When Even Your Food Tries to Food Shame You

cupcakeWandering through the frozen food aisle of the supermarket yesterday, I spied something that made me livid. And the more I think about it, the angrier I become.

A selection of frozen cupcakes, most with cute and reasonable names until we got to… Cheat Day Chocolate Cupcakes.

I know, it’s supposed to be cute. Funny, even. It’s supposed to play into the idea that these are so good, they’re worth cheating on your diet for.

My issue is more the assumption that you’re on a diet.

Because. We’re. All. Supposed. To. Be. Always. On. A. Diet.

And therefore, if you are eating a stupid cupcake, then you must be cheating. Because “good” dieters don’t eat chocolate. Or cake. It’s too decadent, sinful, etc. etc. etc.

A “good” fatty, hell a “good” woman, must at least demonstrate some level of guilt and remorse when eating a bit of cake or chocolate (Or both!!). To fail to do so means that you’re just not making the effort. To fail to do so means that you might not have been sufficiently brainwashed by the $60 billion diet industry and might be so audacious as to have some remaining self esteem that isn’t totally tied into making you feel like shit about yourself so you will buy more crap – more diet drugs, more make-up, more clothing, more cupcakes… in the misplaced hope that this will be the thing that does the trick and makes you love yourself.

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Lucky Dip – Wednesday, November 30th, 2011

Wait now… people lined up to get into a grocery store? And they weren’t even giving away anything good like a free turkey? And there wasn’t anything like a natural disaster or an alien attack about to happen? Toronto really has turned into a city of consumer-driven sheep, hasn’t it? [The Grid]

I am utterly over the cupcake trend to the point of annoyance. And I never got into the Star Wars thing… but this cupcake is allowed to exist because it cracks me up. [My Food Looks Funny]

Why we’re all over the daily deal sites and why you should support local indie restaurants, just because. [Bon Appetit]

Nutty as a…? Grandma Deb’s might be the benchmark of fruitcake, but I’d still pit mine against all comers. (Actually, if you can get your hands of a piece of fruitcake from the recipe Chef John Higgens used at Buckingham Palace – THAT’S the benchmark of fruitcake.)[Toronto Star]

The interesting history of Vernor’s gingerale. [Serious Eats]

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Lucky Dip – Friday, June 3rd, 2011

The big food news in the US this week was about the new plate-shaped food guide. And while still not perfect, it more appropriately addresses proportion of food consumed rather than number of portions or overall portion sizes, which always seemed to confuse people because there were so many different rules (is it a serving of meat that should be the size of a deck of cards, or is that cheese?). Also, “meat” is now just “protein” and dairy products are off to the side, indicating that they’re optional, not required, which is how it should be. [Globe and Mail] [Reuters via Toronto Sun] [The Atlantic]

This is going to stir up some controversy – next week a Toronto councillor will put forward a motion to ban shark fin. Given the number of places in Chinatown that serve it or sell it, I’m expecting a big fight. [Toronto Life: The Dish]

Are cupcakes the answer to world peace? They are when British intelligence groups hack an Al Qaeda bomb manual and replace it with cupcake recipes. [The Telegraph]

In case it was ever disputed – nachos are a dish for sharing. [Toronto Star]

You can bet the farm that “farm to… “, well, pretty much anything should be dead and buried. [Food & Wine]

Eat some dirt, it’s good for you. [Toronto Sun]

Wait, can we really blame meat eaters for “killing vegetarians” by linking the various e.coli outbreaks to meat consumption? [Good.is]

Because baby humans are not baby cows – alternatives to feeding children’ cow’s milk. [Globe and Mail]

Why you’ll never see a rich person drinking a Pepsi. [Vanity Fair]

Some facts about food waste. [Chow]


Cupcakes For Daniel

I can’t remember the last time I baked anything from a mix. Greg had a passing fancy with a disappointing Boston Cream Pie mix at one point when I had a broken arm and he was attempting to do some of the cooking, but it was a sad affair that we agreed never to repeat. Besides usually being not very good, cake mixes have the uncanny ability to suck absolutely all the fun out of baking. Dump powder, add water or milk. Stir. Meh. I get that this is exactly the amount of effort that is desired by people who do not like to bake but for some reason want to “make a cake”, as opposed to going out to a nice bakery and buying something. But for those of us that dig the process, it’s not a lot of fun.

Which is why this particular box of cake mix is such a conundrum.

When Greg’s uncle Daniel passed away at the end of November, he left an apartment full of stuff that needed to be dealt with. Daniel wasn’t a hoarder, but he definitely had some packrat tendencies, and his tiny little apartment often felt like a delicate dollhouse to my lumbering built-like-a-brick-shithouse frame, exacerbated by the fact that there was so much stuff everywhere.

As Daniel spent most of his adult life working as a chef, much of what he collected was food-related. Every time I saw him, he gifted me with cookbooks, or baking pans or little gadgets and utensils. Many of these he’d pick up at thrift shops and yard sales, treasures that he couldn’t pass up but likely knew he’d never need.

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Bounty Bar Cupcakes

Working on the theory that everything is better with coconut, I came up with these the other day. They’re meant to resemble an inside-out bounty bar. Flavourwise it works, but next time I’ll incorporate more coconut right into the buttercream frosting.

Bounty Bar Cupcakes

1/4 cup butter
1 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 egg
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup coconut milk
1/4 cup milk

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Cream butter and sugar until smooth then add egg and vanilla. Beat until light and fluffy. Blend flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda and cocoa in a separate bowl. In a measuring cup, mix milk and coconut milk together. Alternate small amounts of  the flour mixture and the milk until fully incorporated and smooth.

Line a cupcake pan with papers and fill each approximately 3/4 full. Bake for 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean. Allow to cool completely.

Coconut Buttercream

1/4 cup butter
2 cups icing sugar
coconut milk

Combine butter and icing sugar and enough coconut milk to create a thick but spreadable icing. Spread onto each cupcake and then sprinkle with toasted coconut.

No Cake For You, Kiddies!

Moderation. Does anybody know what this means anymore?

Schools across the Western world are demonstrating knee jerk reactions to the “childhood obesity crisis” by banning anything at all that includes sugar or fat. School lunches and cafeteria foods are still full of crap and chemicals, but everything else is fair game for an inquisition-like search and banishment. As we saw with Jamie Oliver’s school dinners program in the UK, there is usually a reaction to this, and parents bristle at someone telling them how to raise (and feed) their kids.

There are so many things wrong on every side of this. First, the nanny state that provokes schools to haul a parent in for a talking to when junior pulls a chocolate cookie out of his home-packed lunch. And in retaliation, the parent makes something like a birthday cake a point of contention.

In this piece in the UK’s Telegraph, writer Judith Woods explains how she is baking a birthday cake for her child despite the kid’s school having banned the things. The school’s theory being that if every kid shows up with sweets to share on their birthday then that’s too much crap for the kids to be having on a regular basis. And while I’m a defender of all things cakey – I’m going to sort of agree and reiterate the “moderation” rule.

Because while I agree with and defend Woods’ right to let her kid have birthday cake on their own birthday – I don’t agree that it needs to go to school. In a class of 20 – 25 kids, that works out to a lot of cake over the course of a school year. Not to mention that it looks like a little bit of dick-waving and one-up-man-ship as parents compete for the best and biggest cake (it’s probably cheaper than a party with a bouncy castle, clown and pony rides, but still…). Have a party for your kid in their own home and by all means have cake, but I don’t believe it should be in schools in that context. I can’t remember taking cake or cupcakes to school for the whole class on my birthday – or getting cake or treats for anyone else’s birthday. Despite the fact that they’d provided us with sweet, sweet sugar, any kid who did that in my day would have gotten themselves pegged as a show off. It speaks to  society’s obsession with making kids into little stars and reinforcing how special they are – which isn’t good for the kid, or society.

Parties and treats for holidays seem like enough occasions for kids to bring food to school – with someone ensuring that most of the snacks are healthy. In that context, there is room for a slice of cake or some cookies or chips, and kids learn to associate party food with actual parties.

There are people out there who don’t know how to feed their kids, and their ignorance makes life tough for everyone else as authorities work on the lowest common denominator factor and apply condescending rules to everyone. But we also need to ensure that kids aren’t expecting treats and party food at every turn – by allowing kids to take cake to school to celebrate their own birthday, we’re creating a sense of entitlement that is not only fuelling the childhood obesity problem but society’s downfall.

Have a party for your kid; have cake, by all means – but do it at home. Don’t force others to match your efforts, don’t create more reasons to stuff their little faces full of junk, and don’t coddle them into believing that cake for the whole class – for every student’s birthday – is normal or healthy. Moderation and common sense – if more people used these, we wouldn’t need a cupcake nanny state.

Margaritaville – Where Cupcake and Cocktail Collide

Here’s why purging your belongings every now and then is a good idea. Greg and I have been meaning to cull our bookshelves for a couple of years now. We live in a small apartment and shelf space is at a premium, which is to say that we’ve completely filled the four standard bookshelves in our living room. While I try to live with the rule of “something in, something out”, the husband is a bit more of a collector and the old bookshelves were beyond the point of full this past spring with stacks of books on beer piled in corners and selected food politics titles jammed in wherever they might fit.

So we started filling a box, looking at every item on the shelf, assessing whether it should stay or go. You get to keep that Clive Barker novel if I get to keep my dog-eared Nabokovs, you can keep the Michael Jackson beer books if I can keep those Marion Nestle tomes… but I can live without the Gordon Ramsay biography if you’ll part with all those old Wired magazines…

One of the things I refused to part with is my collection of 50s and 60s era cookbooks – not because I’ll ever use any of them, but because they’re cool in their own “gallery of regrettable food” kind of way. But in beside them I discovered a cupcake cookbook. Relatively new (maybe a year or two old), I remembered purchasing it but could not for the life of me remember why it got banished to the Siberia of books I never look at but must keep.

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No Cupcake For You

Today on Serious Eats, Ed Levine mentions a piece in The New York Times about a crackdown on parents sending kids to school with cupcakes for birthday celebrations.Apparently, in an effort to stave off childhood obesity, cupcakes are now forbidden.

Folks in the comments section bring up some relevant issues, such as:

  • How can schools get away with selling/providing pizza and french fries in the cafeterias, yet ban occasional treats?
  • If you’re banning cupcakes, does that mean kids are going to stop selling candy bars or Girl Guide cookies as fundraisers?
  • Maybe sending kids to school with a healthy lunch as opposed to cash to spend at McDonald’s every day would mean the occasional cupcake would actually be okay.

The thing to consider is that in the original case, in a Texas suburb, every child was bringing cupcakes for the class on their own birthday. Over the course of the year, that’s a whole lotta cupcakes. It’s also creates a mini class-system within the school; kids whose families cannot afford to supply the class with treats, kids whose parents send store-bought cupcakes instead of homemade, or kids whose birthdays fall outside of the school year, are all kinda screwed in the cupcake wars.

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Who You Calling Cupcake?


As I mentioned last week when discussing sandwiches, there are a number of food trends that have taken off south of the border that just never got a footing here. Cupcake bakeries or boutiques – shops dedicated solely to cupcakes – is one of those trends that seems to have passed us by.

It looked like Toronto might ride the waves of buttercream frosting when The Cupcake Shoppe opened a few years ago, but no real competition stepped up. Sure there were plenty of bakeries that started offering the tasty treats in addition to their regular selection of pastries, but none willing to deal exclusively in the little, sweetly decorated cakes.

Which leaves anyone jonesing for a cupcake fix with no choice but to run around searching for good ones. Because not all cupcakes are created equal.

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The Trouble With Cupcakes

What? Trouble with cupcakes? Surely I must be delusional or trying to make a bad joke! How could there be anything wrong with the most perfect and wonderful food in the world?

The trouble with cupcakes is the same trouble I have with pie, cake or any other pastry that comes in a large quantity (ie. more than two servings); it’s too much for two people to eat. Now Greg and I like our pie. Cupcakes too. But a whole batch of the same type of cupcake inevitably gets boring. Just as many slices of the same kind of pie gets boring day after day. Variety is the spice of life, or so they say.

So yesterday I got stupid innovative, and turned one batch of cupcakes into six different flavours. I also learned that a lot of hours bent over fussy cupcakes while standing on a concrete floor is deadly on the back; if I recall correctly, this is why I ended up not becoming a pastry chef in the first place – because of the back problems.

However, I now have half a dozen different types of cupcakes, and a guarantee that we won’t be bored. I also have a helluva lot of dirty bowls and spoons. D’oh!

Clockwise from upper left: lemon, anise, chocolate orange, almond, chocolate mint. Centre – mocha cream.