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I guess I should explain that my love for cooking and sugar didn’t just transpire all in one day, out of the blue.  My dad is the cook of the family, he loves to try new things even if they fail.  Indian food is not his specialty.  The spice ratio and the meat they use has never been his forte.  I remember one specific instance, he began with some sort of beef, it was unrecognizable because it was rolled into a sort of cigar shape.  The taste and texture were terrible but that isn’t why he cooks.  He cooks because he loves his family, the spices and herbs only express his love in an edible form.  Which of course, I am not at all opposed to and neither is my little brother.

Then, there is my mom.  She is the go to cook of the family and loves to bake, now you see where I get it.  Her love for cooking began with her mom; they were poor and the outrageous recipes my grandma came up with made her love to be able to cook for her family, with fresh organic resources.  She loves the feeling of looking for the perfect produce at farmers markets and then bringing those little possibilities home only to craft something beautiful and full of love.

The genetics speak for themselves; so why do I love baking so much.  The sugar tooth does not fully explain anything.  I could get my fix of sugar from any sort of bought over sugary machine-made cookie.  It’s the emotion behind the food.  The way things are folded into each other, mixed on medium speed and kneaded; each step is a part of my heart.  Any stress of a hard day at school is no match to the powers of unsalted butter and organic sugar.  There is nothing unsure about the way flour, sugar and butter will treat you.  If you beat it lovingly and take the time to give it the fair amount of attention; it will mirror the affection.  And, even more than that it brings others joy.  Something in my heart feels more joy and contentment with the smile of a friend remarking over my baking and knowing that maybe that ounce of sugar changed their day.  In someway, it brightened their thoughts and filled them with the emotion that I filled my dear cakes with.

This past summer was no exception.  My mom’s friend asked me to bake her birthday cake for her.  Her only request; a fresh organic garnish and pink.  I searched through many recipes and cookbooks, with no luck.  It was the simple act of searching for a snack that would give me my muse.  They were fresh, newly bought from our local farmers market.  Each seed on the little pink fruit was beautiful, tiny but gave the sweet taste such a lovely texture.  The strawberries were beautiful and had to be place on top of something.  I then remembered I had once watched Paula Dean make a strawberry cake.  At the time, my grandmother had suggested that I make the pink cake, but I wrote it off thinking it was simply a topic of conversation.  Now, I regretted not writing down the recipe but, I called my nonnie (grandma) knowing she wrote everything down.  As she read the recipe I imagined her yellow legal pad, and her loopy dancing handwriting.  In between each curve and line was a bit of her love, spelling out a recipe.  There it was, the perfect cake.  A million strawberries and some pink dye later a masterpiece was born.

On the day of the party I knew I had a special cake.  The moment I placed the plate of my work into her hands, it was all worth it.  The exchanged paused, for the slightest moment, transferring everything I had felt for that cake, and all that I wanted it to mean to her.  She was overjoyed and, because of her smile, I grinned. It was my stupid “happy poster child” grin, but it was as genuine as ever.  The cake tasted good too!  It was moist, and was quite like enjoying a real strawberry.

Marie holding her cake, and my beloved "Nonnie"

The other birthday of summer was my grandfather’s seventy-fifth birthday.  I don’t think it hit me until this year that our lives are not infinite.  Seventy-five is fairly wise and I cannot ever imagine my life with out my POG (plain old grandpa).  I love him to bits and so his favorite carrot cake was the perfect way to take advantage of sharing my love of him through some old-fashioned sugar.  The recipe has been passed down in my family and is very dear to our hearts, and of course stomachs.So, think about it.  What do you love to do?  Does it matter who you do it with?  Find something that makes you happy and brings you joy and share it!

Paula Dean’s Strawberry Cake

Ingredients (cake)

1 (18.25-ounce) box of white cake mix (I made my own white cake)

1 (3-ounce) box strawberry flavored instant gelatin

1 (15-ounce package frozen strawberries in syrup thawed and pureed

4 large eggs

1/2 cup vegetable oil

1/4 cup of water

Ingredients (frosting)

1/4 cup of butter, softened

1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, softened

1 (10-ounce) package frozen strawberries in syrup thawed and pureed

1/2 teaspoon strawberry extract

7 cups confectioners sugar

Freshly diced strawberries (for garnish!)

Directions (cake-wise)

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease 2 (9-inch) round cake pans.

In a large bowl, combine cake mix and gelatin.Add pureed strawberries, eggs, oil, and water; beat at medium speed with an electric mixer until smooth.

Pour into prepared pans, and bake for 20 minutes, or until a wooden pick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Let cool in pans for 10 minutes. Remove from pans, and cool completely on wire racks.

Directions (frosting-wise)

In a large bowl, beat butter and cream cheese at medium speed with an electric mixer until creamy. Beat in 1/4 cup of the strawberry puree and the vanilla extract. (The rest of the puree is leftover but can be used in smoothies or on ice cream for a delicious treat.) Gradually add confectioners’ sugar, beating until smooth.

Spread frosting in between layers and on top and sides of cake. Garnish with sliced fresh strawberries, if desired.

P.S. family’s secret carrot cake recipe to come!

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