This Easter we had a simple meal of ham biscuits, pimento cheese, salad and this Charlotte torte for dessert.
My cousin Emily and I worked in a grocery store bakery during college, and we learned how to make these! While I think they look so festive and impressive, they are very simple and this one did not even involve any baking! I just bought one angel food cake from the bakery and we used it for the layers.
While I did use a springform pan for this torte, you could easily use a regular cake pan (just may have trouble removing it) or a glass bowl or trifle dish would also work! I happened to find these soft lady fingers in the bakery section of the grocery store but you could also use whatever you layer you use for banana pudding… graham crackers, Nilla wafers, Pepperidge Farm cookies, etc.
For the filling, I used to always use vanilla pudding + one container Cool Whip and it’s great! But because I really don’t care for the taste of Cool Whip anymore, I hardly ever have it on hand and have evolved to using some combination of sweetened condensed milk, cream cheese, sour cream or homemade whipped cream… Just adding something to the plain vanilla pudding to make it more rich and decadent.
Fruit Charlotte Torte
2 packs Lady Fingers
2 large (5.1oz) instant Vanilla pudding
1 tub Cool Whip (optional- see notes below)
1 angel food cake (or 1-2 cake layers)
fruit to decorate- I love raspberries, blackberries, strawberries, grapes, and blueberries
Make the pudding according to the box instructions.
*Note: To make it more decadent and “thicker” than plain pudding, I usually add some combination of sweetness and fluff: either one tub of Cool Whip or one can of sweetened condensed milk (not evaporated milk) or whipped cream (or container Cool Whip) and sometimes a block of cream cheese or a cup of sour cream, mixing well.
Line the bottom of springform pan with cake layer. I keep cake layers 1/2 – 1 inch thick.
Line the sides of springform pan with lady fingers.
Add one layer of pudding mixture.
Follow with cake layer. Repeat until you reach the top, ending with pudding layer.
Then the fun part! Decorate with fruit! If I am taking this somewhere, I usually add the fruit with only a few hours to go. Especially cut fruit (like strawberries) can sometimes leak their juices a little. This one above was refrigerated overnight and nothing leaked at all.
Because today is St. Patrick’s Day, I’ve been thinking about our trip last summer to Ireland, Scotland, Wales, and England. I expected to feel an immediate connection with Ireland, as I’ve always known about my ancestors immigration from Ireland and my dad’s family is your pretty “typical” Irish Catholic huge family.
But the place I immediately felt at home was actually in Lake District, in the county of Cumbria, England. The mountains and the water reminded me of Smith Mountain Lake, here in Virginia where we have always had a vacation home.
I also love all things Beatrix Potter. She lived and wrote & illustrated here. They had a precious little shop featuring all her books and trinkets. As a child my sisters and I had children’s china featuring her sweet characters and my couple of Easter decorations look very much like they could have some from her illustrations.
I loved touring William Wordsworth’s English home. It was so English- go figure! The fabrics, the furniture, the style- so charming! And I have always loved English-style gardens so walking through the beautiful, tidy gardens was so relaxing.
We had a delicious lunch and I will never forget my mom and Mary Fowler running to Sarah Nelson’s for their famous Grasmere gingerbread. The mouthwatering smell led you to the tiny, little shop. The recipe is top secret and it was delicious! Not at all a cake-ey gingerbread but a very sweet, crumbly texture that goes perfectly with a cup of tea.
We bought a few pounds of it and I had a little piece every day after we returned home with hot tea around 4pm. But when it was gone, I started researching online for a recipe. The best I could find was from some kind of thread where an old lady mentioned she had a little souvenir paper recipe book that mentioned a Grasmere Gingerbread recipe.
So the other day I tried it and it is a good starting point! The texture was just about perfect. My family loved it but I still want a stronger ginger flavor so I’ll keep tweaking it and then share once I think it’s good to go.
My kids are just now in their second week of school and it is still as hot as the dickens (what does that even mean?). So, before the crisp, full-of-pumpkin fall arrives, I want to write some highlights down. This summer was so GREAT: so happy, so sad, so full, and so complex.
CELEBRATING The end of school this year was something incredible. When we moved here 5 years ago, probably our biggest focus was making sure the kids had an easy school transition. We met with a professional and she recommended we not overthink this but simply find out where educated parents send their kids to school.
Well, as one child is beginning her last year of middle school and the other is beginning last year of elementary school, I received the gift of confirmation that we made good decisions. We want our kids to do well in school, and they do very well, but it is of higher importance to us that they are kind, respectful, grateful, and receive the support as they figure out who they are and how they want to contribute to this world.
Two women (one friend, one teacher) came up to me at separate times, but on the same day, to tell me of their L.O.V.E. for Davis. One told me how funny and well-mannered he is and the other told me what a great guy in the classroom he is. She kept coming up to me and saying, “I just love that boy!”
The next day Adam and I had to separate to attend two awards ceremonies at the exact same time, one at each school. I was so proud of Davis’s straight A’s all year as well as some other accomplishments that hadn’t come so easy for him. But when he and another little girl from his class were awarded the Citizenship Award, I felt such immense joy that he is thriving right where he is.
I signed Davis out and together we raced over to Mary Fowler’s school just in time to see her receive some awesome scholastic awards, as well as a HEART award. My girl is a hard worker but that HEART award is still up on the fridge! Adam was stopped by 3 different teachers who told him: 1. your daughter is so very special, 2. your daughter’s personality is just so FUN! She is a great student but she is also funny and social- just a delight to be around, and 3. I hope my 2 year old daughter grows up to be just like Mary Fowler!
I was kind of floating that morning. Adam took us all out to a family brunch and I could hardly talk because I was processing my fears/concerns/worries to the reality that my kids are just fine… thriving, really.
Because I can worry with the best of them, I think I may begin listing my fears on paper so I can later write down examples that may help alleviate those fears.
DECORATING Just this week, I got around to visiting two different friends who hired me to help them with some work on their houses. What validation it is to see these beautiful spaces. Both projects felt so clean and calm and refreshed.
Sometimes when I look through magazines I start to question if I really know what I’m doing because I have zero desire to do big-time, crazy-expensive projects like the ones you see featured in magazines. My favorite projects are normal families who just want a crisper, calmer, simpler, but well-designed, pretty space. And seeing the completed spaces added to my confidence.
Additionally, one of my neighbors has hired me to help with a larger scale project and it so far has been so gratifying to help her get more bang for her buck than she expected. We are still in the very early stages of planning and budgeting but this kind of work is fulfilling to me.
EATING Once school started, I was hell-bent on making sure we continued having family dinner together every.single.night. I knew once after school activities started it would be hard but I still really want to try our best to have dinner together, around the table, followed by some kind of family game. Nothing crazy- sometimes just 15 minutes. The key to my success was going to be planning ahead. So I wrote out the simple meals we would have each night. And if it’s a crazy day/evening, that means I have to plan ahead for a crock pot meal. Planning.
It is worth it. Sitting at the table together makes the kids talk so much more than they would if we were in the kitchen moving around, some sitting, some standing…
Afterwards, I usually have to drag everyone to play Rummicub or basketball or football, but 2 minutes in, EVERYONE is on board! It is worth it.
Davis chose golf and theater for two of his activities this fall. And he also wanted to order Blue Apron to make dinner for the family 2x a week! For me, this is an expensive option to my normal monthly grocery budget, but I am viewing this as a cooking class for him to justify the cost 🙂 One other potential benefit: we didn’t have a choice of delivery day; Friday was chosen for us. So, while most Fridays we order or make pizza, we will be replacing that with some pretty special meals by Davis! I think it will be great!
Tomorrow is our first delivery so we’ll see how it goes!
EXPLORING This summer involved some exploring! And I’m talking about exploring of the travel and spiritual kind.
In June we spent some time at the lake with family and friends. I always love seeing my family and the addition of friends who now have a place at the lake added a fun dynamic! The kids and parents all had a blast together! My kids have much younger cousins, who they love, but having friends the same age to play with is a different kind of fun!
Truth be told, I was a little anxious because soon after was our trip to the United Kingdom. Mary Fowler’s school planned this and my parents have always wanted to go to Ireland so my sweet husband sent me and Mary Fowler on another European trip, less than 3 months apart. I owe him!
What is really awesome is that my mom had some big things she wanted taken care of that she and my dad kept procrastinating about. So this trip was a wonderful motivation. They got done what they needed just before we were driving to the airport. And more change for them was to come. I have wonderful parents but they have always struggled with some forms of “taking action.” There has been something about this trip that has helped with this dynamic. And I notice a lightness in them.
Not to mention, this trip was just so special in so many ways. I wrote all about it with pictures in a photo book. We were kind of exploring our English and Irish heritage and I know I came away with a better understanding, and even more curiosity! Because I was the designated photographer for my parents, I completed the book really fast and sent them their copy. Then I quickly made the Italy book, too. Getting my pictures in print form has always been one of my passions.
We had another very relaxing and soul-filling family beach trip with Adam’s mom. We are water people. I love it when Adam and I take walks together. And playing in the ocean with the kids- all together, then jumping in the pool for a little play before going in for lunch or dinner- it’s just a nice daily rhythm. I took pictures, though not as many as last year and I look forward to making that book.
Spiritual exploration is constant for me but there this summer held a couple of family illnesses –Several of my aunts and uncles were suffering with uncertainty in their health and my beautiful cousin who I have always looked up to was undergoing treatment for lymphoma and two tragic deaths that literally took our breath away. The first was the kind-hearted dad of one of Mary Fowler’s friends. His death had Adam and I asking a lot of questions and opened up a lot of conversation. Attending his funeral was a gift. His family is very special. Mary Fowler was with us and I imagine it will be one of those major life-altering memories for her and for us.
The second tragic death was a young man in high school. He is the stepson of one of my sweet friends. His funeral, too, was a gift. The family was so honest and loving and strong. The masses of people, most especially children, attending this funeral was remarkable. For these kids to be a part of this will promote life and light and good. It also reignited my desire to attend this particular church.
LOVING This summer I loved that I felt more present.
I love that my kids and I played tennis together.
I love that I played in the water more with my family.
I love that we spent a lot of time together as a family.
READING When I was little I remember my mom and my aunt Debbie taking us to the library regularly over the summer. My mom can read about a book a day so we would pile our arms full! When I take my kids (usually kind of begrudgingly) I walk in and feel such excitement and hope! All these books! All free! So much to learn about!
My kids are not usually as excited as me.
I can’t remember everything but I try to take pictures of what I’m reading. Mary Fowler had to read The Book Thief and The Outsiders over the summer so I read The Book Thief, too, and really enjoyed it. She also has really enjoyed NO FEAR Shakespeare (for school). She said it really helps you understand and makes Shakespeare enjoyable! So that may be helpful to someone with kids.
Book Thief 5 stars
The Little Paris Bookshop 4 stars
My grandmother wanted me to read this and it has surprisingly stuck with me.
The Hen who Dreamed She Could Fly 4 stars
I really liked this one and may need to purchase. I tried several of her suggestions and I really need to post about them. I was shocked at how well my kids responded!
Cleaning House 4 stars
I borrowed this from a friend and read during the Ireland trip- really good! I actually watched a movie on Netflix called The Fundamentals of Caring that I thought was similar and better.
Me Before You 3 stars
After You 2 stars
To Heaven and Back 5 stars
A Man Called Ove 4 stars
The Language of Flowers 5 stars This would be a great book club pic!
Davis really loved Swiss Family Robinson and Tom Sawyer. We read them aloud. He also loves graphic novels (cartoon-strip-ish books) on his own. I have never liked graphic novels or comics for that matter??
Well, that’s a wrap of the highlights of summer. I do plan to continue my weekly digital scrapbook pages but I am so far behind that I may do summer and then try the little Instagram Chatbooks for the daily mundane? I have started a totally private, no following/or followers family insta site and supposedly every 60 pictures it can be printed into a Chat book for $6
I don’t know if it will satisfy me but we shall see…
We love our dads! I don’t know about you but it’s always a bit of a struggle for me to pick out a Father’s Day gift that says, “We love and appreciate you, dad.”
I started doing photo books several years ago because I know Adam loves them and I certainly enjoy making and having them. They’re really great for multiple dads (like grandpas, uncles, etc.) because you make one and order several copies.
Each year is a little different but now I seem to focus on more event-based books. Like this year’s week at the beach book. Sometimes I wish I had planned things a little better (colors/sizes/etc.) so the bookshelf looked a little more cohesive, but all in all, I’m happy that pictures are printed out where we can see them rather than just stuck in the computer 🙂
This year Adam bought himself an early Father’s Day present (Yeti soft cooler) but I’m still giving him a copy of this book – mainly created for my dad. This year, I wrote a letter to my dad in the opening page.
I have a file on my desktop that I call INSPIRATION where I put little things like this above. I actually used this quote for Mary Fowler’s 12th birthday party, printed them out, and tied them to all the party favors- some of her favorite treats!
But today this quote makes me think of someone else. My dad called me yesterday to tell me that one of the families I babysat for lost their mother to cancer over the weekend. The Saturday before Mother’s Day. Her name is Cassidy, mother of FIVE children, and I am in shock.
I met this sweet family when I worked at the athletic club in high school. I worked in the nursery and they brought their oldest daughter (at the time their only child) in and Cassidy stayed to chat while the dad played racquetball.
Cassidy was such a bright, energetic, and happy mother. Her eyes were luminous, her smile infectious, and she spoke with such excitement! We talked a lot and she loved my name- I found out later they named their second daughter Olivia 🙂
One time, years later, I was working in the bakery during college and without even seeing Cassidy, I heard her booming, excited voice happily chatting with her clan of kids somewhere else in the store. For whatever reason at that particular moment, I decided to BE HAPPY. And by that I think I mean project happy. That’s what she was doing. Projecting happy energy.
I don’t even know if I ever spoke to her that day but we must have stayed in touch somehow because they came to my wedding and my photographer took many photos of their sweet family:) I sent them the photographs in a thank you note but I’m going to resend with my condolences.
I feel compelled to let her children (daughters and son) know how inspiring I found their mother to be and how her radiance reflected onto, enhancing my personality. How amazing. She really did leave a sparkling impression on me.
This year my mother-in-law came to stay with us for Mother’s Day weekend and it was very relaxing. Saturday night Adam and I went out to dinner with friends and grandma took the kids to her favorite restaurant. Then Sunday we all just hung out around the house. After looking at all our Italy pictures, Davis and grandma were dying to make homemade pizzas so we did that for lunch and then Adam grilled out for dinner.
I made a salad and grandma made her wonderful baked beans. The dinner took me back to when Adam and I were dating and I would go to his house for dinner. His dad always grilled on Saturday and Sunday. It is still hard to believe sometimes he’s gone.
If I’m completely honest, I would love to have a family photo each Mother’s Day of my sweet family in our Sunday best. I love all of those beautiful, Spring photos I see shared on Facebook. What a treasure! But that does not happen each year (and even when it does, Adam really resists so I try to save my battles for the Christmas card photo:) so I really started thinking about something I could do to get some of my reflections down on paper.
A couple of years I wrote each of the kids letters and stuck them away to read later. This time I thought about one of my favorite photos. I actually have it in a frame on my bedside table. It was taken when Davis was born and I love that it shows me eating him up! I love it. So I used one of my digital scrapbooking layouts and journaled a little bit.
To all those thoughtful, caring, supportive, selfless, unconditionally loving moms out there, Happy Mother’s Day!