Thursday, June 13, 2013

Frosting and (Inter) Faith

Let's talk about frosting.  I am a big fan of buttercream frosting.  I prefer buttercream to sugary frosting.  However, some buttercream is too rich, so that you feel like you've had enough after a few bites.  I have actually found a really delicious frosting, which is neither butercream nor sugary frosting.  It's perfect, and it's at Cheryl Ann's Bakery in Brookline, Massachusetts.   Cheryl Ann's is a pareve and kosher bakery, so there is no dairy at all in their baked goods, or their frostings.  No butter, milk, whey, etc.  I have no idea what they put into their frostings and baked goods without these beloved items, but they really get it right.  Choices of frosting at Cheryl Ann's include white, light chocolate, fudge chocolate, and non-dairy whipped cream.  The light chocolate is very enjoyable--it's much lighter than regular chocolate frosting, and is similar to their white frosting in texture but has a subtle chocolate flavor.  It is a great topping to Cheryl Ann's cakes or even when used as a cake filling.  But in my opinion, the white frosting is the one that is not to be missed.   It can be found on their cakes, cupcakes, and their decorated sugar cookies.  The flavor is somewhere between a good buttercream and a sugar frosting;  it has something special about it that I really can't describe.  I literally could eat a vat of their white frosting if it was put in front of me.

I discovered Cheryl Ann's because one of my children is allergic to milk. Otherwise, I would never have known the joys of a kosher bakery--delicious breads, excellent cookies, and yes, amazing frosting.  Experiencing other cultures and traditions is a wonderful thing.  

I had a first-hand look at a number of cultures, of the religious kind, when I attended an interfaith service a few months ago.  If you have never been to one, I urge you to go.  The service was a service of healing, in response to the Boston Marathon bombings. The faiths that were represented that night included Jewish, Catholic, Muslim, Congregational, Methodist, Baha'i, Episcopal, Quaker, and Evangelical.  Each representative leader of the faiths gave a short reading or sermon.  They walked in pairs, and took turns standing in front of those gathered, sharing thoughts and spiritual reflections. A rabbi walked with a leader from the Baha'i community, a priest walked with a Quaker leader, an Evangelical pastor walked with a Muslim leader, and so on. A soloist led a sung response.  A pianist played a haunting and emotional Brahms piece.  At the end, everyone held a candle, and the faith leaders came down to light the candles of those in attendance.  It was particularly fitting that the leaders giving the flame were not necessarily of the faith of the person receiving it.  

There was a beautiful sense of calm at this service.  There was also a poignant unity.  All of the readings were grounded in similar principles of a quest for peace, guidance, and comfort.  It was wonderful to see the similarities of the assembled faiths, and to see that despite our differences, we share a great deal.  Indeed, I think we all share more than we realize, in faith, and in life.  

Look out for those opportunities to share with one another, or to experience something that is different from your own corner of the world.  The results are inspiring.  Have a fantastic, frosting-filled week!

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Cookies and Courage

It's cookie day!  I recently found three great cookies at Sugar Bakery (Roslindale and West Roxbury, Massachusetts).  The Snickerdoodle, Trailblazer, and Lots O Chip were all good choices and did not disappoint.

The Snickerdoodle was a soft and buttery cookie topped with a perfect balance of cinnamon and sugar.  The combination of sugar and cinnamon was just right, and the texture of the sugary topping was delicate and light, a perfect accompaniment to the cookie underneath.  The cookie itself was cooked to perfection; just soft enough to be chewy, allowing for the buttery flavor to shine through.

The Trailblazer cookie featured a mixture of oats, cranberries, chocolate chips, and almonds.  It reminded me of a trail mix bar, but much sweeter and less dense.  The cranberries were featured prominently in this cookie, with the almonds taking a supporting role.  The chocolate chips nicely counterbalanced the cranberries, with the oats pulling it all together.  A very pleasant cookie, less rich than the Snickerdoodle, presenting perhaps a healthier, but still tasty, cookie offering.

The Lots O Chip was my favorite Sugar Bakery cookie.  A twist on the traditional chocolate chip cookie, it had white chocolate chips, milk chocolate chips and butterscotch chips.  The cookie itself was a good consistency--chewy but not too soft.  The butterscotch was a welcome flavor addition amidst the contrasting white and milk chocolate, and it made the cookie interesting to the last bite.  As I am a big chocolate fan, I was pleasantly surprised at how much a little butterscotch can elevate a chocolate chip cookie experience.

As it is cookie day today, and 'C is for Cookie' (Thank you Cookie Monster), I wanted to share a story about courage.  C is also for Courage.

A middle school student wanted to participate in Day of Silence which was being held at school.  The purpose behind Day of Silence was to highlight the struggles that students face due to bullying because of sexual orientation. Wearing a particular color would enable students to stand up for LGBT students everywhere who feel silenced.  On the Day of Silence, students could wear blue to participate, or they could wear black and vow to stay silent for the entire day, to symbolically support those who are silenced.  Or, they could wear neither blue nor black and not participate at all.

The middle school student really wanted to participate, but was very conflicted about what color to wear.  You see, the student had historically been the subject of some careless and false gossip about sexual preference, based entirely upon false stereotypes.  The unfortunate gossip always hurt.

So what to do?  Wear blue or wear black?  Support the cause as a bystander, like most students, or really support the cause by wearing black and staying silent in tribute?  That's what the student really wanted to do, wear black. But what would the fallout be?  Would wearing black serve as a false confirmation to the gossips?  Would it start another round of false and careless rumors? Simply wearing blue would show support, and wouldn't that be enough? Because when you are twelve years old, how much do you really need to put yourself out there?  

Then again, twelve years old is a good time to show yourself and the world what you're really made of.  

A tough one indeed.

And on the Day of Silence, the student got up in the morning and put on a black shirt.  The student was one of only four seventh graders to wear black that day, and got to participate in a special breaking-the-silence ceremony with all of the students in the school who wore black.  The student left school feeling a part of something important, and feeling happy.  And nothing was 'confirmed' for the gossips, except for the fact that the student was a great kid, who really wanted to support a great cause, and did it courageously and proudly with some other great kids.

What a wonderful choice the student made.  What a courageous and caring choice, to disregard social backlash in order to follow one's heart and support others.

I hope someone gave that kid a cookie that day!  Have a great week.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Cheesecake Facts and Balancing Acts

Let me start by saying that I am not a big fan of cheesecake.  Plain cheesecake filling and graham cracker crust leave me wanting more, which is probably why I am a big fan of Cheesecake Factory cheesecake.  The options are varied and plentiful, ranging from Wild Blueberry White Chocolate to Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough to Caramel Pecan Turtle.  One of my absolute favorites is Chris' Outrageous Cheesecake. The top layer is a toasted coconut-pecan frosting, with an emphasis on the coconut.  Next is a layer of chocolate cake, and then comes the cheesecake itself, which is a chocolate chip coconut cheesecake. The bottom layer is a thick, rich brownie.  I particularly like the contrast in texture between the light chocolate cake on top and the dense fudge brownie on the bottom.  The cheesecake in the middle nicely breaks up the two.  The toasted coconut within the frosting, echoed by the coconut within the cheesecake, ties it all together.  The pecan is more of an accent, or a subtle accompaniment to all of the coconut and chocolate.  The dollop of whipped cream, served with the cheesecake, is a wonderful, cool finish to a rich collection of decadent flavors.  

There's a whole lot going on in this cheesecake, but it really works. For me, with dessert, the busier the better.  Add something else--one more ingredient, topping, flavor.  But the balance has to be right in order for it to work.  It can be that way in life too, which is how I ended up becoming a dog lover.

Some people are born animal lovers.  I was, I have to admit, not born that way.  I grew up with pets, but my pets and I were pretty much pleasantly coexisting.  In my mind, I didn't really have the time.  Fast forward to my adult life and my kids routinely asked if we could get a dog.  No, I always said. We do not have the lifestyle for a dog.  You all have too many activities. There are too many allergies for this to work for our family.  I am not a dog person.

And then, life got complicated and even more busy.  It was a very anxious time, and I was looking for something that would refocus me away from my own concerns. I decided I needed to get out of my own head, and take care of something else.  Yes, I was already taking care of children, but the kids were pretty self sufficient at that point.  Amidst all of the internal and external chaos, I inexplicably decided that the solution would be to get a dog.  

I went into research mode, and decided on a breed that my allergic husband had tolerated well when he was a child. I thought about getting a rescue dog, and called the head of the schnauzer rescue organization in our area.  As it turned out, there were no rescue dogs at that moment, but the person I called was a breeder, and had older puppies that were trained and were looking for homes.  My children were both ecstatic and a bit in shock that I had had such a change of heart.  We took a road trip and had an interesting experience meeting the bloodline for the puppies--lots and lots of yapping dogs running around, introduced as the mother, grandmother, uncle, and cousins of the puppies we were there to see.  It was, in a word, overwhelming.  Finally the puppies were announced and scampered in to join the fray.  Amidst all the chaos, one little puppy quietly walked up to me.  That's how I met Kadie. 

Kadie became part of our family within the week.  It was as if she had found us, and found me, just when I needed her.  In those early weeks and months, it was incredibly soothing to hold her, have her sit in my lap, even to simply watch her in our yard.  I became a dog person to the fullest extent.  My parents would come to visit, watch me with our new dog, and ask what had happened to their daughter and what had I done with her.  I would just laugh and continue happily holding Kadie.  This was me now.  Kadie had changed me, and helped me, and I was now, proudly, a dog lover.  

Kadie has been with us for over three years, and is now often referred to as my fourth child.  I'm still not sure why adding one more thing to the mix was such a help, but I'm thankful that it was, and I'm thankful that it was Kadie. The addition of a little dog balanced my life in exactly the way that I needed. 

Sometimes too much is just enough.  With cheesecake, and with life.

Have a sweet, balanced week.