So my ten-year-old plays ball for the Berkeley Bears. Last weekend, his team went up against the San Francisco Falcons. It would have been just another baseball game on a gorgeous spring day except he played against his great mate from the mamas group we started right after the kids were born.
Back then, ten of us got together on a regular basis when all we did was feed, burp, and change our little bundles. Feels like ancient history now. One of those babies is now taller than his mom. A lot has happened since then. The kids are all thriving and developing into unique beings. The adults have dealt with death, divorce, disappointment, unemployment, transition, relocation, and reinvention — along with the joy of raising these resilient kids, and, in some cases, subsequent children.
What struck me, while I hung out at the ballpark on Sunday, was just how much I wanted Niko, my son’s friend, to have a good game. Niko’s parents confided they felt the same way about my boy. When Niko struck out a Bear, I gave him a high five. When Gabe got a Falcon out on second, Yuriko and Bill cheered. We all had a bit of a laugh about it at the end of the game — even though the Bears got well and truly bitten by the Falcons.
It turned out to be a weekend full of activities with friends from that mamas (and papas) group. I had dinner with Katherine on Friday night and played Scrabble at Julie & Isidro’s home Saturday evening. As a sideline, Julie knits sweet stocking caps for kids. She’d just made a blue-green-black striped beauty for my son. Her family nicknamed it The Gabe, because the cap seemed, so, well, Gabe-ish. It’s tough to get a ten-year-old to model his new cap, even one he loves. But here’s how adorable these hats look on babies:
Photo: Elisabeth Jenson
Sunday after the ballgame, Lisa and I hiked the hills behind her home, and when I returned to Berkeley I found an email from Emily, an artist, with some feedback on an art-related story I wrote. Every morning I get to wake up and look at one of Em’s amazing pin-art paintings, inspired by our hikes in the woods together. You’ll see a little piece of this calming, color-saturated creation in this recent happy snap of a bunch of us:
So I was feeling nostalgic about this gaggle of galpals come Monday morning. That day, since we had Spring Break, the Bear and the Falcon were getting together for some non-competitive fun. We decided that the California Academy of Sciences followed by dinner at the Falcon’s place in the city was the way to go. (The newly refurbished natural history museum is fabo but uber-expensive. We were grateful to go with folks who have a membership. The food’s also good but super exxy.)
We took over leftover Indian takeaway and in keeping with my break-the-rules baking style (I find it hard to follow a recipe exactly, something that can lead to disastrous results on the cake ‘n’ bake front) Gabe & I whipped up a batch of banana bread complete with three of his favorite ingredients: chocolate chips, crystallized ginger, and shredded coconut.
I rarely get the urge to bake. It’s just not my thing. But in my sentimental state I wanted to show up with something warm, cozy, and made with love. So I borrowed these scrumptious recipes from Molly Wizenberg, the author of the lovely memoir-cookbook A Homemade Life who blogs over at Orangette. I rolled two recipes into one, and tweaked them a tad (basically just omitting ingredients I didn’t have on hand). The bread turned out pretty well. Nice and moist. And who can argue with the combined delights of chocolate, ginger, coconut, and banana? Plus I discovered just how yummy demerara — a treacly brown sugar served with coffee at fancy pants restaurants — can be cooked on top of banana bread batter.
That night the banana bread got two thumbs up from the ballplayers who devoured a couple of slices and then returned to playing games — on the Wii.
Banana Bread with Chocolate, Crystallized Ginger, and Coconut
(adapted from recipes by Molly Wizenberg)
Quick tip: Overripe bananas can be frozen until you have time to bake. Thaw them for a few hours before you need them. When they’ve defrosted simply peel and let the flesh slip out.
3 large, overripe bananas
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup shredded unsweetened coconut
1/3 cup finely chopped crystallized ginger
2 large eggs
1/4 cup plain yogurt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 stick (4 ounces) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
1 Tablespoon demerara (can substitute dark brown sugar)
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and set a rack in the center of the oven.
2. Grease a standard-size loaf pan.
3. Puree the bananas in a blender or food processor. You need 1& 1/2 cups of puree. If you wind up with extra try stirring it into plain yogurt and serving as dessert. It’s delish.)
4. Whisk together the flour, baking soda, nutmeg, and salt in a bowl.
5. Add the chocolate chips, ginger, and coconut to the dry ingredients. Stir some more until combined.
6. Beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, using electric beaters.
7. Whisk the eggs with a fork. Then stir the eggs, banana puree, vanilla, and yogurt into the butter and sugar mixture.
8. Pour the wet banana mixture into the dry ingredients and gently combine using a rubber spatula. Scrape the sides of the bowl with the spatula and fold in any unincorporated flour. Try not to overmix.
9. Scrape the thick batter into the loaf tin. Smooth the top and then sprinkle it with demerara sugar.
10. Bake for 50-60 minutes, until the top is brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
11. Cool on a wire rack. Turn the cooled loaf out of of the pan.
12. Keeps for a few days in a sealed, airtight container. May not last that long.