The Privilege of Helping
My name is Emily and I am a chronic helper. Anyone who has been the recipient of my gestures can attest – I am well intentioned, but I am an eager, enthusiastic helper who though genuine, can run the risk of over-helping. Back in grade school, it was a minor holiday for me when the teacher would introduce a new student. My mind would start racing with all the things I could help with and I’d make a beeline for them as soon as they were released from the teacher’s protective side. I hadn’t known them 30 seconds before I had dreams of showing them around the playground and making friendship bracelets at sleepovers. My adult self finds that same excitement every time I see a meet-and-greet put on my calendar at work for a new employee. I mean, you never know when you’ll find your next friend!
When you are a helper by nature, it’s important to stay grounded in what helping really is; a privilege.
Recently, I had the opportunity to reunite with a friend from high school who I hadn’t seen in 20 years. His family reached out to me when faced with the decision to travel to the hospital I work at so he could have a lung transplant. I was invited into a very private, emotional time in their lives and had to coach the helper in me to be intuitive about my offers of support. I was careful to identify ways to help that were appropriate and tried my best to give him and his family the space they needed to go through this. There were moments in his hospital room where I felt like we were 16 again, joking and talking about our hometown, only to be reminded that it was 20 years later and those laughs were being facilitated by a new pair of lungs that he was still getting used to. I had to reign in my urges to help and realize that I’m a guest in his journey. I needed to be mindful of only showing up when it was appropriate. There is a balance to helping and the privilege lies in being allowed to show up when there is an opening in someone’s life.
There is a risk in showing up.
Many times, people don’t ask for help but I sense an opening and show up anyways. I do this because I have been the recipient of uninvited help and am grateful to those who took the risk to insert words or actions at a time when I didn’t even know I needed it. Take my friend that I mentioned above. He doesn’t know it, but he helped me 20 years ago when I was 16. My mother and I were at odds and our relationship was filled with tension based on many things, including my appearance. She wanted me to wear make-up, do my nails, pluck my eyebrows and live up to my potential as a pretty girl. I had no interest in any of that. We didn’t agree on the boys I dated and my angst was directed right at her. So in typical teenage fashion, I decided to act out and went to buy diet pills at the local CVS. She wanted me to be skinny and pretty, fine, I’d take diet pills, get really skinny and show her. I approached the check out and my friend was working there that day. He took the diet pills, rang them up, then looked at me and said, “Don’t do that. You don’t need those.” I scowled at him, embarrassed that he caught me, told him they were for my Mom and ran out of the store. Later, when I opened the package to take one, I thought about what he said, rolled my eyes at myself and threw them away. He has no idea that the risk he took, to tell his grumpy 16 year old friend to ditch the diet pills, made a difference and that I remember it to this day. Why? Because he was genuine. His words caught me so off-guard, but I believed him due largely in part to the fact that he took a risk to say that.
The privilege of helping lies in bearing witness to someone’s vulnerability and honoring that by breaking a little yourself so that you might help fix them. Staying up a couple of hours later to bake some cookies. Paying for a meal or waking up early to run to the store to put together a care package. Rescheduling a meeting to just be with someone even though it means more work for you in the end. Just showing up when there’s an opening. To all of my friends who have let me show up, thank you. It’s been a privilege.
Pie Spiked Maple Cakes
I beg of you, DO NOT write this recipe off because it seems like a lot of work. It is, but it’s worth it. This is the best dessert I have ever invented an I’ve been so excited to share it! What is it, you ask? Well, it’s EVERYTHING you ever wanted. It’s a warm, spicy maple cupcake, anchored by a disc of pie crust on the bottom, filled with pumpkin pie filling and topped with a maple almond buttercream. Overkill? I thought maybe, but it is not. It is amazing.
1 recipe for a 9 inch pie crust (even store bought for this!) or use my best of both worlds pie crust
Maple cake (recipe inspired by Country Living)
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cardamom
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 stick unsalted butter (room temperature)
1/4 cup light brown sugar
1 1/4 cup maple syrup (real)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 cup buttermilk (or make your own by adding 2T of vinegar or lemon juice to milk)
Pumpkin Pie Filling
1 cup whole milk (skim will work too)
1 cup pumpkin
1 large egg
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup light brown sugar
3T corn starch
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ginger
pinch nutmeg, allspice and salt
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Maple Almond Buttercream (adapted from Country Living)
1 stick of butter (soft)
3 ounces cream cheese (soft)
2/3 cup dark brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup maple syrup (real)
3/4 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
1 cup powdered sugar
Make the pie crust circles
Preheat oven to 400
Prepare pie crust and refrigerate for at least an hour. Or be kind to yourself and use store bought! Roll the pie crust out to about 1/4 inch thick – just a bit thicker than you would for a pie. Using a small round glass or cutter, cut 24 circles and and place on a parchment-lined making sheet. I used a 2.5 inch glass from my cupboard.
To prevent the pie crust from shrinking, place a baking sheet or muffin tin on top of the circles. Bake at 400 for about 15 minutes until just starting to brown. Remove the top sheet and return to oven for about 5 minute until they begin to brown. Let cool on the baking sheet while you prepare the cupcakes.
Make the cupcakes
Reduce oven temperature to 350.
In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and soda, salt and spices. Using an electric mixer, beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Mix in eggs one at a time and when fully incorporated, add syrup and vanilla. Starting and ending with the flour mixture, alternate with the buttermilk and stir into the mixture.
Line two muffin tins with liners. Trim pie crust circles down a bit and drop into the bottom of each muffin cup. The circles do not have to be pretty and it’s no big deal if they break. This is actually an important step because the crumbs will become garnish for the frosted cupcakes!
Make the pumpkin filling
While cupcakes are baking, make the pumpkin pie filling. This can also be done a day ahead of time.
In a small saucepan, boil the milk. While the milk is coming to temperature, whisk egg, pumpkin, sugars, cornstarch and all spices in a medium saucepan until smooth. When milk is boiling, remove from heat and using a small stream, pour the hot milk into the egg mixture and continue to stir. This will temper the eggs and ensure that they do not cook when coming in contact with the hot liquid. Pour the remainder of the milk into the mixture and place over medium heat. Whisking constantly, bring the mixture to a boil. *This is the fun part, but be patient! After 2-3 minutes, the mixture will begin to boil and thicken. Once thick, remove from heat, stir in vanilla and transfer into a bowl. If you’re impatient like me, place in the refrigerator and whisk frequently to bring to room temperature. You have just made pumpkin pudding!
Make the frosting
While the filling is cooling, make the frosting. In the bowl of a mixer, beat the butter, cream cheese, dark brown sugar and salt until light and fluffy. This will take about 3-4 minutes. Add maple syrup, vanilla and almond extract. Add the powdered sugar little by little and then mix on high until fluffy. Add more powdered sugar if you feel you need it for consistency. Chill in the refrigerator until ready to use.
Assemble the cupcakes
Stay with me here. This is so worth it. To make your life easier, treat yourself to decorating tips. They can be found almost anywhere like Wal-Mart, craft stores, usually by the Wilton brand. If you don’t want to purchase the plastic decorating bags to go with it, you can use sturdy zip-lock freezer or sandwich bags.
Fill each cupcake from the top, making sure to wipe away excess that might land on the top of the cupcake.
Frost each cupcake with a thin layer of the buttercream (I would not suggest a lot of frosting), garnishing the top with left over pie crust crumbs. These are such a treat with the layers of surprises inside!