Happy Birthday Cupcakes, courtesy of Speical Correspondent Ellen

These are perfect for birthdays, according to Special Correspondent Ellen. As we know, if Ellen says it, it must be true.

Chocolate Cupcakes

[less than] 3/4 c margarine
1 2/3 c sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp instant coffee
a pinch of cayenne pepper
2 1/4 c flour
2/3 c cocoa powder
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt [optional]
1 1/2 c water
Mix margarine and sugar, stir in eggs, vanilla, instant coffee, and cayenne pepper. Combine the flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt; stir into the sugar  mixture, alternating with the water,  until smooth. Boil at 370 for 20 -30 minutes. Allow to cool, then ice with
Caramel Frosting
1/2 c margarine
1 c brown sugar
1/4 tsp salt
6 tbsp plain soy milk
3 c confectioners’ sugar
Melt margarine in a pan, stir in brown sugar and salt. Bring to a boil; allow it to boil for 2 minutes, stirring constantly. If you are not stirring, your caramel is becoming burnt ash. Remove from heat and add soy milk, stirring all the while. Return mixture to heat and bring to a boil again. Remove from heat and allow to cool for approximately 20 minutes. Stir in confectioners’ sugar and beat until smooth and cool enough to spread. You might need to add a few ladles of soy milk if frosting is lumpy; it helps to have one person slowly pour in the soy milk as the other person stirs.
May we enjoy many more such happy birthdays.
based on allrecipes.com recipes

A 1 Train Experience

— New York City, NY

“Please be aware that packages and bags are subject to search,” runs the normal Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) announcement. Conductors stick to the script regardless of age, race, gender, or creed. Day in and day out they deliver the same warning to the thousands who ride the New York City subways. Then, once in a long while, someone grows bored and the fun starts.

“Please be aware that your personal possessions are subject to search,” warmed up a conductor one evening.

“We are not the NYPD,” he continued.

“we are not the NYFD,”

“- New York’s Finest!”

“But we are the MTA. We run this city. We always have. And we always will.”

Our fun-loving and verbose conductor was not yet finished; he still had a stop to announce; “125th Street is next. Home of the world’s world’s world’s famous Apollo Theater. It is rainy outside and verrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrry slippery, therefore we ask that you do not walk between the yellow and or orange lines. Please be safe and watch where you step.”

And then, with this final thought, he turned off the mic; “This is a Bronx-bound 1 train experience.”

Vegetable Stock and Victory Gardens

The ends of zucchinis are cut off, sealed in the bag and put in the freezer. Onion skins are washed, cleaned, and dumped in the bag. The parsnip that lay forgotten in the fridge for two weeks transitions smoothly to the bag in the freezer. A roommate’s broccoli stalks are saved and added to the growing collection. Finally, the cabbage which is past its prime it thrown into the mix.

When the time is right, the whole bag is emptied into a pot. The pot is filled with water and set to boil for 30 minutes; once the vegetable debris is strained out, there remains a pot full of rich vegetable stock. This versatile liquid can be used for anything from the beginnings of flavorful rice to soup. With vegetable stock as a starter, the possibilities are limitless.

A generation ago, it would have been laughable to have explained this. Then again, a generation ago everyone made vegetable stock. Today, in the modern age of year-round produce and flavorless vegetables, the idea of saving unsavory produce is repugnant. Back in the days of Victory Gardens, unsavory produce was abundant and vegetable stock was always simmering.

Victory Gardens, the term for vegetable patches grown as part of the war effort during WWII, are a staple of depression-era times. Though the gardens did not contribute to victory on any front, they were a way of thriftily enlarging the food supply at home. Many of the vegetables came up misshapen, and the amateur gardeners would harvest them when the produce was under- or over- ripe; perfect fodder for vegetable stock. Today, when supermarkets are filled with picture-perfect produce year-round, spending the due diligence to plant, weed, and water ungainly vegetables is not an attractive option.

The knowledge that there is better produce in the store induces people to throw away those softening potatoes, the zucchinis a few days past their prime, and the handful of scallions which will never be used. Yet the time will come again when people are short on cash and long on ambition. They will return to their back lots, clear out the weeds, and with renewed energy plant their own gardens. When their crops come in all at once, and the uglier specimens begin to rot, then they will pull out this recipe for vegetable stock.

Another Perfect Present

A visual representation of a great gift for a hostess or wedding, courtesy of Special Correspondent Dena. As Dena reminds us, “Presents should always be given wrapped. ”

The Perfect Present, According to Mom

“It’s the perfect gift,” my mom explains as we trek through the store, looking for the elusive gift of choice. She knows what she wants but in a store this size, it has proven difficult to find that perfect present. We round a corner; “It should be in the bedroom section,” she murmurs as we trudge on. Unable to locate the gift in the home-wares, bedroom accessories, or the intervening sections of dorm, cookery, and linens, we ask a store employee.

The employee leads us in a winding path deeper into the store, past glassware and a vast array of wicker items, to the furniture section. He reaches up, pulls out a box, and he hands us my mom’s ideal present: a breakfast tray. “It’s the perfect gift,” she repeats, satisfied, as we the leave the store with the present safely secured. “It’s special. It’s the perfect way to begin a good day; you wake up and someone brings you breakfast in bed. They’ll need a tray table for that.”

I point out that had the couple wanted a breakfast tray table, they could have registered for it. They certainly were not shy about what the did want, as evidenced by the $60 garbage can they had put on their registry. “It’s because they don’t know they need it,” she says dismissively. “They’ll love it.”

The Wedding Report: To Registry or Not to Registry?

Twelve lavender pages with line after line of items that a new bride and groom cannot live without:

Two palm scrubbers.
One steel-wool cleaning cloth.
Set of three Jalapeno-themed dish towels.
Steel dish rack with matching sink mat.
One egg-shaped kitchen timer.
Three pastry brushes.
That list only covers the items selected from one wall, and a fraction of a couple’s bridal registry, at Bed Bath and Beyond. At the home-goods superstore you can get any household item that is legally produced and sold in this country. It is the perfect place for new home owners and apartment dwellers alike to stock up and transform their living areas. For those who are getting married it has one item prized above all others: a gift registry.

A snap to create, the registry includes objects made to fit any guest’s fancy and budget – though not necessarily both. Even for friends of hair-brained couples, the registry will offer abundance options, as BBB employees fill in any gaps in home-wares the unthinking couple missed. With the registry in hand you can arrange for free gift wrap and make sure no one else purchases your gift of choice, be it the ever-useful set of pyrex bowls, the much-desired hair-removal system, or matching pink bathrobes. If you like to shop from home, you can scroll through the registry and select a gift that comes with free shipping. Best of all, if the couple decides that the palm scrubbers are out-dated or that the dishes they inherited from Aunt Rita are much nicer than the ones their friends scrimped to buy them, they can return their gifts to BBB for cash or credit.

There is only one drawback to buying off the registry: the couple knows the exact amount at which you value their friendship. While they might adore the egg-shaped kitchen timer you selected, the fact that you value their friendship at $7.00, or $3.50 each, might affect the future of that relationship. The obvious alternative is to buy a gift that is not on the registry. This quirky approach will save the bride and groom from, consciously or unconsciously, putting a price tag on your friendship. However, if you take this inspired choice, you might become known as the purchaser of their most ridiculed and unreturnable gift. It’s not a bad fate, but it is a waste of your $7.00.