The Real Thing and Cocoa Cola Cake

Dear Joey,

Without further ado, here is a fun cake that made an otherwise lonesome birthday a little bit more fun last week: Cocoa Cola Cake.

It was Grandpa’s 90th birthday, which felt big and important, of course. Celebrating him mattered, Covid or not. But the big question looming over my head was this: How?

Not one for making a big to-do about himself, Grandpa is a cool, come-alongside sort of guy who built and nurtured things his whole life. He planted seeds; watched them grow; and today he reaps the reward of a life well-spent.

But life doesn’t look much like he thought it would look these days, I imagine. Settling into a new rhythm in a new home thousands of miles away from where he built his life, adjusting to life’s complications as they presents themselves; turning 90 in seclusion with most of the folks he loves so far away from him now–the idea of this milestone birthday must have made him feel more lonesome than ever. Even so, he never complains.

In fact, I have never heard the man complain. Instead, his calm and quiet strength taught me to accept what comes with an attitude of hope that the Good Lord knows what’s best for us and divvies things up accordingly.

He taught me that speaking one’s mind doesn’t have to include shouting; hamburgers taste better after a long, hard day’s work; and use up every ounce of the things you are blessed with, because you’re lucky to have them. He taught me to be thankful for the the things we have and to care for them well.

I know a Cocoa Cola Cake doesn’t really sound like it’s at all good enough to honor or celebrate such a milestone, but Grandpa loves the classic cola from which it gets its name, and every time I see him take a sip of his favorite afternoon beverage, it I hear that old soda pop jingle singing in my memory: “Can’t beat the real thing.

My Grandpa: he’s the real thing, and nothing beats that.

Love,

Scratch

When someone you love turns 90, and he loves Coke, and you need a way to celebrate his birthday in the middle of a disappointing, hard season, and you miraculously find a way to make it free of all those pesky allergens and it’s still moist and delicious? You celebrate and eat a slice and feel like things aren’t so bad after all. Gluten free. Dairy free. Egg free. Soy free. Nut free. The list goes on. Full of rich, chocolatey flavor that won’t let you down. (Which is why I changed the name from Coca Cola Cake to Cocoa Cola Cake. It’s that chocolatey!)

A few notes:
1. It’s flexible! Use regular flour or regular buttermilk of that suits your family.
2. Use a gluten free flour blend that contains xanthan gum. The xanthan gum acts as a binder, so don’t skip it.
3. Try any non-dairy milk you prefer, but I am devoted to plain unsweetened Flax Milk.
4. The original Coca Cola Cake recipes I consulted contained eggs. This made it *too* moist in my opinion, but if you’d like to try it that way, add 2 eggs with the wet ingredients.
5. Sugar content reduced down to 1 cup instead of the 2 cups all those originals called for. It was waaaay to sweet for me that way (thus the reduction in sugar in my version).

Best enjoyed with family and friends: this one’s a keeper!



Grumbling and Granola

Dear Joey,

Everyone is bored with breakfast these days. I’m not sure what it is–the monotony, the lack of urgency to get out the door, the repetition that renders it boring? The promise of a full belly holds no sway over the Goobies these days. Lucky Charms doesn’t even seem to tempt them to the table. Breakfast in isolation robs us of our appetite, it seems. Morning meals still happen, sluggish as they are now, but none of us are particularly fond of the mopey feet and grumbling tummies that bring us to the table.

Reality met us there every morning, and no one was particularly fond of the unwanted guest.

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More than We Realize and Hawaiian Pizza Pasta (Top 8 Allergen Free)

Dear Joey,

I haven’t been to the grocery store in fourteen days–a record for me, don’t you think?

We are stocked and ready for another couple weeks: I bought our monthly groceries up front this time around because I watched things getting dicey out there. The idea of taking the Goobies shopping with me over spring break was enough to make me toss an extra few packs of lunch meat into the cart. At the time, it seemed like a good idea. Now that spring break stretched into weeks on end, I am certain the decision was a wise one.

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Panic’s Empty Promise and Learning to Choose Joy

Dear Joey,

Worry whispers half-truths everywhere: on the evening news; at the doctor’s office; in the scroll of idle hands—you’re not safe, it says, subtly feeding the feeling that worry is warranted.

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Do you hear it? I’m sure you do–especially now with “the virus,” as the Goobies call it at our house. You head out the door to go fix broken bones even as the bones of our nation are bending under the weight of responsibility, beneath the cost of the consequences if we all don’t collectively get serious about staying safe. The perilous state of politics hovers in that place too, and so much uncertainty hangs heavy in the world.

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He Is Strong, and Hulk Smash Split Pea Soup

Dear Joey,

We spent the first autumn season in our new home watching more than just leaves fall.

We watched Emery fall a lot, too.

Kids run and jump and trip and fall every single day. Bumps and bruises happen. So do skinned knees. Our boy was just as rambunctious and active as any other, until somehow he wasn’t.

When Emery started walking funny, we paid attention. Soon he couldn’t run, really. He shuffled and cried. He couldn’t jump or climb. Next he told us his fingers were tickly.

We never saw it coming.

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Acceptance and Cheeze Chompers

“Those who feel free to eat anything must not look down on those who don’t. And those who don’t eat certain foods must not condemn those who do, for God has accepted them.”

Romans 14:3 (NLT)

Dear Joey,

“Mommy–when I get big and outgrow my allergies, I want to have Goldfish because they are yummy.”

The Goobies sat eating breakfast while I packed lunchboxes before school. Bags of Goldfish sat on the counter. Emery watched me tuck them into his sisters’ lunches, just like every day. His comment didn’t surprise me: I can’t blame him for wanting to eat them someday too. He thinks all the other kids eat them all the time, and he feels left out.

“You know, I hardly ever ate Goldfish crackers when I was a kid. I didn’t really like them much” I tell him casually, hoping to downplay the appeal of the common childhood snack.

None of the Goobies believed me even though every word was true.

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“Let’s make our own dairy free version today!” I said, trying to redirect Emery’s attention.

“We can do that?” Emery asked, puzzled. Intrigued.

“Of course we can.”

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The Real Hero and Chicken Pot Pie

10 Last of all I want to remind you that your strength must come from the Lord’s mighty power within you. 11 Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand safe against all strategies and tricks of Satan. 12 For we are not fighting against people made of flesh and blood, but against persons without bodies—the evil rulers of the unseen world, those mighty satanic beings and great evil princes of darkness who rule this world; and against huge numbers of wicked spirits in the spirit world.

13 So use every piece of God’s armor to resist the enemy whenever he attacks, and when it is all over, you will still be standing up.

Ephesians 6: 10-13 (TLB)

Dear Joey,

Snow fell unseasonably early last week. You kissed me and we watched it quietly fall while you held my hand in your own.

It’s all a little bit like Snow White tonight: the white snow. Crimson blood. A warm hearth on a cold night. Pies.

I giggled in spite of myself and the grumpiness inside of me eased a little bit. You had a point: several elements of that story were present in the tale that we watched unfold in our kitchen that night, but in our version I was far more like the Evil Queen than Snow White herself.

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