Ode to Banana Bread

Essay by Fran Cronin 

A Day in the Life of a Procrastinator

 


I have a deadline, but hold that thought. First, I have to bake banana bread.

It’s amazing how busy I am, especially when I have a deadline. And I’ve found baking banana bread really calms me, gets me in the right headspace, to do what I have to do. So now is the perfect time to bake.

Bananas

Advance preparation is imperative to making banana bread on demand. That’s why I keep a stash of frozen bananas in the freezer at all times—so many that it’s hard to close the freezer door. Like fresh bananas, frozen bananas don’t lie flat. A protective reflex, I imagine. Chilly bananas harboring memories of their better days, curled up in the armpit of their mother’s broad green leaves. Maybe, like me, bananas try to hug themselves to keep warm.

I could dwell on this—it’s a new thought—but the point is, if I hadn’t frozen them, the bananas would have become a mushy, brown feast for fruit flies.

But I’m not going to spend my time talking about the impulses of bananas. I’m sharing how I prepare to work, which I know how to do. If there’s anything my mother would have wished she’d said to me (but never did), it’s “be prepared.” I should know. I was a Girl Scout. She was not.

It’s now 8:00 a.m. The three bananas I’ve removed from the freezer and the stick of unsalted butter taken from the refrigerator need to thaw to room temperature. I have 24 hours until my deadline.

Geez, the house is a mess.

Evidence indicates my 17-year-old daughter still lives at home, although I’m never sure if she’s in or out. She thinks of her room as her nest. I think it’s a black hole. Do you know how many stretch jeans, sports bras, black shirts, and water bottles have disappeared in her 15’ X 15’ space? I should enter her room in The Book of Wonders.

I make my bed and use hangers. She does not. The mounds of bedding and clothing are heaped so high, the cats have taken to sleeping on top of it all. Once they get comfortable, it’s hard to wake them up. When Dora comes home from school, she says, as if it’s an epiphany, “Mom, there’s cat hair on my bed!” No kidding.

Essential to preparing for work is getting things organized. I love to multitask. But—first things first—I need to make my coffee. Without it, I can’t do a thing. I have my morning ritual: French press, steamed milk. Delicious.

Cup of coffee

Thankfully, I’m excellent at time management. While waiting for my key banana bread ingredients to assume room temperature, I have time to tidy up before sitting down to write. I’m not someone who can put on blinders and proceed with laser-like focus in the midst of chaos. This lull in my banana bread prep is a perfect block of time to do the laundry, collect the trash, and empty the dishwasher.

Did I mention I’m also the steward for our household pets? I feed our dog and two cats, cleaning their food bowls and freshening their water from the Brita pitcher kept cold in the refrigerator. On the third floor, I check the cats’ litter box.

Daisy, our dog, is looking at me sideways. Crescents of white visible around her dark brown eyes indicate she’s ready for her morning walk, which will take an hour. The vet said she needs more exercise. Like me, she’s been putting on a little weight. I, of course, am the only one who walks her.

Silly me, I almost forgot the three fish, although it’s hard to ignore them when their tank water is a cloudy, phosphorescent green. Time to change the water. The fish must be scooped out, the sides of the tank scrubbed, and the filter changed. I keep prepared water on hand for these moments. One magic drop of something for every half-gallon. Never use plain tap water. Instant death.

Keeping with the theme of mindful pet care, I never buy pet food on sale at Market Basket. Daisy, although a dog, is grain-free. Only certified corn, wheat, and pesticide-free Organix from Whole Foods will do. The cats have been on prescription food, available only at the vet’s office, since they were kittens. Something about crystals in their urine and other unmentionables. Nasty business.

Despite my conversational efforts and threats to get Dora to embrace egalitarianism and her role as the dutiful daughter, she prefers to retreat into her black hole rather than lending a hand around the house. I should have made her do Scouting. I, however, understand my role and what it means to be a responsible parent. In addition to being prepared, I’m something of a mother hen. Dora says I nag.

I move my computer to the kitchen table so I can write while monitoring the progress of my banana bread. It needs to bake for 50 minutes or until the sides pull away. That measure of doneness must be tracked.

Sitting in the kitchen provides me with a window to the outside. I find natural light conducive to working. Plus, I have a clear sight line to our bird feeder. Nothing is more soothing, especially when you're in the anxious throes of a deadline, than looking at birds flutter and chirp around a feeder full of food.

But where are the birds? Instead of fluttering feathers and busy beaks, there's a bushy tail curling over the top of the feeder. Squirrel, no doubt. I rush out to scare it away. Stubborn thing doesn’t move. Looking closer, I see it has taken a nosedive deep into the feeder and gotten stuck. Not only can’t it move, it’s dead.

Death by Bird Feeder. Hmm...might be a good name for a story. I make a mental note. I also tell myself to never buy this model of bird feeder again.

I’m rattled. I need a break.

Trying to recapture my inspiration, I google “Ode to Banana Bread.” An astounding 136,000 hits come up. Until this very minute, I had no clue there was this much variation in recipes or this much to say about banana bread baking. I am humbled, but it is also a bit of a personal blow. If I can be candid, I wonder if my ignorance is perhaps another testament to my lack of imagination....

Can’t go there. I have a deadline.

Dog smile

On a more positive note, there's a cool recipe with Nutella, but that’s topped by a prizewinning homage to the King of Rock and Roll: “Ode to Elvis Peanut Butter Swirl Banana Bread.” Novel, I agree, but I don’t believe in kitsch when baking banana bread. I’m more of a purist.

Now that I make my own yogurt, I use a yogurt-based recipe swirled with chocolate chips. To be honest, it was a tough switch. I’d been baking a whole wheat recipe, and getting rave reviews, for decades. But, in addition to being prepared, I’m flexible and open to change. I also keep fresh yogurt on hand. Just in case.

It’s noon. To clear my head, I take Daisy for a walk.

While I’m out, my dad calls. I engineered his move from New Jersey to live near me in an assisted living facility. He’s 87 and totally dependent on me for his Miralax, prunes, and Depends. (There’s a theme here.) He’s in short supply and rightly concerned. Can I go to the store and pick up more?

Dora calls as well. Since I’m going to be out, can I pick her up from school? She may not know how to drive, but she does know how to use her cell phone. When I arrive curbside, four other girls pile into the car. They know I do door-to-door delivery. One of my mottos is “Safety first.”

When I get home, it’s time to start dinner. Dora retreats to her room. Daisy needs to be fed. I’m tempted to drink a glass or two of wine, but I know that will throw me off my game, and I have work to do this evening. But before I can give it my undivided attention, I have a few more things to get out of the way. I have a piano lesson tomorrow, and I need to practice. With all the distractions and interruptions today, I barely looked at my email, and it was pinging all day.

But, not to worry, I have 12 more hours until my deadline. I’m sure I can find time to bake another banana bread.

 


Art Information

 


Fran Cronin is a contributing editor and columnist at Talking Writing.

"When my hair started to gray at a somewhat respectable age, my dying mother—who finished all her sentences to me with “don’t ever tell anyone your age”—did not leave this earth until she said with her last breath, “And please dye your hair.” — Eileen Fisher’s Got My Back


 

Comments

Lovely lovely piece! The art of procrastinating is a fine and rewarding one indeed. Funny though - the only thing my daughter's ever learned to bake is ... banana bread. Occasional family treat to make up for all the unacknowledged (sounding familiar?) laundry, cooking, cleaning, pet care, shopping, emergency taxi service ...

Waiting for my 17 year old daughter to get back from a plane ride away, I, too, resorted to baking banana bread- walnut, chocolate chip. Good and therapeutic!

I. Love. This. I'm right with you, Fran, flitting from one thing to the next, working in interlocking circles, never in a direct as-the-crow-flies fashion, unless, of course, that crow has a brain like ours. Thanks for making my day. Definitely sharing on FB so more people can read your wonderful piece.

Darlene.

lorraine: tx so much for sharing your appreciation of my piece. i've been a fan of your writing. so when a piece resonates..good news all around. and who knew banana bread would be such a trigger...another tribute to the power of food to foster satisfaction, day dreams, and procrastination!!

Yum. This pushed my banana bread button. Sitting around with some Army buddies in Germany in the mid-60s, the subject of foods we missed from back home focused somehow on banana bread. Everyone suddenly had a banana bread jones. I told my mom in a letter, and about a month later a box arrived, by slow boat no less, containing two rock-hard loaves of banana bread, baked with the hickory nuts my mom always gathered herself from under her sister's tree. We had to use our bayonets to cut through the bread, but we devoured it with the greed of homesick warriors.

This is fabulous. It was like a running snapshot-commentary of my brain from the bad old days, when I used to procrastinate in an effort to avoid doing the "writing" I supposedly loved.
The reason I checked Talking Writing is because I have to see whatever new's gone up. So, this is not procrastination; this is part of the writing process. (wink)
Funny how things have changed for me. I'm not sure how to explain when or how it happened, but I now find myself spending hours at the computer, writing, while all around me, the world goes to hell.
The only thing that keeps me grounded is my two dogs, who must be walked every day. We go for 2-3 mile hikes, which I then use to think about ... writing.
I'm not sure which is worse: the never getting anything written because I was too busy making sure that the world was still running, or the complete retreat from life now that writing has taken over.
I suppose there is a middle ground, but if there is, I have yet to land on it. I look at the clock. In 59 minutes, I have to pick my daughter up from school. I've already walked the dogs today, but I have yet to take a shower, wash the dishes, or do anything to make this house look like it isn't inhabited by gremlins.
And now I can't seem to stop writing about how wonderful this essay is. Must. Get. Off. Computer.
Thanks, Fran. Your essay made my day.

Fran,
This is so wonderful!!! It all flows so logically ... of course you have to clean the fish tank!!!
I have polished the chrome on my stove and cleaned out my garage i the name of preparation.
i guess procrastination is about fear of failure, plus perfectionism.
In any case, it makes for a good story.
I was flabbergasted at the number of banana bread hits!!!

Pat Mandell
Rockport MA

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