I’m a graduate of Drexel University. Not sure if you’ve heard of it. Drexel lives in the shadow of the University of Pennsylvania, its bigger, smarter, Ivy League neighbor in West Philadelphia. It’s a rather conservative school, known for its engineering program, and was absolutely the wrong school choice for me. But, I was offered a spot on the swim team, so I packed up and headed there in the fall of 1986.
From the get go, college was hard for me. Classes were hard, finding people with similar interests was hard. Luckily, I found a kindred spirit. I’m not sure when I met Denise. Maybe sophomore, year? I don’t recall the circumstances, but we ended up roommates in an off-campus apartment somewhere around junior year.
Denise was a lot of fun. We went out a lot, but what I liked most about her was that she wasn’t just about partying. She read a lot and was interested in cooking and German culture (her mother was from Germany). I enjoyed that we talked about things besides what we did at the bar the night before. We both had a sense of wanting something more, but weren’t really sure how to get it. The curse of being young.
Denise and I were roommates when it became obvious to me that I had to go to rehab. In typical addict fashion, I just left, and that was it. No explanations or long good byes. I was there and then I wasn’t. When I finished the program, I had no desire to go back to my old lifestyle. I gave up people and places, as they say. Denise and I lost touch.
Flash forward 20 years. Michael and I, married 15 years at the time, took a trip to Philadelphia on a sort of “History of Us” tour. We were walking around Center City when who do we run into on 15th & Locust? Denise! It was such a surprise. Being sober more than 20 years, it was rare to come in contact with someone who knew me before I got clean. I wasn’t really sure how it would go. But Denise was charming and sweet. We chatted briefly, She gave me her email address and we went our separate ways.
Denise wasn’t on facebook yet, so we had some email conversations. It was amazing to learn about her life and how similar our circumstances turned out to be. We both had a creative urge that wasn’t satisfied studying business at Drexel. I started acting after graduation, and Denise went to culinary school. Culinary school! Of course, we both faced the inevitable challenge that creatives face: how in the world am I going to support myself?
After years of the grind, we both stumbled on a solution that made us feel like we hadn’t given up on being creative, interesting people: blogging! Why not? It’s free, you get to create something from scratch and you can meet people with similar interests.
Denise’s blog is great. It’s called Kitchen on Carlisle (http://www.kitchenoncarlisle.blogspot.com) which is a nod to the kitchen in her home in South Philadelphia. Denise is an exceptional cook. She creates beautiful dishes for herself that require lots of technique and patience. You can tell she took her training seriously and clearly loves the process.
My favorite post by Denise is her most recent. During culinary school, she apprenticed with Chef Fritz Blank, the owner/chef of Deux Chemineés, well-known as the best French restaurant in Philadelphia in the 80s and 90s He was a legend in the restaurant industry even when I was waiting tables, and I had no idea Denise worked for him. Her description of life as an apprentice chef in his kitchen is fascinating.
On her facebook page, she did a series on sandwiches that just about killed me. Each one looked more delicious than the next. The fact that she took the time to make herself something so beautiful impressed the pants off me. How could someone with this kind of talent work in finance?!? It really is absurd. But I get it. Life gets in the way sometimes.
Neither of us has this blogging thing down perfectly. There are gaps between posts and typos and some pictures that could use a little Photoshop. But we’re doing it! We’re challenging ourselves and serving our artsy sides and moving forward instead of staying stuck.
Truth be told, just about everybody gets detoured. Raising children, paying off debt, health issues, personal loss… These things can nudge you off your path. It’s comforting to know it’s still there. It may look different, or you may have to dig deep to find it, but the path is still there. You just have to put your feet back on it and move forward.
In honor of Denise finding her groove, I made the Bavarian Torte she recently featured on her blog. It’s summer, so I used nectarines instead of apples. Hey Denise! I challenge you to make something off of my blog!
1 ½ cup unbleached flour
¾ cup unsalted butter, chilled
½ cup granulated sugar
¼ tsp pure vanilla extract
3 granny smith apples, peeled & sliced (I used nectarines – delicious!)
½ tsp cinnamon
¼ cup granulated sugar
16 oz. cream cheese, softened at room temperature
½ cup granulated sugar
2 whole eggs
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
¼ cup chopped walnuts
Place the 1st four ingredients in a food processor. Pulse until the ingredients are combined & forming a dough. Take the dough & form it into a ball, wrap in plastic and refrigerate for 15 minutes. Roll out the dough on a floured board. Place in a 9″ springform pan pushing the sides up the pan. If there are tears in the dough, gently press on the dough to cover & repair. Partially bake in a 450 degree oven for 15 minutes. Remove from oven and allow crust to cool in pan. **The dough has a tendency to slide down the sides so you may have to intermittently push the dough back up the sides while it is partially baking.
Place sliced apples in a bowl and toss with the cinnamon, sugar & vanilla. Set aside.
Next cream the cream cheese in a mixer. Add the sugar & blend until combined. Add eggs one at a time until combined then add the vanilla extract. Pour the batter into the cooled crust. Then layer the apples atop the batter in a circular pattern, slightly overlapping. Sprinkle the walnuts on top. Bake the torte in a 350 degree oven for 45 minutes. Remove and cool to room temperature. Keep refrigerated until ready to serve.