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As a child, I mused that people were ashamed to let the bananas turn black.  That’s why I rationalized banana bread was so gosh-darn-awful because people buried bananas with sugar and spices.  If the banana bread itself wasn’t overly sweet, it is often dry and dense.  It didn’t help that mother told me it was a last resort to squeeze another week of life for the poor banana before it hit the trash.  Most variations of banana bread tasted that way, which is why I turned my nose on banana bread for a long time.

However, I have a lot to be thankful for the banana.  When I started working, the occasional banana was the perfect mid-morning snack to keep me alert and functioning through lunch.  Sometimes, when the crazy really got going during busy season, it helped me stay focused before dinner.   In a way, I wanted to do bananas justice even when they turned black.  That is why after busy season, I decided to test another banana bread recipe to see if I can bring peace to the banana’s final resting spot.

Here, with Chang’s recipe, the banana flavor is front and center.  Gone are the bothersome spices and excess sugar that mask the banana’s flavor.    Instead, there is a lovely flavorful and moist loaf studded with walnuts.  Chang credits the tender crumb to Payard’s technique with genoise cakes, where you beat the eggs and oil together.  I think she is just thoughtful and intelligent in the way she brings out the best qualities of banana bread through her recipe, as she is with all of her recipes in Flour.

Don’t believe me?  I ate 1/4 of the loaf before I remembered I needed to take a picture :3

Of all the possible ways I choose to spend my leisure time during tax busy season, I chose to stand for a few hours straight, dirty myself up with flour and butter, and wait some more only to wash off the oily stains of cookies or cakes.  Sometimes, the thought tired me because my body was so badly in need of sleep, but I found myself needing more of the exercise of thinking about the nuances to create a sweet, charming, and beautiful dessert. Something about daydreaming over ripe berries and juicy tomatoes kept me going.  Haha, to some degree, they were the colorful markers that the tax busy season would be over soon.  That’s why when it was all over, I was absolutely ready to make a fruit dessert.

Right now, it’s a bit of this funny season, where the winter fruits have left the stands, and the summer fruits have yet to arrive.  There’s not much to work with other than the heart-shaped strawberries, which I have oohed and ahhed and have eaten plain or macerated for simple desserts, but I am really pining for the other summer berries, especially blueberries.  The thought of ripe berries baking until the juices burst and stain and splatter with dark-almost violet-blue splotches over coffee cake makes me happy.  Until they appear on the stands too, I have to make do with the dried kind.

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Apparently, I have been very busy as of late, but every so often, I pause to reminisce about the Farmers’ Markets.  I probably have been thinking of it more often since the Farmers’ Market was literally two blocks away from work, and I just started work again.

To me, the Farmers’ Market was the best part of the week after all, it signified the end of the work week and the possibility of weekend baking projects.  During that one hour lunch break, I had fun ruminating over the best way to showcase the ripest summer fruits.  Alas, it is winter now, and quite a number of them have closed up.

However, that has not stopped me from thinking about fruits lately.  Even something as common as the apple may have some 46 odd varieties at the European-style market and co-ops that are so popular here in the Bay Area.  I am still unsure what a Jazz Apple tastes like as opposed to a Pink Lady.

That, to me, is unacceptable since both varieties are readily available, so I have been trying my best to learn more about the fruits and vegetables available to me.  What better way to learn about apple varieties than making a pie that is stacked tall with three kinds of apples.

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Nutella Pound Cake

I never remember the month of November.  Other than the blips of Thanksgiving and my dear friend Julia’s birthday, I fail to recognize it as a legitimate month because it is so packed with exams and papers.  It feels more like a week than a month.

When I saw my calendar for the month of November, I decided I want to splurge.  I know those two items are totally related, but I am irrational when I am stressed out after all, first round of midterms have flowed right into the next round of midterms.

Some people go for the hot pink pedicure, but I go for the whole jar of Nutella.  Both are illogical, but who can see those cute toes when it is rainy out?  We all can better appreciate Nutella regardless of the weather whether that be by the spoonful or in this Nutella pound cake.

That brings me to this pound cake.  For those of you who get dreams thinking about Nutella, this is the cake especially for you.  Did I mention that a whole jar of dreams goes in?  Yup, that is definitely the stuff dreams should be made of.  None of these nightmares about revenue recognition criteria–just the dense, luscious goodness of a chocolate hazelnut spread :)

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Halfway through the semester, I have decided that I needed to broaden my understanding of the world, so I acquired this newly found interest in cheeses.  I am not sure the logic behind that because it is clearly unfair to a lactose-intolerant person to suddenly express fascination with cheeses.  There are limitations to my ability to experiment!

Still, I like the idea of bumbling around in a specialty shop and being guided around by an expert.  (Yes, please enlighten me!)  I like the idea of sampling cheeses and taking a small wedge to nibble on.  Okay, I am not sure how I am going to do that between exams or tax returns, but I will cough up time for this new hobby!

That brings me to this quick bread, which I first saw in the Food section of the New York Times.    It sounds like all of my favorite things in a panini in a more portable form, or as the New York Times article preceding it playfully entitled “The Hors d’Oeuvres that the French Call Cake.”

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Brewers’ Blondies

Lately, I have regressed into the toddler-like fascination of classification.  I like the idea of the little Le Creuset pinch bowls, sorting out all of the autumnal spices of cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg.  I also like the idea of colorful stacking prep bowls to sort out my wet and dry ingredients.  Sometimes, I think that is the sign of a truly dedicated baker–I have the equipment and bowls to show my seriousness to the craft!

In cooking, this is referred to mis en place, but I tend to think of this an exercise of mindfulness.  No matter how adorable, I do not need the bowls to get through the recipe.  In fact, I tend to keep only an annotated list of ingredients when I am baking because I am familiar with the various baking techniques.  However, the idea of putting everything in prep bowls is an act of visualization or progression–I can see the flow of ingredients right until I pop the cookies into the oven.

This brings me to these blondies from the guys of the Brooklyn bakery, Baked.  While not all of their retro-inspired recipes work out for me (*cough cough* Peanut Butter with Milk Chocolate chunks), I like thinking about all of my favorite childhood treats such as malt.  That’s right–I named that childhood staple Horlicks, which I had virtually every morning before heading off to school!  Plus, I can exercise my categorization skills because they get rusty after two weeks of not stepping into the kitchen :P

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Tartine’s Morning Buns

After surprisingly long stretches of the clearest blue skies, the weight of the exasperated San Francisco fog begging to be let out paved way to the first rain.  My jeans are reeking of rain, my hair is matted flat, and my fingers are numbed rigid.  I am alone again under the defense of the umbrella, as I feel that shell of myself wash away.

I feel particularly vulnerable to this time of the year, as I huddle sometimes under the umbrella but definitely in the wool coat.  I am leaving, I am leaving. That is all I can think about at any given time.

I have to come love this place, this city in spite of the buses that run over bike racks (and consequently go out of service) and the strange men who holler at me for dates in Mandarin and Japanese.  When I finally got over the confusion over how to keep pace with the moving city traffic and learned to breathe in the polluted air and be, I am leaving all of this crazy city mess behind for something smaller and confined.  How do I say goodbye?

I lie here on this bed, pining for something more of this experience of being in San Francisco.  I think about how much the city has nurtured my sense of self–that curious person that dares to dream of working for the Big Four and chucks in foreign ingredients like muscovado sugar and almond paste (although obviously not at the same time) regularly now in baking.

Of course, since I ponder in food, I return to my first love in San Francisco, Tartine Bakery, in this kind of countdown to leaving the city.  Specifically, the smell of the cinnamon-orange wonderfulness of its morning buns.

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