The lens through which I come up with ideas is admittedly a tad off the grid from what your average person might consider normal. I’m rarely surprised that when I throw an idea out there, I’m often met with looks of skepticism or, in most cases, advice not to do it. But, in most cases, I still do it and the result always creates a story or memory for me to bookmark into my life.
This week was a perfect example. My friend went through a devastating break up this past month ending with a move out of the house she shared with her boyfriend of two-years and starting over in a new apartment. One of the few things that has made her smile and laugh over these painful weeks has been a local Cleveland comedian, Mike Polk, Jr. His claim to local fame are some funny You Tube videos that have garnered millions of hits. His Hastily Made Cleveland Tourism Video and now infamous Factory of Sadness rant about the Cleveland Browns also landed him an opportunity to publish a novelty book entitled, Damn Right I’m From Cleveland.
My friend gave us all this book for Christmas and it is hands-down a required read for anyone who lives in or understands Cleveland, Ohio.
As I sat pondering what I could get as a housewarming present for the big move, the perfect thought crossed my mind. Mike Polk, Jr.! How awesome would it be if Mike Polk, Jr. would show up at her new apartment as her housewarming gift? I promptly sent him a message explaining the situation and asking him if he would consider my crazy idea. And you know what? He said yes!
As the day came closer, my friends started to question my judgement. “It’s a little weird” one would say. “It seems a bit stalkerish,” said another. “I would never do that,” said yet another. By the day of the planned visit, I was so worried that this idea was too outlandish, I emailed Mike Polk and offered him an out. He declined the out and reinforced that he was happy to do it, so I followed my gut and stayed the course. The surprise went off without a hitch. Mike Polk arrived exactly as planned and the look on my friend’s face was priceless as she watched in confusion and excitement as he walked through her door. He was gracious enough to stay for a drink and within minutes, her empty apartment was overflowing with the sounds of friends and laughter. And more importantly, we all watched as the empty, sad look on her face transformed into smiles and excitement.
So what was the moral of this long story? Everyone has varying degrees of “normal” and I need to trust my judgement and not suffocate my excitement or creativity just because it’s outside of someone else’s comfort zone. But an even bigger lesson for me here is to not be the one to squash the excitement of others. I saw myself begin to do this with my 6 year old son. Since I was just coming off of my own crazy idea stunt, I was a little more tuned in to this dynamic. I have a tendency to tell him why an idea might not be good when he suggests something a little outside of the box. So, instead of jumping immediately to the reasons why his ideas might not be good, I’m making a conscious effort to just roll with them. Take these recent examples:
1. Leaving food on the back deck for Bigfoot
What I wanted to say: No, Bigfoot hibernates in the winter and I don’t want to go outside in the snow. What I said: Sure, let’s see what happens.
2. Bringing flowers to school tomorrow for a girl’s birthday
What I wanted to say: I don’t think that’s appropriate (as visions of the Say Anything boombox scene cross my mind). What I said: That’s very thoughtful of you, go for it.
3. Painting a sled for the man down the street that yells at his dog
What I wanted to say: I don’t even know his name, and he kind of scares me. What I said: What I nice idea, I’m sure he’ll love it.
I see glimpses of a familiar zest for life in my children. A hint of crazy and the constant awareness that today could bring more excitement than yesterday. We seem to share an understanding that life won’t happen if you don’t seize the opportunity to make it happen. So we go forward into the new week. My friends and I have a new story to tell and a memory to share. Tomorrow, a little girl will remember the time her classmate brought her flowers for her birthday. And the trail of corn on the back deck has solidified my son’s hypothesis that Bigfoot does, in fact, like corn and live in the woods.
Dark Chocolate Pudding Cups
This was inspired by a Martha Stewart recipe called Mini Black and White Chocolate Tartlets. But like many Martha recipes, it required me to purchase $75 worth of new gear and have the artistic talent of Picasso. So I took the idea and made it my own. The crust is a twist on Martha Stewart’s Pate Sucree and the filling is the exact recipe from The Smitten Kitchen Chocolate Pudding Pie. Instead of individual tart pans, I used a muffin tin. The result is a perfect portion of dark chocolate pudding cradled in a vanilla bean tart crust. This is a great recipe for beginners – very fool proof. The pate sucree is much more sturdy than pie crust because of the addition of an egg yolk, and it is also less temperamental than traditional pie crust.
Vanilla Bean Pate Sucree
1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
3 Tablespoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons vanilla bean powder or 3 vanilla beans (split and scrape seeds out)
1/2 cup cold, unsalted butter cut into pieces (1 stick)
1 large egg yolk slightly beaten
2 Tablespoons heavy cream or half-and-half
Dark Chocolate Pudding
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/3 cup sugar
3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 cups whole milk
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate chips
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup chilled heavy cream
2 Tablespoons sugar
To make the dough, place all dry ingredients into a food processor (flour, sugar, salt, vanilla bean or powder) and pulse to evenly distribute. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture resembles a coarse meal.
Add the egg yolk and 2 Tablespoons of cream and pulse until the mixture begins to come together. At first, you might wonder if it’s working because the mixture will look kind of fine and sandy.
But keep going – you’re almost there. Continue to pulse until the mixture begins to come together and starts to fall away from the sides:
Turn the mixture out into a large bowl and bring it together by gently gathering it to the side.
Form into a disc and place in the refrigerator for 1 hour or up to 2 days.
Roll dough into a sheet about 1/8 thick. You’ll want to roll it thinner than pie crust. But because we are making little cups, you don’t have to worry about rolling it into a nice circle like a pie.
Using a standard muffin tin, begin to line the cups with dough. There is no precise method here. I honestly just tear off a piece of dough that’s about 3 x 3 inches and mold it into shape. This dough is pretty forgiving, so you can patch the cups together. You can make the edges higher than the muffin cup and then fold them under for a thicker edge at the top.
Place the prepared muffin tin in the refrigerator for 15-30 minutes (I do 15 minutes in the freezer because I’m impatient). Bake at 350 for about 15-18 minutes until dry. Let cool completely before taking out of muffin tin.
Meanwhile, prepare the pudding filling. In a medium saucepan, whisk together cornstarch, sugar, cocoa and salt. Slowly whisk in milk and place over medium-high heat. Stirring constantly, bring mixture to a boil and then continue to stir for another 2 minutes until the mixture thickens.
Remove from heat and stir in the bittersweet chocolate and vanilla. Let mixture cool by placing a piece of wax paper or plastic wrap directly on top to prevent a film from forming.
While pudding is cooling, make whipped topping by beating the cold heavy cream and sugar on high until stiff.
Fill individual cups with pudding, top with whipped cream and place in refrigerator for at least an hour to set. Enjoy!