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Food for the Times

[Banana loaf, September 2007]

Six years ago the world collapsed and turned into itself, and nothing has been the same since. Can it really be six years? It’s hard to fathom — life has bowled on at its usual pace; that the sun can rise and set on its regular rhythm seems both impossible and comforting.

That day in 2001, my friend walked me home from work through the deserted Washington downtown, all the way up to Adams Morgan to my friend’s house where we ate macaroni and cheese, drank Sierra Nevada, and talked and talked, trying to make sense out of the nonsensical. It was such a blank, awful day — the kind where, when you wake up the next morning, it feels like a terrible dream until you remember.

Every year on the anniversary, all I want to do is to be outside for awhile, and then to cook something sweet and nourishing.

This year I will make banana bread, because it is comfort food in the extreme — plus, it smells so good while it’s baking and tastes even better. My recipe is somewhat time-worn, from an old copy of the Better Homes and Garden cookbook I picked up at a yard sale with a pile of books for $1 (my first copy — perhaps my first cookbook ever? — having long since been singed beyond use).

This recipe is quite basic, but if you use a lot of bananas, it’s elevated to something a bit beyond the ordinary. Moist, sweet but not too, with those homey, safe flavors of cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger. it’s a bread to soothe the soul.

A trick to keep in mind is one I picked up ages ago when I first started dating Michael; it’s both thrifty and practical: when your bananas start to turn — as they inevitably might — and you can’t stand the thought of eating any more, throw ’em in the freezer to save for making banana bread at your leisure. I read somewhere it’s best to remove the skin before doing so, but I often forget to do this, and the bananas freeze up just fine.

Serve as is, or toasted with a bit of butter or margarine, and a hot cup of tea.

Last year, a simple and savory chard-and-potato lasagne also sure to bring comfort on difficult days.

Banana Bread, adapted from the Better Homes and Garden cookbook

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp. ground ginger
1 egg
1 cup mashed bananas (3 medium)
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup vegetable oil
options: 1/2 cup chopped walnuts
handful chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease the bottom and sides of a loaf pan. In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, spices, and 1/8 tsp. salt. Make a well in the center of the dry mixture and set aside.

In another bowl, combine the egg, mashed bananas, sugar, and oil. Add the wet mixture all at once to the dry mixture and stir until just moistened. Fold in walnuts or chocolate chips, if using.

Bake in the prepared pan for about 50-55 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in pan for 10 minutes then remove from the pan and cool on a wire rack (note: I just let it sit in the pan until it’s cool). Wrap and store the loaf overnight before slicing.

I have a feeling this could be made vegan very easily just by omitting the egg and adding another banana, or just taking a chance with the ones you already have; bananas are often used as an egg substitute so I think you’d be fine.

You can also divide the batter into smaller pans; it makes two mini loaves, like so:

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