Monday, June 29, 2009

Licking the bowl

It seemed like my banana bread was doomed from the beginning. Even buying the walnuts that the recipe required was an ordeal -- I had to endure two VERY old men hitting on me in the checkout line as I was drenched in pungent sweat from a recent run. But it was when I picked up my mother's old white mixing bowl with grooves set in from 15 years of making sweet potato pies and 7 up cakes -- the same bowl we used to dip our fingers in when she wasn't looking -- that I felt at home. Safe even.

The banana bread wasn't supposed to be anything special, just a quick weekday solution to a bunch of overripe fruit on the table. The bananas had developed their darling spots by this point, the little ones that let you know the sugar is here. But I guess even my banana bread -- the steady and practical gal amongst sexier bundts -- had to have her day in the sun.

When mixing the butter, I forgot a chunk of it on the table, then wondered why my sugar and butter combo was so lumpy. I solved it by guestimating how much butter was already in there. I only learned later that I used way too much.

The buttermilk in the fridge had become cheese, so I had to use milk instead.

I put in too much vanilla flavoring, which gave the batter a somewhat alcohol-like flavor. I cut it with nutmeg.

And I almost burned the entire thing because I was on the phone.

The result, however, was a buttery and fluffy conconction with a delicious muffin top crunch. It was gone by the morning, due to a family of serious eaters.

Despite the fact that it was a total screw up by Betty Crocker's standards, I was proud to have found my own way through a classic.

Take that, Betty.

Banana Bread
(adapted from "Betty Crocker's Cookbook")

3 medium (seriously) ripe bananas
1 1/4 cups sugar
3/4 cup butter or stick margarine, softened
2 large eggs
1/2 cup milk
2-3 tsps. of vanilla
A half a tsp. of nutmeg
2 1/2 cups of all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup chopped nuts

1. Move oven rack to low position so that tops of pans will be in center of oven. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease bottoms only of 2 loaf pans, 8 1/2 x 4 1/2 x 2 1/2 inches, or one loaf pan, 9 x 5 x 3 inches, with shortening. (I use a bundt pan, and it comes out just lovely.)

2. Mix sugar and butter in large bowl. Stir in eggs until well blended. Stir in bananas, milk and vanilla, beat until smooth. Add nutmeg. Stir in flour, baking soda and salt just until moistened. Stir in nuts. Divide batter evenly between pans.

3. Bake 8-inch loaves about 1 hour, 9-inch loaf about 1 hour 15 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Mine was a bit too done at 50 minutes, so watch your oven temperature.

Cool 10 minutes in pans on wire rack.

4. Loosen sides of loaves from pans; remove from pans and place top side up on wire rack. Cool completely, about 2 hours, before slicing. Wrap tightly and store at room temperature up to 4 days, or refrigerate up to 10 days.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Two States, Two Time Zones, Good Eating

Hello, dear friends -- yes, I know my blog is shamefully overdue. And I have nothing to say in my defense -- a long train of creative grilled cheese sandwiches made with Ezekiel bread and piled high with vegetables, Soy Delicious ice cream and multiple servings of Wild Alaskan salmon have been my solace and have stolen my inspiration. But somewhere in between a whirlwind two weeks where I have traveled from LA to Illinois, back to LA and then on to Seattle ... what can I say? I got my groove back.

You couldn't expect me to go to Chicago and not hit some good eats. Aside from the deep dish (which I got vegetarian style with low-fat cheese, and my friends didn't let me get away with it), Nigerian joloff rice with chicken, and a fun little joint called Flattop Grill where you can create your own stir fry, I have to say that the place that stole my heart was Julius Meinl. An Austrian shop featuring fine desserts and gourmet coffees, my normal dietary consciousness gave way to me hacking into two desserts simultaneously.

The esterhazy shown above contained SIX layers of a sort of hazelnut cream alternated with puff pastry, complemented with a fondant with a gorgeous design. The flavor was light and unassuming, crunchy and nutty.

The queen of the night, however was a slice of lemon lavender cake.

This light confection infused lavender (my favorite herb) with a white cake and lemon creme. In a word, it was beautiful -- like the city that I love so much.

After some serious meals, some serious working out to make up for those meals, a raspberry fizz 96 floors up from downtown Chicago,

the worst flight back to LA ever and an insane flight out of LA on Virgin Airlines (which is more of a nightclub than an airplane), I am now in Seattle, resting from a day of searching for good eats.

I had every intention of going to Delancey, Molly Wizenberg's new restaurant, but alas, it is not open yet. So I had to content myself with Pike Place Market's array of produce hustlers, offering kumquats that yielded a sweet and sour burst when popped in your mouth with the skin on,

pain au chocolat from Le Panier -- a buttery and flaky croissant wrapped around a rich chocolate center,

And fresh fish from Ivar's Seafood Bar in Coulon Park.

The weather was beautiful, visiting my family was lovely and the food was spectacular. And in the realm of the weird, while on my way to buy fresh asparagus and bell peppers from the produce hustlers, I saw an art wall on Post Alley made entirely of chewing gum.

It was so disgusting that I almost HAD to look at it. What do you think?