the clearest route

Why, hello March! How sneaky of you, creeping up behind me quickly and quietly, propelling past February’s tail just outside of my peripheral vision. It was nice of you to bring gifts – warm, sunshine-filled afternoons set against a bright, sapphire sky.

Walking through the park on Thursday, I noticed that beds are filled with the lime green leaves of young daffodils, and the tiny bell-shaped snowdrops are in full bloom. I even unbuttoned my coat, let it drape open to expose my sweater-clad chest, loosening the protective shell I’ve encased my body in for months.

Friday morning I glanced out my kitchen window and a bright spot of yellow caught my eye. Crocuses(!), peeking out from underneath a layer of leaves and mulch.

And yesterday, out taking care of errands with Brian, wandering in and out of shops, I had to dig my sunglasses out from their hiding place in our car. Oh Ray-Bans, how I’ve missed you!

As I write this, there is bright southern light streaming through the back door of my kitchen, the pattern of the glass casting a gridded shadow across the floor. And the window right over the sink, open as wide as it will go, grants permission to the cool breeze to filter through, picking up the scent of banana bread before moving on to the rest of the house. So motivating, the near-Spring feel of the space is calling to me, luring me to the pantry to gather ingredients for my next project.

I am constantly amazed at the affect that weather has on moods, on preferences, on behavior.

I am inspired to cook again, to browse my books and magazines in search of the perfect use for the local spring produce arriving any week now. Arugula and swiss chard, broccoli and kale. Green, green and more green.

The need to see something grow, to cover my hands with soil and coax tiny seeds to life, is overwhelming. The desire to walk out my back door with clippers in hand, returning with arms full of fresh produce, is palpable. Soon, so very soon.

Oh, and we’ve been talking about moving. Wanting to start over on a new (old) house, to tackle different renovation projects and to pick out brighter paint colors. I am addicted to our local real estate site, checking my email for new listings first thing each morning.

And then there’s photography, which I’ve been practicing regularly. Photographs of people and flowers and jewelry and food are popping up on my newly established Flickr page. It seems that inspiration is everywhere, and I am desperate to capture it all.

It’s a very nice change, this desire to invent, to create, to produce in place of the urge to sit still with a mind devoid of motivation. I credit the Spring-ish weather, feeling as if I am emerging from hibernation, stretching my legs and taking confident strides towards goals set with the new year. Some personal, some professional. Some big, some small. All important.

At any given moment my mind is flickering between half a dozen thoughts, trying to decide which to settle on and move forward with.  I am often overwhelmed, the trails in front of me not entirely clear and me standing at the head of them with my shoes laced up, ready to go but not sure of which to choose.

But when the kitchen is an option, it is undoubtably the route that I embark on.  Always the clearest, with a succinct set of instructions to accompany me, the outcomes are mostly joyous. Even if I get lost. And then there’s that southern light, and the crisp breeze, and the possibility of banana-scented air.  Who can say no to that?

And so, in this time of overwhelming possibility I’ve busied myself with baking, covering my hands (and face, and hair, and thighs) with flour, watching cakes and cookies rise to gentle domes through the oven door. I enjoy the satisfaction of this productivity, of harnessing some of the energy emanating from the Earth as it prepares for this next season, directing it towards bowls of sifted sugar and flour, creamed butter and silky eggs. As my hands work to chop walnuts and mash bananas my mind is able to wander, to slowly wrap itself around all those other thoughts, to sort through and file them away for a different time when the sun isn’t shining through the window quite so perfectly.

This cake, while not the prettiest kid on the block, certainly has the possibility of being the most popular with its stellar personality. So dense, so moist, the banana-scented crumb is perfectly balanced with dark chocolate and toasty walnuts. I brought it in to share with my office, a group notoriously hesitant about sweets, and it was polished off within a day.  That says something, something very good, I assure you.

banana cake with dark chocolate and walnuts

from gourmet, february 2008

serves 8-10


  • 2-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, softened, plus 2 tbsp, melted and cooled
  • 1 cup sugar, divided
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1-1/4 cups mashed very ripe bananas (about 3 medium)
  • 2/3 cup fat-free, vanilla, greek yogurt
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 (3-1/2 to 4-ounce) bar bittersweet chocolate, or 1 cup bittersweet chocolate chips
  • 1 cup walnuts, toasted, cooled and coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon


  1. Preheat oven to 375* with rack in middle.  Butter a 9-inch square cake pan.
  2. Stir together flour, baking soda and salt.
  3. Beat together softened butter (1 stick) and 3/4 cup sugar in a medium bowl with an electric mixer at medium speed until pale and fluffy.  Beat in eggs one at a time until blended. Beat in bananas, yogurt and vanilla (mixture will look curdled).
  4. With mixer at low speed, add flour mixture and blend until just incorporated.
  5. Toss together chocolate, nuts, cinnamon, melted butter and remaining 1/4 cup sugar in a small bowl.  Spread half of banana batter in cake pan and sprinkle with half of chocolate mixture.  Spread remaining batter evenly over filling and sprinkle remaining chocolate mixture on top.
  6. Bake until cake is golden and a wooden pick inserted in center of cake comes out clean, 35-40 minutes.  Cool cake completely before cutting.

retail relay

Charlottesville folks, have you heard of Retail Relay?  I had my first experience with the company last week, and am so impressed by the service they are providing to local consumers and businesses.  It’s a one-stop shopping experience for most of your favorite local food providers, at no additional cost to you.  Our order included items from Foods of all Nations, Feast, The Organic Butcher, Belle Haven Farm Bakery and Mona Lisa Pasta. I’ll be doing a post about the experience soon, but wanted to extend a coupon code they’ve offered my readers as soon as possible.

**For $10 off your Retail Relay order of $50 or more, enter ‘bellaeats‘ in the coupon bar on the online order form.**


25 responses to “the clearest route

  1. I will definitely be trying that recipe! Bananas, chocolate and nuts are probably my favorite flavors to combine :- ) Beautiful photos per usual.

  2. Andrea! I have this cake in the oven right this very minute (and it smells unbelievably good). What a coincidence! We’ll have to compare notes soon.

    (Glad to hear you’re enjoying March. Me too.)

  3. We do have bananas on the brain! I just love bananas and walnuts together.

    Your banana date bread is also always a winner 🙂

  4. Annecalista : Thank you! Please let me know if you like the recipe.

    Kristing : Great minds think alike! 🙂 This cake smelled AMAZING while baking, and was SUCH a hit with everybody who tried it. One friend couldn’t even wait for me to get it posted, but had to have the recipe immediately!

    Whitney : Aw, thanks! The banana date bread is still my favorite… 🙂

  5. This looks amazing!! I love anything with bananas and chocolate!! 🙂

  6. I can totally relate to the mind jumping from one to the next- and I too become often clear minded in my kitchen! therapeutic!

    this cake looks and sounds AMAZING… bananas n chocolate make any day better! yum! 🙂

  7. I must admit that I do miss the change of seasons here in Southern CA. While we have seasons (there is even snow on the mountains east of LA today), it’s not the same.
    I don’t bake too much, but this recipe might inspire me.

  8. I love your blog, I get all itchy to make whatever you blog about everytime you update it. This however has inspired much more than an itch, but rather a all out NEED to have this bread. Now. Thanks for the recipie.

  9. That looks so warm and comforting and delicious right now. I completely agree with being amazed at how much the weather affects one’s mood. I just feel brighter when it’s warmer… so having only had one proper Summer in the past 3 years because of travelling has been, well, not ideal!

  10. Steph- Exercise Physioloist & Artist

    That looks unbelievably good!! your photos look like they are from a cook book or magazine!
    They literally look good enough to eat right off my screen… that would be amazing if that was possible!!


  11. That looks heavenly! The weather here was amazing this weekend and sure was a mood lifter!!!

  12. omg the cake looks sooooo good, send some my way 😉

    weather definitely affects mood, i’m so convinced.

    enjoy the day, lovely

  13. I just wanted to comment on the weather and mood.
    I lived in NYC for almost 4 years and as a native Floridian I was terribly depressed and low energy for about 8 months a year! Basically the whole fall and winter. I didn’t realize it until I moved back to FL and felt sort of awake and alive again. Now I know I am sensitive to low sunlight and that I basically had S.A.D.
    That also helped me to gain some of the 60 POUNDS I have since lost!!!
    I may have to write about this on my blog now 🙂

    Steph- eat paint sweat… repeat!

  14. The awesome weather has definately lifted my mood too. I feel like I can do anything when it’s warm and sunny outside! Even try new foods!

  15. this looks so moist and delicious! how could banana + chocolate be bad?

  16. homecookedem : me too! 🙂

    jen : the kitchen is completely therapeutic…I crave it just like I crave yoga class!

    Kristina : this is a really easy recipe, you should give it a try!

    Sarah : Aw, thanks! I’m glad you’re reading. 🙂

    Hannah : I understand that, but am just a little jealous of your 3 years of travel!!!

    Christina : You would love this cake, and its so easy! 🙂

    Steph : I’m a native Floridian too!!!

    Rebecca : Hello m’dear! Always lovely to hear from you…

    Rachel : Try this one!

    Carolyn : It can’t. 🙂

  17. Ooops, it hasn’t been three straight years of travelling! Just a one year exchange and, almost a year later, four months of travelling all at the most (in)convenient times which have seen me flying out of summer and into winter! I wish I had the financial means to travel for three years 😛

  18. Pingback: Dreaming of Dark Chocolate Banana Cake « ReadyMade Editors' Notes

  19. The banana cake looks amazing! I will definitely have to try out this recipe!

  20. Drool! I always use brown bananas to make bread. Next time…this cake.

  21. I am making this tomorrow. Between you and Kristin, I believe it a must.

  22. This looks divine. I want to eat it right off my monitor.

  23. I am ALWAYS looking for banana recipes, because I seem to accumulate ripe bananas very quickly. This looks fantastic. All those chocolate chips! I so must try this.

  24. Oh I wish I had seen this sooner! There was some nice overripe bananas that we made into time we have some bananas left, I’m making this

  25. ooooh, nice! i’ll be trying this out real soon! i love me a god banana bread, and chocolate can NEVER hurt so this will be perfect for me!:)

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