Churro Cupcakes for a Surprise 60th Birthday Fiesta!

I threw my mom a surprise party to celebrate her big 6-0 last month with my extended family – about 20-25 of us in all.  Given her East Los Angeles roots and inherent love for Mexican food, I decided to give it a fiesta theme.  I ordered a taco bar style set-up from a fantastic family-owned Mexican restaurant near us and of course a portion of their fantastic mole (mom’s favorite).  I made Tomatillo Salsa, pico de gallo, guacamole, and three desserts for the party – Key Lime Bars with Pistachio Graham Cracker Crust (sans compote), Aaron Sanchez’s Mexican Chocolate Brownies, and these Churro Cupcakes.

Taco Bar - Who's Hungry?
Taco Bar – Who’s Hungry?

It’s been crazy busy at work the last few months, so I parceled out my time spent on crafting/planning over the course of about six weeks. For decorations, I found a few fun colorful pieces on Amazon that livened up our otherwise intentionally monochromatic home – paper buntings, serapes, festive patterned tablecloths, and pom poms.

Photo Backdrop
Photo Backdrop

Kevin and I also ended up hosting Christmas dinner which was two weeks before the party, so we had to hide everything away before she came over.  All of the streamers, party utensils, napkins, and plates were from Party City in every sort of bright color. I also bought a couple of cute craft kits from Paper Source – a mini pineapple pinata and a DIY set of six paper cacti. I used a white gel pen to add some “texture” to each cactus as well!

Cactus Kit
Cactus Kit

Jamie let me borrow her set of acrylic paints so I could add some color to the terra cotta pots I bought for the party favors.  They held the miniature cactus candles.  I also found some colorful candies to fluff up the favor bags.

Painting Pots for Favors
Painting Pots for Favors

Since Kevin and I had to go to a family wedding the morning of the party and with how long it takes to make cupcakes, I made these late the night before.  I was worried the crunchy topping that the original recipe suggested would get soggy overnight, so I skipped that component completely. Here is the recipe as adapted from Lady Behind the Curtain, without the crunchy topping!


For Cupcakes:
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 cups cake flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 3/4 cups sugar
  • 4 large eggs, room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 1/4 cups milk
For Cinnamon Cream Cheese Frosting:
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
  • 1 (8 ounce) cream cheese, softened
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 5 cups confectioners’ sugar


For Cupcakes:
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line standard muffin tins with paper liners.
  2. Whisk together both flours, baking powder, salt and cinnamon. With an electric mixer on medium-high speed, cream butter and sugar until fluffy.
  3. Add eggs, one at a time, beating until each is incorporated, scraping down sides of bowl as needed. Beat in vanilla, and reduce speed to low.
  4. Add flour mixture in three batches, alternating with two additions of milk, and beating until combined after each.  Fill each cupcake liner three-quarters full. Bake for 20 minutes.

    Cinnamon-y Cupcake Batter
    Cinnamon-y Cupcake Batter
  5. Transfer tins to wire racks to cool completely before removing cupcakes.

  6. Top with cinnamon cream cheese frosting.

    Cinnamon Cream Cheese Frosting
    Cinnamon Cream Cheese Frosting
  7. Refrigerate until ready to serve. Set out 20 minutes before serving
For Cinnamon Cream Cheese Frosting:
  1. In a medium bowl, beat butter and cream cheese until light.
  2. Mix in vanilla and cinnamon; add confectioners’ sugar 1 cup at a time until all is incorporated.

    Churro Cupcakes
    Churro Cupcakes

Not having the time to actually paint anything, I searched online for some watercolor pieces to incorporate into the DIY dessert toppers, the invitation, favors, and more.

Dessert Trio
Dessert Trio

I had to keep the surprise from my brother as well until he came over, since he cannot keep secrets.  My mom thought she was meeting at my place and carpooling with me to a restaurant nearby.  I wanted to make sure I recorded her entrance, so I had my brother let her in the community gate when she arrived.  Right before she walked in, he asked, “Are you ready?”  Good thing she wasn’t already suspecting anything!

"Which dessert do you want?" "ALL THREE!"
“Which dessert do you want?”

My mom was really surprised and had a wonderful time, and it’s always great to spend time with my rambunctious family!

Learning to Watercolor

Thought I’d share a little DIY work I did for our wedding, now that we got our photos back.

Kev and I DIY’d whatever we could for our big day, including our invites. I didn’t like any of the “free” or “close to free” printable invitation templates out there, and also needed a sort of creative suite that we could use for various assets/signage (i.e., menu, RSVP card, table numbers, etc.). We all know I can’t draw, but I figured I might be able to get away with some amateur watercoloring. It’s fuzzy and messy looking at it’s prettiest, so how could I go wrong, right? Well…

I read forum after forum (after forum after forum after forum) about anything from what sort of techniques there were to what type of watercolor paints (tube, cakes, pencils) and brushes (natural, synthetic, cheap, expensive) to buy.  I bought a pretty decent (but still inexpensive) set of watercolor paints and brushes, and a basic set of watercolor pencils to help with corrections.  I also looked around for artists whose style is similar to the aesthetic I had in mind and quickly fell in love with Yao Cheng Design‘s seemingly effortless but beautiful work.  I even tried mimicking one just as practice, but I couldn’t even figure out how to mix anything close to the colors she used let alone developing the shapes, color concentration, etc.

Yao Cheng Fail
Yao Cheng Fail

After several more tries with different looks, I finally came up wtih a few I was satisfied with.  But then I couldn’t get the watercolor to scan accurately!

Some More Paintings
Some More Paintings

After looking into a few more forums, it turns out that a lot of artists have this problem too and end up just taking photographs of their watercolor in a lot of cases with an expensive DSLR.  Purchasing a DSLR defeated the purpose of DIY’ing the invite to save money, so… I had to figure out a way to make do with what I had and scanning it.  The wreath was the one painting that had the least error, likely due to there being smaller strokes to show texture, vs letting color sit heavier in other places.  However, here is the scanned version of the first attempt (yes, there were multiple attempts).

Original Wreath
Original Wreath

For whatever reason, scanning really washed out the painting and added a grayish-yellow tinge, and it  reminded me a bit of Lamb’s Ear which is pretty but not what I was looking for. I took it to FedEx Kinko’s, scanned it at work, and went to a couple other different printers, and I even went to a few art supply stores to ask where people took their artwork to get scanned.  Turns out that our hand-me-down printer/scanner from Kevin’s mom was the most color accurate of the bunch!  Still – the above image was not what I wanted.

So I painted another “bluer”/bolder version of the wreath, thinking the scanner would balance it out.  And it worked!

Final Wreath Painting
Final Wreath Painting

I also made a few watercolor doodles with the same colors that we incorporated as accents throughout the rest of our “creative suite”:

Watercolor Doodles
Watercolor Doodles

Here’s the finished product.  I purchased blush envelopes from Paper Source (with a discount of course!) to add our wedding colors into the mix, and framed the invitation creative with a blush border to tie it all together.  I found a Pantone color guide online that broke down Paper Source’s paper color specs pretty accurately.  I designed everything in PowerPoint because I’m useless with Photoshop, and thankfully my very kind and patient friend Lingie laid it all out in a printable file that I could send off to my go-to reliable (and inexpensive!) printer.

Our Final Invite
Our Final Invite

In forgoing a design fee, we were able to get it all done including envelopes and RSVP postcards for under $125. We splurged a bit by using a really thick matte textured paper for the invite that almost looked like watercolor paper.  Here’s what the final suite looked like. Photo courtesy of Rodney Ty Photography.

Invitation Suite
Invitation Suite

I also used some little watercolor doodles to accent our address labels, favor labels, table numbers, menu, etc. Check out the gallery for more!  All of the professional photos were taken by Rodney.

A Day of Kitchen Failures and Craft Fail Blog

This blog makes me feel better about all of the unfortunate baking/crafting failures I’ve had in the last year, including the one I’m now going to write about.  I highly recommend bookmarking it for those inevitable failures we crafter/bakers are doomed to experience (unless I’m the only one?).  Thank you, Paper Source for finding me this website!!!  This particular entry made me laugh out loud.

Continuing from my 2011 holiday bake-a-thon, I thought I’d write a little jig about the horrid baking day I had on Christmas Eve.  The stars were not aligned, as they say, in my (galactic) kitchen.  I was to celebrate Christmas with my dad’s extended family over dinner on Christmas Eve, and told him I’d make dessert for us to bring.  My (apparently very proud) father told me to make something impressive because he had told all of our relatives that I was quite the baker. I threw out a few suggestions, and he kept saying “no – it should be something a little more impressive, but make sure it’s tasty!”.  Beginning to feel the pressure, I threw out suggestions for a Boston Cream Pie and a Bourbon Banana Layer Cake.  We settled on the Boston Cream Pie, though he ended up trying to buy a bottle of bourbon – you know… in case I want to make the Bourbon Banana Layer Cake some day.

Filling Off to a Decent Start...

I made the filling (twice – I messed up the first time) the night prior, and refrigerated it over night.

Ready to Set in the Fridge

I made the cake part the next day.  Everything was going smoothly.  I baked the cake for the time instructed in Martha’s recipe.  When I took the cake out of the oven, it smelled great, looked nice and fluffy… I even stuck a toothpick in the middle and it came out clean.  But when I cut the cake in half horizontally to make the two layers, I noticed the middle was extremely dense and a little rubbery.  It was undercooked.

Looks Can Be Deceiving

I tried to figure out if I had enough time to make the cake over again, as I pulled the Boston Cream Pie filling out of the fridge.  I stirred it up with a whisk as instructed, but noticed something was a little off…

Boston Cream Pie Filling, or Tapioca Pudding?!

The custard somehow curdled while chilling overnight.  Another key component – ruined!  There definitely wasn’t enough time left to make both the filling and cake over again. Thankfully I hadn’t started on the chocolate ganache sauce topping yet.  I decided to make the most with what I had and whipped up a new batch of Grinchmas Cookies with what little time I had left, annoyed that I wasn’t living up to the expectations of impressive culinary grandeur.

But the day of disaster didn’t stop there.

I usually only use the top rack in the oven when I bake things, and just do one pan in the oven at a time.  On this day, I decided to use both racks in the oven to save time.  The bottom rack was only 3 inches lower than the top rack – how much of a temperature difference could there be?  Well… apparently enough to torch half of my Grinchmas Cookies, while the half on the top rack came out just fine.

Half-Batch of Burnt Grinchmas Cookies

Things definitely didn’t go as planned, but on to more successful ventures!

Ideas and Inspiration

I saw this Smash Book video on the Paper Source blog a few months ago, and have been meaning to share it here.  It’s the simplest idea for a product, but brilliant marketing!  I totally want one, but my OCD is already giving me anxiety about “smashings” things together willy-nilly with no order to it.

I was inspired by the video to start a scrapbook (essentially, a pretentious Smash Book without the chaos), and Jo-Ann’s just happened to have a big sale over the weekend.  I left the place with a sketchbook, some drawing pens, and a blank scrapbook.

I’ve also been wanting to get into drawing, but have been too afraid since it’s been SO long.  However, an idea for a short comic has been brewing in my head for a couple of months, so I’m going to try to flesh it out.  I’ve been trying to muster up the courage to draw a dog for the last couple of days, but it’s so intimidating.  I can’t even remember what a dog looks like accurately enough to put it down on paper.  Ugh…this might take a while.  Fingers crossed!  At the very worst, I’ll just use the sketchbook to draw out scrapbook layouts.  I think I still remember how to draw squares…

I’m also backlogged on a couple projects (i.e., wine coozie set, mini-scrapbook kits, etc.) that are pretty old, but I’ve been wanting to remake them and take better photos of the process.  I’m afraid to admit the photos I took when I was originally making them are really awful…not that I’ve come a very long way since then.

I also want to improve my photography!  While vacationing in Orlando back in June, I took some photos of things I thought were interesting looking based on color (for the Safari ride) or shape (for the Epcot ball and Imagination building).  While I’m on this train wreck of rant, I might as well share the photos!

Maybe I’ll learn how to use Photoshop while I’m at it!

Hopefully, Santa Claus or God or someone with some real power to make things happen is reading this post.

Robot Desk Organizer

I’ve been sick for almost a week and I almost can’t remember what it was like to not sound like a man or be able to hold a conversation without coughing.  Being sick puts quite the damper on one’s social life, as my usual routine is to head to the gym after work a few days a week.  However, I think working out or playing basketball under such conditions would be the most inconsiderate thing I could possibly do.  Also, who wants to guard that gross wheezy girl, or gasp for the same stale gym air as sneezy over there?  No one. The first few days of January inevitably create a surplus of people at the gym trying to keep up their New Year’s resolutions in vain.  At least I have an excuse to do something else productive with my free time… assuming that writing here is productive in some way.

ANYWAY, I saw the how-to for this on Paper Source’s blog, and thought I’d give it a try.  I made this for Kevin’s birthday back in August to go with his relatively new apartment, keeping with the theme of the Robot Appliqué Pillowcases (Part 1 and Part 2 ).  I still need to take a decent photo of the completed set to complete the pseudo-tutorial.  Kevin (who makes up about half of my readers), don’t worry I will get around to finishing that last post up.

I found some great paper at a hole-in-the-wall scrapbook supply store, and used leftover cardstock from some mini-scrapbook kits I made a year ago to give the organizer some sturdiness to it.

The Before

This project wasn’t too complicated, so I’ll just get sraight to the photos.  The green divider is removable, so you’re not confined to any given space.


The instructions for the how-to are here.