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I Wish I Liked Bananas

Screen Shot 2018-07-26 at 8.26.33 AMLast week I wrote about Mom’s recipe for pie filling and later as I layered slices of bananas, vanilla wafers, and pie filling to make the best banana pudding ever, I decided it was time to overcome my aversion to eating a plain banana. I like everything about bananas, except their slimy texture. The ripeness doesn’t matter. Green or black-speckled, all bananas feel slimy.

Bananas are perfect snacks to eat quickly and easily and they’re healthy. They provide fiber, potassium, vitamin B6, vitamin C, and various antioxidants. They may even help prevent asthmacancerhigh blood pressurediabetes, cardiovascular disease, and digestive problems.

I like a banana’s flavor, its convenience, and its health benefits. But every time I’ve tried to eat one, the slimy, mushy texture triggered my gag reflex. One bite, one chew, and I breathed deeply to avoid spitting it out. I told myself it’s a healthy fruit and its potassium might alleviate night leg cramps. The antioxidants are good for my heart and keep free radicals (whatever those are) from attacking my cells. And it’s cheap and I don’t need a plate or spoon. But in the past, mind over matter has never worked. That bite grows bigger and slimier the more I chew.

Friends have told me I need to pair a banana with something else, and peanut butter and bananas are natural partners because the banana offers quick carbs and peanut butter offers protein. Since a spoonful of peanut butter is my favorite quick hunger solution, it was worth a try. I sliced circles of banana and topped them with peanut butter. The flavors definitely compliment each other, but after one bite, I couldn’t eat another.

I smashed a spoonful of granola into the peanut butter. It was better, but I only managed two more bites. Sunflower seeds are crunchy so they would surely camouflage the banana. How can sliminess overpower crunchiness?

Next, I made fruit salad with apples, peaches, grapes, and small chunks of banana. I won’t notice anything except crispness I told myself. But that was a lie. My tongue rolled over the slimy banana and I chewed quickly and swallowed.

Sweetness could surely make a banana palatable. I cut three banana slices and dipped each into one of three sweeteners: chocolate syrup, honey, and brown sugar. All were delicious, but still slimy. Enough sweetness makes anything go down. I’d kid myself to think the nutritional benefits offset the harmful sugar effects.

So now I’m back to accepting that I don’t eat bananas although I do love Mom’s Banana Pudding and banana splits and banana bread. What’s better that a sliced banana with three scoops of ice cream (one vanilla, two chocolate) topped with chocolate syrup, real whipped cream, and a cherry? And overripe smashed bananas baked in banana bread surely provides some antioxidants and potassium and all that other healthy stuff.

But I still wish I could peel a banana, take a bite, and enjoy it. Suggestions, anyone?

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Mom’s Vanilla Pudding

Husband calls it Real Banana Pudding. I call it Mom’s Banana Pudding, but we agree it’s delicious. My stained and frayed 3 x 5 recipe card for the pudding is labeled “Pie Filling” and “from the kitchen of Mother.” The penciled writing is Mom’s and mine.

Recently, I took banana pudding to Husband’s family gathering and the dish was practically licked clean. The best compliment possible. “I bet you cooked it in a double boiler. It’s a lot of trouble,” Husband’s cousin said. I said that Mom taught me how to make pie filling years ago and it’s not trouble, just takes a little time.

Mom used the same basic recipe for all cream pies and banana pudding, and it’s the one I still use. About fifty years ago, Mom and I made a chocolate pie. She recited her recipe and we took turns measuring, stirring, and writing this recipe as we worked.

Mom’s Pie Filling

            1 cup sugar

            2 cups milk

            2 eggs

            3 T. cocoa

            3 T. cornstarch or flour

            1 T. margarine

            2 t. vanilla

            Mix the cocoa, flour, and sugar. Add milk and cook ‘til the pudding is nearly thick.            Add the beaten eggs yolks and cook ‘til thick. Add margarine and flavoring.

            Variations: Vanilla- leave out cocoa. Coconut – no cocoa, add ½ c coconut. Pineapple – drain juice from small can of crushed pineapple and use juice to substitute for some of the milk. For banana pudding, make vanilla pie filling.

Mom and I didn’t write details. I’ve learned to use whole milk, like the milk Mom used from our cow Dad milked every day. Separate the eggs. Beat the yolks in a small bowl; place the whites in a glass bowl to make meringue.

Mix the flour or cornstarch (my choice) and sugar and milk in a heavy saucepan, cook over medium heat and stir often. When the mixture thickens, add a few spoonfuls to the beaten yolks and stir to warm the eggs before adding them to the hot pudding. Pour the egg mixture slowly into the pudding and stir continually. After the mixture thickens, remove from heat. Add margarine, (or butter) and vanilla and stir.

Line the bottom of an 8” x 8” baking dish with vanilla wafers. Top with a layer of sliced bananas and then ½ of the pudding. Repeat the layers.

Beat the egg whites, ¼ cup sugar, and a pinch of cream of tartar at medium speed until the whites are fluffy, and then spread them over the pudding. Brown in a 350 degree oven for 10 – 12 minutes.

There are many recipes for banana pudding and all cooks have their favorites. This is mine. Not just because it’s real banana pudding and Husband’s favorite, but also because every time I pour warm beaten eggs into hot pudding, I see Mom wearing an apron tied around her waist, stirring with a wooden spoon, and standing beside her stove in an un-air-conditioned house. I treasure that memory.

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Anchovies, anyone?

Screen Shot 2018-06-21 at 7.23.45 AMWho eats anchovies? Those salty, slimy, oily little fish sold in metal tins – no thank you. Many times before ordering pizza for friends or family, I’ve asked what they like on pizza. And often the reply has been, “Anything and everything, except anchovies.” I’d never consider anchovies on pizza.

The only way I’ve ever eaten these little fish is in salad. A few minced anchovies, combined with mayonnaise, lemon juice, Parmesan cheese, garlic, and Dijon mustard to make the dressing, adds zing to a Caesar salad’s unique flavor. It’s one of my favorite salads, but I can’t see the dark, reddish-brown, unappetizing minced fish.

And then I learned about fresh anchovies. While travelling in Italy recently, Lucca, our tour guide in Cinque Terre, suggested a traditional Italian meal at his friend’s restaurant, Teverna del Capitano. The waiter offered our group of seven a three-course meal: salad, fried fish, and pasta.

Sliced tomatoes with basil leaves and mozzarella balls drizzled with olive oil. Delicately battered fried seafood, fresh from the Mediterranean Sea only a hundred yards from our table. Calamari, shrimp, white fish, and anchovies. And clam and mussels pasta, topped with pesto and olive oil. All sounded delicious, especially shrimp, except I couldn’t imagine yummy delicately battered fried shrimp on a plate with yucky, stinky anchovies.

“Fried slimy anchovies?” I said to Lucca, who was seated beside me.

“Probably not like anything you’ve eaten. These are fresh. Probably caught this morning,” he said.

When the fish platter was passed, I chose several large shrimp, a couple of calamari strips, and fish. The whole anchovies, without heads, were silver and light gray, but didn’t tempt me.

On his plate, Lucca used a fork to split, beginning at the tail, a four-inch long anchovy. Then he lifted the tail and the skelton to leave two narrow strips of white and flaky meat. “You’ve right,” I said, “I’ve never seen or eaten an anchovy like that.” Lucca ate half and gave me half.

Oh my. In an instant, every preconceived notion I had about anchovies vanished. Mild, light, tender. Not salty. No strong fish odor.

“That’s delicious,” I said. “Show me how to get the bones out.” Deboning an anchovy was as easy as Lucca made it look. The flavor was better than shrimp and a squeeze of fresh lemon brought out the taste. I pushed the other fish aside and ate anchovies as fast as I could debone them.

I now know the processing of anchovies gives this fish its bad reputation. Because they are small and have a high oil content (a healthy oil), they don’t transport well. So anchovies are cured and packed in barrels of salt for several months and the white flesh turns a brownish red color.

Will I give fillets of anchovies packed in tins another chance? I don’t think so. I can’t get past the look: slimy and an unappetizing color. But when offered fresh anchovies, I’ll be the first in line.

Best Wintertime Eating

What’s better than a bowl of hot soup for supper on a cold, winter day? I’m not a soup snob. I’ll eat almost anything that’s served in a bowl and eaten with a spoon, but I have favorites.

My go-to canned soup has been around since 1897. Talk about standing the test of time! Campbell’s condensed tomato soup was first marketed 121 years ago. Campbell’s first produced ready-to-eat soup in 1872, but its condensed soup wasn’t introduced until years later. Tomato soup was one of the few canned foods Mom bought when I was a kid, and it was a cure for whatever ailed me. Mom added about half a can of milk and heated it on the stove in a pan. I’d crumbled soda crackers on top and practically lick the bowl.

Now one of my Grands acts as if she’s getting a treat when offered tomato soup. At age 10, she makes her own. She dumps the thick, red mixture in a bowl, adds a little water, and heats it the in microwave. As far as Lou and I are concerned, only Campbell’s makes tomato soup.

My go-to soup recipe is White Chili. I discovered more than twenty years ago on the side of a can of Bush’s beans. I figure a recipe written on a can label in size 9 font, so small I get out my magnifying glass, must be good. Why would a company print a recipe for their product that wasn’t good? I open a few cans, dice cooked chicken, and heat everything in a pan, bake a skillet of cornbread, and it’s supper. I’ve tried other and more complicated white chili recipes, but always come back to this one. (https://susanrray.com/recipes   It’s listed at the bottom of the recipe page.)

My all-time favorite soup isn’t canned or printed as a recipe.   Mom’s vegetable soup. She had everything needed on hand, but the ingredients were never exactly the same. She opened a jar or two of her home canned tomatoes and added whatever vegetables she’d saved from leftovers. Maybe a spoonful of lima beans, a serving or two of corn, a cup of green beans, some black-eyed peas. Vegetables that she and Dad had grown in their backyard garden, harvested, preserved, and Mom cooked. Then she froze leftovers, no matter how small the amount, in a plastic container that was labeled vegetable soup leftovers.

After all the leftovers were in the soup pot, Mom added cubed white potatoes, a chopped onion, and sliced carrots, if there were any in the refrigerator. And then she’d reach in the cabinet for her secret ingredient: two bay leaves. A dash of salt and black pepper, and an hour later, Mom served the most delicious soup I’ve ever eaten.

I do my best to make Mom’s vegetable soup. Freeze leftover veggies. Can summer tomatoes, specifically for soup. Add everything to the soup pot that she did, even bay leaves, and it tastes almost the same.

Yes, cold weather calls for hot soup. Don’t you agree?

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It’s Corn on the Cob Time

“We’ll save Elaine’s corn. She only ate half of it,” I said while Husband gathered dirty plates after supper with Daughter’s family. Elaine, my six-year-old Grand, had completely cleaned one side of an ear of corn; the other hadn’t been touched.

“Want to save mine?” My Grand’s older sister asked. Corn kernels dotted the ear she held. A few here. A few there. The corncob had been attacked from all sides with no rhyme or reason. I shook my head. Looking at Elaine’s half eaten ear of corn, her sister said, “How does Elaine do that?”

Elaine, like many people, eats corn by rows. Starts at one end and eats a whole row, or two or three, to the other end. People eat corn differently. Some people eat around the cob. Chomping all the kernels while rotating the cob. Some bite in a hit or miss pattern.

And there are just as many ways to cook corn on the cob. I grew up eating boiled corn. Dad pulled the ears from the corn stalks in our garden and shucked each ear. My chore was to remove the silks. Mom heated a pot of water while I struggled with thin, damp strings wedged between the kernels and rows. Mom carefully eased several ears, some silks intact, into boiling water. Then she set the timer for 20 minutes.

The cooked corn was starchy and chewy. I thought it was good until Mom discovered that corn boiled for only five minutes was better. Tender and juicy.

I’ve cooked corn many ways. Boiled for a few minutes as Mom taught, roasted, and microwaved. To roast, pull the shucks off and remove the silks. Slather the kernels with butter, sprinkle with salt and pepper and ‘redress’ with the shucks. Or just cut off the brown silks and don’t’ shuck. Either way, place corn ears on a medium hot grill for about fifteen minutes.

Microwaved corn is fast. For years, I removed the shucks and silks and placed the ears in a flat baking pan. Added about ¼ inch of water and covered tightly with plastic wrap. Cooked on high about 2-3 minutes per ear.

Now I leave the husks on and cut off the brown silks. Microwave about 2 ½ minutes per ear. To hold cooked corn, roasted or microwaved, I wrap it in newspaper and place in a thermal bag. Shuck just before serving and the silks almost slide off. Roll each ear over butter. I gave up spreading butter on hot corn a long time ago.

I don’t think there’s a right or wrong way to eat corn on the cob, but I have definite ideas about cooking and seasoning. Less cooking is better, no matter how it’s cooked and there are more ways than mine. Removing silks is easier after cooking in the husk. Butter and salt are ‘musts’. Black pepper is optional.

And I know fresh corn on the cob is mighty fine eating and if you eat in rows you might have leftovers for another day.

 

Favorite Shopping Market

 

My favorite grocery store opened in May. Selling fresh vegetables and fruit. Beef butchered here in Tennessee. Bakery items: fried pies, sour dough bread, poppy seed muffins. Homemade candles. Honey. Cut flowers. All local. Available at the Community Farmers Market, 201 Mahler Avenue.

I hate grocery shopping. I psych myself up to push a cart down store aisles. What a freedom to get to choose, I tell myself. How fortunate to buy what’s on my list. While I force myself to do week-in, week-out grocery buying, shopping at Farmers Market soothes my country girl appetite and soul.

Saturdays are the days everyone shows up. All the vendors. All the shoppers. It’s like Saturdays when as a kid I walked with Granny to town in Byrdstown. She stopped on the sidewalk to talk with friends, and I spent my dime for an Archie comic book at the drugstore. For a down home gathering and the widest selection, go to Farmers Market on Saturday

Because the pavilion is available for vendors Monday- Saturday, anytime I drive near Mahler Avenue, I swing by. Monday morning, 9:00, I didn’t really expect to see sellers, but I hoped for one tomato for a BLT. Parked was a green pick-up truck piled with corn. I’m hooked by one vendor selling one item and I was the only customer.

“Good morning,” a strong looking young man greeted me as he shucked heavy thick leaves off an ear of corn.

“Good morning. Looks like you’ve been busy. Picked this morning?” I asked.

“Yes, mam. Peaches and cream. It’s pretty good.” He nodded toward the one ear he’d completely shucked. Yellow and white kernels glistened. Golden silks. Not a single worm.

“How much?” I asked.

“$5.00 a dozen.” Didn’t I pay $4 a dozen last year? And not long ago, $3? Hadn’t I bought corn from him before? I asked his name.

“Lance,” he said and nodded. Thick corn leaves fell and Lance stacked light green leaf-covered ears of corn. “I’ve sold a lot corn for several years. Right from this truck.” I pulled a five-dollar bill out of my pocket. Lance counted a baker’s dozen and put thirteen ears of corn in a plastic bag.

As I drove home, I thought of a sign my mother kept on the wall of her business, Ruth’s Flower Shop, in the 1960s. Something like, ‘If folks only knew the time and money spent to grow flowers, they’d gladly play the price.’ I can only guess the time and money spent to break the ground, plow, plant, fertilize, weed, remove suckers, gather, sell. For about forty cents an ear, I can bite into tender fresh-picked corn.

Most Saturday mornings I stroll through Farmers Market. I take home bags of vegetables and fruit. Last week I made a plan with a vendor to buy twenty pounds of cucumbers to make pickles.

Farmers Market is open through October. I just wish the vendors sold everything on my shopping list.

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Peanut Butter Sandwich – Anyone?

 

images       The grape jelly jar was empty so I searched the pantry for something to make a sandwich. Peanut butter and raspberry jam? Orange marmalade? Molasses, thick and grainy? Perfect. Peanut butter and molasses on whole wheat bread may have been the best sandwich I’ve ever eaten.

Peanut butter is a staple at my house. A spoonful of peanut butter and a cup of coffee, with a little cream, and I’m good to go for a few hours. I first reached for the peanut butter jar those early mornings when I was teaching and in a rush to get out the door and needed protein. I licked the spoon clean as I drove across town to school.

Have peanuts and peanut butter been around forever? According to National Peanut Board, the peanut plant probably originated in South America; pottery was shaped in the form of peanuts as far back as 3,500 years ago. Africans introduced peanuts to North America beginning in the 1700s and they were a commercial crop in the 1800s, first in Virginia. During the Civil War, both armies subsisted on peanuts as a high source of protein, and after the war Union soldiers took them home. In the 1900s, peanuts and cotton were the South’s commercial crops.

There’s evidence that ancient South American Inca Indians were the first to ground peanuts into peanut butter. In 1895, Dr. John Harvey Kellogg (of cereal fame) invented a version of peanut butter and later a St. Louis physician developed a smooth peanut mixture as a protein substitute for his patients who had poor teeth and couldn’t chew meat. In 1904, peanut butter was introduced at the St. Louis World’s Fair. So who came up with the famous peanut butter and jelly sandwich? It’s believed that the U. S. army made the peanut butter and jelly sandwich poplar during World War II.

And a pb & j sandwich is a favorite with young and old. The basic sandwich is classic, but peanut butter combines with almost anything to make a sandwich. Honey. Marshmallow cream. Apple slices. Banana. Brown sugar. Some people even make a peanut butter sandwich with pickles and lettuce. Husband’s choice is peanut butter, Miracle Whip, tomato, and a thin slice of onion.

Peanut butter shows up in many things we eat. Celery stuffed with peanut butter and decorated with raisins. Cookies. Candy. (Reece’s peanut butter cups are my favorite.) Cakes. Pies. Ice cream. Pancakes. Granola bars. Pretzels. Doughnuts. Spread on bagels and English muffins. The list extends to peanut butter sauce for chicken and Asian stir-fry, which sounds as unappetizing as Husband’s sandwich.

I grew up eating the traditional sandwich: grape jelly and smooth peanut butter on white bread, cut into two triangles. I’d wager that most every kid, except for those who have nut allergies, eats at least one pb & j sandwich every week. And for those with allergies, there’s sun butter, a sunflower seed spread that’s tastes like peanut butter. Most of us, 94% of Americans, have at least one jar of peanut butter at home the Peanut Board says. Americans eat three pounds of peanut butter per person every year. (If you don’t eat your share, I eat enough for several people.)

There are recipes for deep-fried and oven-roasted and grilled pb & j sandwiches. Seems like a perfect lunch on a cold winter day. For now, I’m sticking with my new favorite: pb and thick, grainy molasses. And when I run out of it, I’ll try fresh molasses or whatever is in my pantry.