True nostalgia is an ephemeral composition of disjointed memories.
– Florence King
It’s been a week of nostalgia as I go through old photos and share them on Facebook. Odd and wonderful week as I am contacted by someone on Twitter who asked « Was your father on the USS Suwannee ? » I had mentioned the battleship in the Pacific on which my father lived and worked for close to two years during WWII and she had found me. Her father was on the same ship and, as I discovered when I came across a short partial list of shipmates, in the same group as my own dad. And the world gets smaller and smaller as I discover that two friends, women who I had come to know through our food blogs, had fathers who also worked at NASA during the old Gemini, Mercury and Apollo years, the same period of time as my own dad.
I share photographs of my hometown, the house in which I grew up with another Facebook group and connections are made and renewed and we are carried back to our childhoods. “Are you Michael’s sister?” or “Are you Ruth’s daughter?” “I lived just up the street!” Simple questions that cut straight to the heart. Faded kodachrome images of my brother, smiling gleefully at the camera. I stare into his eyes, I smile back at the amused sparkle and pray that I never forget his voice, his mannerisms, his laugh. I gather old photographs and place them one by one on the scanner, capturing the image, transferring the memory onto my laptop.
Summer slowly cools to Autumn; the bright clear skies and the cool breeze layering over the August heat lure us outside for a long, brisk walk along the river or draw us into town for an ice cream or a drink. Late afternoon, we pull up a chair on the terrace of one of the many pubs scattered across city squares or squeezed convivially up and down narrow cobbled streets and order something chilled and while away a lazy hour or two. When we get back to the house, only then do we realize that the cupboard is bare. Somehow, summer infuses our blood, our spirit with an indolent, lackadaisical laissez faire. We shrug our shoulders as son glares at us with an eerily parental reproach in his eyes. “Kabobs?” we ask. “Bread and cheese?” He shakes his head, turns and walks away, grumbling “I’ll take care of myself.”
Although I know perfectly well that I should be using the season’s finest to throw together a peach cobbler or a mixed berry pie, I had an uncontrollable craving for a chocolate cake this week. No frosting, something light, simple, rather plain, is all. The kind of cake one leaves on the countertop with a knife perched on the edge of the pan, the kind of cake one nibbles on throughout the day, sliver after sliver popped into the mouth. I had buttermilk left from the Sour Cherry Crumble Coffee Cake and wanted to put it to good use. And what better use than a chocolate cake?
Definitely the kind of cake my dad would have made. Or my brother.
SIMPLE CHOCOLATE BUTTERMILK CAKE
From Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook
2 cups (260 g) flour
2 cups (400 g) sugar
1 tsp baking soda
¼ tsp salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon, optional
16 Tbs (1 cup/225 g) unsalted butter
1/3 cup (30 g) unsweetened cocoa powder
1 cup (250 ml) water
2 large eggs
½ cup (125 ml) buttermilk
1 tsp vanilla
Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C). Grease (butter) a 15 x 10 or 13 x 9 inch baking pan or equivalent volume.
Combine the butter, cocoa powder and water in a medium saucepan over low heat; bring just to the boil, whisking constantly. Remove from the heat and allow to cool for a few minutes.
In a large mixing bowl, blend the flour, sugar, baking soda, salt and cinnamon. Add the butter mixture to the dry ingredients and stir or beat on low to combine, until all of the dry ingredients are moistened. Beat on high speed for one minute. Beat in the eggs, the buttermilk and the vanilla and beat for one more minute.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 25 - 35 minutes depending on the size and shape of the baking pan until the center of the cake is set and the sides just begin to pull away from the sides of the pan.
Remove the cake to a cooling rack, run a thin blade around the edges to loosen and allow to cool completely before slicing and serving.
The cake is moist and delicate yet very light so may crumble a bit when lifting from the pan. Eat as is or serve with whipped cream or ice cream and/or poached or roasted fruit.