“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.

via Daily Prompt: Successful

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

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

via Daily Prompt: Year

Looking Forward, 2017

It is once again New Year’s Eve.  I am ending this year in the same place I began it, along the Herb River in Savannah. It is really the place I want to be because She is here.  That is more than enough to make me happy.

We all have rituals that go along with the new year.  Some are very traditional from watching the “Ball” drop on New Year’s Eve, a kiss with just the right someone at the stroke of midnight, or a champagne toast.   In my family, we await a special photo that comes out each year just after midnight on 1 January.  I do not know how or when it started but my brother, no matter where he is or what significant challenge he and his family are facing, will disappear just after 11:30 and reappear in formal attire for the arrival of the new year. Even if everyone else in the house has conked out or a raging snowstorm is going on at his New York home, James will get decked out and take a photo.  Sometimes it is a selfie, sometimes he has co-conspirators.   Every year we all wait for the photo to pop into our email/phones.

I know it is silly, but it is a tradition that I look forward to every year. It makes me hopeful that no matter what comes in the new year, we were stylishly attired at the start!

Hopeful
via Daily Prompt: Hopeful

The Case for Pardoning Hillary Clinton

hillaryI am sure this will elicit a backlash from those who want to “Lock Her Up”.  I am also pretty sure that her still stunned supporters will protest that she has already been cleared of any wrongdoing and should not be investigated.

But, hear me out.   A protracted investigation will do nothing more than increase the divide between the left and the right.  It will cost the tax payers millions.  It will derail any effort to move forward with reforms or simply doing the nation’s business.  It is a losing proposition no matter which way you approach it and, in reality, will only serve to create a martyr out of Hillary Clinton at a time when many just want her to go away.   It will be an unnecessary distraction at a time when we all need focus on the future of this country.

The headlines today seem to indicate that the President-elect does not want to initiate an investigation in order to allow Mrs. Clinton to “heal”.  If you take him at his word, that seems to be a reasonable position to take to avoid looking like you are vindictively prosecuting a political rival.  But tomorrow is another day and Mr. Trump  retains the prerogative to change his tweet without warning.

He did not ask the Speaker of the House or the Senate Majority Leader to shut down Congressional committee investigations that are still looking for a pound of her email.  A few of the Republican chairs of various committees don’t seem inclined to let go of ongoing efforts that could result in requests from the House or Senate to the  incoming administration’s Justice Department to indict Secretary Clinton.

I do believe she lied about everything from Benghazi to her reckless mishandling of classified information.  I think the advisors around her were corrupt and complicit in trying to coverup the extent of her willful disregard for laws governing the handling of material.  I believe, despite the declarations of current FBI Director and Attorney General that her actions did not rise to the level of a crime,  there is ample evidence that could lead to her conviction in a court of law with an impartial jury.

I don’t think we can find an impartial jury for her.

Here is my recommendation.  President Obama should grant her a blanket pardon for her actions while Secretary of State and the coverup of her email server after she left office.  I also think that her immediate aides should also be pardoned.   It would be grossly unfair for Huma Abedin to be punished when Secretary Clinton gets off with a pass.   Besides, isn’t being married to Anthony Weiner enough punishment for any human?

President Obama will not likely suffer any further decline in popularity for doing this.  The people who will howl about the injustice of a pardon don’t like him anyway.  Those that would support it are already in Secretary Clinton’s camp or realize that the future of the country is more important that living in Hillary’s past.  I don’t see a downside.  I even think this will take some of the pressure off of the incoming president.

In a way, this could be a turning point in moving towards a better future in the same way that  President Ford’s pardoning of Richard Nixon was back in September 1974.

Elicit

When you say nothing at all…

The Song. It sticks in my head, and it is a frequent companion on my travels between the Tidewater of Virginia and the Georgia Low Country.  In fact, I have more than one version of it.  One that gets played on the southern journey and one that plays on the torture playlist for the trip north.  See, I am spilling details of which even she is not aware.

I met her on the first day of 8th grade.  I had been transplanted from Brooklyn, New York to the Pocono Mountains in eastern Pennsylvania.  I was not a happy camper.

As in all first days of school, the new kid is put through the humiliation of stammering through an introduction.  Just the facts, please.  Name, last home of record, new home of record, siblings (I have 5, so it was like a new infestation in the school) and finally, something interesting about me. It was a new personal hell.  I stood and looked at the new collection of faces and, at that moment, began to wish that Skylab would pick that moment to fall out of orbit and onto my head.

My Brooklyn accent betrayed me immediately. She turned her head deliberately in my direction as if tuning in a radio frequency. She was 13, I was 12.  She had also made the Brooklyn to the Poconos transition, albeit a few years earlier. I think she may have been the only one in the room to understand me as I mumbled through the self-interrogation.

She took some pity on me. She became my translator and guide to this new universe into which I had been forced.  She gave me the inside scoop on our classmates, and she laughed at my jokes.  She became my friend when I was awkward and seemingly invisible.   It was a friendship that I cherished.  Her opinion mattered to me.  So much so that at a point where I had to make a desperate decision, it was the fear of disappointing her that kept me from making a life altering mistake.

We went on to the same college after high school.   She was Pre-Med and I was not. We saw each other on the campus every now and then.  I wish I could tell you that I was smart enough to date her and find the “happily ever after” path with her as my translator and guide.  But that did not happen.  We went on to different lives and, as often happens, we lost track of each other.

Fast forward about 30 years, and we had reconnected. An acquaintance from the high school reunion committee passed her email address to me and I contacted her.  We corresponded.  We spoke on the phone.  We talked about everything.   I have to admit here that I have failed at every relationship I have been in.  I know that the blame is not all mine, but I own that which is. We talked each other through the aftermath of my divorce and the loss of her husband.  There was no room for secrets, but plenty for acceptance.  We still had not laid eyes on each other since college.

We agreed to meet for dinner while she was on a trip to a city that I was passing through to attend a family event.  In a bustling little bistro, we found ourselves across the table from each other.  Telling stories about the adventures and tragedies of our lives. I could not look away from her.  Something was drawing me into her laugh, her voice, her eyes, her smile.  Her voice had been softened by a slight southern drawl acquired in Savannah over the years.  Time stood still and evaporated around her. It was the first of many seemingly confusing emotions I experience in her presence. After dinner and a single malt tasting lesson (she is an excellent teacher), we strolled back to her hotel, her arm in mine as we walked through the February night. The chill that ran through me had nothing to do with the weather.

As we were about to part company, I leaned in to kiss her, “good night.”  It was soft and devastating.  It was comfortable and out of control.  It caught my breath and stole my heart.  It was as if the universe was smacking me in the back of the head and telling me that I should have paid attention in my youth.  As the kiss slowly released,  she turned her head in my direction as if she was finding that frequency, again.

A few weeks later, at the Savannah airport,  the kiss repeated itself, drowning out the crowd passing by us at the top of the ramp in the terminal.

This song captures the rain-soaked explorations of old forts, laughing in the grocery store, dancing to Big Band music in antique shops and watching her doze off in the front seat as we head out of Hilton Head.  I see her dancing to 80’s music in the kitchen of a friend’s home, and I see the face of joy. I feel like I am in a state of grace when I am near her.

You say it best…

.

Song

The Space to Write

The largest room in my house is the master bedroom.  It actually could be divided into an office and a bedroom. There is a bay window area that is home to a desk that is perpetually covered in old family photos waiting for a turn in the scanner, snail mail and Blue Ray discs of Firefly, Downton Abbey, and Poldark.  I try to write at the desk, but I am too easily distracted.

There is another room in the house that could be classified as a formal living room. If you come into the foyer from outside, you would make an immediate left into a small room that is home to an old, reupholstered couch, two wing chairs liberated from a Smithfield, Virginia antique store, and a pair of bookcases that I built not long after my wife and I moved in here in the late 1990’s.   She is gone but, I am happy to say, the bookcases remain.  This room was a clean slate in the post divorce world order.

Furnishings in this room were either made by me, reupholstered or purchased after the departure of my ex.  The book cases are filled with books collected over the years as well as old black and white photos from my family.  Two of my favorites are a photo of my maternal grandfather in his FDNY Captain’s uniform with lioness (circa 1950’s) and the hero shot of my dad as a Naval Aviator crouching on the wing of a Grumman F-9 Cougar on the deck of the USS Intrepid in the late 1950’s. The shelves also serve as a sanctuary to my collection of military challenge coins, a lug nut from Greg Biffle’s #16 car from NASCAR’s Pennsylvania 500 in 2012 (a memento of a crazy weekend with my two brothers) and a Lego model of Serenity (Captain Mal Reynold’s ship).  It is also home to my great uncle’s early 1960’s Tonka Suburban Pumper, a toy that my siblings and I would play with while visiting his ancient brownstone in Brooklyn.  I have surrounded myself here with things that are of little value to anyone, but are priceless to me

It is in this room where I seem to be able to write despite its central location and lack of doors to the foyer or the empty dining room next to it.  It is the spot where my two twenty something sons will toss their bags, the day’s mail or college textbooks on the coffee table and start chatting about their day.  Despite this room’s ability to collect chaos, it is the room where I can get my thoughts together and sometimes convey those thoughts onto the screen of my laptop.

I guess I find the calm of writing in the room that is the storm of my house.

#everydayinspiration