Sunday, January 22, 2012

Life Lessons in Banana Bread.

For the past couple of days, I've been feeling a bit down in the dumps.  The worst thing about that is that I tend to feel bad about feeling bad, which is beyond annoying.  Queue the vicious cycle (violins optional).    

So, in an effort to stick to the plan, keep a chin up, and break some ruts, I planned out some fun throughout the upcoming week and decided to call on an old favorite to liven up the here and now.   And so we bake...

Baking banana bread is my go-to feel better experience.  It's so much more than the end result.  It really is about the process  - it's downright transformative.  

The thing about banana bread is that it's moody.  It doesn't bend to anyone else's rules or expectations.  It can be trying, and frankly, always starts out looking like snot.  And I kind of love that. The best bread is made of old, once-frozen-now-thawed bananas; they are gooey and drippy and slimy and disgusting.  But pretty bananas just don't do it.  The bananas, the very thing that makes it oh-so tasty, are probably the most initially revolting part.   If that isn't a metaphor for life, I don't know what is.  

Once the wet and dry ingredients are mixed - the batter just kind of does its own thing.  Sometimes it's super runny.  Sometimes it's shockingly thick.  It does what it wants, when it wants.  And if you're feeling too controlling, too tightly wound, it'll do a number on your psyche.  But that's part of its charm. A successful banana bread forces you to trust.  It forces you to continue along the process and trust that it is what it should be; not what it is at the moment (which may make you incredibly nervous or uncomfortable), but what it will be.   Life lesson #2.  

One of my favorite moments the first time I visited my long-distance ex-boyfriend's apartment, years ago, was the first time I attempted to close the drain of the bathroom sink.  It didn't close.  I asked him about it and I'll never forget his response:  "It does what it wants.  That's why I like it.  It's got personality."  He said it with the biggest grin.  
I think of that experience and that trip every time I bake banana bread.  Because what he said is totally true and relevant.  It does what it wants.  It is moody.  And it'll do what it needs to in its own time, forget what you had in mind.  How you choose to react to it is your choice.  

Every recipe I have claims the baking time to be around an hour - give or take a few minutes.  But in actuality?  Sometimes that time is dead on.  Others, like today, it takes an additional half hour or so.  You just have to keep a weather eye and check back.  You cannot despair.  You cannot be swayed by the outward appearance.  Sometimes the end result is golden, rounded and perfect.  Sometimes, it looks a giant mess.  But the end result is always worth it.   Life lesson #3.   

No matter the process, from the icky initial snot-like consistency to the strange and sometimes mysterious baking time requirements, the end result is always beautifully imperfect.  And oh so tasty.  

I feel better now.  

Life-(re)Affirming Banana Bread

1 1/3 c. sugar
1/3 c. butter, softened (at room temp.)
1 1/2 c. smashed banana (old brown frozen ones, thawed), 3-4
1/3 c. water 
1 t. vanilla
2 eggs (at room temp.)
1 1/2 c. flour
1 t. baking soda
1 t. salt
1 t. cinnamon
1/2 t. ground cloves
1/4 t. baking powder
1/3 c. raisins and/or walnuts, optional

In a large mixing bowl, mix sugar and butter together until well blended.  Add banana, water, vanilla and eggs;  mix well.  In a separate bowl, combine flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, cloves and baking powder.  Slowly mix into banana mixture.  If you're inclined to use nuts or raisins, now is the time.  Bake in a greased and floured loaf pan at 375F for ~50 mins.  Remove from oven when a knife inserted to the center of the loaf comes out clean.   Allow to rest at least 5 minutes before slicing.  

Serve with spreadable butter and a tasty beverage.  Great for breakfast, snacks, or a tasty dessert.  


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