Fool-Proof Coconut Banana Loaf (With A Top-Secret Ingredient!)

Today’s cooler temperatures and overcast skies made it feel like fall is just around the corner. And one of my favourite things about fall is baking: loaves, muffins, cookies, and cakes–all of the things that felt like too much effort during the hot summer months. I made my Grandma Murphy’s recipe for a coconut banana loaf for an afternoon snack today (freelancing has its perks).

This might look like a plain old ordinary banana loaf, but there’s a secret ingredient that transforms it into banana bread amazingness. And it’s not, surprisingly, the coconut. It’s the wonderful nutty nectar that is almond extract. Yum.

banana coconut bread

I always hate saying goodbye to summer, but there’s something so appealing about cozying up in chunky knits with a mug of piping hot coffee and a slice of homemade banana loaf. That being said, I’m happy to see that summer temperatures will be back before the weekend!

FOOL-PROOF BANANA COCONUT LOAF
2 eggs
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup melted butter
3 medium bananas, mashed
Splash of almond extract
1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup medium grind coconut, shredded
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt

Preheat oven to 350F

Beat the eggs, then add sugar and melted butter and beat well. Stir in bananas and almond extract.

Measure the dry ingredients into another bowl and stir until well mixed. Spoon mixture into a greased loaf pan.

Bake for 55-60 minutes.

Easy-Peasy Peach Cream Pie

August. Is there a better month for eating? Not if you live in a part of the world where corn, beefsteak tomatoes, and peaches are available in abundance this time of year. Farmers markets and roadside stands are loaded with so much bright, beautiful produce you hardly need to actually cook anything.

easy peach pie

Of course fresh, juicy peaches are a satisfying dessert on their own, but it’s always a treat to taste them baked in a pie. My aunt has been making this peach cream pie for decades, and it never disappoints. It’s also easy, which is exactly how summer cooking should be. I promise you, this recipe is totally worth turning on the oven, even in this August heat.

easy peach cream pie

EASY-PEASY PEACH CREAM PIE
1 raw pie crust
6 fresh peaches, peeled and sliced
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla
Pinch of salt

Preheat oven to 450°F

Place peach slices into the pie shell, cut side up. Combine remaining ingredients in a bowl and stir well. Pour mixture over peaches.

Bake at 450°F for 15 minutes, then reduce heat to 325°F and bake for 30 minutes.

Baking tips: If your peaches aren’t super fresh, briefly pour boiling water over them to loosen the skin. If there is too much liquid in your pie shell, use a measuring cup to carefully remove the excess. Bake the pie on a cookie sheet in case the filling overflows.

Spit Up is the New Black: My First 3 Months of Motherhood

The truth is, I loved her before I even laid eyes on her. Before she appeared on the ultrasound monitor as a tiny white speck. Before we heard the intoxicating sound of her heart thump-thumping at 150 beats per minute. Before we knew she was a she. I loved her even then.

But all of that was the equivalent of a summer-camp crush compared to the to the tidal wave of love that washed over me when I finally met her. Olivia. Our daughter. The love of our lives.

baby smiles

She came into the world at 1:44am on July 2, 2014–a beautiful, squawking, seven-pound bundle of joy with cherry-red lips and a very full bladder: she peed on me as the doctor held her above my belly to let Dave cut the umbilical cord. Ha! The girl knows how to make an entrance. When I held her tiny newborn body against mine for the first time, it felt like my heart was a volcano erupting warm rivers of love and gratitude all over the delivery room, out into the hallways of Mount Sinai Hospital, and through the streets of the entire city.

The first six weeks of motherhood were a dizzying whirlwind of diaper changes, round-the-clock feedings and sleepless nights. I’m not going to lie: it was utterly exhausting. How come no one talks about how much time a mom spends nursing her newborn? Sure, all of the books I read told me that babies need to eat eight to twelve times per day but I was thinking each feeding would be ten minutes, max. I’m here to set the record straight: if you plan to breastfeed at some point in your life, prepare to be a 24-hour all-baby-can-eat milk buffet. Feedings sometimes took up to an hour, which basically equals eight hours a day (or more), which basically amounts to a full-time job.

Getting out of the house with a newborn is an adventure in and of itself. It’s staggering that infants–such tiny little creatures–have so much gear. Every outing requires an intense round of mental gymnastics as you sort out what you’ll need (a car seat, a stroller, a carrier–all three?) and making sure you know how each item works before you leave. You don’t want to cause a traffic jam in the mall parking lot because you don’t know how to collapse the stroller. (Hint, though: most of this stuff is only a quick Google away.)

Things got easier around the two-month mark. She started sleeping for longer stretches and she was happy to take a bottle. “I get to make dinner?!” I exclaimed the first time that Dave came home from work and fed her from a bottle in the evening. I had never embraced the task of preparing a meal with such enthusiasm. Dicing onions and heating olive oil in a frying pan helped me connect with my pre-baby self, someone that felt a little lost to me during the first few weeks of motherhood.

I love being a mom (I love being her mom), but it took time to adjust to this new role. All aspects of my life changed overnight, including my marriage (date night… what’s that?!); my social life (while 5 p.m. once kicked off “happy hour” and after-work drinks with friends, it now signals the beginning of what the experts call “the witching hour,” a three-hour period in the evenings when babies are particularly fussy); and my exercise routine (my running shoes haven’t seen the light of day since I don’t even know when).

Sometimes I still I miss the days when I had the freedom to do these things whenever I pleased. A simpler time when I didn’t spend most of the day with a nursing pillow strapped around my naked torso. But then I catch a smile on our daughter’s adorable face, or hear her sweet coos and giggles, or smell her delicious baby scent, and all of that longing disappears. I’ll be reacquainted with my sneakers soon enough. For now, I’m savouring every sleep-deprived moment with this beautiful little soul.

Help! Breastfeeding Has Turned Me Into A Baked Goods Addict

Let me start by stating that I’m very grateful that I can breastfeed my baby. I know that it doesn’t work for all mothers and babies for a variety of reasons, and I’m thankful that it has worked for me and my daughter. It’s been a wonderful bonding experience.

However, breastfeeding has turned me into a bottomless pit. I’m hungry all of the time. And of course I don’t crave kale and arugula. (Does anyone crave leafy greens?) I yearn for full-fat lattes and date squares. Salted chocolate chip cookies. Freshly-baked scones. Almond croissants. Carrot cake with cream cheese frosting. Homemade blueberry pie with French vanilla ice cream. I want it all! Right now!

I indulge in these cravings on a semi-regular basis because, well, it takes a lot of energy to feed a human baby! And because sometimes I’m just too exhausted to muster the willpower not to. Sure, breastfeeding burns a lot of calories–I’ve read anywhere from 200 to 800 calories per day (the Internet can be so reliable)-but in my experience it’s not quite enough to balance out the extra energy I’m consuming. It’s maddening to juggle two constant, conflicting desires: to (a) eat fattening baked goods with abandon and (b) fit back into my pre-pregnancy jeans. Yes, I want to have my seven-layer chocolate cake and eat it, too. It’s an exhausting and frustrating mental battle, and when I get tired and frustrated, y’know what I wanna to do? EAT BAKED GOODS!!

And so I do… and I enjoy every last bite!

Since I’ve got sweets on the mind, I thought I’d share this recipe for Hello Dollies–one of my all-time favourite comfort foods. I know I say a lot of recipes are super easy to make, but this one is downright rudimentary. You don’t even have to stir the ingredients together! They might not be the prettiest treats on Pinterest, but who cares how they look when they taste so ridiculously delicious?

1/4 cup butter
1 cup graham cracker crumbs

1 cup flaked coconut
1 cup chocolate chips
1 cup pecans, chopped (optional)
1 can sweetened condensed milk

Preheat oven to 325°F

Melt butter in 8″ x 8″ pan. Add graham cracker crumbs and press firmly into pan to create crust. Arrange remaining ingredients over crust in order given, without stirring or mixing. Bake for 30 minutes. Let cool in pan before cutting into squares.

Blogging, Babies & Butter Tarts

I’ve decided to start blogging again. Why? Because I missed it. Because why not. Because what else am I going to do while my baby naps. (Oh yeah–I had a daughter a couple of months ago! But more on that later. Probably.)

September means back to school for students and back to work for summer vacationers, and since I’m not going back to either of those things, I might as well go back to blogging. Right? Write.

A lot of stuff has happened in the past few months: Dave and I said goodbye to our carefree/child-free days of bar hopping and apartment dwelling in Toronto’s Trinity-Bellwoods neighbourhood and became home-owning, Rav 4-driving, diaper-changing, stroller-pushing east enders. Our new gig keeps us busy doing all sorts of things, like trying to stay ahead of a Mount Everest-sized pile of laundry, making our house feel like a home (I swear we’ll get window coverings soon!), and manipulating our facial muscles in ridiculous contortions in attempt to make our daughter smile. Sometimes it even works (proof below).

baby smiles

Things I haven’t been doing lately include, but are not limited to: baking and blogging. And bathing. Just kidding. I totally still bathe, although it’s been bumped down on the to do list these days. Taking care a human baby is hard work! But it’s impossible to complain about the job when your boss is so darned cute.

Anyway, here’s a Grandma Murphy-approved recipe for butter tarts. I thought these were the perfect treats for this post since our daughter’s due date was Canada Day (her actual birth date was July 2) and apparently butter tarts are considered a Canadian delicacy. Beware: they are sinfully delicious and almost too easy to make!

easy butter tart reicpe

Note: I used this pastry recipe for the tart shells, but store-bought ones work, too!

1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup corn syrup
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup butter
1 egg
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat oven to 425°F

Cover raisins with boiling water. Let stand 5 to 10 minutes. Drain water. Beat in egg, brown sugar and the remaining ingredients. Pour mixture into raw tart shells–do not overfill. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes. 

Valentine’s Day Brownies

They say that food is love, and this Valentine’s Day I’m expressing my love in the form of heart-shaped brownies.

heart-shaped brownie recipe

Of course, there’s no way cocoa and icing sugar can adequately express the deep love that I have for Dave: my husband, my valentine, my best friend. There’s no way I can pour the love that flows through my wild, beating heart into brownie batter. He’s already got my heart, so presenting him with a plate of heart-shaped brownies is just one of the small ways I can show him how much he means to me. A sugary way to say I love you.

brownies_multipleValentine’s Day is a time to celebrate all forms of love–not just the romantic kind, but the love from friends and family that makes life beautiful. While they might not have been heart-shaped, these brownies were a staple in my Grandma Murphy‘s house when my mom and her four sisters were growing up. They, too, were an expression an of my grandma’s love for her daughters–especially when she iced them with chocolate frosting!

Brownies:
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup Crisco 
2 squares chocolate or 1/3 cup cocoa
2 eggs
1/2 teaspoon salt 

1 cup sifted flour
1 cup walnuts 
2 teaspoons vanilla 

Preheat oven to 350°F. 

Melt the chocolate squares in a double-boiler. Cream together sugar and Crisco using an electric mixer. Add eggs and beat until light. Add flour and melted chocolate or cocoa. Stir in salt, nuts and vanilla. Pour mixture into a 9-inch square pan and bake for 20 minutes. 

Frosting:
2 cups icing sugar 
1/2 cup cocoa 
1/4 cup butter 
Dash salt 
1/4 cup boiling water 

Thoroughly mix first four ingredients in a medium bowl. Add hot water very slowly while beating until it reaches a “flowing” consistency, much like a ganache. 

Chocolate Mocha Torte

All of my Grandma Murphy‘s desserts are delicious, but some are popular than others. Take for example, the beloved chocolate mocha torte.

chocolate mocha cake recipeThis tall, dark and handsome dessert is practically a celebrity in my family. When I asked relatives to share their favorite of Grandma’s recipes, almost all of the replies included the mocha torte. With its layers of moist chocolate chiffon cake and creamy mocha frosting, it’s totally worthy of its superstar status.

For me, this cake is synonymous with celebrations. It’s been my favorite cake for as long as I can remember. Even as a kid, I liked the rich mocha flavor and it was often the highlight of my childhood birthday parties. My mom loves this cake, too. For years, my grandma made it for her on her birthday, and I can’t think of this dessert without imagining my mom blowing out candles, her bright smile spread across her beautiful face.

If you try this recipe, I hope your family loves it as much as mine does. Enjoy!

For the cake: 
3/4 cup boiling water
4 squares sweet or semi-sweet chocolate 
1 2/3 cups sifted cake flour*
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 tablespoons instant coffee
2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
8 eggs, separated
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar 

For the frosting: 
3 cups whipping cream, chilled
1 1/2 cups icing sugar
1/2 cup sifted unsweetened cocoa 
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons instant coffee 

Preheat oven to 350 F

Combine chocolate in boiling water. Microwave for 1 minute. Stir well and let cool. 

Sift flour, 1 1/4 cups sugar, coffee, baking powder, and salt into small mixer bowl. Make a well in the mixture and add oil, egg yolks, and chocolate. Beat well. 

Combine egg whites and cream of tartar and beat until frothy. Gradually beat in remaining 1/4 cup sugar until stiff peaks form. Fold in chocolate batter until well mixed. Bake in an angel food cake pan for 45 to 50 minutes. Upturn pan until cool. 

For the frosting, combine cream, sugar, cocoa, salt, and coffee. Refrigerate, covered, for 30 minutes. Beat mixture with electric beaters until stiff. 

Split cake into three layers and ice liberally. 

*Can substitute with all-purpose flour.