Mock Whipped Cream Frosting and Easter…

Easter is such a strange holiday. I think it has an identity crisis. It doesn’t happen on the same date every year like other holidays, it can’t hold a candle to Christmas and it quite often gets lost in the shuffle of spring break. And for the life of me I can’t figure out why, but some of my most treasured memories are centered around Easter. My grandmother sitting on the back porch with windows wide open grating homemade horseradish, tears running down her face from the pungent root. The smell of vinegar as we prepared to color the Easter eggs. My grandmother bent over her sausage making machine attaching casings to it and using her breasts to push the lever that forced the sausage mixture into the casings. Peas and carrots sauteed in butter and cream and homemade bread, loaves with and without raisins.

Precious memories really but time marches on and traditions change. When my grandmother passed so did the days of homemade horseradish and sausage. The family grew older, spouses appeared on the scene and new traditions were born. And for me, the single most memorable new tradition became the making of the lamb cake. With an expanded family we now had two family dinners to attend and two lamb cakes were needed. They were lovingly made the day before, consisting of a boxed pound cake mix to construct the body and homemade mock whipped cream frosting for the lamb’s wool. The lamb was then dotted with coconut, adorned with a pink ribbon collar and placed on a beautiful platter surrounded by green Easter grass and multi-colored jelly beans. With my family it was given a place of honor on the table and was ceremoniously cut at dessert time. At my husband’s house, it was the battle of who could sneak in first and bite the head off the lamb. Initially I was appalled at the barbaric ritual but I eventually got used to the tradition and soon reveled in it.

Pound cake with mock whipped cream frosting

Pound cake with mock whipped cream frosting

And time continues to March on. Now our families are spread out all across the country and Easter for me has become a dinner for two. No need to make the lamb cake but I still wanted some of that tradition. So now, instead of a lamb we have a loaf cake but it’s till covered with that same homemade mock whipped cream frosting and dotted with coconut. Different package, same wonderful dessert treat. Whenever I post pictures of the cake, I am always asked for the recipe for the frosting. So here it is, enjoy and who knows, maybe it will become an Easter tradition in your family as well.

Mock Whipped Cream Frosting

  • Servings: two 9 inch loaf pans or one 8 inch cake pan with border
  • Difficulty: Easy
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3 Tbs. corn starch

1 cup milk

1/2 cup butter or margarine

3/4 cup shortening (preferably butter flavored)

1 cup sugar

3 tsps. vanilla


Combine corn starch and milk in a saucepan. Cook, stirring until thick. Remove from heat, stirring occasionally until cool. Combine butter, shortening, sugar and vanilla and beat until creamy. Add cooled mixture and beat until like whipped cream. This recipe will cover an 8″ cake with one border or two 9 x 2 loaf cakes.

Does Your Life Have A Soundtrack…

One of my Facebook friends posed an interesting question in her blog today. She asked if you could pinpoint five songs that comprised the soundtrack of your life.  At first I thought that would be simple but once I started thinking about it, it became much more difficult than I expected. How do you take a life and define it by five songs? What would you focus on? How do you even begin?

Well it’s always best to begin at the beginning and so I started thinking about compartmentalizing my life in stages: youth, middle age, now. Then I started thinking about the most significant events in my life throughout those stages and tried to identify songs that would accurately fit them. I also just thought about songs that have had the greatest impact on me, songs that I’ve loved over the years and thought about why those songs meant so much to me. Then I took this entire mish-mosh and attempted to make some sense of it. Eventually it happened and I did narrow down the five. Here they are (can I have a drum roll please).

1. We’re Off To See The Wizard – Music: Harold Arlen, Lyrics: Edgar Harburg

I think my whole life can be defined by this song. After all what is anyone’s life but a journey down a yellow brick road. You never know what you’ll encounter, who you’ll meet, what hardships you will face, how long the journey will be or when the journey will end. This song and the pictures it creates in my mind so accurately pinpoints all the twists and turns in my life, a life that I feel was blessed with a protective Glinda watching over me more often than not, a life that has been truly blessed in countless ways. And although there were times when the wicked witch tried to beat me down, I was always able to pick myself up and find my way home. And for that I will forever be grateful because, as we all know, there is no place like home.

2. “The Russian Sleigh Song” – from the Three Suns Album: Ding Dong Dandy Christmas

No soundtrack of my life would be complete without a mention of the holidays. Christmas has always been a special time for me. From my early years when I made the yearly trek to go shopping downtown with my parents, to producing the annual Christmas plays at Hiawatha Park, to meeting my husband and going to midnight mass together, to decorating the house and making Christmas cookies. Christmas has always been THE holiday. Every year I look forward to hearing the tale of Ebenezer Scrooge and watching George C. Scott play that character so masterfully in “A Christmas Carol.” Every year I get such joy out of experiencing the anticipation of Santa, be it in young children, holiday shoppers or myself. And every year I look forward to singing “I Want A Hippopotamus For Christmas” at the top of my lungs. No soundtrack of my life would be complete without some sort of tribute to Christmas, the best time of the year!

3. You Don’t Own Me – Lesley Gore

Very early on in my life I became acutely aware of the differences between men and women. Besides the obvious, I began to notice the stereotypes that have been part of our puritanical culture for centuries and how they, even today, affect how women are perceived and treated.  I will never forget the day that my brother told me that I was too independent for my own good and that I should just shut up and let a man take care of me. From that moment forward I never wanted to be dependent on a man for anything and can say that I have succeeded in doing that throughout my life. Don’t get me wrong, I love men and have been blessed with knowing some pretty spectacular ones. The men who I love, the men who are my friends, all the men in my life past and present are men who did not feel emasculated by strong women. They treated women as equals, they did not live their lives by defined roles, they were loving, caring, honest and fair minded. They viewed relationships as partnerships and were not afraid to let women succeed. When I thought about this phase of my soundtrack, I actually thought of defining it with Helen Reddy’s song “I Am Woman”, but that song is a little too radical for my beliefs regarding women and men. All I’ve ever asked of men is “don’t tell me what to say, and don’t tell me what to do, just let me be myself, that’s all I ask of you.” Because, after all, you don’t own me!

4. The Way We Were – Barbra Streisand

This song defines many facets of my adult years, the joys and the sorrows and the memories of them all. It makes me think about leaving Hiawatha Park and the video that one of my student’s produced showing clips from the productions over fourteen years with this song playing in the background. Even to this day whenever I watch that segment I cry like a baby. This song defines the joys and sorrows I faced in love. It defines the joys and sorrows of my family life and it now defines the joys and sorrows of the memories I have of both my parents who are no longer with me but who will always live on in my heart. It makes me think of all of those I’ve loved and lost and all of those that I still am blessed to have in my life. “Can it be that it was all so simple then. Or has time rewritten every line. If we had the chance to do it all again, tell me would we…could we?” Well maybe we couldn’t, but I certainly would.

5. Somewhere – West Side Story – Music: Leonard Bernstein,  Lyrics: Steven Sondheim

“There’s a place for us. A time and place for us. Hold my hand and we’re half way there. Hold my hand and I’ll take you there. Somehow. Someday. Somewhere.” This song defines my life now, a life of accomplishments and memories but also a life with hope for the future. Hope that the many blessing I have had will continue, hope that all the people that I love are safe, happy and healthy, hope that laughter and love continue to enrich my days, hope that one day I will be reunited with all of those I have loved and lost, especially my mom and dad, but also the many wonderful pets I have had in my life that I have had to put down and still miss, hope that I continue to live life to the fullest and never take one single day for granted. Cherish the here and now and living a life of happiness and hope is what this song means to me. It underscores who I am now and my hopes and dreams for the future.

And there it is, the soundtrack of my life. Some pretty great songs… a pretty great life… so, what’s your soundtrack?

Hiawatha Means Holidays…

One of my most precious memories, or years of memories, I have of the Christmas holiday season was producing the annual holiday shows at Hiawatha Park. The shows started out as small plays and evolved into Christmas musical extravaganzas. For me, the fall and winter seasons are still defined in my mind by the rigid schedule we kept to get a show up the second week in December. It was always the second week in December for several reasons, mostly so it would not conflict with the myriad of other holiday activities planned by schools and families. But I also arranged my schedule so that once the show was done I was on vacation until the first of the year. Ah, those were the days…

We did many full scale musicals including Babes in Toyland, Cinderella and Peter Pan and we also did shows consisting of holiday skits and dancing. But, regardless of what we chose to do, it was always a magical way to ring in the holiday season. Auditions started early in September and the competition was always fierce for the lead roles. Once the show was cast rehearsals began and the tried and true schedule we was put into motion. Rehearsals were two to five days a week, depending on the size of your role. At least once, if not twice, during the course of the rehearsal period I would tell the students the show was canceled, not because I intended to do it but it was a weapon to get them to behave. It worked for a while and then became just another element of patterns of the rehearsal schedule. The first complete run through was always the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. I would always dreaded that day but more often than not was surprised that the kids could actually pull it all together.

After that, I would spend rehearsal times focusing on weak areas and ensuring that we did a few more complete run throughs before we moved into the gym. The Hiawatha Park gymnasium was the venue where we staged all of our shows. We could never get into the space until the Monday before the show so we literally had only two days to rehearse in the performance space before the show opened, and one of those days was dress rehearsal with no stopping and starting. So technically we had only one rehearsal to get it all down.

The Monday of show week was perhaps the day I dreaded the most. Moving from the small room where we rehearsed for two months and trying to get sixty kids to adjust their blocking to the much bigger space was always interesting. The more seasoned students learned quickly and adapted very well. The newer students had difficulty but always seemed to find their way by show time. Monday was also the day that we staged the major dance number of the show that involved every single student in the program. It was the first time all of them danced the dance together and it was a technical nightmare – sixty kids doing different things at different times weaving in and out of each other while watching in awe the dancing of the Dance Company. How we all got through it I will never know, but the result was spectacular. The Monday rehearsal  always seemed like it would never end. Having to restage the entire show, adapt the choreography and do a complete run through with lights and sound for the first time was a daunting task. But we all pulled through.

Then came Tuesday, dress rehearsal night, and you could feel the tension in the air. This was it – regardless of what happened, the show would be done in its entirety without stopping. I had strict back stage rules for the cast but trying to keep a slew of excited grammar school children behaving was perhaps the biggest task of all. I spent as much time keeping them seated, preventing them from peaking out from behind the bookfolds, and not talking as I did stage managing. Quite often I would snap my fingers and point at someone misbehaving with a glare that I hoped would stop them in their tracks. Some times it work and some times it didn’t. There were even a few surprise rump taps to keep them in check. If I were teaching today, that definitely would not have occurred. And eventually we made it through dress rehearsal and on to three nights of performances.

Wednesday, Thursday, Friday – performance days. The first night you could cut the tension with a knife, the second night the kids were old pros and the third night they were just plain having fun. And then there were the flowers. Every closing night they gave me flowers. For fourteen years I got flowers and for fourteen years each group that gave them went through elaborate measures to make sure that I didn’t know I was getting flowers – or so they thought. And although I knew, I cherished each gift because I knew it reflected the love they had for me, which I also had for them.

And then came Saturday. This holiday play producing tradition was capped off by the annual Christmas Party at Hiawatha Park which always occurred the day after our show closed. And every year the dancers would perform at least two of dances they performed in the holiday show. And that was it, the auditions, the rehearsals, the canceling of the show, the pre-Thanksgiving run through, the first day in the gym, the dress rehearsal, the three nights of shows, the flowers, the Christmas Party – all culminating in the second week of December.

Today is Saturday in the second week of December, the day of the annual Christmas party. And in my mind today, the show is over, the holiday songs are being sung (accompanied by Rita Utz on the piano) and the dancers for one last time are performing some dances from the holiday show. The flowers they gave me the night before are in a vase in a prominent place in my house, serving as a beautiful reminder of what we all accomplished together. Those beautiful flowers, those precious flowers. They are so vivid in my mind even though you don’t bring me flowers anymore…