Sunday, November 21, 2010

My Nose

Two pregnancy phenomena have stayed with me, even though I gave birth almost 19 years ago: curly hair and a heightened sense of smell. I keep waiting for them both to subside, but so far no luck.

While I was pregnant with Max, I could smell the garlic salami at the Grand Street Market in Little Italy from the entrance to my office on Broadway and Prince in New York. If the wind shifted in just the right direction, I could also smell the remnants at the Fulton Fish Market as I headed down Broadway toward Canal. Because of this, I had an extremely rough first trimester, during which all I could keep down were unfrosted blueberry Pop-Tarts and Ben & Jerry’s Maine Blueberry Ice Cream.

Sense of smell can also trigger a torrent of memories. Walking by the Christmas wreaths at Trader Joe’s the other day, the scent of evergreen was so overpowering, it brought me back to when I was nine years old and picking out a Christmas tree. As soon as I passed the wreaths, a short man near the apples assaulted me with his cologne, reminding me of my former morning commute on the number 2 train. It seems like everything I take into my nostrils transports me back home, to New York.

Rain smells the same to me regardless of where I am. When it starts to rain in November in Los Angeles, I am reassured that Mother Nature hasn’t abandoned me. I know she’s gearing up to transform the brown mountains surrounding me into a vibrant green for a few weeks in February. I can’t tell you how grateful I am for this.

The aroma of banana bread baking is one of the few things that will draw the men in my house away from whatever they’re intensely involved with to wander into the kitchen and find out, “When’s the banana bread gonna be done?” I always know that whatever’s going on, banana bread will always bind me to my husband and son.

Though I miss the wondrous olfactory gift basket that is New York, when the wind is just right, it brings me the salt of the Pacific Ocean from 30 or so miles away. I like to think that’s Mother Nature’s way of letting me know she’s always close by, no matter where I live.

Banana Bread
Makes one loaf

This makes a great breakfast after a night of overindulgence, whether your poison is Danny McBride films, Hawaiian pizza or Southern Comfort. It’s easy to put together, and you don’t have to run the potentially head-splitting electric mixer. Pecan meal adds a lightness to baked goods that is beyond compare. If you can’t find pecan meal, don’t fret. You can either grind pecans finely in a food processor or substitute almond meal, which is just as delicious. If you do use almond meal, you may want to sub toasted almonds for pecans.

Canola oil spray
1½ cups all-purpose flour
½ cup pecan meal (or finely ground pecans)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground ginger
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
3 very ripe, medium bananas, mashed to resemble pudding
⅔ cup brown sugar, packed
⅓ cup canola oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ cup toasted pecans, coarsely chopped
1 teaspoon granulated sugar for sanding

1.  Preheat oven to 350° F. Spray 9x5 loaf pan with canola oil. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, pecan meal, baking powder, baking soda, sea salt, cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg.
2. In a large bowl, whisk together the bananas, brown sugar, canola oil and vanilla. Gently stir the dry ingredients into the wet until combined. Stir in pecans.
3. Spoon batter into loaf pan. Sprinkle the teaspoon of sugar on top of batter. Bake 40-45 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in loaf pan on wire rack for 15 minutes before turning it out to cool further. Slice and serve while warm or cooled to room temperature. Transfer remaining loaf to an airtight container, where it will remain tasty for up to 3 days.

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