Updated recipe below!
Gosh, I love my kitchen timer. The steady cadence of that little red clock is the background rhythm for some of the most important things that happen in my home, namely homework and baking.
Baking by timer is pretty obvious. But homework? Let me explain.
I’m sort of kind of what you might call a procrastinator. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to realize that my tendency to avoid, juke, and put-off is sometimes related to my creative process — I’m a marinater — but sometimes, it’s just plain old procrastination. And that’s not really always the best way to go about life.
So when I started going back to school as an adult, I tried to be proactive about not procrastinating. I took a page from Gretchen Rubin of The Happiness Project. Gretchen (I’ve read her blog so long and her book so many times that I feel like we’re friends) has written kind of a lot about being productive. One recurring idea is about the power of just 15 minutes – here’s one example, appropriately, with 13 tips for actually getting some writing done. You can get a lot done in 15 minutes if you just force your brain to focus. Fifteen minutes doesn’t seem like much, but think about a normal day — how often do you actually spent 15 minutes seriously focused on one task? If your job is anything like mine, you’ll probably need 15 minutes to come up with an example! Between my Internet ADD and bad habit of constantly responding to the urgent, not the important (Covey!), I’m often surprised at the progress I can make by devoting just 15 solid minutes of focus to any one given task.
That’s where my kitchen timer and Gretchen plan entered the picture. I struggle so often to start projects — writing a paper, researching — because I feel completely and totally overwhelmed. But if I se the timer and make myself focus until it dings, I’ve found I can both accomplish much and stave off panic for at least a few more hours.
Tonight, I focused on a critical analysis for one hour (my smallest productive unit of study time). The timer dinged — sweet relief! — and I even kept working for another 15 minutes. Proud and impressed with what I’d accomplished – text on four pages already! A relatively complete argument structure! Places for quote! — I decided to reward myself with some baking.
Tonight’s culinary agenda? An apple version of the So Long, Summer! Mango Bars I made a few weeks ago (and, by the way, dropped on the floor after serving only one!) and a new-to-my-kitchen item: banana bread.
Back-To-School Apple Butter Bars
This is the basic recipe. Just use a jar of apple butter instead of mango. I also added, per the original recipe, 1/8 cup of milk to the apple butter and egg mixture, mostly because I had milk in the house today. I’ve made the recipe both ways, and it doesn’t seem to matter much. But if you’re using a particularly thick fruit butter, the milk helps the consistency of the middle layer.
Also! I found out that though it was yummy, Trader Joe’s cake mixes are larger than most. So if you want your proportions to be their best, buy the cheap stuff.
Chocolate Chip Cranberry Banana Bread
Adapted from the recipe for banana chocolate chip bread in In the Small Kitchen by Cara Eisenpress and Phoebe Lapine, the creative forces behind Big Girls Small Kitchen
Oven at 350°. Butter
a loaf pan two loaf pans and add parchment paper to the bottom. (I put one piece of parchment across the bottom and up two sides.) (My trial loaf, just one, tasted delicious, but was straight goo through its core. Next time, this recipe makes two loaves.)
1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
3 to 4 ripe bananas (mashed to yield 2 cups — I used six medium bananas, which was probably a little too much)
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup melted butter
1 cup (ish) chocolate chips
1/2 cup (ish) dried cranberries
Stir together the flour, salt, baking powder, and baking soda.
In a separate, larger bowl, mash the bananas. Cara and Phoebe note that the bananas should still have some texture – don’t purée them. Add the eggs, sugars, vanilla, butter, and mix well.
Add the dry ingredients, mixing until just combined.
Stir in chocolate chips and dried cranberries (and/or whatever else you have around the house — nuts? chopped-up candy bars? Go crazy.)
Pour batter into pans, bake for one hour or until a knife comes out clean from the center. Cool a little bit in the pan, then invert onto a rack to cool completely.
The banana bread was a new one for me – I’ve never made it, and I don’t know that I particularly even like it. But I had some almost-too-ripe bananas hanging around, and I figured I could always feed my coworkers with the products of my kitchen experiment. So far, it looks good. I’ve got to get back to my homework now — I think I’ve got another hour of productivity in me.
For reference: The Happiness Project, by Gretchen Rubin. My autographed copy (I told you, I’m a devotee!) is worn and loved, and I’ve given this book as a gift to just about everyone. Gretchen also has a new book out — I haven’t read it yet, but I’m looking forward to Christmas break when I can forget about homework and read Happier at Home.