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.
The Thanksgiving Table
Today is a different kind of day. Usually posts on this blog come about with the narrative and I manage to squeeze in a recipe. But sometimes when you really stumble upon a winning recipe, it speaks for itself. We'll likely make these beans for Thanksgiving this year. They're one of those simple stunners that you initially think couldn't be much of a thing. And then they come out of the oven all sweet and withered and flecked with herbs. You try one and you realize they are, in fact, a pretty big thing.
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.
It has begun. Talk of who is bringing what, where we'll buy the turkey, what kind of pies I'll make, early morning texts concerning brussels sprouts. There's no getting around it: Thanksgiving is on its way. And with it comes the inevitable reflecting back and thinking about what we're thankful for. And about traditions. The funny thing about traditions is that they exist because they've been around for a long time. Year after year after year. But then, one Thanksgiving maybe there's something new at the table.
I didn't expect green beans to bring up such a great discussion on traditions, sharing of poems and how a piece of writing can linger with you. So thank you for that. Your comments pointed out how important people and place are and how food takes the back seat when it comes right down to it. Even if you feel quite warm towards Thanksgiving and are looking forward to next week, reading about recipe suggestions and meal planning online and in magazines can start to feel tiresome right about now. Why? Because I suppose when it all comes down to it, in the big picture it doesn't matter what we all serve anyway. Next year, you likely won't remember one year's vegetable side dish from another. What you'll remember are the markers that dotted the year for you: whom you sat next to at the table, a toast or grace, and the sense of gratitude you felt for something -- large or small.
I got a text from my mom the other day that read: demerara sugar? I responded back with a question mark, not sure what she was referencing. It turns out she was experimenting with a new pie recipe that called for the natural sugar and wasn't sure why she couldn't just use white sugar as that's what she's always done in the past. A few days later we talked on the phone and she mentioned she'd let me take charge of the salad for Thanksgiving this year as long as there was no kale. No kale! And I wanted to do the mashed potatoes? Would they still be made with butter and milk? In short, we're always willing to mix things up in the Gordon household. Whether it's inspiration from a food magazine, friend or coworker, either my mom or one of my sisters will often have an idea for something new to try at the holiday table. But what I've slowly learned is that it can't really be that different: there must be pumpkin pie, the can of cranberry sauce is necessary even though not many people actually eat it, the onion casserole is non-negotiable, the salad can't be too out there, and the potatoes must be made with ample butter and milk. And while I was really scheming up an epic kale salad to make this year, there's a big part of me that gets it, too: if we change things too much we won't recognize the part of the day that comes to mean so much: the pure recognition. We take comfort in traditions because we recognize them -- because they're always there, year after year. And so today I present to you (mom, are you reading?): this year's Gordon family Thanksgiving salad.