My maternal grandmother is a dynamite cook. I never knew this until I was an adult, because honestly, squeeze cheese on celery sticks and a black olive on each of my chubby little-kid fingers was all I really needed to keep myself going when I visited her house on the holidays. Add that to that the fact that she was just really good at giving us total “kid foods” whenever we visited, and you have the recipe for my food recall from her house.
If I had to name the foods that rip my taste-bud memories back into my childhood hours at Grandma’s, this would be the top 10 list:
1. As stated earlier, squeeze cheese on celery sticks – I never actually ate this, but visually, it will always send me back to the Christmas Eve relish tray on her kitchen table.
2. Mexican Wedding Cakes
3. Little tiny pepper cookies
4. Snack mix that included Cheetos
6. RC Cola
7. Jelly beans out of an embroidered duck’s butt
8. Thanksgiving Turkey – served at the kids table – that I over-chewed so long that it turned into a dry pasty mass in my mouth and all I really wanted to do was spit it in my napkin. But I didn’t. I powered through and swallowed it in ball-form with a swig of aforementioned RC cola.
9. Totino’s pizza (post doughnut-making-marathon)
10. Homemade doughnuts
Notice on this list, banana bread is nowhere to be found.
“Why Not?” screams the tantrum-y six-year-old in me. Grandma’s banana bread recipe is the best banana bread on. . . the. . . planet.
It’s sweet, rich, velvety, sweet, moist, rich, sweet, sweet, and sweet! It has this to-die-for crust on the top that part crunches when you take a bite and part melts in your mouth when you take a bite. The bread peaks when you bake it, and a crackly crater forms down the center of the Sweet Banana Bread Mountain Range.
So you get that it’s delicious, right? The thing is, Grandma never made this for us – but she made it for her kids, and my mom made it for us. Mom made it a lot growing up – and I’m so glad she did, because otherwise, us kids would have totally missed out on this secret family recipe passed down from my Grandma’s mother-in-law.
Over time, and after years of wedded bliss to my non-sweet-loving husband (who actually really loves the sweet-y, sweet-sweet version of Gram’s banana bread), I felt it necessary to take the dessert factor down a notch. The kids love it too, so I needed a version that was healthier and could go in the “somewhat healthy snack” category with foods like granola bars, graham crackers, and pretzels – things we could grab on the way out the door, or have with a glass of milk to sustain hungry kid-bellies until meal time, but not send them into a sugar rush-and-crash cycle.
So this is my health-i-fied version. It’s got less sugar, less saturated fat, whole wheat flour, and super healthy flaxseed (that little seed is packed with both kinds of fiber, omega-3 essential fatty acids, and lignans – you can read about its wonders here.) It doesn’t knock you in the mouth with sweetness when you take your first bite, but it does make your tongue do a happy dance. It’s sweet enough, and the turbinado sugar dusting on the top creates a light crunch that gives way to a smooth and moist middle.
These are the absolute best when they are warm from the oven the first day they are baked. You can go ahead and keep them around a couple of days though, sealed in an airtight container or wrapped individually in plastic wrap. Sometimes I wrap them each separately and freeze them so I can grab them out one at a time for lunches or trips to the park.
*Sniff*. I’m all growed up.
And, really, there was no better recipe to start with, because this mixer was passed on to me by Grandma. . . .
Healthy(er) Banana Muffins (makes about 15)
1 tablespoon flaxseed + 3 tablespoons water
1/4 Cup Shortening
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup sugar
1 beaten egg
1 cup white flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 cup buttermilk (light buttermilk should work too)
1 1/2 cups banana pulp (anywhere between 1 to 1 1/2 cups works well – that’s 3 or 4 bananas)
turbinado sugar for sprinkling (about 1/4 tsp each)
Preheat oven to 425 degrees F
Line a muffin tin with paper liners, or spray with cooking spray. In a small bowl, mix flaxseed and water and set aside.
In a large mixing bowl, cream together shortening, vanilla, sugar, beaten egg. Add flaxseed mixture.
In a medium bowl, mix whole wheat flour, white flour, salt, and baking soda.
In a small bowl, mix together banana pulp and buttermilk.
Alternately add dry mixture and banana mixture to creamed mixture in four parts, starting with the dry mixture.
Divide batter evenly between 15 muffin cups.
Sprinkle each muffin with about 1/4 teaspoon of turbinado sugar.
Bake for 10 minutes at 425 degrees F, then turn oven temp down to 350 degrees F and bake for 3-7 minutes more.
Muffins are done when they are very lightly browned and a toothpick comes out mostly clean.