coconut loaf

This week, my grandmother Shirley would have been 86. I can never remember her actual birthday, and so I give her the whole week, and, like some Pagan goddess, she presides over this always charged and wild time of the end of August, the end of summer, and the beginning of new routined life, whatever it might have in store for us. I know so many people who celebrate birthdays this week, too, and when I look at them together, they are all creators of such good things, all Virgos organizing the world for the better. The stock that I put in Astrology comes and goes- mostly I take what I like and use it to build stories that help me make sense of the world. But there’s something in the ushering in of the Virgos at the end of August that makes me feel taken care of. It must be the quiet shadow of Shirley’s birthday that gives me the sign.

I want to tell you about a book that was born this week, too. And like all those I know with birthdays in this magical last moment of August, it is the nurturing  sort.

I’ve written about my grandmother’s connection to whole foods at some length (most recently here), but the most important part is that the woman loved to bake with her whole heart, and in the process of trying to make a the world a better place, she felt some satisfaction in weighing out her whole grain flours and various alternatives to white sugar. My grandfather was a bit more of a zealot, and I know he was especially proud of having a wife who could make a date nut loaf that could really knock your socks off. That is, if date nut loaf is your kind of thing, which for me, it certainly was not.

To be fair, the whole foods movement was a little different back in the late 70′s when they started their whole-grain, vegetarian bed and breakfast. You were at the mercy of your location, and if no one had decided to ditch corporate life and open a health food store nearby, you were out of luck. Over those first years, there were a few great cookbooks that helped people along, most notably The Moosewood Cookbook and the lesser known but equally wonderful Common Ground Book of Desserts. Whole grain flours were more utilitarian than artisan then–now we have every grind of spelt and kamut, but then I think it was more about getting that germ back into the wheat flour. My grandmother used what she had to work with, and her date nut loaf certainly knocked the socks off of those who searched for a better way to eat.

We’re getting close to the 20 year mark of her death. I guess maybe it’s all the food talk of this year, but I’ve been missing her so much lately. She’s completely interwoven in my narrative of how I came to all this, and so as I talk to people about food and love, I find myself bringing her into the room with me all the time. But it’s also about the girls. They’re coming into themselves in new ways lately, both in their bodies and the way they relate to the world. I construct situations in my head–I see Sadie and my grandmother baking together at the counter–and it makes me so happy just to think of it! Mostly, I just think of all these things she’d love–the girls, the family, my sister Maia off on her first day of high school, and, odd as it may seem so long after her death, I just wish that she could have them. I guess in some ways that’s a gift people give us when they go–they leave our memories of the moments they loved, and this make it possible for us to keep them around, experiencing the things they love through their eyes. So in one way it’s so hard to think of how they would love this day, this grandchild, or this recipe if they were here. But the other side of it is that I can think, “Shirley would love this!” and just by bringing her with me into that thought, I love it even more.

She would love, LOVE, the new breed of whole foods food writers. She would love Kim Boyce and Maria Speck and Heidi Swanson (oh how she’d love Heidi!) There was a way back then that healthier eating often involved some sort of punishing flavor or texture, but times are different now. And my grandmother Shirley, who I think kept working through her recipes in the hopes that healthy and over-the-moon delicious would coincide on her table, would be cooking and baking her way through The Sprouted Kitchen dish by dish (grapefruit and crispy avocado salad! buckwheat harvest tart! almond meal-strawberry cake!) with glee, loving every bite.

I know we’ve been a little coconut heavy over here lately , but after weeks of trying to decide what to write about, I couldn’t get this one out of my head. I think it was the whole “loaf” aspect, a term my grandmother especially enjoyed. A loaf is not a bread or a cake, and so it is equally suitable for breakfast, tea, dessert, and everything in between. And this particular loaf is a doozy- it’s moist and wonderful and I know for sure it WILL knock your socks off. It also, as a side note, has been pretty fantastic in school lunches this week.

Happy Birthday to Shirley, and to all you wonderful late August Virgos out there. And happy book birthday to Sara and Hugh, who have created a gorgeous book that I can already tell is going to nurture my family for years to come.

 


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23 Responses to coconut loaf

  1. Jillian22 says:

    Been missing my grandfather lately (he passed away in February)…. thanks for such inspiring words. It made me cry a little. :)
    P.S. Made your hamburger buns from the book last weekend… they were a big hit at our party! Next up this week: Granola cereal. My husband is very excited about that one. :)

  2. sara says:

    what a beautiful tribute and lovely post. I’m really happy to hear you like the book – thanks for your kind words about it. Take care. ps. NEVER too much coconut ;)

  3. Yum! This sounds really good Alana. I was raised by someone similar to your Grandma. My Mom had us macrobiotic in the mid-seventies and made her own crackers that none can compare. Your recollection of your Grandma at this time of year and how woven in to your family life is so beautiful. I am sure she is smiling ear to ear. I have an early September birthday and revel in all the order I can create at this time of year. So, perhaps I have found my birthday cake? I love a loaf and have some jam to spread too. Love and thanks for the lovely remembrance, S

  4. jacquie says:

    thanks for sharing your grandmom w/ us. she sounds as though she was a lovely women and i can see why you miss her so.
    the bread looks great. while i typically have the other ingredients on hand i don’t have coconut milk. do you think i could subsitute greek yogurt? or milk? (i’m not sure what the consistancy is for coconut mik) thanks.

    • alana says:

      Hi Jacquie,
      Coconut milk is thinner- I’d try substituting with regular yogurt (not Greek) or maybe a good buttermilk. Let us know how it comes out! (and thanks for your sweet words…)

  5. Alna Kleid says:

    Thank you for your tribute to Shirley. She was “one of a kind” and the world could certainly use more Shirley’s. Her love of people and enjoyment of life was an inspiration to all who knew her. Her brother, Al, loved her with all his heart.
    You have so many of her traits that it brings tears to our eyes.

  6. Emily says:

    Thank you for sharing your missing your grandmother, and how cooking helps honor her memory, it is a very universal feeling you beautifully articulated. Isn’t it wonderful how food can conjure up specific taste memories for us long after the dish is gone. I will never order dessert at a restaurant with no intention of sharing without thinking of my grandfather, in the most loving way of course.

    • alana says:

      Oh, thank you Emily! And I love that- how just a thought can stay with you and help to keep that person with you (even if in life, you really wanted some of his dessert!)

  7. alwayshungry says:

    Thank you so much for this post.
    I just lost my grandmother a month ago and your words have brought me much comfort. Shirley lives on through you as I hope my grandma will through me and my child who should be comming into this world at any time now.
    At the same time you have brought tears to my eyes and put a smile on my face. It just goes to show how we are all connected as humans, how one expression of love can resound so deeply in the hearts of others.

    • alana says:

      Oh Sarah, I’m so sorry that you’ve lost your grandmother, and I’m glad I can send a little support, if only in words. But if your experience is anything like mine, you’ll see so much of her in this new little one coming into your family. I think that somehow the ones we love seem to leave parts of themselves in the best of places when they go.
      Sending good wishes as you wait for the birth!

  8. talley says:

    Alana – what a wonderful post and birthday reflection. The images you conveyed were so clear that I put on my imaginary apron for a minute and perched myself at the counter with Shirley and Sadie.

    Coconut and birthday are one in the same in my family. My mom and husband both live for coconut so I’ve been known to make a coconut cake or two. My husband’s 30th birthday is coming up in a month and I’m definitely going to make this, perhaps for breakfast. Wonderful post, thank you!

  9. Lochlan says:

    So sorry you’ve lost your grandmother. I lost one 45 years ago and the other 25 years ago. I miss them both very much. Your tribute is lovely.

    I have a question about cooking with coconut oil. Do you measure out 1/4 cup and then melt it? Thanks for this recipe.

    • alana says:

      Hi Lochlan- thank you for your kind words :-) and as for the oil… when a recipe calls for me to melt it anyway, I melt first and then measure. It hardens up pretty quickly again, so I just return any excess to the jar when it’s cooled a bit.

  10. Kimberly says:

    Seriously, Alana, you make me feel like I’m sitting at the kitchen table with you having a cup of coffee, chatting about this loaf and your grandmother. Thank you for sharing the memories, the inspirations and the yummy yummy food. I can’t wait to make this!

  11. Gaby says:

    I made this today, following the recipe except I added 2tbsp creamed coconut cuz I had it and wanted to try it. This loaf is so good! My hubby really likes it too. Without the glaze it would be perfect for breakfast; with the glaze it is a yummy dessert! Great recipe; I like that it has some whole grains in it. Thank you!

  12. Dorothy Di Santo says:

    I’m new to your “site” but excited to see and try some new wholesome recipes you have for us.
    Thank you

  13. Julie says:

    I too am new to your blog…and what a joy to read. My grandmothers birthday was also late August and I never could remember if it was the 30th or 31st. (is there 31 days in Aug.? I always ask myself this and never remember) Anyway, she was dear to me in so many ways. I actually teared up reading this post. I am definately making this loaf today! It’ll be the perfect after school snack. Cheers!

    • alana says:

      Welcome, Julie! It’s funny, ever since I wrote this, I’ve found even more people with those late August birthdays. SO many good people born that week.

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