2 weeks ago

Girl Offline: Sarah Maria Griffin Finds New Comfort in Baking Banana Bread

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The fat, yellow claw of them sits on the kitchen table, freckling more and more as the days pass. Each blotch on their leathery skin a reminder that I am failing to eat a healthy breakfast every day, instead, throwing instant coffee into me and leaving. I could, at any given moment, eat one of the bananas. Slice one up between two slices of brown bread with peanut butter and a drizzle of that posh lavender honey I paid too much for, lash them in the George Foreman, turn them into a tiny miracle. I don’t, though. The bread goes stale, then grows mould. I eat the posh honey with a spoon, sometimes – same with the peanut butter. Instead of allowing the bananas to rot, both becoming a visual indicator of my own useless existence and attracting flies, by Thursday I decide to turn them into something better than the compost heap they’re about to collapse into. This is not the first time I have bought bananas and failed to eat them for breakfast, this is not the first time I turn them into a cake. Or a bread. Something between both things.

I spend a fair amount of my time online watching other people bake, and cook, through the endless cooking channels of Youtube. I have my favourite chefs, the ones whose voices I find pleasing, whose eye-contact through the screen doesn’t feel invasive or intense, who demystify the more scientific or complicated elements of dish composition in a way that feels like entertainment, not homework. I’ve always found comfort in watching other people cook, or talk about food (Nigella, Jamie, Anthony) but now, dangerously, I have an accessible-at-any-moment rabbit hole to fall down where I can watch any food related experience I please, at any time. From a young woman eating the entire menu at McDonald’s in one sitting to a breakdown of the wafer dehydration process required to exactly replicate the inside of a Kit Kat, to the snack selection at a 7-11 in Japan, it’s all there. An infinite cookbook, a limitless magazine. I waste a lot of time staring in disbelief at the sheer physical composition of Brad Leone as he ferments various vegetables, certainly – but I also occasionally learn things there, too. Taking the scraps of food knowledge I learn during wasted spirals online and making them into practical parts of my life makes the lost hours feel at least a little worthwhile. When it comes to the banana bread, it’s the batter formation that I find myself strangely transfixed by, this time. The mixing, the most tactile thing, is what I have a new relationship with, all from watching American chefs stand over KitchenAid stand mixers and explain gluten formation.

There is something in the dividing of it, in having three loaves to share, that feels better than keeping it all to myself.

Give or take some measurements, sugar, butter, vanilla essence, cinnamon, creamed together into a pale, smooth paste. Eggs, milk, self-raising flour. Deep-ripe bananas, soft and heady in their sweetness. It all comes together, then, under the wooden spoon (stained by age, first purchased in a cheap bundle from Ikea when we moved into this house: I am deeply sentimental about old, useful things like it). I don’t have a KitchenAid, mostly because I am afraid it would become a more expensive, specific monument to failure than decaying bananas ever would be. A powerful, iconic cooking machine, most certainly meant for people who have their lives more together than me. People who bake regularly, who are home enough to do it. I would be so scared it would cost me a fortune then gather dust, so I mix things with my hands. There is no timer on hand-mixing, just a close eye-contact with the texture of the batter. I fold in some walnuts, chopped tiny, too, as I stir it and watch for it to become firm – but not too firm. For the change from liquid to something with more structure – so that in the dark heat of the oven when it turns into something edible, the strands of gluten will give it a kind of architecture. A bounce. I learned this from the internet, but here with the mixing bowl and the wooden spoon it feels like something organic, something I’ve always known – not trivia gleaned from American strangers.

The recipe is too much for just one of my baking tins, so I use three. I then, around forty minutes later, have three banana breads. They rose correctly and smell heady and sweet. One, I send to work with my husband, CB. One, I give to my mother. The last I eat all to myself, with salted butter, the first slices taken hot, standing in the kitchen, when the thing was barely out of the oven long enough to be safe to touch.

The little sheet with the recipe is stained with grease, gritted with sugar, but sits in my press waiting for the next time. I’m not going to get a bigger tin, either. There is something in the dividing of it, in having three loaves to share, that feels better than keeping it all to myself. Sending what was once a reminder that I’m not really a very good adult off into the world as gifts feels like something. I don’t take a picture of the three neat loves, though I am tempted. The tins are pink, and would make a really pleasing Instagram story, or a flat lay shot from above. Instead, I just send the food on its way, in the knowledge that it’s going to nourish someone. In the knowledge that the fruit on the counter wasn’t a failure – that instead, it quietly became sweet.

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