Our Boy Hugo
Meatballs for New Mothers

Jeffrey Alford's and Naomi Duguid's Banana Coconut Bread


Well. All those people weren't kidding when they said that once you have a baby, everything else goes out the window: showering, eating, sleeping, even, shh, going to the bathroom! It all takes a back seat to baby. If it wasn't for my mother, who has come over almost every day since Hugo was born, laden with groceries, bags of fresh fruit and vegetables and fragrant pots of food for us (next time, hopefully, I'll tell you about the meatballs), we'd have been on a diet of straight cereal and milk. (She also cleans up without asking, folds laundry, does laundry, puts the baby to sleep, wipes tears, makes tea and sends me to bed when need be. It's no use competing, folks, throw in your towels now: My mother is the best mother of all time.)

Now that Hugo's five weeks old, finding time in the kitchen is still tough. I can boil water for tea, I can maybe sauté a few zucchini or quickly spoon some yogurt in a bowl and mix in a bit of jam if he's in a good mood, but cook the way I used to? It seems it'll be some time before I'm able to again.

But just this past weekend, Hugo obliged me by letting me bake a whole batch of brownies while he was bounced around the apartment by his father and even though, in my haste, I wiped cocoa all over my breast milk-stained nightgown (rowrr!) and took the brownies out five minutes too soon, it felt so good to be in there again, wiping counters, measuring sugar, doing the dishes. So, all in good time, I guess.

I made those brownies to bring with us to a friend's house on Sunday. However, the next thing I bake will be a loaf of this banana coconut bread and I don't plan on sharing it with anybody, except maybe my mother. I mean, see above and all. But actually, maybe what I should do is bake two loaves, one to eat and one to freeze. That's probably the best idea. You see, this banana bread is out of this world and I kind of never want to be without it again. Really, I don't and I don't usually think banana bread deserves those kinds of superlatives. But then I went and made this loaf of banana bread with dried coconut and a drop of rum and a crunchy cap of demerara sugar on top and not only did it taste delicious, but it kept for almost two weeks (in the fridge) and hardly tasted worse for the wear.

All of this happened a week or so before the birth, so I had a nice run of days there where I'd cut myself off a thick slice for breakfast or a little sliver in the afternoon to tide me over, crunching happily through the crisp top and gobbling up the moist crumb. As the days wore on, I wrapped up the end of it in plastic wrap, stuck it in the fridge and, uh, went into labor. At least that's how I remember it now. What I'm trying to get at is that a week later, after the baby was born and I'd recovered in the hospital enough and we were finally sent home, I found that little end of banana bread in the fridge, now over two weeks old.

We'd eaten vegetable soup for lunch that my mother had made that morning while Max and I were packing up our things in our hospital room and I was weeping at the thought of leaving said hospital room. Plus there had been a wedge of cheddar cheese and some old-ish bread that had survived the week without us (German bread is hardy stuff, people). But we were hungry for dessert or something sweet, in any case, to end the meal, which is how I happened upon the banana bread that afternoon. I unwrapped it, checking it skeptically for signs of mold (none), then sliced it, feeling it for signs of desiccation (none). We each got a piece and I gingerly took a bite, anticipating staleness, then realized it had, if anything, gotten even better with time. Ripened or something? It was delicious still, moist still, improbably so.

So it's sort of inevitable now that when I think about that banana bread, I think about that strange first day at home, the strange final days of pregnancy, becoming a mother and my own mother, too. I hope this banana bread stays my favorite for a long time to come.

Banana-Coconut Bread
Original recipe from HomeBaking: The Artful Mix of Flour and Tradition around the World
Makes 1 loaf
Note: Your eyes aren't fooling you: there are no eggs in this recipe. No fear, it's moist and wonderful all the same.

3 large, very ripe bananas
2 cups all-purpose flour
¾ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
Pinch of salt
1 stick (4 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
1/8 teaspoon white vinegar
1 ½ tablespoons dark rum
½ cup dried shredded unsweetened coconut
1 tablespoon demerara sugar

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Butter a standard-size loaf pan.

2. Purée the bananas and set aside.

3. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, nutmeg, and salt. Set aside.

4. In a large bowl, beat together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the vinegar and rum, and beat to mix well. Add the banana purée and the flour mixture alternately, about 1 cup at a time, beginning with the banana and beating to just incorporate. Use a spatula to fold in any flour that has not been absorbed, and stir in the coconut. Do not overmix.

5. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan. Smooth the top, and sprinkle evenly with the demerara sugar. Bake for 50-60 minutes, or until the top is nicely browned and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cool on a wire rack for about 20 minutes; then turn the loaf out of the pan and allow it to cool completely. The loaf will keep, wrapped well, for at least three or four days.