I know what some of you may be thinking "Enough already with the Hawaii, it's been three weeks, let it go." But people, Maui is not just something you can let go and just toss to the side when it is over and done. It lingers on the mind with little teasing memories of fun in the sun, surf, and jungle. And that is why I continue making every effort to instill a little bit of Maui in my everyday.
An easy way to do this is Banana Bread. In Hawaii, banana bread is everywhere, sold at tiny little roadside stands just off of winding, one-lane roads. They are the kinds of places where you can just imagine bananas being harvested from trees in the backyard, picked by husbands and school-aged sons, to be baked into warm, delicious loaves by mothers and grandmothers and sisters together in a tiny kitchen. It is homemade and delicious.
The road to Hana is a hallmark of Maui. The road is a narrow, curvy route to a remote corner of the island, and the journey is the dotted with all things wonderful, magical, and kind - flower stands and fruit stands, waterfalls, bamboo forests, tropical flowers, tiny towns of Hawaiian natives, and of course small shacks selling homemade banana bread.
One of the best loaves of banana bread came from the most remote and tiny of towns on the road to Hana, from a place called Keanae. Keanae is a miniature community on one of the most graceful little peninsulas in all of the Pacific. To reach the banana bread, you drive past little houses and tiny family farm plots, with either side surrounded not far away by menacing black lava formations with pounding, spraying surf on either side. The waves on the rock are what make Keanae feel so special - the little community feels like it floats amid a deep and powerful sea, protected on three sides by harsh and menacing waves. But the community itself is warm and welcoming, dry and cozy, and green and soft and safe, as though the ocean respects its tiny plot and knows exactly where to stop.
We sat for a while on the edge of the rocks, munching our banana bread and sitting eye level with the crashing waves. The weather was cool, the sky was gray and mottled with clouds, and the waves crashed with abandon in a thousand shades of turquoise, gray, and white. I could have stayed for a long time, resting and relaxing, watching, and waiting for nothing in particular. I think in that moment I found the joy in the journey and the spirit of the Road to Hana.
On the drive to Hana the guidebooks encourage drivers to practice aloha by allowing faster cars to pass and sharing the road. I recommend another way to practice aloha, by sharing banana bread. So upon my return I baked up several loaves for eating and sharing. In an effort to cram all things Hawaiian into this bread, I choose a recipe with both bananas and coconut, and I took it a step further and crumbled macadamia nuts over the top. The results are delicious. The bread might not transport you physically to the little town of Keanae on the Road to Hana, but it will hopefully give you a little taste of the good life, and inspire a little aloha in your day.
Adapted from Orangette, who adapted it from HomeBaking: The Artful Mix of Flour and Tradition around the World, by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid
About 3 large, overripe bananas
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
¾ tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
Pinch of salt
1 stick (4 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
1/8 tsp distilled white vinegar
1 ½ Tbsp. dark rum
½ cup dried shredded unsweetened coconut
1 Tbsp. demerara or dark brown sugar
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Butter a standard-size loaf pan.
In a blender or food processor, purée the bananas. Measure out 1 ½ cups of purée. [If you have more than that, try stirring the excess into some plain yogurt. It’s delicious.] Set the purée aside.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, nutmeg, and salt. Set aside.
In a large bowl (or the bowl of a stand mixer), beat together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the vinegar and rum, and beat to mix well. Add the banana purée and the flour mixture alternately, about 1 cup at a time, beginning with the banana and beating to just incorporate. Use a spatula to fold in any flour that has not been absorbed, and stir in the coconut. Do not overmix.
Scrape the batter – it will be thick – into the prepared pan. Smooth the top, and sprinkle evenly with the demerara sugar. Bake for 50-65 minutes, or until the top is nicely browned and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cool on a wire rack for about 20 minutes; then turn the loaf out of the pan and allow it to cool completely.
This loaf will keep, sealed airtight, for three to four days, although it is best, I think, on the second day.