Sunday, June 9, 2013

...what I learned about life from banana nut bread

These are my treasures. They are covered in stains and falling apart.
I've entered most into the computer but I can't seem to part with the old handwritten or typed copies.

Yes, I have strong ties to banana nut bread. One of my mother's recipes for this delight survived everything nature hurled at us and the memories of her efforts are fresh. But beyond an emotional - nay, sensual - connection, practical lessons exist.

I've thrown together meals faster than you can say Bob's-your-uncle. I am, then, most grateful for a leisurely kitchen moment. This gift came today. But the practices that made this baking endeavor a pleasure carry over to rushed daily sessions and apply to other areas of life as well.

Get organized.
I read the recipe last night. Understand...I'm one of those people who can never quite remember baking proportions. Is it one teaspoon or one and a quarter? Last night I checked ingredients and instructions.

When I got up, I took two eggs out of the refrigerator along with a stick of butter to allow time for these to reach room temperature. I measured the dry ingredients into a bowl and whisked them together. Measured the sugar into a small glass Pyrex bowl. May I insert here that I love Dollar Tree? Four of these handy kitchen aids for - you got it - one dollar.  Had breakfast and read the news. Just before I began assembling, I mashed the bananas in another bowl. Whipped the eggs in yet another and added the vanilla. Chopped the walnuts and, yep, put them in one of the $-Tree wonders.

Life Skill Equivalent of Get Organized: This works in every aspect of existence. I've learned - from trying the opposite approach - that discipline and organization make for a happier, simpler existence with fewer crises and less drama. Choose clothes the night before. Meditate before rising. Make a budget. But don't be rigid. Somedays good intentions and plans are up-ended. But if every day is pandemonium, perhaps personal discipline and planning have been given short-shrift.

Clean as you go.
My method is a varietal. [Life in and around wine country has crept into my lexicon.] Before starting, I emptied the dishwasher. As I mixed the bread, I rinsed the bowls and implements as I finished with each. Stacked them in the sink. When I put the bread in the oven, I loaded these into the dishwasher and wiped down the counters. I find this less overwhelming than a pile of bowls and implements in various stages of food-hardening. And less annoying than opening the dishwasher door seven, eight, fourteen times.

Life Skill Equivalent of Clean As You Go: Before going to sleep, review the day. Take an inventory of the events and the interactions. Recognize thoughtless and rude behavior and resolve to make amends. ASAP. This keeps wounds from festering. We're not responsible for another's response, only our actions.

Follow GOOD directions and don't take shortcuts.
A time-proven recipe has worked the kinks out of the finished product. With the exception of my friend Barbara's cherry dump cake, mixing in a prescribed fashion works best. I avoid artificial flavorings. "Artificial vanilla extract is an abomination." Chapter 1, Vs. 1 The Gospel of Baking According to Henrietta, Vancene, Jo and Celeste. Fresh ingredients - the real stuff - produce the best results.

Life Skill Equivalent of Follow Directions and Avoid Shortcuts: Look at other people whose lives mirror qualities you want to emulate. Learn from those who have gone before. This is the gift of the ages. We humans are nothing if not original...we make our own mistakes. None of us are perfect. But at least aim high and let these slips be lessons for us and for those who follow. Don't fast-forward past the important stuff.  Listen to others. Stick to your principles.

Finally, share with others.
This part is entirely Life Skill: Good food is better when shared with family and friends. Granted, the covered dish supper is one of the sacraments of southern churches. ALL denominations - in fellowship halls of temples, sanctuaries, cathedrals, synagogues, and mosques and on planks stretched underneath oak trees of country congregations - partake. If you've never seen Babette's Feast, feast your eyes on this adaptation of an Isak Dineson story...a fine example of communion in action.

The late Audrey Hepburn loved this quote: "As you grow older, you will discover that you have two hands: one for helping yourself and one for helping others." The two go-together like catfish and hushpuppies. A favorite adage of mind comes from the Swedes: "Shared joy is a double joy. Shared sorrow is a half-sorrow." No one should starve in our world. If you can't invite everyone to your table, find a way to see that empty bellies are filled with healthy food. And always say "thank you" for your bounty. There's a reason we call this GRACE.

Here's one of my mom's three banana nut bread recipes...the worst of them is delicious.


1-1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract (okay, I put 1 whole teaspoon...)
1 stick unsalted butter at room temperature
1 cup sugar (Mother put 1-1/2 cups. She also hoarded caramels under the skirted table by her bed.)
3 very ripe bananas, peeled and mashed with a fork (about a cup)
1/2 cup sliced pecans

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Sift the flour, baking soda and salt together into a bowl.
Whisk the eggs and vanilla together in another bowl.
Grease and flour a 9x5x3 inch loaf pan.
Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
Gradually pour the egg mixture into the butter and mix.
Add the bananas and mix until incorporated.
With a rubber spatula, fold the flour mixture into the banana mixture.
Fold in the pecans. 
Bake about 55 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the bread comes out clean.
Cool the bread in the pan on a rack for 5 minutes, then turn out and let cool completely on a rack.
Wrap in plastic wrap or wax paper and put into a ziplock bag.
The printed recipe said, "Banana bread is best served the next day."
Mother said: "Eat a slice immediately. If it's no good, you'll have time to make another before company comes ."
We're only thinking of our guests.
But it does get better every day. 
I've never had one last more than two days, however.


GretchenJoanna said...

Your post is as warm and comfy as the bread itself must be!

Celeste Bracewell said...

blessings, my friend...

BrightSoul said...

Oh, that bread looks like my Mom's!