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.
Winter Soups and Stews
If your house is anything like ours, last week wasn't our most inspired in terms of cooking. We're all suffering from the post-election blues -- the sole upside being Oliver's decision to sleep-in until 7 am for the first time in many, many months; I think he's trying to tell us that pulling the covers over our heads and hibernating for awhile is ok. It's half-convincing. For much of the week, instead of cooking, there'd been takeout pizza and canned soup before, at week's end, I decided it was time to pour a glass of wine and get back into the kitchen. I was craving something hearty and comforting that we could eat for a few days. Something that wouldn't remind me too much of Thanksgiving because, frankly, I can't quite gather the steam to start planning for that yet. It was time for a big bowl of chili.
Last weekend it was so windy – apocalyptically stormy, you could say – that our tent at the farmers market was uprooted by gusts of wind that were not messing around. I wasn't there, but apparently despite being heavily weighted down and with four customers holding onto each corner, it quite literally blew down the block. Sam, from across town, was reporting trees falling on every block and traffic lights out across the city. The next morning on a walk with Oliver around Green Lake, we were met with that same biting wind and ended up retreating for a hot chocolate instead. 'Tis the season in Seattle: we all get a little giddy and ahead of ourselves when we spot the cherry blossoms and daffodils, and I always trick myself into thinking that with the start of daylight savings time, summer must be right around the corner. In truth, before we had Oliver, we'd often travel somewhere sunny for a little mood boost around this time of year. When I moved from California, many friends – other (empathetic) 'expats' now living in the Pacific Northwest – recommended this: if you know what's good for you, they'd all say, go find the sun in February or March, and we would follow that advice faaaaaithfully. But with a baby, this just isn't where our priorities are this year, and I've found myself relying on other antics like buying out of season strawberries, drinking white wine with dinner, buying a new pair of sandals that likely will not see the light of day for the next two months, and making big, colorful pots of feel good, springy soup. Let's not kid ourselves: Cherry blossoms or not, Seattle's no Palm Springs when it gets down to bathing in the sunlight. But if you step outside onto your little porch, smell the honeysuckle blooming, take notice of the longer, lighter days and think about how you simply can't wait to see your baby crawling around on the sand when it's warm enough to stroll down to the beach, it starts looking better in its own light.
We returned home from San Francisco on New Years Eve just in time for dinner, and craving greens -- or anything other than baked goods and pizza (ohhhh San Francisco, how I love your bakeries. And citrus. And winter sunshine). Instead of driving straight home, we stopped at our co-op where I ran in for some arugula, an avocado, a bottle of Prosecco, and for the checkout guys to not-so-subtly mock the outlook of our New Years Eve: rousing party, eh? They looked to be in their mid-twenties and I figured I probably looked ancient to them, sad even. But really, there wasn't much sad (or rousing, to be fair) about our evening: putting Oliver to bed, opening up holiday cards and hanging them in the kitchen, and toasting the New Year with arugula, half a quesadilla and sparkling wine. It wasn't lavish. But it's what we both needed. (Or at least what we had to work with.) Since then, I've been more inspired to cook lots of "real" food versus all of the treats and appetizers and snacks the holidays always bring on. I made Julia Turshen's curried red lentils for the millionth time, a wintry whole grain salad with tuna and fennel, roasted potatoes, and this simple green minestrone that I've taken for lunch this week. Determined to fit as many seasonal vegetables into a bowl as humanly possible, I spooned a colorful pesto on top, as much for the reminder of warmer days to come as for the accent in the soup (and for the enjoyment later of slathering the leftover pesto on crusty bread).
One of the things I wanted to accomplish before really returning to work in earnest was to print some of our honeymoon photos and get them into an album. This project has taken far longer than expected as I find myself daydreaming about the craggy streets of Naples and meeting up with our friends Mataio and Jessica for a late night slice of pizza which we ate sitting on the sidewalk before embarking on an aimless but wonderful stroll of the city. There are photos of our balcony by the sea, most with tanned limbs, sandy sandals and a Campari and soda gracing the periphery of the frame. There was the little grocery store up the hill from our apartment on the Amalfi Coast that had the sweetest, tiniest strawberries and the best yogurt in little glass jars. Tomatoes drying in the sun, Aperol spritzes and salty peanuts before dinner at the bar across from the church square where all the neighborhood kids played kickball. As I sit here typing this now, photos remain scattered on my desk and it's likely they may not make it into the proper slots in the album anytime soon. Of course, they have me dreaming of sunshine and long days with little agenda, but they also have me thinking about the simplicity of our meals in Italy and how truly easy it was to eat well. Coincidentally, a few days ago Rachel Roddy's lusty new cookbook (can we call it lusty?!), My Kitchen in Rome, arrived at our doorstep. Clearly it was time to set the photos aside and get into the kitchen.
And suddenly, it's fall. I find that realization always comes not so much with the dates on the calendar as it does the leaves on the ground, the first crank of the heat in the morning, the dusky light on the way home from an evening run. Because we were gone on the train for nearly a week, I feel like fall happened here in Seattle during that very time. I left town eating tomatoes and corn and returned to find squashes and pumpkins in the market. It was that quick. And so, it only seemed fitting that I make this soup, one that has graced the fall table of each and every apartment (and now house) I've ever lived. In fact, I'm surprised that I hadn't yet made it for you here, and delighted to share it with you today.