The motions are so familiar to me by now, I really don’t need the recipe that stands at the ready on my iPad as I mush bananas with my pastry knife. I’ve made this banana bread again and again, surely dozens of times over the years. It’s my way of communicating with others; to celebrate a new baby, to welcome new friends and to offer cheer to old ones, to teach little ones to bake, or to give small comfort to my family. And, for times like today, to offer my condolences in the way I know best.
Carefully measured sugar blends with butter and soft white cream cheese, and I listen to the beating of my KitchenAid, its steady thump the heartbeat of my kitchen. Words are the medium in which I have staked my career, and yet at times like these, I can never seem to find the right ones. No words can properly express sorrow or sadness for the loss another has suffered. There is no right thing to say, no words for me to offer condolences in a way that scratches the surface of the true emotion. Without words, baking is my true medium.
Adding the eggs one at a time, I watch them swirl into the batter, adding a hint of color to the creamy mix. The dry ingredients come next, dusting the surface before being scraped into the mixture. I time the addition of each cupful just so, achieving the perfect, slightly stiff consistency. Gently, purposefully I add the bananas, working the spatula with a practiced hand until I sense the moment is right.
A few miles away, tears fall like raindrops, splashing on the empty place once filled with sweet smiles. Silence replaces the hum of life, a quiet so foreign it roars in the ears. In my own home, my oven beeps—the temperature is just right. In goes the carefully filled pans, and I settle back to wait. When the next beep comes, the house is warm and fragrant, and in the batter’s place is golden, domed goodness.
I can’t find the words, but I can offer sustenance. Sweet, dense bread, a flavor well-known from childhood. Soon it’s wrapped and ready. With sure hands I hand over my offering. In it is my heart, my prayers, and those unfound words.
I’m grateful for this, my comfort food, for always knowing what to say.
I hope you’ll forgive the melancholy mood. At times like these, it strikes me how elemental baking is for me. It is the physical manifestation of my wish to create for others, to have something to offer them that is of myself. I’m infinitely grateful that God saw fit to give me this unexpected talent. With out it, how else am I to share glimpses of joy, welcome, celebrations, and caring? Truly for me, a baked good is worth a thousand words. Is there anything like that for you?
The following recipe is an adaptation of a Southern Living recipe, and will make two loaves.
The Perfect Banana Bread
-3/4 cup butter (1 & 1/2 sticks of butter) softened
-8 oz of Neufchatel cream cheese (1 package) softened
-1 and 1/2 cup sugar
-3 cups all purpose flour
-1/2 tsp baking powder
-1/2 tsp baking soda
-1/2 tsp salt
-4 large ripe bananas – ripe
-1/2 tsp vanilla
-pecans or walnuts optional
Preheat oven to 350. Grease and flour 2 loaf pans
Cream together butter and cream cheese, then gradually add sugar. Once combined, beat on medium high for 3 minutes. Add eggs one at a time, beating until just blended after each one.
Combine dry ingredients in a separate bowl. Slowly add to batter while blending at low speed until just combined. Add bananas and vanilla and stir by hand until well combined.
Divide batter evenly between the two pans and place in oven for 1 hour or until a toothpick comes out cleanly. During the last 15 minutes, tent a piece of foil over the pans to prevent the top from over-browning. Cool on racks 10 minutes before removing from pans.