Things shift and change, sometimes in extremes – and when it happens, we often seek comfort in old familiar things and routines. It’s easy to get into a rut when this happens; it feels so safe, a defense against whatever unpleasant surprises the world may have in store for us.
But then, things change again, and we realize life has gotten a little bit bland.
So it was this past week at my house. I have mentioned idly to The Child that I “will get to” redecorating our family room. It’s the room we spend the most time in, containing the television and gas fireplace, but also adjacent to the kitchen. It’s a pleasant room that remains – like most of the house – painted the same dull shade of white that the builders sprayed on the wall when they built this place 15 years ago.
The biggest problem in the room is the television: Where it is located, it is almost impossible to see well from any spot except one. The TV is housed in a large wall unit, carefully selected by me and The Departed and purchased after several arguments, much measuring, and at least three trips to the now-defunct Costco Home.
I think it’s the problem, I say to my father’s wife shortly after The Departure. The wall unit. If I had a smaller one, the TV could be somewhere else.
Don’t get rid of it, she says. It looks built in.
So I leave it. And forget about it. And focus my attention on other things – the problems I can see the solutions too more easily.
But every so often, I run across something that I’d like to do in the family room – most recently, I found some pretty curtains I’d love to put in there. And then I just stop and freeze up. If I hang the curtains, I have to take the old things off the window and if I do that I should paint while they’re off and that means moving the wall unit to get at the walls and once I’ve done that I should rearrange the room and … it all stops.
I mention this to The Child one day. I’d like to do it, but …
Until the other night. I wasn’t feeling well and went to bed early. Don’t stay up late, I told her.
When I came downstairs the next day, it was into a different room. The wall unit and TV were still in their usual spaces, but everything else in the room had been moved as though the TV were somewhere else. I feel like Marty McFly: it all seems familiar, but yet completely different.
When I’ve recovered from the surprise and The Child wakes up, we chat about the pros and cons of the new arrangement. It’s good, but we encounter some technical problems, so we move the furniture again, and then again.
We agree that even if we don’t get it exactly right, once we get rid of the wall unit, we can keep nudging the rest of the room until we get it just how we like it.
We love this plan, and set off to buy paint chips and pizza, and agree that by the end of the weekend, there will be a wall unit in the garage.
I felt kind of the same way when I ran across a new banana bread recipe in an amazing southern cookbook I found at the library, Screen Doors and Sweet Tea. It is filled with wonderful, easy to follow regional recipes, introduced with stories that put each in its proper context: fried okra eaten like popcorn at a blues joint. It’s a gorgeous book, so I had to try something from it.
But could I really ever love another banana bread as much as Fannie Farmer’s?
The answer is, Yes. Unreservedly. This bread is light and spicy in a way banana bread usually isn’t, and it doesn’t sacrifice the moist texture to do it. It has more ingredients than Fannie Farmer’s, but isn’t really more work.
I opted to do the recipe as muffins, mostly because they’re easier to toss into a school lunchbox. The Child loved this bread, and when I inquired which was her favorite banana bread, she said this one was much, much better than my usual.
I feel a little bad about it, since I’ve always been so loyal to Fannie Farmer: She’s an old friend. But in the end, I think both recipes probably have a place in my collection.
Note that I did not have buttermilk handy, so I substituted a the lemon juice/milk mixture described in the notes. Don’t substitute regular milk: buttermilk has acidic qualities that, when combined with baking soda and heated, result in extra bubbles that lighten the final baked product. It is key to this recipe.
- 2½ cups AP flour
- 1¼ tsp baking powder
- ¼ tsp baking soda
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- ¼ tsp salt
- ¼ tsp nutmeg
- pinch of ground cloves
- 1½ cups mashed ripe bananas (about three large bananas)
- ¼ cup buttermilk
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- ½ tsp grated lemon zest
- ½ cup melted butter (one stick)
- ¼ cup packed brown sugar
- ½ cup sugar
- 3 large eggs
- 1 cup chopped pecans
- Preheat oven to 350°. Line a 12-cup muffin pan with paper muffin cups.
- In a medium bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, salt, nutmeg, and cloves.
- In a separate bowl, mash bananas and combine with buttermilk, vanilla, and lemon zest.
- Using a stand mixer, beat melted butter and sugars together for 5 minutes. Add half the flour mixture, followed by half the banana mixture, mixing until just combined. Repeat. Add pecan pieces if using.
- Spoon the batter into the muffin cups. Bake for 25-30 minutes, until golden brown on top and a toothpick comes out clean.