: “…he certainly didn’t need the distraction of Charles blood Harper’s beautiful wife, no matter how talented she was…”, but his ultimate support of Liv and Jane, acting against the wishes of even his best friend Charles, showed that even engrained opinions can be pushed aside. We are not always obligated to hold onto all the beliefs of society.

Liv’s eventual death while photographing the front is a larger allegory of the sacrifices women have made and will be forced to make in order to obtain the same opportunities and prove themselves equal and capable. More than that, it’s a tribute to the women taking risks, defying norms and doing something that they love, with or without society’s approval.

In Jane’s decision to accompany Liv to the front, she represents those who want something badly and only need a push, people fearless like Liv to pave the way and show us how to live. Sometimes all we need is a friendly face and an outstretched hand, knowing that we’re supported and not alone.

So what should we women be doing? Reading about what’s happening, after its happened? No. Rather, we should look to Liv’s daring philosophy to be in the trenches of our lives: “Photos of the parachute sermon itself, the gunfire, the bicycle ride—those are the photos I ought to be taking. Not photographs of a woman in a safely liberated French town recalling them.” We need to be in the thick of it, not picking up the pieces.

Right now, many of us are Marie, discontented with the confines of society, but unwilling or unable to fight against the system. We find ourselves “couch potato activists,” unable to do more than support the Livs from behind a screen.

Not all of us will be Liv, but we can be Jane. Clayton is right. We need to acknowledge the risk, but take the chance and follow. Otherwise, we could be missing out on the greatest adventure of our lives. Liv and Jane were living in a changing world, and it’s still evolving now. Where will it take us?