Fudgy Peanut Butter Banana Bars (V)

IMG_1930This quarantine has sparked endless conversation, a popular one of which involves the discussion of everyone’s “new normal.” The sudden, jarring shifts in daily routine and atmosphere and social outlets forced by this pandemic have naturally resulted in the need to adjust–and cope. Everyone has been affected by this situation in some way, regardless of whether they’ve physically suffered from the virus itself.

Sheltering-in-place was not an effortless transition for me. Of course, I realized how fortunate I was when so many were not–I was healthy, able to pay my bills, living in an apartment  with roommates I loved. However, in time, I also had to accept that it was okay–vital, actually– to acknowledge that quarantine was hard. Is hard. You see, I had grown quite fond of normal–my old, worn-with-age, tried-and-true normal, the one in which I had a daily job and specific tasks to complete, the one that allowed me to make random stops at my friends’ homes or grab last minute groceries three times in the same week. As a dancer, I am used to physically expelling energy for hours every day, and as a recipe blogger, I’m accustomed to wandering aimlessly in stores, brainstorming potential baking plans. Being an artist, I felt uniquely stifled by the restrictions; the lack of places to expel my creative energy quickly became overwhelming and translated into many anxious, seemingly unproductive days (as well as a few random sketches and a LOT of walking).IMG_1851

After a week or so, I was beginning to feel a bit more comfortable with the changes. Per the suggestion of my counselor, I began planning out a schedule for each day, a strategy that made a massive difference in the way I approached the sudden surplus of time that almost everyone experienced. With more moments of mental clarity, I was also able to address some specific sources of anxiety for me. One of them, I realized, was my food. In an attempt to adhere to the social precautions everyone adopted, I had ordered my groceries through a delivery service. However, with demand unbelievably high, it was about a week before I received them. This left me with six days of eating whatever pantry items I could use to concoct a meal, and, more often than not, they were all various types of carbs. My diet consisted of around  20% oatmeal, 20% peanut butter, 10% absolute randomness, 50% homemade sourdough (okay, not really complaining about that), and 0% vegetables (anyone who knows me knows that was pure torture). Within just a few days, I realized how frustrated I was, how much my body craved the balanced diet it was used to receiving, how it was affecting my mood. Arguably the most shocking affect, though, was that I, the maker of all things sugary, even started to lose my craving for desserts. Perhaps now you can understand just how dire those few days seemed.IMG_1939

Thankfully, I write to you from the other side of that battle–never have I been so thrilled to see a bag of green beans in my life. That week of upheaval in my kitchen was a reminder for me of just how important it is to fuel both our bodies and our minds, especially in times of trauma. When so many factors in our lives are shifting, maintaining a level of nutritious eating can be an incredibly grounding practice, whether or not you generally prioritize a healthy diet. Not only that, but in the midst of a viral outbreak, supporting your immune system is particularly important! That’s why, when creating this recipe, I kept three things in mind:

  1. I wanted the recipe to be “healthy,” in the sense that it offered some sort of nutritional/energy value.
  2. I wanted the recipe to be accessible–I’ve been doing a “quarantine series” on my blog that revolves around ingredients most people always have on hand.
  3. I didn’t want the recipe to taste like a “healthy” recipe: dessert is my specialty, after all, and I know first hand the need to indulge! Especially when you’re tackling a new normal.

So, I immediately grabbed peanut butter and bananas: one of those food pairings that was, I think, unarguably meant to be. My initial recipe development was slow and, quite honestly, frustrating. Though it’s been over a month, I still sigh at the lack of variety in my cabinets: I absolutely love both peanut butter and bananas, but I felt like they were rather cliche among nutritious recipes. For a moment, I allowed my unattainable dreams of inventive, exotic flavors to stall my progress. And, as I always do when I’ve run into “baker’s block,” I called my mom. IMG_1953

Thankfully, my mother is the perfect deliverer of sympathy…when it’s due. In all other cases, she tells me exactly the harsh truth I need to hear, and she holds an impressive success rate of steering me back towards the task I’m aiming to complete. This was no exception. Upon listening to my whining about being forced to use bananas again, she replied with her characteristically precise advice: “So? Do something different. Your whole point of quarantine recipes is to reinvent things!”

Thanks, mom. I realized that I’d momentarily let this chaos of pandemic snatch the one thing it could never completely steal from me–my creativity. At once, the seemingly mundane task before me became a challenge (anyone who knows me also knows that the only thing I like more than peas and carrots is a challenge). With this competitive energy fueling me, I worked all day to develop a recipe, not hindered at all by the involvement of ingredients that I’d once considered overused.IMG_1869

That’s how I ended up with these bars. They’re partially inspired by my recent discovery of the magical taste of fried bananas. To make them, I decided to pan fry my bananas with maple syrup before baking them into the bars, a decision that added an especially powerful caramel sweetness. This flavor, along with the salty creaminess of peanut butter, provided a satisfying balance that I further nuanced with cinnamon and allspice. They even have protein powder in them for an extra nutrient boost. To finish them off, I handed off the apron to readers! You can pick from the list of toppings to add crunch and flair to your own batch.

I’ve come to a myriad of conclusions over the last few weeks, some more complicated than others. One of the most troubling dilemmas was learning how this pandemic would affect my identity as an artist. Through time, restlessness, phone calls with mom, and bananas, I’ve finally grasped at the answer: it doesn’t. An artist doesn’t ever stop being an artist. You can remove a dancer’s stage, an actor’s set, a vocalists’ studio, but–as we’ve all witnessed through daily inspiration like this magazine– they won’t stop creating. This pandemic has robbed the world of physical touch, millions of jobs, and a staggering number of lives. So, I encourage you to hold tight to what it can never infect. As we all endure this time of collective grief and turmoil, I hope you can devote time to allocate rest for your mind; to feed your body with what it needs; and to keep making art.  Sending love and prayers to everyone.

My heart, O God, is steadfast,
    my heart is steadfast;
    I will sing and make music.

Psalm 57: 7

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Fudgy Peanut Butter Banana Bars (V)

Ingredients

  • 2/3 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/3 cup protein powder (vanilla or chocolate)
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp allspice
  • about 3 medium bananas, sliced into about 1/2 inch slices
  • 1/2 cup peanut butter
  • 1 cup almond milk
  • 2 TBSP + 1 tsp maple syrup
  • 2 tsp oil (I used extra light olive oil)
  • Optional Add-Ons: toasted nuts, sea salt, toasted coconut, dark chocolate chips, banana/plantain chips, drizzled maple syrup, melted chocolate

Instructions

  1. Place oil and 1 TBSP maple syrup in a skillet over medium heat. When it starts sizzling, carefully place the banana slices in the pan (it may splatter).
  2. Cook until brown/caramelized on one side, and then flip to cook the other side. Remove from heat, mash in a bowl, and allow to cool.
  3. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350°F, and grease a square baking dish.
  4. In a large bowl, whisk together almond milk, 1/4 cup peanut butter, and 1/4 cup mashed fried banana together.
  5. In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, protein powder, baking powder, 1/4 salt, allspice, and cinnamon.
  6. Gradually add the flour mixture to the almond milk mixture, whisking after each addition, until it’s completely incorporated. Pour into the baking dish, and smooth the top with a spatula.
  7.  Bake until toothpick comes out clean, about 22-24 minutes. Allow to cool.
  8. While it bakes, make the topping: mix together remaining 3/4 cup mashed fried banana, 1/4 cup peanut butter, 1/4 tsp salt, 1 tsp syrup, and a pinch of cinnamon (Be sure the banana has cooled).
  9. Once the base is cool, spread the topping evenly over the base, covering it completely.
  10. Finish the bars with your choice of add-ons, and chill in the fridge before slicing. Enjoy!

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