Coconut-Grapefruit Cupcakes with Matcha Frosting
Even as a little kid, I liked flying home. Not the chaos of the security checks, the trip itself, or even the weary drive back to our house. But I love that first step outside SeaTac Airport. When I exit the airport after hours of flight and days of vacation – I breathe in the Pacific Northwest air as slowly and deliberately as I can. No matter where I’ve been or how much I enjoyed myself, that first breath always tastes like the freshest, cleanest air I’ve ever known.
My flight back from Boston was forgettable. I took a taxi from my school at 5 am, spent a two hour layover in Chicago, and finally made it to Seattle after 12 hours. As tired as I was, I anticipated the step outside. I usually get this incredible emotion, a mix of contentment and familiarity, a rush of glassy lakes and painted mountains. I dragged my suitcase outside with me, looked out at the flat grey sky, and inhaled.
Instead, there was something else – a strange feeling I couldn’t place. It sat in my chest, somewhat uncomfortably, even as the Toyota pulled up and I saw my mother for the first time since summer.
When we came home, the first thing I did was walk to the kitchen. I expected fireworks to burst in my heart, rainbows to pump through my veins and surge out my fingertips when we reunited. Nothing had changed in my absence. The walls were the same marigold yellow, the same checkerboard tile covered the floor, but somehow it wasn’t the kitchen I’d remembered and missed. It looked cramped and dim, hardly big enough for three people and two dogs.
I wheeled my bag into my old room, pulled out my Boston sweatshirt, and fell asleep without unpacking.
Over the next few days, I saw Grandma and my parents, which made me feel like daybreak inside. Almost at once I caught up with old friends, a both strange and easy experience. But during the afternoon, with no classes or job to distract me, I got bored. If I wasn’t asleep, I suffered from bad headaches all day. And that uncomfortable feeling lodged in my chest hadn’t vanished.
By now, I’ve figured out what the feeling is… homesickness. I know it’s ridiculous to feel homesick for school when I’m home. I also see how pointless it is to wallow in sadness, pining for Boston, while I have three weeks left in this beautiful place. If I don’t appreciate the rain, family, and happiness I can only find in Seattle, I’ll regret it a month later when I’m gone.
The solution for the headaches didn’t come in Tylenol. It’s a healthy combination of Mom’s noodle soup, Dad’s sweater hugs, damp dog paws all over my bed and the tug of a camera strap. It’s a sifting of flour on my apron and cinnamon dust on my palms. It’s not exactly a bitter pill to swallow.
One of the best things about being home is the food. Predictable, but it isn’t even the food as much as the ingredients. There are the luxury items I haven’t bought in college – all natural creamy peanut butter, the kind you have to stir up before spreading. Soft handmade tortillas, brown rice, even almonds! It’s a joyful thing to appreciate a quick handful of almonds before dinner. And produce! Even in winter, at home I’m eating crisp spinach and sweet Asian pears.
The school menu never changes, and most of the fruit comes out of a can, soaked in sugary syrup. At home, every flavor is amplified. The grapefruit I sliced with my first breakfast back was so clean and fresh, the sharpest thing I’d tasted in ages. After I devoured it, I thought about citrus the rest of the day. I’ve been drinking grapefruits the way parched survivors reach for water.
Reacquainting myself with our kitchen is like slipping into a familiar song. Every measuring cup is where I know it’ll be. Pans still clink and clatter in our cupboard, and that old bag of shredded coconut still has some life in it. The microplane zester, still my favorite tool in the room, is just as sharp as ever. The result? Coconut-Grapefruit Cupcakes with Matcha Frosting.
Even baked into a cupcake, the grapefruit manages to refresh. It’s light and zingy, pairing beautifully with the sweetness of coconut. And the frosting? I wanted something mellow and subtle, and the green tea powder I bought from Pike Place Market over the summer was just the right touch.
When I opened that oven door, the warm air that surged up was so fragrant and sweet. I was caught off guard by how hot it was, and how good it felt against the oven mitt. Later, in bed, I rolled over and pressed my nose into my hair – it smelled like sugar. It was one of the best smells I’d almost forgotten.
I think I’ll bake again tomorrow.
[It’s good to be back. See you in 2011!]
Adapted from Martha Stewart
Makes 21 cupcakes
1 3/4 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup sweetened shredded coconut, finely chopped
1 1/2 sticks (6 oz) unsalted butter, softened
1 1/4 cups sugar
Zest of 2 grapefruits
2 large eggs + 2 large egg whites
3/4 cup unsweetened coconut milk
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line cupcake tins with paper liners.
Whisk the flour, baking powder, salt, and coconut together in a large bowl. In an electric mixer, cream the butter, sugar, and grapefruit zest until light and fluffy. Add the egg whites one at a time, beating well between whites.
On low speed, add the dry ingredients in 3 additions, alternating with the coconut milk and ending with the dry ingredients. Fill the cupcake tins 2/3 full and bake until a toothpick comes out clean, about 20 minutes. Cool on wire racks before frosting.
Adapted from Savory Sweet Life
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
2 cups powdered sugar, sifted
1 teaspoon matcha (green tea powder)
Pinch of salt
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 tablespoons milk or heavy cream
Beat the butter in an electric mixer with the paddle attachment on medium speed for a few minutes. Add the powdered sugar and matcha. Stir on the lowest speed possible (or give it a few turns first by hand to avoid sugar flying everywhere) until the sugar’s incorporated into the butter. Then beat on medium speed and add the vanilla extract and salt. Beat for 3 minutes, then beat in a tablespoon of milk, adding more (or less) if necessary. More milk will make a thinner frosting, more sugar will make a stiffer frosting.
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