Thursday, April 24, 2014

The Curse of Mother’s Day

*Resolve to Know More Blog 5 of 7
for National Infertility Awareness Week 2014

Today, Mother’s Day makes me mostly happy, excited, and grateful. That’s because I can participate in the day directly, rather than watch from the sidelines and be reminded of what I don’t have.  

For many people, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, and being invited to baby showers and baby birthday parties can be agonizing. I remember I was invited to a first birthday party soon after the recovery of a very serious miscarriage. I was still anemic from so much blood loss, my hair was falling out because of the chemotherapy treatment they gave me, and my heart was vulnerable and broken. But I knew I had to go to the party because it was for someone very close to me. I also knew I would have to enter a room filled with mommies and babies and smiles and balloons, while my heart was filled with despair and anguish, and my body was depleted and weak from blood loss and weeks of bed rest. I was not into it. I had so much anxiety leading up to the entrance to the party that my palms were sweaty. It sucked, I hated it, and having a stranger there ask me “Do you have kids?” was like a dagger to my heart. Hearing some of the moms complain about their daily lives with their babies made me want to kick them in the shins.

But I survived. And I thrived. I am in a totally different place now, and so grateful to be a parent. But I will never forget what kind of torment I felt inside sometimes at the unfairness of it all. And I will always think of everyone with infertility on Mother’s Day and other days and events that celebrate parenthood.

Being acknowledged on a painful day like Mother’s Day, especially after suffering a loss, can be a great source of comfort. On the contrary, seeing a Facebook newsfeed littered with Happy Mother’s Day comments, pictures of moms with their bundles, pregnant bellies, and children on the swing with their daddies in the park can be a source of terrible pain for infertile people on Mother’s and Father’s Day.

Mother’s Day is coming up. If you have a friend that is dealing with infertility, whether primary or secondary infertility, please think of them and reach out with a loving word. Infertility can be a source of anguish even for those with a child, if they are struggling to have another. A text message, a call, or an email offering love, support and understanding would be a great comfort. Don’t worry that you may be intruding or bothering them. Suffering in silence and solitude is more painful than knowing someone is thinking about you.

On Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, and today, I send my love, peace, and comfort to all of you reading this that have lost or are longing for a baby.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

R.E. Stands for Rockstar Extraordinaire

 *Resolve to Know More Blog 4 of 7
When Dr. Drew Tortoriello leaves his office at Sher Institutes in New York City every night, they should make an announcement over the intercom saying, “Elvis Has Left The Building. I Repeat: Elvis Has LEFT The Building.”

I know I speak for hundreds upon hundreds of people when I say, “I have the greatest reproductive endocrinologist in the whole world.” No, really, I do. Just Google "Drew Tortoriello Reviews". It will simply astound you; I’ve never seen anything like it.

Anyone that has undergone fertility treatments knows about the dreaded success rates statistics per clinic. The stats in my age group are pretty dismal across the board, country, and world, for that matter.  You can be the best damn clinic in the universe, but you can’t make crappy eggs shine. You just can’t. However, an amazing, inventive, innovative RE (that’s short for “reproductive endocrinologist”) can find ways to boost the quality of those eggs to yield the best possible results in an extraction. And that’s exactly what Dr. Tortoriello did for me.

I think Dr. T (as he is affectionately called by his patients and colleagues) is an artist. Many RE’s are happy to go by the book, by standard forms of practice, and are often reluctant to take too many chances for fear of messing with their success rates. In fact, many RE’s will turn some patients away because they don’t want to screw with their success rates (although the reason they will give you will have something to do with your diagnosis, not their fear of failure). I have had a lot of friends through Resolve tell me they were turned away from various doctors like “you will never become pregnant” and then went to another RE and got pregnant. Sher Institutes will not turn anyone away. And Dr. T will do his best to make his patients parents. He helped to make me and my husband parents. I am proud to be one of the minority to have had a successful cycle first shot out of the park with my own eggs at the ripe old age of 43. Anyone that has researched IVF success rates knows that is kind of a big deal. I don’t think this would have happened if I’d gone to just any clinic. Sher Institutes is quite cutting edge and innovative; they are always the first to try new techniques, despite the risk to their success rates. Some patients might even be wary of trying out a clinic that is so unique because there is a bit of medical maverick involved. But I believe that is exactly why I am a mom today.

Dr. T used some innovative techniques that worked totally to my advantage, such as embryo banking cycles (to preserve the age of my eggs), human growth hormone (to boost the quality of my eggs), had me take supplements at home for weeks leading up to my treatment including CoQ10, melatonin, Quercetin, and Picnogenol. These are not standard practices, but I believe wholeheartedly they boosted my chances of success.

Dr. T is also highly available to his patients via email and phone. I remember the first night my husband injected me with Gonol F, I had a weird tingling sensation in my face, which of course freaked me out. I called the office on a Sunday night at 10PM, and within 2 minutes, Dr. T called me back personally, talked with me about what had happened, and reassured me that I was fine (and I was.) 

He also is highly respectful of patients being their own advocates. I have had so many long, question-filled phone calls and emails to him, as well as lengthy, inquisitive office visits that would surely drive anyone crazy, but he was always patient with me, gave me as much time as I needed, and answered every question. When I challenged his protocol choices after doing my own exhaustive research on meds, he listened and explored all options with me, instead of just telling me it was his way or the highway. I ended up putting all of my trust into my Dr, and went with what he suggested. It worked. But he didn’t make me feel stupid for all my questions or scare me into listening to him.

In addition to Dr. T’s artistry, his bedside manner is a combo of Golden Retriever and “Hey Girl” with Ryan Gossling (If you’re reading this, Dr. T, sorry; just telling it like it is. ;) I have no idea how he can remain so calm and actually show up to work each day when he has to deal with people like me—that is, women self-injecting hormones  that cause meltdowns because Dunkin Donuts ran out of the maple glazed. He is a great guy, and not just because he helped me get pregnant. He is a great guy because he is genuine and kind, and really wants to help people.

Dr. T actually provides free egg freezing for cancer patients. FREE. He does it because he wants to help people preserve their fertility, and not have to deal with financial burdens of fertility treatments when they are already struggling with the financial and emotional burdens of cancer.

Dr. T of Sher Institutes has changed the lives of thousands of people and I am one of them. I was genuinely sad to say goodbye to him on the last day of treatment, and will be forever grateful for his impact on my life.

So thanks, Elvis. ;)

Left to right: My husband Brad, Dr. Tortoriello, me, our baby Nicolette Star

*In support of National Infertility Awareness Week  (and my own healing process), I have hijacked my own cooking blog to come out of the closet and discuss infertility. I hope that these blog entries will help—even if just a little bit— lift the terrible stigma that surrounds this disease. The amazing people involved with the non-profit organization Resolve have supported me every step of the way on this 5-year-long, insane journey. I will always be grateful.

I would be honored if you would help spread awareness by sharing this blog on your Facebook, Twitter or other social media pages!

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

How RESOLVE Changed my Life


*Resolve to Know More Blog 3 of 7
for National Infertility Awareness Week 2014

Late December, 2010:
I was so excited for my ultrasound. Finally we were pregnant after months of trying!! I was just about to seek the help of a fertility specialist because I couldn’t get pregnant on my own, and then BAM! I was knocked up!

My husband and I went together one cold winter morning before work to the first ultrasound. We were holding hands and beyond excited when the ultrasound tech entered the room and put the wand on my belly. Her silence and seriousness made me nervous. “Is something the matter?” I asked. Emotionless and Vulcan-like, she said, “I will let the doctor come and explain everything.” And she left. My husband and I waited in the darkened exam room for what seemed like an eternity. Finally a doctor came in and said in a cavalier tone (and I still want to kick her in the ass for her egregious bedside manner!), “Your fetus has implanted in your cervix and will not survive. You have to go to the emergency room immediately and get a shot of chemotherapy called methotrexate. You will miscarry at home in a few days.” I asked if I had a choice, and she said in a tone that made me wonder if her blood temp was above 32 degrees, “If you don’t go to the ER now, your cervix will rupture, you will hemorrhage, and probably die. Best case scenario is a complete hysterectomy.”

Well good morning to you too, bitch.

I don’t want to dwell on the doom and gloom of this story, so let me wrap up by saying that after a 12-hour-wait with my amazing husband in the ER, I was given a shot of methotrexate in the ass, we cabbed home, and I spent the next five weeks bleeding so heavily that I went into mild shock one midnight, scaring the crap out of my husband, and was monitored at home on total bed rest to control the bleeding. I obviously lost the baby, but I thankfully made a complete recovery and was able to achieve a successful pregnancy just over a year later, resulting in the live birth of my angel baby, Nicolette Star. She is from the heavens.

OK, that god-awful part of the story is out of the way, but I had to share it because it is what led me to the life-changing night I attended my first RESOLVE Peer-led support group. These groups are confidential, so I am unable to sing the praises of specific women, but I can tell you what I gained from attending these monthly meetings.

I wasn’t expecting much from that first meeting, except to listen to people and hear their stories. I sat silently listening for an hour or more in a café, and the leader gently invited me to share why I was there. She shared her story too, which was a god-awful tale of something like 7 miscarriages and a birth defect, with the happy ending of 3 biological children through surrogacy. A peer-led group means that the person leading the group has been through as much shit if not more than you on your fertility journey. She (or he) is not a doctor or social worker, but someone just like me or you that has lived in the trenches of trying to conceive. 

I shared my traumatic experiences with faces looking back at me that just got it, felt the understanding and empathy in their eyes, and that night was the first step in moving forward in my attempts to become a parent.

I was absolutely terrified of having another miscarriage, especially since mine was particularly traumatic, but I knew if I were to ever have a kid, I needed to go to a reproductive endocrinologist (or “RE” for short.). I was overwhelmed at the amount of REs and trying to decipher their success rates and understand their various approaches to treatment. At the Resolve meetings, the women shared first-hand experiences with various REs in town, discussed the side effects they were experiencing each week from meds, the best and worst fertility acupuncturists in town, helpful herbal supplements, first-hand accounts with IVF, IUI, donor eggs, surrogacy, sperm banks, PCOS, endometriosis, molar pregnancy, age-related infertility, birth defects, financing fertility treatments, various IVF protocols, and more. 

Aside from the tears shed, laughter, and genuine support and concern, the knowledge I gained helped ease my fears. The terrible “unknowns” were becoming known to me through shared experiences, allowing me to realistically see myself moving forward with treatment. Thank GOD for these women, because if it weren’t for them—and especially the leader of this particular group, whom I consider a good friend today—I never would have had the courage to step foot into an RE’s office. That is a big deal. It means I would not have my beautiful daughter here with me today. That means I would not be a mommy if it weren’t for Resolve.

There is so much stigma surrounding infertility and no one wants to talk about it. But if people would talk about it, there would be many more happy, growing families. I thought I knew so much about infertility before I attended a Resolve meeting, but I had many eye-opening moments there. One in particular was realizing that infertility does not segregate. I thought it mostly was an older woman’s issue, but surprisingly, just about every woman in attendance was in their 20s and 30s, with only some in their 40s. The women (and sometimes men) in these groups are diverse in age, race, financial status, and career path. But the common thread that binds us is the desire, that ancient burning fire from deep within, to be somebody’s mommy. And that washes away any differences that could become a chasm in other circumstances. That rare type of uniting is a very special benefit of Resolve.

We have met out for dinner and drinks outside of meetings, and I have joked that we look like a walking Benetton ad. It makes me so happy to see so many different types of women coming together in genuine friendship and support.

I am now a mommy, and so are many of the women I met in the Resolve group a few years ago. We have had playdates in the park with our babies, attended each other’s kids’ birthday parties. We email, text and speak regularly, asking and offering advice about mommy stuff as well as non-mommy stuff.

Resolve has had a direct impact on my life, and I am so grateful to have had the courage to step into that first meeting. I encourage any woman or man with infertility to not suffer in silence any longer. Please contact Resolve and find a peer-led support group in your area. Joining Resolve is one of the best decisions I have ever made.

Resolve Girlfriends—and you know who you are—I love you!

*In support of National Infertility Awareness Week  (and my own healing process), I have hijacked my own cooking blog to come out of the closet and discuss infertility. I hope that these blog entries will help—even if just a little bit— lift the terrible stigma that surrounds this disease. The amazing people involved with the non-profit organization Resolve have supported me every step of the way on this 5-year-long, insane journey. I will always be grateful.

I would be honored if you would help spread awareness by sharing this blog on your Facebook, Twitter or other social media pages!

Monday, April 21, 2014

Top 5 Things Not to Say to Someone With Infertility


*Resolve to Know More Blog 2 of 7
for National Infertility Awareness Week 2014

We all want to say that perfect thing when someone we care for is suffering. But sometimes those words can cause more pain than comfort. I have suffered with infertility for five years, and I have heard all of the below comments just after a miscarriage. All of them made me feel worse, though I know they were said with love and good intention. The truth is, the only words that usually mean anything are simply, "I am so sorry this happened," or "You don't deserve this," or "I am here for you." That's it! They are so simple, but words I have cherished when heard, and listened to in my mind when I needed comfort. 

Here are the Top 5 Things Not to Say to Someone with Infertility:

1. “There’s Always Adoption.”

This is my number one least favorite thing to hear when someone knows I’m suffering with fertility issues. I know it is said with good intention, but most people have no idea what goes into adopting a child. (The only time I was not offended by this suggestion was when it was recently offered by an old friend who is a parent of an adopted child. I was given real facts and been-there-done-that advice, and it was good food for thought, and it was not unsolicited.) Anyone else that flippantly offers this advice, or tells me to check out a foster care agency, has only made me feel worse. All I want is EMPATHY, as in, “I am so sorry you are suffering. I am here for you.”

That said, adoption is a long, stressful, astronomically expensive process that is as uncertain as fertility treatments. It is not a lightly made decision, and sometimes the adoption falls through, which can be as devastating as the loss of a baby.

There is an intense screening process that not everyone can pass. It usually involves flying halfway around the world on your own dime to go get your child once the whole year or more-long-process is finally approved. If a couple has spent many years and many thousands of dollars on fertility treatments, there is a good chance they will not have the funds to start from scratch with an adoption process.

Adoption also involves a whole other loss of saying goodbye to the idea of having a child that is genetically linked to you. Adoption can be a wonderful option for family building, but it isn’t something you can “just do.” It is a very long and complicated process that involves a lot. A whole lot. 

If adoption were as easy as just walking into the drugstore and finding a nice selection of racially diverse babies on sale next to the 75 brands of shampoo, I’d probably have more kids than the Duggars. Please do not tell me “I can always adopt.”

2. “Go on a Vacation and Relax, and you’ll get pregnant!”

This one is almost tied with number 1, except I can laugh at the silliness in this comment! Most people, especially women, are quite hard on ourselves when faced with infertility—as if there is something we have done or not done that caused this terrible string of experiences. But infertility is a disease that happens to us; it is not something we bring on to ourselves. So telling us to “relax” implies that we are somehow to blame. Infertility is a disease with specific diagnoses and treatments.  Some pregnancies cannot be maintained without close monitoring and medications. You wouldn’t go tell someone with a terrible cardiac condition to just go to the beach and relax, would you? You would probably want that person to seek medical treatment as soon as possible.

Also, infertility is not just about “getting pregnant.” It is about getting pregnant, staying pregnant, having a normal fetus, and achieving a live birth. If I went on a vacation to relax and get preggers, maybe I could. But I can almost guarantee you it would end in a horrible miscarriage. I’ve already had four losses—one life-threatening—and I don’t need anymore.

On top of that, I can’t tell you how many women I know in the two week wait, myself included, who have meditated, sought acupuncture, lit candles, and have participated in all sorts of voodoo magic to try to just relax, in fear that even a smidgeon of stress would ruin the chances of implantation. The pressure we already put on ourselves to relax is immeasurable. Please don’t add to it by telling us to relax. People with infertility need to be told to “relax” like they need a hole in the head. 

3. "Look at [insert over-40 Hollywood Celeb name Here]! See? Lots of women are having babies in their 40s!"
Oh this one is a doozy. I am not going to list names, but those Hollywood women well into their 40s who are having babies? They aren’t just popping them out! By not being open about their fertility issues, they are perpetuating the horrible lie in our society that women can easily have babies well into their 40s. Here are facts: a woman over 45 has a 5% chance of even getting pregnant on her own, with a 69% chance of infertilty. Yes, women are having babies well into their forties, but that is because of the amazing science of assisted reproductive techniques (ART). 

If you hear of a 47-year-old woman in Hollywood (or anywhere) having just given birth, I will bet you all my living room furniture and a pair of shoes that she used donor eggs. Donor eggs are an amazing option today for women with infertility, but most people don’t even know about this. Even if a celebrity is reluctant to share her experience with donor eggs, she could help countless women suffering in silence by disclosing that she had fertility treatments, and encourage others to do the same. 

4.  “It is God’s Plan.”

 I have had my deepest spiritual searches in the midst of fertility issues, so it isn’t God or His plan I have an issue with. It is that I want you to be angry with me, hurt with me, feel the unfairness of it all with me…and just plain empathize. Telling me “it is God’s plan,” or that it “wasn’t meant to be” feels somehow like a diminishing of my own feelings, or even that I deserve what happened to me. Plus, as most of us know, dealing with grief and loss can test one’s faith.

5. “Just Do IVF!”

Rather than explain to you why people with infertility don’t want to hear “just do IVF,” I will list a few facts about IVF:

  • One cycle costs between $12,000 and $25,000, and is often not covered by insurance

  • IVF doesn’t always work the first cycle

  • IVF involves weeks of self-injecting hormones into various parts of the body, dealing with side effects, and going to the doctor every morning for close monitoring, along with surgery under anesthesia to extract eggs.

  • Sometimes a cycle is canceled before it is completed because the body doesn’t respond to the meds.

  • Depending on the diagnosis, some couples need donor eggs, donor sperm, embryo genetic testing, a surrogate, or other treatments, which add on many more thousands of dollars per cycle.
All that said, I want to disclose that I had a successful IVF cycle the first time we tried (my beautiful angel of a daughter is here!), and it was covered 100% by our insurance. I don’t want to scare anyone away from the option, I just want supporters of people with infertility to understand that it is not something you can “just do,” like getting your teeth cleaned.

Love and peace to all of you on your journey!

*In support of National Infertility Awareness Week  (and my own healing process), I have hijacked my own cooking blog to come out of the closet and discuss infertility. I hope that these blog entries will help—even if just a little bit— lift the terrible stigma that surrounds this disease. The amazing people involved with the non-profit organization Resolve have supported me every step of the way on this 5-year-long, insane journey. I will always be grateful.

I would be honored if you would help spread awareness by sharing this blog on your Facebook, Twitter or other social media pages!

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Speaking of Eggs…

*Resolve to Know More Blog 1 of 7
for National Infertility Awareness Week 2014

Speaking of Eggs...

It is Easter Morning but the only eggs I can think about are rotten eggs. My eggs. I just peed on another stick and the pregnant line that had me elated 3 days ago has faded to the point where it shows I am “not pregnant.” Again. I will find out in 2 days with my final blood test the results of my 5th infertility treatment, but I’d bet my money this is a chemical pregnancy.

A chemical pregnancy is the best kind of miscarriage you can have (I don’t know why I typed the word “best”, as if a miscarriage could be anything but devastating), because it ends before things really get started. This chemical is not like my last pregnancy—that one ended last October 2013 in my second trimester. I was wearing maternity clothes, people in the playground were asking me when I was due, we found out I was carrying a son, we had his name picked out (my angel, you will forever be in my heart, my dearest, beautiful, angel, baby boy). And then one day, I had to go to the hospital and he was gone forever. Just like that.

A great poet I once knew wrote “the sun shines on things I’ll never have.” For the first time I can finally say this no longer applies to me.  The sun shines on my precious, year-old baby girl! Every day I look at my Nicolette Star and still cannot believe she is here. I wanted so badly to give her a sibling, as my husband and I adore our own siblings more than words. But my girl will never have that relationship. Not that being an only child is a bad thing—I know lots of happy only children. I just wanted to have one more baby. Just one more to give to my Nicki. I will turn 45 in one week and our insurance coverage for fertility treatments ends with that birthday. We are unable to afford the astronomic costs of treatment, and have also decided not to put my body through any more risk and danger, now that Nicki is here and needs me.

I have been pregnant five times. I have four babies in heaven and one precious star of an angel asleep in her crib as I type. I have had such a long, sometimes horrific journey toward parenthood (google cervical ectopic pregnancy, methotrexate, and Edwards syndrome, for starters) that I thought would never end in a silver lining. That’s why my cup runneth over with gratitude that my baby girl is here and the three of us are a family. She is advanced, hilarious, and beautiful. But I cannot pretend my heart and womb do not ache with the losses, the names, the faces I’ll never see, the hair I’ll never smell, the voices I’ll never hear.

But for all my losses and heartbreak, I can name many women and couples I have met that have gone through or are going through much worse than what my husband and I have gone through. I know and acknowledge every day that I am very, very lucky.

I am somebody’s mommy now.

It wasn’t long ago I was crying to my husband on Mother’s Day, “I just want to be somebody’s mommy.” I am! So on this Easter Morning, I think I will shift my focus from my “rotten eggs,” to that one, golden, glorious egg that became half of my angel asleep in her crib in the other room. Her little white crib is my Easter Basket jackpot. Genuine gratitude is a great healer. I can’t wait till she wakes up so I can see her pretty eyes again.

*In support of National Infertility Awareness Week  (and my own healing process), I have hijacked my own cooking blog to come out of the closet and discuss infertility. I hope that these blog entries will help—even if just a little bit— lift the terrible stigma that surrounds this disease. The amazing people involved with the non-profit organization Resolve have supported me every step of the way on this 5-year-long, insane journey. I will always be grateful.

I would be honored if you would help spread awareness by sharing this blog on your Facebook, Twitter or other social media pages! 

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Homemade Pop Tarts

Life has changed quite a bit since I started this blog a few years ago. It has been fun documenting these changes here along with my recipes and photos. The latest change is that I am currently 5 months pregnant with my first baby--we just found out we are having a girl! 

A girl! Well, that explains the insane sweet tooth I have developed (and according to the old wives tales, a slew of other totally unsexy symptoms. Why don't they tell you how un-hot certain parts of pregnancy are?? I will take every symptom in the book with infinite gratitude---I'm just saying, I would challenge any truck driver in a variety of, um, contests. I mean, for real, people should bring me and the truck driver to Vegas and bet on us. People would cash in on the pregnant chick.)

I've been asked a lot if I am having any cravings. Yes. Yes. Yes. POP TARTS! Are you kidding me? Since I've become pregnant, I could eat them every meal of every day. I think part of the craving could be that I miss my favorite late-night, karaoke bar where the champagne flows freely and they serve pop tarts at the bar! If I can't have the late nights and champagne, then for god's sake, give me the pop tart.

So I decided it would be much healthier for baby (and hopefully kinder to my ever-expanding, um, "parts") to make my own version of pop tarts than to buy the store brand with all the junk that would, with NO doubt, end up in my trunk.

So here is my version of a whole grain, high-fiber, low sugar, preggo and parts-friendly pop tart! (Sorry, Sir-Mix A Lot--I figure, it's better to pop some tarts than to pop my parts.)

Homemade Pop Tarts
[Makes 6 Tarts]
  • 1 Cup spelt flour
  • 1/2 Cup whole wheatflour
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 Cup butter or margarine (I used Earth Balance soy spread<--my fave!)
  • 1/3 Cup  agave or maple syrup
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1-2 Tbs. cold water
  • 1/4 c. all fruit, no sugar preserves, any flavor (I used raspberry)
Optional frosting (I made mine unfrosted but I think this would be delish too:
  • 1 Cup powdered sugar (optional)
  • 1-2 Tbs. non-dairy or organic milk (optional)
  • sprinkles

1. In a food prcessor, combine first 5 ingredients just till incorporated and begins to come together

2. Transfer to a bowl. With a wooden spoon, stir in vanilla and syrup.

3. Divide  dough into two, equal size rectangles (form with your hand).

4. Wrap each one in plastic wrap and chill in the fridge for 30 minutes.

30 Minutes Later...

5. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

6. On a floured board, roll our one rectangle into a large rectangle that is about 1/4-inch thick. Cut into 6 evenly sized rectangles.

7. Place all 6 rectangles on a lightly greased baking sheet (I greased mine with Earth Balance).

8. Top the center of each rectangle with a2-3 teaspoonfuls of fruit preserves. I left mine in a ball in the center without spreading it out, so avoid the tarts leaking in the oven. It worked out.

9. Roll out the second rectangle into a similarly large rectangle that is about 1/4-inch thick. Cut into 6 evenly sized rectangles.

10. Top each tart with a rectangle "lid." Crimp the edges with a fork. If you like (I will do this next time) poke a few hols in the top with a toothpick to give the tarts an authentic store-bought look.

11. Bake at 325 degrees for 17-20 minutes. Let cool 1 minute on the baking sheet, then transfer the tarts with a spatula to cool onto a cooling rack.

12. For optional frosting, combine confectioner's sugar and milk in a bowl. Spoon over each tart and top with sprinkles.

(13. And then if you're me, try your hardest to not to eat all of them in one sitting of Pregnant in Heels. Then try not to feel guilty when you realize you just ate all of them in one sitting of Pregnant in Heels.)

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Aunt Toot's Chocolate Cake with Chocolate Frosting (aka "Dump Cake"!)

My Aunt Toots was my dad's older sister. She was also my godmother. Her real name was Frances, but everybody called her Toots. And she really was a Toots! She had the most mischievous sense of humor, and was always the life of the party. She danced at all the weddings, often with her sister -- my Aunt Sarah -- as her partner. They were so awesome. We used to call them Laverne and Shirley when they'd dance together.

Although she never had much money, she was always the classiest, most elegant, sharp-dressed woman at the party. Her lipstick and nail polish always matched. Her colorful jewelry and shoes and handbag were always perfectly coordinated. And every time I saw her, from as early as I can remember to the very last time I ever saw her, she was always sneaking a couple of dollars in my hand and saying in my ear, "It's not much, but go get yourself a little something, honey." I was in my 30s, married and she was on her deathbed, but she still went into her purse, took out a dollar (may have been her last one) and shoved it in my hand and said "I wish it could be more, honey." I still have that dollar on a shelf in my room.

Every 4th of July, my entire extended family would get together for a big picnic. It was a potluck, and Aunt Toots had some famous dishes. She made the most kick-butt lasagna, homemade cream puffs, and this chocolate cake. She was proud of her cooking. She would often take me by the hand to the table where the food was spread out, and she'd cut me a piece of HER lasagna, making sure to point to the other lasagna at the end of the table and she'd whisper "I didn't make that one. I made THIS one. Here honey, try mine. I'll cut you a little piece." And she'd proceed to cut me a piece the size of an encyclopedia.

And the chocolate cake!! She called it "Dump Cake" because you just dump all the ingredients in a bowl --no sifting, separating wet from dry, and all that jazz. It's an easy cake to make, but tastes like it took hours to put together. It is also one of the moistest cakes around. It is a nice, dense, almost wet crumb, and it melts in your mouth. I always enjoy this cake cold out of the ice box, probably because that is the way she served it when she transported it to the July 4th shindig. This is a fool proof cake, and everytime I make it, I am amazed at how awesome it is. That said, no one's dump cake can compare to Aunt Toot's dump cake. I wish you could have had a piece.

But if you make this recipe, you will come close.  :)

Aunt Toot's actual handwritten recipe


3 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour
2 cups sugar
2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1/2 cup cocoa powder
3/4 cup vegetable oil
1 tsp. pure vanilla
2 eggs
2 cups warm water

Preheat oven to 350 F. Whisk first 6 ingredients in a big mixing bowl. Then add the last 4 wet ingredients and stir a lot more till smooth.

Pour into a Bundt pan or a 13x9 inch cake pan, or two 8-inch cake pans.
Bake for 40-60 minutes. Check with a wooden toothpick around the 30 minute mark to be safe.

Cool cake(s) COMPLETELY and then frost with chocolate frosting. MMMM!

By the way, Aunt Toot's chocolate frosting recipe is lost to the universe, but I use Hershey's classic chocolate buttercream recipe. It reminds me of Aunt Toots' frosting.


1/2 cup (1 stick) butter or margarine
2/3 cup cocoa
3 cups powdered sugar
1/3 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Melt butter. Stir in cocoa. Alternately add powdered sugar and milk, beating to spreading consistency.
Add small amount additional milk, if needed. Stir in vanilla. About 2 cups frosting.

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