The island of my kitchen is a mountain of name-change papers, cookbooks, recipe clippings, a “fruit bowl” holding dried peppers and papery onion skins, a nearly empty wine bottle, banana loaf crumbs, a planner open to last week, a Guggenheim-shaped mug containing an inch of tepid coffee. Don’t let me get started on the living room filled with stacks of white foam core, a folding table, a tripod, and piles of photography props. Being a rogue creative person isn’t always as glamorous as it sounds.
forging whacking away at.
This weekend, I got the chance to talk with family I hadn’t seen in a while. Looking at these women with a new perspective, I respected them in ways I never could have before growing up. They seemed so sure of themselves and so capable.
I’m sure many people feel this way, but I get nervous about family events because I know I’ll be asked to show my cards. Cousins go to med school and have jobs with salaries and retirement plans or are international human rights activists or petroleum engineers in the Middle East. Saying, “Well, I work at the restaurant, and when I’m not doing that, I write and cook and take photos of food by myself in my house. And I’ve started doing web design”– it can feel a little less than impressive.
It felt good to hear these women in the generation before me say things like, “I’m proud of you,” and “You’re making your own way.” I went home feeling that I might actually be on track–if not a traditional one, a valid one. Sometimes you need to hear your life through someone else’s words.
We were together to remember my aunt’s life — I saw her with a different kind of clarity when I heard so many different people tell stories of living with her and growing up with her. Instead of my one-dimensional experience of my aunt, I heard her friends and family and colleagues, and even one of her teachers, telling of all the facets of her character. We’re always told not to let other people define us, but there are times when the words of others show us the true picture of a person.
I left thinking that sometimes you need to listen to a whole community’s characterization of a person, even if that person is yourself, before deciding you know all her layers.
After the services on Saturday, we ended up at my grandpa’s house, sorting through objects that pile up in cupboards over decades. I uncovered a gem: The Grove Volunteer Fire Department Cookbook. My grandpa and his brothers and sisters grew up in a tiny speck of a town about twenty minutes outside Waco–The Grove, Texas. Reading through the recipes made me feel closer to the family, as if knowing their food I would know them. Since I’m me, I changed up this recipe for Banana Bread. Each generation changes something, right?
Chocolate Chip Banana Loaf with Coconut Oil
Makes 8 x 4 loaf pan
Adapted from The Grove Volunteer Department Cookbook, c.1980s
(Evelyn Motloch’s Banana Bread)
Using mini chocolate chips is important here. It keeps them from sinking, I think, and the mini chips are better distributed throughout the cake. Even as it cools, the chips don’t get too crunchy, but are little subtle bits of texture, so they don’t compete with the gooey, comforting texture of banana bread.
1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour
1 ¼ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon coarse salt
⅔ cup agave nectar
⅓ cup coconut oil
2 medium very ripe bananas, mashed
½ cup mini chocolate chips
1. Oven at 350 F. Prepare an 8 x 4 loaf pan: grease bottom and sides and coat with flour, then make a sling out of parchment paper. Set aside.
2. In separate bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.
3. In small bowl, mash bananas and set aside.
4. In a third bowl, whisk together agave nectar and coconut oil until smooth, then whisk in eggs one at a time. Whisk in bananas until most clumps are dissolved.
5. Make a well in the flour bowl and pour banana mixture into the center. Use a wooden spoon to mix, stirring gently. Do not overmix. When there are a still a few remaining stripes of flour in the batter, add mini chocolate chips and stir just until combined.
6. Pour batter out into prepared pan. Bang gently down on the counter a few times to release any air bubbles. Bake for 40-50 minutes, checking that a skewer or knife comes out clean. Cool on wire rack for 15 minutes, then turn out of pan, slice, and serve. Store wrapped in plastic for up to 4 days.