A few weeks ago I decided to trade in my laptop for paintbrushes.
It wasn’t a rash decision, as many of mine are. I loved writing for newspapers. It had become a way of life for me over the past six years, after having worked as a graphic artist at a few different newspapers for almost 30.
I’ve been a reporter, features writer, and columnist for around six years, and I’ve loved it.
I had never written anything more than a letter, but I’ve always had a knack for weaving a tale. Writing came naturally to me, though I learned quickly that I had a lot to learn about writing for a newspaper.
After writing for the Boothbay Register and its affiliates, the Wiscasset Newspaper and PenBay Pilot, for five years, I decided to stop working full time and took a part-time position with The Lincoln County News, where I continued to hone my writing skills.
I’ve loved meeting and interviewing interesting, entrepreneurial, funny, knowledgeable people, and several have become fast friends. Through writing I learned about things like flower, seaweed, mushroom, oyster, and mussel farming. I interviewed chefs and cake makers. I’ve met innovative entrepreneurs and creative artists: sculptors, painters, fine furniture makers, and interior designers.
But my column about food, and life, and yes, Manhattans, became my fondest writing assignment.
Over the course of 3 1/2 years, beginning at the Boothbay Register and culminating at The Lincoln County News, I never ran out of new ideas for foods that I hoped readers would enjoy reading about, and sharing the recipes. I loved the freedom of being able to write in the first person, as columns allow, and sharing stories about my personal experiences with whatever food I was writing about.
I learned a lot about the origins of certain dishes, and how they were named, through hours of research. Did you know that hamburger may have been invented by Mongols who stashed raw beef under their saddles, where the meat became tenderized while they rode, and presumably bounced up and down? Gross, huh?
So yes, I’ve loved writing, but my first love, art, has been beckoning. I started drawing the day I learned to maneuver a pencil, and attended weekly art classes right up to college, where I majored in art. I’ve been painting, first with oils, then watercolors, since I was 15, but writing has been usurping most of my creative energy, and I’ve been feeling guilty about neglecting art.
And I’m not getting any younger. Ugh, I hate that phrase. But it’s true. You’re not either, so if you’ve been neglecting your true calling, try to figure out a way to do it.
I’ve gotten my studio set up and I’ve been knee-deep in art: Painting new watercolors and having prints and cards made from old ones. And I’m having a blast.
I’ve also been making cakes and cupcakes. 🙂 My friend Trisha Moroz, who I met through doing a story about her cakes that are really edible works of art, has inspired me to bake my own, much smaller, much less gorgeous, cakes. I’ve found that attempting to make little cakes and cupcakes gorgeous, with buttercream swirls and flowers, is another way to express myself, artfully.
Plus they’re delicious.
I’ve made chocolate and yellow butter cakes of all shapes and sizes, and cupcakes in beautiful little cupcake papers I’ve found in my travels. I’ve learned to make pretty little buttercream flowers and green leaves. I got a lesson in the more formal, time-intensive art of fondant from Trisha, but I won’t even try to master that. I’ll leave that to the professionals.
So – I’m not going to sign off without sharing one last recipe: butter cake. It’s as luscious and elegant as it sounds, and with buttery/sweet buttercream frosting on top? Hello.
There are lots of butter cake recipes out there in cyberspace, and they’re all very similar. I use my old pal Martha Stewart’s, from her website. I’m sure she’d be like, “Oh, well that’s lovely, Susan. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.”
So first get your mises en place (thank you, Peter Ross): 2 sticks butter, 3 cups flour, 1 tbsp baking powder, 1/2 tsp salt, 1 3/4 cups sugar, 4 eggs, 1 1/4 cups milk, 2 tsp vanilla.
Preheat the oven to 350. Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs, one at a time, then vanilla. Add the flour mixture, slowly, in three parts, alternating with the milk and ending with the flour. Beat well after each addition.
I’ve been baking the cakes in cute little Fat Daddio’s pans I’ve been scoffing up whenever I see them. They range from 3-inch diameters to 6. I pile them up and make mini castles, with flowers on top. I’ve also found some mini Bundt pans. Between those and the cute little cupcake papers, I’ve been having a blast.
Now here’s a little trick I’ve learned through trial and error: I was greasing, with oil, and flouring the pans, and they were sticking. Somewhere along the way I read that simply greasing cake pans with butter is the best way to keep them from sticking. And it is. Plus you get a buttery little crust on the outside. A win-win.
So anyway – divvy up the batter however you darn well please and bake till they’re done. I’ve learned that the littlest cakes, and cupcakes, may be done in, like, 15 minutes, so check frequently. If you choose to go the old-fashioned, boring route, in two round pans or one oblong one, start checking after a half-hour. Do I have to tell you to stick a toothpick or something in the center and if it comes out clean, it’s done?
Then go wild with buttercream. If you need a recipe for that, it’s all over the internet, and it’s simple. I often add a tiny pinprick of red coloring to make it a soft, pale, pretty pink. Because I love pink.
So that’s all for now, folks. At 5 p.m. I’m going to make a Manhattan and toast you. It’s been a fun ride, and I love you all for cheering me on. You’re the best.
And the beat goes on.