I grew up under the skyscraper guardian evergreens of Portland, Oregon, playing under small patches of sky. On the map, our 3-bedroom ranch was only an inch from the ocean, but it took about an hour to drive there. Sand in my toes, salt on my tongue, I spent many an afternoon digging a new route to China beneath the Pacific along Cannon Beach. The ocean was always my favorite place to be, but I never dreamed in salt water grey. I dreamed about Kansas, in sky blue and earth brown. Because my huge, kissing, hugging family lived there, in a little suburb of Kansas City. And at the end of every year, we hopped a plane to be with them. One, two, three, and then four tiny Newmans, with one Papa thrilled to see his family again, and one Mama, happy too, but strung out from packing the four little monkeys to trek halfway across the US.

We were greeted with cheers and hugs and various forms of sugar, which of course was nearly unlawful in our Oregon house. But everyone knows Christmas is time for the annual fructose overdose. Cookies, candy, coffeecake – yes, please. Needless to say, with all the excess sugar and 20ish extra cousins around to play with, high speed chases around the yard and bed-jumping ensued. And every year, at the center of the busy joy was the same woman, Mama Jean. The mother of eight herself, she was not to be daunted by the sound of children laughing, yelling, or asking to eat…again.

Our trips to Kansas City were some of our happiest. And then something happened, but I think I expected it. While I was playing outside in 1993, a tiny white cotton flower floated down from the sky. I pulled it down, made a wish and sent it back to God. I wished for us to move to Kansas. Suddenly, someone pushed the fast forward button. I finished 6th grade, Dad got a job, the house went up for sale, movers stashed our belongings in brown cardboard, and then, voila! We lived in Kansas. The dream came true. And the rest, as they say, is history.

One of my favorite things about Kansas was always Mama Jean, with her delicate, inimitable style and creativity, and a smile and confidence that warmed us all. An elegant matriarch, she cooked and baked and dreamed and loved with generosity and extravagance. Even her speech was like a song, a jazzy ballad with gusto and polish. She lived and loved so well.

We lost Mama Jean to heaven last August – not her loss, by any means. But she lives on way beyond the gene pool of eight children, 30 grandchildren and 30-something greats…and counting. Although that’s quite the legacy already. But she is very much alive in our conversations, in the trademark, dry Newman humor, in our impeccable (yes) fashion sense, in our recipes, in our Christian Catholic faith, in the tiny details we would never notice had she not cared first. She lives in nearly a hundred people who came after her, and nearly a million ways we were all touched by her.

Mama Jean and her scrumtrulecent spread. She had a gift. And we loved how it tasted.

Although I’m far from renown when it comes to baking, cooking or any type of kitchen activity (besides eating), today I am honored to share one of Mama Jean’s prized recipes with you. I have no idea how prized it was to her, but because of the taste of it, it was prized by all of us. I’m not lying when I say it was more or less a form of currency when sent to my brother during his two deployments to Iraq. It’s that good. This is a Midwestern coffeecake to beat them all. If you’re trying to impress a few friends at an upcoming party, shower or other social gathering, I recommend whipping up this delicious, breakfast masterpiece. Be prepared you’ll be asked to make it again so keep these few, simple ingredients on hand. 

In her handwriting – the original recipe. The more readable version is below.

Here is the recipe for Mama Jean’s Sherry Bundt Cake.

You will need:

A bundt pan

Non-stick spray

A mixing bowl

A mixer (hand or bowl mixer)

An oven


The ingredients – you probably have all of it in your cupboard, except cooking sherry

1 package of yellow cake mix

1 package of vanilla pudding

4 eggs

3/4 cup cooking sherry

3/4 cup vegetable oil

1 tsp butter-flavored extract or vanilla extract (I use the vanilla)

1/4 cup granulated sugar and 2 tsp cinnamon, mixed together

Chopped nuts (optional)

Heat oven to 350 degrees.

Mix all the ingredients together for one minute on low speed.

Then mix on medium speed for five minutes.

Spray your bundt pan with the non-stick spray.

Then sprinkle part of the sugar and cinnamon blend on the bottom of the bundt pan.

Pour 1/2 of your cake mixture evenly into the pan.

Sprinkle more of the sugar and cinnamon blend over the cake mixture.

Then pour the remaining cake mixture over the top of the sugar/cinnamon.

This creates a layer in between, in case that wasn’t obvious. 🙂

Bake at 350 for 45 minutes.

Handy tip: I found that it helped to let the pan cool briefly after leaving the oven and then I turned it upside down over night to allow the bundt pan and the cake to separate so none of the cake is stuck to the pan. Use your best judgment on this since you know your cooking gear best.

Bon appetit.