Am I What I Eat?

Does the food we eat really define who we are? Jean Anthelme Brillat-Saverin thought so, as the phrase “you are what you eat”  comes from his famous conclusion of “tell me what you eat and I will tell you what you are.” If his statement is true, then what I am?

Most of the time, you can pinpoint where a person is from based on what they eat. If a person eats a lot of pasta you can assume he has some Italian in him, but if a person has a traditional curry and naan dinner every night you can assume he’s Indian. It would be hard to place these assumptions on me. In a week I might eat an Indian dish, pizza, stir fry, an open faced sandwich, pita bread and mujaddara, and steak with green beans. Each of these dishes come from a different country and a different culture, so pinpointing a specific area of origin on me would be difficult. In fact, what I eat says the opposite. Instead of picking one country, what I eat might say that I’m willing to eat food from around the world. It might say that I’m interested in travel and learning about different cultures. And that’s true. I enjoy experimenting with new foods and discovering new fusions. On that note, one of my favorite restaurants in Portland is Pok Pok, a Thai and American fusion restaurant where they mix traditional Thai food with dishes like baby back ribs.

But what I eat says more about me than my interest in foreign food. If you listed the food I eat in a day, you’d find that most of it is plain. A peanut butter sandwich. A taco without tomatoes and sour cream. A Caesar salad without cold chicken. Looking at my food, you might come to the conclusion that I’m picky. And I am. I dislike so many foods that most people are usually taken aback when they ask what I like.

But when you put two and two together, what I eat creates a very confusing conclusion. First, it shows that I like eating a variety of food from other countries and cultures but on the other hand it says I’m so picky that everything must be plain. How do these things come together and work in harmony? Honestly, I’m not sure. But I do know that’s what my diet says about me, and it’s definitely the truth.


Feel It All Around: Summer in Portland

Washed Out’s “Feel It All Around” quickly became tied to Portland after the television show Portlandia started using it as the show’s theme song. Now, whenever I hear it, I remember summer in Portland –  and summer in Portland always involves food. Children running and playing in fountains at The Portland Saturday Market  while the scent of grilling peppers wafts into the sunshine, lines that wrap around the block at Voodoo Doughnut  and every food cart busily producing delicious meals. And since “Feel It All Around” brings about those feel good Portland moments, then it’s only fitting for it to be in a blog partially about Portland.

All in all, this song is merely here to set the atmosphere so that when you think of food in Portland, you can feel it all around.

A Foodie’s Feat Was Here: Food Carts

In the dark night, I smell warmth.

Twinkling lights glitter above as I step to the window.

Lists I don’t understand, something that’s new. My heart races.

A wild card, I choose. Let’s hope these recommendations were right.

I pay. I wait. Names are called. I wait.

Names constantly called close by. Still I wait.

Anxiety. Will my name be called?

My turn. I run to the window. Warmth in one hand, controlling the spillage. The other, a small container filled with something new.

Not unknown, just new.

Open the container, hesitantly taste. Wait a moment. Decide.

It melts in my mouth. This mixture I would have never guessed overwhelms my senses as I can see, smell and taste the richness. Mhhhm I want more.

So simple, I dip the warm, fried potatoes into the mixture. Even more magic develops in my mouth. The perfect complement. Warmth and richness, full of flavor and temptation. I cannot stop myself. I eat.

At the bottom, I scrape. This can’t be it, no there must be more. I enjoy the burnt crisps as much as the rest. Lick my fingers. It’s all gone.

French fries and pesto mayo dip. Potato Champion earns it’s name.

What else is here? Discovery.

A variety of the unknown that I have knowingly stepped into. Excitement. I want it. My pocket is empty and my stomach full. Distressed, I can’t have it all. But the carts will stay.

I must come back tomorrow, in the darkness, for more.

A Quick List: Food Vocabulary Found in Portland

As a person who has grown up in a “foodie” and eco-friendly city (Portland, OR) I hear terms regarding food frequently, like organic food and locavore. But not everyone has heard these terms before, so I have complied a small list of these terms so more people can understand what they mean. I’ve also included restaurants, markets and other places in Portland where one can find these terms and types of food.

Organic food– food that has been produced without  the use of chemicals like fertilizers and pesticides. Most people are concerned whether or not their vegetables, fruit or meat are organic. Organic food is all over Portland and can be found at places like the Portland Farmers Market.

Fast food – food that can be prepared quickly and is readily available and usually carries a negative connotation in “foodie” cities. Fast food is usually found at take out restaurants (McDonald’s) or in  the form of microwavable meals like Pizza Rolls or chili. Fast food can be found all over Portland, but do we really want to focus on fast food when there are so many restaurants that serve fresh, delicious, local food? No, no we do not.

Slow food – food that must be prepared with care and uses high-quality local ingredients. Slow food is mostly found in the family kitchen. For instance – every summer, when the tomatoes in our backyard are ripe, my mother will make tomato salads. All of the ingredients are from our garden except for the goat cheese, which she buys at farmers markets.

Local food – food that is grown, processed and sold within a certain area. Usually, local food is also seasonal because only certain food can be grown in specific regions. Finding local food is fairly easy if you know where to look. Many cities have CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture), where people pay a fee to receive local and organic food from nearby farms during a season. Local food can also be found at farmers markets or at small restaurants that only serve local food. One chain restaurant in the Pacific Northwest (Oregon and  lower region of Washington) is Burgerville – a burgers and fries fast food chain that only serves local and sustainable food.

Locavore – a person who is committed to eating local food only. Usually, the local food can be found within 100 miles of his/her home. These people believe that local food is more likely to be organic and less likely to contain chemicals. They usually find their food in their own gardens, through CSAs and local markets (Portland’s locally grown market is New Seasons Market).

Sustainable Food (also known as “green” food) – food that is produced is a sustainable manner. This includes production that uses nonrenewable resources efficiently and enhances natural resources, like reducing use of water. There are multiple restaurants in Portland that only serve sustainable, local and organic food; the highest rated being Papa G’s Vegan Organic Deli.

“Dear Student Writer”

You’ve decided to tackle a difficult project: a manifesto! Congratulations on that decision. I hope you change the world. But again, it’s going to be a difficult project. You will struggle in areas with this project, but maybe I can help you.

Let’s start off with what makes a manifesto work. The basics are the same as any other persuasive paper: be clear, concise and persuade. When writing a manifesto, you must have a clear, strong focus. People need to know what you’re fighting for and they need to know from the get-go. So don’t spend time talking about how recycling changed your life if your topic is about becoming vegetarian. The reader also needs to be able understand all of your arguments. When discussing a subject or argument, never assume that the reader knows what you’re talking about. What you should assume is that this is the first time they are reading this information. Include all relevant details even if you think they are common knowledge. Also, your manifesto must be concise. Many young writers think that long, complicated sentences are the best but in reality those sentences are confusing. It is easier to write a short, to the point, sentence. In a shorter sentence it’s easier to make a clear point that the reader will then understand. But when I say “shorter” I don’t mean you should make your sentences dry. You must maintain the juiciness to generate interest in the reader. Instead, leave out extra words and phrases that go off on a tangent. All you have to do is get a point across. Segueing from that thought, remember that a manifesto is persuasive. So fight for something. Make your point and tell the reader why it’s so important. Really convince the reader to make a change in his/her life. Your goal at the end of the piece is for the reader to say “hey, I think I’ll become vegetarian because of this manifesto.”

I’ll admit, these basic techniques can be difficult to master. In the manifesto I’m working on, I’m having a difficult time persuading my readers. I know why food composting (my topic) is important, but I’ve heard that the reader doesn’t completely understand why they need to change. But where there’s struggle also comes ease. What I find to be easy for me is clarity and focus. I know exactly what I’m writing about and the arguments I’m making.

Even though mastering all these techniques is difficult, it can be done. The Juicing Manifesto is a personal favorite of mine because it used these techniques to make the manifesto interesting. At the beginning, it immediately pulls you in with statistics and it’s clear from the beginning what the topic is. It’s also concise; it consists of short, powerful sentences. And it challenges the reader to try juicing by blatantly stating “This is not just a manifesto. This is a challenge.” If you want to know what a powerful manifesto looks like, I’d check it out.

So remember, even though writing a manifesto is difficult you can still be successful if you focus on being clear, concise and persuasive. Take this advice and read The Juicing Manifesto and you’ll know where to go with your piece. Good luck!

Dirt for Thought – A Composting Manifesto

Every day, the question “how sustainable am I?” is asked by most of Portland, OR  residents. But the focus has always been on eating locally, using less gas, recycling and replacing nonrenewable resources with renewable ones. Only recently Portland residents have been asking themselves “how can I reduce my garbage?” thanks to the city’s recent initiative “Portland Composts!” This initiative is focused on reducing garbage in residential areas by composting food waste instead of throwing it in the trash. It began two years ago as a trial, but last year Portland officially made the switch and composting is now in the forefront of every Portlander’s mind.

Portland is my hometown and I love it dearly; therefore I’m easily influenced by city initiatives. “Portland Composts!” was no exception. When I first learned that Portland was making the switch to food composting I was also taking a sustainability class at my high school. So while I was learning about the effects of food waste in class I got to experience my hometown making positive changes concerning the same subject. Unfortunately, my house isn’t within the “Portland Composts!” limits (I live in the suburbs) and my family wasn’t able to join the initiative. That didn’t stop it from inspiring me to compost though. I began doing research and broached the subject to my family. I began watching the amount of my food waste and where it went. “Portland Composts!” inspired me to become a food compost advocate.

Not everyone has city-wide programs that can inspire them to compost though.  Most of the time, no one knows what composting is or how to begin. But with some research and information, all American home owners and families can easily begin composting.

What is food composting?

Food composting is the decomposition of food waste into a dirt like substance that can be used as fertilizer. It is a way for us to reuse the food we don’t eat that is environmentally friendly.

Why do we need to compost food?

Back in 1825 Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin wrote 20 aphorisms of food in his book The Physiology of Taste: or Meditations on Transcendental Gastronomy, basically describing all of the issues humans have with food. Of all 20 aphorisms,  he never spoke of food waste or how to fix the problem; probably because it wasn’t an issue back then. But in American society today food waste is becoming more and more of an issue.

Everyone knows that the United States has an issue with garbage. We are notorious for wasting too much and we are running out of places to put it. In 2010, the United States produced about 250 million tons of trash, which is about 4.43 pounds of trash per person per day. Imagine,  each person in the U.S. produces about 1,616.95 pounds of trash in a year. And that’s only the things we throw away (food, cups, wrappers, etc), it doesn’t even include water waste or use of nonrenewable resources. But we don’t consider that we don’t have to throw away everything we do.

Food is a major contributor to the trash we generate but it doesn’t need to be. If we started composting food instead of throwing it away our garbage would decrease dramatically. In just a year of officially composting, Portland has reduced the amount of garbage by 38 percent, and that doesn’t include the nearby towns and suburbs (Hillsburo, Milwaukie, Beaverton etc). Once the program grows, the amount of garbage will continue to decline. Basically, composting will reduce the amount of waste that has to go into a landfill.

Another reason why we need to compost food is that it’s bad for food to go into landfills. When food is put into a landfill it will naturally start to decompose. But as the food decomposes it releases a gas, methane, which a green house gas that contributes to global warming. The reason methane gas is released is because the decomposing food doesn’t receive oxygen and undergoes anaerobic decomposition. On the other hand, when food is composted it receives oxygen, undergoes aerobic decomposition and doesn’t produce methane. Methane traps 23 times as much heat in the atmosphere as the same amount of Carbon Dioxide. The release of methane gas from landfills also accounts for 34 percent of all methane emissions in the United States.

So we have two major reasons why throwing food away is bad, and the answer to both is composting food. If we composted food we would reduce the amount of trash that goes into a landfill each year (which would also cut back on spending) and we would reduce the amount of methane emissions into our atmosphere. Food compost also produces fertilizer, so not only do we benefit from reducing our impact on the planet but there are also many uses for compost.

Despite all of the benefits of composting, most people don’t know what it is. It isn’t practiced in most homes and the majority of cities in the United States don’t practice industrial or residential composting. In a survey I took of 50 Chapman University students, only 59.46 percent of students knew what composting was. But when I asked them to describe what they thought composting was, many of them only had a vague idea. Most students thought it was a form of recycling. Also, even though almost 60 percent knew what composting was only 24.32 percent actually compost. The reason why so many students know about composting but don’t practice it is because they aren’t sure how to on campus or at home.

But why does it have to be like this? How can people know what composting is, but not know how to do it ? It isn’t a difficult thing to do, and even the smallest amount of composting helps the planet.

Photo Credit:

Photo Credit:

How to compost.

First, start off small. It is difficult for anyone to make drastic changes in life so starting small and easing into a new lifestyle is important for success. Begin with fruits and vegetables. They are the easiest to compost and don’t require a special bin. At my dorm room in college, I don’t have the time to compost all of my food, nor do I have the necessary items to compost. Instead, my roommate and I throw our fruit and vegetable scraps into the bushes near our room. After a few weeks, the food is gone and all I had to do was put it in the bushes. Here is a warning though: if you’re going to throw your food outside, put it places that are hidden or inconspicuous. The reason being is that we have all grown up in a time where littering is bad and we dislike seeing trash on the ground. But people don’t understand that compost isn’t trash and will become annoyed with seeing decomposing banana peels out in the open. Also, make sure to throw your fruits and vegetables in dirt or natural areas. This may seem silly, but I have seen people try to compost food on a sidewalk and it won’t decompose the same. It can also stain the sidewalk.

I had an experience with staining a sidewalk in August. I had a blackened banana that was so rotten the stench spread more than a few feet. When I took it to some bushes, the whole banana broke from the weakened stem and splattered onto the cement. I didn’t know what to do so I left it for a few days before it was swept into the grass. But after those few days the rotten banana left a stain that is still there today. It isn’t an attractive sight and I see it every day right outside my door. Moral of the story, don’t let rotting food sit on cement.

Once you have gotten used to separating your fruit and vegetables, or you have access to a compost bin, you can start composting more food. First, you will need to buy a compost bin. Usually households will have a small, kitchen container so food can be easily composted while preparing meals or while cleaning up. These containers should have a liner so they don’t get dirty or smelly. These bins can be made yourself or purchased. Just google “buy kitchen compost bin.” Bin prices can range anywhere from $20 to over $100 depending on size and how heavy duty it is.

When the kitchen container is full, take the food waste out to a large compost bin. Make sure the bin has a lid to keep rodents out. If your city collects compost like Portland does, your compost will be collected the same way trash is. In Portland it is collected weekly. If your city doesn’t have curbside pick up, you get to use the compost for yourself! When the compost turns into a fertilizer, you can use it for gardening or as soil in some areas of your yard.

A small note: the biggest issue many people have with composting is the odor. When food decomposes, it lets off a stench that reminds many of mildew. It is especially strong during the summer or in hot weather. It is unpleasant, but the odor is worth it if you’re helping the environment. Unfortunately, there aren’t many known ways to reduce the odor. The best way to reduce odor is to layer yard waste and food waste, like lasagna. Also, place your compost bin in an area where the smell isn’t noticeable in your house (far corner of backyard).

Here is a list of what can be composted (at least in the city of Portland, it may be different in other cities). It is important to know what can and can’t be composted. A good rule to follow by is “if it’s organic material, it can be composted.” This can include napkins and paper plates.

And here is a website with a more detailed description of composting, which includes the science behind decomposition.

Most importantly, tell your friends and family about food composting. Though it isn’t practiced in most cities, it is extremely important to know the effects food waste has on our world when not composted. And when the word gets out, maybe more cities will make the switch along with households. But people have to be informed for that to happen.

So go ahead and start your composting journey. Begin will small food scraps, like fruits and vegetables, and work your way up to composting all food waste in your house. I guarantee that you will see the difference it will make in your trash and carbon foot print.

The American Demand – America Revealed: Food Machine and King Corn

In America, we never go hungry. We are known for being able to produce massive quantities of any kind of food we desire, but we are also known for our waste. It’s an issue that most Americans shrug off, but it’s time to open our eyes. A great way to do this, and really see what is happening in our country, is by watching America Revealed: Food Machine and King Corn.

Both this episode and the  film focus on the process of food production in America and go straight to the source. America Revealed: Food Machine focuses on the mass production of food in America and how it’s done. In the episode we get to follow pizza delivery boys, visit a farm in California and visit the Shasta Dam in Northern California. The episode  really shows us how our demand for food has affected agriculture and the earth. When we visit the Californian farm, we get to see the amount of space needed to grow tomatoes and how much work is put into it. We learn about the use of pesticides to grow tomatoes more rapidly and the process they go through after they’ve been picked. We also get to see the damage our massive farm creates. We all know that most of America’s food is grown in California because of the year round sunshine and good soil. But there’s an issue that comes with those benefits: there’s no water. California rarely gets rain and the only way to get the necessary amount of water to support the intense agriculture is to irrigate it from somewhere else. And the closest large body of water to central California is Lake Shasta in Northern California. So with the host, we get to visit the Shasta Dam and it’s quite an eye opener. The size of the dam is overwhelming and, though dams create energy and a source of water for other areas, they negatively affect the environment around them. Dams block enormous amounts of water from flowing, and because it has to go somewhere the water pushes out onto land. Basically, dams recreate the shape of a body of water and that causes problems for the animals and plants that live in that area. Another issue with the irrigation system is that the water has to travel through so many pipes and for such a long time that it has to be treated in order to use it. And the water in California is so treated that I can’t even drink it from the tap, I have to filter it and even then my body still dislikes it. Coming from Portland, where water is plentiful and is so naturally fresh I never thought twice about drinking from the tap. But when I moved to California all that changed. It’s hard to believe that water can be such an issue, but because of our high demand for copious amounts of food it’s a reality.

King Corn, which is a film about our dependency on corn, opens our eyes in another light. In America, everything we eat has corn in it. And most Americans know this, but they don’t understand the scope of it. Corn is used to produce almost all the food we eat in America and most of the corn we grow is grown specifically for food production, not to be eaten. In the film King Corn, two men want to know how corn affects our lives, so they grow their own plot of corn. While the corn is growing, they visit beef farms and do experiments with using corn starch to make high fructose corn syrup. Their experiment of making high fructose corn syrup is something I will always remember, because it is such an eye opener to what is in our food. It is an interesting process of cooking corn starch and adding in chemicals that will poison us if we breathe it. That, in it’s own, shows that we shouldn’t be eating high fructose corn syrup but the visual of the final product is just as disgusting. I won’t ruin the visual for you now, but you’ll understand what I’m talking about when you watch King Corn.

Even though both America Revealed: Food Machine and King Corn focus on different aspects of the process of American food production, they both leave lasting impressions on whoever watches them. If you watch both, and you should, you’ll be able to understand a small piece of what food production is, and maybe you’ll consider a different way of producing food.

Calorie Detective

Going along with the short, few blog posts theme of food issues in America, I wanted to add this interesting short video about calorie counting. We have all seen the calorie counts on menus at restaurants and those pesky little numbers influence our food choices. I’ve definitely decided against getting some of the things at Starbucks after looking at the calorie counts. But what would you do if I told you those numbers were wrong? And not in a good way. This video looks into how restaurants get away with lying about their calorie counts by posting numbers that are much lower than the actual count.

If you like the video and want to know more, here is the online article that goes along with Calorie Detective.

A Visit to Sprinkles

When I arrived, people were bustling in and out of Sprinkles. The small cupcake shop in Newport Beach was surrounded by small, but empty shops. Everyone was there for cupcakes. I didn’t have to wait in line to enter the cupcake shop, but the newly opened Sprinkles ice cream shop next door had a line that was beginning to take over the sidewalk. I stepped inside the small cupcake shop and was greeted by a modern, chocolate brown decor. There was only enough room for the counter filled with heaven. There was a wide variety of fully stocked cupcakes, including fun flavors like smores. Each flavor had a distinct look that intrigued me as a customer. I could see the labels, and I could see the frosting, but I wondered what magic was inside. The Triple Cinnamon cupcakes had generous amounts of speckled frosting, but the cupcake liner hid what the cake looked like. The smores cupcakes, which I ended up buying one, had a toasted marshmallow frosting whipped on and I could only imagine what could be inside. Was there graham cracker chunks? Was it chocolate with marshmallow swirled in?  The possibilities overwhelmed me and I just wanted to try them all.

Before I could order, I had to get some business done. When i was greeted by a cheery employee, I asked if I could ask her or the baker some questions. She had no issue with answering questions, so we went over to the side with another employee to get out of the way of constant customer traffic.

I had three major questions I wanted to ask about the cupcake trend. The first was “does Sprinkles spend more time on frosting or the cake?” They answered frosting. “The cake takes a long time to bake but the frosting is more tedious,” Lexi, one of the employees said.

The second question I asked was about the business. Sprinkles is well known across the country as being a big part of the cupcake trend. So I asked, “why do you think Sprinkles has become ‘the face’ of the cupcake trend?” The employees weren’t really sure and didn’t have a concrete answer. They kind of awkwardly looked at each other for help, but then just decided to answer. They said it was probably because it was one of the first gourmet cupcake shops established at the beginning of the cupcake trend. They also said advertisement was huge. The owners have been successful at getting the Sprinkles name out and about, and the fact that the owners have been on Cupcake Wars means that people have seen them on television.

My third question was more a general question. I wanted to know why people want to buy gourmet cupcakes over store bought, even though they are more expensive. Both employees commented that the quality is just better. “I’ve heard people say that store bought cupcakes are more dry. And that the frosting doesn’t taste like it should. Like cream cheese frosting doesn’t really taste like cream cheese,” Lexi noted. “It’s just better quality. People are willing to pay $3.50 for one cupcake instead of $3.50 for an entire box of store bought cupcakes because our cupcakes are better. I think it comes down to quality over quantity.”

After they answered my three questions, I thanked them and then ordered my cupcake. They were still extremely friendly and helpful; as I was paying for my cupcake the cashier was giving me tips on how to make my cupcake better. “You got the smores one? That one is so good. If you stick it in the microwave, the chocolate ganache in the middle will melt. It’s so delicious.” It was obvious that these employees weren’t just doing their jobs, they actually cared about cupcakes.

When I got out of the shop, I sat an outdoor table and opened my Sprinkles bag. Inside was my smores cupcake. I took it out, and when I grazed the frosting the marshmallow stuck to me. I licked my finger, savoring the toasted marshmallow whip. The cake was chocolate with a small layer of graham cracker crumbles at the bottom. And, like the cashier said, there was a chocolate ganache in the center to top it off. With a balance of graham cracker, chocolate and toasted marshmallow, it took me back to all the times I’ve hung out around a campfire roasting marshmallows trying to create perfect smores. Who knew I could just visit Sprinkles for my perfected smore.

From Cups to Sprinkles

It was a warm summer day in downtown Portland and I needed a treat. I wanted something chocolate and sweet, but nothing I could get at a grocery store. I considered getting ice cream at a Ben and Jerry’s nearby, but as I walked up to it a small shop caught my eye. It was Cupcake Jones, a cupcake bakery right next to Ben and Jerry’s. I was intrigued and at the last minute I stepped into Cupcake Jones. It was very small; there was only enough room to order at the counter. Inside the counter was dozens of fresh, “jumbo” and “mini” cupcakes. There were several types of appetizing cupcakes, with flavors that ranged from cookie dough to red velvet and lemon. I had no idea which cupcake to try and with a line out the door behind me I felt the pressure. Finally, I chose Peter’s Chocolate Mint. It was a good choice.

The moment the cupcake was handed to me, I fell in love. The Peter’s Chocolate Mint cupcake was a dark, devil’s food cake with plenty of fudge frosting and chocolate mint sauce. To top it off, there was an Andes mint nestled in the frosting. It was a gorgeous treat and it tasted just a good as it looked. The cake was moist and rich, and the frosting light and fluffy. It tasted like it smelled; the chocolate was prominent with just a hint of mint. When I thought I couldn’t have found a more perfect cupcake, the cupcake became even better. In the center of the cupcake was a little surprise: chocolate mint ganache.  At that moment I knew Cupcake Jones knew what they were doing.

My first encounter with Cupcake Jones was merely the tip of the iceberg. After visiting that bakery, I began to notice cupcake bakeries popping up all over Portland. And the shops were doing well. More and more people were buying bakery cupcakes over store bought/boxed mixes. The cupcake trend had taken over. But when did this begin, and why? Why, all of a sudden, were cupcakes so popular?

The idea of an individualized sized cake is nothing new. Portion sized baked goods have been popular for a long time, starting around the 19th century, and the cupcake made its first debut in 19th century American households. It began as a way to save time in the kitchen because the small treats baked faster than whole cakes. The name “cupcake” even came from the baking technique used to make the small cakes. Before the 20th century there weren’t any muffin pans like the ones we use today, so the cakes were baked in cups. But that isn’t the only reason why these delicious cakes were named “cupcakes”. The original recipes called for cups of ingredients, like flour and milk. One of the first recipes for cupcakes, found in the cookbook Seventy-Five Receipts for Pastry, Cakes, and Sweetmeats written by a Lady of Philadelphia in 1828 (p 61),  shows how they got their namesake from both ideas.

“Cup cake. 
5 eggs.
Two large tea-cups full of molasses.
The same of brown sugar, rolled fine.
The same of fresh butter.
One cup of rich milk.
Five cups of flour, sifted.
Half a cup of powdered allspice and cloves.
Half a cup of ginger.

Cut up the butter in the milk, and warm them slightly. Warm also the molasses, and stir it into the milk and butter: then stir in, gradually, the sugar, and set it away to get cool. Beat the eggs very light, and stir them into the mixture alternately with the flour. Add the ginger and other spice, and stir the whole very hard. Butter small tins, nearly fill them with the mixture, and bake the cakes in a moderate oven.”

Which ever way the treat got it’s name, it stuck and began to grow in popularity.

Fast forward to the 20th century when the cupcake began to evolve. Shortly after World War One, the muffin tin was being used along with the new invention of the paper cupcake baking cups/liners we use today. Also, packaged cupcakes were becoming commercialized by Hostess. Cupcakes could now be bought in stores, which was the big thing until boxed cupcake mixes emerged.

Boxed mix cupcakes I made in February, 2013.

Boxed mix cupcakes I made in February, 2013. Photo credit: Katie Neubert

Boxed, or dry, mixes have always been my go-to when I want to make cupcakes. Making them by scratch is a messy project and requires a lot of time. But when I grab a boxed mix all I have to do is add eggs, water and oil and voila! I have a delicious batch of cupcakes within 30 minutes. This resourceful way of baking  has been around since the late 19th century, but there had been issues with boxed cakes until Betty Crocker made a successful batch of  boxed Ginger Cake in 1947. From there, General Mills and Betty Crocker began selling more flavors and soon boxed mixes became a staple in the world of cupcakes.

All throughout my childhood, the cupcake had been a special thing. It was saved for special occasions, like birthday parties or weddings. When I was in elementary school, any time someone had a birthday in my class, it was an unspoken rule that his/her mother had to bring cupcakes in for the class. They would be store bought cupcakes and came in two different flavors: chocolate and vanilla. Each kid would get one cupcake, except for the birthday kid who got to take home the extras. This happened for six years straight without fail. Those days, when I got to eat a sugar filled cupcake, were the best. Birthdays were my favorite days in school.

But then something changed in the cupcake world. Cupcakes became fancy, with all sorts of different flavors and designs ranging from red velvet to marbled. When people wanted cupcakes, they bought individual cupcakes, not whole boxes. And all of this sparked from a little television show called Sex and the City.

Sex and the City began in 1994 as a show about four women living in New York City. It is an iconic show that every American knows of, whether or not they have watched a single episode. The show has influenced American culture in many ways, including fashion, alcohol and women’s sexuality. To top it all off, the show took place in New York City and the characters visited many New York shops.

One shop that was introduced in Sex and the City was Magnolia Bakery. It’s a small bakery that has a wide variety of cakes and cookies, but the main focus is cupcakes thanks to Sex and the City. The episode “No Ifs, Ands, or Butts” in the third season showed a scene of Carrie and Miranda sitting outside Magnolia Bakery eating pink frosted cupcakes, which have now been named “Carrie Cupcakes” by the bakery with a description of “Where it all began.”

That scene in Sex and the City is literally what brought Magnolia Bakery, and cupcakes, to fame. New Yorkers and tourists began flocking to the bakery, sometimes waiting in lines that wrapped around the block. Everyone wanted a taste of the delicious Carrie Cupcake, and from the initial visit people realized that Magnolia’s cupcakes were something they had to have. And so began the cupcake trend.

Since trying my first bakery cupcake at Cupcake Jones, I’ve been obsessed with eating small bakery cupcakes. They are multiple bakeries in Portland, but when I moved down to Orange, CA I had no idea where I could find cupcakes. Coincidentally, I ended up living in an area close to where the face of the cupcake trend began.

My first visit to Sprinkles Cupcakes location in Newport Beach, CA.

My first visit to Sprinkles Cupcakes location in Newport Beach, CA. Photo credit: Katie Neubert

Sprinkles is chain gourmet cupcake company with many locations. It first opened in 2005 in Beverly Hills, claiming to be the “world’s first cupcake-only bakery.” Even if it wasn’t the world’s first cupcake-only bakery, it sparked something in the cupcake trend. Many cupcakeries have been inspired by Sprinkles, and the word “Sprinkles” is on the tip of every cupcake connoisseur’s tongue. It has become the face of the cupcake trend.  Now in 2013, the company has opened thirteen locations across the U.S., four of which are located in Southern California. Luckily, they have a location in Newport Beach. I decided to make a trip out there to see what the Sprinkles craze was all about.

When I visited Sprinkles, I got exactly what I expected: a small shop with a minimalist approach. The busy shop bustled with customers like bees making honeycomb.. Though there was no line, people were bustling in and out of the small shop. I waited at the counter for my turn to order a cupcake, and soon I was greeted by a cheery employee, Lexi. When she had a moment, I asked her a couple questions about Sprinkles’ involvement in the cupcake trend.

“Why do you think Sprinkles has become ‘the face’ of the cupcake trend?” I asked. She wasn’t entirely sure, and for a minute looked at the other employees for an answer. Finally, she said that it was probably because Sprinkles was the first cupcake shop established. Everyone heard of Sprinkles before other small bakeries specialized in cupcakes. Also the owner, Candace Nelson, stars on the Food Network’s Cupcake Wars as a judge. The advertisement of  Sprinkles has shot through the roof, and now they have expanded locations and to ice cream topped with cupcakes.

After I asked Lexi my questions about the cupcakes I ordered a cupcake for myself. It was hard to choose because of the variety of flavors. When most cupcakeries have maybe five flavors, Sprinkles had at least seven or eight. But those were only the ones made on Fridays, the entire menu consists of twenty-nine flavors including vegan, gluten free and dog treats. Eventually I decided on the Smores cupcake, a cupcake with whipped toasted marshmallow frosting with dark chocolate cake. On the bottom of the cake was a thin layer of graham cracker crumbs. The inside was filled with a chocolate ganache that, as I was told by the cashier, will melt when microwaved. When I took a bite, I was taken back to memories of sitting around a campfire trying to create the perfect smore. Who knew I could find that perfection at a cupcake bakery?

But what makes a gourmet cupcake different from store bought? Why are people making the switch from boxed mixes to bakery cupcakes? The most obvious reason is that the cupcakes are fresh. Store bought cupcakes  sit in containers while bakeries are continually baking fresh cupcakes throughout the day. But there has to be some other reason. Is it the decor, the frosting, or just the fact that it’s trendy to buy cupcakes? Lexi, the Sprinkles employee, helped me answer these questions.

My first Sprinkles cupcake: Smores cupcake with marshmallow frosting.

My first Sprinkles cupcake: Smores cupcake with marshmallow frosting. Photo credit: Katie Neubert

Let’s talk about frosting. As an avid cupcake eater, I have never cared about the cake unless there was something wrong with it. I do enjoy a moist cake, but I never care that it’s dense or airy. Aside from flavors, I can’t tell the difference between cakes. What I focus on is the frosting. Even though the frosting is there to compliment the cake, it’s the main event. The frosting is the most decorative piece and is where creativity is seen. Lexi agreed with me, saying “the cake takes a long time to bake but the frosting is more tedious.” That being said, there is a wide variety of cupcake frosting. Cream cheese, fudge, butter cream and vanilla are seen most at cupcake bakeries though each shop creates new flavors. At Cupcake Jones the coco cabana cupcake is frosted with coconut cream cheese with toasted coconut on top and Sprinkles’ Smores cupcake has whipped, toasted marshmallow frosting. Each cupcake shop has it’s own special frosting that cannot be bought in stores. Perhaps that is the reason why people are making the switch. They are becoming tired of plain vanilla and chocolate frosting. Besides, why buy plain, store bought cupcakes with plain frosting when bakeries are creating new and exotic (for a cupcake, at least) frosting flavors?

When I asked Lexi about why people are willing to pay for expensive gourmet cupcakes, she brought up a valid point. “I’ve heard people say that store bought cupcakes are more dry. And that the frosting doesn’t taste like it should. Like cream cheese frosting doesn’t taste like cream cheese. It’s just better quality. People are willing to pay $3.50 for one cupcake instead of $3.50 for an entire box of store bought because our cupcakes are better. I think it comes down to quality over quantity.”

Customers agree. I took a survey of 50 Chapman students asking which type of cupcake they preferred (gourmet or store bought) and why. An overwhelming result of about 91% of students preferred gourmet cupcakes, and all of them said it was because the quality of the cupcakes was better. It was amusing to find that one student even commented at the end of his/her response (he/she preferred gourmet) with “might be biased from Sprinkles, though.”

After seeing that small bakery cupcakes are more fun, better quality and homemade it makes me wonder how people could buy anything other than these bakery cupcakes. One student in my survey argued that store bought cupcakes are more readily available. Which might have been true a couple years ago, but because the cupcake trend has grown so much it isn’t much of an argument anymore. In just Orange County there are at least ten good cupcakeries, all of which are within 30 minutes driving time from where I live. The closest is just a five minute walk. In Portland there are eleven top rated cupcakeries, but there is also an abundance of bakeries and coffee shops that sell cupcakes. Finding a cupcakery near you isn’t much of an issue anymore.

But bakeries aren’t open all the time. Grocery stores are usually open until midnight, and bakeries open late and close early. So how can people get their small bakery cupcake fix late at night? Sprinkles has created a solution to that: the cupcake ATM.

cupcake ATM is exactly what it seems like. Like a bank ATM, it stands by itself and is open 24/7. That’s right. You can get cupcakes at all times of the day. You don’t even have to go to a shop. So far, there is only one location in Beverly Hills. But I’m sure as time goes on more cupcake ATMs will begin to pop up.

From small beginnings on Sex and the City to cupcake ATMs, the cupcake trend has always been a trend people obsess over. The small bakeries just produce better quality, exciting and delicious cupcakes that make us drool. Even though these cupcakes are slightly more expensive than store bought, they are worth it. And on that note, I think I will treat myself with a cupcake.