Stone Mill Bakery: The Goodness Missed the Cupcakes

When a client recently suggested that we meet at Stone Mill Bakery for lunch and to review some color swatches, my ears instantly perked up at the word, “bakery.” I’ve heard a lot of good things about Stone Mill Bakery and figured that maybe I could pull double duty during my meeting…being a Crusader is a 24/7 job, but someone has to do it!

I arrived early and while there were many desserts that looked amazing, I didn’t instantly spot any cupcakes. After ordering food (chilled dill cucumber soup and a turkey powerhouse on spinach feta focaccia…YUM!) and taking another quick glance around, I thought, “Did I just see the words ‘baby’ and ‘cakes’ on that box?” But my curiosity would have to wait, because Pantone books awaited us.

Upon leaving, I bee-lined to the checkout counter to take a closer look at the “baby cakes,” which actually turned out to be, “Baby Cup Cakes.”

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Each box held 9 mini cupcakes and the selection included the basic Vanilla/Chocolate combinations, Cookies & Cream, and Coconut. I didn’t realize that I was in for a bit of sticker shock when the cupcakes rang up for $9.75.  At first glance that price seemed pretty high for nine mini cupcakes, but when you do the math it’s not too bad.

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Based on Stone Mill Bakery’s reputation, and after having lunch there, I had high exceptions for the Cookies & Cream mini cupcakes. The frosting was the highlight of the cupcake and tasted like the cream filling of an Oreo. Unfortunately, the cookie crumble was soft and the chocolate cake lacked any rich, chocolatey flavor and was so dry it crumbled.

If you find yourself at Stone Mill Bakery and need something sweet to compliment your wonderful lunch or dinner, skip the “Baby Cup Cakes.” I recommend the blondie, which was dense, fudge-like, and packed with soft chocolate chips and nuts (which added a nice texture). It was a decadent treat in an unassuming package.

– Posted by Cupcake Crusader, Jenn (Westminster, MD)

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Cupcakes at Camden Yards Have Struck Out

Anyone who knows me understands that the real reason I love to go to baseball games is for the food and drink. Beer, soda, peanuts, nachos, pulled chicken sandwiches, fries… the list goes on. Of course I like watching the game too, but let’s be honest, the game is so much better when snacks are involved.

On my most recent trip to Camden Yards, my husband, Ken, and I met up with my sister-in-law and her new boyfriend. Ken and I were running late and so we missed the O’s practice time and the first pitch, which was given that night by Ravens player Lardarius Webb. I think my husband was a little bummed because he is a huge Ravens fan and he also missed out on seeing his sister catch a baseball during the pre-game warmups. But with a beer in hand, we—well, at least I—happily made our way to our seats.

In between innings we decided to go get more food and drinks, and that was when I spotted this:

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A DESSERT CART WITH CUPCAKES!

Not only was it a dessert cart filled with cupcakes, cake pops, and push pops, but they were being served right outside of Lardarius Webb’s private suite, which was swarming with Ravens players. Because of the high-profile suite, we had to wait—for what seemed like forever—to finally buy a cupcake at a steep price of $6, which is probably the most I’ve ever spent on a normal sized cupcake.

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Unfortunately the high price didn’t buy high quality. The frosting on this Cookies and Cream cupcake lacked any flavor other than food-coloring. The cake was more like pound cake than what you would normally find on a cupcake, but actually had a decent flavor. Since I wasn’t impressed with the frosting, I ignored it and focused on the cake. After a few bites I ran into a whipped filling that was a little too sweet for my taste buds, so left that lying next to the frosting while I finished the cake.

Event though this cupcake didn’t come close to meeting my expectations, the nachos, peanuts, and beer certainly made up for it. Camden Yards should probably just stick to what they do best: typical ballpark food. One bad cupcake couldn’t put a damper on my night though because my sister-in-law had her baseball signed by Lardarius Webb and the Orioles won! Go O’s!

– Review by Cupcake Crusader, Stacy (Baltimore, MD)

A Bakeshop Called “Bakershop” in Arlington, VA

With the abundance of bakeries, cakeries, cupcakeries, pastry shops, and bake shoppes (or bakeshops) you might think that a new venture would go for a unique name to set themselves apart. But Bakeshop, on Fillmore Street in Arlington, VA, chose to go with the idea that “simple is better.”

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With the large, bold “Bakeshop” type on the storefront windows , there is no confusion on what you will find behind them. Once inside, you will see that Bakeshop is a blend of modern, classic, and quirky with a display of mismatched dessert stands showcasing Parisian macarons, cookies, and pretty little cupcakes.

After exploring their website and Facebook page, I knew I would be getting some macarons along with my cupcakes, but I was also interested in something they call “Oreo in a Blanket.” If you think an Oreo cookie can’t get any better, think again. Bakeshop has baked an Oreo inside of a chocolate chip cookie, which I can only imagine tastes like heaven. Unfortunately, I didn’t end up leaving with my entire wish list, because at $2.75 each, the Oreo in a Blanket cost more than their cupcakes or macarons, so I had to pass.

Crusader Jenn was with me and we decided to take three cupcakes and three macarons home with us. I selected a Lemon cupcake, a Lemon macaron, and a Peaches N Cream macaron. Jenn decided to stay in the car with her sleeping daughter, Leah, and asked that I pick out two cupcakes and one macaron for her, so I chose a Cookies N Cream cupcake, a Strawberry Lemonade cupcake, and a Salted Peanut macaron.

Lemon Cupcake

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The frosting on this Lemon cupcake didn’t seem to have much (if any) lemon flavor to it, but it was smooth, light, and creamy. While the cake had more flavor, it seemed like there was an extra flavor in there which reminded me of a lemon poppyseed muffin. The cake was far from muffin-like though with its moist, fluffly, and light texture. Even though this cupcake didn’t have the burst of fresh citrus flavor I prefer in a Lemon cupcake, it was still really tasty.

Strawberry Lemonade

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Crusader Jenn said that this cupcake was moist and light, but it had a bit of a weird flavor that tasted more like candy than fresh fruit. Even though you can see the strawberries in the frosting she said she couldn’t taste it at all.

Cookies N Cream

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Crusader Jenn said that this cupcake was better than the Strawberry Lemonade but it still was nothing special, and that while it had the same nice texture, the chocolate cake tasted a bit like a box mix. She also said that the frosting was good by itself, with a good cookies and cream flavor, but that with the cake it just tasted like a chocolate cupcake. She added that, “I don’t usually say this, but it needed more frosting for a true cookies and cream flavor.”

Macarons

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I think macarons accompany cupcakes in a great way. Small and packed with flavor, if a bakery or coffee shop sells them, I will almost always buy one or two. I’m still not an expert on macarons, but these were $2 a piece which I think is about the normal average cost of one. The outer shell of the cookie was not quite as smooth as I’m normally used to seeing, but that didn’t stop me from diving it. I thought the Peaches N Cream really could have used more flavor, but the lemon one was great. It had a more true lemon flavor than the cupcake from Bakeshop, so it was a happy surprise. Jenn said that the Salted Peanut macaron was the best of all three treats she tried from Bakeshop because it had lots of rich flavor that was a good balance of sweet and salty. She felt like it might have been a little more airy than she’s had in the past (I thought the same about mine), but that since it had a nice crunchy outside and was soft and moist on the inside it was still really enjoyable.

Bakeshop’s cupcakes are on the small side, but priced well at only $2 each. If I ever find myself in their neighborhood again, I would definitely stop in to get some macarons. I might even grab a new cupcake flavor or two (at only $2 each, how could I say “no?”).

– Posted by Cupcake Crusader, Stacy (Baltimore, MD)

Halloween Oreo Cupcakes

Ghosts. Witches. Orange. Black. Pumpkins. Hayrides. Candy Corn. Costumes. What’s not to love about Halloween? I’m really a sucker for any holiday, but one based around eating all the candy you want is certainly high on my list of favorites.

My first glimpse of spookified treats had me practicing as much self control as possible, but when I spotted Oreos with an orange colored cream, I just couldn’t resist. I have a soft spot for anything cookies and cream flavored, so already had a box of Oreo Jello Pudding and Oreo Original Créme Ultimate Icing sitting in my pantry, just waiting to be used in a creative way.

Using my always reliable chocolate cake mix modification (1 box of chocolate instant jello pudding + chocolate chips) and my recently learned pre-made chocolate frosting modifications, these cupcakes were super simple.

I did change it up a little bit this time, but only because I had a huge block of Scharffen Berger unsweetened dark chocolate, which I decided to use instead of mini chocolate chips. Next time I’ll have to include more chocolate because, in my opinion, it just wasn’t rich enough.

I also was able to use my new Cake Plunger, instead of a grapefruit knife, to create the indent for the filling. It worked really well, was so easy, and saved a lot of time. It takes out more cake than I normally would have for a filling, so I will probably only use it sometimes, depending on what I’m putting inside a cupcake.

Even with Halloween just a couple days away, these cupcakes are so simple to make that you can easily grab what you need and whip up a quick batch in no time. Or, just switch out the Halloween Oreos with regular ones and make them for any occasion!

Here’s what you’ll need:

Cake
– 1 box of your favorite chocolate cake mix
– Ingredients on back of chocolate cake mix box
– 1 box of chocolate Jello Instant Pudding mix
– Mini chocolate chips or shaved chocolate to desired amount

Filling
– 1 box of Oreo Jello Instant Pudding Mix
– Ingredients of back of Instant Pudding Mix
(Yep, that’s all)

Chocolate Frosting
– 1 can of pre-made dark chocolate frosting
– 1/4 cup of unsweetened cocoa powder (I used Scharffen Berger unsweetened dark chocolate cocoa powder)
– 1 cup of confectioners sugar

Oreo Frosting
– 1 package of Oreo Original Créme Ultimate Icing (You could also make your favorite buttercream recipe and add in munched up Oreo cookie bits… I think that would taste just as good)

Garnish
– 12 Oreos
– Sprinkles of your choosing

For the cake, all you have to do is add the box of Instant Jello Pudding and chocolate chips to the dry cake mix, and then include the ingredients from the back of the box and bake according to the direction listed there. It is really that easy. Then, while the cupcakes are baking, prepare the Jello Pudding according to the directions and place in the refrigerator to set up. While the cupcakes are cooling and the pudding is setting up, take the can of pre-made frosting and blend in the cocoa powder and powdered sugar. This will give it a more homemade taste, and allow you to pipe the frosting on. After the cupcakes and pudding are cooled and ready, it’s time to assemble! First, scoop out a bit of the cake center, fill with pudding, pipe on the chocolate frosting, add the sprinkles, pipe on the Oreo frosting, and top with half of an Oreo cookie. Done!

See, wasn’t that easy? This is a perfect quick treat that will surely impress everyone.

– Posted by Cupcake Crusader, Stacy (Baltimore, MD)

Guest Review | Cupcakes in Heels | Bayside, NY

When Alyssa, from Mookology, approached us about being a Guest Crusader, we jumped at the chance. Mookology is a great blog to visit where you can read all about movies that are based off books. Her reviews are always well thought out and detailed, this girl knows her stuff! Today she is switching gears for a moment to share her thoughts on a recent visit to Cupcake in Heels, a cupcake shop located in the Bayside neighborhood of Queens in New York City. We hope this is just the first of many Guest Crusader reviews from Alyssa!

When I’m not writing, reading, and watching films for my blog, Mookology, my absolute favorite past time is eating and baking cupcakes.  Living in one of the New York boroughs has its perks, and baked goods are definitely one of them, so you can only imagine how excited I was to taste the cupcakes at Cupcakes in Heels in Bayside, New York.

I found a Living Social coupon for Cupcakes in Heels for 3 cupcakes and a cup of coffee for (wait for it) $6!  Within seconds the coupon was purchased and I was waiting for the opportune moment to try some cupcakes.  Knowing I couldn’t (well.. shouldn’t) eat 3 cupcakes by myself, I brought along my sister to Cupcake in Heels with me.  They had a nice selection of flavors, all adequately named after prestigious fashion designers.  Although the coupon only bought 3 cupcakes, we decided to get one extra to make it even (and because we couldn’t decide on just 3 cupcakes).


(Prada cupcake from Cupcake in Heels)

Our first cupcake was the Prada cupcake.  This was a Pistachio cupcake with whipped pistachio frosting.  I am a sucker for pistachio desserts and was dying to try this cupcake.  It did not disappoint one bit!  The cake was moist and filled with pistachio bits and the frosting was light, fluffy and tasted just like a pistachio ice cream.  We literally ate every last crumb of this cupcake!


(Balenciaga cupcake from Cupcake in Heels)

The second cupcake we tried was the Balenciaga, a Tres Leches cupcake with a dulce le leche buttercream.  Since the Prada cupcake had set the bar incredibly high, we were expecting a light and delectable Tres Leches cupcake.  This cupcake was just okay.  When I think of Tres Leches, I think of moist yet light and airy cake, but this just tasted like a regular cupcake. There was nothing too special about it.  The dulce le leche buttercream was also missing something.  Although it was very light and fluffy, I wanted more of that caramelized flavoring dulce le leche is known for.  In general, this was just a good cupcake.


(Vivienne Westwood cupcake from Cupcake in Heels)

The third cupcake we tried, the Vivienne Westwood, was a red wine, blackberry and chocolate cupcake, filled with blackberry & red wine frosting, frosted with a red wine buttercream, and drizzled with red wine and blackberry syrup.  I was eager to try this cupcake; the combination of red wine and blackberry sounded very appealing to me and I love to try something different.  However, this cupcake wasn’t very fulfilling.  The red wine and blackberry syrup was a little bit heavy handed on the red wine part and its distinct fermented flavor interfered with the rest of the cake.  The cupcake could have used a little more sweetness.  It was almost bland.


(Stuart Weitzmen cupcake from Cupcake in Heels)

Last, we tried the Stuart Weitzmen, a cookies and cream cupcake with cookies and cream frosting, baked with an Oreo cookie inside. I was looking forward to biting into a rich, chocolatey cupcake but this cake was incredibly dry compared to the others and a major disappointment.  However, the cookies and cream frosting was incredible.  It tasted exactly like the frosting of an Oreo cookie, mixed with chocolate cookie crumbs. The frosting definitely made up for the dryness of the cake.

I would definitely go to Cupcakes in Heels again and try a few more cupcakes; the pistachio cupcake alone gives me high expectations.  The coffee here was surprisingly good also!  I went with an iced coffee rather than hot, and was delighted to see that the actual ice cubes were frozen coffee cubes – pretty smart!  The décor in Cupcakes in Heels was adorable and they had a few cupcake-themed knick knacks available for sale as well.

– Review by Guest Crusader, Alyssa (Mookology.com)

Convenient and Cheap Cupcake Fix: Giant’s Grocery Store Cupcakes

The Crusaders’ Dad claims that he doesn’t have the same “gourmet tastes buds” as his daughters and swears by cupcakes he found at his local Giant store in Annapolis, MD. They are convenient and (with no better way to say it) CHEAP! Giant sells their custom flavors for only $0.99 each! Most of us are used to the run-of-the-mill grocery store cupcakes that come pre-packed in 6 or 12, with only chocolate and vanilla to choose from, and usually topped with overly sweet frosting, brightly colored and with sprinkles. However it’s becoming more popular for grocery stores to steer away from these and offer more custom confections (whether good or bad), as we’ve seen with Safeway and Fresh & Green.

Our dad has been going into Giant to get, primarily, their Coconut Cream and Boston Cream cupcakes. After going on many, many cupcake crusades with us, he still can’t believe they only cost $0.99. And, after seeing his cupcaking in action, we trust his opinion. So when he told us we had to try them, we said, “Bring ‘em on!” It was decided that he would bring some to our next gathering that didn’t already have cupcakes pre-planned into the mix. That time finally came during a family trip to the Maryland Science Center. It was a beautiful day, so after exploring the Science Center, we found a table outside by the harbor to dig in.

Unfortunately when my dad went into the Giant that morning, they didn’t have a Boston Cream. They did have his other favorite, the Coconut Cream, so he bought that plus 5 others for us to try.

Vanilla Chocolate:

The cake on this cupcake was a little dry, but the ganache frosting was delicious. It was more like what you’d find on a doughnut…gooey and rich! The chocolate ganache redeemed this cupcake, and there was a lot of it!


(As with all of Giant’s filled cupcakes, they use the same frosting on top for the filling and are very generous with it! Frosting lovers can appreciate that!)

We thought starting with a vanilla cupcake was smart, but the richness made me wish I had a glass of milk to go along with it! My dad was a little disappointed that we found the cake dry. After raving about the cupcakes, he could only surmise that these hadn’t been baked fresh that day since he was there so early in the morning.

Coconut Cream:

This cupcake had a vanilla cake, with whipped vanilla frosting, topped with shredded coconut. Crusader Stacy and I felt this cupcake could have used more coconut flavor, but keeping the price in mind, can see why it’s one of our dad’s Giant favorites.

Banana Split:

I was really surprised to see that Giant is offering a Banana Split cupcake. It’s been a popular one to see for the summer season and does show that their baker seems to be in-tuned to what’s going on in cupcake trends. It was a chocolate cake, with banana frosting (and filling), topped with chocolate fudge, walnuts, and a maraschino cherry. Stacy remembers this being one of her favorites of the selection.

Cookies and Cream:

This cupcake had a dark chocolate cake with cookies and cream frosting. The cake was the best of the selection and was my favorite of the group. The frosting alone was worth the 99 cents!

Mocha:

Crusader Stacy and I saved this cupcake for our big sis, who LOVES coffee and chocolate. I did steal a bite, and like some of the other cupcakes, the cake was on the dry side. However, there was a good coffee flavor, and despite how the frosting photographed, it was smooth and flavorful.

Red Velvet:

On this particular day, we let our niece have the Red Velvet cupcake, but luckily our dad brought Crusader Elisa one to try at our recent DC Cupcake Picnic! Here’s what our Red Velvet Connoisseur said:

The cake was bright red and looked beautiful, but was dry and lacked flavor. The icing was smooth, but very bland. The rose decoration on top was very sweet (since it was made with traditional sweet icing) and good, but couldn’t save this cupcake from being just mediocre. Being the “red velvet crusader” probably makes me more critical than most, so while this cupcake doesn’t make my list of great red velvets, it by far is not the worst either.

Can you tell she’s tried a lot of red velvet cupcakes? ;P

Boston Cream:

As I mentioned, this cupcake did not make it into the original taste testing, but luckily Giant had them the day of the Cupcake Picnic, so we were finally able to try it! Here’s what Crusader Stacy thought:

The cake was a bit spongy and lacked flavor, which I would expect from a grocery store cupcake, but the chocolate ganache had really good flavor, even if it was a bit runny, and the filling tasted just like what I would want from a Boston Cream pastry filling. The filling and ganache definitely saved this cupcake, but it was a bit of a mess to eat.

Like my dad, I’m a sucker for Boston Cream and really wish I could have tried this cupcake. From Crusader Stacy’s review, it seems to me that the frosting is very reminiscent of what you’d find on your typical Boston cream cake (or doughnut), and those are always messy to eat!

Over all we feel that if you are in need of a quick, convenient, and not-too-expensive cupcake fix, but want something better then the grocery store cupcakes we usually think of, you can find that at Giant.

Have any of you tried Giant’s cupcakes or any other chain grocery store’s cupcakes? What did you think? Did the lower price make you more lenient on your expectations?

– Posted by Cupcake Crusader, Jenn (Westminster, MD)

Florida Fun, Relaxation, and Treats! Sassy Cakes in Naples, FL

As you may have already read from Jenn’s past two reviews (here and here), we had a great start to our Florida vacation! After a week of relaxing, visiting with family, swimming in the pool, going to the beach, and eating TONS of great food, we arrived at the last day of our trip. Before getting to Florida, we had already planned to do some cupcaking with our cousin and her daughter on the Friday before we left. Excited to have new people to share our passion with and happy to spend more time with them, we decided to visit two cupcake shops in Naples, Florida: Sassy Cakes, a former Cupcake Wars contestant, and Simply Cupcakes of Naples.

Our first stop was Sassy Cakes, tucked behind a shopping strip on 4th Avenue South in Downtown Naples. The first thing that jumped out to me in this cute little shop was an adorable kids’ table adorned with a hand painted cupcake graphic.

This table really sets the whole tone for the shop, which also has cupcake trinkets scattered throughout, cupcake photography hanging on the walls, and a mismatched collection of plates which their cupcakes are served on for “dine in” customers. One of my current obsessions is finding cute and different dessert plates at flea markets and antique stores, so I was immediately in love. Cupcakes and fun plates? It couldn’t get any better for me at that moment.

The owner and baker, Bayah, could not have been more sweet as she described the flavors and waited for us to make our choice. Normally I don’t have too many issues when it comes to flavor selection, but Sassy Cakes had so many I wanted to try, including mini cupcakes, that it took me forever. I finally decided on a full size Hazelnut Espresso Cafe and three mini cupcakes: Banana Pudding, Lemon Parade of Blueberry, and Caramel by the Sea. Jenn and our cousin, Megan, decided on a full size Banana Pudding, while Megan’s daughter and Jenn’s husband each choose a full size Cookies N Cream.

Since it was only 11am, I thought the Hazelnut Espresso Cafe cupcake would be the perfect late morning treat. Plus hazelnut flavored coffee is my go to beverage when I need a morning – or afternoon – pick-me-up. (I’m not sure how I would survive without my Hazelnut Kuerig K-cups.) The chocolate cake on Sassy Cake’s Hazelnut Espresso Cafe cupcake was moist and filled with a rich chocolate hazelnut filling. The espresso frosting could have had a stronger espresso flavor (in my opinion) but Jenn thought it was absolutely perfect, so I guess maybe I just like my coffee strong? 😉 Overall this was a really tasty cupcake that I would definitely get again.

The Cookies N Cream cupcake was a big hit with Jenn’s husband, Dan, and my cousin’s daughter. When I asked Dan his thoughts on the cupcake he responded with and enthusiastic “Ooooo…. Man…. It was GOOOOD!” He also added that he thought Sassy Cakes was awesome!

While the first two flavors were quite delectable, the stand out winner of the day was the Banana Pudding. I’m really glad I took a mini version of this flavor home with me, however, I’m kinda wishing that I had gotten a full size one. The soft, moist, banana cake was packed with flavor and the banana cream filling was spot on. This is a cupcake I could eat again and again.

The other two mini flavors I brought home with me were the Lemon Parade of Blueberry and the Caramel by the Sea. Looking back, I should have selected full size of these flavors too, but I was trying to be good…

The only other time I’ve had a Lemon Blueberry cupcake was from Kupcakes & Co. and since they are one of my all time favorite cupcakeries, the competition was tight. Sassy Cakes did a great job on their version, but if I’m given the opportunity again, I would definitely try the full size option because I only saw a couple of fresh blueberries in the cake. Even with that though, the cupcake was moist and fresh tasting, so I really enjoyed it.

The last of my mini morsels was the Caramel by the Sea. I’m a sucker for anything with salted caramel and I unfortunately devoured this cupcake before taking any mental notes. But I guess that almost speaks for how good it really was and Jenn confirmed that it was one of her favorites too.

As I mentioned above, Sassy Cakes was featured on Cupcake Wars, and in their season 3 episode, the Tim Burton Bake Off, they were eliminated in the first round because their tapioca filling didn’t set up leaving the cake mushy. I can personally attest that this must have been a fluke due to the tight time constraints, because all the cake and fillings were perfect in the cupcakes we tried. They bake their cupcakes fresh daily and it shows! Curious as to what happens to the leftover cupcakes, we asked if they worked with a local food shelter and were pleased to find out that they work with an organization called Maria’s Birthday Wish for the Homeless. Maria’s Birthday Wish works with several bakeries and shelters to bring happiness and recognition to men, woman, and children who are often forgotten on their birthdays. To find out more about their cause, please visit their website or Facebook page.

With all the tasty cupcakes, great atmosphere, and their desire to give back to the community, there are a ton of reasons why you should visit Sassy Cakes the next time you are in Naples, FL!

– Posted by Cupcake Crusader, Stacy (Baltimore, MD)