Math is hard

A couple decades ago, Mattel had the misguided vision to release a talking Barbie doll, one of whose onion-skin-witty quips has apocryphally been forever captured as "Math is hard. Let's go shopping!" This Barbie and I, we're, like, BFFs . I…

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Limoncello di Hillsborough


While the state of California was in the grip of the worst freeze in recent history, and citrus producers up and down the valley were suffering catastrophic losses, I enjoyed a bumper crop. Our friends Donna and Dennis had recently moved into a gorgeous house in Hillsborough, complete with a petite but prolific lemon tree in the back yard. One night, they brought us a paper shopping bag full of them.

Some were ready for use right away; others were still on the hard side and would benefit from a little quiet time in the corner, extending our enjoyment. Over the next couple of months, I made spaghetti al limone, chicken with fennel and lemon, a monster batch of preserved lemons and lord only knows how many vodka tonics. And we still had a mountain of the things left over.

I practically had to make limoncello.

I’ve been meaning to do so for quite some time. I’ve often been inspired to do so by my good friend Anita, a fine ‘cellist in her own right. She’s made not only limoncello but a seriously heady bergamocello, an ethereally perfumed Buddhacello (from a Buddha’s hand citron) and a difficult-to-name bloodorangecello, as well as any number of other interesting concoctions (such as a seriously complex nocino that I am still enjoying precious sips of, sparingly, two years later).

At its most basic definition, limoncello is simply the combination of a lemon-infused neutral liquor mixed with simple syrup. It’s less a recipe than a technique or, as I often think of such things, an equation. Algebra.


To wit: Limoncello is the product of lemon zest and vodka of a given proof, left together for a quantity of time, after which you strain out the zest; to which you then add a simple syrup of sugar and water and let it rest again for a period of time to mellow and blend. How much of each of those variables is what drives your final product.

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Almond-ricotta cupcakes with lemon royal icing

I was sort of strongarmed into the Cupcake Challenge co-hosted by Garrett of Vanilla Garlic and Cheryl (Chockylit) of Cupcake Bakeshop. "I expect you to participate," said Garrett. Far be it from me to back down from a challenge.

I have long enjoyed the cupcakey escapades of both bloggers. Many times have I been inspired to whip up some batter and snap to it. Yet, I must confess, I was a cupcake virgin. I had never baked a cupcake in my life.

So what does one do to pop one’s cupcake cherry? Cherry vanilla? Cute, but taken. Plain old Duncan Hines-style vanilla with chocolate frosting? Too boring. No, after weighing the options and dreaming of yummy flavors, I decided I wanted to make almond cupcakes with a lemon frosting.

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