And the great banana bread round-up
Once upon a time, in another life, when I read books and talked about them for a living, I worked under the benignly neglectful supervision of a self-consciously absent-minded professor (we’ll call him the AMP). The man was a work of art(ifice). He taught English; he smoked a pipe. His enthusiastic scrawlings escaped the bounds of the chalkboard and meandered onto the wall. At least once a semester, usually at the point of maximum sleepiness amongst his students, he, oh-so-carelessly, in the middle of an impassioned sentence, stepped into the waste paper basket in his classroom. He was scrawny and stoop-shouldered, with a furrowed brow and a fine head of hair, shot with distinguished gray. He wore tweed and an air of infinite, long-suffering world weariness. His students and his colleagues all enjoyed him immensely.
One particularly cold night, I sat with the AMP and his wife, Tamara, in a lecture hall that refused to get warm, listening to the words of a visiting poet. After the reading, we walked out into the frigid Michigan evening, pausing for a moment to zip up and to tilt our heads toward the crystal clear, star-littered skies. “Tamara,” moaned the AMP in his most dispirited tone, “why do people choose to live in this climate?”
Fifteen years later, the coldest winter days still evoke in me the memory of that mournful question. Over time, it’s become shortened in my mind to the single, short-hand plaint of “Tamara . . .” It’s sunk in my head, permanently, and sub-zero temperatures bring it bobbing to the surface. This past week? I’ve been stomping around in my long underwear a lot, murmuring “Tamara?” to myself.
Especially Friday, which dawned around here with its usual chaotic shoving of toaster waffles into the children, packing of lunches, finding of mittens, hurry, hurry, hurry, you’re going to be later for . . . but wait, there’s a squeal from upstairs. The girl has received the fateful text message, has verified on the web, indeed, it’s thirteen below with sustained wind chills lower than minus twenty, and school is, yes, closed. And that means preschool is too.
What follows is a flurry of email and canceled meetings and comparing of schedules and checking of vacation balances, and I am bitter, at the world, the public school system, the friggin’ wind chill. But then, the sun comes out and fills the house with light reflected off the snow. The kids curl up together in front of a movie, a sweet pile of limbs and pajamas and morning warmth, I put the kettle on, and life slows down. It’s not so bad to miss a conference call or two.
What to do with all that time? Drink tea, eat clementines and choose which banana bread to make. Winter is high banana bread time for me, and I have a number of recipes competing for my loyalty. Here are some variations I’ve made in the past year or so with some success:
- Maple-Pecan: sweetened with maple syrup, studded with pecans. I can no longer find the recipe I originally worked from, but this one is close.
- Banana-Chocolate Walnut Bread: Almost, but not quite a cake.
- The classic, Joy of Cooking recipe. Can’t go wrong.
- Orangette’s Banana Bread with Ginger and Chocolate Chips: The ginger is an inspired addition.
The loaf that carried the day on Friday, was also from Orangette (the woman is obsessed with banana bread, btw; I think there are six versions on her blog) was set apart by coconut, dark rum and a crunchy demerara sugar topping. Did her recipe call for chocolate chips? It did not. But my children were home, after all. They had to endure the pain of school being canceled. I couldn’t oppress them with chocolate chip-less banana bread as well. This loaf is great warm, rich with coconut and chocolate, and it’s also great the next day when the flavors have opened up a bit. Eaten with a cup of tea or even, after the kids have gone to bed, a little snort of cognac and a little tropicale music warming the house, it’s at least one good reason to choose to live in this climate.