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.
* * *
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.
Healthy Comfort Food
People describe raising young kids as a particular season in life. I hadn't heard this until we had a baby, but it brought me a lot of comfort when I'd start to let my mind wander, late at night between feedings, to fears that we'd never travel internationally again or have a sit-down meal in our dining room. Would I ever eat a cardamom bun in Sweden? Soak in Iceland? I loved the heck out of our tiny Oliver, but man what had we done?! Friends would swoop in and reassure us that this was just a season, a blip in the big picture of it all. They promised we'd likely not even remember walking around the house in circles singing made-up songs while eating freezer burritos at odd hours of the day (or night). And it's true.
Oliver is turning two next month, and those all-encompassing baby days feel like a different time, a different Us. In many ways, dare I say it, Toddlerhood actually feels a bit harder. Lately Oliver has become extremely opinionated about what he will and will not wear -- and he enforces these opinions with fervor. Don't get near the kid with a button-down shirt. This week at least. He's obsessed with his rain boots and if it were up to him, he'd keep them on at all times, especially during meals. He insists on ketchup with everything (I created a damn monster), has learned the word "trash" and insists on throwing found items away on his own that really, truly are not trash. I came to pick him up from daycare the other day and he was randomly wearing a bike helmet -- his teacher mentioned he'd had it on most of the day and really, really didn't want to take it off. The kid has FEELINGS. I love that about him, and wouldn't want it any other way. But, man it's also exhausting.
I just finished washing out Oliver's lunchbox and laying it out to dry for the weekend. My favorite time of day is (finally) here: the quiet of the evening when I can actually talk to Sam about our day or sit and reflect on my own thoughts after the inevitable dance party or band practice that precedes the bedtime routine lately. Before becoming pregnant for the second time, I'd have had a glass of wine with the back door propped open right about now -- these days though, I have sparkling water or occasionally take a sip from one of Sam's hard ciders. Except now the back door's closed and we even turned on the heat for the first time yesterday. The racing to water the lawn and clean the grill have been replaced by cozier dinners at home and longer baths in the evening. You blink and it's the first day of fall.
I'd heard from many friends that buying a house wasn't for the faint of heart. But I always shrugged it off, figuring I probably kept better files or was more organized and, really, how hard could it be? Well, I've started (and stopped) writing this post a good fifteen times which may indicate something. BUT! First thing's first: we bought a house! I think! I'm pretty sure! We're still waiting for some tax transcripts to come through and barring any hiccough with that, we'll be moving out of our beloved craftsman in a few weeks and down the block to a great, brick Tudor house that we wanted the second we laid eyes on it. The only problem: it seemed everyone else in Seattle had also laid eyes on it, and wanted it equally as much. I'm not really sure why the homeowner chose us in the end. Our offer actually wasn't the highest, but apparently there were some issues with a few of them. We wrote a letter introducing ourselves and describing why we'd be the best candidates and why we were so drawn to the house; we have a really wonderful broker who pulled out all the stops, and after sifting through 10 offers and spending a number of hours deliberating, they ended up going with ours. We were at a friend's book event at the time when Sam showed me the text from our broker and I kind of just collapsed into his arms. We were both in ecstatic denial (wait, is this real?! Did we just buy a house?) and celebrated by getting chicken salad and potato salad from the neighborhood grocery store and eating it, dazed, on our living room floor. Potato salad never tasted so good.
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.
Porridge is not the sexiest of breakfasts, it's true. It doesn't have a stylish name like strata or shakshuka, and it doesn't have perfectly domed tops like your favorite fruity muffin. It doesn't crumble into delightful bits like a good scone nor does it fall into buttery shards like a well-made croissant. But when you wake up and it's 17 degrees outside (as it has been, give or take a few, for the last week), there's nothing that satisfies like a bowl of porridge or oatmeal. It's warm and hearty and can be made sweet or savory with any number of toppings. The problem? Over the years, it's gotten a bad rap as gluey or gummy or just downright boring or dutiful -- and it's because not everyone knows the secrets to making a great pot of warm morning cereal. So let's talk porridge (also: my cookbook comes out this month! So let's take a peek inside, shall we?)