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I like guts on a page. When I’m reading a novel I always have to fight the naughty temptation to skip ahead through paragraphs of detailed description and just cut to the chase. The end, final page, finale, tidy conclusion—bring it on already! I only remember the dialogue, the human exchanges, the drama, the stuff of experience anyway. Poetry is exhasuting; I’m impatient! Sometimes I force myself to push through those paragraphs anyway, utlimately finding satisfaction in the discipline it takes to persevere. Often, I cheat.
For me, food is a gutsy, take-no-prisoners kind of experience too. And I don’t just mean gutsy as in ‘buying carp off a Chinatown street vendor,’ or gutsy like the decision to embrace the leftover roast beef lyonnaise sandwich that’s been in your fridge for awhile now (“it’s probably okay…”). I mean gutsy like fortifying. If, like me, you love to cook and bake, hopefully the product of your labor is so good it goes a long way to boosting your ego. Or mending your bruised heart.
There were butterflies in my stomach along with two slices of banana walnut bread topped with honey butter, as I sat watching continuous reruns of Law & Order, pretending not to care about how late he was or the fact that I had just mindlessly eaten a considerable chunk of calories. He was bringing over tax papers that were mistakenly sent to his apartment, our former home. That was the excuse, anyway.
“What does he really want?” I wondered. “Why did I agree to this?”
Regular, posted mail could have sufficed, but clearly, both of us were curious. It had been months of distance following five years of dedication to a deep but difficult love that never quite worked. And we tried. And tried! But there’s only so much kneading and pleading that can go into a batter before the dough gets stiff and over-worked. Ultimately, bread has to be left to rise on its own. We never rose. (Forgive me this easy pun, but there’s something to be said for metaphors born in the kitchen—they’re always true!)
When faced with dilemmas of almost any proportion, I usually find myself in a kitchen with a bag of flour, and one of sugar, out on the counter. It’s the delicacy of it all. To be a good baker, you have to concentrate. Forget about the rent, the deadline, the boy. Let your mind stray for even a second and you’ve put in a pinch too much baking soda and, well, forget about that batch of cookies. Baking is gutsy. You can learn a lot about exact measurements and good timing from professional pastry and baking schools, but my biggest lesson is: no skipping ahead. The formula must be followed precisely. And I like that. I’ve always been drawn to challenge (but then, I guess that explains the ex).
He was late. Very. With the loaf of now pleasantly cooled banana bread staring me in the face, I was on to chocolate. I grabbed a knife, found a tub of Nutella, spread it on thick, and ate my heart out, alone, in front of the TV. With the passing of yet another episode of Detective Briscoe’s wisecracks and Jack McCoy’s rogue good looks, it was finally time to break down and call Him.
His excuse: “I would rather disappoint you by not showing up tonight, than by showing up in the state I’m in.”
What? Why? What state? What was he talking about? He was the one who begged to come over! I was the one who was hesitant, who’d had to give in to the idea! What the hell was he thinking? I hung up on him mid-sentence. Childish, true, but then he could always do that to me. What had I been thinking anyway? I’d woo him with my banana bread and vanilla-scented kitchen? I’d play the role of domestic goddess to his tall, dark and hungry? Ridiculous. But then he could always do that to me too.
There was only one thing to do with the rest of my seemingly wasted night: go out. I took off my apron, rinsed from my hair the strategically-placed flour that said, “I’m so comfortable seeing you again, I didn’t even bother washing,” and hit the town solo. Luckily, my local is the ever-appealing Employees Only, and my favorite bartenders there always make me feel like the femme fatal I want to be when I part those velvet drapes and sashay up to Duchon with a “give me your best poison” stare. That night, my distraction from having been stood up by Him took the form of a well-clad, well-mannered Italiano. His conversation and affections reminded me that persevering is gutsy.
And I served him tasty, homemade banana bread, grilled and spread with Nutella, for breakfast.
Banana Walnut Bread(makes one loaf)
·2 cups All-Purpose Flour
·1 ¼ cups Walnuts (chopped)
·½ cup White Sugar
·¼ cup Brown Sugar
·¾ T Baking Soda
·1 T ground Cinnamon
·½ T grated Nutmeg
·2 TB Orange Zest
·½ T Kosher Salt
·6 TB Unsalted Butter (melted and cooled)
·3 ripe, browned Bananas
·¼ cup Plain Yogurt
·2 large Eggs
·1 T Vanilla Extract
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.Place rack on lower-middle position. Whisk together flour, walnuts, sugars, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, orange zest, and salt, and set aside.
Melt butter over the stovetop or in the microwave and allow to cool.Mash bananas with your bare hands or in a mixer, depending upon your mood, and stir in all remaining ingredients.Add the dry mixture to the bowl one cup at a time until fully incorporated.Grease a 9x5x3 inch loaf pan with butter or a nonstick cooking spray and coat with a light layer of flour.Pour batter into the pan and bake until golden, about 55 minutes.Cool on a wire rack and serve warm with honey butter, Nutella, or a strong shot of either espresso or whiskey, depending upon whether you’d rather dunk or get drunk.