I’ve never been the type of person who is capable of forgetting to eat a meal. I don’t get it. Telling me you forgot to eat lunch is like saying you forgot how to walk, or you just up and forgot how to breathe. Eating, to me, is an involuntary activity. I don’t remind my heart to keep beating, either.
But as natural and deeply ingrained as hunger for food is, hunger for other things often escapes me. I forgot, for example, how hungry I could be for the deep, careful, knowing bond between old friends.
I didn’t mean to forget. I think about these college girls all the time. We email, and call occasionally. But spending a weekend with them—a relaxing, schedule-free, unproductive, coffee-drinking, couch-and-beach weekend—filled me up in a way I didn’t even know I needed. I’d simply forgotten that I needed to sit on a beach in someone else’s lawn chairs, giggling and interrupting and squealing and volleying hard questions back and forth across the sand.
Friends can be more sating than food that way. It’s quenching, when someone knows you well enough to both tease you in just the right way and buy you the right chicken salad from the deli. When you watch other people’s children play and see a friend’s smile in someone so small. When you know it’s okay to pick that little person up and swing her around, because somehow, deep down, she knows you’re not a stranger.
I was sad when the weekend ended. But in a strange way, I’m glad it did. I came home with a different awareness of what might constitute “need.” I came home thinking What am I hungry for?
It’s a loaded question, of course. The first thing that hit me was a need for normalcy in the kitchen. Tomorrow marks one year of eating gluten-free for me. And as much as I’ve learned new things in the kitchen—learned to love new ingredients, and cook with a different chemistry in mind, and avoid things that aren’t good for me—I’ll admit I haven’t quite achieved a feeling of normalcy when I pick up a knife or turn on the stove. I came home feeling motivated to find the new normal I’ve been avoiding–and odd sensation to bring home from a girls’ weekend, but one I need to address nonetheless.
And so it begins: a long, exciting, maybe challenging tour of my stomach’s memory. I want new normals for the staples of my past. For me, since I started baking before I started cooking, this probably means treats. It means chocolate chip cookies and cakes and sweets. And given my penchant for the stuff, it certainly means banana bread.
Here’s one that started with a look inside Deliciously G-Free, a book I’m admittedly biased against simply because it has a too-perfect face on the cover. I started with her banana bread. I got as far as mixing the dry ingredients together before taking a sharp turn off the page (which, for me, is later than most days). I kept the brown rice flour base, but incorporated almond flour, quinoa flour, and cocoa powder, twisting the recipe from banana bread into something more toastable, and perhaps a little sweeter.
I don’t want to say I was surprised. But, well, yeah. I was surprised. It looked like a chocolate snack cake I wanted to dig into any hour of the day. It sliced like banana bread, only the crumb was sturdier, so it was toastable. It even traveled well. I smuggled it in my purse to a doctor’s appointment when I didn’t have time for breakfast, wrapped in a paper towel that didn’t quite contain the crumbs. I served it for dessert, next to scoops of vanilla ice cream. I toasted it for a snack for Graham, who looked around guiltily as he ate, bewildered, wondering what alien force had persuaded his mother to offer him chocolate bread in the middle of the afternoon.
And now, with one lonely heel resting on the cutting board, wavering in that ill-defined space between being saved (because it’s so worthy) or forgotten (because there’s another loaf in the oven), my house smells like a home. My house smells normal.
And, at least in the banana bread department, I’m sated.
Chocolate-Almond Banana Bread (PDF)
First inspired by the banana bread recipe in Deliciously G-Free by Elisabeth Hasselbeck (Ballantine, 2012), this sliceable snacking cake is part breakfast, part dessert, and part all irresistable. If you’re looking for something closer to dessert, substitute chocolate chips for the almonds.
Active time: 20 minutes
Makes one 8- by 4-inch loaf
1 cup brown rice flour
1/2 cup almond meal/flour
1/2 cup arrowroot starch
1/3 cup quinoa flour
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon xanthan gum
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 medium-sized ripe bananas, peeled and mashed
1/3 cup milk (or chocolate milk, if you have it)
1 cup whole toasted almonds
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line an 8-inch by 4-inch loaf pan with waxed paper (use a piece as big as the pan is long, don’t worry about covering the short ends) and spray the paper and exposed pan parts with the vegetable-oil spray. Set aside.
In a mixing bowl, whisk together the brown rice flour, almond meal, arrowroot starch, quinoa flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and xanthan gum. Set aside.
In the work bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, whip the butter and sugar together on medium speed for 1 minute. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing on low speed between each addition. Add the vanilla, mashed banana, and milk, and mix on low speed for another minute or so.
Add the dry ingredients, and mix again on low speed until no dry spots remain, scraping the sides and bottom of the bowl and the paddle with a rubber spatula if necessary. Gently fold the nuts in by hand.
Dump the batter into the prepared pan (the batter will come almost to the rim), smooth the top, and bake on the oven’s middle rack until the center of the bread springs back to the touch, 60 to 70 minutes.
Transfer the loaf pan to a wire rack and let cool for about 15 minutes. Using the waxed paper, gently lift the bread out of the pan and let it cool another 30 minutes or so before slicing.
To store, let the bread cool completely, then wrap in plastic and store at room temperature up to 3 days.