Buying my father a Christmas gift has never been easy.
Just ask my brother Jon — he’ll tell you all about the time he learned too late that Dad was not a Willie Nelson fan — at Christmas or any other time. But one year, about sixteen years after that Willie Nelson Christmas, I thought I had finally come up with the perfect gift for Dad, when I offered to take him to Greece, to see the land of his father’s birth.
It should come as no surprise to learn that Greece was not on Dad’s radar. Instead, my father wanted to go to Ireland. And not just any old place in Ireland — Dad wanted to make a pilgrimage to a city I had never heard of where a movie I had never heard of had been filmed. In other words, Daddy had his heart set on a visit to Cong where the movie The Quiet Man had been filmed.
Being the gracious gift-givers that we were, we exchanged Greece for the Irish vacation of Daddy’s dreams. And before travel plans were finalized, the trip grew to include three days each in Paris and London. All this horsetrading of countries taught me that my beloved father — the quietest man I had thought to ever know — could be quite vocal when it suited his purpose.
In the end, it didn’t matter where Daddy wanted to go. To his three traveling companions, it was all good. The days and nights were a blur of memorable sights and sounds, that collided and bumped into each other like fast-moving scenes from the roller coaster ride my sixty-eight year old father rode at Disneyland Paris.
There were the soaring spaces of Paris — Notre Dame, the Louvre, the Eiffel Tour and the Arc de Triomphe — the green rain and gorgeous plump flowers of the Irish countryside, along with lazy sheep crossings on the way to an intrepid picnic on Dingle Bay shared with sea gulls — a ‘mind the gap’ tour of London tubes and seeing history come to life with visits to the Tower of London and walking in the footsteps of Jack the Ripper.
And then there are all those special memories I will always hold dear, like when Daddy, wearing his new tweed jacket and cap, was mistaken for an Irishman by tourists. And then there’s the photograph of Dad above, standing near the ruins of the “White-O-Mornin” cottage featured in The Quiet Man. Daddy took in all fifteen days with wide-eyed wonder. All the memories are precious, especially as I think of how quiet Dad has really grown over the last year, so that he can no longer string two words together.
Amidst all the changing scenery and countries was the constancy of my sister’s chosen dessert of chocolate cake. It is because of this shared trip with Daddy, that I can no longer see a slice of chocolate cake without thinking ‘Christi.’ And the sweet irony of the association is that I don’t even think chocolate cake is my sister’s favorite dessert — on her birthday, she always asks for a light lemony cheesecake instead!
But two days ago, when I was enjoying a slice of my family’s favorite chocolate cake, I thought of Sis and this shared memory of a fifteen day tour dotted by pieces of chocolate cake. And with today’s visit to Dad, it seemed right to flip through the photos from the trip and share this recipe with you, along with the few memories that will forever be held together by crumbs of chocolate cake.
Make a chocolate cake memory and you’ll see what I mean. From my life to yours.
Chocolate Sheet Cake2 cups sugar 2 cups flour 1 tsp salt 1 tsp baking soda 2 sticks butter 1 cup water 4 Tbsp cocoa 1/2 cup buttermilk 2 eggs 1 tsp vanilla
In a large bowl, sift together all dry ingredients.
In a saucepan over medium heat, bring butter, water and cocoa to boil. Add the hot mixture to flour mixture. Sitr well.
Add remaining ingredients and mix well. Pour in a greased jelly roll pan (10″x15″x2″) and bake at 350 for 20 mins.
Chocolate Frosting1 stick butter 4 Tbsp cocoa 6 Tbsp milk 1 box powdered sugar (16 oz) 1 tsp vanilla 1 cup chopped pecans (optional)
In a mixing bowl, add powdered sugar.
In a saucepan over medium heat, bring butter, cocoa and milk to a boil. Immediately pour over powdered sugar, mixing with an electric mixer until smooth. Mix in vanilla and nuts. Immediately spread over hot cake.