2019 has begun on a somber note. Just a few days into the new year, I find myself down with a cough and cold of impressive strength. I have resorted to salt water gargles and even steam inhalation, truly a form of medieval torture, with no results to show. My eyes are red and puffy, my throat is dry and scratchy, and my nose feels like it has been pinched shut with pincers.
It has always bothered me that the medical community blithely refers to an ailment so painful as the common cold as though its only defining characteristic is that one encounters it more often than one might like. That said, it is true, of course, that a cold can turn into an epidemic alarmingly quickly. I was the first to fall to the virus in my home, but now that a couple of days have passed, my husband has started speaking in a raspy whisper, and my parents who are visiting, are steadily becoming more and more sniffly. We are succumbing like dominoes to this evil thing.
This brings to me to another related, complex subject - cold medications. I was raised by parents who think that medication should be avoided unless necessary, believing that home remedies can cure most things. My mother in particular has deep faith in the power of honey. When I was a child, she was my first port of call for all medical problems. She routinely prescribed honey no matter what the ailment. A pimple or rash? Put some honey on it. A gash from a bad fall or an obstinate boil? Nothing that honey can't cure. A persistent cold? Honey will kill it.
This is quite different from the attitude I have encountered here in the U.S. Americans have a love affair with medications, consuming more pills than at any other time in recent history, and far more than people in any other country. A former colleague routinely chugged DayQuil and other assorted syrups at the slightest threat of a cold, and frequently urged me to do the same. Even though I am not in full agreement with my parents on medication avoidance (particularly when faced with a cold of epic proportions), I do have some sympathy for their views on the perils of overmedication. Why, oh why, are cough syrups sold in fluorescent colors? Nature intended these to be code for danger not safety. And let me not get started on taste. Surely, medication for something so common could have been concocted with more sympathy for the tastebuds of the millions to whom it is administered daily.
There is a silver lining to all of this - the relatively short lifecycle of the common cold. I envy those who recover from even the worst colds in just a couple of days. I suffer through most bouts for at least five days, but am usually back in action after that. For me, a cold always starts with sneezes met with "bless yous", which stop once everyone realizes that I have more sneezes in me than they had anticipated. Then the sneezes mutate into an itchiness deep in my throat, before progressing to a raspy cough. After that, it travels up to my nose and clogs it until I can taste nothing, smell nothing, and there's no way to breathe but through my mouth. This is the sorry stage at which I now find myself. After this, things should start looking up, but I am not quite there yet. For at least a little longer, I will continue to seek salvation in Kleenex, salt water, and steam.
I am happy to say that despite all this, I have managed to keep my oven going, and do some baking. I have written about banana muffins earlier, but never banana bread. I recently came across a customizable recipe for banana bread on the King Arthur Flour website (one of my favorites), which sounded very promising.
My customized recipe - which has a high banana to flour ratio, 100% wholewheat, a solid dose of healthful chia seeds, walnuts for crunch, and chocolate chips and a sprinkling of cinnamon sugar to take things over the top - is copied below. I reduced the sugar to just a smidge, which gave us a mildly sweet loaf, just the way we like it. This a dense loaf thanks to the whole wheat, and more bread-like than cake-like, unlike the cloyingly sweet versions served by many American cafes. I baked for 70 mins, but 65 is probably enough. Overall, this is definitely a recipe I will turn to again.
I leave you with a delightful poem about the common cold by the poet Ogden Nash, who is clearly a man after my own heart.
Go hang yourself, you old M.D.!
You shall not sneer at me.
Pick up your hat and stethoscope,
Go wash your mouth with laundry soap;
I contemplate a joy exquisite
I'm not paying you for your visit.
I did not call you to be told
My malady is a common cold.
By pounding brow and swollen lip;
By fever's hot and scaly grip;
By those two red redundant eyes
That weep like woeful April skies;
By racking snuffle, snort, and sniff;
By handkerchief after handkerchief;
This cold you wave away as naught
Is the damnedest cold man ever caught!
Give ear, you scientific fossil!
Here is the genuine Cold Colossal;
The Cold of which researchers dream,
The Perfect Cold, the Cold Supreme.
This honored system humbly holds
The Super-cold to end all colds;
The Cold Crusading for Democracy;
The Führer of the Streptococcracy.
Bacilli swarm within my portals
Such as were ne'er conceived by mortals,
But bred by scientists wise and hoary
In some Olympic laboratory;
Bacteria as large as mice,
With feet of fire and heads of ice
Who never interrupt for slumber
Their stamping elephantine rumba.
A common cold, gadzooks, forsooth!
Ah, yes. And Lincoln was jostled by Booth;
Don Juan was a budding gallant,
And Shakespeare's plays show signs of talent;
The Arctic winter is fairly coolish,
And your diagnosis is fairly foolish.
Oh what a derision history holds
For the man who belittled the Cold of Colds!
My Customized Banana Bread (with thanks to KAF)
2 cups (454g) thoroughly mashed banana; about 4 or 5 medium bananas.
1/4 cup yogurt (I used Greek yogurt)
1/4 cup vegetable oil
4 tbsp brown sugar (I might experiment with 2 tbsp next time, especially if I have very ripe bananas to work with; sugar adds moisture to baked goods, so less sugar may make for a denser loaf)
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups (226g) Whole Wheat Flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/3 cup chopped walnuts
1/3 cup chocolate chips
1/3 cup shredded coconut, unsweetened
2 tbsp chia seeds (next time, I might use 1/4 cup instead)
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Preheat the oven to 350°F with a rack in the center position. Lightly grease a 9" x 5" loaf pan; if your pan is glass or stoneware, reduce the oven temperature to 325°F. In a large bowl, stir together the mashed banana with all of the remaining ingredients except any mix-ins (chips, nuts, seeds, etc.) Beat the batter thoroughly, until everything is well combined.
Note: I first combined all wet ingredients in a food processor, sifted the dry ingredients separately and then folded dry ingredients into the wet.
Scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl and beat briefly to incorporate any sticky residue. Stir in the mix-ins. Scoop the batter into the prepared pan. Mix together the sugar and cinnamon topping, and sprinkle over the batter. Bake the bread for about 60 to 75 minutes, until the bread feels set on the top, and a paring knife (or other thin knife) inserted into the center comes out clean, or with just a few moist crumbs (but no wet batter). If you have a digital thermometer, the bread's temperature at the center should register about 205°F. If the bread appears to be browning too quickly, tent it with aluminum foil for the final 15 to 20 minutes of baking.
Note: If baking in a glass or stoneware pan, increase the baking time by 10 to 15 minutes. Remove the bread from the oven. Cool it in the pan for 15 minutes, then loosen the edges, and turn it out of the pan onto a rack to cool completely. Store leftover bread, tightly wrapped, at room temperature for several days. Freeze for longer storage.