When I think about entertaining guests, there is one occasion that pops into my head every time. I really am not sure why, but it is a memory that has really stuck with me. It must have been 1997, soon after I had graduated high school, so I was 17 at this particular time. My mom had invited some of her work friends over for dinner, and I wasn't looking forward to it - I was your average unsociable teen who would rather be listening to music in her room, surrounded by posters of Nirvana, Green Day, Dr Spock, Superman, etc. When my mom's friends arrived, I excused myself to wander about outside, waiting to be called in when dinner was ready, when I'd have to put on a happy face.
While outside, I wandered about and ended up standing outside of our neighbor's house. Our neighbor, who was a lovely, generous lady, had passed away some time earlier and her son was then living there on his own. Every other weekend or so, his 3 sons would come to stay with him. His sons were there on this particular day, and as I hadn't seen them in a while (we used to play together all the time as children), I thought I'd just quickly stop in to say hi.
The visit with these guys didn't end up being so quick... we played some Nintendo (I believe it might have been Nintendo 64) - Super Mario Kart - and chatted a bit about what we were up to these days. They had planned on going to see the movie In & Out that night and invited me to come with them. I called my mom from their house and she said it was fine if I wanted to go with them. I was relieved I wouldn't have to pretend to be all cheerful and polite with my mom's friends!
It ended up that night, before the movie, that one of those 3 sons, Jimmy, the oldest who was my age and who had seemingly had a crush on me for years when we were children, asked me if I wanted to go out with him. He had a bit of help and encouragement from his dad though, because like me, he was dreadfully shy. We sat next to each other at the movie, but can you believe we didn't say a word to each other, or hold hands, or anything that might show that we were newly dating? I'm sure it was on both of our minds, we were just too shy to act on our feelings.
Once back at home, I said goodbye to the rest of the boys and Jimmy walked me home (our house was just next door) like he always to do when we were children. We just simply said goodbye when we got to my house, then he walked back home. I was elated though, walking in the door of my house. My mom's friends were gone by then, thank goodness, and I had a tiny piece of leftover cake while I was checking my email. I had so many butterflies in my stomach from that night that I couldn't even eat all of the cake.
Despite how happy I had ended up that night, it is now one of the biggest regrets of my life.....
Because I had always had a crush on Jimmy too. The reason I went to my neighbor's house that night was to ask out Jimmy myself. But it didn't work out perfectly, with Jimmy's dad basically doing all the work! How embarrassing! That's not why I regret that night though. The reason I regret it is that that night was the last time I was at their house and the last time I spoke to Jimmy. I saw him and his brothers while driving past their house every once in a while. Maybe I did talk to him or his brothers again, briefly, but if I did, I don't remember doing so. I didn't know his phone number at his other house where he lived with his mom, so I couldn't call him; the phone book didn't help because he has the second most common last name in the US, so I didn't know which of the listings in the phone book was his mom's.
I regret it because if I felt so strongly for him, I should have done something about it to let him know that I really was interested in keeping him as a boyfriend. And I didn't do anything at all to let him know that.
Who knows if my life would have been different had Jimmy and I dated. Or maybe it was supposed to have happened that way, if you believe in that sort of thing. I've spent the last 5 years or so searching for Jimmy and his brothers. On the very day before we left the US in November 2009, I finally found out where their dad was working and I called him at his work. It was great to speak to him again, and to hear that his two younger sons had married and had children of their own. But the news he told me about Jimmy was not what I wanted to hear. He told me that Jimmy had been in a car accident and his back was broken, leaving him "completely disabled". I was speechless and in shock. How horrible. I couldn't even ask anything more about Jimmy, about whether he was doing okay, or if he has children; all that I wanted to ask about Jimmy had been forgotten in a single moment. Minutes later, after the phone conversation with Jimmy's dad, it began to really sink in. It's hard to believe that someone I had so much fun with as children, someone who I had struggled to ask out on a particular night, was now paralyzed. I can only hope now that he has someone close to him who is looking out for him and helping him.
This is the story that comes to my mind every time I ask someone to come over for morning tea, or lunch, or afternoon tea. Can you believe that? I wish the story had ended on a happier note, and not only for your benefit, but for mine and Jimmy's as well.
I want to put that aside for now though, because I'd like to introduce to you a perfect treat for morning or afternoon tea when you are entertaining guests. This recipe for banana bread with honeyed ricotta comes from Issue #3 of MasterChef Australia magazine and is a masterpiece from Curtis Stone. I'm not a huge fan of Curtis Stone's, but this particular recipe has made me change my mind about him.
The recipe yields a very odd-sized loaf of bread - 8cm x 11cm x 30cm (3-inches x 4-inches x 12-inches). It was so odd, in fact, that I had to just use an 8-inch x 8-inch square cake tin with high sides because I couldn't find such an odd-sized loaf pan anywhere. The preparation method for this banana bread is slightly different that most quick bread recipes, and I encourage you to have a read over the recipe below. The end result is fantastic. The bread/cake from my cake tin was moist and baked perfectly (it sunk in the middle slightly, but it was still baked through). Its appearance was beautiful and rustic, with walnuts scattered on top of the golden brown bread. It tasted amazing on its own...
But drizzle some warm honey on top of a slice of the bread and spread on a dollop of honeyed ricotta - it is perfect. Never in my life would I have thought to spread ricotta on a piece of banana bread. The addition of honey sweetens the ricotta, and a sprinkling of cinnamon warms it up. It is a perfect pairing of flavors. I will never eat banana bread any other way again.
Serve this banana bread with warm honey and honeyed ricotta, along with a cup of tea (I enjoyed Earl Gray with mine), and you'll have guests knocking on your door, begging you to let them in for afternoon tea. It is just that amazing.
Banana Bread With Honeyed Ricotta
- 250 g 1 ⅔ cups self-raising flour
- 1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda baking soda
- ¾ teaspoon ground cinnamon divided
- 2 large eggs
- 275 g 1 ¼ cups caster sugar
- 125 ml ½ cup vegetable oil
- 3 overripe bananas mashed (1 ½ cups)
- 2 tablespoons Greek-style yogurt
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 150 g 1 ½ cups walnuts, roasted, halved
- 150 g ricotta
- 180 g ½ cup honey, divided
- Preheat oven to 150C. Grease and line the base and sides of an 8cm x 11cm x 30cm (6-cup) loaf pan with baking paper. Sift flour, bicarbonate of soda, ½ teaspoon cinnamon and ¼ teaspoon salt into a bowl.
- Using an electric mixer, beat eggs and sugar on high speed until thick and pale. Reduce speed to low-medium and gradually add oil in a thin, steady stream. Add bananas, yogurt and vanilla, and beat until well combined. Add flour mixture and three-quarters of the walnuts and stir until combined. Pour batter into prepared pan and scatter with remaining walnuts. Bake for 1 hour or until a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean.
- Cool for 10 minutes in pan, then turn out onto a wire rack to cool.
- Meanwhile, combine ricotta and 2 tablespoons of the honey in a bowl. Sprinkle with remaining ¼ teaspoon cinnamon. Place remaining 4 tablespoons honey in a small pan and warm slightly.
- To serve, drizzle banana bread with warm honey. Thickly slice and serve with honeyed ricotta.