The Little Things
Someone, somewhere once said something about “the little things.”
I don’t know who it was, why he said it, or what publication it was printed in after he said it. I don’t even know if it was a he. Maybe it was a she who talked about the little things in life. Nevertheless, I know that many times, the little things aren’t “little” at all.
My maternal grandmother did a lot of little things that, at the time certainly, seemed little. But sitting here as a 47-year old father, I realize that they were big indeed.
She is the grandmother who made pancakes. That was her thing. I have written about her, often. If there was a breakfast to be served, and she was in the general vicinity, she was flipping pancakes. It was her thing— out of town, in town, her house, in our house, just about anywhere. It was part of her family identity. It was assumed, and unfortunately, often taken for granted.
She did such a good job with her pancake duties, that I used her recipe when we started our food product company, even naming the item “My Grandmother’s Pancake Mix.” It was an easy item to name, mainly because it is what it is: Her recipe.
One of the great “little things” that she did was make a recipe we called Fudge Cake. It, too, was her thing. She always had it in her house— in a Tupperware container lined with wax paper. Some people have cookie jars, some have candy drawers, my other grandmother always had a pound cake or angel food cake under glass, but not my maternal grandmother. She always had a box of Fudge, so, in the end, not so little after all.
Last week I wrote about my family heading out on an old-fashioned, hit-the-highway, kids-in-the-backseat-asking-when-when-are-we-going-to-get-there family vacation. I mentioned that, when I was a child, my grandmother always gave us a container of her Fudge Cake when we went on vacation. I also mentioned that I hoped my kids remembered Fudge Cake one day. Unfortunately, I forgot one thing— the Fudge Cake.
We packed all of the clothes, all of the magazines, the itineraries, the lists, pertinent phone numbers, shoes, socks, toys, and video games, but no Fudge Cake.
Midway through the trip, a friend in Winston-Salem invited me to gather with his friends for breakfast at his favorite downtown coffee house Chelsee’s in the Winston-Salem Arts District. We sat outside. The conversation was lively and the weather was perfect. Before I left, the coffee shop owner handed me a Tupperware container. She said, “I read your website and made these for you.” I was my grandmother’s Fudge Cake.
I was moved. She didn’t know I had forgotten to make a batch. She didn’t know I had been missing them along the way. She just wanted to do something nice for a visitor heading through town. Talk about little things.
It was perfect. I was already a fan of Winston-Salem, now I was a fan of everyone in the Arts District, especially Dena the coffee shop owner/brownie baker. She liked the recipe so much, she’s going to put Muz’s Fudge Cake on the menu at Chelsee’s.
I’ve included it again today, just in case someone out there is about to take a final road trip. The recipe will also be in my new book coming out this November Dispatches From My South.
Some say that occasionally it’s the little things. I say, it’s always the little things.
Muz’s Fudge Cake
4 Squares Bakers Chocolate (or better substitute)
2 sticks Butter
2 cups Sugar
1 cup Flour
1 tsp Pure Vanilla Extract
1 cup Nuts, chopped (pecans or walnuts), optional
Pinch of salt
Preheat oven to 350-degrees.
Melt chocolate and butter together in a double boiler. Once
incorporated let cool slightly. Cooled chocolate should still be in
Mix together the four eggs and gradually and the two cups of sugar
until completely incorporated. SLOWLY pour the slightly warm chocolate
mixture into the egg/sugar mixture.
Slowly incorporate the flour into the chocolate/egg mixture. Add
vanilla, nuts, salt, and mix.
Line a pan with waxed paper or parchment. Pour in the chocolate mix.
Bake at 350 approximately 30 minutes or until an inserted toothpick
comes out clean.
Remove from oven. Let cool five minutes. Carefully flip the fudge cake
and finish cooling. Once cooled completely, remove wax paper and cut