Monday, December 24, 2012

Tipsy Cupcake

Any day is more special with a cupcake, don't you agree? And here it is Christmas, and the Tipsy Cupcake in Billings is helping folks celebrate in a very sweet way.

Kari Jones, the cupcake queen who owns the Tipsy Cupcake shop and makes all the delicious treats for sale there, told me, "We hope to bless people with a little treat every day."

The cupcakes are fresh each morning and come in an imaginative variety of flavors, which vary from day to day. Above, sporting the Merry Christmas tag, is Salted Caramel (delicious). Below, you see it along with (starting at the upper right) Lemonhead, Chocolate on White, and Black Tie (all equally delicious).

So if the cupcakes are fresh each day, what happens to leftovers each night? Sure, folks come in all day to buy goodies and to snack before and after the movies next door, but inevitably there will be a few cakes lingering when the doors finally close.

Kari told me that she donates extras to (and sometime makes special batches for) area nursing homes, schools, youth groups, and the women's and children's shelter. She also caters weddings and other events and supplies corporate gifts for area businesses.

"We're all about love here," Kari admitted. Oh, yeah, that's easy to believe. You can feel the love just by looking around the cozy shop.

Repeat customers are common, and Kari enjoys thinking about each one. One man comes in from Miles City to buy bribes for his kids. An elderly couple buys several to freeze and thaw out over the coming week for evening snacks. (I can personally assure you the cupcakes freeze well.) Others drive in from faraway places like Great Falls and Wyoming. Not just to buy cupcakes, of course. But then, maybe they do . . .

Kari emphasizes that this business is "homegrown" and not a franchise. It's her very own creation, made small batch by small batch.

"It's a lot of work, but fun," Kari assured me.

And I believe her. The atmosphere is warm and friendly. Everyone who enters the shop comes in smiling with anticipation. What flavor will they choose? The shop's Signature Pink Champagne? English Toffee Crunch? Wedding Cake? Root Beer Float? Peppermint Mocha?

Or perhaps a milkshake made from a cupcake crumbled into ice cream?

The gals behind the counter feel they are part of a blissful experience and find no trouble in following Kari's philosophy that they treat a customer as if they are welcoming a guest to their home.

After all, isn't a cupcake what makes a home a happy one?

Have a cupcake . . . perhaps Orange Creamsicle?

1001 Shiloh Crossing Blvd., Suite 7 
(next to Shiloh 14 movie theater)
(406) 656-5666

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Depot Farmers Market

A tractor in the park next to the Depot in Livingston drew my attention this morning as I was on my way to another farmers market. It's always a joy to find a new farmers market, and I stopped on the spot to check out this one. It's small, but it's a real gem.

This is the third year for the Depot Farmers Market, where, I was told, you'll usually find 3 to 6 local farmers with a glorious abundance of produce. Today, there were two farmers with piles of enticing fresh, colorful, and unusual vegetables, and one table loaded with baked goods. You won't find any crafts here.

Don't be shy about asking the farmer what he or she is selling, because they understand that some produce can look odd to someone who is used to finding standard items in the supermarket.

Geyser Farm's tractor was hitched to a cart filled with a wide variety of easily identifiable items like tomatoes, onions, and cabbage. But those odd-shaped objects in varying hues of yellow turned out to be delicious Poona Kheera cucumbers, and the attractive white-and-purple streaked eggplants went by the lively name of Calliope.

There were some mysterious and very large curved green objects under a table. When a bystander asked what they were, Geyser Farm owner and market manager Mark Rehder cracked one open and handed around samples to the curious. Turns out they were overgrown English cucumbers. They still tasted delicious, but the customers tempted by Mark's on-the-spot decision to sell them for $2 each staggered slightly as they walked away with their purchases. The one I bought was 2 feet long!

customer comparing Poona Kheera (left) and English (right) cucumbers; tough decision

Matthew of 3 Fiddles Farm described his produce as "100% natural and super-nutritious." Like many farmers you will meet at the markets, Matthew follows strict organic practices on his farm. But it is against the law to label produce as "organic" unless you have filled out seemingly endless piles of paperwork to obtain official USDA organic certification. Many small farmers do not have time for this. They're busy making sure pests aren't eating their pesticide-free crops.

Matthew also reminded me of what many farmers have told me, that selling perishable crops at a farmers market has its bad side as well as its good side. Consumers get to meet the people who grow the food they buy and eat, and farmers get a decent price for their labor. But all too often much of the produce has to be taken home again to be sold at another market, eaten by the farming family, given away to a local food bank, or composted.

How lovely it would be if everyone could buy all the produce they needed for the week at a farmers market.

If you find yourself on your way to Yellowstone Park on a Saturday morning, drive through Livingston to pick up some fresh veggies for snacks along the way. Or simply make a special trip to visit this well-stocked market.

Depot Farmers Market
Next to the Depot, West Park Street
runs during growing season
Saturday, 9 am - noon

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Who needs a blue ribbon?

I don't need a blue ribbon . . . I have a purple "Best of Show"!

My very first entry in a fair paid off big time! I am so proud!

Today in the Sweet Grass County Fair, I entered a yellow cake with marshmallow creme frosting (I can't say enough good things about that frosting!) in the Decorated Cakes division. When you get up close, it looks like a summer poolside scene.

Now I get a kick out of having the ribbon, and I am proud to say someone bid $50 for the cake at the fair auction. But when I brought my entry in, I could see it was already a winner. Anything that makes people happy is an instant winner.

Every entry was obviously a winner. Who could lose after making something special to share with fair-goers?

Now just so you know, a best of show ribbon means my cake was the best of all the cakes that were entered this year. And there were some nice-looking ones, including a darling set of cupcakes that were coated with white chocolate to look like eggs and presented in an egg carton. (Sorry, no pic. I was too awestruck by my own fortune.)

My cake was rated on taste as well as appearance, and that is why I am especially proud. The judges' notes read: "Very creative, lots of detail, good flavor, frosting creamy but not too sweet."

After judging, all entries throughout the fair are auctioned off (with the owner's permission) to pay for judges and ribbons. I was awfully proud that someone thought my cake was worth $50!

Here is my fabulous icing recipe, which I got out of a 1999 Woman's Day magazine. You can be a winner, too!

Vanilla Buttercream Frosting

2 sticks (1 cup) butter, softened
1 jar (7 oz.) marshmallow creme
1 cup confectioners' sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla

Beat butter in a medium bowl with mixer on medium speed until creamy. Beat in marshmallow creme. When well blended, beat in confectioners' sugar and vanilla. Increase speed to high and beat 3 to 4 minutes until fluffy.

Makes 3 cups.

I dare you not to keep nibbling at this as you put it on the cake!

I've been warned that winning ribbons at the fair is addictive. Yep, I'm already planning for next year. Read all about The Rowdy Baker's blue ribbon experience!

See you next year at the fair!

Friday, July 13, 2012

Reed Point has a new market

It's always exciting to visit a new farmers market. Today I got to see Reed Point vendors enjoying their market as much as the customers.

Smiles were everywhere, along with peach tea (above; yum), chokecherry lemonade (yum), pies (yum), and cinnamon rolls (yum). I tried everything and liked it. What else can I say? Except: yum!

There were also some crafts, like these very attractive boxes and signs. The chalkboard addition is clever and useful.

Market manager Audrey told me that the market averages 5 vendors each week, selling crafts and very popular baked goods. Reed Point residents flock to the market to get their weekly supply of fresh rolls, pies, and other goodies.

Fresh produce should be appearing soon, and the market will continue until mid-September, or "until the veggies are running out."

Reed Point is a small stop along I-90. There's a quaint gas station right by the on-off ramps. While you're enjoying looking around in the store, be sure to buy a bar of Jackie's sweet-smelling homemade soap, made on a ranch in the hills overlooking town.

There isn't much for visitors to do in town most of the year. There's an antique store that might or might not be open, and the Waterhole Saloon (located at the opposite end of town from the gas station, across from the farmers market) serves up cold beverages and pizza.

But the buildings are fun to look at as you stroll along the boardwalks.

The big event is the annual sheep drive in September. With food, street fair booths, and plenty of sheep, you'll find yourself spending the whole day here.

But meanwhile, get yourself over to the farmers market. There's a tall icy glass of chokecherry lemonade waiting for you. And some pie, too.

Reed Point Farmers Market
across from the Waterhole Saloon, north end of town
June 1 - mid-September (or until the veggies run out)
Friday, 4 pm - 7 pm

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Livingston farmers market is jumping!

Children are everywhere at this season's Livingston market. As you walk through the market area, you will dodge many young people, walking, pushing bikes, chatting. An entire section of discounted tables is set aside for young entrepreneurs to sell their creations.

You won't see dogs running around because of health regulations, but I found two vendors who are raising money for the Stafford Animal Shelter in Livingston. One is a young gal selling cupcakes, cookies, and items made from duct tape, who is first saving money for an iPod. But she is optimistic it won't take long. After that purchase, the rest of her profits during the summer will go to the shelter.

Shelter volunteers run a lemonade stand at the market. Other fund-raisers during the year include the Bark in the Park event on August 19 and the Fur Ball in May. Check out the shelter website for heart-warming stories of adoptions and ideas for doing your own fund-raiser—like the girl who sold hot chocolate and raised $100!

The best thing about the market today was seeing all the lovely fresh produce.

I love tomatoes, and heirlooms really rock. Here is a basket of green and red zebra striped heirlooms.

I also learned about garlic scapes, which are only available for about two weeks in June. They are the long green stems of garlic plants and smell and taste slightly of garlic. They contain a seed pod and are plucked off to allow the garlic plant to get big for its harvest in July.

You can use the garlic scapes in stir-fries or in any way you would a green onion (scallion). The vendor told me that they make a tasty pesto that can be frozen to use all year round. One woman told her she mixes a thawed ice-cube-size piece into a homemade loaf of bread for extra flavor. To make the pesto, simply substitute garlic scapes for basil in any recipe. Using pecans instead of pine nuts is tasty, too.

Tumblewood Teas offered refreshing samples. The new My Yer Lemony is very nice!

That tea would go with these nice cupcakes. I ate a red velvet one (third from left in this photo).

Or why not grab a bag of kettle corn. This vendor loves his job!

There was a lot more, of course, from friendly bears . . .

. . . to hot ready-made food, like Z's Gyros. Z wasn't here today, no doubt being busy in her new restaurant, Z's Meze, in Bozeman. Be sure to check that out—the Mediterranean and Turkish food is terrific!

It was a lovely hot afternoon. I didn't stay for music, but each week an area musician will entertain on the park stage nearby.

Be sure to stop by!

Sacajawea Park bandshell
June 6 - September 26
Wednesday, 4:30 pm - 7:30 pm (music 6:30 pm - 9 pm)

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Market season is underway!

New in 2012, the Big Timber Kraft and Farmers Market began today under grey clouds. But spirits were bright, with most of the 8 vendors saying the day had been pretty good for them.

The market has a good location right on the main highway into town, and clear signage points the way at each end of town, so no doubt more customers will arrive as the summer season gets underway.

Today there were two tables piled high with delectable baked goods, with plenty of pies, rolls, and the ever welcome maple bars. Some tomato plants were being sold, a reminder that early markets are a good place to stock your Montana garden.

There was also a good selection of crafts available, including jewelry, pottery, blankets, and crocheted items.

Market manager Shona Wieting made sure to add "kraft" to the market name to allow for a wide variety of goods sold.

Shona is known at local markets as the Berry Bandit, with her jellies made from mostly foraged fruits. Because she makes her jellies from scratch each year for market season, Shona often has her freezer full of fruits she's found throughout the year: grapes from a back yard, apples and plums from abandoned trees, chokecherries from wild bushes in the area.

She explained that she picks 50-100 gallons each year to make chokecherry jelly and syrup. In general, she carries a stick with a hook at the end so she can grab high branches of trees or bushes, but she also uses it to prod the ground around the place she will be picking, checking for rattlesnakes.

She's happy to leave fruits or berries for any bears that appear, preferring to flee rather than fight for her share. One year she felt the skin on the back of her neck prickle; something was watching her. It turned out to be a baby bear whose mother had been killed on the nearby highway. Shona left quickly, figuring the bear needed the chokecherries more than she did.

Shona proudly displays the first-place award she received for her chokecherry jelly at the 2011 Lewistown Chokecherry Festival. There's a lot of tough competition at that festival, so this is indeed an honor.

Stan and Norma from Wilsall appear at many area markets selling their odds and ends of imaginative items. For example, you can find many people selling lights stuffed into wine bottles, but Stan found a giant beer bottle for something different.

Stan also showed me the spinning wheel he refurbished, figuring out how to create new parts by looking at pictures of other wheels. At $200, you're getting a real bargain.

It was Stan who reminded me why vendors sit in the hot sun at farmers markets, even when they're not making much money. "You meet nice people, that's the thing," he said.

Yes, you do meet nice people. Be sure to visit as many farmers markets as you can this year!

Big Timber Kraft and Farmers Market
West 1st Ave & Hart Street, next to Car Quest and across from American Bank
June 2 - September (depending on weather)
Saturday, 9 am - 1 pm