Nostalgia: Not Just for Luddites Anymore

Newton Center Cupcakes

Cupcakes and ocean liners

Here’s a startling revelation: I am a soap opera fan. Some years ago my brother came home from college for winter break and stopped everything to watch “All My Children.” Those were the days when soaps were big on college campuses. I was hooked.

Maybe it’s in the blood: family legend has it that in the days before the invention of the VCR, a late Aunt stopped a Passover Seder between the third and the fourth questions so she could watch “Peyton Place”.

By the time I got to college the shared obsession was “One Life To Live” and I have followed that show, a/k/a, “my stories” on and off since then. (Mostly “on” since the invention of the DVR.)

It was recently announced that ABC has decided to cancel “All My Children” and “One Life To Live” and I’ll admit that the announcement made me a bit emotional. Not many folks watch the soaps anymore, so these shows, which used to be cash cows, have become drains on the network’s bottom line. I’m not here to complain or demonize anyone for this decision, after all, that’s show biz. They say that the soaps are dead. Really? Wait until their long lost “twin” shows up.

Supposedly reality TV has supplanted the soaps in the hearts and minds of the audience advertisers most want to reach. If my Baby Niece is any indication, that may be true. Folks have always criticized the soaps for outlandish storylines and silly plot devices. Guilty, but I say therein lies their charm, buffed to a sometimes uneven gloss by actors of varying talents reading from a script.

Reality shows? We are told we are seeing genuine outlandish behavior. Often though, reality TV feels like video of people who waited to misbehave until they saw the red light of the camera. You are left to wonder if they’d be flipping tables or throwing glasses of wine at each other even if the cameras weren’t there. Some great actors got their start on the soaps. Where will Snooki be in thirty years?

In the meantime, this has gotten me thinking about a rapidly changing world. I think a combination of technology and the ticking clock is at play. Nothing new here. Fifty years ago the Boeing 707 rendered the ocean liner obsolete. Yes, we still have cruise ships, but it is not quite the same experience. The s.s. United States was launched in 1952 and was the most technologically advanced liner in the world. She still holds the records for the fastest east and west transatlantic crossings, and it was widely advertised that the only wood on board was in the grand pianos. Yet, she has sat rusting and abandoned since 1969. Even her sleek mid-century interiors have been stripped away: they were loaded with asbestos. But she was—is—defiantly, a ship. In 2011, the largest cruise ship afloat, the “Allure of The Seas” features a tree-lined park, a Starbucks, and a 3-D theater. After all these years the good news is that the s.s. United States may become a fixed attraction on the New York waterfront, but her silent engines will likely bear witness to countless charity dinners, antiques shows, and Martha Stewart craft events.

No Luddite, I, the very fact that I write a blog—new media—is my testimony to that fact. I am a proud member of the digital / social media age, and I think it is all miraculous. Admittedly, I am conflicted about the BlackBerry and the iPhone, but that has more to do with living in a big city and having to constantly dodge people who walk the sidewalks of the city with their heads down, and of being subjected to them singing loudly in the gym to their “headphoned” music. (They hear Pavarotti. We hear the braying of a donkey.)

I was born too late to sail across the Atlantic on the s.s. United States, to see Olivier on stage as Hamlet, or to drive my Mom’s Rambler convertible. These things were meant to exist in their time and then leave behind only rapidly fading evidence of their existence—like paper streamers stretched between those departing on the ocean liner, and those back on the pier.

You assume things will be around forever. They won’t. That’s life.

I’d hate for you to think that I am a Gloomy Gus. No. There’s too much that’s great about the here and now. Someday we’ll be nostalgic for these “simple” times—a chilling thought.

Life is cyclical. The old maxim, “here today, gone tomorrow” should actually read, “here today, gone tomorrow, and then back again.” And look at all the stuff that has been rendered permanent by technology. Start with the written word and climb the ladder to “You Tube”.

Using a bit of old technology, you can even recreate childhood memories. When I was a little kid there was a bakery in Newton Centre, Massachusetts named Bob Ware’s Yum-Yum Shop. Bob Ware’s closed when I was a little kid –seemingly without an internet trace. Google it and you’ll find…me, or actually, my previous mention of the place. But to this day a certain cupcake my Mom used to bring home from Bob Ware’s (probably in her Rambler) has remained etched indelibly in my memory.

So using the aforementioned old technology called “baking”, I have resurrected this old favorite. And as I was leaning over the sink eating my chocolate cupcake (that’s where my Mother always ate them) I thought they were just as I remembered.

Cupcakes like these were likely a staple in neighborhood bakeries: nothing earth shattering, nothing revolutionary.  Their magic was in their subtlety. It wasn’t all about the big pile of frosting on top. I know that there are folks who insist that cupcakes are merely “delivery systems” for the frosting. This cupcake was a bit different and was more a tribute to balance and harmony…and there was not one ounce of buttercream. The cake was really good on its own (very dunkable), the chocolate glaze added a cap that could be peeled off and eaten separately. The ring of boiled frosting on top was as much a textural accent as a visual one. My Mom could linger over it a bit at the sink, one eye on “Love of Life” or “Secret Storm.”

A quiet moment before all hell would break loose: my brother and I coming home from school.

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Click here for my recipe for “Newton Centre Cupcakes.”

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