A Lot Can Happen in Two Years

Two years may seem like a long amount of time but, I personally feel that the last two years of my life have been moving at warp speed. I don’t often talk about my personal life on this blog mainly because, well I don’t know that it’s terribly relevant. I’m always so excited to share different recipes I’ve been making or my photos that I sometimes for get to add me into the equation So, for today’s post I am going to share with you the big changes that have occurred in my life over the past two years.

This time two years ago I was living in Boston, with 3 awesome roommates working at a publishing company as an assistant. In addition to my job I was trying to start my own cake business and writing a monthly column for the Somerville Patch. I was a busy lady!

My roommates and I (and our cats)

My roommates and I (and our cats)

Then, I made a big, life-changing decision. I decided to quit my job and move from Boston down to Charleston, South Carolina with my hunky, sailor boyfriend. My sailor was just starting out on his career in the Navy and needed to move down to SC to get some training for his future job. This was a tough choice to move away from my friends and from a city that felt like home to me, but I knew I was making the right choice.

So there we were, living in South Carolina enjoying the marvelous low-country cuisine and sunshine. I decided that this was as good a time as any to make some major shifts in the direction my career had been going. Hoping to build on the experience I got from working at Wegmans in high school and some additional skills I had picked up along the way, I  started looking for jobs at restaurants and bakeries.

Shockingly, not many people wanted to hire someone who had very little professional kitchen experience, and didn’t have some fancy shmancy degree from a cooking school. It was frustrating and I almost gave up so many times. Then, as luck would have it (after months of searching and failed interviews)  I met someone who decided to take a chance on me, and so I got a job as the pastry chef at Dixie Supply Bakery and Cafe. I loved this job and I learned so much. I knew right away that I had taken a huge step in the right direction. I’ll be forever grateful to the owners, who taught me so much, were very patient when I messed up, and most of all gave me a chance.

This is me on my first day at Dixie presenting my very first batch of their signature blueberry muffins
This is me on my first day at Dixie presenting my very first batch of their signature blueberry muffins

This is me on my first day at Dixie presenting my very first batch of their signature blueberry muffins

After 9 months of living in sunny South Carolina, the Navy had us move to upstate New York so my sailor could finish his training. After tying the knot on a cold and snowy day in February, it was time to look for another job.

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This time a whole new experience awaited me; I was hired as a decorator at Bettie’s Cakes, a cupcake bakery with a retro flare. After working there for only a few months I was promoted to bakery manager and my life became a whirl-wind of working at a bakery during the summer in a tourist town. I worked a lot and in return received an invaluable work experience. When the time came for us to move yet again, it was hard to say goodbye.

This is me in the kitchen at Bettie’s decorating some cookie monster cupcakes
This is me in the kitchen at Bettie's decorating some cookie monster cupcakes

This is me in the kitchen at Bettie’s decorating some cookie monster cupcakes

And now here we are two years later with two vastly different restaurant experiences under my belt, on the opposite side of the country. My handsome sailor got stationed in Bangor, Washington and we’re here to stay (for a few years anyway). I am looking to focus my energy on building my business, Clara’s Cake Shop and my blog. I can’t even wait for the new challenges that lay ahead.

Thanksgiving at the Ciminelli House

Thanksgiving is only a few short days away and I thought it would be fun to stroll down memory lane of Thanksgivings past. Fun fact; Thanksgiving is actually my favorite holiday. Why? Because of all the food, of course! Thanksgiving has almost always been hosted at my parents’ house and although we all pitched in with the cooking the last few years I have been helping out more and more with the cooking and baking of Thanksgiving dinner. Our pie situation has grown exponentially since I’ve become more involved with the planning and preparations. Shocking, I know.

Let’s kick this off by taking a quick look at last year; Thanksgiving 2011

The peaceful calm before the guests arrive and the eating starts.

My dad always carves up the turkey.

My cousins Gabriel and Audrey and Aunt Diane. I can’t even stand how much Gabriel and Audrey have grown up. I would like to also note that Audrey is taller than me. I know this is shocking to no one in particular since I am in fact a shorty, but I share this because, Audrey is very proud of this. Every time she comes over she gives me a big hug and then steps back to see how tall she is compared to me.

Audrey comes in for a closer look at the turkey carving

I made four large pies and four mini diabetic-friendly pies.

I promptly ate them all. Oh Thanksgiving, I’m so happy you are just a couple of days away.

How about Thanksgiving 2009? We traveled down to Stafford, Virginia to have Thanksgiving at my Uncle Mike and Aunt Karen’s house. Now there is something you should know about us.

We’re inflatable turkey people. And even when we travel to other relatives’ house, the turkey comes with and is set up in their lawn.

Here’s my Uncle Mike carving up the turkey

And this is my Mom and I taking over the kitchen to make pies. We’re pretty serious about pie.

I have to admit this is one of my more photogenic apple pies. Even as a pastry chef, sometimes even my pies look a little abstract. However they always taste awesome and that’s what counts. Need a recipe for some rockin’ pie crust? Try making it with vodka (click here for the recipe).

This is me and my cousin Carolyn. I absolutely made her crouch down for this photo, she is at least 3 feet taller than me.

“Ahhh no more photos!”

“Just kidding, you know I love making goofy faces for the camera!” P.S. Could I look like a bigger creep in this photo?

Now for funsies let’s hop all the way back to 2003;

A big group for Thanksgiving 2004 including my Nana. I think about her a lot but even more so during the holiday season.

My sister still had her short hair.

Oh, wait so did I. Ok, next time I start thinking about short hair, someone please stop me! Also this pictures Gabriel who is  super grown up now (see Thanksgiving 2011 photos) and going to school at Westpoint. My cousin Carolyn is sitting next to me. She is still at least 3 feet taller than me.

Uncle Mike and my cousin Christina, who is also a grown up now. And at least 5 feet taller than me. Also she is hilarious.

And here’s Audrey!

Judging by Uncle Paul and Gabriel’s post-dinner comas, I would say dinner was a great success. Also, how much do you love our old couch?

It’s fun to reflect on Thanksgivings past. It always makes me smile to look back at the times shared with both family I get to see every year or only every few years. I am looking forward to Thanksgiving this week, and in case you are wondering (I’m sure you’re dying to know) I will be making 5 pies this year. And it was tough to narrow it down to 5.

Need some recipe suggestions for Thanksgiving?

Try my family’s Cranberry relish

These fabulous pumpkin muffins

This delicious and addicting caramel popcorn

Or this incredible no-fail pie crust.

I hope everyone has a great Thanksgiving this week.

 

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Very Angry Cupcakes

This post has been sitting in my draft box for a couple of months, but better late than never! For Joe’s birthday this summer I threw him a surprise Angry Birds party.

The party was complete with a string of Angry Bird balloons I made,

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Stuffed Angry Birds to throw at the birthday boy…

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And of course, the best part, some very angry cupcakes!

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These cupcakes were a lot of fun to make!

I started with cutting up the candy to make the faces of my angry birds. I used licorice bits for the eyebrows and for the center of the eyes, small marshmallows for the whites of the eyes, the pig snouts and ears, and the bellies of the birds. I also used peach gummies for the beaks. I was able to cut everything up pretty easily with kitchen scissors.

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I frosted my cupcakes with colored buttercream frosting; in general I prefer to use gel food coloring rather than liquid because it results in deeper colors without changing the consistency of the frosting.

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I added sprinkles to the tops of the cupcakes to add some texture.

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From there I started to assemble the faces of the birds and pigs.

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The eyebrows are really what make these faces, observe; angry cupcakes,

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Concerned cupcakes.

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For the white chests I flattened marshmallows with the bottom of a cup and for the beaks I cut the peach flavored gummies into triangles.

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For the pigs’ ears and snouts I cut up the marshmallows and pressed the sticky sides into green sprinkles.

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And there you have it, some very angry cupcakes!

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My New Job is Awesome

The last few months have been a bit of a whirlwind for me. When I moved to Charleston in January I was looking to change my career path dramatically; I was finally ready to pursue a career in food. I knew it would be a challenge to change my career paths, especially because I had no restaurant or kitchen experience since working at Wegmans when I was in high school. But I knew there was nothing else I wanted to be doing right now.

It took some time, but I was lucky enough to find an employer who was willing to take a chance on me. I am proud to report that for the last 3 months I have been working as the Pastry Chef at Dixie Supply Bakery & Cafe in downtown Charleston.

It has been such a wonderful and amazing experience. I absolutely love my job! First let me tell you a little bit about Dixie; we specialize in local, low-country cuisine and pride ourselves in having the best grits in town! Just take a look at this amazing menu! We always feature seasonal produce from local sources, and the head chef changes up our specials menu daily.

Dixie has been featured in Southern Living Magazine for their famous tomato pie, and on July 30th they will be featured on and episode of  Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives (Food Network, 10 pm EST).

Here’s what I wear to Dixie most days. My Dixie t-shirt says “getcha grits on.”

My job at Dixie, is to keep our display case full of tasty, fresh, baked goods. These items range from muffins and lemon bars to 3 layer cakes and our famous Bacon Bourbon Pecan Pie. My goal is to have a minimum of 10 items in the case as well as 3 pies, and a 3 layer cake on top of the case.

When I’m feeling fancy this is what I wear. Who’s looking like a real professional now? That would be me.

At this position I have the opportunity to make recipes that have been developed by the owners Kris and Alan, as well as introduce new recipes and experiment. This really just gives me a license to browse Pinterest for hours at a time doing research for work.

Here are some of my favorites so far;

Strawberry & Cream Cupcakes (made with fresh strawberry buttercream)

Peach Upside-Down Biscuits

Peach Spice Cake

Milky Way Cake

Homemade Marshmallows (dipped in chocolate)

3 Layer Vanilla Cake with Blueberry Filling and Cream Cheese Frosting

Homemade Pop-Tarts with blueberry filling

Peach Melba Muffins

Fig Cake (a simple, yet delicious cake made with fresh, local figs!)

Red Velvet Cake Pops

Citrus Cake with Lemon Curd Filling

“Fruit Puffs” (filled with cream cheese frosting and topped with fresh fruit)

Coconut Cake

Homemade Oreos

American Flag Cake (a vanilla layer cake with cream cheese frosting, this was so much fun to make!)

If you would like to keep up with the new treats I’m baking at Dixie, just follow their facebook page, which is updated regularly with what new items we are featuring at the restaurant.

I can say truthfully I love going to work. It took some patience and a whole lot of support, but it really paid off in the end. This is the best job I’ve ever had.

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