It feels like like spring a little bit – today, which is smack in mid-February (though, I will note, it’s just one month until the official first day of spring), probably because of the birds. I woke up to them chirping madly away at 8a, and stretched luxuriously under the covers, unfortunately wide-awake slightly too early for a Saturday (I fell back asleep for another hour). Now, as I sip my freshly brewed Blue Bottle, a swath of sun lays golden and sweet across my reading chair and still they are singing gladly on from the light pole outside my window. Perhaps they’re calling the sun back? Yesterday was gorgeous with warmer temperatures than we’ve felt in awhile, but today the rain is supposed to descend again and I will enjoy these few stolen hours until it does. I swear, though, that right now the main bird-sound I hear is a blue jay — one of the obnoxious, raucous, plumy-proud sort that loves to hang out in redwood forests on a spring-summer weekend, screaming down into the quiet trees though I live on a fairly busy street in a fairly major city.
(I do love when nature seeps into city life and in this city, it happens pretty frequently though it can be a little disorienting.)
This morning I ran 8 miles. I didn’t really mean to, but I hardly went at all the last week due to rain, and I was set for a big dinner, and I wanted to get moving (yoga is gonna feel so good tomorrow), and, well, sometimes I just do stuff like that. A few weeks ago when I was in Sebastopol I ran my old marathon training route up and down the winding back roads and then back again in the sun just to see how it felt. It was a hot day and I hadn’t had enough water but it was so good to be out there. I tried to remember how long it had been since I’d last done it — two years? maybe more? — and not much had changed, really, except maybe the old white horses that used to look at me curiously were not there in their field and more apple trees were cut down to lie grey and leafless on the bare ground (it truly hurts my heart to see them). I had to walk the parts I used to walk (perhaps a tiny bit more, now) and when I climbed the the last hill I had that old feeling of holy crap, there are three miles still to go.
I can’t believe how much I used to run; that fall I ran probably 9 miles four or five days a week, with a rest day or two, and then a long run of 10 miles or more building up to my longest of 21 miles two weeks before the race. Most marathon training programs tell you to work up to the extra long distances over four months or so; I did the accelerated ‘program’ (meaning, I just started running more than usual without a strict plan) in two months with I think a week off when my grandfather died and I went to New Jersey. Madness. And yet, I finished in 4.5 hours and was back running a week later. Sometimes I miss those days, a little bit. I could never do that now and I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing. I don’t know if the body is made to be pushed so very hard and far and yet … and yet. There are few things that compare to a long run — I love that scoured-out, absolutely tired feeling at the end of it, when I’m sweaty and starving and somehow euphoric.
So today I ran a very lot and then I came home and ate banana bread.
[Banana bread, February 2009.]
Really it was the only thing to do. And it’s rather easy to keep on slogging away when you know you have a sweet reward just a few miles down the road.
I have a very fine banana bread recipe which I’ve posted here before, but lately I’ve been making a new one. It’s not nearly as health-conscious but, boy, is it delicious (I’ll blame the butter. And the chocolate chips.). I made it as a trial a few weeks ago for my coworkers and I think it barely lasted an hour; I made it last weekend for my guests and we gobbled it up over the course of just a few days with the two of us left fighting over the last slice on Monday morning. It’s more of a banana cake than a banana bread, but as you bake the batter in a loaf pan you might as well just go along with that whole ‘bread’ concept that, especially since it largely consists of fruit (think of the potassium!), makes you virtuously pat yourself on the back and think about how very healthy you’re being.
Well, it’s a nice thought anyway. I suppose it’s true that if you left out the chocolate chips (oh but why?) it’d be a little bit better for you (substitute some blanched almonds perhaps), or swapped in a cup of wheat flour for white (this makes for a denser, chewier crumb which is a pleasure in and of itself) this ‘bread’ might live up better to its name. But really, it’s so good as-is: simple, moist, and run through with sweetly scented bananas. This is a bread-cake fit for beloved visitors and family members, all; it’s a bread-cake just right for brightening a rainy Monday morning at the office; and it’s exactly the bread-cake you want to eat after coming in just a bit wind-whipped and exhausted (and hungry) from a run.
A friend of mine used to tease me about running: Nicole, what are you running from? he’d question when I’d tell him I’d dragged myself up early to go before work. Oh now! I’d reply. Maybe it’s what I’m running toward instead of away! I’m not sure if either one of us was ‘right’ — some days I wonder why I do log such long miles, except then I do and feel so good I just know; I like to joke I’m not training toward any race right now except perhaps my sanity — but when I think about a thick slice of this pain au banane waiting for me on my kitchen table, ready to be smeared with a good bit of butter and devoured, I can’t help but pick up my pace and point my well-worn running shoes toward home and a fortifying slice. Some days maybe that’s all the reason I need.
Banana-chocolate bread, adapted from williams sonoma
Vegans, do I have a loaf for you! Well, soonish anyway.
6 Tbs. (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
3 very ripe bananas, coarsely mashed (about 1 1/2 cups)
3 eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 tsp. vanilla
2 cups all-purpose flour (or one white, one wheat)
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. salt
3/4 cup chocolate chips
Preheat an oven to 350°F. Grease and lightly flour a 9-by-5-inch loaf pan.
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the flat beater, beat together the butter and sugar on medium speed until creamy, about 1 minute. Add the bananas, vanilla, and eggs and beat until smooth. Add the buttermilk and beat just until combined.
In a bowl, stir together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, nutmeg, cinnamon, and salt. Add the flour mixture to the banana mixture and beat just until combined. Add the chocolate chips. The batter should be slightly lumpy. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan. It should be no more than two-thirds full. Bake until the loaf is dark golden brown and dry to the touch and the edges pull away from the sides of the pan, 55 to 60 minutes. A toothpick inserted into the center should come out clean. Let the bread rest in the pan for 5 minutes, then turn the loaf out onto a wire rack and let cool completely. Cut into thick slices to serve. Makes one 9-by-5-inch loaf.