Paying Homage to Family Lineage

Leona Mae Berg.jpg

Leona Mae Berg

For the past week I have been  in Suquamish, Washington with my mother and all of our family celebrating the life of my grandmother. On May 23rd my mother Glenda Lee and her sister Cindy Claire collaborated and got together all of our known family to memorialize the life of my Grammy, Leona Mae Berg-Strickland.   Today I am baking a recipe I shared with my grandmother – I’ve posted it before – the delicious banana nut bread.   Once again, with a new twist, I’ve added cinnamon in addition to the chocolate.  The truth is, it was by accident.  Out of habit from baking oatmeal cookies, I reached for the cinnamon and added the usual teaspoon.  I’m looking forward to tasting this new recipe.  I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, my love of baking and cooking can be directly linked to this beautiful woman.

This afternoon we are setting out on a family ancestral adventure. First my mother and I will meet my cousins Krista Tseu and Rick Berg along with their father and mother, Uncle Ricky Berg and Aunt Kathy Berg at the Kitsap County Forest Lawn Cemetary to pay homage to our family of veterens and my great-grandmother Meltry Jennette Rahier (b: 28 Jan. 1901 Burlington, WA Skagit County d: 13 May 1989 Bremerton, WA).  We’re going to also delve into the family archives and do a little research on our family lineage.  I’m focussing my attention on the Carter side of our family – the Cherokee Indian side – from Virginia.  My mother wants to do research on the little bit of Irish that we have.  Afterward we are going horseback riding with the cousins.  This is a long-awaited dream of mine finally being realized.

There is more to the family treasure chest of experiences.  My cousin Katie Zollman, the daughter of my mother’s brother William Strickland Jr. has moved here with her adorable daughter Shayna.  I am utterly enjoying that infectious laughter and smile of hers and quickly passing down to her the tradition of baking.  This week we have scrambled eggs, made toast and today we are baking the bread.  Here she is with her recent haircut holding the bread before it goes into the oven.

Making Chocolate Banana Nut Bread with my Niece

Making Chocolate Banana Nut Bread with my Niece

So to make this bread, follow my previous post titled “Love Thy Neighbor with Chocolate Banana Nut Bread.”  The subtle differences are as follows:

1 Tsp Cinnamon

2 Tbsp Butter in place of 2 Tsp of Coconut Oil (my mom’s pantry was short that one ingredient – hard to believe).


Left to right:

Auntie Kathy Berg, Cousin Krista Tseu, My Momma Glenda Lee and her childhood bestie, Susan Giglioni, at the cemetery on Memorial Day 2014 -honoring our greats!


Just before her passing I wrote the following:

Thinking of my Grandmother Leona ‘Berg’ Strickland Tonight
March 5, 2014 at 12:19am
My mother, my aunt, my brother and many of my cousins gather at my Grandma Lee’s bedside tonight. Taking in the love of one another, remembering times long past, comparing my grandmother to her sister (their mother) who she will soon join in heaven.

I imagine the mood to be calm, warm, safe and tender. I see my cousin Barbara Lawrence-Piecuch,beautiful, angelic and brave and tender with her children or grandchildren by her side. My dear sweet Aunt Cindy Ellis, her beautiful daughters Tleena Ives and Trisha Ives and their six children filling the rooms with dimples,tears and little bits of laughter. My brother Mike: stoic, handsome,kind, and gentle, there by my mother’s side, offering up no drama, just kindness and reassurance of strength. I imagine if I were there I’d bring a little too much frenzy and not enough serenity. My mother and I wouldargue over a misinterpreted breath, expression, look or hand gesture. Then we’d have to take to separate rooms for a while. One of us would startsmoking.

I imagine my mom there now, perhaps she is remembering the precious memories of her childhood, times where she had her momma’s lap all to herself, times when she had to smell the liver cooking in the kitchen a smell she’ll probably never wish, now, to forget. I imagine her blue eyes fill with tears, her hands gently tickling her momma’s back or holding her hand.

I imagine every ounce of my love pouring over my Grammy now. I want to fill her every pore with my love and the love of my children Giulianna and Emma Grace.

I want my own mom to know she’s not just appreciated but cherished for all the times I got her lap to myself, for the back tickles, bedtime prayers and hugs and kisses; for the smell of her shoes when she’d collapse on the sofa after along day of work, the sass in her walk at the bowling alley and all her various silly little – and sometimes very big – laughs!

I love you”mama” Glenda L Medeiros. You are a very good daughter. You have shown your mom so much kindness, patience and love. God knows your sadness and your joy and He even knows your dreams; He hasn’t forgotten about them, so don’t you!

Grammy, if I were there, I imagine I’d cuddle up in your tiny bed with you. I imagine George would come to lick our faces because he’d just know that I was trying, with every ounce of my strength, to fight back my tears. Dog spelled backwards is God, after all. George, the all-knowing, ever-wise one, is probably offering up his best kisses and going from person to person with that silly expression on his face that makes you absolutely love him and forgive him, all at once. At least three people have said the words, “No George!” since I began to write this.

Oh Grammy, George does fill up a lot of space in your home but no lap-jumping, food-snatching,ball-chasing, run-away, annoying and totally lovable dog could ever take up the nooks and crannies your life has inhabited.

Every lace doily, fry pan,blending machine, cooking tool, Tupperware, copper mold, china cabinet, blue glass, brown and yellow kitchen towel, dictionary, crossword puzzles,pencil, plastic table-cloth, sewing tomato, thread, needle, fabric, measuring tape, simplicity pattern, jelly jar, coffee cup, Bisquick box, gold picture frame with one of your grandchildren’s pictures from 1974 all echo you and your laughter. That will never fade.

Thank you Grandma Lee for letting us switch roles when I was just 4 or 5. For a little bit I got to be you and you had to be me. I got to tell you”No, Dena don’t touch that,” until all those “no’s” became unbearable even for you.

Thank you for the drives from California, past Donner Pass, through Tahoe, Oregon and up to beautiful Washington State (your true home). Thank you for showing me the majesty of the California Redwoods: trees so big we could literally drive through them, the salmon swimming up-stream, waterfalls hidden in the crags of mountains, deer along roadsides, eagles, hawks, and blue jays. Nature really did captivate you. Thank you for the road-trip songs we sang, like “She’ll Be Comin’ Round the Mountain.”

Thank you for biscuits and gravy, freshly grated hash browns, magic twenty layer Jell-O molds, pumpkin-roll cakes, banana cream pies with vanilla wafers and your very own Mrs. Fields’ Cookies and peanut butter balls.

This is the space I leave for my family to make jokes, to laugh until they cry until they laugh again in celebration of your life.

Until I see you again Grandma, bask in the love surrounding you. Let it fill your heart with the greatness God desires each of us to possess. You deserve every single juicy bit of it!

Happy LIFEDAY Grandma Lee!


Your granddaughter Dena


Love Thy Neighbor with Chocolate Banana Nut Bread

Chocolate Banana Nut Bread

Chocolate Banana Nut Bread, Photo by Jason Homa

I discovered my love for the warm buttery goodness of banana bread following a trip to New York City.  I was staying with my stepmom’s mother, Fania Stone, then in her eighties; still going to work everyday as a textile designer, with silver-white hair cut in a stylish pixie.   She was a delight and quick as a whip on walks to the Farmers Market at Union Square.  We used to walk there on the weekends from her apartment in Gramercy Park to get our fruits and vegetables.

Fania was an avid reader, an eloquent pianist and painter.  Her foyer was filled with books.  Amidst the novels and art books was a small little cook book.  In it I found the recipe for Banana Nut Bread.  I baked it for us weekly and we enjoyed it each night with a little butter on one slice coupled with a hot cup of tea over a highly competitive game of Scrabble.  I learned so much from her about art, culture, music, literature and good wholesome food.  My time with Fania will stay in my heart indelibly as a precious and momentous life experience.

Over the years I’ve tweaked the recipe a bit – adding a little hint of vanilla, lemon or some other variation of spice or fruit depending on the season, my mood or just what I had on hand in the kitchen that day.

Today’s recipe was made with a bit of chocolate and some rich vanilla and coconut.  I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

Chocolate Banana Nut Bread

Pre-heat oven to 325

3 Ripe Bananas
1 Cup Sugar
1 Egg
4 Tablespoons Melted Butter (salted)
2 Tablespoons Virgin Coconut Oil
1 1/2 Cups Flower
3 Teaspoons of Cocoa Powder
1 Teaspoon Baking Soda
1 Teaspoon Salt
1/2 Cup Chopped Walnuts
1 Cup Dark Chocolate Chunks

Mix all wet ingredients in larger bowl
Mix dry ingredients in smaller bowl
Fold dry into wet ingredients

Grease and flour large bread loaf pan or 2 small pans
Pour batter into pan(s)
Bake for 1 hour
Check with toothpick in the center to make sure it is cooked all the way through.  Toothpick should come out clean.

What I did with the recipe today was divide it into two smaller loaf pans and checked them at 45 minutes and 55 minutes.  I took them out as soon as the toothpicks came out clean (a little under an hour).

One bread stayed home for Jason and I and the second made the perfect #WelcomeHome #gift for our #lovely #neighbor #Sophie who just arrived from the hospital after a bad fall.  Happy to say she is on the mend, and like Fania, she has strength and vitality beyond her age.