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Vegan Banana Bread

[From the bay, June 2011.]

Strange days in San Francisco: it’s pouring down rain this morning (locals know what an anomaly this is; we’re solidly in summer now, and July looms in just a few days. So rain? Shouldn’t be anywhere on the forecast.) and I can’t run due to an inexplicable and frustrating shin splint injury. In other words: the world is a bit tilted today, and not just because my internal equilibrium got reordered after a sail last week in a little boat that swooped and swept around AT&T Park and under the Bay Bridge up to Pier 39, all of us clinging to the ropes at certain moments when the wind picked up and the boat went nearly horizontal, remarking on what a perfect! day it was to be out on the water.

Sweet, sweet Friday afternoon, post-work barbecue on the roof (I made mac + cheese), after a very long week, after cursing my existence due to unexpected and terribly painful shin splints, I was unexpectedly given the gift of that sail. I almost didn’t take it — I was limping around the office with an ice pack affixed to my poor, bruised calf, all woeful-like and thinking the only thing I wanted to do was to go home and lie on the couch feeling sorry for myself. But when you’re offered an opportunity to go out on the San Francisco Bay with your favorite person (plus a few others), you can’t not take it. Can you imagine? I’d never have forgiven myself. And it was gorgeous — “all sun and air and sparkle,” to quote my beloved Jack London, and pelicans skimming low above the water and the city shining in the blue-gold light of late afternoon like it was the only city in the world.

And so I put this here as a note to clutch on to when things seem bleak: don’t give in when initially daunted. This applies to spontaneous sailing adventures, life in general — and baking.

Case in point: a few weeks ago (yes, I do realize I am still neglecting my little corner of the Internet; apologies all around, dear blog) I decided to bake banana bread because San Francisco was a bit foggy and windy, and you know what I like to do when it’s like that: turn on the oven and make something sweet and comforting. Also I had a few bananas not-so-slowly browning on the counter and it was one of those moments of serendipity — ripe bananas + chilly eve = banana bread — that can yield the finest results.

So I tripped happily about my kitchen slapping together whole wheat and white flours, a bit of brown sugar, some walnuts. I mashed the bananas well with a fork and stirred in the requisite amount of vegetable oil. I reached for the eggs to add in, too, but realized — there were no eggs! It was my own fault but I was peeved; how could I be out of eggs? And relatedly: why can’t I keep track of anything anymore? (Lists, it’s true, keep me organized but I find them so terribly bo-ring to create.)

But I decided to just go for it — I am, after all, a fan of vegan baking and have created quite a few concoctions that have turned out pretty spectacularly if I do say so myself (ginger cookies, chocolate cake, peanut butter cookies just to start) and I had the batter nearly finished. It would have been a waste to discard it. So on I forged, forgoing the egg and adding a handful of blueberries at the last minute and you know what? The loaf turned out great. Perhaps it was more dense without the fluffiness lent by the egg; perhaps it was a bit more sticky (but I like sticky). I was so pleasantly surprised that I actually wrote down the recipe so that I might make it again — for me, this is the true test.

It’s a simple recipe, and very forgiving as well as inclusive. Sometimes I like to add a few tablespoons of cocoa powder instead of chocolate chips just to give it that note of smoky-sweet chocolate without being overwhelmingly chocolate (although other times I do want that solid chocolate crunch), and I love to stir in a generous cup (or more) of those tiny, tender wild blueberries (I get ’em frozen from my organic market). Nuts are a must, most usually walnuts but also slivered or sliced almonds or perhaps pecans. And the inclusion of maple syrup serves to give a hint of natural sweetness and works as a binder to hold the batter gently together.

It was best the next morning, toasted, and nibbled alongside a cup of tea. As I drink my coffee this morning I’ve a hankering for it, as my bowl of breakfast oatmeal has long since been digested and I’m experiencing the first ‘elevenses‘ hunger pangs while casting around for a snack idea that’s semi-healthful and also filling. Such a fine line, but I think this banana bread would do the trick nicely.

So here’s to forging on — through rain, through stupid injuries, through the summer doldrums, through a lack of eggs in the fridge. I shall try to make the best of whatever comes my way, hoping for more spontaneous sails, a speedy return to form, and more banana bread, as much as I can stand.

[print_this]Vegan Banana-Ginger bread

1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 cup 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 tsp. ground ginger
1 cup mashed bananas (3 medium)
1/2 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 cup fresh or frozen blueberries
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 flours, 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 mashed bananas, maple syrup, brown 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.[/print_this]

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