Sunday, October 4, 2009

Confessions of a Fall-aholic

My name is Allison, and I’m a fall-aholic.

Hi, Allison.

It started with lattes. The day that Starbucks brought the pumpkin spice latte back, I was traveling. I landed at La Guardia, knew I had precious little time to waste getting to my next gate, so I bolted for the nearest Starbucks kiosk. I threw people out of my way. I pushed old ladies with walkers aside. I kicked puppies. I couldn’t be slowed down until I had a hot, sugary pumpkin latte in my hands.

I quickly moved on to other forms of pumpkin - pumpkin beer, pumpkin ravioli. Pumpkin loaf, pumpkin scones, pumpkin soup. I thought I could give it up any time I wanted. It’s just pumpkin, I told myself. It’s a vegetable. I’m not hurting anyone by gorging on squash.

Soon, it wasn’t enough. I wasn’t getting the same rush from my bowl of three squash soup and a cold Dogfish Punkin Ale. So I did what any junkie would do and went right to the source – real, unadulterated pumpkins.

I found Alton Brown’s recipe for pumpkin bread, and it started to sound like a challenge. I can do this, I thought. Forget canned pumpkin, that’s for wimps and soccer moms. I took a knife and a grater to the flesh of a modest pie pumpkin from Kroger.

An hour later, with pumpkin seeds scattered over the table and the floor, my kitchen looked like the scene of a grizzly pumpkin massacre. And what did I have to show for it? A sack full of discarded pumpkin bits and three cups of the shredded good stuff.

A quick toast on a cup of seeds and I was ready to start assembling the dough. As a proud graduate of the Alton Brown School of Not Over-Mixing Your Dough, I was able to manage a loaf pan full of gooey, pumpkiny goodness. Into our finicky gas oven for an hour and fifteen minutes.

The smell of cinnamon wafted from the kitchen, a constant reminder each time I inhaled that there was something delicious in the oven that I couldn’t have yet. Even when the loaf was baked, and a paring knife inserted in the center came out clean, I still couldn’t have a slice of pumpkin bread. Alton insists that it must be cooled all the way – something important happens to the starches, I don’t know.

Wait I did, and when it was finally time to slice into the from-raw-pumpkins pumpkin loaf, it became clear to me what I would do next.

Eat it with Pumpkin Cream Cheese.

Behold the double-pumpkin overload.

If you too are a pumpkin junkie, you can take a look at the recipe here. There’s a nice video too in which, through the magic of television production, AB grates no actual pumpkins. But if you’re foolish like me and you have an afternoon to kill, it’s one hell of a pumpkin fix.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Cupcakes, Candy, and the CAC

I spent Monday night, the Monday when fall descended on us in a blustery mess, at the Contemporary Art Center checking out two new exhibits. This week the CAC opens a show by Marilyn Minter, photographer, painter, and all-around glam personality.

Walk upstairs to the second floor anytime during her show and you'll be greeted by a massive projected video of a model licking up various colored foodstuffs from a pane of glass. It's set to a moody soundtrack and sends you on your way wandering the rest of the exhibit kind of thinking about eating. That's what I did, anyway.

The colors across the floor reflected from Marilyn's photographs and paintings are sumptuous - candy pinks and jello greens. It's not just pretty though, it's all a little bit sticky and grimy. It's high fashion meets sugar, and the whole thing left me with a pretty serious pastry craving.

Luckily, a few days later Polly Campbell posted a veritable roadmap to the Cincy cupcake scene and I planned a trip to Milford to visit the Sugar Cupcakery.

The bakery case at the Sugar Cupcakery doesn’t squander any space to lesser items like cookies or doughnuts. It’s just cupcakes, in a variety of flavors, regular or mini sized. I quickly reverted to the mindset of a seven-year-old girl. It was the same rush I felt when I went to college and realized I could buy any cereal I wanted. By “any cereal,” I mean, of course, Lucky Charms.

And take into account the mini cupcake – by choosing the smaller cupcake, I suddenly have the latitude to order upwards of three pastries at once and consume them one by one. I threw in a mug of coffee to add as much fuel to the oncoming sugar rush as possible.

The service is beautiful, well thought-out and just plain delightful. As for the cupcakes, they’re pretty good too. Not too sugary, ironically, are the cupcakes at the Sugar Cupcakery. The carrot cake was buttery, and the chocolate chai was addictive. It packs a rich chocolate punch underneath creamy, slightly spiced icing.

It was just a little bit decadent and totally satisfying. There are a baker’s dozen cupcake shops in town, and if you find yourself craving something sweet after a visit to the CAC, I have good news – a cupcake isn’t far away.