What would life be like without the occasion surrender to whimsy? There are certain foods, which, when you lay your eyes upon them, bring a smile to your face and a honey glow to your cheeks; the type of foods that elicit a little giggle, often punctuated with the expression “Awww!” so often used to describe ‘cute’ things. I have a reverence of sorts for foods that are as fun and artful to look at as they are delicious to eat. When it comes to creating foods that are fully of whimsy and visual interest, this is my wheelhouse. I found myself pottering around my kitchen today, bolstered by an enthusiasm to satiate my craving for some combination of bread and meat. I found myself where I find myself frequently: telling myself that a bread this cute was worth wasting a lot of carb calories on — the all too familiar refrain of the carb addict.
And so, I set out to make these cute little caterpillar breads. Don’t even try to tell me that they didn’t make you crack a smile. But I reckon I know what you’re thinking: they are tedious and time-consuming and not to be tampered with unless you have an afternoon off to do nothing but bake bread. And to that, I say: O ye of little faith, would I dare to share a recipe with you that isn’t as simple as it is delicious? There is no food in this world that eager zealousness paired with visual acuity cannot create with ease and very little time.
This cute bread is also a celebration of sorts. It’s my birthday today and though the last few years of my adult life have brought many changes to who I am today, I’ve retained the one trait that every woman my age should have in spades: reckless abandon in the kitchen. The sands of time have yet to rob me of my brimming and burgeoning desire to create unique foods. So follow my lead and give this daring recipe a try. This recipe is the cadillac of cute breads — right up there with ‘panda bread’ and ‘bears in tea cups’ (stayed turned for those recipes in coming weeks). An entirely unscientific poll taken in my kitchen at a dinner party some years ago, found that two-thirds of people thought cute foods are superior in taste than those foods that are made with little creativity, and so, to that end, I bring you this recipe. These cute little caterpillar breads are often filled with sweet fillings such as coconut, in local Chinese bakeries around Toronto, so the sky is the limit when it comes to what you can fill these breads with: sweet or savoury, the choice is yours to make.
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Why has this seemingly innocuous baked good been designated as “heroic”, you wonder? Because it saved my life. Well, it didn’t really, but it was the first thing I ate after a near-death experience, so it qualifies as a life-saving confection. A few years ago, my family and I did what families ’round here do: we went vacationing in the neighbouring town of Guelph. We spent most of our vacation kayaking and barbequing and tossing about frisbees. On the final day of our visit, my uncle had found a local gorge nestled within a small patch of population in Guelph, which offered water-tubing. If you’ve never been water-tubing before, it’s a pseudo-sport in which you ride on top of an inner tube (or donut) on water. (The variation of this is being towed in said donut through the water by a watercraft, but I opted for the more docile version thinking, at the time, that it was a safer bet.)
The gorge we were to ride through was a deep narrow passage in the earth’s surface that was worn by running water and had steep rocky sides. The river that ran through it (hehe, I love 90’s movie references) was to carry us on choppy waters, down to our final destination (20th century movie references aren’t bad either). So I found myself situated in a town within a town — a sub-town if you will — getting suited up to ride a tube down a narrow, choppy river, purely for recreation. We suited up and then were asked to sign a liability waiver that was unusually long. I scanned the four-page document, squinting to read the fine print with my litigious mind racing with questions and heavy with doubt. I glanced over at my father who was standing nearby watching everyone get suited up. He had that all too familiar look on his face. You know the look that says, “I’m not going to tell you what to do but you know what I think you should do.” Despite his forewarning, I signed my life away and happily selected the fateful water tube which I would almost die ride on.
We walked for about 15 minutes down a steep and winding foot path to get down to the gorge. The waters were choppy and wild and I was elated at the thought of riding the ‘wave’ down the river. I settled into my tube and managed to pass over the first rough patch of water. As I continued on my journey, the water began to pick up speed and crash against the rocks. I carelessly bounced about in my water tube, enjoying the ride until I was abruptly jolted forward out of the tube. We were passing over an inclement bit of water rushing over a bed of rocks and my leg must have caught on a rock. I was catapulted forward, hitting the side of my head on a rock. The water was circling rapidly and I found myself underwater, flailing my arms about trying to reach the water’s surface. Each time I managed to push my head about the water’s surface, I was sucked back down by a watery vortex of sorts. Every time I reached the surface, I caught a glimpse of one of the family friends who was riding next to me earlier. She was further down, past the choppy waters yelling, “Oh my God, are you okay?!” I heard her voice a number of times before finally being sucked back into the water. I remained calm until the moment I realized I wouldn’t be able to emerge from the water from that area. I allowed myself to sink down into the river and be carried with the water to safer, less choppy waters. I was panicked the entire time thinking about the impact my head made with the rock, wondering if my head was really injured, and terrified that I might pass out before I was able to pull myself out of the water. The water carried me further down and then I fought again to get to the surface. Frustratingly, the water was still choppy as I tried to pull myself up. Now bear in mind, this all occurred within a few panic-stricken seconds. It may be important to note here that moments before my close encounter with the other side, a fellow water-tuber was quickly ushered back up the long winding footpath because she had dislocated her elbow on a jagged rock as she descended down the river — a cautionary tale which I clearly paid no heed to.
Finally, I was pulled out of the water by a group of burly (and heroic) Korean teenagers who were walking along the bank. I was literally pulled by my limbs across the very same jagged rocks on which the lady, who dislocated her elbow, met her fate. As a result of their rescue attempt, I was left with my back bloodied and my skin shredded from the middle of my back down to my waist. I was thankful (but rattled) and shook it off. I did what any normal person would do in that situation (note that “normal person” is defined in my world as an intrepid, type A, risk-taking, foolhardy individual)…I continued on my water-tubing journey; partly because I was in no shape to make the trek back up that steep footpath, and partly in an attempt to heal my bruised ego. I walked along the bank down to where the waters were less choppy and continued along the rest of the water trail, desperately holding on to my water tube with each bump. I made it to the end of the river and managed to walk up along the bank as small amounts of blood continued to pool and settle along my waistline. I couldn’t make it up the hill with the rest of the group without wincing with every step so, my cousins and I hopped onto the rear fender of the pick-up truck of a generous soul who was passing by and offered to give us a ride to the top of the hill.
When we reached the top, I was shaken and a little worse for wear but I shook off the injury like it was nothing worth writing home about, and we headed back to the hotel room. In my wearied state, I managed to shower and slather on about two tubes of Polysporin.
Anyway, let me reel it back in to banana bread. After we left the hotel, we went in search of a Dairy Queen restaurant to pick up an ice cream cake in honour of me cheating death (actually, it was for my mum’s birthday, but whatever). On our way there, we stopped off at a coffee shop to get a hit of caffeine. We had been in the water for hours so, naturally, I was famished, and nothing quite whets the appetite like the prospect of death. There was a display case full of various baked treats and fancy sweet goodies but my eyes fell to a large loaf of banana bread. I asked for a slice along with my coffee. In hindsight, I should have chosen something poetic and decadent to match the poignant circumstances of my ordeal, but instead, I chose a comforting slice of good ol’ banana bread. From that day on, banana bread has forever been connected, in my mind, with that harrowing life experience.