I love to cook, and not just because I enjoy healthy, clean food. I love cooking as a way to be creative, inspired and nourished in ways that go beyond alimentation. My cooking ritual is the same: get amazingly fresh, local ingredients, conjure up a delicious way to prepare them so as to be visually and gastronomically appealing, put on some music and get to it.
But there are times I enjoy cooking for a different reason entirely. Sometimes, I am inspired to make a meal that holds such visceral memories for me that I can conjure up visuals and feelings of the very first time I tried it, who made it for me and what the dish became symbolic of, which was so often, love. And when I feel like visiting my past, I pull out one of those recipes, and visit with the memories of the person who first made it for me. Vegetable or black bean soups, remind me of my grandmother, the first person to really show me how to turn simple ingredients into a feast. When I’m prepping for a party, I think about all the times I helped out my parents whenever they threw one of their big summer events, and broccoli rabe with brown rice pasta will forever remind me of my ex-husband. But on a recent Saturday afternoon, with a hankering for something sweet, I visited with my mother-in-law, Jennie, who died in 2002.
Jennie was one of those special people who was friends with everyone and whom everyone loved. So much so, that when she died, they tolled the bells of her town’s city hall in her memory. Her funeral was so well attended that I remember turning to my dad during the viewing and asking him if he had ever seen such a turn out for a funeral before, to which he replied, “Yes, yes I did….when Kennedy died”.
Jennie was a loving mother, reliable friend, loyal spouse and a daughter-in-laws dream. At least to me. She would often say to me, “You know, we are a lot alike”, which was her highest praise.
She also loved practical jokes, thrift store bargains and good gossip. No one, not even her own kids were off limits in the gossip department. Weekend visits included sitting around the kitchen table “sharing stories” about those not in attendance. Once, when I was leaving her house I said jokingly to her, “Jennie, when I leave here today, and you start talking about me, be kind.” She laughed hard and feigned offense, swearing she didn’t talk about me. But of course she did. And I was never offended.
Jennie was also a prolific and excellent cook. Thrifty though she was, she could throw together a party for 20 people in minutes by just adding more pasta here, a little more sauce there and a few extra sausages on the grill to make sure everyone had enough. No one was turned away and if you were fortunate enough to show up at her house at dinner time, you were always welcome and encouraged to stay and enjoy. Feeding people was her way of sharing the love, and there were a few of her recipes that I loved so much, she made sure to have them on hand whenever I visited. One of my all time favorites was her banana bread.
In my defense, this was back in the days when I was practicing pharmacy and was not as mindful of what I ate. But even if I had been, her banana bread was worth the guilt of the cheat. Moist and flavorful, made with white flour, butter, sugar and full of chocolate chips and chopped nuts, her banana bread could make you cry from happiness. It is a testament to it’s deliciousness, that my best friend recently reached out to my ex-husband for the recipe, having only tasted it once, Thanksgiving weekend, 1993.
Recently, I found myself with 4 very ripe bananas on hand and a hankering for Jennie’s banana bread. But I no longer eat white flour, butter or processed sugar, so I came up with a version of it that fits into my culinary guidelines without losing a bit to flavor, texture or enjoyment. Substituting almond flour for white flour, date sugar for processed sugar and grapeseed oil for butter, my version was the “millionaire’s version” of Jennie’s-made-for-$2-banana bread. My loaf cost about $20. I could almost hear her grousing about the price. which, if she knew, would have her turning in her grave. But she doesn’t know, at least I don’t think so, and would be tickled pink to know that 11 years after her passing, I still love her enough to share her story and her recipe with all of you~
- 4 cups almond flour
- ¾ cup date sugar (or some granulated sugar)
- 1 teaspoon baking sod
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 3 large eggs
- ¼ cup grapeseed oil (Plus one tablespoon to coat baking pan)
- 4 medium, very ripe bananas or 3 large
- ½ cup chopped nuts (walnuts and pecans work well)
- ½ cup dark chocolate chips (the higher the percentage of cacao, the better)
Preheat oven to 300’. Coat pan with 1 tablespoon grapeseed oil. In large bowl combine almond flour, date sugar, baking soda and salt. In a medium bowl whisk eggs with grapeseed oil. Add bananas and using a masher, mix together until well blended. Add nuts and chocolate chips. Add wet ingredients to dry, mixing well until well blended. Pour into loaf pan and bake 60-70 minutes until the top is firm to the touch. Stick a toothpick in to make sure it is cooked through. Remove from heat, allow to cool completely and enjoy, Can be stored in refrigerator, wrapped in foil.