Saturday, October 15, 2011

Think Pink! Marshmallows for Liz

October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. From fundraising walks to pink ribbons on cars to TV movies you will see pink everywhere this month in honor of promoting education, early intervention, and treatment of this disease that will afflict 1 in 8 women in the US over the course of their lifetime. One in eight. Think about how many women you know. Now think about how many will be affected by this disease - as well as the ripple effect of the impact of this disease on their friends and families. We can all name at least one woman who has faced and fought breast cancer. I can name seven such courageous women, but today I'd like to tell you about just one - my dear friend Liz. Liz has graciously agreed to share her story here on Oh Cake in the hopes that you will be encouraged to take action, get yourself checked, or encourage your wife, sister, daughter, and friends to get checked.
During a routine physical in the spring Liz's physician noticed the tissue in her left breast seemed to be a little too dense, a little thick. There was no lump, no giant alarm bells went off. Just a simple, "hmm... this seems unusual - let's get you double-checked." Liz, being a nurse herself and very careful of her health, followed her doctor's advice and scheduled a mammogram. The mammogram led to a biopsy. Liz had shared this information with a few close friends and when I spoke to her we both kept the conversation light and upbeat with a, "let's not panic until we need to" sort of attitude. We marveled at the funny, but genius, technique the surgeons use of implanting a small metal "pink ribbon" in the biopsy site to leave as a marker for future mammograms. I knew Liz would text me in a couple of days to say, "all clear! False alarm!" And we would go back to our usual routine of a weekly trip to the playground with her son, coffee at Starbucks, and a walk around downtown Boston.

But a couple days later I didn't receive a text - I received a phone call. Before even picking up I knew.

"It's cancer."

My breath escaped me and a I deflated like a balloon. As we discussed the diagnosis and the next steps Liz needed to take she was her usual, cheerful, upbeat self. I was happy, but cautious, that Liz was taking it all so well. I asked her, "Liz, you seem really good. Are you, in fact, really good?" And she said, "you know, I think it will hit me eventually, but for right now, yes, I'm good." "OK," I responded, "then I have to go now so I can cry like a little girl." I didn't want to break down in front of her, I didn't want her to feel like she had to take care of me, but those tears, man, they were coming and there was no stopping them.

We hung up and I wept uncontrollably. Not because I thought this was a death sentence but because, quite simply, she's my friend and I love her. I don't want her to have to suffer anything ever - but especially not the physical pain of surgery or the emotional pain of uncertainty. I called my husband at work - crying so hysterically he couldn't understand what I was saying at first. He was so calm. So infuriatingly calm. I started to get angry with him when all he would say was, "calm down, honey, she'll be fine."  I shouted back at him, "how do you know that?! You don't know that!" Very calmly he said, "sweetheart, it's Liz. She's going to be fine because she has to be fine."

Thom was right, in the end. This world was no more ready to part with Liz than I was and she was fine, all things considered. She was also incredibly lucky to have her cancer diagnosed at an early stage and an unbelievable trooper during an aggressive course of treatment which included a double mastectomy. While Liz faced a scary ordeal with grace and humor, I did what I know how to do - make her favorite macaroons by Ina Garten - because really, when in doubt, keep calm and make cookies.

That's not to say it was all smooth sailing and without rough moments. But throughout all of it Liz was quietly focused on recovery and keeping life as normal as possible for herself and her family. Support came from all quarters for Liz, who is very easy to love. Not only was Liz and her family inundated with gifts of flowers and food, but many came forward to share their stories - including a gentleman who had breast cancer in his teens - because this disease, while it skews towards women, does not discriminate. Liz's story helped encourage another woman I know who has a family history of the disease to get herself checked out. I'm happy to say this lady was perfectly fine. Sometimes women don't do self-exams or go to the doctor because they don't want to know - the "ignorance is bliss" mantra. I rather think ignorance is simply ignorance and learning you are absolutely fine can be a weight lifted that ignorance will never match.

When I first mentioned the idea for this post to Liz she said, "make me marshmallows!" We laughed and I said, "take your time and think about it. Let me know if you're okay with telling your story." She didn't hesitate at all, she just said, "go for it."
So please, tell Liz's story to your friends, your mother, your sisters, your daughters, your cousins, your neighbors, your co-workers... yourself.  Keep on top of your doctor's appointments, have a mammogram, and remember that early detection is not a death sentence - it's an opportunity for a long and healthy life.* Here are some other resources to share as well:
And last but certainly not least, make Think Pink Marshmallows to share with the women you love.

Think Pink Marshmallows ~ for Liz
.75 oz unflavored gelatin
1 cup cold water, divided
2 cups granulated sugar
2T d'Arbo raspberry syrup - optional
1/2 cup light corn syrup
2 egg whites, whipped til stiff peaks form
food coloring - optional
confectioners sugar
canola oil
parchment paper

Notes before you start: You may use either a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment or a large bowl and a trusty hand mixer with a whisk attachment. I used a hand mixer. If you have both, use a stand mixer - it's stronger and will save you time and energy. You can also use either powdered gelatin or gelatin sheets. I used gelatin sheets. The important thing is to weigh it so you have a precise amount. No, you cannot substitute flavored Jell-O. I tried, thinking it would save me the step of adding flavoring. It makes marshmallow cream which never sets. Stay tuned - I may be making marshmallow filled chocolates to use up all the marshmallow cream I now have in the house! However, this means you can flavor these with any flavor you like; vanilla or peppermint are popular choices. Keep in mind that since extracts are highly concentrated (as compared to d'Arbo syrup) start with just a 1/2 teaspoon of flavoring and increase to taste.

Lightly oil a 9x13" pan with canola oil. Cut a piece of parchment paper to fit the bottom and dust the whole with sifted confectioners sugar. Set aside.

Pour 1/2 a cup of water into your mixing bowl and sprinkle the gelatin over it. Allow to dissolve while you prepare the sugar syrup.

In a large, heavy bottomed pot combine the granulated sugar, corn syrup, and the other 1/2 cup of water. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until all sugar is dissolved. Increase heat to medium-high and bring to a boil without stirring. Let cook until a candy thermometer tells you the syrup has reached 240º F, or if you're like me and don't own a candy thermometer, until the syrup has reached the soft-ball stage.
The soft-ball stage begins to occur at around 235º F. When a little bit of the syrup is dropped in a glass of cold water it will form a soft ball that can be manipulated with the fingers. Back in culinary school my Intro to Baking & Pastry chef told the class that an experienced chef will reach into the pot of boiling sugar and grab a bit to test it. I suppose you could try that - if you're extremely stupid and have asbestos at the end of your palm instead of fingers. As several shouts of pain arose from the "jock" culinary students I just laughed to myself, having been taught the glass of water method by my mother when I was a young teenager. (Whose got two thumbs and a mama that didn't raise no fools? This gal).
For further explanation and demonstration of the soft-ball stage please visit this website.

OK, let's get back to the marshmallows: while you're waiting for the sugar to reach soft-ball stage beat the egg whites in a separate bowl until stiff peaks form. Set aside. With your beaters on low slowly begin to pour the sugar syrup into the gelatin. Once all the sugar is poured in increase the speed to high. Continue beating until the mix has about tripled in volume. Continue beating until it has the consistency of a thick marshmallow cream. Add the food coloring and flavoring of your choice. 
Combine the stiff egg whites with the sugar-gelatin mix and beat together until smooth. Pour the marshmallow batter into your prepared pan. You can use a silicone spatula dipped in water to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Sift confectioners sugar over the top and refrigerate uncovered until firm - preferably overnight.
Turn out the marshmallow slab onto a large cutting board dusted with confectioners sugar and cut into squares or whatever shapes you fancy. It will help if you also dip your knife or cookie cutters in confectioners sugar. Dip all the sides of the cut marshmallows in confectioners sugar to prevent them from sticking together.

Enjoy plain or in hot chocolate for a decadent raspberry-cocoa treat. Package them and give them to friends to remember to "Think Pink!" and remain on top of their health.


* According to the American Cancer Society, depending on the type and stage of breast cancer, women whose cancer is detected early have a 74-93% 5-year survival rate.


  1. You did the right thing by keeping calm and telling the story of your friend Liz. I am sure liz liked the marshmallows as much as we did by just looking at the pictures. Really, you did great a great post on the awareness of breast cancer.

  2. Wow, Liz and Jess, what a wonderful story! Thank you so much for inspiring me. I plan on calling my doctor this upcoming week (I am almost 2 years overdue...). All the best!

  3. Steph, I am so happy to hear this inspired you to make an appointment with your doctor! xoxo

  4. Thanks to both of you for generously sharing your story. My family has an extensive history of breast cancer, and I just had a follow-up mammogram, which thankfully came out fine. But it's an important reminder to us all to be vigilant about our health and to treasure the people in our lives. Thanks again.

  5. What a fabulous post! And look how Liz's story has already generated the response you wanted. Your marshmallows look fabulous...perfect for breast cancer awareness month. I wish your friend my best wishes for a complete recovery~

  6. What a wonderful post in honor of your friend Liz! I can see why she wanted you to make marshmallows, they look wonderful!

  7. My screening month is always October - it's easy to remember. What an inspiring post - you made me cry first thing this morning - but it was cleansing. I participated in a Party in Pink Zumbathon this week-end...lots of pink going on this month! I love making marshmallows. These look fabulous!

  8. What an inspiring story and perfectly pink marshmallows!

  9. Wow! Wat to go! These are just perfect!!
    God bless your friend, Liz!!
    ~Cookin' Cowgirl

  10. Thank you so much for sharing your friends story and for this wonderful recipe! I was deeply inspired by the sea of pink this weekend while running the half marathon. So many men and women were running for themselves, their friends or loved ones who have been affected by this disease. I hope we can find a cure soon!

  11. A very inspiring story. Those marshmallows look wonderful. I've always wanted to make them, just haven't felt I could pull it off. Thanks for the tips and I can't wait to see the cookies you make with the marshmallow cream!

  12. What a touching post about your dear friend! I'm so glad that they caught it early and I wish her all the best! These marshmallows are so perfectly pink and I bet they are a great addition to hot cocoa!


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