Find yourself. Discover who you are. Be the change you want to see in the world. These phrases have plagued high school, college, graduate, and post-grads for as long as anyone can remember. They’re supposed to be motivating phrases, filling us with the desire to go out into the world and seize the day. Carpe Diem!
Like most things in life, it’s easier said than done.
My personal finance teacher once told me that more than half of my high school class would return home after college. “You’ll return to the nest and rely on your parents,” he said matter-of-factly. Return to St. Louis after college? Impossible. No. Not for me. If I was moving away from home I was going to stay away from home.
I’ve always dreamed of moving out west. Boulder, Denver, Fort Collins, any place that was surrounded by mountains and within 10 miles of a hiking trail.
Life, however, had a different plan for me. Instead of Colorful Colorado, I traveled to the Dairy State where I immersed myself in cheese, beer, and a sub-par career.
There were ups and downs—good memories and bad memories. In every story there is a new chapter, a twist in the plot. Mine was unexpected. My chapter was California.
I’ve talked often about new adventures, about leaving the fear and past behind. Overcoming demons and lightening my pack so I can start down a new path, one that is unknown and holds a new cast of characters and experiences. For a long time it’s always been talk. A dream. Well, I did it. I actually did it—and to be brutally honest, I still have to pinch myself to make sure this is really happening.
A cross-country move seems quite simple in theory. Oh, sure. I’ll be happy to move to California. No problem. No problem at all.
When the day came for me to say goodbye to a city that I knew so intimately, a city where I had built a dysfunctional, yet loveable family, I scrambled to find a way to take it all back. A part of me wanted to stay in Milwaukee, wrapped in the ragged blanket that was filled with more heartache and pain than I could stand. A blanket that was familiar and comforting all the same.
Follow your heart. This, too, is easier said than done. Our heart whispers so softly, it often gets lost in the brash monotony of our day-to-day lives. Learning how to tune into that part of my heart, the quiet place where my deepest desires lie, I finally, for the first time, feel like myself. This is who I am supposed to be.
My move to California has become a beautiful and rapturous assault to my senses. A kaleidoscope of cerulean blues, neon greens and soft sandy browns; a symphony of roaring highways, the gentle rush of the ocean waves, a sigh of wind as it blows through the trees; bold spices, buttery oils, sugary berries and flaky pastries; a bouquet of honeysuckle, the sting of salty mist, a singe of burnt wood—it all seems like a hallucinogenic dream.
While I’ve become submerged into a world of different dialects and cultures, I find myself changing – bending and folding into an easy, diverse lifestyle. No longer am I constantly on edge, in fear of letting the unknown into my life, of not meeting the expectations of others. I’m comfortable. Calm. Safe. I take life it as it comes. One day at a time.
I did it. I looked out over the edge and leapt, using my hidden, inner-strength to regain my control, my sense of self. Now I’m doing what makes me happy. I’m learning what I’m capable of doing. I’ve tossed the idea that I have to please others before pleasing myself. I listen to my heart and I really like where it’s leading me. There is no going back. Only forward. It’s time to just do it, and do it well.
In my family great milestones are celebrated with ice cream. My friend Jeanne Ambrose was the source of my culinary celebration with her Chunks o’ Chocolate and Strawberry Frozen Yogurt, from her cookbook Heartbreak Recovery Kitchen. I made a few tweaks to the recipe, threw in some mint and drizzled in some Arbosana olive oil (trust me).
Celebrate life. Celebrate your own leap with a scoop of ice cream.
Olive Oil Strawberry-Mint Frozen Yogurt with Dark Chocolate
(Adapted from Heartbreak Recovery Kitchen)
- 3 cups of Chobani plain non-fat Greek yogurt
- ½ cup sugar
- ¼ California Olive Ranch Arbosana olive oil
- 2 cups fresh strawberries
- A handful of mint, finely chopped
- ½ cup coarsely chopped dark chocolate chips
Combine the yogurt, sugar, mint, and half of the strawberries in a large bowl. Blend until almost smooth. Pour mixture into an ice cream maker and freeze according to manufacturer’s instructions.
As the yogurt begins to freeze, slowly drizzle in the olive oil.
Once the yogurt has become almost firm, remove from machine and stir in remaining strawberries and chocolate chips. Serve immediately or freeze in an airtight container.
To a child, birthdays are a very, very big deal. There’s excitement in the air when you wake up on that special day—a stomach full of butterflies, mind dreaming of a sugary cake, coated in a thick layer of sweet, buttery frosting, inscribed with your name in a Day-Glo letters, fingers itching to tear into a tower of presents, shredding the paper into ribbons. For one day you are the center of attention, the bright shining star, the center of the universe.
As an adult, birthdays lack that special magic. Instead of Mylar balloons, delicate streamers and brightly colored cards, you’re quickly responding to well wishers via text messages and hurried phone calls. The feeling of importance, of giving off that special glow, is dampened by the responsibilities of everyday life.
I always try defy the adult conventions of a birthday. Even though we’re no longer children, we should be able to enjoy a day of joyful bliss.
February is my friend Jeanne’s birth month. She’s a beautiful soul who has become a solid rock in my life and deserves a birthday that’s as brilliant as she is. We began our month long celebration with a girl’s night at a local tapas restaurant. Wine, bourbon, and martinis flowed freely, while we noshed on plates of rich chorizo, silky goat cheese, and brandied mushrooms. The atmosphere was electric, filled with shrills of laughter, gasps of surprise, and an off key rendition of Happy Birthday.
A week later a more quiet, intimate affair took place, tucked away in the back of a downtown hot spot. Snow fell quickly outside as we warmed ourselves with pints of beer. We dinned heartily on three-dollar tacos—smoked goat, shredded into bite-size pieces, delicately seasoned fish, light, flaky and drizzled with Sirracha, and fresh chorizo, the essence of Milwaukee’s south side, each wrapped in a warm tortilla and topped with a crisp slaw and squeeze of lime.
Heartfelt conversation and a Chocolate Spice Cake with Caramel Icing is how we ended the evening. Each chocolate-spiced bite was warm and tender, a wintery blend of chocolate and cloves topped with a rich caramel icing that was blonde in flavor and color, reminiscent of an authentic New Orleans praline.
Within minutes our forks demolished the thin slices and we reached for more, our taste buds intoxicated by the swirl of cinnamon, allspice, caramel and chocolate—fingers scraping up last bits of caramel from our plates.
Be sure to bake up this luscious cake for the next birthday in your life. I promise you’ll capture a slice of that childlike wonder.
Chocolate Spice Cake with Caramel Icing
- For the cake
- 2 cups flour
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon ground allspice
- 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1 cup packed dark brown sugar
- 1 1/3 cups of milk
- 1 stick of unsalted butter, cut into pieces, at room temperature
- 3 large eggs, beaten, room temperature
- 3 ounces unsweetened chocolate, melted and cooled slightly
For the icing
- 1 cup powdered sugar
- ¾ cup packed dark brown sugar
- ½ cup whipping cream
- ½ stick unsalted butter
- ¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
For the cake
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease two 9-inch cake pans with butter, line the bottom with parchment paper, and dust the sides with flour.
Combine first seven ingredients into large mixing bowl. On a low speed, mix in the brown sugar. Once incorporated add the remaining ingredients and beat until light and fluffy. Distribute evenly between pans, making sure the top of the batter is smooth. Bake for 35 minutes, or until cake pulls away from the sides and tester comes out clean.
Let cool in pans on rack for 10 minutes, remove from pans and let cool completely.
For the icing
Sift powdered sugar into a medium bowl. At the same time, over medium-low heat, stir together brown sugar, whipping cream and butter until sugar dissolves and butter melts. Increase heat to medium-high and bring mixture to a boil for three minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and add vanilla.
Add caramel mixture to powdered sugar, quickly whisking together until smooth and lightened in color. Let cool until lukewarm, stirring occasionally until mixture falls from whisk in thick ribbons.
For cake assembly
Once cakes have cooled, invert one layer on a plate and cover with half of icing, letting it drip down the sides. Top with second cake layer and cover with remaining icing, letting icing drip down the sides, smoothing the top if necessary.
Let cake stand for an hour until icing hardens. Serve with a big glass of milk.
There it sits. A tower of buttermilk chocolate. Each layer generously coated with flakey coconut and toasted pecans. The confection taunts me with its richness. I imagine how the cake would taste. Soft. Moist. A light chocolate flavor that’s mingles with the rich, candied filling. I am desperate for a slice.
I make the first cut. Turning the slice onto a plate, fingers itching for the nearest fork. Moments later I am transported on a wave of bliss, any thought of healthy New Year’s Resolutions quickly forgotten as I’m enveloped by butter, sugar, and German chocolate.
My plate is empty. I press my fingers into the remaining crumbs, determined to leave nothing behind. I am spent. The celebration was worth it, even if the decadence will likely appear on my hips and thighs. It’s a new year, and while plates of steamed vegetables and brown rice is the norm, treating oneself is extremely encouraged, especially with a slice of German Chocolate Cake.
This recipe is from the cookbook Cake Ladies: Celebrating a Southern Tradition. It’s an amazing book, filled with staples that capture the essence of the Deep South in each and every slice. Sprinkled with stories about the women who make these cakes, and the cakes themselves, it’s the perfect cookbook to add to your collection.
German Chocolate Cake
(from Cake Ladies: Celebrating a Southern Tradition)
For the Cake
- 1/2 cup boiling water
- 4 ounces sweetened baking chocolate
- 2 sticks (1 cup) butter, softened
- 2 cups sugar, divided
- 4 eggs, separated, at room temperature
- 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- 2 1/2 cups sifted cake flour
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup buttermilk, at room temperature
For the Icing
- 1 cup evaporated milk
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 4 egg yolks
- 1 stick (1/2 cup) butter
- 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- 1 1/3 cups sweetened flaked coconut
- 1 cup pecans, chopped and toasted
Preheat oven to 350F. Prepare three 9-inch round cake pans by spraying them with cooking spray and lining the bottom with wax paper.
Pour ½ cup of boiling water over the baking chocolate. Mix together until fully combined. Set aside.
Beat the butter and 1½ cups of the sugar together until light and fluffy. Add the egg yolks one-by-one into the butter and sugar mixture. Beat on medium speed until combined. Add melted chocolate to butter and sugar. Mix on low speed until combined. Add vanilla. Beat until smooth, light, and creamy.
Sift together flour, baking soda, and salt. Set mixer to low and add one-third of the flour mixture, then one-third of the buttermilk. Mix just until combined. Continue adding the buttermilk and flour in thirds until it’s all added. Scrape the bowl well and gently mix again to make sure all the ingredients are incorporated.
With a mixer whip egg whites on medium low until frothy. Increase the speed and gradually add remaining sugar. Whisk on high whites until stiff peaks form. Gently fold egg whites into batter until just combined. Do not to deflate batter.
Divide the batter among the three pans. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until the cake springs back when touched, the sides of the cake come away from the sides of the pan, and a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. Let the cakes cool completely in the pans on a rack.
Combine evaporated milk, sugar, yolks, butter, and vanilla in a medium saucepan. Heat over medium low heat, stirring constantly for 12 to 15 minutes, until thickened. Stir in the coconut and pecans. Let cool.
Turn out cake layers, gently peeling wax paper from bottom of layers. Assemble the cake by spreading 1/3 of icing onto each layer as you put the layers on top of one another. Chill the cake until serving.