Rehearsals, Recitals, and Au Revoir’s

Spring is a crazy time for me as a dance teacher. Cleaning up dances is coupled with end of the year assessments; for myself, as the ballet teacher, I have to think back to the kid’s technical capabilities beyond the memorized dance. I don’t mind the rush really, it keeps me busy during May.

With every spring comes a  familiar goodbye as I say farewell to seniors. As familiar as this goodbye is for me, each year brings new faces and new personalities. My goodbye changes depending on the group, I give them parting words, and often cupcakes. The group of seniors this year was such a thoughtful group, and a group that didn’t include any that were going on in dance, but I wanted to encourage them to remain connected to creativity and to not forget the lessons that dance has taught them. My goodbye went as follows:

My last motivational speech to these seniors. It wouldn’t be right if I didn’t have some sort of speech prepared; so this one is your farewell one, the one that I hope reminds you that you can do it, and you’ve got a great future ahead. But, it isn’t only for the seniors ears, because everyone of us wakes up daily with a choice: to live life to the fullest, or to just get by.

Taking cues from our pointe dance that is Star Wars themed, I’d like to share with you a quote from Star Wars that reads, “Your focus determines your reality.” So what is your focus? Is it on yourself, how you can be a better you, and what you can do with the time you have? Or is it constantly on others, what they are doing? How you can be like them? How to beat them? What they are thinking of you?

Ayn Rand, a woman who was a philosopher, playwright, and screenwriter, said, “A creative man is motivated by the desire to achieve, not by the desire to beat others.”

My goal has always been to give you maps and formulas for creativity so you can find it for yourself. It may not feel that way when we play improv games or I give you a number and tell you to find your own pathway to your next spot, but these are small steps into expanding your mind, your critical thinking skills and your own creativity. So what if your focus became creativity for yourself? Not how to beat others or to alter what they they of you, no, what if your focus was on creativity for yourself. I’m not just talking about art, dance, or literally making something. I’m talking about the type of creativity that helps you make your life what you want it to be. 

No matter your grade, your age, your place, take time to focus on yourself. What are you giving the world? Are you giving the world your best self? Sometimes, depending on the situation, you’ve really got to get creative to figure out how to give the world your best you, but you’ve got the key. You have maps, you have formulas from me, from other teachers and mentors, but it is up to you to follow them, mix them, or just simply to use them as a launching point for you. If you change your mind a dozen times trying to figure out how to give the world your best self, that is okay. 

You might find a friend in someone you never thought you would, you might find out you really like a new sport or activity, you might find yourself taking a course in college you didn’t expect to be interesting, and yet you find it fascinating; all of this is great! This might even change your central group of friends, your work out routine, or even your course of study in college, and that’s all alright if you are creatively working on being the best you. Take heart, seniors, it is estimated 75 percent of students change their major at least once before graduation. 

In the end, you have to wake up with you, and you have to fall asleep with you. What kind of day do you want to wake up to? What will be your focus? What will you achieve? What kind of week do you want to have? Month? Year? Life? 

Abraham Lincoln said, “The best way to predict your future is to create it.”

As I gave this little talk to them, they chowed down on some s’more cupcakes. The flavor profile was all there, but I had tried a new chocolate cupcake recipe, and they were way too dry. The chocolate cupcake recipe of mine that still takes the cake is my stout cupcake recipe that calls for some dark stout. In the end, the cupcakes looked great and the marshmallow icing was so fun! A perfect kick off to my dance summer!

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Pink Ladies Cake

Still getting over this idea of buying enough for a small army when you purchase things at Costco’s, I stood staring at the hundreds of apples on top of our refrigerator. Okay, so it wasn’t hundreds, but it seemed that way. Shane and I generally eat healthy, and I am even trying to slip in healthier ingredients that are a little new to him, like Greek yogurt, but one area in which we both fall short is eating an apple a day. Personally, I would rather bake with the apples, and since we got them before St Patty’s day, I made a traditional Irish Apple Cake with them that was paired with a creamy custard drizzle.

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We were able to share that cake with Shane’s dear grandma and an aunt, and I got to send home a quarter of it with my parents who came to see Riverdance with us St. Patty’s weekend. But after doing this traditional recipe, I was left with many egg whites, which I hated to waste, and a desire to make something new. I had a set of darling, seven inch cake pans from Christmas I hadn’t put to good use yet, so that St Patrick’s Day weekend, with all my dozens of Pink Lady apples, I experimented and came up with a sweet little cake I call my Pink Lady Cake with an Old Fashioned Brown Sugar Icing.

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It was that very same weekend we got the call about Scott. Shane’s loving sisters and their kids practically flew in for support, and this little cake that probably would have been shared with the chickens, got eaten up.

The week after we lost Scott, I so wanted to cook and bake. I wanted to make my husband food, Scott’s parent’s food, the sister-in-laws, anyone, as though to show my support and love for them and thanks for them in our lives. I found myself just drained though. Even having bought ingredients, I couldn’t pull together enough energy to do anything outside the routine of the day. In a small way, this little cake was a tiny little blessing hidden among tears.

There were lot’s of little blessings hidden among tears. Little signs people cared, to little signs that God cared. Sometimes we can get so lost in our sorrow, we forget that thing that is asked of us so many times: to give thanks. Even in the most dreary of all situations, there are still reasons to give thanks, and if you can cling to those little glimmers of hope, you will emerge out of the shadows of your valley and see the sun again.

1 Thessalonians 5:18 “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

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Pink Lady Cake with Old Fashioned Brown Sugar Icing

For the cake:

  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 3 cups cake flour
  • 1 pink lady apple, peeled, cored and chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 6 egg whites

For the icing:

  • 1 pound brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 7 Tablespoons evaporated milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

Cake Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees
  2. Using an electric mixer, beat the egg whites with whisk until stiff peaks form, place in the refrigerator until needed
  3. In the same mixing bowl eggs were, using the electric mixer beat the softened butter until creamy, about two minutes or until white in appearance
  4.  Add the sugar, beat until fluffy
  5. Combine the flour, salt and baking soda in separate bowl
  6. Combine the milk and vanilla in yet another bowl
  7. Add the flour mixture and milk alternately into the butter and sugar mixture
  8. Add apples
  9. Fold in the egg whites to your now chunky batter, mix gently and do not over mix
  10. Grease four 7 inch cake pans, or two 9 inch pans, and pour the batter evenly into prepared pans of choice
  11.  Bake for 15-17 minutes in the 7 inch pans, or 20-25 minutes in the larger pans, or until the top springs back with a light press
  12. Let cool in the pans for about 10 minutes, and continue to let cool on wire racks while making icing

Icing Directions:

  1. Combine all ingredients in a sauce pan over medium-high heat, bring to a boil
  2. Turn heat down so mixture boils gently, and continue to stir, cook for 7 minutes
  3. Let cool for 5 minutes
  4. Beat with a wooden spoon for  2-3 minutes, it will begin to thicken
  5. Place bottom layer of cake on cake stand or platter, work quickly to ice and repeat layers before the icing sets up and becomes unworkable
  6. A knife dipped in hot water can help smooth out icing to a desirable look

Optional, garnish with apple slices.

It was very moist, and was very sweet with that brown sugar icing. I thought through many types of icing that could be paired with the apple cake, but the caramel flavor of the brown sugar icing reminded me of summer. This was a fun cake to bake.

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Don’t shy away from the folding in of the egg whites. It feels like you are ruining a whipped creation you spent minutes spinning up, but it is necessary.

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At a certain point, your batter will look smooth again, besides the chunks of apples.

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I had been with my mom when she got me my 7 inch pans from T.J. Maxx. Their scalloped edge was adorable, so she got them for me for Christmas on the promise I would act surprised when I opened them. You definitely don’t need to search out 7 inch pans, two 9 inch would work, but the four layers on this cake was really playful.

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My biggest hiccup in this whole process was the fact that in our new home I am back to an electric oven. One of my pans of batter apparently wasn’t getting the same amount of heat as the rest so I had to leave it in the oven much longer. Oh, how I miss my gas oven.

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Valentine’s Day Whoopie Pies

First baking adventure in the kitchen

Our first Valentine’s Day as a married couple, falling right at the end of a whirlwind two weeks of our wedding, then our honeymoon where we also celebrated my birthday, so it was supposed to be another magical day day, right? Wrong. Reality set in very quick as Shane discovered he had been given another two sites down south that he needed to travel to as soon as possible. This would take him away right over Valentine’s and leave me in the midst of half unpacked suitcases and half packed yard sale boxes. Out the door we went on the Monday before the red and pink holiday, both of us to our respective jobs.

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One would think I could’ve at least managed some sort of cute goodbye promising a “do-over” of our missed Cupid’s day, but alas, all I left him with was a quick letter hidden in his suitcase scratched on Trout Unlimited notepaper; the free type of notepaper you get in the mail when you get a “thanks for your subscription” type junk mail. Meanwhile, when I came home from work, I found a commical, sweet card on my pillow. Normally, I would be more on top of something like this, and would’ve maybe slipped in some card making or something, anything on the sunday prior, but no sooner had we landed from Mexico, Sunday I was off again and involved in an all day affair of a fashion show for a Bridal Show in my hometown.

Now I had to figure something out! My cousin Leah said I was lucky, now everything Valentine related would be half off. This was true, but not like me to get him a heart shaped box of chocolates with a picture of a frog that said “I am TOADally into you”, and yes, I actually saw that at a drug store. Making something is more like me, and baking something is WAY more like me. But as I stared despairingly into my new kitchen, which is really an old, small kitchen,  I didn’t want to make too much of a hassle for myself, especially knowing I probably had no ingredients.

I had recieved a whoopee pie recipe book from my Aunt Jeanne for Christmas, and though that now might just be the perfect time to crack that puppy open. The recipes looked easy enough, and like any good wife, I know the need to know things about my husband. Like his favorite flavors, raspberry and chocolate. Just kidding. The chocolate part is all me. In fact, any time I bake something with raspberry for “him”, I always end up pairing it with chocolate, chocolate, chocolate, and though he always enjoys what I make, I am, in truth, the chocoholic. So I flipped through the book hoping for some raspberry something, and luckily they had it, and paired with vanilla.

So pleased to make something really different and new and in a flavor that he would genuinely enjoy, I set off to un-package my brand new Kitchen-Aid tangerine colored mixer! It was difficult to pull out of it’s tight cardboard box being buffered by the styrofoam chunks, but finally i triumphantly plugged it in and turned it on AND-nothing happened. Well, something happened, it hummed. Huuuummmm. So I flipped it on and off, and it still hummed. I lifted the head and put it down it hummed. I tried different settings. Hum. I plugged it into a different outlet. Hum. Nothing happened.

This is when you turn to plan B, right? Except, I hadn’t even had a plan A. Making these raspberry whoopee pies was my best plan. I videoed the humming mixer and sent it to my aunt and my mom and simultaneously got out a hand mixer that I had from college. I hardly, if ever used the thing, but it would have to do. I got out my pretty white batter bowls from my aunt and cousins, and while describing what was wrong through messages to my mom and aunt began to mix the easy batter in the big, batter bowls.

Now, I had just, to my delight, vacuumed the whole upstairs of my new home. The vacuum I received for my wedding shower is small, but does the job well. Jagger hairs still cling to anything and everything they can, but, I was pleased with my vacuum and homemaking skills. Then I turned on my one speed hand mixer. Goodbye vacuum progress, hello new mess to clean up. Instead of stopping and just mixing the fairly easy batter by hand, I forged ahead, unwilling to be defeated by small appliances.

Finally mixed, I doubted the book’s claim to this recipe making 20 halves that would turn into 10 full gobs. It made a safe 15, which left me one buffer when trying to find matching halves. And let’s face it, it really actually left me one to taste test. Seven big whoopees it would be, not a bad amount considering how heavy this desert is, you definitely don’t want these lingering, tempting you for days in your kitchen. Seven is still probably four too many for a couple.

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For the icing, any icing recipe really, I generally see the recipe, know how it will turn out, and make my own adjustments. Batters I am less likely to edit right off the bat, but this one I actually did. For icing though, I have a base formula that goes over really well; I hinge many icings off of it. This recipe looked pretty good, I actually didn’t up the butter, what I did add more of was the amount of raspberry jelly I put in. Again, the poor one speed hand mixer wasn’t the greatest choice, but at least it wasn’t whipping sugary butter chunks all over the counter and floor.

Finally I put together the wonderful whoopee pies, and ate one, and oh my. This recipe was a keeper! I was tempted to skip lunch and just eat another, but I refrained. Despite it being a very heavy treat, the flavor was delicate and not too sweet. I was worried that the raspberry might get  lost in the rich buttery, vanilla cake, but it held it’s ground.

In the end, it all turned out okay. I got the floor re-vacuumed, and still had time to go to the gym before work. Feeling pretty pleased with the outcome, I had the additional delight of extra filling; I decided I would make another batch of whoopees the next day to give away. My sister-in-law had gotten Shane and I a basket full of “firsts”, wines, that I thought I would leave out with a cookie for Shane when he got home late from his flight Thursday, and by the end, it looked like I had actually put a lot of thought into things.

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I have been thinking a lot about patience. I love the fruits of the Spirit, I love them so much so that I had them snuck into our marriage vows. Now, no one was around, except for Jagger, so I could’ve lost my cool and no one would have seen it, judged me, and thought less of me. I even could’ve given up a few times, grabbed some 50% of Valentine’s item at the store and called it quits there, but I wanted to finish. I tried to stay calm and push through all the silly roadblocks that cropped up, and I have to say, digging into my patience reserve helped me through the day. Little moments add up, even little moments no one sees. If we treat these little moments like my college blender, all with one speed, super fast, with the thought of if I just get through, then at least it will be done, then we will splatter these little moments and make a big mess of things.

An aunt and uncle had framed as a wedding gift for us the famous Corinthians verses that starts off with love is patient. It is a beautiful reminder of something we let go all too often as busy, on the go, people. This was my little statement of love, and therefor it deserved a measure of patience. I am really happy with how the fun cakes turned out, and Shane enjoyed them too!

I am including the recipe since I edited it

Raspberry Whoopie Pies

For the cake

  • 1/2 cup buttermilk
  • 1/2 teaspoon butter vanilla flavoring
  • 1  1/2 teaspoon distilled white vinegar
  • 1 stick butter, softened
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 2 cups unbleached, all purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • pinch

For the filling

  • 8 oz cream cheese
  • 4 Tablespoons butter, softened
  • 4 cups confectioners sugar, give or take per desired consistency of icing
  • 1/3 cup seedless raspberry jam

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees
  2. Combine the buttermilk, butter vanilla, and vinegar in a cup, leave in the refrigerator until needed
  3. Cream the butter and sugar together until fluffy, then mix in egg
  4. Sift the flour, baking soda and salt into creamed mixture, stir in buttermilk mixture until all combined
  5. Prepare a baking sheet with parchment paper and use ice cream scoop to measure out cookie halves, leave space in between for spreading
  6. Bake for 10-12 minutes
  7. For filling, mix cream cheese and butter until smooth.
  8. Add in confectioners sugar and raspberry jam again until smooth
  9. Cool cookies before matching halves, on one half add two heaping Tablespoons of the filling and gently press halves together

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