Baking Banana Bread on a cold Friday night

1D194D4D-0EE0-4B49-8BBD-46396D693D4A

It’s minutes to 10pm and I just decided I wanted to bake some banana bread. I have three huge bananas that are overripe and ready to be mashed and mixed into some goodies. The recipe I am thinking of following says I only need 10 minutes and bake time of just over an hour. I have time. What I love best about this recipe is it doesn’t call for the mixer. Yay!

I have come to enjoy baking during the pandemic with all the time spent home, and the need to do something different. I do have a mixer but I loathe the washing that needs to be done after the bread has baked and has been sliced. So here’s one for a recipe that actually just needs a mixing bowl and a sturdy spatula or wooden spoon. I’ve done quite a few of these recipes, but I thought I’d try a local Filipino favorite, if only because I found the best pandesal recipe on this website, Panlasang Pinoy.

All done as promised within 10-15 minutes. Oven preheated as I mixed the ingredients and it’s well into its first 10 minutes of the hourlong bake time. I have baked enough banana breads to know which ingredients I could tweak, so I avoided the raisins, and then added walnuts on top, and a sprinkling of chocolate chips but only one side of the loaf. So I’m going to sit it out here watching Blue Bloods and trying to complete a blogpost before the oven timer rings. I don’t know if I was inspired to bake because I wanted to write, or if I got inspired to write because I decided to bake and there was the wait time until my bread came out. But I’m doing both.

It was a very cold week for New York and many parts of the country. We are luckier than others as we are used to this winter onslaught of snow. I didn’t even bother to go out yesterday and today because the temperatures were just freezing, and the weather unforgiving. I decided I would sit this one out, 10,000 steps out the window. I’m trying to be more forgiving of myself for breaking my streak last week when the first big storm hit. One thing living in New York has taught me is you can’t taunt the weather and be smug about the cold. There are days when you just have to concede to Mother Nature. We’re having quite a few of those these days.

Snow in New York

The lady at the checkout register at the neighborhood grocery put it succinctly, when she reminded me we need a good amount of snow to prepare for the dry summer. It’s a long ways away but she was right. And I guess we can’t really complain.

So I’m riding out the snow and the rain and the ice. Work has kept me busy most of the week. It’s been rather hectic but manageable. It was one of those weeks where you found yourself relieved that Friday finally came. I think that was one reason I wanted to write. And there goes an audible sigh of relief.

I can smell the sweet banana scent wafting through my home. It’s that kind of warm and fuzzy that just comforts you on a cold night like this.

I’ve taken a break from writing postcards tonight. It’s been a busy two weeks sending out cards, arranging swaps and posting to my postcard collecting account on Instagram, @ postcard_storyteller. The destashing and organizing continues. I even found a stash of older mint stamps I bought from eBay some years ago when I was doing various swaps. Not just postcards. There was a time I got into Artist Trading Cards or ATCs, journal exchanges and other mail art projects. A lot of people are not aware that older and usable stamps are available online, not only as collector’s items, but for use in regular mail. Most sellers will sell it in lots at a partial discount — say , a lot of $25 stamps for $22. For postcard collectors and stamp collectors, or those who are into mail art, using these unique stamps lent a certain flair to the postal journey of whatever we sent out. It was part of dressing up the envelope or the postcard that went through the postal system.

And although I haven’t been journaling, I’ve been working on the art journal by sprucing up the first signature of the new one. I still have odds and ends to work on with the 2020 book, but I feel so thrilled to see what I’ve accomplished with it last year. Valentine’s Day having come and gone, I have an idea for a love-filled signature I want to pull together this week.

My heart is full.

The line keeps flashing in my head — and ringing in my mind, like an echo waiting to find expression in a bundle of pages of hearts. I have a lot to write about in reflection of how I feel so lucky to be surrounded by so much love. Some people tend to be bitter or cyclical about the commercial aspects of celebrating Valentine’s Day — but it’s not all about lovers. It is, however, all about love. Like last year, I have a bit to say, even if my little guy and I had to forego our valentine date. There is next year.

My weekend has begun and my banana bread is done. It came out a little darker, and I think it’s the chocolate chips that somehow spread out. I tried one end — couldn’t resist — and I’m happy.

My banana bread this Friday

In my kitchen: Bread Pudding

1D194D4D-0EE0-4B49-8BBD-46396D693D4A

When I was a child, my mom used to dabble into baking and she made this delectable bread pudding. It was old bread and condensed milk and raisins — and I still remember how I enjoyed every slice whenever she got the chance to make it. That wasn’t often because she ran the family business. So those few items she did get the chance to spend time baking became happy memories of pudding and chocolate cake and upside down cake. Yum!

As I had shared here way back when, I never really knew I could cook until I landed here in New York. I would try baking occasionally, and while I had a lot of fun doing it and I was successful and quite happy with what came out of my oven most times, it took a lot of effort. Worse, the calories flashed like neon signs in front of my eyes.

Calories notwithstanding, this new staycation and work from home situation has given me a renewed vigor and interest in baking. I have always been a reluctant baker. I bought a mixer when my niece was here in 2018, and it remained in its box, unopened until March of this year. THAT reluctant.

On the whole, I had decided four to six weeks into this sheltering in place deal to make the most of the situation and be more forgiving of what I ate and how much of it I did. I even indulged in brewed coffee for the first few weeks until I gave it up, realizing it wasn’t helping with the difficulty drifting off to sleep at night. Even when we were in the office, I would grab a cup occasionally, but never after 12nn.

I still try to watch what I eat and know what triggers the uptick in my weighing scale, but I am trying to pace myself with the dieting. I know when it is futile to pretend when I am eating meals with my son, and trying out new dishes in the kitchen. Sometimes, I even end up eating a dish for days because they don’t pass the standards of the other person here at home. (I continue to try to offer new dishes to help provide variations to his meal repertoire.)

I’m a novice baker at best. That notwithstanding, I have always prided myself in being good with following instructions. These days, I try to minimize any adjustments in what is specified — and as much as possible, don’t substitute ingredients. Well, save for the bread. When I started eating bread again in March, I saved the ends of the loaf in the fridge, collecting them through the weeks with the very intention of making bread pudding. The first two recipes I tried used that old bread, and for the third, I followed the request to use challah bread. (Pronounced Ha-la).

Since these aren’t my recipes, I’m providing links here to the recipes I used, with a short review and a photo of my own pudding.

The first one I tried was this recipe for Simple Bread Pudding from the New York Times. I sliced my bread and came up with the six cups required. That really isn’t a lot of bread after cutting them into 1 inch cubes, and I was left with half my stash. Although most recipes discourage using whole wheat bread because of its lower absorption rate, half the bread in this pudding was whole wheat and I enjoyed it all the same.

Bread Pudding

Ingredients: Milk, bread, unsalted butter, salt, vanilla extract, sugar, eggs

Basic as can be, but as good a pudding as you can pull together. This is one recipe that you can alter to spice up with fruit later, sweeten it with sauce, or tweak the spices one way or the other. This is a good starter recipe if you’ve never made bread pudding, and it doesn’t require a whole lot of bread or ingredients.

For the second recipe, I decided to try allrecipe.com’s Bread Pudding II. (Yes, it had the “II’ and not just because it was my second recipe.). Still using my sliced bread, I altered the recipe a bit to use up all the bread I had. The recipe called for only 6 slices of day old bread, but that was clearly more than what the custard could soak. I adjusted the butter (recipe called for 2 and I used 3) and would’ve adjusted the raisins if I could for next time to just half. I used half a cup in was just a bit too much, even if I love raisins. I kept the ratio of the sugar to the eggs and milk as is, because I didn’t want to fiddle with the taste.

Bread Pudding

Ingredients: day old bread, butter, raisins, egg, milk, sugar, cinnamon, vanilla extract

This was a much sweeter custard which suits me just fine, because I have quite the sweet tooth. The assembly method also differed in that the butter was drizzled over the bread before the custard mix, and I could actually taste it in the portions it hit after the pudding was baked. The custard was poured into the pan instead of being mixed in, and you could just press the bread deep into the liquid with a fork. The raisin was drizzled on top, instead of mixed in, and the custard was sweet enough without it, but good with half the recommended portion.

I liked having this pudding with some heavy cream poured on top which might be too much for some, but it balanced out the sweetness beautifully.

For my third pan, I went to my fallback food recipe site these days, delish.com, and tried this Best-ever Bread Pudding recipe.

Bread puddiing

Ingredients: challah bread, egg, vanilla extract, nutmeg, kosher salt, whole milk, heavy cream, raisins

Yes, it was the best ever! I used challah bread as specified and did two separate mini ramekins just to test how it would crisp the edges that touched the dish. (I like parts of the pudding toasted, but not the entire top.). I tend to judge the pudding by the general taste instead of the texture and this was a good sweetness without overpowering your tastebuds. This recipe also, notably, did not use butter or cinnamon. It did use more milk and added cream which pumps it up with a lot of dairy. Of course, the challah bread which soaked in the custard mixture for 10 minutes did wonders for the entire pudding, and I loved the balance of bread, cream and sugar with every bite.

Of the three, this was the densest and came to a packed consistency. Easily my fave of all, inwould drift to this one– given that I would have the challah bread. It takes around 12 cups of sliced up bread to make up the challah loaf, so you will need more than the usual. Don’t be daunted by what seems to be a whole lot of bread, as the amount of liquid in the custard will give the bread a good soak reducing its bulk.

Having tried these 3 recipes, I will probably stick to one of the three if I make bread pudding a fourth time. I highly recommend hem all, with special mention going to the Best Ever Bread Pudding for those who want a really sweet version of the dish — this one hits the spot!

This is just one of the projects I have embarked on while sheltering in place. I’ve been more adventurous, striving to learn new things, even when confined to home. We have to learn to make the most of our situation and be grateful for what we can still do, despite all the restrictions and precaution against doing the things we were used to.

Three bread pudding recipes put to the test and counting.

Friday Five for Memorial Day Weekend

Friday5

Five goals. Five tasks. Five things I hope to do over this long weekend up ahead.

I’m stoked. My day ended at just after lunch because despite the early close (2pm), the boss bid me to log off at noon as she was fine to go. I was grateful for that, even if I knew I would probably not really log off then. Just the thought was enough to help me start the weekend.

So I went to the post office and shipped out a sale, then did my usual stop at the community bake shop to get some treats, but more to help them out with a sale and a bit of extra tip. It’s a small operation but it’s been around for a long time, and the type that makes all the good stuff.

And suddenly the disposable masks are available aplenty! While I have been busy making my masks, I thought I’d buy just a box or two for the possibility of a second wave when sanitizers, masks, alcohol and toilet paper disappear from the shelves. Just enough to be ready– not hoarding. I could’ve bought from the chain pharmacy, but I figured again, I’d like to help the mom and pop stores around. So many businesses are hurting, and every little bit helps.

Here goes my Friday Five–

(1) Produce and post at least one item in the shop. Perhaps it’s because of the stress of working from home and the masks, but I haven’t really been paying attention to the shop. Lo and behold, I didn’t realize I was getting a lot of traffic and actually made some sales in the last week or so. I want to be able to take advantage of that spurt of activity and the best way is to keep posting. I’m being modest so I will aim for only one, but who knows?

(2) Work on my art journal. I actually started working on one spread already but want to get going with my journaling again. It’s a very therapeutic form of self expression for me and I have several ideas brewing in my head.

(3) I’m going to get busy in the kitchen. I plan to bake and cook and I’m particularly excited attempting a rather complicated Filipino / Spanish dish after I picked up one of the essential ingredients from the grocery earlier this afternoon. And there’s my oatmeal raisin cookie craving that needs attending to!

(4) Take the first step in replicating a favorite house dress. First thing’s first– have to create the pattern! I already made some measurements and just need to translate it into paper. I’m not going to attempt the actual sewing just yet. The pattern is one big project as it is.

(5) Start writing those letters I’ve been meaning to write. Talking about snail mail here. Earlier while I was looking for the padded envelopes I ship my jewelry in, I came across more stationery I had made a while back that I have yet to use. One letter at least.

There you go. I’m suddenly intimidated reading through that list, but I think I’ve got my work cut out for me. Like I said, I’m all excited by the weekend, even as I end Friday ready to start relaxing.

Here’s to a restful weekend for everyone.