Last weekend we went camping out on Orcas Island, my favorite of all the San Juan Islands. The trip had been on our calendar for a few months, but it seemed to sneak up quickly (hasn’t that been the case this summer?) leaving us scurrying like crazy to get out of the house Friday afternoon to catch our ferry. We’ve been to Orcas enough times to have a favorite swimming hole, hike, and bakery, but this trip would be different as we were going car camping with three other couples and a gaggle of kids. I knew that at 24 weeks pregnant it might not be superbly comfortable to sleep in our small tent, but we were bringing air mattresses and I packed my pillow so surely all would be well. The day before we left I baked a loaf of this banana bread and stocked up on healthy snacks and fizzy water. Sam dug through the basement to find all of our camping gear. We were ready.
A few friends commented that they couldn’t believe I was going camping pregnant, but really let’s face it, it was car camping right by a gorgeous lake and we had fresh banana bread: how bad could it be? And for the most part, I seem to have an interesting reaction to many of the negative comments or warnings I hear about pregnancy: I tend to take it with a weighty grain of salt. I know that I’ve been very lucky in not feeling sick and having relatively good energy, and I’m fully aware that this isn’t the case for many people (and that it could also change for me). I also know that I’m a ‘mind over matter’ kind of gal which has served me pretty well so far. When I ran marathons a few years ago, you get used to not listening to your body — you listen to your mind. Sure, you train smart and show up physically prepared, but on race day you often ignore all the signs your body gives you that it’d really like to stop and walk, thank you very much. Instead you listen to your mind telling you to keep putting one foot in front of the other. To be honest, this is how I’ve approached so many things in life: I assume I’ll work hard at it and it’ll work out. I’ll put my mind to it. I’ll focus and drown out the naysayers.
But pregnancy is slowly teaching me that this isn’t going to work all the time. The days of talking myself into running another mile, staying up another hour, or getting up earlier to get more accomplished might just be nearing an end (for now). The weekend we were camping was a hot one — as we’ve been experiencing so much this summer in the Pacific Northwest. And for the first time, my ankles and calves became so swollen I could barely see my ankle bones. When I looked down one morning I thought, oh no. I’m becoming one of those pregnant women.
Now, my theory with many minor ailments in life is to drink more water (those who know me well lovingly roll their eyes at my suggestion that it cures so! many! things!). But liters of water and hours later, my ankles were still stumpy and my energy was low. That evening, I figured I needed to go on a brisk walk — surely that would fix me right up. I set off by myself to explore the other campsites and trails nearby. I came back to camp, had a huge glass of water, and put my feet up. No change. Sleeping that night turned out to be far less comfortable than I’d thought and getting up in the middle of the night to pee numerous times was a challenge in our very small two-person wilderness backpacking tent. I was humbled.
This of course is all very minor, but it has made me confront the fact that I’m likely not going to be the one driving the ship for the next few months. I know that as much as we prepare and as many books as we may read, my body and our baby may have other things in mind than what we expect, anticipate or plan for. As I’ve written about in my pregnancy journal, it’s good that pregnancy is such a gradual process. If you went from not pregnant to 24 weeks with a sizably round belly and baby kicks and jabs and swelling and fatigue right away it would be rather shocking. But the body eases you in slowly; now I’m just going to have to get a little better at really letting go and listening to it.
I don’t necessarily have a go-to banana bread recipe so I searched through a few cookbooks that I’ve been wanting to bake from and found this beauty from the new-ish Ovenly cookbook. And while there are so many banana bread recipes out there and you may wonder why it’s necessary to talk about yet another, this one is special because it’s an adapted Moosewood Cookbook recipe and I appreciate that it’s largely sweetened with maple syrup and is made with whole wheat flour. So many banana bread recipes are so delicious because they’re actually more like a cake, loaded down with sugar and oil; this one looked different and called to me. It turned out to be a hit in the mornings. We unwrapped it and kept Sam’s camping knife close by to slice away small pieces. With campsite coffee and slightly cooler mornings, it really hit the spot.
The Ovenly ladies call for canola oil in their recipe but I opted to use coconut oil instead; it has a really wonderful sweet fragrance that works well with the flavors in this bread. If you don’t have coconut oil, you can certainly use a canola or vegetable oil instead. I also added walnuts because I happen to love nuts in my banana bread. You could leave the nuts out altogether if you prefer or make this loaf a bit more indulgent by adding chocolate chips. It’s wonderful sliced at room temperature or toasted — always with a little butter.
Slightly adapted from: Ovenly
Preheat the oven to 350F. Liberally grease a 9×5-inch loaf pan with butter (or non-stick cooking spray).
Peel the bananas and place in a small bowl. Mash with a fork until smooth. Separate out 1 cup of the banana mash. If there is extra, feel free to freeze in an airtight container for future use (smoothies, top your yogurt or oatmeal).
Grind the flaxseeds into a fine powder using a coffee or spice grinder.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flours, flaxseed meal, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Set aside.
In a large bowl, whisk together the maple syrup, eggs, oil, brown sugar and vanilla extract. Add the sour cream and mashed banana. Whisk until almost smooth — it’s ok if a few lumps remain.
Fold the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients until just combined. Don’t overmix. At the very end, fold in the toasted walnuts. Pour the batter into the prepared loaf pan.
Bake for 50-55 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the bread comes out clean.
It turns out that returning from a sunny honeymoon to a rather rainy, dark stretch of Seattle fall hasn't been the easiest transition. Sam and I have been struggling a little to find our groove with work projects and even simple routines like cooking meals for one another and getting out of the easy daily ruts that can happen to us all. When we were traveling, we made some new vows to each other -- ways we can keep the fall and winter from feeling a bit gloomy, as tends to happen at a certain point living in the Pacific Northwest (for me, at least): from weekly wine tastings at our neighborhood wine shop to going on more lake walks. And I suppose that's one of the most energizing and invigorating parts about travel, isn't it? The opposite of the daily rut: the constant newness and discovery around every corner. One of my favorite small moments in Italy took place at a cafe in Naples when I accidentally ordered the wrong pastry and, instead, was brought this funny looking cousin of a croissant. We had a wonderfully sunny little table with strong cappuccino, and, disappointed by my lack of ordering prowess, I tried the ugly pastry only to discover my new favorite treat of all time (and the only one I can't pronounce): the sfogliatelle. I couldn't stop talking about this pastry, its thick flaky layers wrapped around a light, citrus-flecked sweet ricotta filling. It was like nothing I'd ever tried -- the perfect marriage of interesting textures and flavors. I became a woman obsessed. I began to see them displayed on every street corner; I researched their origin back at the hotel room, and started to look up recipes for how to recreate them at home. And the reason for the fascination was obviously that they were delicious. But even more: I'm so immersed in the food writing world that I rarely get a chance to discover a dish or a restaurant on my own without hearing tell of it first. And while a long way away from that Italian cafe, I had a similar feeling this week as I scanned the pages of Alice Medrich's new book, Flavor Flours, and baked up a loaf of her beautiful fall pumpkin loaf: Discovery, newness, delight!
I always force myself to wait until after Halloween to start thinking much about holiday pies or, really, future holidays in general. But this year I cheated a bit, tempted heavily by the lure of a warmly-spiced sweet potato pie that I used to make back when I baked pies for a living in the Bay Area (way back when). We seem to always have sweet potatoes around as they're one of Oliver's favorite foods, and when I roast them for his lunch I've been wishing I could turn them into a silky pie instead. So the other day I reserved part of the sweet potatoes for me. For a pie that I've made hundreds of times in the past, this time reimagined with fragrant brown butter, sweetened solely with maple syrup, and baked into a flaky kamut crust. We haven't started talking about the Thanksgiving menu yet this year, but I know one thing for sure: this sweet potato pie will make an appearance.
This time last week I was up in the Skagit River Valley sitting in the early fall sun eating wood-fired bagels and chatting with farmers, millers and bakers at the Kneading Conference West. I made homemade soba noodles, learned the ins and outs of sourdough starters, and sat in on a session where we tasted crackers baked with single varietal wheats. It was like wine tasting, but with wheat and the whole time I kept pinching myself, thinking: THESE ARE MY PEOPLE! I don't get the opportunity to be a student much these days -- usually on the other side of things teaching cooking classes or educating people at the farmers markets about whole grains and natural sugars. So to just sit and listen with a fresh (red!) notebook and a new pen was surprisingly refreshing. I miss it already. Thankfully, this cookie recipe has come back as a memorable souvenir, and one that is sure to be in high rotation in our house in the coming months.
Strolling New York City streets during the height of fall when all the leaves are changing and golden light glints off the brownstone windows. This is what I envisioned when I bought tickets to attend my cousin's September wedding earlier this month: Sam and I would extend the trip for a good day or two so we could experience a little bit of fall in the city. We'd finally eat at Prune and have scones and coffee at Buvette, as we always do. Sam wanted to take me to Russ and Daughters, and we'd try to sneak in a new bakery or ice cream shop for good measure. Well, as some of you likely know, my thinking on the weather was premature. New York City fall had yet to descend and, instead, we ambled around the city in a mix of humidity and rain. When we returned home I found myself excited about the crisp evening air, and the fact that the tree across the street had turned a rusty shade of amber. It was time to do a little baking.
I am writing this on Saturday afternoon on a day when we had big plans to conquer pre-baby chore lists, but Sam's not feeling great and my energy's a little low so it hasn't been quite what we'd envisioned. My goals for the morning were to repot a house plant and make some soup and I've done neither. I will say that the sweet potato and fennel are still sitting on the counter eagerly awaiting their Big Moment -- it just hasn't come about quite yet. Sam and I were both going to attempt to install the carseat, but it started to look really daunting so we abandoned ship; it's now sitting proudly in the basement, also eagerly awaiting its Big Moment. So it's been one of those weekends -- the kind you look back on and wonder what it is you actually accomplished. At the very least, I get the chance to tell you about this hearty cranberry cornbread. I know maybe it feels premature in the season for cranberry recipes, but hang with me here: slathered with a little soft butter and runny honey, there's nothing I'd rather eat right now on the cool, crisp Seattle mornings we've been having lately.