Tag Archives: Nostalgiafest

With a Twist: Banana Chocolate-Chunk Muffins

G’day, Garkyfriends! Not sure how your week is panning out, but mine is A-OK, despite climatological gloom + a persistent headache. You know what, though? Gloomy weather makes working indoors seem like less of a task, and this headache will surely be dispelled with some ibuprofen + coconut water. Voila! Attitudinal magic works wonders.

These past few months, I’ve been really into buying flowers. Not only do blooms brighten the common spaces, but buying cut flowers seems like such an adult thing to do. I mean, it is an adult thing to do, but some actions — dry-cleaning delicate garments, scrubbing the bathtub, turning in early on a weekend night even though you don’t have to wake up early the next day — seem robustly more adult than others.

Fridays, returning from acupuncture, I stroll past a wholesale floral shop; it was there I got the red bouquet, plucked from a flimsy plastic bucket and cradled for the duration of my trip.

Friday flowers are becoming a ritual. Establishment and practice of rituals — small and large alike — is what drew me to writing. Likewise to cooking. I am, by nature, a collector, and these activities fortify my amassment tendencies.

Banana bread was my mom’s go-to baked good. She made it for PTA meetings and potlucks, gifting foil-wrapped loaves to the neighbors. As a kid, I wasn’t crazy about the bread — my extreme sweet tooth wasn’t sated by its subtle flavor — but I’ve come around. Flavorwise and associationally, banana bread is a gem. It’s quick to make, and it offers an outlet for the scratch-and-dent bananas that would otherwise land in the compost bin.

Instead of baking one loaf, I made muffins, which bake more quickly (20 minutes!) and are easier to store and eat. I made a few other mods to mom’s recipe, namely reducing the amount of sugar and oil, adding a bit more banana mush, and tossing in some coarsely chopped, sea-salt-flecked dark chocolate. This tinkering yielded delicious results.

Sweetish but not cloying, toeing the line of wholesomeness, these muffins are a new standby.

Banana Chocolate-Chunk Muffins (makes 12)

Ingredients

  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • Two eggs, beaten
  • 1 1/4 cup mashed bananas (appox. two large)
  • 1 3/4 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup sugar (I used Turbinado, but use what you have on hand!)
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • One high-quality chocolate bar, roughly chopped

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 350. Grease a muffin pan (or line each cup with cupcake papers — you do you!).
  2. In a medium bowl, combine oil, eggs, and bananas.
  3. In a large bowl, mix well all dry ingredients, including chocolate. Once dry ingredients are mixed, add wet ingredients, mixing just to combine.
  4. Spoon batter into the muffin pan, filling each cup only 2/3 full.
  5. Pop the pan in the oven, set your timer for 20 minutes, and clean up (or not). Muffins are done when a fork inserted into one comes out clean.

 

Mall Munchies: Revisiting Ruby Tuesday’s Garden Bar

Ooooooooo-eeeee, am I glad to be back to SF! That statement isn’t meant to hint at the quality of my Midwest Weekend (which was totally badass), but rather to reinforce how much I like sleeping in my own bed, in my own apartment, surrounded by my own things. Sofa beds are not the beds of kings, I was able to verify this weekend. Just in case you were wondering.

I’m putting all the horses before all the carts, though: this weekend, I flew back to Minnesota to celebrate my mom’s 60th birthday. (Happy post-birthday, mom — I see you reading this!) Not only was my mom unaware that Sis and I had planned a party for her, she didn’t even know I’d be visiting MN. BAM! That’s how it’s done, people. You all know that Ali and I are the absolute worst at keeping secrets, and staying mum about this was A Daunting Task. Indeed, I almost slipped up Saturday morning when my mom called to ask about my plans for the day.

“Going to the airport — DOI!” my hungover ass almost responded. But I thought on my feet and mumbled a story about cleaning/a freelance project/going to Target with pals. (The freelance project, at least, was real.)

“Oh,” said my mom, audibly disappointed. “Well, it’s just…it would have been nice if you could have come home for my birthday, but I understand.”

At that moment, I wanted to say, “Wait! No no no! I’m not a jerk — I’m totally about to leave for the airport, as soon I as get my unshowered carcass out of bed and get my toiletries together.” The worst part of any surprise party, I think, is the slow-forming disappointment of the surprisee, followed by the anxiety of the surpriser.

In addition to my excitement about ringing in my mom’s 60th year,* I was stoked to revisit old haunts, childhood landmarks, and other Sites of Great Personal Importance. I’m unfailingly, unflinchingly pro-nostalgia: you should know this by now. Give me the chance to eat at the diner where I smoked my first cigarette, and I’ll flag a cab.** Suggest a trip to the all-night buffet I frequented in college, and I’ll be the first in line for fried catfish. Ali, knowing the true depths of my love for emotionally historic places, suggested that we stop at Ruby Tuesday on the way home from the airport — yes, we were going to the GARDEN BAR.

Ah, the Garden Bar. A relatively recent addition to my pantheon of emotionally charged eateries, Ruby Tuesday was a favored lunchtime destination when Ali and I lived in Western Mass. Weekends, we’d drive to the Holyoke Mall (blasting Greek pop or Cat Power, depending on who was driving), check out Gap, swing through Banana, play with the puppies at the mangy pet store near Macy’s. All this shopping, window and otherwise, wore us down, though, and we typically looked to Ruby Tuesday for revival.

The Garden Bar isn’t notable for the uniqueness of its ingredients (or, really, the preparation thereof). In actuality, it’s a better-than-average salad bar that gets waaaay more hype than it deserves. But in the context of semi-rural Massachusetts, it was a good find; in the context of the mall, it was a downright godsend. My typical salad was a bed of Romaine hearts topped with feta, chickpeas, olives, broccoli florets, and those ueber-greasy dark brown croutons that taste perfectly of synthetic butter. To round things out (“round things out”), I’d get a beer. Ali preferred the prepared salads, though she also liked the croutons. Speaking of which, I’m tempted to research the ingredients of those things — the color suggests pumpernickel rye, but there’s no way in hell those bad boys are made of anything but the most refined flour.

So anyway, my first activity upon arrival (after claiming my bag, natch) was to hit up the Garden Bar. Predictably, this GB wasn’t as glorious as the one in my memory (no feta, no grape tomatoes, shriveled edamame, yuck!), and the pint-sized*** G&T I ordered was also helllla watery. (Seriously: it rehydrated me better than the glass of tap water that I chugged.) I won’t disclose what Ali ate — to do so would cast aspersions on her veganism — but sis agreed that this experience didn’t live up to those of halcyon, Holyoke days.

We didn’t expect it to. And if it had, our pleasure in the meal would have been lessened — after all, the best part of nostalgia is wincing at the recognition that the now doesn’t stack up to the then: a recognition that allows entry into a meandering, rose-tinted conversation: just the sort of conversation to be had in a vacant suburban mall at 11PM on a Saturday.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Joseph (Josef?), our server extraordinaire. Wearing a black crewneck tee**** (and, OH GOD, puca shells), his greasy black hair pulled into a low ponytail, Joseph(f) clearly considered himself a stud. And maybe he is — in suburban Minnesota. None of us was impressed, least of all my mom. As he took our orders, he winked at each of us in turn. Every five minutes, he swung by our table, croonily asking if he could be of service. (“Bring more cheddar baked biscuits!” my sis requested, and then Sir Incompetent brought two instead of three.) The final straw was Joseph(f)’s parting question. “Can I assist you ladies at all with the payment process?” he asked, leaning over our table.

“Just bring the damn check,” my mother said.

***

*And I know my mom is hating on me right now for mentioning her age twice: SORRY MOM. For the record, I am 27 — fair’s fair, ja?

**For the record, I smoked my first cigarette in the parking lot of a Golden Valley(?) Starbucks. I needed help using the lighter. ALSO, there are no cabs in suburban Minnesota, but I was hyperbolizing: forgive me.

***In this context, “pint-sized” isn’t a euphemism: the drink was actually served in a 16-ounce glass.

****Maybe I’ve lived in the city too long, but I’m starting to prefer v-neck tees on dudes. (Acknowledgment: yes, I’ve lived here too long.) In my defense, I don’t mind seeing a little bit of skin. Ladies have been baring their chests for ages; what’s so bad about dude skin? More specifically, how can anyone hate on tatted up dude skin graced with an industrially themed necklace? I mean…

Guess what time it is?

 

Oh, butter cookies of my youth, you are so crisp and so delicious.

Royal Dansk time — what did you think I was going to say?

Yesterday at lunch, I made my typical Walgreens run for Nothing in Particular. (The “Nothing” in question was Yes to Carrots conditioner, highly recommended by my stylist. With a near-empty bottle of conditioner at home and an unquenchable curiosity about Betsey’s claim, I went for the gold.) I asked my coworkers if they’d like me to pick up anything, to which NDW responded, “Oh, maybe a snack that isn’t too unhealthy.”

I don’t know how familiar you are with Walgreens’ snack aisle, but minimally caloric, low-fat and fiber-filled options are few and far between. I considered the off-brand Jingles cookies, stadium boxes of Lemonheads and Gummi Bears, and Ritz (NO) before indulging a craving I’d had all week. Days earlier, I’d spotted the Royal Dansk display, festively flanked by faux-pine sprays and boxes of tinsely ornaments, and I knew that I’d have to purchase a tin before season’s end.

Like so many of the foods for which I harbor fond memories, Royal Dansk cookies weren’t among my favorite cookies when I was a kid. I thought of them more as my dad’s treat; never such a sweet tooth as myself, my dad would enjoy a Dansk or two after dinner, scanning the fluted paper cups before making his decision. Back then, I was more into chocolate, I think, and those heavily frosted animal crackers dotted with sprinkles. (Note: I still kind of like those animal crackers, nasty though they are. In fact, I added some to the fro yo I got last weekend, and they were almost too sweet for my tastes. Almost.) Despite my tepid feelings toward the cookies, Royal Dansk figures large in my tableau of Childhood Christmas Memories. As Xmas neared, the cookie selection dwindled until only the round, un-sugar-sprinkled specimens were left. When the tin was finally empty, my mom would wash it and use it to store cookie cutters or crayons or other such small (and easily scattered) things. Associationally, then, RD commemorates not only Christmas in the Garklavs House, but a whole semi-forgotten assortment of childhood rituals, practices, and traditions.

Ah, Royal Dansk: your appearance on the shelves of drug and grocery stores signals the true beginning of the holiday season, more so even than pop-up tree lots, chill air, and nonstop carols on the radio. Happy pre-Thanksgiving, everyone, and enjoy a butter cookie (or two) if you can.

 

 

I totally get this.

Yesterday, the New York Times published this article about food souvenirs and the small pilgrimages we make to purchase items not available in our immediate geographic areas. The people Sarah Maslin interviewed reached the same conclusion — namely, that just buying a long-distance food online does not even approximate the experience of buying that food in its natural habitat, and that foods gifted to us by family and friends hold more significance than those delivered by strangers.

Reading this, I recalled a mini-pilgrimage I made last winter in search of one of my childhood favorites: the chocolate long john from Hans’ Bakery in Anoka, MN.

The legendary Hans' Bakery in Anoka, MN.

Trips to Hans’ were special events, to be anticipated for several days prior and recalled for hours afterward. My parents, never big believers in the Church of Donut Christ, limited my sister’s and my consumption of the fatty sweet treats, but this curtailment only intensified my love of donuts. (I’m not sure what effect the rationing had on my sister. I think she still eats donuts, but…yeah. Not with such zeal.) My favorite donut was, and is, the chocolate long john. Bigger than your average specimen, filled with a gooey, silky, almost-egg-yolk-yellow custard filling, and slathered with house made chocolate frosting, Hans’ long john is a true delight.

My long john, along with some pale coffee and Hook's sugar twist.

When I went home for Christmas, I knew that a trip to Hans’ was in order. I knew too that I’d have to convince Hook to come with me, as mild as his feelings toward donuts are. We set out — on foot, in 20-degree weather — at about 10:30 am and reached our destination by one in the afternoon. Hans’ dining room looked just as I remembered, the same Formica tables and orange plastic chairs and tantalizing cake display case, all cast in the winter afternoon light. Fortunately for us, the bakery still had a good selection of product, despite our late arrival. (Aside: what had I been thinking? We clearly should have left at eight to arrive by ten.) I spent a few minutes studying the selection, though there was only one thing I wanted.

How did that first bite measure up to my memory? Just perfectly, thanks. I realize that many, if not most, of my food associations become favorably faded by time and my own spotty memory. If not for this purpose, then what role does nostalgia have, right? But the donut I had that gray December afternoon exceeded the high expectations I’d set for the experience.

The coffee, on the other hand, did not. Since my memories of Hans’ had formed before I took to coffee drinking, I let it slide.