My dear dear amie,
Your last letter had me laughing and teary all at the same time. You are such a champ. And, just so you know, these last few months of your single parenting have inspired me. Not to actively seek out single parenting situations - God no. Just to push myself in my parenting comfort zones. I finally took the kids to a restaurant by myself (ok, it was frozen yogurt, but still) and took them both swimming at our local pool (probably not to be repeated anytime soon, but I did it). I even tried to do a bit more in the kitchen during the times Tygh wasn't around to tag-team. Hence, the following revelation.
Who ever said that they love cooking with young, toddler-aged children is either a saint or a liar. For better or worse, I am neither.
While I may consider myself to be a parent of perhaps slightly greater than average patience, I am not inherently a patient person, nor am I good at relinquishing control in the kitchen. And there is nothing that causes a control-freak in the kitchen more angst than watching someone casually “measure” out cups of flour or dump some unknown quantity of baking powder into cake batter, which is less than forgiving at baseline.
Not to say I don’t do cooking projects with June, because, little dear, she just loves "helping." I just have to try really hard to not be bothered by schmears of butter on the cabinetry or eggshells in the final product. And in her developmental stage of, “I can do it, I can do it!” these interludes are a constant lesson for me in letting go, if ever there was one.
I realize this makes me sound like a terrible parent - unwilling to let my daughter explore the joys of the kitchen with reckless abandon and a total dedication to play and experimentation. It's just that, like most parents, I often don't have all day to bake (read: clean up) and many times, I actually have to cook with a purpose (read: we have to be able to eat the results). So, I try to make things a little easier on myself (and her) by not picking anything too complicated or exact. It’s pretty hard to mess up cookie dough or quick breads, so often these are our baking projects of choice. But, it doesn’t mean we don't change things up now and again.
I have this great cookbook from the Model Bakery in Napa which has a very simple, yet wonderful, banana bread recipe. June and I have made it many a time when we have found ourselves in the unique position of having 30 minutes of Harvey nap-time as well as 2 ripened bananas. It's straight forward, fast and always yields great results.
I remember hearing once that brownies were invented when someone was making a chocolate cake and forgot to add enough flour. While that may have been an exaggeration (they likely forgot a few other ingredients, as well), the point is, many great baking moments were actually mistakes or improvisations. And so it goes with last week's banana bread.
Having only frozen bananas, I was about to pop them in the microwave to thaw when June asked, “Why do you use the microwave to cook them and not the oven?” Eureka! Why not? So, we topped ‘em with a little butter, salt and brown sugar and did just that. The results were fabulous. That weird frozen banana juice that always oozes out when you microwave them caramelized instead. We added the whole warm mess to the batter, then topped it with the a salted brown butter streusel, just to be cheeky (inspired by this recent post from DashandBella - are we blog stalking? Is that a thing?). The whole thing came out moist, banana-y, caramel-y, buttery and crumbly - everything a day spent baking with a 4-year-old should be.
Perhaps it is Dash's turn? ;) I mean, of course, when your T gets home.
Carmelized Banana Bread with Salted Brown Butter Streusel.
This banana bread is wonderful as is, so if the streusel feels over-the-top, omit it! If you choose to add it, however, be forewarned that you will likely be going back for seconds and thirds - it's addictive in that kettle-corn-yogurt-covered-pretzels-salted-caramel-sweet-meets-salty kind of way.
Oven at 375. Grease a 9x5 inch loaf pan.
First, the bananas:
Place 2 large frozen bananas in baking dish. Dot with 2 T butter, then sprinkle with 2 T brown sugar and a pinch of salt. Roast for about 25 min, or until cooked and those weird banana juices are starting to caramelize (you should smell it!). Remove from the oven and m ash up, mixing bananas in with juices. Let cool a bit, but not completely….
For the bread:
1 ½ C AP flour
¾ t baking soda
¼ t baking powder
½ t salt
3/4 C plus 2 Tbsp brown sugar
¼ C vegetable oil
½ t lemon juice
1 tsp vanilla extract
For the streusel:
4 Tbsp butter, browned*
¼ C brown sugar
¼ C plus 2 Tbsp flour
¼ C oats
1/4 tsp salt
In small bowl, sift/whisk together dry ingredients.
In a separate medium bowl, whisk together sugar and oil until combined. Add egg and beat until incorporated. Mix in vanilla and lemon juice. Using a wooden spoon, mix flour mixture into wet ingredients in three parts, intermixed with bananas in two parts (thus starting and ending with flour).
Mix streusel ingredients together. Press onto top of unbaked banana bread gently.
Bake for about 45 min, or until toothpick comes out clean. Done!
*To brown butter, simply melt in saucepan over medium heat, stirring frequently. The milk solids will foam up, then start to cook, turning brown in the pan and giving off a lovely nutty fragrance. This takes about 3-5 minutes, depending on heat level.