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.

Friends First Competitors Second

My favorite kitchen helper at work measuring out the hot chocolate mix

One of the big advantages of being a competitive home cook is the meeting of like-minded people. In my recipe contest travels I have been fortunate to make friends all over the country. My competitors inspire me nearly every day with their creativity not only as winning cooks, but also as parents, craftsmen and entrepreneurs. Their ability to juggle family life, full time jobs and their desires to extend themselves even further in finding their passion is remarkable. Today, I just feel lucky to know so many kind and generous ladies and gents some of which I have never even met face to face.

Let me tell you about the award-winning cook and Etsy shop owner Shannon Imlay. Shannon and I are FB friends. I believe I first came to know and admire her in an online cooking group better known as The Real Women of Philadelphia. I will never forget my first impression when seeing her online profile photo and saying, “WOW”. Shannon is strikingly lovely. She is also an extremely talented party hostess and certified floral designer all the while taking care of a special needs son on her own. She is impressive.

Shannon has had her share of grief, but truly maintains a positive outlook on life. Her generosity of spirit never ceases to amaze me. Recently, she kindly sent me a most glamorous and decadent giftbox filled with products from her Etsy shop, Shannon’s Romantic Life. 

I could not wait to try both of her hot chocolate mixes inspired by the romantic-comedy movie Chocolat (thus the spelling of her products). Made from just a few high quality and organic ingredients her sipping chocolate is like none other I have tasted. Rich and creamy this is a luscious dark chocolate blend with just the right amount of sweetness. The Spicy Kiss version has a touch of chipotle chili which adds a smokey subtle burn in the back of the throat which was thoroughly enjoyed. All you have to do to make this decadent drink is add milk, whisk and bring to a boil.

If you need a gift (Easter & Mother’s Day) or a reason to spoil yourself then check out Shannon”s Romantic Life on Etsy. Everything in Shannon’s shop is crafted with love, kindness and the highest quality ingredients. She is also very happy to customize any order.

one of the many beautiful pieces Shannon makes…customized with me in mind

Elderberry Honeycomb Cream Pie

It’s that time of year when I look forward to getting my hands into the dirt. Seed and garden catalogs pile up on the coffee table with dog-eared pages and the outdoor thermometer is the first thing I check upon rising every morning. I long for the final frost of the season and dream of a healthy, productive garden.

A flock of red wing black birds took a break in the backyard today. It’s exciting to see the promise of spring in this way. The bluebirds are very busy making nests and it’s clear among the deer herd who will be giving birth in a couple of months. With snow still on the ground it is hard to imagine that there will be flowers blooming any time soon, but sure as the day is long, the bees will come and pollinate it all. It helps that I don’t use any chemicals in my yard. The bees and the butterflies flourish. We all benefit.

This pie is inspired by a recipe I saw in a book written by my all time favorite baker, Rose Levy Beranbaum. If I had a girl crush it would be on her. One of the first cookbooks I ever owned was her Cake Bible and I still treasure that book today. Rose’s version of this Bavarian cream pie naturally highlights honey, but I chose to change it up a bit with some blueberry elderberry preserves and elderflower syrup from Norm’s Farms. A baked cookie crust holds all the buzz worthy goodness. Isn’t it amazing what one can do with bubble wrap!

Elderberry Honeycomb Cream Pie

1 (9-inch) shortbread or graham cracker crust)

½ cup Norm’s Farms Blueberry Elderberry Preserves

4 egg yolks plus 1 egg white

1/3 cup plus ½ cup Norm’s Farms Elderflower Syrup

2 ¼ teaspoons plain gelatin

1/8 teaspoon salt

1 cup milk

1/8 teaspoon lemon juice

½ cup heavy cream

Edible candy bees, optional (I piped mine with melted dark chocolate)

1 (9-inch circle) bubble wrap with small size bubbles 

If not using a store-bought crust, prepare, bake and cool homemade cookie crust. Spread preserves over bottom of crust. In small saucepan, whisk egg yolks, 1/3 cup elderflower syrup, gelatin and salt. In microwave safe measure, heat milk to just a simmer. Whisking constantly, very gradually add hot milk to egg yolk mixture until fully blended. Place saucepan over medium heat. Whisking constantly bring mixture just to a simmer. Do not boil. It should be slightly thickened. Strain custard through a sieve into a small metal bowl. To speed chilling, place bowl in another bowl of ice water; set aside. Meanwhile, in another small bowl, beat egg white and lemon juice to stiff peaks. Using same beaters, in another bowl, beat heavy cream to soft peaks. Stir elderflower mixture until it is cool and thick enough to slightly mound when small amount is dropped from spoon. Fold in egg white and whipped cream. Pour into pie crust; smooth top. Press bubble wrap, bubble side down, over cream filling. Freeze at least 3 hours or as long as overnight. In small saucepan, bring remaining ½ cup of elderflower syrup to a low boil. Simmer syrup until reduced and just turns a shade darker amber color. Let cool slightly, but still fluid. Carefully remove bubble wrap from frozen pie. Drizzle syrup over pie. Place pie in refrigerator to thaw at least 1 hour before serving. Garnish as desired. Serves 8.

❤ Happy Spring ❤