Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Away From Home, and Back Again... and Smashed Banana Muffins

You may or may not remember that the first real trip I took without the Boy-O since his birth (now 4 years ago) was in January. This weekend I was able to go for another weekend alone, and went to see E in Boston, where she has lived for about the last 13 years. I used to visit her more frequently, but due to motherhood, have left the bulk of visitation up to her. I had yet to see her new home, and a experience a whole new view of Boston, a city that changes my perception of it each and every time I visit.

Most of this city-changing phenomenon is due to E's amazing ability to be the best hostess and tour guide imaginable. In my wildest dreams could I rival her for providing comforts and conversation... and she is one of the people that I love most in life. She exudes calmness, when I sat at her dining room table after my arrival and felt twitchy that I wasn't moving around, and somehow it can spread to everyone who knows her. I never go to visit her with any set expectations or sights to see, and yet every time I have, every imagined notion has been smashed to bits, and I get inspired to pieces. She's lived in a few different neighborhoods as well, and neighborhoods on the East Coast actually are different worlds compared to the roughly drawn areas we call neighborhoods in Milwaukee.

Larger cities have amenities that my own little old town could only dream of. Corner restaurants instead of corner bars, and hugely diverse ethnic populations bringing with them every conceivable ethnic grocery store. I'm not slighting my city mind you... I love nothing more than coming back home after all. But three days in another world is sometimes really just plain wonderful.

Some highlights:

A little cheese shop in the South End, where I didn't even need to eat (but did have a few cheese samples). I was visually gluttonous, and I was graciously cleared to take photos by the nice man stocking sparkling water, even though I totally interrupted his work day seeing the store was barely big enough to turn around in. Maybe unfortunately, this was the least of my eating.

I am not a habitual over eater. I actually hate being so full that I'm uncomfortable, no matter how delicious the dinner is at the time. The funny thing is, I totally overate every single day of this trip. E is the same way. She is a healthy eater and a great cook, but somehow the combination of joint visitation and too many good Groupons led to too much indulgence on more than one occasion. I didn't take photos of the amazing dinner we ate late Friday night at Shanti, an Indian restaurant where I tried a naan with coconut and chopped nuts. I've looked up a (similar) recipe, and I have to try making it as soon as I get a little free time. I'm still daydreaming about some onion type chutney I ate there as well. I need to eat more Indian food, this much is clear.

On a tip from some women I sat near on the plane on the way over (foodies and organizers for FarmAid, no less, which is going to be held at Miller Park this October), we ate lunch on Saturday at Meyers and Chang. E had heard of it, but never ventured there. I was so excited! First off, it was gorgeous. Asian and pink, modern and glossy, tiny postage stamp tiles around the floors that graduated in colors. It felt bright and delicious, and that was before we ordered. Second, they only were serving dim sum due to the time we got there. I've never had dim sum (a great related post by Glutster, on his birthday dim sum experience here...), but always wanted to try it. I'm a fan of small plates and sharing food, and while this was a bit more modern and not as traditional, it was delicious and very well prepared.

Pork and Lamb Bao-type buns.

Align Center

We got the pickled veg plate to start... which was so delicious. Pickled jalapenos, mysteriously missing their brutally hot center seeds and membranes (I should have thought to do that before I canned mine), kimchi, pickled celery, carrots and underneath a beautiful bed of bright pink pickled daikon radish which was my favorite. Now I want to lacto-ferment all kinds of things, and figure out where to find daikon radish around here since it in particular was so good.

...and I also got to be envious of E's new Canon. I got to take pics with it to try it out. Suddenly, I want a new camera...

If Meyer's & Chang is billed as a "funky indie diner", then the Agawam Diner is the quintessential American diner experience. Sunday morning, we went to the flea market at Todd Farm, close to this diner that E remembered years before I had wanted to visit. It was due in part to this article in Saveur I had read, and due to Barry Levsnson's film (which admittedly doesn't really revolve all too much around the eatery, but is more of a love letter to East Coast culture in the '50's).

The Agawam was everything I thought it would be:

A classic car diner, still serving original homemade food after all these years. We were hot and hungry and over ordered. We both had the Chicken Pie special, which came with coffee and soup (for $8.95), then augmented with a chocolate frappe, which we split, just in case we thought we would still be hungry, two pieces of pie. If you think I was full, it would be an understatement. I was *so* full, I actually took an hour and a half nap when we got back to E's house. Ahhh, vacation.

fish chowder, saltine crackers.


Chicken Pie. And cranberry sauce from a can! No where else would I have been so excited! (I also remembered that Marisa at FoodinJars canned up a version sans corn syrup... hmmmm - I may now know what my next canning project will be, and maybe even in the beautiful Weck jelly jars that E gave me for my birthday!) I couldn't finish, however, since while at a diner, I had to save some room for pie:

I ordered blueberry, and E had the coconut cream. Both were delicious. I don't think I've eaten a piece of blueberry pie since I worked for the GOP, and hers was delicious. Our waitress called E "honey bunny", and was everything you would want in a waitress in a real diner. She brewed a new pot of decaf for E, since the old one didn't look so hot, and you can just know that she is that friendly and genuine with everyone - it's not some kind of "diner waitress behavior" that you would expect after pining for years over such movies as (Diner), Back to the Future and Waitress.

Part of the reason I had such a great time, is that my friend E is the best. She loves food and hates being caught in situations where travel and wander to lead to eminent starvation, and worse, to the purchase of less than worthy food. She always packs a snack, this time it was smashed banana muffins and a few dates. The muffins aren't actually smashed, nor do they make you smashed, but they contain bananas that are smashed and are themselves just plain smashing.

It was so hot outside that when I really needed one (or maybe I just really wanted one...), it felt like it was just pulled out of the oven. Sometimes, muffins just taste better when someone else makes them for you, and then packs them up tenderly, just so that you feel special when you tuck in to eat it. I ate one in the sun on Saturday, and another on the plane yesterday: a blurry eyed early Monday morning, when it tasted even better and was the best reason to not even think twice about ditching the packaged "biscotti" that was the bitter reminder of the demise of the airline industry.

E emailed me a few of the recipes I ate at her place (when we weren't (over)eating out...), and she included this one for banana muffins. I know everyone has at least three muffins that they like to make when the black blotchiness overtakes their fruit on the counter, and I usually never make the same version twice. In classic rcakewalk fashion, I've already altered her recipe, but I'll include her original. I need to find out if she intentionally leaves out the egg, or if she forgot to type it in, but I added one - just because I wasn't feeling particularly vegan today.

E's (Smashed) Banana Muffins
  • 1 cup flour (I used 3/4 c. whole wheat and 1/4 c. AP flour)
  • 1/2 cup rolled oats or quick oats (I used rolled oats)
  • 1/3 cup sugar (I used raw sugar)
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 1/3 cup canola oil (I used coconut oil, melted)
  • 2 smashed bananas
  • walnuts or pecans for the top
  • (I added one egg)
Preheat oven to 350 and prepare muffin tin for 10 muffins (I got 9 muffins, with my handy scoop). Combine wet and dry ingredients in separate bowls, then mix together. Fill 10 muffin papers and sprinkle tops with nuts. Bake 25-30 minutes.

Enjoy! ~e.

Enjoy I will, and Boy-O ate 2 straight out of the oven this afternoon! This from a kid who actually gagged the last time I firmly suggested he eat at least one bite of banana...

Being away from home always makes me so happy to be back. I love having a little time to myself, but since my life has changed so much in the past 5 years, I love more the feeling of inclusion in my own family. I may stress out over the day-to-day food consumption of my son, or over the societal detriments of the quickly upon us football season, but I do love my family, I do love my home, and I love spending most of my time in my kitchen. Self imposed work? Yes, but the best and most rewarding kind for me.

Maybe when he grows up, my Boy-O will learn to cook, so that he can impress someone or that he won't starve when I can't take care of him. He starts school the day after tomorrow, my birthday - a cruel reminder that I cannot stay young, no matter how young I feel. I clearly remember going to school for the first time, and I remember all the lunches my Mom packed for me when I didn't stand in line to have my little yellow lunch card punched to eat in the lunchroom. How did it happen so quickly that I'm in her position? It really is just a vapor.

I know it would drive me crazy to think about time too much, how it flies and how there is never enough of it. How it seems somehow that the past is still happening, the best times I can remember are still just at hand and not so far behind. A series of phases that continually follow me around, from what to eat for dinner, to where to go on vacation. I am fortunate to have a few close friends like E, people that seem constant and unchanging, even though I know everyone is actually changing all the time. People you know you can count on no matter what, and through whatever life can throw at you. I'm so lucky for my family, but lucky also for great friends.


  1. hi R, thanks for writing such a beautiful post about your visit to Boston. I loved every minute of having you here. have a fabulous birthday!
    love, E.

  2. Thanks for sharing all of your adventures. Everything looks amazing. And I know now that we could travel together quite amicably!

    Welcome home! You write about E with such fondness! Anyone would be lucky to have a friend like you :)

  3. i love that you had such a wonderful time with our e. as i was reading your post (and crying because i, too, love my sister...and friends which i am glad to say you are one!) i was right there with you both. you are a very good, sincere writer. i wish i could stay closer to your world...but your post made me ever more thankful for my own. the best feeling in life is to be thankful for the amazing undeserved overabundance that we have. it makes the less-easy times much more endurable.

  4. Sounds so nice to have a getaway and visit a friend. And eat. A lot. Without young children. I can clearly remember my two trips I have had without my kids. The latest one involved a lot of mindful overeating:).
    Sounds divine!!!

  5. Thanks for the banana muffin recipe! I'm going to save this one for later...

    I used a packet of maple and brown sugar instant oatmeal, and they taste great. I realized afterward that there is no butter, so I smeared a small amount on top of a hot-out-of-the-oven muffin. Perfect!


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