The Real Spirit of St. Louis: Gooey Butter Cake

posted in: Food, Travel, Work 8
Gooey butter cake! (This one is actually pumpkin-flavored.) Photo: Wikipedia.
Gooey butter cake! (This one is actually pumpkin-flavored.) Photo: Wikipedia.


If you have been reading this blog for awhile, you know that I like to learn things about the places I visit and share them with you.

Here’s a post about the Florida panhandle, for example. This dispatch came from from Sioux City, IA; and this one I wrote about Buffalo, NY from Buffalo, NY and in it I discuss the local specialty — sponge candy! — and confess to making myself sick eating a bunch of it.*

Well, greetings from Jefferson City, MO, state capitol — and home of  the gooey butter. Sponge candy, you may have met your match. (I clearly like to learn about places that are known for delicious desserts.)

A gooey butter is a cake, but don’t call it “gooey butter cake” unless you’re from out of town. To locals, it’s just “gooey butter” and it’s legendary in Missouri. As the story goes, a St. Louis baker mixed up the proportion of butter while making up some coffee cake. Rather than throw out what couldn’t be that bad, the cake still being a combination of butter, sugar, flour, and eggs, he baked it anyway. The cake was sugary and sticky; he sliced it up and sold out in short order. Gooey butter was born.

I’m teaching two classes here at the big Missouri State Quilter’s Guild 2016 Retreat and then I’m doing the banquet talk tomorrow night, so I can’t get out to hunt down some gooey butter, but my new pal Terri said she might be able to find some. I told her she’d better not go to any trouble; Terri said, “Hey, if it happens, it happens.”

Terri was the gracious lady who picked me up at the airport and drove us two hours over to Jefferson City. We bonded because we shopped for pajamas together at Target.

The Missouri retreat has a theme each year, and this year it’s “Welcome To My Dream World.” Attendees are encouraged to wear pajamas to the banquet tomorrow night; I have also been encouraged to do this. I thought it sounded sort of silly at first but then I decided it sounded completely awesome. The trouble was that when I was packing yesterday, I realized my nightclothes were not gonna work. Either they were too — how to put this — “wispy,” or they were too old and comfy to become a keynote speaker.

When we got in the car, I asked Terri if there was a Target on the way. She said there was and that hey, she could get some pajamas, too! (She had the same problem as I did re: appropriate public pajamas.)

What I’m getting at is that tomorrow night I may be eating gooey butter in my pajamas — at work. These students loans ain’t gonna pay themselves, people!


*If you go to the right side of the screen and click “Travel” in the list of categories, you’ll see all the PaperGirl posts that have to do with traveling. But note that the “Work” category has a lot of travel writing too, since I’m usually traveling for work. Enjoy!

True Tales From Brunch: SCRAM FLAT, Part II.

posted in: Chicago, Day In The Life, Food 0
Way bigger than the restaurant's actual kitchen, but a decent facsimile. Photo: Wikipedia
Way bigger than the restaurant’s actual kitchen, but a decent facsimile. Photo: Wikipedia

Please read Part I of this story (one post prior) or you’ll miss the important setup.

I approach the family, who was spilling out of the booth. There were Cheerios everywhere, but we did not serve cereal at the restaurant, so these were brought in from home. Two booster seats were cramming the narrow aisle but it was cool; these folks deserved (?) brunch like everyone else in Chicago. A yoga mat was stuffed into the corner because Mom had just come from class. Even though there was jelly soaked into my apron and egg on my shoe, I was chipper.

“Good morning, you guys,” I say, “You’ve been here a few times — I bet you know what you want!” I’m doing the assumed close, you see. Three new tables had been sat behind me and had already gotten coffee. Let’s do this.

“Yeah,” the mother said, and she put her fingers to her chin to ask what I prepared myself to be a focused question. “Belle is going to have the corned beef hash — do you think that’s something she’ll like? Corned beef?” Belle was six, so probably not. I told Mom, “Probably not. There are lots of peppers and corned beef is kind of an advanced thing… It’s a big plate.”

“Okay… I think… Belle, do you want corned beef?” Belle colored her placemat and said “Whatever,” without looking up.

“Let’s do that,” Mom said. “And Slade wants scrambled eggs, but can you have the kitchen make the eggs flat like a pancake?”

“Eggs on a pancake, sure,” I said, scribbling on my pad, making sure to press my pen hard so the carbon copy would come out clear for the kitchen.

“No, not on a pancake,” she said. “I’m wondering if you can scramble the eggs, like, flat.” She cocked her head and she looked like a cockatiel.

I looked up. “Scramble them flat.”

“You know, like put them on the grill and smooth them out, so they’re scrambled but, like, flat. And then flip it? So it’s flat? It would be like a pancake?”

I couldn’t stop blinking at her. Teddy, my righthand man, the best busboy who has ever lived, squeezed past me to grab the twenty-fourth pot of coffee of that morning.*

“Well,” I said. “I’ll ask the kitchen,” I said. On my pad, I wrote the shorthand word for scrambled eggs, which is “SCRAM.” Then, cocking my head like a cockatiel, I wrote, “FLAT.” So on my pad I had “SCRAM FLAT.”

“Thanks,” the woman said, “Is that weird?” I told her it was really, really weird. And I left them with a thank-you and a smile and banged through the double doors to the kitchen like we all banged through the double doors because that’s what double doors in a restaurant do: they bang.

“Glen,” I said, approaching the line. I could see the Great Men through the metal line where they were putting plates up. It was like a ballet back there. “Glen, this ticket says SCRAM FLAT. They want…” I could hardly tell him. This was a grown man. This was a man with dignity. I just came out with it: “Glen, they want the scrambled eggs flat. Like, scramble the eggs… Flat.”


There was no time for pausing but Glen stopped what he was doing and asked me what the [redacted] that meant. I explained the best I could. And he said “Alright,” because that’s what a Great Man does when faced with a challenge and indeed, about fifteen minutes later, I had a plate with SCRAM FLAT, sprinkled with parsley, with a twisted orange slice on the side. And love in there, because every plate had love in there.

Belle sent back the corned beef; Slade ate every bite.

*Teddy once caught me in the coat closet, bent me back like we were on the cover of a romance novel and kissed me on the lips. “Mi amor,” he said, “I’m in love with you.” That’s a story for another day.