Wednesday 18 June 2014

Banana Balm - In which I revisit an old column and an old hurt...

I wrote this for the August 2013 issue of Taste magazine. The events relate to May earlier that year. I want to put it in a blog post because it goes some way in explaining why I neglected my blog for so long but also because I am living proof that the heart can heal. Even from unimaginable hurts… 
During the month of May this year I was acutely aware of Jack Adriaan, but I was also holding our son Sebastiaan in my arms (much more about him later!) and all I felt was gratitude and love for a small boy who entered our life for 14 days and then left to be with his biological mother, making way for our son Sebastiaan to enter our lives and hearts. My Aunty Janet who passed away this month visited me during those months of devastation, she held me tight, called me 'dear heart' and told me she thought that the reason Jack Adriaan left was that he didn't need us as much as another boy would. I found some solace in her words. It gave me some measure of hope And like in most matters Aunty Jan was right. And so I send this column out into the universe again, all the while wishing the boy who now belongs to others so much love and happiness. May his life be blessed. 
Jack Adriaan, it was our privilege to look after you until you could be reunited with your mommy and daddy. And thank you for bringing us the joy that you did. We have no regrets.


A lot can happen in two weeks. You can go from being sublimely, deliriously happy to having your heart broken. You can become a mother to a baby boy on Day 1 and on Day14 you have to hand him back to his birth mother. You can find your faith and then lose it again. Two weeks is a long time.
I was a mother when I started to write this column on bananas. I wanted to write about them because they are boys’ fruit. I have watched small boys peel bananas the way monkeys do and derive enormous joy from eating them while the peel hangs in strips over their small, almost-always-dirty hands.  I have known boys to weep with laughter when watching cartoons where someone slips on a banana peel. I wanted to write about the healthy banana-fool-the-kids-ice-cream, the one where you place peeled banana pieces on a plate in the freezer for a couple of hours and then blitz them furiously in a blender, being sure to scrape the sides of the bowl when they stick to it and blend it again. The result is a smooth, creamy, deliciously natural banana ‘ice-cream’ which I fully intended giving to our son as soon as he could eat solids and the summer sun came out to celebrate his arrival with us. However long that took.

Having been told to sing to my baby, I started singing the familiar childhood hymn ‘All Things Bright and Beautiful’ as it was one of the few songs I knew the words to. But soon both he and I tired of that and so I sang John Lennon’s ‘Beautiful Boy’ to him instead. Now it appears that those lyrics were both a premonition and a promise of comfort. I know that my heart will heal, know that I will be happy again. I also know that while I will not carry our beautiful son in my arms, I will forever carry him in my heart.  But in the meantime, life does go on. And the bananas ripen.  And a column must be written. I briefly contemplated celebrating the decadence of  bananas fried in butter and served with bacon and maple syrup on mornings-after the-night-before. But I battle to recall those sensual, self-indulgent times. I thought about reminiscing about the deep fried bananas in rum sauce which we ate in the Caribbean but those memories were obscenely carefree. And the thought of indulgently whipping up a caramel-laden banoffee pie seemed too quick a fix, too sweet a thing for so bitter a time. So I asked my mom about the banana bread recipe she used to make for us as a special after-school treat when my brother and I were young because I didn’t know what else to make with the now rapidly over-ripening bananas  on my kitchen counter. It wasn’t a recipe she had written down anywhere, so we cobbled this one together from various sources, making sure to add the cinnamon-sugar-buttered pecans which were always her thing. This was the sweetness I remembered from my childhood. And I was grateful that on that stormy Sunday, with tears running down my cheeks, I could still bake banana bread with my mom, who, while also mourning the loss of her third grandchild, was being so strong for me. Later, sharing thick slices of warm banana bread with hot tea, I understood that you can be grateful and angry at the same time; be both distraught and comforted; that you can hold both joy and sorrow in your heart. But only when you are surrounded by the love and strength of others…

Banana Bread with Cinnamon-Sugared Pecans

1 cup of roughly chopped pecans
2 tablespoons of sugar
1 teaspoon of cinnamon
1 tablespoon of melted butter
 cups of cake flour
1 teaspoon of baking powder
1 teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda
¼ teaspoon of salt
125g of softened, unsalted butter
1 cup of sugar
2 eggs, lightly beaten
3 medium, ripe, bananas (the riper the better) mashed well with a fork
½ cup of buttermilk

Preheat over to 170 degrees. Grease a 23 x 13cm loaf tin with butter and line with baking paper.
Mix the chopped pecans, sugar, cinnamon and melted butter together and keep separate.
Sift the cake flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and salt together.
In a separate bowl, using an electric mixer, beat the butter and the sugar for about 4 minutes until the mixture is pale and fluffy. Then add the eggs, beating well after each egg has been added.
Add the mashed, well-ripened bananas  to the butter mixture and stir well.
Now slowly add the flour mixture gradually to the wet mixture, alternating with the buttermilk. Beat well after each addition.
Pour the mixture into the loaf tin and top with the pecan, cinnamon-sugar mix (the nuts will sink to the middle of the loaf in cinnamon-sugar-pecan-buttery deliciousness)
Bake for 55 minutes or until the top of the bread is firm and a warm brown colour and an inserted skewer comes out clean. Allow to cool in a tin for 15 minutes before serving.

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