Monday, September 24, 2012


Yesterday, we met my mom, my brothers, and their significant others in Wabasha, MN to celebrate my birthday. And it was also the first time we had all gotten together since our wedding last Spring. 

Wabasha is the home of the  National Eagle Center. When we were kids, our parents would take us to Wabasha to watch the eagles fish in the Mississippi River, and then we'd pick apples at a nearby orchard. 

This is the [un]official place to deposit your admission sticker after visiting the National Eagle Center. There's a 2 hour parking sign somewhere under all of that...

The downtown area was all decorated for SeptOber Fest.

The scarf I made my mom is now finished and blocked and presented--and this is unfortunately the only picture I managed to take. 

 And then we crossed the river into Wisconsin and ate lunch at the Nelson Creamery. Delicious cheese and wine!

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Almond Joy-Inspired Cake: Version 1

A while back, a meme was going around the blogosphere: "Things I'm Afraid To Tell You." If that's not ringing any bells for you, this was a confessional meme bloggers posted and reposted, admitting that we're not perfect and that we only share the best of ourselves online and that that practice inflates expectations to the point that it is no longer real or attainable; these pressures and expectations were just as vexing to the bloggers themselves as they were to the readers. Read more about it here; read some examples here, here, and here.

At the time, I hadn't been blogging very long and I hadn't yet experienced many of the things others described; however, it still made an impact on me. Because of it, I made the decision that mine would be a warts-and-all blog. I'd share successful projects, as well as the ones that ended badly, and the ones that were somewhere in the middle.

This is a Somewhere In The Middle post.

Almond Joy-Inspired Cake. 
(And a messy kitchen counter with failed cookies in the background, they will be a future post)

This is a 4 egg white layered cake, with coconut cream and a chocolate ganache. I used a white cake recipe from "Betty Crocker's Picture Cook Book" (circa ~1966). My Great Grandma Schottler gave it to my mom as a wedding present, who in turn gave it to me as a wedding present. It has been well used, so I have to be careful with it. What I love about this cook book is the way it's set out: a key recipe is presented that is amazing by itself, then variations of that same recipe are presented on the same page and all of those directions refer to the key recipe. It makes it really easy to play around with a recipe--especially in baking where the chemistry is important--and still end up with a tasty product because you have samples already. You can see what has been changed or added in each variation, so you have a better idea of what absolutely has to stay, as well as how other flavors may be introduced. But I digress. 

The Cake: Silver White Cake (4-Egg White) (Key Recipe)
2 1/4 cups sifted cake flour
1 1/2 cup sugar   (I substituted 3/4 cup Baking Splenda)*
3 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1/2 cup soft shortening
2/3 cup milk plus 1/2 cup milk
1 tsp almond flavoring
4 egg whites (unbeaten)

Grease generously and flour   2 8 or 9: layer pans
1. Sift together into bowl the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt.
2. Add shortening, 2/3 cup milk and almond flavoring; beat 2 minutes.
3. Add remainder of milk and egg whites, 2 minutes.
4. Pour into cake pans; bake 30-35 minutes in 350º oven.
5. Let cool in pans 10 minutes, then remove cakes from pans and let rest on cooling racks until completely cool.

*Note: if you use baking Splenda, double the recipe. Otherwise the pans are too big and the cakes are pale, flat and shrunken. I learned this the hard way

Coconut Cream:
2 Tbs coconut cream
4 Tbs hot water
1 cup heaving whipping cream
Powdered Sugar (to taste)

1. Beat coconut cream and hot water until they come together.
2. Add heaving whipping cream and powdered sugar, beat on highest setting until it's fluffy. Add as much or as little powdered sugar as you like.

Chocolate Ganache:
1 bag dark chocolate chips
1/4 cup heavy whipping cream
2 Tbs powdered sugar

Melt chocolate in double boiler. Remove from heat, stir in heavy whipping cream and powdered sugar. 

Assemble cake:
Additional ingredients:
Shredded coconut or coconut flakes
Sliced Almonds

1. Bottom layer of cake.
2. Spread Coconut Cream onto cake, top with shredded coconut/coconut flakes
3. Top layer of cake.
4. Pour on Chocolate Ganache.
5. Top with sliced almonds.

Next time, I'll do the chocolate differently. The cake was really good as is, but the dark chocolate ganache is a bit heavy compared to the cake and coconut cream.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012


I used to love September.

As a kid, I loved going back to school. I counted down the last days of summer with the same anticipation most kids count down to Christmas. I loved the sound of leaves crunching under my feet as I walked to school; I loved how, in the right alcove, the wind would form a little baby tornado, swirling the leaves around and then dissipating, as if it had never been there. I loved back to school shopping. I loved putting on jeans and pulling out the sweaters; the return of pumpkin flavored lattés, caramel-coated apple suckers; fresh notebooks and unsharpened pencils. Depending on the year, my birthday falls either on the last day of summer or the first day of fall (and, occasionally, the penultimate day of summer). I loved that it straddled the seasons.

It's different now.

I'm an adult, I've graduated college. There is no more school to count down to, at least not at this point. Without school, I don't really need fresh notebooks or pencils. I still enjoy pulling out jeans and sweaters, but it's not the same when you work in an air conditioned building and have been wearing those same jeans and sweaters all summer. I still enjoy a pumpkin latté, but less frequently because as an adult I have actual bills that need to be paid. I experience a certain amount of dread with birthdays now, because the anniversary of my father's death precedes it by two days.

Two years ago, at about this time, I was managing a quick service restaurant, living in my own tiny apartment, and had just started dating my now-husband. My restaurant was struggling; I was working a ridiculous amount of hours, struggling to find and hire and train and keep strong team members. My recently-retired Dad had volunteered to drive delivery for me, on an as-needed basis. I was lucky to get one day off per week. My parents would invite me over for dinner that same night every week, and I would always decline. I was tired. I had just enough energy to catch up on laundry and keep my apartment in a vaguely tolerable condition, but not enough energy to socialize and be decent company.

Monday, September 20th was a perfectly normal day. I was working a double shift, but Mondays were typically slow. A good day for getting things done, and I had been fairly productive. I was prepped and ready, waiting for Monday's dinner "rush"--which is only a relative rush, the phones were beginning to ring. I answered the phone. It was my mom. I knew that tenor of her voice, I had heard it a month or so before when she had broken her wrist and called to ask me to give her a ride to the hospital. When she got home from work, Dad was sitting in his La-Z-Boy as usual, asleep with the newspaper open on his chest. Except this time, the sound of the door opening didn't wake him up.

I called my boss; she arrived in record time and took control of the restaurant. Time seemed to crawl as I drove to the hospital, just four blocks from work. I missed the first turn. There was literally one turn, and I missed it. As I circled the block, I reached Mom on my cell; from her voice, I knew he was gone.

I met my Mom at the hospital, my grandmother had gotten there just minutes before me. Mom confirmed what I already knew in my heart: Dad was gone. Gramps arrived just before we went in to see him with the priest; as he hugged my mom, his daughter, he was already crying, "it should have been me." I hadn't wanted to see his body, I wanted to remember him alive; but I also didn't want to be left alone.

My recollection of the rest of that week is spotty. I remember pulling a hard lemonade from the fridge at my mom's house that same day, and the look on my teetotaling aunt's face. I remember gamely trying to celebrate my birthday with my mom and brothers. I remember deciding who I would or wouldn't trade to have my dad back. I remember the outpour of love and support, but mostly I remember the emptiness, the feeling like an invaluable but unappreciated appendage had been amputated.

Most of the year I'm fine, but every September that feeling comes back.