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

Self Help or Counseling/Butter or Olive Oil

I love the flower of fresh Thai basil and how it mimics the color of the blackberry jam

I love the flower of fresh Thai basil and how it mimics the color of the blackberry jam and that is a spoonful of Greek yogurt on the side.

Do I need help? That is a question one in mourning may ask over and over again. While there is no universal answer to that one question the chances are if you are asking yourself, “Do I need help?” then you probably do. As a medical professional and prior to my own son’s death I often referred patients to mental health counselors and supportive groups. While in uncomplicated cases one may only need a supportive, nonjudgmental listener to facilitate the normal grief process there are others that need much more. Here are a few questions one should be asking themselves as they travel the grief road.

  • Am I stuck or making progress towards a more joyful life?
  • Am I using addictive substances like alcohol or smoking more than I ever did?
  • Am I over-eating or not eating at all?
  • Do I talk of my loved one as if he/she is still alive?
  • Can I manage my anger or am I self-destructive?
  • Have I thought about harming myself?
  • Have others told me that they think I need help

If you answer “yes” to any of these questions don’t hesitate to seek out grief self-help groups like Compassionate Friends or deeper therapeutic intervention with a professional mental health care provider. There is no shame in seeking help. Remember that losing your loved one is a complete assault on your body, mind and heart. There is no pain like it. If you felt this kind of pain for any other reason you would be running to the doctor. There would be no hesitating. Get what you need to facilitate healing and support your experience.You have a choice.

always loved a good camp fire

lots of healing took place around this firepit

Butter or olive oil. There is a choice when it comes to baking. I love them both, but clearly there is a big difference in taste and texture of the finished product. This recipe was inspired by a lovely bottle of blood orange olive oil. Have you ever gone into one of those shops where you can sample all kinds of olive oils and vinegars? So fun and so filling because I taste many before settling on 1 or 2 to take home.

the one with olive oil

the one with olive oil has a thinner, more fragrant batter

Not quite sure of the science behind it, but the cake made with the olive oil was more moist in a way I can only describe as “juicy”. It was a bit surprising to get that burst of bittersweet blood orange. The butter cake, however, just melted in the mouth with the slightest hint of citrus. It was the hands-down favorite. Speaking of “hands-down” do you remember that board game? I used to love playing that with my kids, but I digress. SIGH.

baked with butter--see the difference in the batter?

baked with butter–see the difference in the batter?

Here is the recipe. Take whichever direction suits you best…..and with those leftover egg yolks make a pudding or custard pie or ice cream…..sounds like a future blog post.

Little Blackberry Almond Cakes

4 egg whites

¼ teaspoon sea salt

½ cup sugar

½ teaspoon vanilla bean powder

1 cup almond flour

1/3 cup all purpose flour

½ cup blood orange olive oil or flavored olive oil of your choice

12 teaspoons blackberry preserves

¼ cup sliced almonds

garnish: powdered sugar, fresh berries

Heat oven 350F. Line a cupcake tin with foil liners or use little mini loaf size baking containers. Beat egg whites and salt to just stiff peaks. With mixer running, gradually add sugar and vanilla bean powder; blending well. Add almond flour, all-purpose flour; blend just until mixed. Add oil and blend until incorporated. Divide batter among prepared muffin cups. Spoon 1 teaspoon preserves into center batter. Sprinkle with almonds. Bake 20 to 25 minutes or until puffed and golden and wooden pick inserted into cake comes out clean. Serve warm or at room temperature. Dust cakes with powdered sugar and garnish with fresh berries. Makes 12 cakes

For Butter version:

Replace oil with ½ cup melted unsalted butter and add grated zest of 1 orange

Joyful Steps & Key Lime Pie Cake

key lime pie cake

Of course, grief comes in many different forms cancer being one of them. Losing ones hair, a breast, a voice….a loss is a loss is a loss. It’s terrifying. I remember Bill’s only fear of being sick was the possibility of leaving his children too soon….fatherless. He never could have imagined he would live only to lose his son. It just is not natural for a parent to lose a child.

722226138110But today we celebrate because we can. The goal continues to be to bring joy back into our lives. One joyful step at a time. It’s Bill’s birthday week and what is not to celebrate. I am so very thankful to have the guy still around. If you need the voice of hope when it comes to cancer one can certainly look towards him. Back in 1998 he was given a 25% chance of surviving 5 years. It’s wonderful to beat the odds. IMG_3059

Let’s eat cake, but not just any cake. We are having tart, pucker power, key lime pie cake. It takes a few steps to put this yummy concoction together, but if you like tart this cake will make you happy. I guarantee! Bake this cake and feel the joy.IMG_3053

Key Lime Pie Cake

Step #1: Make the curd the night before

Key Lime Curd

1 ½ cups sugar

1-cup key lime juice

4 eggs

1 stick unsalted butter, sliced into 8 tablespoons

Whisk sugar, key lime juice and eggs in saucepan over low heat until sugar dissolves. Add butter and continue whisking until curd thickens and begins just to bubble; cook 1 more minute. Remove from heat and strain through a fine mesh to remove any bits of over cooked egg. Cover and chill. Makes 3 cups.

Step #2: Make the cake layers

 Lime Scented Cake

1-cup cake flour

¾ cup all purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

2 sticks unsalted butter, softened

1 ½ cups sugar

grated zest of two limes

4 eggs, room temperature

2 tablespoons key lime juice

Heat oven 350F. Spray three 9-inch cake pans with no-stick baking spray. Line bottom of pans with parchment paper circles. Spray parchment with baking spray. In bowl, whisk both flours, baking powder and salt; set aside. In stand mixer bowl, beat butter, sugar and zest until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Add lime juice; blend well. Fold in flour mixture by hand until fully incorporated. Divide batter evenly among prepared pans. Bake 18 to 20 minutes or until wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Turn out the cakes onto a wire rack, peel off the paper and allow to cool completely.cakeStep #3: Make Frosting

Lime Meringue Buttercream

3 egg whites

10 tablespoons sugar

10 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 tablespoon key lime juice

pinch salt

Place egg whites and sugar in the metal bowl of a stand mixer. Place the bowl over a pan of simmering water. Whisk the egg whites and sugar until the sugar dissolves and the mixture reaches 140F on an instant read thermometer. Transfer bowl to stand mixer and using the whisk attachment at medium speed whisk mixture to stiff peaks. The bowl should now feel cool. Switch whisk attachment to paddle attachment. Reduce speed a notch lower and start adding butter, 1 tablespoon at a time, making sure each tablespoon is well mixed before adding another. It may look curdled, but that is normal. Now beat for 10 to 15 minutes until smooth. Add lime juice and salt; beat well.


Step #4: Assemble Cake

Place 1 cake layer on serving plate. Top with 1/3 of the lime curd. Place second cake layer on top and spread with half of the remaining lime curd. Top with remaining cake layer and remaining curd leaving an edge of about ½-inch. Place about ½ to 1 cup of buttercream into a piping bag with a star tip. Spread remaining buttercream on sides of cake. Pipe buttercream around top edge of cake and at bottom edge. Dust cake rim and sides with finely crushed graham crackers. Serves at least 10 joyful souls.