Every Wednesday, Arline Simpson dons her green volunteer vest, decorated with angel pins, and heads for the medical oncology infusion room at Beebe’s Tunnell Cancer Center in Rehoboth Beach. This lady loves to bake, so every week she arrives at the center bearing homemade desserts for the patients, nurses and staff.
How do I know this? Because I just completed eight weekly infusion treatments at the center. My foodie good fortune continues to hang on a star, because I was a Wednesday patient. The first day I met Arline, I knew that a terrific dessert column was in the works. Life is good!
I know that the previous paragraph deserves explanation, but this column is about Arline, so I will stuff my 18-month journey into one paragraph and then tell you all about this very special woman. In March 2012, on the second day of vacation in Sarasota, Fla., I awoke at 5:30 a.m., unable to breathe. The day before, I had spent an hour at the gym, so this was quite a surprise! A five-hour visit to the emergency room revealed that I was having an asthma attack, a severe sinus infection and pneumonia. A CT scan revealed that my lungs were filled with something that needed further attention when I returned home. Diagnosis did not come quickly or easily; many tests, many diagnoses — some quite alarming — until I underwent major right-lung surgery in December 2012, at Temple University Hospital in Philadelphia. Two very large tumors were removed, and my tissue was sent to the National Institutes of Health, to a pathologist known for her expertise with lymphomas. As it turns out, in both lungs I have a very rare form of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma; only 1 percent of all non-Hodgkin’s patients have this B-cell form of the disease. The great and grand news is that BALT-Type Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma is one of the most treatable forms. So, dear readers, I am very blessed.
Although my team of doctors is at Temple University Hospital, my weekly infusion treatments were handled locally with love, kindness, caring and expertise at Tunnell Cancer Center. Now that my secret is out, I’ll keep you posted with continued good news as I move forward.
Arline grew up in Massachusetts and moved to Lewes 32 years ago. She spent many summers on Cape Cod but fell in love with Lewes after visiting here with friends. Her résumé is eclectic. Most of her working years were spent as a corporate secretary, but when she moved to Lewes, she became a sales manager in the home-building industry.
“I’m a people person,” she said, “and the building business was right up my alley. I met wonderful people and enjoyed every one of them. I helped them build their dream homes. It was a fun job, and I loved it!”
She has also been a beautician, as well as a member of the Clowns of Delaware. She took her clowning skills to nursing homes and said, “Again, I met fantastic people and laughed a lot with them — another fun job. My second husband once told me he was so glad he married me. He said he would have been bored stiff if I hadn’t married him. I’ve been a widow for four years now and the second-time-around was the charmer; a wonderful 20 years of love.”
Arline has one of those fill-you-up happy laughs. She brightens every room. At my first treatment, she reached into her pocket and withdrew a “pocket angel.” She kissed it and placed it into my hand.
“My pocket angels are my prizes,” she said. “I give one to each new patient at the center. I also give them to people on the street, in the grocery store, to servicemen I see along the way — to anyone who I feel needs one. In the past 14 years, I’ve given away over 5,000 pocket angels.”
Arline’s first pocket angel was a gift. You see, this November, Arline will celebrate 14 years as a breast-cancer survivor. At the end of her treatments, she visited a dear friend in Massachusetts.
“I was returning to Delaware and opened the card she gave to me. Taped inside was my first pocket angel. I knew right there and then that I had to have them and give them to others. My rewards have been so many and my heart is so full of joy from these little pewter coins. They provide so many reasons to enjoy each day with a smile. As long as I’m on the other side of the grass, it’s a fantastic day!”
Arline believes that God has plans for all of us.
“His plan for me,” she said, “was to give to others and fight with all my might. I worked through all eight chemo treatments, put on my wig, put a smile on my face and did whatever I had to do to get through the day. And then I thanked God for helping me through it all. My saying is: ‘The spirit of living is in the giving.’”
Arline is all about family. She has four “fantastic” children and seven grandchildren and looks forward to becoming a great-grandmother this October.
“My children and grandchildren are my everything,” she admitted. “At times they will ask, ‘Nana, will you make me a cheesecake, or how about chocolate chip cookies?’ At Christmastime, we make snowmen or gingerbread men and a big mess in my kitchen; lots of hugs, mess and laughs!”
Arline estimated that she bakes at least three days each week. She also finds time to knit, crochet and garden and tries to fix anything that breaks.
“I’m a do-it-yourself kind of gal,” she said with a laugh. “And if I mess up, I make a telephone call to the right person to fix what I couldn’t.”
Although she said that her Norwegian mother was a simple cook, she does prepare her mother’s and grandmother’s Yulekaka (Norwegian Christmas yeast bread with fruit mix) and their Almond Cake.
“Everyone loves the Almond Cake,” she said.
And we’re now recipients of this recipe, too. You’ll find it below. The pan that Arline uses for her cake came from Germany. She also has a pizzelle iron, a krumkaka iron and two pasta machines and enjoys searching for other pans or gadgets to use in baking.
“I like working with yeast breads,” she said, “and my neighbors get many leftovers. I love to cook everything, but desserts are so much fun to make. I make Scandinavian cookies, pastries and yeast breads, Italian cookies, ravioli, Polish pastries — anything that I think family and friends will enjoy.”
Arline’s mom lived with her for 12 years and passed away at the age of 95.
“She was my idol and a wonderful, loving mom. I still miss her.”
After her mom “left this world,” Arline said she knew it was time for her to start giving back to cancer survivors. The rest is history.
Arline and I have many things in common, but one, in particular, is that we love to roam through antique stores and thrift shops searching for old cookbooks. In one of those old goodies, she found a super-duper hint that has been a blessing to her and to those with whom she shares her delicious baked goods. When you freeze baked goods — especially pastries or frosted cakes — place paper towels over them before the overwrap; this prevents crystallization.
“It really works!” she said.
As promised, here is Arline’s treasured family recipe for Almond Cake. In fact, the day I went to her house to take the photo for today’s column, that’s what she was making. This cake receives raves from all the Wednesday patients, nurses and staff.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
• 1-1/4 cups granulated sugar
• 1 egg at room temperature, lightly beaten
• 1-1/2 teaspoons almond extract
• 2/3 cup whole milk at room temperature
• 1-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
• 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
• 1 stick melted butter or margarine
• 1/4 cup sliced almonds
Method for Almond Cake:
Batter will be lumpy!
Whisk sugar, egg, almond extract and whole milk until smooth. Stir in the flour and baking powder. Whisk in melted butter and mix well.
Spray an 8-by-8-inch baking pan with Pam. Sprinkle sliced almonds in bottom of pan. Pour batter into pan.
Bake at 350 degrees for 40 to 50 minutes. Test with a cake tester. Leave in pan until cool; cake will break if removed too quickly.
Apple Custard Tart
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
9-inch tart pan, lightly greased
Ingredients for Pastry:
• 1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
• 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
• 1/2 teaspoon salt
• 12 tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled and diced
• 1 large egg, beaten
• 1 tablespoon cold water, if necessary
Ingredients for Apple Filling:
• 3 small apples, peeled, cored, and sliced thin
• 1 tablespoon cinnamon
• 1/2 teaspoon cloves
Ingredients for Custard Filling:
• 3 large eggs, beaten
• 3/4 cup granulated sugar
• 2 teaspoons cinnamon
• 1/2 teaspoon powdered ginger
• 1/4 teaspoon cloves
• Pinch salt
• 3/4 cup whole milk
Method for Apple Custard Tart:
Blend together pastry ingredients: flour, sugar and salt; cut in cold butter; add beaten egg and water to pull pastry together until it forms a ball. Sprinkle a little flour on a piece of wax paper and wrap dough in the wax paper; refrigerate dough while you prepare the apples and make the filling.
Slice apples and toss with the cinnamon and cloves. Set aside.
For the custard, whisk the eggs with sugar, spices and salt; then whisk the milk in until all is smooth.
Roll out two-thirds of the dough with as little extra flour as possible and press into the tart pan.
Arrange the apple slices in a spiral and pour the custard mixture on top.
Roll out the rest of the dough and cut out shapes, such as leaves or stars, and place over the filling.
Bake at 350 degrees for approximately 50 minutes or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. The custard will be a little wobbly, but it will set as it cools.
Arline often makes this low-calorie, light dessert for diabetics.
Lemon Soufflé Cheesecake
• 1 package (4-serving size) lemon-flavored sugar-free gelatin
• 2/3 cup boiling water
• 1 cup (1 percent) low-fat cottage cheese
• 1 container (8 ounces) light, pasteurized cream cheese
• 2 cups reduced-fat frozen whipped topping, thawed
• 1/2 to 2/3 cup graham-cracker crumbs
• Fruit of choice
Method for Lemon Soufflé Cheese Cake:
Spray an 8- or 9-inch springform pan or a 9-inch pie plate with Pam. Sprinkle 1/2 of the graham cracker crumbs onto sides of the chosen baking pan (sides only, not on the bottom).
Dissolve gelatin in boiling water. Pour into bowl and add cottage cheese and cream cheese; cover until cool; then blend with an electric mixer on medium speed until smooth; scrape down sides of bowl often.
Gently stir in whipped topping. Pour into prepared pan and smooth the top. Sprinkle remaining crumbs around the outside edges of the top of the mixture. Arrange any kind of fruit on top of the rest of the mixture (kiwi, peaches, pears, mango).
Refrigerate for 3 or 4 hours before serving.
Arline’s Cranberry & Almond Bundt Cake is one of her Christmas gift-giving favorites. Instead of baking in one large Bundt pan, you can make approximately 12 mini-Bundt cakes; bake the minis at 350 degrees for approximately 20 minutes.
Almond Bundt Cake
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Prepare Bundt pan: Butter and flour a 10- or 12-cup Bundt pan. Tap out excess flour. Bake on center rack in the center of the rack.
• 1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
• 1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
• 1/4 teaspoon salt
• 1 cup (8 ounces) unsalted butter, softened
• One can (7 ounces) almond paste
• 1 cup granulated sugar
• 4 large eggs, room temperature
• 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
• 3/4 cup milk, room temperature
• 1-1/2 cups fresh or thawed or dried cranberries, coarsely chopped
• 10X powdered sugar for dusting
Method for Cranberry and
Almond Bundt Cake:
Sift together flour, baking powder and salt.
In a large bowl using an electric mixer on medium speed, beat the butter and almond paste until smooth — 1 or 2 minutes. Add sugar and beat until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Beat in eggs one at a time and scrape bowl after each addition. Beat in vanilla.
With mixer on low speed, alternate adding flour and milk, ending with flour. Scrape bowl and then beat at medium speed until batter is smooth, about 20 to 30 seconds. With a rubber spatula, fold in cranberries.
Spoon batter into prepared Bundt pan and spread it evenly with a spatula. Bake at 350 degrees for 40 to 45 minutes, until cake tester comes out clean. Set pan on a rack to cool for approximately 20 minutes. Invert the cake onto a rack and remove the pan. Cool cake completely. Top with a dusting of 10X powdered sugar when cool.
This cake freezes very well. If you do freeze it, wrap the cake in paper towels and it will not get freezer burn crust on the cake.
On one of my treatment days, Arline brought in her Zucchini-Blueberry Lemon Cake. Patients were asking for seconds! Sounds like an odd combination, but trust me on this one — you’ll love it! And the frosting — double yum!
Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.
Ingredients for Cake:
• 1-1/2 cups granulated sugar
• 2 eggs
• 1 cup canola oil
• 1 teaspoon lemon juice
• 3 cups shredded zucchini
• 3 cups all-purpose flour
• 1 teaspoon salt
• 1 teaspoon baking soda
• 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
• Zest of one medium-size lemon
• 2 cups fresh blueberries
Ingredients for Lemon-Cream
• 3 tablespoons butter, softened
• 3 ounces cream cheese, softened
• 2 cups 10x powdered sugar
• Dash salt
• Zest of 1 lemon
• Juice of 1 lemon
Method for Zucchini Blueberry Lemon Cake:
Cream sugar, eggs, oil and lemon juice. Stir in the zucchini. Gradually add dry ingredients and stir to combine. Add lemon zest. Lightly flour the blueberries; then gently fold them into the batter. (Flouring prevents them from sinking to the bottom of the cake.)
Pour into a well-greased and floured Bundt pan. Bake at 325 degrees for about 65 to 70 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Allow to sit in pan for approximately 5 to 10 minutes; then invert onto a rack to cool. When completely cool, frost with lemon-cream cheese frosting.
Method for Frosting:
Cream butter and cream cheese. Add powdered sugar, salt, lemon zest and lemon juice. Mix well.
Arline says that, for those who love to work with yeast, these Polish pastries are delicious! She always doubles this recipe to yield 60 kolaches.
Ingredients for Dough:
• 1 package (1/4 ounce) active dry yeast
• 1/4 cup warm water
• 1-1/4 cups warm milk
• 1/2 cup granulated sugar
• 3/4 cup softened butter
• 1 teaspoon salt
• 2 large eggs
• 5 to 5-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
Ingredients for Filling:
• 1 can (21 ounces) cherry pie filling
• 1/4 cup granulated sugar
• 1 teaspoon cornstarch
• 2 tablespoons cold water
• Ingredients for Cream Topping:
• 4 ounces cream cheese, softened
• 1/3 cup granulated sugar
• 1 egg yolk
• Melted butter
Method for Cherry Kolaches:
In a large mixing bowl, dissolve yeast in warm water until proofed. Add the milk, sugar, butter, salt, eggs and 2-1/2 cups flour. Beat until smooth. Stir in enough remaining flour to form a very soft dough. Do not knead! Cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 75 minutes.
Turn dough onto a well-floured surface. Shape into 1-1/2-inch balls. Place approximately 2 inches apart on a greased baking sheet. Cover and let rise until doubled, about 40 minutes.
In a saucepan, combine pie filling and sugar. In a little bowl, combine cornstarch and cold water and mix until smooth; stir into pie filling. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Cook and stir for one minute or until slightly thickened. Set aside.
In a mixing bowl, beat cream cheese, sugar and egg yolk until smooth. Using the end of a wooden spoon handle, make an indentation in the center of each dough ball. Fill with 2 rounded teaspoons of filling. Make a small indentation in center of filling and add 1 teaspoon of cream topping.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees and bake kolaches for 10 to 15 minutes, or until lightly browned. Remove from oven and brush rolls with melted butter. Remove from pan and let cool. Yield: Approximately 30 rolls.
Arline slipped in a non-dessert recipe. This is her favorite go-to appetizer, because you can freeze the cheese balls and be prepared for last-minute guests. But if you freeze them, don’t sprinkle/roll them in the walnuts until they have been thawed.
Blue Cheese Ball with Walnuts
• 2 packages (8 ounces each) cream cheese
• 1 stick butter
• 2 containers (4 ounces each) blue cheese
• 2 or 3 scallions, chopped
• 1 cup, or more, chopped walnuts
Method for Blue Cheese Ball with Walnuts:
Place cream cheese, butter, blue cheese and scallions into a big bowl. When softened, mix well with electric mixer on medium speed.
Make one large ball or two smaller balls from this mixture, depending on how big you want them. (Hint: I use plastic gloves to form the balls.)
Place a piece of wax paper on the counter and sprinkle with chopped walnuts. Roll the balls in the walnuts until they are covered. Place in the center of a serving dish and surround with crackers.
Editor’s note: If you have recipes to share, or recipes you want, contact Marie Cook, Coastal Point, P.O. Box 1324, Ocean View, DE 19970; or by email at ChefMarieCook@gmail.com. Please include your phone number. Recipes in this column are not tested by the Coastal Point.)