Monday, May 16, 2011

A tribute to my mom | Chocolate banana bread

I grew up baking with my mom.  Maybe the real draw to the kitchen was that she let me lick the beater, the spatula, and the bowl, but nonetheless, many of my childhood days were spent there.  When I was littler I remember sitting up on our Brady Bunch bright orange countertop and watching the electric mixer spin round and round as ingredients swirled together.  I loved hopping up on the countertop, it made me feel important, like sitting up there made me queen of the kitchen.  My queenship would soon come to an abrupt end as one night, wearing my wispy, pink Jasmine pj’s (yes, that Jasmine, from the movie Aladdin), I jumped up on the counter only to be met rear end first by the top of a hot crock pot!  That experience gave the phrase, “look before you leap” a whole new meaning. 

My phase of counter-sitting passed and I became more involved in the whole baking process.  Mom taught me the basics of mixing, measuring, and cleaning as you go.  The math teacher in her loved trying to turn simple measuring into fraction lessons, but I was successful at tuning that part out. I focused more on perfectly packing the brown sugar into little sand castles that still remained intact when I flipped them from the yellow measuring cups into the mixing bowl- that’s how you know you measured it right. 

When Christmastime rolled around mom and I literally transformed into non-stop baking machines.  We’d stay in the kitchen all day (well that’s kind of a lie because of course I’d have to take breaks to play out in the snow with my non-baking siblings) but when we came in and all our snowsuits, hats, mittens, and scarves were hanging snugly over the woodstove, and we finished our steamy cups of hot chocolate, I’d be right back in the kitchen with mom.  We’d bake spritz cookies (my duty was to sprinkle them; still is today), pecan moons, toffee squares, crème de menth bars, chocolate covered cornflakes, and cut outs (decorating those was a group effort where Zak and Kasey would pitch in too).  There’d be chocolate chip butterscotch layer bars (uncle Ron’s favorite), candied pecans, these thin, plain cookies with chocolate jimmie’s on the outsite, and each year a few new recipes just to try them out.  After the baking frenzy was over, mom would always pack away a few cookies of each kind in yellow butter containers to give to auntie Nell.

That’s the best thing about baking with mom; she always shares.  The students in her class who were smart enough to make good decisions and complete their weekly responsibilities were rewarded each Friday with a baked treat.  I secretly loved it when only five or six of her students got treat that week, because that meant lots of leftovers for us!  Our house was always filled with friends, which meant mom would make sure to have something right out of the oven to keep them happy.  Pumpkin bread, Saturday cake, poppyseed bread, and banana bread seemed to always make an appearance and if there wasn’t a fresh loaf handy, you could find one in the freezer all wrapped up, labeled, and ready to eat.  And when friends couldn’t make it to our house, mom made sure to send her baked goodies their way.  I can’t count the number of times I’d go to my best friend Michelle’s house and mom would hand me a loaf of pumpkin bread she made especially for Michelle. 
Along the way mom taught me lots of tips and tricks.

1. When cooling cookies you don’t need those wire cooling racks. Instead, just cut apart a brown paper bag and put the cookies on that. It works perfectly.

2.  Use the oven as a dryer. After you wash cookie sheets, pans, whatever you used to bake, just pop it in the still warm oven. Just make sure you check the oven before you preheat it for your next baking endeavor. You will forget this many times, believe me.

3.  When bananas go bad, peel them, put them in a ziplock bag, and stick them in the freezer. You might have to dig for them, but when you want to bake bread you have bananas ripe and ready.

4.  If you prefer your cookies slightly burned, like mom does, just pretend that you forgot to set the timer.  That way burning cookies is easy and seems completely innocent!  

I could go on for days about the memories mom and I have in the kitchen; about the talks we had while waiting for the timer to tick down and then finally indulging in our creation with cups of coffee constantly being refilled.  The time spent in that tiny kitchen helped shape me into the baker I am today.  I spend hours in my own kitchen whipping up old favorites and new creations too.  I’m known in my church as the dessert lady, and I have to admit I love bringing dessert to any event we attend. 

But more importantly, being in the kitchen with my mom allowed me to see the beautiful woman she is.  She’s a problem solver - she could always come up with an easy substitute when we ran out of a certain ingredient.  She’s resourceful – she’d always find a way to use leftovers, she’d never waste anything or throw away food.  “Waste not, want not” was one of her favorite phrases.  She let us be creative in the kitchen.  When we questioned how to do something, like how to properly flour a pan, she’d say, “you’re doing it, you can do it any way you want!” 

These traits in the kitchen transferred so easily into her skills as a mom.  She’s a problem solver- she always provided us with what we needed when we ran out of confidence or got hurt by a friend, or got let down.  She’s resourceful- she knows how to see the best in each person and she won’t let us; her kids or her students, give up or throw away chances to learn and grow.  She fosters creativity and individual thinking.  Of course she puts in her two cents, like any mom would do, but she realizes that sometimes we just have to do things the way we want, and she lets us go.  She’s always there too if our way didn’t work out as we thought.

I can proudly say I was taught from the best.  Mom taught me how to cook and bake, and I even learned my fractions along the way (although I still have trouble trying to double 2/3).  But I can truly say that my sweetest success was simply being able to observe and be loved by such a remarkable woman.  She put so much time, energy, and love into me, my brother, and my sister.  Our timers aren’t buzzing yet either.  She’s still there to help us grow and offer advice and give help when we need it. 

Now that I’m a mom myself, I’m so excited to continue this tradition with my own kids.  I hope they’ll be bakers with me, but if not they at least have to be bakers with grandma.  I know they won’t be able to resist hopping up on those bright orange countertops!

So here's a new one for you mom: Chocolate Banana Bread

  I found this recipe on the blog Good Food, Good Wine, and a Bad Girl.

3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter, softened
2 eggs
1 cup mashed bananas (around 2-3 medium bananas)
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup good-quality cocoa powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 cup mini chocolate chips (optional)

Preheat oven to 350F. Lightly butter a 9x5x3 inch loaf pan.
In a medium bowl, beat together sugar and butter until creamy. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, stirring well after each addition. Add the mashed bananas, sour cream and vanilla extract, and stir until smooth and creamy-looking.

In a separate bowl, sift together flour, cocoa, baking soda, salt and baking powder. Add the flour mixture to the wet ingredients and stir until just barely combined. Fold in chocolate chips, if using.
Bake in preheated oven for about 50-60 minutes. Bread is done when the top is firm to the touch and a toothpick inserted into the centre of the loaf comes out clean. Allow to cool on a wire rack for at least 10 minutes before slicing.

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