Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Crackly Banana Bread: All that matters

I forgot to lock my car door on Friday night.

I was shocked when I realized it at nearly noon on Saturday – a full 16 hours after the security transgression had taken place. Numbed by my stupidity, I sat immobile in the front seat trying to process how this possibly could have happened.

I never forget to lock my car door. I love locking it – even going so far as to hit the button multiple times while I’m walking away just so I can hear the chirpy beeps. (Even after ten months, I’m still in awe that I actually own a vehicle with keyless entry capabilities.)

As I verbally thanked God (and my upstanding West Hollywood neighbors), I felt a rash of emotion start to inflame my eyes, the same rash of emotion that had hit me the previous night at my office as I'd tried to keep my composure intact. The past 18 hours had been a wake up call – the unlocked car door being the final physical manifestation that something had to give.

The past seven months have been the busiest of my post-collegiate life. A demanding new job that I love, writing projects, more tequila and beer-fueled nights than my Sauvignon Blanc-trained liver is used to (and by “more,” I mean “four.” Total.), and early morning Bar Method classes have all ensured that the dull moments spent shellacked to my couch with Bon Iver on repeat are fewer and further between.

While that's not necessarily a bad thing (no one should listen to any song 231 times), the collateral damage -- the emails from friends that go unanswered, the birthday cards I forget to send, the phone calls from my family that I miss while I'm at the office at nearly 8:00 p.m. on a Tuesday night -- is striking.

Back in the days when I hated my job, when I was out the door at 5 p.m. without a moment's hesitation, I always had room in my life for my friends and family. I responded to emails with long sweeping paragraphs rather than short, barely grammatically correct sentences. I spent hours searching for the perfect birthday card that truly encapsulated our friendship rather than using a blank stationary card hiding in the back of my linen closet that would inevitably arrive a week late. I talked to my mom at least 20 minutes every night rather than just the 6 minutes it takes to walk home from work.

I miss it. Miss those little pockets of meaningful human interaction that make life rich and full and beautiful.

On Friday night, I told one of my dearest friends, someone who loved me even when I wore a furry black Kangol hat in an unironic way during college, that I couldn't go to her fundraiser the following night because... I was tired. I let another friend tell me she missed our friendship without immediately leaping up and telling her that I missed her too. And, so distracted by the errant threads of stress from my professional day, I forgot to lock my car door.

I stumbled into my apartment in a sleep-deprived stupor, the intensity of that last hour at the office and astringent words from well-meaning friends, gnawing away at my conscience.

I knew something was wrong. Knew I was wrong. Knew I was teetering on the edge of regret and missed opportunities. It was a horrible, sickening feeling -- impending loss.

When I woke up the next morning, more rested and emotionally stable, a singular thought entered into my head that instantly put my mind and heart at ease.

As I strode down the street, running toward yet another early morning Bar Method class, it occurred to me that life is so much easier when you remember that all that really matters is being a good person.

Whether it's going to a best friend's fundraiser because it's important to her. Finding the time to gorge on pasta, wine and gossip on a school night rather than pushing it to the back burner until it's convenient.

Or baking banana bread for your dad on his birthday. 

Crackly Banana Bread
From Smitten Kitchen

3 large ripe bananas (think very yellow and freckled)
1 large egg
1/3 cup virgin coconut oil, warmed into a liquid
1/3 cup golden brown sugar
1/3 cup maple syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 cup table salt
1 heaping teaspoon cinnamon (I always heap my cinnamon!)
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
Pinch of ground cloves
1 1/2 cups white whole-wheat flour
1/4 cup uncooked millet

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and grease a 9x5-inch loaf pan with softened butter.

In a large bowl, combine flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and ground cloves. Whisk together to aerate, then set aside. 

Chop bananas into manageable pieces and place into a large ball. Using a fork or potato masher, mash bananas until they reach a pudding-like consistency with very few lumps. Whisk in the egg, then oil, brown sugar, syrup, and vanilla extract. Stir in the flour mixture until just combined, taking caution not to overmix.  Gently stir in the millet.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake until the top is golden brown and crackly, approximately 40-50 minutes. Test with a toothpick -- it should come out completely clean. Cool loaf in the pan on the rack, then invert onto a piece of foil. Wrap tightly and keep at room temperature - siphoning off a slice at a time for the next few days.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Curried Chickpeas: All I wanted

All I wanted was Joan's on Third curried chickpeas and blueberry ice cream.

It was an unusual craving -- spawned most likely from the near 100 degree heat that was smothering Los Angeles rather than from an unintended pregnancy or munchie-inducing inebriates.

On any typical Saturday, I would ignore said cravings and go about my regular Saturday business. I'd make my regular grocery trips to Trader Joe's and Whole Foods to stock up on quinoa and slivered almonds for the week, and then make some sort of eggy concoction - an egg sandwich on a whole wheat English muffin, braised kale with a fried egg, a frittata if I was feeling particularly fancy and had bothered to purchase fresh goat cheese that day.

But this day was different. It wasn't a typical Saturday at all - it was my birthday, it was 100 degrees out, and I wanted curried chickpeas and blueberry ice cream.

Logic would dictate that the smart thing to do would be to go buy blueberry ice cream from a grocery store or local ice cream shop. Logic would also dictate that rather than walking a mile in the heat to secure curried chickpeas, it would make far more sense to take the 15 minutes to make them at home with the mere six base ingredients required for execution.

Six ingredients that I already possessed in my cupboard.

Just an arm's length away.

Not a mile from my apartment.

But it was my birthday, and I wanted to do something special. I wanted Joan to make my chickpeas, and I wanted to make a lavendar-infused blueberry ice cream with dark chocolate shavings myself.

It was going to be my big girl, look-how-old-and-mature-I-am, birthday ice cream.

It all sounded quite brilliant in my 29-year-old head.

Everything started out fine enough. I went to four different stores to precure all the ingredients I needed to make the proposed ice cream. I carefully simmered the blueberries with sugar over the stove until it turned into a syrupy jam. I pressed said blueberry jam through a strainer, discarded the skins, and then returned the syrup to the stove to infuse with the dried lavender.

And then I strained it once again.

My patience was starting to waver as I took in the blue splatters that were now speckling my previously pristine countertops and floor, but I shook it off. I had curried chickpeas to attend to -- just a steamy 15 minute walk away in the 100 degree heat.

I felt empowered (and sweaty) as I walked into the bustling cafe, still crowded with couples going halvsies on tuna melts and friends eating around the fried wontons in their Chinese Chicken Salads.

"I never do this!" I thought with giddy pleasure as I walked up to the counter to place my order.

I could scarcely wait to sit down and eat a salad and an iced tea in a restaurant.

Because, this was clearly revolutionary behavior.

People never eat salad and iced tea for lunch at a restaurant on a Saturday.

"I'll have the salad trio with curried chickpeas, couscous, and the brussels sprouts with dates, and a peach iced tea," I said without hesitation, already pulling out my credit card to complete the transaction.

The server looked up with concern.

"Just a second," She said, "I have to check to make sure we have curried chickpeas today."

I scoffed at her response. Of course they had curried chickpeas today. They always had curried chickpeas. I'd never been there when they hadn't had curried chickpeas.

Joan wouldn't let me down.

Not on my birthday.
"Sorry, we don't have them," She said a moment later, shaking her head with casual indifference, unaware of how her words were resonating in my head. "What would you like instead?"

"Instead?" There was no instead! I hadn't even really wanted the couscous or Brussels sprouts to begin with. If I'd had my way, I would have ordered a trio of all curried chickpeas. An entire pound of them, heaped up on a plate of arugula, shining brightly for all the pretty people at Joan's to see.

I hastily asked for the butternut squash with yogurt, cringing at the seasonally inappropriateness of my order, and collected my number. This was not the leisurely lunch I was anticipating. But it was no matter, I had ice cream in my future. Not just any ice cream -- lavender-infused blueberry ice cream with dark chocolate shavings.

I retreated home, eager to start in on the (now) redemptive birthday present to myself. My eagerness was quickly curtailed by my inability to find a key part to my KitchenAid stand mixer ice cream attachment. After 30 minutes of rummaging through every cabinet in my kitchen, I finally found it.

And then discovered that the sole outlet in my kitchen wasn't working.

Undeterred, I blended the blueberry jam with the cream in my living room, and then plugged my mixer into the outlet next to my dining room table.

I was going to have my big girl birthday ice cream - even if meant destroying my big girl apartment in the process.

Or settling for blueberry lavender dark chocolate birthday soup when it was too hot in my apartment for the ice cream to freeze properly.

An hour later, I lay in bed staring up at the ceiling fan, exhausted and sticky from both the heat and  errant drops of blueberry soup that were now freckling my arm. I attempted to see the bright side.

"At least I won't spoil my appetite for dinner!" I reasoned. "It's all really for the best. Quite serendipitous indeed!"

As if on cue, my cell phone rang.

It was the restaurant where I was meeting my three closest friends in two hours.

"Power outtage. Closed."

The words became a blur. I nodded my head as though the host could see me through the phone. I heard myself say, "I understand." I heard myself accept his apology without screeching, "But it's my birthday!" I heard myself graciously react like a grown-up -- like a 29-year-old.

With laughter.

The next weekend I made curried chickpeas at home. And I bought blueberry ice cream from a store.

Curried Chickpeas
Inspired by Joan's on Third
Serves 3

1 teaspoon olive oil
1/2 medium onion, minced
1 15-ounce can of chickpeas, drained
1 1/2 teaspoons curry powder (I use Spice Island's yellow curry)
1/4 teaspoon tumeric
Salt, to taste
1/4 cup water
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Arugula for serving

Heat large nonstick pan over medium-high heat. Add the olive oil, swirling to coat the base of the ban. Add the onion, and saute for 5-7 minutes until translucent.

Lower the heat slightly, and add the chickpeas. Saute with the onions for 5-7 minutes, stirring occasionally until lightly browned on all sides.

Add the curry powder and tumeric, stirring for 30 seconds so the spices get lightly toasted. Pour in the water, scraping up the spices to coat the chickpeas and onions. Turn off the heat and toss with lemon juice.

Transfer chickpeas to a sealed container and refrigerate until chilled. Serve, piled high, over a bed of arugula with optional saffron-scented couscous on the side.