For those living in certain areas of the United States, August 21st marked a very special day. A total eclipse of the sun was visualized all the way from Oregon to South Carolina. I remember watching a solar eclipse in Brazil with my Dad when I was very young. I’ve always thought it was a total eclipse, but it turns out in São Paulo it was more around 75% coverage of the sun by the moon. Still, we darkened pieces of glass with smoke from a candle, a popular home-made strategy those days to be able to follow the event. Honestly, I don’t remember much from the actual eclipse, more the excitement of getting ready for it. Until now, I was not aware of the striking difference between a 95% eclipse to what is described as “totality.” Here is my advice: if you ever have a chance to place yourself in the path of totality, do not hesitate. It is totally worth it (pun intended).
Our town was within driving distance to the path of totality. One of our colleagues organized a one-day scientific meeting on Membrane Biochemistry on August 20th, so that next day all participants could drive to their chosen spot to visualize the event. The meeting started on Sunday at 9am, and yours truly was asked to bake something as a breakfast treat to the participants. After I stopped hyperventilating about it, I went with the suggestion of my friend Denise, and baked a cake from Mary Berry, the goddess behind The Great British Bake-Off. Its bright yellow color would pay tribute to the sun in all its glory…
LEMON DRIZZLE CAKE
(from Mary Berry)
225g (8 oz) butter , softened
225g (8 oz) sugar
275g (10 oz) self-rising flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
4 tablespoons milk
finely grated rind of 2 lemons
175g (6 oz) granulated sugar
juice of 2 lemons
Cut a rectangle of non-stick baking parchment to fit the base and sides of a 12 x 9 x 1 ½ inches baking pan. Grease the pan and then line with the paper, pushing it neatly into the corners of the tin. Heat the oven to 325°F.
Measure all the cake ingredients in a large bowl and beat well for about 2 minutes until well blended, an electric mixer is best for this but of course you can also beat by hand with a wooden spoon. Turn the mixture into the prepared pan, scraping the sides of the bowl with a plastic spatula to remove all of the mixture. Level the top gently with the back of the spatula.
Bake in the middle oven for about 35-40 minutes or until the cake springs back when pressed lightly with a finger in the center and is beginning to shrink away from the sides of the pan.
Allow the cake to cool in the pan for a few minutes then lift it out of the pan still in the lining paper. Carefully remove the paper and put the cake onto a wire rack placed over a tray (to catch drips of the topping).
To make the crunchy topping, mix the lemon juice and granulated sugar in a small bowl to give a runny consistency. Spoon this mixture evenly over the cake whilst it is still just warm. Cut into squares when cold.
to print the recipe, click here
I really think I should try it before you share with your colleagues, Mom…
Comments: Make. This. Cake. That is about it. It is so easy to make that you can definitely do that as a project with young kids. One bowl. Have your butter room temperature soft. Same for the eggs. Add everything to the bowl, mix two minutes. Pour in the pan. It will seem like not enough batter. You will have intense pangs of self-doubt. Ignore them all. Keep calm and bake on. Make the drizzle. Drizzle. Store the cake until totally cold (there I go, totality again). Cut in squares. Share with loved ones. Maybe offer a tiny sliver to your faithful canine companions. Forget the maybe. They deserve a little treat. Just like a total solar eclipse, cake doesn’t happen very often in a doggie’s life. The cake is a burst of lemon, the crunchy topping a perfect crowning for it.
THE ECLIPSE. We had quite a bit of excitement that morning. The weather seemed horrible at first, we drove through storms, small storm cells were all around us. We were sure the day would be a complete disappointment. First we were headed to a small town called Wymore in Nebraska, but when we got there the sky was too heavy with clouds, so we kept going north, hitting Beatrice. We stayed there from the very beginning of the event, until the sun was about 75% covered, then Phil decided to go reverse-cloud-chasing, using his intuition and sense of direction to place us in a better spot. To make a long story short, with 8 minutes to totality we found ourselves all alone on the side of a farm road. Absolutely no other cars, no other human beings. Total silence, except for the chirping sound of birds and crickets or other creatures I am not too fond of, to be honest. Then, it all went dark, and we saw the magnificent corona forming around the now dark sun. It is so sudden, as if someone flipped a switch to turn it on… It is so bright, so magical, we were absolutely mesmerized by it. To the right, Venus popped up, its presence made visible by the night sky in the middle of the day. For two minutes we were surrounded by darkness, with a delicate shade of red around the horizon. But not in a million years I could foresee what was coming. I had heard of the diamond ring effect, but its explosion of beauty right in front of our eyes was almost too much to take. I offer you a link to a youtube made in Beatrice, a bit to the north of where we were. The images we saw were brighter because we had less cloud coverage. You can see the diamond ring quite clearly in the end of the video.
No matter how many explanations and videos, nothing could have prepared me for those 2 minutes that went by fast, fast, fast, hard to take it all in. The majestic beauty of the universe, watching an event that was part of human history for thousands of years, provoking fear, provoking all sorts of emotions, until science could predict it to the second. Still, being able to understand it cannot take away the beauty of it, the way it makes us all feel small in comparison to the universe staring back at us. Mind blowing. I hope we, as a species, can do our best to preserve the planet, to make it viable for many MANY generations to come.