Monkey Business with Banana Bread

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We’re on a flight to Chapel Hill to go see Jamesy and I cannot wait! The JetBlue television monitor at my seat has been left on the NYT channel and featured a piece on monkeys. I’m crazy about monkeys. Always have been. My love affair started when I was maybe three and a half…maybe four at the most. I liked going out and “poking around” with Dad on weekends. He always went to exotic places with activities that this little girl loved. We’d go over to Daddy’s friend, Jim Bloom’s house and Dad would just leave me outside. They’d be talking fish or orchids or koi ponds and I would be left in the middle of a bamboo forest on the back of a mammoth, lumbering Galapagos turtle. Talk about slow ride! Sometimes Cynthia would go and we would have races, both on the backs of these giant animals screaming “Go! Go! Go!” with our Florence Eiseman dresses on, tennis shoes and plain white socks. To say we had a blast is an understatement. When we returned home Mama never asked where we had gone or what we had done. Sometimes one of us would tell her sometimes not. Often Dad would take me to Pet Circus as he was good friends with the owner.  Pet Circus was, as Dad puts it, “up on the highway” or Federal Highway to everyone else.  Again he would drop me in a corner somewhere and just leave me there going off with the owner to discuss the breeding habits of the Gouldian finch Dad was raising in enormous outdoor aviaries or to discuss some disease a tank of fish had contracted. But he always left me safe and in the same place. With my best friend, Judy. Judy the Chimp. In chimp years Judy was probably a preteen. She liked me and I liked her. Judy was in a huge cage-like run with lots of bars to swing on and plenty of room to run. At the beginning of our play date our greeting was always the same. I was shy and held back and she was also tentative and hung back. We would smile and slowly warm up to each other. We were both the same creatures we were two weeks prior. Eventually we would hug. I liked stroking her head because her hair was so soft. And I liked looking at her eyes. They were gentle and huge and round. She must have felt the same about me because she would play with my hair and pat my chubby, brown cheeks. When she felt comfortable enough with me she began to play. Judy ran a little to pick up speed then she’d grab a low bar and start swinging. I felt right at home.  I ran fast but not as fast as Judy and I did my share of swinging on the bars but never was I to be as accomplished as Judy.  We generally had a blast!  We’d laugh and I would talk to Judy as tho she was a little girlfriend.  I guess she’d give some sort of reply.  I don’t quite remember!  But I do know we had a great friendship.  When Daddy was finished after a few hours he’d come back, someone would unlock the “run” and we’d go home.  I don’t remember my father EVER saying “Stop by the Ladies room on the way out and wash your hands.  They must be filthy!”.   Oh, hell no!  He’d ask what we did, how high Judy could swing, how high I swung, did I try to teach her hop-scotch, did we play clapping games, that was what he was interested in.  Many a Saturday morning was spent with Judy the Chimp.  The last time I went was a typical weekend morning.  Dad dropped me off, LOCKED ME IN and went off with the owner to talk fish or birds or whatever.  After a while Dad said he heard screaming and shrieking and crying.  In my direction.  And Dad came running.  He later told me that when he got to me I was howling; big, fat tears were streaming down my fat little cheeks.  Judy was screaming and angry.  It was our first and last fight.  What were we fighting about you ask?  We were fighting over a urine sodden ugly blue towel.  We were essentially having a tug-of-war with it, each pulling in opposite directions.  Why I wanted it I’ll never know but Dad whisked me out of there lickety-split.  And I never saw Judy again.  It made me so sad.  Over and over Dad explained to me that when chimps get big they usually get mean.  Very mean.  Chimpanzees are incredibly strong, they can bite viciously and can easily mutilate a human.  I understood he was trying to protect me but I was trying to make him understand that Judy and I had a really special relationship and that she would never hurt me.  Be that as it may, I was not to see her again and that was that.  However, I never stopped loving monkeys…they’re still all over my house.  Prints, fabric, art.  So I dedicate this banana bread to my first girlfriend, Judy.  Judy the Chimp.

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This is the first recipe I ever used for banana bread and it’s still one of my favorites.  It’s from the 1964 Junior League cookbook entitled “Nashville Seasons”.  I’ve made it a million times.  It’s simple, direct and pretty much a no-fail quick bread.  Really ripe bananas yield the best loaf.  It’s lovely toasted or eaten cold and freezes well.

Banana Bread

yield: 1 large loaf or 2 small

  • 1 stick butter, room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 very ripe large bananas
  • 2 room temperature eggs
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tbls. water
  • 1/2 to 1 cup chopped pecans
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  1. Preheat oven to 350°.
  2. Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
  3. Mash bananas well and add to butter mixture.  Beat well.
  4. Add eggs, flour and soda mixed with the tablespoon of water.
  5. Mix well then add pecans and vanilla.
  6. Bake in well-greased pan, 1 hour for a large loaf.  45 minutes for two smaller loaves.
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