What Paula Deen taught me about men (and the best Triple-Chocolate Cupcakes EVER)

“Today, I’m going to show you how to cook for your man,” she said in typical Paula-Deen fashion, waving around a spatula with a delectable, buttery something-or-other simmering on the stove in front of her.

My attention immediately went from the bowl of cereal I was munching on to staring raptly at the TV screen. You see, when I really think about it, everything I have ever learned about men has come from Giada, Ina, and Paula — because clearly, they know what they’re talking about. It’s all in the cooking, my friends… all in the cooking.

I started a new job this summer. Now, I’m still in college, yes — but I also work part-time at a software company as a technical writer… with a lot of men… and they love their food. Pie. Cheesecake. Lasagna. Cupcakes. You name it, I’ll cook it — because as the old idiom says, “The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach!” And so, I’ve taken a few lessons from my three cooking-comrades.

Allow me to explain.

Giada DeLaurentiis. Oh, Giada, why are you so gosh-darn attractive every single time you cook? I mean good gravy, lady, leave some pretty out here for the rest of us! Somehow (and I don’t exactly know how), she looks flawless even when wrestling with mixers, boiling oil, cocoa powder… it doesn’t matter what she’s doing or how much of a mess the kitchen will end up being — she just looks lovely. Unfortunately, I can’t say that I’ve perfected that art yet (hand me some cocoa powder and a mixer and you’ll end up with a room coated in a lovely light brown film, myself included), but I’ve discovered that wearing a frilly apron hides a lot of the cocoa dust, and when you add pearls and heels… you’re halfway there! Small steps, Meggo, small steps.

Of course, we also have Ina Garten, the woman with a name that younger Megan mistook as a play on “in a garden.” This talented lady taught me how to include a man in the cooking process without actually letting him do a single thing in the kitchen. She is brilliant. Every episode of Barefoot Contessa includes some nice guy (often her husband Jeffrey, but not every time!) running to the store to pick up the perfect wine, cheese, bread, or combination of the three (Ina, where are you finding all of these men?). SUCCESS. He’s out of the kitchen, and while she whips up a mouthwatering spread at home, he’s grabbing the extra treats to make the meal perfect! I call that genius.

And then… you have Paula. Bless you, Paula Deen, for cooking with butter and always being so bubbly. Without you, I might not be brave enough to cook the terribly unhealthy but disarmingly delicious goodies I’ve become so deft at whipping up — and all with a smile on my face! Think about it, friends. Have you ever seen an episode of Paula’s Kitchen where at least one friend or family member doesn’t pop in? Paula’s kitchen is never empty. There are her sons. Her hubby. Her friends. Grandchildren. She’s practically a people-magnet, all thanks to hard work, dedication, a bubbly personality… and a hefty helping of butter.

So, in honor of Giada, Ina, and Paula… I am going to post my semi-homemade recipe for the best triple-chocolate cupcakes in the world — which means you better get ready. These suckers are the most moist, indulgent cupcakes you could ever imagine… and they have a little kick to them as well. Expect proposals, ladies, because they’ll be coming!

Triple-Chocolate Pudding Cupcakes with Chocolate Buttercream Icing

One box Duncan Hines Devil’s Food Cake Mix
Three Eggs (I prefer to use organic, but it’s up to you)
1/3 cup Canola Oil
8 oz Sour Cream
A dash each of Cinnamon, Chili Powder, and Vanilla Extract
One package sugar-free Jello Chocolate Pudding Mix
2 cups Milk (again, I like to use raw milk… but it’s your choice!)

1. Mix the cake mix with a good dash of cinnamon and chili powder — I recommend 5-7 shakes of each (I like to say that the addition of these adds a bit of complexity to the cake — just adjust until you get the right amount of “kick”!), then add in eggs, oil, and sour cream. Beat until a firm, slightly fluffy consistency.

2. Line your muffin tin with cupcake liners, the use an ice cream scoop to get the perfect amount of batter into each mold. Place in the oven at 350 degrees for 12-14 minutes (until a toothpick comes out clean).

3. In the meantime, whip up your pudding! 2 cups of cold milk mixed with one package of Jello pudding mix, blend with your hand mixer for 2 minutes, then place in the fridge to set.

4. Once your cupcakes have cooled slightly, take your knife (use a non-serrated cooking knife — a butter knife will not do the job here) and cut a circle around the top of the cupcake (see photograph below). Next, use a small spoon to scoop out the cake within the circle and cut off the bottom portion so that you have a lid-type piece of cake to cover the cavity you’ve made.

5. Grab the pudding from the fridge (it should be set by now) and place a good-sized spoonful into each cupcake — then replace the lid-piece you created earlier. Now it’s time to make some buttercream!

Chocolate Buttercream Icing:
2 softened sticks of Salted Butter
Powdered (Confectioner’s) Sugar
2 tsp Vanilla Extract
1/2 cup Cocoa Powder
A dash of Milk

1. For the buttercream, first take your butter and whip it with your mixer until a smooth consistency — then add in your powdered sugar. Many recipes call for three cups of sugar, but I think that is way too much… so do it by taste!

2. Once your butter tastes sugary-sweet, you can add in your cocoa powder and vanilla. Keep mixing — but be aware that cocoa powder will go EVERYWHERE, so I recommend adding it in a little at a time.

3. Time for milk. You want your buttercream to easily pipe through the decorating tip, so have your milk handy and be prepared to add it just a bit at a time. Don’t let the icing get too runny — it needs to be firm enough to stay on the cupcake, but not too firm… you know how you like your icing!

4. It’s up to you how you ice these puppies. I use a Wilton No. 19 Open-Star Decorating Tip with my pastry bags and do a simple round-the-cupcake icing job — and it’s lovely!

Once you’ve iced your cupcakes, I recommend letting them sit for a few hours — these cupcakes taste BETTER with age because they have time to let the pudding sink in. Talk about delicious! I guarantee that with these, you will be the belle of the ball… so give it a go — and let me know when you do. 🙂


Broken: Journeying through Depression

“For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.” Psalm 139: 13-16

The past few weeks, I have been struggling with knowledge of my worth.

This isn’t something new to me. It’s been around for a long time — some times more than others, but always there in the background: this little voice saying, “You’re not enough. Not beautiful enough. Not talented enough. Not smart enough. You’re never going to be enough. You are unworthy.”

And yet… there comes a moment when you have to stand up and say “Yes, I am worthy.” A moment when you don’t let that little voice order you around anymore… when you acknowledge that God created something unique — something beautiful — when he created you.

Warning: this is about to go into some brutally honest stuff. It is with some trepidation that I tell this story, but my hope is that God will use it to his glory. Thank you for reading. Thank you for caring.

My senior year of high school, I fell into a deep depression. I almost failed a class, gained quite a bit of weight, stopped taking care of my diabetes, and essentially lost touch with the world, to name a few. I was suddenly, unexpectedly, inexplicably lost in a black hole from which I could not find the way out. I slept all the time, was physically exhausted (I can recall having to stop halfway up my staircase because I was too tired to make it to the top without sitting down), and found myself preferring sleep to almost everything else — because when I was asleep, I could escape being the girl I hated.

And this lasted for three years.

THREE YEARS of my life, I was stuck in this black hole. Three years of my life, I hated myself. Three years of my life, I would look in the mirror and see only the flaws and imperfections marring God’s creation. And for those three years, I was struggling to get away from this lonely, sad place… and I had no idea how.

At this same time, I was so good at putting on a front and pretending I was okay — even excellent! My theatrical training stood me in good stead, and I managed to keep all but those closest to me from noticing that anything was wrong. There were two different Megans — the smiling, happy-go-lucky, enthusiastic Megan that the world saw, and the broken, hurting, lost Megan who came home every day to hide in her room and cry. That was the real Megan. That was the girl I kept hidden from the world.

Throughout my childhood, I sought to always see beauty in every person, and I was good at it… except when it came to myself. Life was a constant competition, and everyone else was winning. “Her hair is so much prettier than mine. She’s skinnier than I am. Why can’t I be as good an actress as she is? I wish I could sing like that.” On and on and on it would go, till even on rare days when I woke up feeling almost-confident, it would take just ten minutes to remember how inferior I truly was.

My friendships began to be affected. I was surrounded by talented, beautiful, strong young women who sought to glorify God with their every breath, and I was so jealous. I couldn’t understand why God would give them so much and give me so little. One of my best friends was a singer who also acted and was involved at church — plus, she had beautiful blue eyes, a big smile, a petite, adorable frame, and long, wavy brown hair that looked perfect no matter what she did… and I felt that I could never compare. Now, she was just one girl — but I was surrounded by dozens of them. My social circle consisted almost entirely of girls just like this best friend. It was a living hell for a girl who hated herself as much as I did.

And it wasn’t just that. There was the loss of my grandfather to deal with. The diagnosis of my grandmother with cancer. A summer of nannying that left my heart absolutely aching every day. The death of my grandmother three months after her diagnosis. Friends who didn’t have time for me. And this was a time of huge transition in my life… senior year of high school, freshman year of college, moving away from Mums and Rikki, trying to grow up and still be a kid at the same time… A million little things — and they piled up and piled up and did everything they could to bring me under.

Fast forward two self-loathing years and wander into the basement of the Wesley Foundation, where I was sitting on a chair talking to two of my dear friends about how I just didn’t know why I was so down… ALL THE TIME. And then, for the first time, I admitted it. “Liz? Becca? I think I’m depressed.”

Admitting it, to me, was half the battle. It meant that I was no longer powerless to feel sad and broken all the time. It meant that I knew what to pray for. It meant I could seek help. It meant that I could beat this.

I began to do everything in my power to kick my depression. I journaled, and wrote songs, and talked to my friends, and talked to my mom, and talked to a counselor, and cried and laughed and dealt with things I had locked up years ago. I pulled out all the hurt I had pushed aside when Grandaddy died and let myself grieve. I slowly began going through the pain I felt when I lost Mimi. I forgave people who had hurt me. I rebuilt friendships. I learned to give myself TIME — something that I had never done before. I prayed… and prayed, and prayed, and cried, and prayed some more… And slowly, slowly, I began to heal.

It’s been a year and a half since I admitted that I was depressed, and for the past six months, that pesky depression has been kept under lock and key. I won’t lie and say that it doesn’t still occasionally rear its ugly head and get a good knock in, but for the most part, I am depression-free.

I still struggle with my worth. All the time. ALL THE TIME. I am learning to love myself the way that God wants me to love myself, and I’m striving to see the beauty that he sees. There are a lot of bumps in the road: for instance, it’s been pointed out to me recently that it doesn’t matter what someone says… but I always, always take it in a negative way. It’s a work in progress, and I can’t say that I see beauty in myself all the time… but I’m getting there.

Friends. I beg of you — I BEG of you — don’t let yourself get to the place where I was. You are a beautiful, beautiful creation. God makes no mistakes… you are not a mistake. If you take absolutely nothing else from my story, please know this. And if you are in that place… please, talk to someone. There is so much more to life than that lonely, broken spot.

I realize this is a long post. Thanks for bearing with me, friends. Some stories just need to be told.