Banana Bread and Mayonnaise Cake Recipes

There’s been considerable interest in the recipes I wrote about yesterday, so in the spirit of the holidays (and so you don’t have to look them up on Google and wonder which one) I’ll write them out. It’s not like they’re family secrets. Sorry there’s no photos – we tend to eat them (the goodies not the photos) too fast to remember to take pictures.

Mayonnaise Cake

3 cups flour

1 1/2 cup mayonnaise (I use the mayo made with olive oil, and no, salad dressing won’t work)

1 1/2 cup water

1 1/2 cup sugar

1/2 cocoa

3 tsp baking soda

1 1/2 tsp salt

I mix the water and mayo together first and then just dump things in and whir them around. I have one of those big stand mixers so it’s easy to set it going and go get other ingredients. It’s a pretty forgiving cake. The salt and baking soda I add with the flour. After it’s thoroughly mixed (and tasted, nothing like chocolate cake batter) pour it into two 9″ greased and floured round pans if you want a layer cake or one 13 x 9 inch (greased and floured) which is what I always use.

Bake at 350 degrees for roughly 30-35 minutes. I always stick a toothpick in the middle to test for done-ness and if it comes out gooey, leave it in a few more minutes but not too long as you’ll want the cake to remain moist.

I’ve made various icings for it from chocolate to mocha, but our favorite is a creamy lemon made with whipped cream cheese and confectioners sugar and squirts of fresh lemon juice until it tastes like you want it to. Just make sure to completely cool the cake before you ice it.

Banana Bread (2 loaves)

2 c. sugar

1 cup butter (you can see why I only make this once a year)

4 eggs

4 cups white flour

1 1/2 tsp salt

2 tsp soda

2 tsp baking powder

6 to 7 fairly ripe bananas (depending on size)

1/2 cup nuts

1/2 cup chocolate chips

Cream butter and sugar, add eggs, add bananas one at a time, add flour and salt, soda, baking powder, mix well, add nuts and or chocolate chips. I always cheat a little on the chocolate chips because they are soooooo good with the banana flavor but don’t cheat a lot or they will end up heavy and gooey on the bottom rather than mixed in the batter. Sometimes, I toss the chocolate chips lightly in flour to help them stay where they belong.

Pour into two greased and floured loaf pans and bake at 350 degrees for about an hour. I use a knife blade to test done-ness in these. If gooey, I let them bake another few minutes but again, you don’t want the loaves to dry out and they’ll continue baking a bit from interior heat after you remove them from the oven.

Okay. Go have fun. Eat lots over the holidays. We’re celebrating, right?

And cheers to all of you. Thank you for being the gift of a loyal reader. You’re the reason I keep doing this because I know you’ll like it and comment (well, I do it for me, too, because sometimes I just need to write something that’s off the cuff and fun and I don’t have to revise and revise and revise and think about…).

Janet

Weather Report

20160502_163351Family history lives in these yellow blooms and the tightly curled purple buds beyond them. Layers and layers of family and stories. One of the main reasons I love teaching my workshop, Saving Grandpa’s Stories–and Grandma’s too! is because I grew up with stories.

History isn’t only made by people in history books; it’s made by ordinary people living ordinary lives and telling the good parts.

The yellow iris are from my father’s mother, Grandma Sunderland, via Cousin Linda’s garden who got them from Grandma. Grandma Walt, we called her as her husband, our father’s father, was Grandpa Walt. Grandma and Grandpa Walt. That’s how it was. She had a first name but we never called her that; in fact, her first name is my middle name and since Grandma’s name was a secret, my middle name is secret. I never use it, not even the first initial.

We’ve had buckets of rain lately so the garden is voluptuous. Stuff is blooming everywhere. And then it gets sunny and hot and stuff explodes. We’ve had heavy thunderstorms, gloriously noisy affairs. Last night alone we got just short of two inches. I think of Dad, standing at the edge of the yard fence, looking out over the west fields and watching thunderheads form. In the spring, tornadoes were always a possibility, but our homestead on a rise so we could see ten miles in all directions. I hated the thought of having to dive for the old and dank and cobweb strewn cellar if he thought it necessary. But tornadoes prefer flat surfaces and draws to climbing any kind of hill, so tornadoes, as a rule, ran off around the south side and down a draw where they tangled in pasture woods. Dad was a story-teller. Stories were always a good reason to take a break  and lean on a hoe or a tractor tire. One of his favorites was telling about the times he hired Lawrence Welk’s band to play for dances on a wooden platform in the pasture at the end of our lane.

Dad was my father after my first father died. He married a widow with five kids and brought us to the farm. He was short and dark, his lineage Bohemian. And he loved to polka. It has just occurred to me I’m repeating my mother’s story: for my second husband, I married a Polish man about the same height as Dad, who dances a mean polka, whose hair was originally dark, and who tells East Baltimore and Patterson Park stories.

How do we ever make sense of our lives when we’re such a bundle of used-to-be stories?

Along with the iris, which I cut and bring into the house because their heads are so heavy, the rose bushes are loaded, the stems heavy with bloom, and the peonies from Cousin Howard’s yard are covered with heavy, plump buds. There will be peonies a plenty for Memorial Day.

When I moved back here from Santa Fe in 1999, I didn’t know I’d own a house and live in that house long enough for a twelve-foot newly planted willow to reach forty feet. I’ve never lived anywhere this long. When I first came back, Cousin Howard and I would go out to dinner. One of the early times, as we sat across from each other at a hotel dining room table for two next to the window, and we picked up our white cloth napkins and lay them on laps, I looked at Howard, he of the lovely white beard, and said, “We know who you look like, Grandpa Sunderland. You’re one of the oldest cousins, so who do I look like?’

Well. Howard reared back in his chair, eyes wide as if completely astonished at my ignorance, and said, “Why, Grandma Sunderland, of course.”

I hooted laughing. “So Grandpa and Grandma Sunderland are at dinner.”

He grinned wide through his beard and his eyes twinkled just like Grandpa Sunderland’s. “I guess so.”

I had no idea I looked like Grandma Sunderland. I knew I baked bread and biscuits like her and rolled out dough like her. I’ve never been able to duplicate her sugar cookies although I’ve tried. My hands look like hers although she’d had two middle fingers chopped off at the first joint when a young teen by an errant hatchet aiming for a chicken’s neck. I used to bite my nails and I’ve certainly banged up my hands on more than one occasion, but I have all my fingers.

The purple buds among the yellow blooms are from my mother’s father, Grandpa Joe. He tended iris and roses and apple trees and cherry trees and an expansive vegetable garden in our backyard in Barnes, Kansas where we lived from the time I was four to nine. Railroad tracks ran at the back of our long yard. Grandpa was the depot agent. A chicken house with chickens sat at the edge of a ditch before the ditch rose to the tracks. The ground was built up so high for the tracks, evenly spaced and wooden ties-shored tunnels ran under it. We’d stand in the ditch and dare each other to run into the tunnel as the Missouri-Pacific thundered past above our young heads. It probably wasn’t running as fast as we thought, however, because the depot was only about three blocks further on. But those engines, which still belched smoke when I was a kid, were huge and heavy and loud. I remember kids putting pennies on the track but I never did. I worried it would derail Grandpa’s train. And we’d been warned often enough to stay off the tracks. Grandpa Joe also had a special spot in the shade under one tree near the house where coffee grounds got dumped. That was so worms would come and make a colony and my father could find them with only a brief dig to go fishing.

The preacher, Bob, who’d known us forever, told a story about the garden and chickens at my mother’s funeral. He remembered when the chickens got loose and into the garden’s garlic patch, and mother fried up garlic flavored chicken for weeks.

I tried that once with fresh garlic in the flour and pan before cooking. My sons were not impressed. Mom’s garlic chicken is still their story when we’re together. “No garlic chicken!” they say.

Grandpa Joe’s purple iris smelled exactly like grape pop. You can’t find that kind of iris at a nursery. But a farm neighbor I visited one day dug up bags full of tubers for me and now I have Grandpa Joe’s grape-pop purple iris.

Who am I in this trail of flowers and weather and bird song? Life is like writing: the good stuff is in the revision process. I can keep track, more or less, of personal revisions and renewals, but it’s a long list. And now I’ve recreated childhood.

The house we live in looks like Grandpa Joe’s house in Barnes, and if you’d cut it in half, long ways, it would look like the Baltimore row home Cliff grew up in. The metal frame you can sort of see behind the iris is a metal shelf from his mom’s place. Much of our furniture is from that Baltimore row home, which we brought back here after Mom sold the house and moved into a senior’s apartment building.

Cliff tells stories of his brother banging into the Duncan Fife china cupboard corners as he dashed from room to room. We have a small cupboard his grandfather, Dziadz, Polish for grandfather, built. Our home is filled with stories. Every painting, every piece of art, every photograph on our walls (and we have many) comes with a story.

The sky’s been clouding up again as I’ve written, sitting at the wide front upstairs window with a Romare Bearden quote taped to the sill: Artists are like mice. They need old houses where they can roam around and nobody bothers them.

We have that kind of house. The kind of house a child might draw: peaked roof, front door flanked by windows, a tree out front.

Across the bottom of the drawing, I’ll write, Honey, I’m home.

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Daily Post: Cousin It

149086_337246546397739_1319801678_nI simply had to reply to this Daily Post: “We all have that one eccentric relative who always says and does the strangest things. In your family, who’s that person, and what is it that earned him/her that reputation?”

One eccentric person? We have a whole family of eccentric people. In fact, I can’t name one person in our family who isn’t eccentric. That’s probably what keeps us all together. We’re all odd.

Recently, my niece, Jaquelyn Sunderland, posted this sign on Facebook: My doctor asked if any members of my family suffered insanity; I replied, no, we all seem to enjoy it.

And that’s the bottom line. We’re all enjoyably eccentric.

Imagine the whole family, and we now number close to fifty in the nuclear family, in one room for a holiday dinner. Or a picnic outside. Now that would make more sense. Along with outside, we’d have fireworks and a bonfire and bottles of wine and probably bourbon. For example, you shoulda seen the family gathering on the farm a couple years ago with rain and mud and planks across puddles. And music. Lots of music. Our own private Woodstock, you could say. Just us.

Yep. A little eccentric. The whole batch of us. And proud of it.

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An Open Letter to My Great-Great-Grandmother

Dear Lucinda, no, no perhaps I have no right to be so informal. After all, I didn’t know you nor you me. In fact, I didn’t even know about you until last summer when my husband and I drove out to Jewell County, Kansas to see the land where my mother was born, where my grandmother and my great-grandfather and great-grandmother were born, my great-grandfather your last son, the one born in Indian Country at the end of the 17th Century.

I knew my great-grandparents but not your granddaughter, my Grandmother Margaret. She died when I was young, maybe four, after the time my sister was born. We lived in Arkansas. She lived in Kansas. There’s a story of her driving down with my grandpa to visit a year or so before she died. I was somewhere down the dirt road past our house. I’ve always wandered, even when young. I guess I got that from you. Their car slowed, I expect. I imagine my grandfather rolling down his window to ask a little blond-headed, blue-eyed, barefoot girl where my daddy lived. Well, he probably didn’t say where’s your daddy, he probably asked if I knew where Jeanette Sunderland lived, that was my mother. It seems I pointed down the road and said the famous line repeated in family stories, “Ya’ll comin’ to ah house?”

That’s all I know—the story and the line. You might have been appalled at the slurring casualness of my speech; I expect your granddaughter, Grandma Margaret, might have been, as she was an educated woman and wrote poetry. All I knew was that people laughed when they heard that line at the end of a very short story. My mother was educated, and she might have cringed at my accent, I don’t remember, but then she had three children and ducks and chickens to tend. She might not have done much reading in those days. Or much pronunciation training. I was born in San Francisco, but we’d lived in Arkansas all the time I was learning to talk and my favorite neighbor, Mis McNeil who fed me peanuts, talked like that. You’d be pleased to know I grew up to be a writer and a public speaker who is very particular with her words and pronunciation.

But I knew your son, Great-Grandpa Moore and his wife Great-Grandma Moore. By the time I knew them, they’d moved to Marshall County, following their daughter Margaret who’d married a railroad man. Married outside the church—a wayward girl, I gather. I probably get that part of me from her. You wandered but I doubt you were every wayward. Great-Grandmother was a Dillon and stern but she had beautiful white hair. I guess I get that from her. The hair, I mean, and sometimes the sternness. Great-Grandpa always had bad breath but I loved to sit on his lap. He laughed all the time. I guess that means you loved him pretty well, even after moving across the country from the Carolinas, step by step, marrying and burying husbands, moving on, collecting new last names and assorted children, until Great-Great-Grandpa Moore (you outlived him too) made you a home in a dug out against a hill above a stream in Jewell County. Family legend says my great-grandpa, your youngest son, was the first white child born west of the Missouri, but I don’t know how true that is. You’d probably know. I know Kansas Pioneer is written on his tombstone just below his name.

We’re a story-telling family, so I’ve made up a story you might have told my great-great grandfather when he was young. I hope you like it.

You’re sitting with an open Bible in your lap beside the pot-bellied stove in your dug out, the home you lived in until you died at ninety-three, and a neighbor has come to visit and see if you need anything. You’re already in your late eighties and Mr. Moore, your husband, my great-great grandfather has died. You hair is still dark and pulled back into a severe bun at the back of your head. You’re wearing a hand-knit shawl.

The neighbor woman asks if you’re doing all right and you nod. “I’m fine,” you say. “I didn’t see you in church this morning,” she says. “Figured I’d ask if you needed something.” You run your open hand across a page of the great book in your lap, smoothing a fragile page. “I was reading. I’m fine.”

I didn’t know about Quakers until last summer, either, but now I’m shortchanging your story to tell another of mine. I mean, I knew about them and I’d heard Mother’s stories of her Quaker family, especially Uncle Henry who said to a stubborn mule, “I shall not beat thee, I shall not curse thee, but I shall yank on thy dang-blasted head!” I always liked that line. What I didn’t know was that there weren’t any rules or rituals in the Quaker church, nothing to argue about. Just read the Bible and be kind. That’s a pretty good rule, no rules. Maybe there’s more I don’t know about, but I never heard any stories about Quakers arguing. Just Uncle Henry, yanking on the mule’s halter because he wouldn’t drink from the tank Uncle Henry led him to.

Anyway, your story con’t.

“I was thinking about Mr. Moore this morning,” you say. “And I was remembering something that happened shortly after we got here. He went out to check on those cows we’d managed to keep alive from Indiana, and he found a party of Indians skinning one to cut it up. Isn’t that a strange way to say it…a party of Indians. Well, they were elbow deep in grease and blood, but they threw down their skinning knives and ran toward the horses. Mr. Moore said two of them had grabbed bows before he got their attention. He held up both hands, faced them with open hands, and he hollered, ‘Wait.” (You hold up your hands to demonstrate.) Not real loud, he told me, just loud enough to get their attention. They stopped. He turned one open hand toward the half-skinned cow and he nodded. Then he rubbed his belly and nodded again. They were staring at him real hard, he said, bows in one hand, reaching for something, maybe arrows. He patted his chest once and pointed over his shoulder, turned his horse, and rode away. He knew they didn’t have food, we’d heard stories of villagers starving, children mostly. They didn’t follow and they didn’t shoot. A couple of mornings later, we found a big pile of firewood down by the stream. The Indians had brought it in trade. He was a good man, Mr. Moore. I was proud of him.

“No. I don’t need anything. Thank you for coming. I didn’t have anyone to tell this story to and it needed telling. Now it’s done.”

In a Quaker Cemetary

In a Quaker Cemetery

The Dream Inside: Daily Post–Containers

Windows of Dreams
Windows of Dreams

While these windows don’t look like anything much, in reality they contain a dream. And not only a dream, but a dream of nearly forty years. Hard to imagine, isn’t it, that two windows and a red stepladder might hold so much.

Years ago, when I returned to college to complete an undergraduate degree, my life was in chaos; grief followed me; and I knew I was in trouble. While I have, as most will attest, a less than stellar memory, I clearly see myself walking across campus on a sidewalk bordered on the right by green, fresh grass and noticing a sign outside the low brick building on my left–Counseling Center. Abruptly turning in, I made an appointment. My counselor, Tim Lowenstein, taught me bio-feedback and self-guided visual meditation.

When I needed to go to a quiet and safe place, I’d visualize going to the farm, walking down the lane toward the road (Mom and Dad still lived on the farm so I couldn’t go to the house), turn left on the road towards the bridge over Mission Creek, climb over the fence to a wide grassy patch of pasture on the south side of the creek, and go to the cabin I’d built in my mind. I’d sit on the porch in a rocking chair to breathe and be at peace.

That went on for several years. I also talked to Dad from time to time about the farm’s future. When I worked on a BFA in metals, I’d talk about an artists’ retreat. How I’d build cabins at the perimeter, how his old heavy anvil would be useful again. I had to let go of that dream plan when I decided I’d never be more than an adequate visual artist and went back to acting. But I hadn’t forgotten the farm.

Mom and Dad moved to town; I moved everywhere else, including New York and Mexico, but the farm remained a place of peace and safety. After all, how loud can it be on a place six miles from the nearest paved road? By that time, I’d become a writer, but that made being on the farm even more attractive. I continued dreaming of a writer’s retreat.

My bookcase filled with Annie Dillard and William Least Heat Moon, Edward Abbey and Diane Glancy. Jane Brox wrote Clearing Land: Legacies of the American Farm and I underlined and underlined passages: “The heart of the New World had its own name: prairie. The long open center of the word conjures an endless, calm, undefined expanse…”

Dad died. Mother followed ten years later.

By then, I’d moved back to Kansas, my brother moved to Hawaii, and I took over managing the family farm, planted to tallgrass prairie, and with some of the outbuildings still intact although not the house. I’d helped Dad tear down to make way for a new double wide mobile home. But Dad saved the timbers of the old house and built a room onto the double wide, which we called The Little House, to accommodate kids when they came home. They’d sold the double wide when they moved into town, but the Little House still stood. Dead birds in the screens; pack rat nests in the basement; old jars of canned vegetables in the corner “cellar”; mold on the walls. I cleaned and tossed.

My husband and I bought an old camper and put it on the land. We’d go up when the weather permitted. Too hot and the air conditioner didn’t operate; too cold and the furnace couldn’t keep up, but we went. The folding panel of the camper shower cracked and leaked water onto the floor, but we went. We painted the inside walls of the Little House and turned it into a writing room. The antenna outside for television reception finally broke; we resorted to videos. The ceiling began to leak; we resorted to duct tape inside and vinyl coating on the aluminum roof; the mice and bugs got in; we resorted to moth balls, rat poison, and stinky air “freshener” when we left each time and swept up dead bugs and tossed dead mice when we returned. It was a process as they say, but the camper continued to decay.

It wasn’t until we were mid-way into the reconstruction of the Little House, adding a kitchen and bathroom, a new roof, new insulation and siding that closed cracks to critters, new front deck, and driving the two and a half-hour drive up, again, to take light fixtures and paint and to once more clean out the basement, when, on the two and a half-hour drive back that evening, I woke from a doze and realized a dream was coming true.

An artist’s retreat was about to be born.

This is land my grandpa’s father homesteaded in the 1800’s, the man who’d walked the long journey to St. Joe to buy supplies like salt and sugar and lug it back. Grandpa told stories of the Jesse James’ gang coming by one time his father was on a trek to St. Joe and how they’d asked for dinner, politely, and slept the night. This is where Grandpa traded with the Otoe Indian tribe–cattle for firewood–whose reservation was north of our place. This was where his wife died and where Grandpa died. This is where Dad grew up. This is where I grew up and couldn’t wait to get away. And then, it’s where I returned.

Dream your dreams, boys and girls. Because you know what? The more you dream, even with editing, they may just come true.

And the windows? I’ll put a desk in front of those windows and sit there and look. Here is the prairie. This is what dreams are made of.

Night comes to the prairie.