Butternut Squash Cake with Brandy Butterscotch (& growth)

Everyone’s always talking about how much growth happens during the first year of marriage. Adjusting to a new life together, learning how to compromise, figuring out the best communication style to avoid hurt feelings.

Butternut Squash Cake with Brandy Butterscotch

All very real things that Seth and I have dealt with. All things that we’re learning as we grow in life and in love.

There’s also been a much more literal kind of growth in our first year together. We started a garden! We grew tomatoes, peppers, kale, cabbage, kohlrabi – the list goes on! There were rows of sweet corn and piles of green beans. Birds are still eating seeds from sunflowers the size of hubcaps. Then there were the total and complete failures too: radishes so spicy they made our eyes water, Brussels sprouts that never got larger than a marble, one measly little watermelon that was more rind than fruit.

Butternut Squash Cake with Brandy Butterscotch

This last failure I blame on our squash. I don’t know what it is about our soil, but our squash plants went absolutely bonkers. They took over a quarter of the space, crawled over the fence (and pulled it down!), and smothered any and all other plants in their path.

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Prosecco Celebration Cake (& highlights)

This post is going to be like canon balling into a pool. No wading. No tiptoeing. No testing the waters. There’s no time for that. Not when I’ve been so quiet for so long.

So, in the last month I’ve…

Moved into a duplex of my own.

Fallen deeply in love.

Gotten a badass tattoo from a badass woman.

Traveled to Tennessee to stand beside my best friend as she married the man of her dreams.

Successfully made the aforementioned best friend’s dream wedding cake and dessert table from an unfamiliar AirBnb kitchen.

Bought two super cute pairs of shoes.

I highly encourage doing any or all or some of these things.

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Mimosa Layer Cake (& resolutions)

This may be controversial – but I didn’t make any resolutions for 2018.

Mimosa Layer Cake

I didn’t want to.

Setting lofty goals and harsh guidelines (let’s face it, that’s what most resolutions are) fills me with an exorbitant amount of anxiety. The pressure to perform is too much. I worry about failing and disappointing others. In the end, I end up disappointing myself more than anything.

This year, I just want to continue. Keep moving forward.

Mimosa Layer Cake

2017 was a year of hardship and heartbreak (for me and so many other people). But it was also a year of achievements and accomplishments. I’ve spent a good portion of the last few weeks looking back on this year, and previous ones before that, and I have to say, I’m proud. I made serious changes to better my body, my mind, and my heart. I moved back home, got a new job, put myself first. Finally. For once.

And I continued to do that last night. I spent New Year’s Eve with my family – going over to my older sister’s house where we played Mad Libs and drank champagne and colored in coloring books. I squeezed babies and sang terribly. We laughed and ate and took a group photo. It was the perfect end to a less than perfect year.

Mimosa Layer Cake

Imperfect though it was, it was still useful, necessary. If I could label it, I would say that the last year was “The Year of Transition.” It was uncomfortable at times, making me stretch in ways I wasn’t ready for, even if they were necessary. In that discomfort there was growth, real and measurable. Nothing really turned out the way I expected it to, but, truthfully, that seems to be for the better. I’m proud of where I am, grateful for where I was.

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Chocolate Covered Potato Chip Cake (& depression)

It snuck up on me.

As it so often does.

It started innocuously enough.

As it so often has.

At first, it was the Christmas music. I had been so ready to listen to it, but it wasn’t able to hold my interest. It didn’t move me, I didn’t want to hear it. If anything, it bothered me – all the holly and all the jolly – grating in my ears and on my nerves.

Then my appetite started to wane. My usual need to eat every few hours seemingly vanished. My meticulous menus, so often thought out and planned, were replaced by substandard snacks and last-minute meals.

Next, it was an inability to sleep. My body restless, my mind ruminating – going over and over old memories, new worries. My legs began to ache, from the inside out, down deep. Getting comfortable became a fool’s errand.

Without rest my memory began to suffer – previous conversations and commitments began to slip through the cracks, refusing to take root. I’d wander upstairs on a mission to retrieve my glasses, only to forget what it was I wanted the moment I reached the top of the flight.

Not sleeping and not eating led to not being. I didn’t feel like me. I don’t feel like me.

Work is overwhelming – the sounds of the kitchen panic me; too much, too loud. I seek refuge outside – dragging deep breaths among the snow banks. Blinking back tears, counting cigarette butts on the ground to focus on something, anything, else. I look at customers without seeing them, their faces fading into one another. I can smile, of course, and do what I have to do. I serve drinks and run food and deliver checks with a Cheshire grin. Stretched tightly across my face – it feels foreign, forced. It doesn’t reach my eyes. I wonder if they can tell.

It’s hard to describe depression. To explain exactly how it is to be too empty and too full all at once. To make someone understand the feeling of not feeling. The inability to express what’s going on inside for fear that it may get out. Like a weed, growing out of control, where it isn’t wanted. I suppose that’s where the isolation comes from. It’s easier to cancel plans and not return texts than risk being found out, figured out.

But it was figured out. I figured it out. A while ago, in truth. I felt it coming on, having experienced bouts of depression before, both more and less severe. I knew it was coming when I refused to answer my mom’s question of “are you ok?” honestly. I lied to her and to myself. I hoped it was a fluke, a bad day (or week or two or three or four), something explainable, something controllable. There must be a reason, right? Everything has one. A reason why I’m ashamed running into old friends, unable to meet their gaze, hollowly answering questions. A reason I daydream about becoming weightless, like fog, drifting into the air, a crystalline mist – so different from the leaden limbs I’m carrying. A reason for the tears – uncontrollable and unending. A different reason, surely, than the one I’ve known before. Than the one I know now.

But no, there’s not.

I didn’t (and don’t) want to be depressed. Not after a year that has focused so much on finding and pursuing my happiness – adding and subtracting variables in the hopes of solving this difficult equation.

But, I am. I have depression. And it’s nothing to be ashamed of and it’s nothing to be afraid of. To quote Amanda Shires, “when you name a beast, sometimes it makes it less bestial.” So, I’ve named it. I’ve accepted it. I’ve vocalized it to family and friends. And now I’m vocalizing it here. In the hopes of helping someone else who may be experiencing the same thing. In the hopes of taming the beast.

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Cranberry Orange Cake with White Chocolate Buttercream (& practice)

December. How are we here already?

Cranberry Orange Layer Cake with White Chocolate Frosting

I’ll wax far more poetically about the blur of 2017 at a later date, when I’ve recovered from the shock that is this month.

There are positives to this month, no doubt. The official beginning of winter, the Christmas season, birthdays, birthdays, and more birthdays.

Cranberry Orange Layer Cake with White Chocolate Frosting

There are five birthdays of special import this month.

That’s a lot of cake.

Cranberry Orange Layer Cake with White Chocolate Frosting

I’m getting a head start by practicing. Baking, frosting, photographing. It all needs work. Messing up my mom’s birthday cake to the point of disrepair and a deluge of tears kinda hammered that point home.

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Caramel Apple Cake (& emotions)

“Hey, can I talk to you for a second?” I shifted in my kitchen clogs, staring at the mixer and not my boss, unable to meet the gaze of his blue eyes.

Caramel Apple Cake via Midwest Nice Blog

“Sure,” he said. I left the contents of the mixer and followed him out into the dining room, the lunch rush nearly done. We sat at the community table, his son at the head of if playing a game on his phone, a bowl of half-eaten mac and cheese beside him. I tried to look anywhere but at him, not wanting to say what I was about to.

Taking a deep breath, I stared at my hands, “I’m m—“

“Moving back to Wisconsin,” he finished.

I whipped my head up, tears already springing to my eyes. “…yeah.” I stammered, struggled to understand. ”How did you know?”

Caramel Apple Cake via Midwest Nice Blog

“I figured it was about to happen,” he smiled, broad, genuine, his head tilting in the way that was completely unique to him, to Alex. “That, and I saw your house listing. I wasn’t sure at first, I thought I recognized it, and when I got to the picture of the garage and saw my weight bench, I knew.”

Of course, the weight bench. The weight bench he’d given me a few months ago, when I decided to turn my garage into a home gym. When I was still hell bent on remaining where I was, who I was.

“I wasn’t going to tell you until I had accepted an offer on the house. I didn’t know how long it would take. I certainly didn’t think it would happen in a day. I thought it would take a few weeks. Or maybe a few months.” I rambled on. I thought I had more time with him, with this place.

Caramel Apple Cake via Midwest Nice Blog

We talked some more. He asked about my plans moving forward, how close I’d be to my new twin nieces, if there was anything he could do. We decided on an end date, when my last shift would be. I fiddled with the corner of my apron. Neither one of us ready to move from that table, that moment. His son’s game continued to whir and whistle. I continued trying to hold back tears. I continued to fail.

“You have a gift, Amanda,” he told me. “You should keep doing this. I know you say you don’t want to own your own business, but you are the kind of person who should. You don’t just make food that tastes good. You make food for people to feel something, to move them. You put emotions into everything you make,” he paused. “I feel like somewhere along the way, I lost that thread.”

Caramel Apple Cake via Midwest Nice Blog

The tears were free flowing now. My chin quivered. I tried to wipe away the water. We shared a small smile. Eventually, I returned to my corner of the kitchen, to the contents of that mixer. He returned to his son, to the business he was running. Both of us finishing the day, both of us moving forward, the only way we knew how.

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