Recently back from the Guanacaste region of Costa Rica, my hands are busy unpacking, sorting laundry and paying bills but my mind is flush with images — swimming against the current in sparkling turquoise waterfalls, trekking in the lush rainforest with polls in hand and tucans overhead, soaking our trail-weary muscles in volcanic warmed hot springs and taking a bumpy boat ride across an endless lake in the unrelenting wind and rain to catch a glimpse of the majestic Arenal volcano – its upper slopes wrapped in mist and cloud.
It’s not hard to be swept away by the immense beauty and biodiversity found within this small country. Nestled between the Pacific and Caribbean coasts, Costa Rica effervesces with wild life, lush jungles, diverse beaches, simmering volcanoes and three principal types of forests (tropical rainforests, tropical dry forests and cloud forests). It has earned its position as a prime destination for nature tourism (or ecotourism as it is coined).
One of the highlights of the trip for me was spending an early morning observing this white-headed capuchin. That face though. I really wanted to see a monkey in the wild (or as close to their natural habitat as possible) – not a circus monkey, not a domesticated beach monkey, not a caged zoo monkey — just a monkey, monkey. And this particular day was a gift. Just me in the blush of dawn with a bottle of water and eight capuchins running amok in the trees – I was struck by their confidence and mischievous, often hilarious, antics (full of shenanigans!). It was monkey business at its best and I loved it.
But despite the high-impact beauty and marvels surrounding us, some of the more enduring images for me were the simpler ones. The slow-moving rural roads dotted with dogs, cows and roaming horses. The wind farms with successive mills grounded in green and rotating rhythmically in the rain. A set of three rocking chairs (mama, papa, baby) sitting vacant on a front porch in the scorching sun. It’s funny the things our minds grab on to – momentary fragments that inform a larger story.
Among the irresistible local charm are the small bakeries and cafes serving up Costa Rica’s finest ~ at Panaderia Marcela (in the Rincón de la Vieja Volcanic Region) we were treated to a whole new level of small batch brewed arabica coffee accompanied by a plate of delicate homemade pastries. My foodie heart almost burst.
And this was our magnificent view from the Cafe y Macadamia in the Arenal Volcanic region. The front of the cafe looks like any number of other humble establishments in the area until you walk through and exit to the rear courtyard; it’s the kind of place you want to tuck into your heart and pull out on a rainy day.
The courtyard sitting area itself offers its own kind of magic with a glass ceiling overhang, cascading vines and a floor made up of packed sand and macadamia nut shells ~ a rather idyllic spot to nibble on a couple of macadamia (they were huge!) and a slice of fresh banana bread, made on-site and still warm & melty.
Now while I can’t claim a decisive link between today’s recipe and traditional Costa Rican cuisine (although bananas are intimately linked to the country’s economy and we did enjoy a delicious slice of banana bread at the Macadamia Cafe) I will say there is more to come… my boys bought me a beautiful Costa Rica cocina y tradicion cookbook for my birthday that I cannot wait to get properly acquainted with later this spring.
Meanwhile, I think you will love this artisan style protein-rich banana bread. Although made with 100% whole grains, it is generously moist and offers fresh bursts of blueberry in every slice ~ a delicious breakfast bread, portable snack and perfect for gifting ~ ♥ ~ (also a great way to use up those frozen bananas in the freezer… I won’t identify the precise number I had lurking in mine except to say there were more than 22 and fewer than 24).
- 3 large and very ripe bananas (mine were thawed from frozen)
- ⅓ cup melted coconut oil or unsalted butter
- ⅓ cup pure maple syrup
- ½ cup plain Greek yogurt (I use 2% fat)
- 1 cup fresh blueberries (make sure they are dry after washing)
- 2 eggs
- 2 tsp pure vanilla extract
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 1 tsp baking powder
- ½ tsp fine grain salt
- 1 tsp-ish cinnamon
- 1 cup whole grain oat flour (certified Gluten Free as required - see Notes below)
- ½ cup whole grain quick cooking oats + more for sprinkling on the top of the loaf before baking (certified Gluten Free as required - see Notes below)
- Preheat oven to 350 F.
- In a medium sized mixing bowl, combine: oat flour, quick cooking oats, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon & dry blueberries in one bowl.
- In a large mixing bowl blend: bananas, butter or coconut oil, maple syrup & vanilla with an electric blender - or a few pulses of your blender/processor - (the banana does not have to be smooth, pumps are welcome) add eggs and yogurt and blend again.
- Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients, mixing with a spoon just until combined.
- Pour batter into a large loaf pan (I use a silicone pan: 10.75L x 5W x 2.5H 10.75L x 5W x 2.5H) that has been gently greased with oil.
- Place a couple more blueberries on the top of the loaf, pressing down gently and sprinkle (if you wish) with some additional oats.
- Place pan in oven and bake for 60-90 minutes until cake tester or toothpick inserted in center comes out clean - (I find tapping the top of the loaf gives me a very good indication - it should be gently firm to the touch and no longer giggly).
- To prevent over-browning with extended baking, you can tent the loaf with a loose foil
- Carefully remove pan from the oven and allow it to cool for at least 15 before gently removing the banana bread from the pan to cool on a rack for another 10/15 minutes or so before slicing.
Oat Flour: If you are unfamiliar, oat flour is simply whole grain oats that have been pulverized into flour - the flour is both fiber and protein rich - containing 7 grams of protein per ⅓ cup. Because I like the texture of whole oats, I use these as well.
The Bananas: You will not get a tasty and moist bread from yellow bananas - you want to reach for those browning bananas or better yet, use up some of your freezer bananas allowing them to thaw ahead of time.