Red Rock Fever–Falling in love all over again

Snoopy Rock near Sedona, AZMy father was a rock hound, so I developed my love of geology early. He’d bring home a new find and hand it to me proudly.

“This is schist,” he’d announce. Or, “Take a look at this snowflake obsidian!”  His excitement was infectious, and I got excited, too.

So when I moved to Sedona, I felt right at home. There are a lot of rocks in Sedona.  Most of them are red. Most of them have names. And over the years, they have become old friends, familiar and beloved.

At the Grand Canyon, or Bryce, or Zion, the formations have majestic names like Bridge of Sighs or Bright Angel Trail, or El Tovar, but in this red rock country, the names are more humble: Coffeepot Rock, Submarine Rock, Rabbit Ears, Lizard Head, Teapot, and the best of all, Snoopy Rock.

Sedona has a population of only fifteen thousand people, but over three million people visit every year. Sometimes foreign tourists come in tours, not speaking a word of English, but with guidebooks in hand. They’ll collar bystanders on Main Street and point to the page.

“Snoopy Rock?  Where Snoopy Rock?” they demand.

At dusk, sometimes the sun will break out under brooding purple clouds illuminating one red rock formation after another. Amazing, memorable, never the same. It’s a great traveling light show, roaring across the horizon.

From the viewpoint at Airport Mesa, there’s a grand panorama of red rocks. People will start gathering about sunset, just to participate, together, in the magnificent vista.

Some the rocks around Sedona are Hollywood famous: Cathedral Rock was in any number of Westerns. On Highway 179, Bell Rock greets visitors coming into red rock country, looking just like, you guessed it, a liberty bell.

My favorite rock, though, is Slide Rock. I met this great place long ago, when I attended high school in Flagstaff. Back then, our favorite ditch day spot was the apple-orchard picnic ground and slippery red sandstone at Slide Rock.

There, a 30-foot slide of snowmelt water tumbles through a narrow, moss-covered chute dumping sliders into a pool of frigid water. The wise locals wear old jeans, because the chute rips apart ordinary swimsuits with one slide.

Right now, in winter, the red rocks peek out under a dusting of snow. But in my dreams, red rock country is forever summer under a full moon. Then, the red rocks glow white in the warm summer nights. Eerie and unforgettable.

Red rock fever.

 

What you need is a good hug

Angel Food Birthday CakeWhen I was a child, I remember sitting on a kitchen stool, watching my mother fix a  cake for my birthday. As my special day falls in winter, it was often snowing outside, but warm and cozy in the kitchen.

By tradition, birthdays were celebrated with an angel food cake, usually a box mix.

Box cake mixes were invented in the late 40s when housewives returned to the kitchens and men returned from the wars with an appetite for home cooking. And nothing said “love” better than home baking. At first the cake mixes just added water, but the need to add eggs and oil invested the homemaker in the process and allowed her own creativity.

Even though my mother’s angel food cake was a box mix, eliminating the need to crack a dozen eggs and separate out just the whites, it wasn’t a simple cake to make. My mother shared with me many years later that she reserved angel foods for special occasions because they were so unpredictable.

The mark of a good cook was not that you made the cake from scratch (this was the era of the post-WWII housewife, after all) but that your cake didn’t fall or sag to one side, a feat accomplished by carefully running a knife through the batter to even it out and cut through any air bubbles in the batter. A special two-piece cake pan reserved just for angel foods was used.

And the oven temperature had to be just so–not too hot, not too cold. We were given strict instructions NOT TO PLAY in the kitchen, for fear the vibrations would cause the cake to fall. We could peek through the small glass window in the front of the stove door, but quietly–NO YELLING.

When the hand-set timer rang, the cake pan was lifted carefully from the oven using long-handled oven mitts and set upside down on an empty liter club soda bottle. This was the same bottle that acquired a cork-lined nozzle on ironing day to sprinkle the clothes that took all afternoon to iron. But that’s a story for another time.

By the time the cake had “set” my mother usually had three little kids–my sister, brother and me waiting for the pan, because after the cake was carefully cut around the center tube and removed, we got to scrape all the gooey crumbs from the tube and bottom of the pan.

Taking the butcher knife, she would carefully cut around the edges of the cake and lift it out, the tube and bottom still attached. Then she’d make a second cut to free the cake and with an expert twist she’d remove the bottom of the cake pan.

angel food cake frostedMy mother set the cake upright on the special footed plate and cut a small square of cardboard to cover the center hole where the tube had been.

She’d mix a simple powdered sugar and milk glaze, always two coats: the first to capture the crumbs, the second to cover the cake. If it were your birthday you got to pick the color of the icing–mine by choice was always pink. Then came the insertion of candles into the plastic holders saved from one birthday cake to the next, and the long wait until the celebration.

It was the only type of cake my mother ever devoted this time and energy to in her busy life. Although she didn’t know it, her mirror neurons were at work. Making something for another person was the truest form of altruism, allowing the creator to share in the joy of giving. It represented both self-expression and that communication-without-words that moms have practiced for thousands of years.

When my mother died and my daughter left to build her own family, I had thought homemade angel food cakes had disappeared from my life. But recently, on a landmark birthday, I felt a surge of nostalgia and determined to make one for myself.

I found a Betty Crocker angel food cake mix at the grocers, lost among a full shelf of brownie mixes. Then I discovered no store in my small town stocked the proper two-piece tube pan I needed for the project. I had to order it on Amazon!

I no longer had a club soda bottle, since I haven’t ironed in years, but a Diet Coke liter bottle, propped carefully on the edge of the pan sufficed. I didn’t bother with the cardboard square in the middle. But the sweet crumbs inside the cake pan stuck to my fingers as I pried them from the inside edge of the tube pan.

A little extra frosting accommodated a sag to one edge.

I closed my eyes and I was back home, getting a hug in the only way my mother knew how.

What about you? Do you have a special cake that says love and hugs?

Thank you, Kimberly Vardeman, for the great angel food cake picture!

How do you view the world?

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“Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hatred can’t drive out hate, only love can do that.”

Martin Luther King, Jr.