The Banana Bread Recipe

Long ago, on a hot summer afternoon in 2005, two professional young woman bantered back and forth on email trying to carve out and finish multiple conversations. One was on maternity leave, the other finding herself, working at a local arts council after leaving a stable corporate job.

Their emails were filled with affection and updates on their days, motherhood, marriage, gossip about friends and weekend plans.

Prior to the onset of civil pleasantries, a recipe for banana bread was shared. A no-fail recipe with chocolate chips. The receiver of the email (me) was spending some time honing her domestic cooking skills and asked one of the great bakers/cooks she knew, her friend L., for the recipe. Now, eleven years is a long time and I cannot remember if I had L.’s banana bread and that’s why the recipe was shared or I was just trying to fill up my empty cooking journal with something that was easy and delicious. Maybe it was because my partner, Mr. L, loves banana bread and I wanted to make something special. The reason is not very important really, what matters is that today, in February 29, 2016, that reciepe exists.

Folded neatly into a cooking reference book my grandmother made years ago to store recipe and meal ideas (perhaps hoping I would turn out to be a domestic wonder in the kitchen), the recipe comes out every so often. Still printed on the same paper, it brings a smile to my face each time I use it as I wonder if L. knows how much I reread one of our hundreds of emails to each other over the years and use this long ago shared recipe.

Just last week, I pulled the recipe out and asked myself,  “Why can’t I commit this recipe to memory?” After all, I’ve been making it for 11 years, yet, for some reason it will not stick in my brain. The banana bread produced each time has been a hit with my now three children, friends and family members. It is often requested by people who have tried it.

I realized at last, on a cold day last week, I really don’t want to memorize the recipe. If I did, that would mean I would have no need for the paper, or be able to read the email exchange written beneath. I wouldn’t smile remembering that person long ago who had just found out she was pregnant after a long year and a half of trying, had visited her friend L. and her little girl so happy for all of them and was just starting to orient herself in a new community. A woman nearing thirty who was battling tiredness, loss of appetite and the heat.

So instead, I kept it. I tried not to spill anything on it and as soon as I’m done it goes back into the special recipe binder. I have treasured this piece of paper and the person who took time out of her busy day as a new mama to send her friend a Banana Bread Email .

For those who want an easy, no-fail banana bread recipe, I give you my friend’s Banana Bread recipe. Take it from a parent of three or more kids, it is delicious and it is a keeper.

Banana Bread Recipe

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup butter

3/4 cup brown sugar

2 eggs, beaten

2 1/3 cups mashed overripe bananas (can substitute half with applesauce in a pinch, still tastes good)

Chocolate chips – optional – quantity determined as desired

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Lightly grease a 9.5 inch loaf pan. (I use butter but whatever you want.) In a large bowl, combine flour, baking soda and salt. In a separate bowl, cream together butter and brown sugar. Stir in eggs and mashed bananas until well blended. Stir banana mixture into flour mixture; stir just to moisten. Pour batter in prepared loaf pan. Bake in preheated oven for 60-65 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into centre of the loaf comes out clean. Let bread cool in pan for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack.

Enjoy!

 

Re-starting the daily grind..

January 7, 2013

Up bright and early today and I am so excited! It’s back to school for the kids! I really enjoyed our time together but I think they are also looking forward to having a break from Mommy.

After a quick shower, I gently nudge my two sleepy-head girls awake. Over the winter break they firmly decided they wanted to share a room. After many conversations and warnings we would not change it back for at least three years, we re-painted Audrey’s room in Easter Egg purple in preparation of creating “a girl’s suite.”  Elizabeth’s room was to become the new play/study area. A full day of painting (which is still not 100% complete and I’ll need to hire someone to come and “finish” it up now that Mr. L is back to work), furniture delivered (Audrey soon to be five years old has been upgraded to a big girl bedroom set.) and all furniture placed to maximize the space, it was ready.

Both girls had been sleeping in during the break so the early wake-up call brought mumbles and grumbles until I gently but firmly reminded them breakfast was going to be served in fifteen minutes. Jacob of course was still sleeping through all of this. Being a parent of three or more you have to learn to adapt to changing routines and personal habits! Just as you get one of your kids settled into a regular routine, another one changes and requires more sleep or less.

After a hurried breakfast my voice starts to thin out as I order them into boots and snowsuits. We make it out barely on time in the frigid winter air to get Audrey on her bus. After nudging her and her huge knapsack up the steps we wave and blow kisses and three of us make our way back to the house until Elizabeth’s bus. Stop and repeat the process above. The neighbours must think it is a gong show at my house seeing all four of us (plus sometimes the dog, Jake) shuffle down the sidewalk, back to the house only to leave again twenty minutes later.

Mr. L and I decided to send our children to French Immersion public school. Mr. L, being fluent in three languages, and my desire for the kids to have as much exposure to languages as possible, did not make this a hard decision for our family. However, we soon found out that French Immersion does not start in our school district until grade one and is generally at a different school than English kindergarten. What does this mean? It means when Audrey started kindergarten this year and Elizabeth moved to Grade One we were a now a family dealing with two different schools thus two different bus routes/times.  I took on the challenge with a grin and a shrug and most days we manage fairly well, especially during the good weather. Jacob being the type of toddler who would rather be outside in any kind of weather and whose first two-word combination was “I go!” has drifted into acceptance that our life is just that, “Go!”

However, this morning’s cold January winds have made me question our decision as I pull on three sets of snowsuits, find six pair of mittens and try to keep my kids warm on the short walk to the corner bus stop. One clear sunny day where the wind chill was biting at my cheeks and was cursing myself having forgotten to put on my own gloves, I thought, “Only two more years and then the girls will be on the same bus.”

Then as Jacob went hurtling down the sidewalk chasing the garbage truck yelling, “More! Again!” I came to this realization: he would eventually start school, so it was really four more years of different bus stops. Pushing that thought out of my mind, I can only hope Elizabeth is responsible enough to get her and her sister home from the bus. Four years of this just may break me. One day at a time is all I need to get through.

After dropping Jacob off at a local nursery school where he goes a few times a week to socialize, play and really to be honest, give Mommy a break, I had a couple of rare hours to myself. Chatting with another Mom in the parking lot of the church where the school is located who is also a Mom of three or more we exchange quick pleasantries about the holidays. (Sidenote: As Mom of three or more does anyone notice that parking lots, street corners yelling out car windows and grocery stores have replaced the meet-ups and phone conversations you used to have?) I inch towards my car anxious to get back to the house and start attacking the disaster that awaits. When I mention this she nods in agreement, “I know, it’s going to take me all week. I think I’m going to start with the bedrooms because all the toys are up there. But, not this morning, I’m going to sit and have a coffee and do nothing for myself. I’ll tackle it tomorrow.”

Applauding her I nearly cave in agreement. To sit and listen to the silence of our home for a little bit would be wonderful,  but with a determined frame of mind, I march upstairs when I get home and start in the girls new bedroom that is already a mess of toys, papers and leftover hardware that Mr. L has yet to put away.  The feeling of accomplishment is worth my hard work as is knowing the girls will have a tidy room to come home too. It will actually look quite cute as a “girls suite” once I get new shutters, pictures on the wall and canopy nets for their beds. But that is another project for another time.

January 8, 2013

Another day and the sun is shining. It is still bitterly cold out there this morning but smartly I remembered my scarf and gloves.

Tuesday mornings are standing playdates with neighbours whose toddlers are the same age as Jacob. We started getting together just this past December rotating houses for coffee, juice and snacks.  The kids play well together and it was nice to sit and chat for a couple of hours. I used to do that with Elizabeth but it became much harder to organize as mine and my friend’s families grew, some of us went back to work and we all just dealt with busier lives. I haven’t had the chance to really find those same connections with Audrey or Jacob. Today it was my turn to host. Looking at the Christmas and birthday presents still piled high in one room and the tiny Barbie shoes scattered in the playroom, I text them and suggest a change of location being honest and state, “my house is disaster!”

These last few years, I have really let go of any preconceived notion of privacy and am very open to all who enter my sphere. Perhaps it’s my brain being too tired to worry about it or maturity that people should just like who I am. Sometimes I’m blunt but my friends will know, I’m always honest. If my house is a mess, I’ll say it. Generally, I find admitting to not being the Martha Stewart for all ages and not worrying (most of the time) about having my home look as if I live in a magazine has taken a lot of pressure off me. Like me and my home for what it is, a place where a family of five lives! Other Mom’s tend to agree with me. Or they are being polite. After all I’ve been to their houses and I always feel as if mine is much more cluttered than anyone else’s.

So, all agree and after getting the girls out the door for school and chasing Jacob through the house to put on boots only to realize a diaper change is in order, we arrive only ten minutes late to the indoor playground a short ten-minute drive away.

Jacob runs off playing with the toys and trying the little slides. He is going through a “mine!” phase right now, egged on by older sister who thinks it’s funny, so I keep one eye on him to ensure he’s playing nicely. JE and I catch-up on holiday events and laugh as we realize both our husbands fell asleep around ten o’clock on new year’s eve leaving us to drink wine alone while watching a bad movie.

“Next year, just text me and come over,” suggests JE to which I agree.

Our other neighbor, N texts us to say her little guy has come down with a fever so she’s going to pass on this morning. We will miss her but such is life with toddlers. All plans depend on a fever or runny nose.

Tonight the girls having swimming lessons. Usually I have a babysitter come and stay with Jacob. Chasing him through the halls as he tries to jump into the pool and stay out of the shower as I get the girls rinsed and dressed is something I try to avoid. Our usual sitter is still away on vacation, so I’ve begged Mr. L to be home a bit early to which he agreed. Thank goodness! But it also means that the brief nap Jacob has finds me running to finish laundry, ensure we have a quick and healthy dinner ready and maybe get some bills paid. Yes, I am the accountant of the family on top of everything else. However, today a package arrives via my father-in-law from overseas. A box for Mr. L’s upcoming birthday which will definitely include clothes that do not fit him, underwear and socks with a pair of shoes thrown in. Why a seventy-six year old man thinks he has to buy his son’s underwear is a mystery to me. Of course, the postal carrier rings the doorbell and Jacob is awake yelling, so the bills will have to wait until tonight.

I dread paying the bills. Not for any fear of not paying them, we are fortunate not to have that worry although it does seem I continuously juggle paying one credit card after another on top of a credit line that keeps growing. My job of paying the bills comes with the added pleasure of keeping track of our budget which I have been trying to do for the last few months very diligently and putting everything into a neat and tidy excel spreadsheet. I have undertaken this year to better manage and control our money and save, save, save!! As a starting point I adopted the “envelope system” until I could further research where to put the money I was carefully placing in “Emergency Fund Savings” and “Vacation Savings” along with the spending envelopes of allowance for each person for the month to purchase lattes, lunches out, book orders or take-out on a Friday night. December was a bit of a lazy month, especially near the end in the tracking department but once I’m caught up, we will be back on track. Hopefully.

With bills paid, one credit card paid off (huge sense of relief) and all of our envelopes filled for the month, I can focus on sleep. Jacob is having a bit of restless night which could mean another tooth or an impending illness. We were lucky this winter break and none of us caught the various flus going around but now that school has started up again, anything can happen. It is nearly time for my shift and I need to let Mr. L get some rest. I’m very much looking forward to sitting in the big comfy glider with a sweaty two-year old trying to get comfortable until he is so asleep I can release him into his crib. Let’s hope the other two are so tired from swimming they do not move until morning.

 

Time off to reflect and to visit.

January 5, 2013

Today marks the first day we slowly enter our “regular” life post-holidays. I cannot believe it’s been two weeks. It feels like a month. An email the day before reminding us that the girl’s gymnastics class starts bright and early nudges us all awake. Our usually early bird kids have taken to sleeping in to 730 am and sometimes a little later. Heaven! But, it’s going to be brutal Monday morning when I have to get myself and them all up earlier.

This morning I could see Mr. L’s blood pressure slowly rising as he tried to get two sets of coats and boots on the girls used to the luxury of pokey mornings in pyjamas. Thankfully Jacob’s sportball class wasn’t starting for another week so I took the morning to putter in the house. Cleaning the kitchen, making beds and using my new trick of the Bubble Guppies on my iPhone to have a shower for the second day in a row.  It has to be a new record! All of our gear had to also be ready for an early afternoon birthday party. A pool party meaning the need to pack all our swim stuff including, life jackets, towels and not forgetting to take a very cute four-year old her present. For a simple birthday party we had three bags (one for kids swim gear, one for us and a diaper bag), two life jackets and a birthday present. “Will this ever get easier?” I wondered aloud.

Upon their arrival home, I rushed the girls upstairs to get changed into my carefully planned outfits, barked at Mr. L to start getting a light lunch ready as we weren’t eating until after the swimming, tucked and buttoned each girl and combed their hair. Hair. We have hair everywhere in our house. I am fortunate to possess tons of the red stuff but add a yellow labrador retriever, two girls who cannot seem to keep ponytails in and it is not surprising that I need to vacuum at least once a day. I actually invested in a top of the line Miele canister vacuum when our two previous vacuum cleaners could not handle the frequency which we needed to run the machine over the hardwood floors and ceramic tiles. Thank goodness we do not have carpet! I love my vacuum cleaner. It is lightweight, modern-looking and Jacob loves using it. When you have three or more children, investing in appliances like a vacuum cleaner that is durable and well-made, is a must!

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Working in tag-team fashion we managed to leave on time for the hour drive to the birthday party. A Barbie movie later, we arrive and pretend not to notice the looks as we race to the party room. Kissing a pinched finger for one girl, telling another one she has to be careful when closing doors and pulling a screaming toddler who keeps repeating, “Mommy, up!!” all while carrying three bags, two life-jackets and a present. We made it!

After the birthday party, the real fun part of my day begins! It is Saturday night and I’ve somehow scored another night of freedom from domestic life!  I give all the credit to my oldest friend who now lives overseas with her family and visits home once or twice a year. When she’s in town we always try to sneak in a dinner date. After a brief call yesterday where we both asked at the same time, “What are you doing tomorrow night?”  and quick consult with Mr. L , we book it.

Mr. L mutters to me, “I definitely get tomorrow afternoon off,” as I fly out the door of the mini van blowing kisses to everyone as I race to the waiting subway. Two nights in a row I’ve left him to his own devices to plan dinner and bedtime so I can’t fault him for the comment. I’m feeling generous and tell myself he deserves a brief reprieve before heading back to the office on Monday.

As I find a seat, I have déjà vu from another life when taking the subway was a daily occurrence. The cramped cars and pretending not to stare at people as you moved towards your desired stop. The crush of people as you tried to exit. Part of me misses the hustle and bustle of the city but another part likes the slower pace in suburbia. It takes me a moment when exiting the subway to orient myself. A familiar area in my other life, the stores have changed drastically and the coffee shop I was seeking out to wait in while waiting for my friend had closed down. When did Bloor Street become designer clothes shopping central?  Coach, Gucci, Burberry. I felt as if I was in another world. I remembered when the most trendy store on this stretch was the Pottery Barn.

It takes me a bit to acclimatize and after walking the same street twice peeking in random Starbucks stores to see if a seat was available and wondering why it was so busy on a Saturday at four pm, I see a wine store. “Perfect!” I think as I wanted to get a bottle or two for us to enjoy with our dinner at my friend’s townhome.

We have opted to dine-in and have a proper catch-up rather than face the loud restaurants on a Saturday night. Funnily enough, a guy is standing outside the store with two glasses of wine and as I come up to the door and offers me a glass, “Why not?” I thought and drank away.

After listening to his rave about the white Riesling I was drinking, another lady was invited in and we both nodded to each other as he offered us another taste of their feature red. His tactics work as we each purchase two bottles of wine and then I continue meandering until I come upon a bookstore I had forgotten about. Knowing it will have a have a coffee shop, I score again as a seat becomes available. Feeling like a younger version of myself, I snatch the chair knowing you have to be quick and proudly hang my coat on the back of it. Standing in line to order my typical Grande Bold Misto, I wonder if it would be easy to move back into this life?  Hanging by myself on a Saturday night, content to have a coffee while tapping away on my netbook knowing dinner is soon at hand. Comfortable and mature enough not to care I’m on my own. Then in front of me I see a cherub bright-eyed infant waving and the pang in my chest reminds me that although a respite from my daily life, I couldn’t be that long away from my kids. They are attached to me even when I am not physically with them and are never far from my thoughts. They are in every child I see and anyone looking at me waving and smiling idiotically at this infant in the Starbucks would know in an instant, I am a Mom.

The city at night.

The city at night.

As the evening goes on with a boatload of sushi and bottle of wine later, my friend and I have exchanged our joy and angst of married life with kids. There is something comforting knowing we both came from the same place and just get what the other is saying. There is no judgement and we can be as open as only two long-time girlfriends can be. After all, this lady has seen me at my worst and my best in every sense of each word. She made a point to be at my wedding by my side for the day, pulled me out of a seedy bar in university when too many tequila shots made me a very annoying drunk university student. She was my first visitor at the hospital when we had our eldest girl via emergency c-section a week earlier than planned knowing my Mom was out-of-town. She made a point to be there that night with gift in hand and was one of the first people to hold our new daughter not even noticing how much of a stunned train wreck I must have looked.

As I walked out into a sudden windy snow squall with large snowflakes blinding me as I ran to catch the taxi returning me to suburbia, I made the same wish I always did when I left a visit with her. I only wished she didn’t live so far away. As a Mom, especially juggling three, it sometimes is very easy to lose parts of yourself and become Elizabeth’s Mom or Jacob’s Mom or Mrs. L (Which still makes the independent woman in me cringe.) or even worse, “What was your name again?” How awesome would it be to have someone around I could call on a moment’s notice who could reflect back the old me that I often wonder will ever re-emerge? Friends are so important and long time friends even more so. So I will take the visits and cherish them and continue sneaking in our dinner dates whenever I can.

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