When I was in sixth grade, my friend’s mom died. Her family had moved to another state a few years earlier, far away from me, but the funeral brought them back to Illinois, to a beautiful stone church covered in ivy, with a hollow auditorium surrounded by stained-glass windows, where your voice echoed when you talked. At the visitation, I remember thinking, people said a lot of funny things. One lady told my friend her mom would be watching from heaven, letting her know if her outfits didn’t match. Another said something about the mom being an angel; several commented on the lovely makeup job. For my part, I asked my friend if she wanted to sleepover that night. Her dad said it probably wasn’t a good time.
I hadn’t known a lot of people who died up until then. I’d been to a few funerals—distant relatives, mostly. Later in my teen years, each of my dad’s parents would die, one by one without affecting me, as I’d only met them once, when they’d flown across the world from India to visit America. My mom’s mom would die just before I turned seventeen and started my senior year of high school, after I’d grown up going to her house and sharing my bedroom when she’d visit mine. In fact, in much later years, I’d attend a lot of funerals, often for people I didn’t know but whose friends or family I did.
As a twelve-year-old, there’s not a lot you understand about life or, at least, there’s not a lot I understood. I remember thinking, a few days after the funeral while I drank a milkshake, that my friend’s mom would never have one again. She’d never hold a tall glass of frothy ice cream to her mouth, never slurp it all the way to the bottom. I remember realizing this made me sad. Sometimes, still, when I buy a fast-food milkshake and set it on the counter, I think of her.
Reading through the responses to the giveaway post*, where a lot of you wrote why you cook, I saw a common theme: Food is a tangible way to show love, like milkshakes were a tangible way for me to understand death, as an elementary kid.
And in a nutshell, that’s why I love food. In a very concrete way, food is satisfying—it sates your hunger, it provides nutrition, it gives you strength. But in a less concrete way, it is so much more. What else can communicate, so clearly and strong, the same experience as someone’s inviting you over for dinner, to a meal he spent all afternoon preparing? What else shows, in such a specific way, that someone likes you, than when she bakes for you the dessert she knows you like best?
This banana bread is one of those communicating cakes. It’s from my friend Mrs. Newman, who doesn’t go online and probably couldn’t read this article, but who wrote this recipe down and gave it to my mom, the way she had previously taped a pie recipe to the back of a chocolate bar she gave my brother for Hanukkah/Christmas one year, after he’d told her how much he loved it. Since then, the recipe has become part of our family, the way it was a part of hers, and, with my new-found love of banana baked goods, I pulled it out to use up three fully ripened bananas this weekend.
Mrs. Newman’s like my mom with cooking: everything she makes is good (and, as a side note, anything you make for her will be met with continuous praise, which, I think, is a sign of someone who cooks often and also, of someone I am sure to like). And her banana cake is one of her specialties, the best kind of comfort: moist and dense, with a stable crust and quick to crumble into soft bits in your mouth. I like to add chocolate chips because, well, chocolate and banana are natural partners, like peanut butter and jelly or tea with honey.
As this cake bakes, the warm, sweet scent of banana fills the kitchen, and, for the record, I’ve decided this is one of my favorite smells, ever. You can bake it in a tube pan or a springform pan (which is what I did), but her notes say it’s also nice in loaf pans for a sweet banana bread.
However you bake it, one thing is certain: this is the kind of cake that you won’t eat just once. And when you make it, you’ll want to share it with someone you love.
*The Giveaway: Friday night, the winners were chosen using a random number generator, and now that they’ve both responded and accepted, I can announce the two prizes are going to Lainey and Rhonda! Congratulations and thanks, everyone, for participating!
Adapted from my friend, Mrs. Newman
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup butter (1 stick)
4 level Tablespoons of sour cream
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup mashed bananas (about three)
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup mini chocolate chips
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Cream sugar and butter together. Add sour cream and eggs.
In a separate bowl, combine baking soda, salt and flour, and add this alternately with the mashed bananas to the creamed mixture. Add vanilla and chocolate chips and stir together.
Pour into a greased and floured tube pan or springform pan, and bake for 45 minutes to an hour, when the cake’s top turns golden brown.