Last Saturday found us aimlessly driving around Seattle, coffees in hand with Oliver napping in the backseat. As do so many babies (or so I hear), Oliver loves a good car nap, and so we’re pretty happy letting him take a good, looooong car nap. Saturday being something of a family day, we often end up driving somewhere deliberately or … just driving, and as we found last weekend, it turns out that when you’re just driving with nowhere in particular to go, sometimes you end up eating bad donuts while the car’s still running in the Krispy Kreme parking lot before heading across the street to spend an inordinate amount of time looking at antiques you can’t afford. You may also come across a fruit stand that’s having a rager of a banana sale (4 pounds, all organic, for $1!) that you really can’t pass up (but that you can afford).
When we got home from our Great Adventure later in the afternoon, we really weren’t sure what to do with our haul. We gave a bunch to Sam’s sister Christa, Sam kept another for himself, and then I posted a picture on Instagram asking you all about your favorite banana recipes. Within minutes, the comments and emails started pouring in, leaving us with a new quandary: where to begin? When I find myself confronted with this question in the kitchen (and in life in general), the answer, more often than not, is ice cream.
I seem to keep reading lately — putting aside for just a moment the thought of so many bananas — that if raising a child is more of a marathon than a sprint, having a baby feels like the opposite: there are short bursts of laughter and giggles followed by intense bursts of crying or sleeping or … who knows what or when or how or why? Years ago, pre-Oliver, I used to run actual marathons and loved the assuredness of them: I could keep the same pace for many, many miles and, more or less, with the right amount of training, I knew how it would finish. In fact, I ended up finishing my second marathon forty seconds faster than my first: apparently, my body just really knows how it would like to pace out those 26 miles, and I’m good with that. Spending the day with a baby doesn’t feel anything like that to me: it’s always different, rarely predictable and changes despite the amount of preparation or personal thoughts on the matter.
At our wedding, we asked a handful of people in particular to stand up and say a few words during dinner. My youngest sister Zoe (who just got engaged yesterday!) stood up as the caterers were clearing everyone’s plates and shared a handful of memories about our time growing up together and, namely, how we share the same ice cream eating habits. This has, on a number of occasions, caused Sam to question his decision to share a life with me, or at least a freezer. In short: the Gordon girls are diggers. We like to get in and tunnel through a pint of ice cream, locating all the large chunks and eating them first. I realize this sounds like potentially messy, brutish business. And it is. But as Zoe said, it’s also about optimism and opportunism: seeking out what’s good in life and going after it first. It’s good to know when it’s time to sprint.
More and more I’m seeing how so much uncertainty sewn throughout the fabric of my days is inspiring an exhilarating desire — or desperate need — to just get in there and get at the good stuff right away. In the mornings when I have Oliver, I’m racing to make coffee and even try to answer a few emails while he’s happily cooing away in his chair because who knows how long the opportunity will remain. But on Saturdays? We try not to think too hard about the Very Best plan for the day. Just get in the car, manage not to judge yourself for eating a bad donut in a parking lot, and drive. Because you never know when the baby will wake up. You never know when it’ll all change. But when it does, you’re going to be thankful for that big bag of bananas in the backseat and the promise of homemade ice cream later in the evening.
In truth, ice cream wasn’t really where I began. I baked up a loaf of the Whole Wheat Banana Bread I blogged about a while back but this time around added a handful of millet (inspired by Kate Leahy), and dried chopped ginger and chocolate bits (inspired by Molly Wizenberg). I highly, highly recommend these tweaks. In addition to your favorite banana bread recipes, a number of you mentioned David Lebovitz’s Roasted Banana Ice Cream and I was drawn to its promises of caramelized flavor and eggless yet creamy texture. Sam’s favorite ice cream being Chunky Monkey, I knew I wanted to eek in some chocolate and toasty walnuts. I also love making dairy-free ice creams with coconut milk so I ended up taking David’s idea of roasting the bananas in brown sugar and butter and applying it to my own dairy-free formula. The result? A super creamy, fragrant banana ice cream with shards of dark chocolate and big bits of walnuts. All very good things.
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I thought I’d gather together a handful of your banana recommendations in case you, too, come upon a windfall of bananas and aren’t sure what to do with them.
Other Banana Recipes to Try:
Banana Cream Pie – Dorie Greenspan
Birdseed Banana Bread – A Modern Meal Maker
Whole Wheat Banana Bread – A Sweet Spoonful
Banana Walnut Chocolate Chunk Cookies – Martha Stewart
Banana Curd – The Faux Martha
My New Roots’ Banoffee Pie – Oh She Glows
As David notes, roasting the bananas in butter and brown sugar gives them a dark almost butterscotchy flavor and draws out their natural sweetness. You could make this recipe truly and completely dairy-free and vegan by using coconut oil instead of the butter and opting for a vegan chocolate. I did not include prep/total time for this recipe as ice cream machines all work at different speeds; do note, though, that the base must chill for at least four hours, and the finished ice cream another four hours.
Adapted from The Perfect Scoop by David Lebovitz
Preheat the oven to 400 F.
Slice the bananas into 1/2-inch (2 cm) pieces and toss them with brown sugar and butter in a 2-quart baking dish. Bake for 20-30 minutes, stirring just once during baking, until the bananas are browned and cooked through. Scrape the bananas and the thick syrup from the baking dish into a blender or food processor and set aside.
In a small saucepan over low heat, warm the coconut milk, sugar, cornstarch and salt. Stir occasionally and continue heating until cornstarch has completely dissolved and mixture has thickened, about 5 minutes. It should look thicker and creamy at this point. Add the vanilla and lemon juice, and pour the mixture into the food processor to join the bananas. Blend until smooth.
Chill the mixture thoroughly in the refrigerator for at least 3-4 hours and up to 1 day overnight, then freeze it in your ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s instructions. If the chilled mixture is too thick to pour into the machine, whisking will help thin it out. As the ice cream begins to firm (last few minutes of churning), add the chocolate bits and chopped walnuts. Transfer to a freezer container and freeze to firm up, about 4 hours.
To serve: allow the ice cream to soften a bit at room temperature before serving, a good 5 minutes. This will make it easier to scoop.
It turns out that returning from a sunny honeymoon to a rather rainy, dark stretch of Seattle fall hasn't been the easiest transition. Sam and I have been struggling a little to find our groove with work projects and even simple routines like cooking meals for one another and getting out of the easy daily ruts that can happen to us all. When we were traveling, we made some new vows to each other -- ways we can keep the fall and winter from feeling a bit gloomy, as tends to happen at a certain point living in the Pacific Northwest (for me, at least): from weekly wine tastings at our neighborhood wine shop to going on more lake walks. And I suppose that's one of the most energizing and invigorating parts about travel, isn't it? The opposite of the daily rut: the constant newness and discovery around every corner. One of my favorite small moments in Italy took place at a cafe in Naples when I accidentally ordered the wrong pastry and, instead, was brought this funny looking cousin of a croissant. We had a wonderfully sunny little table with strong cappuccino, and, disappointed by my lack of ordering prowess, I tried the ugly pastry only to discover my new favorite treat of all time (and the only one I can't pronounce): the sfogliatelle. I couldn't stop talking about this pastry, its thick flaky layers wrapped around a light, citrus-flecked sweet ricotta filling. It was like nothing I'd ever tried -- the perfect marriage of interesting textures and flavors. I became a woman obsessed. I began to see them displayed on every street corner; I researched their origin back at the hotel room, and started to look up recipes for how to recreate them at home. And the reason for the fascination was obviously that they were delicious. But even more: I'm so immersed in the food writing world that I rarely get a chance to discover a dish or a restaurant on my own without hearing tell of it first. And while a long way away from that Italian cafe, I had a similar feeling this week as I scanned the pages of Alice Medrich's new book, Flavor Flours, and baked up a loaf of her beautiful fall pumpkin loaf: Discovery, newness, delight!
I always force myself to wait until after Halloween to start thinking much about holiday pies or, really, future holidays in general. But this year I cheated a bit, tempted heavily by the lure of a warmly-spiced sweet potato pie that I used to make back when I baked pies for a living in the Bay Area (way back when). We seem to always have sweet potatoes around as they're one of Oliver's favorite foods, and when I roast them for his lunch I've been wishing I could turn them into a silky pie instead. So the other day I reserved part of the sweet potatoes for me. For a pie that I've made hundreds of times in the past, this time reimagined with fragrant brown butter, sweetened solely with maple syrup, and baked into a flaky kamut crust. We haven't started talking about the Thanksgiving menu yet this year, but I know one thing for sure: this sweet potato pie will make an appearance.
This time last week I was up in the Skagit River Valley sitting in the early fall sun eating wood-fired bagels and chatting with farmers, millers and bakers at the Kneading Conference West. I made homemade soba noodles, learned the ins and outs of sourdough starters, and sat in on a session where we tasted crackers baked with single varietal wheats. It was like wine tasting, but with wheat and the whole time I kept pinching myself, thinking: THESE ARE MY PEOPLE! I don't get the opportunity to be a student much these days -- usually on the other side of things teaching cooking classes or educating people at the farmers markets about whole grains and natural sugars. So to just sit and listen with a fresh (red!) notebook and a new pen was surprisingly refreshing. I miss it already. Thankfully, this cookie recipe has come back as a memorable souvenir, and one that is sure to be in high rotation in our house in the coming months.
Strolling New York City streets during the height of fall when all the leaves are changing and golden light glints off the brownstone windows. This is what I envisioned when I bought tickets to attend my cousin's September wedding earlier this month: Sam and I would extend the trip for a good day or two so we could experience a little bit of fall in the city. We'd finally eat at Prune and have scones and coffee at Buvette, as we always do. Sam wanted to take me to Russ and Daughters, and we'd try to sneak in a new bakery or ice cream shop for good measure. Well, as some of you likely know, my thinking on the weather was premature. New York City fall had yet to descend and, instead, we ambled around the city in a mix of humidity and rain. When we returned home I found myself excited about the crisp evening air, and the fact that the tree across the street had turned a rusty shade of amber. It was time to do a little baking.
I am writing this on Saturday afternoon on a day when we had big plans to conquer pre-baby chore lists, but Sam's not feeling great and my energy's a little low so it hasn't been quite what we'd envisioned. My goals for the morning were to repot a house plant and make some soup and I've done neither. I will say that the sweet potato and fennel are still sitting on the counter eagerly awaiting their Big Moment -- it just hasn't come about quite yet. Sam and I were both going to attempt to install the carseat, but it started to look really daunting so we abandoned ship; it's now sitting proudly in the basement, also eagerly awaiting its Big Moment. So it's been one of those weekends -- the kind you look back on and wonder what it is you actually accomplished. At the very least, I get the chance to tell you about this hearty cranberry cornbread. I know maybe it feels premature in the season for cranberry recipes, but hang with me here: slathered with a little soft butter and runny honey, there's nothing I'd rather eat right now on the cool, crisp Seattle mornings we've been having lately.