How to Celebrate a Life: TEDx Talk & Buttermilk Spice Cake

There is no better way to step outside one’s comfort zone than to give a TED talk. This is public speaking, “ideas worth spreading”, on steroids as there is no podium, a time constraint and using notes is not recommended. It takes courage and a village of support to get it done. As thankful and as proud as I can possibly be for successfully completing a TEDx talk at Furman University, I’m still going to lament the fact that I failed to convey one critical thought even though no one knew what I forgot to say. It’s about that CHOPPED competition. I really want you all to know this:

“What’s most remarkable about my CHOPPED experience is not that I won $10,000.00, but that the victory is the result of the pure love energy of my son.”

Happy birthday William. It’s your day tomorrow. I can’t think of a better gift to give you than this video. I am ever so proud to be your mom. 

If you watch the video I suggest enlarging the screen, so you can get a better look at the power point photos. I think seeing the photos as you listen is critical to better understanding the story.

A grateful shout-out to all those who read my blog, but especially today to Patrice, Betty, Krista and Marcie who inspire me to remain positive. And to the student team of Furman University led by Jacob Lollis there are no words, but love for all your hard work in coordinating such an extraordinary event. Thank you for your gracious hospitality and celebrating William’s life with me.

It would not be a celebration without cake. This Buttermilk Spice Cake with Cream Cheese Buttercream comes from Jana Roerick’s book, The Little Island Bake Shop. The warm spices only get more intense as the cake sits, so make it a day or two in advance. I baked mine in 2 8-inch round pans and then deliberately sliced them horizontally in an uneven fashion because I was feeling off kilter. Imperfect is not considered professional, but I think it is so much more interesting. I also added 4 ounces of softened cream cheese at the end of the mixing of the buttercream. The tang of the cream cheese balances out the sweetness of the frosting. I also prefer my cakes naked around the sides. And here is a neat trick. Enjoy a slice or two before your guests arrive and then embellish the inside. No one will know! It gives a whole new meaning to have your cake and eat it, too.

From the Heart

Today, I could not help but want to repost this old Valentine’s day blog. It truly is one of my fondest memories of William. Thinking back on that visit with him always makes me smile. He was the master of fun surprises.

I continue to be inspired by his amazing brave and caring energy which brings me to this weekend’s TEDx talk. Truth be told I wasn’t exactly sure what a TEDx talk was when I accepted the invitation. I just knew it would be one more way to celebrate Will’s life, so of course I said, “yes”.

Little did I know that being invited to do a TEDx talk is kind of a big deal. Little did I know just how terrified I would be as I prepared for it. In between panic attacks over the last several weeks I prepared 7 pages of my thoughts. Too much I fretted, so whittled it down to 4. I attempted to memorize a speech. Practice, practice, practice. It felt like I was jumping out of an airplane without a parachute. It felt all wrong.

Several supportive friends suggested, “just speak from your heart”. I am taking their advice and feeling less anxious. To just simply speak from the heart feels right.

To further ease my anxiety I thought it a good idea to bake cookies for all 300 people in the TEDx audience. Baking cookies is much more therapeutic than public speaking. Just sayin’. I’m bringing the original Sweet William’s Inspired and Spirited Chocolate Chip Cookie and a Salted Chocolate Whiskey Shortbread because I wanted a heart shaped cookie.

The cookie dough for the shortbread contains no salt, so don’t hesitate to generously top each cookie with a good sprinkle of finishing salt. I highly recommend The Spice & Tea Exchange Chocolate Sea Salt for its sweet smokey flavor.

Salted Chocolate Whiskey Shortbread

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened

1 cup sugar

1 egg

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 tablespoon whiskey (Jack Daniel’s recommended)

4 cups all-purpose flour (King Arthur Flour)

1 cup chopped bittersweet or semi-sweet chocolate

Chocolate Sea Salt or your favorite finishing salt

In large bowl, beat butter and sugar for 5 minutes or until light and fluffy. On low speed, add egg, vanilla and whisky; blend well. Gradually add flour until fully incorporated. Stir in chocolate. Dump dough out onto some plastic wrap. Gather it up into a flat disk. Wrap and chill in the fridge for 30 minutes. Heat oven to 350F. On a silicone mat or lightly floured surface roll dough to 1/8-1/4-inch thickness. Cut out desired shapes with cookie cutters. Re-roll dough scraps as needed to cut out more cookies. Sprinkle cookies generously with finishing salt. Gently press salt into cookie with your fingertips. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes for 1 1/2-inch size cookies or until edges brown. Cool. I made about 200 cookies with a small heart shaped cutter.

On this Valentine’s Day I hope you are surrounded by those you love most. ❤

Fresh Picked Strawberry Rhubarb Pie

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Warm, but overcast, yesterday was the perfect day for strawberry picking with my family. Highland Farms in West Chester, PA is the place to go for all sorts of fruit picking throughout the year. The scent of strawberries was in the air as we approached the field.

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photo by Caitlin

Do your littles watch the show Daniel Tiger? Annabelle loves the animated Mr. Rodgers version and on one episode Daniel and his friends go “fruit-picking”. My Annabelle could not wait to try it. She ate as much as she picked and was covered in warm strawberry juice by the time we were done. Want to have some fun? Go pick some berries!

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photo by Caitlin

Fresh picked berries are at their peak of sweetness compared to the more tart berries found in the grocery store, so less sugar is needed for the perfect pie. Make sure your filling is really bubbling (see video below) before you pull it from the oven to insure all the juices gel and don’t leave a soupy mess when the pie is cut. If the crust edge is over-browning then cover it with a pie shield or foil.

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Find a pie dough recipe here. It’s my favorite go to recipe and enough for a double crust, so wrap and freeze half of it for another time or just bake two pies.

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best baking buddy ever

Fresh Picked Strawberry Rhubarb Pie

Pie dough for a single crust pie

2 tablespoons gingersnap crumbs

Crisp Topping

½ cup all purpose flour

¼  cup brown sugar

¼ cup old fashioned rolled oats (not instant)

¼ teaspoon cinnamon

4 tablespoons salted butter, cut into cubes

Filling

4 cups of fresh picked strawberries, slice large ones in half

2 cups sliced (1/2-inch thick) fresh picked rhubarb

2 tablespons heavy cream

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

½ teaspoon vanilla

½ cup sugar

¼ cup all purpose flour

Heat oven to 400F. Line 9-inch pie plate with dough. Trim and flute edge.  (Roll out dough scraps and cut shapes for decoration. Sprinkle shapes with sugar, if desired.)

Sprinkle cookie crumbs over bottom of pie shell and chill while preparing topping and filling. For topping: combine all ingredients in a bowl working the butter into the dry ingredients until clumps form. Chill it. For Filling: Place berries and rhubarb in a large bowl. Drizzle with heavy cream, lemon juice and vanilla; gently toss to coat. Add sugar and flour; toss again. Spoon into pie shell. Sprinkle crisp mixture over the top. Bake for 60 to 70 minutes or until pie is bubbling and crust and topping are golden brown. Let cool to room temperature or serve just slightly warm.