Tuesday, December 4, 2007

You Can Catch More Flies with Honey...

And Candy Canes and Cupcakes.

I have always been a firm believer in that saying about catching more flies with honey than vinegar. It not only makes sense but personally, I think rudeness requires more effort than kindness.
And I’m all for reserving what little energy and effort I have left-- for the good stuff.

Recently, on a particularly busy day at work, it seemed as though I was the proverbial messenger at which customers were compelled to take aim.
Having lived through several positions in banking, customer service, and retail, this is a role I am used to playing. But there is always the potential for that one customer, for whom there are no sufficient words, who will find his or her way under my skin and park there until an actual rash erupts.

It was a cold, windy Friday and as I entered the drab building, I was immediately met by one hopeful employee and his inquiry into the whereabouts of my home-baked contraband. I was solely responsible for supplying my junkie-friend with a consistent supply of uppers, in the form of cookies, bars or cupcakes. I was feeling both guilty and a bit under appreciated, realizing that my own baking obsession created the assumption that supply would regularly meet demand.
As I unveiled the coveted Tupperware, I wondered for how long I could, in good conscience, continue enabling such a familiar addiction. I allowed myself to reap the free-coffee rewards with blatant disregard for the consequences.
Any rehabilitation would have to wait for another day however, because my supply, on this chaotic day, would serve as a belated birthday gesture to our friendly boss—complete with lit candle and song.
I left the anticipated container in his care and headed to my workspace with the first evidence of a tornado-force migraine brewing.

I greeted my coworkers and began my ritual set-up and sign on. Customers entered as bitter as the wind, realizing the long line and painfully-drab-musicless-clockless-dateless-decorationless wait ahead of them. As I rushed to ready myself to call my first customer, I noticed that the coworkers on either side of me, both without customers, feigned interest in completed paperwork—an uncommon occurrence for two conscientious employees.
I called the next customer in line, a well dressed man (and I suspect one of means), sporting an expensive, albeit backwards, Kangol cap, and a freshly grown goatee. Fooled by his new façade, as soon as I read the name on his card, I knew immediately that it was him. When I first heard about his belligerent nature, it saddened me that a man with such a pleasant name, reminiscent of my favorite caffeinated beverage, could be so unpleasant. Clearly, the clever antics of my coworkers were both admirable and maddening at the same time.
When I greeted him with a smile and inquired about his well-being, he seemed genuinely surprised. He responded with an offhand comment about employees usually running in another direction whenever he enters the building.
I seized the opportunity to inform him that I was a new employee and I looked forward to a chance at a fresh start with an unfamiliar (albeit infamous) customer. I nervously completed one transaction after another, all the while making small talk. He was neither talkative nor amused and I sensed that, beneath his reluctantly calm exterior, a volcanic eruption threatened, and was awaiting provocation.
If ever I called upon my ojas to guide me, it was at this vulnerable moment.

In the spirit of Murphy’s Law, a computer glitch brought his last transaction to a screeching halt and I was forced to call upon my coworker for assistance. I am thankful to call this woman a friend because at that moment, if looks could kill, I would surely be dead. She sauntered over to my station and with minimal eye contact, greeted him less-than cordially, and manually corrected a poorly timed technical error. Not surprisingly, she immediately exited the building for a much-needed cigarette break.
As I counted out his change, I wished him a nice weekend and to my astonishment, he offered small talk about an upcoming vacation. I took the bait and learned that he would be cruising to an island somewhere near Honduras. It would be his fifteenth cruise to date. He assumed I would be familiar with the island and when I mentioned that I had never been outside the U.S. and would be satisfied to see the coast of Maine, he almost chuckled. As I gathered his final paperwork, I added a shrink-wrapped candy cane for good measure and wished him a lovely vacation. At that moment, he paused and sincerely thanked me for my well wishes. As he exited the building, I performed my (poor excuse for an) end-zone victory dance, and announced that moments ago, out one institutional lobby door, had walked one formerly disgruntled-now almost happy customer, due in part, to the absence of vinegar and the welcome presence of honey (or in this case, candy canes).

For the remainder of my shift, I purposely gave candy canes to the most persnickety, unfriendly customers, some of whom actually refused the gesture.
For the most part however, my inclination to believe in the power of kindness served me well.

Perhaps I was just lucky on this day to have encountered Mr. Angry in his rare, dormant-volcano, form. I’d like to believe however, that I have afforded him the opportunity to change his relationship with our valued employees, who so often bear the burden of being messengers of unfavorable company policies.
A pipe dream? Perhaps.
But I have made a mental note to ask about his vacation (and maybe even request he share photos) upon his return from an island I know nothing about. Undoubtedly, I will ask first about the islands cuisine.
Who doesn’t love to talk about food?

And speaking of islands, the cupcakes hidden inside my coveted container finally made their way to the back counter. Their banana coconut flavor recalls a favorite island-inspired libation.
Available employees were called to join the festivities and a candle was lit in honor of our hard working leader. Coworkers commented on the snowy coconut frosting and its resemblance to the snowball snacks of our youth (only in my opinion, much more delicious—as I have never been a fan of anything about those cakes but the coconut topping).
If only for a moment, a few all-business, furiously focused employees, let their hair down long enough to enjoy a
creamy coconut moustache and some lighthearted banter.
The experience forced me to recall my original intent for sharing baked goods at work.

Although the need no longer existed to acquaint myself with unfamiliar coworkers, I felt compelled to continue a tradition which would allow for a much needed humanitarian break, in a day that was otherwise cold (windy), and technologically dependent.

I am forced to recall that timeless and true saying by John Donne;
“No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent…”

The small piece I claim will continue to lure unsuspecting
flies with the temptation of honey,
and yes, even candy canes and cupcakes.

Until Next Time,
Make Life Delicious
Share Your Food


The recipe I am about to share with you is almost sinful it’s so easy.
I found this years ago during a wishful online search for an easy recipe using almost-rotten bananas. While they shouldn’t be black, the best results will come from using bananas that are soft, sweet and spotty. A white cake mix is the secret ingredient in this recipe, but if you won’t tell, neither will I.

On the subject of coconut, I can’t stress enough the benefit of seeking out the same unsweetened coconut I used. The standard baking coconut will work, but you won’t achieve that powdery, snowy coating and the frosting might just be a bit too sweet. If you use the sweetened variety, I would cut back on the amount of powdered sugar in the frosting.

My recipe is adapted from one which appears on Cooks.com for Moist Banana Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

Snowy Island Cupcakes

3 Small Ripe Bananas
4 Heaping TBS Sour Cream
1 White Cake Mix
3 Large Egg Whites
2 TBS Canola Oil
1 to 1 1/3 Cups Whole Milk
1 tsp. Coconut Flavoring
½ Cup Unsweetened Organic Coconut (shredded and dehydrated)
**I purchased an inexpensive bag at our local health foods store—the flakes are very finely shredded—if you can’t find it like this, I suspect a food processor would easily solve this dilemma—but not for the sticky, sweetened variety.

1 8 oz. Pkg. Philly Cream Cheese softened
1 Stick Butter softened
½ tsp. Coconut flavoring
3 to 4 Cups Powdered Confectioners Sugar (depending on the sweetness you prefer)
½ to ¾ Cup Marshmallow Fluff (adjust to the thickness and spreading consistency you prefer)
1 ½ Cups Unsweetened Organic Coconut finely shredded

In large bowl, blend bananas with mixer, adding sour cream until well blended and not lumpy. Add cake mix, egg whites, oil, coconut flavoring and mix. Slowly incorporate milk and add as much needed to produce a thick (and only slightly pourable) batter. You might not need the whole 1 1/3 cups of milk.
Use your judgment as bananas differ in size and moisture content. Fold in half cup of coconut.

Using standard cupcake tins with paper liners, fill to 2/3 full (alternatively, you may use jumbo cupcake/muffin tins and recipe will yield approximately 12). Bake at 350 degrees on center oven rack for about 18 to 20 minutes (check half way through for doneness—you must not over bake—a tester inserted in cupcake should come out with only a few slightly moist crumbs).
Cake will spring back in the center when touched, if done. Remove from oven to wire rack and allow to cool completely before frosting.

To maintain moisture while cooling, gently place a sheet of wax paper over slightly cooled cupcakes (do not press down on top of cupcakes).

Mix cream cheese and butter together with a mixer, add powdered sugar and coconut flavoring. When mixture is smooth, add marshmallow crème and blend to combine—you might not need all of the marshmallow crème. Frosting should be stiff enough to hold peaks but soft enough for spreading.

***Frost cupcakes immediately before serving and place shredded coconut in small round bowl. Dip each frosted top of cupcake into coconut to cover. Make sure entire top surface of cupcake is covered with coconut-snow.

**My Notes:
Sometimes I want these cupcakes before my bananas have completely ripened (let’s face it, I don’t call the spots). As long as the bananas are somewhat ripe and not green or firm, you can cheat a bit by adding two tablespoons of babyfood-jarred bananas or two tablespoons of applesauce. Keep in mind that you must watch milk as you add it to mixture to avoid a soupy batter. The added babyfood or applesauce will replace the texture missing from the not-so-ripe bananas.

**These cupcakes do not refrigerate well because they dry out, but the dilemma is that the cream cheese frosting needs refrigeration. I have added the fluff as a stabilizer (and for great marshmallow flavor) but I still wouldn’t leave this frosting at room temperature for too long. It is best to frost these just before serving.
Truth be told, a few leftover cupcakes sat out over night and they were consumed the next day with no adverse reactions and I’m told they tasted fine. But you’re on your own here.

If you’re not in the mood for an island adventure, this recipe makes for a great basic banana cupcake. Simply replace the coconut flavoring with vanilla, omit the shredded coconut altogether and throw in a few chopped pecans or walnuts for good measure!

**This recipe also makes for a great frosted cake. Instead of using cupcake tins, pour batter into a 9 x 13 cake pan and bake for about 25 minutes. When cooled, slice cake into layers and frost accordingly.


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