a spirit-lifting banana bread

We missed a Gator football game last weekend, despite having had season tickets for years and years.  It was a big deal, missing that particular game, the Florida-LSU game.

I’ve been known to skip a game or two – okay, maybe even three – during the college football months. My usual reasons are: (1) work; or (2) the game will be over too late; or (3) it’s too darn hot; or (4) I just want to stay home and bake something and write and sit quietly, in a quiet house, with air conditioning, and access to clean bathrooms. My husband, though, he never skips a home game. Like, ever, in 20-plus years.

Sam injured his back a couple of months ago, during a workout, when he heard and felt a pop during one of the exercises. Over time, his symptoms worsened, an MRI showed a nasty ruptured disc, and he’s now seen an orthopedic surgeon and a neurosurgeon. There was an epidural injection last week (fingers-crossed that it was fungus-free), and there may be surgery in the future.

So we stayed home last weekend and skipped the game.

I spent a lot of time trying to write, trying to get words onto screen. But the good words – the right words that turn into great sentences and even better paragraphs – those words just wouldn’t come. Mostly I sat at my computer, watched the blinking cursor, and wrote crappy sentences. Which I would then delete. The sentences I wrote were depressing, accurately reflecting my mood, but not saying what I wanted, what I needed, to say.

Which is, simply, that I have been sad.

Over the past few weeks, I have been sad about Sam’s back and about how it’s affected him, his life, and his outlook on life. I have been sad about how this has affected  our family. Sam has missed family dinners, because he can’t sit on a hard chair at the dinner table. He can’t pick the kids up because of his pain. He can’t walk far and he can’t sit for long – and for these two reasons, we cancelled a meticulously planned trip to New York City that was to be this weekend. And we missed – more importantly, Sam missed – that game last Saturday.

So when the words didn’t come, when I continued to feel down, I did what I usually do next. I turned to food to lift my mood. No, not eating it – though sometimes that does help – but preparing it: chopping, measuring, mixing, stirring, cooking, and baking.

I made a big pot of chicken and sausage jambalaya Saturday evening. It had enough heat in it that we all had runny noses after eating a bowlful. On Sunday, I baked a big batch of chocolate chip cookies, part of my mission to perfect a recipe I’ve been working on. The kids thought they were great, but I was dissatisfied with them.

Truthfully, I was just plain dissatisfied.

After dumping a disappointing pan of cookies into the trashcan, I spied the bunch of brown-spotted bananas we’d bought earlier in the week, sitting forlornly on the counter. I decided to rescue them from our neglect and turn them into banana bread. And, in fact, I turned them into the best banana bread I’ve tasted in a very long time.

It was that banana bread that did the trick. As the bread baked, the heady, faintly sweet aromas filled the kitchen, warm and familiar and cozy, like my son’s beloved red blanket. Before even tasting the banana bread, I felt better, felt my spirits lift.

After tasting it, I knew my life – my attitude – was back on track.

Yield: 1 9-inch loaf

Banana Bread

I believe too many banana breads are ruined by nuts, so there are no nuts in this recipe. Feel free to add them if nuts are your thing. As is, this banana bread is so moist that it’s almost creamy in texture, without being actually creamy. It is, simply, a perfect banana bread.

Ingredients:

1 cup (4.25 ounces) all-purpose flour
1/2 cup (2.75 ounces) whole wheat flour
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
4 ripe bananas
1/4 cup (4 tablespoons) butter, melted
2/3 cup sugar
1 egg, beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 cup sour cream (light or full-fat)

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and place rack in the middle of oven. Butter a 9-by-5-inch loaf pan.

In a small bowl, whisk together the flours, salt, baking soda, and cinnamon.

Use the back of a fork to mash the bananas in a large bowl. Add the melted butter, sugar, beaten egg, vanilla, and sour cream, and mix well. Finally, add in the flour mixture and stir until well-incorporated. Pour batter into the buttered loaf pan and bake for 55 to 60 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.