What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, stand a little taller….. ~ “Stronger”, Kelly Clarkson
Life has a way of throwing a curveball when we least expect it. Self-help gurus will tell us to ‘stay positive’, ‘shift your perspective’, the advice goes on. What really happens is we don’t read (or write) blogs, we face it head on, place one foot after another and shoulder on as best as we can. And after the initial shock is over and we have learnt to carry on, maybe we sit down and write a self-help blog (no offense to self-help bloggers out there, many of whom I’m sure have gained their kernels of wisdom from climbing their own mountains of adversity), or bake.
The writers behind “Stronger” were onto something. Ali Tamposi, one of the songwriters’ mother, uttered the phrase to her when she was well, thrown a curveball. These days in the quieter moments, I am grateful when my challenges are dealing with humidity and unexpected thunderstorms. The weather in Singapore can be fickle and unpredictable, sunny one moment, pouring the next. For someone who abhors carrying things around that may or may not get used, this is a challenge for me. The microclimates fluctuate within a mile of each other, I kid you not. Most times, when I am caught flat-footed without an umbrella in a raging storm, it is easy enough to run to a nearby mall or residential block for shelter. This strategy is fairly reliable if one does not need to be someplace at a certain time. In those cases, there is always plenty of taxis and ‘private hire cars’ that happily charge surge pricing, aka Uber and Grab (Lyft partners with Grab in Singapore). Welcome to Northeast monsoon season in Southeast Asia.
Another effect of the warmth and humidity is that fruits ripen more quickly. This happened with a large bunch of bananas that was left on the counter. I was certain they were still green the day before but now I was facing 4 very ripe bananas and not enough consumers. A banana loaf came to mind – it’s quick, it’s easy. I know nearly everyone has their own banana bread recipe. When I just started learning to bake (and blog) a few years ago, one of the first things I baked was a Banana bread. Over time, this Easy Banana Walnut Loaf recipe has become ours. I hope I have made progress on both fronts; I’m told the bread certainly tastes better now 😜. We go bananas over the banana pieces in the finished loaf and generously incorporate 4, even 5 medium-sized bananas. We are also nuts over nuts, so lots of chopped walnuts for us. By first mixing the bananas with the wet ingredients and the walnuts into the dry ingredients, they spread out evenly through the loaf instead of clumping and sinking to the bottom. The loaf went into the oven at 10pm in the evening. An hour later, we were tucking into warm slices of bread topped with a dash of margarine instead of tucking into bed.
- Only use very ripe bananas. Depending on your preference, mash them as finely as you wish, or not.
- We almost never use fewer than 3 bananas. In a pinch, substitute 1 tsp of banana essence for every banana you are short on to achieve a similar aroma.
- Brown sugar can be substituted for white sugar. This recipe uses less sugar than most and I have interchanged the sugars with no noticeable effect other than color.
- We started using 5-spice powder instead of the usual cinnamon or nutmeg common in most recipes. It adds a little bit of mystery to the bread and we have never turned back since.
- One time we realized too late that we were out of butter. We made do with tub margarine and it turned out just fine. These were not cookies that we were making after all.
- 1¾ cup flour
- 2 eggs
- ¾ cup sugar
- 4-5 very ripe medium bananas (see Tips for using banana essence)
- ½ stick butter, melted
- 1 tsp vanilla essence
- 1 tsp baking powder
- ½ tsp baking soda
- ½ tsp salt
- ½ tsp 5-spice power (see Tips for using the more traditional cinnamon or nutmeg)
- 1½ cup walnuts, roughly chopped
- Preheat oven to 375 F. Thoroughly grease a 9-inch loaf pan.
- Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, 5-spice powder and walnuts.
- Mash the bananas. Stir in the melted butter.
- Beat the eggs. Add sugar and continue to beat till dissolved. Stir in vanilla. Add mixture to the bananas.
- Fold the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients till combined and all the flour is mixed. Do not over-mix the flour as it will result in a tough bread. A lumpy batter is alright.
- Pour the batter into a greased 9" loaf pan. Bake at 350F for 45-50 min or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
- Allow to cool on a wire rack. Best eaten warm and with milk.
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A recent reading of Felix Cheong’s ‘Singapore Siu Dai: the SG Conversation in a Cup‘ brought on tears and laughter. (I hardly go anywhere without my trusty Kindle e-reader). All the while, commuters around me wore expressions of relief and surliness in equal measure, most likely because it was the end of the day and they were packed like sardines in rush-hour traffic on the MRT. I was too distracted by the hilarity of the satirical short stories that were so reflective of life in Singapore. Sometimes all it takes is a book to remind us not to take life too seriously. After all, what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger 😂.