Songs of Us

Monday Morning Musings:

“Now I will do nothing but listen,

To accrue what I hear into this song, to let sounds contribute
toward it.

I hear bravuras of birds, bustle of growing wheat, gossip of flames,
clack of sticks cooking my meals,

I hear the sound I love, the sound of the human voice,

I hear all sounds running together, combined, fused or following,”

–From Walt Whitman, Song of Myself

 

Beneath every cloud

watch this song bloom–

it is bright sun, wild wind,

moon murmuring peace–

ancient cycles breathe color and bloom

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We gather in a flurry of hugs and kisses,

wings outspread,

bright with color,

like tropical birds

cooing and chattering

instead of trills or caws,

I hear the sound I love,

the sound of human voices

the sound of people I love

it is a moment to remember,

my mother’s 95th birthday brunch.

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We celebrate with food and drinks

in a courtyard room,

doors open to a day of August beauty

we talk and laugh

(the sound of voices)

take photos

(the sound of groans and laughter)

we sing happy birthday

(the sound of music)

and eat the cake my daughter has baked and decorated

 

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Afterward, we take my mother home

she comments on the length of my daughters’ dresses

and I laugh that she who is nearly blind can see this

and the “designs” on one daughter’s arms

We talk about art–

her famous artist cousin, Abe Hankins,

she points out his work on her walls,

he lived with her family for a time

and taught my teenage mother dances,

he had lived in Paris and brought French style and flair,

he wasn’t a starving artist because his wife supported him

(or so my mother says)

one daughter is enchanted by a photo of my mom with her cousins

when they were all young

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my mother tries to remember a hospital she was in

when she a little girl with diphtheria

“well, it was ninety years ago,” she says

no sound of planes in the sky when she was young

no telephone in her house

parents who traveled by ship across a sea to live here

never to see their homeland again

war and peace

sounds of life and sounds of silence

fuse, follow, ancient cycle

breathe in

breathe out

 

we open presents,

more art,

this time from one daughter

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a poem and cookies from me

all sounds running together

stemming, streaming from hearts full of love

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We go home, change into PJs

eat again and watch TV

my sisters text me and my daughters–

“Can you believe I’m eating again?”

commenting on how my mom has–

well, her own sense of reality, sometimes

voices in our heads, voices on the screen

fusing together

time for dreams

 

The next morning, I wake to birdsong

it seems effortless and amazing

but what do I know?

bravura display, to my human ears

I go for a walk

listening to Hamilton

and almost dancing to the riverside

Sunday morning sunshine,

a little breeze

the end of summer,

autumn is on the way,

another cycle of the seasons,

the cicadas hum

the geese march, swim, fly, and honk

the flowers are blooming

(And I’m not throwing away my shot.)

all the sounds running together, combined—

birds and Broadway

 

In the afternoon, we go to a wine festival

taste wines

sample foods

eat the cheese and enjoy the day

enjoy each other

ancient cycles

time-bound and timeless

the sounds I love running together,

combined, fused or following,

the sound of nature

the song of myself

the song of all of us

echoing in my heart

blossoming

 

 

The Oracle seemed in tune with my weekend. We celebrated my mom’s brunch at Jerry’s Bar in Philadelphia, and we went to the Riverwinds Wine Festival in West Deptford, NJ.

A special shout out to Ken of Rivrvlogr  of writes poetry, especially haiku and tanka, of nature and current events, and Robin of Witlessdatingafterfifty  who takes photographs of her family and area of Ohio and write book reviews in verse. I truly appreciated that they both spent time going through my past blog posts yesterday. Check out their blogs!

 

 

 

 

 

Birthdays and Bananas–Yes, We Have Some Today

Whether you cut them up into your cornflakes, oatmeal, or yogurt, bake them into bread or cakes, or eat them plain, enjoy bananas now—before they disappear from your local grocery store. Cavendish bananas, the only type of banana found in the United States (except for in a few, select locations), are susceptible to a variation of Panama disease, a fungus that wiped out the Cavendish’s precursor, the Gros Michel banana earlier in the twentieth-century.

By all accounts, the Cavendish is rather bland and not as tasty as other varieties—and there are over 1,000 different varieties of bananas that people in many parts of the world enjoy. Bananas were first widely introduced to the US at the 1876 Centennial in Philadelphia, but it did not take long for the fruit to become a favorite. By the early twentieth-century, many cookbooks included banana puddings, pies, cakes, and other banana recipes. Fannie Farmer’s 1904 Food and Cookery for the Sick and Convalescent explained how to serve a banana:

Remove skin from a thoroughly ripe banana, and scrape to remove the astringent principle which lies close to skin. Cut in thin slices, arrange on a serving-dish, sprinkle with sugar and a few drops lemon juice.

Banana is served frequently with sugar and cream, but proves difficult of digestion to most people in health: therefore its use would better be avoided for the sick.

–Fannie Merritt Farmer, Food and Cookery for the Sick and Convalescent (Boston: Little, Brown, 1904), 207.

 

 The United Fruit Company (later Chiquita) cleared rainforests and built shipping networks, which along with political domination, control over laborers, and aggressive marketing, helped to make bananas one of the most popular fruits in the United States. Dan Koeppel, author of Banana: The Fate of the Fruit That Changed the World discusses the history of bananas and everything else you ever wanted to know about the fruit. I heard him recently on an episode of the NPR show Science Friday. Koeppel likens the Cavendish banana to a Big Mac: “The Cavendish is the fruit equivalent of a fast-food hamburger: efficient to produce, uniform in quality and universally affordable.” *

         In any case, the Cavendish is what we have here. At least for now.

So what do bananas have to do with birthdays? Well, this year our younger daughter, now living in her first post-college apartment, asked me to make her a banana cake for her birthday, which was last week. Our older daughter’s birthday is today, but unfortunately, she lives too far away to make a birthday cake delivery practical. Sorry, dear. February is birthday month for our family. My husband’s birthday is next week, and my mother-in-law’s birthday is this weekend. Yay! More birthday cakes!

 

The cake our daughter requested is a banana cake with chocolate chips and cream cheese frosting. Now you understand. Yes, major true drool factor here.

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Chocolate Chip Banana Cake

 I’ve adapted this recipe from this one: http://www.bakersroyale.com/cakes/chocolate-chip-banana-cake/

(Her layer cake is much prettier than mine, but it is much easier to prepare and transport a cake in a 13 x 9 inch pan.)

 

2 ½ cups flour

1 tsp. baking soda

Pinch of salt

½ cup butter

1 cup white sugar

¾ cup brown sugar

1 tsp. vanilla

2 Eggs

3-4 bananas

2/3 cup buttermilk (I used dried buttermilk powder.)

1 package good quality mini chocolate chips

 Cream Cheese Frosting:

8 oz. package of cream cheese (Neufchatel is fine, too.)

4 oz. (1 stick) of butter

1 tsp. vanilla

Approximately 2 cups of confectioner’s sugar

 

Combine flour, baking soda, salt, and if using buttermilk powder). Whisk to combine.

 

Beat butter and sugars until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time; beat until combined. Add bananas. I kind of use the mixer to mix them in—they are not so totally mashed, and the little chunks give it a more banana-y flavor.  Add flour mixture alternately with buttermilk (or water, if using dried buttermilk). Stir in chocolate chips. Pour batter into a greased and floured 9 x 13 pan. Bake at 350 degrees for about 40 minutes. Cool. Then frost—if you haven’t eaten all the icing already.

Combine frosting ingredients. I don’t like a super-sweet frosting, so adjust the sugar to your taste. Try not to slather it all over yourself, but you will want to.

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Not a very good photo, but it is delicious!

 

 

 

 

 

 

* Dan Koeppel, “Yes, We Will Have No Bananas,” New York Times, June 18, 2008,

Sisters

THE Cake

“You had the left side and I had the right
With a line down the middle so we wouldn’t fight
Two sisters sharing a room
With desk in the middle of two twin beds”

Terri Hendrix, “The Sister’s Song”

(Performed here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VAuLhGHgQoY)

Here is one of my earliest memories: I woke up early in the morning (yes, even as a toddler I was a “morning person”).  I was between two and three years old, and I wanted to wake my little sister. We’re not quite two years apart in age, and she was my first and best friend. At that time, we lived in a big house in Germantown, Pennsylvania, just outside of Philadelphia. My room was next to my baby sister’s, and my parents’ bedroom was perpendicular to it on the second floor. (My two older siblings had their bedrooms on the third floor.) My mom saw me heading to my sister’s room, and held her fingers to her lips, gesturing to me to be quiet and to get back in my room. I think I went back to my room, but then snuck out a few minutes later to wake my sister so we could play.

After we moved to Dallas when I was three and she was one, my little sister and I shared a room. There was no line down the middle, at least no real line. I’m certain we fought, but we played more. We had some epic evening bed jumping sessions when we were supposed to be sleeping. As children before and after have done, we pretended the space in the middle between our beds was water or quicksand or held some sort of danger, and we had to jump from one bed to the other to escape the danger.  Then when my mom came to investigate the noise, we quieted down, only to burst out in giggles after she walked away. We thought we were fooling our parents, but I’m sure now we were not.

We made up games; we made up words, imaginary characters, and songs.  We ganged up on our parents and older sister. We shared clothes, friends, and confidences. We were sisters and friends.

When my then-boyfriend, now husband, proposed, my little sister was the first person I told. When she officially “came out,” I was one of the first to know.

When I was pregnant with my first child, I told everyone I didn’t care if I had a boy or a girl. And truly, I’m certain I would have loved and adored a son, but secretly, I did hope for a girl. And then, when I was pregnant for a second time, again I secretly hoped for another daughter because I hoped they would be friends the way my younger sister and I had been. They were, and they are.

My little sister’s birthday is in a few days—on Election Day here in the US. So here are early Happy Birthday wishes to you, my amazing and wonderful sister. I love you.  We don’t see each other enough because of our driving phobias, but I think of you often.  Good luck with your election—and if I lived in your district, I would vote for you, maybe more than once. (Joking!)

***

This is the birthday cake known as THE Cake in our family. It is easy to prepare and easy to transport to gatherings. It does not require icing, but a scoop of ice cream is nice. My perfect choice would be coffee. Over the years, I’ve adapted the recipe, so there is more chocolate than in the original recipe. Really, can you ever have too much chocolate?

The Chocolate Cake

2 cups sugar

2 cups flour

2 cups brewed coffee, cooled

1 tsp. vanilla

1 cup cocoa (Plus extra for dusting the pan)

1 cup mayonnaise

2 tsp. baking soda

2 eggs

Chocolate chips (I use Ghiardelli bittersweet—about 1 cup more or less)

Confectioner’s sugar for top, if desired

Grease and flour 13 x 9 pan. I use cocoa instead of flour.

Place all ingredients, except chocolate chips, in a large mixing bowl. With mixer at low speed, beat until well blended. Add chocolate chips—approximately half a bag. They will sink to the bottom. Pour batter into pan.

Bake at 350 degrees for 40-45 minutes. Leave the cake in the pan. When cooled, you can top it with confectioner’s sugar (add chopped or shaved chocolate to it for a special touch.)