Fall began while I was away, on Mountain Time, amidst soaring majestic peaks and deep pine canyons. The Summer season passed in our initiation to a storied national park, and Autumn came on a cliff, crossing steep trails worn down by hooves and hiking shoes; it came through the sunrises over a new sky, shrouded with wildfire smoke, on a white water rafting excursion, over 3,000 miles and 9 days straight with my two most favorite guys. It was the longest vacation I’ve ever taken and it felt strange to clean up the house for the cat sitter, pack a container of veggie chili in the freezer to welcome us home, go over the lists again (and again and AGAIN) making sure that we had good snacks for the car, and lunch on the road (hello peanut butter), packing items like hand wipes and paper towels and extra plastic bags for trash, searching for good audio books to keep us occupied for the 10+ hour drive, and trying to remember all the quirky little things we should tell our cousin about caring for our silly cats. Among all the final frenzy of planning and packing, I kept running the whole thing over in my head, thinking “Can we really DO this? Can we drive across three states and explore the West and be sane enough to still say ‘I love you!’ every day and mean it while cramped inside a 4-door sedan?”
Truth is, yes. We can. And we did. I was never more excited to drive away from home on that glorious Sunday morning while most of our neighborhood still slept, nor was I more thrilled to return home as the sun set on the following Tuesday. To everything familiar and easy, to my bed and my home and my cats.
Even as all the unfamiliar became easy, the roads that I started to learn around my Uncle’s home, their wonderful hospitality, to the pines and peaks I stared at in awe, cementing them in my soul, even with everything that was so perfect about the entire trip, coming home felt better than I could have ever imagined. I couldn’t wait to get away and the anticipation was so richly rewarded, but I yearned for home the moment we turned our car Eastward and headed over the Interstate. Re-entry was simple; familiar, easy, calm, happy.
It’s nice to come home.
It wouldn’t take much beyond scrolling through my blog reader to know that Fall has most definitively arrived. Soups, stews, braises, pumpkin, squash, brussels sprouts and potatoes adorn the photos and fill the pages, hearty fare to shore ourselves up for the cold, the snow and the darker months to come. For me, Autumn needs two things: color blazed Maples and dark Molasses Cake.
Gingerbread. Molasses Cake. Whatever you refer it as, what name you prefer to call the dense moist crumb of such a perfect Autumn flavor, this recipe is the bees knees for anyone who loves molasses, deep and dark. It’s evokes the perfect memory of past seasons, where the deep reds and oranges of Maple burned bright against the rich blue sky, the crunch of leaves underfoot, the chill in the air as the sun drops it’s golden curve low on the horizon. The whiff of memory is bittersweet; of Gingersnap cookies that my Mom loved, the recipe that came out after school began for everyone, a welcome home with cold milk.
I still love those cookies, and all things ginger and bread and molasses. This cake has made a few other appearances in our kitchen and home, always against that perfect Fall backdrop of blaze and blue. Even with our warm days, bright sunshine and comfortable nights, after a few frosty mornings and finding the familiar in old and cozy sweaters and jeans, it welcomes you home whether you’ve been away, or just greatly anticipating Autumn. We all love Autumn; it’s universal in it’s daily changes of color, of temperatures and air and the gradual slide to Winter.
Ginger Spice Cake
adapted from several sources
2 c. AP flour
1 t. baking soda
1 T. ground ginger
2 t. ground cinnamon
1/2 t. ground cloves
1/2 t. allspice
2 T. espresso powder (optional, but it adds an amazing depth)
1/2 c. molasses
1 c. sugar
1/2 c. unsalted butter, melted
1 c. buttermilk
Preheat oven to 350 and coat a 8″ square pan with cooking spray.
Stir together dry ingredients. With electric mixer, blend egg, molasses, sugar and melted butter until thick and very smooth. Gradually mix in dry ingredients, alternating with buttermilk, mixing each addition thoroughly. Mix for one minute after everything is in the bowl. Scrape batter into prepared pan and smooth top. Bake for 35-45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the cake center comes out clean.
NOTE: This cake is wonderful with fresh cranberry sauce and a spoonful of yogurt. Or ice cream. Of course.