It was about this time last year that I was lured across the street, to the Pearl Street Pumpkin Patch, by a tangle of cosmos. I noticed a small sign that said PICK YOUR OWN CHARD so I wandered through the entrance – into a little oasis in the middle of a residential neighborhood just south of the city – and tiptoed around, looking for someone to see if I could actually pick my own chard or if it was more of one of those I choose my own chard and you physically pick it for me kinda deals. A voice from behind the corn said I could pick it myself, so I did. And then he took a break from tending to the tall stalks to introduce himself and find out how I discovered the garden. I told him I was across the street having coffee. And that I’m inherently nosey. He laughed.
I took a picture with the chard and posted it on Instagram. The following week I got an email, through the contact form on this site, from a person who called himself Garden Man. Turns out it was the man from the pumpkin patch; the crazy one who tried to sell me an armful of chard (and heirloom tomatoes) for a measly $2. One of his tenants saw my photo on Instagram (HI MAL!) and suggested he get in touch with me. So he did.
I should preface this by saying I had every intention of telling you about Garden Man (whose real name was actually Steve) exactly two weeks after I met him. About his mind-boggling resilience and his big plans for the little pumpkin patch and his wildly infectious demeanor that never ceased to put me in a good mood. Thom always said I was my happiest when I came back from spending time with him at a coffee shop or in his garden. Which I think speaks volumes about him as a person. I could be in his presence for a mere two hours and I would come home radiant and on top of the world. Being around him was like coming up for a breath of fresh air – and I’m fairly certain that anyone who was lucky enough to know him would wholeheartedly agree with that statement.
Unfortunately, in May, Steve lost his third battle with cancer. Three days before Thom and I were set to go back to Ohio and get secretly married. I’m not sure if it’s a good thing or a bad thing that I was there to witness his physical life come to an end. But I was. And let me tell you something: seeing someone you admire – someone you watched give it their all and put up such a tough fight – take their very last breath and succumb to something as awful and unpredictable as cancer, is one of the most devastating things you will ever witness. It will haunt you. It will wreck you. It will make you want to say fuck it to your secret wedding because how could you possibly get married at a time like this?
But this isn’t about me. This is about Steve. The pithy dude who wasn’t at all concerned with political correctness or worrying about accidentally offending someone. He said cancer will do that to you. And losing a child. And going through a crippling divorce. But that’s what I liked about him: he was raw and real and, most of all, the dude was unapologetic and meant what he said. So when he confessed that the idea of baking without eggs and dairy seemed asinine, I didn’t take it as an insult. I took it as a challenge. A challenge that resulted in me showing up to his garden the next day, with a warm loaf of banana nut bread in tow. He laughed and rolled his eyes and, instead of saying thank you (like a normal, well-mannered person would do), he proceeded to taunt me for “forgetting the eggs and butter”. But I knew he’d come around. And he did. At about 10PM that night I received a text from him saying something along the lines of it being good; damn good. And instead of saying thank you (like a normal, well-mannered person would do), I responded with a sassy I know followed by a string of kiss-y face, salsa dancing, and lightning bolt emoji. Topped off with a sarcastic comment about him being on a beautiful path to a cruelty-free lifestyle.
This was our friendship in a nutshell. For eight months we gave each other shit over coffee and he (unsuccessfully) tried to convince me to eat a “real burger” while I (successfully) convinced him to trade me all the vegetables in his garden for homemade banana nut bread. We laughed until we cried and then he got sick again. Then there was a lot less laughing and a lot more crying. And now he’s gone.
And I’m just here eating banana nut bread, trying to wrap my mind around that.
For Garden Man. The hilarious and irrepressible ol’ dude with a smile that could – literally – light up a room. I hope the ethereal plane is covered with a mess of cosmos, knee-high rainbow chard, and pumpkins ten times the size of the one on my table. You are missed.
Notes: This recipe is definitely more bread-like than cake-like, which is necessary for when I give you the recipe for banana bread french toast (!!!!!). It’s also just barely sweet, so if you want something that eats more like a dessert, up the sugar to 1 cup (or 1 1/4 cups if you’ve got a serious sweet tooth). I’ve made this recipe using whole wheat flour, light spelt flour, unbleached flour, and white whole wheat flour and, in the end, the crumb of the white whole wheat reigned supreme (the other three flours produce an end product that is delicious, but the texture just didn’t do it for me). This recipe also works fantastic with pumpkin or sweet potato puree. However, you’ll want to use 1 1/2 cups puree + 1/2 cup pure maple syrup to make up for the sweetness that’s lost when replacing the bananas. Speaking of which, your bananas really should be black. Because I was in a hurry to get the recipe up for you guys, I jumped the gun and made them with those speckled things up top but DON’T DO THAT. If your bananas look like they might make you sick if you ate them raw, they’re good to go.
PS – You have until the end of the day to enter the $150 giveaway!
ONE-BOWL BANANA NUT BREAD
4-5 (490g) extra ripe bananas (2 cups of puree)
3/4 cup (150g) cane sugar
3/4 cup (135g) coconut oil, melted (but not hot)
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup (115g) almond buttermilk, room temperature
Dash of ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
3 cups (365g) white whole wheat flour
1/2 cup (45g) raw walnut pieces, finely chopped
Preheat oven to 350˚F. Lightly grease a 1 1/2 pound loaf pan (mine was 4″x12″, which is longer and more narrow than a typical loaf pan) with oil and set aside. In a large mixing bowl, blend the bananas with a hand mixer or immersion blender until smooth. Whisk in the sugar, coconut oil, and vanilla extract, followed by the cinnamon, salt, baking soda, and half of the flour. Whisk in the buttermilk then, using a rubber spatula, stir in the remaining flour and finely chopped walnuts, just until combined (do not over mix or else your bread will be tough and chewy). Pour the batter into the prepared loaf pan and bake for 50-55 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean (if using a shorter/wider loaf pan, it may need to bake a bit longer). Allow the loaf to cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then invert on a wire rack to cool completely. Banana nut bread will keep loosely covered, at room temperature, for up to three days.
Yield: 10 thick slices