*Full disclosure* David Leite is a dear friend of mine and of Food Bloggers of Canada. He was the keynote speaker at our very first FBC conference back in 2013. Amidst a freak ice storm in April, he was the consummate professional. He warmed us all with his grace, humour and was forever declared an honourary Canadian.
From the moment I saw David tearing up on Facebook when the first box of Notes on a Banana: A Memoir of Food, Love, and Manic Depression books were delivered to his house, I knew I had to talk to him about his book. And of course, when I was reading the book, I felt like I was sitting front row at the Ellen show watching David bare his soul to Ellen (yes that Ellen), to the audience and to the world.
When I spoke with David, I asked him all sorts of questions...
- Q - How did you capture memories that spanned decades from when you were a child?
- A - Lots of photos, digging through newspapers and talking to relatives.
- Q - How does it compare to writing a cookbook?
- A - No comparison; the most challenging creative project he’s ever undertaken.
- Q - What's your strategy in using certain words to evoke certain reactions?
- A - Verbs when it comes to cooking like “beans clattering into a pan” or my favourite, calling the kitchen cabinets “pumpernickel” rather than brown.
More than Food
But most importantly, we just talked about the book, feeling different from others and how to deal with that. And to be honest, I wasn't sure how to fit our chat onto this site because a memoir about food, love and manic depression doesn’t necessarily align with our usual cookbook reviews or food chatter. But this book is too important to not be shared.
I knew that I was going to like Notes on a Banana. I knew I was going to learn from it and I knew that I was going to zoom through the book. I just didn’t know to what extent I’d like it, how much I was going to learn or how fast I was going to zoom.
And boy, I liked it and wow, I zoomed!
Going on a Journey
David takes you on a wild roller-coaster ride that is/was his ongoing bipolar battle. At times, he shares the depression part of the illness and other times he's flying high on life. Depending on his mood, David takes you right into his mind using his words to slow things down or forces you to read quickly with long-winded sentences to mimic his thoughts at the time. It's exhausting yet exhilarating and allows for a glimpse into what a day in David's life looks like.
When a book can simultaneously make you laugh, cry and reflect on life, it’s a book worth reading and Notes on a Banana is that book. Only David could write a memoir about food, love and manic depression while weaving it together so thoughtfully, making its appeal universal and absolutely inclusive.
David tackles a number of significant subjects in Notes on a Banana but at its core, the book is a journey with an end goal to find the truth of oneself. It was David searching for answers about his family, his culture, his friends, his sexual orientation, his ongoing battle with mental illness and trying to figure out how those can all intersect and occupy a happy place in his life.
The Importance of Notes on a Banana
Notes on a Banana is and can be a vehicle of change. David said during the interview that he has now told his truth. His truth consists of 370 pages and over 115,000 words, which he hopes encourages others to find their own truth.
This book is completely relatable to anyone who has ever felt like they don’t belong or fit in with the crowd, and the lessons in it are plentiful. The message is that if David can get through everything and find the light at the end of the tunnel, he hopes it can serve as inspiration that others can find their light as well.
For anyone who ever felt like an outsider and is thinking of giving up, David has a message and a wish...
David's message - “There is hope. That would be the greatest thing to come from the book.”
David's wish - Everyone can use the simple action of writing a note on a banana to make a small difference in the lives of others like his mother did (and continues) to do to this day.
Soup to Eat and Soup to Wear
And because we couldn't pass up on opportunity to share a fantastic recipe, this Kale and Bean Soup is not only delicious but it plays a central part in David's family history.
- 11/4 cups dried red kidney beans, picked over, rinsed, and soaked overnight in enough water to cover by 3 inches
- 2 tablespoons olive oil, or more if needed
- 12 ounces chouriço, linguiça, or dried-cured smoked Spanish chorizo, cut into ¼-inch coins
- 2 large yellow onions, chopped
- 1 Turkish bay leaf
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 4 cups homemade beef stock or low-sodium store-bought broth
- 11/2 pounds red potatoes, peeled and cut into ½-inch cubes
- ½ pound collard greens or kale, thick middle stem and fibrous veins removed, roughly chopped
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Drain the beans, dump them into a medium saucepan, and cover with water. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and simmer, partially covered, until the beans are tender but hold their shape, about 45 minutes. Drain and set aside.
- Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium heat until it shimmers. Dump in the chouriço and cook until crispy, 7 to 10 minutes. Fish out the slices with a slotted spoon and transfer to paper towels. Pour off all but 3 tablespoons of fat from the pot. If, on the other hand, the pot is dry, drizzle in more oil. Add the onions and bay leaf and cook, stirring often, until deeply golden brown, 20 to 25 minutes. Adjust the heat to prevent the onions from burning. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes and cook for 1 minute more.
- Pour in the beef stock and 5 cups of water, add the potatoes, and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, covered, until the potatoes are just tender, 10 to 12 minutes. (If the beans haven’t finished cooking, remove the soup from the heat. Continue when the beans are tender.)
- While the soup is simmering, spoon a third of the beans and a bit of the soup liquid into a food processor and pulse to make a loose paste, then pass the paste through a sieve. This gives the dish extra body without errant bean skins floating in your soup. It’s entirely optional but, I think, preferable. When the potatoes are cooked, stir in the collards, cooked chouriço, bean paste, and the beans. Turn off the heat and let the soup sit for 10 minutes. Remove the bay leaf, season with salt and pepper to taste, and ladle into warm bowls.
You can find Notes on a Banana on Amazon.ca, Amazon.com, Chapters and of course your local bookstore.
Recipe along with Kale and Bean Soup photo originally published in The New Portuguese Table, reprinted with gracious permission from Clarkson Potter.
Thank you to Harper Collins for supplying a copy of Notes on a Banana.
This article was written by Ethan Adeland, co-founder of FBC.