Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Take a Break: Make Valentine’s Cupcakes

Before today’s “take a break,” I want to share a piece of an article by Martha Beck, as it is the best summary of why I so passionately believe in the importance of “take a break.”

How to Be Here Now: People started telling me to "be here now" when I was about 20. "Great!" I responded. "How?" Be still, they said. Breathe. Well, fine. I started dutifully practicing meditation, by which I mean I tried to be still while compulsively planning my next billion-watt wow. But one day, while reading up on the latest research in positive psychology, I discovered a two-word instruction that reliably ushered me onto the plains of peace when I couldn't force my brain to just "be still." Here it is: Make something.

You see, creative work causes us to secrete dopamine, a hormone that can make us feel absorbed and fulfilled without feeling manic. This is in sharp contrast to the fight-or-flight mechanism, which is associated with hysteria hormones like adrenaline and cortisol. Research indicates that we're most creative when we're happy and relaxed, and conversely, that we can steer our brains into this state by undertaking a creative task.

To get a dopamine "hit," make something that pushes you to the furthest edge of your ability, where you're not only focused but learning and perfecting skills. Cooking an unfamiliar dish will do the trick, as will perfecting a new clogging routine. At first, depending on how addicted to mania you happen to be, the excitement-grubbing part of your brain won't want to stop obsessing about over-the-top experiences. It will cling to its fantasies about the next huge thrill, its fears of Suicide Tuesday. Keep creating.

As you persist, your brain will eventually yield to the state psychologists call mindfulness. Your emotions will calm, even if you're physically and mentally active. You won't notice happiness when it first appears, because in true presence, the mind's frantic searching stops. In its place arises a fascination with what's occurring here and now. Though this feeling is subtle, it's the opposite of dull. It's infinitely varied and exquisite.

The aftermath of a creative surge, especially one that involves a new skill, is a sense of accomplishment and increased self-efficacy—which psychologists recognize as an important counter to depression. Instead of a Suicide Tuesday crash, you're left with the happy fatigue of someone who is building strength.

Pay attention to this process, and you'll see that the motivation to be here now will gradually grow stronger than the cultural pressure to seek excitement. You'll find yourself increasingly able to tune in to the delights of the present even when you're not actively creating. When this happens, you'll be on your way to genuine happiness: abundant, sustainable delight in the beautiful moments of ordinary life.

It’s just a few weeks until Valentine’s Day, so today’s and next weeks “Take a Break” will be dedicated to fun Valentine’s activities. For past inspiration, go to

Paper and Scissors (chains, cobweb, German Paper cutting)


Valentine’s Paper Basket

So now for some cupcakes that say “I love you,” or maybe “your important enough for me to make you a cupcake.” This really is all about the decorating. Make whatever kind of cupcake batter you like. You can take a box of cake mix and combine with a can of pumpkin for a very yummy cupcake. Yes, you can use a chocolate cake mix with the pumpkin. A cream cheese frosting would taste very delicious with this cupcake.

Decorating ideas:
Edible Clay (Fondant, Marzipan): Fondant is a sugar paste that you roll out and cut into whatever shapes you desire. If you want ease, and aren’t so concerned about taste, go with the store bought variety. If taste is important, make it yourself. The marshmallow variety is very easy to make. Watch the How to Make Marshmallow Fondant. It’s roughly one cup of marshmallows and 1/2 T of water melted in the microwave (30-60 secs), stir till smooth and then stir in powdered sugar. Start with a half-cup and stir until it becomes difficult. Dumb out and knead on a flat surface, adding more powdered sugar until you get smooth dough. Wrap with Saran Wrap or similar product and let rest for a few hours before rolling it out. Kneed again to loosen, adding a little water if it’s too stiff. Roll out using powdered sugar. Don’t use flour.

You can add color by using different color marshmallows or adding color just after it comes out of the microwave or kneed it in before rolling it out.

Marzipan is another option, but it isn’t as easy for rolling out and cutting shapes as fondant is. However, it’s great for making realistic shapes. When it comes to taste, there is no fondant that can compare to marzipan. It will be more expensive than fondant.

Which ever you use, try using tiny cookie cutters to cut out shapes. While you can buy different colored fondant, you can use food colors to paint on designs, or mix it into the white fondant or marzipan to change the color.

If you’ve never worked with fondant, watch the video How to Decorate Cookies for Valentine’s Day.

Chocolate clay is another option. By combining melted chocolate and light corn syrup, you can make edible chocolate play dough. This is great for making things like roses.

Need some inspiration, check out the following fondant inspired decorations
Love Letter Valentines Day Cupcakes

Fondant Valentine’s Day Conversation Heart Treats

Valentine’s Cake

Edible Bling: Yes there is edible glitter, spray and jewels, which you can order on-line or purchase from a cake-decorating store. Wal Mart and Michael’s both carry a variety of cake decorating supplies so take a look there. However, check the candy isle. There are all sorts of gummie things that with a snip here and there, and/or brushed with a bit of sugar, can look pretty realistic. Since sugar is a crystal, put some in a sandwich bag, add a little bit of food coloring and start mixing until you get the right shade. Dragees, are the edible silver balls and your local grocery stores may carry them in the baking isle.

Piping: For years, I used the “decorating pens” that are warmed before using. They are not only easy to use, but you can make wonderful designs, write names etc. However, you can make your own by heating up some white chocolate (I’m big on the microwave, which takes about a minute) and add some food coloring. If it starts to clump up, add a little bit of oil. If you don’t have a piping bag, put the chocolate in a plastic bag, such as a sandwich bag, snip a corner and you have a very inexpensive piping tool. Of course, you can just dip your spoon in the chocolate (dark, white or dyed) and drizzle it back and forth across the cupcake.

Edible Paper: There are a variety of rice papers that come with lovely designs and different colors. While you can sometimes get these in the wedding isle of a good craft store, your best bet is to order on-line. These can be used with punches.

Because Super Bowl Sunday is just a few days away, what about beer cupcakes? A very ardent blogger has come up with Blue Moon and Corona Cupcakes.

Whatever you decide, you have just about two weeks to make some very special Valentine’s cupcakes for neighbors, friends and family. Have fun!

No comments:

Post a Comment