“Did you eat colors?” (featuring Red Velvet Cupcakes)

New York is challenging.  Summer in New York is a full on battle.  Last week, we had one of those record setting heat/ humidity days where you feel like you’re living in an old damp washcloth.  Everything smells.

I was running errands, doing what absolutely needed to get done and not one thing more.  I boarded the D Train at 34th street- drenched, pissed, and exhausted.  I melted into a seat and shut my eyes, marveling at the feeling of my sweat blast-evaporating from my skin thanks to the pumping AC .  By 59th street I had regained some composure and opened my eyes.  A woman entered the car, shopping bags from Armani Exchange and Bebe dangling off every available shoulder, elbow and finger.  She was an attractive, Latina woman with very large, multi-colored purchased hair and a pair of breasts – more like a shelf of boobs really- that were so big her arm could barely stretch to the pole.  She settled her bags around her and I noticed her nails- very, very long and meticulously cared for.
I was lost in deep thoughts about women who wear their nails this long, wondering about ass-wiping and masturbation, when she reached into her fake Louis Vuitton handbag and pulled out a small bag of Cheetos.  She deftly peeled the bag open in one try (something I can never manage to do properly) and began daintily snacking on her puffy cheesy sticks.  I was mesmerized by her and slightly nauseated by her snack choice.  It’s been about 20 regretless years since I’ve had a Cheeto but the smell of hers brought the whole experience back in a flash.  She finished the last one, neatly folded the bag twice, dropped it into a side pocket in her LV and then fished out a sandwich size Ziplock bag containing about 10 Wetnap squares.  She peeled one off the stack and began scraping the pasty orange Cheeto film from underneath her long fingernails.  She was methodical.  She was a master.

The tell tale fingers
The tell tale fingers

She carefully cleaned any trace of cheesy orange from her hands, leaving the Wetnap so discolored and defiled that it was almost gallery worthy.  The train pulled into the 125th street station, my stop, and I shuddered before gathering my things and stepping back onto the blistering streets.  I thought “I can never unsee that.”  No matter how hard that woman works to hide the evidence – and this was clear pre-meditative nasty snacking- I’ll always know what she did.

I think we have always been a bit suspect of unnaturally colored food- and rightfully so.  There is impressive evidence linking food coloring to ADHD, autism and ADD in children.  I will never forget a few years ago having lunch with a good friend and her two daughters.  She is a fantastic and slightly neurotic mom and pays very close attention to what her girls ingest.  At the end of the meal, one of the girls was running around chaotically, anxious to leave the restaurant and get on with the rest of her day and my friend grabbed her, shook her and yelled “Did you eat colors?  DID YOU EAT COLORS?!?”.  It was the first time I really focused on the food color issue.  God, how many times have I felt out of my mind- and how many times would it have been nice to blame it on something other than my own psychological dysfunction.  I’d like to think that those of us who don’t bury our faces in Cheetos don’t eat much food coloring, but I recently heard a blip on NPR that said if they took all the coloring out of everything, we’d be disgusted by what our food looked like.  I’ll stick to the farmer’s market produce and certified organic proteins for my diet.

Then again, I have commitment issues.

I think these cupcakes are on the top of my guilty pleasures list.  I make them in a mini version for parties that I cater because they are adorable, delicious and dramatic.  It feels scandalous to eat cake that is deep red so I put my food coloring fears on the back burner for this one.  I’ve never felt hyper or anxious after eating them, but you know, I’m in my forties.

Red Velvet Cake

Mini Red Velvet Cupcakes
Mini Red Velvet Cupcakes

Makes one cake, 24 regular cupcakes or 75 mini cupcakes.

  • 3/4 cup melted butter
  • 3/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 3 cups sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups vanilla yogurt
  • 1 ounce red food coloring (liquid or gel)
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 3 1/4 cups flour
  • 3 Tbs. cocoa powder
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 3/4 tsp. salt
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour two 8-inch or 9-inch cake pans or line three muffin pans with cupcake liners or mini muffn pans with mini liners.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, cream butter, oil, and sugar till light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time. Combine yogurt, red food coloring and vanilla extract in a small bowl.
  3. Sift together flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda and salt in another bowl.
  4. Alternate adding the yogurt mixture and flour mixture into the large bowl.
  5. Pour batter into prepared pans or lined muffin pans. Bake for 30-35 minutes (15-20 minutes for cupcakes) or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean.
  6. Cool completely.

Cream Cheese Frosting 

  • 16 oz. (two 8 oz. bars) cream cheese, cold
  • 1 cup butter (2 sticks), softened to room temperature
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 tsp lemon extract (optional)
  • 3-4 cups powdered sugar, measure then sift
  1. With the mixer on a low speed, beat the cream cheese and butter till blended.
  2. Mix in vanilla and lemon extract.
  3. Slowly add the powdered sugar, a cup at a time. Once all the powdered sugar is added, increase to a higher speed to whip up the frosting till light and fluffy.

4 thoughts on ““Did you eat colors?” (featuring Red Velvet Cupcakes)”

  • Alison – I made your cake recipe this past weekend and it turned out delicious! Not a piece of cake was left after the birthday girl served it and the only taste I got of my work was in my kitchen while icing the cake. My recipe always used buttermilk, so while apprehensive about the yogurt, the taste was virtually the same, and the texture of the cake was springy and light. I would definitely use this recipe again. The best part for me – the lemon extract in the icing – that is DELICIOUS! 🙂

  • Love this post and am enjoying your writing very much, complimenti. I wonder if you couldn’t use some kind of reduced beet juice coloring as it is also sweet without an overwhelming flavor that might ruin your ruby red treasures.

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