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Strawberry Lemon Bars, for a good cause

June 8, 2008

If you’re a regular reader of food blogs, you’ve probably read the news that Briana Brownlow, of the wonderful blog Figs with Bri, was recently diagnosed with a recurrence of the breast cancer she first fought over two years ago. Bri’s blog is a true delight — not only does she celebrate locally grown, organic food, she has a lovely writing style and I can usually count on all of her recipes to be ones that I immediately want to rush into the kitchen and make. In addition to the grueling chemotherapy that she is undergoing, she is also going to be pursing more holistic therapies and integrative medicine — all in hopes that she can treat the “whole body” and beat the relentless beast that is cancer once more (hopefully for good.) And the wonderful food blogging community is rallying around her: Bee and Jai of Jugalbandi are sponsoring a special edition of the CLICK! food photography event in Bri’s honor. Yellow has come to symbolize the fight against cancer, and while the color theme for this month’s entries is yellow in support of Bri’s fight, Bee and Jai have also organized a fundraiser and raffle to benefit Bri and assist with the cost of the alternative therapies (that insurance companies usually never cover.) More information on the event specifics can be found at the bottom of this post; there are some really fantastic raffle prizes; I myself am bidding on Jen Yu’s gorgeous, gorgeous photo of the aspen stand.

The news about Bri hit me really hard because I am, myself, a cancer survivor — not something I’ve talked about before on this blog. I was diagnosed with Stage 2 Hodgkin’s lymphoma in the spring of 2006, at age 28. After going through 6 months of chemotherapy, I was in remission for less than a year, then the cancer recurred last June and I underwent some pretty intense chemotherapy, radiation, and an autologous stem cell transplant. My transplant was in September of 2007, so I am about 9 months out at this point. You wouldn’t know I ever went through it, if you saw me now — I look and feel “normal” and am doing really, really wonderfully. It’s amazing what a body can go through and recover from, if you give it time, patience, love, and a nurturing, peaceful space to do so. Though I’m distanced enough from the transplant so that most days go by without me really thinking much about cancer, the question mark it leaves is ever-present in the back of my mind, sometimes rearing its ugly head unexpectedly. Most days I can quash it; most days I look in the mirror and am happy to see a healthy, vibrant face looking back at me; most days I am struck by just what a blessing it is to be surrounded by the people I love and who love me, to live in a place that speaks to my heart, and to be focusing on exactly the kinds of activities and relationships that are nourishing, enriching, and meaningful to me. A cancer diagnosis at any point in life is devastating — for me, going through it in my late 20’s was, I suppose it’s needless to say, wholly unexpected and very difficult. The battle is not one that ends when treatment ends; the mental battle afterwards of being a “cancer survivor” and all that comes with that is one I continue to wage, but one whose wounds time, I hope, will also heal. Whether or not you’ve gone through cancer yourself or alongside someone you’re close to (and doesn’t it seem like we all know someone who has been affected by it?), it will probably come as no surprise to you when I say that cancer is a lens that helps you focus your life tremendously: I certainly realized what was truly, truly important to me. My life has slowed down. I am acutely aware of minimizing stress as much as I can. Rather than always racing to the next thing, always looking to “what’s next,” life to me now is more about appreciating each day, trying to live more in the present, trying to notice and take joy in the small delights that life offers. I don’t always succeed, but I sure do try. Like James Taylor says, “the secret of life is enjoying the passage of time.” If I can live my life as gracefully as possible, and relish and savor the small moments that make my heart glow, I will be happy.

Anyhow: this is a long way of saying that my heart really goes out to Bri and what she is facing. Reading about Bri’s recurrence has left me thinking a lot about my own experience — of course it brings back memories of last summer and how we were scrambling to learn about treatment options, trying to read up on as much as we could, trying to do everything possible to support me as I went through treatment, as I’m sure Bri’s family and friends are supporting her. A cancer diagnosis is devastating, no doubt about that — but I know how much family, friends, and such a wonderful community of people lifting you up and carrying you through can make an incredible, incredible difference. I think about Bri often, and I will be among the legions of people sending her healing thoughts, prayers, and words of support in the coming months.

Oh! And lest I forget — these lemon bars. 🙂 Tart lemony topping over a shortbread base, studded with bright ruby red diced strawberries. I suppose to me they’re kind of an edible metaphor for how I felt about my cancer experience: sour and tart (I would say “bitter,” but these bars aren’t bitter — cancer was), but studded throughout with little pockets of surprising sweetness. What could possibly be sweet about going through cancer, you ask? Well…okay, not much. I can only think of two things: (1) Chemo eliminates the need for shaving. (2) You can eat all the ice cream you want. And actually, one more thing: creating this blog was something I finally decided to do after recovering from my transplant, so that was a good outcome. And…yes, ok, that’s about it.

So, these yellow lemon bars are for you, Bri. Stay strong and kick cancer to the curb — for GOOD.

Jump to the recipe

~~~~From Jugalbandi:

This is an appeal on behalf of a group of food bloggers who are friends of Briana Brownlow @ Figs With Bri.

Bri was diagnosed with breast cancer two and half years ago. A mastectomy, chemotherapy and two years of relatively good health later, the cancer is back. It has metastasized to other parts of her body. At the age of 15, Bri lost her 41-year old mother to the disease. Now, she’s waging her own war against breast cancer. More about it here.

She is going through intensive chemo and other treatments and needs to focus single-mindedly on healing and finding what treatment works best for her. Her health insurance, unfortunately, does not cover holistic alternatives which she would like to try. Bri and her husband Marc have enough on their plates right now in addition to worrying about her medical bills.

The team organising the JUNE edition of CLICK at Jugalbandi has organised a fundraiser to help Bri and her family meet her out-of-pocket medical costs for ONE YEAR.

CLICK is a monthly theme-based photography contest hosted by Jugalbandi. This month’s theme is: YELLOW for Bri

Yellow is the colour of hope. Through the work of the LiveStrong Foundation, it has also come to signify the fight against cancer.

The entries can be viewed HERE. The deadline for entries is June 30, 2008. The fundraiser will extend until July 15, 2008.

The target amount is 12,000 U.S. dollars. We appeal to our fellow bloggers and readers to help us achieve this. Bri deserves a chance to explore all options, even if her insurance company thinks otherwise.

There’s a raffle with exciting prizes on offer. After viewing the list, you may make your donation HERE or at the Chip-In button on any participating site.

Your donation can be made securely through credit card or Pay Pal and goes directly to Bri’s account.

This month’s photo contest also has some prizes. Details HERE.

You can support this campaign by donating to the fundraiser, by participating in CLICK: the photo event, and by publicising this campaign.


Strawberry Lemon Bars

View printable recipe

From Delicious Fruit Desserts by Dot Vartan

For the crust
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup confectioner’s sugar
1 stick (8 tablespoons) butter, softened

For the filling
3 egg yolks
zest of 1 lemon
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup sugar
3 tbsp flour
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 cup fresh diced strawberries

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

In the bowl of a stand mixer (or using an electric mixer), use the paddle attachment to beat the flour, confectioner’s sugar, and butter together at medium speed until blended. Press the dough firmly into the bottom and 1/2-inch up the sides of an 8×8 baking pan. Bake for 20 minutes, or just until turning golden brown. Remove and set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, lemon zest, lemon juice, and milk. In a separate small bowl, stir together the flour, sugar and salt. Add the flour mixture to the egg yolk mixture and whisk until combined. Pour into a small saucepan and cook over medium heat, whisking constantly, until it gets thick and the whisk leaves a trail, about 5 minutes. Remove the lemon custard from the heat; if you like, you can cool it down a little by placing it in a bowl and placing that bowl in an ice-water bath.

Add the diced strawberries to the lemon custard and stir gently just to combine. Pour the custard onto the crust, spread it out evenly in the pan with a silicone spatula, and bake for 25-30 minutes, until the filling is set.

Cool completely before cutting into squares. You can dust them with confectioner’s sugar if you like, but I like to leave them as is so you can see the pretty ruby red bursts of strawberry.

Makes 16.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. June 8, 2008 9:46 am

    dear amy,
    it was so heartening to read about your successful fight against cancer. more power to you. thank you for your support, your donation, and for your beautiful CLICK entry.

    you are an inspiration.


  2. June 8, 2008 2:46 pm

    Sweet Amy…thank you so much for sharing your story of your cancer journey. It’s amazing how early it’s happening to many of us. I just keep thinking, that if I hadn’t gotten, and shared this awful news of recurrence, I would never have known the stories of you and others who’ve shared. I’m a silver lining kinda gal, and I do see that the more we all share our stories, the closer we are as a community.
    Now, as for the lemon bars….I am truly tickled that you made these in my honor. How did you know that homemade lemon bars (especially my grandmother’s) were my favorite treat growing up? But with a nod to strawberry lemonade?….sheer heaven. On a day when I’m feeling good and can enlist someone’s help, I am TOTALLY making these. Thanks for the brilliant idea.
    xoxo, Bri

  3. June 8, 2008 8:33 pm

    Bee — thanks for your comment, and thank you for organizing such a great event!

    Bri – so nice of you to stop by! I’m also a silver-lining kind of gal, and it’s certainly heartening to share stories and experiences. So glad you liked seeing those lemon bars — I hope they’ll be a good treat on a “feeling-good” kind of day! 🙂

  4. June 9, 2008 2:50 pm

    Amy, what a great post. I didn’t know you are a cancer survivor. I wish you a long and healthy life from now on! And I really hope and pray Bri joins the list of survivors very soon!

    Great recipe too! PS: we are the same age:)

  5. June 9, 2008 8:57 pm

    Amy, I thoroughly enjoy reading your blog. This post really got me thinking. I am going to put a link on my blog so that others can send a thought to Bri – you never know how the power of thoughts and prayers can work. Thank you for the truly inspiring story. Your strength, as well as Bri’s, is an inspiration to others. Thanks for sharing. Katie

  6. July 7, 2008 9:37 am

    Amy, Your blog is awesome- and I wanted to let you know that I made these bars last night! Instead of lemon zest/juice, I subbed lime. And instead of strawberries, I subbed blueberries. It is gorgeous and delicious- very tart. I should have pictures up on my blog tonight.
    Thanks for sharing!!

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