Monday, May 25, 2009
The Stars Shine on Kansas: In the Night Sky ... and the Kitchen
I actually went to Kansas once and I can prove it. (See photo.) I learned three things about Kansas, then, that I have remembered long since.
There really is a place called Fredonia. It is in a Marx Brothers movie: but it is also in Kansas. Near Howard.
The second thing I learned is: out there among America's farms, there is so little light pollution you can lie back at night on the cover of a storm cellar and see millions of stars. Stars are a magical thing in the lives of human beings. In many places in America you can no longer see them, but they still light up the night sky on the Kansas prairie.
It was summer when I was there, the summer one phase of my life was about to end and another to begin, though I did not know it then. The Kansas weather was mild, the nights were cloudless, and we would sit outside in the darkness and count the falling stars. We could also count the traveling stars: the satellites we humans put up there. Never have I seen anything quite so beautiful as that star-filled night sky.
I discovered the third thing, when I went into a Kansas coffee shop. The customers were mostly men, wearing caps that advertised seed and tractor companies, and they were thin and wiry, the way men are who work hard for a living. The Kansas women, waiting on the tables, were exactly the opposite. They were, as Precious Ramotswe (of The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency) might describe them--"traditionally sized," and that is a tradition for women who spend most of their time in kitchen, serving men.
We looked at the menu, and we ordered our lunch. And as we ordered our lunch I saw this really scrumptious-looking dessert going out to a number of the men. When our order came, I asked about the desserts, specifically the one with the whipped cream and the chocolate I had been admiring as it went from the kitchen to so many tables.
"Oh, that's our famous dessert," said the waitress, resting her order pad on the large, expansive area just under her bosom.
"Your famous dessert?"
"Yes," she said. "That's Robert Redford Cake."
"Robert Redford Cake," I said. "Why is it called that?"
"Because it is the next best thing to Robert Redford."
"Okay, I'll have some."
It arrived and it certainly was good enough to be as promised: though I must confess I have never had the opportunity to test the thesis implied in the cake's name. Since it all made for such a good time, I thought it might be fun to make it for a party.
I asked for the recipe.
The waitress went into the back and was gone quite a while. She returned with the recipe printed neatly onto a page from a notebook. When I read the ingredients, I was worried that I might have a heart attack right there, since I'd finished my order and was wiping the plate clean with my fork. You can eat just one order per lifetime, as Paula Dean might say.
So, I share the recipe with you here. It's a truly American dessert from the land with that ribbon of highway and that endless skyway: Kansas, the state with the stars that twinkle above and the star that still twinkles right there in their famous dessert.