Sunday, December 22, 2013

Chocolate Cream Pie and The Magic of Waiting

I recently found the Ever So Humble Pie Company in Walpole, Massachusetts, quite by accident. I happened to be in the building and was lured in by the wonderful smells of freshly baked goods.   I was therefore quite surprised, and somewhat disappointed, when told that the company is a frozen pie company. As in, you cannot purchase a slice of pie or a fresh whole pie to take home. You can purchase a thaw and serve pie, or a ready-to-bake frozen pie, and there are a few fresh scones or donuts if you simply cannot wait for your dessert treat.  Still not understanding why they couldn't just sell me one of the delicious-smelling pies that just came out of their giant ovens,  I decided on a thaw and serve individual chocolate cream pie and took it home to defrost.

I must say, it was definitely worth the wait.  The crust was a true graham cracker crust, quite tasty and of good consistency. The chocolate filling was delicious.  I had never had anything quite like it; it reminded me of chocolate cake batter, and it was quite decadent to be eating a pie filled with it.  The topping was a sweet cream that tasted like a cross between whipped cream and sweet heavy cream, with a sprinkling of chocolate shavings.  I thoroughly enjoyed my pie from the Ever So Humble Pie Company, despite the fact that I had to wait to eat it!

In our current world of instant downloads and the anytime, any day, anywhere availability of practically everything over the internet, there are few things we actually wait for these days.

Santa is something that we do wait for.  I believe a child's excitement over Santa's arrival is probably still the same now as it was years and years ago.  I still remember my excitement over Santa's impending arrival, that butterfly-in-the-stomach feeling upon going to bed on Christmas Eve and the joy of bounding out of bed when morning finally came.

One year, however, Santa showed up early.

I was five years old.  We had recently moved from the Bronx and the family was having Christmas Eve in our house in the suburbs.  I remember that at some point during the night my father said that he thought there was a knock at the front door.  No one ever used our front door, so this, in and of itself, was surprising.  We gathered near the front door and heard someone outside. The door opened and, quite unbelievably, there was Santa.

I still remember the awe and surprise and shock.  Santa came in with a big ho ho ho and someone grabbed a chair for him.  He sat down and talked to my brother and I, and he knew our names.  He gave us each one present, which he pulled out of a big sack, and told us that he was just making a quick stop on our street, but that he would be back while we were sleeping.  And then he waved to everyone at our house, and he left.

It was positively unexpected and incredible.  Santa had actually knocked on our door, had visited our house! Why had he chosen us?  Maybe it was because we were in our new house.  Maybe the timing was just right.  Maybe we had been extra good that year.  Either way, it was magical.

I remember listening for the doorbell or a knock at the front door in subsequent years on Christmas Eve, but I don't remember Santa coming back while we were awake.  And for that, I am kind of grateful, because it was really special.  It remains, forever in my memory, The Year that Santa Knocked on My Door.  

The best things, the special things, are often one of a kind.  Fast forward to a different decade, a different time and place.  I was visiting the Vatican in Rome. I had been to the Vatican once before, but this time, there was a special prayer space set up behind some curtains.  People waited in line to go in and say a prayer.  We were running out of time, but I really wanted to go into the prayer space.  We took the time, waited in line, and finally went in. And inside that space was a sense of peace and grace that I cannot describe.  

When we came out of the prayer space a little while later we met up with our tour guide.  "There's something about that place," she said.  "People leave things there, I don't know what it is, but there's something about it."  It was somehow reassuring, and confirming, that someone else was echoing what I felt. I was grateful that I had been a part of it. That I had waited for it. 

May this holiday season provide you with moments of magic worth waiting for. 

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Hot Chocolate and Holiday Moments

I had the best hot chocolate last week.  I took a break from outlet shopping and went into a Godiva chocolate shop.  Seeing an enticing photo display of a giant drink with mounds of whipped cream and caramel drizzle, I pointed to the photo and said, "I'll have that." 

"Hot or cold?" asked the sales clerk.  "Umm, hot," I replied.  

I was somewhat disappointed, therefore, when five minutes later he handed me a small, covered hot beverage cup that looked no more exciting than an ordinary cup of coffee.  

"But I ordered the caramel hot chocolate," I said, pointing at the sign.  

"That's the cold version.  You ordered the hot version."

Live and learn.  So I took my small, hot beverage, took off my gloves and went outside in search of an outdoor bench.  And I was surprised to find that this ordinary, no frills cup was quite possibly the best cup of hot chocolate I have had in years.  It was exactly the right temperature, not scalding to hold in bare hands but still hot enough to warm you up on a cold day.  The mix of caramel and chocolate was smooth and perfect, seamlessly blended to create one flavor, one experience.  The best part of all was that it tasted . . . real.  It did not have that after-taste of powdered flavoring, nor was it dwarfed by mounds of sweet accompaniments.  It was, simply, a good cup of deliciously warm caramel hot chocolate.  I drank it all.   

That simple cup got me thinking about simple holiday moments.  There's a lot of fanfair that unfortunately accompanies the winter holidays.  For instance, my black Friday shopping experience at a local department store this year featured a loud and chipper DJ spinning tunes at 5:30 in the morning.  My inbox practically screams at me every day, announcing the biggest sale yet, the best present yet, a fabulous new recipe, and that anxiety-inducing countdown. None of this, of course, has anything to do with the real reasons for the Christmas season or the Hanukkah season, but we are all lured in, caught up in the frenzy, rushing around to nowhere.  

The holidays mean different things to all of us;  maybe it's Christmas Eve church service that means the most, or opening presents with the family, or the lighting of candles.  Maybe it's a delicious holiday meal, or good wine with good friends.  I have found, as I have gotten older, that amidst the pressure of getting it all done, taking advantage of those sales, trying really hard to get presents that actually mean something and don't just take up space underneath the tree, that small moments stand out.  And of course, they have nothing to do with the aforementioned frenzy.  One year, it was sharing one of our beloved holiday traditions with my son's second grade class--telling the tale of our treasured replica skating pond, complete with miniature plastic skaters, inherited by me from my grandfather, and not found anywhere else in the world but my family room.  One year it was singing O Holy Night at Christmas Eve Mass, several steps too high because the organist had forgotten the right setting, and feeling like my voice was soaring as I sang better than I ever thought I could.  Another year it was sitting down amidst the chaos of preparations to sing, really loudly, arm in arm with my three kids, a song from our beloved Partridge Family Christmas album.  Another favorite moment for me, always, is that first taste of a spinach crepe or pepperoni pinwheel or stuffed clam at my childhood home which for me, are the hallmarks of happy childhood memories of the holidays.

One holiday moment that I would like to share happened the first year that I did not return to my childhood home for Christmas Eve, which had always featured a cast of thousands and food that went on for days.  I was newly married, and we had devised a system where each family would get its share of the holidays, and then the next year it would rotate so that we would eventually spend each holiday with both sides of the family.  

So, for my first Christmas Eve away from my childhood home, I was doing something new.  It was to be a small formal dinner at my husband's grandmother's house, to begin after the four o'clock Mass.  There would be only ten of us in attendance.  Somewhat homesick already, I believe I asked if anyone else would be coming.  My husband replied, in a somewhat perplexed manner, that no, why would anyone else be coming?  

"No one drops by? Long lost friends? More relatives?" I asked.  

"Nope, just us.  That's the way we always do it." 

We went to Mass, and had a very nice dinner, and I got to participate in someone else's tradition that year, which involved a formal dinner followed by presents and holiday stockings which apparently dated back to my husband's childhood, and I was happy to find that I now had a stocking too.  It was all very nice, but still very new, and still, not how I had grown up celebrating.  

At some point that night, my husband and his brothers and their girlfriends were in the kitchen and an old fashioned, 1940's holiday song was playing on the stereo.  I don't remember how it started, or who's idea it was, but at some point, we all started dancing, almost waltzing really, right there in the kitchen. It was Christmas Eve and I was sharing a dance with the person that I was going to spend the rest of my life with.  

And as we were twirling around the kitchen together I remember thinking, this, this moment right here, is a great way to celebrate Christmas.  

Have a sweet week!

Sunday, December 8, 2013

A Cake Pop and a Dinner Stop

I promised another story about a random act of kindness for this week, and in keeping with that theme, I decided to review another Starbucks treat, since last week's review of the Starbucks Cranberry Bliss Bar is where this all began.  
Have you seen the Peppermint Brownie Cake Pop at Starbucks?  It is quite festive!  It's a round, white chocolate pop sprinkled with candy cane pieces and crystalized sugar.  Inside is a soft, chewy brownie.  I loved the candy cane pieces and chunks of sugar on the outside of the pop.  I was initially skeptical about putting peppermint candy cane with a brownie, but the combination of flavors actually worked well.  By the time you bite through the candy cane/sugar, and the white chocolate shell, the peppermint flavor is muted enough not to overpower the brownie.  The brownie cake center is chocolatey, and soft and chewy, although I must say it was a little bit softer than I anticipated.  As I do not have that much experience with cake pops, I am wondering if this is true of all cake pops or just Starbucks.  I will have to do some investigating! 

On to my next random act of kindness story!  This happened to me last spring at Disney World in Florida.  

I was getting dinner for two of my children at Casey's in the Magic Kingdom. If you've never been there, it's basically a large hot dog and fries place with outdoor seating only.  The seating area can be quite crowded, especially if there is a castle show or parade about to start.  So that night, we bought our food and drinks and looked around for a place to sit.  It was packed, but there was a standing-only table where the three of us could stand around and eat. We put our food down, and continued to scout for a table.  After some time, I noticed a family leaving a table and told my son to run over and grab it, and we would follow with all of the food and drinks and bags.

He went off, and my daughter and I carefully loaded up hot dogs, fries, and drinks and maneuvered through the crowd.  When I got to the table about twenty seconds later, my son was indeed sitting, but there were also two adults and two children filling out the rest of the table.  I asked him what happened and he told me that after he sat down, the family had just come over and taken all of the remaining chairs. He looked rather uncomfortable. I explained to the man now sitting with my son, that my son had gotten the table for us while I collected our food.  He looked at me and said, "Well he didn't have any food and we have our food here now, so it's our table."  I again explained that my son was sitting down first, and that we obviously were bringing food to the table, as we were still carrying all of the food and drinks, and that I couldn't believe he would just sit down with someone else's child. He insisted that it was now his table, and his family proceeded to begin eating.  

I was torn between complete exasperation that someone had done this to a twelve year old, and panic at the fact that we were now standing in a huge crowd with nowhere to go with our food.  I looked back over to our standing table and saw that indeed, while we were arguing with the man, someone had taken our standing table, and now there really was nowhere at all to go.  

It was one of those moments when you are almost paralyzed by indignation and frustration.  I was standing in the middle of a packed seating area, loaded down with food, my son sitting in the middle of a family that had no regard for us and refused to move, and I really didn't know what to do.  As I was trying in vain to think of something else that I could say, knowing full well that nothing that I said would have made a difference, a woman suddenly swooped in.  "We're done, you can have our table," she said.  

She led me to an area a few tables away, and pointed at a pre-teen boy who was eating a giant chili dog.  "You go ahead and finish that," she said to him, "And these nice people are going to join you."  I asked her if it was really okay and she insisted that we should take the table.  I thanked her repeatedly.  

So the three of us sat down and introduced ourselves to the young man eating his chili dog.  "Your mother is a very nice woman," I told him.  "She's not my mother.  She's my stepmom's mom.  It's complicated," he said.  "Well, she's a very nice person," I repeated.  He was an incredibly polite, well-mannered young man.  We found out that his family was from Louisiana, and we enjoyed chatting with him, and even shared a joke or two. When we were done eating we stood up to leave and wished him a good trip.  As we left the area, I saw the woman who had given up the table, and she waved and smiled.  I noticed that she was standing at one of the standing-only tables, and that some members of her family were still eating, standing up.  

I don't know why the woman gave her table up for me. Maybe she saw my frustration.  Maybe she saw what had happened and wanted to help. Whatever the reason was, I was incredibly thankful in that moment, that someone noticed, and that someone cared.  I was even more thankful, and incredulous, when I saw that she had not really been finished eating. She had made a sacrifice for me, and for my kids. 

So thank you, kind woman from Louisiana. Whenever I recall how I felt that day, alone with my kids and feeling bullied into giving up our table, I think of you, and how you turned an unpleasant situation into something else.  And when I tell the story, you are the star. 

That's the power of kindness.  

Have a great week.      

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Cranberry Bliss Bars. And an Opal.

'Tis the season for the Cranberry Bliss Bar at Starbucks!  This beloved dessert makes its appearance around this time every year.  It is never around for very long, so you can't wait on it; you have to seek it out and enjoy it as if it might be gone tomorrow, because it very well might be!  These bars are small, triangle-shaped treats, with a blondie-cake crust bursting with white chocolate chunks.  The cake is topped with a sweet cream cheese icing, and layered with sweet cranberries.  It is a perfect mixture of flavors, as the cream cheese icing plays off of the white chocolate chunks and the cranberries add a tart sweetness in every bite.  It's a one-of-a-kind dessert, found only at Starbucks, and trust me, if you try it, you won't be disappointed.  

The Cranberry Bliss Bar always makes me think about random acts of kindness.  A few years ago, when ordering one at my local Starbucks, the barista gave me two bars, simply because the first one she put in the bag broke in half.  "No one should have to eat a broken Cranberry Bliss Bar," she said.  It was one of those unexpected moments of kindness that can happily change the course of your day.

I would like to share another random act of kindness story.  Actually, I have two, but I will save one for next week.  The first story was shared with me a few years ago, and takes place in a store during the holiday shopping season. Here's what happened.

A customer walked into a jewelry store in the hopes of selling some jewelry.  It was about a month before Christmas.  Gold was selling high at the time, and the woman had lots of forgotten jewelry--broken chains, earrings without a match, old bracelets, and some necklaces that were actually in very good shape, but which she never wore.  A sales clerk came over to wait on her, and the customer unpacked all of her unwanted jewelry.  As the sales clerk began to inventory the pieces, she noted that some of them were really beautiful.  "I know," said the customer. "I just never wear them anymore." 

The two women continued to talk as the sales clerk packaged up all of the jewelry to be appraised. She happened to admire a very nice ring that the customer was wearing, and the customer said that her husband had gotten it for her for one of their anniversaries.  The sales clerk said that he had really good taste.  

Looking through the rest of the jewerly, the customer shared that one of the earrings she had brought in was a particular favorite, but she had lost its match and she hated not being able to wear it anymore. The sales clerk said that she knew how that felt, to lose a piece of jewelry, and told the customer the story of her opal ring.

Her father had given her the ring.  It was a simple gold ring with a lovely opal set in the center.  He had passed away some years ago, and the sales clerk treasured the ring in remembrance of him.  The sales clerk pointed out similar opals in the glass case, explaining the size and color of her beloved opal ring.  

One day, the sales clerk said, she had realized that the opal was missing from its center setting.  She realized that she must have lost it in her car, and she tore the car apart looking for it, but she never found it. She kept the ring with its empty prongs, and wished she had been able to find the opal so that she could wear the ring.  Especially because it reminded her of her father.  But she never did find it.

"You should buy another opal and have it set in the ring," said the customer. "The jeweler here would probably be able to help you out with that."

The sales clerk explained that her husband would not let her buy an opal to replace the one she lost.

"Maybe he'll buy one for you," said the customer.

"No, he won't," said the sales clerk. "But at least I still have the ring."

The appraisals were finished soon after.  The customer decided which pieces she wanted to sell, and she left with a check, thanking the sales clerk for all of her help.  

A few weeks later, just before Christmas, the customer returned to the store and specifically asked for the sales clerk she had worked with.  The sales clerk remembered her and greeted her with a warm smile.  

The customer said, "I have a gift for you," and placed a small box on the counter. The sales clerk looked at her, puzzled, and opened the box.  

Inside the box was an opal.  

"I hope it's the right size," said the customer.  "Here's the name of the store where I bought it. The jeweler there said he will set it for you, and if it's not the right size, he will give you a credit and get you one that will match your ring."  The sales clerk was shocked and said she couldn't accept such a gift. But the customer insisted, saying that the opal was specifically for her, and that now she could wear her ring again.  The women exchanged hugs, and a few tears, and then the customer left the store.  And the two women never saw each other again.

Why did the customer buy the clerk that opal?  Maybe it was because she felt guilty, selling unwanted jewelry and talking about her husband's gifts, while the sales clerk could not even get permission to purchase an opal for herself. Maybe it was because she felt sad, sad that the sales clerk had lost her father, and had lost the opal, the best reminder that she had of her father. Maybe it was because the holidays were coming and she wanted to do something that would make someone happy.  

Who really knows why people commit random acts of kindness?  I think the best random acts probably don't involve a lot of forethought.  For the woman who bought the opal, there were probably a hundred reasons not to do it.  But she did it anyway.  And her act changed two lives, on that day, and in that moment. 

It's like the Cranberry Bliss Bar.  The chance to make someone's day might be gone tomorrow.  Why not take that chance?  

Stay tuned for another random act of kindness story next week! 

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Vintage Cupcakes and Kindness

It's throwback week at Inspirational Sweets!  I recently enjoyed a "Hostess" style cupcake at Treat Cupcake Bar in Needham, Massachusetts.  This cupcake looks just like the Hostess cupcakes we remember from childhood, but it's much, much better!  It's a big chocolate cupcake, probably twice as big as a store-bought Hostess cupcake, topped with chocolate ganache and a delicate white icing design.  It was filled with vanilla frosting.  The cake was very chocolately and very moist, and the vanilla filling was deliciously sweet.  I always liked Hostess cupcakes but I loved this cupcake.  It was like Hostess had gone to heaven.

It was nice to be reminded of a favorite childhood snack.  Whether or not Hostess cupcakes are still on the shelves (I believe they are) and despite wonderful reminders like the one from Treat, I still tend to think of Hostess cupcakes as a beloved dessert of the past.  Perhaps it's more accurate to say that they are a beloved dessert of my past.  For me, they were a favorite lunchbox treat, or an after-school treat, stuck in the 1970's with other favorites of that decade, like metal lunch boxes, ponchos, or Sno Cones from the ice cream truck.

I have a story that dates way back into the past, even farther back than the 1970's.  It happened over fifty years ago, and although it takes place in the past, its message reaches far into the present. 

A girl who was about fifteen years old unexpectedly became ill and had to miss school. At first the girl was really sick, and could not leave the house.  But then the girl slowly began to get better.  After some time, she was probably well enough to return to school.  But so much time had passed, and now she didn't want to go back at all.  She had gotten very used to being at home, and very used to not being at school.  Days went by and she remained at home. This went on for some time.  But at some point, her parents insisted that she had to go back.  She had been home for forty-five days.

And so, back to school she went, feeling very reluctant and out of sorts.  

There was another girl in school who was not a stranger to staying home.  In fact, she was sick quite often.  She missed school all the time, and everyone knew about it. There were rumors that maybe it was leukemia or some other very serious illness.  

So at lunchtime, the first girl, who had been gone for forty-five days, uneasily sat down in the cafeteria and got ready to eat her lunch, thinking that she would probably rather be anywhere else than in that cafeteria.  And then, she felt a hand on her shoulder.  

It was the girl who was always sick, who was always missing school.  They were not particularly friends, but suddenly there she was, on that very difficult day, the first day back.

"I understand," the girl told her. 

She went on to say that she knew exactly how it felt, getting back to school, and that it wasn't easy.  "But every day, it will feel a little bit better," she said. "You just have to keep coming."

It was a very small thing to do.  A hand on a shoulder, a few sentences of encouragement.  But what an impact it had.  It really helped, in that very difficult moment, decades ago, in a high school cafeteria.  And it is remembered, in great detail, to this day. So many moments, so many conversations, so many events, big and small, surely fade away as time goes by.  But this one selfless moment, this one unexpected moment of compassion and empathy, has the power to remain.  It can be brought back like it was yesterday, even though it happened over fifty years ago.  

Acts of kindness have great power.  And no expiration date.  

Have a sweet week.  And Happy Thanksgiving!

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Carrot Cake Ice Cream and Other Disappointments

After months and months of reviewing desserts, this will be my first critique of a less than stellar ice cream flavor.  I hesitate to post a critical review, but I have decided that dessert choices are not immune to disappointment, and there's probably no point in pretending otherwise. 

Today I tried the Carrot Cake ice cream from JP Licks.  I used it in a sundae, with hot caramel and whipped cream, thinking that caramel would pair nicely with Carrot Cake ice cream.  The pairing was fine, but the ice cream was not. I think I expected a nice, sweet-cream based ice cream, with perhaps cheesecake flavoring, tiny pieces of carrots, maybe some graham cracker gratuitously thrown in.  In actuality, it was like eating a chunky piece of carrot cake which had magically been turned into ice cream--and not in a good way. There were giant pieces of carrot.  The carrot was crunchy. There were large raisins.  I think there were nuts but I can't be sure.  The ice cream itself was pretty good--it seemed to be a cinnamon or nutmeg flavored ice cream.  But all of the chunky pieces were just too much.  It's odd and unsatisfying to get a mouthful of smooth ice cream, whipped cream, and caramel, and find yourself munching on a piece of carrot.  In the end,  I was left scooping the caramel from the sides and avoiding the ice cream refuse in the middle.  The caramel, thankfully, was quite good.

Yes, every now and then you get a dessert that disappoints.  And similarly, life can disappoint us, at many times and in many ways.  No one said it would be easy, right? I find that the older we get, the more difficult things can seem. Struggles appear and multiply, within our own lives and those around us.  It's at the most difficult times that I have found that the small moments are the most important. It's easy to overlook them, especially when things are darkest.  But the small moments are always there, and they can keep us going, even if you have to look hard for them.  Especially when you do.

For me, the small moments that bring comfort are things like taking the dog out into a quiet backyard and looking at, really looking at, the leaves on the trees.  Seeing an elderly neighbor with white hair, just like my paternal grandmother had, lovingly tend to her garden.  Dancing with my kids at an open air concert under the stars.  A good conversation with my sister.  Taking a moment to do something for someone else who is hurting.  These things can bring peace and momentary escape from whatever clouds your mind.  

A few years ago I was at a family party, which turned into something of a family reunion.  Many of us had not seen each other in years and it was great to catch up and connect again.  I ended up spending some time talking to a cousin who was in the midst of a very difficult time.  I told him that I felt that things get harder as we get older, and that we have to celebrate the good moments as they come and hold onto those.  He looked around at all the family members in the room and said, "This is a good moment."  

It was one of the last things he said to me, as he passed away not long after that day.  I hold onto the fact that we shared that connection during our conversation and that he felt the happiness and warmth in that room, as I did. I am thankful that he had that moment.  

As we go through life, especially as we age and become the ones who bear the weight for others, we have to look for those moments.  Celebrate the good in each other.  Enjoy the leaves on the trees, warm socks, the laughter of a child, a dazzling blue sky.  Relish a really good cup of tea, a beautiful song, a warm hug, a heartfelt conversation.  And if your ice cream sundae disappoints, well, enjoy what was good about it and go get another one.  There's plenty of sweet things in this world to keep us inspired.  Just keep looking.  

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Pumpkin Pie Cupcakes and Other Things We Take for Granted

I recently had the pleasure of trying the Pumpkin Pie cupcake from Treat Cupcake Bar in Needham, Massachusetts.  It's a simple cupcake--pumpkin spice cake with cinnamon cream cheese frosting.  Perhaps it's the simplicity, perhaps it's the combination of flavors, but this is a very high quality cupcake. The pumpkin cake is really moist and has a wonderful flavor. It almost seems as if you're having a really good slice of pumpkin bread instead of indulging in a cupcake.  The cake is topped with just enough frosting; some bakeries use too much frosting which frankly can take away from the cupcake experience. Not so with Treat, it's the right amount to balance the high quality cake.  The cinnamon flavor mixes perfectly with the cream cheese frosting;  you might not automatically think about putting cinnamon with a cream cheese frosting, but it really works. The sweetness of the cinnamon breaks up the richness of the frosting quite nicely, and adds a particular emphasis of flavor. Rich but not too rich, I love this frosting, and it matched perfectly with the pumpkin cake.  

I realized today that somehow, Treat has not yet made an appearance on my blog, despite the fact that I have eaten more cupcakes than I can count from Treat.  I decided that perhaps I was taking Treat for granted; just because Treat is a given for me, doesn't mean that it shouldn't be highlighted and given its day on my blog.  

My visit to Treat got me thinking about all of the other things we take for granted.  And primarily, the people that we take for granted.  More than any other person in the world, I think it's really easy to take your mom for granted.  

Your mom is your constant.  She may not see the world the way you do, but she was there when you were just discovering what the world was.  She is there for every triumph and defeat; she imprints them on her heart and can recall each one, years after you've forgotten them all.  You can behave at your worst with your mom because, after all, she's your MOM.  She's always going to love you. She's always going to be there for you, because that's just what she does and who she is.  Whether you are at your best or your worst, she is there. Whether you are five or twenty five or fifty-five, you mom is still your mom. She knew you before anyone else did.

Yes, we have Mother's Day, where we purchase fancy cards and perhaps flowers or small gifts. We have birthdays and holidays where perhaps we celebrate Mom, and we have those moments in life where we find a reason to say thank you. But for every moment we do celebrate, there are countless other moments that go unnoticed, un-recoginzed, un-celebrated. Because being a mom, after all, is the most full-time, all-consuming job there is.

So today, I would like to thank my Mom for a few things.  It's just the tip of the iceberg.  But it's a start.

Thanks for painting flowers on my bedroom furniture. 

Thanks for typing all of my college applications.

Thanks for all the birthday cakes, the ones with the coconut that I always said I liked the best, and the other fancy ones, that took you much more time to make.  Thanks for the fancy cupcakes you always sent to school.  They truly were the best.

Thanks for telling me, freshman year in high school, that everything would turn out okay (it did).

Thanks for being interested in the classical music I was playing on the piano, even though you had never been interested in classical music before.

Thanks for all the great Christmas Eves. 

Thanks for competing on a game show with me.

Thanks for always being excited to hear every detail about your grandchildren's lives.

Thanks for nagging me to write an honors thesis in college, because even though I chose not to, I appreciate why you did it and that you cared enough to do it.

Thanks for learning to drive. 

Thanks for driving me everywhere, years later, when I was too busy to get my license.  

Thanks for making me feel better when my second grade teacher made me feel worse.

Thanks for always watching my performances. Well into my forties.  

Thanks for the pottery you made me in ceramics class while you were a teacher's aide.  I still have it all.  

Thanks for letting me be me, always.

Have a sweet week, everyone!

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Pies and Pies

My son has frequently asked me why I haven't reviewed pie on my blog, since I mention pies in the blog description.  I decided he was right and I searched the internet for some good pie recommendations in the Boston area. I was happy to find Petsi Pies in Somerville.  The glowing reviews were well earned. Just walking into Petsi Pies, you know you're about to have something good; it smells like bakery heaven.  I tried the Brown Butter Pecan and the Apple Crumb pies.  What I think sets Petsi Pies apart is the pie crust.  Impossibly buttery, not too flaky and not too dense, the crust itself could serve as a dessert.  The pecan filling in the Brown Butter Pecan had an abundance of candied pecans, plus plenty of butter, sugar and what tasted like maple flavor; it was sweet and substantial, and worked really well with the buttery crust. The apple crumb was equally good, with fresh, cooked apples on the inside and a butter/sugar crumb topping that was much more delicious than the traditional apple pie crust topping.  This will not be my last visit to Petsi Pies.

A pie review gives me an opportunity to talk about my grandmother, who was an expert at making a different kind of pie.  I'm not sure if her pie recipe ever had a proper name, but we always called them, simply, "the pies."  I guess you could call them covered pizzas;  they were made of a thin crust, folded over, and filled with paired fillings such as broccoli and sausage, meat and spinach, olives and onions.  They were not calzones, but big, rectangular, "pies" which were cut into squares and served at room temperature.  My grandmother would spend the better part of an entire day making them and they were always delicious.  They did not exist anywhere else in the world except in her kitchen;  the pies were not something that you could find in any restaurant or on any menu.  I remember there was one family event where people were toasting my grandparents--it must have been a birthday or an anniversary.  My mother's cousin made a speech and mentioned how amazing my grandmother's pies were, and I remember thinking, wow, someone else outside of my immediate family loves the pies as much as I do; someone knew about them and had loved them, before I was even born.  It always seemed like they existed just for us.  I think that's the hallmark of a great recipe, that it seems like it's made just for you.

At some point in my adult life I decided that I needed to write down the recipes for the pies and preserve them.  During a weekend visit I impulsively grabbed the closest thing to paper I could find, which turned out to be the back of a greeting card, and had my grandmother recite how to make the pies. And then we made them.  This was my grandmother and I, that day:

I still have the recipe for the pies, still on that greeting card.  As it turns out, the pies are one of the very few Italian family recipes that my dairy-allergic daughter can eat, since these don't contain any dairy products.  I make them every Christmas.  My pies are not as good as my grandmother's, but every year I try a little harder to get them right. 

I lost my grandmother about four or five years after I recorded the recipe, when I was 32 years old.  I very clearly remember the day of her funeral; I remember looking around at the people that were there to pay tribute to her as I listened to the words of the service.  And I remember thinking that life, really, is all about love.  She was loved, I thought, as I sat there.  It's not about the job you had or your awards or accomplishments or your resume. It's about the love.

It kind of takes away some of the stresses of life, I think, when you focus on that.  It's the relationships that we share that end up meaning the most.  It's the love that is the legacy. 

And pies.

Thanks Grandma.  

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Sugar Waffles and a Smile

I had the pleasure of trying a Sugar Waffle last week.  Sugar Waffles are like miniature, sweet belgian waffles.  Max Brenner's in New York City (and locations worldwide) serves them with an assortment of toppings and flavors. I had the  Banana Split Waffle,  which was a waffle topped with carmelized bananas and sugar crispies.  It was served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream topped with milk chocolate ganache, and also a small bowl of "choco-pops" which are little balls of chocolate.  I loved this dessert!  There is something quite addicting about these waffles; they are just the right thickness and texture, and have a sweetness that is more flavorful than plain sugar.   The sliced bananas were coated with a thin layer of the type of sweet coating you find on a good creme brulee. The sugar crispies added a nice crunch and the ice cream tied it all together. The choco-pops, although good on their own, didn't add that much to the dessert as the bananas, ice cream, and sweet waffles were really all that the dessert needed.  I am now a big fan of sweet waffles.

While I was in New York City I had the opportunity to walk through Washington Square Park.  There is a great vibe in Washington Square Park and the park is filled with native New Yorkers and tourists alike, musicians, speakers, artists, and more.  In the middle of it all was a homeless man seated on a bench with a cardboard sign which read, simply, "Wanted. Smiles." Breaking my longstanding rule never to make eye contact with strangers in New York City, (the origins of which I can't recall),  I smiled at the man.

He was talking to someone leaning over his bench.  It took him a few seconds to register that I was paying attention to his sign, and I could see the moment when he figured it out.  His entire face changed, he broke out a huge smile, and yelled a thank you to me.  Which was followed by a God bless you and more big smiles. Which I returned, and then continued on my way. 

Some might say that he was just looking for money. Or that his sign was a part of some kind of scam in the making.  But I think it was something else. The man who had the sign in the park is no different from anyone, really. We're all trying to be noticed in some way.  Kids want attention from their parents or teachers or coaches.  Spouses want attention from their partners. We hope to be recognized at our jobs for hard work, innovation and dedication; we look for that raise or a promotion or a positive review.  Maybe we're musicians or writers or artists and we want praise or publication for our creative works.  We run for office, we serve on committees, we join community groups and book clubs and share our ideas.  We tweet and text and we send our photos over the internet and count our "likes" and "followers" and "facebook friends." We all crave acknowledgement and reinforcement in this world, that acknowledgement which says yes, I have noticed what you're doing.  I see YOU.  

I think that's all the man wanted. 

Have a great week.  

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Peanut Butter Euphoria and Parenting

I recently had the opportunity to visit Max Brenner Restaurant in New York City.  Walking into Max Brenner is like walking into a chocolate factory, complete with large vats of churning chocolate.  The dessert offerings at Max Brenner include sundaes, milkshakes, fondue, and sweet waffles, many with various forms of chocolate and some without.  I tried the Euphoria Peanut Butter Chocolate Fudge Sundae.  Deep chocolate peanut butter ice cream and dulce de leche ice cream, carmelized toffee bananas, chocolate chunks, spiced peanuts, whipped cream and hazelnut pieces, served with warm chocolate peanut butter and warm milk chocolate ganache.  It was a lovely experience! The peanut butter and chocolate sauces were served alongside the sundae in two small bowls, which I welcomed as dipping sauces instead of sundae toppings.  I very much enjoyed the toffee bananas and chocolate chunks, and although I am a huge peanut butter and chocolate fan, I found myself wishing for more of the dulce de leche ice cream, which broke up the strong chocolate flavors nicely.  I thoroughly enjoyed this dessert, as well as the presentation. Max Brenner's makes all of its desserts look like an art form; it was as enjoyable to look at as it was to eat.

I visited Max Brenner's with my husband and oldest child, who is now a freshman in college.  It was Freshman Parents Weekend, and for me, it was filled with reminiscing on what it means to be a parent and what happens along the journey.

I have a memory from a family vacation when my daughter was eight years old.  It was just after dinner and while riding the hotel elevator, I noticed that her outfit was covered in whatever she had had for dessert. Disappointed, I started lecturing her on doing a better job of keeping food off of her clothes.

There was one other person in the elevator with us, and it was a boy who was eleven or twelve years old.  He heard what I was saying and said to me, "I can never do that. Look!" And then he proudly pointed to his dessert-stained shirt. I laughed, and realized that I had just received my own lecture, from someone not much older than my daughter.

When I look back on that moment, I think of it as one of those times that I could have done a better job as a parent.  Did I really need to be worrying about perfectly clean clothes on vacation?  Probably not. 

When you look back on eighteen years of parenting, it's easy to catalogue all of those moments, and think about the things you could have done better, or differently.  I should have nagged a little less.  I should not have worried about grades so much.  I should have let some things go, like messy clothes or a messy room, or a host of other things.

There is no perfect blueprint for parenting. There are mistakes along the way, because we're all human.  We're given these tiny human beings, without a guide book;  we teach them to walk and talk and read and learn and how to live, and we try to do our best every day.  And we can drive ourselves crazy trying to figure out if we're doing it right.

In the end, what we have to hope for, is that our kids know how very much they are loved.  It's the love that will rise to the top, and remain.  

It was truly euphoric to share the Euphoria Sundae with my all grown up daughter, seeing her within her exciting new life, seeing the fruits of our journey as parent and child.  Yes, I wish I had let the messy desserts go.  And about a million other things.  But I'm ever so thankful for the joy of sharing a dessert at this time and place, for the opportunity to watch her go off into the world, and for the love, which indeed, has risen to the top.  

Have a great week!

Sunday, October 13, 2013

FroYo and Feelings

It's time to talk about frozen yogurt! Some people love frozen yogurt. I am not one of those people.  In my opinion, if you're going to enjoy a dessert, you might as well get the real thing.  However, there is some really good frozen yogurt out there, and I found it at Pinkberry.

I went to the Pinkberry in Wellesley, Massachusetts, but there are stores nationwide.  My intention was to get some frozen yogurt for one of my kids, but while there, I decided to try a sample of the Salted Caramel.  "Why is this so good?" I exclaimed to the counter salesperson.  I did not expect it to be so good.  So of course, I had to order some, and I topped it with dark chocolate shavings and strawberries.  It was very cold, very creamy, and very caramel, with just a hint of saltiness.  The dark chocolate was a perfect match for the caramel flavor, and the strawberries were a nice juicy addition.  Pinkberry is great because they have a variety of fresh toppings which are served by the sales clerks behind the counter.  Unlike most frozen yogurt places, where you get your yogurt out of a dispenser on the wall, and then move on to a mess of toppings that everyone else is digging into, the process at Pinkberry is very civilized and very streamlined.  The sales clerks get the yogurt for you and add all of the toppings, which are very neatly laid out behind the counter. Everything looks very fresh and tastes very fresh. I also tried Pinkberry's Hot Chocolate flavor, which actually did taste like a very cold and creamy version of hot chocolate. I must say, I thoroughly enjoyed my frozen yogurt experience.

I have a story to tell, and the person who originally shared it with me is a huge fan of frozen yogurt.  I share it today in honor of this person, and in honor of those who have the courage to stand up for others.

A new girl in school decided to draw a picture for a classmate in her fifth grade class.  She brought it to school and presented it to her classmate, who looked at it and for some reason, started passing it around the classroom.  As it made the rounds, other classmates drew on it, added things to it, and reduced it to something much less than it had been.  At the end of class, the defaced picture was thoughtlessly left on a desk.  The new girl saw it on the desk, picked it up, and looked at it.  She then awkwardly announced, to no one in particular, "Does anyone want this?"

One student in that class realized what had happened. One student watched someone else experience rejection and embarrassment.  And one student, just one, did something about it.  I want it, said that student.  The student took it from the girl, put it in a backpack, and brought it home. 

Bullying and unkindness will probably always be a part of school, and of life. Despite the lectures and programs and various efforts, unkindness unfortunately remains.  But every student, every person, has the power to be the one who sees someone else's sadness and does something.  It's not just limited to the classroom and it's not just limited to kids.  Unkindness abounds, but we can meet it head on, teach our kids to do the same, and be that one person who cares.  It takes courage to be that one person.  But it's worth it. 

It can make all the difference in the world.     

Have a good week.  

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Coffee Toffee and Comfort Zones

Recently, I tried the Coffee Toffee Cupcake at Crumbs Bake Shop.  I visited the one in Braintree, Massachusetts, but there are locations all over the United States.

I usually don't try coffee flavored desserts.  I don't drink coffee, never have, and I am not a huge fan of coffee flavoring.  But since, as readers of this blog can attest,  I seem to only eat desserts with chocolate, caramel, or peanut butter, I decided it was time to get out of my comfort zone and try something different.

I am happy to say that I enjoyed the Coffee Toffee Cupcake.  It was a vanilla cupcake, topped with vanilla cream cheese coffee frosting, toffee pieces, and a caramel ribbon. The frosting was oddly addictive, the coffee flavoring adding just the right amount of edge to the cream cheese flavor.  The toffee pieces and caramel added a welcome sweetness.  The cupcake was fresh and moist, but had a gooey caramel center, which was a bit much after the rich frosting and toffee candy.  For me, surprisingly, it was the coffee cream cheese flavoring that I enjoyed the most.

There is something to be said for getting out of your comfort zone.  There is a graphic that has been all over the internet, showing a circle which is labeled "your comfort zone" and another circle far away from the comfort zone, which is labeled "where the magic happens." I am a big fan of this graphic. Getting out of my comfort zone led me to St. Francis House.

A number of years ago, my son was performing in Boston, half a block away from the St. Francis House homeless shelter.  I had heard about it and was interested in the work that was being done there.  I thought about trying to take a tour after dropping my son off for rehearsals but it seemed too daunting at the time.  There was some discomfort around the idea of walking through the doors alone.  There was definitely some fear.

Fear often comes from a place of ignorance.  A few years after that I had the opportunity to learn more about St. Francis House through a special program and dramatic presentation.  I found out more about the shelter and learned more about the poor and homeless people that it serves.  I learned that 800 people a day find a hot meal at St. Francis House.  They also find rehabilitative services, mental health and substance abuse counseling, clothing, vocational services, medical services, and art therapy.  I finally took my tour, and then met with the director, and found out that there was a need for a music program.  

That was about three years ago.  Now, when I walk toward the doors of St. Francis House, I am greeted by people who call me "teacher" or "the music lady."  Some standing just outside the doors will ask me if music will be happening today.  Some will see me a block away and will share with me that they were talking about music group with a friend that very morning.  Some will stop me as I am leaving and will simply say thank you.  

I look forward to my St. Francis House visit every week.  I look forward to sharing music, to visiting with those that attend the music programs, and to feeling the joy and the healing power that music provides.  And I can't believe that there was a time that I hesitated to walk through those doors.  

There is magic, indeed, lying just outside of our comfort zones. It's a great place to be.

Have a sweet week.  

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Alternative Ice Cream and Angels

I recently happened upon FoMu Alternative Ice Cream and Cafe in Allston, Massachusetts. FoMu ice cream is a vegan ice cream which uses coconut milk as a base.  A few select flavors use an almond-cashew blend and their soft ice cream has a soy base.  The interesting thing about FoMu ice cream is that all of it is completely dairy free.  

Some people may be skeptical about dairy free ice cream.  But I'm happy to report that FoMu's Salted Caramel ice cream was as good as any traditional ice cream that I've tasted.  It had a smooth and creamy consistency, like milk-based ice cream but perhaps a touch softer, reminiscent of gelato.  The flavor was bold and very caramel, much more caramel than most salted caramel ice creams that I've tried.  Perhaps the omission of dairy and cream really lets the caramel flavor shine through.  I also enjoyed the Pumpkin Spice ice cream. The Pumpkin Spice was true to its name and had spicy notes of pumpkin pie flavors such as nutmeg and cinnamon.  More spicy than sweet, it tasted like a grown-up flavor, and was very reminiscent of the Fall season.

I was very happy to find FoMu because one of my daughters has a milk allergy.  She has been living with and managing this and other allergies for years, but especially because of the milk allergy, there are many things that she cannot eat.  Most of our ice cream outings offer her a predictably minimal choice.  She is limited to places that serve dairy-free sorbet, and it's always, inevitably, a choice of two: raspberry or lemon, raspberry or lemon.  One of the things she always wanted was to be able to go out for ice cream and order whatever she wanted. And so, I was ecstatic to present her with FoMu, a place where she could choose from twenty flavors.  I was overjoyed to watch her read the blackboard menu, announcing "Cake batter, cookie dough, salted caramel--I can actually have the salted caramel!"  We ordered four flavors and she tried them all.

I was very thankful to FoMu to be able to give her this small gift, to feel like everyone else who goes out for ice cream and to have the freedom to order whatever she wanted.  For those who are not familiar with what it's like to live with food allergies, or to live with someone you love who has them, I can tell you that it's a constant and that it is often difficult.  There's the worry about being safe, about having an accidental exposure and having a reaction.  There are the basic, practical considerations of will there be anything to eat at the school, the function, the party, the new restaurant, and the phone calls, inquiries, and micro-managing that go with that.  There are the social considerations of being the only one to eat a turkey sub when all the other kids are having pizza.  There are the medical considerations such as do you have your medications with you, and if not, no, you're not eating anything until we get home. Yes, it's a constant. 

There have been angels along the way, like the owner and creator of FoMu, who shine a little light on the task of living with food allergies.  It is to those people that I would like to pay tribute today.  To the pre-school moms who asked for my special allergy-free cake recipe and served only that cake at the party.  To the elementary school mom who served hot dogs instead of pizza at her son's birthday so that my daughter could feel included.  To the moms (and especially the kids who asked their moms to do it) who made special goodie bags for her that were safe.  To the neighbor who made a special trick or treat bag on Halloween night just for one child.  To an older sister, who at six years old, announced during Trick or Treating to unsuspecting homeowners that "Minnie Mouse has food allergies."  To the family members who have changed entire menus for holidays and celebrations so that she could be safe.  To the mom who consulted with me about her daughter's bat mitzvah menu so that my daughter would have enough to eat.  To those parents who did not shy away from dealing with their child's friend who has food allergies but who welcomed her for dinner and made her something special.  To her friends who ask what she can eat and who bring a safe snack to the celebration or bake something with her in mind. To all of you, I say thank you.  Your small kindnesses are more appreciated than you know, by a child who is now a teen who has lived with allergies all of her life.  But most especially, by her mom, who probably cares more than she does, who can't be with her everywhere or make all of her food or ensure that she is always included.  You have helped me to do that, and I am most grateful.

Go try some FoMu ice cream! You won't be disappointed. 

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Butterfingers and Two Singers

This summer I made a long trip to Kimball Farm Ice Cream in Westford, Massachusetts, to meet a dear friend and her children for some ice cream.  I had the Peanut Butter Butterfinger.  I have tried many, many, permutations of peanut butter-flavored ice cream and this flavor did not disappoint.  First of all, the portions at Kimball Farm are huge. There is something very enticing about digging into a giant, perfect mound of ice cream, especially when you only ordered a small. The peanut butter-flavored ice cream was very creamy, seemingly like vanilla, but with a pronounced peanut butter flavor. The Butterfinger pieces were large, larger than I expected, and added a nice crunch.  Small pieces of chocolate were mixed throughout the ice cream.  I had never seen this flavor anywhere else, which is surprising because having tried it, it's obvious that peanut butter and Butterfinger are a perfect match. Kimball's got it right.

Although Kimball Farm is renowned for its ice cream, and I did enjoy my new flavor, I made the trip primarily for the company.  It was great to spend time with my friend and her children.  We met twenty-eight years ago this month, in a freshman dorm, and instantly became fast friends. Our friendship has survived the test of time and place, spanning different states, countries, and even continents.  I am thankful that we are still close, and that we are still able to find the time to stay connected.

As the years go by, I realize more and more that it is the connections we make with others that really matter in this world.  I have a story about this, and although it takes place in a church, the important part of the story happens after the service ends.

A few weeks ago I was playing the organ and piano for our Sunday church service.  After I arrived, the summer visiting priest came over to speak to me. Thinking that he was checking on the music, I immediately gave him a list of the service hymns.  He listened patiently, noted that he was not actually serving for this particular service, and told me that he was sorry that he had not had the chance to hear my children sing a duet.  It took me a moment to realize what he was talking about.  And then I remembered.

My son had served as a song leader in church a number of times this summer. Weeks ago, this priest had complimented his singing, and then asked my middle daughter if she liked to sing as well. I had told him that she did in fact sing, and that perhaps the kids could sing a duet in church for him when I played for one of the services.  And then I had forgotten all about it.

Unfortunately, this Sunday was to be his last with our parish, as he had to return to his mission in Africa.  I hastily apologized and felt terrible that I had forgotten.

The service began, but I still felt badly, and could not let it go.  I began to think about how the kids could perform a duet before the priest left. I went into the back room during a pause in the service and found a song that my kids knew very well.  From the organ, I mouthed to my daughter and son the idea to sing for the priest after church.  I saw the priest enter the sacristy and I scurried through a back passageway, to ask if he would like to hear the kids sing after church ended.  He seemed very pleased.

After the service ended, he headed toward the back of the church to greet some parishioners, assuring me that he would return in five minutes.  He returned, and the four of us gathered at the piano. People were still milling about the church but we did not care. I played the opening notes of "Who Would Imagine a King," and my teenage son and daughter sang the beautiful words, alternating on the verses and joining together on the refrain.  The priest listened and smiled a beautiful smile, and when it was done, offered words of thanks and encouragement, especially to my daughter who had not sung for him before.

Sharing that song was the nicest thing that happened that Sunday, and probably that week.

How many times do we say something in passing, promise something, refer to something, and then forget all about it?  It can happen all too often in our busy world.  But the person on the other end of the conversation may actually be listening.   

During the service, I had doubts about whether I was doing the right thing. Would the priest really care? Had the moment already passed? Should I be paying more attention to the service instead of scurrying around, trying to plan an impromptu concert?  I decided to do it anyway. And I'm so glad that I did.

It's in the connections, in the sharing and doing for others, that we find the joy and the reward.  Sometimes the connections are those that we have cultivated for years. Sometimes the connections are fleeting, momentary, created in the length of time it takes to sing a song.   

There was a moment of grace in the sharing of that song. I call it God's presence.  Some may just call it grace, or goodness, or connection.  Either way, it's good news.  

Have a sweet week. 

Friday, September 6, 2013

Cookie Bites and a Popsicle Stick

Today I am reviewing Cookie Bites from Whole Foods Market.  Cookie Bites are bite-sized dessert cups. The base is a chocolate chip cookie turned into a little mini muffin, with a hollowed out middle.  The cookie is a great consistency and there are ample chocolate chips--so much so that sometimes all you get when you bite into one is a hunk of good chocolate.  The chocolate chip cookie shells are filled with a dollop of really good frosting.  The sugar content in this frosting matches exceptionally well to the flavor of the chocolate chip cookie shell.  It sounds like it would be too sweet but it is not!  I am powerless over these little desserts.  It's impossible to have just one.  Or two or three.

I don't love the name "Cookie Bites" because I'm not sure that's a very inviting name.  I think the taste of these little desserts far surpasses the attractiveness of the name.  I think they should be called something else, like "Cookie Dessert Cups" or "Chocolate Chip Cookie Treats." No matter what they are called, however, they are positively, absolutely delicious.  

What's in a name?  I have a name story.  It takes place in a third grade classroom.

There was an eight-year-old girl who had an interesting name.  One of her classroom reading assignments involved a character who had a name similar to that of the girl, which created the perfect environment for a lot of teasing. Some kids in the class seemed to find pleasure in calling the girl by this new, unattractive name, or by mixing up the two names during read-aloud time. One boy in particular was relentless in teasing the girl.  He did not let up.

Later that day, the class was working on a project with popsicle sticks.  The students had to write their names on the popsicle sticks so that the projects could be correctly returned.  When project time ended, the girl helped to collect the projects.  When she took the project from the boy who teased her the most, she happened to glance down at it.  And there, written in black crayon on a popsicle stick, was his name.  It was not the name that everyone called him, which was, apparently, a well-designed nickname.  It was his actual name.  And his name was Frank Edgar.

Frank Edgar is a perfectly respectable name.  But perhaps not when you are a third-grader, and you have gone to great lengths to adopt a cool nickname that everyone thinks is your real name.  Frank Edgar realized what had happened. He looked at the girl-- the same girl that he had been tormenting--with a desperate, pleading look.  Their eyes met and locked for a matter of seconds.

In that moment, the girl could feel angst, desperation, and panic coming from Frank Edgar.  The embarrassment from his teasing was still fresh in her mind. But the intensity of his pain, his potential pain, based upon what she chose to do in that moment, won out.  The girl did nothing.  She collected the project, and said nothing.

Two things happened that day. Right there in a third grade classroom, in the time that it took for the girl to lock eyes with Frank Edgar, she learned the meaning of empathy.  She learned how to put herself in someone else's shoes and to make a decision based upon someone else's feelings.  That's not always the easiest decision to make.  But it's probably always the right decision.

The second thing that happened that day is that Frank Edgar never teased that girl again.  My guess is that he learned something that day too.

Never underestimate the power of doing good.

Have a sweet week!

Sunday, September 1, 2013

S'mores and Some Mail

The Cheesecake Factory has a new cheesecake flavor.  It's called Toasted Marshmallow S'Mores Galore.  It tastes as decadent as it sounds, and I think it's one of their better cheesecakes.  It's comprised of Hershey's chocolate cheesecake, with chocolate frosting on top, a thick blanket of toasted marshmallow draped over the cheesecake, crumbled graham crackers sprinkled throughout, one artfully placed graham cracker square, and whipped cream.  The toasted marshmallow blanket is sweet and thick, and is deliciously rich, especially when mixed with the chocolate cheesecake. The cheesecake itself is a smooth, rich chocolate, and the frosting on top is a bold accent of chocolate flavor.  There seems to be more whipped cream than usual with this flavor of Cheesecake Factory cheesecake, and the fact that the whipped cream is sprinkled with graham cracker fools you into thinking you should eat the mound of whipped cream as if it were ice cream or mousse. This cheesecake, for lack of a better word, is quite yummy!  It is, however, extremely rich and I could only finish about half of it.  Bring a friend when you try the S'Mores Cheesecake!

S'mores are definitely a summertime treat.  To be honest, I never actually had s'mores growing up.  We had plenty of toasted marshmallows, toasted over barbecues with charcoal, sometimes just browned on the outside, sometimes toasted until they were charred and black on the outside, and gooey and almost liquid on the inside.  Those were the best kind.  It wasn't until I was much older that I found out that some people went the extra step and brought graham crackers and chocolate into the mix.  I think I prefer just the toasted marshmallows, to be honest, probably because they play such a large role in my summer memories.  I see the point of adding the graham crackers and chocolate, but it's the toasted marshmallows that really mean summertime for me.  

How many of our childhood memories end up defining who we are?  I have a memory from early childhood that I know played a significant part in defining who I am.  I was around seven or eight years old. I had written a poem about the American flag.  Someone in my household thought it would be a good idea to send it to the President.  The President!  Well, we mailed him the poem. And one day, there was a letter in my mailbox with a return address that said "The White House."  And it was addressed to me.

It was a letter from President Gerald Ford, thanking me for sending him my poem. I remember getting the mail, and seeing the crisp white envelope with the words "The White House" on it, and feeling so excited.  I actually got a letter from the White House! From the President of the United States! 

It's been quite a few years since that letter arrived.  I don't remember what the letter actually said, and I don't even remember the poem that I wrote. But I do remember how I felt when I got that letter.  Besides being excited, I felt really important, like something that I had done really mattered.  I'm not sure who's idea it was to send the letter, or what the intention had been. Quite possibly, my mother or father just thought it would be something fun to do. It actually had a much bigger impact, and left me with the feeling that great things can happen when you put yourself out there.  Whoever thought that the President would write to me, a girl living in a small suburb of New York, who hand-wrote a poem in pencil on some lined paper?  But he did.  

I'm really thankful to my parents for that moment, for showing me that anything is possible.  Why not send a letter to the President of the United States?  Why not do something, be proud of something, reach for something, no matter how unreachable it may seem? It was a good lesson, and it's a lesson worth repeating I think.  For kids and for adults.  For all of us.

Have a great week.  And invite a friend to share some of that S'mores Cheesecake!