How to Make Banana Bread as a College Student

I originally wrote this essay for a non-fiction writing class in Fall 2007. It still makes me laugh, especially now that I make a fairly decent loaf of banana bread. 

One day in the grocery store, you spot the perfect banana bunch in the produce aisle.  Their vibrant yellow peels and smooth curves call to you and lead you to gently place them into the cart.  As you continue to shop, you begin to plan the things you can do with them—mix them with cereal, make peanut butter and banana sandwiches, or simply eat them.  The possibilities seem limitless.  When you return to the apartment, you position the bananas on the kitchen counter, an obvious place where you have easy access to their sweet taste.  Then you glance at the microwave clock, realize your class starts in ten minutes, and dash out of the apartment.  While doing this, you promptly forget that bananas even exist in the world, much less in the kitchen.  About a week later you rediscover the bananas as you search for a snack.  However, the bananas no longer have the vivid yellow hue that beckoned you in the store, but rather they have turned into a mushy, rotting mess the same color as day-old coffee grinds.  Disgusted, you grab the decaying fruit and head for the garbage.  Just you lower the bananas into the trash, you have a thought—why not make banana bread?  Excited by this new idea, you flip through the cookbook that your mother gave you (she is convinced that you cannot live off Ramen noodles and boxed macaroni and cheese).  Page 99 holds the recipe that will fulfill your baking aspirations.  You read the ingredients:

Ingredients*:

½ cup shortening

½ cup sugar

2 eggs

1 ¾ cups sifted all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon salt

1 cup mashed ripe banana

½ cup chopped walnuts

After reading the ingredients, you begin to follow the instructions carefully.

Step 1: Find the ingredients.

You have some of the ingredients like eggs and sugar (sugar for your coffee, of course.  It’s the best part of waking up).  However, Ramen noodles don’t require shortening and boxed macaroni and cheese ingredients do not involve baking powder, and you realize that you don’t have the bulk of these ingredients.  After you decide the ingredients won’t miraculously appear in the pantry, you go and explain your difficult dilemma to your roommate.  She might have these obscure ingredients because she often bakes chocolate-chip cookies from scratch.  Fortunately, you guess correctly and your roommate will let you borrow the ingredients.  Unfortunately, she doesn’t have shortening.  She instead provides a substitute—butter.  You express your doubt about this and she replies, “I’m pretty sure butter and shortening are the same thing.” Your mother had never used butter for shortening but you decide to take her advice.  Not because you believe the shortening-as-butter theory but because you do not want to use gas to drive to the grocery store, nor do you want to pay for the shortening itself.  After a quick glance through the pantry, you find all the other ingredients you need to make the banana bread.  

Step 2: Cream together shortening and sugar; add eggs and beat well.

Since you have never baked anything from scratch on your own, you have no idea to as of what “creaming” and “beating” mean.  The last time you learned about cooking, you were in middle school and learned recipes like spaghetti and scrambled eggs.  Not exactly the most demanding foods to make.  Either way, you finally come to the conclusion that “cream” and “beat” will simply have to mean the same thing: stir vigorously with a wooden spoon.

Step 3: Sift together dry ingredients; add to creamed mixture alternately with banana, blending well after each addition.

Another unknown vocabulary word arises in the instructions.  You vaguely remember your mother using a rotating, cylinder-like contraption called a sifter whenever she made Christmas cookies.  Since you do not own a sifter you decide “sift” will have the same definition as “cream” and “beat.”  Once again, you pick up the trusty wooden spoon and beat the dry ingredients vigorously.  As you beat the dry ingredients, you realize that you have not mashed the bananas yet.  “Mash” is one cooking term you do know and you begin to aggressively smash the bananas into a pulpy, goopy mess.  You pour the mashed bananas with the rest of the ingredients.  Later you learn that sifting requires light stirring and you decide that beating ingredients may not serve as the answer for every unknown cooking jargon.  You also realize later that you forgot to add a teaspoon of baking soda because you only skimmed the directions, reading only the first word of the ingredients.  Because of this, baking powder got sifted with the other dry ingredients, while poor baking soda never did make the final mix..

Step 4: Stir in nuts.

You skip this step for two reasons.  First, you do not like nuts, they taste like salted cardboard.  Second, you do not have any nuts in the apartment and you do not want to go to the store to buy them.  After all, if you decided not to go to the store to buy a necessity like shortening, why would you go to buy something unnecessary like nuts?

Step 5: Pour into well-greased 9x5x3-inch loaf pan.

Suddenly, you come to the realization that you do not have a bread pan.  After debating if a cake pan would suffice as a bread pan, you decide to get into your car and make the trip to the grocery store that you have successfully avoided until this point.  When you enter the store, you realize that besides a bread pan, you need a gallon of milk for breakfast in the morning.  As you walk toward the dairy section, you find your hand reaching for other necessities like pudding cups, fruit snacks, chocolate, and of course, Ramen noodles and boxed macaroni and cheese.  After finding a pan and spending three times the amount of money you intended to originally, you drive back to the apartment.  Finally, you pour the mixture into your brand-new, well greased 9x5x3 inch loaf pan.

Step 6: Bake in moderate oven (350 degrees) 45 to 50 minutes or till done.

Just then, you realize that you forgot to preheat the oven.  You turn the oven to 350 degrees and wait about ten minutes for it to heat up.  When it has warmed, you gently slide the pan in the oven and set the timer for 45 minutes.  While the bread bakes, you decide to act like a productive student and start your homework.  However, first you need to check Facebook, then your e-mail, and then Facebook again in case anyone has written on your wall during the three minutes it took for you to check your e-mail.  Then you decide your fish currently lives in filth and squalor and needs to have his fishbowl cleaned.  After you finish creating a clean fishy home for your beloved aquatic pet, you remember you have not called home yet this week.  You dial home, talk to your mother, and answer her questions.  “Yes, everything is fine.  Yes, I’m going to class and studying.  Yes, I have been taking my vitamins.  No, I’m not coming home next weekend.  Why?  Because there’s a football game next weekend.”  After your mother finishes her interrogation, you find the readings that you need to do and sit down on the couch to begin.  Just as you flip open the book, the timer on the oven beeps. Well, no one can say you didn’t try to do homework.

After you pull the pan from the oven, you stick a toothpick through the middle of the bread to see if it has finished baking.  Since the middle appears to remain slightly soupy, you put the pan in the oven for another three minutes.  The same results occur the second time you put the toothpick in the bread, so you return the pan to the oven for another two minutes.  Again, the middle seems slightly raw, but you decide that it may only appear uncooked because of the heat.  You leave the kitchen as the bread cools.  After about ten minutes, you return to look at the bread.  To your horror, the whole middle has collapsed and now sits in the middle of undercooked banana bread mush.

Step 7: Remove from pan; cool on rack.  Wrap and store overnight.

You remove the bread from the pan—right into the garbage.  You make a mental note to lay subtle hints for your mother to send banana bread in the next care package.  Why go through the agony of baking banana bread when you mother can cook so much better?  Finally, you look in the pantry and debate if you will eat Ramen Noodles or boxed macaroni and cheese for dinner.

*Recipe is from Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook.  United States of America: Meredith Corporation, 1976. 99.

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