From October 31 to November 9, I worked on the road. I enjoyed a day and a half at home before hopping on to a plane to NYC on November 11. On November 13, I wore a smile as I boarded a plane departing La Guardia airport headed for Colorado. Sure, I was only going to be home for a mere 36 hours, but I was going to get two nights sleeping in my bed beside my massive dog. Traveling is a beautiful thing, but it’s also exhausting. Waiting on the second leg of my flight, I found myself becoming agitated. Naturally, I did what anyone would do, and began sifting through recipes that left something to be desired, or ones I had yet to try.
When I landed in Aspen, Colorado, I had one thing on my mind… perfecting my red velvet cupcake recipe. It was nearly 8 P.M. by the time I dragged my oversized suitcase screaming at the seams, from the carousel. Luckily, the planes coming in and out of Aspen tend to only have 20 people. I meandered out to my car, as my thumbs engaged in rapid fire texting to confirm my cupcake ingredient list with my mother, who was on dog watch.
Is this what it’s like to get old? I own two vehicles, my daily driver being a used “mom, in my case, non-mom car,” which is really just a freaking station wagon. I get excited about pouring concrete for a new driveway. And now, here I am dreaming about baking. Honestly, I won’t complain though. The small steps to slowing down don’t scare me. It’s the big ones like meditating for fifteen minutes a day that do. 🙂
I danced down the aisles of City Market, I can’t resist calling it “Shitty Market” in an Asian accent every time though. I resisted buying everything I needed for my solo Thanksgiving meal. “You’ve got time,” I reminded myself as I browsed through the Cornish hens over Butterball Turkeys for one. The smell of cinnamon and pine chased me around the store, as my brain shifted a month to the right and dreamed of all things Christmas. I gathered what I needed and hopped in the express check out line. Either the cashier and bagger were very confused and intimidated by my late-night grins, or they were really just that fluent in Spanish.
The drive home went like a breeze. I darted home and left a trail of my belongings down the hallway and by the couch. I unpacked the grocery bags in my kitchen much like a child tears in to presents on Christmas morning. Then, I thumbed my way through the new goods and pulled ingredients from cabinets. Baking is the one time of day where I can truly check out. I love the meticulousness of it all. Leveling off measuring tools, performing quick, simple math, and checking things off a list allows me to focus on one thing, and one thing only – the task at hand. When I am baking, I am not taking calls or juggling emails and social media, I am fully absorbed in what is in front of me. Sadly, this is the only thing I can find myself truly present in.
My mom made her way into the kitchen and was in the middle of telling me a story, when I looked up at her and said, “What number was that,” as I stared into a bowl of flour. She shrugged and continued the story. I dumped the flour out and started again. For the second time, I looked to my mother and said, “How many was that?” She shook her head and I started again. On my third try, I also retired my mom to the living room so that I could actually make it through to step three.
I dumped cocoa powder, baking soda, and the rest of the dry fluffy stuff into the mixer and let it put a light dusting over everything on the counter. I slung egg, oil, and butter to make a new concoction. Then skipped around the kitchen throwing a dash here and there into the bowl. Before I knew it, I was licking the paddle from the mixer clean of all the batter. “See, this is why I can never be married,” I said to my mom. No, no, it’s not for the sake of looking absolutely repulsive as I do it. It’s because I would really hate to share.
My house warmed and the sweet aroma of chocolate and vanilla swirled around. The next thirteen minutes seemed to take forever, but it gave me a moment to reflect on the last couple of weeks. Before going on my last adventure, I had a speech therapy appointment. The appointments last about an hour, and on average (we time them), I lose interest and start fidgeting about seven minutes in. My attention span is worse than a second-grade child who snuck into his mom, Karen’s, pumpkin spice latte. We talk about my anxieties with time and poor memory. We practice drills and she sends me on my way with homework to help alleviate some of the residual issues I have from my brain injury.
My speech therapist asked me if I liked to cook and follow recipes, to which I was absolutely elated to reply with a “Hell yea!” She explained that the focus I use in baking, could be a way to focus in other ways too. I was assigned to cook each day, and journal about it. To which I didn’t do because #jetsetting. But in this moment, I knew exactly what she was talking about. Sure, I became distracted when I opened a box of donated legs to be recycled for those in need or spaced out when it was time to cream the butter and sugar for five minutes. But for the most part, it took up the majority of my wavelength. Naturally, I need to have music on to sing to though, or else that would just be too intense.
I’ve always said it was a therapy, but it never really dawned on me how much it could be. Normally, I just view it as a time for me to check out and spend time with myself, since that very rarely happens. But apparently, it’s far more than that. So, I guess I have another excuse to bake a bit more. I’ll be accepting applications for volunteers to be on the taste test crew. The last time I had an idea like this, my mom was sending me hate mail for a week about leaving dozens of cupcakes behind as I was working on the road.
She will be fine this time. There’s only sixteen left. See you soon, Richmond, Virginia.
Red Velvet Cupcakes
1 1/3 c. cake flour
2 Tbsp cocoa powder
½ tsp baking soda
¼ tsp salt
¼ c. unsalted butter, room temp
1 c. granulated sugar
1 large egg, room temp
¼ c. vegetable oil
¼ tsp red gel food coloring
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
½ tsp distilled white vinegar
2/3 c. buttermilk, room temp
Cream Cheese Frosting
½ cup unsalted butter, room temp
1 8-ounce package cream cheese
2 c. powdered sugar
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line 16 muffin tins with cupcake liners. You can grease them if you like to live life on the edge instead.
- Whisk together flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt. Sift to remove any lumps; set aside.
- Using an electric mixer, cream together the butter and sugar for 5 minutes. Add egg, mix completely. Add oil, red food coloring, vanilla, and vinegar. Mix completely.
- In three parts, add the dry mix and buttermilk alternating. Starting and finishing with the dry mix.
- Fill the cupcake liners halfway full. Bake for 15 minutes (I live at altitude, so I monitor them closely rolling in on minute 13).
For the frosting:
- Beat the cream cheese until smooth, add butter, and mix for one minute.
- Add in powdered sugar and vanilla.
- Pipe on to the cupcakes once cooled.