Birthday Cake Tradition

Happy Birthday, William

Happy Birthday, William

It’s Will’s birthday. He would be 26. I do imagine where he would be and what he would be doing today. For sure he would have blown out some candles and made a wish. Happy birthday, William. This cake is for you. It has lots of warm spices in it and no nuts. Your favorite.

A heartfelt thank you to all who “Willed it” this week. Your stories made me laugh and your good deeds are so appreciated. The best gifts ever. Here are a couple of wonderful messages from some loving friends:

Death leaves a heartache no one can heal, love leaves a memory no one can steal. Gone, but not forgotten.


The heart is the seat of the soul and the center of courage, love and wisdom…wishing you all of these today and always.


Happy Birthday William. You are and always will be much loved.

3 layers

3 layers

Carrot Cake

  • 1/2 cup golden raisins
  • 1/4 cup chopped candied (crystallized) ginger
  • 2 tablespoons Grand Marnier or other orange liqueur or OJ if you don’t like alcohol
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups vegetable oil
  • 4 large eggs
  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 3 cups grated peeled carrots (about 1 pound


  • 2 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 2 tablespoons Madagascar vanilla bean creme fraiche or vanilla yogurt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla powder or extract
  • grated zest of 1 orange
  • 3 cups powdered sugar

For cake:

Preheat oven to 325°F. Lightly spray three 9-inch cake pans with no-stick baking spray. Line bottom of pans with waxed paper. Lightly spray waxed paper. In small bowl, toss raisins, ginger and grand marnier; set aside. Using electric mixer, beat sugar and vegetable oil in bowl until combined. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. In large bowl, sift flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger. With mixer on low speed, gradually add dry ingredients.  Stir in carrots and raisin mixture. Pour batter into prepared pans, dividing equally. Bake until toothpick inserted into center comes out clean and cakes begin to pull away from sides of pans, about 45 minutes. Cool in pans on racks 15 minutes. Turn out cakes onto racks. Remove wax paper. Cool completely. (Can be made 1 or 2 day ahead. Wrap tightly in plastic and store at room temperature.)

For frosting:

Using electric mixer, beat all ingredients in medium bowl until smooth and creamy.

Place 1 cake layer on platter. Spread with 3/4 cup frosting. Top with another cake layer. Spread with 3/4 cup frosting. Top with remaining cake layer. Spread remaining frosting in over sides and top of cake. Chill cake in refrigerator until ready to serve.

Commitment & Torta Rustica

Italian Easter Pie

Italian Easter Pie

Honor, Courage, Commitment. This is the Navy motto. Inspiring words and guiding principles. Imagine what the world would be like if we all valued these three traits in ourselves and in each other. If you follow this blog you’ve already read my views on honor and courage. Today is about commitment and how it helps keep our loved ones alive.


Great Lakes, IL U.S. Navy boot camp

While sailors pledge to keep our country safe grievers can commit to keeping memories of the deceased safe and alive. A healthy way to do this is to continue treasured traditions. Don’t be afraid. It is OK to rummage through old photos talking about your loved one and how much you enjoyed doing certain things with him or her. Really, it is OK. You are not alone in this pursuit.

I have already shared one of my favorite rituals; hiding the pickle ornament in the Christmas tree. It’s a time honored tradition in our home and one that my William loved. I have committed to hiding the pickle every Christmas and remembering the light in his eyes as he discovers it hidden in the tree.

Further, I will continue to bake a birthday cake to honor him on April 22nd. William loved a good birthday cake. Plus baking is so very therapeutic. It’s a simple expression of love. So go ahead. Bake a birthday cake. Light a candle and make a wish. Cut the cake and with each sweet bite, remember how lucky to have had this person in your life.

Recently, my friend Rich wrote about the ritual of coloring Easter eggs with his daughter Meghan. Even though Meghan is gone, just a few short months, Rich found the courage and felt it important to continue the tradition of coloring eggs. He made beautiful eggs in honor of Meghan and his wife Eileen and nested them at their grave site. What a wonderful connection and expression of love.

Torta Rustica

Torta Rustica

Commitment to keeping traditions alive extends into my kitchen. Tomorrow is Easter. Typically, the Italian feast includes ravioli or manicotti in addition to a baked ham or leg of lamb. My mom would also bake rice pies, a sweet bread that contained colored Easter eggs and my favorite….”pizza-gain”. It’s a calorie laden, dough wrapped, cheese-filled meat pie that goes back a long way. Every Italian household has their own version and theirs is the absolute best.

nice slice

nice slice

The following recipe is  a version from Cook’s Country Magazine. I tweaked it here and there to suit my tastes and do recommend testing for doneness with an instant read themometer. I had to bake it an additional 15 minutes to get a nice brown crust and internal temperature of 150F.

Torta Rustica


3 large eggs

3 tablespoons cold water

3 cups (15 ounces) all-purpose flour

1 1/4 teaspoons salt

tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces and chilled

6 tablespoons vegetable shortening, cut into 1/2-inch pieces and chilled (I used lard)


1 tablespoon olive oil

12 ounces broccoli rabe, trimmed and chopped (I used 1 bunch broccolini)

8 ounces hot Italian sausage, casings removed (I used sweet)

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 pound (2 cups) whole-milk ricotta cheese (I used part skim)

4 ounces Pecorino Romano cheese, grated (2 cups)

2 large eggs

1 teaspoon black pepper

8 ounces thinly sliced aged provolone cheese (I used sharp)

6 ounces thinly sliced hot capicola

1 large egg yolk beaten with 1 tablespoon water

FOR THE DOUGH: Whisk eggs and cold water together in bowl; set aside. Process flour and salt in food processor until combined, about 3 seconds. Scatter butter and shortening over top and pulse until only pea-size pieces remain, about 10 pulses. Add egg mixture and pulse until dough ball forms, about 20 pulses. Turn out dough onto lightly floured counter and knead until smooth and elastic, about 20 turns. Divide dough into one 1-pound ball and one 10-ounce ball (roughly into two-thirds and one-third) and form each into 6-inch disk. Wrap disks tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or up to 24 hours.

FOR THE FILLING: Heat oil in 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add broccoli rabe, sausage, and salt and cook, breaking up sausage with spoon, until sausage is cooked through and broccoli rabe is tender, 5 to 7 minutes. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Transfer to plate and let cool completely, about 15 minutes. Whisk ricotta, Pecorino, eggs, and pepper together in large bowl. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 375 degrees. Grease  9-inch round cake pan. Roll 1-pound disk of dough into 14-inch circle on well-floured counter. Loosely roll dough around rolling pin and gently unroll it onto prepared pan, letting excess dough hang over edge. Ease dough into pan by gently lifting and supporting edge of dough with your hand while pressing into pan bottom and sides with your other hand. Leave overhanging dough in place. Shingle half of provolone in bottom of dough-lined pan. Spread ricotta mixture over provolone. Scatter sausage mixture over ricotta mixture and press lightly into even layer. Shingle capicola over sausage mixture, followed by remaining provolone. Roll remaining disk of dough into 10-inch circle on well-floured counter. Brush overhanging dough of bottom crust with egg wash. Loosely roll 10-inch circle around rolling pin and gently unroll it over filling. Trim overhanging top and bottom doughs to 1/2 inch beyond lip of pan and pinch firmly together. Fold overhanging dough inward so folded edge is flush with edge of pan. Crimp dough evenly around edge of pan with tines of fork. Brush top of pie liberally with egg wash. Using paring knife, cut eight 1-inch vents in top of dough in circular pattern. Bake until filling registers 150 degrees in center of pie and crust is golden brown, 35 to 40 minutes. Transfer pie to wire rack and let cool for at least 4 hours or refrigerate for up to 2 days. Remove pie from pan, slice into wedges, and serve.