Random recipe: Cinnamon Sugar Blueberry Banana Bread

I am a fan of banana bread and pumpkin bread. They are almost both impossible to screw up. I have a version that takes sour cream, and a few years ago I found a version that has a crunchier top crust. That has become my favorite because there is a nice juxtaposition of crunchy top with soft insides.

I could hardly wait for this new version to come out of the oven. The smell of cinnamon sugar was wafting through the house. Of course once it came out of the oven it had to cool and I was pooped and ready for bed. I cannot take the credit for this random recipe. It was all Chris. I was working late and he graciously went into the kitchen to make it. Although I guess it is a win-win for him because he gets to enjoy such an amazing loaf of bread.

I would never have thought to put bananas, blueberries, and cinnamon sugar together. It works though.

CINNAMON SUGAR BLUEBERRY BANANA BREAD
Cook time: 45 minutes

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 cup granulated sugar, divided
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 overripe bananas
  • 2 large eggs
  • 7 tablespoons sour milk (make sour milk by adding 1 teaspoon vinegar to 6 1/2 tablespoons nonfat milk)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 2 cups fresh or frozen blueberries (if using frozen, be sure to remove any ice crystals)
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  1. Preheat oven to 375°F. Grease a 9x5x3” loaf pan with butter and coat it with sugar. (You do this like you would grease and flour a pan. Grease it first, then add about 2 tablespoons sugar to the pan and move the pan side to side until the bottom and sides are coated with sugar. Do NOT substitute cooking spray for the butter. You can skip the sugaring and just use cooking spray, if you wish.)
  2. Cream butter and 3/4 cup sugar with a hand mixer. Set aside.
  3. Add bananas, eggs, milk, vanilla, and baking soda to a blender jar and blend until smooth.
  4. Pour half the banana mixture into the butter mixture with 1 cup of flour. Mix with hand mixer until just incorporated, then add the remaining banana mixture and flour. Mix until just incorporated. Stir in blueberries. (Make sure that your frozen berries are not overly wet; pat them dry and/or remove any ice crystals or your batter will be too wet.) Pour into prepared pan.
  5. Combine 1/4 cup sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl. Sprinkle evenly over the top of the batter.
  6. Bake for 45-50 minutes until a toothpick comes out with just a few crumbs. The edges will be a dark brown and there will be a nice crack down the center.
  7. Cool completely before removing loaf from pan, but you can cut slices from the pan after it’s cooled for about 15-20 minutes.

Aqua with gas

I have become horrendously addicted to sparkling water. I know a random thing to become addicted to, but I am. I can remember in 2001, my sister and I went on a trip to Italy. A quick side note. My sister, the amazing person that she is, decided that she would take me to Italy for my college graduation present. What a cool present from a sister, in a family with no parents. Back to the trip — I had no idea how to speak the language and figured my sister could handle that part. I was the map girl, and man was that important when we were in Venice. The only words I knew how to speak were: “Where is the bathroom.” Important, right?

Imagine sitting in a trattoria in Italy with a gorgeous waiter taking your order. You are on vacation and you have absolutely nowhere to be. It was probably the last vacation of my life (with the exception of my honeymoon) where I truly felt no stress of the workplace that I left behind (although I do remember making a long distance phone call from Venice to Boston to check in on my boss as he had asked if I would check in partway through my vacation). I guess I was just as crazy back then.

I digress. This post has only a tiny portion to do with Italy. I can remember when you would order they would ask if you wanted aqua with gas, or without. I was adamant that we had water without gas. Sparkling water, gross?! Well, I guess over time you do change. Fast forward to 2014. At some point during this year I got addicted to sparkling water. I still cannot remember when or where, but now I prefer drinking water with bubbles. We even purchased a Soda Stream last spring. We do not use any fancy flavors, but I love to come inside after a long run and gulp down a glass of cold water with bubbles. Somehow I feel like the water is just slightly different. It tastes different. It has a bit of an edge… Especially when you hold the Soda Stream button down just a little longer than you should.

Now back to a few weekends ago when Chris and I went out to dinner. We knew we would be getting sparkling water. When we ordered it I assumed we would be paying for our water. It was a nice restaurant and of course they would charge more for the bottled sparking water. When they asked right away if we wanted sparkling or still we asked for sparkling, only to find out that they bring you their own bottle of sparkling water. I am sure they have their own machine that makes sparkling water, but why not? More restaurants should make their own sparking water and stop charging customers $3-10 for a bottle. I know when I was in Shanghai I sometimes had to pay $15 USD just for a bottle of Perrier (craziness)!

Thank you, Ava Gene’s, for letting us enjoy our food, drink countless bottles of sparkling water, and never paying a cent for the bubbles. There is more in this world than price gouging over some carbonation. More places should make their own sparkling water. I would be a fan. Bring on the bubbles!

Eating Down the Fridge

You cannot put that book down, you lose precious sleep at night because you want to read one more page. A different book moves you emotionally to think differently about your life and make some needed changes. Yet another book prompts you to make small moves toward a more sustainable lifestyle.

The Kitchen Counter Cooking School: How a Few Simple Lessons Transformed Nine Culinary Novices into Fearless Home Cooks” by Kathleen Flinn had an impact on me and the food I consume. Chris and I have found ourselves in a food rut. We make the same few meals each week, and continue to alternate them. Yes, most of the time it is what I crave and want, but what if I do not know what I crave and want because I have not given myself the option to try something new? Over the weekend we went to a Portland restaurant that we have wanted to go to for ages. It took us about two months to find a reservation that would both fit our schedules and be a normal hour to eat dinner (before 10:30 pm). We had an assortment of items all new and different, but one really inspired me: spacatelli, sausage, broccoli, provolone. It was very simple, and yet so delicious. I look up at Chris and say the book I just finished has inspired me and we need to radically change how we think about food. We can make this dish at home.

That does not mean that we do not eat well on a regular basis. I think we have a very balanced diet, what I wanted to radically change was our routine. With the changing season from summer to fall and soon to winter there are so many different options to try. New soups and stews, and warmer dishes we would not want in the summer. So many options to explore, inspire, and change our ways. Flinn’s book is inspired by a woman she met in the grocery store:

“No wonder we’ve forgotten that the most essential thing we do is to feed ourselves and the people we care about. When I saw the stuff the woman had in her basket, it struck me as antinourishment.” Page 22-23

As a country, we eat from cans, the freezer, and over-processed boxes of chemicals. It is what we know, and yet many of the processed foods are a very long list of chemicals that provide no nourishment at all. Flinn sets out to teach a group of women who do not know how to cook how to make food from scratch and replace the quick and easy processed counterparts. She shows them how to make Alfredo sauce from scratch in the same amount of time as you would the boxed version, and she proves that cooking from scratch is not only affordable but the tastier option. She also talks about how much we waste.

We buy food in bulk at stores such as Costco and Sam’s. It seems like a better value, but what we often do not realize is how much waste we create. Why buy one good head of lettuce when you can get three for less? They do not taste great, but oh well. You then do not feel bad when you throw away the other two heads. Which leads to what has been called: “Eating Down the Fridge.” The tactic? You do not buy groceries for a week and instead get creative and eat down all the food currently in your fridge. We would starve in our house because we often only have fresh fruits and vegetables in the fridge and eat them down each week, but we could still join the cause and make sure we are eating the salsa, and other condiments that often are forgotten and grow into other entities within the fridge.

Do an Internet search for: Eating Down the Fridge, read Flinn’s book, and use the changing season to jump-start your food inspiration!

I heart SH: Food nostalgia

You never know if you are going to fall in love with the food in a new city, or if you eat and are always disappointed. During my two-week visit in Shanghai I tried to always eat as local as possible. I only had a few western meals, and other than trekking all over the city to find a good green smoothie (actually just a real green smoothie), I stuck to trying new things.

I have not been a fan of Chinese food in Portland. Most of the places we have tried have been too Americanized and are mostly bland options. For the most part Thai or Chinese food for us has been the quick “too tired, or too busy to cook” option. You do not really crave that kind of Chinese food, it is more of a convenience. So not really sure what to expect and knowing that I have definitely not really ever experienced “good” Chinese food, I jumped in head first. I thought I would share a few of my favorites.

photo 5Xiao long bao is a kind of steamed dumpling (or bun) that is made in bamboo steamer baskets, and filled with a tiny amount of broth. Xiaolongbao - Yum!They are usually served with slices of ginger, soy, and vinegar to dip in before popping in your mouth. I became addicted to the pork filled versions, although I also had some that had hairy crab inside. They have a thin, light exterior, and it is best to tear a corner and check the temperature of the soup, or just go for it and down it all in one bite, hoping not to burn your mouth in the process. They are little morsels of intense flavor and just so so so good.

Favorite location: Din Tai Fung (for those of you in the US, there is a location in Seattle). Roadtrip soon, Chris?

Sheng Jian BaoTheir cousins or siblings are Sheng Jian Bao (fried soup dumplings) and take a close second for me. My first Sheng jian baoThey are a breakfast speciality in Shanghai. Twice the size of the Xia long bao, also filled with pork and broth, but fried on the bottom. They also have a thicker exterior.

Favorite location: Yang’s Dumplings

I tried other local Shanghainese food, with differing opinions. Some dishes were bland, some just not the flavor I would crave. Junk food, street food, fine dining. More items with beans then I can imagine. By far my favorite were these two versions of dumplings. I have already started the hunt of where I can find something even close as to as good in Portland.

Dessert in Shanghai was few and far between. We usually were too full to care, but not in that ‘your pants are bursting’ kind of way. In more of a ‘that was amazing and I do not want to do anything to the flavors happening in my mouth’. However, we happened across a bakery selling a Cronut (croissant + doughnut), we could not resist.

CronutEver since we had heard about all the hubbub in New York City at the Dominique Ansel Bakery, we have always wanted to try one. While I appreciate that the fad has not blown up and been cloned all over the US, when you have never had one, and you see it in Shanghai, why not try it? They know that they are stealing the idea from New York City, but rather than completely steal the idea, we saw it marketed as “Cronut = Crack + Doughnut.” Whatever way they want to justify it, we found two bakeries that sold them. Worth it? Yes.

I enjoyed trying so many unique and local dishes and will miss Xiao Long Bao, but the adventurer in me will see if I can find them locally. Or, maybe Chris will play in the kitchen and see how hard they are to make right at home.

Pooping at work

Yes, I am talking about pooping at work. Yes, you might feel uncomfortable, but you are most likely slightly curious. Come on, you are. You are curious. From time to time, I have shared poop stories, but this one came directly from Fast Company. How could I not share? The article is titled: “How the Most Successful People Poop at Work.”

I will tell you it is often a conversation in my office. Maybe not pooping directly, but the office bathroom is often a topic. For one there is a fascination for what the men’s bathroom looks like, does it have urinals? Is there any privacy? The women’s bathroom has recently had a range of smells. Sometimes it smells like men’s cologne and other times it ranges to the rankest of smells. We continue to call the direct line to someone who might be able to help rectify the smell, but we think the culprit is the drain in the floor bringing back some foul odor.

Does it tell you something about office culture that we can talk about pooping? Or farting? If you look back on my blog posts, I have frequently mentioned farting on an airplane, speeding because I have to poop, the squatty potty, poo-pourri, and much more. So as you can see it is a topic I feel quite comfortable discussing, but do we all feel comfortable with the topic? No. Yet this article talks a lot about the food we intake and how that interacts with our bowels, and the etiquette we find in work bathrooms. You know what I am talking about: those that hover waiting for you to leave so they can finish their business. Those that talk to try to mask the noises coming out of their bum, or as the article mentions throwing toilet paper into the bowl to try to mask the sounds. Whatever the method, we all try to mask the bodily sounds and noises that come from whatever food is wrecking havoc on our bodies.

So…why is it so taboo to talk about it? Why do we all shy away from it? I think my team has become mostly transparent about it, we laugh about it, and discuss what we can do about the rampant changes in the bathroom odor, but are we unique? Are we normal, or do most workplace environments quickly hike the stairs or rapidly push the buttons on the elevator in order to escape to a bathroom on another floor?

What do you do? Be sure to read the article I shared — it will add a chuckle or two into your day.