I'm in a Transition so I made a Cake

It has been 59 days since my last post and I feel like the Catholic school girl I once was, going to confession to tell my audience in the dark box what I have been up to when he, my audience, had not thought about me or my life since the last time I visited his confessional box. Most of my readers haven't noticed that I'm gone from this world of endless information influx. My need to confess isn't because my readers are clamoring to know what I've been up to. This is about me. It is important to me to address my absence and figure out the words to describe how I went from completing essays with recipes weekly for nearly two years, to not posting a word for 59 days. I can call it busy, I can call it lazy, I can call it writer's block, but it truly isn't any of those things.

When I started writing this blog, it was necessary for me to have a structure to follow. The format of my posts became a way for my writing to exist. As I wrote, I envisioned one of my children, in the future, in their kitchen with the recipe book I had made for them, glancing over one of my stories before making one of their favorite childhood recipes for their family. I pictured them grinning at a memory, or tearing up over one of our shared losses. Every time I sat down to write one of the 86 posts I wrote between June 2013 and January 2015, I thought about my children reading them and it made me happy. The words flowed almost daily. And then, 59 days ago, they didn't.

My writing came to a halt.  Just. Like. That.  Every day I thought maybe I would write a new post. And then I didn't. My mind was working overtime on stories and ideas and creative endeavors. But the words and phrases all stayed nicely tucked away in my mind. I tried a few times to write down a the bits and pieces of stories that were swirling around in my brain. But the writing wasn't spilling out like it had in the past and it showed in the results. I have 35 drafts of posts that read like I am trying to write but don't have anything to say. My mind keeps taking me in new directions that don't fit into the blog format I created for myself. And after 59 days, I have finally realized that the structure that once gave me the ability to write is now holding me back.

I don't have the answer yet. But making this confession is my first step towards finding the new me. And since The Water is (still) Smiling, I leave you with a quote and a cake while I ponder my transition.

"A lot of people resist transition and therefore never allow themselves to enjoy who they are. Embrace the change, no matter what it is; once you do, you can learn about the new world you're in and take advantage of it." -Nikki Giovanni

IMG_5107

*****

 Chocolate Date Cake (no gluten, no grains, no refined sugar) (rewritten from Sprouted Kitchen's Flourless Chocolate Date Cake)

1 cup almond flour (almond meal) 1/2 cup hazelnut flour (hazelnut meal) 1/2 tsp salt 2 cups pitted, chopped dates (about 20-25 dates) 1/3 cup buttermilk 5 eggs, separated 3 T cacao powder (or cocoa powder) 1/2 tsp baking soda 7 ounces semisweet chocolate 6 T unsalted butter

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease the bottom and sides of a 10" springform pan and line with parchment paper. In a large bowl, combine flours and salt. In a food processor or vitamix, combine dates, buttermilk, egg yolks, cacao powder and baking soda. Blend until smooth and mix into to the bowl with flour and salt. Set a pan over a pot of boiling water (but not touching the water) and melt the butter and chocolate stirring until smooth. Mix well into batter. Beat the egg whites until soft peaks form and fold into batter. Transfer to cake pan and smooth top. Bake for 30-40 minutes until toothpick comes clean. Cool completely and serve with whipped cream and berries.

*****

Notes: This cake is not as sweet as many chocolate cakes. It is dark chocolatey which I love, very satisfying so can be served in tiny little slices, and I think it is best topped with plenty of sweetened whipped cream (whip 8oz heavy cream, 3 Tablespoons powdered sugar and 1/4 teaspoon vanilla until thick).

Caramel Ice Cream for Hollye

Some of my readers and friends (and even my mother) have questions about why I’m writing a blog.They gently inquire, “Do you want to to be a chef? Do you have ambitions to host a Food Network show?” Or “Are you trying to publish a cookbook?” And even, “Are you trying to get free products sent to you?” I don’t blame my confused readers.  I myself was very confused about blogs when they started popping up in my life nearly a decade ago.  But what I learned from the people I know who blog and what I think is so terrific about blogging is that everyone does it for their own personal reasons.  And sometimes, where you start your journey is not necessarily where you end up.

My good friend Hollye Harrington Jacobs started her blog because she got cancer. She realized the first week after being diagnosed that it was exhausting to try and explain to everyone what was happening in her life.  As the unanswered emails and phone messages piled up, Hollye realized she had to find a way to stay in touch with all her caring friends without using up every ounce of her survival energy.  So she sent out a message to everyone giving us the link to her new lifeline, a blog.  She created a healing ritual for herself of posting every day from her brookside cottage letting us know how and what was going on in her life as a cancer patient.

No one, especially Hollye, could have imagined what came next. Her words not only healed herself and informed her friends, they touched the world. A mere three years from diagnosis, Hollye’s book “The Silver Lining: A Supportive and Insightful Guide to Breast Cancer” is available for worldwide pre-order.  Hollye documented everything she wanted to know when she was going through the experience herself and packaged it in a stunningly beautiful book with photography by the talented Elizabeth Messina.  The book is a gift in every way.  Hollye's blog, called The Silver Pen, reaches readers everywhere offering the things Hollye needed most during her darkest hours of treatment...advice, encouragement, and an open ear.

41s512uFUML._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_

I am so proud of and excited for my friend.

 Along the journey with Hollye, I discovered she likes caramel.  Or LOVES caramel is a more accurate description.  When she was in the depths of chemo and could barely keep on weight, sweet treats were welcomed.  Two of the things I made that she loved most were Maya’s Momma’s Caramel Cake (you can read about it here on her blog) and Caramel Ice Cream.  Using words that Hollye would say, she literally did a face-plant in this ice cream every time I made it for her.

The recipe came to me from a lovely Australian friend that I met when living in the Bay Area of California in the late 1990s.  I was taking a History of Furniture and Design course (one of my numerous creative interests) at a local college and she was my classmate.  She invited me to her house for lunch one day and she had made this ice cream for dessert.  Sadly, I lost touch with her when she moved away shortly after our class ended.  But fortunately for all of us, I didn’t leave her house that day without the recipe!

 But back to the question about why I blog. There are many reasons and I will list the most important ones, followed by the recipe for this delicious Caramel Ice Cream!

First, I love to write. I wrote my first “book” at age nine and dedicated it to my 4-year-old sister even though she annoyed me beyond belief!  One of my favorite classes in High School was creative writing and I was encouraged to keep writing by Mr. Cullen and my A+ final paper.  I stopped loving to write for a long time when I had to write papers in college about topics I didn’t care about and later when I worked writing and editing articles that I also wasn’t passionate about.  During my working years, when I was commuting or waiting in lines, I often composed stories in my head.  While I raised my three children and spent much time sitting on park benches, waiting for school pickups and watching sporting events, I composed stories in my head all the time.  And once I got my own computer, I even wrote a few of my stories.  Now that I’m an empty-nester, I can’t stop writing.

Second, I love to cook. I’m not a trained chef, but I have gained lots of time in the kitchen in the last thirty years so I want to document the recipes that have worked for me and my family.

Third, the blog gives me a format for my stories and recipes and a way to organize them with photos. It is a really great tool.

Fourth, I am so happy to document all the stories of my life and friends and family. Even if my children don’t read them all now, someday they will get a good chuckle or cry over them.  And they won’t have to sort through the thousands of pieces of paper in my kitchen to find their favorite recipes.

And finally, it is really exciting to have people read my stories and try my recipes. Sometimes, people even tell me they like them.  There is nothing better than to know someone is listening.  Maybe that is why Hollye’s blog struck such a chord with so many readers.  And why Hollye's book is such an important guide.  Everyone has moments when they are blindsided by something.  It could be illness, or fear, or grief or joy.  Whatever you are feeling, it is really nice to know that someone out there is listening.  So before you do a faceplant in this ice cream, let someone know you are listening and make their day.

 IMG_2974

"Only on the Internet can a person be lonely and popular at the same time." -Allison Burnett

*****

Caramel Ice Cream for Hollye

1-1/4 cups sugar 1/4 cup water 1 cup heavy cream 2 cups milk 5 large egg yolks 1 tsp vanilla

In a medium saucepan, combine 1 cup of the sugar and the water. With a pastry brush dipped in water, wipe down any sugar crystals on the sides of the pan as you bring the mixture to a boil.  Cook over medium heat without stirring until the syrup begins to darken and caramelize.  Carefully swirl the pan over the heat until the syrup is an even golden brown. Remove immediately from the heat to prevent burning the caramel.  Allow to stop boiling and gradually stir in the cream.  The caramel will harden so return to heat and reheat gently, stirring continuously until the caramel is smooth.  Remove from heat. In another saucepan, heat the milk until small bubbles form around the edges.  Remove from heat. In a large bowl, whisk the egg yolks and remaining 1/4 cup sugar until thick and light in color.  Gradually whisk in the warm milk and then pour the mixture back into the pan, cooking over low heat while stirring constantly until it has thickened slightly into a custard.  Do NOT boil. Strain the custard into the caramel mixture and stir until blended.  Cool and stir in the vanilla. Cover and refrigerate overnight before freezing in an ice cream machine.

*****

Reesie's Brownies for Dave

It had been a year since my brother died.We made it past the first holidays, a graduation, his birthday and numerous other memorable occasions that made us tearful and provided reason to get together.  It had taken a year to decide what should be done with the ashes so the anniversary brought us together once again to celebrate the life of my Brother Dave.

I thought it would be different. I thought that after a year the grief that gripped my heart and reduced me to breathless sobs would have been released and I would look at my brother’s photos with joy, savoring the memories.  I thought that after a year the pain in my mother’s eyes that masked her sparkle and protected her soul would be lifted and she could once again smile with her whole self.  I thought my younger sister would release herself from the sadness and realize that she was stronger than the loss.  I thought we would all move on with our lives and gently place Brother Dave in our hearts where he belonged.

Teenage Dave.
Teenage Dave.

Two months prior to the anniversary, Mom and I were talking on the phone and she suddenly said, “It has been really hard lately.”  She could have been reading my mind.  I had been feeling pretty good in the months prior, talking happily with strong words about my brother, only occasionally pausing for a quick cry when I was alone.  But as we closed in on the one year mark, the grief came flooding back and the binding force on my heart came back with a new fierceness.  I had been feeling so, so sad.  In a conversation with my sister shortly after, she too confessed that her grief had suddenly amplified.

We were all feeling a recurrence, and all at the same time.  For months we felt it had been getting better and then we were slammed back to the reality that he was gone.  We had speculations....we were too much in shock to fully grieve at first; the season of his death was bringing up thoughts of our last days with him; the anniversary--the date on the calendar---was looming ahead of us like a dreaded medical appointment.

images
images

I came to the conclusion that the sudden return of grief was because Brother Dave realized it was time to leave us.  He always liked being the center of attention and he had had quite a year.  He wasn’t ready for the party to be over.  I just have to believe it was him, trying to get every last minute of the bond that that first year brings.  When someone close to you dies, it seems that the initial year following the death allows for a tight connection to the person as you mourn every memory.  After the anniversary, there is a magical release.  You surrender the person from your life and place them in your soul where they can live forever.  Leave it to Dave to make sure we didn’t place him there a minute too soon.

My sister-in-law Shari was hosting a big weekend gathering for the anniversary and spreading of the ashes.  The first night was a family dinner for thirty and on the actual day, there would be a short ceremony on the water to spread the ashes, followed by lunch for the closest friends and family.  Brother Dave loved the ocean, loved boats and years prior had fulfilled his dream of having a house by the harbor in Santa Cruz, California.  It was the perfect occasion to honor and celebrate him.

Santa Cruz Harbor.
Santa Cruz Harbor.

A few days before the events began, Shari asked if I could bring a dessert. She didn’t specify what it should be so I started thinking of what to make.  I decided it should be easy to eat without plates and silverware but cookies didn’t seem quite right.  I didn’t really know if Dave had a favorite dessert but my mind kept going to chocolate, maybe something with chocolate and nuts.

I had just returned home from a trip back East so the fridge was mostly bare and I wasn't finding what I needed for the recipes I was contemplating.  Too lazy to go to the store, I worked off of a few ideas and concocted something that I thought most people would like.  It ended up tasting like a modern version of a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup.

And then it hit me....my family loved Reese’s.  I knew it was a favorite for Mom and me but I couldn’t quite recall if my brother was also fighting us for them.  When I arrived to the house, dessert in hand, the first person I saw was my lovely niece Jessie.  I asked her, “Did your Dad like Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups?”  She smiled and laughed.  “He loved them.  Remember...he called them Reesie’s?  We have a whole jar of them for this weekend.”

I had forgotten all about “Reesie’s”. We all called them that.  I think Mom must have started it, or maybe the kids did and mom just adopted the name.  Either way, I don’t know how I could have forgotten, but Brother Dave obviously didn’t and he reminded me that he wanted Reesie’s for his party.  Everyone loved the brownies and when they asked where I got the recipe I told them, “I was just channeling Dave.”

IMG_1684
IMG_1684

"There is no pain so great as the memory of joy in present grief." - Aeschylus

*****

Reesie’s Brownies for Dave

2 boxes Ghirardelli Double Chocolate Brownie Mix Make according to directions, or use any brownie recipe to make two 8” x 8” pans of soft, rich brownies.  Cool completely.  Remove from pan as whole cakes and then return to pan.

Peanut Butter Frosting: 1 cup smooth peanut butter 1/4 cup butter, softened 3/4 cup powdered sugar 1/8 tsp nutmeg 1/8 tsp salt 2 tsp sour cream 1 tsp milk 1 tsp vanilla

Cream together peanut butter and butter with an electric mixer until smooth.  Slowly beat in powdered sugar, salt and nutmeg.  Add sour cream, milk and vanilla and beat until smooth.  Spread frosting over cooled brownies all the way to sides of pan.

 Chocolate topping: 7 oz semi-sweet chocolate chips 1/4 cup butter 2 tsp nice quality flake salt like fleur de sel

 Melt chocolate and butter slowly in small heatproof bowl placed on top of saucepan of water on stove, stirring frequently until completely melted and smooth.  Turn off heat and leave on stove until ready to use. (This can be done in microwave.  Heat for short periods, mixing well after each time until completely smooth.)

Cool chocolate until slightly warm but not hot, spread over top of peanut butter frosting in pan, covering all the way to the edges.  Sprinkle generously with salt.  Refrigerate until hard.  Cut into squares and serve at room temperature.

 *****