The Goodness of Makin' Whoopie

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Whoopie Pies, that is. Last week was my birthday, and Pam had offered to make me a birthday dessert. Obviously, I didn't want to pick something boring like chocolate cake, so I suggested an ice cream cake. Pam flatly refused this request, since it wouldn't require any actual baking, so my second choice was a homemade whoopie pie.

It seems like lately, cupcakes are kind of having a "moment." There are entire bakeries dedicated exclusively to boutique cupcakes, and I've noticed several HGTV reality shows that revolve around the drama of bakeries specializing in cupcakes. Now not to hate on cupcakes or anything (because who doesn't love a good cupcake) but I'm ready for whoopies pies to have their moment in the spotlight. They're so underrated, but equally portable, portion-controlled, convenient to eat without utensils, and possibly even more delicious.

Until this weekend, my only prior experience with whoopie pies were the amazing pumpkin whoopies that my friend Katie Cook makes around Thanksgiving, using her aunt's recipe. I usually make myself sick by eating a half dozen of them in under twenty minutes, because they are so delicious that if you don't eat as many as you can right away, you can guarantee that the plate will be empty when you return to it an hour later.

Apparently, whoopie pies are a northern thing, and they are traditionally chocolate with a marshmallow cream frosting. The other day we were at Crate and Barrel and we picked up a cookbook made up entirely of whoopie pie recipes.

I was amazed at the vast array of flavor combinations that could be produced by combining different cake and frosting combinations. This cookbook had recipes for Red Velvet Whoopies, Gingerbread Whoopies, Lemon Whoopies, Carrot Cake Whoopies, Pumpkin Whoopies, Pistachio-Cardamom Whoopies, and even Jalapeno Cornbread Whoopies. I was particularly intrigued by the recipes for the salted caramel, maple-bacon, rosewater buttercream, root beer, and candied ginger frostings.

But for my birthday, we decided on S'more Whoopies--a graham whoopie filled with chocolate ganache and marshmallow cream frosting. What could be better on a summer night? Especially with a tall glass of ice cold milk.

The trick was finding graham flour for the recipe. (Who knew there even was such a thing?) Though a little time-consuming to make and somewhat messy to assemble, the recipe was a huge hit!

The s'more whoopies tasted exactly like s'mores, except you felt fancier eating them, and they were definitely less messy to eat than the real thing. I'm already ready for s'more whoopie!

The Goodness of...Puppies!

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Yes, the rumors are true. Oliver, a miniature dachshund puppy, will be joining the Clayborn household in just a few short weeks. And it's become a little ridiculous just how excited we are about it. We have already bought a portable doggy toilet and have visited pet stores multiple times, just to check out the latest and greatest in doggy toys and accessories. We've studied dachshund books and Pam has already researched dog trainers in the area. We are counting down the days until we can go and pick Oliver up from the breeder and bring him home. In sum: this is a big freaking deal.

By our sheer excitement, you'd think we'd never had a dog before. But this isn't the first puppy for me and Pam. When we were first married, we got a miniature dachshund named Bebo. We loved Bebo. He was not particularly well-trained, but what he lacked in behavior he made up for in cuteness. I think you'll agree.

When we moved to California, Bebo, unfortunately, couldn't come with us, so he was adopted by one of Pam's friends. Now, four years later, we have finally moved to a housing situation that allows pets again.

Probably what I'm most excited about is the possibility of doggy costumes. I know what you're thinking. That I wouldn't actually do such a thing to my dog. Well, friends, you are sadly mistaken. I've already begun planning a Halloween costume and a Christmas ensemble.

For your viewing pleasure, below are some of my favorite dachshund costumes.

The Hotdog (OK, not exactly a costume, but pretty cute, right?!)

Swiss Miss

Fire Chief

Canadian Mountie




The Goodness of...Tcho Dark Chocolate

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Inspired by my friend Emily's recent post about "Chocomizing" her life, I've decided to let you know about my new favorite chocolate. 

"Tcho is a new kind of chocolate company for a new generation of chocolate enthusiasts," or so its website claims. Located in the heart of San Francisco, at Pier 17 between Fisherman's Wharf and the Ferry Building, Tcho is obsessed with amazingly high-quality, organic dark chocolate, with a social mission that it claims is the "next step beyond Fair Trade." The company works to help farmers by transferring knowledge of how to grow and ferment better beans so they can escape commodity production to become premium producers.

What I love about Tcho's chocolate, besides the clever packaging and perfectly square, bite-size bars, are the way they're categorized. Instead of categorizing the dark chocolate only by "X % cacao" as most chocolate manufacturers do nowadays, they also assign their chocolate a flavor based on this handy chocolate flavor wheel.

The flavors are not over-the-top, but are really subtle. I really liked "Fruity" and "Nutty." What's cool is that there's not actually any fruit or nuts in the chocolate, but the cacao beans have been grown in such a way that these natural flavors have been "coaxed out" of the beans, in a similar way that coffee beans can taste floral or earthy or nutty.

Tcho chocolates can be purchased on their website, but I first discovered them at the Starbucks in Strawberry Village, where they were on sale in a convenient plastic jar like the one shown above. It's a sampler that includes "Fruity," "Nutty," "Chocolatey," and "Citrus."

The label tells me to "take as needed for inspiration, happy heart, coping, focus, optimism, and even euphoria." Being the rule-follower that I am, I strictly follow the recommended dosage prescribed on the jar and eat at least one piece per day, for good health. Or if it's been a hard day, I might eat more than one! Each little square contains only 44 calories, so no guilt, either.
I haven't tried it yet, but I'm seriously considering ordering this "Mango Drenched in Dark Chocolate." What can I say, I'm a sucker for fruit and chocolate. Does that not sound ridiculously delicious?!

The Goodness of...Ideal Bookshelves

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As an artist, I'm always intrigued by the creative ways that other artists are able to create portraits of people without actually depicting the people they're representing at all. Much like a person's wallet, their refrigerator, or their day planner, you can usually get a surprisingly intimate portrait of an individual by studying their bookshelves.

I recently stumbled upon the Etsy store of the artist Jane Mount and immediately fell in love. Jane Mount paints "ideal bookshelves," depicting people through their libraries. What an awesome snapshot of a person's true, or at least ideal self!
You can take a snapshot of your "ideal bookshelf" of 10-20 books and send it to Jane, who will draw the spines of your favorite books for $150. These beautiful 9x12 gouache and ink drawings would look amazing in a frame propped up on an actual bookshelf.  Or in a child's bedroom.

8x10 prints of other people's bookshelves that she's drawn are available at her Etsy site for a very reasonable $25. My favorites are the ones with all the children's books...what does that say about me?

What books would be included in your "ideal bookshelf"?

The Goodness of...Nylon Watch Straps

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Guys kind of get the short end of the stick when it comes to jewelry (and accessories in general). How to by stylish without looking completely ridiculous? Move too far into cuff bracelet or dog tag territory and you may as well be wearing an Ed Hardy t-shirt that says "royal douche" on the back. Sure, we can rock a wedding (or purity!) ring, an ear piercing or maybe a small (yet masculine) cross necklace, but let's face it, our options for stylish accessorization are just more limited than the ladies. 

This is why I got turned on to nylon watch straps. They're fairly cheap, durable, and the perfect combination of rugged and preppy, plus you can change them out whenever you feel like it to match your mood or your outfit. Plus, it doesn't scream "look at me!" And since not everyone's caught on to this sartorial style yet, you can rock this look with the quiet confidence of knowing you're a trend setter, not a trend follower.

 I have amassed a small collection of about a dozen different straps and I consistently get compliments whenever I wear them, particularly the striped ones and the neon orange one.  They make my cheap-o Timex watch look a lot more expensive and stylish than it really is. 

There's several places where nylon watch bands can be found these days, such as J. Crew (where they're on sale right now two for $30). But my favorite resource is, where you choose any five nylon watch straps from a vast array of 90 choices for just $29.95. What an incredible value! They even have straps to match team colors. 

Ladies, if you're looking for the perfect, inexpensive gift to amp up your guy's style, pick him up a nylon watch strap. He won't be disappointed.

The Goodness of...Humphry Slocombe

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For weeks, I've been wanting to go to Humphry Slocombe, a tiny, unassuming ice cream parlor in the Mission District of San Francisco. Ever since my friend Jimmy recommended it, I knew I had to go. Jimmy lives in the city and is a self-professed foodie; he has this knack for finding the best eats anywhere. So, since it is technically my Spring Break this week, I decided to take the day off from work and go into the city to check it out for myself.

I was not disappointed. This is no Baskin Robbins; this is gourmet ice cream at its finest.

When I stepped into the tiny shop, there was almost a line out the door. The place was packed. The shop itself isn't much to look at; it's kind of sparse, and it's clear that they want you to get your ice cream and keep on moving, not stay and linger.

But the workers were friendly and efficient. They offered free samples of any of their flavors on real metal spoons, which I appreciated. It was difficult to decide what to sample, with such intriguing selections such as "Secret Breakfast" (bourbon and cornflakes!), "Salt-N-Peppa, "Strawberry Black Olive," "Honey Thyme," "Boccalone Prosciutto" and "Peanut Butter Curry."Adventurous as I am, I settled on a scoop of "Balsamic Caramel" and a scoop of "Chocolate Sea Salt." Two generous scoops set me back $3.75, but I would have happily paid twice as much for such amazing goodness in my mouth.

The ice cream wasn't overly sweet or overly creamy, but was the perfect vehicle for letting the subtle flavors really come through. Each spoonful was an exercise in picking up all the subtle notes of the flavors, in the same way you would a glass of wine. The sea salt balanced out the sweetness of the chocolate and while the balsamic caramel had a richness and complexity not normally associated with ice cream.

Humphry Slocombe also offers a selection of ice cream sundaes and ice cream sandwiches. Don't those look amazing?!

And if that wasn't enough, you can grab a bag of homemade BACON PEANUT BRITTLE or LARD CARAMELS to take home with you! 

Humphry Slocombe is located at 2790 Harrison St, at the corner of 24th and Harrison.

The Badness of...Excessive Earwax

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True story: I have an earwax problem. A few weeks ago, Pam and I decided to go swimming one evening at our apartment complex. It was a cold night, so we got into the hot tub first, then double-dog-dared each other to go and jump into the freezing cold swimming pool. We decided to do a countdown from 3 and then jump in together, but my wily wife decided to push me in on 1. I was not amused.

Long story short, when I emerged from the depths of the deep end, both of my ears had water in them. "No biggie," I thought, since this has happened to me many times. I shook my head from side to side and waited patiently for the water to drain out, to no avail. When we got back to our apartment, Pam suggested putting some alcohol in my ears, since it would cause the water to evaporate more quickly. What transpired next was not pleasant. As the alcohol burrowed its way into my ear canal, it felt like it was literally melting my brains. The end result was the opposite of the intended outcome, as both ears were now completely blocked. I couldn't hear anything!

If this has ever happened to you, you understand how ridiculously disorienting and frustrating it can be. I felt powerless and scared, and had convinced myself that I would be deaf forever. I may or may not have had a full-on panic attack complete with hyperventilating and uncontrollable crying. It was one intense situation at the Clayborn house that evening.

Pam somehow calmed me down and persuaded me to sleep on it and see if I could hear more in the morning. Unfortunately, it was no better the next day, so I made an appointment to see a doctor for that afternoon (which was surprisingly difficult to do, since I had to schedule an appointment on the phone and I literally couldn't hear!). After examining my ears for approximately 12 seconds, he told me that my ears were nearly completely clogged with hardened earwax, and that he hadn't seen a case as bad as mine in years. Pretty disgusting, right?!

He told me to go to a drug store and buy a non-prescription miracle drug called Debrox, which pretty much changed my life. Debrox are ear drops that soften hardened earwax so it can be removed safely by flushing with water. I put the drops in my ears twice a day and left it in for 30 minutes, where it bubbled and tingled and did its magic. Then, the fun part was using a bulb syringe to spray water into my ear canals and see how many chunks of ear wax would emerge.  Slowly, over the course of four days, probably a teaspoon of earwax dripped out and I gradually regained my hearing.

What I learned from this strangely traumatic experience is that I really took my sense of hearing for granted. It's quite amazing how much you rely on your sense of hearing to make sense of the world around you. I also learned that my ears are out-of-control earwax producers and require regular preventative maintenance. I will now be "debroxing" my ears monthly.

The Goodness of...Brothers Font

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I have a confession. I love typography. In a big way. Like "take it behind the middle school and get it pregnant" kind of love it. I realize that makes me a huge nerd. But as a graphic designer, I spend a lot of time looking at and thinking about typography, and contemplating all the subtle and unconscious messages typography has the power to convey. And I'm not proud of it, but I may have even lusted after a font or two in my time. 

Today, I wanted to extol the virtues of one of my all-time favorite fonts...Brothers. Unless you're a design nerd like me, you probably haven't heard of Brothers, since it doesn't come pre-installed on computers like Times New Roman or Comic Sans. But there's a good chance you've seen it before on packaging or a billboard and subconsciously thought to yourself, "What a great old-timey looking font!"
Brothers was designed by the well-known sign-painter John Downer in 1999. Its inspiration came from a hand-drawn letterhead designed around the turn-of-the-century for the COLE BROTHERS traveling shows, an extravaganza of acrobatic and circus acts that included trained horses with bareback riders. I think there's a quality of boldness and daring in the blocky, square-cut letters that really seems to accurately reflect the bravado and quirkiness of circus performers. 

What I love about the character of Brothers is the sense of nostalgia it seems to create, like an old country store, moonshine, vintage cars, or horse-racing. It's a very bold, strong typeface but not at all boring or utilitarian. Of course, it wouldn't be appropriate if "modern and sleek" is what you're going for, but for conveying a sense of "rough and tumble" history, I think it's perfect. 

A few samples of Brothers in action:

If you like what you see, Brothers font is available for purchase from Emigre.

The Goodness of...Slinkachu

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I recently got turned on to new artist that you definitely need to know about. His name is Slinkachu, he's 28 and he's British. His street art installations are pretty awesome. His most recent work is called the "Little People Project" and involves the remodeling and painting of miniature model train set characters, which he then places and leaves on the street, where he photographs them both close up and from a distance. These tiny installations are often amazingly clever. According to the artist, "the scenes I set up and the titles I give to the scenes aim to reflect the loneliness and melancholy of living in a big city, almost being lost and overwhelmed. But underneath this, there is always some humor." 

He's compiled some of his "Little People" installation photographs into a nifty little coffee table book called "Little People in the City," available on Amazon. Here's a few of my favorite images of his work:

"Spilt Milk"

"They're not pets, Susan"


"Spare some change"