Happy National Banana Bread Day, or what I would like to call Regina Kogel Day! Who is Regina Kogel? Arguably, she is a champion of banana bread. Assuredly, she is my mom. When I think of today’s celebrated loaf, I think of her.
Looking back, it seems my family was not particularly adept at consuming bananas in a timely manner because brown, squishy bananas equal banana bread, and there always seemed to be a loaf in Regina Kogel’s house. A believer in breakfast, Regina’s morning spread would frequently include a warm loaf of her freshly baked banana bread. A believer in butter, a slice of this bread was not complete until smeared with bright golden butter (though to be fair, the butter champion is my dad). In honor of my mom, and in honor of today, one of the many, weird, quirky, seemingly random food holidays, I bring you this Quelcy style recipe, i.e: if banana bread is good, chocolate banana bread must be even better! This logic has yet to fail me.
Whole-Wheat, Double Chocolate Banana Bread with Toasted Coconut
About This Recipe: Like mom’s but more chocolaty! This loaf begins witha whole-wheat pastry flour, cocoa powder and chunks of dark chocolate chips. Topping the very rich and gooey loaf with coconut yields a toasted crunch once baked. It’s sweet enough for dessert, but it’s wholesome enough for breakfast, so have it for both!
Rather unexpectedly, I found myself in a church on New Year’s Eve. I hadn’t come to pray or to repent, much to my family’s chagrin. I had come to hear bagpipes and drums fill the expanse of the historical church. The youngest member of the band, a boy of small stature with pursed lips and determination, puffed his comparatively small cheeks and blew into the velvety instrument.
The rest of the kilt-clad band joined him in the most beautiful rendition of Amazing Grace I have ever heard (listen to this and imagine you were there). The reverberating and syncopated instruments combined with the church’s acoustics to strike a chord deep inside me. The unsung lyrics played in my head, a vestige of a youth spent in church, and I blinked rapidly to block inexplicable tears.
Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost but now am found, was blind, but now I see. T’was Grace that taught my heart to fear. And Grace, my fears relieved. How precious did that Grace appear. The hour I first believed. Through many dangers, toils and snares. I have already come; ‘Tis Grace that brought me safe thus far and Grace will lead me home.
The two months leading to the moment in that pew had not been my most shining, sparkling moments. Quite the opposite. The past two months were filled with more doubt, more tears, more indecision and more insecurities than I had bottled within me in a long, long time. However, the past two months were also filled with a strong shoulder to cry on and supportive friends who proved their faith in me. Mere hours before that pew and that song, I had resolved to face my obstacles, to try harder, to give myself the benefit of the doubt, and above all, to have thicker skin and more confidence.
The song was a booming affirmation. The journey is long and enduring, but there is redemption. Whether you call that redemption Grace or Determination or Resolve, is for you to decide. I no longer subscribe to a religious practice, but I wouldn’t doubt the existence of a higher power, and this church experience reminded me of the beautiful truths and philosophies one can pull from Christianity.
The bagpipes faded into architectural exploring, to hand holding, to grass-fed, beef hot dogs from a truck, to shivering, to staring at disorienting art, to the clanking of glasses and a kiss. The clock, or the iPhone rather, struck midnight, and there was a symbolic chance for a fresh start, for celebration, for brightness, and in an attempt to carry out a family tradition- a chance for Monkey Bread at breakfast, except this Buckwheat Monkey Bread was made my way- the grainy way!
Earlier this fall, I asked the community, or Facebook as it were, to guide me to Fracking-free, local apples. Unfortunately, the natural gas industry has negated local farmers’ sacrifices to grow and harvest pure produce. To put it simply, it’s shitty. It’s really, really shitty.
Many of my friends responded with suggestions, but one of my dearest friends responded with an entire box of local, frack-free apples to fuel my baking. If anyone would scour to source a frack-free apple, it would be my friend Dana. She has fought tirelessly to defend the environment and the people who have lost access to clean water. What she has seen is truly harrowing.
During one of our coffee catch-ups, Dana’s anti-fracking accounts introduced (very purposefully) a new character. She had met a Pittsburgh area native who was also dedicated to protecting our natural resources and wanted to join her efforts. Being as deeply entrenched in this movement as she was, Dana sussed him out intensely. She was uninterested in another tag-along looking for a shocking story for a blog or social media. She was interested in a volunteer who would respect how difficult it had been to establish relationships with these victims, sympathize with them, and to assist her in standing up to the industry behemoths.
After just one day on the road with her, meeting families, photographing flaming drilling rigs, and listening to her emotional breakdown, this man had impressed her beyond her expectations. She saw the selfless, giving soul of a respectful man, who wanted to save the world. She took note, and her gears began to turn.
As Dana and I sat drinking coffee and catching up, I asked more about this man, who I had glimpsed briefly at their first meeting. As she responded, I sank dramatically in my chair. This dude couldn’t be real. Had I forgotten to lock and stow some youthful diary of mine? Had she found my naive musings of a dream man? Earth saver, photographer, wanderer, aspiring urban farmer, beekeeper, graphic designer… my eyes were glazed, and my head was spinning, but Dana’s head was on straight. She plotted and schemed, and before long, that dream fella and I were locking lips under a mulberry tree.
Swoon City. Population: Two!
I’ve alluded to “the Urban Farmer” or #theurbanfarmer here and there, but in light of recent strides, I wanted to share the full story. Kyle, as most people know him, launched his Kiva campaign to fund his vision for Hazelwood Farm. I’m asking you, dear readers, to join me and help support his efforts and his dreams. His heart is huge, his vision is commendable, and when I’m too busy to notice, he secretly waters my windowsill basil and keeps it alive. He deserves a farm because he’ll use that farm to make the world a better place, one CSA share at a time. Even Julep can’t help but smile when she imagines what these abandoned urban lots could become, and she is so ready to herd something… to herd anything!
Here’s the deal- my generous, selfless, supportive, handsome Urban Farmer is asking the community to help him help the community. Still following me? In other words, please consider investing in his Kiva Campaign, so he can launch his farm. Any size donation-from $1-$10,000 helps. While you’re at it, support someone who has grown local, frack-free apples, and make this bread. It’s good and good for you, just like an urban farm.
Editing these photos made me crave this bread anew, so I argue yes. However, I am a reasonable person, and I understand you can’t please all people all the time. For the sake of busy holiday schedules, venturing through madhouse grocery stores, waiting in long-ass turkey lines and the constantly nagging fear of snowflake graphics on iPhone weather reports, I’ll help you expedite this decision making process for yourself. Proceed.
Do you even enjoy baking?
I hope so. I hope that’s why you’re here. If yes, continue!
Are you still craving pumpkin goodness?
If yes, continue!
Do you live your life by the philosophy “chocolate makes everything better?”
If yes, continue!
Do you enjoy a slice of something wholesome and sweet with your morning coffee and maybe a sliver for dessert?
If yes, continue!
Do you need to bake for a gathering or visiting guests?
If yes, continue!
You made it!
As I mentioned before, pumpkin haters gonna hate, but I’m all about pumpkin, and I obviously live my life by the add-chocolate-make-better principle. As such an adamant disciple of said chocolate philosophy, I may have even gone a little overboard here, but when you bite into the dark chocolate chunks and the spiced pumpkin flavor, you’ll be floating in a lifesaver right along with me. This bread’s natural ingredients make it a wholesome breakfast choice, but it’s also sweet and cake-like enough to satisfy a dessert craving.
Lastly, this is a recipe that gives and gives and keeps too. Initially, I thought the batter would become two loaves, but it divided magically into three- a real Thanksgiving miracle! You’ll be able to keep a loaf for your own breakfast slices (and dessert bites) and still have plenty to share, which comes in handy this time of year.
This past weekend, moments of stress, excitement, fear, sadness and relief all swirled in me simultaneously. Amidst long to-do lists and last-minute rushing, I had to remind myself to be excited about a very thrilling new venture. Once I allowed that excitement to surpass my chaotic nearsightedness, it was like the floodgates released. I had to play It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia quotes in my head to balance the sappiness I was exuding. I couldn’t arrive to our preview with watery eyes!
With to-do lists and enthusiasm still swirling wildly inside me, I decided to escape everything and focus on my Julep. Before I knew it, my perfect fall afternoon was a tumble of dogs and human, with one aggressive dog’s jaw fixed firmly on my dog’s neck. These things happen with animals, and I couldn’t blame anyone, but I had a mini breakdown nonetheless. I had expected to see my Julep’s neck ripped open, and though she was still in one piece, my mind had already begun to reel with the worst case scenario. I felt helpless as I watched her in fear and pain, feelings prolonged by a cautionary vet visit. Shaved, injected and medicated, Julep is returning to her normal self, but talk about a reminder to squeeze the ones you love!
I had reminded myself to be excited for the opening of 4121 MAIN, but in the case of the dog park, the universe had reminded me to cherish all those near and dear to me. Moments of stress, excitement, fear, sadness and relief will continue to swirl. That’s life, and those swirls are beyond my control. That doesn’t mean I can’t embrace life’s roller coaster in a wholesome and delicious way.
I hadn’t spoken with my mom in a while, not because of any malintent, just because of the classic excuse of “busyness.” In our brief, my-life-in-a-nutshell conversation, I realized how much my life has indeed shifted in drastic ways. I have a major collaboration ahead of me, I have the Urban Farmer by my side, and I have a general slew of projects swirling everywhere in between.
I clearly like change and fast-paced changes no less, but describing this momentum to my mom reiterated how I need to be more intentional. I need to step back and realize I actually enjoy this workload and not frame the frenzy as stress. These are exciting times! Fortunately, in the midst of these changes, I have engaged in several conversations about intention, which helps to root these endeavors.
Why do I do what I do? Why do I want to do what lies ahead?
Though you’ll have to stay tuned for the details on my major collaboration and those intentions, I can tell you why I bake. I bake because I love that moment when a friend or acquaintance takes a first bite and reacts with earnest “mmmm” sounds. I bake because I love appeasing sweet teeth with trustworthy ingredients. I bake because I love bringing warm bread to a breakfast meeting with my friends and collaborators.
May 2014 The grass filled the cracks formed by crooked cobbles. Paint chipped off the hand rails. The walkways, stairs and narrow roads shifted direction drastically. Laundry criss-crossed these corridors…