A few weeks ago, I made banana bread. Wait, scratch that. I made really good banana bread. No, hang on. I made possibly the best banana bread I have ever made (I would have saved you some, but it was too good for leftovers. Sorry not sorry).
But what was so good about this banana bread? Why was it potentially better than any of the banana breads that have come before? The answer may seem strange, but it’s true: it was gluten free. Yep, the absence of gluten – the very thing that binds a bake together to give it its perfect, squidgy texture – was what made this particular banana bread so good. I shall explain…
I used to be gluten-intolerant. OK, I still am, but I’m far less strict about it now. But back in the good ol’ don’t-let-me-eat-flour-or-I’ll-throw-up days, I baked quite a lot. I had to, otherwise I’d have no cake (and what kind of world is that?) But gluten-free baking is not always easy. The flour can have a bit of a grainy texture, and the cake oftentimes comes out quite dry. So when I found out I could have spelt flour, and then over time was able to eat more and more of the proper stuff, I left gluten-free cakes in my rear-view mirror.
But a few weeks ago, my colleague/friend Gay asked me to make a gluten-free cake for her daughter Reb (who is also my colleague/friend – I should probably branch out with my social circle a bit more…) Unlike me, Reb is an actual, factual coeliac, which means she absolutely cannot have gluten. So I went out, bought some proper gluten-free flour, and made Reb her cake. Obviously I didn’t eat any (it’s a bit rude to give someone a cake with a slice taken out) but I hear it was alright.
And then this week, when I got home and realised the bananas in the fruit bowl were quickly going brown, I decided to make banana bread. But the recipe only called for two bananas, and – shock horror – I had three to use up. Throwing an extra banana into the mix was a no-no – it might throw off the delicate balance of ingredients, and make the whole thing too stodgy. But, instead of throwing away a perfectly decent third banana, I realised something: there was leftover gluten-free flour in the cupboard.
The extra dry flour – the thing that used to limit my baking ability – was the perfect balance for the extra moisture of the third banana. It was super banana-ry, came out the oven beautifully level, and when my friends complimented me on my brilliant banana bread, I was able to smugly reply, “Thanks, it’s gluten-free.” What I used to see as a limitation on my diet (and, let’s be honest, my enjoyment of life) actually led to a better banana bread than I would have made if I’d had no limitations at all.
And actually, I’m starting to notice a pattern of things that are good because, at some point, there was a limitation or restriction to overcome. Since James went vegetarian, we’ve been eating a lot more interesting and healthy dinners because you can’t just whack some chicken in it to make it good. We have some wall lights in our lounge that had a bunch of wires showing, so James had to make a cool wooden thing to hide the wires and now the lights look even better than they did originally. Limitations don’t have to stop you from doing something – they can inspire you to come up with a creative solution.
And at the beginning of a new year – a time when we make all kinds of resolutions to do and be more – perhaps we should see our limits not as restrictions, but as boundaries to encourage us to make healthy choices. Perhaps we should even add some new limits in. Limiting how much we drink could mean we spend less time at the pub, and have more time to do other things. Limiting how much we make plans could mean we have better priorities and rhythms of rest in our lives. Limiting our budget could mean we end up with actual savings, or more money with which to be generous.
I’m not saying limitations aren’t hard or frustrating. Sometimes, you just want to be free – to eat what you want, go where you want, do what you want – without the restrictions of health or kids or money weighing you down. But if you can change your mind set, if you can see limitations as boundaries or challenges for you to think outside the box, they don’t always have to hold you back. In fact, they could help you achieve something wonderful – like the best damn banana bread you’ve ever had.
Written by Chloe Satchell-Cobbett, Deputy Editor, Liberti