this is the bringing forth of banana bread
*It’s the kind of smell that indicates there might be fruit flies nearby—the sickly sweet odor of over-ripeness you at once want to embrace, at least until the undertones of rot and flesh become apparent. Then the odor becomes too much for you—too permeating, really—and you want to push it away. But when I was greeted with this smell after returning to our kitchen after a weeklong vacation in New York, I was overjoyed. This is the smell I had been waiting for, for nearly two weeks: the smell of ripe bananas.
*Banana bread requires one of two personality traits: patience or forgetfulness. The forgetful opportunist finds blackened bananas hidden behind the fruit bowl—bananas she forgot to eat a week ago—and decides that the only way to prevent wastefulness is to make banana bread. The banana bread-lover, whose heart is intently set on making—and then consuming—only the most delicious banana bread—must be patient, and let day after day pass as yellow-green skin accumulates brown speckled patches. And she, the banana bread-lover, knows when the bananas are ready by smell, look, and touch. All of these carry pitches that are fine-tuned with time, and when the bananas are ready, they are bursting and buzzing with good vibrations.
*In describing how the experience of hunger refined the precision and specificity of her cravings, Gabrielle Hamilton writes in her memoir, Blood, Bones, and Butter, “Each craving became fanatically particular. Hunger was not general, ever, for just something, anything to eat. My hunger grew so specific I could name ever corner and fold of it. Salty, warm, brothy, starchy, fatty, sweet, clean and crunchy, crisp and watery, and so on.” As someone who loves the raw materials of cooking as much as the experience of eating, I know the exact flavors and textures I want to taste in my mouth. Banana bread is such a classic and basic quickbread that to me, it is essentially a blank canvas. There are endless recipe variations and no one perfect formulation because everyone likes a different kind of banana bread. I like my banana bread dense and moist—almost like bread pudding—with a little texture but not too crumbly. I like the overwhelming taste of bananas—so much that I want my bread to taste purely of bananas, and not of vanilla extract or cinnamon. But I want to encounter chocolate and nuts while eating—accents that complement but do not disturb—and I like my banana bread to sit heavily in my mouth and my stomach. I like spreading honey and butter on top, so my banana bread cannot be too sweet, and I like slicing it thickly, so it must hold together well—nothing fluffy or airy for me.
*I set to work in the kitchen with only basic ratios in mind. I peel and mash the ripe bananas, I pull out my green olive oil and drink it from a spoon before pouring it into the batter. I add in blue cornmeal and almond flour because I like their gritty tastes, and then some chocolate chips and pecans. My banana bread is a product of both my desires and whatever sits in my pantry. The dumping and the mixing and the mashing—it is all a slow rhythm that feels loose and indulgent. I do a crossword puzzle while it bakes, and in the last ten minutes before the bread is done, I start making espresso on the stovetop, heating up some milk alongside. Then, when it is all done—the bread cooled, the espresso ready and poured into a bowl, I sit and eat my banana bread with a fork and slurp my café au lait like soup. Nothing—absolutely nothing—is more luxurious than this.