Monday, February 23, 2015

the pitch of concentration

Wow. I’m not sure what to say. I’m honored and humbled, not to mention galvanized, by your cheering. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

In the final hours of our winter break yesterday I stared into an empty refrigerator, hoping to conjure something for boys who now eat two peanut butter-and-jelly sandwiches for their mid-morning snack. I found a bunch of brown bananas mysteriously hidden at the back of the lowest shelf, so I did what any sensible person would have done: I made banana bread. In an hour, I’ll fry some eggs to eat with a slice of the leftover bread for our breakfast, then I'll take the boys to school. Alexi will head to work. Back at home, I expect I’ll feel kind of exhilarated by the pitch of concentration I haven’t had in a week due to the school break.

Months ago, Alexi helped me move one of the two desks in our office up to our bedroom. Our office is a busy, cluttered family space, and as I began working on my book I realized I needed to be able to close the door firmly behind me when I write. Close to half of our bedroom is empty space, and the room is quiet, two floors removed from the main level of the house. I pushed the desk against the back wall, where I can’t see out any of the windows. Above my desk, I hung a letter my grandfather wrote my grandmother on May 13, 1963. The envelope is tucked behind it, and on the back flap my grandmother wrote, “My dearest treasure. The only letter Bill ever wrote me.”

When I return home after the trip to school, I'll fill a glass with water to take upstairs with me, pausing at the kitchen window to take in the morning sun and the barnacle-encrusted rocks that weren't visible an hour ago. Then Nelly and I will head upstairs and I'll sit at my desk facing the wall. I’ll fight the urge to check the tide table to see if it will still be low when I’m finished writing for the day. I'll hear the UPS truck burble by and I’ll wonder if he delivered the ink for the printer I ordered a couple of days ago. Nelly will amble around the room until she decides on a spot. She’ll sigh her way to sleep, and the noise will begin to quiet. As I try to create a description of a biopsy I’ll realize I’m not entirely sure the surgeon’s device actually sounded like a nail gun, as I said it did. So I’ll search. “What does a nail gun sound like?” But even in that rabbit hole of nail gun sound effects, something will have started to happen. My surroundings and the memory I’m evoking will have switched places, and it will be the scene in my imagination that surrounds me; I’ll be sitting on an exam table covered in paper that is crinkling under my weight, instead of a desk chair. Hours later, I’ll blink like a mole as I walk back to the window, surprised by the light at that moment, the heron fishing on the beach.

Have a good week, everyone.

Banana Sour Cream Bread
Adapted from Dorie Greenspan’s Banana Cake Big and Small, as posted on Serious Eats.

If you halve the recipe, you can make it in one loaf pan, as Dorie has suggested in the original recipe. I like the elegance of a Bundt pan, and I usually have enough bananas to make this bigger version.

This banana bread is moister than any other I’ve tried, and because it is minus the nuts/fruit/chocolate that often make their way into banana bread recipes it is pretty much perfect in my boys’ opinion.

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup white whole wheat flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
2 sticks (8 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 large eggs, at room temperature
4-5 large, very ripe bananas, mashed (about 2 cups)
1 cup sour cream (or whole milk yogurt; I prefer the flavor of sour cream)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, and generously butter and flour a Bundt pan, or two loaf pans.

Whisk together the flours, baking soda, and salt, and set aside. In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the butter until creamy. Add the sugar and beat at medium speed until pale and fluffy. Add the vanilla and the egg, and beat for about 1 minute. Reduce the speed to low, and mix in the bananas. Mix in half of the flour mixture, then all of the sour cream, then the rest of the dry ingredients.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan, and bake for 65-70 minutes (55-60 minutes for a loaf pan), until a tester inserted into the center of the bread comes out clean. Cool in the pan for 10-15 minutes, then carefully turn out onto a cooling rack. Serve warm or at room temperature.


Ève said...

As ever, your writing is so simple and still so intense...
I hope these memories are not too hard to remember...

Lecia Phinney said...

Thank you for saying so, Eve. Some of the memories have been difficult - some very difficult - but mostly the figuring out of how to communicate various experiences has been an incredibly exciting creative endeavor!

Raquelita said...

Lecia, have you tried Rose Carrarini's Banana Cake? If so, would you let me know how the this one compares?

I can't wait until we can pre-order the book. You must make sure to let us all know!

Lecia Phinney said...

Raquelita: I haven't! I'll have to check it out.

I will let you know about pre-orders, for sure, but it'll be awhile! My manuscript is due September 15. The publication date hasn't yet been determined, but it will be at least a year after that. xo

hunna said...

Thank you for sharing your soulful spirit. Looking forward to reading your book.

JRA said...

Just catching up on your blog, a belated congratulations. Cannot wait for your book, I love your writing and admire your outlook on life! My two boys are the same as yours...yesterday, I made double batch of guacamole, and they ate the entire container after school for snack! I seem to be at the market every few days to stock up. Again, congrats!

Lecia Phinney said...

hunna, JRA: thank you so much!

birgit said...

yeah i stumbled by via orangettes blog and her link to your zucchini recipe
and then i read more about your life and i'm very impressed by your big big smile on your foto
and next click i find the recipe for my bananas
thank you so much
i'm your new reader
all my best wishes