I am a holiday person. I start buying Christmas presents in January. At my last job, I spent more time decorating my cubicle – twinkling lights, heart garlands, shamrocks – than I did actually working. (Which is probably why it was my last job.) So when I miss a holiday, even one of the fake holidays – and I’m talking super-fake here, not just Hallmark fake – I’m pretty bummed out. Did you know, for example, that February 23 was National Banana Bread Day as well as National Dog Biscuit Day? For real. There’s a site called Punchbowl that will send you an e-mail each morning to keep you abreast of such important dates. For equal-opportunity holiday freaks like myself, however, it would be better to get a heads-up the day before so that we know what to celebrate. I had all of February to throw a Lays-and-hash-browns party for National Potato Lover’s Month (which really should have the apostrophe after the S, don’t you think?), but with the glacial speed at which I put a blog post together, one day is just not enough time to write an ode to both banana bread and dog treats.
The thing was, I almost made the deadline. In my ever-growing file of stuff to post, I have not one but two banana bread recipes, two variations on banana muffins, and some photographs of banana chocolate chip cookies that I took way back when I thought slapping a cookie on a plate under the kitchen lights was the way to make food look delicious. Despite my not owning a dog, the week of the 23rd also happened to mark my first foray into pet treats. But after my Monday night volunteer gig and an hour of wrestling with my iPhone to get my still-marginal pictures onto my computer, I finally admitted that any blog post on banana bread and dog biscuits was not going to happen by midnight. And since it wasn’t going to be time-stamped 2/23 anyway, I decided to shove the entire thing and watch a 2005 rerun of America’s Next Top Model instead.
Now that you know about my sub-par work ethic, you can probably work out what happened next, and why I’m celebrating banana bread and dog treats (ooh, don’t banana bread dog treats sound promising?) on the 3rd of March instead of the 23rd or 24th of February. Each recipe really deserves a post of its own, especially my grandmother’s banana bread, but the gods at Punchbowl – or more likely the people at the Banana Growers Board and PetSmart/Petco lobby – decided to celebrate a quick bread and a doggie delicacy on the same day. (Unfortunately, the gods at Recipe Ziplist decided that I couldn’t put more than one recipe in a post. So you’ll have to follow the links for the dog treats.)
My grandmother’s recipe for banana bread reminds me a lot of her mother’s recipe for fruitcake. Compared to today’s recipes, it’s bare-bones: sugar, flour, bananas, and not a whole lot more. By contrast, the caramelized banana bread I made last month called for all that plus dark brown sugar, buttermilk, and rum. But when the simple, brown-flecked loaf made from my grandmother’s recipe emerged from the oven, I wondered why I’d bothered standing over the stove and sauteeing the bananas for the circa-2012 recipe. (Not that it was bad. In fact, I might even get around to posting it sometime in the next three years.) When did recipes get so complicated? It now seems like a badge of honor to use six different types of flour (all gluten-free, natch), chill dough for an entire day (hello, NYT chocolate chip cookies), and eschew butter or vegetable oil for fancy, faddy ingredients like coconut oil. I personally like complicated recipes. If I can get in and out of the kitchen in under half an hour, I don’t feel like I’ve accomplished much. But that certainly doesn’t mean those recipes taste better. My official testers, my mother and father (who, now that I think about it, really didn’t have a choice but to prefer his mom’s recipe), ate up Grandma Keizer’s banana bread faster than they’ve devoured any other quick bread.
As for the second half of the celebration, what was someone who’s never owned a dog doing making treats for canines? A friend of my father’s has a beloved, crazily smart dog who’s sick. (This dog is definitely a who, not a that.) The dog’s name is Zoe and she lives in Maine, officially on the opposite side of the country. But that’s why the postal system invented priority mail. That’s also why Amazon carries more types of bone-shaped cookie cutters than there are breeds of dogs.
I don’t know what dogs like. But Beggin’ Strips ads (baconbaconbaconbacon!) and the old-school “Got Milk” campaign have taught me that dogs go crazy for peanut butter and bacon. I found a recipe on the Food Network website – who knew that Giada De Laurentis baked for pets as well? – for peanut butter dog treats to which I could easily add some crumbled bacon. The other recipe, this one from Martha Stewart, whose Chow Chow actually won “best in breed” at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show in 2012, had ingredients that were a bit more unusual: cheddar and applesauce. But who doesn’t like cheese?!
Making dog treats was definitely a crapshoot. At least with cookies, I can enlist one of my parents for a taste-test before subjecting other people to my recipes. But they weren’t about to try doggie biscuits – though I thought the bacon and peanut butter might tempt my dad. So I swathed them in bubble wrap and sent them on their way to Maine.
Well, Zoe loved them. Her owner sent along some great clips of Zoe shaking “hands” to earn a treat. If the whole food blog thing doesn’t pan out, it’s comforting to know that I can always hawk my dog biscuits at a card table outside PetSmart.
I may officially be a cat person, but there’s something about a dog’s joie de vivre that’s irresistible. They’re such happy animals, and they wear their emotions on their metaphorical sleeves. Cats are just a bit more aloof. No matter how overjoyed they are at the sound of the can opener, they don’t smile the way dogs seem to. Dogs are so enthusiastic that they leave paw prints on your T-shirt. Cats, on the other hand, like to maintain their dignity. This photo of Zoe sums up everything that makes dog’s a man’s (or a woman’s) best friend.
So mark your calendars for February 23, 2016. That’s probably the next time you’ll see banana bread and dog biscuits in the same sentence.
2 cups flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking soda
5 Tbs. buttermilk
3 bananas, mashed
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 large eggs
Preheat oven to 325. Mist a 9x5 loaf pan with cooking spray.
Dissolve baking soda in buttermilk and set aside.
In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar until fluffy. Beat in eggs, then stir in the baking soda-buttermilk mixture.
Add flour and salt and mix until combined. Fold in mashed bananas.
Bake for 1 hour. Let cool in pan for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely.