I’ve never been any good at skipping stones. It’s a game requiring a special skill – a knack – that I just don’t appear to possess; a flick of the wrist, an arm-angling swagger that, it would seem, has evaded me entirely … for going on 33 years now.
“The gravity-conquering grace of a well-thrown rock has inspired bomb makers, aircraft designers, and physicists – not to mention countless idle hands.” (discovermagazine.com)
No, I don’t have a knack for skipping stones.
There was a pond not too far from my house when I was a kid. Down the hill and just around the bend in the road, I went there sometimes with a boy who lived in my neighborhood. We’d stand on the water’s edge, side by side, leaning over just far enough to see our reflections in the water. Trying his best to get a laugh out of me, he’d open his eyes real wide, pull the corners of his mouth to the sides as far as his two index fingers could manage, and stick his tongue out. Even though I tried my hardest to keep a straight face, it usually worked.
This boy would reach into the zipped pocket of his pants and retrieve the requisite bag of “pond snacks” that would serve as fuel during our skipping session. Arm outstretched, he’d always offer me first dibs of whatever goodies his Mom had sent him away with that day. Trail mix. Powdered doughnuts. Fruit roll-ups. Ritz crackers. Usual suspects so far as snacking is concerned, I would say. All funny business would cease, however, when it was time to start skippin’. Because, as you may or may not know, skipping stones is serious business. I learned this truth at that pond. Quiet and serious like two old men on a fishing boat hoping to get a bite, we’d stand there on the edge of that small, unassuming little pond and practice our skippin. I never really played with him outside of those stone skipping occasions, so that’s how I knew this boy, how I identified him: the stone skipper. He was so good at it too. I’d stare in amazed appreciation as he tossed his carefully chosen stones over the top of that water … like tiny geese skimming for fish, just dancing over the surface like gravity wasn’t a thing.
Geez Louise. I could never do that, I’d think to myself, as stone after stone of mine would fall heavily and heartily to its immediate demise in the scummy waters below. One colder-than-usual day in late Fall, this boy and I met at the pond to do some stone skipping – him to further develop his already stellar skills and me to try, yet again, to conjure up some skills of my own. I could see my breath in the crisp Fall air that day, and I blew extra hard into my gloves to keep my throwing fingers nimble. Today’s the day, I thought. This is going to be good. As I searched the surrounding ground for the perfect stone, the boy tapped me on the shoulder and offered me a chestnut.
I paused my search and hopped up to my feet, dusting off the leaves and dirt that had collected on my knees.
Chestnuts? Who eats chestnuts? Aren’t those only for old songs and Christmas time?
I dunno, the boy replied. They’re real good though. My Nana roasts ’em for us when she comes to visit.
Hmmmm. Chestnuts, eh? I popped one in my mouth and was surprised to find that I really liked it, given that I’d never really been a big fan of nuts and the like. I thanked the boy and continued on in my search for the perfect skipping stone. I think it was a good five minutes before I finally gave up on my quest, lamenting the fact that I would never be able to skip if I couldn’t find just the right stone. The boy, nodding his head in sympathetic understanding, handed me another chestnut to distract me from my frustrations and, probably, to get me to stop whining.
I rolled the chestnut around in the palm of my hand, inspecting its unique and distinctive shape. I’d never really seen a nut quite like that before. Then, without missing a beat, I cocked my arm back and let the chestnut fly. Over the water it went, jumping and dancing like it was meant just for that exact purpose. One skip … two skip … three skips … four. The stone skipping boy and I stood there, gawking at the chestnut’s trans-pond flight. I had done it! I was gobsmacked. He high-fived me and handed me another chestnut. Do it again! Do it again!
I hauled off and sent the second chestnut flying once more over the water. My confidence had done a 180 and I was riding high on that. Could this be my new thing? Is this a real sport? Can I win trophies for this?!? But, as (predictably) fate would have it, the second chestnut didn’t fare quite as well as the first. In fact, the next 10 didn’t. One after another, they all fell right to the bottom of the pond to lie with the countless sunken stones of skippin’ days past.
Ah well, at least you got that one to go. Said the boy. Better one than none, right?
I figured as much. Glass half full attitudes were the name of the game that day. And speaking of games, I’m not sure “Chestnut Skipping” has ever caught on or achieved any degree of popularity, but I’m here to say that it can happen – it did happen – even if it was just one time.
These days, I save my chestnuts for more edible purposes, a fact that may come as no surprise. My idle hands are better suited for cake baking than skipping of any kind, be it stone, chestnut or otherwise. A cake, you see, is a far better resting place for a chestnut than a pond could ever hope to be.
Chestnut & White Chocolate Babycakes RECIPE
*adapted from Bon Appetite, Dec. 1999
Little cakes like these tend to be doused in a sugary sweet glaze of some sort, which is wonderful in its own right. But in this case (in this cake), I avoid the glaze. The white chocolate is sweet enough. The maple syrup in the batter makes these baby cakes a perfect addition to any breakfast or brunch table or, if you’re like me, wonderful companions while running errands in the car.
1 cup flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 3/4 cup peeled, roasted chestnuts (about 12 ounces); or jarred chestnuts (about 8 ounces)
3/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temp
1/2 cup pure maple syrup
2.5 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 large eggs
1 cup white chocolate chips (or however many you like)
Preheat your oven to 375 degrees F.
Spray your mini cake pans with non-stick spray (or, butter and flour/spray an 8″ x 8″ x 2″ cake pan, as this can be made as one single coffee cake).
Mix the flour, baking powder and salt in a small bowl; set this aside.
Coarsely chop the chestnuts. Set these aside. Combine the brown sugar, butter, maple syrup and vanilla. Using an electric mixer, beat until well blended.
Add the eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition.
Beat in the flour mixture. Stir in the chopped chestnuts. Spoon the batter into the prepared pan(s), being careful to fill the mini cake molds only about 3/4 of the way, as the cake will rise a bit.
Bake the cakes for 12 – 16 minutes, or until set. Cool the cakes in pans on a rack and enjoy.