Take a good look at this photo. My wife and I have this weird assortment of foods on our kitchen counter right now. Store-brand hamburger buns. A half-loaf of “artisan-style” marble rye against the backsplash. Below both, a package of ready-to-use French-style crepes. To the right, a spaghetti squash and a handful of wrapped Lindor truffles. To the further right, an oft-visited plastic container of peanut butter pretzels, fronted by a watermelon just itching to join a fruit salad.
These foods are not “still life” waiting to become paint on canvas. They’re not even past-due items from the back-of-store sale rack. They’re just random samplings from trips to the grocery store; items kicked to the kitchen curb instead of the pantry or frig. Two questions, then. If you were given this lot on “Top Chef” could you whip up something appetizing? Would you even care to try?
More importantly, I made it to the third paragraph before mentioning the pair of bananas taking up prime real estate front and center in the photo. I HATE bananas, be it look, feel, texture, or taste. Bananas need to go back to the primeval jungle from which they escaped. In my world, bananas should be called “no-passion fruit”. If I were starving on a desert island, shadowed under the gently waving fronds of a banana palm, I’d nosh on the fronds, then the tree bark, then the tree itself before tossing its worthless bananas into the ocean. Hell, I’d choke down sand before eating bananas. Put a gun to my head (or a banana); I still wouldn’t eat one.
For Pete’s sake though; no matter the magnitude of my banana hate, the yellow curvies still find a way to remain relevant. Take this pandemic for instance. Stuck at home means more time in the kitchen. More time in the kitchen means comfort food, and comfort food includes baking bread. Sourdough. Pizza dough. Baguettes. Challah. Naan. Sadly, we rookie bakers discover the ingredients in our pantry are as past due as our bills. Way past due. Flour tastes sour. Honey ≠ sugar. Past-its-prime yeast does not make the loaf say, “All rise!” Even with fresh ingredients we butcher the recipe by feeding, kneading, and reading too much into every step. Instead of baking bread we’re breaking bread. We need a no-brainer no-spoiler kinda baked good. Banana bread to the rescue!
Banana bread is easy; it really is. Call yourself a breadmaker with as few as five items – none of them “yeast” or “starter”. Sift together flour and baking soda. Whisk together eggs, butter, and mashed bananas (mashed bananas? Isn’t that what I threw up regularly as a kid?) Combine in a loaf pan, bake, and voila – banana bread. You’ll find the first four ingredients in your pantry already and if you also have bananas, they’re probably overripe (i.e. perfect for banana bread). Just like the bananas on my kitchen counter. I made the mistake of picking them up when I took the above photo. They’re so ripe they feel like half-filled water balloons. Or half-filled hot dogs. Or Twinkies submerged in water for a few hours. You get the idea. Ewwwwwww.
Now for the irony/paradox/contradiction/twist/flourish of today’s post (take your pick). I like banana bread. I’m on the fence of almost loving banana bread. Slice a thick piece, warm it in the oven, slather with butter, and it’s pretty damned good. As I admitted almost four years ago in my post Banana Rant, bananas work inside of bread like figs work inside a package of Newtons. As a standalone they’re a horror-filled rubbery package disguised as one of Mother Nature’s edibles. Downgraded to an ingredient they stand on the fringes of the vast arena known as “food”.
Enough with the spotlight on bananas already. Trust me, I had better topics to blog about this week. My pandemic-born obsession with Netflix. A lamentation to Major League Baseball for a season that’s never gonna start. A keyboard pounding to the heavens for dumping several inches of snow on our neighborhood this week (for God’s sake, it’s June!) But no, I chose to discuss the best use of “water-logged Twinkies” instead, keeping bananas a front and center topic. Kind of like walking into the grocery store and the very… first… thing… in your field of view is an acre of bananas grinning their pathetic yellowy smiles. They should go back to the jungle where they belong. I’ll make do with soury-dough bread instead.
Some content inspired by the 4/20/20 Wall Street Journal article, “Forget the Sourdough. Everybody’s Baking Banana Bread”.