Tuesday, August 5, 2008

A Family Affair on Bread Tuesday

I woke up early this morning and declared it Bread Tuesday. I thought I'd better get to work using up the HUNDRED pounds of flour I bought this week, and set aside a few hours to make a lot of whole wheat bread - some to eat, some to freeze for later, some to bribe my loved ones with...

After a lovely morning of crossword puzzles, eggs benedict, and a whirlwind of spontaneous laundry sorting, I tied on my apron, turned on the radio, and got to work. Only one problem - the kitchen was a disaster zone. I live with my best friends, and none of us are especially messy individuals, but with the combined kitchen clutter output of my thrice daily cooking adventures and the sheer volume of kitchen usage between the five of us - it's bound to get pretty hectic. Oh, and how.

Luckily, I had my productive pants on and I happily got to work scrubbing, rinsing, drying, organizing, and sweeping up the accumulated kitchen lives of five twenty-somethings. I don't know when I became one of those people that loves doing dishes, but surely enough, I geek out over steel wool and soap bubbles. I was just about to settle into scraping the gunk from around the electric stove burners, when I realized I was having too much fun and it was time to get to work. Leaving the less-than-perfect stove top, I pulled out the big canister of whole wheat flour from the cupboard, snatched the yeast from the freezer, and was just about the heat some water to between 105 and 115 degrees, when I noticed something looking at me.

There, on the counter next to the garlic, were five brown, spotty bananas. My roommate Dragonfruit has this habit of buying weekly dollar bags of dozens of bananas from Limbo, and uses them as her primary source of nutrition until they run out. The promise of making banana bread with the mushiest of them floats in and out of actualization, but most of the time they disappear one by one as D gets hungry, their sad, brown peels lying in the compost next to the beet greens. Setting my yeast back in the freezer for a few more hours, I decide to make the dream a reality - it was Bread Tuesday after all - and banana bread there would be.

Here's where the family bit comes in. Growing up, my family used cookbooks even less than I do now - we had a series of truly reliable dishes in a relatively constant rotation, and if it was anything other than baked chicken thighs or spaghetti, my parents didn't need a recipe to whip up something new. The Joy of Cooking came out once in a while for cookies or cakes, but for the most part, we got along fine without help. Because of this, the few cookbooks we owned sat in the dining room closet dubbed the Liquor Cabinet - a full-sized shelved closet filled with homeopathic remedies, a bunch of random serving platters, the ice bucket for parties, and the same twelve bottles of liquor we only used when my grandparents came over. On the highest shelf of this random collection sat the cookbooks, lined up and gathering dust - save for the previously mentioned Joy and one other: My First Cookbook by Rena Coyle.

This was officially my older sister Casey's cookbook, and we would use it for after school snacks and the occasional breakfast in bed we'd make for our parents birthdays, anniversaries, sick days and such. Casey still waxes poetic about a certain recipe we made, spending an entire afternoon assembling a fancy chicken dinner of chicken thighs, canned cream soup, frozen mixed vegetables, and tubed biscuit dough (the tops of the biscuits would get all brown and the bottoms would stay gooey and doughy - which was a delight, believe it or not).

I'm pretty sure the only reason we even talk this book anymore is a certain Banana Nut Bread recipe. A few years ago, Casey wanted to make something special for her then-boyfriend, and remembered the famously moist banana bread recipe from the "teddy bear" cookbook, still at our parents' house on the top shelf. She called up Mom and Dad and asked them for the recipe, and the perfect banana bread was born again in New York. I emailed Casey this morning and asked her to send me the recipe, thinking she'd just send back a few paragraphs of text, but nope - I opened my email and found scanned images of the two pages from the original book, teddy bear illustrations and all.

She's not seeing that guy anymore, but you bet your buttons those scanned pages are still with here everywhere - literally - she's still got them on her iPod Touch. We'd made a batch a few weeks ago when I was down in California, and I thought I'd play with the recipe using a few of D's spotty bananas, lest they keep staring and distracting me from making the most of Bread Tuesday.

As I'm mixing up the bread - which gets its amazing tenderness from sour cream - I get two emails from Casey and my mom, simultaneously. Casey's says,
"Subject: my first cookbook
its called my first cookbook by rena coyle. mom says the page is covered in flour, banana and dough"
and Mom's reads,
"Subject: I just smelled the bear recipe of banana bread...
It does smell, even tastes like banana bread. Bob tasted some of the crumbs of dough on the page. Will be looking for the blog about it."

This is my family. Spread across the country, but united by the internet and a recipe. Three separate kitchens, in three corners of the nation, will smell like banana bread today. You should join us, and have a fantastic Bread Tuesday.

Eat Well.

It doesn't surprise me that my dad tasted dough that has been smooshed between the pages of a children's cookbook for what must have been years, but you will be surprised by how good this banana bread is. As much as this story is about the original Banana Nut Bread, I just had to tweak it a bit. I'm me, afterall. I used 100% whole wheat flour, a bit of cocoa, some dried cranberries, and replaced the walnuts with sunflower seeds. Here's the recipe for my version of the Perfect Banana Bread.

Seedy Cocoa-Cranberry Banana Bread
adapted from Rena Coyle's My First Cookbook, 1985

1/2 cup butter plus 1 Tbs for greasing pan
2 cups whole wheat flour
3 Tbs unsweetened cocoa
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 cup sugar
2 eggs
3 very ripe bananas
2 Tbs sour cream
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup raw, shelled sunflower seeds

Preheat oven to 350. Grease a loaf pan with butter. Mix flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt in a small bowl. Cream together butter and sugar with hand mixer until creamy. Add eggs and beat until incorporated. Add cocoa/flour mixture and beat until smooth. USING YOUR HANDS, mush bananas into batter, leaving some large chunks. Add sour cream, seeds, and cranberries and mix until evenly distributed. Pour batter into loaf pan, scraping bowl with a rubber spatula. Bake for one hour and 10 minutes, or until the bread pulls away from the sides of the pan. Let cool, slice, and enjoy with family.

Save a few crumbs for future memories.


  1. Gorgeous bread! I'm wondering - do you think it would work with fat free sour cream and stevia?

  2. Joelen - I know the fat free sour cream will work because we've made it with everything yogurt, kefir, and light sour cream - it's more the moisture that's necessary there, not the fat.

    As far as the stevia goes, I don't have too much experience baking with it, but this is a pretty hearty loaf and I bet it would stand up well to the substitution.

    Good luck!

  3. The teddy bear cookbook...it doesn't get any better than that! you are so lucky to grow up in a family for whom cooking is a means of self expression. I've only learnt to cook and bake for as long as a couple of years ago; my parents are not much into making their own food. Their motto is: if you can get it at a good price and it tastes pretty good, why bother?

    Oh, I wouldn't say that you love soap suds and metal scourers; you probably just couldn't stand mess in the kitchen in the way that I can't. Here's a confession: anywhere in my house can look like a pigsty except the kitchen. That has to be spic and span at all times. A little ironic, no?

  4. Your bread is just beautiful!

  5. Okay. I have to stop reading this blog for awhile - I'm not getting anything else done!

    Today, instead of pulling more weeds and getting ready to head out of town, I'm going to be making this bread. I just happen to have a few bananas that are on their way out:)

    Thanks for the great recipes!

  6. mmm...banana bread slathered with peanut butter is a sensational treat. i love the cranberries and sunflower seeds, two things that should be obvious as additions but that i've never thrown in before. awesome recipe, awesome pictures, awesome family. :)

  7. The teddy bear cookbook is too cute! I love books that have pages glued together with batter, it means they're well loved.

  8. this is so funny because MY best banana bread is from my first cookbook. It was an ABC cookbook so banana bread was naturally for B:) Yours looks wonderful, I may have to cheat on my first cookbook!

  9. Fabulous story....I can easily picture it. Would probably make delicious French Toast Banana Bread...

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