Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Amazing Banana

The other night, while glued to Iron Chef America (Battle Banana) and snacking on a new banana-riffic treat, and I had a flash of inspiration. Why not write a post dedicated to bananas and their sweet, sticky, sunny, giraffe-spotted fabulousity?

Banana plant from my trip to Jamaica

After all, I love bananas. When asked to name my favorite foods, sure, I’ll spout a list of indulgent treats like chocolate, cheese, sushi, and filet mignon. But bananas are a staple food in my kitchen. I eat one nearly every day. Bananas powered me through my first half marathon--I ate one before, with oatmeal and peanut butter, and one afterward. And I've been known to make “emergency” trips to the grocery store--sometimes in the wee hours of the morning--because ohmygosh-I’m-out-of-bananas!

As it turns out, there are a lot of reasons to love bananas. Besides being tasty are nutritional powerhouses, bananas are highly useful, comedic (think of animated antagonists slipping and sliding on discarded banana peels). In some cultures, bananas are regarded for their medicinal and symbolic properties.

Fun Facts:
  • The banana plant is not a tree--it’s the world’s largest herb. [Source]
  • Bananas come in a variety of colors, including yellow, purple, and red. Jungle Jim’s is the best place in Cincinnati to find exotic bananas (if you visit, be sure to pose for a picture with the giant banana at the entrance).
  • Banana flowers (“hearts”) are used as a vegetable in some South Asian cuisines. They taste similar to artichokes.
  • Banana leaves are waterproof. In southeast Asian countries, they are often used as food containers.
  • Steaming banana leaves with a dish lends a slightly sweet flavor. During Battle Banana, Bobby Flay steamed tamales in banana leaves (yum!).
  • Other uses for the banana plant include textiles and paper. [Source]

Banana Flower

Nutritional Benefits:
  • A medium (7-8”) banana contains approximately 105 calories, 3 grams of fiber (12% DV), and only 1 mg of sodium. Each medium banana also contains 12% DV of potassium, 17% DV of Vitamin C, and 22% DV of Vitamin B6. [NutritionData]
  • Because they are extremely high in potassium and low in sodium, bananas can help to fight high blood pressure.
  • Bananas contain tryptophan, a type of protein that the body converts into serotonin, which helps elevate our mood.
  • Bananas are high in B vitamins, which help to regulate blood glucose levels and calm the nervous system.
  • Eating a banana is an excellent, natural way to replenish electrolytes after intense exercise. [Source]
Buying and Storing Bananas:
  • Choose bananas that are firm, slightly green, and without bruises. Avoid bananas with a gray tint or dull appearance--they’ve been refrigerated and won’t ripen properly.
  • Once ripe, bananas can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks. The skins will turn black, but the fruit will remain at the perfect stage of ripeness.
  • Wait to refrigerate bananas until they ripen--once bananas have been refrigerated, they won’t ripen properly when brought back to room temperature.
  • Bananas ripen quickly because they release a lot of ethylene gas. If you want to speed the ripening process, you can place them in a brown paper bag with an apple.
  • Bananas too ripe? Peel them, cut them into chunks, wrap them in plastic, and freeze. Frozen bananas lend a creamy texture and sweet flavor to smoothies. They're also great for baking, where you typically want very ripe, sweet bananas. [Source]
Bananas are fabulous eaten out-of-hand, sliced in cereal or over yogurt, or baked in banana bread, but why stop there? Here are a few of my favorite ways to use bananas...

Banana Pancakes

Peanut Butter, Greek Yogurt and Banana Parfait with Granola

Banana Daquiri

Overnight Oats

...and a kitchen experiment!

Banana “Ice Cream”

As an avid reader of many food and fitness blogs, I’ve been reading about this frozen banana soft serve everywhere. I’ve been holding off on on trying it, not because I was skeptical about its delicious factor, but out of fear my food processor would actually combust. But I was inspired by Battle Banana and its fearless combatants, and it was about 87 degrees in my apartment with the AC on, so I decided to give it a whirl.

Into the food processor went one of my precious frozen bananas...

...and I held my breath and let ‘er rip!

There were a few highly intense, counter-shaking moments, during which I held the food-processor down to keep it from bouncing itself onto the floor. And then, all the sudden, a miracle occurred and a sweet mound of yumminess appeared!

It’s no Aglamesis Brothers, people, and it probably couldn’t pinch-hit if I were really craving the real thing. I think you’d need to be a pretty hard-core banana lover like myself to really find it delicious (after all, it’s a straight-up, super-ripe banana). But it was still yummy, and either way, you gotta admit it’s pretty cool!

I added just a dash of cinnamon to mine, but my head is already spinning with possible variations and additions. Cocoa powder? Chocolate chips? Peanut butter? A sprinkle of sea salt? Toasted coconut?

What's your favorite way to eat bananas?

Monday, July 26, 2010

Why I Am Alive

Recently, my friend Carrie and I went to hear Anthony Bourdain speak at the Aronoff Center downtown.

Before the event, we enjoyed a meal at Via Vite overlooking Fountain Square.

We sat on the patio and enjoyed a nice view of the square.

I had a gin martini with basil and cucumber. My drink was served in an old-fashioned glass over ice. In the heat, the ice melted quickly, resulting in a watered-down cocktail. I really enjoyed the flavors of my drink, so I was a little disappointed that it ended up so diluted by the end. (Maybe I just didn't drink it quickly enough?)

My friend and I shared a salad with warm Boucheron goat cheese, raspberry truffle vinaigrette, and pistachios. She had had the salad before and told me how amazing it was, and she was right. It was amazing. I had never tried truffle, but now I see what all the (culinary) fuss is about! The truffle was deep and earthy, balancing well with the sweet-tart raspberry in the dressing, the peppery-bitter greens, tangy cheese, and pistachios.

To complete my dinner, I had the gazpacho, a special seasonal dish served with crab salad. Mmmm!

Anthony Bourdain was wonderful. I no longer find it easy to live in the moment, and as a result, my memory isn't what it used to be. Images and details don't burn themselves into my brain the way they once did. I've already forgotten most of the snark (except the Sandra Lee bit), but two things he said made a lasting impression.

I wish I could give you an exact quote. I'll do my best:

"How can we live in this world, with all that is has to offer, and not want to experience everything?"

I don't know, Tony. I've asked myself the same question. But to hear someone else voice it so plainly and eloquently? Right then, we were the only two in the room, and Anthony Bourdain had a direct line into my soul. My throat closed in, and my heart bloomed wide open, and for a second, I knew unquestionably why I am alive.

And that I must go, and live, now. Every moment, because life is happening all around me, and there is so much of it, and so little time.

The second lasting impression: I must go to Vietnam. I am adding it to my life list.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Feeding Frenzy

To me, few things herald the arrival of summer with as much finality as a perfectly ripe peach.

Peaches begin to appear at the store in May. I bide my time until mid-June, watching and waiting, as they grow increasingly plump, colorful, and fragrant.

Then, I dip my toe into the swimming pool and buy just one. Smooth, round, and heavy for its size, in shades of sunset.

I take it home, place it gently into a brown paper sack, and wait for it to ripen.

Then, when the pressure of my fingertip leaves the slightest dent at the stem, I make my move. I rinse it gently under cool water, and standing over the sink, without knife, plate, napkin, or recipe, I bite in. I bite all the way to the pit, a big bite that wrinkles my nose and sends rivulets of nectar dripping from the tip of my chin and my elbow.

And just like that, in a frenzy of sweet, tart, popping of peach skin, gushing of nectar, it's gone. I'm rushing to the store for more, buying them up like they're going out of style.

Because for me, summer's always been too short, anyway.

I believe that the first peach of summer should be enjoyed just like that--standing over the kitchen sink, with complete abandon, with a satisfied little moan after each juicy bite, because suddenly you feel like you're completely alive after a long winter's sleep.

But invariably, because I lack self-control at the grocery store, I end up with more summertime fruit than I can possibly eat whole. And because I watch too many cooking shows (and read too many food blogs), I also end up with a head full of ideas for things to
do with it all.

One of the things I love to eat, but have never tried to make, is fruit salsa. I love any combination of sweet and savory, sweet and salty, or sweet and spicy. For the following recipe, I drew inspiration from Sarah at The Smart Kitchen and from Tom Kovacevich's Seasonal Fruit Salsa recipe at I made some changes to the recipe based on the ingredients I had on hand.

Peach Salsa
(makes about 2 cups)

2 medium peaches (I used one white and one yellow)
1/4 medium red pepper
1 scallion, white and green parts
1 T fresh lemon juice (I won't tell if you use bottled!)

  1. Cut peaches in half and remove the pits. Cut into quarters and slice out the clingy, fibrous stuff in the middle. Next, dice peaches into 1/4" pieces.
  2. Dice red pepper and scallion.
  3. Gently mix peach, pepper, and scallion with lemon juice.

The beauty of perfectly fresh ingredients is that even when prepared simply, they are delicious. I love basic preparations, because all of the possible variations are limited only by your imagination.

If I'd had a jalapeno, I would have added it because I love the heat. Torn cilantro or sliced basil would also have added a nice touch--I love the combination of peach and basil. Cumin may have added a nice kick without the heat.

The possible applications are also endless--Topping for a salad of butter lettuce and avocado? Relish for a burger, spicy sausage, or grilled tofu? Wrapped in a tortilla with fish or shrimp?

I enjoyed mine simply, with chips (Can I suggest Food Should Taste Good Sweet Potato or Jalapeno? They're $2 at Whole Foods this week--BAM!), and then over tilapia.

Posted by Picasa

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Begin with Breakfast

I have friends who say, “I’m not a breakfast person.” “I just can’t stomach anything in the morning.”

And while I may say, “To each, her own,” in truth, the thought of a breakfast-less morning makes my psyche wither just a little.

I am a hard-core breakfast eater.

When I was a child, my mother rose early, pampering my father, my brother, and I with home-cooked meals—oatmeal on Monday, scrambled eggs on Tuesday, pancakes on Wednesday, and so on. Even now, when I visit my family home, breakfast is an event. “Pancakes or waffles?” we debate. “Or maybe…crepes? Fruit smoothies, fruit salad, fruit compote, or fruit syrup? Whipped cream, or no?”

Dad is the master of waffles and crepes. My mother’s buttermilk pancakes are an addiction. My brother’s omelets are creations of Tyler Florence-esque grandiosity.

And I? Since my childhood, my breakfast habits have run the gamut.

As a severely time-management challenged undergraduate, I ate vending machine Pop Tarts and NutriGrain bars. With my post-graduation entry into the “grown-up” world came a dietary overhaul, and I ate Special K, Kashi GoLean, and bowls of plain oatmeal sweetened with Splenda.

During a period of intense calorie-counting, I munched a banana and a granola bar and sipped a cup of coffee mellowed with just a tablespoon of cream during my commute to work, savoring each in a precisely-timed, bite-sip-pause-repeat fashion.

A second (whole foods-, nutrition-focused) dietary makeover brought me to my current stage of breakfasting bliss. Breakfast caresses me awake each morning. It’s my first bit of me-time, my first bout of creativity.

If I’m feeling fancy, I’ll have pancakes or eggs over-easy with oatmeal and a grapefruit (supreme, of course, with the juice squeezed over—otherwise it wouldn’t be fancy, would it?). If I feel like cleaning the blender, then a smoothie’s the obvious choice (although really, when do I feel like cleaning the blender?). If I’m out, it’ll be the Eggs Benedict, crepes, or an omelet for me!

But most days, my breakfasts are one-bowl wonders. It’s like a daily challenge—how much flavor, nutrition, and creativity can I pack into one (overflowing) bowl?

Hot, or cold?

Did I put oats in the refrigerator to soak last night?

Was Greek yogurt on sale this week?

What fruit’s in season this week?

Eeek! How much time before I have to leave for work?

And the most important question of all: Peanut butter, almond butter, sunflower seed butter, [insert nut] butter? Creamy or crunchy? Will today be fabulous enough for the Teddie PB my brother sent me from Massachusetts, or should I use the Trader Joe’s, or the Meijer brand?

You get the idea.

My favorite combination is oats (in some form), a banana, and nut butter. Stove-top oats cooked with banana and topped with deliciously melting almond butter… oats steeped in milk overnight and stirred with yogurt, banana, and peanut butter… oats eaten raw with soy milk, topped with banana and sunflower seed butter… if I were stranded on a desert island with only three foods, forever, oats, bananas, and nut butter might be my choices.

(Of course, there are wine, cheese, and chocolate, but that’s another post!)

Posted by Picasa