Betty & The Banana Cake

I was going to be writing about Easter this week, but my 94-year-old mother, Betty, ended up in the hospital. She had caught an infection, and at 94, it doesn’t take much for her to go downhill quickly. Doctors, tests, more doctors, MRI, CAT scan, more doctors. She also has dementia, which made all of this that much more difficult for her.

So I came home yesterday, after a long week of  going to the hospital.  I needed a little break so I made the one thing that my Mom made really well.

Banana cake.

My Mom’s banana cake (NOT banana bread) is the best. When someones asks me, what food do you recall the most from childhood, it is this banana cake.

Now, my Mom was not the best cook. Full disclosure.  She overcooked just about everything.  She grew up in the Midwest during the Great Depression. They were poor (who wasn’t) and they HAD to cook, had to can, had to have a garden. It wasn’t optional, that was how you survived.  Her grandfather was the local blacksmith and would often take  vegetables or a live chicken in exchange for his services. Meat was a luxury.

Fast forward to 1942.  My Mom met my Dad, Bill, who was in the Coast Guard. After a super short courtship, they were married in April. Dad was stationed in Cape May NJ. They had a little apartment, and Mom would cook in  a tiny kitchen.  My Dad had a great story of Mom cooking a sirloin steak.  (Remember the no-meat childhood here). He splurged and bought a steak from the butcher, then had to go to the Coast Guard station. When he came home, Mom was beating the everlovin’ daylights out of that steak.  Pounding away at it.  Dad shouted “Betty,stop! What are you doing?”  And she said “Tenderizing it”. You see, my Mom had never, ever  eaten or cooked a sirloin steak before. They only ever had  the tough cheap cuts of beef, and that was how you cooked it.

Mom & Dad Cape May
Betty & Bill, Cape May NJ 1942

My Dad was sent overseas, was in the Normandy Invasion and fortunately, made it home.  He got a job, and Mom was your typical 50’s house wife.  But now, there were convenience foods.  And my Mom loved them. Canned soup, frozen vegetables, TV dinners. We used to joke that there was a shrine to Clarence Birdseye in the basement by the gigantic chest freezer. When Mom was making dinner, she would tell me “go down to the freezer and pick out a vegetable for dinner”. Yup. Not kidding.

And she never baked. Ever. I never had a homemade birthday cake. She would order them at the bakery.  Pies for the holidays came from there as well. Need cupcakes for school? Bakery again.

Except for the banana cake.It was a recipe that she had from her childhood.  The story was that a little old Polish lady made it, and gave her the recipe. And it was the one thing, the only thing, that she would make from scratch.  Whenever we had over-ripe bananas, she would make it.  My Dad and I both loved it. And my family  loves it just as much.

banana cake

So after a rough week, wondering if I was going to lose her, I made it. It is more than just  banana cake, it is a symbol of my Mom, who kept one little food legacy going.

She is getting released today from the hospital to go back to the nursing home. So we made it through. And I’m going to bring her a piece of banana cake.

Betty 94 years old
Betty on her 94th birthday

 

I am sharing the banana cake recipe here. Which is a big deal, since I would only give it out to those I deemed worthy. But  recipes tell a story, and I hope that you will make this and love it, and think of Betty. Enjoy.

Betty’s Banana Cake

1/2 cup vegetable oil

1 1/4 cups sugar

1 tsp baking soda

1 1/2 cups flour

1 tsp salt

2 eggs

1 TBS sour cream

1 tsp vanilla

1 cup banana pulp (two bananas)

IMPORTANT! For the bananas, let them get ripe to the point of a totally black skin. Really squishy. Put them in a container and mash with a fork. Let them sit in the refrigerator for 4 hours or overnight. You will see the banana oil  come out, which is key to keeping the cake moist. You can also  freeze the banana pulp and use later.

  1. Cream shortening into sugar, then add slightly beaten eggs.
  2. In a separate bowl,take the sour cream and add the baking soda, stir. It will get bubbly and fluffy.
  3. Combine the sour cream, bananas, salt and vanilla and mix well. Add the flour, and beat until combined. The batter will be wet and thick, but should not be stiff.
  4. Pour into two greased  9 x 5 loaf pans. Fill each one about halfway.
  5. Bake in a 350 oven for 30-35 minutes, or until a tooth pick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Cool on a rack in the pans. Remove when cool and eat!

 

A Chocolatier’s Tale

Chocolate is probably the one  food that is consistently in almost every holiday ritual, from Valentine’s Day, Easter, Thanksgiving,  Halloween to Christmas. Plus we give it as gifts, use it as wedding favors, the list goes on.

So I decided to talk to a local chocolatier and get her story and her rituals. I met  Laurie Douglass, owner  of Laurie’s Chocolates in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, when I was co-hosting  the radio program “These Days” on WDVR FM. We tasted her chocolates on the show, and I was blown away by the  intense flavors and wonderful varieties that she creates.

lauriedouglass 3-2-16
Laurie Douglass, owner and creator of all thing chocolate.

I met Laurie in her chocolate kitchen/studio ( after all, it is an art, so I think it is just as much a studio as a kitchen)  to talk to her about  her life as a chocolatier. She got started over 14 years ago by taking a chocolate making course at The Chocolate Tree  while on vacation in South Carolina. At this time, she was working in advertising, and decided that this would be fun to try. She then returned home to Ohio and bought a few molds and took some more classes.  A local book store told Laurie that she could sell her chocolates there. Then the owner had her make chocolate frogs for a Harry Potter book release party.

She sold out in 45 minutes.

They then moved to Doylestown, Pennsylvania, and her business has grown. She wholesales her products to local stores, and does custom orders direct.

 

 

But what I wanted to know is what are her personal rituals?  At the end of the day of making her confections, how does she relax?  She said “That’s easy. Two words-wine and a truffle.” After she is done cleaning up, she will have one of whatever truffle she has made, and a glass of wine.  She loves to pair wine with her chocolates. Her favorite whites are New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs in the warmer months.  In the cooler months, she prefers a Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon.  One favorite of hers is  a red blend called 19 Crimes, from Australia. Wine and chocolate together are a match made in  heaven; if you have the opportunity to go to a wine and chocolate pairing event, don’t miss it.

Laurie’s mid morning ritual is a cup of  one of her hot cocoas, the Buckingham Blend. The burst of sugar helps her get through to lunch. After lunch, she may have some almond bark, or  a piece of solid chocolate.

For Laurie, chocolate is what “seals the deal” at the end of a meal. She maintains that if you have  a piece of chocolate at the end of a meal, that stops the eating. ( I am going to test that theory!)  Chocolate is the final note to any  meal, simple or fancy.

I asked her if she had any childhood memories that were a ritual for her.  Most definitely.  Laurie grew up in Bay Village, Ohio. Every year her family would go to Sell’s, the locally owned family candy store for Easter chocolate bunnies.  Her favorite then, and still is today, is the white chocolate Easter Bunny. She still loves a plain, creamy white chocolate. She said that  the ritual of going to Sell’s was her earliest inspiration for her  chocolate experience.

bunnies laurioeschocolaes 3-2-16
Laurie is in full on Easter Bunny-making mode.

Her children love the fact that she is a chocolatier.  Her daughter had a  chocolate fountain at her 16th birthday party! She has also been generous with her chocolates, doing benefits at her daughter’s school and sending  care packages to the dorm staff at her son’s college.

What a gift she is giving her children. They will be able to tell their children how  their Mom  made events in their lives so special  and meaningful.

But what really means to most to Laurie is that her chocolates are becoming part of  rituals for other people and families. She says that being part of someone else’s ritual is very rewarding and fulfilling. She has many repeat customers, and she  is very adept at remembering what  each person prefers.  Making other people happy  is one of her  strongest motivations for her creations. How lovely for your day’s work to be  a part of someone’s happy moments in their life. Imagine spending your day being creative and knowing that your creation will result in joy for the person receiving it.

While Laurie’s business is growing, she is happy to  follow the journey.  Without the burden of her own retail store, she can maintain a flexible schedule, and create when and how she likes. Creativity does not always happen from 9 to 5, and Laurie can follow her muse, and loves every minute of it.

We should all be so lucky.

What do you do or make that is part of  another person’s ritual?  Do you make a favorite meal for your child when they come home from college? Do you  have a family recipe that has been handed down?

Creating traditions creates a legacy.  Make yours.

For more information on on how and where to purchase  Laurie’s Chocolates,  follow her on Facebook or go to her website: http://www.laurieschocolates.com/

 

 

 

 

Old Ritual=New Ritual

I am reposting my birthday post from last year. I just finished making this year’s birthday pie.  Thanks to all for the birthday wishes!

 

Saturday was my birthday. And of course, we had a record breaking snowstorm that canceled my son’s and his girlfriend’s visit here.  As my husband and I were stuck in the house, I decided that I would make my own birthday treat.  And it is not cake.

It is pie.  I absolutely love pies over cakes. And how perfect is it that January 23 is National Pie Day! http://www.piecouncil.org/events/nationalpieday.

So I set out to make my very own, very first Birthday Pie.  And what flavor would it be? Without a doubt, it is strawberry rhubarb pie. I am completely in love with the tartness of the rhubarb, plus the brightness of the strawberries.

But strawberry rhubarb pie is part of a very special, old ritual for me.

In my youth, I was  a competitive equestrian. This was a huge commitment for both myself and my parents.  My father was totally devoted to my sport, and he drove my horse and me all over New Jersey and Pennsylvania to horse shows. My Dad was my biggest supporter, and my biggest fan.

Back in those days, horse shows were very local events, and usually a benefit for a school or an organization.  And there was always a food tent run by  a group of local ladies who made wonderful homemade soups, sandwiches, and pies.  And none was better that the Peapack Reformed Church Ladies Auxiliary food tent.  We would arrive at the show grounds at the crack of dawn.  And when my Dad saw their tent, he would park the trailer and make a beeline to get a strawberry rhubarb pie.  He would buy the entire pie, and pay for it then, and we would pick it up when I was done competing. We would drive back to the barn, and would talk about how the day went. Whether I had a good ride, whether the judging was fair (according to Dad, it was fair if I won, it was unfair if I didn’t..) It was a special time, just the two of us, and it is my favorite memory of time with him. He made me feel like I could  achieve whatever I wanted to.

Once we got the horse home and taken care of, and unhitched the horse trailer, we would head home and eat that pie.  He loved it just as much as I did.

My father has been gone for over ten years now, and I miss him every day. And every time I have strawberry rhubarb pie, it brings me back to our precious time together.

So now, from this birthday on, I have a new ritual.  I will always make strawberry rhubarb pie on my birthday.  And in my heart, I will be eating it with my Dad.

strawberry rhubarb pie-cropped