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.
The Thanksgiving Table
Today is a different kind of day. Usually posts on this blog come about with the narrative and I manage to squeeze in a recipe. But sometimes when you really stumble upon a winning recipe, it speaks for itself. We'll likely make these beans for Thanksgiving this year. They're one of those simple stunners that you initially think couldn't be much of a thing. And then they come out of the oven all sweet and withered and flecked with herbs. You try one and you realize they are, in fact, a pretty big thing.
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.
It has begun. Talk of who is bringing what, where we'll buy the turkey, what kind of pies I'll make, early morning texts concerning brussels sprouts. There's no getting around it: Thanksgiving is on its way. And with it comes the inevitable reflecting back and thinking about what we're thankful for. And about traditions. The funny thing about traditions is that they exist because they've been around for a long time. Year after year after year. But then, one Thanksgiving maybe there's something new at the table.
I didn't expect green beans to bring up such a great discussion on traditions, sharing of poems and how a piece of writing can linger with you. So thank you for that. Your comments pointed out how important people and place are and how food takes the back seat when it comes right down to it. Even if you feel quite warm towards Thanksgiving and are looking forward to next week, reading about recipe suggestions and meal planning online and in magazines can start to feel tiresome right about now. Why? Because I suppose when it all comes down to it, in the big picture it doesn't matter what we all serve anyway. Next year, you likely won't remember one year's vegetable side dish from another. What you'll remember are the markers that dotted the year for you: whom you sat next to at the table, a toast or grace, and the sense of gratitude you felt for something -- large or small.
I got a text from my mom the other day that read: demerara sugar? I responded back with a question mark, not sure what she was referencing. It turns out she was experimenting with a new pie recipe that called for the natural sugar and wasn't sure why she couldn't just use white sugar as that's what she's always done in the past. A few days later we talked on the phone and she mentioned she'd let me take charge of the salad for Thanksgiving this year as long as there was no kale. No kale! And I wanted to do the mashed potatoes? Would they still be made with butter and milk? In short, we're always willing to mix things up in the Gordon household. Whether it's inspiration from a food magazine, friend or coworker, either my mom or one of my sisters will often have an idea for something new to try at the holiday table. But what I've slowly learned is that it can't really be that different: there must be pumpkin pie, the can of cranberry sauce is necessary even though not many people actually eat it, the onion casserole is non-negotiable, the salad can't be too out there, and the potatoes must be made with ample butter and milk. And while I was really scheming up an epic kale salad to make this year, there's a big part of me that gets it, too: if we change things too much we won't recognize the part of the day that comes to mean so much: the pure recognition. We take comfort in traditions because we recognize them -- because they're always there, year after year. And so today I present to you (mom, are you reading?): this year's Gordon family Thanksgiving salad.