Favorite Banana Bread

Banana bread is generally a good idea; it’s easy to make, keeps well, and has the facade of health thanks to the bananas. Lots of people are stuck at home looking for things to bake and snacks to eat, but certain ingredients like yeast and flour are still scarce in many areas right now.

Enter banana bread! It requires no yeast and is flexible enough that the flour can easily be replaced with white whole wheat or gluten free blend. Plus, it’s delicious and will make the kitchen smell amazing.

Banana Bread

Yield: one loaf

Ingredients:

3-4 bananas, mashed

1/3 cup vegetable oil

1/3 cup sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 3/4 cup flour

2 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

large pinch or crack of salt

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

grated nutmeg to taste (I use around 1/4 teaspoon)

Topping:

1 Tablespoon sugar

1 teaspoon nutmeg

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350º F.

In medium bowl, mash bananas. Combine with oil, vanilla, and sugar. Set aside.

In large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Add the wet mixture and stir to combine.

Lightly grease or spray a loaf pan, then pour batter into the prepared pan (the batter will be thick). Spread evenly.

Make to topping by mixing together the Tablespoon of sugar and teaspoon of nutmeg. Sprinkle on top of batter (you may decide to use less topping, which is completely fine).

Bake at 350º F for 45-50 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean.

Hopefully you enjoy! The topping is really what makes this incredible because it gives the top and extra sweetness, like a muffin top 🙂

I’m Thinking of Ending Things

I’m Thinking of Ending Things is, to my knowledge, the first novel Iain Reid has written. Considering the slow-building, expertly-employed suspense, one would think this was a far more experienced writer.

The story follows an unnamed woman who is visiting her boyfriend Jake’s family farm for the first time. It follows the drive out into the country and meeting his parents. The entire time, the main character repeats the thought “I’m Thinking of Ending Things”, as she plans to break up with Jake shortly after.

This was my most recent read, something that had been on my to-read list for quite some time, and I found it generally enjoyable. Majority of the book is quite a slow-burn, full of interesting inner dialogue from the main character. The ending, which I will not divulge here, is thought-provoking and, despite being somewhat clunky, it touches on some very relevant themes.

If you like suspense, I would recommend it. It certainly kept me on the edge of my seat, building on small discrepancies and oddities within the story to leave the reader with an unsettling feeling of unease.

For full review (including spoilers):

Making Bagels

If you can make bagels you are bae goals (I know, I’m absolutely cringing and that warranted endless groans). However, these come highly requested from my husband these days, which is great because they are a decently simple recipe and don’t require fancy technique or ingredients.

Bagels

Ingredients:

1/2 Tablespoon yeast

1/2 Tablespoon brown sugar

2/3 cup warm water

1 teaspoon salt

2 cups AP flour

Water Bath:

6 cups water

1/2 Tablespoon brown sugar

1/2 Tablespoon sugar

Directions:

Combine the yeast, brown sugar, and water. Let sit a few minutes, until bubbling. Add the flour and salt and knead (either by hand or in a mixer) until smooth and elastic, about ten minutes.

Toward the end of kneading, add any desired mix-ins, such as dried fruit.

Let sit in a bowl, covered, about 1 1/2 hours, until puffy.

Once risen, remove from bowl and divide into 4 sections. Shape into rounds, poke hole in center, and stretch. Place on parchment-lined baking sheet and let rest, covered, for 20-30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 425º F and prepare water bath by combining water, sugar, and brown sugar. Bring water to a boil, then add the bagels and boil 1-2 minutes. Flip, then boil another minute.

Place the bagels back on the parchment-lined baking sheet and bake for about 20 minutes.

I’ve included a video to better show how the shaping and boiling process works, so hopefully that helps!

Soft Pretzels

Soft pretzels are one of the best snacks to have around for football season, as they pair well with beer and are more substantial than many other game-day snacks. Plus, they are naturally dairy-free, pair great with beyond brats, and can be easily customized with seasonings and toppings (“everything” bagel seasoning, shredded cheese, caraway seeds, etc.). These are surprisingly easy to make and take considerably less time than many other yeasted doughs.

Soft Pretzels

Yields 8 pretzels

Time: 1 hour, 30 minutes (about 30 minutes active, 1 hour inactive)

Ingredients:

1/2 Tablespoon sugar

1 teaspoon yeast

1 cup lukewarm water

2 1/2 cups AP flour

1/2 cup whole wheat flour (you can sub this with bread flour or AP flour)

1 teaspoon brown sugar

1/2 Tablespoon salt

1.5 Tablespoons baking soda

4 cups water

2 Tablespoons butter or vegan butter, melted (for brushing tops of pretzels)

coarse sea salt, for tops of pretzels

Directions:

Combine sugar, warm water, and yeast. Stir to dissolve and let sit until bubbling.

Mix together flour, brown sugar, and salt. Add yeast mixture and stir to combine, then knead well until smooth and elastic (by hand this will take 10 minutes, by mixer on medium speed around 7-8 minutes).

Place in bowl and cover. Let rise until puffy, about an hour.

Once risen, divide dough into 8 pieces. Shape each piece into a pretzel.

Preheat oven to 450º F.

Prepare water bath by heating the 4 cups water and baking soda in a large pot (preferably a wide and shallow pot, such as a Dutch oven). Once the water is lightly boiling, drop pretzels in 2-3 at a time. The pretzels should stay in water bath for about 1 minute (30 seconds each side).

Remove pretzels from water bath and place onto parchment-lined baking sheet. Brush tops with melted butter and sprinkle with coarse sea salt.

Bake for 13-15 minutes, or until desired depth of color.

Enjoy! These go well with mustard (of course), cheese sauce, and herbed butter. Pair with beyond brats and braised cabbage for a hearty German meal.

6 Holiday Gift Ideas That Aren’t Stuff

While giving items can be good, this time of year it seems to get out of control. I actually get anxious thinking about all the gifts I get that I won’t use and don’t have space for. I don’t agree that all object-gifts should be condemned, but it can be good to think out of the box and opt for gifting experiences instead.

I compiled a few ideas of experience-based gifts to consider if you are unsure of what to give!

1. Donate to a Cause or Charity

Donate to a cause or charity that person is passionate about. This is nice because people don’t always have extra money to support causes they believe in, so you can help them out! Plus is emphasizes some really positive things regarding the holidays, like giving and being thankful.

2. Buy a Class

This can be just for the person, or you can buy a class for you to do together! Classes can be expensive, but this is a great way to give the gift of exploring interests.

3. Gift Cards/Vouchers

Gift cards are almost always a good idea, but they can still be personal! Opt for a gift card for their favorite store or a voucher for an activity you know they enjoy (such as a manicure or going to the cinema).

4. Tickets

Tickets to a concert, play, comedy show, sports game, and the list goes on! People don’t always treat themselves to extra experiences like this, so it can be a really special night out. If you are gifting a couple and want to be extra thoughtful, offer to babysit children or pets on the night of the event to allow them stress-free enjoyment 🙂

5. Pay for a Nice Dinner/Drinks

This is a nice option for friends, especially if you are unsure of what they want. Inviting them somewhere nicer than usual (or their favorite restaurant/bar) and treating them the entire night is bound to be fun for everyone involved! Plus they will probably find this more enjoyable than having to keep around some tacky candle/oven mitt/figurine.

6. Try a New Recipe Together

Not necessarily limited to a recipe, this could be trying anything new together. The gift component is that you purchase all the ingredients (or other supplies) to make it. This is great because you spend time with someone and you get to try your hand at something new!

Let me know if you like any of these ideas, or if you have more to add!

5 Favorite Holiday Books

I’m starting to get into the holiday spirit which, for me, usually means 3 things: baking, playing music, and reading.

Reading! There is something about this time of year that makes reading better. The coziness, time off, warm beverages, avoiding family… all of these factors seem to contribute to an improved reading situation.

Anyway, I thought I’d share my favorite holiday books. They aren’t all “holiday-themed”, but they are books I consistently reach for this time of year.

1. Holidays on Ice by David Sedaris

Hilarious and relatable, this is the perfect holiday book to me. It includes both fiction and non-fiction, so it is well-balanced. Bonus that the stories are short, so it can easily be picked up and put down between festivities.

My personal favorite? The SantaLand Diaries, which recounts Sedaris’ time spent working as a Macy’s holiday elf.

2. You Better Not Cry by Augusten Burroughs

All autobiographical stories presented with an intensely dark humor that is all too appropriate for the holiday season. Indeed, the humor is so dry, one sometimes wonders if it is dehydrated. One of the highlights is The Best and Only Everything, which deals with a boyfriend’s HIV diagnosis and goes deeper than many of the other stories.

3. The Complete Sherlock Holmes, Volume 1 by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

This might be more of a personal pick, but I always find myself drawn to Sherlock Holmes stories in the colder months. While Volume 1 and Volume 2 are both excellent, Volume one is my preference because it contains The Sign of the Four. The Sign of the Four is a favorite of mine because it has such a great, winding plot, that unravels wonderfully. Perfect book to settle into with a cup of tea on a winter morning.

4. Letters from Father Christmas by J.R.R. Tolkien (or the Father Christmas Letters)

There is not too much to say about these except that they are sweet and whimsical. Tolkien wrote these letters from Father Christmas to his children and they were put into a collection after his death. The stories are really just about Father Christmas and his Polar Bear helpers and are a great read for the entire family, in my opinion. If you are already a Tolkien fan, you will enjoy them even more.

5. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling

I mean, it’s Harry Potter. I’m not sure I need to elaborate too much. Why for Christmas? I think the first book in particular paints a lovely Christmas at Hogwarts where Harry feels as though he has a place to call home and loved ones for the first time. Plus, he discovers the mirror of Erised and that becomes a good lesson for both the reader and Harry.

These are some of my favorites that I always pick up this time of year, but I would be interested to hear what some other favorites are!

Shinjuku Gyoen

“Not just beautiful, though — the stars are like the trees in the forest, alive and breathing. And they’re watching me.” – Haruka Murakami

I found this quote and it just described this walk perfectly – the quiet park, chilly air, and arboreal surroundings. Almost as if the trees are watching you back.

Vegetarian Thanksgiving Menu

Hosting holidays is something I enjoy. While some people find it stressful, I think for me it is laid-back and just plain fun. I try to not make anything too complicated or fussy and generally tend to have a balanced plate, snacks for peckish people, and a crowd-pleasing dessert. In my opinion, it is best to keep it simple and focus on doing just a few things, but doing them well.

Thanksgiving can be an especially difficult holiday for vegetarians and vegans, as many of the traditional offerings are heavy in animal products. The same flavors are definitely still possible without meat, so whether you are making a dish for a vegetarian guest, or plan on hosting a fully cruelty-free Thanksgiving, I’ve included a sample menu to get you started 🙂

I would include a red wine, IPA, and sparkling water for guests to drink (of course more options if you desire, but I try to keep it simple). Mixed salted nuts and dried cherries are a great snack to have out on tables, as well as soft cheese with baguette. For dessert, apple crisp is easy to make vegan by simply using vegan butter and pairing with vegan ice cream (SO Delicious Vanilla Cashewmilk is my personal recommendation for vegan vanilla). Of course most desserts are already vegetarian, so no need to plan too much for that ;p

Mixed Green Cranberry Walnut Salad

Serves 6

Ingredients:

Large container spring greens (around 8 cups)

Brianna’s Blush Wine vinaigrette

3/4 cup red onion, very thinly sliced

1/2 cup dried cranberries

1/2 cup chopped walnuts

4-6 oz. goat cheese crumbles (leave out if making vegan)

Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

Toss all ingredients together!

Maple Glazed Sweet Potatoes

Serves 6

Ingredients:

4 medium sweet potatoes, washed well

3/4 cup Maple Syrup

4 Tablespoons butter (or earth balance)

Salt and Pepper to taste

Directions:

Preheat oven to 400º F.

Slice potatoes lengthwise, then chop into pieces about 1/2 inch thick. In skillet melt butter on med-high heat. Add potatoes.

Add maple syrup, toss to coat, then bring to a boil. Place potatoes in oven, stirring every 5 minutes, until done (they should able to be pierced by a fork). This should take about 20 minutes.

Beyond Beef Pot Pies

Serves 6

Ingredients:

I lb. Beyond Beef (or other meatless ground)

1 medium yellow onion

4 cloves minced garlic

2 carrots, chopped

2 ribs celery, chopped

2 cups frozen peas

3 Tablespoons olive oil (1-2 additional Tablespoons to brown the Beyond Beef)

1 teaspoon dried thyme

1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup AP flour

4 cups vegetable broth

1 cup wine (I use a red wine to bring out a richer flavor, but white whine is fine if you prefer)

1 package puff pastry (if you prefer homemade, see my post Vegan Puff Pastry)

Directions:

Preheat oven to 425º F.

In large skillet or saucepan, heat the 3 Tablespoons olive oil on med-high. Add onion and garlic and cook 4-5 minutes, until soft.

Add carrots, celery, and peas. Cook a few more minutes.

Add herbs, salt, and flour. Stir to disperse flour and avoid clumps. Add wine and broth slowly, stirring well. Turn heat down to low and let simmer 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

In separate pan, use a bit of olive oil to brown the beyond meat (this should only take a few minutes, so be careful not to over cook it).

Add the beyond meat to the rest of the filling and remove from heat. Assemble pot pies by filling in ideal ramekins with about 1 cup of filling each (if you don’t have ramekins, simply use a pie dish or a 9×9 baking dish). Top with puff pastry.

Bake until crust is done (about 20 minutes). Garnish with fresh parsley or rosemary sprigs.

Pumpkin Bread

I know we are bombarded with an abundance of “pumpkin spice” this time of year, yet many pumpkin treats seem to neglect the star ingredient! My absolute favorite way to enjoy pumpkin is via pumpkin bread and this recipe contains a healthy portion of pumpkin to ensure maximum pumpkin flavor 🙂

I also add some maple syrup to help bring out the flavor of the spices and pumpkin. Oh! And it’s vegan, so it is a great option to bring to Thanksgiving or other potlucks for a vegan option. The icing is optional, but makes it more decadent (although I may actually prefer it without as a hearty snack cake with some tea).

Pumpkin Bread

2 cups A.P. Flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon nutmeg

2 pinches cloves

1 pinch salt

1/2 cup sugar

2 Tablespoons maple syrup

1/3 cup canola oil

1/3 cup almond milk

1 can pumpkin purée

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Optional: 1 Tablespoon freshly grated ginger (for when you want some extra spice and zing)

Icing

Almond milk (a few Tablespoons, depending on preferred viscosity)

Confectioner’s sugar (1/2 – 3/4 cup)

Vanilla extract (about 1 teaspoon)

Directions:

Heat oven to 350º F.

In medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, baking powder, spices, and salt. Set aside.

In large bowl, whisk together sugar, maple syrup, canola oil, almond milk, pumpkin purée, and vanilla extract.

Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients in 3 parts, whisking to combine. Use a spatula to scrape sides of bowl between additions.

Spray loaf pan (lining with parchment should also work). Fill with batter, smooth, and bake for about 55 minutes. You can test using a toothpick or cake tester and if it comes out clean, it’s done!

Hopefully you enjoy!

To see exactly how to make it, I’ve included a video: