An ode to Arlene and Caramel Apple Cake

I have been living in Central Florida for about 4 1/2 years now. The entirety of the time I have been employed at Osceola Regional. Many of you who chat with me regularly, or even occasionally, have heard me speak of a nurse by the name of Arlene. It is with great sadness that I inform you of her passing. I write this post as a celebration of her life.

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Arlene was the matriarch of the NICU and a bit of a legend. I swear the entire hospital knew her. She was not afraid to speak her mind, and was a true advocate for her coworkers, and her patients, however tiny. She could often be found muttering “Oh my goodness, Oh my goodness, Oh my goodness” in a soothing tone to a crying infant. Arlene was a driving force in helping me shape my nursing career at Osceola. She explained anything I ever asked and praised me for being willing to learn. In the beginning I was sheepishly trying to help with an admission when I knocked her tea over on her PAPER chart… I was introduced to the look of death. But, she just shrugged and said worse things have happened. When Dr Pera walked in, the entire chart was spread out under warmers drying. She was in the OR with me when I first learned not every delivery is a happy one. She was sitting next to me when a nurse on the phone called me a “wicked person”. I was so hurt she made it into a standing joke between us. The next day she bought me a little plaque that read something like “witchy women” and declared if the shoe fit run with it….I should embrace my wickedness. Classic. Arlene famously told me that if I walked out of my evaluation in tears again, that she was going to beat my butt so hard I was not going to be able to sit on the way home :). She told me I needed to learn how to say “bite me in a respectful way”. And was very proud as my skin started to thicken and my backbone started to grow. One day I even JOKINGLY (seriously I didn’t have a death wish..) told her to bite me. She high fived me and then told me “Seriously though you’re not allowed to use that one on me…” Although she had many stories of patients she cared for over the years the one pictured below was by far her absolute favorite.

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I had the pleasure of being in the nursery the evening her granddaughter was born. I was blessed to be able to help capture it on film. The above shot is one of my favorites from that night. Arlene had many passions. Her family always remained at the top of the list. I think everything else was tied for second place. She maintained Disney is where dreams came true-no arguments here- and was able to watch her granddaughter meet Mickey for the first time.

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She was equally passionate about tigers. Volunteering to help care for them as often as she could. The picture below is what I call classic Arlene, and I will always remember her like this…

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I don’t think I will ever be able to listen to Barbara Streisand or Barry Manilow again without thinking of her. She declared me as officially “ok” when I could identify every Neil Diamond song she played, as well as most of the musical songs. When I first moved to night shift I joked with her that I was going to write a book of Arlene-isms, as they were so uniquely her. A list of her most popular sayings included: Useless as tits on a duck, Jesus Christ on a cracker, Jesus Mary and Joseph, Dumb as a box of rocks, Not for nothing, and, my personal favorite, If I’m right not God on a cloud with a gun can tell me I’m wrong.
When it came to Cake Wednesday, my passion for being in the kitchen, and, ultimately, this blog, Arlene was undeniably one of my most enthusiastic supporters. I started keeping a small notebook of everyone’s likes and dislikes. I say this with a laugh, but Arlene quickly acquired her own page. No fruit with chocolate cake. Fondant is out, buttercream is by far better. Walnuts are always superior to pecans. No fuzz ( no peaches). Fruit with white cake is ok, but it has to be berries. Cheesecake is cheesecake. Period. No frillys belong with cheesecake. In savory dishes: no fungi- mushrooms are out. If it is a comfort food there should be no crunchys – celery in my deviled eggs was unwelcome. And, absolutely , under any circumstances , NO UFO’S- unidentified food objects- at any time. I could always count of her for any type of constructive criticism, and I knew a full report could not be given unless I sent a second piece home with her for her tea in the morning. I also now know which of my cookbooks have proper recipe to picture ratio. 🙂 She was the best, I’m very sorry we never got the chance to get together and figure out that new electric pressure cooker she bought. When spent many an hour discussing recipes for it. :(. I am also saddened I never got her to write down her “chicken in the oven” recipe. I do however have her taco dip recipe,which is super easy, and super good.
Although she passed about three weeks ago, I was not able to bring myself to make her favorite cake until Monday, her Birthday. Likewise, I was not ready to sit and write this until today, but I know she would be so very touched that I did. Below, is the recipe for Caramel Apple Cake. As far as I know, this was still number one on her list. It is my pleasure to share it with you all.

Caramel Apple Cake

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Adapted from Nancy Baggett’s Apple Pecan Coffee Cake with Caramel Glaze Coffee’ in her book, The all American Dessert Book.
-FYI- Per Arlene, this book does have proper picture to recipe ratio. 🙂
Serves 12.

For the Walnuts:
1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
2.5 tablespoons packed dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon light corn syrup
1 tablespoon, unsalted butter, room temperature

– Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place aluminum foil over a baking sheet.
– In medium bowl, combine ingredients until the walnuts are evenly covered
– Spread onto baking sheet and toast for 9-14 minutes. Make sure to stir occasionally.
– They are done when nicely browned and fragrant.
– Let cool completely and break into small chunks.
– These can be ahead, and will keep for a few days at room temperature in an airtight container.

For the cake:
3 large tart apples, peeled, cored, and rough chopped.
1/3 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3 cups all purpose flour
1 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
heaping 1/2 teaspoon salt
16 ounces unsalted butter, softened
2 cups granulated sugar
3 large eggs, room temperature
2/3 cup sour cream, room temperature
2 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract

– In a large bowl, stir together apples brown sugar, and cinnamon. Let rest for half hour.
– Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9×13″ pan with baking spray or butter generously.
– In a medium bowl whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt.
– In a large bowl beat together butter and granulated sugar until fluffy. Scrape sides of bowl down.
– Add eggs, one at a time, and beat until well blended.
– Add half of flour mixture and mix on low speed until just incorporated.
– Follow by adding all sour cream and vanilla and mixing until well blended.
– Add the last half of dry ingredients and beat until incorporated.
– Spoon half the batter into the pan and spread it evenly into the corners. The layer will be thin.
– Using slotted spoon, shake juice from apples and layer evenly on top of cake batter. Reserve juice for caramel topping
– Sprinkle walnut mixture on top of apples.
– Spoon the remaining cake batter over top of apples, spreading with buttered knife. This layer will also be thin.
– Bake for 45-55 minutes. The top will be well browned and spring back when lightly touched. If you believe it is browning to fast, cover it with a piece of aluminum foil for the last few minutes.
– Transfer to wire rack to cool for at least 20 minutes.

For the Caramel Glaze:
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
3 tablespoons unsalted butter and cut into chunks
2 tablespoons dark corn syrup
Reserved apple juice from cake
1 1/2 vanilla extract

– In a heavy saucepan, stir together all ingredients except the vanilla extract.
– Stirring constantly, cook over medium high heat until it comes to boil.
– Continue stirring and cook for 5 minutes at a brisk boil.
– Remove from heat and and stir in vanilla extract.
– Let cool until thickens to desirable consistency and pour over cake.

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The cake will keep for a few days in the refrigerator, but I guarantee it will not last that long.
I’m going to close this with the lyrics from one of her favorite broadway shows -Wicked. (OF COURSE!) ” So if you care to find me, look to the Western sky, as someone told me lately everyone deserves the chance to fly. And if I’m flying solo at least I’m flying free to those who’d ground me… take a message back from me! Tell them how I am defying gravity. I’m flying high, I’m defying gravity!”

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Rip Arlene, your legacy will never be forgotten. I hope there’s cake in heaven.

Dream, Bake, Believe.
Love, Steffie

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5 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Anonymous
    Feb 23, 2013 @ 11:40:38

    Well written,Arlene would be proud!

    Reply

  2. Kristen Donnell
    Feb 23, 2013 @ 16:11:15

    Thank you Steffie it was beautiful my mom would be so touched to know she inspired this. It made me cry and laugh. She absolutely loved her career being a nurse is part of her.

    I know her chicken in the oven recipe for the most part. Layer thinly sliced potatoes in a casserole dish place skin on bone in chicken breast on top salt and pepper to taste then cook until chicken is cooked through and potatoes are tender open a can of peas over top for a few minutes in the oven and serve. I often had trouble with the timing potatoes done and chicken not dried out. Mom had it down to a science. So it may take a little tweaking but it’s a simple recipe.

    Reply

  3. Anonymous
    Feb 23, 2013 @ 17:11:01

    That was very well written and absolutely beautiful.

    Reply

  4. Tracie woods
    Feb 23, 2013 @ 23:58:25

    What a beautiful tribute to such a selfless and wonderful woman. We have had the pleasure of knowing her family for many years as my boys Morgan and Trevor grew up with Megan We will always cherish our memories of fixing the cars, laughing at all the dumb things our kids have done but mostly I’ll miss the laughter in Megan’s eyes that had seem to go away the day her mom went to heaven. What a beautiful tribute to an amazing woman. Thanks , Tracie woods aka mom woods

    Reply

  5. Anonymous
    Feb 26, 2013 @ 16:21:29

    thanks for such a beautiful tribute for my niece, we all loved her back here in New Jersey, she is so much like her mom (my sister) with that same smile, she is missed and will always be in our hearts, thanks again (from Grama Jean)

    Reply

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