January 09, 2014

So far, so good

Happy 2014. 

It’s been a good one so far, friends. You? I had a great holiday with family in New York, and now, in the new year itself—all nine days of it—I have managed to bake pfeffernüsse, drink several bloody mary’s (helloooooo, new year, new me!), and MOVE—into a lovely little house in Bernal Heights, San Francisco, with a beautiful garden, a fully equipped kitchen (with a dishwasher!, and a kitchen island!, and a white marble table that is going to be just perfect for rolling out all of the pie doughs in this book! (resolution number 1?)), and a cat named Girard who purrs like he’s twice his size and sleeps cuddled up in an achingly tight spoon, and a someone special, too. So far, so good, 2014.

With all of the changes, there have also been some adjustments. I am confronting a newly domesticated version of my former self—one who likes to bake banana bread at 10 o’clock at night and roast pumpkin and squash seeds as she simmers soup on the stove and who wakes up the whole house with the fragrance of spicy cookies being tossed around in confectioner’s sugar. (Yup, that’s me.) 

Maybe it’s because this new house is actually a house, tricked out with all of the promises of domestic bliss in every amenity and around every corner. (I have to live up to it.) Or maybe it’s me—settling out of single life and into something that, perhaps, has always made more sense: trying to live and love well, with someone who makes life that much better; sharing meals each night; and sharing our lives. It’s good. And it really is that simple. 

There’s been cooking, as I mentioned, and a lot of reading, too. As I plunge headlong into another year, I want to do even more of both of those things. 

I’ve been recently engrossed in Tamar Adler's book, which seems to have taught me more about cooking with economy and grace in its lucidly metaphoric prose than an itemized recipe probably ever has. With sentences like this—that are about so much more than cooking, but which reach toward its symbolic potential with intelligence and beauty—it’s hard not to be immediately drawn in: 
“When we cook things, we transform them. And any small acts of transformation are among the most human things we do. Whether it’s nudging dried leaves around a patch of cement, or salting a tomato, we feel, when we exert any tiny bits of our human preference in the universe, more alive.”
And, if you haven’t read it, it’s based somewhat (in structure, and a bit in tone) on M.F.K Fisher's classic work, which I loved even before cracking open the front cover. (How to Cook a Wolf is, perhaps, one of the best titles to ever grace the literary world.)

Also on my list, particularly now that I live with a pie-loving man, is the aforementioned stunner, The Four & Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book, which is pleasingly organized by season, and which reads, for someone who loves pie and food and ingredients in general, like a really good novel. 

On the literary front, I’m planning to read this fictional work. The painting that the book is loosely based on stopped me in my tracks when I saw it in New York this past trip (a small, very simple painting). It’s one of the few remaining pieces by Fabritius (only about a dozen survive), whose works were nearly all lost in the Delft Thunderclap explosion (a fact that makes The Goldfinch all the more potent).

Rebecca Solnit's The Faraway Nearby has also been on my list for a while and was recently leant to me by a friend (which means I’m likely to get to it even faster than if left to my own devices). I’m looking forward to delving into her storytelling.

Lastly, I’m trying to work up the courage to read this book—the review of which, alone, left me sort of breathless. 

In terms of food, I’ll be back soon with an experiment in cooking with economy, à la Tamar Adler, that should be enough to chase away the polar vortex that a good portion of you are currently being enveloped by (a spoiler alert: this will not be for those of you who are newly sworn off of gluten, but I do think it will be somewhat healthy—in that doused in olive oil, vegetable-based, Mediterranean, sort of way). 

For now, here’s a recipe for that banana bread I mentioned, which came out of my oven late one night this week. As has been uttered by many a blogger before me, the world does not need another banana bread recipe. And yet, it’s something that we all should have in our culinary arsenals, for when nothing other than the most simple, unpretentious food item will do. (I’ve been making this one for a decade now.) It will also be there, importantly, when you have a cluster of overripe bananas melting into shadowy puddles on your counter, as bananas are wont to do. 

Simplest Banana Bread
Adapted from Martha Stewart

1 stick unsalted butter (at room temperature), plus extra for pan
1 cup sugar
2 eggs (preferably at room temperature)
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup mashed, very ripe banana (2–3)
1/2 cup sour cream (preferably at room temperature)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup walnuts, chopped

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a loaf pan with butter and line it with parchment, if desired (this makes removing the bread effortless). 

Cream the butter and sugar in a large bowl with a wooden spoon, until fluffy and incorporated. Add the eggs and beat until well blended.

In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, baking soda, and salt together lightly. Add this mixture to the butter, sugar, and eggs, and stir until just combined. Add the remaining ingredients—banana, sour cream, vanilla, and nuts—and stir until combined. 

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake at 350 degrees for approximately 1 hr 10 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the bread comes out mostly clean. Let cool in pan for 10 minutes or so, and then lift the bread out of the pan with the parchment, and allow it to finish cooling on a rack. 

Serve warm or cold, with extra butter for slathering. 

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