What Now? What Next? & Strawberry Tort

It will be all pomp and circumstance at the local high school on Saturday. Bright-eyed teenagers will collect their sheepskins in front of beaming parents and grandparents. Many will continue their education in the fall; others will head straight to work. There will be plenty of sage words and glib platitudes but here are a few more…

Dreams are like an early morning mist. They float and surround you but there is little to grab and hold. Work is real and makes dreams come true. No one said it would always be easy; make a plan and persevere.

Don’t settle. Life is too short, too tough and too much fun to settle for dull and boring. It is much too short for cruel and meaningless.

Don’t wait for stuff to happen to you. Create your own next best thing. Achieve something; learn a new skill or take an old one to new heights. Perhaps you will write a sonnet, unscramble a piece of jumbled code or build a birdhouse. Go ahead – take a step, then another and make life happen.

Of course, accidents happen and luck can be hit or miss but the future is by far and away a product of the choices you make. Good, bad or indifferent, own your choices and move on to the next.

Don’t just pick your battles; pick the outcome. If you find yourself in the middle of an angry feud, you can choose to fume, forgive or forget. More often than not, being at peace is better than righteous indignation.

Life is better when you are happy. Happiness is not a deep secret or a profound mystery. You can find happiness by smiling more, laughing more and singing more. And don’t forget to dance.

Given a choice between an adventure and the same old-same old, choose adventure. No matter what happens, you will learn a whole lot along the way.

Don’t be an idiot. Open your mind to new people, possibilities and ideas.

Change is constant and all around us. If it wasn’t, you’d still be using a rotary phone. Heck, you’d know what a rotary phone was. Technology, fashion and opportunities change but love for family, for friends and a favorite place is constant. So embrace the latest smart phone but use it to call your grandmother on Sunday morning.

Keep kindness as a core value. Throughout your life, you will experiment and explore. You may investigate different beliefs or try new approaches to life. Through all those changes and evolutions, practice simple acts of kindness to connect to the people around you.

Hug your parents. Hug your grandparents. They won’t be here forever so appreciate them while you can.

Enjoy the ride and bon appétit!

Strawberry Tort
June is the month for graduations, weddings and strawberries. No, this tort can’t replace a five-tier wedding cake but celebrants will welcome it at almost any other festive feast. Enjoy!
Serves 8

1/2 cup butter, plus more for the pan, at room temperature
1 cup all-purpose flour, plus more for the pan
Grated zest of 1 orange
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
About 1 pound strawberries, hulled and cut in half

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly butter and flour a deep dish pie plate.

Put the flour, baking powder and spices in a bowl and whisk to combine.

Put the butter and sugar in a bowl and beat with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add the eggs and vanilla and beat until well combined.

Add the dry ingredients and beat on low until just combined. Spread the batter into the prepared pan.

Arrange the strawberries cut side down on top of the batter. Bake at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.

Cool for at least 20 minutes, the tort can be served warm or at room temperature. Cut into wedges and serve plain or with a dollop of whipped cream or scoop of ice cream.

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One Year Ago – Grilled Potato Salad
Two Years Ago – Grilled Salmon with Lemon-Herb Quinoa Salad
Three Years Ago – Chocolate-Peanut Butter Tart
Four Years Ago – Salsa Verde
Five Years Ago – Blueberry Crumb Cake
Six Years Ago – Peanut-Sesame Dipping Sauce
SevenYears Ago – Strawberry Gelato
Eight Years Ago – Asparagus Soup

Or Click Here! for a complete list of and links to all the recipes on this blog!

What about you? Do you have a favorite piece of advice for graduates? Feel free to share!

Want more? I’ve got links to lots more to read, see & cook. © Susan W. Nye, 2017

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Enthusiasm & Joy & Grilled Pork Tenderloin

Graduation_Caps_02At the end of the week, my niece Charlotte will march down the aisle to the beat of a static laced rendition of “Pomp and Circumstance”. She is the last of the three twirling girlies to collect her high school diploma. Maybe she cares, maybe not but I suppose it is only fitting that I offer up some sage advice. Okay, maybe it’s not so sage but I did it for her sisters. I wouldn’t want her to feel left out.

So, here goes. Be happy and live each day with enthusiasm and joy.

I can’t claim this wisdom as my own. Left to my own devices, I’m prone to a certain cynicism when it comes to exuberant displays of jocularity. I’m still tempted to narrow my eyes, give that happy-go-lucky character the once over, shrug and ask, “Really?” Of course, I’m too polite to actually do any of those things. However, there was a day when I might have come close.

It is my mother, Charlotte’s Meme, who convinced me that happy people live better lives. A doubter might argue that Mom got it backwards; that people with better lives are happier. Nope, that’s not the way works. A new pair of shoes won’t make you happy. Okay, maybe for a few hours or even a couple of days but long-term happiness comes from within. Happiness isn’t a fleeting shot of retail induced dopamine; it’s an on-going, every day state of mind.

My happiness conversion wasn’t easy. It took patience to win me over. It’s unlikely that I will ever emulate Mom’s unbridled spirit of fun. I’ve never danced with a vacuum cleaner while singing “When The Saints Go Marching In”. I doubt I ever will. However, put on some Motown and I will dance with unmitigated enthusiasm. Thanks to Mom, I am unapologetic in my optimism and joy.

Now eighty-six and with severe Alzheimer’s disease, my mother can still teach us a thing or two about happiness. Mom is bedbound and no longer able to speak. That is the reality of this awful disease. The reality of my mother is that happiness is indeed a state of mind; even one that is bruised and embattled.

Here is what my mother continues to teach me about happiness:

Happy people figure out what is important and make time for those people, places and things. My mother never stressed over keeping up with the Jones or wasted time comparing her lot with others.

Happy people treat family, friends, neighbors and strangers with respect. Mom always assumes the best in people. If I had to name only one, I’d say Mom’s superpower was her kindness.

Happy people get over it. Yes, bad things happen to good people. Mom has never wasted time feeling sorry for herself. Instead, she gives her bootstraps a yank, smiles broadly and moves on.

Happy people live life to the fullest. They don’t yearn for past glories or dwell on old mistakes. Instead of worrying about the future, they do their best today. Mom embraces every day with optimism.

Happy people aren’t too cool to smile and laugh – loud and often. My mother’s smile and laugh are infectious.

Congratulations to Charlotte and the class of 2016. I wish you every happiness. Bon appétit!

Grilled Pork Tenderloin
A great party dish, pork tenderloin will make a delicious addition to your graduation celebrations. Enjoy!
Serves 8grilled_pork_tenderloin_01

1/3 cup whole grain mustard
2 tablespoons cognac
1 tablespoon olive oil
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
3-4 tablespoons minced onion
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon dried Italian herbs
1/2 teaspoon or to taste sriracha or your favorite chili paste
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
Freshly ground pepper to taste
2 (about 1 1/2 pounds each) pork tenderloins

Put the mustard, cognac, olive oil, garlic, onion, brown sugar, herbs and spices in a bowl and stir to combine.

Tuck and tie the narrow end of each tenderloin and then add ties about every 2 inches down the length of the roasts. Put the tenderloins in a dish, slather them with the mustard mixture, cover and refrigerate for at least 4 hours.

Remove the pork from the refrigerator and let sit at room temperature for 30 minutes to 1 hour. Preheat the grill to high.

Arrange the tenderloins on the grill and cook for about 10 minutes. Turn and cook an additional 5-7 minutes or until the pork registers 140-145 degrees on an instant read thermometer. Remove the tenderloins from the grill and let them rest for 5-10 minutes. Cut the pork into 1-inch slices, transfer to a platter and serve.

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One Year Ago – Greek Salad with Grilled Shrimp
Two Years Ago – Asparagus & Radish Salad
Three Years Ago – Salsa Verde
Four Years Ago – Asian Noodle Salad
Five Years Ago – Asparagus Goat Cheese Tart
SIx Years Ago – Not Your Ordinary Burger
Seven Years Ago – Strawberry Rhubarb Soup
Or Click Here! for a complete list of and links to all the recipes on this blog!

What’s your best advice for the class of 2016? Feel free to share.

Want more? I’ve got links to lots more to read, see & cook. © Susan W. Nye, 2016

Next Chapter & Coconut Cupcakes

Kaela_Graduation_02It’s graduation time. Some see it as the end of an era but I prefer the term commencement. Whether it is kindergarten, high school or college, graduation signals a new beginning. A new chapter filled with opportunities and adventures. However, you don’t need a diploma to start anew. All you need is the desire to reinvent and discover the next you. As you dive into that adventure, here are a few simple suggestions to make it the best it can be:

Be yourself. Be good at it. Be proud of your strengths and talents and built on them. Be aware of your weaknesses and find ways to improve or compensate. You don’t have to be perfect to be wonderful. Embrace the whole you. There is nothing so captivating as confidence.

Be as smart as you can be. Daisy Buchanan was wrong; a beautiful little fool is not the best thing a girl can be in this world. Or a boy for that matter.

Be brave. Fear of failure, fear of success, fear of the unknown, heights or public speaking; whatever the variety, never let fear get the best of you. Defy it. Overcome it. It’s hard to live a whole life if fear is holding you back.

Be a good person. Even one is one too many bullies so be kind to strangers, considerate to colleagues and loving and loyal to friends and family. What legacy will you leave behind? What could be better than people who were touched by you, care about you, love and admire you?

My brother was born funny. Not all of us are so lucky. You may never become a comic but you can appreciate wit in others and tell the occasional joke or clever story. Cultivate a sense of humor and laugh every day.

If you have an opportunity to travel or, better yet, live abroad; take it. If not, make the opportunity. Not everyone thinks the way you do or lives like you or wants to think and live like you. Getting up close and personal with other cultures will open your eyes, make you think, consider and reconsider your priorities.

It’s okay to fail. Just make sure you spend some time to figure out what worked and what didn’t. Failure is not proof of incompetence or a reason to retreat. It is an occasion to learn and grow.

Assume you’ll get caught. If not this time, then the next time. Or the time after that. If it could land you in jail, get you fired or hurt you or someone else; it’s probably a bad idea.

It’s okay to fumble around a bit. Chances are more than good that you won’t wake up one morning with all the answers. Expect to evolve and grow with new experiences, triumphs and mistakes. Embrace your changing world and changing self. You will have moments, days, even months of uncertainty as you figure out your goals and how best to reach them.

red_sneakersWear red. My mother’s favorite was bright red lipstick. Whether it was in style or out, she wore it every day with pride. I’m partial to shoes – shiny patent leather flats or sneakers are my two favorites. Life is too short (and some days too difficult) to live it without red shoes.

Good luck and bon appétit!

Coconut Cupcakes
Need a festive dessert idea for someone’s (maybe your own) commencement celebration? These coconut cupcakes will make a delicious addition to the party table. Enjoy!
Makes about 18 regular cupcakes or 50 minis

1 3/4 cup all-purpose flourcoconut_cupcake_02
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups sweetened, shredded coconut
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
3/4 cup coconut milk
1 egg
Garnish: more coconut, slivered almonds and chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line muffin tins with paper liners.

Put the flour, baking powder, nutmeg and salt in a bowl and whisk to combine. Add the coconut and whisk again.

Put the butter and sugar in a large bowl and beat on high speed with an electric mixer until fluffy. Add the vanilla and egg and beat on high speed until smooth. Reduce the speed to low and add the dry ingredients and coconut milk alternately in 2 batches, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients and mixing until just combined.

Fill the paper liners 2/3 full with batter. Bake at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes for regular cupcakes and 12-15 minutes for minis or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Cool the cupcakes completely. Generously frost the cupcakes. If you like, toast the coconut and almonds. Garnish the frosted cupcakes with coconut, almonds and chocolate chips.

Cream Cheese Frosting
8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter, at room temperature
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
About 4 cups confectioners’ sugar
coconut_cupcake_01
Put the cream cheese and butter in a large bowl and beat with an electric mixer on medium speed until smooth, add the vanilla extra and beat to combine.

Slowly add the confectioners’ sugar and beat until well combined. Increase the mixer speed and continue beating for 2-3 minutes or until the frosting is light and fluffy.

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One Year Ago – Crunchy Slaw with Cilantro, Mint & Peanuts
Two Years Ago – New Potato Salad with Gorgonzola
Three Years Ago – Spicy Hoisin Wings
Four Years Ago – Grilled Steak & Potato Salad
Or Click Here! for a complete list of and links to all the recipes on this blog!

What’s your best advice to a new graduate? Feel free to share. Let’s get a conversation going.

Want more? I’ve got links to lots more to read, see & cook as well as a day in the life photoblog! In addition, I hope that you will take a minute to learn about my philanthropic project Eat Well-Do Good. © Susan W. Nye, 2013