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The Bread and Butter of Pandemic Life


Polly Halfkenny

By Polly Halfkenny


Memories. The satisfaction of punching the dough down after the first rise. The tantalizing smell of bread baking in the oven. The taste when just out of the oven slathered with butter. So why not bake my own bread now that I am indoors except for a brisk walk in the park at dawn?


Nice idea. But not so easy to execute. No yeast, little flour, and no bread pan. My glass bread pan was broken long ago. I had about two cups of white flour. No whole wheat flour at all. Some molasses and white sugar, but the brown sugar was hard as a rock. And I was no longer going out after my walk so shopping had to be online.


I finally was able to buy a pound of instant yeast on Amazon, enough for a year or more. One of my neighbors gave me two pounds of white flour. I sent a message on the listserv in my building asking if anyone had one or more bread pans I could borrow. I received six offers within the hour, including one from my next door neighbor who left two at my front door.


My first experiment was banana bread. I had ordered bananas as part of an order from Fresh Direct, a grocery delivery service, (back when it was possible to get a delivery date) and had three very ripe ones remaining of the bunch of six. The recipe called for dark brown sugar. Google instructions said hard brown sugar could be softened in the microwave. It took at least 20 minutes covered by a damp paper towel to get 1/2 cup of brown sugar. The rest was easy. Mashing bananas, adding flour, baking powder and flavoring, popping in the oven and tasting before it was even cool. It was gone in two days. So much for staying fit.


I next made a loaf of whole wheat bread. After several weeks of trying on Instacart, another online delivery service, I was able to get five pounds each of unbleached white flour and whole wheat flour. The dough was very stiff and hard to mix but punching it down after the first rise was as satisfying as I remembered. Kneading the dough was great exercise for body and soul. The smells from the oven made me think of my Mom’s baking. And the first slice slathered with real butter tasted as good as it smelled. It made wonderful toast.


Not sure what I will make next. My neighbor needed her pans back so she could make banana bread. My new bread pans arrived in the mail yesterday. They have been in the hall for the requisite 24 hours so I can bring them into the apartment today. Hmmmmm. What to do now?

Banana Bread

By Julia Moskin; New York Times Cooking

YIELD: 1 loaf

TIME: 1 hour 15 minutes

Here is an easy way to use up the bananas on the countertop, or brown ones thrown in the back of the freezer. Don’t overmix the ingredients and make sure the bananas are very ripe.

FOR THE BREAD

1/4 pound cool butter (1 stick), more for greasing the pan

3/4 cup dark brown sugar (I used 1/2 cup)

2 eggs, at room temperature

2-1/3 cups very ripe bananas (I used 3 very large ones which made just enough)

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

I added a teaspoon of vanilla to the batter

FOR THE TOPPING

3 tablespoons chopped walnuts or pecans

1 tablespoon granulated or course sugar

1/8 teaspoon cinnamon

Step 1

Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a 9-by-5-inch loaf pan. Using electric mixer, cream butter until smooth and fluffy. Add sugar and cream together 2 minutes more. One at a time, mix in eggs. Mix in bananas until only small bumps remain.

Step 2

Stir dry ingredients together and mix into banana mixture just until combined. Pour into prepared pan. If making topping, stir ingredients together and sprinkle over batter. (I did not make the topping or add any nuts to the batter, which you could.)

Step 3

Bake about 55 to 65 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cool in pan 10 minutes, then turn out onto wire rack and let cool completely before wrapping tightly for storage.

Polly Halfkenny is a retired union lawyer, currently living in Brooklyn. Polly has two adult children and two grandchildren living in New Haven, CT.  Politically active since the early 1960s, Polly is on the board of the Laundry Workers Center, a grassroots workers’ center providing leadership training and support for low-wage immigrant workers in New York and New Jersey. Since retirement, Polly has been auditing philosophy and literature classes at Hunter College. Trying to keep sane in these crazy times, she is continuing to attend her class in feminist philosophy online and getting up at dawn to walk in Prospect Park before the maskless joggers take over. 

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