My mother was the OG of crunchy health food. Before a little supermarket chain out of Austin made niche ingredients like millet mainstream, she was feeding me bowls of it in place of Easy Mac. Like all good daughters, I spent most of my childhood rebelling against her moratorium on the cottonseed oil in generic packaged foods. And I did this by going over to friends’ houses and having a Fruit-By-The-Foot free-for-all.
If my current vocation is any indication, all that quinoa I begrudgingly ate as a kid eventually caught up with me. But at the time, the only homemade baked good that I would have hands down preferred over the Oreos in my friends’ pantries, was mom’s banana bread.
Dotted with a healthy ratio of organic chocolate chips to batter, her loaf was always dense, moist and cake-y. I remember waiting with anticipation as the bunch of bananas on our kitchen countertop would slowly darken and prune with each passing day, until, eventually, it was bespeckled and ready for baking.
Playdates were always best scheduled on banana bread day. (Otherwise, the only snack on offer would be fruit leather that was just a touch too leathery.) And when my friends arrived to the scent of buttery banana filling the whole house, their eyes would widen with envy.
I learned the technique for making this quick bread at an early age, but it took a while for me to catch up to my mother’s savory game, and to see first hand how satisfying home cooking could be, even when what you’re cooking is millet, and you’re eating it alone.
My senior year of high school, I spent the summer living parent-free while doing an unpaid internship. There were no rent checks to be written or electricity payments that needed to be sent on time. The roof over my head was already paid for, and it came with the luxury of my mother’s over-stocked pantry. But it was the first time in my privileged life that I didn’t have her around to make sure my meals were taken care of. And to ensure I had enough of my allowance saved for the important things, like lip gloss and NSYNC paraphernalia, I was forced to turn to the random grains and petit-diced tomatoes in her cabinets.
I remember very vividly standing in the kitchen with the cordless phone in one hand, spatula in the other, asking my mother how long I was supposed to cook a piece of salmon for, and was it bad that the fillet was frozen solid when I put it in the pan? These early experiments yielded unpleasant results, many of which required a thick layer of Dijon mustard to make palatable. But by the end of the summer, after I had blown through all the frozen fish and was down to my last can of chickpeas, I had gained a special appreciation for the unglamorous yet satisfying art of throwing together a meal from cans, jars, and freezer bags.
That summer certainly set me on the right path for all the cooking I do today. But it was also just the beginning of my new life as a pantry hoarder.
On Monday, I shared how my recent move opened my eyes to the dire state of affairs in my kitchen cabinets. Perhaps without all the lipgloss and NSYNC paraphernalia on my shopping list, I’ve gotten less proactive about actively working my way through some of the niche ingredients hiding in the back row of my shelves. But been telling myself that accumulating five types of chutneys and chili powders is just an occupational hazard.
So in the spirit of spring cleaning and capitalizing on all those Marie Kondo vibes, I thought I would gather the interwebs for a Virtual Pantry Purge.
While everyone else is fawning over Spring greens, I’m dedicating April to working my way through some of the random overlooked ingredients that managed to make their way to my new apartment. And today I’m joined by some of my favorite bloggers who are taking this opportunity to dehoard/revisit a long forgotten jar, or celebrate a favorite from their weekly rotation. Scroll down to read all about everyone’s pantry heroes and see the creative things they made with them! (You can also follow along on social with the hashtag #SpringPantryPurge.)
As for my contribution, I decided to take a page out of my favorite pantry hoarder’s book with a gluten-free banana bread recipe. Not only is it as dense and delicious as my mother’s original version, but it packs a big pantry punch. The batter allowed me to use up some oat and almond flour, take a few inches off one of my many bottles of maple syrup, and plow through the last of my pecans.
My nut shelf makes me look like a chipmunk storing up for winter. And these pecans in particular had been sitting around for a few too many seasons. But more importantly, I love how they add some crunch to this loaf, and, together with the maple syrup, give it the flair of a gooey Southern pie.
Finally, it doesn’t escape me how lucky I am to have five types of chutneys and chili powders, when so many people struggle to scrape together the makings of a meal. So to give back to other peoples’ pantries in the process of purging mine, I’m going to be donating a $1 for every comment on this post to Feeding America. It’s an amazing organization, and the biggest network of food banks in the country.
If in the process of your own #SpringPantryPurge you come across some extra unopened items, I highly encourage you to donate them to a food bank near you by using their directory. Even if this virtual party is a bust, and only a few of you leave some love below, $1 means 11 meals given to people facing hunger. So like that jalapeno chutney, a little goes a long way.
Thank you SO much to everyone who joined me for this wacky little food party. Read on for the full list and their recipes below!
Maple-Pecan Gluten-Free Banana Bread
- 1 cup oat flour, plus more for dusting
- 1/3 cup almond meal
- 2 teaspoons gluten-free baking powder
- ½ teaspoon xanthan gum
- ¼ teaspoon sea salt
- 1 cup mashed over-ripe mashed banana (from about 2 ½ bananas)
- 1 cup coconut, canola or olive oil
- ½ cup maple syrup
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 2 large eggs
- 1/3 cup finely chopped pecans
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour a 9 x 5-inch loaf pan.
- In a medium mixing bowl, combine the flour, almond meal, baking powder, xanthan gum and sea salt. Whisk together with a fork until incorporated.
- In a large mixing bowl, stir together the banana, oil, sugar and vanilla. Add the eggs one by one, mixing after each addition until smooth.
- Add the dry ingredients to the bowl in two additions, mixing until just combined. Transfer the batter to the prepared pan and bake until the top is golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 55 minutes.
- Allow the bread to cool completely in the pan. Cut into slices and eat warm, or store in an airtight container for later.