Ava Joy Malone was a quintessential neighborhood beauty. She had beautiful bone structure, perfect satiny skin, and a full and shapely mouth. Her iridescent, cat-like brown eyes were so captivating that it was hard to meet them with your own when she focused on you. She had a certain charm, that je ne sais quoi--an enchanting and elusive quality that is pleasing to the senses but hard to fully explain. Every woman wanted to look, walk and talk like her, and every man just wanted to look at her.
Many neighborhood women would say mean things about Miss Ava Joy in front of their husbands and boyfriends, hoping to redirect their attention away from her beauty and toward her imperfections. But Mama liked Miss Ava Joy and would say so in front of anybody, including Daddy. Mama used to tell me, "The more you try to draw a man's attention away from a pretty woman by constantly publicizing her flaws and limitations, the more attention the man is going to pay her. The more you talk--good or bad--about a rival, the more you're puttin' her on his mind."
But Miss Ava Joy was much more than just a beauty. She had an engaging personality too. She wasn't stuck on her beauty, nor did she apologize for it. She walked with a slink, had excellent taste, and wore pretty clothes that accentuated her features and her gestures. She made beautiful crafts. When I was a little girl, I thought Miss Ava was an exotic creature to be studied.
When I was 10, my mother asked Miss Ava Joy to teach me to make beaded jewelry. On summer mornings, I would walk the two blocks to Miss Ava Joy's house, where she would have jars of beads and cards of embroidery string already laid out on the kitchen table. I was charmed by the entire visit each time, but perhaps the best part came at the end. At the end of our classes, Miss Ava Joy always pulled something sweet and delicious from her oven that was my reward, she would say, for being a good student.
On Miss Ava Joy's kitchen wall, just above the table where we sat, hung a flea-market find: a painting of Samia Gamal, the famous Egyptian belly dancer who was famous for her veil work, graceful arm movements, and poise. There was a clear similarity between the two women--not a physical resemblance, but more in their feminine deportment. Samia Gamal wore high heels while she danced. Ava Joy Malone wore high heels while she cooked. Samia Gamal used her hips to tap out a story. Ava Joy Malone used her hips to close her refrigerator door.
Of all the loaves, buns and sweet rolls that Miss Ava Joy served after our morning sessions, her Lemon Streusel Coffee Cake was my favorite. Like the woman herself, this is a warm and lovely treat.
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly grease a 9-inch ×13-inch baking dish with the cooking spray and dust with some flour. Set aside.
To make the topping: In a small mixing bowl, combine the flour, pecans, brown sugar and cinnamon. Using your fingers, a pastry blender, or the tines of a fork, cut the butter into the mixture until it resembles coarse crumbs. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and place it in the refrigerator until ready to use.
To make the batter: In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, break up the butter by mixing on low speed for 1 minute. Add the granulated sugar and cream together the butter and sugar on medium speed for 2 to 3 minutes, until the mixture is light and fluffy. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl to prevent lumps from forming. As the mixer is running, reduce the speed to low and slowly add the eggs, 1 at a time; after you add each egg, scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl and resume beating on low speed for 30 seconds. Add the sour cream, lemon zest and juice, and vanilla extract and beat until fully incorporated.
In a large mixing bowl, sift together the dry ingredients: the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Reduce the mixer speed to low and gradually add the dry ingredient mixture to the bowl of the mixer 1/3 at a time. Beat at low speed for 2 to 3 seconds, until just combined. Turn off the mixer.
Transfer 1/2 of the batter into the prepared baking dish and smooth the top with a rubber or silicone spatula or a butter knife. Evenly spread the lemon pie filling over the batter. Spread the remaining batter over the filling and smooth the top. Sprinkle with the topping. Bake for 45 to 50 minutes, until the topping is golden brown. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool to room temperature in the pan on a wire rack.
Carefully transfer to a serving platter. Sprinkle with the confectioners' sugar, if desired, and slice and serve at room temperature.
Patty Pinner is the author of Sweety Pies: An Uncommon Collection of Womanish Observations, with Pie and Sweets: A Collection of Soul Food Desserts and Memories, which was selected as one of the best cookbooks of the year by The New York Times. She lives in Saginaw, MI.
Author: Patty Pinner
Publisher: Agate Midway
Penned: Feb. 23, 2016
What's Inside: 125 tried-and-true recipes to get your mornings off to a delicious start. Although simple, quick and easy, the sweet and savory dishes in this book look and taste like they took all morning to make.
You'll find ideas for granola (think Chocolate-Hazelnut Granola), quick breads (make mine Strawberry please), coffeecakes (yummy Blueberry-Cornmeal Coffee Cake with Streusel Topping) and many more irresistible sweet treats. Plus, Miss Lola's Scrambled Eggs, Old-Timey Brunch Chicken Salad, Mama's Hash-Brown Potatoes and other classics.
Passed down to author Patty Pinner by family and friends, each of these delightful recipes is accompanied by an entertaining story that reveals its origin. Both new and experienced home chefs will enjoy these reliable, often generations-old ideas perfect for breakfast, brunch or anytime you're craving a little comfort.
Time Out: 272 pages
Available: $27.50 hardbackl $23.99 Kindle. Available where books are sold.
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