Thursday, September 26, 2013

Gluten Free Banana Bread (Victory Never Tasted So Good)

Banana Bread has been a favorite treat of mine for as long as I can remember. My mom used to make a few loaves at a time and freeze the extras so we wouldn’t run out too quickly. When I went off to college, I only got banana bread when I went home. I wanted to make my own, but the recipe Mama used required a mixer, which I did not have. I began searching the Internet, hoping to find a recipe I could work with. Well, lucky me, I came across the mother lode of cooking sites, Simply Recipes. The banana bread recipe on the site is what kept me coming back for more and more culinary creations. I had the recipe memorized for a while, it's just that good. Finish reading this post, and then go check it out.

I have never been much of a baker, although I will say that my break-and-bake cookies and my Betty Crocker brownies are delectable. You laugh, but it is actually rather easy to screw them up, so let me be proud of myself, please! With all the accurate measuring and timing needed, baking from scratch is something I have to really motivate myself to do. So, when a little more than a year ago I ventured into a strange new world called “Gluten Free,” it was intimidating and scary and there was no wheat flour there. I thought it was going to be my worst nightmare. In fact, I have said several times in the past, “If I couldn’t eat bread or pasta I think I would die.” Well, I am still here, folks. I like puzzles and I like challenges, and the world of Gluten Free is just a big, challenging, wheat-less puzzle.

Initially, I despaired, thinking I would never again snack on (or binge on) the delicious banana bread that I missed so terribly. I tried making the Simply Recipes loaf by just subbing in a gluten-free all-purpose flour and I think I used stevia instead of sugar. I was not impressed. It was too dry and it just didn’t taste right. After resigning myself to a banana bread-less existence, I plucked up the motivation to do some more searching for the right recipe. One of them used rice flour and it was too gritty. Another one that used a mixer was too crumbly and cakey. I refused to give up and, inspired by Inigo Montoya, decided to go back to my favorite recipe.

"When the job went wrong, you go back to the beginning"

I looked at the Simply Recipes banana bread recipe and willed it to work with me. Since my last go-round with it I had learned a lot in the world of Gluten Free. I discovered coconut sugar and I had learned a little bit about some of the various gluten free flours. Almond flour and coconut flour are better at holding on to moisture and I wondered if they would solve my problem of the loaf coming out too dry and crumbly. Armed with my gluten-free allies, I began.

Here is the original recipe.  If you love gluten, give it a try. It's delicious.

Here are the ingredients I used:
  • 4 bananas (mashed)
  • 1/3 cup melted butter
  • ½ cup coconut sugar
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • a pinch of salt
  • 1 cup Bob’s Red Mill Gluten-Free All-Purpose Flour
  • ¼ cup Bob’s Red Mill Almond Meal/Flour
  • ¼ cup Bob’s Red Mill Coconut Flour
Pre-heat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Peel and mash your bananas (You can use a potato masher, a fork, a whisk - whatever you've got. It doesn't have to be perfectly smooth). Add the melted butter, beaten egg, coconut sugar, and vanilla to the mashed bananas and mix with a wooden spoon until well blended. You will notice that the batter has a dark, caramel-like color because of the coconut sugar. Next, add the dry ingredients - baking soda, salt, gluten-free all-purpose flour, almond flour, and coconut flour. Mix until well combined. Grease/butter a 4x8 metal loaf pan and pour in the batter. In my experience, a metal pan works best; I have tried using stoneware and glass loaf pans and the banana bread comes out rubbery. Metal is the way to go!
Pop it in the oven for 60 minutes. I checked the center of the loaf with a knife to try to gauge whether it was cooked all the way through. I feared it would burn on the outside if I left it in too long, so I couldn't wait for the knife to come out totally clean, but it was pretty close.

After letting the loaf cool for about 10 minutes, I held my breath and flipped it out onto a cooling rack. It held together in one piece! It was a good sign! I hollered joyfully to my husband, “I made a gluten-free banana bread that didn’t fall apart!” Then I did a happy dance.
A few minutes later, we sliced into the loaf. It was only slightly crumbly on the outside and it was still moist on the inside. Better yet, the taste and texture were FAN-FREAKING-TASTIC! It might as well have been the recipe I had been making for the last few years. I did another happy dance.

I wanted to make sure this wasn’t some freak accident, so I stocked up on bananas and gave it another go, and the second loaf was EVEN BETTER. Drew had his first taste of it and declared, “This is the best banana bread I have ever had, gluten-free or otherwise.” He has been with me on this banana bread journey, so he knows that this is a very sweet victory I have won.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

20 Things I Love About Fall

I hope I don't end up thinking of more things, because then I'll have to change the title of this post. In honor of my favorite season of the year, here are 20 things I love about fall!

  1. The other name for fall, autumn, is pretty neat.
  2. It begins in September, a couple of weeks after my birthday.
  3. Bye-bye, humidity.
  4. That “fall” aroma in the air that is so refreshing after a hot summer.
  5. My candles from Bath & Body Works that imitate that fall aroma.
  6. Being super jealous of your neighbor because their BBQ smells so good.
  7. Being super jealous of your neighbor because you know their fireplace has got it going on.
  10. The World Series
  11. All of my favorite tv shows begin new seasons.
  12. Trees changing the colors of their leaves.
  13. Walking on previously mentioned leaves when they are fallen and crunchy.
  14. Lots and lots of scarves.
  15. Cardigans in every color.
  16. Peacoats. Can’t get enough of ‘em.
  17. Hot soup on a cool evening.
  18. Being able to open the windows!
  19. THANKSGIVING and the whole month that follows leading up to Christmas.
  20. Making crafty things like this:

Friday, September 20, 2013

Fairytales Are Stressful (And They Are Supposed To Be That Way)

Happily Married!
When I look at my husband, I find it hard to believe that I am actually married to him. We met online (which is the part I really can't believe), met in person (stranger danger!), fell in love (woohoo!), he proposed (I said, "yeah"), we planned a wedding, we are living a marriage. Pinch me, because I must be dreaming. Drew is brilliant and handsome and hardworking and loving and adoring. I am the luckiest girl in the world!

Marriage is a wonderful vocation and I love my husband very much. Amidst all of this love we are going through a lot of change - we moved halfway across the country, we are combining all of our belongings and merging our lifestyles, and we are having to manage our finances as we balance living with what we have and looking forward to the future. It is blissful, but also challenging. I was pondering all of this the other day when I said to him, “I feel like I am in a fairytale . . . a very stressful fairytale.”

Drew’s response to my statement was perfect. He replied, “Aren’t all fairytales stressful?” I had never thought of it that way before! I always hear the phrases “happily ever after” and “fairytale ending,” but the ending isn’t the entire story. For example, (SPOILER ALERT) in my personal favorite, The Little Mermaid, Ariel doesn’t see eye to eye with her father and when she falls in love with a human, things get nasty. She risks swimming into the creepiest cave ever so that an octopus named Ursula can transform her tail into legs in exchange for her voice. So, when she finally gets on land and meets Prince Eric, she can’t actually talk to him. She then has to watch him fall in love with Ursula disguised as Vanessa and she is barely able to stop their marriage. Then Ursula and Prince Eric try really hard to kill each other, Eric wins, and he is able to marry Ariel who was made human by her father, who changed his mind about her loving a human. She then leaves behind everything she is familiar with to be with her husband. I would bet that had it been available to her, Ariel would have spent a lot of time in therapy as a result of all the stress she experienced.

I love that my husband reminded me that even though things are a little bit stressful sometimes, this IS my fairytale. I would much rather go through all of this with him than be all by my lonesome. Who cares about the fairytale ending? Riding off into the sunset – that’s called a vacation; it isn’t real life. We watch and read fairytale stories, following characters through ups and downs and rooting for their success by the end of the story. We wait for THE END. Remember, it’s the WHOLE journey that is important, and that is the fairytale come true.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

9/11 - From Student to Teacher

I was a freshman in high school, two days shy of fourteen years old, on 9/11/2001. It was probably the scariest day of my life so far and the memories of the fear and sadness I felt are permanently embedded in my heart, mind, and soul.

As a teacher for the past three years I had the great privilege and responsibility to teach my students about September 11th each year. I looked forward to being able to share such a weighty historical moment with them. In my head, I was back in high school with my band teacher, bonding over tragedy, and I thought maybe I would have a similar moment with my students. I quickly realized, though, that this would not be the case.

A few days before September 11th of my first year teaching I asked, “How old were you guys on 9/11?”

They thought for a moment and replied, “Second grade.”

Second grade. Only seven or eight years old. How many headline-news-events do you remember from that age? This would not be the lesson I played out in my head.

I began class on September 11th with a simple question, “What do you remember from 9/11/2001?”
Students recalled being in class and their teachers turning on the televisions (in some schools) and watching, but being a little confused, as events unfolded. Students who lived closer to the attacks or who had family affected had stronger memories, but for most students in the small Florida town where I taught, 9/11 was an event that stuck in their minds, but they didn’t really understand it. After all, they were so young when it happened and their teachers and parents tried to shelter and protect them from the evil truth – that we were a terrorized nation. Later, I showed these students videos to give them a better idea of what actually happened that day, since that was what they wanted to know most, and then we learned about the memorials and new buildings being constructed to remember the attacks. The students then designed their own memorials and I think they felt a bit more connected to the history.

The second year, my students were even further removed from the events – they had only been in first grade. They were aware that bad things were happening on 9/11, but were even more sheltered than my students the year before. I felt like they were familiar with all the usual footage, so we watched a great documentary about a handful of the artifacts that have been donated to the Smithsonian and the people and stories behind them- a cell phone, part of a plane, a badge, and so on. I asked them, “If you could pick one object from your life on 9/11/2001 to tell your story from that day, what would it be?” Many of them mentioned the television, or an object from their classroom, or a comforting blanket or stuffed animal. Again, I think they felt more connected to history after this activity. I kept thinking, “They were so young. So innocent on that day.” My students wanted to hear my story, so I told them that I chose my clarinet, because I was in marching band class when I really learned what was going on. I stifled tears, and maybe I had that bonding moment I was hoping for.

Last year I was almost despairing over what my lesson would be. Those students were only in kindergarten on 9/11. For the third year in a row I asked, “What do you remember?” Almost nothing. I noticed that the younger the students were, the more their memories revolved around the adults in their lives and how the grown-ups acted. They mostly remember getting to go home early from school.

Over three years, responses evolved from, “I watched the news and I was scared because the planes were crashing and the buildings were falling,” to “I was scared but I didn’t really know why,” and finally, “I saw that the grown-ups were scared and it was confusing.” The thing that blows my mind the most is that there was only about an eight year age difference between me and my students. If I had been teaching this year, I bet those students would have recalled almost nothing.

It is frustrating from a teacher’s perspective, because the events of 9/11/2001 mean so much to me and I wish I could truly convey to my students what that day was like. At the same time, I am so grateful that they have had nothing to compare it to in their lifetime, yet I fearfully wonder what this generation’s “9/11” will be. Every age group has its defining historical moment, whether we like it or not.

So, on this day when Facebook statuses and news headlines proclaim, “Never Forget!” remember that there are young adults and children among us who don’t even know and will need us to teach them what happened and what that day was like, not just to rehash the same footage over and over again. They will need to the stories and the details in order to feel connected to the history. They will also need us to support them and to be there for them during their crisis, though I pray it never comes to that.