For years, I was a read-before-bedtime person, but lately I’ve taken to reading in the early morning hours with a cup of coffee on the nightstand and Feynman curled up at the foot of the bed. It’s a nice way to start the day, so it was for several days, in the early morning light, that I devoured David Leite’s new memoir, Notes on a Banana. Each morning I was so absorbed in the story that my coffee often went cold, which turned out to be a good thing. Getting up to reheat it was what broke the reading spell so I could get on with the rest of my day, otherwise I might have stayed snug in bed to read it straight through with no thought about all the other stuff that needed to get done.
As a fan of David’s James Beard award winning site, Leite’s Culinaria, and his personal essays (Kitchen Confessional: Burnin’ Down Da House and Forever and Completely are favorites) I expected a light and airy food memoir punctuated with David’s signature humor, but Notes on a Banana boldly strays from the run-of-the-mill food memoir. It’s David’s story of growing up in Massachusetts, the son of Portuguese immigrants, as a boy who desperately wanted to be blue-eyed and blonde-haired and longed to live an “American” life. He lived for years with undiagnosed bi-polar disorder and struggled to find his place in the world well into adulthood. His story couldn’t be more different from mine in its details – I grew up in the middle of the country, all blue-eyed with blonde hair, eating a diet the young David would have green-eyed jealous over – yet I felt a deep connection to it. His is a story of self-discovery and the challenge of not just coming to terms with himself, but lovingly accepting himself. Tears sprung up as I read the epilogue and, before closing the book and setting on the shelf, I couldn’t help but think it’s everyone’s story. We’re all on a journey, aren’t we? We all have a story arc and since the dawn of time the story has been the same: we are all searching for something and for many of us, like David, it’s the search for our own truths.
And unlike other food memoirs, that wrap up each chapter with a recipe tied with a bow, David used food as a backdrop for his story. There are no recipes, but instead, food colors his story. From his early obsession with Julia Child, his memories cooking traditional dishes with his grandmother, and his love of cooking, David weaves cooking and food culture throughout the book like a supporting character. Just like life, right? While not always at the forefront, food is always a constant adding depth and dimension to our experiences.
The book is, at times, heartbreaking with explicit details, but the overall message — anchored by the title — is hopeful. For years, David’s mom wrote him notes on bananas. Little messages of hope and reminders of love served up at breakfast. Maybe, like me, you come from notes on a napkin background? It’s the same idea and one that I love. It’s a reminder to appreciate, support, and share some love with someone.
Peanut Butter Banana Bread
Inspired by the book I bought some bananas with the sole intention to share a little note on banana for you all. And with bananas on hand it made sense to make an old favorite, so pulled a recipe from the archives that needed some dusting off: peanut butter banana bread.
Around the same time I started reading David’s book, I made a lemon bread, recipe courtesy of my friend, Rosemary. The bread, bright with lemon flavor, emerged from the oven with golden crust cracked open exposing its more tender and moist insides. It had a rustic appeal that begged to be sliced and served with a big cup of coffee. It was wonderful.
My original peanut butter banana bread, first published in 2010, lacked a towering golden crust, so I used Rosemary’s recipe as a guide to update the recipe. The result was just what I wanted – a rustic, golden brown peanut butter banana bread that’s crusty on the outside and soft and moist on the inside.
Peanut Butter Banana Bread
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