Remember Them & Spirited Fresh Tomato Cake

spirited fresh tomato cakeI woke up this morning knowing what I needed to write about today. I came to realize that I have never been alone in this grief process because so many moms before me have gone through it. I recall an old high school chum named Jeff who died at age 17 of leukemia. Jeff was funny and smart and a strong competitive swimmer. He loved my friend, Donna. I remember visiting him in the hospital to say good-bye and feeling so sad for him and for her. I don’t remember his mom, but I can’t imagine what she was going through. I am glad I remember him. Jeff, you have not been forgotten.

I love you Betty

I love you Betty

And then there is Betty. Betty is the mother of 5 kids including one of my best friends, Carol. I’ve known Betty for 30 years. We have a lot in common. We both love to garden, we loved playing BUNCO together for a good 10 years and we both love Carol to the moon and back. We also both lost a son.

We will always remember Robert & William

We will always remember Robert & William

Betty is now 93 years old and on a recent visit back to my old hometown I stopped by to check in on her. Betty affirmed what I already knew: a mom never stops grieving the loss of a child. It has been 56 years since she lost her oldest child, Robert. We never really talked (or did we just mostly cry) about it until this visit. And then she showed me an old photo of Robert, so handsome displaying a fish he had just caught…and in the same frame….right next to her son…was mine. My heart melted. We decided our boys were good together probably catching fish off the banks of heaven.

Spirited Fresh Tomato Cake

Spirited Fresh Tomato Cake

Remember that old-fashioned tomato cake recipe made with that processed canned soup? Pitch that and make this especially if you have an abundance of vine ripened garden tomatoes either in your back yard or from the local market. With a hint of spice it’s the perfect cake for a snack or with a cup of coffee for breakfast. No one will ever know there are tomatoes in the mix let alone a bit of spirit.

what 10 ounces of tomatoes look like

what 10 ounces of tomatoes look like

I cannot bake without the use of a scale. It takes so much guesswork out of this scientific process and thus less room for mistakes. We all measure differently when it comes to measuring cups and spoons and I am not certain that there is even a standard among those vessels in the manufacturing process. Use a meaty tomato for this cake or cut out the seeds before processing. This year I grew Burpee’s “salsa” tomatoes, which have very few seeds.

you would never know there are tomatoes in the cake

you would never know there are tomatoes in the cake

Spirited Fresh Tomato Cake

10 ounces ripe plum tomatoes, cored (see photo)

¼ cup gold rum

½ cup chopped dried cherries

½ cup toasted sliced almonds

1 cup all purpose flour

¾ cup almond meal flour

1-teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon sea salt

2 teaspoons cinnamon

¼ teaspoon nutmeg

¼ teaspoon ground cloves

½ cup unsalted butter, softened

¾ cup sugar

1 egg

Powdered sugar

Heat oven 350F. Spray an 8-inch baking pan with no-stick baking spray or grease and flour. Process tomatoes in a blender or food processor until smooth (measure 1 cup of tomato puree). Toss cherries and rum together in a small bowl. In medium bowl, whisk flour, almond meal, baking soda, salt and spices together. In a large bowl, with electric mixer beat butter and sugar for 5 minutes or until light and fluffy. Add egg; blend well. Slowly, beat in tomato puree; mixture will look curdled. Add flour mixture blending just until moistened (I usually fold the flour mixture in by hand). Stir in cherries and rum and almonds; blend well. Pour batter into prepared pan; smooth the top. Bake 40 minutes or until wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean and cake pulls away from sides of pan. Cool on wire rack for 10 minutes before inverting on rack to cool completely. Dust with powdered sugar before serving. 

what light and fluffy butter and sugar looks like

what light and fluffy butter and sugar looks like

Taking a Chance & a Brain Freezing Granita

margarita granita

A chance meeting on a plane ride from Kansas to Philadelphia blessed me with a new friend named Valerie. We met for coffee today and she gave me the most beautiful book.book

I immediately turned to April 16th which is the day my son died to read: “there is a reservoir of love and compassion in the human community. We don’t need to be afraid to show our vulnerability, because to mourn when we are bereaved is not a sign of weakness but a stepping into the circle where all the brothers and the sisters can put their arms around us and hold us close, if we give them a chance.”

Smokehouse Cranberry Cheese Bread

Smokehouse Cranberry Cheese Bread

The words bring me to what I did just 2 nights ago. I took a chance and gave a bread baking class to 6 total strangers. Min, the hostess, found me on Facebook after learning I was a CHOPPED champion and winner at the National Festival of Breads. She knew my story and she reached out. Min, like Valerie, is that part of humanity that is filled with love and compassion.The group wanted to pay me to teach them how to bake bread, but I offered to do it only if a donation could go to the local food pantry in memory of my son. We baked, we shared a meal and our stories. I celebrated William the best way I knew how teaching kind folks how to bake. We laughed and yes, I got a little teary, but the important thing, I let them in and fell into the “reservoir of love and compassion.”

tree heart photo by Bev Poulin

tree heart photo by Bev Poulin….if ever there was a reservoir of love and compassion

Now back to Valerie for just a another second. I almost screwed up our coffee date due to what I like to call brain freeze. Since losing William my brain gets a little muddled and I notice I am no longer “as sharp as a tack” (my dad used to say that). Just can’t keep track of dates and times among other things like I used to. So, in honor of my brain freeze, Valerie, this one is for you. Thank you for the book and for taking a chance on me. You better eat it slow.

right out of the blender it is more like a sorbet

right out of the blender it is more like a sorbet

Fresh Fruit Watermelon Margarita Granita

6 cups cubed red seedless watermelon, frozen*

2 limes, peeled

1 orange, peeled, seeded

¼ cup water

4 tablespoons sugar

2 tablespoons tequila

2 tablespoons cointreau or other orange flavored liqueur

To freeze watermelon place it in a single layer on a foil lined rimmed baking pan; freeze several hours until solid. (I usually just do this the night before or early in the day). Combine all ingredients in the blender and blend until smooth. Can be eaten right away which makes it more like a sorbet or pour mixture into a metal 8-inch pan and freeze until solid. Scrape with the tines of a fork and scoop into serving dishes. Garnish as desired.

Here comes the brain freeze! And if you really want to take a chance try it with a sprinkle of chili powder on top. It is my new favorite way to eat all things frosty.

avocado ice cream topped with chili powder

avocado ice cream topped with chili powder

Mystery Solved with a Frozen Treat

pineapple cucumber soy sorbet

pineapple cucumber soy sorbet

On the banks of Lake Elise

I saw you on a lily pad

Smiling, sitting Indian style

With your arms reaching up and out

I reached to you and was happy

But then the sun rose

To tear-filled eyes

Dreaming again

thank you for the whoosh moment  Kathy Adamson Romaniello

thank you for the Lake elise whoosh moment Kathy Adamson Romaniello

on the happy banks

on the happy banks

It remains a bit of a mystery how my son died that night and it’s a mystery how one can be happy and sad at the same time. It’s complicated and twisted when it comes to grief. The obvious is that one who has lost their person will always have a sense of sadness. That cannot be changed. With time, however, the sadness becomes more manageable and doesn’t interfere with day-to-day activities. Is there an occasional meltdown? You betcha, but those episodes are much more short-lived and usually triggered by, at least in my case, fatigue. A good night’s sleep and coping skills are restored. What’s your trigger? Identify it and try to avoid it.

so unlike him this photo always cracks me up

so unlike him this photo always cracks me up…thank you Van Sant family for this photo

Welcome happiness. It’s a choice. It’s all around us. See it in a stranger’s smile, smell it in the garden, feel it in a warm embrace, hear it in a song. To choose happiness and to feel joy is an option we all have. It celebrates your person. Reach up and out and embrace it.

a typical day at the beach with Andrew, Tyler and William

a typical day at the beach with Andrew, Tyler and William

And speaking of a meltdown, what a warm summer it has been. Want to know what makes me happy this time of year? It’s ice cream, gelato, sorbet, sherbet and well you get the picture….oh, wait-did I say frozen snicker bars? Yes, all kinds of frozen treats put a smile on my face. It’s no mystery that to make a tasty freeze only a blender is required.

Vitamix frozen beauty

Vitamix frozen beauty

My garden (which always makes me happy) is overgrown with cucumbers. Did you know that cucumbers have a prickly surface? I had no idea until I grew my own. Ouch-really prickly! And did you know that the borage flower tastes like cucumbers? How convenient that they are both ready for picking and eating at the same time (as long as you don’t use chemicals on your plants). Add some fresh pineapple, a few fridge staples and a high speed blender and we are in sweet frozen heaven. Happy summer-no ice cream maker necessary.

fresh cucumbers from the garden

fresh cucumbers from the garden

Fresh Pineapple Cucumber Sorbet

2 cups fresh pineapple chunks, frozen

1 cucumber, peeled, seeded, cut into chunks, frozen

½ cup silken tofu

½ cup plain Greek yogurt

2 tablespoons agave (adjust to your own desired sweetness)

1-teaspoon fresh lime juice

1 or 2 leaves fresh mint, optional

Place all ingredients into blender* in order given. Start on low speed and increase until mixture is smooth and well blended. Serve immediately.

Note: If you own a Vitamix use the Frozen Dessert setting

Note #2: if you prefer to drink your frozen concoctions just add some soy milk or juice to the blender and mix to your favorite consistency

no borage-use mint and another pretty flower for garnish

no borage-use mint and another pretty flower for garnish