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.
That picture of cake got my mouth watering…ought to go have some breakfast I guess.
I’m glad you went to Ireland; it’s on my list of places to go “one day” in part because some of my ancestors came from there, refugees of the potato famine, jumping from the starving fields of Ireland to the unimagineable squalor of 18th Century Liverpool.
I wasn’t much impressed with Paris, and will be back in May for work, and perhaps again in June, with a visit to Disney land.
I’d love to taste your cakes; but tell me one thing, being such a good cook, how do you stay so slim?
I’d love for you to taste my cakes — with either a cup of tea or coffee — I’ll enjoy both today — coffee in the morning — hot tea in the afternoon.
How do I stay slim? I guess it’s just who I am. Regular walks — chasing three canines around the house — and rarely sitting still,( but for praying or writing or reading the few blogs I keep up with) doesn’t hurt.
On that note, can I say how lovely I am finding your website? And how I wish with all my heart that your endeavor is embraced?
I look forward to reading chapter one this morning — wanted to do it with fresh eyes — but I read, with some heartache, your ‘about’ page last night before turning into bed. I know when my son talks to me of publishing, as he encourages me to write “my” novel, he tells me to be sure and fit in to one of the accepted genres — otherwise, there’s little hope for acceptance. And I come back to him that I don’t think I’m interested in fitting into a genre. Where’s the originality in that, following a formula or recipe? I think its insulting to the reading public that they don’t occasionally want something new. It’s a struggle isn’t it? Or can be, until peace comes with decisions.
I do sense the peace and hope that fills your website and if it helps, I sprinkle my best fairy dust all over it. If my brand of fairy dust looks a little like ordinary house dust, well… that too, is part of who I am — just an ordinary housewife who believes that dreams do come true. May the luck of the Irish be yours, Viv.
Well who knows? Maybe one day we will sit down to coffee and cakes!
I know what you mean about the whole genres thing. It’s been a wall I’ve bashed against, for so many years and yet, to be honest even though I probably could write a generic novel, it would feel like an utter betrayal of all I hold sacred to do so. I wonder how many now famous novelists went through the same thing. Tolkien very nearly didn’t get LOTR accepted at all because it was such an odd and new thing, but someone took a chance on him and year after year, it is voted the UKs favourite book. Virginia Wolf was only published because her husband was a publisher. The fact that I have come within spitting distance of success several times doesn’t comfort me; a miss is as good as a mile.
Faith becomes a big deal now for me, to believe that what I believe should happen will happen and that as the Lord created me as I am, he didn’t create someone who should be doomed always to fail. I have gifts, more than many, so why would he make me this way and not allow my gifts to reach people? I do shout at God sometimes. Maybe one day he’s gonna shout back!
Have a peaceful and blessed day; off out with my dog now if she’ll go!
Lovely account of your vacation, and a danged good-looking cake! I hope you’ve got some of that in the house – with the weather headed your way, you’re going to need something to smile about.
Stay safe – I pray there’s no loss of power, and that you don’t get whalloped like 2007.
The cake is just a memory — but I’m off to make my friend Ann’s Orange-Cranberry bread — in case we lose power.
But thanks for finding the story lovely. It was lovely — one so lovely, I can’t do it justice.
Thanks also for your good wishes — I do fear the loss of power — central Oklahoma has never made the investment to bury power lines underground — and every ice storm makes me wonder why. (Or why I haven’t purchased that private generator that’s on my ‘to do’ list.) At least our private lines from the pole to house are buried — so this year, the Magnolia tree breakage won’t cause private power lines to go crash.
Here’s to good hope and cheer for all facing storms in their lives.
Janell, looking at your recipes. This cake is a family favorite. Have made it for over 30 years….
It’s the same in my family — it’s been around longer than my children. My oldest is now 32.
It’s cakes like this that underline the truth that simple is best. And when combined with chocolate, who could ask for more?