Summer has definitely arrived in New Jersey, and I've been reminiscing about my own childhood summer days. There was the town camp one year, with the unforgettable taste of orange drink, and the constant sound of nok-hockey. There were long bike rides to the reservoir. There was summer reading club at the library. And sometimes, there was the beach.
My parents were both teachers, and because they had summers "off," we would usually take a day trip to the beach at least three or four times per season. My father, who loved the beach, would start to pack the car at dawn with two raucous plaid lawn chairs and a chaise lounge strung with orange plastic tubing (why we needed three chairs for two adults, I will never know), our carpet-like beach blanket, his blue and red Martini and Rossi umbrella (which could be seen from a mile down the beach if you happened to have taken a walk and lost your way in the sea of bodies and towels), the oversized cooler (always filled with 7-Up we weren't allowed to have, tortilla española, fruit), and too many plastic beach toys. When we got there, he'd head down to the water, get out beyond the breakers, and float on his back, dark sunglasses still on his face. My mother used to say she worried that some day he'd float out to sea; I thought that was sort of his intention, at least for a little while.
As a child, I never liked the beach much, which is apparently
abnormal for someone who grew up in a state where "down'a'shoah" (down
the shore) is a single word in the vernacular. Though I liked building sand castles as much as most kids, I also have vivid memories of sand getting stuck in sensitive places in my overly frilly bathing suits, sand that burned my feet as we carried the mountain of beach gear for what seemed like miles to the water, vicious waves that sucked at my knees (I never could swim very well, and contented myself with standing in chest-deep water, pushing off as the waves came barreling in towards the shore). I preferred the rocky, sometimes-cloudy coastline of Maine, where my grandmother lived, and where I could clamber over the jettys, searching for shells and seaweed.
One thing about the Jersey shore I did love, though, was the food. Something about the salt in the air made everything taste better. I often lobbied to go to Point Pleasant instead of Sandy Hook just so we could go to the Lobster Shanty on the way home, where they had a salad and hot food bar with strange and wondrous things like hush puppies and shrimp cocktail, and New England clam chowder that I'd order even on the hottest days. Though we were never allowed to eat boardwalk food, my mother would reminisce about the orange-vanilla custard (that's soft serve or "creamies" to you non-Jersey folk) at Kohr's on the boardwalk at Asbury Park, where she went to the beach with her mother for a week every summer. A foodie from a tender young age, I vowed to myself that as an adult, I'd come back and eat my way through the boardwalk, consuming as much custard and salt water taffy and lemonade as I could stand.
The first time I had a creamsicle, I was in college, on the boardwalk with friends, tasting the forbidden fruit of my childhood. We stopped at Kohr's and I ordered an orange-vanilla twist. Maybe it was the salt in the air combined with the sweet of the custard, but it was like a revelation. It was like summer in my mouth. It almost made me love the Jersey shore.
It's been a while since there have been cupcakes for your viewing pleasure, and since my new business card claims that I am a "cupcakepreneur" (yes, I totally made that up and I'm sure it's grammatically incorrect), I thought I'd post one. I've been wanting to create a creamsicle cupcake for a while, and this was just about perfect. It reminded me of everything I love about the Jersey shore, without the sand in my bathing suit.
What are your memories of summer?
1/3 c. canola oil
3/4 c. granulated sugar
3/4 c. soy milk
1/2 c. orange juice (fresh squeezed is best)
1 t. vanilla
1/4 t. orange or lemon extract
1 1/3 c. flour
1 t. baking powder
1/4 t. salt
1 T. + 1 t. finely grated orange zest.
Measure the flour into a small bowl. In a large bowl combine the oil, sugar, soy milk, orange juice, and vanilla and orange or lemon extracts. To that mixture add 1 T. of flour and mix until combined. This will help emulsify the mixture.
Sift together the remaining flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add the dry ingredients to the wet in three batches, mixing well after each addition until smooth. Fold in the orange zest and mix to distribute.
Fill each cupcake liner 2/3 to3/4 of the way full.
Bake for 20-22 minutes at 350F. The tops should spring back when touched, and a toothpick come out clean when inserted into the center of a cupcake.
Remove from the muffin tin and cool completely on a baking rack before frosting.
Orange Cream Cheese Frosting
1/4 cup cream cheese
1/4 cup butter or unsalted margarine, softened
2 cups confectioners’ sugar
1 T. fresh orange juice
1 tablespoon finely grated orange zest
1/2 t. vanilla extract
1/2 t. orange extract
a few drops each of red and yellow food color
sea salt, for garnish
festive sprinkles, for garnish
In a small bowl combine the cream cheese and butter until well combined. Add the confectioners sugar in about 1/2 cup additions. After each addition of sugar, add a splash of orange juice and beat well on medium speed.
Add the vanilla and orange extracts and orange zest, and beat for another 3-5 minutes until the frosting is smooth, creamy and fluffy. Add red and yellow food color to achieve your desired color.
Frost cupcakes, and sprinkle ever so lightly with sea salt; if you're feeling young at heart, with sprinkles, too.