Praise the Lord, Leukemia and Pass the Strawberries

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Throughout my life I have been active in Christian education as a director/teacher of a Christian preschool, member of a variety of church boards,  Sunday school teacher for over thirty years,  confirmation teacher,   junior and senior high youth group mentor and co-coordinator of vacation bible school with my good friend Dana.

For several years Dana and I led the Vacation Bible School (VBS) program at St. Mark Lutheran Church in Circle Pines, MN.  We had over 60 students enrolled for our week-long, half-a-day summer christian education program.

Our program planning always left plenty of room for group worship activities, art, music, physical movement, storytelling and snacks. Prior to the start of  VBS, we would advertise our program theme using huge original hand-painted cartoon posters.  The posters would then be raffled off to a few lucky students at the end of the week.  They were highly sought after and the children that won them were pretty excited to take them home.

I recently posted that my three-year-old grandniece’s leukemia had returned.  For me, her battle with this disease has brought back many memories of a little girl with big, bright eyes and a constant smile who was one of our bible school students. Her name was Kelly.

Kelly was as an adorable of a bundle of energy as any young child.  Her mother Sue was a good friend of mine and always helped teach Bible School and Sunday School classes.  It was great fun to watch her and her brother Timmy grow up. Unfortunately, as the years went by my family and I began attending a different church and we lost track of many of our friends at St. Mark.  For years I did not see Sue or Kelly.

Then one day while shopping I saw Sue in the store and she was horribly distraught. When I got to her, she frantically explained that Kelly was in the hospital being treated for leukemia.  She had been in remission, but it had be short-lived.  Kelly’s cancer had returned. The plan was to get her into a second remission to be followed by another bone marrow transplant.

Sue’s news from the hospital that morning had not be good.  She literally ran out of the store to get to her hospitalized daughter.  As she ran, she shouted over her shoulder that they were having a fundraiser and that the plan was that Kelly would be there.

I immediately contacted the fundraiser organizers to see what I could do. The fundraiser was going to be held within a week or so and I wanted to be involved.  I volunteered to face-paint the children and for the silent auction donated an original oil painting, had my boss at the time, Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Richie, donate a certificate for a personal tour of our state capitol with him as a guide and a second certificate donation for a lunch at the Governor’s mansion with the governor was collected from Governor Mark Dayton.

That evening, after running into Sue,  I sat and prayed for her “little Kelly” who was now a young woman in her early twenties. I fondly remembered how much Kelly always loved those cartoon posters from Bible School.  I couldn’t remember if she had ever won one, so after working all day, I spent my evenings drawing and painting a mural of her favorite Disney characters. We quickly got the painting framed so that it could be given to Kelly at the fundraiser as a gift from all of the event organizers and volunteers.  We all just wanted to help brighten up her hospital room.

Kelly’s story did not have a happy ending for her family here on earth. Kelly was too sick to attend the fundraiser. Her mother took her cartoon painting to her hospital room.  I do not believe that Kelly ever saw it, as she had slipped into a coma. Kelly died shortly after the fundraiser.

The memories I have of Kelly are of her zeal for life and great energy.  I don’t believe I ever saw that child walk.  She always trotted or ran, just as I am sure that she ran into Christ’s arms the second that he called her home.

It is because of the brave cancer soldiers like Kelly and her family that little ones like my niece and her family today have more hope than ever of being cured of leukemia. The advancement in cancer treatment in just this past five years since Kelly has been gone has been amazing and in some cases miraculous.

One of the other special events Dana and I included in our VBS programming was the fresh strawberry feed snack on the last day of school.  Our Bible School always took place in June when the strawberries become ripe for the picking here in Minnesota. So, on that last morning of school, while Dana, Sue and the rest of the teaching team held down the fort, I went strawberry picking.  I would pick dozens of pounds of fresh strawberries then rush back to church, with scarlet strawberry juice stained knees, to help wash them and set up our strawberry snack attack party.

Learning about a loving God, Children and strawberries just seemed to go together. After all, children and fresh strawberries are two of God’s creations that are perfect just the way he makes them. Those Minnesota strawberries we consumed were almost as beautiful and delicious as all of those darling little faces stained with berry juice!

A good strawberry recipe compliments the berry and should never overshadow or complicate its natural taste.  This cake recipe is  an old-fashioned Swedish Almond White Cake and was shared with me by my sister-in-law Heidi.  Topped with fresh strawberries this cake recipe is the perfect dessert for any special occasion held during strawberry picking season.

Swedish White Almond Cake

1/2 cup butter
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 1/4 cups sifted cake flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 cup water
4 egg whites (beaten to form stiff peaks)
1 teaspoon almond extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease and lightly flour two eight-inch round cake pans.

In a small mixing bowl combine dry ingredients. Set aside.

In a medium-sized metal or glass mixing bowl, beat the four egg whites until they form stiff peaks.  Mix in the almond extract and set aside. (Never use plastic anything when whipping egg whites, they will not form into stiff peaks if you do.)

In a large-sized mixing bowl cream butter and sugar together.  While mixer is running on low, slowly add dry ingredients alternately with water. Thoroughly combine into a smooth batter. Then, with large medal spoon, gently fold in the stiffly beaten egg whites.  Keep folding until all of the egg whites have been combined into the batter.

Pour one half of the cake batter into each cake pan and bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until cake springs back when lightly touched in the middle.  Remove from oven and let cool for 10 minutes.  Remove from cake pans and cool completely.

Frost cake with sweetened whipped cream.

Sweetened Whipped Cream:

1 pint heavy whipping cream
1/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla

In a medium-sized mixing bowl with a hand mixer whip cream on high speed until it thickens.  Slowly add in sugar.  Beat until peaks form.  Add in vanilla.  Mix only until vanilla is combined.  (Over mixed whipping cream makes butter.  If you have not made whipping cream before, buy two pints of cream.  If you over mix the first pint and the cream becomes yellow and separates, you have a spare pint of cream to start over and  succeed with.  Should your cream become over mixed and separate into a thin buttermilk and yellow butter curds…do not panic.   Drain off milk.  Squeeze butter curds together with your hand to get out any milk that may be hiding.  Salt, shape and wrap your freshly made butter in plastic and store in the refrigerator until you want to use it.  Then, start over again with your spare pint of cream and quit whipping when it looks like the dessert cream you have had before.)

To make cake:

Put one round cake on a cake plate.

Top with about 1/2 inch of whipping cream and a layer of freshly sliced strawberries.
Top with the second cake layer.  Generously frost cake with whipping cream.  Decorate the top of the cake with more sliced strawberries.

I always have some additional sliced, sugared and juiced strawberries in a bowl to spoon over the cake.

Allergy Alert:  Make sure to tell your guests if you use real nut extracts.  If you have a guest that has allergies, you can use and imitation almond extra.  Nobody wants a dessert or entree to kill, so be heads up on nut and food allergies.

Remember to support your local growers! 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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