Stream of Self-consciousness

5-5-2017 B“Crowley!  Knock it off!  If you want to go out, you’d better stand still!  Hold it!  Stop it!”

Good grief!  It is 9:30 in the morning!  How can it be seventeen thousand degrees out here?

So…what music do I want to hear?  Why did I download Bread’s Greatest Hits?  What was I thinking?    

“That’s a good boy. C’mon, Buddy.  You can’t sit down in the street.  We’ll get hit by a car.”“Sorry!  Thanks for not hitting us with your car.”

Really?  What kind of horrible manimal leaves a dirty diaper on the street?

“Crowley! Spit that out!”

Why does Chester have a giant picture of the cookie monster looking out of his living room window?  No, better question; why doesn’t everyone have a giant cookie monster picture looking out their living room windows?

“Hold on Crowley, I need to pick that up.”

“Leave those birds alone.  I’m sorry, buddy, they’re not trying to play with you.  They’re being jerks.”Wait, what is that?  What the heck?  Is that a…yeah, that’s a drone hanging off that mailbox.  It’s new, and it looks like a nice one, too.  What the what?

“You hear that dog barking at us?”

That has got to be the crankiest dog in North America.  Can a dog actually be a butthead?

“C’mon Buddy, let’s go.  What do you think?  Should we do the whole walk?”

Ok, it’s a million degrees.  Should we head home?  If we cut it short, it’s tuna on lettuce for dinner.  If we keep going, it’s blue box mac…“C’mon, let’s keep going, we’ll have the whole walk knocked out in no time.”

“Really?  Again?  Hold on, I need to pick it up.”

Oh, cripes, I hope that darn dog isn’t out in the yard…

“Whoa!  Crowley! Whoa!  Crowley, I’m gonna…Whoa!”

I am going to have arms like Schwarzenegger.  If he doesn’t kill me first. 

“No, Buddy, they didn’t invite you to play just because their garage door is open.  G’ morning! Sorry, he’s a puppy, and thinks everybody is his best friend, and everything belongs to him!”meth cupcakeWhat do those people do in there?  Every time we go past, the garage door is half open and they’re sitting at a table working on something.  Is it meth?  I read you need lots of ventilation for meth.  Are they decorating cupcakes?  I hope they’re decorating cupcakes.

“Crowley, get up boy.  C’mon, we’ve got to move.  We’ll be home soon, and when we get there, you can lay on the cool tile in the fireplace.”  If I don’t get there first, big boy.

“Morning!  Boy, that yard is looking great!  You’ve done so much work!”

Oh my gosh, that yard looks tortured into submission.  There isn’t a weed on the planet brave enough to pop up in that yard!  Cuh-razy eyes!  That dude scares me.  I’ll bet he’s got more than rakes and fertilizer in the basement.  “It rubs the lotion on its skin…”5-5-2017“Alright Buddy, we’re home!  After dinner, we’ll do another full walk…’cause I’m having root beer and cookies for breakfast.  Now move over!  Mama needs some of that cool, cool tile.”

Starting in July, The topic of the column running on the last weekend of the month will be picked by you, gentle reader.  Send your ideas (and any other comments you may have) to  I can’t wait to see the ideas that surface from your brain boxes

No topic is off limits except for these off limit topics: politics, religion, and boy bands of the 80’s.Thanks for your time.

I’m Not Martha Stewart

I have a confession to make.

Martha Stewart kinda scares the figgy pudding out of me.

There’s just something about her.  Anybody that can make a grilled cheese by starting with a wheat field and a cow is pretty darn intimidating.  Part of it might be that fixed, slightly deranged gaze of an unhinged synchronized swimmer.  I firmly believe that under the right circumstances, she’d happily cut me.  She’s done time in the slammer you know.

But, I do admire Martha’s skills.  That woman could take an envelope and an old sock and turn it into a chandelier.  She could take half a Big Mac, an apple, and four dodgy Brussel sprouts and create a fabulous Thanksgiving dinner for twelve.

I was on her website looking at recipes when I saw a Rice Crispy treat surprise birthday cake.  You cut the treats into round cake shapes and decorate it like a cake. But for Martha, the whole thing seemed run-of-the-mill and frankly, dull.

For anybody else this would be a masterpiece, but for Martha…well…

It did get my wheels turning, though.

I imagined a deep, deep Devil’s food cupcake, with a not too heavy or sweet seven-minute type marshmallow frosting.

But, in the bottom of the liner, I would put a Rice Crispy treat.  The only problem was, I had no idea if it would turn out awesomely epic or a Charlie Sheen/Chernobyl-level disaster.  So, I gathered my supplies, informed Petey he had guinea pig duty, and entered my kitchen/lab.

You know what?  It worked.  The marshmallow treat part didn’t burn or harden, the cake was moist and super chocolatey, and the marshmallow frosting was just the right touch (and as an added bonus, the frosting is fat-free).

But I do have a couple of tips to reduce possible stress and future heartache.

df cupcake

Since I had to make the rice treats, cupcakes, and frosting, I decided to use a cake mix.  Only I subbed out the water for coffee and added a couple tablespoons of dark cocoa powder because I wanted to cut down the sweetness and amp up chocolate.

I put a rounded tablespoon of the still-warm treats in the bottom of cupcake liners, which I had sprayed with cooking spray (You only need a half a batch of the treats at most.  The recipe for them is on the cereal box).  Then I flattened the treats with my thumb and poured the cake batter almost to the very top.  Because of this, I only got about 18.  Coincidentally they also baked for 18 minutes.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe frosting stays sticky.  If they’ll need to travel, I suggest you toast it with a kitchen torch to seal it.  The recipe was a traditional cooked marshmallow/meringue topping.  It turned out to be easy to make, and so good you need to frost fast, to reduce the chance of eating it all from the bowl.

Marshmallow frosting

marsh frosting

4 large egg whites

1 cup granulated sugar

Big pinch of cream of tartar

¼ teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon vanilla

Put mixing bowl over slowly simmering pot of water—double boiler style.  Whisk together eggs and sugar until sugar’s dissolved, and it’s warm to the touch.

Put on mixer with whisk attachment and beat until it’s glossy and holds a stiff peak (5-7 minutes).  Mix in salt and vanilla.  Immediately frost cooled cupcakes.  Piping the icing makes it go much quicker, and they’re especially pretty that way.

wallp toast1.pngI think, in a way, I may have out-Martha-ed Martha. But maybe I shouldn’t say that out loud.

She might come after me.  And hurt me.

Thanks for your time.

The Cupcake Column

The Kid has a pretty dim view of cupcake shops.

cupcake lady

After watching many episodes of “Cupcake Wars” on Food Network, a conclusion has been reached; a disheartening percentage of those batter and frosting folk are a mite squirrely.

While they may actually be perfectly nice people, many seem high strung and theatrical.  And worst of all, not very good bakers.


But, The Kid (and The Kid’s mom) absolutely adores The Cupcake Bar (101 E. Chapel Hill St.).  I asked for an explanation for this exception.

“Because, they’re real.  They’re Durham.”

There is absolutely no higher praise that my born, bred, and Bull City super booster can bestow.  Besides, it’s true.

What sisters Anna Branly and Katie Braam have created in their odd little triangle-shaped space downtown is nothing short of miraculous.  They were pioneers of the downtown renaissance.


Jessica (left) and Anna packing up a dozen minis for me–after my “shift”.

The space itself is a sunshine-drenched hybrid of history and sleek modernity.  It looks like a bakery and it looks like a slick martini bar, but it also looks like a vintage soda fountain.

The vibe is a combination of casual friendliness and efficient professionalism that works like a buttercream-covered charm.

Then there’s the always scrumptious baked goods.

Each day eight imaginative, playful varieties of cupcakes in both mini and standard-size are baked, frosted, garnished, and put on display.  Offerings such as Mexican chocolate, blueberry (!), or cosmopolitan tempt the senses.

Today I got up early to hang out with owner Anna, and baker Jessica Morek at The Cupcake Bar.  They kindly allowed me to slow down their well-oiled machine and “help” them.  I garnished every cupcake, except for the instructional samples and three  minis that I totally missed.  I only ruined four, or maybe it was five (don’t ask).


…and I helped!

Here are a few things I discovered.

Anna’s vegetarian, and Jessica doesn’t eat wheat.  Every Wednesday, and sprinkled throughout the week, there’s a gluten-free option.  Vegan show up often, and they’re always meatless.

Co-owner Katie has come up with a genius idea.  When the buttercream’s been made, it’s spooned onto a piece of plastic wrap and then closed up into a large lozenge shape.  When it’s time to pipe, they just drop the whole capsule into a bag and go to work.  The plastic wrap opens inside the bag.  This means easier cleanup and no awkward, messy attempts to fill the pastry bag.  Plus, it saves probably 30 minutes per batch.

This recipe is inspired by the mad scientists at The Cupcake Bar.

Colonial cupcakes with brown butter frosting

Makes approx. 2 dozen standard-sized or 3 dozen minis.



2 ¼ cups cake flour

1 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons baking powder

½ cup butter, softened

¾ cup sugar

2 large eggs

1 cup milk

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 tablespoon lemon zest

1/8 teaspoon fresh nutmeg

Preheat oven to 375; line muffin cups with papers.

Cream butter and sugar until it’s light and fluffy. Beat in eggs one at a time.

Sift together flour, salt and baking powder.  Add to batter alternating with milk.  Beat well, then stir in vanilla, lemon zest and nutmeg.

Fill the cups ¾ full and bake for 18 minutes (10-13 for minis), or until toothpick comes out moist but clean.  Let cool in pan.

Brown butter frosting

brown frosting

4 cups powdered sugar

½ cup brown butter, softened

¼ cup milk (or as needed to thin to piping consistency)

To make brown butter, melt butter in small saucepan on medium-low. Keep cooking until butter smells nutty and the solids are caramel-colored.  Watch it closely; it will go from browned to burned in literally seconds. 

Put butter in a bowl and refrigerate until chilled solid.  When ready to make frosting, remove from fridge and let come to room temperature.

Mix the sugar and butter well.  Add milk a bit at a time and mix on high until fluffy (2-3 minutes).

Spread or pipe onto cooled cupcakes.


I had a full-on blast today, and I shocked myself; rather than devouring a whole bowl, I only had one tiny taste of frosting.

And did you know they’ve only been in their building four years?

I can’t remember a time when there wasn’t a Cupcake Bar in my life.

Or maybe I just don’t want to.

Thanks for your time.