S'mores cupcakes



Bear's birthday was last week. We closed the book on year number two in typical Lovelihood style by not spending a whole lot of energy on the occasion. School was informed so that they might sing a little birthday song to her while she looked on, unaware of the significance. A frequent Friday night meal of conveyor belt sushi was topped off with tempura-fried bananas. And a small assemblage of gifts was unwrapped and folded into regular rotation in wardrobe and playtime. No cake was baked, no candles lit. 

Instead, I took the subsequent weekend to plan and execute a treat, for contribution to an Independence Day party, but really a nod to a birthday we unabashedly skipped over. 

No jar-baking this time around, the logistics of re-collecting the hardware being a huge deterrent. Mixing up some kind of dairy-less cobbler or fruit salad would have made for some item in the food line that my allergenic kid could put on his plate, but just seemed too easy. You know what's not easy? Making s'mores components from scratch. And assembling them in the form of a miniature cupcake. The upside, what really threw me into the plus column as I lay awake contemplating dessert-y potluck options, was the necessitation of a fire-breathing kitchen tool. Done.

A cursory Googling of s'mores cupcake recipes yielded few with graham cracker components. Most utilized store-bought marshmallows, which, while perfectly reasonable, offend my personal capabilities as a mallow-maker. A few other recipes passed a merengue topping off for the marshmallow layer of your prototypical s'more. Not cool. I'm going to go ahead and put myself in the s'mores purist camp, if there is such a class of people. While I'm willing to fudge (hah!) the rules a bit and allow a chocolate cake stand-in for the usual candy bar, I refuse to allow any impostor to usurp the marshmallow role. Clearly, I had to forge my own path here, in making a purist's dairy and egg-free cupcake manifestation of my beloved campfire treat. 


Not that I hand-created any recipes here. The vegan chocolate cake is a remarkably spare, widely circulated recipe from the web. The marshmallow recipe, a tried-and-true one, was possibly the first recipe I ever downloaded from a website. The graham cracker crust is an ultra basic crushed store-bought cracker (I opted not to go the full home-made distance here) and soy margarine mash. The mini cupcake pan sits waiting to be called into action for exciting moments as these, when the layering of simple recipes produces a two-bite morsel of gooey love. 

Cooking with the kids has its moments, but I don't mess around with hot sugar when they're underfoot. And now a new rule: no fire-directing when they're in reach, either. The oven was set to preheat after the kids were sent to the bed and the kitchen had been cleared of the day's messes. Crackers got smashed and bathed in melted margarine and set to crisp up in the oven. Cake batter was stirred up, poured into the cups and sent back into the oven until emitting cocoa warmth into the kitchen air. A molten sugary mass bubbled on the stove to soft ball stage before an extended whipping in the stand mixer, later scooped up into a bag for piping onto the cupcakes and left alone for a spell to set on the counter. At what would be last call for hipper, less home-strapped folk, we armed the newly-purchased torch and put it to work.


What you may not already know about these things is that they make a sound that pretty much screams DANGER. The torch was industrial, forceful and terrifying, efficiently singeing the marshmallow tops to caramelized near-death. The element of danger effectively supplanted the charm of campfire roasting. I'm ok with that, because I still went to bed with the smell of s'mores in my hair.



Graham cracker escapism


So. We're deep in some throes here. Death throes? Throes of passion? A period of extreme turmoil and stress? Yes, yes and yes. Ok. So maybe not so much with the death part. But housing plans have been imperilled, employment proven to be a fickle partner, humidity and heat smothering any headway I'd made on my regimen of running and complaining that it's too hot to run. Yes, there's been running, slow and not so steady, likely quite painful to witness. And, let me tell you, I make much better time when I'm mentally arranging my new home than when I'm stressing about salvaging the whole operation. 

But there are still those boxes huddled in the back corner of the kitchen waiting to be transferred to the shipping container that has taken over our sideyard. And there are dozens (hundreds?) more that will be packed before the end of the month. Because, regardless of whether we have a solid destination, we've resolved to leave this state before the end of this calendar half-year. "Foolhardy" comes to mind. "Desperate to leave this state" is also a pretty good descriptor. 

Here's where this gets a bit personal, where I venture into TMI-land. Just skip the next paragraph if you don't want to hear it. I won't mind…

Before there was The Boy, there was a miscarriage. And those were truly dark days. Further darkened by the fact that I'd already mentally checked out of my job, shoved off from all those sales reps and advertisers with their grating requests for something "better." The idea that I'd now be working with all this indefinitely, without the family I'd been brewing in my belly, was enough to set me weeping at my desk in the early morning hours before my coworkers reported in. This, despite the fact that I'd previously worked happily in the same situation for years. This is what expectation does to you.

Reflecting back on those times during these, I've settled on two things: 1) we've weathered much worse, and 2) it's more Pollyanna than I'm comfortable expressing regularly, but weathering any storm is fairly manageable from the warm comfort of our family home, wherever that may be. You always hear it, and it's absolutely true. These are my people, as a friend phrased it, and they have a way of making me feel pretty ok. But I'm just guessing that I'll feel even more ok once we're back in Seattle.


So spirits around here are actually pretty high. And, after a day of cursing our misfortune, I took The Boy aside and declared that we'd be making a batch of graham crackers. But first, we needed to darken a small amount of light brown sugar, because going out to purchase a big bag of dark brown sugar on the eve of our out-of-state-relocation… that would be a reckless move. And somehow I'd gone this far not knowing that brown sugar is nothing but your regular granulated sugar laced with molasses. Who knew? Luckily, there was that near-full bottle in the back of the cupboard, purchased last winter at the grocery store down the street, where the woman who checked us out drawled at us, "Brer Rabbit, hmmm? That's what my Pappy used to get." Now that's as close to a perfect Southern vignette as there ever was.


So, dark brown sugar and rice flour and some dairy-alternatives were battered and baked and snapped into somewhat neat little graham cracker squares. There's some room for improvements that will work themselves out in later batches. But for now, it was just nice to settle back into the occupation of making things. And doubly nice to share it with that dear Boy, who is just old enough to recognize and participate in the general foul mood of that previous day.


Now, before I get back to the occupation of packing, I'll mention that, while postings here will be sporadic for a while as we pack and move and unpack and settle into (we hope) some sort of permanence, I'll be using that Twitter thing to bring you such nuggets as "Still haven't found the box containing the yarn I need to work on that blanket," and "Found this kick-ass recipe for homemade deodorant." These are two actual sentiments I anticipate thumbing into my phone while the computer is buried under a mound of packing paper somewhere. While I was at the whole Twitter thing I went ahead and got myself one of those Facebook pages to do pretty much (ok, exactly) the same thing. It's all one big self-contaminating communications mess, probably poor use of each of the tools, but whatev. I'll leave it to Mr. New Media to fume over my ineffectual use of social media. It is, after all, his job.

Graham crackers

Spam and other delicacies


I like to cook. And eat. And watch other people cook and eat. I spent a fair chunk of time, back before there were kids, mesmerized by the tv chefs flipping and saucing and tempering and presenting. I've built up a pretty solid repertoire of culinary done-its, not so much as to be fancy, but enough to not be stymied by complex-sounding recipes. I've braised, seared, parcooked, deglazed, caramelized, whipped an egg into a meringue tizzy. I do a pretty convincing risotto. I've seared scallops to accompany a pistachio pesto, reduced balsamic to an oozy glaze, en croute-d brie injected with healthy dollops of fig preserve, en papillote-d fish to serve with herbed couscous. I'm convinced that salmon is best when raw, and I eschew green-canistered cheese toppings.

But I am, by no means, a food elitist. I like what I like. Hot dogs, nuked until they burst and develop crusty burnt parts. Ramen, as cheap as I can find it, with or without the flavor packet, cooked or simply cracked open for a snack. (I've long been fond of referring to durable goods in terms of how many ramens they cost, and harbor secret hopes that some newspaper will one day publish a "ramen index", but this is a wild digression, even by my standards.) Banana pancakes every Sunday morning, occasionally dotted with Boy-safe chocolate chips on the nights that I trot them out for dinner. Vienna sausages, chopped up into small chunks and thrown into box mac and cheese, stuck in the oven for half an hour or so, a dish I would make all the freakin' time were it not for The Boy's damned dairy allergy. Meat loaf.


So when such a dish as Spam musubi is laid out before me, I don't scoff. I don't hesitate. I dig in.

This is, of course, a Hawaiian contribution to American cuisine. Luckily for us, there was, strangely, a large expat Hawaiian contingent in the Seattle area. Attend a potluck, and if you're with the right crowd, you might just find some musubi arranged in a casserole dish. Between potlucks, I could always schlep the handful of blocks from my office to my favorite Asian food superstore/bookstore, where they had Spam musubi perennially stocked in the deli case.

Here in Houston, it's been a little more difficult to find. And after a year and a half living here I developed the most intense craving for it. We located one restaurant that served it. And it was fine. But the hour long dinnertime trek to get there and the cockroach rearing at us in the restroom were pretty strong deterrents for a return-trip. We had heard of a second, slightly less distant, restaurant serving it, but the down-turned economy got to it before we could. 


It had been one of those things so cheap and readily available, I hadn't considered making it myself. We'd tried our hand at sushi-making before, and found we just enjoyed it more prepared by a proper chef, or dispensed on a conveyor belt. But these were desperate times, and a musubi mold made its way to our kitchen. Yes, there's special equipment to make Spam musubi, which makes it all the better. Such a simple device, such satisfying results. I've been putting these awesomely vague directions through their paces, and we've come to this conclusion: paired with a bowlful of warm edamame (that's soybeans to the uninitiated), it's practically the perfect meal. Sweet, salty, hand-fed gooey. Just plain good.


Spam musubi

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Musubi tower

We've decided that Spam musubi is one of the top three most satisfying meals. Read about me at

Sliced Spam

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