Every year, much thought goes into finding just the right gift for Mother’s Day. This year, my mother and I received an early gift – a moment – that I’d like to share with you. Initially it may not sound like a gift but I think in the end you may agree that nothing else could have been better.
This past Thursday, my mom passed way after an incredibly brave battle with a rare form of oral cancer that lasted more than 11 years. During this time, surgeries, radiation and chemotherapy impacted every aspect of her life. The cancer attacked her from all sides-physically, mentally, and emotionally. Perhaps worst of all, after her second major surgery in 2002 until her passing, she was unable to eat solid food-my mom, who loved to cook and entertain, who would offer you treats and would say, if you told her you weren’t hungry, that “hunger has nothing to do with it!”
Through it all, she remained fiercely independent. She travelled, she joined support groups and sewing guilds, she fostered and adopted several cats, she shopped (another favorite pastime), and she continued to cook for others even though she could not enjoy the fruits of her own labor. The love and support of many wonderful friends helped her to stay strong and active. No matter what challenge the cancer threw her way, she refused to give in.
But in the end, as hard as she fought, the cancer won. And in the last hours of her life we found for each other the gift that we will always treasure. It was very important to me that I be with her in the end as I worried that my mom would feel alone and apprehensive about what would happen when she passed. I was very grateful to have had the opportunity to travel to her in time.
She slept peacefully as I sat with her through Wednesday night, mostly in what I hoped was comforting silence, holding her hand. Occasionally I would talk to her and in one of these moments, I said, “It’s alright if you are ready to go. Don’t worry, don’t be afraid, you won’t be alone. Many who you love are waiting for you, and I will hold your hand here until you can reach the hands on the other side.” Early Thursday, in the quiet of the sunrise, her breathing slowed. I told her again that everything would be okay, that I loved her. She moved her hand toward mine and I took it, and she held my hand firmly until her breathing stopped. The devastating sense of loss was immediate and stronger than I could have ever prepared for it to be. And yet, in the sadness, there is joy (my moms’ middle name) in the fact that my prayers for her peaceful passing were answered-and that we had the rare opportunity to share a moment together that transcended time and space, as mom began her journey home.
I’m sure you won’t be surprised that I am shedding tears as I write this-tears of sadness at the loss of my mom and for all that she valiantly endured,but tears of thankfulness too, for the wonderful gift we were given, and the amazing comfort that this gift continues to bring me.
For all of us who have attended funerals and memorials, we know that there is love, comfort and sustenance in the feasts and sharing of food that is part of these events. And this story ends no differently: there is comfort and healing in the preparation and sharing of foods that bring happy memories to life. On Mother’s Day many years ago, I made a Tiramisu for dessert that my mom talked about whenever she reminisced about her favorite foods. And so, for you mom, my “cupcake take” on the dessert you never forgot. Happy Mother’s Day, with all my love.
(Really Easy) Tiramisu Cupcakes
Make your favorite yellow cake batter (yes, you can use a boxed mix if you’d like); add 2 tsp. pure vanilla extract to the batter. Prepare your cupcake tins with liners and preheat your oven to the temperature specified on your recipe. Bake the cupcakes according to recipe directions and cool them completely before frosting.
Meanwhile, make the Chocolate-Espresso Ganache:
Place 12 oz. of chopped semi-sweet chocolate in a bowl. In a saucepan, heat 1 1/2 cups heavy cream until just simmering. Pour the cream over the chocolate and let it sit for a minute, then stir until the chocolate has melted and the mixture is smooth. Mix in a tablespoon or two of strong brewed coffee. Cool slightly, then cover the ganache with saran wrap (place the wrap directly on the ganache so it doesn’t form a “skin” on top). Refrigerate until the mixture thickens to spreading consistency, about an hour.
Make the Whipped Cream:
In a bowl (chilled if possible) with an electric mixer (beaters chilled too), whip two cups heavy cream until slightly stiff peaks form. Add in two tablespoons powdered sugar, a tablespoon of hazelnut liqueur and a teaspoon of pure vanilla extract, and mix in. (Take care not to over beat.)
On the cooled cupcakes, spread a tablespoon of the chocolate espresso ganache. Place the whipped cream in a piping bag and pipe it decoratively on top of the chocolate. You can also just dollop a spoonful of the whipped cream on top-it will still look fabulous. Serve with fresh raspberries and a sprinkling of confectioner’s sugar.
Remember, it’s okay to eat the cupcake-“hunger has nothing to do with it!” Bon appetit!