Wednesday, June 4, 2014

BANANA NUT BREAD [A Meeting w/ Walter]

On a baking rampage for the last three days, I stood in my kitchen hammering out walnuts from their protective husks. Several days ago, we were fortunate enough to be introduced to two local farmers, one of whom grew and sold walnuts for $0.67 a pound.

Unable to resist the prospect of sampling locally grown drupes, I extracted a net of delectable ochre shells from a rusty vintage refrigerator, complementing a sizable purchase of four whole chickens and a dozen free-run eggs.

Several days later, my husband away at work and Marcus in expert care of competent ECE staff, I was online browsing through endless photos of mouthwatering banana bread until I stumbled across a recipe by Brown Eyed Baker. Her Peanut Butter-Banana Bread with Chocolate Chips looked appealing and proved to be a good guide in creating my own version of the treat.

Extracting a full cup of walnuts took 10 minutes. Using one of my husband's large hammers, I cracked shell after shell with seeming ease, thoroughly enjoying the process I last undertook as a young teenager. A mountain of nuts set aside, I prepared two mixing bowls in order to combine wet and dry ingredients separately before uniting them into one.

Opting out for organic wheat and almond in place of all-purpose flour, I mixed it with palm sugar, baking soda and sea salt. In a separate bowl, I whisked mashed bananas, home-made peanut butter, Walter's free-run eggs, buttermilk, coconut oil and vanilla extract.

1 ½ cup
Organic wheat flour
½ cup
Almond flour
1 cup (28 shells)
Bananas, medium
½ cup
Peanut butter
½ cup
Raw palm sugar
1/3 cup
1/8 cup
Coffee, freshly brewed
3 tbsp
Organic coconut oil
1 tsp
Baking soda
½ tsp
Sea salt
1 tsp
Vanilla extract

Once consistent, I poured the wet concoction in with dry ingredients and whisked until fully integrated. I then relied on the past tip to use freshly brewed coffee and augmented the batter with 30 ml of warm unsweetened beverage, followed by a cup of quartered walnut seeds. Feeling optimistic about the final result, I inserted a sheet of parchment paper into a commercial-grade baking mold and poured in the batter.

The bread was now ready to be baked in a pre-heated oven for one hour at 350°F. To avoid over-browning, I mounted a tented piece of foil on top of the pastry at the 45-minute mark and continued baking until a tooth pick inserted in the thickest part retracted clean and dry. By then, the complex aroma spread around the house, making it tough to resist sampling what looked and smelled like my first successful banana bread, so I busied myself cleaning cookware and wiping kitchen surfaces to pass the time.

Within half-an-hour, I pulled out a cooled loaf and stripped away the sheet of parchment paper. Still warm, it was left to cool a touch longer until I felt confident to make the first cut. Spongy and moist, thanks to peanut butter and coconut oil, my banana nut bread looked and tasted just right. The cake, adorned by cross-sections of large walnut pieces, earned its place on my list of favourite recipes and could now be shared with the world...

Two days later, Walter's eggs vanishing at an unprecedented speed, I decided to make another trip to his farm with a freshly baked loaf of banana nut bread. Having replicated past success, I waited for it to cool while feeding and changing my 17-month-old and ventured out with a daring thought to bribe the man in a straw hat into offering feedback on sustainable farming. Eager to unearth the benefits of small-scale farming and sharing them with anyone willing to listen, I resolved to create a series of articles featuring growers in the immediate vicinity, who, I hoped, would clarify how their practices benefit each individual consumer and the province, as a whole.

Having arrived at the destination, we were immediately greeted by Walter. Good-natured and intrinsically curious, he proceeded to ask questions about our life in the Okanagan, revealing details of his own family's history along the way. A touch hesitant at first, Marcus began exploring the vast space of an organic orchard, testing the small puddle next to a brick-red storage house, climbing two big steps leading onto a spacious deck and taking off towards an old swing hanging from a mighty branch of an ancient tree.

Trying to keep up, we walked in the same direction toward a patch of land where Walter, among other things, cultivated lovage. Brought by one of his German customers, it grew tall and resembled a weed until I recognized a familiar aroma emanating from its leaves, the smell later recognized to be that of Maggi bouillon cubes. As if in exchange for banana bread, I received a generous bunch of stems and was instructed to utilize it in the stuffing the next time I roasted one of his chickens. I agreed and collected Marcus, now unwilling to leave, from a nearby flower patch.

On our way home, elated by a close interaction with the very man whose chicken, eggs and walnuts fed our family on more than one occasion, I thought of the pure delight that making friends with neighbours provided that day. Segregated from real people, I spent time indoors, fearful of afternoon tête-à-têtes and unable to integrate into the new community. Life was passing me by, so I made a promise to get closer with neighbours and reach out to seeming strangers in the hopes to build trust and learn from their lessons. 

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