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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experiencing the experience

today is my aunt’s birthday. it’s a milestone, but we won’t get into numbers (or she’ll kill me). she enjoys celebrating her birthday almost as much as i do. she also enjoys pampering herself with mani-pedis or a trip to the spa. today we went to the spa! and what a day. have you ever seen “the blah blah blah experience”? and wondered if it was actually an “experience”?? i personally think it’s completely overused, but today i was pleasantly surprised to actually experience an “experience”. it was better than i expected, and i’d like to share with you the details of the day without turning this into a full fledged advertisement or boring you to death.

today we went to glen ivy hot springs. off the freeway and hidden by nature, apparently it’s been there since 1850. who knew? anyway, the morning started pretty gloomy on our side of town, not ideal for a trip to the spa, but not going and rescheduling is just not what we do. so, with SuperBoy dropped off and our bags packed, we hit the road. clear sailing all the way. as we got closer to our destination, it got warmer and brighter outside. nice. it was packed! well, the parking lot was packed. as you approach the entrance, you can tell that you’re somewhere else. i think that they have a retractable roof over the place. it always seems to be blue skies without a care in the world over there and i just don’t see how that is possible. the are no empty spaces. there are plants, trees and foliage everywhere. there was even a little brown bunny sitting quietly in the shade. cute.

up the stairs to the registration and payment location. the staff is extremely polite, helpful and cheery. they all seem very happy with their jobs. they are always helpful and often caring of the guests. it’s not like going to the local store. it’s a place of pampering, and they do their share. at the registration and payment location there are lots of questions, an exchange  of money or credit and then a map! a huge map!

“this over here, this over there, these things: here, here and here. have fun.”

today we started our fun with the mud. yes mud.

wait.. i started my day with a mango flavored bellini. i don’t know what’s included in a bellini, but the first ingredient is champagne, and so, as you should already know.. i’m in, with both feet. whoooo!

i would also like to share with you that this is a spa. a place of relaxation. everything done here is in, on, around or related to water. if you have problems with seeing people of every shape, size, color, swimsuit type and tattoo coverage, this is NOT the place for you. if you do decide to go, approach with an open mind and be aware that the same is being done for you. this is not a place for judgement or commentary. just go, do what you do and enjoy yourself. honestly, no one is worried about you, so don’t be worried about them.

ok. back to the day.. today we started our fun with the mud. yes mud. red clay mud. fun stuff. you walk under a small gazebo and BAM! mud everywhere. people are in varying states of mud coverage or drying. you start by stepping down into the mud pool. it’s not what you think. it’s not a big bowl of thick mud looking like oatmeal… it’s a huge pool, filled with warm water. just beyond the stairs is a large cement surface and in the middle of that is a huge HUGE ball of mud. the red clay mud. the water is not clear, but it is far from “dirty”. once you’ve dipped yourself, it’s time to play. gather mud from the rock and slather it all over. from head to toe. some only cover their limbs and perhaps their back and chest… whatever they can reach. the fun stuff is watching the groups of (mostly women) folk laughing and covering each other. not too thick now, or you’ll never dry. with our visible areas covered, it’s off to dry. you can lounge on one of the many beach chaises or take a trip inside the “wasa” (a warming room). either way, once the mud dries, it’s time to slough it off. along with any and all of the dead skin you have ever accumulated and/or missed previously. scrub scrub scrub. gosh, i was so ashy that my skin was white. you are also welcome to rinse off and wash with lavender cleansing gel. here is what the website says about the red clay mud:

“Red clay has been used as a purifying agent since ancient times. It draws from the pores, absorbs impurities, and releases waste and dead skin cells while tightening and revitalizing the skin.”

i have to admit that while i have been to the spa several times, the mud is my favorite. they will even take commemorative photos of you and your friends covered in mud and mount them in a “Club Mud” paper frame. good stuff. i personally scrub the dried mud off with a towel and then rinse. my skin is soft to the touch and void of any rough spots or problem areas. some folks choose to lounge in the mud pool for a while and rid themselves of those impurities. others, like myself, just mud and run. we dry, we scrub and one to the next one! lessssgoooooo!

after the warm rinse and dry off we ventured to Cafe Sole for lunch. we were not the only people with this idea! a line for salad, a line for hot food, a line for something else and a line to pay! whew. all of the food is fresh and prepared in front of you. it was gorgeous! absolutely gorgeous. at most places that you go to for services, food does not tend to meet one’s expectations, but this DID. it was in the medium price range, but healthy sized servings. servings for adults enjoying the day away. most people shared their entree, particularly the nachos. good lord, the size of those things was just huge. score! one bellini down, hardER lemonade in it’s place.

with lunch barely finished we turned a couple of corners to “the grotto”. umm, no, it is NOT the infamous grotto at the fabulous and fuzzy Playboy Mansion that donned the phrase “what happens in the grotto stays in the grotto”, no.. this is a grotto containing a “moisturizing experience”. and an experience it was.

ok. so this is where i got the title. have you ever embarked on something called “an experience” only to find out that it was anything but? i have. epic fail and total disappointment. but the grotto, well, that’s an experience worth experiencing. so, now that we are mudded, scrubbed and grubbed, we are ready to moisturize. check in and what? downstairs? wow. we load into an elevator and downstairs we go. when we exit, we are given simple instructions to remain suited, but to remove everything else. through the door where

“The fun starts as an attendant coats your skin with a rich, warm, light green body moisturizer of aloe vera, shea butter, coconut oil, and other beneficial elements.”

they literally paint your exposed skin from the neck down, slathering you with this magical lotion potion that would moisturize a rhinoceros. through another door and deeper into the grotto you go. warm air and low lights make it inviting and comfortable. this is it. this is the experience. you sit in this warm room, coated in magic and just absorb. the warmth encourages your pores to open and allows you to maximize absorption. wait, i found some mud. how did that get there? there is ice cold water everywhere you go, even in the grotto. i didn’t try to sit on the fiberglass formed rocks for fear that i would slide right off and onto my rump with a smack. there were several others in there and everyone was just smoothing the magic on. rubbing their silky smooth and slick skin. it feels nice. oops, wait, i found some more mud. perhaps the grotto is no different than applying waaaaaaay too much lotion, but without a grotto, clean up is going to be mission impossible. i’ll leave it up to glen ivy.

when you’ve had enough of the warm air and trying to sit, through another door to rinse it all off. the showers are ideal and perfect. there are standard shower heads, some lower so assist with all that is lower and for someone like me, there is a giant round rain shower showerhead, up high. aaaaaaah. heaven. my shower at home is very low. even with the showerhead pointed as high as possible, the water hits me in the chin, so THIS is a treat. the grotto moisturizing magic is thick and requires a little help in addition to the water rinse. towels.

once rinsed and equipped with towels, through another door. cooler air to close your pores and help you KEEP some of the moisture. cold water, apples and a very juicy pear. the grotto experience is phenomenal if you ask me. i don’t think i would ever go back without partaking in it. it was thoroughly enjoyable.

hardER lemonade finished, bellini number two. next on the list was a trip to the saline pool. warm warm warm. and just a lovely place to relax. it’s only three-and-a-half feet throughout and has a bench seat all the way around. it also has bubbling jets just high enough to massage my lower back. i never want to leave the saline pool. i enjoy glen ivy as a whole, but the saline pool reminds me of my days at the besties house, jumping in and out of the swimming pool and spa. according to the website:

“The Saline Pool earns its name from its warm water treated with Epsom Salts. An excellent place to soothe tired muscles.”

maybe that’s why i enjoy it so. with SuperBoy the rambunctious four-year-old, something of mine is always sore. today it is my left ribs. he kicked me so hard the other night that i was unable to comfortably continue sleeping. i guess this is my version of “calgon, take me away”, so:

“epsom salt? do yo thang!”

we finished the day with a brief sit in the sauna. another of my favorite activities. sitting upon almost hot tile with hot steam so thick that you can’t see each other. an instant sweat from head to toe without pilates, kickboxing or chasing my son. yes! sadly, you can’t stay in there too long. people tend to get light headed or heart palpitations. me? i just love it. i stretched out for a moment and watched the steam turn into water droplets that slid along the angled clear glass window above my head. usually there aren’t so many gals in there, but today, we were thigh to thigh.. and so.. i’m out!

off to another shower. to rid myself of any more mud or grotto magic. the showers at spas are to die for. tall enough for a gal like me to not have to fold herself in half. the water always seems to be the right temperature and everything smells so great. now, for me, the hair and body care products provided are nothing shy of a  complete breakout. my skin is too sensitive to use them, but i enjoy their smell just the same, so i wash my hands and feet several times so i can revel in it.

after rinsing again, spinning my swimsuit dry in a handy contraption made for just that and replenishing some of the water that was compromised by the sun, the heat and the bellinis, it was time to redress and vacate. sad. it took me a significantly longer time to get dressed. having to drive home after a day at the spa is nothing shy of torture. with spaghetti for arms, i gathered my things and walked out with a smile.

having had time to consider enjoying an “experience” helped me to actually enjoy the experience. i didn’t read too far into it, i followed the instructions and i enjoyed myself. i would definitely consider “the grotto moisturizing experience” an “experience” and i would love to do it again. there are many things to do and enjoy at glen ivy. this is what i did and this is what i enjoyed. go. and when you’re done tell me if what you did was an “experience”.