hand lettering

Common Cupcake Types

Hello passengers, my name is Joie and I'm your tour guide today on our Sugar Safari! We're out to spot some colorful confections today, so keep your seatbelts buckled, your insulin ready, and your peepers peeled! And remember, no flash photography as these desserts are wild and dangerous.

And here's our first cupcake now, just off to your left. Chocolate cakes can come in many shapes and sizes, but this one is especially majestic in that its chocolate icing has been salted! The salt decoration is the meager beginnings of what will become a lovely mating display later this season. Chocolates have some of the highest populations here, and tend to be found grouped up with Vanillas.

Ah! Quick, grab your cameras folks-- this lovely syrup watering hole up ahead has a visiting pack of Strawberries. Look at that one, she's a beaut! Perfectly fluffy white buttercream icing, glossy berries, and a lovely polka dot wrapper. Great specimen, that one!

This area is well known for its citrusy cakes, and this Lime is no different! Its lime crest buried in the cream cheese frosting denotes its rank within the group. This one is especially powerful, and may even be the Alpha. Sir? Sir, I need you to get Little Timmy to pull his arms back inside the vehicle-- we don't want to challenge the KEY Lime in a battle of dominance!

Quiet now, folks. Here we've come upon some cakes hunting. Food is sometimes in high demand without enough to go around, and it appears that the Confettis are closing in on a herd of sprinkles-- which are cakes' favorite prey. Sprinkles are incredibly difficult to catch because of their agility, so a cake pack has to work together seamlessly to feed themselves. Watch the way that the Confettis use their colorful appearance to hide in the tall grass. Waiting. Watching.

Oh gosh, what's this?! A Velvet interloper has entered the scene! Seeing a Velvet on its own is fairly rare; he must've been an old Red that got usurped by a more powerful one and driven away from his pack. He's looking quite lean on sprinkles, which is likely what's driven him to just run at the sprinkle herd without a plan. Desperate times call for desperate measures! The Confettis don't look happy about this at all-- the sprinkles have been alerted to danger and have wisened up. Looks like no one will be getting dinner tonight.

And what's this? Oh, oh my. Here we have the completed the circle of life-- just off to the right. It appears that a juvenile Black Forest cake may have strayed too far from his group. The world is a dangerous place, and rogue Forks can be anywhere! From the stab marks in the ground here, I would guess it was a group of no less than three that found the Forest by himself.

Let's be honest, "Gone" really IS the most common type of cupcake.

Well, that concludes our Sugar Safari for the day, ladies and gentlemen! We are back in the safety of the Visitor Center, so please make sure you have all your belongings before exiting the vehicle. Thank you for going wild cake spotting with me today, and be sure to check out the gift shop on your way out! See you next time!

Sous Vide Pork

You really can't lose when you have mashed potatoes

You really can't lose when you have mashed potatoes

Have you seen the new cooking craze, Sous Vide? Well, it's not new-new-- the technique has been around since 1799 and was "rediscovered" and refined in the 60s and 70s. It's basically where food is put inside a vacuum pouch and cooked at a steady temperature by water or steam.

It's "new" in that now it can be achieved with a fancy kitchen gadget that is finally affordable for the average consumer. It is an electronic stick that you put in a pot of water with your vacuum-pouched-food, set the temperature, and let 'er fly.

My husband and I got one for Christmas, and let me tell you-- it makes AMAZING meat. We've used it to cook steaks a few times, and in this case we cooked up a pork tenderloin that turned out phenomenally. It was mouth-wateringly moist, and the salt and pepper we put on the outside really brought out the flavor of the meat.

Did YOU know that pork tasted like something? I mean, bacon notwithstanding. Pork actually has a flavor. I used to not be a huge fan of pork, and I'm wondering if I just kept having overcooked meat all the time. That's understandable, since there was that whole trichinosis scare back in the day. I'm pretty sure I cooked my porkchops into a pile of ash out of fear.

Now they say it's really not that much of a threat anymore. And thank goodness for that! Our pork was perfectly medium-well all the way throughout, and exceptionally juicy. We paired it with some mashed potatoes (frozen, yes I know... travesty, but they work in a pinch!) and some steamed spinach.

Have you tried the sous vide technique? Let me know in the comments!

Heeeey Margarita!

There aren't many uses for this lime green color marker... besides this.

There aren't many uses for this lime green color marker... besides this.

So this "drawing my food thing" began with me just sketching various things I ate for lunch. After a few goes at it, I found another simple and easy object to practice drawing-- drinks. I have frequent access* to them and they're visually interesting, so it seemed like an easy fit. This and the last drawing in particular were the first time I'd attempted to add some color into the mix with my old pals: Prismacolor Markers.

In undergrad in 2007, I did an entire semester of independent study with markers, so I own over 100 of the things. I know, I know. Sacrifice food for the expensive art supplies, I know.

Anyway, I spent three months finding only two books on the subject out in the wide, wide world, and one cost $70. $70! Do you know how many bottles of very cheap wine that is? Or alternately, it's about 20 markers.

I instead made my own book that was a glorious 60 pages of swatches, technique trial and error, and my first set of fully-rendered marker pieces. Where is that book now, you may ask? No clue. I may have chucked it at one point, once I went to grad school and was told that digital art was the way of the future. What a letdown, am I right?

Fast forward ten years, and I'm finally using them again.** I still love and need my computer to maintain an income, but it feels SO GOOD to get away from that glowing screen and make something with my hands again.

*I mean, I AM an artist. Writers have this same thing too, I hear.

**Can we talk about how amazing it is that they haven't dried out in all this time??

Wine o' Clock

When you want some wine, but all you have in your pocket is $2

When you want some wine, but all you have in your pocket is $2

Who doesn't love a good drink after work? I used to hate wine, but became a huge fan of it when I was in grad school; I was living in the wine-centric city of San Francisco at the time. Sonoma and Napa are just two hours north, after all!

I even remember my first lesson about wine types outside of just knowing them as "red" or "white." I was invited to a dinner at my friend Maggie's house, and she told me to "bring a cab." In confusion, I showed my ignorance by asking if she meant I should use a cab to get to her house.

"Oh... um. No, it's a wine. Look for a sign in the grocery store that reads Cabernet Sauvignon."

My friends in San Francisco were exceptionally patient with me. I still laugh to this day about some of the dumb questions I asked them!

That evening was my introduction to what would end up becoming my favorite type of red wine even to this day. I really enjoy the dry "punch you in the mouth" flavors that Cabs typically have.

That said, wine is also expensive, especially for an at-the-time graduate student. How does one solve this problem? Why Two Buck Chuck, of course! I learned it was easy to budget for $2/bottle every now and then, and so "Wine O' Clock" (also known as "Sunday Wineday") was born.

Ladies and Gents, Ready Your Forks 

Being that I'm a professional illustrator, I went to art school. Predictably it was a lesson in "what's the cheapest and fastest ways to eat?" The "starving artist" thing isn't a cliché. I spent my entire undergrad breathing and bleeding art... and eating a ton of ramen. Or Hot Pockets. Lean Cuisine. Tiny Costco pizzas... Wendy's value menu. You get the picture.

I'm a sissy and can only handle literally three drops of hotsauce on my avocado. And that's AFTER training for it!

I'm a sissy and can only handle literally three drops of hotsauce on my avocado. And that's AFTER training for it!

Graduate school brought me a whole new dilemma-- I'd learned a bit about cooking and food, but now had absolutely zero money in San Francisco, one of the most expensive cities in the world. I legitimately could not afford to buy or cook meat in my postage stamp sized apartment, so I had to get creative with vegetarian meals I could cook en masse and eat the leftovers for two weeks. So, you know. Rice. Lots and lots of rice.

One of my more creative attempts at using up my Thanksgiving  leftovers this past year.

One of my more creative attempts at using up my Thanksgiving  leftovers this past year.

So now I'm an "Adult." Or so says my driver's license. I've since learned at least some basic-plus (that's when you're one step past basic, but definitely not intermediate) cooking skills, and have come to appreciate better food than my academic career might indicate. I've also entered an age decade that begins with "3" and just gotten married. That's about the most adultiest-adult thing you can do besides paying taxes.

We got tons of great kitchen gear from our amazing family and friends, and as I was reading the very complicated instructions on how to season our new wok I thought, "Wow, I really wish I knew more about food so I feel like I can do this thing justice."

And thus was born this new little side project of mine: refining my palate. Learning to cook better, learning to define tastes better. What spices can I use besides just basil, salt, and pepper? What sort of flavor goes well with another? What IS the best way to cook a steak? Why is it that you have to tie a turkey's legs together?* Only, as I'm an artist, it isn't just going to be a side hobby-- no. It'll also be an illustration expedition as well.

Maybe one day when I publish a giant coffee table book of my food art, I'll have to call it Refining My Palette. I am NOT sorry for that pun.

Anyway, you'll be seeing all sorts of food art here now, so I hope you're hungry!

*Oh yes hungry reader, I, along with my husband, was in charge of cooking the 23 pound turkey for Thanksgiving this year. We had absolutely no idea what we were doing... but somehow the thing turned out delicious and no one died from undercooked poulty. Whew. Skin of our teeth on that one...