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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Sweet Potato Cream Pie with Marshmallow Whipped Cream (& procrastination)

I found this gif while scrolling aimlessly on Imgur.

Sweet Potato Cream Pie with Marshmallow Whipped Cream via Midwest Nice Blog

I identified with it so much – what with my terrible habit of procrastinating (which is what I was doing on Imgur in the first place, obviously). I’m working on it, little by little. But, I know I can do better.

For instance, maybe I should’ve posted this recipe yesterday? Given y’all a little more time to add it to your menu. But then I thought – hey, maybe there are other people like me out there. Perhaps there’s truth to the whole “procrastinators unite…tomorrow!” thing? Me waiting to post this and you waiting to figure out what dessert to make could be the perfect balance we as procrastinators need!

Sweet Potato Cream Pie with Marshmallow Whipped Cream via Midwest Nice Blog

Plus! This can be made today and be ready for tomorrow – saving time and valuable oven space on the big day. Look at us, procrastinators planning ahead! Baby steps, folks. Baby steps.

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Brandy Pear Bundt Cake (& trying)

I don’t do well at not doing well. It’s a character flaw.

Brandy Pear Bundt Cake via Midwest Nice Blog

This is a realization I’ve been coming to for awhile now. It was never one of those “AHA!” moments, a true eureka breakthrough. I guess this transformation really started earlier this year – all the turmoil and upheaval I went through deciding to come home. Feeling as if I had failed, hadn’t done well.

Now it’s come up again, with the resurgence of my desire to move forward with this blog. Because this is what I want to do. This entire time that I have been without work, people have asked, “Well, what do you want to do?” Truly, for me, the answer would be to make food for my friends and family and get paid to write about it. To use my degree and my talents. To be left alone in my kitchen with Edgar and the new Hanson Christmas album on repeat. To, as my friend Kristen puts it, “follow my heart.”

Brandy Pear Bundt Cake via Midwest Nice Blog

I feel like that’s not something I’m supposed to talk about. I feel like these virtual spaces, like so many of them we dive into these days, are supposed to seem effortless, accidental. One day I’m just supposed to wake up and be wildly successful with a huge readership and advertising revenue and sponsorship deals. Voila! Like magic.

But there’s nothing magical about it. With the amount of food blogs (or any blogs) out there right now, the internet is saturated with recipes and photos and posts. Becoming successful at this can truly be like catching lightening in a bottle. There doesn’t need to be another voice shouting into the void. But I have something to say, I have something to do. I can finally admit it now. What I’ve done, what I’ve been through, how I bake and write and feel are important. And worth sharing.

Brandy Pear Bundt Cake via Midwest Nice Blog

For a long time, I’ve been afraid that I just don’t have the hustle for it. That I won’t be able to do and say and be everything I’m striving for, what others think I’m capable of. But I realize now, I’m more afraid of failing. Because that’s to admit I wanted something, went for it, and it didn’t work. Bringing up issues of whether or not I’m good enough, smart enough, talented enough. I have a small, steady readership of friends and family that believe in me, in what I want. That’s hard to accept when I don’t always believe in myself. Even harder to think that if I don’t keep plugging away at this that I’ll not only let myself down, but everyone who believes in me.

That’s a lot of pressure I’m putting myself under. And it’s a lot of pressure I’m running from, avoiding, hoping it goes away.

Brandy Pear Bundt Cake via Midwest Nice Blog

Am I even making sense anymore?

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Pumpkin Pie-Scream Semifreddo (& work)

Being unemployed these last few months, I’ve had a lot of time to think about my past jobs; to reflect on my previous employers, my former coworkers. Truly, to think about who and how I used to be – before, during, and after these experiences.

Pumpkin Pie-Scream Semifreddo via Midwest Nice Blog

I got my last job – as a pastry chef at GB&D (that’s Golden Brown & Delicious, for those out of the loop) – while working at my other job. I remember it so clearly, that Saturday afternoon. I had just started my shift serving for the evening, the restaurant was still pretty quiet. Two men sat in my section, I saw them through the large French doors that separated the servers’ station from the dining room. I waited, none-too-plussed to be there, watching them, taking my sweet time, trying to work up the enthusiasm I was going to need to make it through this table, this shift. I had been feeling listless, like I wasn’t where I was supposed to be, unfulfilled and empty – like I was missing something. (Turns out, I was missing my home, my family, but I had yet to realize that, yet to vocalize the aching hollowness in my job and my heart.)

Pumpkin Pie-Scream Semifreddo via Midwest Nice Blog

I pasted a smile on my face and (finally) walked up to them, “Hey y’all, my name’s Amanda, I’m going to be your server. Can I getcha started with something to drink?”

“I’ll take a Golden Monkey,” the man on the right said.

From my left, “I’ll have the same.”

They were two grown men, obviously over 21, but not quite out of their twenties. I didn’t need to card them, but probably should. I went through the motions, getting ready for a night of constantly asking, “Alright, can I see y’all’s IDs, please?”

I gave the cursory glace to the man on the right, knowing he was already over the legal age. I glanced at the man’s on the left, then did a double take.

Pumpkin Pie-Scream Semifreddo via Midwest Nice Blog

“Hey, I know you!” He looked confused, he obviously didn’t know me. “Well, I know of you. You’re Alex George! You own GB&D! You are…were…umm…you’re a regular at my ex’s bar…he…uh…he told me about you…when we were…uh…together…before we…” I prattled on like an idiot, my emotions a mixture of excitement from finally meeting him and aching from the heartbreak that was still fresh.

I handed him back his ID, attempting to recover myself and act in a somewhat professional manner. I promised to be back with their beers, actually excited by the prospect of who I was getting to wait on.

Pumpkin Pie-Scream Semifreddo via Midwest Nice Blog

“Wait. Let me see your arm,” he said as I reached across the table to put their beers down. I was used to this, that reaction. It’s been a constant chorus, ever since getting a tattoo of my favorite butter label across my forearm two years ago. The pause, the petting, the pictures.

I showed him my arm.

“Are you serious?!” Blue eyes staring at me, twinkling. “Now I can’t get a butter tattoo! I’ve been talking about getting one for years! And now that I’ve seen one I can’t steal your idea!” Alex looked at his friend, slightly irritated and impressed. He kept looking at my arm, shaking his head.

Then, of course, the next question, “why?” The answer – “I’m a baker. All my tattoos are baking themed.” Display the rest. The end. The usual. Usually.

Usually this information is enough. Their curiosity is satisfied, their laughs are had. But, not this time.

“Y’know, I’m actually looking for a new pastry chef.”

“Really?!” I stammered, I sweated. This was it – my sign, my knight in shining armor, the answer to the question I’d had on my heart.

I gave him my card, wrote my Instagram name on the back, pulled up pictures of the last thing I’d made. We talked about biscuits, pies, tattoos. I got them refills. He asked me to come by the restaurant Tuesday for an interview. I spent the rest of my shift floating from table to table – anxious and elated.

Tuesday came, I took him handpies and cream puffs and a freshly printed resume. We sat at his favorite table in the restaurant, a sunlit square in the corner. I sweat through my lucky dress. He offered me the job. I accepted, still sweating.

Pumpkin Pie-Scream Semifreddo via Midwest Nice Blog

But here’s the thing, Alex didn’t just offer me a job. He offered me an opportunity to learn and grow, a space to mess up and make mistakes, a chance to make things mine, make them shine. I did all of those things. And then some.

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Berries & Cream Cake (& a homecoming)

Looking at these pictures is a very bittersweet experience for me.

Berries & Cream Cake via Midwest Nice Blog

These are the last food photos I took in my house before I moved.

Back home.

Berries & Cream Cake via Midwest Nice Blog

Back to my family. Back to my roots. Back to Wisconsin.

But to tell you about where I am now, you have to know about where I was then. And where I was was a grocery store parking lot. On a Sunday morning in May I was sent to the store to restock on yet another item we had run out of during a particularly brutal brunch service.

Berries & Cream Cake via Midwest Nice Blog

I couldn’t get out of the car. It was too hot. There were too many people. My heart hurt too much. I didn’t want to be there anymore. Not in that parking lot, not in that city, not in that state.

Chest heaving, eyes blurred by tears, I frantically texted my sister-in-law.

“I think I need to move home.”

I ignored the niggling feeling that I was stranding my coworkers, leaving them waiting and wanting. I waited, I wanted. She responded.

“What does your gut tell you?”

My gut was telling me to go home. I had left leeway in the text; wiggle room if she thought I was being dramatic or that I just needed to stick it out. But I knew. Deep down. My gut, my head, my heart were all saying the same thing. In unison. My everything had been trying to tell me for weeks, months. It was time to go home.

And that was it. I finally verbalized what I had been feeling for so long. It was liberating and lightening. All this time I had thought my broken heart had been the result of romance gone wrong, that all I needed was a little more time to adjust, to heal. Truly though, I don’t think my heart was ever going to heal so far from home. There was a brokenness there that wasn’t the result of love lost, but of a loss of self.

Berries & Cream Cake via Midwest Nice Blog

I tried. I really did. I tried for over three years in South Carolina. I got a job (an amazing one, actually, best I may ever have). I made friends (close friends, actually, some of the best I may ever have). I fell in love (God willing, not the best I will ever have).

But see, here’s the thing – if it had been right for me, if Greenville had been my place, my home, I don’t think I would have had to try quite so hard. It wouldn’t have been such a task to see the beauty around me, to feel at peace in my heart. Hell, to even function. But I couldn’t. I didn’t. I wasn’t. It was such a task to try and be myself, to find myself. Honestly, the decision to move home was one of the most “Amanda” choices I had made in years. It was right. I knew it, deep down in my bones.

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Mississippi Mud Pie (& heartbreak)

Heartbreak is…heartbreak is… heartbreak is what, exactly?

Mississippi Mud Pie | via Midwest Nice Blog

Heartbreak is different for everyone. Different for the same person. Changing and shifting and morphing. At least, that’s how it’s been for me.

It has been painful, of course. Annoying, aggravating, cursed, unrelenting and seemingly unending. Those too. It has ebbed and flowed, ceasing altogether some days only to rear its ugly head the very next, with a force that quite literally took my breath away. It has been fleeting, flickering into my consciousness unexpectedly only to be whisked away in a moment. It has tugged gently at the edges of my memories, in those early morning minutes between sleeping and waking, when the dreams still feel real, before reality has set in and my mind and heart are still weightless, grief not weighing them down.

It has been necessary. Necessary to avoid “his side” of town. Necessary to avert my eyes when I think I spy his truck on the road. Necessary to sit in a hot, dark shower, water hitting my skin until it’s red and raw, the sounds of this song reverberating on the bathroom walls. Necessary to feel the ache in my chest, the hurt in my lungs, the catch in the back of my throat from another bout of sobs racking my entire body.

Mississippi Mud Pie | via Midwest Nice Blog

It has been strong.

I know I am stronger.

There was a time I didn’t know that, though. A time when all I could be was left. Alone. Again. I know I am not the first person to be broken up with, to be broken hearted, and I know I won’t be the last. I know there are worse things that can happen to a person, that other people have a harder time, but I’ll be damned if that means my experience and emotions hurt any less. Are worth any less.

Mississippi Mud Pie | via Midwest Nice Blog

My friend Kristen, in all her unending wisdom, equated it to a death. And as melodramatic as that sounds, as all of this has sounded thus far, something did die. A relationship is a living and breathing thing, and when it ends it leaves a void, a chasm. It dies. There were hopes and dreams and plans that ceased to exist. And for a while, I thought a part of me had gone along with them.

Mississippi Mud Pie | via Midwest Nice Blog

In truth, that’s the main reason for my silence these long, winding weeks (going on months). Sure, it was partially the new job, the juggling of a new schedule and new responsibilities, a desire to perform well and make connections with my new coworkers, impress the new boss. But, mostly, it has been heartache. Restarting my life without the person I was planning it around. Leaning into sadness and loneliness, leaning onto the pillars my family and friends have provided.

But I’ve gotten used to it. Or, at least, I’m getting used to it. That’s what we as humans do. We adjust, we carry on. Even as much as we fight and fear change, homeostasis is a biological inevitability. I have made new routines, started new traditions. I have grown comfortable falling asleep alone and waking up that way, too. I have begun filling my life, and my heart, back up. I have chosen to make changes after one was forced upon me.

That includes changes around here, too. To be more honest, more intentional, for better or for worse. I still firmly intend to share food and drink, but with less fluff, more substance. I don’t want to put up a post just for the sake of it. I want meaning. I want emotion. I want to be myself. Because, according to Kristen, who once again surprised me with a nugget of necessary wisdom, “that’s all I should ever be.”

And I am emotional. I know no other way. I have been called an open book many times – sometimes in admiration, sometimes in antipathy. My friend Danielle has expressed equal amounts of both after seeing the big, beating heart on my sleeve. She’ll probably think this post is too much info, would never do such a thing herself, but won’t ever hold it against me. Because she knows me. She loves me. So does Kristen. So does my dad. My mom. My grandma, sisters, aunts. Robin and Bunny, too. Shawn and Dawn, without a doubt. They prove there is still so much love in my life, even if I haven’t found the love of my life. Everyone who has rallied around me has shown me that, gifted me that. And I am eternally grateful.

Mississippi Mud Pie | via Midwest Nice Blog

In some small attempt to repay them for their love and kindness, their shoulders and strength, I have made treats. Efforts at returning the love so freely given to me. Cakes, cookies, pies. I know it is a small gesture, not necessarily life altering or affirming for them, that they don’t get the same buoying from a batch of biscuits that I get from a phone call back home. That their hearts aren’t as heavy, don’t need as much lifting.

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