Now that our lease is signed and there’s a date on the move, I’ve begun gearing up for exactly how all of this works. I’ve already hired movers for the actual date, but everything that comes before that – from the packing to the utility setups to the renting a cargo van and picking up our new living room furniture from IKEA sometime between getting the keys and actually moving in – has yet to be completed. I’ve also started to feel anxious about odd things.
See, I don’t like the house we live in now, but I love the neighborhood. I love that we’re just across the street from a small neighborhood market (albeit a mostly prohibitively expensive one). I love that we’re so close to one express bus line and pretty close to a few others. I love that I can see two mountain ranges from my neighborhood, and even, on a clear day, Mount Rainier from my front yard (although I don’t think the property manager knows this because if they did, they’d probably jack up the price a few hundred bucks and advertise it as a mountain view). I love that I can walk to Walgreens, Molly Moon’s, Uneeda Burger, Milstead, Caffe Vita, Roxy’s, and most importantly, Shima, in 15 minutes or less. Once we move to the new place in Ballard, we won’t have these things. Not these same things, anyway. There is no neighborhood market across the street. Our express bus line will be four blocks away instead of one and a half. We’re walking distance to the Locks and Golden Gardens, but gone is our hilltop mountain view. We’ll be within short walking distance to QFC, Hattie’s Hat, Other Coast, and Cupcake Royale (even though Graham likes Ballard Coffee Co. better which I can’t understand because the floor is always sticky and it sometimes smells sour in there), but I’ll have to take a bus to Shima. Oh, Shima. I will miss you most of all.
Maybe the only thing I’ll miss about the house itself is that I know how this place works (or, more accurately most of the time, refuses to work). I know the trick to use on the heater. I know how to fix the hot water pressure in the kitchen. I know the hot spots in the oven, and if nothing else in this goddamn place works/fits/sits right, that oven is one charmed thing.
The oven at our house in St. Louis ran a little cold, so I always had to adjust recipes in terms of set temperature and cooking time. The oven in my old apartment in St. Louis was a hulking nightmare built in the ‘50s that only worked on one side, which was about the size of two dictionaries stacked on top of one another. I don’t remember much about the oven in my old old apartment, probably because I worked three jobs and drank a lot when I lived there.
But the oven in this house is perfect. It does what I ask it to, what it says it’s doing. Cooking is something I do more with my senses – I smell whatever’s cooking instead of using a timer, and I poke and prod things instead of using a thermometer – but baking is something I can’t guess at. When you spend the better part of ten years making allowances for all kinds of defective equipment, whether that involve reinventing recipes or constructing elaborate heat-protective tents out of aluminum foil, a thing that takes more of the guesswork out of something you shouldn’t be guessing anyway is quite beautiful.
I don’t bake often, but when I do, I tend to stick to some tried-and-true items. Moondance Farm Bread. Hand pies. Apfelkuchen. Sweet potato biscuits. Carrot cake-oatmeal raisin cookies. And banana bread muffins with dark chocolate chips.
Oh man. The banana bread muffins with dark chocolate chips.
It took me awhile to figure out how these things worked. I never liked bananas when I was younger and Graham doesn’t like them now.* But on a whim one day, I tried the Banana Bread with Dark Chocolate and Crystallized Ginger from Molly Wizenberg’s “A Homemade Life” (ahem, Molly Wizenberg is the lady behind Orangette as well as a fellow adoptive Seattleite and an owner of Delancey, the restaurant behind her eponymous new book that I just devoured and it is in our new neighborhood!). It’s a decent recipe, but I learned that the crystallized ginger doesn’t keep a great texture, and on top of that, it gives me heartburn. So I started messing around with it and the result was these things, a plateful (edit: half a plateful, see footnote) of which are sitting on my kitchen table now and it is taking everything in my power not to devour them all:
Banana Bread Muffins with Dark Chocolate Chips
1 ½ cups overripe bananas (about 3 large or 4 medium-sized ones), mashed with a fork
2 large eggs
1 ½ tsp vanilla extract
¼ cup heavy cream or Greek yogurt or whole milk, really whatever as long as it’s dairy and not a low-fat variety
5 ½ – 6 tbsp butter (I’ve used either depending on what’s left on the stick), cut into a few slices
1 ½ cups unbleached AP flour
½ cup soft white wheat flour (you could just make this 2 cups AP flour, I just have the wheat kind on hand and really like the texture in the finished product)
¾ cup sugar
¾ tsp baking soda
¾ tsp kosher salt
1 cup dark chocolate chips (Ghirardelli 60% Cacao is available in most regular grocery stores)
Preheat oven to 350.
In one bowl, whisk together the mashed bananas, eggs, cream/milk/yogurt and vanilla extract. In a small, microwave-safe bowl, barely melt the butter in short bursts of heat. I think mine took about 45 seconds done in 5- to 10-second intervals. Once the butter is melted, add to the banana mixture while whisking, then set this aside.
In another bowl, combine the flour, sugar, salt, and baking soda with a whisk (I own two whisks, so?). Add the chocolate chips and stir to coat them with the dry mixture.
Pour the banana mixture into the flour mixture and stir to combine. It won’t be totally smooth, but just make sure that any lumps are banana in nature and not clumps of flour.
Spray a muffin tin with canola oil-based cooking spray, and pour or ladle the batter until it comes to the top of each cup. Place the muffin tin in the oven and bake for 45-50 minutes, until a knife inserted into the center of the center muffin comes out clean (except for melted chocolate, of course). The tops will be fairly browned but this is because of the melted butter and wheat flour. It’s okay.
Remove the muffin tin from the oven and either place it on a rack or on top of a metal casserole dish (so the bottom can cool a bit). After about 10 minutes, wiggle the muffins out and place them on a rack to complete cooling.
*Graham ate three of these things last night. Pfffft. Doesn’t like bananas.