(We’re thrilled that this recipe is being featured at Oprah.com’s roundup of holiday recipes for 2009. For more of our featured posts, visit Oprah.com today.)
When I was in my 20s, I liked the moments before, the most. Ten minutes before a party, if I wasn’t running around trying to throw a shirt over my head after washing my hair, I sat in my suddenly clean home and looked around. Imagining my friends on the blue and white checked couch or leaning on the granite-colored countertops made me happy. I lingered in those moments, dreaming into the white space.
I’m sad to say that sometimes the imagining was better than the reality. My friends were lovely — some of them are still my friends — but nothing could live up to those expectations.
As I’ve grown older, I like being in the moment, more. Messy and mucky sometimes, like pulling rubber boots out of the mud, the moment always surprises. Those moments before are loaded, afterwards can be deflated. But the moment? Oh, the moment. I’ll never know it. I love that.
These days, though, I like the moment of just after. I love the meal, of course, but I almost like more the moment of leaning our arms on the table, napkins crumpled, glasses empty, the plates only crumbs. We’re sated and sitting, together, no one leaving yet, no expectations of anything more.
A couple of weeks ago, just after we had moved into our island home, our good friends Tita and John came over for dinner. I’ve known Tita since I first lived on this island, almost 17 years now. (good god. is that possible?) She was my teaching partner — we invented a class called American Studies, with her commonsense clear lectures on history and my hands-waving exhortations on the Beat poets. Tita taught me how to buy clothes at thrift stores, how to make a mint julep from scratch, the beauties of cake made from farmhouse cookbook recipes, and how wonderful it is to walk along the beach with my jeans rolled up haphazardly, my feet a little sore from the rocks beneath them. Her husband John is one of the most talented painters I’ve ever known. He’s also ribald and bawdy, the only man to really call me on my shit, before I met Danny. If I make John laugh so hard his face turns red and he stops breathing for a beat, I feel bigger than the sky.
And they love Danny. I waited a long time to meet him. When I lived on this island before, I told Tita one day: “Whomever I love, I’m going to bring him over here to meet you. You two have to approve.” They do, unconditionally. That happened the first time they met him.
So John and Tita came over for dinner. No expectations. We know them too well to wonder how it will go. We talked and moved around the kitchen, smiling and sipping sparkling pear cider. We leaned against the counters and dipped crackers into the hummus with preserved lemon and scraped our knives down the cliffs of St. Andre cheese perched on a plate.
(Have you tried this cheese yet? Good god. Ripe and soft as brie, St. Andre is 70% butterfat. Need I say more? Eating this together was a good moment.)
We laughed over roast pork shoulder and mashed potatoes and salads made with greens grown on the island. Little Bean slept in her room, and I listened to her breathing through the baby monitor as we talked. Dinner over, we had reached that moment. The just after.
I imagine my dear friend Molly is enjoying her moment of just after these days. For the past two and a half years, she has been dreaming of her book, picking out recipes with meticulous care, writing and writing, sometimes tearing out her hair, sometimes soaring with the words. I’ve known her now for almost four years (good god. how is that possible?), after we met through these blogs of ours, and walked through the Ballard Farmers’ market on a sunny September Sunday. She had just met Brandon. I remember a conversation we had about him, and his wondering about storage onions. I had only known her for half an hour, but I knew that she had met him.
I met Danny six months after that.
How much has changed.
But Molly’s book, which she has been dreaming and anticipating, is out now. A Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes from My Kitchen Table. Have you read it? Many have. It’s selling like hotcakes, just out of the oven, slathered in butter and waiting for syrup. It’s such a lovely book, filled with marvelous stories and recipes that work. Molly makes you hungry, not just for food, but for the chance to know her. I’m very much honored that I do know her, and quite well.
I am the person that married her and Brandon, standing in front of the water in Bellingham, just after Danny and I were married. I’ll never forget those moments, seeing them close, me the only one on that side of them. Brandon hugged me, hard, a dozen times, before we began. I could feel how much Molly missed her father in that moment, along with the joy of marrying Brandon. Burg would have been so proud of her.
He would be so proud of her now.
I adore Molly, the Molly you might know from reading Orangette, or seeing her evocative photographs on flickr. But I love the Molly you can only know in person. Her fabulous not-quite-shiny green flat shoes, her understated tweed poncho. The way she listens to Johnny Cash and David Byrne when she’s cooking, her hair up in a messy ponytail. She has a bit of a potty mouth (when she wrote to me today, to say she couldn’t meet us in the city: “Shit, man.”) and an unexpected absurdity for someone seemingly so delicate. Molly’s always discovering new passions, like photobooth shots, the same way I am. And she’s the only person I know who gets drunk — I mean red faced and giggling — after one glass of champagne.
Molly’s also the kind of person who, in the middle of her book tour — a different city every day, throngs of people coming out to meet her — calls you from New York City to ask how your move to the island went. The girl’s got class, and a huge heart.
I love that heart of hers.
And I love her banana bread with chocolate chips and crystallized ginger.
So, just after dinner with Tita and John, I pulled my gluten-free version of Molly’s banana bread from the oven. We sat at the table, waiting for it to cool, talking about…well, unmentionable topics of conversation that quickly turned worse, and made all of us laugh. The chance to eat was the only thing that stopped that talk from spiraling downward further.
“Oh, this is good,” Tita said. (I think she never expects much from gluten-free baked goods, even though she has always liked mine.)
John ate two pieces.
There sat John and Tita, married for over 30 years, eating the banana bread that Danny and I had made, inspired by Molly’s recipe, and her love for Brandon. (And those two will still be together 30 years from now, let me tell you.) That I know them, and we were joined by this food, during a Wednesday evening dinner party for four, moved me more than I can say.
The banana bread disappeared. All I have is the photograph of this moment just after.
p.s. If you haven’t read Molly’s book, you really should. And since there was such an explosion of interest in The Flavor Bible the other day, I’m pleased to be doing another giveaway. (Molly’s giving me one of her copies for this.) Leave a comment here with a story of food connecting you and someone you love, the just after, and maybe you will win a copy of A Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes from My Kitchen Table.
Gluten-Free Banana Bread with Chocolate and Crystallized Ginger, adapted from A Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes from My Kitchen Table
We must have made this banana bread five times in the last three weeks. It’s addictive. Watch out. What’s not to love with chocolate chips and crystallized ginger?
Our friend Matthew had a bite of this bread (or, to be specific, this loaf) and said, “I think this might be better than wheat flour banana bread.” Well, hot damn! If that doesn’t inspire you to make this, I don’t know what will.
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup sorghum flour
1/2 cup tapioca flour
1/2 cup potato starch
1/2 cup teff flour
1 teaspoon xanthan gum
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
1 1/2 cups mashed banana (about 3 large bananas)
1/4 cup full-fat yogurt (or sour cream)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1/3 cup crystallized ginger
Preparing to bake. Preheat the oven to 350°. Grease a loaf pan (the usual size). Melt the butter on low heat. Set it aside to cool.
Combining the dry ingredients. Sift the four gluten-free flours into a large bowl. Stir in the xanthan gum, sugar, baking soda, and salt. Stir them all up together.
Combining the liquids. In a large bowl, combine the mashed bananas, eggs, yogurt, melted butter, and vanilla extract. Stir until they are just combined. (If you are using a stand mixer for this, be sure to mix until the liquids are just combined. You don’t want to over-cream the liquids.)
Finishing the batter. Slowly, sift the dry ingredients into the wet batter, until everything is just combined. Fold in the chocolate chips and crystallized ginger. Pour the batter into the greased loaf pan. Smooth the top.
Baking the bread. Slide the loaf pan onto the middle rack in the oven. Bake about 45 to 50 minutes, or until the loaf is golden brown and a knife slides out of the bread clean.
Cool the bread for 10 minutes in the loaf pan, and then tip it out, slowly. Allow it to cool before you slice your first piece. (well, good luck.)
Feeds about 8.