Thursday Morning Banana Bread

I love food. The whole process of food. Growing, harvesting, cooking, eating – the textures, smells, and sensations of every step (with the possible exception of cleaning up after it). Most of all, I love to feed it to people I love. I come by this honestly; my mother is a lover of food and people, too.

A couple years ago, I got really into meal planning and started cooking 95% of our dinners from scratch – no boxes, just whole ingredients. There were a couple exceptions – I tended to buy our carbs, and I really love pasta sauce from a jar – but most of our meals started as a counter of veggies, meat, and herbs.

A big part of the process was dictated by necessity. At the time, we lived with my grandparents, both of whom have several dietary restrictions, the main ones being low-sodium, low-sugar, and no soy. Those right there really knock out a lot of the shortcuts processed food promises. But really, it gave me joy to be able to make healthy, tasty food without needing those boxes and prepackaged foods. It was a point of pride as much as necessity. And we were all healthier and skinnier for it.

Then we moved. It was the middle of summer, I was uncomfortably pregnant, and we suddenly could cook with salt and sugar again after two years of very limited use. With those pesky dietary restrictions lifted, we could eat all the naughty processed food we wanted, and boy howdy was it a good time. I still cooked most of our meals from scratch, but I started using more shortcuts, more often.

Slowly, the process deteriorated entirely. We added a new family member, Ben started a new job outside the home, and one thing led to another. I began spending less and less time in the kitchen, and meal planning hasn’t been a part of my regular routine in months. None of this was from conscious decision-making, just distraction, exhaustion, and laziness. And we are less healthy and less trim as a result.

Fast forward to this week. I suddenly looked up and realized that instead of being the exception, processed food is the new standard in my kitchen. Pre-breaded chicken tenders, hot dogs, and canned soup have become routine instead of occasional cheats and treats. It’s rare to go more than a few days without chips and crackers in the cupboards, because we can’t go that long without missing them. Don’t get me wrong – I love me some Kraft mac ‘n cheese once in a while, and have no problem with using processed food in our home sometimes, but I don’t want it to be the primary staples of our diet.

All that to say, I’m starting a revolution in our food-life, and I’m starting it by stepping back into the kitchen. I’m not going to raid our cabinets and throw out all the “bad guys” – we’re going to eat the chicken tenders, just not twice a week. What I am going to do is start from scratch more again and get back to making detailed meal plans.

We had a soft start yesterday* with one of my favorite recipes – one that I can hardly claim as a healthy choice, but it was from scratch, dang it! Moist, fluffy, and the “option” to add chocolate (let’s face it – I don’t make it without), this banana bread recipe is based on the recipe for Banana Nut Bread from the old standard, McCall’s Cook Book. When I make it, the measurements are a little approximate (no time for level measuring cups here!), and I typically just do wet ingredients in my mixer first, then dump the dry in without mixing them together separately first (I know, bad baker 101). Feel free to stay a little more straight-laced if it makes you happy.

Banana Bread 1

Ingredients:

  • 2 1/2 c. sifted (LOL!) all-purpose flour
  • 3 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt (I leave this out if I’m using salted butter)
  • 1 c. sugar
  • 1/4 c. butter
  • 1 beaten egg
  • 1 c. mashed bananas (I find two bananas is usually enough, and mashing them ahead isn’t necessary if they’re reeeeeally ripe – just drop them in)
  • 2 Tbsp orange juice
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 c. milk

Optional (use as much as feeeeels right):

  • 1/4-1 c. pecan pieces (for mixing in or sprinkling on top before baking)
  • 1/2-1 c. semi sweet chocolate chips
  1. Preheat oven to 350 and grease a standard loaf pan.
  2. This is where you’d pre-mix/sift the first three ingredients, if you were so inclined, and set them aside.
  3. In mixer, beat sugar, butter, and egg. Add bananas, juice, vanilla, and milk; mix well.
  4. Add dry ingredients, beating just until smooth; stir in your optional ingredients, and feel free to get creative here. Add your own mix-ins!
  5. Pour into prepared pan and bake 50-60 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out batter-free.
  6. Cool for 10 minutes, then turn out on a rack to cool some more.
  7. Eat warm with coffee or milk.

YUM.

Dinah Banana Bread

 

 

*We still had leftover chili-mac for lunch and frozen pot pies for dinner. You win some, you lose some.

Categories: Uncategorized | 1 Comment

On snow days and follow-through

It is beautifully snowy here in central Illinois this week, and yesterday Ben took Dinah outside to play in the wintery bliss that is our backyard. She is used to playing outside on a daily basis, so the winter is a claustrophobic time for her. (Well, for all of us, really. No one wants to be cooped up in the house with a claustrophobic toddler. For real.) Anyway, as is pretty typical for a two-year-old, it took approximately 1 million years to get her into her snow clothes and out the door:

√  Hoody

√  Fuzzy pants

√  Thick socks

√  Snow pants

√  Winter coat

√  Hat

√  Gloves

√  Boots

All the essentials, then off to flop in a snowbank.

Unlike most toddlers I know, my daughter is not easily daunted by cold and wet. She was outside, so she was happy as a clam.* They used a box as a makeshift sliding device to scoot around the yard, played with the snow shovel, and intermittently ran in circles for no other reason than to run in circles.

After about half an hour, they came back in and had the customary cup of hot chocolate to celebrate their victory against whatever snowy odds they had faced. Once they warmed up, Dinah went to play with her toy kitchen while I prepped dinner, and Ben told me a humorous anecdote from their time outside:

At one point during play, Dinah declared determinedly, “Grandmas house!” and marched through the gate into the front yard. But after a few steps through snow that came up nearly to the top of her boots (so, you know, about 3 inches), she stopped in her tracks, groaned “Whew, too far,” turned around, and gave up.

At the time, I laughed at the adorable moment that perfectly personifies my daughter. A sweet little account of childhood innocence.

After I thought about it for a while, though, I realized how symbolic her little trek was for my life right now. Determined to face the odds and make a real change in my life, I have everything I need to charge ahead. I have my lists of goals, I know where I want to end up, and I have the right determined gleam in my eye. I am in my snowsuit, headed out the gate.

But I am no better than my toddler when it comes to follow through. As soon as I feel the snow around my ankles, I am liable to give up. I’ll sigh heavily, make a few halfhearted excuses, and go back to living my life the easy way: hands in the air, “Forget it, I’m taking my toys and going home.”

But it’s not the easy way. It’s not the best way. Life is chaotic, with not enough margin in any area – you name it: relationships, finances, sanity… They have all taken heavy losses in the past year. It is time to find a new normal, a calmer, lived-in normal with enough margin to say yes to playdates (for toddlers and adults) and enough structure to have clean underwear (most of the time).

So here is my margin. Here is my structure. The coming year has a lot of changes in it for us (what year doesn’t?), and we are going to face them from a place of peaceful intentionality. Our goal is to dwell fully in our life, enjoying what it is and striving for even better. This is the account of how that goes down, and how we make it happen.

Welcome to The Lived-in Life.

 

 

*What does that phrase even mean? Clams seem quite enigmatic to me. Kings of the poker face. It should be happy as a puppy if we want to be really accurate.

Categories: Darling Dinah, Goals, intentional living | Leave a comment

We had grilled cheese and soup, in case you were wondering

I used to dread Tuesday nights during the summer. My husband has a standing rehearsal on Tuesday evenings, and my grandfather is at a mid-week farmer’s market. Just me and Grandma for dinner. With a long history of tense relations (which I’ve talked about most recently here), it’s become habit to view the night with a pretty high level of apprehension. Nothing overly bad usually happens, it’s just the lack of a, erm, “human shield” that makes it worse than other nights.

Even now, with my heart working back to a healthy place, and her mood so much better (mainly because she feels better, I think), it can be difficult to look forward to these evenings alone with her with any sort of relish. She and I are very different, and it can be hard to simply be friends with her. Sometimes it’s hard to get conversation started. After totally shutting down my emotional connection with her for a while, I’m having to relearn how to talk to her, how to enjoy her again.

Tonight felt like a big step forward to me. It was awkward, at first. I was tempted to turn on the news simply to fill the silence in between my insipid (but friendly) comments about our dinner (which was delicious, by the by). But I powered through, and eventually we landed on a topic that sparked some shared interest: the farm. One story led to another, and low and behold: a conversation! A real, live, adult conversation we both enjoyed! When all was said and done (including the dishes), we had spent over an hour over dinner and beyond, talking and smiling, and generally getting along like family is supposed to. It was lovely.

My favorite story of the evening:

“You know that summer we [my grandparents, and my mom and her sisters] spent in Florida? Well, a couple weeks before we left, your grandpa and I were at a conference in Boston, and a fellow asked grandpa if he wanted a summer job working for the Aerospace program designing a computer for a big, long-term shuttle they were designing. He said, um, yes! It took us 10 days from the time he got the offer to decide we were going and actually leaving, plus two days that the government spent talking to our neighbors to make sure we were good people. Anyhow. before we got the offer, we had already planted an early summer garden out there [waves to the side yard], and we had planted those Ace beets. You know the ones? That are good early or late? Well, when we got back at the end of the summer, they were the size of your head! We didn’t think there was any chance they’d be any good anymore, but we cut one up into pieces the size you would normally serve, and we steamed them, and they were perfectly tender and tasty! We couldn’t believe it! We canned a lot of pickled beets that fall.”

Categories: elder care, Family, Grandparents, reflections | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

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