“Money Cake”- Tales from 4th Street

regina-and-edward-oconnell

Edward and Regina

As a child in Brooklyn, the first notable event in my family that came after the Christmas and New Year’s Holiday was my maternal grandmother’s (and her twin brother’s) birthday. This year will mark the 111th anniversary of their birth on 23 January 1906.

At a family reunion back in October, my mother and her siblings gathered the Kelly  family together for the first time in quite a while.  Old  photos and artifacts from the family were on display, shared with stories about those that went before us.  Many of the stories centered around Nana’s kitchen, cooking and baking in her Park Slope  home. The stories of her old gas stove were legendary.  For years, I think only Nana knew how to coax that old relic to life and then to the right temperature for whatever she was making.   I know in the back of my young head I had a cartoon vision of her lighting the pilot light leading to a small, smokey explosion that would leave her unharmed with the exception of a blackened face and wildly singed hair, smoking from the ends.

Out of that gas oven came countless family meals, holiday feasts and, in her later years, more intimate meals for the occasional grandchild visiting or boarding with her in her ubiquitous brownstone just down the street from Prospect Park West.

Several of my memories center around her baking.  She would bake raisin nut soda bread and, what my siblings and I would call, “pound cake”.  I later learned that my mother’s siblings referred to it as “money cake”, named so by my uncle. The name comes from the expense of the ingredients during the 1940’s.  It was extravagant and it was a treat that appeared on special occasions.

I am one of six children. For some reason I was the only one that would leap for the raisin bread while my brothers and sisters would favor the “money cake”.  Don’t get me wrong, I loved both treats.  But when you are the middle child competing for limited treats, you go for what you like and what is plentiful.

When my grandmother passed in October, 2001, my Aunt Maureen put the recipes together and passed them around so the next generation would have an artifact that they could taste.  Over the years, I have become fairly proficient at the Raisin Nut Bread.  A few years ago I even made a loaf and passed it to my son who sent it overnight to my mother (but that is another story).  But I had never attempted the “Money Cake”.  To be honest, I did not realize I had the recipe because the recipe sheet I had called it “Cream Cake”.  The same product had a different name in each generation of the family. Nana called it “Cream Cake”, my mother’s generation called it “Money Cake” and my siblings and I called it “Pound Cake”.  Confused?  Yeah, sorry!

About a week ago, while discussing some genealogy discoveries with Aunt Maureen, I asked her for the recipe again and she sent it in an email.  The recipe goes as follows:

Nana’s Cream Cake (“Money Cake”)img_3765

4 eggs
1/2 pint heavy cream
1.5 cups sugar
2 cups Presto
1 tsp vanilla

Mix cream, sugar and egg yolks.
Add vanilla and mix well.
Add flour, stir until well blended.
Fold in egg whites, beaten to stiff peaks in a separate bowl. Bake in a deep pan 1 hour at 375.

Presto Cake Flour was very popular in the New York City area.  I live in Southeastern Virginia and this is not an item I can find in the local Harris Teeter.  I ordered a box from Amazon.  If you cannot find Presto, add 1/2 tsp of baking powder and 1/4 tsp salt to every cup of cake flour. Because it was raining yesterday and I had nothing more pressing on my list of things to do, I decided to give it try.   I had all of the ingredient and Aunt Maureen’s email up on my laptop sitting on the kitchen counter.

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Coming out of the oven at about the 55 minute mark

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The result was surprising. It revived a taste memory I think I had filed away in my brain.  Was it as good as Nana’s?  It was close.  I think I may have left in a minute or two longer than I should have.  My oven temperature in an electric oven may be more stable than Nana’s old dinosaur gas oven.  I recommend you test with a wooden toothpick or bamboo skewer.  If it comes out dry, it is done.  My sons seemed to like it.  They happily helped me taste the result of my successful baking experiment.

This is how I paid tribute to Nana on the day before her 111th birthday.  Maybe later on I will go pick up a Hershey Bar as a nod to her twin, my Great Uncle Ed.  He always seemed to have Hershey Bars for his grandnieces and nephews when we visited him in his brownstone on Dean Street.  But that story can wait for another day.

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Successful

The Perils of Disproving Family Legends

I am knee-deep in genealogy paperwork this weekend.  A package from the National Archives containing the military records of my great-grandfather, Sidney J. Kelly, Sr. spilled over 100 photocopied pages across my table that probably have not been disturbed since the 1920’s at a time when his widow was seeking assistance with pensions and death benefits.  I spent most of Saturday pouring over the documents and creating a transcript of the many handwritten logs contained within.

The danger in the research I have been doing for the past few years comes in when I discover that a family legend is not really true.  We all have them, celebrated skeletons in the closet.  They could also be whispered secrets through the generations or notes in the margins of family histories left to us from those who came before us. The names Baumann, Boyle, Cooke, Flood, Gaynor, Kelly, and O’Connell get tangled in the vines on my family tree.  greetings-from-gowanus-a

Did John Boyle, Jr. drown in the Gowanus Canal in 1875? (If you are not from Brooklyn, you could not possibly understand just how horrible it would be to drown in that body of “water”.) In World War I, was PVT Thomas Kelly of Company “G”, 106th Infantry Regiment gassed by the Germans on the battlefields of Belgium?  Was Michael H. Baumann guilty of manslaughter in the 1910s?  Was his victim, a man with the last name of O’Connell from Brooklyn,  another relative on the other side of my family tree?  It reads like a Penny Dreadful.

sidney-and-emily-kelly

Sidney and Emily Kelly, circa 1918 Courtesy of Norman McDonald

What do I know now that I did not know last Thursday?  I know that Provisional Ensign Sidney J.Kelly, USNRF, died of disease in March of 1919 while on home leave due to illness.  His medical discharge, signed by Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels days after his death, had to be revoked so that benefit and pension issues could be dealt with by his widow, Emily.  I also have found that Ens Kelly’s son, Private Thomas M. Kelly, served with the 106th Infantry Regiment in the European theater and most likely did see combat in the 2nd Battle of the Somme in March and April of 1918 fighting alongside the British Third Army.  He returned to the United States in 1919 and was discharged when the 106th was demobilized in June 1919.  His name does not appear on the casualty lists from the battle.  I am still looking into his unit history and am waiting for the National Archives to provide his records.  The story of him being gassed is still unproven.

Whatever I uncover, I think it is best to stick to what I can prove through research and documentation.  The truth will find a way to come out.   Some the legends may continue as legend, others may not stand up to scrutiny.  For now, I will go where the records and,  hopefully, the truth take me.

 

Transcript

How you delayed my flight…

You don’t know you did it because you were in a rush to get to your connection at Reagan National Airport in Washington D.C. This was not a delay caused by the airline or by the weather, it was caused by the inconsideration of a fellow passenger.  Let me explain.

On 22 December 2016,  I hopped on an American Airlines flight (AA 4054) from Norfolk, Virginia (ORF) to Washington D.C.(DCA). There I was to pick up a connecting AA flight (AA 4142) to Savannah, Georgia (SAV) to be a +1 at an event on the 23rd.   We had a short ground delay in Norfolk, but we were wheels up pretty quickly for the 40 minute flight north.

cl-65The flight to D.C. was  uneventful. That is until we aborted the landing because, as the pilot said in his announcement, he was uncomfortable with the separation between landing aircraft.  We bolted out to the west and rejoined the pattern to the south of the airport for a second approach.  This time there was no issue and we were on the ground heading to the apron area where the Canadair CL-65 aircraft were serviced at a common gate.  There was a younger woman a few rows ahead of me who was agitated about the “go around”, concerned it would cause her to miss her connection. Even with the short ground delay and the second approach to Reagan National, we landed close to our published arrival time. The passenger a few rows up was working herself into a lather.

If you have been in the AA terminal at Reagan National where the regional jets are managed, you will know that you do not arrive at a gate.  You arrive at an aircraft parking area where passengers are unloaded onto buses that take you to the nearby terminal building at Gate 35 X.  Your departure from the aircraft is really dependent on either the slowest baggage handler or slowest passenger deplaning the aircraft.  With the opening of the cabin door and the placement of the ramp off the jet, we began gathering our stuff from overhead bins and headed out.  My young friend about two rows up had really spun herself up and, in her haste to deplane, caught the strap of her bag on the armrest of one of the seats in row 8.  Instead of reaching down to release it, she gave a violent jerk and pulled her bag away from the obstruction.  In doing so she ripped off a large plastic piece of the armrest and scurried off the plane (to wait in the bus).  An older woman immediately ahead of me from row 9 stopped to move the broken piece of armrest out of the aisle.  The rest of the passengers exited the plane, collected their red tag bags from the baggage cart beside the plane and boarded the bus for the terminal.   Once there I saw our young, agitated traveler hop off the bus at a run and disappear into the terminal.

My flight to Savannah was scheduled to board very soon after I entered the terminal.  I had enough time to use the rest room before hopping back on a bus that would bring me to my next regional jet.   Once I was aboard the bus with my fellow passengers we went out to the aircraft.  I was amused to note that we pulled up in front of the very aircraft I had just arrived on from Norfolk.   We waited on the bus for 45 minutes for a “maintenance issue”.

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While people were generally in a good mood because of the holidays, it was a little confining to be packed into a bus, standing, on the tarmac waiting to board a plane.  Patience was beginning to wear thin as we cooled our heels.

We finally did make it on to the aircraft.  I said “hi” to the flight attendant who recognized me from the first leg of the trip.  She asked me where I was sitting on the first flight and then asked me if I had seen someone damage the seat in row 8.  I told her the story and she just shook her head.  We were going to be an hour or so late into Savannah because American Airlines maintenance had to effect a temporary repair to the armrest.  Once the jagged plastic remaining on the armrest was taped up, no longer posing a threat to crew or passenger safety, we were off to Savannah.

My point here is that the young, impatient traveler on my first flight, who was so annoyed at the potential of being delayed or missing her next flight, did not take the time to calmly free her baggage strap from the armrest and leave the aircraft.  As a result, she damaged the armrest, created a minor safety issue for the airline, delayed 50 people from leaving on time to their destination (although I doubt anyone was connecting to a flight out of Savannah) and put that aircraft behind on the rest of the schedule for the day. That may have had consequences on crew availability.  All this during the busiest travel period of the year.   While  being in such a rush, her lack of courtesy probably inconvenienced hundreds of people during the rest of the day. I wonder how many people missed connections on the other legs flown on that aircraft because of the hour delay she unnecessarily and unwittingly created.

There are unintended consequences from our actions.  I think that if were all a little more mindful of our behavior and treated our fellow travelers with a little respect, those consequences may be more positive.  We really do impact the lives of other people with our actions, even those with whom we share a fleeting moment in an airport or an hour in an aircraft.

Man Cave Formal, 2017

This is an update to my post from yesterday.  At about 12:11 am, just after the New Year’s kisses and hugs were wrapping up, the phone pinged.  The “Man Cave Formal, 2017” arrived.  Because he posted it on FaceBook, I have no issues with putting it here as my first post of the year 2017.  Besides, no one reads this anyway!

From a secret, undisclosed location near the border between New York and Connecticut, my brother, James, in Man Cave Formal , 2017…

james-2017

James, 2017

Happy New Year!

Year

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