Category Archives: Love

Back to November

November, the gateway into the holiday season, is a special time for many. November is also a reminder that physical time is passing quickly and that the turn of a new year is swiftly approaching. The leaves falling to the ground in order for new ones to grow externalizes the changes in our bodies and lives in order to start anew. I just love how that works.

November also holds personal significance for me, a spring to the winter of my life’s journey. Six years ago on a cool, autumn morning in Santa Monica, CA I married my husband. What felt like years in the making was only the inception of a love and life that has brought us literally around the world and back again to be together. Exactly one year later, to the day, my dad passed away suddenly. His passing, furthermore on my one-year wedding anniversary, has been much of the inspiration of my introspection to find significance, not sorrow. I have to say, I never felt robbed by the fact that the two events would eventually be remembered as one, November 7. It’s no wonder to me that the Lord allowed my two favorite men, my past and my future, to be remembered on one special day. And when the year gets long, my heart gets heavy and my memories begin to fade, time always takes me back to November again.


Succulent-Pumpkin Wreath

This time of year is my favorite for DIY projects. It’s also a great time to forage pieces of nature that have fallen to the ground to use for projects. Also, a great use for some of your leftover Halloween pumpkins. Here’s what’s going on around the house this week.

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Apple Cinnamon Layer Cake with Buttermilk Icing

This is the ultimate fall dessert. It’s a perfect alternative to traditional holiday pies or a great bake-ahead to bring to a party. The longer it sits, the better it gets.

For the cake:

2/3 cup brown sugar

2 teaspoons cinnamon

1 cup butter, room temperature (save wrappers to prep the cake pans)

1 1/2 cups granulated sugar

4 eggs, room temperature

3 teaspoons vanilla

3 cups flour

3 1/2 teaspoons baking powder (my husband was helping me and accidentally used baking soda…the cake came out fine)

1 cup milk, room temperature

2 apples (I used honey crisp) peeled, chopped

For the buttercream:

1/4 cup unsalted butter, room temperature

1/4 teaspoon vanilla

2 teaspoons cinnamon

1 cup powdered sugar

1 to 3 tablespoons heavy whipping cream

For the buttermilk caramel icing:

1 cup sugar

1/2 cup buttermilk

4 tablespoons butter

1 tablespoon light corn syrup

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare two 8-inch round cake pans by greasing the pans with butter wrappers.

Mix brown sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl and set aside. Beat butter and sugar together in a bowl until creamy. Beat in eggs, one at a time, until incorporated. In another bowl, sift flour and baking powder. Stir dry ingredients into butter mixture by hand. Add milk into batter until smooth.
Mentally divide your batter into fourths. Each pan will use two layers (each layer will be 1/4 total batter). Pour 1/4 of batter into each pan, reserving half of the batter in the bowl. Add 1/4 apples and 1/4 brown sugar mixture to each pan and gently pat into the batter. Then, add another layer of batter, apples and brown sugar mixture.Bake 30 to 40 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean. While cakes are baking make butter cream and buttermilk caramel icing. For buttercream combine butter, vanilla, cinnamon and powdered sugar and one tablespoon cream with a mixer on high for one minute. If mixture seems too thick add another tablespoon cream until spreadable. 

Place strips of parchment paper on cake stand. Assemble the cake by placing the bottom layer of cake on top of parchment paper. Spread buttercream on top of bottom player and top with other layer of cake. Let sit while making the buttermilk caramel icing. In a cold non-stick saucepan, add sugar, buttermilk, butter, corn syrup, baking soda and vanilla. Combine and bring to a slow boil at medium-high heat. No need to stir while bubbling. The icing will turn to a light caramel in 5 to 7 minutes. The caramel should be sticky and pourable, not firm. Allow the icing to cool for 3 minutes and pour slowly over the cake. The cake is amazing while warm, but only gets better with time. 


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Girl Behind the Garden

After my dad passed away without warning, I repeatedly thought about our unfinished business with each other. Those thoughts evolved into wondering what memories about myself and my life went with him the day he died. What had he seen or known about me that he hadn’t gotten around to telling me or that I hadn’t thought to ask? Afterall, how do you know what to ask when you don’t know what you don’t know about yourself? I suppose I expected that over the course of my life I would discover and learn everything I needed to know in due time, but sometimes life makes you grow even under a cloudy sky. Once my grief eventually subsided my thoughts took a different course. Who is expecting to learn something from me? What is it and would they be listening when I was ready to teach them?

I have one sibling, my sister, who is eight years my junior. Our age difference gives our relationship a special complexity in which I am a friend, her family, a mentor. Naturally, I am in the position to be an example and a role model and I take that position with great pride. In this day and age where we spend so much time being “social” it can be difficult to really connect when we already think we’re totally connected. Recently, my sister went with me on a trip to Palm Springs where we visited Moorten’s Botanical Garden and Cactarium. We spent the morning walking around the grounds in the sweltering August heat, she was a great sport. As we were walking, to my immense delight, she pointed out and named plants or directed my attention to something I missed that she knew I would want to see. It was amazing to see that in her own way she was interested in something I love so much. I managed to take this child, raised in the digital age, and have her love something in a way that only one with an old soul could. My work here is done!

That day at Moorten’s, as I reflect back on it now, is a reminder that knowledge is an evolution in which your original sources fade into you becoming the source and those you teach become your teachers too. The unfinished business I once thought I had with my dad has become my current business with my sister. I’ve found that it’s not about talking about yourself or even sharing family memories it’s about getting out and doing. It takes effort to pass on your passion but when you do it’s wonderful to see what someone else can make of something you love. I can’t exactly put my finger on a single passion that my dad directly passed to me but I know I feel his spirit when I work with my hands. That’s why I love to share the things I create with everyone who reads this blog. A full circle connection that brings me joy. But you just can’t underestimate unplugging from the computer or the phone and teaching those around you, in person. It was the original way to be social, before the media. And that day that I got out with my sister confirmed the direction of my path that she knows the garden and the girl behind it too. moortens2moortens3

Temporary Home

The other day my husband and I were in the garden contemplating where to plant a tree and a few other plants. He brought up a good point that we won’t be living in our current home forever, so if this is our temporary home what will happen to what we plant? My initial reaction, albeit against my feelings about nature, was to say that we could dig up the plants and take them with us wherever we go. I have always aligned my gardening-self with the Greek proverb: “A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.” With the thought that I may plant a small tree today and push my grandchildren in a tree swing upon its highest branch decades later. So where did this gut reaction to uproot everything and take it with me come from? This had me thinking all week about this earth as our temporary home.

A few days later, we received word that my husband’s Nana had passed away at the age of 91. A strong-willed woman with a peaceful passing at home. A blessing we could all wish to have one day. A passing is always a time for me to reflect. I am a Christian and naturally I believe that I will have a home after my home on earth expires. No matter what you believe, this earth is a temporary home for all of us give or take a few years. But this concept is difficult to share with others, especially those who are grieving. I have been witness to much grief in my life and have lost many who are close to me. What I find most often with those who are grieving is that they need a reason as to why they are still here. This is my best attempt at a message to anyone who is mourning:

You are still here. Here to bear witness to life’s beauty and mystery for all the days after your loved one’s passing and until your own. You can find them in the wink of an eye of a child they never had the chance to meet; in the harmony of a song you found the courage to learn to play; in the unexpected flower on a plant that’s never bloomed; in the clouds you fly amongst on an airplane; in the hand you use to connect the here and now to the once was. And you can know that when you are no longer here, these are places I will find you.

We planted that tree. I am content with committing to the earth a flowerless plant to which I may never see the color of its blooms with my own eyes. I am humbled by the challenge to keep only happiness and love rooted deeply in my heart. I can also accept that not all that is planted, no matter how much attention it is given, will survive. We will all leave our temporary home in our own way, on our own time.

Steve and Nana
My husband Steve and Nana at our wedding on November 7, 2009.

 

My International Love Affair

A text message ‘I love you’ appears from an unknown number. It must be him… He calls me in the middle of the night to tell me he’ll be on a plane and then a bus. I don’t know how many hours will pass until I hear from him again. My heart awaits the sound of his voice… I receive an email, it’s my travel itinerary. But wait, my name is misspelled. Will I be going undercover for this trip? There’s never a dull moment in this affair…Did I mention this affair is with my husband!? And my name misspelled on the travel documents that will inevitably get me called aside in immigration is a result of miscommunication between me and the third party international travel agent. And those unknown numbers are the result of cell towers many time zones away. It may not be an affair but sometimes it sure feels like one!

My husband has traveled far and wide the past few years for his career. The traveling and time apart have made for an exciting longing to be with each other somewhere, anywhere. For the times we aren’t together, I’ve mastered the art of carefully composing care packages and concealing baked goods to be shipped far away. Or at least I thought I was artfully concealing baked goods and snacks until FedEx called me to tell me my package was being confiscated by Mexico’s Department of Flora and Fauna for the transportation of “exotic animals” detected in a canine search. Hmm, surely they were surprised when they opened the package and found coffee cake, peanut butter fudge and Snickers, not lizards. Go figure.

Long night chats, handwritten notes or gifts arriving at my door are all fun but it’s the journey to see each other again that puts the romance in this affair. Certain trips I may take from start to finish several forms of transportation to get to him and that’s what elevates the desire in a wanderluster.  It’s all about the ‘if I make it through this it’ll make for a good story’ kind of trip. I’ve been at a border crossing, summoned out of my transportation, sniffed by a German Shepard and looked sideways by a federal agent and still manage to smile inside. It’s all part of the game, a player in this affair.

I’m waiting to see the sunset together again. The bittersweet joy of the best part of the day that lasts only moments. I’ve been watching the shuffle of people in and out of the terminals..I’m in an empty airport now. The sun sets. One day into this trip already gone, used on my journey here. Then I feel a hand on my shoulder. I can’t help but smile. I look behind me at someone so familiar yet still a bit curious. My heart laughs a little. In the backseat of the taxi we look at each other and in unison say, ‘You’d never believe what I went through to get here.’ He grabs my hand and smiles. Oh yes I do, I think. But we ride silently. We’ll story tell tomorrow. Right now, the night is ours…

Lemon Blueberry Cheesecake

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Of all the treats I’ve packed and shipped I’ve got to say this has to be the oddest one. How does one pack cheesecake in their checked luggage you ask? Cut it into bars, place the bars in cling wrap between ice packs and dry-fit workout clothes. Anything for my man.

For the graham cracker crust:

Butter, softened for greasing
3 tablespoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
10 graham crackers
1/2 stick unsalted butter, melted

For the filling:

16 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
2 eggs
2 lemons, zested and juiced (zest and juice a third lemon if desired)
About 3/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups fresh blueberries
Powdered sugar, for dusting

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Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.

For my photos featured in this recipe I doubled the recipe and used my cute heart dish. A single batch of this recipe is best made in a 9 by 9-inch glass baking pan. Grease the bottom of the baking pan with butter. Then place parchment paper over the top, pressing down at the corners. In a food processor, pulse sugar, cinnamon and graham crackers to a fine bread crumb texture. Add the melted butter and pulse a couple of times to fully incorporate. Taste, and sprinkle in extra sugar or cinnamon until desired taste is achieved. Pour into the lined baking pan and gently pat down with the base of a glass making sure that corners are pressed down firmly. Bake in the oven for 12 minutes until golden. When done set aside to cool while making filing. 

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Add cream cheese, eggs, lemon zest, lemon juice and sugar to the food processor and mix until well combined. I like my filing very lemony so I usually add a third lemon if the lemons are small or not very juicy. The filing should have a smooth consistency. Pour onto the cooled base and then cover with blueberries. You can create a cute pattern with the berries or scatter them randomly. They will sink but still be exposed and will burst a bit in the cooking process.

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Bake in the oven for 35 minutes or until the center only slightly jiggles, top will get golden in some spots. Remove from the oven and cool completely before refrigerating for at least 3 hours to overnight. Once set, remove from pan and peel away the parchment lining to reveal the beautiful crust and filling. If using a shaped pan like I did, remove the entire cake and place on cake stand for presentation then dust with powdered sugar.

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The Highways, Byways and Try-ways

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Coffee rules my routine and I freely admit it. There aren’t many things I like to do before I get my morning fix other than choose the mug I’ll enjoy my morning fix in.

Traveling on the road with my husband during his career as a professional athlete has made my search for coffee anything but routine. He and I have seen it all from the big cities to the rural outskirts. Sometimes there would be a coffee spot right in our hotel and sometimes there wouldn’t be a tasty cup for forty minutes in any direction.

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In our morning coffee pursuit we developed another love: long drives together. Before we had GPS, yes before we had GPS, we had a system of the highways, the byways and the try-ways. If we were staying near a major interstate or highway we were bound to find our lattes within five minutes. If we were near a secondary road or byway we’d sit back and know that we’d come across something within a half hour or so. Then there were the try-ways, the good old try-ways. As in, I’ll try going this way and when the pavement stops we’ll assume there’s not a Starbucks on this road. These were the days and roads I found myself wishing would be a part of every trip I’d take. The places where I knew there wasn’t a venti in sight but always an adventure outside my passenger seat window.

Somewhere between Tupelo and Texarkana our love blossomed on four wheels. Those were the days. The hop in the car, blast the A/C, and drive until we never found that cup of coffee we thought we were really in search of kind of days. We found so much more. Roadside fruit stands, untouched lakes that we swore we were the first to discover, grass really blowing in the wind, lightning coming straight from the sky above us, friendship…wanderlust…love.

From all of our drives a comfort came from the thought that if we never really found what we were searching for whether it be the right job or a certain status in life or even just a cappuccino, together our eyes would experience as much of this Earth, given to us by God, as we could.

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“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a large crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us.” Hebrews 12:1

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