Lordy! Lordy! Look who’s…over the hill.
I celebrated my 40th birthday over the Memorial Day weekend. I convey this information to you with a sense of pride. Life hasn’t always been easy, but sometimes it has, so I can’t complain. It has taken me this long to understand that the hardships I’ve survived have shaped the person I am and helped me gain valuable knowledge that made the uncomplicated times run a little more smoothly. In the last 10 years, I’ve learned to do more with less money, “stuff” and energy; made it over some life-changing hurdles, and managed to accomplish a few major goals I set for myself (Self-employed? Check, Happily settled with a family? Check, Community involvement? Check, Creative balance? Check!).
On my birthday, as milestone events often inspire, I found myself reflecting on life, my childhood in particular. When I was three, my mother, Kay, passed away (from injuries sustained in a car accident), and although my father was working several jobs to support our family, in time he managed to recover from the shock of my mother’s death well enough to lead us through all sorts of adventures. The years before he married my stepmom were extra-special to my older sister and me. We had ALL of dad’s attention and energy when he wasn’t working. “Pops” taught us how to play softball (even “coaching” us as cheerleaders one year) and how to use our Easy Bake Oven. Once he woke us in the middle of the night to drive three hours to Myrtle Beach so that we could see the sunrise at the ocean, only to find no hotels available. We slept in the car until mosquitoes and oppressive heat (and whining) drove him to abandon the effort and head for home. After he married my stepmom, he would take us to the movies and make smooching sounds if anybody dared to kiss onscreen. Embarrassing then, funny now.
My dad is chock full of personality and silliness, traits I didn’t always appreciate in him then. Growing up, he took the time to explain life’s quirks to me in ways I could understand, taught us how to stick up for ourselves, to pose questions when something didn’t seem right and insisted we live frugally (“If you don’t have the cash to buy what you want, save up for it”, he would say. “Don’t spend money you don’t have.”). After too many bounced checks and inflated credit card bills in my 20’s and early 30’s, I’ve finally learned to adopt that last piece of advice.
They say one sometimes looks for one’s father in a husband and I’m so privileged to have found the other father in my life: Nick (my hubs). He’s different in a lot of ways from my Pops, but alike in his ability to be silly and spontaneous. They’re both also hardworking, honest, forthright, smart, compassionate, stubborn (and open-minded), supportive, kind, AND willing to put up with me! What’s not to like? Not to mention, without both of them, we wouldn’t have our dear daughter now, whom we named after my mom.
In honor of the upcoming Father’s Day weekend, I’m going to share with you a treasured family recipe my Grandma (“Gertie”) Prust made for my dad every year on his birthday. She taught me how to prepare this Graham Cracker Cake with Peanut Butter Icing when I was a teenager. The recipe hails from my grandmother’s German family who settled in Wisconsin near Milwaukee after they emigrated (about 5 generations ago I think). It’s still my dad’s birthday favorite and quickly became mine too, early on. Nick doesn’t like sweets much, but even he enjoys this combination.
THE PRUST/RAHN FAMILY’S GRAHAM CRACKER CAKE W/ PEANUT BUTTER ICING
2 ½ cups Graham Cracker Crumbs
2 cups Unbleached, All Purpose Flour (you could easily substitute with 1/2 whole wheat)
4t Baking Powder
1 cups “Oleo” (this is what they used to call shortening, I substitute room-temp softened butter or margarine)
2 cups Sugar (preferably raw)
1t Vanilla Extract
2 cups Whole Milk
Preheat oven to 350 degrees; grease and flour three 9” cake tins.
In large bowl cream (by hand, with hand mixer or stand mixer) “Oleo” (or substitute), then add sugar, eggs and vanilla, mixing each addition well. In small bowl, combine graham cracker crumbs and baking powder. Alternately add flour and milk to the butter/egg/sugar mixture and mix until each is incorporated fully. Then gradually add the graham cracker crumbs/baking powder, until just mixed. The batter will be fairly thick.
Pour batter equitably into 3 greased and floured cake pans; bake for about 35 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean and sides of cake separate from the pan (cake should be a golden brown with perhaps a bit of light crust around the edges, center will spring back to the touch). Cool for 10 minutes in pans on a cooling rack, then turn the cakes out onto the rack (don’t remove too soon or they will break), and cool completely before icing. The layers will be fairly heavy and moist, so if they won’t come out of the pans, let them rest on the rack upside down for a minute or two and allow gravity to do its thing. If you still have trouble, try tapping on the bottom of the cake pan with the handle of a butter knife, this should shake the cake free without breakage.
PEANUT BUTTER ICING
2T Butter or margarine (again, my Grandma used “Oleo”)
3/4 cups Smooth Peanut Butter
2 lbs Powdered Sugar (More or less, depending on personal taste/consistency)
1 ½ t Vanilla Extract
6T Whole Milk (more or less, depending on consistency desired)
Cream Butter, then add Peanut Butter and cream well. Blend in Vanilla Extract. Gradually add Powdered Sugar, alternately adding Milk if the mixture becomes too stiff. Mix each addition very well. If using natural peanut butter (which contains more oils), blend your PB extra well before adding or the oils and the milk will not combine; also, don’t overuse the milk with the natural PB, just a drip at time to moisten the mix should prevent clumping).
NOTE: A little warning, this is not your typical cake – it’s three rich layers so it will feed a crowd, is better after a day or two when the peanut butter icing sinks in, and it takes on a whole different quality after being refrigerated (which I recommend doing if the weather is warm and humid). Wrap/store leftover cake well, but not too tightly or things can become a bit soggy. Although the icing is brown, it can be decorated prettily with edible flowers, shaved chocolate or other colorful accoutrements.
Everyone in our family has their favorite way of eating this treat…refrigerated, warmed or room-temperature; with whipped cream, ice cream or chocolate sauce. My brother-in-law prefers it with chocolate icing, I like it best just out of the fridge with coffee ice cream myself. These days, I’m the only one who will take the time to prepare it. My family lives in North Carolina, so when we can all get together for dad’s birthday, everyone shares their memories of my Grandma and past celebrations. Pops especially gets a particularly nostalgic look and all wiggly with excitement when he gets an opportunity to enjoy it. The process of baking (and enjoying) this cake with my family has been a cherished experience for me for 25 years.
Gasp! Are my calculations correct? I guess they are, I’m 40! Sheesh. I’m actually kinda diggin’ it, but even my dad can’t quite believe it. Being married to a man 8 years younger than self, I’ve had to withstand quite a few “over the hill” jokes. I can take the ribbing – the maturity and accumulated knowledge that 40 brings are welcome additions to life.
Cheers to approaching middle age and to celebrating all of the Fathers in your life!