Saturday, March 29, 2008

Banana Cake is in the house!

I've been feeling just a tad overwhelmed this past week. Hubbie & I are on the verge of creating a new corporate entity for some of our business activities, which is not terrifically complex but does involve a lot of paperwork and coordinated details -- most of which fall into my lap.

Last week's consult was with a new accountant, which shifted our original plans in a slightly different direction and resulted in my commitment to finally tackle learning (and using) QuickBooksPro to keep track of the financial side of things. A groaner of a task that I've been postponing for years. Can't say I didn't see that one coming. Sure, I can handle it, but installing and learning new software and converting first quarter '08 data piles more on what already feels like a rather overloaded plate.

Thursday afternoon we met with an astrologer (the lovely and talented Norma Jean Ream) to pick a good "start date" for the new corporation. She lives in Seaview at the far end of Puna, only a couple of miles from where the newest lava outbreak is flowing into the ocean:

We could see this steam plume from the road, and thought of adding in a trek out to ooh and ahhh from a closer vantage point, but by that stage of the day we were feeling hungry and nappish and facing a 50-minute drive home so decided to leave lava-viewing for another day. (And therefore did not take this photo, posted to by "nomadrhizome")

We'd been thinking of mid-May for a company start date, but as it turns out we have a window of spectacularly auspicious astrology available late morning on -- urp -- April 7th. That's A WEEK FROM MONDAY! Okay, so the new corporation thing is all pushed into high gear now. I'm excited about having excellent astrology for the new biz, but juggling the details is making my head spin.

Upshot of all this is that as Friday afternoon rolled around I was pondering the grocery situation to see if we could put off going to the store for a few more days (yes!), with consideration given to upcoming Cake Night on Sunday, and decided that would be a good use for the past-prime banana-and-a-half getting mushy on the fruit plate.

When the "Why wait 'til Sunday?" question arose, I had no good answer. So I hopped online and downloaded a Banana Cake recipe that seemed close enough to what I had in mind -- if a little heavy on the sour cream and sugar.

I did my usual substitutions: whole wheat pastry flour for all purpose; plain yogurt for sour cream; cut the salt and sugar in half. And left out lemon juice. I was going to add some chopped pecans, but only had raw ones, which really ought to be roasted first to bring out the flavor. That seemed like the one extra step that would turn an impromptu baking session from a pleasure into a chore, so I skipped it.

I did include some (organic, unsweetened) shredded coconut, 'cause it was right there in the cabinet, ready to go. And I made a simple ganache icing, instead of the sour cream/cream cheese one in the recipe (baking time having been made in the day by deciding not to go to the store, remember?).

It turned out PERFECT! Best texture of any cake I've made in a while: light and moist at the same time, which is a nice trick. I was a little short on squishy banana (only had about 3/4 cup), but good banana flavor nonetheless.

Here's what I did, should you want to do something more constructive with your mushy bananas than watch them turn black before throwing them in the trash:

Preheat oven to 350, rack in the middle. Prep a 9" square pan (I used a spritz of non-stick spray and a strip of baking parchment; butter and dusting of flour would do fine, too).

The Dry Stuff:
2 cups whole wheat pastry flour (fluff/sift before measuring!)
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt

Combine all this in a mixing bowl. Stir it around a bit with a fork to mix the leavening stuff in with the flour.

The Wet Stuff:
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temp.
3/4 cup sugar (I used turbinado; you could combine some light brown and some regular)
2 large eggs
1/2 cup plain yogurt (Nancy's Honey Yogurt is a good choice)
1 cup mushed, slightly overripe bananas (most recipes will tell you this is "about 3 large" but in my experience it's about 2)
1/4 cup unsweetened shredded coconut (smaller shreds are better, grind yours up in a blender or food processor if they're biggish pieces; you could also just leave it out)
1 tsp pure vanilla extract

Cream the butter and sugar with your electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add one egg and mix well. Add the second egg and mix well. Add the yogurt, bananas, coconut, and vanilla extract and mix well.

[I had a little trouble with the wet stuff. For one thing, turbinado sugar has really large grains and doesn't "cream" well with butter. For another, this baking session hadn't been planned in advance, so my butter was straight from the fridge -- i.e., cold and hard and therefore not very creamable, even with a KitchenAid mixer. I thought adding the eggs might help (the moisture in the eggs would help the sugar dissolve, maybe?) but they, too were cold from the fridge, so at that stage what should have been a light and fluffy base was runnny and lumpy. So I scraped it all into the food processor and whizzed it up well with the bananas -- no more lumps! Perhaps not as fluffy as it should have been, but nice and smooth nonetheless. Back into the KitchenAid bowl with it. I changed to the whisk attachment and let it whiz around at fairly high speed for a while in an attempt to add the "fluff" factor while I measured out the yogurt and coconut. Switched to paddle attachment to finish up...]

Add the flour mixture and blend JUST until mixed (don't overbeat!). Scrape the batter into your prepped pan and smooth the top. Bake for 35 minutes. (My oven temp was more like 365 than 350; your cake might bake a little longer. If it's a nice golden brown on top and feels springy to a gentle touch, it's done.)

Let the cake cool on a rack. You can leave it in the pan if you aren't trying to impress anyone. Or let cool for 10 minutes before removing from pan to cool completely. When the cake is at room temp, frost the top with:

1/2 cup heavy cream
8 oz. dark chocolate chips (I used Ghirardelli 60% cacao Bittersweet)

Heat the cream in a small saucepan until it starts to steam. Dump in the chocolate, take the pan off the heat and stir with a whisk until the chocolate melts and it all comes together into a velvety smooth dark deliciousness. (It may be hard to comprehend that two simple ingredients turn into something else so incredibly over-the-top-gourmet-fabulous, so astoundingly quickly and easily, but they do. What a good reason to keep cream and chocolate in the house!)

Allow to cool for a while (it will stiffen up as it cools) then spread over the top of the (cooled) Banana Cake.

Ooh, dark chocolate and banana, what a heavenly combination!

During the tedious "wait for it to cool before frosting" interim I strolled into the living room (into which tantalizing aromas of Banana Cake had wafted, attracting my husband's attention) and announced, "I feel so much better now, just knowing there's cake in the house!" And I really did.

Okay, so that's a textbook case of emotional baking, but hey, I went from feeling overwhelmed and a little wrung out to being relaxed and happy -- just from baking and smelling and anticipating cake. I hadn't even eaten any yet.
And it was delicious, when we got around to having some after dinnner.

I have been remarkable restrained this morning, by the way, and have not had any cake with my coffee. But I think I'll have some with a cup of tea this afternoon. Which gives me about 7 hours to get in a vigorous workout, so I can enjoy my cake without feeling guilty about the calories.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Again? Already?

Where does the time go... surprised to see it's been over a week since I posted here. I love the uncertainty of peri-menopause when it delivers a longer-than-usual cycle (personal best so far: 39 days), not so much when the "monthlies" arrive at 24 days, as they did this weekend. I'll take it, though. I figure the more irregular and unpredictable the cycle, the closer I am to never having to go through period hell again. Won't that be wonderful?!?

Made a yummy lentil soup a couple of days ago. Sauteed up some boneless (organic, of course) chicken thighs with olive oil, onions, diced carrots & celery, and lots of tumeric, cumin, and curry powder (probably about 2 tsp each), plus a healthy dash of cayenne for kick. When the chicken was done, removed it and chopped it up, then it and veggies all went into a large pot with 1 cup each of yellow dal (split mung beans) and red lentils. Added generous quantity of homemade chicken/veggie stock -- enough to cover beans/lentils/etc. by about 2" or so, a dash of salt, and simmered it all til the dal and lentils were done. Oh, so yummy! Yesterday we reheated leftovers for dinner, added lots of chopped kale (we had some that needed using up), which is healthy and delicious, too. I eat my soup with a spoonful of plain yogurt added to the bowl. Yum!

If making soup stock from scratch seems like more trouble than it's worth, stay tuned. I'll post my method at another time... when I'm not feeling so crampy.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Getting with the Program

Hooray, saw 156.0 on the scale this morning, second day in a row! Sad that such a small improvement feels like such a triumph, but it does. Which only means that I have spent far too long loitering around in the 157-158 range lately.

Am only slightly behind my workout minutes goal for this week, but should be easy enough to catch up by the end of the day... a few minutes on the bike this morning (too rainy for anything other than a damp and unpleasant walk at the moment) and a Bowflex workout this afternoon, and I'll be done for the week. Even a, uh, "feminine complaint" flare-up has only slowed me down a little bit. Thank God for homeopathic remedies and organic cranberry juice.

I don't particularly feel like working out today, but nothing new about that. It's "pizza night" in this household, though, so that's a good incentive to burn a few calories before dinner time. And tomorrow is "cake night." Official weigh-in for the week is Monday morning, so we'll see if progress holds until then.

The original plan for this blog was to include more recipes for things whipped up in my kitchen (both of the healthy and indulgent variety) but I haven't done a whole lot of cooking this week, and the pizza crust recipe I tried out last weekend didn't turn out well enough to share. Some fine-tuning still to do there.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Creeping Toward Commitment

So, another no-progress week. The truth is, despite the parenthetical comment on this blog's banner, I'm not "on a diet." I have an extremely rebellious inner eater who does NOT like to be told that any kind of "diet" activity is going on. Past experience has proven many times that telling myself I'm on a "diet" leads to "you can't make me!" reactions from the inner eater and next thing I know I've scarfed down most of a package of Mint "NewmanOs". So I've learned to tiptoe around specific restrictions and denials, and try not to think in "diet" terms.

But I do want to trim down. The whole point of blogging about it is the hope that "going public" (on the slim chance anyone but me ever reads these posts) would provide some additional incentive, plus keep me somewhat more focused on my goals. The hope is that making small, incremental, not too onorous, changes in eating and exercise will eventually result in flab reduction, without scaring the inner eater into rebellious and self-destructive behavior. But I am not (yet?) truly committed to making it happen. I've made little changes (restricting cake, wine, and cheese to weekends only, that kind of thing), but have been less than diligent lately about the one challenge I stepped up to so far: drinking more water.

This week, I'm once again taking a deep breath and looking at what small shifts I can make to nudge me in the direction of progress, and have decided on:
1) Drink more water!
2) 360 minutes of exercise this week, which is one hour a day of some kind of activity, Mon-Sat.

The tracking minutes of exercise thing is not new. I like it because it allows for flexibility in the workout schedule, while ensuring I get my butt out of this chair for a while every day. When energy is low, I can do some kind of "better than nothing" activity. Days when I've got a little more juice in my caboose, I can tackle something of higher intensity. The idea is to increase the proportion of high-intensity minutes, but as I have not been tracking anything lately, I thought I'd start with just aiming for the total minutes goal. I've been good about getting some kind of exercise into every Mon-Sat day, but suspect there've been too many not-quite-sixty-minutes days lately.

Oh, and 3) Remember to take my vitamins!

Don't know why that one's so tricky, but I do have more energy when I supplement on a regular basis. More energy = more vigorous workouts.

So, by the time I click "publish post" it will be 9AM on Monday morning, time to get the new week started: water, workouts, vitamins. Surely that much I can do...

PS: I did achieve one chocolate-free day last week. Perhaps I should aim for another one? Won't be today, though: I started the morning by eating two dark chocolate eggs with my coffee.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

A chocolate-free day?

So last week was pretty much of a bust: between vog and period I didn't get much calorie-burning activity in. Plus usual "wine on weekends" and "Saturday pizza night" and "Sunday cake night" indulgences. I consider holding steady on the scale something of a success, under the circumstances.

Today I am aiming for a chocolate-free day. I suspect it would really do me some good to aim for a chocolate-free week, but that's more than I can contemplate without rolling on the floor, either laughing or crying or both. But a day I can do. Soon I might even attempt two days in a row, but for now I'm just aiming for one.

I keep forgetting to do the "before" measurements thing. Truth is, I don't really care what the tape measure says. What matters is how I look and feel and how my clothes fit. I find this indifference to the tape measure both healthy and somewhat disconcerting, given my obession with the scale. Why is it that one set of numbers doesn't interest me at all, while I can barely take my eyes off the other?