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Blog

the clearest route

Andrea

Why, hello March! How sneaky of you, creeping up behind me quickly and quietly, propelling past February’s tail just outside of my peripheral vision. It was nice of you to bring gifts - warm, sunshine-filled afternoons set against a bright, sapphire sky.

Walking through the park on Thursday, I noticed that beds are filled with the lime green leaves of young daffodils, and the tiny bell-shaped snowdrops are in full bloom. I even unbuttoned my coat, let it drape open to expose my sweater-clad chest, loosening the protective shell I’ve encased my body in for months.

Friday morning I glanced out my kitchen window and a bright spot of yellow caught my eye. Crocuses(!), peeking out from underneath a layer of leaves and mulch.

And yesterday, out taking care of errands with Brian, wandering in and out of shops, I had to dig my sunglasses out from their hiding place in our car. Oh Ray-Bans, how I’ve missed you!

As I write this, there is bright southern light streaming through the back door of my kitchen, the pattern of the glass casting a gridded shadow across the floor. And the window right over the sink, open as wide as it will go, grants permission to the cool breeze to filter through, picking up the scent of banana bread before moving on to the rest of the house. So motivating, the near-Spring feel of the space is calling to me, luring me to the pantry to gather ingredients for my next project.



I am constantly amazed at the affect that weather has on moods, on preferences, on behavior.

I am inspired to cook again, to browse my books and magazines in search of the perfect use for the local spring produce arriving any week now. Arugula and swiss chard, broccoli and kale. Green, green and more green.

The need to see something grow, to cover my hands with soil and coax tiny seeds to life, is overwhelming. The desire to walk out my back door with clippers in hand, returning with arms full of fresh produce, is palpable. Soon, so very soon.

Oh, and we've been talking about moving. Wanting to start over on a new (old) house, to tackle different renovation projects and to pick out brighter paint colors. I am addicted to our local real estate site, checking my email for new listings first thing each morning.

And then there's photography, which I've been practicing regularly. Photographs of people and flowers and jewelry and food are popping up on my newly established Flickr page. It seems that inspiration is everywhere, and I am desperate to capture it all.

It's a very nice change, this desire to invent, to create, to produce in place of the urge to sit still with a mind devoid of motivation. I credit the Spring-ish weather, feeling as if I am emerging from hibernation, stretching my legs and taking confident strides towards goals set with the new year. Some personal, some professional. Some big, some small. All important.

At any given moment my mind is flickering between half a dozen thoughts, trying to decide which to settle on and move forward with.  I am often overwhelmed, the trails in front of me not entirely clear and me standing at the head of them with my shoes laced up, ready to go but not sure of which to choose.

But when the kitchen is an option, it is undoubtably the route that I embark on.  Always the clearest, with a succinct set of instructions to accompany me, the outcomes are mostly joyous. Even if I get lost. And then there's that southern light, and the crisp breeze, and the possibility of banana-scented air.  Who can say no to that?

And so, in this time of overwhelming possibility I’ve busied myself with baking, covering my hands (and face, and hair, and thighs) with flour, watching cakes and cookies rise to gentle domes through the oven door. I enjoy the satisfaction of this productivity, of harnessing some of the energy emanating from the Earth as it prepares for this next season, directing it towards bowls of sifted sugar and flour, creamed butter and silky eggs. As my hands work to chop walnuts and mash bananas my mind is able to wander, to slowly wrap itself around all those other thoughts, to sort through and file them away for a different time when the sun isn't shining through the window quite so perfectly.

This cake, while not the prettiest kid on the block, certainly has the possibility of being the most popular with its stellar personality. So dense, so moist, the banana-scented crumb is perfectly balanced with dark chocolate and toasty walnuts. I brought it in to share with my office, a group notoriously hesitant about sweets, and it was polished off within a day.  That says something, something very good, I assure you.

Banana Cake with Dark Chocolate and Walnuts
from gourmet, february 2008
serves 8-10

Ingredients

  • 2-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, softened, plus 2 tbsp, melted and cooled
  • 1 cup sugar, divided
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1-1/4 cups mashed very ripe bananas (about 3 medium)
  • 2/3 cup fat-free, vanilla, greek yogurt
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 (3-1/2 to 4-ounce) bar bittersweet chocolate, or 1 cup bittersweet chocolate chips
  • 1 cup walnuts, toasted, cooled and coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 375* with rack in middle.  Butter a 9-inch square cake pan.

  2. Stir together flour, baking soda and salt.

  3. Beat together softened butter (1 stick) and 3/4 cup sugar in a medium bowl with an electric mixer at medium speed until pale and fluffy.  Beat in eggs one at a time until blended. Beat in bananas, yogurt and vanilla (mixture will look curdled).

  4. With mixer at low speed, add flour mixture and blend until just incorporated.

  5. Toss together chocolate, nuts, cinnamon, melted butter and remaining 1/4 cup sugar in a small bowl.  Spread half of banana batter in cake pan and sprinkle with half of chocolate mixture.  Spread remaining batter evenly over filling and sprinkle remaining chocolate mixture on top.

  6. Bake until cake is golden and a wooden pick inserted in center of cake comes out clean, 35-40 minutes.  Cool cake completely before cutting.

retail relay

Charlottesville folks, have you heard of Retail Relay?  I had my first experience with the company last week, and am so impressed by the service they are providing to local consumers and businesses.  It's a one-stop shopping experience for most of your favorite local food providers, at no additional cost to you.  Our order included items from Foods of all Nations, Feast, The Organic Butcher, Belle Haven Farm Bakery and Mona Lisa Pasta. I'll be doing a post about the experience soon, but wanted to extend a coupon code they've offered my readers as soon as possible.

**For $10 off your Retail Relay order of $50 or more, enter 'bellaeats' in the coupon bar on the online order form.**