KAREN HEITNER was excited to move back to the Roaring Fork Valley after living here in the 1990s, then decamping for New York. During a casual 2018 visit to Carbondale with her husband, the stars aligned and the couple ended up purchasing a home, though they were unable to make the move at the time. Then the coronavirus pandemic hit. And they had this house in Colorado. So, in June 2020, the couple relocated cross-country to a new community amid social distancing and stay-at-home orders.
“I really wanted some comforting food,” the home baker says of the transition. “I have a lot of allergies and food restrictions—no gluten, no cow’s dairy, no nuts, no eggs, no corn products. My husband does not have allergies, so I wanted to make something that he could enjoy, as well.”
Enter the classic American comfort food that is wholesome and sweet, but not too sweet: banana bread.
Heitner spent about three months testing and tweaking a formula for banana bread that fit all of her above requirements, adjusted for high altitude, of course.
“You have to change the amount of ingredients: the flour, sugar, leavening agents,” she explains, since air pressure and humidity are lower at 6,181 feet above sea level in Carbondale. “I would consult with a good friend who is a French-trained pastry chef (and) lives here in the mountains. We went through a lot of banana breads!”
Heitner’s personally dialed recipe uses a rice flour-based, gluten-free flour blend by Bob’s Red Mill, which doesn’t contain cornstarch; anti-inflammatory coconut oil and cinnamon; and organic fruit. Her “secret” ingredient? Water.
“At higher altitude, things dry out quicker, and I’m not using regular wheat flour,” she says. “Using organic, whole-food ingredients with the least amount of processing as possible is really important to me. And (as few) ingredients as possible.”
Dubbed Panorama Kitchen for its calming view of Mount Sopris, Heitner’s startup venture launched from her home about nine weeks ago with her signature banana bread. The handmade loaves are compact with a moist, tender crumb, caramel sweetness, and edges that turn caramelized and crispy when thinly sliced and toasted. She prepares two varieties: original with chocolate chips (which includes dairy) and a second version that is vegan.
“All the kids seem to love it!” Heitner shares, noting that it can be challenging for parents to find a balance on the safe-to-eat-yet-delicious spectrum. “That, to me, is a big win.”
Customers may purchase Panorama Kitchen Banana Bread from the Aspen Emporium and Flying Circus, where Heitner hosts a pop-up with samples on Saturdays (see sidebar, right). The banana bread is sold in original with chocolate chips or vegan without (full loaf, $24 or $22; half loaf, $14 or $12). All come frozen, because “something magical happens in the freezer,” she says. “It sort of brings everything together.”
“This whole project has been about joy,” Heitner continues. “I really enjoyed making it, I really enjoyed eating it, and I really enjoyed sharing it.”
Her words transport me back to my own home kitchen just about a year ago, when I was sourcing submissions for “The Aspen Cookbook” (November 2020). Since the project was conceived by the Young Professionals Network Aspen, a volunteer subcommittee of the Aspen Board of Realtors, they had begun collecting recipes from home cooks within the community. Before we decided to focus on restaurant chefs and caterers for the cookbook, I received three such entries last spring.
One recipe was sent by Chris Council, an Aspen-based photographer and principal, with his wife Emily Chaplin, of C2 Photography. Council was running for Pitkin County commissioner last May, and we had collaborated on magazine stories in the past, so I sent him good wishes on the campaign and asked about a recipe. As it turned out, he had baked this banana bread the night before.
Looking back on my notes from that time, I’m struck by the fact that of all the community recipes the team received, banana bread was by far the most popular. (We ended up including Paradise Bakery’s Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins, a classic since 1976, in “The Aspen Cookbook.”)
“The banana bread is my recipe: When I cook, I use different recipes and pick and choose what I like best from them, then experiment until I get something I like,” Council writes recently. “It’s my tribute to the banana bread found at various roadside stands on the island of Maui, especially on the road to Hana. Hawaii (Kauai and Maui) has been our go-to place to decompress every year in October or November after working throughout the year.”
This spring, due to COVID slowing his business, Council spent two months volunteering in the Bahamas with nonprofit All Hands & Hearts, building a school to replace one that was destroyed in Hurricane Dorian. Now he’s reengaging with clients throughout the valley on new photo projects as life returns to normalcy. And baking banana bread. (Find his recipe, this page.)
Heitner, meanwhile, will be baking up a storm in Carbondale to bring banana bread fit for most dietary restrictions to a wider audience. She’s searching for a commercial kitchen space to expand production and hopes to be accepted as a vendor during the summertime Carbondale Farmers’ Market on Wednesdays.
“This is the time to bake, as we go into offseason,” says Heitner, who also works as an intuitive healer. “My biggest tip is to infuse whatever you’re making with intention. My intention is to serve the community, feed people joy, and bring people together.”
Amanda Rae is the editor of “The Aspen Cookbook,” out now as a fundraiser for local restaurant workers: AspenCookbook.com. email@example.com
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