Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Is That a Banana in Your Pocket?

I have decided that food knows no season - just because it's July is no reason to say that making a pumpkin pie is ridiculous....your MOM is ridiculous. Yes, having certain foods at specific times of the year might make them more special, but they also make you want to eat so much of it because it's going to be another 364 days before it crosses your path again that it makes you so sick of it you don't care it's only there once a year. Where's the fun in that? I say whip up a batch of divinity in August....BBQ ribs and baked beans in February, and banana bread once a month - you know there are always a couple black ones lying around creating a colony of fruit flies, so you might as well use them to your advantage.

My personal food seasons are as follows:

January: New Year's Eve Asian buffet. All homemade, all delicious and I count it as January because that's when the calories actually take hold in the form of cellulite on my hindquarters.

February: Valentines Day romantic dinner for two. Also homemade because I hate going to restaurants on a day when everyone else is there, and if I do it at home I get a GREAT tip.

April: Easter. Turkey, ham, all the trimmings and baskets full of candy...that and Polish Dish with some kind of sweet offering for breakfast and you'll be in a food coma until the next food season.

May: AnnivirthdayPalooza. Handsome Stranger's birthday is the 26th, mine the 28th, our lovely daughters is the 25th, and our anniversary is on the 26th so HS would have trouble forgetting. Cake, cake and more cake, plus the obligatory anniversary dinner and we can gain a dozen pounds in the span of only 4 days. But what a way to go.

July: Independence from hunger. Yeah, yeah, yeah....you know it's really about the BBQ so don't be calling me unpatriotic. I will fight for my right to eat red and blue jello with non-dairy whip.

September: Labor Day. In honor of the type of pains we will have after yet another gut-busting BBQ meant to signal the final throes of summer and Jimmy Hoffa's birthday or something.

October: Halloween. Candy. Period.

November: Thanksgiving. As in thanks for all we stole from the Native Americans just because we were big bullies and wanted it....but now we are fatter and slower and if they ever decided to rise up against us and take back what was rightfully theirs we would probably hand over the remote for a handful of skittles and a bag of Artisan Roasted Garlic and Black Bean Tostitos. OK, maybe not YOU, but I would certainly think about it.

December: DUH. This is the longest and most sustained calorie dump of the year...it lasts from the moment all the dishes are put back in the hutch from Thanksgiving and ends only when you shove the tree out the front door on it's way to cremation city and the last candy cane snaps under your foot and you claim 5 second rule and suck it to a sharp point to stickily poke the nearest annoyed family member before crunching the last of it's minty goodness until next year.

Whew. I think I gained 4.8 pounds just typing this. AND it made me hungry - no, it actually just made me want to eat. Like most everything does. However, after this most recent food season, where I abandoned most of my ideals about eating healthy and not overindulging in the horrifically calorific until my scale read out stopped showing numbers and just spelled out "REALLY??", I realized that it's a fools game and I am the grand prize winner. I'm pretty sure I'm not going to think fondly of the nanaimo bars Handsome Stranger's boss sent home, the 3 pounds of gummy bears my children gifted me with, or the berry pie, rocky road, and pecan caramels I MADE MYSELF when I am eating steaming piles of unsalted vegetables and drinking water like a camel in a sandstorm for the next couple weeks to take it all back off again. Sheesh...you'd think I'd learn.

So listen to my wisdom, and mix things up a bit....maybe if I had banana bread in March for a new food holiday, then again between Labor Day and Halloween I would not have eaten an entire loaf of it myself, including a bit of butter and cream cheese here and there. Although I dare you to not eat an entire loaf of this...a lovely friend shared this with me as she makes it every year to give as Christmas gifts to her friends and family, and it is in my recipe binder in the category "BEST EVER" offerings. It will take samples and a miracle to beat this one....it is exceptional and don't think you can...but I'm more than willing to judge any and all attempts you want to send my way.

Sour Cream Banana Bread Ala Ros

1/4 C. sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon
3/4 C. butter, softened
3 C. sugar
3 eggs
6 ripe bananas, mashed
16 oz. (2 C.) sour cream
2 tsp. vanilla
2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. salt
1 T. baking soda
4-1/2 C. flour
1 C. chopped walnuts OR macadamia nuts as per Ros (opt.)

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Grease 4 loaf pans (I used the regular sized foil ones, then the metal ones I bought last year because son #2 wanted to make lots of bread and needed metal pans - they both worked great), then mix the 1/4 c. sugar and 1 tsp. cinnamon and use to coat greased pans with. Trust me....this is a highlight that is ridiculously simple AND delicious....my daughter and I nearly got into a slap fight over cutting the sides and bottom of the bread off before the other could get to it first.

In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar until fluffy, then add eggs and beat well, pour in smashed bananas, sour cream, vanilla cinnamon, salt and baking soda and mix until well blended and smoothish. Beat in flour until mixed, then fold or mix in nuts if you are using them. I did not....nuts add a LOT of calories/points plus, and altho I love walnuts in banana bread, I decided to try it without. Ros uses macadamia nuts for a little Island flair, and although it was good, to me it was just nuts, and unless I can tell they're macadamias, I'm not going to spend 15 bucks a pound to add them. If I did, I would probably toast them in some butter in a skillet to bring out the flavor...but this bread is a wonder nutless (hahaha), so that's how I will probably always make it.

Measure even amounts into each pan...I use a scoop and do one in each pan until I get down to the last of the batter....just make them sort of even so they bake at the same rate. Put them in the oven, not touching each other or the sides and bake at least an hour, or until a toothpick comes out clean when you poke them in the center. Let them cool a bit, then turn out and finish cooling on their sides on a rack....if you leave them in the pan too long it will make the cinnamon sugar sweaty on the bottom and you'll be reduced to scraping it out with your finger because your tongue isn't long enough to get down into the bottom of the loaf pan.

The sour cream is what really makes this bread....don't be tempted to under cook because you won't need to....if that pick comes out clean, the bread will still be so moist it's between a bread and a really good cake - and the cinnamon sugar on the sides and bottom give it a caramelized sugary crunch that will make your eyes spin in your head....SO good! It's good hot, warm, cold, frozen, stale, and probably moldy although I dare you to have any last long enough for any self respecting microbe to take root in it....one bite and you'll be hooked so hard you'll sell your grandmothers Charles and Di tea towels for a bag of black bananas for the next fix. And I will be right there with you, a stick of butter and a tub of cream cheese with a snowman-handled spreading knife....aaaaaahhhhhhhhh.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

It's a GIRL!!!

I guess I can't proclaim myself an expert on raising girls since I only have the one, but I was one myself, so I think I can take a little from that experience and the fact that I came out alive on this end of 18 and say that I'm at least semi-pro. My first-born and only female child has been on the other side of the country (might have just as well been the universe) for almost 13 years, so when she and my 10 year old grandson moved back to Oregon in September, I was tickled pink. And they are living IN OUR HOUSE....I think that's fitting, at least for now since she has deprived me of her company and my grandson for this long. I will never tire of being a grammaand wish that I had more than one to spoil, side with against his mom, and teach him bad words (it was an ACCIDENT).

We have similarities, she and I; I don't think either one of us leaps into friendship easily, probably in part because of a couple hard hits in childhood, but when someone does crack our hard candy shell, you can pretty much be sure that they'll be front and center at our funeral, crying and laughing harder than anyone else in the room. We have the same snarky sense of humor, and we are both extremely common-sensical - we both like things the way we like them, and God help anyone who gets in the way of that.

On the other hand, my lovely daughter has FAR more patience that I ever did or will have with her child, she is FAR more independent and fearless than me (Holy hand-grenades, Batman - she joined the ARMY), and I think she has a much more creative soul than I do. Sure I like to cook, but because of a LOT of food experience/exposure, I think I know what will work and what won't, but it's really stolen from others. I can pull a rabbit out of my hat, with a sweet cherry andSyrah reduction, roasted garlic, fried sage and Asiago mashed Yukon Golds and butter browned julienned Brussels sprouts with toasted hazelnuts, but most of the time someone else put it in there. I don't think either one of us knows what we want to be when we grow up, but have vague thoughts that it should involve writing, and/or comedy...and for me cooking for sure. I think it's about time the Food Network acquired a stand-up chef with excellent spelling skills.

She has been gone a looooong time - an average once a year visit from one end or the other and 13 years flew by. She was already so grown up (from 6th grade on), but she matured in that time, found love, a new home, new interests, and even became a mother, all without us there. And never seemed to be scared or worried about anything - she is either the greatest actress of all time, or she really IS that independent....and having a partner who leaves for year at a shot over and over pretty much cements that notion. But family is family, and I think she realized just like I did when she left that she was missing out - you can email, call, even visit from time to time all you want, but it ain't the same as BEING THERE. And in my opinion life is too short to throw that away unless you have a REALLY good reason. And what that would be I have NO idea.

It's different having a kid in the house, adding two more bodies to a one-bathroom home, and doubling the female hormone level...tread lightly, you who leave the seat up, your comeuppance has just doubled. I know that we can't always agree, that there will be bickering and petty annoyances for us all from time to time, but it matters not. On the walls of every cubicle I have had in the last 12 years, I have two midnight blue post it notes I laminated and neatly trimmed with Velcro on the back so they'll stick to fabric walls. Written with a metallic pen and covered with stars and hearts, one says "Queen of the Universe", and the other "I *heart* you Mom, Becky". I see them 5 days a week, all day, every day, I remember exactly where I was and what she looked like when she made them, and they are constant reminders of just how much I missed her.

(Author's note: I started this blog before she arrived, and it was here I had to go find Kleenex) When she was in boot camp, she sent home letters detailing her experiences, and I put them in a binder and read them once in while. She was really homesick at first - I didn't expect that, so it was really hard to read about it. One night she was on a bus with a bunch of other prospective girl soldiers, waiting to go off to the next destination, and she wrote that she started to cry when the girl next to her (who she was sure thought she was crazy) started biting her fingernails and spitting them on the seat in front of her just like I do. It was the closest I came to getting on a plane and flying to that base and telling them it was all a mistake, she wasn't supposed to be there and had to come home with me NOW. I still can't read that without having an allergy attack.

I was told early on I could NOT send goodies from home during basic, and to please not send her anything but letters because you had to do push ups even for those, and they were really mean if someone got a package. I think she moved on to her language training before I was allowed to send anything, and the first was a big box of cookies....her favorite included. I think I cut the recipe out of the paper, but never tried them because they seemed kind of "meh", but she did on a whim and they were wonderful - light, slightly crispy, and so delicately flavored with coconut and vanilla. Some things are happy accidents (well, unless they involve Angry Birds and a potty-mouth gramma...) - maybe you can put these in your Christmas cookie rotation this year, just call em snowflakes and dream of your world being covered in them when you wake up tomorrow....

Becky's Coconut Crisps

1 C. butter, softened (2 cubes)
1 C. sugar, plus extra for sprinkling
1 egg
1 tsp. vanilla
1 tsp. almond extract
2 C. flour
1/2 baking soda
1/2 salt
2 C. flaked coconut

Preheat oven to 325. In a large bowl, beat butter a little, then add 1 C. sugar and beat until fluffy; add egg and extracts and beat until well combined. Add baking soda and salt and mix, then add flour and beat until combined, add coconut and mix well.

Using a cookie scoop or two spoons, drop by heaping tablespoon onto a greased or parchment lined cookie sheet. I always scoffed at recipes that used parchment paper as "foofy", but after using it found that it really does make a difference, and you don't have aluminum flecks on the bottoms from scraping them off the pan if they tend to stick. Just sayin. Sprinkle tops with sugar (you can use big or regular sugar....I kind of like regular for more of a "sandy" result), then use a flat-bottom glass dipped in sugar to slightly flatten each one. Bake at 325 for 12-15 minutes, not allowing them to brown. Remove to rack to cool, makes about 40 cookies.

And just for the record, I don't think these shipped terribly well....I recently read that you should ship cookies in a tin with bubble wrap between each layer and it made me laugh....those cookies were enjoyed just as much in powder form as they would have been intact, which would be true of anyone who missed a taste of home! I think they would also be delicious if you melted some dark chocolate in a Ziploc, then cut off the tip and drizzled the tops, but then I think that about EVERYTHING - except liver.