Sunday, June 02, 2013

High School Coffee Cake Served with a Side of Literary Opportunities

Olga García Echeverría
When I think about high school, I think big hair, blue eye shadow, headbands and leg warmers.
I think Sylvia Mora, Verónica Diaz, and Sandra Muñoz, my high school posse and partners in carcajada-crime. We had so much fun together. When I think high school, I think Cross Country, Jaime Escalante Math Program, and, of course, I think about the delicious coffee cake served during Nutrition. The memory of that coffee cake is forever warm and fluffy, topped with brown sugar and delectable cinnamon crumbs.

I am not alone in my coffee cake nostalgia. In the last two decades, I’ve come across many who reminisce about this high school treat. It's a collective longing that spans generations and everyone always seems to be looking for the recipe. If you find it, please pass it on! In previous years I’ve had no luck finding the recipe online, but this week I went searching once more and bam! There it was on the LAUSD website. Maybe it's always been there and finding it now is evidence that my Google search skills are finally improving.

The recipe on the LAUSD website is for 18 pieces, using two 9X9 pans. That’s a lot of bread, so I decided to divide the recipe in half. It’s been a long time since my high school calculus days. Back then even tricky fractions were a breeze, but this time as I tried to divide strange measurements like "3/4 cups plus 3 Tbs" by two, I got stumped. I gave up on being precise and opted for my parent’s preferred measurement system: échale un puño, poquito, no tanto, más o menos, hay le atinas. 

My first attempt at high school coffee cake was a catastrophe. My guestimations were way off. Also, for reasons I do not wish to disclose, I had to bake the cake in a toaster oven. I don’t have 9X9 pans, so I used a small cast iron pan instead. It was the only one that actually fit in the toaster oven.

Maybe that extra “puñito” of baking soda was my downfall and the cake batter's downpour. Remember the 1950's horror movie The Blob? Well, this cake was my blob, my ameoba-like alien taking over my toaster oven. Nothing could stop it from seeping cinnamon cake batter over the edges of the pan. It was like a high school science project gone terribly wrong. If only I had taken Home Economics instead of Metal Shop in junior high.

Despite the cochinero I made, what stayed in the baking pan long enough to cook was at least decent enough to taste. C+ my girlfriend said later as she ate a couple of the salvaged pieces with rice milk. I knew she was giving me an inflated grade. The taste was definitely high school, but the texture and presentation needed serious improvement.

My second attempt is coming out of the oven as I write this blog. I made several revisions which have made all the difference. For starters, I used a real oven this time and a pan large enough to actually hold the batter. I also didn’t try to divide the recipe in half (what was I thinking?), so I have plenty of coffee cake to eat and share during the next week. Anyone want some?
If you have public-high-school-coffee-cake nostalgia or if you're just curious, try it. It's delicious!
Grade on my second coffee cake = A+

Upcoming Literary Opportunities

Now that I've gotten the high school coffee cake obsession out of the way, I can go back to obsessing about writing.

One thing I struggle with as a writer is submitting my work to journals or contests. I hardly ever do.
This year I made a New Year's resolution to send out more of my work. Despite being excited about this resolution, going through the Poets & Writers and AWP classifieds has at times felt overwhelming. There are so many contests out there, and there are almost always reading or entry fees which can add up pretty quickly.

For those of us who write in mixed or spoken-broken languages, there's also issues of identity to consider. The publishing world doesn't exist in a vacuum. It's part of the larger, racialized, patriarchal, heteronormalized world we live in. As a codeswitching escritora who loves to mix genres, I'm learning to weed through the classifieds in search of potential "good fits" for my work. It takes a lot of filtering and I usually only end up with one or two possibilities, but the process is teaching me a lot about who's publishing what and about being selective when I submit.

Applying for literary contests is definitely an investment of time and money. The contests are also highly competitive, but regardless of the outcome, it is a great exercise in writing, revising, and organizing a body of work into a manuscript. Plus, I firmly believe that deadlines are good fuel for creative fire. They push us places we may not otherwise go.

I'm following through with my resolution this year, but I'm not doing it blindly. I am only applying to carefully selected contests. Here are a couple of upcoming literary opportunities that I believe are worth their entry fees. If you're not into making coffee cake, try these! The judges for both of these contests are stellar women writers and the sponsoring organizations are pretty cool too. Happy writing and buena suerte!

A Room of Her Own Foundation
To the Lighthouse Poetry Publication Prize
(only for women writers)

$1000 and publication of collection by Red Hen Press

Deadline: August 31, 2013 postmark
Page Limit: 48 to 96 pages
Fee: $20 per entry

Announcement Date: December 15, 2013
For more information visit:

This contest will be judged by Tracy K. Smith, whose collection of poetry Life on Mars won the 2012 Pulitzer Prize.
Les Figues Press
Third Annual Les Figues NOS Book Contest
(NOS: Not Otherwise Specified)
Contest Opens: June 1st
Deadline: September 15th
Accepting poetry, novellas, prose poems, innovative novels, anti-novels, short story collections, lyric essays, hybrids, plays, memoir and all other forms not otherwise specified.
Prize: $1000 + Publication by Les Figues Press
$25 Entry Fee (all entrants receive a Les Figues Book)
For more information visit:
This contest will be judged by Aimee Bender, American novelist and short story writer, known for her surreal plots and characters.
Last but not least, if you're in Los Angeles, today is Lummis Day. The event is free, open to the public and will feature music, poetry, art, dance and much more in the Arroyo Seco community. For more information:


Anonymous said...

Olguina, I wished I had some of your coffee cake w my cafecito today!

Olga said...

I think this is Chelo, since you're the only one who calls me Olguina. Ay Chelo, I have so much coffee cake! I wish you were here to have some with me. I can't stop eating it and I am already super stuffed.

Adriana Alvarez said...

Ha, ha! Luv the picture of your first disastrous try! Pero, dont be a hold out and share some crumbs, yes? Thanks for the moning fun and best of luck with your submisions. PS. Please dont change your spanglishing. Its makes me feel as comforted as the famous school cofee cake did.

Amelia ML Montes said...

Orale Olga! Sending you much love y gracias for encouraging everyone to send in their work. So important! Abrazos y felicidades on the receta!

Anonymous said...

Olga, sharing is caring (especially with your aforementioned high school friends). You know where I live even though this comment is anonymous!

Itza said...

As you rest your tired body, I snuck out of bed especially early this morning to read your Bloga. (Thanks to Jose y Mario for the portable internet hook-up. ) Even though I got to taste your grade A+ coffee cake last night fresh out of the oven, I couldn't resist waking up extra early this morning to read your Bloga. I'm an officially obsessed Sunday morning Olga Bloga fan.

And mmmm, mmmm, mmmmm!!!!... how I love the bloga and the servings! You're grade A+++ all around! Sorry gente. But I don't think they'll be any coffee cake leftovers this time. :)

Anonymous said...

Dear Olga-Courageous Baker,
Thanks for giving my Sunday a great smell memory. Mine was walking into my junior high school's recess, hunting down the warm sweet smell of big brown flat scalloped edged cookies! Maybe your delicious coffee cake came after my time.
I haven't had a proper oven for over a decade so I appreciate your attempt in a toaster over. Perhaps I'll try in my Nesco Air-Oven. Courage takes many forms! I'm discovering that sending out your work to contests and lit-mags is hard on body and soul and pocket-book. Emptying it all out is hard as a beginner. I'm comforted to read your feelings on this so necessary action. Thank you for posting the information. You have given us more than one recipe today!
As always, blessings,

Olga said...

Thank you all for your comments. Diana, keep being courageous--in both the kitchen & with your work.