Life has its way of making you thankful for things you tend to take for granted.
School, for one. This happened to me recently, as I arrived at school at 6:30 in the morning this past Saturday to help the debate team set up for our annual Forensics tournament. We annually host the fourth largest speech and debate tournament in the state, drawing teams from as far as southern Colorado and Wyoming to pass the day speaking, acting, and debating. This is how I spend my weekends; Saturdays are a blur of 5:00 am wake up calls, long bus rides, and public and extemporaneous speaking. For all the motivation that it takes, I love it. Our team is like a family, and our “suffering” is mutual– we are the unfortunate souls who fell for the only sport that consumes three seasons a year, demands fifty percent of every weekend, and practices week after week from September to April, and then on through the championship season in June.
This weekend, however, was different. We were home, for once, running a tournament in our school. And though running ballots from the classrooms to the Tab Room and back again, selling food in concessions, and cleaning and organizing was exhausting, I treasured the day because it reminded me of something high school students often tend to forget: cherish life as it is, before the school year is spent. Come May, everyone I know will follow their respective paths on to their future, whether it is the underclassmen I know remaining at school, or the seniors I will be graduating with.
I love my school. It is large, and public, in a controversial school district in the upper reaches of Colorado. But it’s beautiful–especially the people, a fact that has been demonstrated through our tribulations as much as our triumphs. In one year, we had our most popular administrator accused of sexual assault, we cowered under desks in a bomb threat, and we transitioned into a grade reconfiguration that moved the district’s freshmen into our already full-capacity facility. Despite all of this, however, we have only been strengthened. We are at once homogeneous and diverse; our community is one built on the fortitude of our school spirit and the tradition of our past.
Debate connects me utterly to the school, and walking through the hallways at sunrise on Saturday reminded me of that. As I walked the empty building, I found for the first time that I was there thinking about the school itself for the first time, as opposed to my connection to the school at any given time. On any normal day I would be preoccupied with getting to my next class on time, or navigating the overflowing hallways, or returning library books–what have you. But on Saturday, it was just me and the linoleum floors, mentally traversing the last three years of my life spent at a school that has helped me to maximize my potential and develop into the person I am today. The linoleum, however, is not to blame. It is the people who have filled my life–the teachers and the friends who I have surrounded myself with who have helped to support me as I have grown.
Nostalgia, I think, is what they call this, though I think I’m experiencing it about five months too early. Having arrived at the midpoint of the year, though, and watching my friends decide what they want to do with the rest of their lives, has stirred something within me. There is a term for the drain of motivation every senior supposedly experiences as the year draws to a close: senioritis. The funny thing is that I have a feeling that I will turn in the opposite direction. Many of my peers think of life as a series of steps; you starts off on the bottom tier, and each new transition is inherently better than the last. High school is replaced with college, college with working life, and so on. I don’t think in such planar terms–life, to me, is more of an uninterrupted cycle, with each transition merely a more developed extension of the last phase of life. Over my three years here, I have poured my heart and soul into the school, getting involved in clubs and activities, tutoring and mentoring younger students, and doing my best to effect positive change both on the school and on the district level. And now I am a senior, and I will be leaving it. Nothing has been wasted, however–all I have done, all the time I have spent, everything–it is all an investment. Next year, I will be somewhere else, as passionate and enthusiastic as ever.
And so, finally, we arrive at banana bread, a food you make to share with friends. Warm and comforting, just like the people I have spent my schooling career with. Banana bread takes something old and turns it in to something new and useful–like overripe bananas turned into a delicious loaf, I will leave high school and recycle my experiences to turn them into something newer than before.
As in the words of Ovid, “All things change, nothing is extinguished. There is nothing the whole world which is permanent. Everything flows onward; all things are brought into being with a changing nature; the ages themselves glide by in constant movement.”
Onward, to college! To life! To banana bread!
What about you, reader? What great adventure next awaits you? What are you thankful for, or sentimental about? …or do you just like banana bread? Post your comments using the link by the title to share your thoughts!
Adapted from AllRecipes
This bread is made using heart-healthy whole wheat flour and sweetened using honey. Simple and delicious, this bread is moist, slightly sweet, and perfect for sharing with loved ones as a snack or breakfast treat.
1/2 cup honey
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup mashed bananas
1 3/4 cups whole wheat flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 cup hot water
1/2 cup chopped walnuts (optional!)
- Preheat oven to 325 degrees F (165 degrees C).
- In a large bowl, beat oil and honey together. Add eggs, and mix together well. Stir in the mashed bananas and the vanilla, then the flour and salt. Add baking soda to hot water, stir to mix, and then add to batter. Blend in chopped nuts, if you’re opting for a nutty version.
- Spread batter into a greased 9×5 inch loaf pan.
- Bake for 55 to 60 minutes–test the load by inserting a toothpick as the end of the baking time approaches. Cool the loaf on a wire rack for about a half hour before slicing and sharing with friends and family!
As of late, life has precipitated much more than simply snow. The debate team just returned from a four-day model United Nations tournament in Salt Lake City, where we learned that Mormons know their stuff when it comes to Christmas lights (every tree in the Temple garden was tightly wound with strands and strands of lights–the earth glowed, it was so beautiful) and that McDonald’s (and Wendy’s, on that note) doesn’t allow people to order food while walking through the drive-through in “car formation”. (In our defense, it was late, everything else was closed, and we were all vehicle-less. It happened to be our coach’s brilliant idea.) Additionally, finals are practically upon us, and thus the end of the semester, which marks the end of the beginning of my last year of high school. Time goes by faster and faster with every passing week, I swear.
That said, you may have noticed the snow! The Curious Gastronome will officially be snowed on from now until the New Year, in celebration of the holiday season and the frostiness of December.
I also wanted to use this opportunity to give a brief announcement: later this week, I’ll be writing about the World’s Best Banana Bread, which is second only to the World’s Best Pumpkin Bread (detailed in the post below). The usual nutrition spiel will follow, but for now I’ll leave you with this: it’s delicious. And easy to make. As usual.
I am Thankful for…family, friends, and delicious food! Especially chocolate chip pumpkin bread.
I woke up this morning to pancakes, the smell of pumpkin cheesecake, and the sounds of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade filtering up from the living room downstairs. There is nothing better than Thanksgiving!
Since the season for all things pumpkin is drawing to a close, I decided to feature some delicious chocolate chip pumpkin bread today. Though Thanksgiving will be over after today, and the decorative gourds will be composted and replaced fluidly with the glitter of holiday lights and wreaths, it doesn’t mean you can’t tote this yummy bread with you to holiday parties all the way through New Years!
The great thing about this pumpkin bread is that it is actually really healthy–and it’s delicious. It has no fat, and it’s full of beta-carotene and antioxidants from the massive amounts of pumpkin, and it’s made from whole wheat flour. It’s one of those tricky foods that doesn’t taste healthy or bland, though, because of the blend of delicious spices and the chocolate chips!
So, with that, The Top 3 Reasons You Should Bake This Delicious Stuff as Soon As Possible:
1. Pumpkin is one of the 14 SuperFoods
In their bestselling book, SuperFoodsRx, authors Dr. Steven Pratt and Kathy Matthews advocate building your diet around fourteen staple SuperFoods (one of which is pumpkin!)–they claim you’ll have more energy and feel more balanced, among other benefits, if you round out your diet with these foods.
“Foods – the right foods – can actually change the course of your biochemistry. They can help to stop damage at the cellular levels that can develop into disease . . .”
So eat more pumpkin! This pumpkin bread is a great excuse.
2. It’s Easy–and (3.) Delicious!
It’s hard to find a healthy food so widely accepted. This bread, however, is sure to turn even the most adamant of pumpkin non-believers into a lover with just one warm, gooey slice! the best part? It’s so easy to make! It has 12 ingredients, most of which are spices, and the outcome is soft, tasty muffins or loaves that are perfect to serve up at home or give as “tasteful” gifts.
This recipe is the result of a trial-and-error quest for pumpkin bread perfection–about twenty batches were made to get it right! It’s unique to my family, so enjoy!
The World’s Healthiest Chocolate Chip Pumpkin Bread
- 1/2 cup white sugar (light brown sugar can also be used as a substitute)
- 2 eggs
- 1 small can (15 oz) of canned pumpkin
- 1/4 cup water (Optional–if needed to thin the consistency)
- 1 1/2 cups whole-wheat flour (If you don’t have whole wheat, all-purpose flour works as well)
- 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1/2 to 1 full cup of semisweet chocolate chips
1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F (200 C)
2. Grease and flour the muffin/loaf pan or use paper liners
3. Mix sugar and eggs, then add pumpkin and water. In a separate bowl mix together the baking flour, baking soda, baking powder, spices, and salt. Add wet mixture and stir in chocolate chips.
3. Fill muffin cups 2/3 full with batter. Bake in over for 20-25 minutes.
Does your family have any special Thanksgiving traditions? What’s the most popular dish on the table? Share your Thanksgiving thoughts in the comments! :)
For the first time that I can remember–maybe for the first time all year–I got home on Friday right after school. No debate practice to coach, no work, no volunteering at the hospital, no School Board meeting, no responsibilities. Just home. And, of course, food.
Usually, during the day, I’m running around so frantically that I don’t get a chance to slow down and think about what I’m eating. That job, I tell myself, is what weekends are for–when I can sit down for a meal without having to weigh how long it will take me to inhale a peanut butter and jelly sandwich in relation to how long it will take me to attend a Key Club meeting and finish my calculus homework, or something similar. The week is hectic, and eating is a chore, to be honest; like sleeping, it’s just another thing I “have to do”. I get home late every night, ready to scarf down dinner and dive into homework just to get into bed before 2 am. It’s a vicious cycle.
So when I got home on Friday, I made myself a snack, thinking all the while about how nice it was to slow down and just…eat. It made me think about the quintessential after-school snack– what do most kids do upon arriving home? Do they grab a bag of chips, and pop down in front of the television? If so, it should be known that there are better options!
Snacking that’s convenient, and healthy? Now that’s what I’d call a success! A couple of simple recipes for a hectic week.
I ducked into the pantry to search around for some options. Crackers, check. Canned beans, check. The fridge had veggies and fresh cilantro. Perfect. I checked the web to confirm my suspicion: Sweet Corn and Black Bean Salad is easy–and delicious! My mom eyed the beans with enthusiasm and suspicion. “Legumes?” she asked, hesitantly. I grinned. She’s always on a protein trip: “You’re still growing! You need protein!”– I guess it’s tough raising a vegetarian who doesn’t eat many dairy products. “Nuts!” she expostulates. “Beans!”, “Tofu!”, “Tempeh!”, and “Protein bars!” is all I ever seem to hear. She deserves credit for whatever protein I do eat; it’s a hobby of hers to make sure I get enough into each day. But yesterday she had a new pearl of wisdom to share with me: that protein is absorbed more effectively if eaten simultaneously with a grain. So when I plunked a can of corn down next to the black beans, I thought she was going to jump with joy.
Sweet Corn & Black Bean Salad
adapted from a Whole Foods recipe
- 2 tablespoons seasoned rice vinegar
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1/2 cup finely chopped red onion
- 2 cups fresh or frozen white corn kernels
- 4 cups cooked black beans, rinsed and drained
- 1 red bell pepper, cored, seeded and chopped
- 1/3 cup cilantro leaves, finely chopped
1. Mix together the vinegar, olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper in a small bowl until blended. This is your dressing–it will give the salad some oomph! Set it aside for now.
2. It should be noted that this step is completely optional. I was pressed for time (well, actually, I was just plain hungry), and my salad turned out just fine! So only do this if you’re trying to impress–whether yourself or others, is up to you.
Immerse the chopped onions in a bowl of cold water and set aside, swishing them around occasionally with your hands to release some of their sharp, acidic flavor, for about 10 minutes. Drain, then refill the bowl with fresh cold water. Repeat the process four times, then drain onions well and blot them dry with paper towels.
3. This step is also optional, though recommended. Corn strained fresh from a can works fine, it just may not have quite the same effect.
Bring 4 cups of salted water to a boil in a small pot over high heat. Add corn and cook for 1 minute. Drain and rinse corn well in cold water to stop the cooking, then drain again.
4. Place the beans, corn, onions and bell peppers in a large bowl and mix. Add the dressing made in step 1 to the bean mixture and gently toss until the bean mixture is covered. At this point, you can cover and refrigerate for about 2 hours, and then add cilantro, salt and pepper right before serving, or you can add the cilantro, salt, and pepper right away and tuck in! (You can guess which one I did…)
This salad works great if you make a large batch at one time. It keeps for a while when refrigerated in a sealed container, and it’s very versatile! I ate it on flatbread crackers, as pictured above, but it would work great as an appetizer bean dip, in a tortilla or burrito, on a sandwich, or as a salsa topping with fish or chicken. Try it with guacamole, too–yum!
So, after all that, I had another idea. The flat bread crackers I was using (Nita Crisps–they’re yummy, simple, and best of all, local!) can be used for practically anything in the world, so I broke out some other ingredients and set to work on another snack creation. This one is even more simple–and it’s fun to eat. Perfect for little munchkins after school! (Granted, I can hardly be considered a munchkin. But still. Gotta have fun with your food once in a while!)
It seems like a strange combination, but give it a try. The peanut butter makes it, though, so beware–the crackers with just the grapes isn’t very tasty. I use pure peanut butter, ground fresh from a machine filled with raw, unsalted peanuts at the local Whole Foods. It’s delicious–just the way nature intended for it to be! None of that Skippy stuff. You’ve got to try the real deal!
Ladybugs in Mud (Grapes and PB with Crackers)
- red grapes
- peanut butter
1. Comically simple: Spread crackers with peanut butter. Cut grapes in half, then place on peanut butter.
2. Eat up!
Coming Soon: The most delicious (and healthy!) chocolate chip pumpkin bread you’ve ever tasted.
It’s that time of year again.
When I climb into my car in the morning to drive to school, the muscles in my back go rigid from the cold. The steering wheel is a frosty plastic rod underneath my chapped knuckles, and as my backpack hits the back seat when I toss it in for the ride, the leather practically crackles with chilliness. I spend the whole ride to school hunched over in Quasimodo position, with my shoulders above my ears and my face scrunched into a grimace.
Then the heat starts working, and as my appendages thaw, my head unfolds from its bent position and I am able to actually observe the world around me. Granted, the ride to school doesn’t take long–maybe ten minutes, at the most–but what I see is the changing of the seasons, and it reminds me of why its worth it to “suffer” the darkness and chill of an impending winter. The leaves are gone, now, and on some porches, carved jack-o-lanterns make the best of their expiring grins, which grow droopier and more rancid with each passing day of November. Piles of leaves, still slick with moisture from melting snow, are heaped in small mounds in the middle of yards. It is that time, those few antsy weeks, between the gleeful holiday of Halloween and the warmth of Thanksgiving, which marks the official and long-awaited beginning of the Season of Eating.
I have to say– I’m not sure I’ve ever actually felt like hibernating during the winter months, but this year, with my life so filled, my sleep schedule is suffering dearly. I’d love nothing better than to eat for a day or two nonstop and then curl up for a nap and not get up for a week. It should be noted, however, that one doesn’t have to hibernate to have a good excuse to eat yummy food. Chilly weather (or at least quintessentially chilly months) are the perfect reason to whip up a few easy, delicious dishes. November, December, and January are notorious for the heightened stress levels they cause, as hosts and hostesses the world over find themselves forced with the prospect of feeding–and pleasing–extra hungry mouths in a season that brings with it added entertaining and family visits. But fear not, dear readers! I am here to tell you that it is super simple to whip up delicious, crowd pleasing, healthy food without worrying too much about convenience. If I can do it without setting the house on fire (or something similar), you certainly can too!
I know that Halloween is over, but caramel apples are one of those things that serve well for every season. This particular recipe is surprisingly simple, and the results are decadent and delicious. Though the caramel hardly qualifies as a “healthy” meal, these tasty treats can be a great way to get people to sink their teeth into an apple or two, minus the whining that may come if it wasn’t otherwise dipped in creamy caramel. Try slicing these up and putting them in your kiddo’s lunchbox for a tasty “healthy dessert” two-in-one, or bring a tray of smaller dipped apples to work as break-time treats that will keep that annoying coworker quiet for a while. (Just kidding!) There’s always eating them for yourself, as well; when a group of friends and I made these on Halloween night, we ate them while the caramel was still gooey and warm. I devoured two before the last of the apples had even been dipped!
Crowd-Pleasing Caramel Apples
Makes about 12 medium apples
- 1 1-pound box dark brown sugar
- 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
- 1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
- 2/3 cup dark corn syrup
- 1/3 cup pure maple syrup
- 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1 teaspoon robust-flavored (dark) molasses
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 12 sturdy lollipop sticks or chopsticks (we used thinner shishkebab sticks, for lack of a better alternative–they’re also aesthetically pleasing!)
- 12 medium apples (go with Granny Smiths if you want the classic caramel sweet-tart taste, but any apples work just as well)
Assorted toppings (chopped nuts, chopped dried fruits, mini M&M’s, sprinkles, crushed Oreo cookies, coconut shavings, chocolate chips..the list is endless!)
- one accurate candy thermometer (I found one at the local grocer for under $5 dollars, and they’re useful to have around for other recipes)
1. Combine sugar, butter, condensed milk, corn syrup, maple syrup, vanilla, molasses and salt in a 2 1/2 or 3 quart saucepan (with a thick bottom, if possible). Stir with a wooden spoon on medium-low heat until all the sugar dissolves. Test the readiness by rubbing a little of the caramel mixture between two fingers– if there is grittiness, that means that there are still sugar crystals and it needs to be further dissolved. Brush down the sides of the pan with a wet pastry brush or a small spatula to dissolve any sugar crystals that might form on the pan sides.
2. Attach a clip-on candy thermometer to the pan and cook the caramel at a rolling boil until the thermometer reaches 236°F, stirring constantly and slowly with a wooden spoon. Continue to occasionally brush the sides down with a pastry brush or spatula. Carefully pour caramel into a metal bowl, and cool the mixture in the open air until the temperature lowers to 200°F, at which point you are ready to dip the apples. (Hooray! Now the fun begins.)
3. While the caramel is cooling, prepare a large baking sheet, covering it with buttered/greased aluminum foil. Insert a stick into each apple, about 2-inches, into the apple core.
4. When the caramel has cooled enough for dipping, dip the apples in by holding on to the stick. There’s really no proper technique, though technically I suppose you can go lower the apples straight down and lift them back out again. Submerge the apples in the caramel until their tops have almost been covered, then pull the apple up from the caramel and let the excess caramel drip off from the bottom back into the pan. Place on the foil. The caramel will pool a little at the bottom of each apple, so don’t worry–that’s normal. Place into the refrigerator to chill for at least 15 minutes, or eat right away, armed with plenty of napkins nearby and a sympathetic friend on hand to take pictures of your sugar-encrusted face.
5. Once the caramel has chilled a bit, remove from the refrigerator and use your fingers to press the caramel that has dripped to the bottom of the apples, back on to the apples. (You can do this by simply folding the pooled caramel upward and pressing it back into the caramel on the apple’s sides.) Then take whatever coatings you want and press them into the apples for decoration. Return to the refrigerator to chill for at least one hour.
Sometimes, October in Colorado is too good to be true.
Like any good snow storm, it started with a whisper in the hallways of school. “Snow…tonight. All tomorrow. And the next day! It’s so cold out…” It began as rain–then the temperature got progressively lower, and meteorologists across the state began excitedly brandishing at color-coded maps scarred with sweeping blue cold fronts and little snow-cloud symbols.
Then, it began.
Autumn snow is different. In the fall, the flakes fall heavily from the sky, shearing through the bitter air in wet curtains of clumpy flakes. It spits against windshields and drops from the traffic signals in oozing, frozen clumps. It caps jack-o-lanterns in fluffy white top hats and covers the lingering green tips of grassy lawns. Autumn storms march in on the tails of crisp, glowing days, presenting themselves in the form of an ominous dark cloud on the horizon. In the Winter, though, when the air has hardened and the trees are naked and the sky is clear and bright, the snow is light and silent–it blankets the world shyly, moving in on the earth as if on tip-toe.
Today’s snow is a child of October, through and through; it is sloppy and excited and beautiful in its announcement of the cold season. It has the status page of Facebook abuzz with enthusiastic wishes for a snow day; the school district website has posted its preliminary warning on procedure for potential school closures.
I got a package in the mail from my sister this week–she sent me a book called “The Potted Herb”, among other things. When I first opened the box, my reaction was, “What the heck?!” Then I started flipping through it. The writing is charming, the pictures are so cute, and the premise is absolutely adorable–herbs, herbs, herbs! In pots! And topiaries! I couldn’t help but laugh. It’s such a frivolous gift, but it is such a delightful book.
The best part, though, came when I flipped to the back and discovered a section of recipes! It includes adorable, unique suggestions for all kinds of foods, (augmented by herbs of course), that seem delicious and decently easy to make.
This inspired me to take a trip to the kitchen window, where we grow potted basil year-round. It’s so easy to grow, and it makes it so convenient to add that extra kick to dishes like tomato sauce or sandwiches in the form of a fresh-plucked leaf or two.
Herbs are fantastic; you can use them to literally “spice” anything, they’re easy, and they’re a lot of fun to experiment with. Basil in particular is very versatile, and most people like the taste of it.
How to Grow Potted Basil
(Taken from The Potted Herb by Abbie Zabar)
Basil is an annual herb that is related to mint. It has a pungent, clovelike aroma, and its botanical name is derived from the Greek verb meaning “to be fragrant.” Whether we are growing sweet basil (O. basilicum), bush basil (O.b. mimimum), lettuce-leaf (O.b. crispum), or dark opal basil (O.b. purpurascens), all of our basils have similar cultural requirements. Set the seed in early spring, barely covering it with your soil mixture, and germination should occur in less than a week. Basil is highly sensitive to cold, so put the pots outside only when the danger of frost has absolutely passed. …Take your first cutting across the main stem, leaving at least one node with two young shoots intact. The remaining growth will branch out and be ready for trimming in another two to three weeks, while starting to form a bushy little plant.
The basil we grow in our kitchen is of the sweet basil variety, which is among the most commonly-used forms of the plant. While the book instructs you to plant in early spring, as long as you’re growing indoors, you can get started at any time of the year! All it takes is a pot of some sort, some soil, and a packet of seeds. Within a week you’ll be nursing baby basil seedlings, and soon enough you’ll be on your way to fresh herb cooking!
When people think “basil,” all the classic Italian recipes come to mind: Caprese salad, tomato sauce, spaghetti and meatballs–the list goes on. Try this slightly-less conventional idea for a sandwich. It’s the perfect dinner on a cold day, and it takes surprisingly little time and effort to make.
Roasted Red Pepper & Goat Cheese Sandwich with Balsamic Reduction & Basil
Makes about 2 large sandwiches
- bread: baguette, focaccia, or panini-style
- 1 red pepper
- goat cheese
- balsamic vinegar
- olive oil
- fresh basil leaves
1. Prepare the pepper by cutting it into long, thick strips, and brushing it lightly with olive oil. To roast, you can either place it over the open flame of your stove for a couple of minutes, or roast in the oven on a pan. Heat until the pepper is moderately soft and juicy (not crunchy) and sports slightly blackened edges.
2. To make the balsamic reduction, pour balsamic vinegar into a small pot on the stove, and simmer until the vinegar is reduced to about one-half its original volume. Add to the heated vinegar crushed garlic (to taste) and a small amount of olive oil (around 1 tbs).
3. Heat the bread in a warm oven until the outside becomes crisp (just a few minutes)–then coat the soft inside of the sandwich with the balsamic reduction mixture, followed by a layer of goat cheese. Add the roasted red pepper strips and fresh basil leaves.