Waste not, want not.
I can hear my grandmother say it now. It was her go-to comment for so many things in life. Born in the Depression, she knew how to stretch a dollar, repurpose ingredients and never waste anything.
As we begin to wrap up our fifth week of staying-at-home with limited access to ingredients and stores, but plenty of time, I find myself connecting with my long-gone grandmother in profound ways. I lean on her to guide me down this path of unknown scarcity and economic shutdown, a road she knew all too well.
For example, I am now saving the tea leaves from used tea bags to use later as plant food. Yes, I know, this may sound extreme, but isn’t that what this “Great Pause” is all about? Extreme highs and lows. Extreme isolation. Extreme kindness. Extreme boredom. Extreme creativity. Extreme fear. Extreme resourcefulness. Extreme contemplation. Extreme everything. Extreme times call for extreme measures. And, with nothing but time to learn new things, I’m all in.
How to Repurpose and Reuse Ingredients
Since we are cooking every meal, we are forced to get organized and plan out our menus a week in advance. Whether repurposing leftovers by turning green chile pork stew into an unforgettable breakfast dish topped with a crispy fried egg or making a pot of dark and rich vegetable stock from a bag of vegetable scraps in the freezer, there is no shortage of opportunities to make great food in our kitchen.
Last weekend, when David reached for one of the five slightly rotting bananas to slice over his oatmeal, I sweetly asked him to use the new bananas so we could make banana bread. He happily released the rotting banana. The look in his eye knew I had a recipe up my sleeve that would dazzle us both and bring great joy in this time when food is one of our few thrills.
A Little Sugar and Butter May Be Exactly What We Need Right Now
He was right about that recipe. It’s from smitten kitchen and, just as Deb Perelman admits to having an obsession with banana bread, my obsession is chocolate chip cookies, though I also have a few banana bread recipes on this blog. Banana-cranberry-walnut bread. Paleo banana bread 1. Paleo banana bread 2. And there are also these banana-carrot-date-walnut-muffins.
Because I can deeply relate to food obsessions, knowing how many times she has tried to perfect her banana bread recipe, I knew this version would live up to its Ultimate Banana Bread name. It calls for brown sugar, which I bought for this recipe. This clearly means, after 35 days of isolation, my culinary rules have softened significantly, which is, in itself, extreme for me.
Thirty-six days ago, I would never have intentionally purchased brown sugar, and even organic cane sugar would have been rejected. It wasn’t part of my routine. However, today, sugar seems like an ok thing to bring into the kitchen. We all need to find a comfortable space in the midst of this insanity and sugar and butter aren’t the enemies right now. In fact, we may need a little more butter and sugar to push through. (Full disclosure: the gluten-free lemon pound cake I made for Easter called for one cup of sugar and I conceded. And it was everything I imagined.)
Honoring Our Ancestors
To honor my grandmother who made a loaf of wickedly good banana bread–with butter and sugar, of course–and to uphold her tradition of waste not, want not, I made this banana bread. There is something beautiful about taking rotten bananas and transforming them into a dish that will make us happy. Or, as I like to say, we are making lemonade with life’s lemons.
Ultimate Banana Bread
Hold on to those rotting bananas because this recipe is going to save them from the trash and make you and your loved ones very, very happy. This bread requires five rotting bananas, one bowl and one loaf pan. It's so easy and comes together without a lot of effort, but tastes like it is a masterpiece. And it is. Moist and rich but not too sweet, this is the only banana bread recipe you will ever need. I recommend baking this at the end of the day so it's ready when you wake up the next morning. It's good the first day, but even better the next day, so be patient and wait.
- 1 tablespoon coconut oil or butter for greasing the loaf pan
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter melted, I used Miyokos vegan butter
- 1 cup packed light brown sugar
- 2 cups mashed bananas which turns out to be 5 bananas
- 2 large pastured eggs
- 1 teaspoon vanilla or vanilla bean paste
- 1 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon make this a heaping teaspoon
- 1 pinch grated nutmeg optional
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 2 cups gluten-free flour I use Bob's Red Mill gluten-free baking flour
- 2 tablespoons coconut sugar for dusting on top before baking
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a loaf pan (9x5) with coconut oil or butter and set aside.
Melt butter in a large bowl and whisk in the brown sugar until it melts and it a beautiful caramel color.
Then stir in the mashed bananas.
Whisk in the eggs and vanilla.
Sprinkle the surface of the batter with salt, cinnamon, nutmeg (if using), baking soda and baking powder and stir until the ingredients are fully dispersed in the batter, and then stir a few more times just because.
Add the flour and stir until combined. Scrape batter into prepared loaf pan. It should come just under the top rim.
Sprinkle the top of the batter with coconut sugar and don't be shy because this is how the crust will get super crispy. Bake banana bread for 55-65 minutes. It is done when a toothpick comes out clean.
Let the bread cool in the loaf pan and let it sit out overnight.
The next morning, wake up early and cut into the beautiful banana bread. Make yourself a strong cup or coffee or tea and sit down to savor your culinary work and celebrate that you gave those rotting bananas a beautiful new life.
To store: continue to leave the top of the banana bread uncovered, as you won't want to lose that crunchy top. Merely cover the cut side with aluminum foil.