O’Henry Bars (& asking)

When did you realize your parents were humans?

For me, it was Christmas two years ago.

We had just finished eating dinner and my mom walked toward the kitchen making a comment about how “it’d be nice to have a little help cleaning up” as she wandered away, continuing to mutter.

“Mom,” I called. “If you want me to clean up, just ask! I can’t give you what you want if you don’t tell me what it is. Being passive aggressive isn’t going to help anything!” (Home for the holidays, amirite?)

She huffed. “Fine. Will you please do the dishes? I’m tired from cooking.”

Yes, I could do the dishes. Yes, I would do the dishes. And while doing them I thought about how I had found myself in my mom’s position a multitude of times. Wanting help, guidance, acknowledgement, but being unable or unwilling to ask for it.

So that’s where I had gotten it. From my mom. In addition to a multitude of positives – my sweet tooth, my determination, my penchant for sweatpants – I had gotten my tendency toward passive aggression from my mother.

Because she’s only human. As am I.

So, for the last two years I’ve made a conscious effort to be more straightforward, more upfront, ask for what I want. And so has my mom. No more muttering about dishes, no more wishing for people to read minds. It’s made a marked difference to both of us, I believe.

When it’s important, it’s easier to ask for things. Like my mom did years ago when she asked for the recipe to these O’Henry bars from the women in her hospital’s cafeteria. And like she did weeks ago when she made it very clear what she wanted for Mother’s Day. A shovel. Yes, I could get her one. Yes, I would get her one. Yes, I did get her one. All she had to do was ask.

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Ron Swans-Roll Cake (& victory)

It should be common knowledge by now that I have a dangerously soft spot in my heart for all things pertaining to Parks and Rec.

It’s also been noted that I’m anything but prompt in my posting.

Here I am combining my love for a show that’s been off the air for years with my inability to maintain momentum on here. Huzzah! I’m also combining booze and bacon into one singular dessert. Double huzzah!

Or, as Ron Swanson would say, bully for me!

This cake was inspired by the great Mr. Swanson himself – full of Lagavulin, candied bacon, and half a banana. Because you might need potassium. (If you understand that reference, God bless you. And if you don’t, I’m sorry and watch the show already.)

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S’mores Cream Pie (& acceptance)

Acceptance is hard.

Especially when it’s a less-than-stellar quality about ourselves that we have to come face to face with. Even if it’s not that big of a deal, even if it doesn’t make us any less of a caring or compassionate person, it’s a struggle to accept that the image we have of ourselves, or the idea of who we may be, doesn’t exactly measure up to the reality of what we are living.

For instance, I suck at this part.

The planning and the punctuality and the posting consistently.

It’s hard. I struggle with it. I put myself under an enormous amount of pressure to be the kind of writer/blogger/baker I imagine myself to be and I’m consistently finding that I just don’t measure up. And maybe I never will?

But I’m trying.

And I’m going to continue to try. Because how else am I going to get any better? Gain any traction? Actualize the vision within myself? (Ok, even I thought that one was hokey and I’m sorry.) Or hell, just even learn to give myself a little grace? To realize that it’s ok if I don’t get three or four posts up in a week, because sometimes it’s more important to celebrate your mechanic’s birthday with a S’mores Cream Pie than it is to ramble to a bunch of (very loving and lovely) strangers on the internet.

Don’t believe me? Make the pie. Celebrate your mechanic. You’ll be glad you did.

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Boozy Bread Pudding with Butterscotch & Pecans (& a visit)

I don’t really love bread pudding.

But I love Danielle.

And she loves bread pudding.

Boozy Bread Pudding with Butterscotch & Pecans via Midwest Nice Blog

And she’s here! Finally. After months of planning and prepping – she’s here. In the flesh. Fo realz. She’s currently sleeping since we didn’t get home from the airport until nearly 2am. It’s so nice to know that when she wakes up she’ll have a pan of bread pudding waiting for her.

To be honest, I almost didn’t make it. Then when I realized I had the opportunity to put booze in something, I seized it. And threw in some butterscotch chips and toasted pecans for good measure. It was also the opportunity to make my friend happy. Because if she can fly across the country with a Chick-fil-A sandwich stashed in her bag for me, then I can make her bread pudding. It’s called friendship.

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Fruit Loops Macarons (& doing)

Believe it or not, I’ve got nothing to say.

That’s why I’ve sat on this recipe for so long.

There are no witty prose. No poignant story. No 2000 word diatribe about my feelings.

There are just these macs. And these photos. Both of which I’m supremely proud of.

Because it’s like Amy Poehler says in her book “…do it because the doing of it is the thing. The doing is the thing. The talking and worrying and thinking is not the thing.”

So this is the thing – Fruit Loop Macarons. It’s the making and the baking and the photographing and the writing. And the doing.

Fruit Loop Macarons

110 grams almond flour

110 grams pulverized Fruit Loop cereal*

400 grams powdered sugar

200 grams egg whites, aged 24 hours

100 grams granulated sugar

5 drops blue food coloring

Whisk together the almond flour, crushed cereal, and powdered sugar. Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, whip the egg whites on medium-high speed until foamy. Pour in granulated sugar and food coloring and increase speed to high. Whisk until stiff peaks form.

Fold the dry ingredients into the whipped egg whites. At first the batter will be clumpy, keep folding and you’ll soon have a thick, glossy mixture that should fall off of a rubber spatula in thick ribbons.

Pour batter into a piping bag fitted with the end snipped off.

Pipe small, even rounds onto silicone mat lined baking sheets. Let stand for one hour, until the tops of the cookies have a hard shell that isn’t tacky when touched.

While the macs sit, preheat oven to 350 degrees. When cookies are ready bake in preheated oven for 10 – 12 minutes, until tops are rounded and set and feet have appeared around the bottom of the cookies.

Remove from oven and allow to cool completely before filling.*

Fruit Loop Frosting

2 cups Fruit Loops, divided

½ cup whole milk

½ cup shortening

½ cup unsalted butter, at room temperature

6 cups powdered sugar

1 tsp. vanilla extract

½ tsp. salt

Place one cup of cereal in a small bowl and pour milk overtop. Let stand for twenty minutes. Remove cereal and discard, reserving milk.

Cream together the shortening and butter until smooth. Add powdered sugar, vanilla, and salt. Add cereal milk 1 TBSP at a time until frosting is smooth. Crush up remaining cereal and stir into frosting.

Fill a piping bag fitted with the 1B tip with frosting and frost ½ of the cookies and top with remaining cookies.

*I like to pulverized my cereal in a food processor to get the finest grains I can.

*macs can be stored, unfilled for a few days in an airtight container – the flavor may even intensify!

*recipe adapted from this info graphic. (I know, I can’t believe it either!) And the frosting from this recipe!

Coconut Icebox Cake (& light)

Crossing the state line was like passing through a filter. Everything became a little more golden, the edges softer. If I hadn’t recognized the light, the way the winter sun shined down on the road, I would’ve thought the lack of sleep and excessive time alone had finally taken it’s toll on my addled brain.

But I knew this light. I had seen it before. For years. It was dusk in South Carolina. Wintertime.

I breathed in deep.

The next morning I rose before the sun, the closed blinds in my room producing a whisper of silvery light. Dawn was coming. I watched it appear over the fields of my family’s farm. The start of my first day back. I knew exactly where to begin, too.

I parked my car in its usual place – un-shaded and exposed, guaranteed to warm up inside. The asphalt was already absorbing the heat, the light.

I forced myself to pass the back door. I wasn’t an employee anymore, this entrance wasn’t mine. Instead, I went in through the coffee shop. A regular customer.

“What’re you doing here?” Katie asked, both enthusiastic and incredulous as only she can be. I hugged her tight, tears welling up, my heart in my throat, unable to answer her question.

I saw a flash of blue-blonde hair out the corner of my eye, seconds later a gentle tap on my shoulder. I turned to see Jen, beaming – she knew I was coming, the only one who’d been aware I’d appear that afternoon. She enveloped me in a hug with her long arms. The tears spilled over as we spun.

The spinning ended and I faced the kitchen. Kris stood there, behind the gleaming prep table. He gave me a happy pout, a fake-frown transforming into a smile, and headed down the hall toward me. Now the tears were flowing more than falling. My shoulders shook, heaving sobs as we embraced.

Collecting myself, I went to order coffee. I let the familiar sounds wash over me – the steaming milk, the keyboard clatters, Lindsey and Callie’s sweet voices. I leaned against the coffee bar – cool cement in contrast with soft wood – the color of honey.

I sensed Alex before I saw him, turned to see him standing behind me in the doorway. One step, two steps to close the gap.

We hugged.

I breathed in deep.

“How’re you doing?” he asked.

“Better now.”

No tears.

Instead light. Lightness in his presence, in being back at GB&D, being home.

“So…uhh…I don’t know what your plans are while you’re here, but…do you want to make some desserts?”

Nothing would make me happier.

That decided, I took up residence at the corner table. Alex’s favorite spot. The place we had my interview.

Surrounded on both sides by windows it had the best view of the goings on both in and out of the restaurant. The afternoon sun slanted in through the panes, the décor seemingly picked out to compliment the rays – copper and plants and brick absorbing and reflecting in just the right way. The room itself hugged me, putting me at ease. The line grew, shrank, grew. I watched Jen. Alex. Kris. Katie. I cried. I ate the best burger I’d had in months.

In the morning, I returned, ready to work. But my station wasn’t where it used to be. A lot had changed in six months. Remodeling, rearranging. Alex’s quest for the perfectly situated kitchen never quite accomplished.

I found the mixer in the Annex (named after Toby’s haunt in The Office), set it up on top of the new freezer, collected the ingredients and myself. The freshly painted walls glowed white-blue under the fluorescent lights. At the right angle, I could make out the paint drips from the old mural that lay underneath – round faces with even rounder eyes. My nerves bounced around all the silver and steel in the room.

Muscle memory and music overtook my senses. It took some getting used to – new things in new places, old things long discarded. After a few starts and stutters (and a loan of coconut milk from Kris), I had assembled my coconut icebox cake – a guaranteed crowd pleaser.

Dinner service that night was like I’d never experienced. The switch to table service had made all the difference. The pendant lamps glowed softly, warmth in the winter night, the din of diners never rising above the dim light – a constant measure of contentment.

The icebox cake sold out by Saturday night. Despite the abundance of short ribs and fried biscuits – I felt lighter yet still.

Commuting Sunday morning was as it ever was. Slowly creeping out of the driveway and down the nearly empty highway. Headlights passing me on one side, taillights guiding me on the other.

Jen was awaiting me when I got there – a little late despite my best efforts to be a model pseudo-employee. How many times had I done this? How many times could I still do this? Jen let me take the reigns while she readied the line for service. I fell into the familiar pivot of dough, oil, rack, then back. Again and again. The pile of doughnuts increasing as the daylight did. It crept over the painted farm fields and variety of vegetables on the building next door. A mural celebrating local produce – tinged the softest shade of pink by the rising sun.

“Wow. We have so much time left,” Jen said, pleasantly surprised. Hands on her hips, she surveyed the work we had done. The work she let me do.

That night, when all the guests were gone and all the cleaning done, Alex and I shared a beer. New Glarus Belgian Red. A farewell tradition started the first time I left.

We sat comfortably, watching the cars go by outside. We talked about wine, apartment hunting, heart surgery, and ramen. Every once in awhile, passing headlights would illuminate a different corner of the room, a different feature of his face.

Suddenly, his entire face lit up, not from a headlight but with remembrance. He sprang out of his chair and started rifling on a shelf behind the bar. He returned with a slim, dark blue box. There was a large “GK” embossed on the top, surrounded by the outline of a spoon.

Inside was the Gray Kunz special edition spoon from last year. He took it out and handed it to me. My hand recognized the weight, the length of the handle. But this one felt softer, smoother than the others we kept en masse in the kitchen. It was copper – in fitting with Alex’s obsession. There were other flashes of it all throughout the restaurant – planters and pots and ladles and more. The entire bar front, which he’d made by hand, was distressed copper sheeting.

I rolled the spoon over in my hands as we continued to drink, to talk. About breadboxes, cookbooks, road trips, and regrets. The bottle ran dry long before the conversation would, but we had to concede. It was time to go.

“Here, hold this for me.”

I took the proffered box without thinking, assuming I was only doing a favor. Holding onto it while he cleaned up the glasses, discarded the bottle. The crooked grin and extra sparkle in his eyes gave away what he’d just done.

“No! No! I can’t! This is yours!” I tried to hand it back to him. He shook his head, waved his hands in refusal.

“Amanda. Please, take it. It’s sat in that box for months. I’ve been waiting for the right time to use it. Obviously this is it.”

I accepted the box, and the spoon inside.

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