I have a confession to make. I’ve never been known for my culinary skills.
Second confession: this is a monumental understatement.
I don’t know how cooking-challenged mothers like me existed before the microwave was invented. Seriously. I’m really good at tearing open the side vents on one of those 90-second rice packages, popping it in the microwave, hitting the buttons, and wow! Perfect every time. But give me a recipe with instructions like “blanch” or “crimp” and a kitchen disaster is sure to occur.
But here’s my third confession. There’s one thing I can make — banana bread. I’ve made the same recipe for more than 20 years and it comes out perfect every time. That must be because the recipe was given to me by a librarian, my good friend Susie, who works at a public library in Libertyville, Illinois.
The other day, while I was mixing up a batch of banana bread and mulling over the plot of my work-in-progress, I had an epiphany — making banana bread is a lot like writing a story. Take the three overripe bananas, for example. Soft, blackened peels, completely unappealing. They’ve been looped over the banana hanger for two weeks. Sort of like my characters, who’ve been ripening in my head for a while.
The first step to any decent banana bread is to take off the icky peel and reveal the mushy banana underneath. Like the depth of a character…often, it takes some peeling to get under a character’s skin and find out what makes him or her tick. The next step, of course, is to mash those three bananas together in a bowl, until they become one big mush, kind of like characters who become intertwined in each others’ lives during the course of a story.
Add one and a half cups of flour. Powdery, thick, requires some gentle blending so it doesn’t fly over the edge of the bowl. I suppose flour is the setting. It holds the bread together. Without that foundation, there wouldn’t even be a story. One cup of sugar comes next. To me, the sugar is the heart and sweetness, or perhaps, the theme. Then crack one egg and let the runny yellow liquid seep into the bowl, like the plot, which spreads throughout the story and is perhaps the most important ingredient. Eggs bind, aerate, leaven, and emulsify, and while I’m not exactly sure what those terms even mean, I know eggs are essential. And so is a good plot.
One teaspoon of baking soda for conflict, because without it, my story is flat. And 1/4 cup of melted butter for smoothness and flow. Then one teaspoon of salt — the surprise twist! Last but not least, a handful of semi-sweet chocolate chips for the resolution, because I love a happy ending.
Stir. Pour into a greased loaf pan, and put into a 350 degree preheated oven. While the bread is baking and the delicious smell fills your home, sit down and write. Engaging the mind and senses in a totally different activity can help stimulate creativity and alleviate blocks.
One hour later, take out the bread, cut a warm, steaming slice, and treat yourself. No “blanching” allowed.
Michele Weber Hurwitz is the author of Calli Be Gold (Wendy Lamb Books 2011) and The Summer I Saved the World…in 65 Days (Wendy Lamb Books, coming spring 2014). Visit her at www.micheleweberhurwitz.com.