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my adventures are often on a budget… and always clumsy.

Archive for the tag “Christmas”

sweet somethings



This month my office has been a never-ending parade of baked goods and chocolates. I scope out the kitchen every morning, wondering what goodies await. The other day, after stuffing myself on at least three of these dark chocolate babies, I went home thinking I couldn’t possibly feel more decadent and indulgent. Zander walked in right about then and placed a dozen roses in my arms. So I was wrong. I buried my nose in them, my whole nose – half my head, really, to take in their sweet smell. This is my color palette this season – chocolates and roses – reds and whites and browns of all shades. I’m loved and cocooned in the warmth of the season. Or maybe that’s the sugar high talking.


gingerbread cupcakes with cream cheese frosting


Can I brag for a second? How about a whole post?

My office’s holiday party last week featured a “Cupcake Wars” contest. Most people were sold on “cupcake;” they had me at “war.”

I’m a little competitive.

A little competitive like smack-talk-gauntlet-thrown-BRINGITITSBEENBROUGHTEN.

So a little.

I once created a coalition to ensure victory in a game of “Sorry” at a friend’s wine and board games night.

So maybe more than a little.

The cupcakes were to be judged separately on presentation and taste. Two categories. Two winners. Two opportunities to win. Game. On.

I created a strategic plan of action:

  • find the single best cupcake recipe in the world that there ever has been
  • make it better
  • top it with the best frosting anyone ever alive in the history of the universe has ever tasted
  • make all the little cupcakes sing and dance, or, worst case, look like endearing, heart-strings pulling snowmen with top hats that no one can resist
  • give victory speech; pop champagne

With that kind of foolproof plan, it was impossible to lose!

I chose to make gingerbread cupcakes, kind of a weird choice given that I’ve never been particularly fond of gingerbread, but in times like these, you have to listen to your growling gut. And for some odd reason, it told me gingerbread. I found a lot of options for the frosting – brown sugar cream cheese (YUM.), maple… but I went with a basic, but delicious, cream cheese frosting. (I forewent the brown sugar version because it doesn’t harden as well so it’s more difficult to decorate – protip!)

Y’all. This time I’m really not trying to brag, these cupcakes are so good! They made me a believer in gingerbread. They’re moist and rich in flavor, spiced but not too heavily, and the all-spice is kept to a minimum (a must for my palette). Alone, they’re good. They’re solid. But the cream cheese frosting pairing is remarkable. It transforms the spiced cupcake into a real treat that feels decadent but not too heavy. I will keep this recipe as a go-to!

My roommate Matt and I toyed with several options for how to present the cupcakes. We settled on what we could do fairly easily and cheaply – simple, beautiful candy canes in the center of half and the other half made to be snowmen, using marshmallows, icing & oreo halves for top hats. For the main contest, I paired the cupcakes with hot apple cider that complimented and brought out the spice in the cupcakes and arranged the cupcakes on a red throw cloth with sanding sugar sprinkled around to look like snow.



that is to say, “You Can Call Me Al.” Our cupcake entry had to be named, and last minute, under pressure, I shouted that and ran away. Turns out – Al is a pretty endearing name for that snow dude with a top hat!

Aaaaannnddddd the America’s Next Top Chef holiday office party “cupcake wars” award goes to….. this girl with two thumbs and some cream cheese icing stuck to her shirt!

I won presentation and taste. Bow

Thanks for bearing with me through that obnoxious brag moonlighting as a blog post. ……Is anyone bearing with me? Is anyone still reading?

For those of you who made it this far (hi, Mel!) I’ll stop babbling on and get to the point… the recipe!

Gingerbread cupcakes: Taste of Home (skip the maple frosting)

Cream cheese frosting

6oz cream cheese
1 stick butter (1/2 cup), softened1-2 cups powdered sugar, depending on your taste preference (I used 1)
1 teaspoon vanilla + a little drop or two (MORE VANILLA, PLEASE

Beat the butter & cream cheese until smooth and light
Beat in the powdered sugar
Beat in the vanilla
Consistency should be thick & smooth
Cool for at least 1 hour prior to icing if you want it to be firm enough to decorate

a christmas story







This is my favorite Christmas story… a true one, and one that’s been retold in my family for years. I grew up without much materially but surrounded by a ton of love.  This tells the story of my family in the best way.

I was 3 years old. My brother was 7. My mom, brother and I lived in a small apartment in Miami, Florida. My mom was going through a difficult (to say the least) divorce, and was alone with her two small kids. It was Christmas.

It’s tradition in my family for the whole, big family to come together on Christmas Eve and open gifts to each other that night. When the clock strikes midnight – or as close as we can get before falling asleep – one of the kids plays “Santa” and hands out the presents, one by one. We take turns opening the gifts, watching each other and commenting, telling stories and sharing the experience of each gift. After opening presents, the smaller family units head to their homes, and open gifts with each other and from Santa on Christmas morning.

That year – 1988, after my mom’s family had gone, and our small apartment was back to the sounds of just the three of us, my brother tiptoed out of bed and found my mom sitting in quiet at the kitchen table, unable to sleep. I was long and fast asleep. My brother, Chris, rubbed the sleep out of his eyes and worriedly looked at my mom.

“Mom,” he said, always precocious and years older than his age. “There are no gifts from Santa under the tree.”

My mom looked up and over at the tree. How had she forgotten? She was in the process of planning a move to Georgia with the three of us, unsure of the future. We’d be leaving all of her family in Florida. She had other things on her mind that year, and it had slipped.

My brother continued. “It’s okay, Mom. I don’t need anything, but Cyndi should have a gift from Santa. She should believe in Santa.”*

She hugged my brother and said Santa brought gifts for the both of us. In the morning, there were a few presents wrapped under the tree, and my brother passed them out, one by one, and told me how Santa came down the chimney while I slept. I believed in Santa Claus, or at least in the fun of it all, until I was 11.

I think it’s the greatest gift I’ve ever been given.

And that’s the year my brother saved Christmas.

Happy holidays! I’m looking forward to celebrating Christmas this year with Zander. We took the first step this weekend when we put up his tree. I shouldn’t have been surprised to find his decorations wish everyone a very merry Redskins Christmas, after all!

*ps -I’d put money on that being the day my mom became the easy crier she is now! 😉

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