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.
On Monday our little family of three is headed to the airport at 6 am to board our first with-baby cross-country trip. We'll be visiting Sam's family in New Jersey for a few days, then renting a car and driving over to meet up with my family at my mom's lake house in the Adirondacks. Sam's younger sister and her kids have yet to meet Oliver; my grandpa has yet to meet him, and Oliver has yet to take a dunk in a lake, see a firefly, or spend quality time with energetic dogs -- of which there will be three. A lot of firsts. This week my family has been madly texting, volunteering to make certain meals or sweets on assigned days while we're at the cabin and it got me thinking about really simple, effortless summer desserts -- in particular, ones that you can make while staying in a house with an unfamiliar kitchen and unfamiliar equipment and still do a pretty bang-up job. I think fruit crisp is just that thing.
Somehow, in what seems to have been a blink of an eye, we have a six month old baby. In some ways I can't remember a time we didn't have an Oliver, and in other ways it's all a blur broken up by a few holidays (a Thanksgiving thanks to grocery store takeout, and our very first Christmas in Seattle), a few family visits, a one-day road trip to Portland, a birthday dinner out, a birthday cake, weekend drives to nowhere in particular, swimming at the pool with Oliver, weekly get-togethers with our parent's group, doctor's visits, hundreds of walks around the neighborhood, hundreds of cups of coffee, dozens (or more?) of scoops of ice cream. Most of the worrying about keeping a baby alive has made way for other concerns, and Oliver's need for constant stimulation or soothing walks and car rides has been traded for stretches of time playing with a new toy or checking out his surroundings. In truth, it's thanks to that tiny bit of baby independence that this humble, summery cake came to be in the first place. So we've all got an Oliver to thank for that. Or, really, we have a Yossi Arefi to thank, as it's from her beautiful new cookbook that I've bookmarked heavily and am eager to continue exploring.
We walked to the library last week and I had a strange realization standing in line watching Sam check out his usual massive stack of books: Will I ever have the time to read stacks of books again? I used to be much more of a reader than I am today -- a fact I'm not at all proud of. But when evening rolls around and the more formal workday ends, I find emails and other odds and ends creep in. Walking home from the library, I began obsessing over free time for reading, asking Sam if we'd ever be those two old people who study bird manuals and can recognize birds on walks. I want to have the time to read bird manuals someday. For now though, we're young and we're working a lot. We did sneak away on that one-night camping trip I told you about, and cooked some interesting, haphazard meals which I hope to share with you soon. For now though, for summer: a strawberry dessert recipe.
Much like friends, types of Sunday mornings, or books -- there are many different kinds of desserts. Sometimes you may be in the mood for a light French cake piled high with summer fruit. Other days, a thick slice of fragrant pound cake will do. And then there are those days when you crave a rich chocolate mousse that you share after a night of good conversation and a little too much wine. But let's be honest. When it comes right down to it, the most basic and unassuming dessert of all is sometimes the only one that will do. A good and simple affair. Vanilla ice cream. So I want to talk about that today--about a dessert that withstands the test of time, that will always be there for you. A dessert that is far from trendy, that doesn't play favorites or trick you into thinking it's something that it's not. It's a good foundation. A solid beginning.
[ Pie. if you've been around here much in the last few months, you know that I make pie. A lot of pie. And I'm particularly excited to share this pie with you today because it helped me break out of a rut. A pie rut. A baking rut. A Marge inspiration rut.