Brown Sugar Banana Bread & Nurturing The Natural
Reading through numerous articles about climate change and “saving nature”, it seems as if many people who are passionate about the natural world unconsciously consider it as something apart from humans. Historically, of course, “civilized” cultures have viewed the natural world as simply a source of raw materials, resources to be stripped away for “higher and better” uses. Those who lived in balance if not harmony with nature were clearly ignorant savages by the definitions of those who grew less in tune with the natural world with every passing generation. Today, while urban cultures are as dependent on nature as everyone else, children and adults alike are divorced from natural realities, buffered by insulating comforts. During the pandemic, it seemed ironic that people seeking respite in nature pack the parks and crowd the woods until they’re as busy as any city street. Joggers and hikers wearing earbuds rock down trails to the beat of music passersby can hear, louder than birdsong or squirrel chitter.
I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry when I recently met a group of women who were “forest bathing” together, all chatting loudly as they hustled down the paths toward the car park, ready for a latte. What’s especially fascinating to me is that numerous studies show that people-any people-feel better, have lower blood pressure, and are less anxious when they are around plants. Those hasty forest bathers may have been doing themselves good even as they ignored the setting; a recent German study claims similar benefits for people who walk near urban trees in the heart of a city, even if they aren’t consciously aware of the trees. No matter how tight our bubblewrap is, part of us knows we are as much a part of nature as the trees, and know it or not, we need their company.
Looking Leads To Love
Other studies show that when people who disagree profoundly about politics are able to feel empathy when they look into each other’s eyes and acknowledge common experiences. When we truly see and hear, our hearts open. As a child, I found people baffling but was fascinated by plants. Maybe it was partly because I don’t see well; nobody realized how nearsighted I was (and I didn’t know my eyes were any different). In any case, I found more to appreciate at ground level than in the noisy, active games other kids liked to play. In garden and woods, I found enchantment and fell in love with trees that each seemed to host entire communities woven of lichens and tiny ferns, mosses and fungi, birds and insects. Buds and flowers, brilliant or subtle, leaves of every shape and size, all had incredibly complex forms even the simplest revealed to close examination. (Being nearsighted definitely helps with that part!)
Since looking led to lasting love for me, I want others to have that same delight. Whenever my grandkids are able to visit with me, we always roam the neighborhood, seeing how many kinds of plants and birds and other critters we can find. We carry bags to hold treasures we might find along the way, from pine and fir cones to feathers, interesting stones and whatever else captures our fancy. On a recent nature walk, my grandkids were asking about the long, dangling catkins of our native Western hazelnut, Corylus cornuta. The showy male catkins are softly golden, looking like fluffy strings of chenille, while the tiny, vivid red female florets are tucked into tight little buds at the tips of branches. Once pollinated, the girls swell and form plump little hazelnuts, each wrapped in enveloping husks like little green shawls. Last fall, we noticed that the native red squirrels love to eat hazelnuts, as do quite a few birds, notably the raucous, bossy jays.
A little later, a neighbor stopped me to ask a question and we got into a conversation. The kids moved a little way away and knelt down side by side by a large flat rock. When I rejoined them, they happily showed me their artwork, made from the bits and pieces in their collection bags. When we got home, they made a bottle of potion so their kitty could come to life and play with the extremely well fed neighborhood squirrels. They planted some of the chunky camellia seeds they’d found, and thought about where they might plant the bushes if any sprouted and grew (they already know that not every seed makes it to the finish line). They made mint tea from the sprigs they picked, and transplanted a baby lemon balm to take home for their mom. They are so comfortable in the woods and in the garden, watching plants change, harvesting a little and leaving a lot for critters and to keep new generations of plants coming. My dearest wish is that these kids, and others like them, will continue to love the natural world, to admire and protect and support nature all their lives. I pray they will work to protect our planet as adults and that this deep relationship will be an abiding one that brings them refreshment and joy their whole lives long.
Brown Sugar Banana Bread
We also made the most delicious banana bread yet. Actually, they decided that it’s banana cake, because cake is fancier and bread sounds boring. Be ready to get it in the oven fast, as the mixture is very bubbly.
Best Ever Brown Sugar Banana Cake/Bread
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour (or any)
1 cup all purpose flour
1/4 cup coconut milk powder (optional)
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon each coriander, cardamom and ginger
3 very ripe bananas
3 large eggs
2/3 cup avocado or vegetable oil
1/3 cup plain whole milk yogurt
1 cup lightly packed brown sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 cup pecans (optional)
1/2 cup chocolate chips (optional)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter a baking dish (ours is a glass 11 x 7.5” one). Sift dry ingredients together, set aside. In a large bowl, mash bananas, stir in eggs, oil, yogurt, brown sugar and vanilla until well blended. Stir in dry ingredients, adding nuts and chocolate chips if using. Quickly spoon into the baking dish and bake at 350 until golden brown and well set and a toothpick comes out clean (about 45 minutes). Serves at least three.