Paying it Forward…With a Loaf of Banana Bread

Snow tires in winter are a must in Vermont, so every April and November I find myself at  the car shop having them taken off or put on. I’ve been mulling over getting a new car to replace my ’03 Toyota for a while now, and since I got rid of my almost bald tires last fall, I knew I either needed to get a new car or new tires this spring. But I didn’t want to spend $400 on a set of tires that wouldn’t see me through the years, so to Craig’s List I went.

I spent a week looking for a set of tires that had been used for a couple of seasons. I figured I’d spend anywhere from $100-$150 for them, I was getting a deal either way I looked at it. Finally, late Friday afternoon, I had scanned far enough back to find an ad that had been posted a couple of days previously. The right size, used one summer, were $60(!), and about an hour from home. Perfect, and a response came Friday evening that they were still available.

I called Paul Saturday morning and he was fine with letting me stop by on Easter Sunday; we were going have dinner with family just a few miles away that afternoon, so the timing worked wonderfully. I was so pleased I found such a great deal on the tires that wanted to give him something additional.

Sunday noon we arrived and after getting the tires in the car, I paid him, then gave him a loaf of banana bread to share with his family. I think I surprised him with this a little bit, and as I left, wondered what if they are a gluten-free, lactose-free, nut-free family? It didn’t matter. I hate to equate the adage “food is love,” but in this case, for me, food was just saying an additional “thank you.”

Banana Bread
I got this recipe from my mom  when I started baking many moons ago. Through the years I’ve tried to make it a little bit healthier with a combination of wheat and white flour and less oil, but the original is much tastier, in my opinion.

Preheat oven to 325-350 degrees, depending on your oven

1/4 Cup canola oil
3/4 Cup sugar
1 egg, beaten
2-3 extra ripe bananas, mashed*

2 Cups flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt

3 Tablespoons buttermilk or sour milk**

1/2 Cup chopped nuts if desired

1. In a large mixing bowl, cream the oil and sugar together in a small bowl. Add the beaten egg.

2. In another bowl, sift together the dry ingredients.

3. Alternate adding dry ingredients with the buttermilk or sour milk. When completely mixed, add nuts, if using and mix completely.

4. Place mixture in a well greased loaf pan and bake for 45-55 minutes, depending on your oven.

This is served best warm with a little bit of butter and a cup of coffee on a lazy weekend morning.

*Whenever I have bananas that are getting a little too ripe for my liking, I’ll pop them in the freezer, whole and unpeeled. When I decide I want to make something with them, I’ll just defrost them on a plate and then peel. They just slide out, and no mashing is necessary!

**If you don’t have buttermilk, you can make sour milk by taking 3 Tablespoons of milk and slowly adding lemon juice or white vinegar until it starts to become thick.

An Invitation to a Royal Wedding

The year was 1981 and Prince Charles and Diana Spencer were getting married. I was 14 years old and was obsessed with both Diana and the wedding. The shy nanny marrying the older prince was a young girl’s fantasy. And her haircut was something no one had ever seen before. I had a wrinkled photograph of Diana that I would take to the hairdresser’s every visit, hoping they would make me look just like her. Perhaps someone should have been honest and told me my thick and curly hair would never resemble her sleek feathered haircut, but then again, no doubt I wouldn’t have listened.

In the early morning hours of July 29, I got up with my family to watch the royal wedding. It was magical, pomp and circumstance at its almighty, with a wedding dress train that went on for what seemed like city blocks and horns that sounded the rooftops. My mom fixed a proper English breakfast, scones and tea with brown sugar.

So with the latest royal wedding, I got up at 4 a.m. to watch all the festivities. For the special occasion, I created these scones/muffins that my sister, Diana, named “Kate’s Delights.” Full cook’s disclosure, I cooked them too high and for too long, so the bottoms were a bit too done for my liking. No more multitasking when I have something in the oven!

Kate’s Delights
Depending on their size, makes 9-12 scones.
Preheat oven to 325-350 degrees

1 3/4 Cups white flour
1 Tablespoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 Tablespoons white sugar
4 Tablespoons butter-chilled
2 eggs
1/2 Cup buttermilk
1/2 Cup dried currants (I had very small raisins, or you can substitute lemon zest)
Cinnamon and sugar blend for the topping

1. In a bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients.
2. With either a pastry cutter or two forks, cut the butter into the dry ingredients until it resembles cornmeal.
3. In a separate bowl, whisk the eggs.
4. Add eggs  to the flour mixture and stir. Add buttermilk and mix until all ingredients are thoroughly incorporated.
5. Scoop the mixture onto a greased cookie sheet, top with the cinnamon and sugar blend. Cook until done.

Crunchy Maple Granola

Sunday mornings are sacred to me. The only day of the week I don’t awake with an alarm clock, I usually get out of bed between 7 and 8 and slip on my Asics to take my four-mile walk. No need for music on these walks, I am serenaded by the symphony of meadowbirds and the crunch of me feet on the earth. My body knows this road well, so I am able to be inside my head and meditate on  reflections of the week that has passed and the week to come or some problem or situation on which I need clarity. Frequently, I will walk this road in the afternoons, but on Sunday mornings, nary a walker will I pass, save the occasional pickup truck. This early morning is for me and me alone.

Today is Sunday, March 27. The last Sunday of March, at least for another year. I’m still bundled in two layers. No need for coffee before I walk, the western wind from the Adirondacks keeps me awake. The sky is baby blue with no sight of a cloud and the sun is brilliant; I’m able to stop for a moment and drink all that I get from the sun.

March in Vermont also means maple sugaring season. Warm days and cold nights make the sap run and gets the sugar houses going. Just like the return of the Canada geese and the red-winged blackbirds, that first plink in the sap bucket is music to everyone’s ears; it means the end of another winter and the start of spring.

On today’s walk, I thought about what I could make with maple syrup to celebrate this glorious season. This granola recipe is so easy, throw everything into a bowl, mix, and stir mid-way. Plus, you have the added comfort that you know exactly what is going into it; so many granolas on the market are filled with added sugar and other not-so-healthy ingredients. I’m giving you the original recipe, although I usually halve it for just two. Another note, this recipe originated with my aunt, who gave it to my mom, who gave it to me, so its origins are unknown, although I have seen similar recipes through the years. And it is reflective of the 1970s, dry milk is added, probably for an additional protein. Although I’ve made it without the dry milk, I prefer it included. This is delicious added to yogurt or just in a bowl with a little milk.

Crunchy Maple Granola
Bake at 300 degrees for 40 minutes or until done.

In a large bowl, mix:

  • 5 cups rolled oats
  • 1 cup sesame seeds
  • 1 cup wheat germ
  • 1 cup dry milk
  • 2 cups almonds, cashews, sunflower seeds, or any combination
  • 1 cup coconut or sunflower seeds

Add to dry ingredients:

  • 1 cup canola oil
  • 1 cup maple syrup or honey (both are equally delicious and add their own special flavor)
  • 1/3 cup water
  • Vanilla, to taste