Birthday Girls, Country Breakfasts, and A Good Recipe for Apple Walnut Cake


This weekend my mother in law, Doris, turned 91, and we drove over to St. Louis where she had flown in from Portland to celebrate with her two younger sisters (they are 86 and 89.) The three of them were like giddy girls –just a hoot. I want some of those genes!

Dinner was great – Aunt Helen made a chicken casserole and one of those salads I love with vegetables and bacon all layered in with mayonnaise and sugar and chilled over night before being mixed up into creamy and extremely calorie-laden goodness. I made the mistake of getting the recipe – very good for the purposes of making it again but very bad from the perspective of trying to maintain some plausible deniability about what it is likely to do to my arteries.

She also made a fabulous apple walnut cake – dense and moist and not too sweet. I got that recipe too. Check it out at the end of this post.

We only stayed for dinner, and headed back last night, staying at a hotel on the road and getting home this morning. Now, these days when we drive we skip the interstates when at all possible – less stressful and noisy and more likely to produce a culinary adventure along the way. So this morning found us zipping along Highway 50 from southern Illinois to Indiana, looking  for somewhere for breakfast.

I knew exactly the place I was looking for — a mom and pop place with formica tables serving piping hot coffee and biscuits with sausage gravy and scrambled eggs and home fries and crispy bacon and hot, buttery toast. I could practically taste it.

In my dreams.


In reality, of course, this is the Midwest and the Midwest  loves its chain restaurants. So here it was, Sunday morning, and sober folks all dressed for church were lining up for breakfast at McDonalds. As far as we could see, mom and pop had been run out of town.

We don’t give up easily when it comes to food, however, and with our blood sugar crashing into our toes we turned off the highway to check out the possibilities in the charming town of Vincennes.  Vincennes has its share of chain restaurants but lo and behold it also has a tiny place on 6th Street claiming to be “the oldest family restaurant in Vincennes.  Known for: Spot Burgers, Coneys, Hand-Breaded Tenderloins, Deb’s Hot Fish, and Shoe String Onion Rings.” We headed in.

Small, smoky (the non smoking section seemed to consist of two tables next to the kitchen) and filled with people who don’t look like they vote the same way I do, the White Kitchen was the real deal. Home cooked southern Indiana food —  not perfect, but genuine which is sometimes better. I had eggs and American fries and, for the heck of it, some divine fried shoe string onions. Terrific way to start the day.

Never found out what a spot burger is, though. Anybody know?

Aunt Helen’s Caramel Apple Walnut Cake

3 eggs
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 ½ cup vegetable oil
3 cups chopped apples, peeled  (granny smiths)
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 cup copped walnuts
3 cups flour

½ cup butter
1 cup packed brown sugar
¼ cup milk
Pinch salt

In a bowl beat eggs until foamy. Gradually add sugar. Blend in oil and vanilla. Combine flour, salt and baking soda. Add to
egg mixture. Stir in apples and walnuts. Pour into a greased 10 inch tube pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour and 15 minutes or until done. Cool on wire rack for 10 minutes. Remove cake to serving platter.

For topping, combine all ingredients in a sauce pan. Boil for three minutes, stirring constantly. Slowly pour over cake.

Serve with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

12-16 servings.

7 Comments Add yours

  1. That looks like my kind of place. I’ve spent a decade or two living a fairly fast life. As a consequence, seems like my dining out has been in some fairly fancy places… especially when I lived downtown NYC and downtown Chicago. Now I’ve moved out to the sticks and eat, every day, at a little mom & pop ‘coffee shop’ owned by a Greek family serving ‘American Fare” (with ALL KINDS of Greek things mixed in.) Very simple. Very cheap. Not too pretty. I eat at the counter with a book.
    I’ve become “that guy.”
    Yeah… I hear you about the midwest. But if you look (as you do) there are all kinds of little treats eveywhere. Like anywhere, it is what we make of it right?


  2. Kalyn says:

    So sad about all the mom and pop places. Sounds like you had fun.


  3. I want some of those genes too! So much fun to be able to share moments like this.


  4. Mae says:

    86, 89 & 91? Fantastic!


  5. I love that top photo…the light makes it look like you’ve stepped back in time. (Actually, $3.39 for all that food? Maybe you have stepped back in time!)
    Did you ever find out what’s a spot burger?


  6. Christine says:

    Yes, Hank, the little treats are still there but seem harder and harder to find.
    It is sad, Kalyn, one of those “you don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone” things, I am afraid.
    Bea, I am hoping the genes transfer through marriage, but I am not hopeful.
    You should meet them, Mae — they wear the years lightly. I guess that’s the trick.
    Lisa, more like a step back into PhotoShop. I was mainly trying to make the sign legible, but the time travel effect is just right. Still no clue what a spot burger is, but I am determined to find out.


  7. Walnuts! Beautiful and good for you!

    Happy Thanksgiving. Eat some black walnuts. They are good for you!


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