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Is that sand between my toes or are you happy to see me?

Banana Walnut Bread

Banana Walnut Bread

I’ve decided to build an iPhone app that will help people answer the question, “What did you do on your summer vacation?” The twist—the gimmick—will be that you can’t write a word until Summer has receded into memory, your flip-flops have been thrown under the bed for the winter, and you can’t leave the toasty warmth of your kitchen without wearing something made of wool.  Yes, friends, this will be “The Procrastinator’s Guide to Summer Scrap Booking.”

I’m sure I’ll get around to this…eventually.

Following that general timeline, I’m just getting around to jotting down a few poetic thoughts about what came out of my kitchen during the warm weather. Hint: I could fit these thoughts on a cheap postcard of Ocean Grove, New Jersey.  Why Ocean Grove?  It’s a really nice summer place, but I’m scared to go there because John Quinones and the crew from ABC’S “What Would You Do?” keep popping up, documenting people’s bad behavior. Hey, I’m an angel, but with the wrong editing I may come off badly. And as Nora Ephron said, “Lighting is everything.”

But I digress…

The kitchen of my expansive New York City apartment (with views of Central Park, the Hudson AND East Rivers—framed) gets very hot during the summer. I find it interesting that something grown in tropical climates, the common household Banana, cannot survive a 90-degree New York City apartment kitchen without becoming the botanical equivalent of road kill.  Yet, stored in the refrigerator they begin to resemble the pods from “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”.

Predictably, I gave in to the common solution of using dying bananas to make Banana Walnut Bread.  I used the recipe in Craig Claiborne’s version of “The New York Times Cookbook” which dates back to 1961.  As with most things from that era, it has a bit more charm (hello), although this is due to Claiborne having called it, “Banana Tea Bread”.  That name conjures up the vibe of a different era, but I don’t own a tea service or a doily, so this Banana Walnut Bread—with canola oil replacing the recipe’s shortening—was purely a weekend snack.  Toasted, then topped with a little cream cheese, it also made a really good high carb pre-workout breakfast. (I make no claims about this being health food, but it certainly is wholesome.) Using Canola Oil means you can eat it straight from the fridge without it being like a big, cold, brick, but toasting it brings out its earth tones.

Pumpkin Blondies

Pumpkin Blondies

A few weeks ago, one of my treasured yoga teachers, Kyle Miller, decamped to Los Angeles.  All of my teachers are amazing, but yoga seems to waft from Kyle’s pores like the scent of patchouli from a burning incense stick.  I started practicing yoga at a fairly late stage in life, and am about as flexible and graceful as a “two by four”, so I consider myself lucky to have had someone as skilled, enthusiastic, and spiritual as Kyle to get me enthusiastic about returning to the mat.  Kyle has teamed up with some colleagues to start a business called Yoga for Bad People.  I hope someday she’ll return to New York and start “Yoga for Good People who are Bad at Yoga”.  I’ll be there.

Kyle’s final New York class was a packed, emotional (and sweaty) treat to attend. She is beloved. My Bon Voyage gift to her was a short stack of Pumpkin Blondies. I was hoping that the pumpkin and maple flavors would give her a little taste of the Northeast to savor in Sunny LA.  These were based on a simple Blondie recipe I found on line; the pumpkin, maple syrup, and chocolate chunks were my addition. (I struggle when it comes to making things without chocolate. The Banana Walnut Bread mentioned above almost succumbed.)

Mixed Berry Crisp with Pistachio Crumb topping

Mixed Berry Crisp with Pistachio Crumb topping

This past summer I found myself craving the delicate richness of home-made ice cream…often.  Perhaps too often. My excuse was that I was experimenting with using the same base to make different flavors.  Really. It was for the greater good. My favorite flavor remains Peppermint Stick. I tried adding chocolate to it, but the chocolate gets too cold, which blunts its flavor. I had better results adding finely chopped chocolate to the top of the scooped ice cream.

To accompany one particularly silky batch of Vanilla Bean, I made very simple, little Berry Crisps.  These make suitable baking subjects during the hot weather because the berries are (relatively) cheap and plentiful, and because you can throw them in the oven and retreat to the air conditioning while they bake.  The zaftig smoothness of the ice cream cuts the spiky, almost vinegary sweetness of the berries.  And the cold / hot “thing” is my second most favorite food juxtaposition, after “salty / sweet”.  So, there may have been the odd salted pistachio in the crumb topping.

Legally Blonde

Hermits

Hermits

I am a big fan of the fall. Yes, a lot of it is because I am more comfortable in the cool weather. I’d also be lying if I didn’t admit that I love the fall because it is time to eat all the foods I love. Lingering in the back of my mind is that come January the slate is wiped clean—and so is my diet. So turn on the oven! It’s time to eat those Maple-roasted sweet potatoes, throw some extra noodles in the chicken soup, and pull out the butter, flour, and eggs and start baking.

(Do you like the way I worked in the name of the blog?)

A week or two ago on her Facebook page a friend of mine posted a picture of some heart-shaped brownies she had baked. They looked really good.

I’ve had a tough time getting those out of my mind.

I am a big fan of brownies. Throw in some ice cream and hot fudge sauce and I’ll jump up and down in unfettered joy (I promise that’s not something you’ll ever have to witness.)  But when all is said and done I’ll take my brownies “neat,” and very happily. My only rule is that I don’t like them hot or even warm. I like my brownies cool and day-old so I can taste the chocolate better. That’s just me.

All this talk of brownies got me to thinking that the next time I serve brownies I’d like to try serving them with something that compliments them.

No, not a friend telling them how great they are.

More like another cookie or bar that would serve as a contrast to the rich intensity of their sweet dark chewiness.

Often people pair brownies with blondies, but I always find those lacking somehow, as if their only purpose in life is to be just like a brownie but without the chocolate. I like the fact that blondies have similar chewiness, but I want to find something with its own chewy identity that will stand tall and proud next to the brownies.

Looking out my window at a tree whose leaves were just beginning to change color inspired me: fall is the time for hermits! Some of you know what I’m talking about; others of you are wondering why I have taken a sudden left turn into talking about a guy who hides away for months at a time. Well for those who didn’t know, hermits are cookies, and they are great in the fall because they have a chewy molasses-tinged earthiness that seems to fit a time of year when we’re just beginning to adjust to the chill outside. Hermits (thought I) are just the thing to sing the alto line to the brownies’ screechy soprano.

My only questions were 1.) What should I do with the raisins that are always part of a hermit? and 2.) What should I do with the molasses that is always part of a hermit?

The reason I ask about the raisins is that I really don’t know anyone who likes them in cookies. Everyone I know picks them out. But I like them. A good compromise would be to chop up the raisins, but that would add a fussy step to an otherwise simple recipe. What about Zante Currants?

No, Zante Currants was not a foreign exchange student I met in high school. Zante Currants are dried currants, very small (about the size of a clump of poppy seeds), with the requisite raisin flavor, but without the gooeyness to which raisins succumb after a visit to the oven. And no chopping required.

The molasses is a slightly easier question. Some people don’t like it, so I’ll use less. (Phew, that was easy.)

While they were baking I had a revelation: remember the old trick real estate agents used to use? The one where they’d bake apples and cinnamon in the oven while they were holding an open house? I recommend baking hermits at the next open house. Folks will move right in.

The result is a very basic bar cookie. Not too sweet. They reminded me of the classic “after-school” cookie. A little plain, but very pleasant, and likely nice when dunked into a cold glass of milk. Wholesome is the word they used to use to describe cookies like these.

(Does anyone still dunk cookies in milk? For that matter, does anyone still let their kids eat cookies after school? Who cares! You be the kid. Hey you’re done with school, right? In my book that still counts as “after school.”)

Like brownies (and revenge) hermits are best served cold, preferably after being allowed to sit around the house for a day. And yes, you’ll be fighting over the “edge” pieces.

So brownie-lovers, you are hereby notified that the next time I serve brownies, they’ll have company.

Try my recipe for hermits by clicking here.

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