Grandma Doran’s Banana Cake

My grandma, Cecil Doran, was an excellent cook and great at using up bits of this and that. I remember watching her make biscuits, pancakes, sugar cookies, and other favorites without recipes- just dumping and pouring. When she did give a recipe, it was often “a handful of” or a “blue cup of” the ingredients. I loved watching my grandma cook. In fact, I just loved my grandma. She was the kind of person that you loved being close to, with a knack for making  each one feel as if she was her favorite! Even though she has been with the Lord for almost 20 years now, I still enjoy making the few recipes of hers I do have.

I think Grandma came up with this banana cake recipe herself since the ingredients are written in unusual amounts. This is a nice, dense, moist cake. Since I’ve lived in China a while now, I decrease the sugar a bit, but it’s wonderful as written. I served it for dinner this evening when some adoption friends came by and it seemed to make a hit. I hope you enjoy it.


1 ¾ cup all purpose flour

½ Tablespoon salt

½ Tablespoon baking powder

½ Tablespoon baking soda

½ cup shortening

1 ½ cups sugar

2 eggs

¼ cup buttermilk (or ¼ cup milk with 1 teaspoon cider vinegar)

1 cup mashed ripe bananas

1 teaspoon vanilla

Mix all ingredients together and beat well until the batter is smooth and creamy. Pour into a greased 9×13 pan. Bake at 350 for 30-40 minutes.

Ermine Icing

This icing used to be called boiled milk icing. I don’t know that my grandma ever made it, but we think it’s the perfect compliment to banana cake. Ermine icing is thus called because it has a soft smooth consistency. It is smoother than buttercream and not as sweet.  I think this unusual recipe might surprise you. In my recipe box, it is called “Red Velvet Cake Icing” because it’s what a “real” red velvet cake should be iced with. It makes a good cake a GREAT cake, in my opinion.


1 cup whole milk

3 Tablespoons flour

Pinch of salt

1 cup butter

1 cup granulated sugar

2 teaspoons vanilla

Whisk together the milk with the flour and salt in a small saucepan.  Cook over medium heat stirring continually until the roux is thickened. Remove from heat, cover with plastic wrap, and cool completely.

When the roux has cooled, beat the butter and sugar with mixer until light and fluffy. Add the vanilla. Then gradually add in the roux mixture, beating until very light with all sugar dissolved.

Ice the cake then try not to eat it all at once. This is very hard to resist, actually. We once had a guy eat seven pieces of it after a Sunday night dinner!

Keep refrigerated as this icing breaks down easily and quickly. It is NOT a good icing to take on a picnic!


Grandmama Dexter’s Pound Cake

Stacy’s grandmother is said to have been one of the best cooks in the world. I can’t vouch for that, because by the time I knew her she was blind and her cooking skills had deteriorated somewhat- though she kept trying. Not only was she a good cook, but she was also very hospitable. Every Sunday she would whip up a huge meal, just hoping someone would come to her house after church for dinner! And they always obliged.

Most of her recipes were in her mind and cannot be replicated, but her her daughter, our Aunt Net, stood by her side watching carefully and recording measurements to make sure we would all be able to make this famous cake. Grandmama Dexter’s pound cake recipe also comes with a good testimony. She was a hard worker and extremely independent. Though blind, she lived on her own for many years until at the age of about 92 she had to go into a nursing home. Once when we went up to visit her, Stacy shared the good news about Christ with her- that we are all sinners; that God’s standard is perfection (of which every one of us falls short); that we were hopelessly lost and without hope; until God sent His only Son into the world. Jesus led a perfect life and yet was nailed to the cross. As 1 Peter 3:18 said,  “For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to deathin the flesh, but made alive in the spirit,,,” When she heard this, slow tears rolled down her wrinkled cheeks and she said, “I’ve gone to church my whole life and have never heard this.” She repented of her sins, accepted God’s gift of salvation through faith in His Son, and embraced the wonderful grace of God through her Savior.

Grandmama has been with Jesus for about 32 years now, but this recipe for her moist, flavorful pound cake lingers on! We hope that you’ll enjoy it.

But first, here is a Baking 101 Tip: These are the differences various fats make in the tastes and textures of cakes: Butter produces compact, fine-textured cakes which have less height and smaller crumbs. It also adds delicious flavor! Shortening makes cakes tall and light, as well as coarse, dry, and crumbly. Margarine creates moist cakes which are coarse and crumbly, but are not light and have larger air pockets. Oil cakes are moist, tall and light, slightly coarse, with open crumbs.)

Bring all cold ingredients to room temperature before making this cake!

Grandmama’s Pound Cake

2 sticks butter (2 American size sticks equal 1 cup)
1/2 cup Crisco shortening
3 cups sugar
5 eggs (1 at a time)
3 cups unsifted flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
pinch of salt
1 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1 teaspoon lemon extract
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
First, cream the butter with the shortening; then add sugar and cream again. Sometimes I just use butter for the whole deal but the shortening does make for a nicer pound cake “crust” and adds to the rise.
Add the eggs one at a time. This is actually important so though you may just want to dump them in all at once, buck up and exercise some self-control here!
Add the dry ingredients. I’m not going to labor with showing you pictures of that process, but I did want you to see my new baking powder can. Sometimes it’s the little things! Our baking powder comes in tiny packages like this:
It is SUCH a hassle to use these tiny little packages of baking powder! But some friends were moving back to America and among the things they gave us was this can of baking powder:
Now I just keep refilling my can and I am SO happy about this. Yes, I know that this is blurry but sometimes you just have to brag a bit about God’s little daily kindnesses and provisions and this was the best photo I got. Ouch! 😉
Then add milk and extracts; mix until all is well blended. Prepare the pan with shortening and flour.
Pour in the luscious, buttery, velvety batter:
Stick into a COLD OVEN:
Notice- this oven has no bungie cord! Yes, we are moving on up and becoming very classy. Very. Well, yeah, it’s in our living room but….
Then turn oven to 325 degrees and bake for “about an hour”. Here’s the finished product:
OH MY GOODNESS! IT’S A MIRACLE! MY NEW OVEN IS AMAZING!!! Don’t buy that? Ok, ok! I made two cakes that day for my sweet husband’s sixtieth birthday party- one in the bundt pan and one in layers. This was the first time we had used this new oven that we bought used from the same friends who donated the baking powder can to our cause. Apparently, the thermostat is a bit off and my cake scorched on top. I scraped it off, covered it with icing, and it still tasted fine! But it wasn’t beautiful. Therefore, I’m sticking in this photo of the layered pound cake with chocolate icing used for Stacy’s birthday cake. While we usually eat this cake without icing (it makes an amazing strawberry shortcake), I also use it in making wedding cakes. Its moistness, density, and ease of handling create cakes of great structural integrity while the mild but distinct flavors show off many fillings, glazes, and icings to advantage.
Have a bite?
Can you taste the exquisite blend of vanilla, lemon, and almond and feel the smooth, fine texture? Mmmm….Grandmama Dexter would be proud;)
Meanwhile, here’s a bit of eye candy that was distracting me during the party, my grandson Josiah. Now THAT’S yummy!
He’s wearing the straw hat his granddaddy got for his birthday.
Then here’s the bit of eye candy that has distracted me for the past thirty-five years!
In China, men retire between fifty-five and sixty. Many of the “old men” go to the park in straw hats with their caged birds of a morning to chit chat, gamble, and just generally hang out! Our friends couldn’t resist getting Stacy his own straw hat and bird cage. Unfortunately, my photography for this whole post kind of stank- but you probably get my drift!
From China with love!

Homemade Chips and Restaurant-Style Salsa

Having spent 16 years in Texas, chips and salsa are to us what french fries and ketchup are to most people. When we moved to China, we craved the crunchy, salty chips, smothered in the tangy zip of salsa, but could only find pale, stale imitations for exorbitant rates at the foreign food store. For years, we had no way to solve this fiesta fiasco…until we moved to the Muslim section of town and discovered flat breads. Eureka! These large, thin disks aren’t exactly tortillas, but they definitely served our purpose.

For those of you who don’t live in a developing country and can easily buy bags of chips whenever the mood strikes, feel free to scroll down to the salsa part of the post. For my fellow expatriates, I hope you find the secret to delicious tortilla chips as exciting as we did!

Start with large Muslim flat breads (or tortillas if you can get them, or Indian naan if that’s the part of the world you live in).

Cut into strips…

…and then cut those strips into triangles…

…until you have a whole bowlful prepared.

Set up  your work station, with a wok full of oil (or a frying pan…but I’m doing it China style) and a platter lined with paper towels next to it.

When the oil is sufficiently hot (I test it by dropping in a chip and seeing if it sizzles vigorously), take a handful of chips and carefully drop them into the oil.

Don’t worry if your hands aren’t as large as mine; you can just drop in two handfuls. :)

Stir the chips so that they brown evenly. See my handy super-sized chopsticks? They’re one of my favorite kitchen tools, especially when deep-frying.

Remove from oil (it should only take about a minute to a minute and a half per batch), drain and lightly salt.

If you’re looking for a more health-conscious method for making these chips, you can lightly coat the raw chips in olive oil and bake in the oven a few minutes until crisp. Mom did that, and she said they were almost as tasty as the deep fried chips.

Now for the other half of this dynamic duo!

First, assemble whole, peeled tomatoes; onion; bell pepper; a garlic clove; cilantro; lemon juice; and salt.

Dump one can of whole, peeled tomatoes into the blender. Probably you’re thinking that fresh tomatoes would be preferable, but we’ve tried it both ways and think the canned are better in this recipe (shocking, I know). They’re also expedient, as you don’t have to peel or chop the tomatoes.

Peel and smash a clove of garlic. Be sure that your cutting board is thoroughly disreputable, just like ours. :)

Roughly chop half a bell pepper…

…half a small onion or one fourth of a large one…

…and a bunch of cilantro.

Dump all of these into the blender, along with several healthy dashes of lemon juice (you can use fresh squeezed, if you have it, or lime juice is also good)…

…and salt.

If you have a jalapeno, now would be a good time to add that. We can’t get those here, and the Chinese hot peppers just don’t taste right, so we go without the heat. Blend for a few seconds, until salsa looks like this-

Now add one final can of tomatoes…

..and pulse very quickly, leaving it slightly chunky. Our blender is turbo-powered, so my salsa didn’t have very many chunks in it. That’s okay, it was still good!

As you can see, it makes quite a lot, so feel free to cut  the recipe in half unless you have a large family or want to munch on it for several days.

Chips and salsa- the perfect pairing! It almost made me want to burst into Spanish, but after ten years in China “Mama, where are my pajamas?” and “The fat man is eating the bread” is about all I remember, so I will refrain. :)

Mmmmm, this makes me one happy senorita!

Restaurant-Style Salsa

Two cans of whole, peeled tomatoes

Half a bell pepper

Half a small onion or a quarter of a large onion

One clove of garlic

One bunch cilantro

One jalapeno (if desired)

Lemon juice



Throw one can of tomatoes into a blender. Roughly chop the bell pepper, onion, garlic, cilantro and jalapeno. Add several generous dashes of lemon juice (depending on how acidic you like it; I like mine pretty lemony) and salt to taste. Blend for several seconds. Throw in final can of tomatoes and quickly pulse, leaving slightly chunky.

This recipe is very forgiving; in fact, I almost hesitate to call it a recipe, because I never measure. If you like your salsa a little sweeter, you could throw in some mango or peach. If you like it chunkier, pulse in the blender for a briefer time.

Should keep in the refrigerator for up to a week.


P.S. Many thanks to my friend, Rachel, for making this treat possible. We no longer live in the Muslim section of town, and have been unable to find these breads anywhere. She made a special stop in our old neighborhood to pick these up for us, knowing how much I had been craving chips and salsa. Is she a great friend, or what? :)