My first boyfriend was two years younger than me. He was a Preacher’s Kid (PK) and we met at work the summer between high school and college— He was my camp boyfriend.
I had just turned Red down for prom, graduated high school, and ran away to work at a sleep-away church camp for the summer. The year I met PK, I was on second-year staff, working as one of two bakers. He was first-year staff, also known as Camp Family. Family is generalized help that lives “down the hill,” away from the main camp campus. This means that whenever Family helped other divisions of staff, we were their supervisors.
This particular summer, my co-baker spent the better part of the camp season sick, so most of the time, I was baking alone… At the age of 19, doing the work of two to ensure all 300+ campers and staff would have their freshly baked cookies, cakes, and treats.
Working on Family is like being in an apprentice program; you to learn a new skill so you can graduate to work on Up The Hill staff the following year. Working on Family also means, you’re a bit like a super hero and go wherever help is needed.
One afternoon, early in the camp season, my co-baker got sick; PK was assigned to help me. Before I could trust him to measure 20 pounds of flour for dessert, he had to face a test. While he scrubbed my pots, I got to know him, (in the clothes-on mundane-type question “where are you from” sense). I got to know him better in the dry goods closet (in the clothes-on kissing sense).
The whole thing was surprising. I had to climb a stepladder to get supplies from the top shelf and I brought him in so he could take the supplies from me. He took a kiss instead. He tasted sweet like the fruit punch he had been drinking. Catching my balance, I took a step down. We were eye-to-eye, “kissable height.”
(One friend defined this as, “the optimum height difference between two people to have a comfortable kiss… No one has to stoop over too much or strain their neck to give/receive a kiss.”)
Being short, I was never “kissable height,” and therefore doomed to feel inadequate. In this brief moment of being “kissable height” I felt attractive. Generosity outweighing shyness, I returned PK’s kiss. Despite being two years younger than me, it was clear he had more experience. When I saw him at dinner that night it was awkward. I felt like I had done something wrong; I was his supervisor after all. Besides, having your first real kiss outside the confines of Truth or Dare in the dry goods closet at church camp is a real mind-fuck.
Later that week, when the evening was winding down, (and Family was almost done with their responsibilities) I went to visit him in the Dining Hall. I had that giddy feeling in the pit of my stomach with nervous anticipation/hope/fear that he might kiss me again. I knew I could expect a hug. This was church camp and staff liked hugging in the name of spreading Christ’s love. He was a foot taller than me, so I lead him to the hearth and stepped up so we could see eye-to-eye for a hug. We were spreading Christ’s love (hugging), when the minister for the week (his mom) walked in. PK stepped away so quickly he nearly tripped over his feet. Her only reaction was laughter and she kept walking through, but PK had already run away. When he resurfaced, I walked him to the top of the hill so he could start his 1/2 mile walk to the Family Cabin. In the shadows, he kissed me again. (Yay!)
I liked this kissing thing. The Bakery was not near the Dining Hall, and I often asked him to help me to retrieve the evening snack from the Bakery and carry it back after dinner. Family dubbed it “nookie and cookie.” There was no nookie, just kissing. Any suggestion beyond that scared the focaccia right out of me. After all, I was supremely in-experienced and still had fears of any form of romantic intimacy.
We were a couple for the summer; when camp closed in August, it was over. But, before the break up, there was his July birthday. In addition to baking cookies, breads and treats, I made individualized birthday cakes for people celebrating their summer birthday at camp. This meant, using a box mix and decorating the cake to fit to the individual, but PK was my camp boyfriend. I needed to pull out the stops. I called my mom for the family chocolate cake recipe (which is really Fanny Farmer’s Buttermilk Chocolate Cake recipe, from her beloved cookbook).
- 1 2/3 cups flour
- 1 cup sugar
- ½ cup unsweetened cocoa
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1/2 cup vegetable oil
- 1 cup buttermilk
- 2 tsp vanilla
1. My family leaves out the salt and vanilla.
2. If you don’t have buttermilk, use sour milk or add 1 teaspoon vinegar to regular milk to make it sour.
STEP-BY STEP DIRECTIONS
Set oven rack to the bottom rack.
PREHEAT oven to 350° F.
In a large bowl, sift together: Flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, and salt
When it’s well-blended add: Vegetable oil, milk, and vanilla
(NOTE: I like adding vegetable oil first and then using the same measuring cup for the milk to ensure I can get as much oil in the cake, plus it makes for an easier clean-up.)
Beat mixture until smooth.
Butter and flour a 9-inch round cake pan, ensuring that all sides are well-covered.
Alternatively, you can cut a piece of parchment paper to the size of your pan. Place on the bottom and grease the sides.
Spread batter in pan and bake in oven for 35-45 minutes, or until toothpick comes out clean.
Put on cooling rack away from oven and let cool 5 minutes before removing from pan.
REMOVING FROM PAN
Tap cake pan on edges of counter, going around in a circle/square. Put serving dish on top of pan. Hold pan to dish firmly and flip cake onto dish. Set on counter and lift pan straight up off of dish.
In Laurie Colwin’s book, More Home Cooking: AWriter Returns to the Kitchen, she writes of Fanny Farmer’s Chocolate Buttermilk Cake, “It is hard to encapsulate the virtues of this cake. It is fast, easy, and scrumptious. It has a velvety, powdery feel – the result of all that cocoa. It is not so horribly bad for you, because you use buttermilk, which is relatively low in fat, and cocoa powder is defatted anyway. Furthermore, it keeps like a dream and tastes even better after a few days.”
Wait until the cake is completely cool before frosting, otherwise you’ll have a giant mess. Frost with your favorite flavor. I prefer a classic homemade buttercream frosting & find that it complements the cake nicely.
- 1 cup butter or margarine (softened)
- 3 cups confectioner’s sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2 tablespoons milk.
In a large bowl, cream together the butter, shortening, and vanilla. Blend in the sugar, one cup at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in the milk, and continue mixing until light and fluffy. Keep icing covered until ready to decorate the cake.
In all likelihood, you will have extra frosting, but I’ve always found it’s better to have ample frosting rather than stretching frosting too much. You can also dye the extra to create additional decorations.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
PK shook up my isolated world. If he hadn’t been bold enough to kiss me, it could have been years before my first real unforced lip-lock. I wasn’t nearly as terrified about kissing as I was when I was 14, but kissing and dating were still not in my wheelhouse. I stumbled through a lot of common dating practices (like you don’t need to sit next to each other at every meal and spend all of your free time together). Most people don’t get it right the first time and it was clear I had a lot to learn.