Nani’s Oatmeal Cake

When I was home for Christmas, I was able to visit Nani a handful of times. The visits get harder and harder, as her memory goes little by little. For those who haven’t experienced the slow loss of a loved one to Alzheimer’s disease, I’ve found it helps to reflect on the parts of them that live on in all the lives they’ve touched in some way. One of the things that I truly cherish learning from Nani is the art of baking. Her baked goods were always in high demand and she loved sharing recipes with others. Anyone who mentioned liking a recipe could count on receiving one of her handwritten recipe cards. All of these recipes have some association with my childhood. I can’t take a bite of her chocolate sheet cake without thinking about swim meet potlucks. Angel food cake? My uncles’ birthdays, since they requested it without fail. Gingersnap cookies and her oatmeal bread bring me back to deer and elk hunting trips in Eastern Oregon. Cinnamon rolls and loaves of saffron remind me of the holidays. However, one of my favorite associations goes along with Nani’s Oatmeal Cake. Unlike many other cakes and desserts, we didn’t typically have this over the holidays or anyone’s birthday party. For me this cake’s strongest association is with those simple weeknight’s that Nani and Papa would join us for dinner. Sometimes Nani made the cake and brought it over, other times Mom would already have it made. We’d eat our dinner in between conversations about what my siblings and I were doing in school and how swim practice was going. Papa would inevitably inquire about our next trip to the rifle range or when we were available to take The Grunt out for some salmon fishing. Nani would fill us in on her latest school board meeting or the next tole painting project she had in the works. I always looked forward to these dinners, but, as most kids do, I definitely took them for granted. I realize now how lucky I was to have my grandparents live close enough to come over for random weeknight dinners with all of us. It’s one of the things that I miss most from my childhood, so whenever I make this cake, I’m reminded of those dinners. I’m reminded of the quality time I got to spend with my grandparents. Served with a simple dollop of whipped cream, this cake is not overly sweet and the perfect ending to a dinner with loved ones.

Nani’s Oatmeal Cake

This was always one of my favorites, especially topped with whipped cream. You can also top it with Nani’s Oatmeal Cake Topping (see recipe below).

  • 1 cup quick oats
  • 1 1/2 cups water, boiling
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3/4 cup butter
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 1/3 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat oven to 350°. Grease a 9×13-inch baking pan and set aside. Place oats in a medium bowl and pour boiling water over the top. Set aside. Cream brown sugar, sugar, and butter. Add the eggs and mix until incorporated. Sift flour, soda, cinnamon, salt, and nutmeg into the mixing bowl. Mix well and add the oats plus any liquids in the bowl. Mix well and pour into the greased baking pan. Bake for 30-35 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Allow to cool and serve with a dollop of whipped cream on top.

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Nani’s Oatmeal Cake

Nani’s Oatmeal Cake Topping

We went our entire childhood not knowing that this cake has a delicious coconut topping to go with it. Mom casually dropped this information in our lap while we were eating at a restaurant in Chapel Hill for Brett’s graduation. The cake is already pretty outstanding, so this definitely takes it to a new level.

  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup walnuts or pecans, chopped
  • 1/2 cup flaked or shredded coconut

In a saucepan, bring the butter, milk, and brown sugar to a boil, stirring constantly. Pour into a medium mixing bowl and cool slightly, about 20 minutes. Turn on the oven broiler to high. Add the nuts and coconut and stir to combine. Pour over the top of a fairly cool oatmeal cake. Place the cake pan under the oven broiler and broil until the mixture bubbles, being careful not to let it burn. Remove from the oven and cool the cake before cutting and serving.

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