Sunday, November 11, 2012

A Sweet New Beginning: Crepe Suzettes

 I don’t think that it’s any big surprise that the book “Julie and Julia” by Julie Powell was a big inspiration for my blog. Ironically I read it right before I stumbled upon The Found Recipe Box at an antique show. I immediately connected with Julie for many reasons, but mainly because she was at a point in her life when she felt lost and was facing some big life decisions. At the time I was unemployed and Ryan and I had put our plans for the future on hold, including starting a family. It felt like someone had pushed the pause button on our lives.

But reading Julie’s book helped. She wrote about her situation with blunt honesty and humor. She creatively worked her way through a challenging time and accomplished huge goals that she had set for herself. I felt empowered and encouraged as I turned the pages of her book and when the little lost recipe box came into my possession; I knew it wasn’t by chance. However, when I contemplated starting the blog, I didn’t want to just copy what Julie had already done. I wanted to take those recipes and share my own stories. And I didn’t want to set a timeframe in which to complete the project.

Well, here I am, three years later, and still nowhere near completion. But that doesn’t matter because I’m not giving up. Life has changed a lot in the past three years: I’m working full time and I have a beautiful little girl who gets all of my attention during our waking hours together – and she is at that age where she is constantly exploring and into EVERYTHING so my eyes rarely stray far away from her general vicinity. This leaves little time to do much else other than make dinner, do laundry, clean and pass out. 

The newest little cook in the kitchen: Chef Lucy
But once again, I find myself in search of a connection. I found work after two years of unemployment, but it was a huge step back from where I was and I’m not even in the same field. There are days when it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the stress of barely getting by. Once again, we feel as though our lives are on pause. It reminds me of the summers we used to spend in Florida visiting my mom’s family when I was a kid. My dad, brothers and I would swim in the Gulf of Mexico together and would challenge ourselves to tread water as long as we could. We’d paddle out until we couldn’t touch, then beat our arms and legs against the current and constant waves until our muscles burned and we felt as though we’d sink. Then, just before our tired appendages gave out on us, we’d let go and float on our backs, letting the salt water hold our exhausted bodies up until we were ready to dive back in.

I’m ready to dive back in. And once again, I’m looking to Julie for inspiration.

I rarely re-read books. In fact, I think the only book I’ve ever read more than once is “To Kill A Mockingbird,” (my all-time favorite). But I’ve started reading “Julie and Julia” again and already feel like I’m sitting down to lunch with a very close friend who I haven’t seen in many years. There is a quote from the book that I underlined the first time I read it and have gone back to re-read several times already:
“So that night I made my New Year’s resolution, better late than never: To Get Over My Damned Self. If I was going to follow Julia down this rabbit hole, I was going to enjoy it, by God – exhaustion, crustacean murder, and all. Because not everyone gets a rabbit hole. I was one lucky bastard, when you came down to it.”

Julie Powell

Luckily, I have not had to experience the crustacean murder, but I can relate to what she’s saying here and she’s right, not everyone gets a rabbit hole. And I’m so very, very thankful that I am one of the lucky few who do.

When I made the spreadsheet of all the recipes in the box, I tagged a few that I would like to make and dedicate to Julie Powell for her inspiration. And I’m honored to post one of those recipes now: Crepes Suzettes. Crepes were one of the recipes Julie struggled with and, after lots and lots of practice, eventually mastered. After making these, I can completely understand her frustration with the delicious little devils – they are nearly impossible to flip! After several attempts, I ran out of batter and had to give up, but regardless of how mutilated my poor little crepe was, it was still heavenly to eat.

Not quite round, but it works
 I did make a slight change to the recipe, however. We were at a festival this summer and saw banana/Nutella crepes and the combination had been swimming in my head ever since, so I had to try them. If you get a chance to taste these, don’t pass it up. They are truly divine. 

Crepe Suzettes (with bananas, Nutella and whipped cream)
So thank you Julie, for having the courage to share your story. I know that’s not easy. But hopefully you know how much that means to all of us out there looking for the right ingredients to turn this little thing called life into a delectable five-star meal.

And I also want to give a special thank you to all of you who have stuck with me through this journey. It means the world to me to have you share in this adventure and I love hearing your stories! So thank you, thank you, thank you! Hang in there, we have a long way to go. 

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

I’ll Meet You at the Bridge: Chocolate Angel Food Cake

It has taken me several months to write this post, partly for lack of free time, but I think mostly because I’m still in denial. In October, I had to say goodbye to one of my very best friends in the world, Dorie. 

I’ve written about Dorie before, she was my parents’ Flatcoated Retriever. Dorie was my special girl, but she was special in her own special way. She wasn’t like my other best friend Flatcoats, Buck or Sage, who were both very outwardly affectionate, loved to cuddle and weren’t shy about sharing their love with you. Dorie didn’t like to cuddle. She’d jump into bed with you, but would only stay as long as you didn’t move. At the slightest toe wiggle or gentle inhale, she’d bolt. And if you tried to hug her, she’d pull away, shifting all of her weight into the weakest point of your embrace, hoping to break the link and run free.

But she’d melt your heart with her loving stares. We’d be sitting in the living room at night watching TV and all of a sudden I’d get that feeling that someone was looking at me. I’d look up and catch Dorie staring straight at me with a focused and intent look, as if she were trying to connect with me telepathically. But I didn’t need some form of extrasensory perception to know what she was trying to say. I could feel it in my bones. It was the kind of stare that brings tears to your eyes and gives you goose bumps. She was sending love, a love so deep and pure that a mere glance from her would send a shockwave of bliss rippling through you long after the connection between your eyes was broken. Dorie didn’t need a physical touch to express her affection, she just needed her eyes. 

Sage, Dorie & Nell
Last year was a very hard year for my parents. Of their three Flatcoats, they lost two. Sage’s death rocked us all to the core. Anyone who is an animal lover and has lost a best friend will truly understand the depth of that pain. But we weren’t the only ones affected by his loss. Dorie suffered too. Sage was her best friend. 

Sage & Dorie
We weren’t the only recipients of those loving stares, Sage got them also. You could read  the look in her eyes with stark certainty – with all of us close to her, all was right in the world and she was truly in her own utopia. But when Sage was gone, a piece of her was missing, an important, foundational piece. And without it, Dorie just couldn’t survive.

She died 5 months to the day after Sage.

Dorie’s cause of death was tumors that ruptured in her chest. But my mom swears – and I agee – that Dorie truly died of a broken heart. Love is a powerful thing. When we have it, we feel invincible. When we are separated from it, we will move mountains to be reunited. Sometimes, however, we take it for granted. We believe it will always be there and instead of being constantly celebrated, it gets lost in the shuffle of life and tucked away, like a once-treasured item from our childhood that gets packed in a box and put into storage. Losing Dorie and Sage has taught me a lesson to stay rooted in the moment, enjoy every second we have together, because things change and sometimes we don’t get the chance to pull those boxes out of storage and rekindle the excitement for the things we packed into them.

Dorie & Sage

This February marked my 8-year anniversary of moving to Minnesota. I love the home I’ve made for myself here, but I am also still very homesick – some days more than others. The arrival of Lucy in our lives has made it immensely harder for me to be six long hours away from my family. In the past eight years, I have sought so much comfort in knowing that when I arrive home I will be greeted at the door by three very enthusiastic barking, jumping dogs that are ecstatic to see me (two of them were at least. The third, well, she only has eyes for my dad). Immediately upon arrival, I would be covered in slobber, have dirt streaks down my pants in the faint form of a smeared dog foot and red scratches on my stomach from Dorie’s nails as she desperately tried to be the first one to greet me. Every time I left, I would fall into Dorie and Sage with huge hugs. Sage loved every second of it and grunted his pleasure. Dorie endured it, but I secretly think she savored those moments as much as I did. Now, however, when I go home, it’s quiet. Until, of course, my parents see Lucy and shout out their enthusiastic hellos or Lucy sees Nell, the remaining Flatcoat, and squeals out her delight at seeing a dog (it doesn’t matter that the dog doesn’t care to see her). There is no slobber. My pants stay clean a little longer. My stomach no longer bears the temporary tattoo of a dog’s deep and true love. I will never forget the last time I said goodbye to Dorie. I held onto her as tight as I could and she let me. Maybe she knew it would be our last goodbye. I cried. I held her, told her I loved her and I cried. Maybe, deep down, I knew it would be our last goodbye too. 

When I searched through the box for a recipe that would be fitting for my sweet girl, I knew exactly which section to look in first. When she had her surgery and we almost lost her in 2010, I made angel food cupcakes. So for this post, I knew I had to do a similar recipe and I chose to make a Chocolate Angel Food Cake. I love these cakes, they’re so easy to make and dependably delicious. Plus, there are so many ways to dress up their flavor, either by making it sweeter with a chocolate drizzle and whipped cream or the “healthier” option of covering them in fruit. I decided to keep it simple – a chocolate cake with a dollop of whipped cream. It was one of my absolute favorite recipes in the box and I think it was a very serendipitous choice for this post.

I thought of Dorie as I pulled ingredients from the cupboard, as I cracked each egg and measured out 1 1/3 cup of egg whites, as I stirred the fluffy batter, and while the cake cooled upside-down in the Bundt pan. Ironically, when it was time to remove the cake from the pan, I lifted it, patted the bottom and watched as it fell out onto the cooling rack and broke in half. Very serendipitous indeed. 

Even after sitting down and writing this post, I’m still in denial. I have this hope deep down in my heart that maybe the next time I go home, I’ll learn it was all just a bad dream and Dorie will be there to greet me at the front door with Sage. She’ll stain my pants and scratch my stomach. Then we’ll run outside and I’ll watch her dig holes under her favorite tree, fish for frogs in the pond, and eat the decorative grasses in my mom’s garden. She’ll bark at me when I’m not following fast enough. I’ll smile – a smile that goes straight from my face to my heart. And she’ll stare back at me – her loving stare that goes straight to my bones and makes me confident that all is right with the world because we are together. But sadly, I have to admit to myself that that is a dream that will never come true. Instead I need to find solace in the fact that Dorie has been reunited with her best friend, Sage, and her mother, Bonnie. They all met up at the Rainbow Bridge and together, they’re digging holes, fishing and eating grass. Watch out frogs, Dorie is an amazing hunter. 

Dorie, I miss you more than words can say. You will always be with me – always – deep inside my bones. Goodbye my sweet, sweet girl. Goodbye for now…until we meet again at the bridge. 

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

When Autumn Won’t Let Go: Apple Turnovers

Last January, when we brought Lucy home from the hospital, the wind chill was 25 below zero. I never truly despised winter until that moment, when I had to step into the piercing cold with my brand new baby girl. Every piece of the car creaked and cracked in the cold on the drive home and I think it took the entire 20-minute trip for the engine to completely thaw out.

But this year, we’ve had a very temperate winter. Back in October, the meteorologists started saying, “Enjoy this weather folks, it will be the last nice weekend of the year.” Up until a couple of weeks ago, they were still staying that. We’ve been seeing temperatures in the 40s and even a few 50s all the way into January. For those of us who were seriously considering packing our bags and moving south last winter, it’s pretty nice. But for those who are longing to pull their skis out of the closet, go sledding, or are ready to drill a hole into the ice and go fishing, it hasn’t been a good season.

In honor of the lingering autumn weather, I made a fall favorite: Apple Turnovers. Topped with a generous scoop of vanilla ice cream, these delicious pockets of molten cinnamon apple are the ideal combination of hot and cold – a perfect complement to our unseasonably warm weather. Lucy’s new favorite treat is apple slices, so she was able to enjoy the pre-cooked ingredient, while Ryan and I savored the sweet and soothing finished product. Without looking at the calendar, one bite of these and a glance out the window would make you think it’s time to start carving pumpkins and planning a Thanksgiving menu rather than exchanging Valentine cards.

For Lucy’s first birthday, we gazed across our bare, brown backyard and reminisced about the weather one year ago – bitter cold, three feet of snow on the ground, near constant will chill advisories. Maybe you’ll get to go sledding on snow next year, Lucy, instead of dry grass and piles of leftover autumn leaves. But remember to enjoy this nice weather, because this still is winter in Minnesota and it just might be the last nice weekend of the season. 

Monday, January 16, 2012

December Birthday Cake of the Month: Peppermint Candy Cake

Do you remember the Birthday Cake of the Month card? The last cake I posted was from November 2010 when I announced I was pregnant and starting a new job. I can hardly believe that was over a year ago. I only had two cakes left to go and sadly, that December and January were a little hectic and the cakes were never made. So this year, I dug the card back out and made the first of the last two cakes: Peppermint Candy Cake. And in true Found Recipe Box fashion, it ended up being the perfect recipe for the situation.

Last December, all through the month, I kept thinking that I needed to make the birthday cake of the month. I remember checking the card and seeing “Christmas Package Cake” in black type. In my mind, I thought of all the fun ways I could decorate the cake, all of the different adornments I could add to make it a truly tempting package to tear into. But December came and went and the cake was never made.

At various times throughout the past year, it would pop back into my mind. “In December,” I thought to myself, “I get to decorate a cake to look like a beautiful present!” And again the list of colors and bows and fancy gift tags would float around in my mind. I thought back to the Queen of Hearts Cake and the Merry-Go-Round Cake and made a mental list of ways I could incorporate different artistic styles.

Finally, December arrived. I pulled out the card, grabbed the New Party Cakes for All Occasions booklet, turned to page 19 and…it wasn’t there. The cake inside the package was supposed to be a jam cake. I flipped though each page of the booklet, but never came across the jam cake. I looked again, read each recipe title carefully. Nothing. So I flipped back to page 19 and was treated to a nice surprise. Instead of a jam cake, there was something much more delicious and appropriate for the holiday season in its place: a Peppermint Candy Cake.

While I was crushing up candy canes to sprinkle into the batter, I kept thinking of the Chocolate Roll Cake and my mom’s variation, which will always be an absolute favorite of mine. She put crushed peppermints into the whipped cream center of the cake, giving it just a hint of Christmas flavor and a slight crunch with each bite. Lucy watched as I slowly turned the red and white canes into small chunks and powder. I wonder, when she’s older, what recipes will remind her of me. Sadly, I don’t think it will be this one. 

Once the cake was completed and decorated, we dug in for our first taste.

Immediately I noticed the consistency. It wasn’t the soft, moist bite I was expecting. Instead it was dense and a little crumbly. I’ve been told that the ratios of ingredients on some of these older recipes need to be adjusted a bit. Perhaps if I play around with it, I can soften the cake up (here’s another example of chemistry coming back to haunt me!). Because with just a little more moisture and maybe a few extra candy cane pieces thrown in, this just might be a cake that Lucy would remember well into her adulthood. And it fit perfectly with the lesson I’ve been reminded of again and again the past few years. Sometimes we hit bumps in the road, whether it is something as major as unemployment or as simple as a recipe missing from the page or a dry cake. Regardless, we just need to stay focused, make a few adjustments and move forward. Of course, typing those words out are much easier than applying them to real life sometimes, but when the prize for all that hard work is a delicious piece of Peppermint Candy Cake, it makes the tough road ahead a little easier to follow. 

If anyone has any suggestions on how to moisten the cake or adjust the ratios of the ingredients, let me know!