Life in small town, Colorado

16 Apr

As the subheading of my blog reads “Food, Love, and Life (Not always in that order)”, this post is mostly about love and life. At the end, I’ll post a dynamite chocolate cake recipe that is terrible for the body, but excellent for the soul. It’s my great grandmother Agnes Nolan’s chocolate cake. She was my grandmother’s mother. If you don’t care to read some of my reflections about my family and life, or to see some pictures of the scenery where I am, please feel free to scroll to the very bottom for the cake recipe I made for Easter lunch and for some quick lessons I learned about high altitude baking.

For 2 weeks, I have been in CO staying with my mom and visiting with my grandparents, one aunt and cousins. C flew in for the weekend to spend some time with my mom, and I took him back to the Springs airport this a.m. at 4:15. I saw the sunrise on the way back and decided to stop for some quick iPhone pics, one of them being the feature picture at top.

This town is so “Americana” to me. I grew up in the midwest, and this same small-town feel can be found still in so many places around the U.S. including the one in which my mom lives now. She lives at 3300 feet in the valley of some mountains. On some days here, it is gorgeous and charming, as you’ll see from the pics, below. But, the history here is scary and I can’t seem to get over it. I suppose I shouldn’t be that astonished considering the racist country we started out as, and still are, since the “discovery” of the Americas by white men seeking to bring riches back to their home countries. But, I am astonished. For instance, why were there still wooden chairs in the middle school here in the 1990s that had placards on the back of them that said they were donated by the KKK? Yep, you read it right – the 1990s. There’s a prison museum here, of course, because the town’s main industry is the State of CO’s maximum security prisons. I believe there are 7 prisons, in total here. There’s a big meth problem. And, the pace here is ultra slow and the people here are super inefficient in their daily business – because why are you in such a hurry when you can drive from one end of the town to another in 10 minutes? To some people, this all sounds very bad, and I’m not going to lie and say I disagree. But, with some bad (and very bad) often comes some good.

Here, people still wave at you on the street when you drive by even though they don’t know who you are. They smile and say, “Good morning, how are you today”, as you walk past them on the sidewalk, again even though we don’t know one another. There’s a Carnegie library in a beautiful historic building. There’s a food incubator that helps people start small, food businesses legally. The incubator was started by an amazing middle-aged woman whose politics were too progressive for this town so she stopped running for office and devoted her energies in another way to helping the community and its people make money. The server at Merlino’s (good, aged steak there and even better homemade key lime pie!) calls me “hon” even though I’m at least twice her age, and she smiles and asks questions about my life as my grandmother brags about me being a former-lawyer-turned-chef-who-now-lives-in-Barcelona, even though the server’s busy and has other tables to wait on. My mom’s here. My grandparents are here. I slow down here and have time to reflect on what’s important to me: my family.

I believe if you take time to stop and look around – no matter where you are – you can find beauty (I know I’m a romantic, very blessed, and possibly naive, but I have to believe it’s true to combat all the bad I know of in this world).

Here are some pics from yesterday and today that make me smile…

My husband and me, lying on the floor at Aunt M’s after lunch yesterday (thanks for the picture, cousin A!):

A new friend I stopped to meet this morning as I drove back to my mom’s place:

My new friend in “Americana” landscape on a crisp, gorgeous CO morning:

If you look closely at “brown beauty” (I named her in my early morning fog and haste), she is branded with a heart on her left side.

Sunrise in the mountains (spectacular!):

After relaying some wicked history to C last night (yep, every family and every town has some), I woke realizing that my family, their history – the great, the good, the bad, the ugly, and the downright horrid -, and my history with them is everything. I am who I am because of my mom and my dad. I am who I am because of my grandparents. I am who I am because of my best friends, who are also my treasured family. Life is too short to hold grudges, to be angry over things in the past you can’t change, to be wrecked over the sad and inevitable things in the future that seem to come too quickly. Live as if you’re dying and you only have a short amount of time to love, to give, to honor and to eat chocolate cake 🙂 Because, you are and you do.

So, here’s Great Grandma Nolan’s chocolate cake recipe, courtesy of my mother who grew up on a corn farm in Iowa and who made this cake for me countless times when I was growing up.

Great Grandma Nolan’s Scotch Cake

1) Sift together in a large bowl: 2 c. AP flour, 2 c. sugar
2) Bring to rapid boil in heavy saucepan: 1 stick butter, ½ c. shortening, 4 T. cocoa powder, 1 c. water
3) Pour over flour and sugar. Mix well.
4) Add ½ c. buttermilk, 2 eggs (slightly beaten), 1 tsp. baking soda and mix well. Bake in greased 10×16 pan at 375 degrees F.

1) Start making 5 minutes before cake is done baking.
2) Bring to rapid boil: 1 stick margarine, 4 T cocoa powder, 7 T milk.
3) Remove from heat and add roughly 3/4 box, sifted confectioner’s sugar. Add in slowly so that it doesn’t clump. Follow with 1 c. unsweetened coconut flakes and 1 c. chopped pecans. Spread over cake while still hot.

Let cake and icing cool until icing becomes a bit firm on top and cool enough to cut without melting.

Chef’s notes:

1) I know this recipe calls for margarine and that’s very bad for your health. But, it’s what they had growing up in the 50s, so, if you substitute butter, you’ll likely need to make adjustments on other ingredients as well.
2) I know this recipe will probably make some bakers cringe, as the mixing of certain ingredients and in certain orders flies in the face of conventional wisdom on how to make a proper cake, but this recipe works. I’ve made it several times. The cake batter will look weird, and the icing will too, but both the cake and the icing will have great textures in the end.
3) At 3300 feet above see level, the adjustments are: a) bake at 400 degrees F (conventional wisdom on high altitude baking says to bake at 25 degrees higher), b) use 1-2 T. more flour, c) use slightly less baking soda as you don’t want it to rise too quickly and then fall (although I used almost a full teaspoon), and d) use slightly less sugar in your cake batter (I used 1 3/4 c. sugar instead of 2 cups. The chocolate cake is so rich anyway, I think even sea level bakers might consider using less sugar – you don’t miss it!).

Happy eating!

2 Responses to “Life in small town, Colorado”

  1. Lucinda Byers April 17, 2012 at 11:25 am #

    Beautiful post, Rach. I fell in love with your family and small town America many years ago, and you have reminded me why.

  2. Bev April 17, 2012 at 1:48 pm #

    Ah-h-h. . .I can smell that fresh Colorado air! Love your post. Big hugs to you and your Mom.
    I too believe in the basic goodness in most people. If that wasn’t true we would all already be dead.

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