baking blog ~ 2: lena b’s banana nut bread

 

i love to bake.  particularly desserts, but if you can put it in the oven — i’ll give it a try. my favorite things to bake are stand alone favorites: several types of cookies, a killer chicken pot pie, cupcakes and banana bread. i think we all (except for those that are allergic) love banana bread, don’t we? well i have a story to share about some banana bread and it is going to knock your socks off. the bread is divine. but the story, well, the story makes it better.

outside of the facts learned in school, i got (most of) my intelligence, my humor and my county-girl charm from my grandmother. she was a phenomenal person. she also taught me respect. the born-and-raised in the south and we-don’t-take-none-of-that-backtalk-’round-here respect. she taught me about personal space, real friends and why you should never keep your car and house keys in the same place. she taught me how to sew, bake and gave me Kitchen 101.

it was during our time in the kitchen that she shared with me her many recipes.  i have lots of hand written recipes and notes from her.  i have newspaper clippings, magazine pages and even some word search puzzle entries that contain recipes that she enjoyed. or at least, wanted to enjoy. of all the years and all the recipes, one of them outweighs the rest. it is her recipe for banana bread. here is an image (the measurements have been eliminated to protect the integrity of the recipe and elude the plagiarizers):

when i was in high school, the upper left corner fell off and i laminated it in an after school print shop program. we determined from the writing on the back that she had written it down in approximately 1956. *mumbling* minus the …  carry the .. and then move the… hey, yeah! that’s fifty-six years ago. that is about the same age as my parents. 🙂 i cannot provide you with any more historical information than that. she gave me the recipe and told me to hold tight to it. and i have.

i made it from time to time. not really enjoying the process or the outcome. she gave me compliments and critique along the way. if i had known, then, what i know now — i would have spent every day, since the day she gave it to me, perfecting it and honing the recipe into exactly what it is today: a legend. it’s that good.

my high school spanish teacher, used to purchase loaves from me at two dollars a piece. that was a nice little allowance until she got a loaf that wasn’t quite done in the middle and she gave up on me. understandable. i don’t remember making them too often during my college days either. what bread i did make was for my grandmother, at her request. i enjoyed it, but not enough at that time. she once told me “you make it better than i ever could”, which of course warmed my heart. i would make it for her and never think more about it.

eventually i grew up and moved out. i got a few jobs and when the spirit moved me, i would bake and share the famous bread. as time passed, i came to find that it was a certifiable crowd pleaser. it has never failed me. it has been mixed incorrectly and undercooked, but that’s user error, you see. the recipe, itself, remains consistent and predictable. exactly what a baked good should be. it has always been moist, delicious and impressive. at least, that’s what my fans tell me. 😀

i made it when i worked as a police dispatcher and have been reminded of how much it is missed.  i have made it for people along the way and always received compliments on it. i also made it for my friends at the hotel. i remember taking a loaf to the housekeeping department who promptly grabbed their morning cups of coffee and sat in silence enjoying the bread. it wasn’t until a few days later that i learned the bread was the topic of discussion that day.

i have been asked for the recipe many times to which i reply “i’m sorry, that recipe is going to make me famous. it’s a secret.” a certifiable look of disappointment comes at me followed by “well, if you change your mind”. i’ve only shared the recipe three times:

  1. after many years, my grandmother told me that she wanted to share the recipe with someone she worked with. i don’t know if you’ll believe this, but i actually refused to give it back to her. she scolded me. i retorted with my standard “make me famous” line. she didn’t buy it. i gave her the recipe. she was the author, after all.
  2. to my best friend’s grandmother (Nanny). she’s a sweet old bird who used to share “our grandkids are crazy” laughs, cured salt pork and southern lady conversation with my gramma. i made the bread, she loved it and i gave her the recipe. hesitantly.
  3. earlier today, after a little more than three weeks of deliberation and a few pleadings i shared the recipe with two of my coworkers.
    1. cee-dub (cw or coworker)one is a fellow baker who has promised me three things: a) a secret family recipe of her own, b) her help and her kitchen in creating a new baking masterpiece and c) her first-born grandchild. i intend to collect on all three.
    2. cee-dub two saved my rump last week and if my gramma were alive she would have said “you better give that girl the recipe, she helped you when she didn’t have to”… i can actually hear my gramma saying it. ugh.
    3. i started this entry a couple of months ago and have actually shared the recipe with several other people. now, you might be saying “but you didn’t share it with aaaaaaaaaaaall of those other people from way back when” and you’re right. but the fact of the matter is that i don’t follow the recipe. 😀 it’s true. i know it by heart, can predict it’s outcome and have tweaked it just enough to call it my own, so sharing it — is just a formality. it stands true, always delivers a quality product and those that have received the recipe and followed it’s instructions have yet to stop thanking me. it’s that good.

as you can see, i’m stingy. this legend of a recipe is going to put my son through college. maybe. speaking of son, he’s the number one fan. he loves the banana bread and can hardly wait for it to get out of the oven. seriously. he’s touched several hot loaf pans and stolen countless HANDFULS and slices of the bread. it is his favorite breakfast treat.

but wait, there’s more. my job recently had a bake sale. naturally, i agreed to bake. i originally intended on making cookies. but when it got down to crunch time, i didn’t have the ingredients that i needed to make the cookies i wanted to make and then i remembered the dozen-and-a-half bananas in the garage freezer. they were provided to me by a coworker after our annual benefits fair. the bananas had been a little abused from travel and were almost prime bread making real estate. she came to my section of CubicleWorld and stated “hey baker, you should take those bananas home” (thanks, Paula, i miss your smile). perfect. the recipe is simple and doesn’t require special ingredients. so i decided to make banana bread.

the sale required that all foods be individually wrapped and labeled for sale. i was completely oblivious to this fact, but decided to make mini banana bread bundts. they are just so cute and so perfect for a bake sale. i only have three mini pans, so i had to bake in shifts. grease and flour the pans, bake three breads, allow them to cool, wash the pans and then start anew. it took me six hours to bake a dozen mini bundts. and i still had batter left over.

i let them cool and sealed them up in my handy-dandy cake saver and travel container. a God send of a gift from my aunt, Martha Stewart and the fantastic folks at Wilton. the next morning i trotted off to work, proud and excited. when i got to the bake sale area, i had forgotten to wrap and label the cakes. i hurried back to the break room… found some clear plastic plates, white paper doilies and saran wrap. i printed up some labels and priced the pretty little breads at $3.50 each. the packaging was so simple and cute. the only thing that would have made them better was ribbon and instead of labels, vintage shabby chic graphic art tags. i started with twelve, took ten to work because my aunt and son claimed one each. ten mini bundts.

as i was preparing my food fare for sale, one of the potential patrons walked by. she saw the bread under the cake saver cover and was drawn in by its sheer beauty. she approached the table, eyes wide, inquiring

“what are those?”

and me, being me, went into my whole schpiel like i’ve just shared with you. she asked about my grandmother and i had to tell her that she had passed away several years ago and how my aunt and i had taken care of her those last few years and so forth and so on… well, the story ended in with the two of us hugging, and in tears. she had shown an interest in the bread from the start but revealed to me:

“the story makes the bread that much better. i can’t wait to taste it.”

the bake sale opened about thirty minutes later. she bought six of the twelve. i received an email at 9:26 in the morning stating that the bread sold out in twenty minutes. the entire sale was over about forty minutes after it started. almost one hundred dollars was made and thirty-five of it was from my breads. yay!

as the day progressed, i received many compliments and three requests for the recipe. consensus on the terms “moist and delicious”. another coworker poked her head around my cubicle wall stating:

“you’re the one who made the banana bread, right? well… i heard about them but i didn’t get one.”

i made her some a few weeks later. she returned the favor by making a Thomas the Train blanket for my son. he loves it. i have seen the “buyer of six” as well who shared how the bread was already a family favorite and she had also made mental note of my pan situation and was keeping her eye out for additional mini pans. sweet, right? she told me that day and every time that i have seen her since that the bread is “to die for”, but “the story makes it better”. all of the folks that i have “met” since the bake sale, whether in the cafeteria, break room, ladies’ room or in the walkway have said “you’re the one who makes the banana bread, right?” a great reputation to have, if i do say so myself.

i have made the bread regularly and always get smiles and hugs. we had a special meeting and presentation in our department last week and as part of the surprise, i made banana bread. jackie couldn’t contain herself and was ready to devour it upon sight. she sent an email around and within minutes the majority of a large bundt bread was gone. it was fantastic to watch. everyone passing my cubicle, eyes rolled back in their head with butter stained fingers saying “mmmmf, it’s so good”. i cut a few pieces and shared them with other work friends and received more warm and loving compliments. SuperBoy and The MadMan are known for asking for “MUUUUH” (that’s ‘moooooore’) while still having a mouthful.

some of us have no talents. some of us have one or two. some of us have a million different things that we’re “kinda” good at. i have one certifiable talent and it is recreating and baking my grandmother’s recipe banana bread. it’s a simple recipe, hand written by the queen herself. it’s a favorite of all family and friends, a crowd pleaser and has stood the test of time for more than fifty years. the kids, ALL kids, love it. i take pride in it. when i bake it, i use my heart. i concentrate, infuse and incorporate love in every bite (thanks, ma!). what i can tell you for fact is this: 1) the smell is divine and will attract hungry bears, or neighbors — whichever is closer. 2) i get more joy from baking it than i do from eating it. 3) i get more joy from sharing it than i do from baking it. 4) you hope, wish and pray that you might ever be close enough to watch, listen and smell it bake. if you are, i guarantee that you will never want to be far away again.

to my grandmother:

thanks, gertrude. i love you. i miss you and i wish you were here so i could bake for you. thank you for sharing and entrusting me with something so special and wonderful. it’s almost as special and wonderful as you.

XOXOO ~T

 

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the beauty of baking

... a work in progress and the comfortable insurance by the knowledge that "something is in the oven"...

life can be stressful. full of lists. full of tasks and errands. things to do, things to buy, places to go and entertainment for the eye. what’s your form of self-induced personal therapy? i’ve discovered over my blahtey-blah years that myyyyyy therapy, my way to therapize myself is to bake. yes, bake. baking, with like, an oven and stuff inside. june cleaver housewife style with utensils, gadgets and an ever-handy-and-extremely-cute apron. it is not just a therapy but a calling. a hobby. a lucrative interest. it’s fun and the reward is obvious: tasty treats to devour… umm, i mean share.

needless to say, i take my baking very seriously. not so serious that everything is measured down to the pinch and recipes followed in a sterile manner, but serious enough that i do not make or take phone calls while baking. i’m serious about it in a way that makes it so rewarding for me, and through word of mouth, for my  taste testers as well. i wouldn’t say that i can bake “anything”. i certainly have a familiar repertoire. i mostly focus on desserts, but i would be a lie if i didn’t say that i was kinda-known for my homemade handmade chicken pot pie. i think it’s to die for. it is one of those recipes that impresses more each time i make it. i am also pseudo-famous for my gramma’s recipe banana bread. that recipe is going to make me millions one day. hopefully i get the opportunity to go professional and worldwide with it. it’s gonna knock yo socks off!

in the meantime, i have dabbled in this that and the other. i have an extensive collection of recipes, cookbooks and seven years worth of “Cooking Light” magazine. i grew up in a one-woman household. that woman, lucky for me, was my grandmother. she had a group home for developmentally disabled adult men. she was their sole care-provider, and in-home chef. there were four of them, “the boys” as we referred to them, she and i. so everyday she cooked breakfast, lunch and dinner for six people. it is because of her, that i owe my love of food. now, let me be clear, i am NO foodie. not a foodie, not at all. i have a very limited set of “likes” where food is concerned. but that doesn’t stop me. she also taught me how to bake. i taught me how to cook (many years later), with the help of all those cooking light magazines, several choice cookbooks, and a lot of cooking tv. not to mention, the short time that i spent working under chef Jonathan at the convention center.

now, with that said, let me tell you why i love to eat, cook, and more specifically, why i love to bake. i have been loitering in kitchens my entire life. literally. having grown up with my grandmother in the group home setting, she spent a lot of time in the kitchen and i wasn’t far. i didn’t study her and mimic her every move, but i watched and surveyed. i’d ask a few questions from time to time. she would always answer without skipping a beat. i didn’t know it then, but there’s a huuuuuuuge amount of timing involved with the preparation of a three-course meal for dinner everyday. she taught me basic cooking techniques and everyday use of tools and other kitchen equipment.

as well, the bestie and i grew up across the street from one another. when i would spend the night, we would get up in the night after all other house dwellers had nodded off for the evening, and just sit in the kitchen. back then, there was a square wooden butcher block dealy-bob, on wheels, in the middle of the kitchen. it was the perfect ottoman for us, and the kitchen counter became some sort of tile covered recliner. we would pick at the ever-present food items; not excluding: a barrage of fresh fruit, some sort of bread or pastry type item and perhaps some leftovers from the previous meal or something from nanny’s house, all the while talking and laughing.

speaking of nanny, she was and continues to be the other thriving influence in the kitchen. she’s the only lady i’ver ever known to blowout two kitchen aid stand-up mixers. “doin’ what?”, ya ask. everything you can imagine. nanny is my bestie’s gramma. she’s from arkansas and was married to papaw for 60 years before he left her in charge of his dog. if you’re looking for nanny, you haven’t been in the kitchen. shannon (my bestie) and i grew up spending occasional weekends at nanny’s house. she was a certifiable short order chef every morning. she would ask in her adorable southern drawl:

“what youn’s want tah eat?”

and as adolescent brats our answer was most often:

“i don’t know”

her response was the same, without fail:

“well if youn’s don’t tell me, i can’t fix it.”

ahhhhhh, the good ole days. she would make for each of us, whatever we wanted. for certain, there were going to be biscuits and eggs. i think sausage and gravy was also a menu staple. nanny would make us … get this… homemade pop-tarts from leftover homemade pie crust and plum jelly, made from the tree in her front yard. what is not to love about that? i watched nanny make biscuits, dumplings, and all the cookies, cakes and pies you can imagine. she fries a mean chicken breast too. i watched her mix and make the most delicious food with her two little hands. the kitchen remained spotless and the refrigerator was always full.

that’s a lot of time in and around kitchens and all i was doing, at the time, was eating. out of that came a fondness for southern cooking, a need to sit or stand in or about the kitchen and a need for fresh fruit. my mom loves to cook too. visits home are always the best as i am provided the arriving meal of my choice: spaghetti and homemade half-wheat/half-white bread. mmmmm… good stuff. my mom taught me how to put what i liked together into something to love. she also taught me that i needed to make Love, my special ingredient. without love, nothing would turn out right.

so, as you can see, my love of cooking is organic. it comes from deep inside me. i love every aspect of it. from preparation to service. i most enjoy the bringing together of ingredients to create one masterpiece. i think that is why i enjoy baked goods so much. they all seem to start with the greatest of all cooking trifectas: butter, sugar and eggs. the only thing that varies is the ratio, temperature and mix time. isn’t that an amazing little factoid? the difference between a cookie, a cake and bread is just exactly how much you have of each of those items.

i’m going to say that where cooking and baking are concerned, i tend to stick to the script. i don’t usually vary from any given recipe too much. i believe that the learning is in using the recipe to make your ultimate goal. i also believe in conquering each recipe for its ratio, taste and texture secrets and then adapting that recipe for your own fiendish fun. methods and techniques are extremely important and necessary when baking. a recipe is simply a set of instructions. but it’s a detailed list and you can pretty much assure yourself that it is as abridged as it can possibly be. removing steps from a recipe is like skipping steps in math. you might have a reasonable facsimile of the final product, but something is not quite right. i use a recipe until i know it by heart. until i can know, by sight, how well it’s going to work.

baking is a controlled chaos. i clean up before i mess up, so that i may clean as i go in hopes of having a clean kitchen when i’m done. i pull my ingredients from the cabinets, drawers and refrigerator and line them up. i measure them all with my level of accuracy and start my process. as i learned in home economics, i familiarize myself with the recipe before starting. i try to have all the utensils and ingredients ready to go. step by step to the finished product. oh what fun.

and now that i have given you the why, i would like to share the how. i am not a professional by any means, but i am an enthusiast. who knows what will happen?? but in the meantime i would like to share with you my love of cooking, (mostly baking) and the wonderful side affects. enjoy!

(that means i’ll be back later with recipes, pictures and yummy reviews)