Me (to my 8-year-old nephew): Hey Martin, I have a surprise for you!
Martin (excitedly, without skipping a beat): Banana muffins?!
Not surprisingly, my 2 nephews associate their Tita (Aunt) Mia with food. I'm taking that as a compliment.
Almost every summer when we get together, they seem to have a favorite food/snack of the moment. During the week we spend together, they would ask me everyday, "Tita Mia, when are we going to bake (insert snack of the moment here)?"
One summer it was mini pizzas on pita bread. They loved getting involved in the kitchen--spreading the pizza sauce, putting their own choice of toppings (and luckily they ended up eating even peppers and olives), and grated cheese. Of course, more cheese probably went into Lorenzo's belly than onto the pizza. That same year, we even made spinach and black bean enchiladas. I was pleasantly surprised that they ate it, vegetables and all.
Another summer it was my homemade granola. They snacked and snacked on it. Martin asked me about every ingredient that was in it. He would take a handful of granola, put it on a plate, and spread it out so he could see individual ingredients. "What's this one?" he would say. I would answer, "Oats." Then he would put it in his mouth, taste it, chew on it, and mull over it a little. Then he would ask, "How about this one?" I would answer, "dried blueberries." And it would go on and on. Walnuts and almonds. Dried cherries. Sesame seeds and flaxseed.
This summer it was my cinnamon crumb cake and banana chocolate chip muffins. Oh, how we made a mess in my kitchen as I let them stir the flour with the other dry ingredients. We mashed bananas. We added chocolate chips. Once it was baking in the oven, I turned the oven light on and they crouched in front of the oven, looking through the glass and watching it almost in reverence. I'd announce when it was done, and I'd have to ask them to wait for it to cool a bit before digging in. Martin would even ask for hot herbal tea to have with his cinnamon crumb cake. You'd think he was growing up in England.
How I cherish these moments. I'd like to think they'd remember it for a long, long time, as I too remember those moments with my mother in our kitchen back home. I was probably not more than 5 years old. I had my own little apron, my own little oven mitt, mixing bowl and spoon. My mom would put some flour and whatever ingredients she could spare in my bowl and I would start mixing (and making a mess) alongside her. I remember how, when we were little, my siblings and I would help make chocolate chip cookies. And how the chocolate chips had to be rationed, 2 chips per cookie, to make the chocolate go a long way. Of course, one of my brothers tried to sneak in an extra chocolate chip or two. Years later my mom would tell me how we were on a strict budget then (hence the rationed chocolate), and yet we never felt deprived. Silly as it sounds, I was almost shocked when I first saw and tasted American commercially-made chocolate chip cookies that were studded with chocolate chips. But back then we never knew the difference and didn't care that we were only allowed 2 chocolate chips per cookie. I just remember those afternoons of baking as fun family time.
And those are the gifts that matter--experiences and memories.
So maybe I'm not the giver of expensive presents, but I can say I am the supplier of homemade play dough/baked goods/granola for my 2 little sous chefs.
I'm looking forward to more kitchen memories... in a few years, when my newborn nieces Alexi and Paulina are a bit older, they will be in the midst of the action too.
More recipes are in order...
Meanwhile, here's the recipe for my Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins.
1 tablespoon ground flaxseed mixed with 3 tablespoons water
4 medium, very ripe bananas
4 tablespoons grapeseed oil, or other neutral-flavored vegetable oil
1/2 cup natural maple syrup or honey
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract or maple extract
2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips (non-dairy)
1/2 cup chopped walnuts or pecans
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Meanwhile, grease and flour a 12-cup muffin pan, or line with unbleached paper muffin cups. Mix the ground flaxseed and water in a small bowl, and set aside to thicken for 10 minutes.
2. In a bowl, mash the bananas with a fork. Add the oil, maple syrup, and vanilla or maple extract. Mix until blended. Stir in the flaxseed and water mixture. Set aside.
3. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
4. Add the flour mixture to the banana mixture, reserving 1/4 cup. Take care not to overmix! Mix the reserved 1/4 cup of flour with the chocolate chips and nuts (dredge them in the flour). Fold in the chocolate chips, nuts, and remaining flour.
5. Spoon into the muffin pan. Bake for 20-25 minutes.
* When I have very ripe bananas but don't have time to bake (on the rare occasion that I don't MAKE time to bake), I mash them and put them in zip-lock freezer bags, and label the quantity. I then freeze these for later use. I like using them in smoothies too - in a blender, throw in your choice of berries, canteloupe, peaches, mangoes, or whatever fruit is in season. I also add about a tablespoon of expeller-pressed flaxseed oil. The frozen bananas make the smoothie so.... smooth (duh) and almost creamy!