Galentine’s Day: Coffeecake And Connection


February is a challenging month in the Kolbeck household. It is bittersweet, being the month in which I had my first date with my husband in 1999 and also the month that he died in a car crash, 14 years to the exact day later on February 16th, 2013.

The universe is fucking crazy like that. Either it has a twisted sense of humor, or it is just ironic and strange with no real logic.

But the other part of the universe that is beautiful and brilliant and decidedly untwisted or ironic is that these strange and horrible coincidences give others a chance to show up for you.

I have had to become a fairly crusty soul; although I have been the beneficiary of the occasional helping hand, for the most part I have relied on myself and my own bootstraps – emotionally, psychically, physically, and financially.

I am not great at asking for help, and I am extra double-plus ungreat at showing anyone my gooey center.


But when Dane died my eyes opened. And I had no idea they were closed. So there’s that.

Then all of these lovely people showed up for The Teenager and I.

They showed up with tools and expertise to literally help us raise the roof of the tiny house.

They showed up with loving support online as I posted raw and gut-wrenching blogs about grief, blogs that I myself cannot read today.

They showed up with cash at times, which, I’m not gonna lie, was helpful because I have no idea where all of the money went in that first year because everything was blurred and numb and decidedly not budget-oriented.

They showed up when they prayed for us but did not tell us Dane was in a better place or that god has a plan. #StowThatShit

As we approach the third anniversary of Dane’s death and truly settle in to a new life, it has become clearly apparent to me what is happy-making and good and valuable.


This guy, a fancy researcher who is the 4th lead of a 75-year study on what makes people happy, totally agrees with me. #ScienceCatchesUpWithSuzannah

In this TEDTalk on what really makes people happy, Robert Waldinger uncovers what the secret to happiness is:

So what have we learned? What are the lessons that come from the tens of thousands of pages of information that we’ve generated on these lives? Well, the lessons aren’t about wealth or fame or working harder and harder. The clearest message that we get from this 75-year study is this: Good relationships keep us happier and healthier. Period.”


While these findings make the introvert in me a little nervous and long for a quiet space to read and maybe have a drink, the deepest part of me recognizes that it’s true. It’s the quality of the connection that I have with the people in my life, the ones I choose as well as the ones I was born to/with.

As I move through this life, it seems like the connections I choose to have, as opposed to the ones I was born with, have become even more important to me. Part of working in the shadows is realizing which connections we are supposed to nurture and which should be let go. Which connections are toxic and harmful.

It’s about leaving behind the person I never wanted to be in the first place and learning to embrace the person I actually am.

Side note: As celebratory as this post should be, I had to go back through it and change everything I have written thus far into an “I” statement. I get philosophical when I get too close to the bone, which for me means I avoid actually talking about The Thing That Should Be Talked About. And in this case, that Thing is about choosing to stay connected with the people who fill me up. And that is hard to talk about because it also means truth-telling to those who are draining and should be left behind.

But on to the important things.

February 13th is Galentine’s Day, a made-up holiday if there ever was one. Amy Poehler’s character (Leslie Knope) from Parks & Rec made it up to celebrate female friendships.

Bresties before testes.

Uteruses before duderuses.

“It’s like Lilith Fair without the angst, plus frittatas.”


Crab and asparagus frittata, to be precise, plus this cream cheese apple coffee cake (among other things; I want the menu to be a surprise). The Teenager and I are inviting local female friends for brunch on February 13th, the first annual Galentine’s Day celebration at the Kolbeck house. We will be boozing it up with some of the best women we know, and raising a glass to the other best women we know who live far away or cannot attend. #NextYear

Even if you’re not a gal, there is no reason whatsoever why you cannot have this cake. Luscious and cinnamon-y and filled with apples and everything else good in the world (except chocolate, but that base will be covered elsewhere in brunch #NeverFear).

I won’t lie: this recipe a bit of a pain in the ass with lots of steps and dirty dishes, which is why it’s perfect for brunch when you have had some coffee to start with. Drink mimosas while you make it and you won’t care anyway.

Cream Cheese Apple Coffee Cake

This recipe is not mine; it’s from a site called Yammie’s Noshery that is chockablock full of ridiculous ads that make the site slow and unresponsive. I don’t want to send you there, so I have recreated it here. Some of the directions are different, and I, of course, made it gluten-free. Feel free to use regular AP flour in this one. 

Cake Ingredients

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened

1/2 cup brown sugar

1/4 cup white sugar

1 egg

1/4 cup vegetable oil

1/2 tablespoon vanilla

1 1/2 cups gluten-free all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 1/2 cups chopped apples (I didn’t peel mine. #TooLazy)


Cream Cheese Layer Ingredients

8 oz. softened cream cheese

1 teaspoon vanilla

3 tablespoons white sugar


Streusel Ingredients

3/4 cup white sugar

1/4 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup flour

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/8 teaspoon salt

6 tablespoons cold butter



1. Preheat oven to 350ºF and grease an 9″ x 13″ pan.

2. Combine the butter and sugars for the cake and mix until fluffy. Add the egg, oil, and vanilla and mix until combined.

3. Stir together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon and add to the butter mixture, mixing just until combined. Stir in the chopped apples. Spread into the prepared pan.

4. Mix together the cream cheese, sugar, and vanilla for the cream cheese layer and spread over the cake batter in the pan.

5. Combine all the streusel ingredients using your hands or a pastry blender until well combined. Sprinkle over the cream cheese mixture.

6. Bake for about 45 minutes or until the topping is browned.

Let cool until you cannot take it anymore, then eat with a fork because it is gooey and still warm and so delicious you can hardly stand it. Definitely cut a piece and move away from the pan because if you stand over it with a fork you will eat it all and have none left for your loved ones. #GetYourOwnDamnCoffeeCake

Halloween Treats With A Trick: Caramel Apple Jello Shots

And a little something for the adults.
     I have never used a melon baller in my life.
     Shocking but true.
     So it seems fitting that the first time I do use a melon baller is to make these boozy Halloween treats with a wee trick in the form of butterscotch booze (previously purchased, also for the first time, for my caramel apple martini binge, a trend that continues in my house and will until the apple cider runs out and it gets too cold to think of drinking sweet, cold cocktails).
     This year’s Halloween entry is late, and it sort of typifies the way Halloween has worked this year in general. The Teenager is going to a non-costume Halloween party at a friend’s (which seems really strange to me. No costumes at a party on Halloween? Even costume-optional? But I digress.), which turns out to be fine because she couldn’t get her act together enough to figure out what she wanted to be.
     Usually I am a witch because it just fits, and I happen to own tons of black which means that costume shopping for me entails finding/borrowing a witch’s hat.
     But this year I wasn’t feeling it. And The Teenager wasn’t either, which is sort of sad because I told her this is the last year I was footing the Halloween costume bill. This morning (actual Halloween but actually afternoon because she is a teenager and we did spend several hours playing with the dogs and eating doughnuts in her bed this morning), The Teenager is in the shower, getting herself together for the party tonight, and as I melon-balled my way to these delicious treats with a wee trick I started to get a little nostalgic, as I am prone to do when I cook and listen to Hozier.
     She was a pumpkin for her first year, and a bumblebee after that. Then a fairy. Then a couple years get fuzzy (but included her making a costume as a shadow, which was pretty epic), right up until the string of years when I made her various states of dead as a zombie.
My sweet little bee, many years ago. 
      As The Teenager got older, I started feeling a little weird about being so gleeful about making her look as undead as possible. She pushed it one more year as a dead bride, the best, most disgusting year of her zombie-ness, until she started to branch off into different costumes.
     This year, she is nothing but herself, heading to a party while I stay home in our new house, doling out literally 20 pounds of candy and non-candy treats for allergic children, wearing my Halloween costume alone on the stoop with the dogs barking like crazy people as little trick-or-treaters flood the neighborhood.
     It’s hard not to tie the passing months to The Teenager’s impending departure. Every year she leaves behind a little more of the child she was and begins to step towards her own life. It is inevitable, joyous, and a little sad.  I am going to need these treats with a wee little trick, and I suspect some of the parental chaperones will, as well.


     Happy Halloween!