My parents aren’t natural storytellers (perhaps I should ask more often?) but every once in awhile a gem from their childhood pops up. Like this one story my mum recently told me: Ma remembers always waking up from her afternoon naps to the intoxicating aroma of freshly-baked-or-cooked something wafting in from the kitchen. To get her and her siblings to fall asleep with the least amount of fuss, Popo, her mother and my grandmother, would promise her and her siblings a treat when they woke up. The post-nap delights ranged from roti bakso (savory meat-filled buns) to kue mangkok (“cup”cakes), and all were delectable.
While Ma and my uncle and aunts wriggled restlessly in their beds anticipating what lay in wait for them when they woke up, I envision Popo (whom I only know from photos) hard at work in her tropical kitchen. As she rolled and flattened soft balls of dough, she’d occasionally wipe sweat from her brow with a hanky she stuffed into her bra strap. Taking a teaspoon in hand, she’d scoop a mixture of pork, candied winter melon, and green onions into the middle of each dough disc. Gently, she’d bring the dough edges together and wrap it up into a neat oval package as she listened for rogue sounds coming from the children’s bedroom.
When Ma and her siblings woke up in a couple of hours, the buns would be out of the oven and ready to be grabbed by little hands and devoured with squeals of delight.
All this I see in the sepia tones of my mind’s eye, imagining what my mom’s childhood was like and what Popo was like.
Inspired by this perfect anecdote, I decided to recreate this experience for my son with my own post-nap treat.
One Tuesday afternoon after Isaac goes down for his nap, I busy myself in the kitchen. I want to bake banana bread but I only had two bananas (three at first but one was so ripe it fell splat on the floor when I accidentally dropped it). Desperation incites innovation and digging around my kitchen, I discover two bright yellow mangoes, ripe and ready to eat, in my fridge.
Bananas and mangoes are both tropical, I convince myself, they’ll couple very well in a quick bread recipe!
As I prepare all the ingredients, I hear a squawk. My heart sinks, it’s been barely 30 minutes since Isaac went down! Sure enough, the little guy emerges from his room, his disheveled hair in a post-nap Mohawk. I panick for two seconds before realizing, wait, he can help me bake! All kids love to measure ingredients and mix batter don’t they?
Isaac has never really shown much interest in helping me in the kitchen and I’ve never forced him. But this time, I drag his stool into the kitchen and try and talk up the mother-and-son baking experience.
“This is going to be so much fun! You can measure the sugar, flour and butter, and mix everything together. Come help mommy in the kitchen.”
“I don’t want to. I want to watch TV!”
“But baking is so much fun! Don’t’ you want to help mommy?”
“I don’t want to! I want to watch TV!”
A few volleys back and forth ending with a promise of “Thomas the Tank Engine” later, Isaac steps up onto his stool. He starts by scooping sugar into the mixing bowl. Then he helps me add the butter and proceeds to “cream” the mixture with a wooden spoon. After two or three turns around the bowl, he declares, “I’m done!” He hops off the stool and goes off to play with his airplanes.
Nothing I can say henceforth can cajole him back into the kitchen.
Feeling dejected, I finish mixing the batter and shove the loaf pan into the oven.
As I sit down to wait for the bread to bake, I realize how silly I was for getting frustrated. Did I really expect everything to go according plan? Hah, it was definitely wishful thinking on my part.
If there’s one important lesson to take away from raising a toddler, it’s that you should always expect the unexpected. It builds character and encourages a flexible outlook on life. And sometimes results in a new favorite recipe!
Simple and straightforward, the original banana bread recipe came to me on the back of a bag of flour many years ago when I was in college. It’s been my go-to recipe ever since. Over the years, I’ve mixed it up a little: varying the ratio of white to brown sugar, using a combo of all-purpose and whole wheat flour (I add some applesauce or yogurt to moisten it up), substituting butter for shortening, etc., etc. And the sweet smelling loaf—crusted in a shiny mahogany veneer–comes out lovely every time!
Time: 10 minutes prep, 50 minutes baking
Makes: 1 loaf
3/4 cup granulated raw sugar or brown sugar (I really like Wholesome Sweeteners brand)
1/3 cup butter, softened
2 eggs at room temperature
1-3/4 cup all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 very ripe honey (Altaufo) mango, peeled, seeded, chopped and mashed (about 1 cup)
2 large bananas, mashed
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 9 x 5 x 3-inch loaf pan.
In a medium mixing bowl, cream the sugar and butter with a wooden spoon. Add the eggs and beat well.
Sift flour, baking powder and soda and salt and add to the creamed mixture. Stir in the mango and banana and mix until just blended. It will be lumpy but don’t fret.
Pour the batter into the greased pan and bake for 50 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean. Cool in the tin for about 10 minutes before turning the loaf onto a wire rack to cool completely before slicing (if you can wait!).