Isolation Tool Kit: Banana Bread, Baby!

Like many others, at the start of quarantine, I decided to bake! And when I went to the grocery store and there was no yeast to be found, I decided to bake… banana bread!

(And before I start – I just saw a tweet that used ‘posting pictures of banana bread’ as an example of people moving on from anti-racism work and no longer fighting for racial justice, so rest assured, friends, I’m still making monthly donations to the ACLU, Equal Justice Initiative, and Black Visions Collective. Be like me, and deal with the compounding stress and sometimes-hopelessness of enacting massive social and political change by throwing money at it, then eat your feelings in the form of banana bread! We can have it both ways! Maybe!)

I never thought I would be into baking. I love cooking, and one of my favorite things about cooking is that it’s forgiving. It’s easy to play around with ratios and flavors and salt and fat and acid and heat without necessarily ruining the entire thing.

My impression of baking, on the other hand, was that it was an exact science: if you don’t put enough/put too much of/completely forget x, then the entire thing is inedible and you’ll have to throw it out and start over! I happily learned that this is not actually the case, and there is some room for experimentation in baking (at least as a beginner).

I’ve made many different things in quarantine (that were pre-blog renaissance and I did not take any pictures of): Japanese shokupan/milk bread, regular white bread, apple pie, peach mango pie, ratatouille pie (definitely my favorite, though wrangling together a pie dough from scratch was a challenge), along with so many different variations of banana bread.

This time around, I used this cinnamon swirl banana bread recipe as a jumping-off point, though I did not follow it directly. I made muffins instead of a loaf (for easier snacking), didn’t do the cinnamon swirl, and instead put cinnamon and nutmeg directly into the dough (because I wasn’t sure if muffins would have room for individual swirls), and eyeballed a lot of the measurements (which I do not recommend).

Banana bread, specifically, has grabbed me because of its simplicity. I don’t have to wait for anything to rise, or knead anything, or worry about things getting too soggy, or too tart, or too sweet, or not turning out appetizing. I can whip up a batch with minimal clean-up, too. (I churned these out with just a few utensils and one bowl and one muffin pan – not bad!)

This batch was, honestly, probably the worst that I’ve made so far – again, I don’t recommend eyeballing the measurements, especially when baking soda just splats out of its container – but it was still delicious and I’m looking forward to finishing them for my next couple of breakfasts.

I love trying different banana bread recipes and seeing how different ingredients and techniques affect the final product. Should I add Greek yogurt? Should I melt the butter or just soften it? White sugar or dark brown sugar or light brown sugar? How long should I keep it in the oven? At what temperature? Do I want them to be crumbly or moist? Are they too moist? Is there even such a thing as too moist?

It’s corny, but one Saturday morning, while mashing up my bananas and preheating the oven, I felt very peaceful. I found a reason to wake up at a decent time on the weekend, which was hard for me, even before quarantine. I knew the banana bread would be delicious no matter what, so I wasn’t stressed out about breakfast turning out badly. I moved around the kitchen at a leisurely pace, sipping my coffee between pouring flour into the bowl and mixing it up.

I became excited about perfecting my signature banana bread recipe. I looked forward to making banana bread every Saturday morning, as a calming weekend unwinding ritual. I fantasized even further, to having children, feeding them little banana bread crumbs, and teaching them the recipe and baking together…

In the meantime, I still have to perfect that recipe!

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