ROOTS & WINGS
The Archives in New York City. Taking the F train from Brooklyn where we were staying with my brother Michael, we would find ourselves at the Chambers Street Station and, map in hand, come up from under ground and step out into the New York summer sunlight, piercing and bright, and, hand shading our eyes, look for the Twin Towers, our point of reference, like tall compass points standing proudly erect, guiding us to our destination, beckoning us, welcoming us as the Statue of Liberty did for my poor ancestors.
Simon and I in New York. I had been researching my genealogy for some time and realized that a trip to that great Mecca of Russian Jewish immigration was necessary, days must be spent at the city archives as well as the National Archives. So while JP and Clem trekked off to distant lands, Simon and I flew over the ocean and landed on my brother’s doorstep, pens and notebooks in hand, a trip for two sealed with a deal: every other day we’d do mom’s research at one of the two archives, alternating every other day with something fun chosen by Simon.
Days at the archives are tough and grueling, lights dimmed, microfilm machines humming, flipping through card files, cranking the handle on the machine while watching card after card or document after document roll by, spin by, rush by, words faded with time like memories dimmed. Tummy growling with hunger, just one more file, I know it’s here, that one file, one document, one name; marriages, births, arrivals, petitions. And joy, celebration with each discovery, a family coming into focus, a history coming alive before my very eyes.
And Simon, just a child with the promise of something fun and exciting to come tomorrow, pizza out or a day spent at the Natural History Museum. But he was a child full of patience and good will, impressing strangers who never failed to come up to us at the end of the day and tell me how well behaved he was, a look of relief written across their tired brow. I bought him toys to entertain himself with, Bat Man and Spider Man plastic figures and he would spend part of each day lying on his back on the floor of the archives living action men adventures apparently much more exciting than my return to the past. And every once in a while up he would pop and ask if he could press the button or turn the handle on the machine.
And the next day off we would go in the other direction, our New York adventure for two, to the zoo or a museum or a toy store or out fishing with Eugene. And all the while Simon would constantly interject “I want to live here,” his American side all but bursting out of his 8 year old body, serious and excited all at once. Maybe his love of all things American is due to the fact that his time spent in the States was always vacation time, but love it he does! Growing up on Marx Brothers’ comedies (use your imagination when I tell you that he learned a lot of his English from the MB!) and Astaire & Rogers musicals, the same children’s books I read and loved when I was a child, old Disney films and the food, his favorite foods: grilled cheese, peanut butter sandwiches, hamburgers and fries, chili and brownies, it is no wonder that he has always felt the pull towards those distant shores, the yearning of the pioneer, the cowboy, the immigrant.
As anyone who follows me on Twitter or Facebook knows, my baby boy, my Simon, has flown the nest and is in New Orleans. It seems natural that memories of our time spent together in the States should come back and whirl around in my head. New York, Florida, our trip up to the top of the Twin Towers, his first trip to the beach, sitting on a towel and howling with fear of both the water and the sand until Uncle Michael took the situation in hand and in no time at all had him splashing happily in the waves. The utter delight, the pure ecstasy lighting up his face as cousin Eugene turned over the steering wheel of the boat to Simon, full speed ahead. And all the shopping and eating, our two favorite things to do in the States, the mall and the diners, the bookstores and the delis, all creating in his young mind the image of an amazing country, a country of abundance and adventure, the streets paved with gold offering up dreams for the taking. With each trip to the States, the more ardent his determination to move there and make it his home.
And now he has flown off. This will be his third day in New Orleans where he is volunteering with lowernine.org helping in his own little way to rebuild post-Katrina New Orleans. And he is living his American Dream.
They all grow up, don’t they? And when they finally do, when we kiss them good-bye and watch them walk out the door, our heart flip flops, tears well up in our eyes and we feel the loss. The years rushed by too quickly and we are sorry for all those things we didn’t do with them, the mistakes we made, the arguments had. But we forget that once upon a time we were in their shoes, we were the ones walking out that door, off to college or a new city and a new life, all grown up. A friend said “Ah, we watch them spread their wings and take off while we hope that we’ve given them roots firm enough to keep them grounded.” Yes, that’s it. We hope that we have taught them well and that it will be the good things they remember, the happy times, the lessons learned. Our parents did it before us and now it is our turn. And while we watch them take off and go we close our eyes and hope that they haven’t really left…at least not for good.
I’ve decided to post one of Simon’s favorite cakes again. I’ve posted this early on, but it is something that my men ask for over and over again. It is quick and so easy to make, even a beginner can do it! And it is perfect for using up those old, over-ripe, sad bananas, turning them into something dense, moist and filled with flavor, the perfect breakfast or snack cake. I add a handful of mini chocolate chips and top the cake with slivered almonds or streusel if I have some on hand. This would also be wonderful in the summer with fresh blueberries folded in instead of the chocolate chips, and chopped pecans or walnuts are always welcome!
BEST BANANA BREAD with mini chocolate chips
This is so simple, even the most novice among us, young or old, can easily put this together. Each ingredient, except, of course, for the bananas, is a pantry staple. My recipe calls for vegetable oil, so no waiting around for butter to soften. The bread is great to wrap up, whole or in slices, to take on a picnic or put in a lunch box. Every year, I bake batches in small aluminum tins to give as holiday gifts along with one or two other flavored breads. And as I said, this cake is so easy to personalize, adding “mix ins” from fruit to nuts to chocolate chips.
2 medium bananas, the riper the better
2 large eggs
1 cup (200 g) sugar
1 ¾ cups (220 g) flour
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
½ cup (125 ml) vegetable oil
1/8 cup (25 ml) milk or buttermilk
1 tsp vanilla
Mix ins : ½ - 1 cup chocolate chips, I prefer mini chips, ½ - 1 cup chopped walnuts or pecans, 1 cup fresh blueberries, 1 cup drained pineapple chunks, ½ cup grated coconut, etc. (optional)
Toppings – slivered almonds, streusel, or spread on a chocolate frosting, or drizzle on a chocolate or lemon glaze (optional)
Preheat the oven to 325°F (160°C). Grease and flour a 9 x 5 x 3 inches (8 cups) or 23 x 13 x 8 cm (1.9 liters) loaf pan. Or divide into smaller aluminum tins.
Mash or purée the bananas in a large bowl (I suggest hand-mashing the bananas with a fork, as I find that using an electric emulsion blended gives the bananas a pasty consistency that makes the finished bread a bit dryer, strangely enough!). Don't worry if this is not perfectly smooth!
Add the eggs and beat well with the mashed bananas using a fork, whisk or wooden spoon.
Add the sugar and continue beating for a minute or two until well blended and slightly thickened.
In a small bowl, blend the flour, baking powder and soda and salt. In a measuring cup, blend the oil, milk and vanilla.
Now, stir in the dry ingredients in 3 additions, alternating with the liquid ingredients in 2, starting and ending with the dry. Scrape down the sides and make sure the batter is well blended. Fold in the mix-ins of your choice, stirring until evenly distributed.
Scrape the batter into the prepared loaf pan and just give the pan a quick but gentle shake back and forth once to make sure the batter is even in the pan. Put in the oven and bake for 1 hour 10 minutes or until risen: the center should be beautifully cracked and by gently pressing down on the center, you can tell that the cake is set. You can cook this for 5 minutes more if you prefer to be sure that it is done, it won’t overcook the cake. I just prefer this bread just done. Don’t forget to adjust cooking time if you use smaller tins.
Remove from the oven and allow to cool for 5 – 10 minutes in the pan before loosening it from the pan by sliding a knife all around the edges the shaking up and down in quick sharp movements to loosen the cake from the bottom. Turn out and allow to cool on a rack. Drizzle the top with chocolate glaze only after the cake has cooled.