banana bread

Grief Cookies – A Story of Resilience

I just turned it over onto the cutting board. The banana bread, that is, as my pinky fingers flexed to hold the hot glass bread pan over the corner. It bounced out of the pan. Success. No oozing. No repeat experience like this one. I am learning to follow the instructions and actually leave the gooey batter in the oven for the full time that the recipe calls for. It usually works, if you follow the directions.

I think that’s why I like baking. You take flour – yum – sugar – double yum – and butter -yes please – and can blend them into all kinds of beautiful things. Add the essence of cocoa, a bit of fruit, chunks of chocolate and the results get even better. I can follow a recipe and mix and blend and whisk and the outcome is usually pretty tasty. Sure, sometimes an extra bit of baking soda gets in, but that just adds fluff to the cookie. Fluff, cushion, softness, chew. A beautiful thing.

I wish there was a recipe for grief.

Er no, ha, not a recipe. All that requires is loss of something big or small.

I wish there was something like a baking manual for grief. A set of instructions that tell me to do this or that and put your emotions and anger, newly complicated family relationships, and friends who don’t “get you” anymore in an oven at 350 degrees for ten minutes and ding, you’re done. You’re free from this drastic change and ready to be enjoyed.

No such thing.

This week Dylan has been sick so I’ve been trying to keep myself occupied in the evenings as he rests on the couch. On Tuesday, after watching The Crown (we have to pace ourselves people. There’s only eight more episodes in Season Two!) I wanted to bake. I went searching in my pile of Cooking Light magazines. I had a specific one in mind.  I started with the March 2016 edition. No, that couldn’t be right. The April edition would have arrived by then.

Cooking Light April 2016.

I inhaled sharply.

That magazine sat on my counter top as I cooked the last meal my dad would ever eat. Its open pages got speckled with oil as we prepared the main meal. I had tagged the corner, folding the fragile paper over as I was waiting to make the cookies after they went home for the evening. On March 17, 2016 I made these cookies and they turned out perfectly. And then, the morning of March 18, 2016, my dad died.

I ate these cookies the morning of his funeral for breakfast. I chewed absent-mindedly on the chocolate chunks and sea salt as I stared out the window from our kitchen, moving my foot against my calves as my black tights bothered my legs. Then someone told me it was time to go.

Later, in the evening, I offered the cookies to my cousins who were visiting from out of town. They reached into the jar, fingering the morsels, looking at me cautiously as they took a bite.

Weeks later I put that magazine back in the pile and ignored it. For almost two years. It took that long for me to be able to flip through the pages and find the recipe. Tuesday night I texted my mom for support, got out my white mixing bowl and I baked.

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I mixed flour and sugar and honey and butter and chocolate. I rolled the dough into tiny little balls. Smooshed salt into them with my fingers. I waited while chemistry worked its magic in the oven. And after the cookies cooled, I sat on the kitchen floor and ate one. Or two. Ok, yes, two. Then I packed up a tupperware full of them and sent them to work with Dylan.

Grief cookies.

Bummer there is no set of instructions for getting over grief. Maybe I never will. But I will continue to get back my strength, choose resilience, and bake. The gift of beautiful baked goods lightens others hearts. Extra baking soda effervesces and softens mine.

 

 

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Twice Baked Banana Bread

It’s Saturday night and the CU Buffaloes football game plays in the background. My in-laws and husband sit in our den, yelling occasionally at the tv. These are the noises of comfort and of fall, of predictability, and of safety. I cherish these times with my family, and cheering for the alumni team is never a bad thing.

I get bored watching football, though, and so I decide it’s time to bake. I look in my inventory, er… pantry, and pull out chocolate chips, flour, sugar, baking soda, and put the frozen bananas to use. Yes, banana bread is an easy, cozy recipe that takes less than an hour.

Log on to Pinterest and find a simple recipe. Do I have all the ingredients? Check.

Heat oven.

Combine ingredients, blend, pour batter into pan, put in oven and set the time.

Thirty five minutes. Should be good to go. Return to football game.

Timer goes off. Complete the toothpick test and toothpick comes out clean.

Wait fifteen minutes. Take out cutting board and turn pan of bread out onto the counter.

The beautifully golden crust starts oozing all over.

“Oh shit!” I mumble to myself. Then, louder, “Oh shit, OH SHIT!” as the gooey, chocolatey mess sludges and expands all over my counter top.

Thirty five minutes was not long enough. Frantically check recipe which clearly states bake for 40 – 50 minutes.

Scoop up half baked banana bread and spoon liquid dough off of the counter and back into the baking pan. Set timer for twenty more minutes.

The result, a crispy on the outside, delightfully chewy on the inside banana bread. I call it “twice baked banana bread.” Still tastes good, but looks less than appealing. I think the blurriness of the photo does the situation justice.

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Sometimes, this baking exercise feels like a metaphor for my year. Attempts at moving forward got turned upside down.

The illusion of a beautiful exterior got smushed as my efforts collapsed, and the ooey gooey emotional mess was left. And those emotions spread all over the place.

I think the last few months have been our attempt to scoop back up the remnants of the muddied ingredients, and we are in the oven cooking into a new form.

Here’s the key though. I did not give the bread enough time to become beautiful. I rushed and as a result, the outcome was less than ideal. So remember folks, give your bread enough time in the heat to transform into what it was meant to be.

Plus, there is always someone who likes the crispy, burnt edges.