(Will Run for) Banana-Chocolate Muffins

The other night I did something I hadn’t in far too long: I baked banana bread — err, muffins — from a standby recipe. I’ve been poking around ye olde blog a bit lately, trying to spruce it up a little and paring down, too — and realized a few things. 1. I haven’t been documenting my meals nearly as often as I used to (nor as often as I’d like) and 2. Some Many of my recipes definitely are worth a revisit.

It’s funny how it happens — you make something over and over and over again until you’ve almost memorized the quantities of ingredients (see: my vegan chocolate cake). You make it for friends, family, to send away. And then, you stop. You move on to something else or get distracted by the flash of the new and shiny. Or maybe you get bored — I do, sometimes, when I make the same thing over and over again, and after all there are so many recipes in the world and so very, very little time to attend to them all … You get the gist.

[Also worth mentioning: Does the tried-and-true make for a good story? Perhaps not. Yet the tried-and-true is thus because it is tried — and also true. There’s no shame in having steadfast recipes upon which to rely; I just worry sometimes that I’ll tire my dinner guests (or baked-goods recipients) with the same old same old. Anyway, a little experimentation often makes things better; at the very least it makes them different — not always a bad thing. So occasionally I’ll take an old faithful and turn what was once familiar, sweet, and true into something else — much like, actually, my current relationship (but that’s another story for another time. Also another story coming soon: the gluten-free, to-die-for brownies I baked Saturday night. Who knew flourless could be so good?).]

One night last week the wind picked up a bit after work and I felt pretty chilly, wanting only wool socks and to turn on the oven. (An aside, the weather has been completely screwy here in the Bay Area lately: warm/hot and sunny, with clear blue skies now for over a week. I am not complaining) Also, I was thinking potassium because I was slated to run a half-marathon at the weekend and was craving lots of vitamins and protein in preparation. (Another aside: the amount of quinoa and tofu and vegetables I’ve been eating lately is out of control, and there seems to be no end in sight.) So then: banana muffins, but with a twist. I resurrected my once favorite recipe for banana bread and made a few changes, swapping whole wheat pastry flour for half of the all-purpose, adding a bit of cardamom, and upping the ante with melted butter instead of vegetable oil.

In a word: Perfect.

About that run — this past Sunday I woke up in the dark early-morning hours to run my third long-distance race in a year. It was a beautiful day — warm and sunny — and the course took us through Golden Gate Park down to the Great Ocean Highway for about five miles (endless, it seemed) before looping back into the park to finish. I must admit I did not train as well as I could have, and I purposefully was not running for time because of it. I must also admit that it was pretty hard, and today my muscles are still a bit sore (though not terribly so, and I am not terribly unhappy about it).

Around mile six I felt the first hunger pangs strike, and began fantasizing about what kind of food I would eat when I finished. When I do a long run, I almost always crave salt, and I knew I had a big bag of Kettle Chips Salt & Pepper waiting for me at home in the kitchen cabinet (what I would have given for a few as we rounded the turn at mile 10, with three+ long miles still to go!). I thought about what I’d have for brunch later on (eggs, toast, potatoes — filling things for my empty belly, maybe even a mimosa, COFFEE), and what I planned to make for dinner.

As I ran along through the miles, the Pacific Ocean crashing and blazing in the sun to my right, I began to think more elaborately: would an avocado mousse be strange or delicious? It had been a long time since I’d made any sort of soufflé; put that on the mental list for soonish. What kinds of things would I grow if I had a garden of my own (heirloom tomatoes, blueberries, strawberries — fruit! — potatoes, lettuces, herbs) and what I would make with them. I considered and discarded several options for the lunch and dinner parties I’m giving this weekend (both on the same day, because I am a wee bit nuts), which helped miles 8-10 speed by quite handily.

All of these were distractions to the burning question of why am I doing this to myself, again?

When I ran my first marathon back in October 2005, I ate what was probably my weight in Boca Burgers over the course of a few months. After I did a long run, often even before I took a shower, I’d slap one in the microwave, toast a bagel, strap an ice pack securely to my knee, then pile on cheese, avocado, and mayonnaise before devouring in about two seconds. On my longest excursions, on country roads that seemed to go on forever, I’d promise myself a smoothie, or a big pile of portabello mushrooms as a reward for logging the miles. Last fall when I was training for the Nike marathon here in San Francisco, I mostly drank chocolate milk and slurped down a bowl of hot, brothy noodle soup after long runs. Food became even more pleasurable because I was so hungry all the time, my appetite sharpened by my body’s exertion.

While 13.1 miles is certainly nothing much compared to 26.2, it still burns a lot of calories, and after the race was over I was predictably starving. I made my way home, showered, drank lots of water and a delicious soy latte, and went to beloved Zazie for brunch, whereupon I immediately ordered a mimosa with freshly-squeezed orange juice — orange juice that may well have been the most delicious orange juice ever consumed — to toast my run as well as the beauty of the day (80 degrees at least, people. Early spring has come to SF.). Then I ate a bowl of curried butternut squash soup, a poached egg, and potatoes. Satiated for the moment, I came home to pack up the peanut butter cookies and gluten-free brownies I’d made for a friend’s super bowl gathering. I may have had a banana-chocolate muffin.

Today I am still a bit sore, but the feeling of accomplishment lingers. I don’t think I’ll go for an avocado mousse anytime soon, but I have my eye on a green garlic soufflé that will be on an upcoming menu for sure. I surely don’t need to run a half-marathon to treat myself to decadent dishes, but I think they taste all the more delicious for the effort made to get there.

This recipe is quite basic, but if you use a lot of bananas it’s elevated to something a bit beyond the ordinary. Moist, sweet but not too, with a solid crumb from the whole wheat flour, a nice crunch from the walnuts, and a hint of richness from the butter, it’s a bread to soothe the soul — and nourish the hungry belly.

A trick to keep in mind is one I picked up ages ago; it’s both thrifty and practical: when your bananas start to turn — as they inevitably might — or you can’t stand the thought of eating any more, throw ‘em in the freezer to save for making banana bread at your leisure. I read somewhere it’s best to remove the skin before doing so, but I often forget to do this, and the bananas freeze up just fine skin-on. Defrost for about 15 minutes (the other night I put in the oven for about 3 minutes until they softened — careful, though, because you don’t want to cook them) before using.

Serve as is, or toasted with a bit of butter or margarine, and a hot cup of tea — pre-run not required.

Join the Conversation

  1. Cardamom is such a wonderful spice. Your muffins must have tasted awesome. I have a sweet treat linky party going on at my blog called “Sweets for a Saturday” and I’d like to invite you to stop by and link your muffins up. http://sweet-as-sugar-cookies.blogspot.com/2011/02/sweets-for-saturday-4.html

  2. Oh yum! I just finished baking a batch of pumpkin cranberry muffins, made with whole wheat flour, maple syrup and crystallized ginger. But now I want to turn the oven right back on and make these too! Can a girl have too many muffins in the kitchen? Wait! ..I have friends I can share them with!
    P.S. Other banana bread/muffin ideas: Try roasting your bananas (skins on) at 325F for 30 minutes prior to mashing, letting cool and adding to the mix. It carmelizes the sugar in them, gives off a nice syrupy juice and allows you to cut back a bit on the recipe’s sugar. I also use 2 oz of low-fat cream cheese instead of oil/butter. Cut it into the dry mix until crumbly, like you do with butter for pastry dough.

  3. Congrats on the half marathon! I love this post – first because I always think about food when I run long distances (well, short ones, too) and also because I’ve been on a banana bread kick recently, and this recipe sounds (and looks) great. xo

  4. You have such a way with words.

    Food really does taste better after you have earned it with a long run. I can’t wait for the snow to melt and the temps to warm so that I can really get back to it here in Chicago.

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