On Banana Bread (but not really just banana bread)

Banana Bread Slice | FoodLovesWriting.com

Like cookies and reading and the beginning of spring, banana bread is something I would tell you I’ve loved a long, long time. In this blog’s infant years, I baked Joy of Cooking banana bread, Boston bakery banana bread and a banana bread with streusel topping that stole my heart. I baked Mrs. Newman’s banana cake and, a month into marriage, banana muffins. I’ve baked banana bread waffles and, more recently, sourdough banana bread French toast. I love banana bread; I get banana bread; when it comes to banana bread, what is there that’s left to know?

But then a few weeks ago, some friends had us over for dinner and served homemade banana bread for dessert, saying quickly that it was “half almond flour and half quinoa flour” and made with “almond milk instead of regular milk,” and, a few bites in, I was looking at banana bread in a whole new way. Afterward, I, of course, went home and, two days later, pulled out (yet another) a beloved banana recipe, revising ingredients as I stirred and poured, and whipping up the version pictured in this post.

The whole experience reminded me of one of the kitchen’s best gifts to us, not unlike a gift I’m regularly given here, at this site: the ability to see in new ways. I never knew adapting a banana bread recipe would be as simple as a one-to-one flour switch with half almond flour and half quinoa or that doing so would create such you’d-never-know-it-was-gluten-free results. Likewise, I’ve learned so many things here about areas of life I thought I knew, like friendship and creativity and writing, all from sticking around and chatting with you all.

With that in mind, and to thank you again for your support, encouragement and feedback on the last two posts, I’m giving you not only a revised version of my friend Kelley’s banana bread, which was previously posted here, but also a list of links to recent findings that have helped open my eyes in some way. Hope you enjoy these pieces as much as I have; happy weekending, friends!

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Sprouted Coconut Cocoa Banana Muffins

sprouted coconut cocoa banana muffins up close

The first week Tim and I got back to Nashville, while we settled into a regular rhythm of making meals and paying bills and sharing a home office together, I began tackling the to-do list that follows a wedding. There were thank-you notes to write, bank accounts to merge, a pretty major name change to take care of—at the DMV, the social security office, with basically every account I have on record anywhere—and even looking back now, with it all done and finished and behind me, I can tell you there were definite low points (i.e., AT&T: Why is it so hard to get two existing users spun off into a new account? WHY?) and definite high points (i.e., these muffins).

baking muffins

I’ve always been the kind of girl to crave a couple hours alone in the kitchen. When I used to work a regular office job, I’d often come home at the end of the day, tired and not really wanting to go anywhere, and I’d comfort myself with cooking (eventually with my camera and you guys to join me, and thus this blog was born). Sometimes I’d play music or watch an online TV show in the background. Sometimes I’d talk to myself out loud. What mattered was the way it felt like downtime—cooking doesn’t always feel like that.

dark chocolate

If you talked to our friend Corri, for example, who came over for dinner last week, he could tell you what a different kind of cooking looks like. He could tell you about walking into a house and seeing both cooks still in the kitchen, green beans on the stove, chicken in the oven, flour all over the counters, and about hearing the sad, sad story of two back-to-back attempts to remake macarons and failing. At some point during our meal, I’m pretty sure I was apologizing to him for apologizing, that’s how bad things had gotten in my mind—and I do mean in my mind because the reality was our meal was perfectly good, thanks to that very capable man I married—but rather than loving my time in the kitchen and my contributions to what we were eating, I had been frustrated by it, by how my results weren’t matching my expectations.

baking banana muffins

I think that’s part of the difference between baking for leisure and baking for a purpose, and I think that’s what made these muffins such a highlight of our first week of Nashville married life.

muffins in the oven

There were a lot of things I was doing for a purpose that week: waiting for two hours at the DMV, mailing cards, sitting down with Tim to plan our monthly budget—but baking these muffins? That was different.

one sprouted coconut cocoa banana muffin

Because when you’re baking one morning in your pajamas while your husband works in the next room, you can talk to yourself, you can spill flour, you can burn something—you’ve freed yourself to. But when you bake for company or for a business or for the first time at a Thanksgiving dinner with all your family, you constrain yourself into thinking something must be how it must be and anything else is disaster. Or at least I do that.

buttered muffin

These muffins didn’t have to be anything special, just a way to use up ingredients and a way to relax for a few afternoon hours. Heaven knows, Tim and I would eat them regardless of how they ended up tasting. I found the original recipe online, where it came with high reviews, and I improvised ingredients with what we had (hello, huge sale on sprouted wheat flour at Whole Foods!) and ingredients I wanted to add.

muffins in cake stand

When I brought one to Tim, sliced and buttered and still steaming hot, it was just a happy bonus that we liked them—not too sweet, the perfect vehicle for a little jam or honey, yet chocolatey and cakey and a nice morning treat.

buttered muffins

And so it was these sprouted coconut cocoa banana muffins that, set beneath a glass bowl, first graced our dining room table, the dining room table that Tim built, and made our first week together in our first house feel a little more special, a little more right, a little more like home.

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peanut butter chocolate milk

peanut butter chocolate milk

I told Tim the other day,

you know,

the best things in life

really are free.

____

Like sunlight in the morning:

morning sunlight

And sunsets at night:

sunset

Parks filled with trees:

parks filled with trees

Views like these:

windows in my kitchen

views like this

A day at the lake:

a day at the lake

And the man that I love:

tim

I mean, I don’t know about you, but I need to be reminded of this. Because, as much as I talk about simplicity here, the truth is: I am easily swept away into opinions and concerns that are anything but.

That’s why I’m starting a new series here at the blog (in life?) focused on simplicity—starting with a recipe that’s so easy, it’s honestly ridiculous. Those of you who wanted more Vitamix recipes, here you go! Those of you who don’t have a Vitamix, a regular blender still works.

Behold: time-tested, always delicious, peanut butter chocolate milk.

making peanut butter chocolate milk

peanut butter chocolate milk

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Banana Coconut Dark Chocolate Buckwheat Cookies

You know those people who are always telling you how busy they are? It’s kind of annoying because really, we all make the time to do the things we really want to do. Even when we’re crazy crazy busy, we still eat, for example—or at least, I still eat—maybe you sleep or meet your friend for coffee or buy a new lamp for the living room. The point is, I’ve always thought to myself, even when it was my own voice I was hearing say it, that hello? You say you’re too busy, but really you are just admitting that you don’t want to make the time for something.

But then the last few weeks happened.

cookie recipe

And what I’ve been realizing—amidst taking trips to Chicago, having guests in town, looking for new work, planning a wedding, staying in touch with friends, and dealing with everyday emergencies like an ant problem or a shower curtain that continually wants to fall down—is that sometimes, being too busy is less about all the actual things you’re doing and more about what those things do to your mind. It can be hard to just sit and think and process things, even when you want to. You start to feel lost in it all and you start to forget really obvious things that you should remember.

cookie dough

Last weekend, for example, I had my leftovers packaged up at lunch—and then forgot them at the table.

I took some out-of-town guests on a tour of Franklin—and got lost twice.

While things on the to-do list are getting accomplished (caterer picked! engagement photos done! jazz band found!), I feel kind of at a loss as to how to do anything more than just tell you about them. I worry that I’m becoming the girl who not only tells you how busy she is but then when you do get her talking, has a one-track mind of WEDDING.

Yikes.

sucanat syrup

Thankfully, yesterday and today, I’ve been given a little bit of everyday time—time to return to work, time to write a blog, time to think about all of these things. And also thankfully, I am continually around a man who is much less ruffled by the activity and to-do lists than I am.

So last night, we made cookies.

cookies coming out of oven

We’ve made these cookies before, a few months ago, pretty soon after I’d moved to Nashville. They’re an adaptation of a sugar-free recipe in Dr. Josh Axe’s Real Food cookbook, which uses just bananas and maple syrup as the sweeteners. The first time, they were like banana macaroons—oddly shaped the way coconut macaroons tend to be, but with the hint of banana flavor providing the sweetness.

Last night, when we used buckwheat flour instead of spelt and a simple syrup (half Sucanat, half water, heated over the stove) instead of maple, we ended up with an even more different version: gray in color (thank you, buckwheat) and less sweet.

cookies

Regardless though, these funny little mounds of baked goodness were fun to eat—and hard to stop eating—making them perfect for whatever schedule you find yourself in, be it busy weeks, everyday weeks, or something in between.

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Accidental Chocolate Trifle

Here is something I’ve been thinking about for a while now: it seems for the most part that the home cooking world is divided into two camps. You see it when you’re a guest in someone’s home, you see it on cooking shows and books and blogs, you see it in yourself if you think carefully enough.

First, there are those with skills; then, there are those with kindness.

Let me explain what I mean—or maybe I’ll start with what I don’t mean. I don’t mean that the cooks with skills aren’t kind or that the cooks with kindness aren’t skilled. They aren’t mutually exclusive. I don’t mean that cooking well makes you a snob or that wanting to have a nice dinner party means you’re a monster.

I think what I just mean is this: There are people who wow you and there are people who love you. And sometimes I wonder which one I’m trying to be.

The first group is successful, you know? They are highly organized, on top of things—the kind of people who have you over and you are awed by every picture-perfect thing they give you. I know a lot of people like this. I admire them.

The second group, well, they might not impress you as easily. They bake you something they know you like—it might be simple, it might be complex. Their kitchen might be messy when you come over, and they’re quick to confess they dumped a tray of cookies in the trash before you got there. You don’t leave their house talking about the amazing recipe; you leave talking about the amazing night. I know a few people like this. I admire them, too.

Of course the world is rarely black and white, and so there’s a good chance most of us fall somewhere in the midst of these extremes. I’m glad for that. Because while I think I’d rather be the second person, the one who loves people with the way she cooks for them, I spend an awful lot of time forgetting that and trying only to be the first.

This weekend for example, I baked two cookie recipes Friday night, changing four or five ingredients along the way: disaster. Saturday, I baked two trays of chocolate cupcakes; they overflowed the tins. I went to the store for heavy whipping cream and didn’t buy enough. I went back to the store for more heavy whipped cream and forgot what I needed to buy for lunch. I made so many silly mistakes, did so many things I wish I hadn’t—and don’t get me started on the ice cream I’d made Thursday that was so bad, someone spit it out when she tasted it.

chocolate trifle

You could say the saving grace was this trifle, the perfect way to salvage eight cups of cupcake crumbles, but even more that that, it was the party I took it to, where this trifle (and another one of these strudels) that I’d spent so much time on blended in with a table filled with other birthday desserts. There were Happy 50th Birthday cookies, with dough from a 5 and a 0 set together before baking to make perfect 5-0s. There was one of the best cakes I’ve ever had, three layers and super moist, topped with chocolate frosting and decor.

And mostly, there was the person we were celebrating, as a surprise, and all the people who came together to show her love. I want to remember that when I think about this weekend and also, when I think about this trifle.

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this shell (POM-banana smoothie)

skies

It is the strangest thing to look at the shell of a person, the body without the soul, and to comprehend how someone could be here and then, not here at all. I spent some time thinking about that this last weekend, surrounded by people who were bonded only by the shell we were standing near, the shell of someone who had lived long and with infectious charm.

I’m thinking about it now as I type, the fingers of this body punching keys on a keyboard, forming words chosen by my mind, my thoughts, my sense of reason and understanding. Someday, these fingers won’t type, my body will cease to work, the breath of life will be puffed out of me but, what is inside of me—what is most me—that will never die, that will just move somewhere else. I will move somewhere else.

POM

Right now, as I’m typing, I’m sitting next to a window, feeling with my body the slight chill of the air outside that leaks through into this room. I can hear the buzzing of someone mowing grass. I can see clouds streaking the sky through the window. These days, there are signs of life all around me—green lawns, budding branches, even new babies being born. There is that paradox: all around us, death and life. Here then gone. Alive then not.

Saturday, I made this easy smoothie, part POM Wonderful and part frozen banana, and slurped it down to the bottom, drank every sweet and icy bit until I felt it go down deep and chill me, too.

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