In the early days of the pandemic, before the mask wars heated up and we all once again retreated to our political corners, we were one nation in quarantine. Americans united in a collective quest to hoard toilet paper, order seeds online, and bake sour dough bread. We’d get through this by growing our own food, baking our own bread, living off the land – a land of condos, sidewalks, and curbside recycling. Eggs, yeast, flour and of course, toilet paper became hot ticket items. You didn’t need to see the market statistics. The empty shelves told the story. In May, I sent my mother packages of yeast that I happened to have, after a short-lived bread baking fling last summer, for her birthday. She was thrilled as all the stores were out.
Banana bread was the number one internet searched recipe in March as the big bunches of bananas we bought on less frequent trips to store turned brown and mushy. If you ordered “3 bananas” from your grocery delivery service, chances are, you got three bunches; hence, the collective quest for the perfect banana bread recipe.
I too made banana bread. Or at least I tried. One day as I contemplated three very overripe, very large bananas on my counter, I googled “easy banana bread” and settled on a recipe described as “foolproof”. The recipe called for two to three ripe bananas, so I used all three. My incomplete set of measuring cups (I use the ½ cup as a cat food scoop) and my desire to substitute whole wheat flour for half of the white flour meant that I lost count of how much I put in the mixing bowl. The end result of too much banana and too little flour spelled disaster. After the recommended baking time of 50 minutes, the toothpick came out loaded with batter. At 60 minutes, 70 minutes, and finally after an hour and half, my banana bread was still a sticky, gooey lagoon. The middle was caved in, even the edges didn’t firm up. When I pulled it out of the oven, it weighed as much as a heathy newborn infant. And it jiggled like Jell-O.
I texted my mom and sister a picture of the bungled bread, laughing off my disastrous foray into baking. My sister responded, “I’ll send you my banana nut muffin recipe. Make the muffins – so much easier.” I texted back “I don’t have a muffin tin – but thanks!” She texted back “You can get a muffin tin at the grocery store. They have them you know.” I responded “Yes but you know my kitchen is small. I don’t really want more stuff.” My mom then jumped in, texting “I have some silicone baking cups that I got on sale at TJ Maxx. They don’t take up much space. I’ll send them.” My sister parried, “Silicone baking cups? I’m suspicious.” I wrote back “Mom, I don’t think you should go to the post office, pandemic and all.” My sister’s muffin recipe popped up in my email minutes later with instructions like “don’t over mix the batter” and “you can substitute chocolate chips for the nuts”. The silicone muffin cups arrived in the mail two days later. They were, frankly, adorable in alternating colors of hot pink and tangerine reminiscent of the mod costumes in the 60’s version of Lost in Space. I had no choice. The message was clear: You will make the muffins and you will like it.
As soon as I had two overripe bananas I got back on the horse and followed my sister’s recipe. I focused on the flour, careful not to lose count without the advantage of a ½ measuring cup. I skipped the nuts and added mini dark chocolate chips. Despite my sister’s
suspicions, the silicone baking cups performed brilliantly. The muffins were delicious and perfect, and slid easily out of the cups. I proudly texted pictures of the muffins nestled in their stylishly colorful cups to my family. I felt like I did in kindergarten when we made painted macaroni necklaces. I loved those. It’s autumn now and since the banana bread debacle I’ve made multiple batches of muffins and even chocolate cupcakes. I even made up my own original muffin recipe. I can’t say I love to bake but the prospect of taking out my adorbs muffin cups is motivating. And now my lack of motivation to bake and cook becomes clearer: my pots and pans just aren’t attractive enough. I need prettier things in the kitchen – and maybe a complete set of measuring cups.