Gratitude...and Chocolate Cupcakes

 Friends it has been a whirlwind of an October so far!  We have festival-ed til we couldn't stand another fried anything and have been in and amongst friends and strangers alike.  This is the only time of year I could abide the strangers, that's for sure.  We actually waited in line for an hour with them for the WORLD FAMOUS HOT DONUTS at the Freemason's booth at Harvest Homecoming and I only wanted to strangle folks once...maybe twice in that hour (The lady in front of us needs 6 dozen donuts?!  6 DOZEN DONUTS?!  Are you crazy?).  I'd say that's progress.

We also attended one of my very favorite events of the year at our friend's house for their annual Fall Festival/Chili Cook off and had a ball.  We were able to get there early and visit before the madness ensued and it was wonderful.  A great day with good friends is a thing of beauty.

Since then, the dog and I have walked the paths out in this GLORIOUS weather we have been having.  Today was the best walk of the season.  My momma was able to join me and the hounds for a walk at Mount Saint Francis and the leaves were in peak color.  I snapped 300 photos (literally) in the hour that we were there and it was just stunning.  The conversation led to the trials and curve balls that life has a tendency to throw us and my mother commented that she was OK with the trials (an unimaginable attitude with a year that included the loss of her mother and cancer), but didn't want to be depressed and negative about life.  She wanted to retain her joy.  I agreed (still completely in awe everyday of her bravery and spirit) and said that I thought that began with gratitude.  She agreed.

It's a word that is super easy to throw around, Gratitude.  It's a buzzword that I would love to think I actually practiced regularly.  Not so much, though.  I will be the first one to tell you my troubles.  The first one to go to "victim" in my head before I get over myself and move on.  "Counting my blessings" is a quick and deep breath moment where I put a shiny face on whatever crap has just happened but still have a hollow place inside.  Practicing gratitude is something else entirely.  It is a time devoted specifically to being thankful and humbled by your life and the gifts it presents you.  It is about seeking the opportunity for growth in every situation.  It is about being present in every moment of your life.  It is about realizing that it is all enough; that you are enough.  

"Gratitude is the memory of the heart."
~Jean Baptiste Massieu

I am the first one to make a wish list.  The first to tell you what project is upcoming, where to find my Pinterest Boards of crap I want, the first to dive down the internet travel rabbit hole of top ten places I need to visit.  But when I am still and with myself entirely (also known as walking in the woods with the dog), my heart and spirit feel so full with my life and the amazing people in it.  Those are the moments I need to hang on to.  The moments of actually practicing gratitude.  I am working on being better at that.  Sometimes I feel a long way away from getting there.

I have a birthday coming up in the next week and-without fail- I become more reflective of all that the last year has held.  There has been so much that I grow short of breath to think about all that has happened in 12 short months.  So instead, I will be present in this moment of the countless things I am so completely humbled by; that I have my beautiful mother here healthier than she was before, that the loves in my life are too numerous to count and that I am able to hold those dearest to me close and tell them that I love them, that simple moments together with friends around a fire mean so much, that I am blessed enough to say that the relationships I am choosing to invest in are healthy and fulfilling, that the sum of us is greater than the parts, that I am getting so much better at setting boundaries in my life, and too many other things to even list...

Oh and for these cupcakes...  

One of my fabulous girlfriends had a birthday today and needed cake in her life.  It's her birthday, for heaven's sake, and it's not a real birthday cake unless it's chocolate.  That's a rule.  I decided cupcakes would travel better than a layered cake, so that's what she took home.

Dark Chocolate Cupcakes with Chocolate Orange Ganache

Devil's Food Cupcakes: click the Martha Stewart link below for homemade or buy your favorite box and prepare according to package directions if you don't care to reinvent the wheel.

Dark Chocolate Orange Ganache

3/4 cup cream
8 ounces chopped semi sweet Calebaut (or other high quality) chocolate
1 Tbs Cointreau
1 tsp Vanilla

Combine cream and chocolate in glass bowl and microwave on 50% power 2 minutes at a time until melted. Whisk in Cointreau and vanilla.  Cool completely.

After cupcakes have cooled completely, find a tool to make a 1" hole in the center of the cupcake.  I have used the back of corn cob holders and find that it is a perfect size.  Find your own perfect thing in your junk kitchen tool drawer, the back of a wooden spoon, a small muddler, etc.  Fill plastic freezer bag with cooled ganache.  Snip end off of one corner and fill holes in cupcakes with ganache.  

Chocolate Frosting

3 cups Confectioner's Sugar
3/4 cup Dutch process Cocoa powder
10 Tbs Butter, room temp
1/2 cup milk or half and half
2 tsp Vanilla

Sift sugar and cocoa together.  Blend with other ingredients until smooth.  
Frost cupcakes with chocolate frosting.   Get a cold glass of milk (or champagne- pick your poison) and serve.

The next few weeks include some birthday celebration, the utter chaos otherwise know as Halloween at my sis', and a long awaited trip to the mountains for a visit with family.  My Thanksgiving menu is set and I am excited to be event planning again.  Go make some cupcakes and decide how much candy you are really going to need for Halloween.  I will be working on that gratitude thing.  And I am grateful for all of you.  

The video below is a favorite Van Morrison song that came up in the shuffle today and reminded me again why I love him and why he always reminds me of fall.  This song summed it all up perfectly.

"I'll sing it to the mountain tops
Down to the valley down below
Because my cup doth overflow
With the beauty of the days gone by.

The beauty of the days gone by
It brings a longing to my soul
To contemplate my own true self
And keep me young as I grow old.

And keep me young as I grow old
 And keep me young as I grow old
    And keep me young as I grow old."

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