Every other Thursday, we bring you Nicholas Day -- on cooking for children, and with children, and despite children. Also, occasionally, on top of.
Today: An ode to the banana (plus the fastest, maybe healthiest, definitely not prettiest dessert you'll see today).
The banana will not be this year’s it fruit. It will not be next year’s. (It already was once. In 1910.) You will never read a Times story on how chefs are “reinventing” the banana. (I dare you, Julia Moskin. I dare you.) No one eats a banana and says, You know, bananas this time of year just aren’t the same. According to some mysterious cosmological pattern, there are better bananas, and worse bananas, but basically, at least in this country, a banana is a banana is a banana is a banana.
The only interesting thing you can say about the banana is that sometime within the near future, it may cease to exist: the ubiquitous Cavendish variety, itself a replacement for the formerly ubiquitous Gros Michel, is in mortal danger.
I think about this extinction with roughly the same level of existential terror as I think about my own.
I am not supposed to be talking about bananas. I am supposed to be pretending that spring is here, and that I am cooking with the first ramps and the first asparagus and the first fresh-pressed mud, but I am not. I am writing bananas on the shopping list instead.
I have said that I have no childrearing advice except feed your child sardines. I was wrong. You should feed your child sardines and bananas, although not at the same time, because even Elvis Presley wouldn’t have eaten that. Since we are still waiting for the first fruits of spring, I thought I should come clean: I have been writing this column for almost a year and it has all been a lie. My children are made mostly of bananas.
It’s gotten this bad: Isaiah, like any proper connoisseur of anything, has a fine- grained, Grant Achatz-level sense of what he wants in a banana. (Spotted, like a leopard, and soft, but not compost-pile soft.) He does not suffer insufficiently ripe bananas gladly. A few months ago, around his fourth birthday, I offered him a banana while we were walking home and was subjected to a lengthy interrogation as to the exact ripeness of the banana. I assured him that it met his specifications. It didn’t. We’d read the story of Jonah recently—the wonderfully weird Mordicai Gerstein version—which I can only assume is why Isaiah, after taking a bite of the banana, turned and yelled angrily, “Dada, you are a FALSE PROPHET.”
This is still pretty much the ne plus ultra of parenthood for me.
The problem is that bananas resist being anything other than snack: they are not the most flexible of fruits. (Also, mushy, which is why you own a carrying case: it is the second-best baby registry gift I know. What's the first again?)
But we have tried.
In this house, they get mashed up in French toast batter, caramelized in butter next to waffles and even toast, stewed in oatmeal, made into the only “ice cream” you are allowed to eat for breakfast. Anyone whose house pancakes are not whole wheat studded with slices of banana, which then caramelize when flipped, is doing it wrong. If you are not automatically doubling the quantity of banana in any banana bread recipe, you are doing it wrong. Bananas are blended with yogurt for babayogurtshake, a surviving locution of Isaiah’s babyhood. Babayogurtshake being, of course, banana plus yogurt plus an ingredient-to-be-named-later (frozen berries, cardamom, cinnamon). We once had to restrict how much babayogurtshake Isaiah could eat, which on the one hand seems perfectly sensible—we wanted him to taste something besides banana and yogurt—and on the other hand sort of insane: we were worried he was eating too much banana and yogurt. There are worse problems.
But we were not worried without cause. My wife, when she immigrated from the Soviet Union as a young girl, had only eaten a few bananas before arriving—in the USSR, bananas were almost mythical things. Within a year of her arrival, she’d eaten so many that she was unable to look at another for more than a decade.
There are many banana dessert recipes and many are overcomplicated: the whole appeal of bananas is that they are not complicated. A fancy banana recipe is like a slow-braised stew that starts with canned soup.
So instead: warm a can of coconut milk (or make it yourself), dissolve a touch of sugar and salt, add a few sliced bananas. Cook for several minutes. This is your new ten-minute, impressively unphotogenic pantry dessert.
It’s so classically kid-and-busy-family-friendly I’m sort of embarrassed. What sort of column is this, anyway?
Homemade Coconut Milk (optional):
1 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
The Actual Dessert:
1 can of coconut milk or the homemade coconut milk from above
1 tablespoon sugar
Pinch of salt
Optional toppings: chopped Marcona almonds, sesame seeds, cinnamon
Photos by James Ransom