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.