Dessert Fads in 2011

Even though everyone enjoys a bowl of ice cream or a few cookies, there are still major trends in the dessert industry every year that overshadow the classics. A handful of delicious sweets always gain huge popularity and spark tasty and beautiful dessert creations. These are the top 5 dessert fads of 2011 and a breakdown of when they were most popular online. I’ll also take a stab at predicting what the biggest trend of 2012 will be, so if your sweet tooth is acting up, you might want to grab a brownie before you read another word!

Macaroons
Macaroons

Cupcakes

Many people said the cupcake fad would die in 2010, but these tasty treats are still going strong, and it doesn’t surprise me in the least. Why go back to eating cake when you can have an adorable, mini cake individually frosted and flavored? The variety of decorative possibilities and the controlled portions make cupcakes an amazing choice.

And cupcakes’ popularity remained steady throughout 2011. In fact, their biggest peak was in April of 2011, proving that the doubters were wrong about cupcakes’ tapering popularity. So there you go, cupcakes. Don’t let the naysayers get you down. (And yes, I am directly addressing cupcakes. Don’t judge me.)

Cake pops

Cupcakes aren’t the only miniaturized cake treats getting attention. People are loving cake pops, which are basically little round pieces of cake on a stick, hence the “pop” part of the name. Instead of having traditional wedding cakes, many brides and grooms are choosing to go with cake pops to put a modern twist on an old-fashioned dessert.

Cake pops are at their Internet search peak in October, probably because October is one of the most popular months to have weddings. Not only have married-couples-to-be noticed the cake pop trend—even commercial retailers like Starbucks have spotted the fad and started selling the pops in their coffee establishments. Nice looking out, Starbucks.

Macaroons

Despite looking like the Pretty Patties SpongeBob invented (Google it), macaroons will delight your taste buds. The French type is sweeping the dessert world, and while the coconut variety is popular, the multi-colored ones more frequently appear at weddings because they add both flavor and decoration to the dessert table.

Macaroon hype peaked in April and experienced a second worldwide Internet search peak in September, though that’s just for the search term “macaroon,” which would also include the common coconut variety. The search for the term “French macaroon” peaked in March and October. Looks like people need their treats at their weddings and in the spring!

Whoopie pies are also getting attention on the wedding circuit, and just like every dessert listed before them, theytastelike they belong to the cake family. (Sensing a trend within a trend here?) It’s essentially a cake sandwich with cream or frosting in the middle, which means making these things is always a good decision.

Whoopiepies were searched online the most during the months of February and March, and while they’ve been less popular than the other desserts on this list, they’ve maintained a steady interest throughout the year.

Finally breaking from the cake theme, pies of all types made a real showing in the dessert world this year. From apple to chocolate cream, people have a taste for pie these days, which is sparking more and more shops to open up that are strictly dedicated to baking and selling homemade pies.

In terms of search popularity, “pie” blows everything out of the water, though we have to assume some of these searches were actually for “whoopie pies.” Poor whoopie pies — never getting any of the credit.

2012 trend prediction: Homemade packaged desserts

Baking enthusiasts have been whipping up their own versions of classic packaged treats like Hostess Twinkies and Cupcakes this year, and it looks like it’ll be a trend that’ll really gain some steam next year. Dozens of recipes exist on recipe sites like Recipe Finder and foodie blogs for homemade versions of Pop-Tarts, HoHos, MoonPies, and more, but this trend seems to have started toward the end of 2011. Let’s hope 2012 brings us delicious,non-processed versions of the treats we loved as kids.

Conclusion

Cake’s boring. Or at least that’s what seems to be going on here. Cake is like a super popular, old-school TV show that’s now the cause of four amazing spin-offs. Appreciate pies and cake-like treats for these last few months, because new trends will be arriving in 2012 that will surely grab our attention and satisfy our sweet cravings!

Best Thanksgiving Perk: Cranberries

CranberriesThanksgiving is just over a week away, which means one of my absolute favorite fruits are now being sold fresh in bags – often on half price sale – at grocery stores everywhere. For Thanksgiving I use just one of those 12-ounce bags to make my famous Crackberry Sauce (regular whole cranberry sauce with a bag of frozen blackberries added). But I buy as many as I can afford when they go on sale so I can dry them as “craisins.”

I’ve written quite a bit about how much I like drying food from the garden rather than canning. Which is a hot and expensive way of preserving things. But this time of year my handy-dandy home-made solar dryer is fairly useless, there’s just not enough hours of sun to make it work. So I use the oven, which can also be a relatively expensive proposition. Still, good craisins are expensive from the store in those little brand name bags, so it works out fairly. Even better, if you make your own craisins at home you can do some pretty spectacular things with them flavor-wise.

This year I’m doing the “Double-Dry” method for orange flavored craisins. It’s easy enough – just dry the craisins in single layers on flat baking sheets in a barely warm oven – I use the lowest setting, 150º – and keep the door propped open a couple of inches to allow the moisture to escape in natural convection. Takes awhile, and many of the berries retain their size and shape until they’ve cooled completely and wrinkle up into the ‘usual’ raisin-like form. I put these into a glass bowl and cover them with hot orange juice. Then cover the bowl and let the berries reconstitute. Then dry them again.

You could use any type of fruit juice to flavor your craisins, even wine or brandy if you want. Just be sure to label the containers you put them in so they don’t get mixed up. They are wonderful additions to holiday cakes, breads and cookies, or just as handy snacks. If you want your craisins to be sweeter, just thoroughly dissolve a tablespoon or two of sugar or honey in the reconstituting juice, it will get absorbed.

It’s cranberries this time of year, but drying and double-drying fresh fruit works any time of year, whenever the local harvest has big lots at the farmer’s market. I haven’t yet double-dried apples, as dried apple slices go so fast as snacks around here that it seems the hoards just stand around drooling to get them as fast as they can be produced. But if ever I did happen to have dried enough for, say, a Thanksgiving pie, I’d probably reconstitute them in spiced juice (mulled cider or even wine) just before putting them into the pie crust, using leftover juice as part of the filling. Just add sugar and corn starch to thicken.

Cranberries don’t grow in my locale, but blueberries sure do. I’m planning to dedicate several terraces on the upper yard slope to the ridge to blueberries, once I find a good source of thinned bushes I can get for free. Say, 4 100-foot rows of good producers, which works out to ~25 bushes per row spaced at 4′. Good producers will return ~5 pounds of berries per bush (some will give 10, but I’m being conservative here). Once they’re producing at that level, I’ll be getting an average crop of 500 pounds a year! That’s big enough to supply my family and friends as well as the local munchy market. Besides, blueberries come in high summer, which would let me use the sun instead of expensive electricity to do the drying.

Old King Coal, a Filthy Old Soul

Old King CoalBack in June I posted a disgusted ode to King Coal’s most outrageous method of extracting the combustible black rock from these most beautiful and abundant Appalachians. In that post, Desperate for Fossil Fuels, I described the environmental horror known as “Mountaintop Removal” and offered a bunch of useful links for further information, environmental coalitions and direct actions aimed at stopping this crazy rape of the earth.

Just six months later on December 22, an earthen dam gave way at a coal ash holding pond in Kingston, Tennessee, spilling more than a billion gallons of the sludge into a neighborhood as well as into the Clinch and Tennessee Rivers. Three homes were completely destroyed, many others within the 300 acre sludge zone had to be evacuated, dead fish littered the banks of the rivers and the people of eastern Tennessee as well as the rest of the nation suddenly became familiar with what this waste product of burning coal contains. It’s not pretty.


Concentrated in this nasty toxic waste are poisons and heavy metals such as arsenic and mercury, nickel, vanadium, beryllium, cadmium, barium, chromium, copper, molybdenum, zinc, lead and selenium. There are also concentrations of radioactive elements including uranium, thorium and radium. These substances readily leach from the ash into water, and the rivers and wells around the spill site have tested high in arsenic and other pollutants – residents have been warned to drink only bottled water until they hear otherwise.

Yet despite the fact that there is a toxic load in the millions of pounds of ash produced in America every year from burning coal, the EPA does not regulate it as toxic waste and some states don’t regulate it at all. Thus despite known problems with retention of the sludge, this waste product is actually considered to be a valuable commercial product all by itself!

There are actually marketers of coal fly ash that do nothing but re-sell the stuff for use in concrete and cement, as structural landfill and mine reclamation, as base for roads, for making bricks, and even as “inert filler” in agricultural fertilizer (along with waste from other industries, like steel production). Is it any wonder that our once-fertile plains now need ever-increasing amounts of fertilizer, herbicides, pesticides and genetically engineered crop cultivars in order to grow anything at all?

Those of us who are committed to lovingly managing our land and producing as much of our own sustenance as possible using the most organic of tried-and-true methods can use the sad experience of the people in eastern Tennessee as an opportunity to learn more about what ‘standard practices’ our rural neighbors may be using that could threaten our family’s health and livelihood. Large farms upstream of our homesteads could be using industrial waste-based fertilizers that will leach contaminants into our water sources as easily as their in-season chemical sprays will.

While arsenic in the water is a serious concern for our drinking water, irrigation water and livestock water, heavy metals can wreak terrible havoc as well. Round-Up doesn’t contain heavy metals, your neighbor may think he’s being responsible. So he probably needs to know what’s in that fertilizer too, as he may be wondering why his crops do so poorly and his livestock are so sickly. Do your research, put your findings into an easy-to-read format, and present them at future meetings of your extension classes or community farm planning groups. Pass them out at the farmer’s market and contact environmental groups in your area who are or should become involved in dealing with these issues.

This earth is our only home. Our homesteads – our beloved little corners of earth – are our pleasure, our pride, our freedom and our example to the world. If we won’t protect and defend them, no one else will. So as we move into this hopeful new year with a new administration with a commitment to sustainable energy policies for the future, don’t let anybody fool you about “Clean Coal” – there is no such thing.

We can choose to go with clean, efficient, renewable energy sources. We can choose to diversify our production so that gigantic mega-watt plants aren’t necessary to supply our needs. We can choose to stop raping and pillaging our planet for the short-term gain for the wealthy few, while ignoring basic livability for our children and grandchildren’s future. Get mad, get involved, get busy!

Links:
Desperate for Fossil Fuels
“Mountaintop Removal”
Coal Fly Ash
USGS: Radioactive Elements in Coal and Fly Ash
Fear in the Fields: How Hazardous Wastes Become Fertilizer

Livestock: A Rabbit In Every Pot

rabbitI’ve been looking into the various classified ads locally for livestock I want, to get an idea on budgeting first for proper quartering and actual animals. Chickens are of course a first choice. Also want bees, been looking at hives and queens for sale. If I can site them properly, bears shouldn’t be too much of a problem. Goats are sometime in the future, will need more fencing than we’ve got.

On those classified pages I discovered an awful lot of meat rabbits for sale, and remembered some homesteader friends in Virginia about 25 years ago who were big into meat rabbits. At the time we’d recently become vegetarian and I rejected the idea for our just-started homestead, but all these years later I think the ease of raising rabbits might make them an excellent livestock choice… so long as I don’t have to be the one who slaughters and prepares them for sale. There are surprisingly ample markets locally for good rabbit meat, especially organically raised. Even including some of the high-end eateries and B&Bs who are my regular fresh organic herb and sauce customers.

I ordered a book entitled Raising Rabbits to Survive, which promises to be a very handy reference and educational tool. Even better, the book comes with 5 supplemental books covering just about everything you need to know.

In the meantime and most serendipitously, I also encountered an interesting 5-part blog series about the same subject, which is immediately accessible. Looks like this is something my homestead should be seriously aiming for, before the year is out.

Many of you, like me, will remember raising and keeping rabbits as pets as kids back when we lived in far more urban areas, and think bout how rabbits as livestock could be a considerable cog in our self-sufficiency machinery as homesteaders. Because homesteading these days isn’t always about living way out in the country.

Rabbits are quiet, they don’t take up much room, and with proper care and feeding will readily reproduce on an amazingly quick schedule. You might be surprised that there’s a market for rabbit meat, but homesteaders I knew a quarter century ago raised meat rabbits as well as chickens and goats, for that very purpose. They never could manage to saturate the market. Go surfing through some of the internet’s ample offerings of food and recipe sites for “rabbit recipes.” You’ll get way more than just a camp version of rabbit stew. Things like honey roast rabbit, Chinese sweet and sour rabbit, fried rabbit in breadcrumbs, Louisiana Creole rabbit… the possibilities are endless.

One Rabbit Recipe site notes that rabbit meat is high in protein, low in fat, uric acid, cholesterol, sodium and calories. It is also easily digested and is recommended in diets that restrict red meat. Rabbit is all white meat, fine grained and has a mild flavor. It substitutes well for any recipe calling for veal or poultry. I haven’t personally eaten meat (other than fish) for about 40 years, but I’m not averse to growing rabbits as an organic meat offering if I don’t have to do the slaughtering. I’m fairly sure I could find someone locally who would do the job for a cut of sale price at any of a dozen local organic meats suppliers and cooperatives.

So. How easy or hard is it to go with raising rabbits as a homestead food stock? Apparently not that hard, or even terribly expensive. If you’re willing to do the work. Here’s an overview of the series by DawnG I mentioned, and hope interested readers will take the time to check each installment out. They each contain valuable and useful information.

Part 1 introduces the many good reasons to consider rabbits as livestock, and lists some of the downsides. Such as how difficult it is to not love them as pets. Which for many of us, might be overwhelming.

Part 2 talks about food independence on the homestead, even if you don’t plan to make money (or trade) on your stock. Very good rundown on the details of proper housing for the rabbits, food and watering details, and things to look out for. DawnG also suggests supplying your rabbits with toys, as their teeth grow perpetually and they need things to chew on as well as to play with.

Part 3 looks in depth at rabbit food, commercial and supplementals. She includes the proper protein/fiber ratio for producing the best meat, and varying feed requirements depending on season. Some of the supplementals are things our homesteads can provide quite readily for free, which means they won’t be an added expense. Grass hay, sunflower seeds, fresh or dried fruit, fresh veggies and herbs, weeds and lawn clippings, etc. I figure all the bruised and otherwise compromised fruit and veggies I usually compost could go through rabbits first. Then I could compost the droppings!

Part 4 looks at the best breeds to get as your original breeding stock, and what to look for in each one as to health and pedigree. I had no idea there were so many meat breeds, or that there are show rabbits, and stud rabbits, and an entire sub-business involved in selling such rabbits to other homesteaders for starting their stock. Maybe that’s something a vegetarian could go for as far as participating in meat production.

Part 5 gets into the nitty-gritty about… um… rabbit sex. How old your buck and does should be before you let them breed, what to look out for, what records to keep to ensure your best breeders are the ones producing stock (and not getting eaten), and how to care properly for pregnant does and fresh litters. Also advice on paying attention to mothering traits, culling does that don’t measure up.

All terribly interesting, not very expensive an investment, and something to seriously consider as part of our homesteading adventures. The economy isn’t scheduled to get any better for at least a decade, as social support systems are scheduled to be cut to the bone or entirely eliminated. Self and community sufficiency is only going to become more and more important in the coming years, we homesteaders need to be ahead of the game.