Goldilocks and the Three Banana Breads

Several years ago, I was visiting my local Jamba Juice and had ordered my regular Mango-A-Go-Go when I somehow I started making small talk to the server, Claire, about bananas. Seeing as they’re a staple in any smoothie I was saying some fluffy polite nonsense while she was blending, like “O yeah, the bananas are the best part…”, when Claire parlayed the disturbing fact that someday, at some unforeseen time, bananas will cease to exist.

If you’re doubting me, as I doubted Claire, you can click here.

Apparently the most widely known and consumed Cavendish banana suffers a genetics problem. There is only one strain and it’s susceptible to some yucky kind of fungus. It’s enough to make a foodie mourn.

Now don’t get me wrong. There will still be bananas. Just not the one’s we have today.

So as I sat in my car slurping my smoothie, I contemplated how abysmal this whole conundrum truly was. Our kids won’t know what a Cavendish banana is! Just like I don’t know how deliciously superior the now extinct Gros Michel variety apparently was in the 60s! That’s not even considering how expensive they’re going to become.

Needless to say, ever since that startling moment, I’ve made a point of appreciating the everyday genus Musa in as many ways possible. Sundaes, muffins, banana foster, roasted plantains, you name it. And ever since about Valentine’s Day, I’ve been on a full-on banana bread kick.

I’ll be sitting in my French kitchen, listening to Bon Iver’s Skinny Love wondering, how can I make my loaf more light and perfectly banana-y today? At this point, I’ve made so many loaves I’m certain my French family no longer wants to eat it for breakfast. I’m afraid I’ve become some sort of Banana Bread Goldilocks, with all this experimental baking. But thankfully I think I’ve finally found the recipe that’s just right.

So here are the edible fruits of my labor. Go celebrate the precious Cavendish with some yummy under-recognized banana bread. And I promise you, in 20…. maybe 30 years, your food memories will thank you.

Mo’s Banana Bread

3-4 ripe bananas

2 eggs

¼ cup of vegetable oil

1 teaspoon of baking soda

1 teaspoon of nutmeg

1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon of coarse salt

1 teaspoon of vanilla extract

½ of a vanilla bean

2 cups of flour

1 ½ cups of sugar

Mash bananas. Mix in wet ingredients and vanilla bean seeds. Combine dry ingredients. Pour into greased and floured baking pan. Bake at 350°F (175° C) for about 60-75 minutes until golden brown.

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Barcelona and the Golden Churro

After having two weeks of school/work, we had a two week vacation. Yes, you heard this correctly.

One cannot waste vacation time. That is far too American. So I planned a trip to Barcelona.

Barcelona is glorious – breathtaking due to Gaudi’s lasting charm, sparkling due to the constant sun against the Mediterranean sea, and most importantly, irresistibly calming.

Just sit near the waves and you can literally feel the tide lapping all the worries away.This was my second visit and both times have bathed me in this same feeling of relaxation. Within five hours of arriving I’m thinking, Worries… what worries?

Anyone who knows me knows that I love to discover new food. In my opinion tasting the local cuisine is synonymous with exploring a new city and culture. And, it is expected to occur alongside touristy endeavors: Finished at a museum, why not sample that hole-in-the-walls near by with the good reviews? Walked miles around the city, mind as well replenish with a pastry from the bakery close to Parc Güell?

And all the time I am eating street food like it’s my job. My commitment to street markets is a 24/7. That being said Barcelona began with a caramel-filled churro.

Now I’m no churro connoisseur. I’ve had enough to think: been there, done that. They’re yummy and all… I mean it’s deep fried dough sprinkled in sugar, how can it not be yummy? But it’s not something I’d usually stop for. On trips, I’m searching for the newbies! The rare finds that I can’t find anywhere else! But something about this specific churro at a street market in Barcelonetta caught my eye.

This was THE best churro I’ve tasted in my short twenty-two years of existence. Insert foodgasm here.

Maybe it had to do with the fact that this stand claimed to be an “artisan” churro stand. Or maybe it was because this churro came straight out the fryer. Or maybe it was because there was more thick creamy caramel than actual churro. Either way this delicious concoction melted in my mouth and blew my tastebud’s mind.

It perfected the crunch-on-the-outside, soft-on-the-inside quality. And the caramel was absolute heaven. Basically my vacation started off in the most gastronomically-rich way possible. Just the way I like it.

After eating this golden creation of a churro, we wandered down the various stands looking at other bready objects and perfectly stuffed empanadas. “What to eat next?”, I wonder. Did I mention that my conception of calories had melted along with my worries?

And as I was still basking in churro glory, I saw it: a raclette stand. Food problem solved. I would have fist pumped the air… but I was still eating my churro.

What is a raclette, do you say?? Why all the hubbub? Well please, let me be the first to tell you.

Raclette is a huge semi-firm cheese wheel made from all the happy cows in Switzerland. The name comes from the french verb “racler”, meaning to scrape. This cheese round is cut in half, placed in front of a fire or broiler until the top is perfectly melted and bubbly, then scraped onto various foods, generally bread but potatoes and charcuterie work just fine as well. Let me reiterate – it’s melted cheese. It tastes good on anything.

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The last time I had raclette was in Paris. It was nearing Christmas and my study abroad program was coming to an end.

My host mother had decided that she was going all out for an early Christmas dinner and brought this large cast iron grill-y looking apparatus to the table. I thought, What are we doing? Grilled cheese?

Little did I know we would be grilling the cheese. She proceeded to place slices of raclette onto this grill. On our plates she placed a mountain of salad. When the cheese slice was completely melted she began drizzling it all over our salad like it dressing.

My mouth fell open into a medium sized ‘o’ as I watched what was happening in front of me.

“Did she just make salad unhealthy??”, I thought incredulously.

“Yes,” the ominous voice inside my head responded, “She did.”

And I dove in. Afterward, when my roommate and I’s plates were clear of salad, she asked, “Do you want potatoes with that?” The answer was obviously yes, and she once again saturated our vegetables in soft creamy raclette that left any foodie panting.

With these food memories ping ponging about in my head, my mouth began to water and I told my friend that she must trust me and get in line. It was worth it. My only complaint was that, as per normal, I was left wanting more cheese.

Now I don’t want you to just think that I ate my way through Barcelona (although I did). We also had a great time exploring Gaudi’s Parc Güell, La Pedrera, Port Vell, the sea side, the Gothic Quarter, Las Ramblas, and several museums.

One of our best decisions was to take a open-top hop-on hop-off bus tour the first day. The hotel gave us a coupon and for only 20€ we got an all-day pass. There was three different lines and we spent the entire day riding throughout the city. The bus also gave us a great view of the acclaimed Sagrada Familia, Parc Güell and Gaudi’s Casa Batlló.

Sagrada-Parc Guell-Casa Batllo

By the end of the day I had some wonderful photos and also a better knowledge of what I wanted to see more closely the following days. I’d suggest the Barcelona City Tours to anyone.

The second day we returned to Gaudi’s La Pedrera, also known as Casa Mila, to visit to the museum. At first glance of various Gaudi creations, I had begun to think that Gaudi was most likely more crazy than genius. Parc Güell looks like someone’s acid trip, albeit beautiful.

I have never held much appreciation for Sagrada Familia, thinking anything that takes over 100 years to construct is too ostentatious. It’s Art Nouveau biblical interpretations completely eluded me. And I could never wrap my head around the bizarre fruits dancing along the roof scaffolding. I’m all for putting a cherry on top with food, but on a church, it looked completely weird.

Basically I had crossed Gaudi off as a madman who got too much credit. Like Da Vinci with his Mona Lisa. This was me developing strong opinions with my largely uninformed architectural background. Ops.

Needless to say, by the time I exited the museum at La Pedrera I held new found respect. More than that, almost a deep reverence for Gaudi’s genius. I was struck by his intensely innovative architectural approaches and extreme attention to detail. His technique was somehow intensely innovative, yet superbly simplistic. His style pushed the boundaries and changed the course of Spanish Late Gothic, Catalan Modernism and Art Nouveau. And he even constructed project-specific modernist furniture to match each building’s style and flow.

No wonder I thought he was crazy. He was. Every detail was thought out in painstaking detail. I mean Gaudi made his own doorknobs, for gosh sakes. I would have most certainly gone crazy too if I have obsessed and labored over every detail  as much as he did. That’s what made him brilliant.

So now I will humbly take back my “madman” comment. From here on out I’ll just refer to him as “eclectic”.

If you visit Barcelona and have even an ounce of time, I say Gaudi’s creations are a must-see. Nowhere else in the world is so populated with them. They’re unique to the region and his lasting impression on Barcelona as a whole is profound.

On the fourth day,we trekked up endless stairs to the Palau Nacional, or National Palace, to visit the National Museum of Catalan Art. Everything about the Italian-styled building is formidable. There are a series of fountains leading to the top. And the final flight of stairs right before the top houses a overflowing green garden. The best part about reaching the top is the view. There you can see Barcelona in all it’s regal glory. It’s probably the best gift after climbing seven flights of stairs… except for something edible.

Palau Nacional

The museum itself was just as impressive with a large array of pieces. They have Romanesque items dating back to the 11th century, followed by equally interesting Gothic, Renaissance and Modernist collections. And the best part was that you’re allowed to take photos (no flash).

Well, what begins with eating, must end with eating I always say. So on the last night of our five day stay I prioritized paella. It’s native to the region and another must-eat. I ordered it seafood style full of shrimp, octopus, clams, and calamari. The perfectly cooked rice along with tender veggies and fruit de mar are just a deliciously warming combination.

By chance, we found this well-known restaurant called the 7 Portes just around the corner of our hotel on our last day. There was an hour wait just for lunch and we sadly weren’t able to try it out. But if you visit, taste it for me and let me know how it is!

In the end, Barcelona is for lovers. Food lovers, Gaudi lovers, art lovers, fashion lovers. Lovers of tapas, sangria, golden churros and museums. History lovers, intellectuals and all-around good sightseeing lovers.

Any itch you have, I would bet money that Barcelona could scratch it. And all these happy good feeling vibes add together, creating this ultimately peaceful, romantic atmosphere that would probably be best prescribed to any real lovers with a travel bug.

So go to Barcelona. Be fat and happy. Bask in Gaudi’s glory and experience the happiness.

*I’ve posted more photos of the trip in the Gallery Section.