My assigned childhood role was that of the good kid. The quiet one. The one who didn’t wreck tables and could be counted on to not torture the dog. Who worshiped books and didn’t need to be told that one doesn’t make paper airplanes and boats with sheets torn out of their history notebook. But even good kids aren’t perfect, because mom and I had our share of disagreements. Perhaps because I steadfastly refused to learn how to de-vein those prawns (ick!) properly. Or because I didn’t wipe the dishes completely dry. But mostly because my mother was convinced that you needed to take pride in whatever you do, be it writing an essay, drying a dish or folding a shirt. I subscribed to a much looser interpretation of this: that there were some things you took pride in doing, and that others were just work that you finished to get to the things you want to do. For me, folding laundry squarely fell in this category, but it was my chore. So when the day’s wash was off the clothesline, I would drag my feet over, rush through the sorting and folding and hurry back to my books and to intriguing statistics such as how much rice was grown in China versus India. I would remain thus engrossed until I heard the inevitable yell which signalled that mom had spotted my handiwork.
We would pick our elected corners with equal fervour; her quivering with righteous anger, me sulking with injured resignation. The air would ring out with “How any times…” and “But I did this just yesterday” followed by “It’s your chore” and countered with “But it’s done!”. Then there would be a lot of pointing and wild flailing arms on one side and mutinous glares and crossed arms on the other. Some days, this ended with me folding everything again “correctly” under her active supervision. Other days, she made short work of the task by redoing it herself. She would quickly and efficiently fold things into neat piles. When she was done, she’d plop my pile of clothes into my arms, purse her lips and say, “One day, I won’t be around to take care of you. That’s when you will realize how much you take for granted. And that is when you will remember me.”
Beyond the twinge of guilt I experienced every time she said those words, they quickly fell away from my thoughts. But then one day, I found myself 9000 miles away from her, (roughly the same number of years ago that rice was domesticated incidentally), staring at a week’s worth of laundry. And realizing that there was no way my crammed grad-school room shelf space was going to hold those wonky piles of clothes. There it was, folded the way I always did it. A haphazard heap. I flattened everything out to start from scratch. I pulled each pair of jeans towards me, smoothing the creases, folding the lines as I had watched mom do a thousand times. Shirt after skirt, pant after sweater. It took me a while but I ended up with a pile of folded clothes that fit neatly in my shelves. She was right, not only did I think of her with each fold, I also realized there was something to her ‘take pride in your work’ ethos.
I still struggle with the folding of clothes bit. But I’ve found ways to deal with the boredom. Working through a task like this with a reward after is something that works. I promise myself a good walk, a good book, a trip to the movies; any one of the things that take me to my happy place. But then I also found a way to get there while I worked. A way to turn my flat into a place of bliss, filled with happy thoughts and warm daydreams. I was rewarded with a delightful home to work in with the scent of golden baking filling the air. There was bread involved. Banana bread.
Some of you may be thinking I’m crazy to increase my day’s chores by adding baking to it. But no, this quick bread, this delicious, dense loaf of goodness requires so little effort on your part, you could do it half-asleep. In fact, you could start it as you wake up, just as you sleepily reach for your cup of coffee. All you need is one large bowl, a smaller glass one and a wooden spoon. You could use a steel spoon, but it would be ruin your morning calm with its clamourous scraping and scratching against that bowl. Best stick to the wooden spoon. Yes, so in that large bowl, you mash up some totally ripe bananas, while you gently melt some butter in a pan. I can’t be bothered with pans when I’m contemplating laundry so I just stick my butter in the microwave in a glass measuring cup. This is where you could use that small bowl. Once melted, pour the butter in the bananas and mix it well. That coffee you made? Toss in some of that too (black, please), with some vanilla and cardamom and sugar and stir away to mix it well. Beat an egg and bring that to the party. A touch of salt, a spoon of baking soda, and some nice, fluffy cups of flour and you have yourself a gentle, softly bubbling batter. A perfect complement to your early morning calm. See? By the time that coffee wakes you up, you are ready to deal with the part of this recipe that requires you to be fully awake, which is reaching in your oven.
All of this should take you no longer than ten minutes or so. Which I find is a totally acceptable amount of time to invest in creating my happy place before tackling unhappy-making chores. Like folding or cleaning or reviewing my finances. The oven will warm your cold winter home while it gets progressively redolent with comforting wafts caramelizing bananas and spice. The bonus is that by the time you are done doing what you had to, you can soothe your tired mind with a sunny slice of the best possible treat. This recipe is my favourite kind, the one that produces fantastic results for minimum effort. Now all I have to do is make sure I will always have ripe bananas before I tackle unhappy-making things.
- Bananas - 3, very ripe
- Butter - 1/3 cup, melted, plus a little more to butter the pan
- Vanilla extract - 1 tsp
- Cardamom powder - 1 to 1-1/2 tsp
- Sugar - 3/4 cup
- Egg - 1, beaten
- Brewed Coffee - 3-4 tbsp of liquid (You can use espresso or instant coffee too)
- Salt - a pinch
- Baking soda - 1 tsp
- AP flour - 1-1/2 cup
- Cashew pieces - a handful, raw
- Orange extract - 1 tsp (optional)
- A handful of dark chocolate chips (optional)
- - Preheat your oven to 350ºF.
- - Line a 4" X 8" loaf pan with parchment paper. Butter the parchment paper.
- - In a large bowl, mash the bananas as smoothly as possible.
- - Add the melted butter and stir.
- - Pour in the beaten egg, sugar, vanilla, coffee and orange extract, if using. Mix together well.
- - Add the baking soda and salt and mix to incorporate.
- - Add the flour and mix swiftly to bring the batter together. Sprinkle over the cashews and chocolate chips, if using. Mix lightly and pour batter into prepared loaf pan.
- - Place in the middle shelf of the oven and bake for 1 hour, until a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean.
- - Allow to cool before cutting into generous slices.
You can just as easily use cinnamon here, but I think cardamom and bananas get along supremely well. They do exceptionally well in here. You can use about a teaspoon if you want a more subtle cardamom flavour. If you are using instant coffee instead of espresso or strong black coffee, brew a concentrated cup of it. Be sure to have your loaf pan prepped and ready to go before you make the batter. Batters with baking soda should go into the oven as soon as possible as the baking soda starts to react with the liquids right away.
The resultant loaf is sweet, but not cloyingly so. Add chocolate chips only if you think you want chocolate. If you are craving more sweetness, it is the perfect sort of banana bread to slather some jam over. What you get is a perfectly spiced, nut-studded loaf in which flavours meld together to create the best possible treat. Not too decadent, but just perfect for doing those things your mom said you needed to learn to do.
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