Sunday, June 19, 2011

Nostalgia-free Marbled Chocolate Vegan Banana Bread

When I was in grade school, I had a secret that I guarded with a kind of embarrassed, almost pornographic intensity--I loved old-fashioned children's books. Not just the Laura Ingalls Wilder Little House series, which would have been marginally acceptable, given that there was a television program based upon them.  But I'm convinced that the popularity of the series had less to do with the bonnets, and more to do with the nice girl v. bitch goddess relationship of Laura with Nellie Olsen (a minor character in the books greatly and wisely expanded upon by the TV writers).

Most of the old-fashioned books I loved weren't particularly famous--I remember several novels set in rural Vermont about a boy named Toby who had a dappled grey pony named Windy Foot. The two of them went on all sorts of 'adventures,' like winning a horse race at the county fair, winning a doll for Toby's little sister, tapping maple syrup, and popping corn to string on the family Christmas tree. I loved a British detective series called The Secret Seven, about crime-solving children who were always celebrating Guy Fawkes Day and eating cream cakes for tea. I liked adolescent novels from the 1950s and 60s where the girls wore pencil skirts, had cuter twin sisters, and worried about the fact that their science grades might interfere with their ability to wear the Varsity sweater of their favorite crush of the moment.

I don't know why I liked reading such odd books, along with the slightly more adult literature I favored like Jane Eyre and more typical children's trash literature like Encyclopedia Brown.  With the exceptions of the Lucy Maud Montgomery books and A Little Princess, they were out-of-print, even in the 1980s when I was growing up. Sometimes I'd be so ashamed to take the books out of the school library, which would mean writing my name in pencil and getting 'stamped' as the book's only borrower, I'd steal them and return them to the shelves.

My most intense nostalgia was as a child--also manifested in my love of dollhouses and crafts--was for a life that even then I knew I'd never lived. I was forever trying to replicate the meals I read about in books set in the distant and recent past, and occasionally my mother would be surprised by a request for something I'd never wanted  so intensely before--like a peanut butter and banana sandwich and a tall glass of milk, meat loaf, or pizza with everything on it.  Simply because my favorite character had consumed it. (For the record I never asked her to help me recreate the infamous 'drunk' scene from Anne of Green Gables). I really believed that one bite, one new dress could change my life.

I've always had a pretty good memory (although as I age, perhaps I shouldn't make that statement with great confidence) and so, regarding my own past I remember all too clearly the bad.  But still (perhaps also a result of my 20s being farther away than I would care to admit) I look back with some fondness upon aspects of my childhood, even those tainted by commercialism.

I remember walking around the now-defunct Seview Square Mall and Child World with my mother, gazing at various toys, craft sets, and stuffed animals with desire, loving shopping in a way that I never have as an adult--in the complex fantasy narratives I constructed with my stuffed animals and dolls, I was absolutely convinced that it was essential that I have a new My Friend Jenny, a My Little Pony, a stuffed kangaroo for my world to be complete. Did I really spend hours flipping through 45s at Sam Goody in the mall? Or pawing through art stores for the required paper, paint, and sparkly glues to make useless objects of my own?

I probably wouldn't let my own child create a fort of sugary cereal boxes at breakfast and eat Frosted Lucky Charms (as much of a health nut as my mother was, she really believed in the fact that it was Fortified With Essential Minerals) or scarf French fries from a bag of fast food even before we arrived home.  But I love those memories, and can look back with nostalgia without trying to replicate them. Especially all of the Nathan's hot dogs slathered with relish and mustard we ate, shortly after my parent's divorce, in the circular mall food court overlooking a balcony that allowed you to stare at the other shoppers, making their way through the stores below.

I know it's supposed to be terrible not to have a home-cooked meal every night. But after cooking for her own demanding, controlling mother and my father, and dealing with my own anger, eating a hot dog or pizza meant peace for my mother, a little bit of a fantasy life before returning to her worries about bills, her job, my mother's asthma. Nostalgia for a life she never had.

Another favorite food of my childhood was Entenmann's banana chocolate cake.  Because it had no frosting, I was always allowed to have an extra-large piece. I make banana bread so easily, and so frequently, I would never buy it today.  But I return to the flavor combination again and again.

 I'm not a vegan but I do occasionally bake for vegan friends. It's good to indulge in a bit of nostalgia, even regards to your diet, so long as you know that the past was never quite as pure as you would like to remember it.

This bread is a spin-off of my earlier vegan banana bread.

Marbled Chocolate Vegan Banana Bread


1/4 cup almond milk plus 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 cup canola oil
1 cup dark brown sugar
3 mashed overripe bananas
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla

2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder plus 2 tablespoons of sugar (I used dark brown)

1. Preheat the oven to 350F. Oil and line a 9X5 pan with parchment paper.
2. Allow the almond milk spiked with vinegar to 'curdle,' making vegan buttermilk.
3. Sift together the flour, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon.
4. Mix together the oil, sugar, bananas, and vanilla.  Add the milk-vinegar mixture.  Fold in the dry, sifted ingredients.
5. In another bowl, sift together the cocoa and sugar.
6. Spoon 1/ 2 of the batter into the pan. Mix the sifted cocoa and sugar into the remaining batter. Spoon the chocolate batter on top of the 'regular' banana batter and swirl it with a knife.
7. Bake for one hour, until a toothpick can be extracted clean. Cool for at least an hour before extracting from the pan and slicing.


  1. I love your "covergirl"! You should put that one on the banner. Btw your childhood mall reminds me of mine, which still exists but has been made over and the donwmarket movie theater where I watched the movie of "Flowers in the Attic" has been replaced by...Kohl's. Sigh.

  2. @MD--thank you so much! This was really good, and chocolate-y but not sweet (in a good way). I feel the same way when totally suburban yet incredibly meaningful parts of my adolescence are changed like that--how dare they get rid of the place that sold cheap costume jewelry in front of the mall pet store and put in a J.Jill and a Yankee Candle store in their place!