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let them eat… cupcakes!

Posted by Stace on April 20, 2012 in Tourist in My Own Town |

It may surprise you, given the content of so many of my posts, but my normal eating habits are relatively strict. Wholeheartedly and regularly, I repeat and practice the mantra: “everything in moderation. Including moderation.” Recently, however, I experienced one of the best reasons to throw all that out the window for a day and eat (as well as do) just whatever the hell I wanted: my birthday!

To be fair, I’ll admit that while I really did partake in a thoroughly indulgent day (complete with a nap, which I so rarely have a chance to do, especially on a Saturday afternoon), I did get a sweaty workout in, situated perfectly between a finger-licking-good brunch and an evening of splurging and relaxation. So enough about the less-exciting parts of my life, and on to the sweetest bits. If you’ve been reading for any length of time, you know by now that one of my favorite things in life is a really delectable brunch, so what better way to start my birthday than surrounded by my family at a new (to me) brunch spot? After fairly extensive research, I chose to start my day at Boon Fly Cafe. My immediately family and I assembled outside around 11, put our names on the list and sat on the porch swings while we waited for a table, cups of fresh, hot coffee in hand. Sure, we had to wait a while, but a weekend brunch that doesn’t take reservations – what else would you expect?

Before too much time had passed, it was our turn and we filed into a big corner table and ordered a round of drinks. Though the infamous Bacon Bloody Mary nearly tempted me, I ultimately chose to stick with one of my old standbys: a simple mimosa, and Mom followed suit:

My brother’s girlfriend, Ricki, and my dad both chose the Carneros iced coffee (brandy, coffee, espresso liqueur, and whipped cream):

My brother, Michael, surprised me when he chose my mom’s old favorite, a Tequila Sunrise:

Because I’d done my homework in advance, we also knew to order a bucket o’ cinnamon sugar mini donuts right away while we perused the menu:

As soon as they arrived, we dug in, happily savoring the hot, sugary, chewy delights. (So much so, in fact, that Michael insisted I keep photographic evidence of his happy fingers before he licked them clean!)

When we did get around to choosing entrees, Mom and Michael both opted for omelettes, complete with hashbrowns & toast

while Ricki chose the tempting B.E.L.T. (I hope I don’t have to tell you what that is!)

I couldn’t resist the oft-praised Eggs Benedict, though I asked them to skip their notoriously thick ham slices and give me avocado instead. Note the use of pain levain instead of the more traditional English muffin. I honestly wasn’t sure what to expect, as I love a good eggs Benny and a good English muffin, but the texture of this bread was perfectly toasted: chewy, not sour or too crunchy. It was a nice little switcheroo, and the jalapeno hollendaise is what killed it for me. De-freaking-licious!
I was happy that my dad chose the breakfast flatbread (mozzarella, bacon, carmelized onions, and fried egg), because it’s another one of those things Boon Fly’s known for, and I’m even happier to report that he ate it all, so there are no complaints to speak of – I didn’t even get a bite!

(Not that I would have had room for one, but I digress.)

After another Mimosa and some birthday cards, I discovered that my dad had paid my registration to the upcoming Bay to Breakers, which will be my first real race. It’s a 12k with a few killer hills through San Francisco, and it’s always known to be a good time, so I’m really looking forward to it – thanks, Dad! I spent the rest of my afternoon getting in my workout and getting a few things done before I realized I didn’t want to “waste” a perfectly lovely Saturday off (a very rare occurrence indeed) on everyday chores. Even so, it was nearing late afternoon as my mom and I pulled up to Sift, a true splurge-worthy destination, and one I work very hard to stay away from, so each visit is that much more special.

Before I go further, I have to talk a little about cake and cupcakes here. I know cupcakes are a smoking hot trend right now, and have been for several years. To be honest, though, I’m only just now starting to figure out why, and unfortunately (fortunately?) for me, this realization came at a cost: I began learning with the best, at the very top. See, I have a friend who makes cupcakes. Really, she should do it for a living, but it’s apparently just an overgrown hobby that sometimes makes her a little extra cash. She is brilliant at it, and the very first time we met I left with a half dozen of her chocolate cupcakes on my person (it’s a long story)! I didn’t think much about it, because okay…here goes… I’m not a big cake eater, normally. There, I said it. The truth is, I’d rather have a really amazing piece of pie, or a great cookie, or some kind of mind-blowing ice cream concoction instead. I just never really found a cake to be super earth-shattering, and these days, it’s just that I don’t often find it to be, well…worth my calories! Enter Dafna. Back to that cupcake, several years ago. I was staying with a friend, and I had planned to eat a cupcake and leave the rest of the half dozen with her as a thanks for her hospitality, and then I bit into my “one” cupcake. I’d never tasted anything so moist and delicious. Now that’s how cake & cupcakes are supposed to taste! Even now, I’m a sucker for the filled versions of these tiny cakes more than anything, and this one wasn’t. It was a simple version of a perfect chocolate cupcake, and I still haven’t forgotten it.

Daf and I often travel together, and it’s a favorite thing of ours to hunt down local “cupcakeries” and go off in the name of “research and development” to see how they compare to hers and/or get inspiration. So far, we’ve tried several good places, and at least one great (Sweet Revenge in New York City – you can read the post here), but nothing really compares to the texture of Dafna’s own cupcakes. (For me, anyway. She swears I flatter her, but I’m sincere.) Enter…Sift. This most recent outing was not my first, I admit. But there’s something about that damn cheery hot pink awning in the back corner of one of my favorite shopping centers in my town that had been calling out to me for longer than I care to admit. Because I’d given myself permission to eat as I pleased that day (within reason, ahem…sort of), and because as I’ve just explained, traditional cake isn’t usually my thing, I thought…what better than half dozen mind-blowing cupcakes instead? And so it began.

The inside of the new(ish) Sift location (in Napa’s Bel Air Plaza, though there are locations in Santa Rosa & Cotati as well, and then there’s the Cupcake Truck…oh, and yes: they’ll ship, too) is as charming as the exterior would have you believe:


And how I made it out of the store without falling prey to this, I don’t know…I should’ve bought it. (I may still!)

Somehow, though, after far too much deliberation, we succeeded in selecting a half dozen (okay, we cheated: we picked five flavors we were really excited about and doubled up on one) and were finally on our way as the daylight began to die.

See, there was something I’ve been wanting to do for quite some time now, and just never managed to get around to. There’s this statue of an old grape crusher out on the highway, and there’s a vista point out there with a few picnic tables and a parking lot. It’s not a hike or anything, but still I always imagined it might be a fun spot to go have a picnic (or at least a drink), especially around sunset, given that it’s up high enough that you can see over Napa all the way to the western horizon. So that’s exactly what I wanted to do. After leaving Sift, I picked up a bottle of bubbles (sparkling pear wine, actually) and headed out before the sunset to enjoy the scenery. I’m glad I did; it was gorgeous! First of all, here’s the statue itself:

And this lovely view facing east:

And then the sun really started to slide right out of the day, turning the sky some really amazing colors:


(This one is my favorite!)

Going…

…going…

…gone!

And then there was nothing left to do but polish of the bubbly pear and commence the splurge-fest of the evening: take-out from Gott’s Roadside Tray Gourmet, our waiting Sift cupcakes, and a movie! We decided to pick up dinner for three, hoping Mom’s roommate would be home and wanting to join us (alas, she wasn’t, but we managed without her). As such, we decided to go for bad, better, best (in terms of health) and ended up with something of a DIY sampler:

That’s two orders of sweet potato fries to share (the truth? I’ve had better. Hell, I make better! But, what I don’t make is their to-die-for ranch dressing that they serve ‘em with), and one bacon cheeseburger, one turkey burger with onion apple chutney and cheddar, and one veggie burger. Here’s a closer look:


In the end (and not surprisingly), it’s still the turkey burger that’s my favorite. If I’m dying for a really great cheeseburger, I’ll have one. But otherwise, I’m well accustomed to turkey instead, and that chutney is delicious!

And then, finally… it was birthday cupcake time! We only ate two each (four halves), and saved the others for the following day, but I savored every tiny morsel…partly because they’re that good and partly because they’re so not healthy. But…I lived. A lot! :D Here’s what we had, clockwise from top left:

the “Knock Your Sox Off” is Sift’s cupcake version of Boston Cream pie: vanilla cake with custard filling, topped with delicate ganache:


I could eat an obscene number of these!! Next is the “Battle Royale,” named as such because it won its episode of Cupcake Wars on the Food Network. It’s almond cake with blueberry tequila filling, topped with acai cream cheese frosting:


I didn’t get to cupcake #3 until the following evening, but it’s the Samoa (yes, like the Girl Scout cookie), and it’s another Cupcake Wars winner. It’s coconut cake filled with dense chocolate ganache, topped with caramel frosting and coconut with a light ganache drizzle:


As amazing as this one was, and it was, I’m glad I had someone to share it with. Half was more than plenty, as the ganache is really rich and heavy. I don’t think I could eat an entire Samoa cupcake in one sitting…but I might like to try. You’ll notice on the bottom row that both ends are the same: the Limonatta. That’s because Mom and I both love, love, LOVE all things tart lemon, and this is lemon cake with a lemon curd filling and Meyer Lemon frosting:


Simple though this one may be, it might just be my favorite. I think I could eat even more of these than of the Knock Your Sox Off, and that’s saying something (and dangerous)! Last but in no way least was the divine “Berry Good Cheesecake,” a vanilla cupcake with a graham cracker bottom, raspberry jam filling, and cream cheese frosting:


All in all, my birthday was heaven, thanks equally in part to Sift’s delicacies, and time with my family! (And here you can see why I don’t mind eating fairly healthy most of the time… or why, perhaps, I have to?)

And that’s a wrap! It was quite a birthday, and this year I’m 33. According to recent research findings, people don’t begin to reach their happiest point in life until they’ve blown out 33 candles. Sounds delicious to me! Cheers!

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