DENVER’S 29th BIRTHDAY + TRAVELS WITH CHARLEY + GINGERBREAD CUPCAKES

March 31st, 2016. I have been anticipating this day for weeks, yet I didn’t know how hard it would be until today. Her birthday makes it real. I miss her everyday, but I should be with her on this day. We should be at Kilroy’s wearing party hats, eating my chocolate chip cookies, and laughing just like we were a year ago today.

Someone recently said something that has stuck with me. We were discussing what I plan to do for my 30th and when I didn’t really have an answer, he said birthdays are just another day. It is much more important to him that he lives everyday to the fullest and can celebrate another year on any day he chooses. I would like to think that I do a good job remembering Denver not only today, but also on the other 364 days of the year. It is more important that I live out her legacy every day and not just remember her on a milestone that would have been her 29th birthday. Tomorrow we will celebrate her with tacky Christmas sweaters, lots of Denver stories, and a cornucopia of baked goods.

Denver loved Christmas. The last thing we baked together was gingerbread men. I remember explaining to her that the dough had to chill for at least two hours before rolling it out to cut into men (and ladies) and she admitted that she really just wanted to decorate them. The response was so very Denver and I can’t wait to someday make cookies with my kids and share stories of the incredible friend I was lucky enough to have. A brave, kind, larger than life friend that did big things and made the world a better place simply by being herself.

This past weekend I went to the IMA 100 Acres with my boyfriend and Winnie and we sat on an artsy bright yellow contorted metal bench reading books. I took Denver’s copy of John Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley and thought of her as I turned the tattered well loved pages, with the sun warm on my face. I could sense her smiling down at me, laughing at Winston as he tried to figure out how to jump on the wacky bench in his attempt to cuddle with us. If you’ve read it, you’re not surprised why it was one of her favorites. The book is all about adventure: Steinbeck’s quest to see the United States. ‘If not now, when?’ became Denver’s life motto and Steinbeck knew he had to go on his own personal journey, pup included.

“We find after years of struggle that we do not take a trip; a trip takes us.”
― John Steinbeck, Travels with Charley

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For the birthday celebration, I wanted to make something that allowed for candles since we are celebrating a birthday. Besides, Denver was all about themed parties and anything festive, so cupcakes were a must. I made gingerbread cupcakes with a cream cheese frosting and then spelled out ‘DENVER’ with the little red hot candies that usually represent the eyeballs and buttons on gingerbread people.

I also made my favorite cut-out sugar cookies because why not? I chose my Indiana cookie cutter and a squirrel because Denver was a California Hoosier/Alpha Gamma Delta drop-out and she would have loved both. I added some chocolate chunk cookies because it seemed right. Can you tell how I cope? Baking = the best therapy.

GINGERBREAD CUPCAKES

Recipe via Sally’s Baking Addiction

  • 1/2 cup  unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup milk, at room temperature (I used 2 percent)
  • 1/2 cup molasses (Spray your measuring cup FIRST!)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 and 1/3 cups  flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice

FROSTING

  • 8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 2 cups confectioners’ sugar
  • 1-2 Tablespoons milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  1. Preheat oven to 350°F – Line a muffin pan with cupcake liners
  2. Make the cupcakes: In a large bowl using a handheld or stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter and brown sugar together on medium speed until creamy. Beat in the egg until combined, scraping down the sides and bottom of the bowl as needed. Beat in the milk, molasses, and vanilla.
  3. In a medium bowl, toss the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and allspice together until combined. With the mixer running on low speed, slowly pour the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients. Mix until just combined. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl as needed.
  4. Fill cupcake liners 2/3 of the way full. Bake for about 20 minutes or until a toothpick comes out mostly clean. Allow to cool completely before frosting.
  5. Make the frosting: In a medium bowl using a handheld or stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the cream cheese and butter together on medium speed until smooth, about 2 minutes. Add the confectioners’ sugar and 1 tbsp milk. Beat for 2 minutes. Add the vanilla and 1 more tbsp milk if needed. Beat for one minute. Taste the frosting and add a pinch of salt if too sweet.
  6. Frost cooled cupcakes immediately before serving. Unfrosted cupcakes remain fresh covered tightly at room temperature for 2 days. Store frosted cupcakes in the refrigerator for up to 3-4 days and allow to come to room temperature before serving.

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SUGAR COOKIES AND GLAZE!

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