Monday, December 17, 2007

Red Velvet Cake

Made a red velvet cake for my friend's birthday (doubling the food coloring and cocoa powder, skipping the berries) and it turned out beautifully:

His name's actually Money, hence the dollar sign. Like all red velvet cakes, this was a delivery device for cream cheese icing (ingredients: cream cheese, butter, powdered sugar). Nutrition!

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

The Sound -- Total Recall

The best, most under-appreciated band I've heard in a long time. These two videos are basically a summary of what I love in post-punk/new wave music.

This is a much better article on The Sound than anything I could write, and this is a live performance of a single of theirs called "Hothouse":

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cupcakes, Hot Sauce-Glazed Tempeh

Not that these are supposed to go together, but they were both pretty tasty. I made the cupcakes a few weeks ago for my friend's post-marathon dinner potluck. She's one of the most athletic people I know but inexplicably this was her first race ever. She's also a gourmand (although she's eaten fromage de tête), so the potluck was great. The cupcakes weren't as good as the maple pie but they were alright -- nothing special. The frosting was fun though.
The hot sauce-glazed tempeh, courtesy of Isa's new tome, was awesome. Apparently the secret to tempeh is to boil it before doing anything with it. All that weird fishiness gets cooked off, and when you're marinating it in Valentina you're guaranteed it's going to be delicious. It was perfect with some mashed sweet potato (de-veganized with some dairy butter).

The Go-Betweens

The Go-Betweens were an Australian pop band from the 80's that were kind of like the Smiths, but less maudlin, more varied, and even more genuinely affecting. Of course the Smiths had one of the greatest guitarists of all time, but that's another issue. Here's one of Grant McLennan's best songs, "Bye Bye Pride," from their 1987 album Talullah.

I tried to go chronologically with these guys, but Liberty Belle and the Black Diamond Express and especially 16 Lovers Lane are so good that their earlier albums were sort of passed over. The review of 16 Lovers Lane describes Grant McLennan's "refined yet primal emotional transference" as just one of the amazing things about the album. That being said, the Go-Betweens would still be one of my favorite bands if they had only written "Cattle and Cane" and broken up the next day.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Japan -- Adolescent Sex (1978)

Once in a while you hear a band that reminds you that there's more amazing music out there than you'll probably ever hear, and in my case, that most of it came out before 1985.

It's hard to believe that this was 30 years ago. What is it that makes this stuff so special?

Sunday, October 28, 2007

(Birthday) S'mores Cupcakes

On my birthday I had three things on my mind:

Being luckier than I deserve, a couple of awesome people I know came through with all of them -- we drank some scotch, made S'mores cupcakes, and watched Bio-Dome (and Night of the Living Dead (first time!)). Bio-Dome was really, really good. And really funny. I can't believe those two guys threw a party inside the biodome! I liked when their girlfriends made them feel bad for trashing the biodome and they cleaned it up because they eventually cared about environmental stuff but they still knew how to party. Night of the Living Dead was okay but it was in black and white (boring!) and the special effects were really crappy. The zombies weren't scary at all -- they just looked like normal people walking funny. I mean come on!

The S'mores cupcakes were probably my favorite so far. They were so easy to make, so much tastier than actual s'mores, and warm (mmmmm). The only bad part was the dumbness of the word "s'more". If my friends' reactions were any indication, these were definitely the best Isa creation yet. 10 out or 10 pairs of juggling sticks.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Music Project 1

This week I'm planning to make some more cupcakes (S'mores?) but in the meantime I wanted to give this a shot. I've been working on a mix CD for a while and this is how it turned out.

It's not too lengthy (50 min), but it's not much fun either. If I end up making another CD and posting it up here, I promise it won't be this maudlin. All the mp3 files are already tagged -- just drag them into iTunes and the album will be listed as "One Stone" in the Mixes genre. I made a liner as well -- it's included in the zip file. Just cut along the lines.

Download from sendspace here.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

The Chameleons (and Scritti Politti)

I've done a lot of baking posts lately and figured I could unload some music. First a short list of albums that I've bought in the past two weeks:
  • A Place to Bury Strangers -- s/t (2007)
  • Arovane -- Tides (2000)
  • Arovane -- Lilies (2003)
  • The Chameleons -- Script of the Bridge (1983)
  • The Chameleons -- Strange Times (1986)
  • Mekons -- OOOH! (Out Of Our Heads!) (2002)
  • Mekons -- Natural (2007)
  • Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds -- The Boatman's Call (1997)
  • Public Image Ltd. -- Metal Box (1979)
  • Scritti Politti -- Cupid & Psyche 85 (1985)
I would go on and on about how much I've gotten into the Scritti Politti album -- the immaculate songwriting, the sumptuous arrangements, the clever lyrics -- but the first 20 seconds of the video for my favorite song on that album (Absolute) will show you why I don't want to get into it here. I've embarrassed myself enough by starting a blog about cupcakes. To their credit, Scritti Politti basically kick-started the DIY movement in Britain in the late 70's by printing the manufacturing costs on their self-made record sleeves, and they went from awesome art-school experimentalism to synth pop very purposefully. I'll just say that Cupid & Psyche 85 is the earliest and (no coincidence) by far best example of the kind of maximalist sound for which Basement Jaxx has been getting so much credit, and I'm not the only one who likes it.

I've really enjoyed all of the above albums (OOOH! is incredible), but the real star is the first Chameleons album, Script of the Bridge.

Mark Burgess and co. spent two years gigging and doing radio sessions before they felt ready to record their debut, and all their preparation really paid off. Anthemic, haunting, alienated, and beautiful -- Script of the Bridge epitomizes some of the best aspects of post-punk. If there were any justice in the world, The Chameleons would have been at least as big as U2.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007


John Lydon

Mark E Smith

Howard Devoto

Friday, September 28, 2007

Hazelnut Cupcakes with Hazelnut Mocha Mousse

My friend Amy commissioned these after she told me she likes "hazelnut... and mocha" desserts. Although they were the most unbelievably expensive cupcakes you'd ever want to make, these were definitely a rung up the fancy baking ladder from the exploded Oreo cupcakes a couple of posts back. The hazelnut meal and Frangelico went a long way to deliver an amazing depth of hazelnutty flavor, and the meal in particular gave them a great texture. I'm still trying to figure out the best way to inject the filling without totally destroying the structure of the cupcake, but practice makes perfect.

I did finally figure out how to make sure the tops stayed nice and bulbous (be really, really gentle with them as you take them out of the oven and let them cool completely), which made the ganache-ing much less messy this time around. The mousse filling was great (I mixed some extra into some soymilk last night... mmmmm) but honestly it would have been a lot richer with some heavy cream. Vegans!

I overbaked them a little (paranoid about the tops falling) but they were still delicious. 9 Ankh necklaces out of 10.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Chocolate Stout Cupcakes

So I passed my prelims yesterday, and I got to wondering how an emasculated hipster would celebrate getting one step closer to a largely inconsequential degree. The answer: putting on some PiL and baking some beer-infused cupcakes.

The chocolate stout cupcakes were much, much easier than the Boston creme pie ones, and the substitution of a chocolate crumb topping (dusted with powdered sugar) for homemade frosting made the whole process, baking time included, about 45 minutes. I was pretty amazed at how moist and fluffy these were -- I may just have much better luck with oil-based cakes than margarine-based ones -- and the crumb topping is a great change of pace.

The stout flavor was understated to say the least (although that may be because I was drinking while baking), and at the end of the day it's more of a chocolate muffin than a cupcake, but still, another great chocolate gut bomb courtesy of Isa. At least 7.5 commune pamphlets out of 10.

Brooklyn vs. Boston Creme Pie Cakes (Round 1)

Anything that even approximates Boston Creme Pie gets my immediate approval, so you can imagine how excited I was about making these. First, the good news -- Boston creme pies taste good, and stuff that tastes sort of like Boston creme pie tastes good.

These were a big step up process-wise from the previous cakes, and these were definitely a learning experience. Not nearly as good as they could have been, but next time they'll be killer.

That first photo is Exhibit A: as soon as I took these out of the oven, they collapsed from being perfect little bulbous ganache-ready tops to deflated, rubbery membranes that weren't ready for a damn thing. According to Isa, I probably over-mixed the fats and sugars -- something that doesn't happen when cutting sugar into butter, but apparently does happen with margarine. And I may have overmixed the batter in the KitchenAid.

I also tried to yellow up the cupcakes by cooking some turmeric into the soymilk before curdling it as suggested by Isa, which only served to cook down the milk and make the cakes kind of congealed and weird-like. The biggest disaster was the creme filling, which wasn't nearly the pudding consistency it was supposed to be, but rather totally liquid -- apparently, the problem was using agar flakes instead of powder. Time to troll the internet. Surprisingly, it set up within the cupcakes in the fridge, but you could hardly fit any inside with the creme pouring everywhere.

So next time:

  • Skip the turmeric trick

  • Get a hold of some agar powder

  • Ease up on the margarine man-handling

I'll definitely be giving these another shot.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Cookies and Creme Cupcakes

I finally got to make another batch of cupcakes today after a couple weeks of traveling. This time around: Cookies and Creme. Definitely on the short list of cupcakes I was looking forward to making, and a good chance to try out Your Basic Chocolate Cupcake (the chocolate variation on the Golden Vanilla Cupcake from last time around).

The cupcakes themselves were dead easy to make, since the recipe called for canola oil instead of margarine. Pulsing cookies in the food processor is always fun too. The frosting was just the fluffy vanilla stuff from last time around, but with the addition of Newman-O cookie crumbs. So, so much tastier than just the plain frosting.

I got to use my fancy new pastry bag and decorating tips for the first time with these guys, but I learned the hard way that you really have to chop the hell out of the cookies before you incorporate them into the frosting. I still had some small cookie chunks, which plugged up the decorating tip and forced me to transfer all the frosting into an alternate bag with successively larger tips. Frosting got all ove the place during this process, which is why I am on a diabeetus-inducing sugar high right now. Unfortunately I had to use the large-mouthed round tip, which makes for ugly cupcakes compared to the star tips (ugly cupcakes not pictured).

All in all, so much better than the first set. I love cookies and creme, and these cupcakes are basically a cookies and creme gut bomb -- exactly what I hoped for. Definitely a solid 8.5 peace frogs out of 10.

Coming on Sunday: Brooklyn vs. Boston Creme Pie Cakes!

P.S.: Turns out I'm a bigger fan of these than my cupcake disposal unit friends -- they preferred the last round with chocolate icing. Could be due to the fact that those cupcakes were margarine/shortening-based and these were oil-based (they were a little more moist). Good thing the Boston creme pie cupcakes are the same cupcake base as the first batch.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Music from 2007 so far

There has been some good music this year, but of course most of it fell way short of my nonsensical elitist standards. However, a few releases have really amazed me. If you, like me, don't have the time or patience to wade through Internet Person X's top 75 favorite albums from 2007 (in very particular order), then this is for you. Three albums that are awesome and that you probably won't like (except for the Panda Bear album).

Cylob -- Trojan Fader Style

Cylob was one of the first artists to get signed to Rephlex (RDJ's braindance label) and has been making great electronic music for 15 years. "Trojan Fader Style" is an hour-long album, consisting of one herculean track of squelchy electronic music. It's also surprisingly listenable -- I've gone through the whole album probably seven or eight times so far and it just keeps getting better. Cylob's released a bunch of stuff the past couple of months (including a couple of much more downbeat albums, Formant Potaton and Bounds Green), but if only from a technical standpoint this is my favorite.

Panda Bear -- Person Pitch

There's no reason you should want to listen to this if you've heard either Panda Bear's borderline unlistenable previous album or anything he's ever done with his other band (Animal Collective). That being said, this album is amazing. Along with Quinoline Yellow, my favorite new music of the past few years. Gorgeous 3- or 4- or 5- part overdubbed harmonies and a really joyous, tribal sense of warmth (yes, I know how bad that sounds). It's all a little strange, but thankfully he tapped into something special in each song and let it breathe. Apparently Noah Lennox listened to a lot of minimal electronic music while making "Person Pitch," which sort of proves my point about how guitar-based music is becoming irrelevant nowadays.

Von Südenfed -- Tromatic Reflexxions

It shouldn't be a surprise that I included this album, since I'm the literal embodiment of its target audience. If Mouse on Mars making loud music while Mark E Smith singspeaks semi-intelligibly over it sounds like your idea of a good time, I can't imagine you won't like this. It's not pretty, but it's definitely exactly what you'd expect (in a good way).

Tuesday, September 4, 2007


Have you guys seen the Tenori-On, by Toshio Iwai (of Electroplankton fame)? I've been following the development of this thing for the past couple of years, and it's finally going to be on sale in the UK tomorrow. the low, low price of GBP 599. Did I mention my birthday is October 19th?

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Golden Vanilla Cupcakes

The first and most basic cupcake in VCTotW. Isa et al. call this a "multi-purpose, no-nonsense" cupcake, and, as the name suggests, it is pretty vanilla. Delicious and satisfying, especially with the chocolate buttercream frosting, but basic nonetheless. First some pictures of my new kitchen!

Thanks to my mutually-reinforcing compulsions for baking and kitchen equipment, these were put together in no time -- a basic creaming method. Both of the frostings were surprisingly creamy, although to be honest I have no recollection of what the fluffy vanilla frosting tasted like. The chocolate frosting, however, was really tasty and less melty than other non-vegan chocolate buttercream frostings I've made. Piping this stuff was probably the most fun part of the process, but I'm going to need some better decorating tips.

The only vegan cake I've ever enjoyed was the Chocolate Vegan Death Cake that I've made about a dozen times the past couple of years, and it looks like it's a formula worth exploring. Margarine, however, is strange and nasty stuff. I'm much more accustomed to butter, and the slightly metallic taste of the margarine/shortening fat combination was a little off-putting. Overall I give the vanilla+vanilla combination 5 out of 10 Ani DiFranco songs, and the vanilla+chocolate combination gets 7 out of 10 hemp necklaces. The basic cupcake was, as advertised, functional but a little too birthday-cake-y for me. The vanilla+chocolate had a lot more character, mostly due to the depth of the cocoa flavor in the frosting. And yes, I plan to rate each of the cupcakes I make on an appropriately vegan scale from 0 to 10. Here's a really ugly picture of the vanilla on vanilla:

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

youtube nirvana

This passed my strict quality control standards within about 10 seconds.

Dr. Teeth!

Monday, August 27, 2007

Cupcakes en route

It took a long time for me to convince myself that this wasn't a bad idea, but all it took was a purpose -- to chronicle my attempting to bake every recipe in Isa Chandra Moscowitz's Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World. So ostensibly I'm starting this blog not to report on or dramatize my own life in any way but to show you pretty pictures of cupcakes (and to intermittently inflict my insular, reactionary, curmudgeony opinions about music on a totally uncaring internet).

Yes, my blog is an intensely unfunny pun on probably the best album by probably my favorite band. Yes, this has been attempted before, albeit with way more typos. But baking is fun, and I've got too much kitchen equipment to let it go to waste. For the time being, here's some Led Zeppelin.