Last week I flew to Denver and drove a car home. I bought it with my own money, something I don't get to say too often. I bought something that was practical, but a luxury. Something I don't get to say very often, having grown up in hand-me-down Levi's and haircuts on the back deck. I drove through towns in Denver with long names and met people with short histories. "Family grew up around here" was one reply I got when I asked the waitress how she came to work at the top of a mountain. "Don't remember," was another. People's pasts might be stitched in the corn fields that line the highway, but they're lost to outsiders. To someone who's not fully in tune with the tectonic braille of the landscape, someone who was shocked to discover Denver even had flat plains. Someone like me.
Saturday night, Utah was stale. The highway electric but pitch black in some parts. The ride was slow-moving and the police flashed warning lights when you got into town. Beaver, Utah. A Butch Cassidy Best Western that had one too many double beds and not enough light to even read a matchbook by. Utah, where the towns didn't have names and the people didn't have personalities. Utah, flat as a penny and you smelled the copper on your hands when you got a nosebleed filling up the tank Sunday morning. And off you went with a napkin to your mouth, listening to the free trial subscription to satellite radio all the way to the Pacific.
The rest of the states were a blur, moving from one red rock to another. Chasing landscapes and sunlight and realizing how vast the world is outside of your mind. Traveling like this becomes a type of trepanning, a relief of pressure, a direct line to God. Fresh wounds and grated bone when you step on the asphalt around mid-day in August. You feel it all and it all feels so connected to you. Sticky, full of tar, the vultures circling your dreams before you even had a chance to close your eyes. The same stuff your soul is made of up lies stagnant in the air out somewhere on I-70W, between Arizona and Nevada's state lines.
And you wonder what fools gold you dug up on this trip. You worry a little too much. You bake a cake that smells like the vines of autumn that grow slow at first then quick in a week; and everything's suffocated again before you have a chance to catch your breath. An apple cake with coffee, a cake worth eating the morning you get back from an 18-hour road trip.
Apple Coffee Cake
From an old cookbook I found in a box my mother sent me while I lived in Texas.
- 1 1/2 cup white sugar
- 3/4 cup shortening
- 2 egg
- 1/4 teaspoon almond extract
- 1 ts baking soda
- 2 1/2 cup flour
- 3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- 3/4 cup coffee, warm but not hot
- 3 red apples, diced and peeled
- 1/2 cup dark brown sugar
- Preheat oven to 350*F and prepare an 8-inch round cake pan with butter and parchment paper
- Sift together baking soda, flour, cinnamon, and salt in a large bowl and set aside
- Cream together sugar and shortening in a large bowl of a stand mixer, fitted with a paddle attachment
- Add eggs, one at a time until fully incorporated. Pour in almond extract and stir to mix in.
- Turn mixer off and alternate between adding the dry ingredients and the coffee in thirds. Mix with a rubber spatula
- Toss in apple dices and fold in
- Pour into prepared pan and crumble brown sugar on top
- Bake for 30-38 minutes, until golden brown and fragrant