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On my recent road trip, I visited one of my local libraries and borrowed 5 books on tape. We listened to 3 of them. I’m a big fan of Craig Johnson, the author of a series of mysteries taking place in Wyoming, and a TV series on Netflix called Longmire. This book, A Serpent’s Tooth: A Longmire Mystery was really complex. Hard to explain, but it’s about graft and greed and oil. Worth reading, for sure. Also read Stone Kiss by Faye Kellerman, another complex mystery about Lt Decker, an LA cop who journeys to NYC to help out his family when a murder occurs. Lots of violence in this one.  Not particularly a fav book, I’d venture. Then read Leaving Time: A Novel by Jodi Picoult. I’ve read most of her books – always very riveting. In this book, you’ll learn a whole lot about elephants since the protagonist in it is a young girl whose mother disappeared when she was quite young. Her parents ran an elephant sanctuary in New Hampshire. In the ensuing years, Jenna has tried to find clues as to her mother’s whereabouts because she just cannot believe her mother would have up and abandoned her. There are a whole cast of characters (her mother, her father, employees at the sanctuary, a cop or two, and a psychic). All play fairly prominent roles. Fascinating book – I really liked it, almost as much for the education about the behavior of elephants as about the mystery. A great read.

Also on the trip, I read a book (on Kindle) for one of my book clubs, The Swans of Fifth Avenue: A Novel by Melanie Benjamin. It’s about the relationship between Truman Capote and his “swans,” a group of aging high society ladies, and specifically Beth Paley. I don’t know whether to recommend this book or not. Truman Capote was not a nice man, although the whole novel (vs. non-fiction, which this is not) is conjured from speculation about the years Truman was kind of adopted by the group of women. He cared about all of them (most were married/divorced, wealthy women) but in the end he betrays them all by writing a novella about their secrets, their marriages, their affairs (theirs or their spouses, information they’d all shared with him, thinking he could be trusted with their innermost secrets). It was scandalous, and yes, all that part is true. I finished the book, but almost felt like I’d read a “dirty book.” There is no graphic detail in this book – it’s just what Capote did to destroy these women, supposedly his dear, darling “swans.” He was the villain in the book, and in his old age . . . well, I won’t spoil the story if you’re interested in reading it.

I’ve written up an entire blog post about this book. (It hasn’t been posted yet, but will soon.) It may be one of the best books I’ve read in a long, long time. It’s a memoir by Pat Conroy (an author I’ve long admired). He died a year or so ago – sad, that. In order to get the most out of My Reading Life, I recommend you BUY THE HARDBACK. I can’t say enough good things about this book. It’s an autobiography of sorts, but not really. He never wrote one, I don’t think, and I doubt he would ever have written one as he likely didn’t believe anyone would want to read about his (sad) life. In this memoir, he chronicles the books (and the people who recommended them) that influenced his life. Starting at his mother’s knees and continuing through influential teachers and mentors and friends. One of my book clubs read it, and I devoured it, cover to cover, with little plastic flags inserted all the way through to re-read some of the prose. Pat Conroy was a fabulous writer – he studied words from a young age and used them widely and wisely throughout his writing, but better than most authors would. He adored his mother, and hated (with venom) his aviator military father who physically abused everyone in the family, including his mother. They all took it like stoic Buddhas. I’m going to have to read Thomas Wolfe’s Look Homeward, Angel because of reading this book. I’ve never read it. Conroy says that book’s first page is the best first page of any book he ever read in his life. Wow. And maybe my book group is going to re-read Tolstoy’s War and Peace (Vintage Classics) too because of the chapter on that book. We might have to assign that to a 2-month or longer read. If you have friends or family who are avid readers, this would make a great gift, this book, My Reading Life. If YOU are a reader, it needs to be on your bookshelf, but in hardback, so you can go back to it and re-read his stories. It’s a series of essays, each one about a sub-section of his life. A must-have and a must-read.

Also read The Towers of Tuscany by Carol Cram. It was a bargain book through amazon or bookbub (e-book). Back in the Middle Ages women were forbidden to be artists. Their only place was in the home, caring for children and sewing and cooking. But the heroine in this book was taught to paint by her widowed artist-father (in secret, of course). When her father suddenly dies, all hell breaks loose and she must fend for herself. Much of the book takes place in Siena (and also San Gimignano) as she disguises herself as a boy in order to continue her life’s passion – painting. Very interesting story and worth reading.

 

Tasting Spoons

My blog's namesake - small, old and some very dented engraved silver plated tea spoons that belonged to my mother-in-law, and I use them to taste my food as I'm cooking.

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Posted in Breads, on February 26th, 2013.

prize_winning_banana_bread_loaf

Oh gosh, you’re going to love this bread. Or cake. Or cake made in a bread pan, masquerading as a loaf bread. Whatever it is, it’s marvelous. Easy. And better than any banana bread I’ve ever made, and I thought I had a really great one!

My radar wasn’t fixed – I mean tuned in – to making banana bread. Hadn’t even thought about it. Until I got an email from a new friend, Jerianne. A friend I’ve made as a result of my blog. This new friend lives about 25 miles from me, but we met for lunch several weeks ago. She’d found my blog somehow – I don’t recall if she told me how she happened to find it, and she started reading and she emailed me about getting together. We really enjoyed talking.  We have many common interests besides food. We are of a somewhat similar age. She loves to cook. We talked all about my blog, how and why, and we talked food for it seemed like hours. We’ve agreed to get together again sometime soon. She’s a Christian too, and she said a lovely prayer over our lunch.

Here’s a photo of Jerianne and me (J’s on the right) the day she took me to lunch (thank you again, Jerianne!). jerianneA week or so went by and Jerianne sent me an email with this recipe attached, telling me that I really, really needed to try this banana bread. She thought it was one of the best she’d ever made. Well, and it was called a prize-winning one, so why wouldn’t it be special? When I saw bananas, some very ripe ones, at the market, they called out to me and I made this bread. Oh my. Yes, yes, yes!

The recipe is in several places on the internet, and attributed to a county fair winner in 1981. It contains the standard stuff for a banana bread, with an addition of sour cream. I had light sour cream in my refrigerator, and it worked just fine. The bread prize_winning_banana_bread_slicesalso contains a lot of bananas – to get 1 1/2 cups I needed 4 medium sized ones. If you have really large bananas, probably 3 would be enough to measure 1 1/2 cups. My advice: measure!

It was all mixed up in my stand mixer and poured into a GREASED loaf pan. I had a bit too much for my loaf pan (fill the pan about 3/4 full), so I had to pour some of the batter into a smaller one (which I gave as a gift to our friend Joe who stayed with us the other night – Yvette, did you like it?). Likely you could scale down this recipe by about 1/5 and have just the right amount. It’s pretty hard to do that with standard measurements, but it could be done.

Then, you sprinkle raw sugar (turbinado) on the top of the raw batter – it adds a lovely crispy top. Don’t not do that step as you’ll be forever changed about adding that to any loaf breads. Loved it. The baking times varied a bit – some said 45 minutes, some an hour. I know loaf breads needed to bake until they reach about 205°, and it took about 55 minutes to do that. The bread MUST stay in the pan for a little while. Why? It’s a very, VERY tender bread/cake, and it could easily stick. If you want to be sure about this, put buttered parchment paper on the bottom of the bread pan. The large pan came out perfectly, but the little one was a little harder – it left a little bit stuck to the bottom.

After about 20 minutes I gently shook both pans to make sure the breads were loose and very carefully rolled the pan over onto my other hand and forearm, then quickly but gently placed it on a cooling rack. Be extra careful doing that – I very nearly broke the loaf in half. When I tell you it’s tender, it’s really, really tender, okay? Allow it to cool completely before slicing. Jerianne, thank you SO much for sharing this recipe with me! It’s a real winner.

What’s good: every single, solitary thing about this is wonderful. A definite do again bread.
What’s not: nothing whatsoever. What a lovely gift it would make, too.

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Prize Winning Banana Bread

Recipe By: Adapted slightly from a 1981 county fair winner, found at grouprecipes.com
Serving Size: 18

1/2 cup butter — softened
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 1/2 cups bananas — mashed ripe (I used 4 ripened bananas)
1/2 cup sour cream — (I used light sour cream)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup walnuts — chopped
turbinado (raw) sugar for top of batter

Note: To be safe, line the bottom of the loaf pans with buttered parchment paper – for sure you’ll have no difficulty getting the bread out. Remove paper once you have removed the breads from the pans.
1. With a mixer combine butter, oil, sugars and eggs until smooth.
2. Add mashed bananas, sour cream and vanilla, stirring together well.
3. Mix in flour, baking soda and salt, stirring until it is blended. Do not over mix. Add walnuts if you’re using them and stir until combined.
4. Pour into a well-greased standard large loaf pan to about 3/4 full. It may require a second smaller pan, or use 2-3 smaller pans.
5. Sprinkle turbinado/raw sugar generously over top of batter, using your hand to gently pat some of it into the batter.
6. Bake at 325° F – large loaf pan will require about 1 hour, smaller loaves about 45 minutes or until the center of the loaf reaches 205° on an instant read thermometer.
7. Allow bread to cool in pans for about 20 minutes, then run a sharp knife around the edges, tap the pan on the counter several times or gently shake it to loosen it, (you’re trying to loosen the bread from the bottom of the pan), then invert pan over a wire rack and let the bread fall onto the rack to finish cooling completely.
8. Variations and Suggestions: Add any of the following – miniature chocolate chips, toffee bits, shredded coconut, chopped pecans or macadamia nuts.
9. Try toasting the banana bread – spread hot toasted bread with butter and even add a sprinkling of cinnamon and sugar and some slices of banana, or top with a combination of honey and peanut butter, or spread hot toasted bread with some Nutella…the possibilities are endless!
10. Use slices of banana bread to make your French toast. Just dust the finished product with some powdered sugar, or a little powdered sugar glaze, or spread on some Nutella, and maple syrup is good on it, too.
Per Serving: 253 Calories; 13g Fat (45.9% calories from fat); 4g Protein; 31g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 40mg Cholesterol; 195mg Sodium.

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  1. Mary Ann

    said on November 11th, 2013:

    I live in South Florida & grow several varieties of banana trees so I have made A LOT of banana bread over the years. Recently, I was looking for a super moist recipe and came across this one. I have to tell you, this is BY FAR the BEST banana bread I have EVER tasted! I doubled the recipe & made two, large loaves. I froze one for some day when I want something indulgent and don’t have time to make it – now I’m even more happy I made that second loaf!

    I’m so glad, Mary Ann. It is a really great recipe. All the credit goes to my friend who forwarded it to me. . . carolyn t

  2. Charlotte Moore

    said on December 9th, 2013:

    I made 6 small loaves and 6 muffins from this recipe. I just took the muffins from the oven. They smell so good. I read the recipe wrong and added 1/2 cup oil. I did cut the sugar to 3/4 cups. Oops!! I also did not notice to sprinkle the sugar on top. Oh well!!

    I just ate a hot muffin. WOW!!! It was so light and airy. I am not even real fond of banana bread but wanted to use up some bananas. VERY GOOD!!!

    Well, it sounds like even with the little mistakes, they turned out well. I’m glad. It’s a good recipe; i agree! . . . carolyn t

  3. Jordasche Kingston

    said on December 25th, 2013:

    My problem with banana bread is it is always too dry. Not this version! Just pulled out of the oven 20 minutes ago, and had a slice with butter. Wow!!! So delicious! And not dry! Thank you so much for sharing.

    You’re so welcome. It’s a great recipe; I agree . . . carolyn t

  4. Cindy

    said on January 28th, 2014:

    Excellent banana bread, very moist and great flavor! Will make my regular recipe from now on!

    Great! So glad you liked it as much as we did! . . .carolyn t

  5. Keekle

    said on July 7th, 2014:

    Added chocolate chips and get so many compliments! Even the 20 somethings said it was better than their aunt’s! Thank you and your friend for sharing!

    So glad you liked it. It’s my go-to from here on out! . . .carolyn t

  6. Shari

    said on December 22nd, 2014:

    Been looking for that moist delious muffin recipie for my banana bear pan…over sized muffins.
    Banana bread … for years iv’e used the same recipe and altered to my liking, but felt I needed a freash start…I currently have mini muffins with nuts and chips per my daughters request. A small loaf and a full loaf all out of one mix…I thought I lost track of flour, so I added another 1/2 cup…it must have been right. Batter looked softer than I was expecting. since i just made a litte more batter. We had to mix it up a little…my muffins look amazing! I see a taster is needed…Sammie ~ the true test, kids never lie well…hum shes back for more! Doent love the nuts, but dad will! Wow super buttery moist and a little golden crispness. Loafs look very moist too. I love that you included the temp to read makes it easy not to second guess if its done yet!
    Great recipe…. Thanks for sharing
    Shari

    You’re very welcome. Glad it made a big impression on your family. I made this a couple of months ago and was wowed myself – it’s so moist and delicious. . . carolyn t

  7. Elsa

    said on July 27th, 2015:

    I am making this recipe again tonight, this is by far the best banana nut bread recipe. I have tried several banana nut bread recipes, and this one for sure is the BEST, I love it, I shared some with my friends and they totally loved it as well. Thank you SO MUCH for sharing this delicious recipe, I will search no further for any more banana nut bread recipes, this is a keeper……

    So glad you liked it as much as I did. I can’t take credit for it – a friend sent it to me, and she found it online, I believe. My mouth is watering as I type – guess it’s time to make this again! . . . carolyn t

  8. Linda

    said on February 7th, 2016:

    I have tried many recipes for banana nut bread, never 100 percent pleased. I tried this recipe, and I love it. Gave our neighbor Robert four large slices to share. He ate every bite in one sitting!! It is delicious and so moist. Thank you for this recipe. It is a keeper!!

    I’m so glad you liked it. It IS a keeper of a recipe! . . . carolyn t

  9. Stacy

    said on September 6th, 2016:

    I’m not sure what I did wrong but the center collapsed and it was undercooked in the middle. I made one large loaf pan and baked it for one hour. The parts that were cooked were absolutely delicious.

    Oh no, Stacy. I’m so sorry! Was the center puffed up when you took it out of the oven, or already deflated? Probably the larger pan wasn’t quite cooked through – it could be the temp in your oven, I suppose. Next time use an instant read thermometer (baked things should be about 195-205F in the center). I’ve begun to rely on my instant read thermometer whenever I bake as it’s so much more reliable than the toothpick test. I hope you’ll try it again; it’s such a good banana bread! I haven’t made it in awhile – maybe I need to, although since this recipe came from a prize-winner, I’m not thinking there’s anything wrong with the recipe. The other culprit COULD be your baking powder – I’ve only had it happen once when a can was past its prime and just wouldn’t do its job. Thanks for letting me know. . . carolyn t

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