Friday, June 24, 2011

A Recipe, A Remembrance, A Regret

Now seems like a good time for a recipe. One with chocolate. One that brings back memories of my mother. I could have made this for my morning Soul Design class because it is traditionally called a coffee cake, but in my book it was called the yearly, most favored and requested, birthday cake. Most of my kids request this same cake for their birthday. Goes great with vanilla ice cream and candles!

Here's where I could type the recipe, but after 40 years of eating and baking this cake and thinking we were the only ones who were nuts over this recipe, I stumbled across a slightly improved version of it on one of my favorite foodie sites.

Before I share, I should mention that this cake comes with another layer of guilt, for me anyway. And it is not in the chocolate chips or the sour cream or the butter. Nope, it is much deeper than that. My mother had a habit of always giving credit to the source of a recipe when she wrote it in her cookbook. This recipe came from her friend, who we will call Ellie Smith. Ellie Smith had a daughter, about my age who we will call Susie Smith.

I really only have one memory of these old friends, besides the cake recipe, and it is from a day spent at The Enchanted Forest. Even though it was a small scale, cheesy amusement type of park, my brother and I loved that place. I suppose we didn't get out much.

One day, we made a trip to our beloved forest with the Ellie and Susie Smith family. The very same ones who introduced our family to Chocolate Chip Cake. For some reason, Susie had a slipper on one foot and an ace bandage to complete the ensemble. I'm sure she had some type of injury, and looking back, I hope it was just a sprain and not a skin wound.

I can almost picture her feet, one wearing a Jack Purcell(the forerunner of Chuck Taylor's) and the other in a pink, fuzzy slipper. What isn't so clear in my mind, is the incident that caused Susie to slip while getting into the paddle boat that would carry us off to see Willie the Whale or some other such enchanted character.

Without a doubt, I know that I didn't purposely cause Susie to fall into the 3 feet of murky water, causing her pretty pink slipper to lose its fluff or her expertly wrapped ace bandage to sag. I can't even remember if I was already in the boat or was I supposed to be steadying it as Susie climbed in first. Who has a 9 year old kid steady a boat anyway? I guess the Enchanted Forest was a low budget operation.

Either way, I am pretty sure I was blamed and I'm also pretty certain that what happened was just an accident. It wasn't like I had any hidden envy of Susie's fuzzy, pink slipper - especially being that it was paired with a Jack Purcell. And while I was a little irritated that her unusual footwear caused her to slow us all down on our quest to conquer The Enchanted Forest, I would not have intentionally thrown her over broad.

My lingering feelings of contrition have to do with the fact that I laughed. And my brother laughed. Which might have been okay if Susie was laughing too. But I distinctly remember her not seeing any of the humor in her drowned, pink slipper and I'm pretty sure that was the end of our outing at the Enchanted Forest. I still feel a little bad about that. I'm sure my mother made us apologize, but I know we were still trying to contain ourselves as we all piled into the Smith's circa 1970 station wagon to head home.

So if you are out there, the 50ish-something year old woman, who remembers wearing a pink slipper to the magical land of story book characters, only to have your day ruined by a tricky attempt to board a paddle boat, I am truly sorry that I laughed, further adding to your humiliation over the situation. I should have tried to put myself in your shoes. Or rather your shoe and your pink, fuzzy slipper. Maybe then I would have realized that you can't laugh with someone if they aren't laughing.

I've remembered that little lesson you taught me many time over the years, while enjoying a slice of the best ever birthday/coffee cake. Tell your Mom thanks for the recipe!

Finally... the recipe. Sure to be your favorite cake too - let me know what you think. This is the new and improved version from Smitten Kitchen.

* a few baking tips: I never separated my eggs; however, after finding this improved version on Smitten Kitchen, I felt obliged to give it a try. My unsophisticated palate could not detect a difference, so it's really your choice how to handle the eggs.

and b) Use a little less layer on the bottom layer so you'll have an easier time spreading the top layer over the chocolate, cinnamon yummy goodness in the middle. This is the voice of experience speaking.


Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Prayer - part 2

The months that followed left us spinning in confusion, fatigue and fear. Steve's mom, Beema, was doing great and even visited us several months after her surgery. My mom, however, was fighting for her life - going through endless rounds of chem and radiation, all while trying to keep a positive spin on things.

I struggled to pray during that time. If my prayer life was aimless or haphazard before, it was downright stifled during the time my mom was fighting that battle. When I should have been praying the deepest, most sincere prayers that I could offer up, I was instead paralyzed with fear about what to say to God.

Should I ask God to cure my mom and keep her here on earth where I needed her? Part of me could not give voice to those words because I could hardly admit that losing her was a possibility. A bigger part of me was afraid to ask for something that I wanted so, so badly, but that God might very well say "no" to.

How would I live with God if he didn't give me this one thing - my mom to watch her grandchildren grow up. She told her doctors that she intended to get better because she planned to dance at her grandkids weddings.

So, I didn't pray for God to cure my Mom's cancer. Instead, I prayed for courage - for my mom, me, Steve, my step-Dad and brothers and sisters. I prayed for strength and wisdom. I prayed for everything I thought we would need to fight the battle, but I didn't pray to be victorious.

In April of the following year, about 8 months after being diagnosed with cancer, my mom called and told me she might be in remission. She'd have another MRI in July to determine if what the doctors saw was just scar tissue or still active cancer.

The next month, my mom threw a big 9oth birthday bash for her mother, my grandmother. Carly and I flew to Baltimore to join the party. We were 4 generations - ages 90, 56, 33 and 2, celebrating life together, along with lots of family and friends. My mom looked great! She floated around the banquet hall, visiting with all of her cousins and long-time family friends. It seemed as if God had answered the prayer that I was afraid to pray. I returned home with hope in my heart.

to be continued.......

Sunday, June 19, 2011

The Evolution of Prayer (mine to be specific) - part 1

Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep.......

Bless us, O Lord, for these thy gifts.......
"Why do we freeze the gifts?", my sister wanted to know.

Dear God, Please help me ace this test. Amen

These were the prayers of my childhood. In the years after I grew up and moved out of my family home, I don't remember exactly what shape my prayer life took. I mostly remember either saying prayers of thanksgiving or intercessory prayers (not that I knew what that word meant at the time).

I thought it was much better to pray for someone else rather than for yourself, which at the time seemed a little self-centered to me. There was no notion of "praying without ceasing" in my life.

Fast forward several years. Steve and I were a young couple, married only 4 years when we got a phone call that would rock our world and kick our prayer life into gear. His mother (Beema to our kids) had cancer. Although, we had been praying with our two kiddos (age 2 &4) at meals and bedtime, our personal prayers had always been private. That's how we were both raised to pray. The news that came over the phone line spurred us to pray out loud together for the first time. Afterwards, we continued to mostly offer up silent prayers for God to take care of Steve's mom.

One month after receiving Beema's diagnosis, our little family of four headed north, from Nashville to Baltimore. I stayed with my family while Steve continued on to New York to be with his Mom during surgery. We were all relieved to finally hear that all went well during surgery, the cancer was contained and Beema was "as good as new."

It seemed our prayers had been answered! After the good news had sunk in, my Mom took me aside and casually mentioned that she was going to have a surgery too. Exploratory surgery. She'd been having a little pain that she attributed to a golf injury, but since it hadn't healed, the doctors wanted to take a look. She hadn't even planned to tell me, but her best friend talked her into it and told my Mom that I'd probably want to be there. So, surprise - my Mom was having surgery a day before I headed back to Nashville.

Since her doctors apparently weren't too alarmed, neither was I. Although the pain was in her rib area, there was no reason to expect anything dramatic to be going on. My mom had no risk factors for anything lung related and she certainly didn't have any risk factors for lung cancer, other than the fact that she had lungs.

Steve took the kids that day, while my family and I hung out at the hospital, reading, joking around and enjoying our next to last day together. The mood in the waiting room shifted immediately when the doctor entered. He was a big, jovial, red-headed guy, but the look on his face, when he entered that room, told us everything we needed to know. Not only did my mom have lung cancer, but it was very advanced and the prognosis wasn't good.

This was my mom who ate more broccoli than anyone I knew. My mom who never smoked a day in her life and never lived with a smoker either. My mom who was my best friend, who adored my husband and thought her two grandchildren hung the moon. This was not going the way I had planned it and at that moment, prayer was the last thing on my mind. What was God thinking!

To be continued.......

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Invitation - Part 2

In my life before kids, I was a runner, not a partier, so this verse from Hebrews paints an even more vivid picture of what God's invitation means to me:

"Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles us, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith."

~Heb. 12:1

I opened the invitation to the race a long time ago; I came to the starting blocks, but then I forgot to run. Sometimes, I even got off the starting blocks and then back on again and ran, but not with gusto or I got distracted and didn't keep my eyes fixed on my destination and I ran off the track.

Luckily, my coach doesn't give up on me. He brought me back to the track and pointed me in the right direction. He encourages me to continue running even when I am tired and hurting. And he promised me that the celebration at the end will be a homecoming party that I can only begin to imagine and he'll be the first to welcome me at the finish line.

Come to think of it, there are really two parties that we've been invited to. The first one is here on earth, where we get to know our host. The only way to develop that relationship is through our conversation with him - through reading the scriptures, we know him and through prayer, we know him. Without those two things - we've missed the party taking place everyday, all around us.

The second party is our victory party and the more time you spend at the first party, the more you will anticipate the incomprehensible grandness of the final, everlasting party. And the more you will want your family and friends to be there too.

I'm so glad I serve a loving and patient God, who persistently handed me the invitation and who nudged me off the starting blocks and who still encourages me to keep on running towards those outstretched arms at the finish line.

Let's party!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

The Invitation

What is the point of rsvp'ing yes and then continually forgetting to show up for the party?

How late is too late to arrive?

Mine has been a slow, slow faith journey. It's not because God hadn't extended the invitation over and over again. From the time I was young and attending a Catholic church with my family to the the time I was a teen going to Bible study at a friend's Presbyterian church, God was there. He was there on that June day when I lost my mom to cancer and again the next day when my mother-in-law lost that same battle. God's been there and many times in between, inviting me to fellowship with Him.

I said yes; yes, I received the invitation and yes, I knew the sender, but somehow I just didn't get the gist of what I was being invited to. So, I said yes, but I never quite showed up. It was like I just carried the invitation around with me for all those years. I believed the invitation was real. I knew I was invited and I accepted, but I spent so long preparing for the party that I almost forgot to show up.

What changed? There were a lot of factors that came together and encouraged me to open the invitation and really read it again. One was that I was hearing or seeing other people who were at the party and it made me want to have that experience too. And there were also things that happened in my life that made escaping to a party seem like a good plan.

I finally figured out that I had to actually read the invitation to understand what the party was all about. Ten years ago I picked up my Bible , after a long hiatus, and started to read and understand what the invitation that God had extended to me meant. The more I read, the more intrigued I became.

That's when life started getting really interesting.

For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in....
~Matthew 25:35

To be continued.............

Friday, June 3, 2011

But first, a recipe.......

As I have looked over my 10 weeks of writing for the Soul Design "course", I have realized that a little editing is in order. Although, I have participated in the blog world, both as a reader and a writer, for several years now, I find I have a hard time reading anything longer than 3 or maybe 4 paragraphs. I guess I have blog ADD. My attention span is improved if photographs and/or recipes are involved.

Sorry, no photos were taken in the process of making this recipe, but I did make it for my Tuesday morning Soul Design group and they enjoyed it. I know that being a church gathering, they would politely eat anything that was shared with the group. But, I was asked for the recipe, so I take that as an endorsement.

Don't let the lack of photos or uninspiring name scare you off. This really is delicious.

Ham and Cheese Pie

(from my Hendersonville friend, Melanie H.)

1/2 cup mayo (I use Hellman's low-fat)

1/2 cup milk

2 eggs

1 Tablespoon cornstarch

1 1/2 cups cubed ham

1/2 lb Swiss cheese

1/2 cup chopped green onions (don't be afraid of using some of the green part)

dash of pepper (or more if you'd like)

9 inch unbaked pie shell

Combine may, milk, eggs and cornstarch; blend until smooth.

Stir in remaining ingredients and turn into pastry shell (which you put in the pie plate according to the instructions on the box.)

Bake @ 350 degrees for 35-45 minutes or until golden brown on top and knife comes out clean in the center.

Great for breakfast, lunch, brunch, or dinner. I may have even eat a piece of this savory pie for dessert on occasion. Enjoy!