Sunday, March 8, 2009

Banana Cake Blues



Lately it seems like everyone I know is going through something hard. My best friend Jenna was laid off in January and had to euthanize her cat Norma last week. I ruptured my Achilles tendon three days after the New Year, and I'm still not walking without the assistance of some pretty hefty gear and physical therapy (and sometimes major painkillers). My boyfriend Dave lost his mother last August. And I'm beginning to sound like a really depressing, poorly written country-western song...

The point is that life often sends us grief and hardship, and there are some days that seem harder than others. For me, baking often softens the blow, makes the kitchen smell nice, and soothes my need to be busy with something productive, tangible and comforting. I also think of my grandmother, Anna Lee Cooper Hammond, when I bake; she taught me a lot about life, love and how to run a respectable kitchen.


Today I got the chance to drive past the farm my grandma and granddad owned in Weaubleau, Missouri. I spent many summers watching my grandma bake, cook, and tell stories. I knew I had arrived at my grandma's house when my sister Jenna and I sang "Over the River and Through the Woods." We also knew that by the time we crossed grandma's door, we would smell food unlike anything our busy momma had time to make: cinnamon rolls heavy with brown sugar and pecans, new potatoes and peas in cream, pecan pie, homemade chicken and noodles, blackberry cobbler, and a caramel cake with boiled frosting that I still haven't figured out how to make.

Before my grandmother died six years ago, she wrote out her top 20 favorite recipes for me, my sister Jenna, and my cousin Sheila. Those recipes, while saved for special occasions and all-out caloric mayhem, are a part of my heritage. And despite the sentimentality of this post, my grandma was anything but. She was finicky and particular about how to knead bread, bake her much-requested chocolate sheet cake, and prepare family meals. She would fuss if I futzed with the gravy or didn't check on the biscuits like she had told me to do. She was a tough teacher who had high expectations for the quality and flavor of the food she served.

So, this post and the banana cake I made on Thursday night is for my grandma Anna Lee, who was born on March 8, 1930. This windy afternoon, right between Collins and Weaubleau, Missouri off 54 East, I put some day lilies on her grave in the Robinson Cemetery, said hello, and then hobbled back to the car with my guy Dave. So, Happy Birthday, Grandma! Your life and love still live on in me and many others.

9 comments:

Jenna said...

Mmmmm! Looks super tasty, love. I'm so proud of you! Do you ship? ;-)

Sarah Day said...

The pics are making my mouth water.

Kella said...

I will definitely make banana cake in both Collinsville, Ill. and Washington, D.C. You tell me when your kitchens are ready, and I'll bring my apron and ingredients.

Hugs!!

Erin said...

What a great post. It really sums up why food can be so important- it's so much more than the food. Your writing reminds me a bit of Ruth Reichl. Of course the cake looks amazing.

Kella said...

Erin!! You're too kind. Ruth Reichl? Sigh. I love her and her Gourmet-badass self. Have you read "Tender at the Bone"? Holy cow. I want her life.

Erin said...

And Comfort me with Apples and Garlic and Sapphires and I've already pre-ordered her book due out this spring...

Erin said...

Have you found www.smittenkitchen.com yet? She's got a great food blog with fantastic photos. I bookmark at least every other recipe, then I hit the archives. It's an endless droolfest over there.

I have a thing with food writing/ writers and I love finding a new blog to follow. I have to say I did't have a baking one that I was really loving and I really *really* dig yours. Keep up the good work.

Maybe if I just read about food I won't need to eat the food...right?

Kella said...

I have heard about smittenkitchen.com. My professor friend Jane (actually, my boss!) told me about her blog. "Droolfest" is a great way to describe her site (so lovely... I have so much to learn from her!). I'll be posting a new recipe most likely on Saturday. This week I'm chilling in D.C. and soaking up the east-coast life. Erin, you should be my foodie lit friend. We could read books together and do something cool with it... I had one friend who did a communal blog dedicated to books... Maybe we could go one step further and create a joint foodie lit blog? Hmmmm.

Erin said...

Oh I would LOVE that! What's one more blog, right?