Away From Home, and Back Again... and Smashed Banana Muffins

You may or may not remember that the first real trip I took without the Boy-O since his birth (now 4 years ago) was in January. This weekend I was able to go for another weekend alone, and went to see E in Boston, where she has lived for about the last 13 years. I used to visit her more frequently, but due to motherhood, have left the bulk of visitation up to her. I had yet to see her new home, and a experience a whole new view of Boston, a city that changes my perception of it each and every time I visit.

Most of this city-changing phenomenon is due to E's amazing ability to be the best hostess and tour guide imaginable. In my wildest dreams could I rival her for providing comforts and conversation... and she is one of the people that I love most in life. She exudes calmness, when I sat at her dining room table after my arrival and felt twitchy that I wasn't moving around, and somehow it can spread to everyone who knows her. I never go to visit her with any set expectations or sights to see, and yet every time I have, every imagined notion has been smashed to bits, and I get inspired to pieces. She's lived in a few different neighborhoods as well, and neighborhoods on the East Coast actually are different worlds compared to the roughly drawn areas we call neighborhoods in Milwaukee.

Larger cities have amenities that my own little old town could only dream of. Corner restaurants instead of corner bars, and hugely diverse ethnic populations bringing with them every conceivable ethnic grocery store. I'm not slighting my city mind you... I love nothing more than coming back home after all. But three days in another world is sometimes really just plain wonderful.

Some highlights:

A little cheese shop in the South End, where I didn't even need to eat (but did have a few cheese samples). I was visually gluttonous, and I was graciously cleared to take photos by the nice man stocking sparkling water, even though I totally interrupted his work day seeing the store was barely big enough to turn around in. Maybe unfortunately, this was the least of my eating.

I am not a habitual over eater. I actually hate being so full that I'm uncomfortable, no matter how delicious the dinner is at the time. The funny thing is, I totally overate every single day of this trip. E is the same way. She is a healthy eater and a great cook, but somehow the combination of joint visitation and too many good Groupons led to too much indulgence on more than one occasion. I didn't take photos of the amazing dinner we ate late Friday night at Shanti, an Indian restaurant where I tried a naan with coconut and chopped nuts. I've looked up a (similar) recipe, and I have to try making it as soon as I get a little free time. I'm still daydreaming about some onion type chutney I ate there as well. I need to eat more Indian food, this much is clear.

On a tip from some women I sat near on the plane on the way over (foodies and organizers for FarmAid, no less, which is going to be held at Miller Park this October), we ate lunch on Saturday at Meyers and Chang. E had heard of it, but never ventured there. I was so excited! First off, it was gorgeous. Asian and pink, modern and glossy, tiny postage stamp tiles around the floors that graduated in colors. It felt bright and delicious, and that was before we ordered. Second, they only were serving dim sum due to the time we got there. I've never had dim sum (a great related post by Glutster, on his birthday dim sum experience here...), but always wanted to try it. I'm a fan of small plates and sharing food, and while this was a bit more modern and not as traditional, it was delicious and very well prepared.

Pork and Lamb Bao-type buns.

Align Center

We got the pickled veg plate to start... which was so delicious. Pickled jalapenos, mysteriously missing their brutally hot center seeds and membranes (I should have thought to do that before I canned mine), kimchi, pickled celery, carrots and underneath a beautiful bed of bright pink pickled daikon radish which was my favorite. Now I want to lacto-ferment all kinds of things, and figure out where to find daikon radish around here since it in particular was so good.

...and I also got to be envious of E's new Canon. I got to take pics with it to try it out. Suddenly, I want a new camera...

If Meyer's & Chang is billed as a "funky indie diner", then the Agawam Diner is the quintessential American diner experience. Sunday morning, we went to the flea market at Todd Farm, close to this diner that E remembered years before I had wanted to visit. It was due in part to this article in Saveur I had read, and due to Barry Levsnson's film (which admittedly doesn't really revolve all too much around the eatery, but is more of a love letter to East Coast culture in the '50's).

The Agawam was everything I thought it would be:

A classic car diner, still serving original homemade food after all these years. We were hot and hungry and over ordered. We both had the Chicken Pie special, which came with coffee and soup (for $8.95), then augmented with a chocolate frappe, which we split, just in case we thought we would still be hungry, two pieces of pie. If you think I was full, it would be an understatement. I was *so* full, I actually took an hour and a half nap when we got back to E's house. Ahhh, vacation.

fish chowder, saltine crackers.


Chicken Pie. And cranberry sauce from a can! No where else would I have been so excited! (I also remembered that Marisa at FoodinJars canned up a version sans corn syrup... hmmmm - I may now know what my next canning project will be, and maybe even in the beautiful Weck jelly jars that E gave me for my birthday!) I couldn't finish, however, since while at a diner, I had to save some room for pie:

I ordered blueberry, and E had the coconut cream. Both were delicious. I don't think I've eaten a piece of blueberry pie since I worked for the GOP, and hers was delicious. Our waitress called E "honey bunny", and was everything you would want in a waitress in a real diner. She brewed a new pot of decaf for E, since the old one didn't look so hot, and you can just know that she is that friendly and genuine with everyone - it's not some kind of "diner waitress behavior" that you would expect after pining for years over such movies as (Diner), Back to the Future and Waitress.

Part of the reason I had such a great time, is that my friend E is the best. She loves food and hates being caught in situations where travel and wander to lead to eminent starvation, and worse, to the purchase of less than worthy food. She always packs a snack, this time it was smashed banana muffins and a few dates. The muffins aren't actually smashed, nor do they make you smashed, but they contain bananas that are smashed and are themselves just plain smashing.

It was so hot outside that when I really needed one (or maybe I just really wanted one...), it felt like it was just pulled out of the oven. Sometimes, muffins just taste better when someone else makes them for you, and then packs them up tenderly, just so that you feel special when you tuck in to eat it. I ate one in the sun on Saturday, and another on the plane yesterday: a blurry eyed early Monday morning, when it tasted even better and was the best reason to not even think twice about ditching the packaged "biscotti" that was the bitter reminder of the demise of the airline industry.

E emailed me a few of the recipes I ate at her place (when we weren't (over)eating out...), and she included this one for banana muffins. I know everyone has at least three muffins that they like to make when the black blotchiness overtakes their fruit on the counter, and I usually never make the same version twice. In classic rcakewalk fashion, I've already altered her recipe, but I'll include her original. I need to find out if she intentionally leaves out the egg, or if she forgot to type it in, but I added one - just because I wasn't feeling particularly vegan today.

E's (Smashed) Banana Muffins
  • 1 cup flour (I used 3/4 c. whole wheat and 1/4 c. AP flour)
  • 1/2 cup rolled oats or quick oats (I used rolled oats)
  • 1/3 cup sugar (I used raw sugar)
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 1/3 cup canola oil (I used coconut oil, melted)
  • 2 smashed bananas
  • walnuts or pecans for the top
  • (I added one egg)
Preheat oven to 350 and prepare muffin tin for 10 muffins (I got 9 muffins, with my handy scoop). Combine wet and dry ingredients in separate bowls, then mix together. Fill 10 muffin papers and sprinkle tops with nuts. Bake 25-30 minutes.

Enjoy! ~e.

Enjoy I will, and Boy-O ate 2 straight out of the oven this afternoon! This from a kid who actually gagged the last time I firmly suggested he eat at least one bite of banana...

Being away from home always makes me so happy to be back. I love having a little time to myself, but since my life has changed so much in the past 5 years, I love more the feeling of inclusion in my own family. I may stress out over the day-to-day food consumption of my son, or over the societal detriments of the quickly upon us football season, but I do love my family, I do love my home, and I love spending most of my time in my kitchen. Self imposed work? Yes, but the best and most rewarding kind for me.

Maybe when he grows up, my Boy-O will learn to cook, so that he can impress someone or that he won't starve when I can't take care of him. He starts school the day after tomorrow, my birthday - a cruel reminder that I cannot stay young, no matter how young I feel. I clearly remember going to school for the first time, and I remember all the lunches my Mom packed for me when I didn't stand in line to have my little yellow lunch card punched to eat in the lunchroom. How did it happen so quickly that I'm in her position? It really is just a vapor.

I know it would drive me crazy to think about time too much, how it flies and how there is never enough of it. How it seems somehow that the past is still happening, the best times I can remember are still just at hand and not so far behind. A series of phases that continually follow me around, from what to eat for dinner, to where to go on vacation. I am fortunate to have a few close friends like E, people that seem constant and unchanging, even though I know everyone is actually changing all the time. People you know you can count on no matter what, and through whatever life can throw at you. I'm so lucky for my family, but lucky also for great friends.

Getting to Know...rcakewalk.

If you read this post, from Brooke at Pure and Noble, the paragraph preceding the getting to know Brooke part pretty much sums up what I think about chain emails and blog awards and the like... but I figure I'll play along since she tagged me, and I didn't have anything else planned to share until Vegan Monday rolls around. Normally, I'm a keep to myself type - always ready for a chat, but not always up to going up to you and starting the conversation. Of course, once I get going, it is a whole different story... So without further delay, on to a non-food related getting-to-know-your-author post!

Just a few things you may or may not have known about me, rcakewalk.

3 names I go by:
  • rebecca
  • RE-Becca (my Husband usually calls me this - or 'Hon' - )
  • rcakewalk (Rcakewalk, RCakeWalk)
3 places I have been:
  • Croatia. Pretty much the whole country, thanks to my best friend, Sasa. I spent 6 weeks there in the summer of 1997, and now can not even believe that much time has passed. We saw the cities, rural countrysides, most of the Adriatic by boat. I ate cheese in every town I could, since it was so good. As far as the European Experience goes for a poor-ish college age kid, Croatia was just about perfect. It is gorgeous, packed with history, and compact enough to get to know. I hope that I will go back. I could see myself living there.

Zagreb, Croatia.
  • California. I have deep California envy, it is true. I was only there once, for my honeymoon - where I felt old-fashioned to be actually taking a honeymoon, and happy to be off being newly married in a strange warm state for a whole week during the bleak Wisconsin winter. We flew into Los Angeles, drove down to San Diego, then worked our way up to San Francisco. We were married in February, and California gave us warm weather and sun during a record-breaking year for rain and mudslides there. It was so green and gorgeous that I felt like I never wanted to come home to Wisconsin. Everything was growing in February! Why the whole country doesn't want to relocate, I have no idea. Well, those pesky earthquakes... that could do it.

I was amazed at the wildness of California, even minutes outside of the LA freeway.

  • I-90 West from LaCrosse, WI to Red Lodge Montana - on a motorcycle. My Dad is the greatest. Since I began my working life at the age of 17, I was never without work (excepting the summer in Croatia, and a brief 3 month stint where I couldn't find work). I usually had more than one job, or a job that was like working two jobs - that's just how I worked. Generally I like to work, and now that I'm not "technically employed", I still go morning to night with self-created tasks.

My Dad, looking over Dead Indian Pass, Wyoming.

In 2003, my Dad asked if I'd like to take some vacation time and go out West. For 10 days. I don't think I had ever been off from a job for a whole 10 days since high school - and it was amazing. About 3 days in, I remember telling my Dad that this was the greatest feeling, not going to work and seeing all there was to see. He said, 3 days was nothing! Wait until I got a week in! He was right. I was hot and blistered in 109 degree South Dakota summer heat. I felt like I had been through something, experiencing the elements and dirty with road grime.

Wanderlust ensued like never before. I never wanted to come back to my life at work, or my life in the Midwest. I wanted to stay out West and become a cowboy. I began to fantasize about getting my own cycle - a Triumph - and was not going to be deterred that I really didn't know how to ride. (My brother tried teaching me to ride a dirt bike once, but I couldn't figure out the break, resulting in going fairly fast and then crashing into the field... not the best thing for road riding.)

We spent some time in Cody, Wyoming. I cried reading a letter in a museum that Buffalo Bill wrote to his wife after one of their children died. I saw a carved wooden prototype of a Colt revolver. I marveled at an actual Chuck Wagon that was made in Wisconsin, traveled west and then landed in a museum 150 years later. We stayed at The Pawnee Motel that had very little air conditioning coming into our room through the transom to the hallway. I washed dirt off my face in the little sink in the corner of the bedroom. I went to a rodeo. When I thought it couldn't get any better, we headed deeper west, through Yellowstone, over the Bear Tooth Pass and into Montana. We stopped to get gas in a tiny town that was nestled at the base of a great, green mountain, and the doors were all open. It was a quiet, like I had never heard, and I was in a constant state of disbelief at the amazingness of our nation.


On the way back home, I was affected at the Crazy Horse and Rushmore monuments, and at the tiny Akta Lakota museum in Chamberlian, SD. I could see history unraveling before me, and I was sad. I had the time of my life. I dozed on the back of the bike, exhausted, and dreamed that I was falling off the cycle. My Dad felt me jolt awake and asked me what I was doing, shouting over the wind. I could see the whole of the wide open Interstate over the top of his helmet, and it was a view I became even more addicted to.

As you can probably tell, these Western dreams have not dimmed at all in all the time I haven't been back. I doubt I'll go again on a motorcycle, but I now have updated dreams of going West in an old car, a classic with no air conditioning and all of the windows rolled down. A Roadrunner, or Impala, a Cutlass - would be just perfect.

3 favorite drinks:
  • coffee. Alterra. Enough said.
  • fresh lemon or limeade (half a citrus, squeezed into a cocktail shaker with a pinch of stevia, a handful of ice, and topped with water)
  • 2 oz. Sapphire martini, 3 olives, shaken very well (everything in moderation...)
3 jobs I have had:

My resume reads like a small town novel. I have had jobs and side jobs, second jobs and no job (after September 11th, when I quit a job I couldn't stand, and on the 2nd day of it, mind you, and then no one anywhere was hiring.) Three from the past, no rhyme or reason, they just come to mind...
  • Subway, position: Sandwich Artist. This was my first job, in Viroqua, WI. I washed my hands so much that they nearly fell off. If someone could see me, I washed my hands again, even if I just washed them... and I don't think anyone ever cared or noticed. We opened a second store in Westby, 10 miles away, one of the firsts in the chain to open inside a gas station, and I was the "manager" of that one, keeping track of back deposits which I walked across the street, and scheduling. To this day, I have not eaten at a Subway.
  • Sweet Terra Organic Farm, position: laborer. I worked a whole season, from seed planting/greenhousing through kale in the mid-fall - dipping my arms up to my elbows in frigid water to wash it before bundling it for sale, then driving back home 5 miles in my '84 Buick LeSabre with the heat blasting to warm my tingling extremities...
  • Kinko's, position: Copy Specialist, then "promoted" to Office Manager. I liked working there, most of the time. I was a late second shift employee, and would usually leave work around 11:30 PM... I lived a night-based life. Around the same time, I worked a second job at the bakery we shared a parking lot with, and that was an early first shift - so I was completely sleepless for a while in 1998. Then, I quit the bread job, spent a day to myself listing to Cindy Lauper, She's So Unusual, on vinyl, and then eventually got moved to first shift. My second shift life became working at a small gourmet grocery who shall remain unnamed due to unscrupulous practices...
3 TV shows I watch:

I am not much of a TV watcher. I've pretty much given up the Food Network for good, with the odd viewing of Alton Brown or Iron Chef, since I prefer to read in online or paper print most of my food related interests. I DVR, and then let the recorder fill to almost full, then delete - even then it contains mostly movies that I occasionally watch while knitting. I do watch a show once in a while during the winter months, but every single time I do, it will be canceled. Examples?? (Note the science-fiction nature of my TV viewing.)
  • Journeyman. Time travel sci-fi drama about a San Franciscan man who inexplicably travels back and forth through time. It was a good plot, and not terrible acting, and was canceled after 1 season.
  • Life on Mars. Another sci-fi drama about a police detective from 2008 that wakes up in 1973. If you like mustaches, the one season of this should keep you entertained if only for Michael Imperioli's stash- even though the plots got weaker and the writing worse as the season wore on. There was a UK version of this that was highly acclaimed, but I've yet to see it. Maybe I'll rent it this winter.

How could you NOT want to see this mustache in action? His character fit the look, as well. (image from Yahoo!TV)
  • V. Though on summer hiatus, I'm DVRing this update to the loving alien conspiracy of my youth. I like it, a lot. I'm not ashamed. Meanwhile, I'm DVRing Warehouse 13 on SyFy Channel. I love Saul Rubinek. I love campy, goofy rom/com/dramas about supernatural goings on. It also boasts not-so-good special effects. I'm sold!
3 places I would love to visit:

I think if given the opportunity, this list could be endless. Three gigantic cities that I'd love to go and eat in would be:
  • Mexico City
  • Tokyo
  • Rome
3 favorite retro TV shows:
  • Bewitched. (And my favorite quote from Wayne's World: "Dick Sargent, Dick York, Sargent York?!") I really did watch this as part of my after school regimen when I lived in the great Northwoods... I've probably seen every single episode.
  • WKRP in Cincinatti. (This was also on after school when I lived up north. I'd like to rent them now and see if Dr. Johnny Fever is as cool as I used to think he was. It's probably a case of the Fonz, and I should just remember them as I used to think and not as I'd see them now.)
  • Punky Brewster. I was Punky for Halloween in 1984, and it was the best costume ever. I adorned myself with several bandannas, and rolled up one of my jean legs.
3 places I have lived:
  • Minocqua, WI
  • Wilton, WI
  • Fountain City, WI

Me, E and Sasa, outside the Square Pie, Wilton Wisconsin circa 2000.

3 favorite dishes:

This one requires some thinking. The way I've morphed into cooking lately is that I make things usually once. There are of course some things that I live for each summer, after the produce starts rolling in abundantly, so I'll list them here -
  • Marcella Hazan's recipe for eggplant. The flesh is cut and stuffed with garlic, then pan fried until it's soft. Topped with garden tomatoes, basil, fresh mozzarella and breadcrumbs, it's baked until absolutely soft and delicious. I make this several times per summer, usually with small eggplants.
  • Fish cooked in parchment or foil. Any type of fish and any number or variants in the way of flavors or vegetables will work, but my favorite is a mild white fish like tilapia or orange roughy, olive oil, lemon and a bit of butter, a few sprigs of basil and a handful of olives and cherry tomatoes. Bake at 450 degrees for about 10 minutes (longer for a thicker cut), and the fish is perfect and flaky, ready to serve with salad, rice, pasta or anything else - even just a good slice of bread and a glass of red wine.
  • Tacos. Any kind, usually with fresh from the garden salsa - the hotter the better. Could be corn tortillas, or black bean tortillas, or even these hard nixtamal corn tostadas from Sanissimo in a pinch. A pot of beans, some eggs or meat, or just tomatoes and cheese and unearthly amounts of cilantro, and I could eat for weeks on end.
3 things I am looking forward to:
  • Boy-O growing out of picky-eating and going out for sushi with me.
  • A weekend in Chicago at the end of the summer around my birthday.
  • The end of the FIFA World Cup hoopla.
Which brings us to the end of this questionnaire and the final question: which 3 people I am tagging to continue this survey... which I'm not going to do actually. I hope a piano doesn't fall from the sky, or worse, an anvil, but I am breaking the chain. I've had fun thinking about my answers which I think is the point of this little exercise, and even more fun with my scanner digging about in my hard copy photographs, but I'm sure any of my blogger friends waiting with bated breath to see if they are it are happy now to exhale having escaped the tag from rcakewalk.

Thanks for tagging me, Brooke. I had fun digging through my old trip pictures, from back when I had a real film camera. I still have 2 old film cameras, just waiting for me to stop ignoring them and bring them back into vogue. Maybe my first old relic camera will be photographed today for LIFEyear, since it is the camera that took the Croatian and western pics. I kind of forgot how much I've missed it.