Posts Tagged ‘Banana Bread’

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.

Crumbs and the Single Girl

Banana Bread

Banana Bread…schmear of cream cheese optional

Several days ago I started writing the blog posting you are currently reading. As you’ll see, it’s a riff on Cosmopolitan Magazine. I had written a few paragraphs when I happened to look up from my computer and saw on my TV, “Helen Gurley Brown, 1922-2012”.

I was startled on so many levels. Startled at the timing of choosing this week to write about “her” magazine; startled at her age—90—when I really had no idea how old she was; startled at the loss of one of those folks who seemed so ubiquitous here in New York.

Listen, New York is like that: blink and your neighborhood changes. The Plaza Hotel is now a condo. H&H Bagels? Gone. Broadway Nut Shoppe? Gone. Now Helen Gurley Brown? What’s next? Who’s next?

In person Helen Gurley Brown was hard to miss. I waited on her many years ago. She was tiny. Her extremely high forehead betrayed a propensity towards proud, public, plastic surgery. She also had a very benign energy. Back in my days as a waiter I waited on some scary monsters. She was not one of them.

To her friends she was notoriously cheap. Yet, she donated $18 million to Columbia University’s School of Journalism.

I never really read Cosmo. Sure, over the years I may have picked it up and flipped through it, but I never actually read it. Last week I was waiting for the dermatologist and had a choice: Cosmo or Psoriasis Monthly. I’m not into rash porn so I picked up Cosmo. My goodness, there’s a whole world there about which I knew nothing.

Although she had long since handed over the reins to other Editors-in Chief, to my inexperienced eye the magazine appeared to have retained her infamous, singular vision. My previously uninformed impression of the magazine was that it would be full of young women propelled solely by a flake or two of Special K and a few sips of Crystal Light. The reality was that I found a section dedicated to food and drink.

This pleased me greatly. Even though under the guiding hand of Helen Gurley Brown Cosmopolitan became a guidebook for navigating the minefield of finding and balancing “HIM” and a career, I have found that one of the great unspoken keys to any young woman’s success is having a way with food. Forgive me, I am about to rant, but nonetheless here it goes: I’m sick of people (including members of my own family) who visibly and loudly wrinkle or turn up their nose at making something in the kitchen.

The only thing you know how to make is reservations, you say? Sorry. Where’s my sense of humor? It would be the depths of poor manners for me to not laugh, however please be advised that I am laughing at you not with you.

As surely as Helen Gurley Brown had a singular vision to guide young women, I too have one. Go in the kitchen and cook something for someone. Put yourself out there. “Cast thine crumbs upon the water and they come back a thousandfold.” (That’s not me, that’s from Ecclesiastes…)

To those who insist they can’t, that they’re hopeless, I say take a page out of Helen Gurley Brown: those who can’t should fake it.

Uhhh, where did your mind go? I’m still talking about food.  It is perfectly acceptable to not be able to cook well, as long as you have really and truly tried.

Go ahead and serve someone else’s food as your own, although I warn you that this is a dangerous game. Don’t try to pass off store-bought as you own for it is too easy to be caught. But if you have a friend who can cook, conspire with them. A few of their goodies in your freezer can go a long way.

But in the meantime, I say give it your best shot. Find a recipe or two that seem “doable.” Invest in a few simple pieces of quality kitchen equipment. (Use caution buying the utensils sold hanging from a peg above the meat department. Some are fine, some are not.) Learn what a ladle is. (Yes, I had to explain what a ladle is to a member of my own family. A shameful moment. A ladle!)

I’ve taken the liberty of creating a casual recipe that you can attempt. While Banana Nut Bread is usually a device for using up overripe bananas, it’s really a humble, casual cake. This version isn’t too sweet. Make this recipe and bring it to your office with an “Oh that? Yeah, I did a little baking this weekend” attitude. Make another one and keep it in your freezer (it’ll keep there, tightly wrapped, for about three months) and you’ll be ready for anything.

I can’t help but to speculate how Cosmo’s editors would “tease” the recipe on the magazine’s cover:

“What’s he really thinking when he eats your Banana Bread?”

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Here’s the recipe for Banana Nut Bread

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