Sautéed Bananas!

foodI think I have a new favourite cooked fruit dessert. It’s easy to prepare, healthier than a lot of other desserts, plus it’s gluten-free and dairy-free. Not to mention that it tastes good.

Last week, among the six of us at Friday night dinner, there was a new mix of  food restrictions. An interesting challenge for me, because I like trying new recipes, and I like to make food that everyone at my table can eat. My dinners are usually low in gluten and lactose, but this time I also had to avoid alcohol, and there was a possibility that one person would be restricted to soft foods.

sautéed bananasI thought of sautéed bananas right away, but the recipe for Bananas Flambé that I’ve made in the past (from Bonnie Stern’s Simply HeartSmart Cooking) calls for rum.

I felt I was on the right track when I found a YouTube video for Betty’s Luscious Fried Bananas. It looked wonderful, but I wanted to tone down the richness and the sweetness.

I substituted coconut oil for butter, increased the number of bananas, decreased the ratio of sugar to bananas, and added a couple of spices. It still turned out delicious and sweet. There was a small amount left over, and we enjoyed it two days later.

My one caveat – I find there’s a big variation in taste among different coconut oils, so use one you like. When I started to sauté the bananas, I thought the coconut oil might overpower the banana flavour. I decided that if I sprinkled toasted coconut on top, the flavour would seem more intentional. Everyone seemed to like it.

We ate the dessert on its own, but it would also be great as a warm topping for ice cream or plain cake.

Here’s the (non-)recipe. No amounts needed, and you can play with the spicing. It’s quick enough to prepare last-minute.

Frances’ Fried Bananas (inspired by Betty)

unsweetened flaked coconut (optional)

coconut oil (enough to coat the bottom of the pan, plus a little more)

ripe, but not over-ripe, bananas (I used 6)

lemon juice

brown sugar (I used 2 or 3 tablespoons)

cinnamon to taste

nutmeg to taste

sea salt

1. If using flaked coconut, toast in non-stick pan on low heat until coconut starts to turn brown. Set aside.

2. Cut bananas in diagonal slices.

3. Heat coconut oil in large frying pan on medium heat.

4. Add bananas, and sprinkle with a bit of lemon juice, brown sugar, cinnamon,  nutmeg, and a bit of sea salt.

5. Saute, reducing heat, and stirring carefully, until cooked but not too soft.

6. Sprinkle with toasted coconut, if you like.

Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

 

A chance to be the editor…

I love the Toronto Star’s annual You be the Editor survey. And I like reading the follow-up results even better.

It’s an opportunity to make real-life editing decisions with no risk of fallout. It’s a learning opportunity, too.

Here are a few points I found particularly interesting. No, let me rephrase that, because I found the whole column particularly interesting. So I’ll just highlight a few of the questions.

Public editor Kathy English described #10 as “a tough one.” It had to do with a business profile of Heather Reisman. Most readers who completed the survey would have chosen not to publish the cited excerpts, which describe the Indigo CEO’s appearance. I probably would have omitted the reference to her “slim, lithe figure,” but I would have retained the phrase “petite frame belying the power she wields.” I’m always intrigued by contrasts and unexpected impressions – I think they make articles more interesting to read, and may help readers question their own assumptions. In this case, I believe the phrase is relevant to Reisman’s role. English asks a key question: would a male CEO’s appearance be described similarly?

#11 dealt with a column that referred to former mayor Rob Ford and his brother Doug in strong and unflattering language. A resulting complaint to the Ontario Press Council was dismissed. A lot of people that I meet aren’t clear about the difference between a column and an article. Columnists – as I learned in one of the first writing courses I ever took – are “queens” of the business who write their opinions. Journalists don’t “editorialize” in their articles.

“Paddy wagon” (#6) is a term I don’t recall ever using, and I don’t think I’m likely to use it in the future. But finding it in the survey served as a reminder that the phrase might be considered offensive.

More importantly, it’s a reminder that every word counts.

 

 

 

Hello, January

I have a whole bunch of things I could blog about today, but seeing as this is the first full week of 2015, I’m focusing on getting back in writing mode.

Blogging has been my foundation for the past year and a half, providing structure to my week, and putting me in writing mode on a regular basis. But I haven’t been very productive recently. I didn’t blog during my two-week trip to Japan last month, and then I was busy catching up with other things before going into end-of-December holiday mode.

Yesterday, as I was catching up with my emails, I opened the end-of-year summary that WordPress sent to let me know how my blog has been doing.

Considering I took a hiatus from blogging over the summer, and that I didn’t blog much toward the end of the year, I was pleased to see that I had 8,800 hits in 2014. That’s the equivalent – as WordPress put it – of three sold-out performances at the Sydney Opera House, which has almost 2,700 seats in its Concert Hall.

I used to think of myself as one of the “January people” – the ones who join a gym or revamp their diets at the beginning of the year. I think this year I’ll just take one day, and one blog post, at a time.

One of the writing blogs I follow (Live to Write – Write to Live, by the New Hampshire Writers’ Network) had an interesting post this morning about digital filing for writers. I’ll have to digitally file it, or – um – maybe just refer back to this post.

Hello, January! Happy (and healthy) New Year, everyone!

A class act… or not?

Call me old-fashioned, but I like the word “classy,” even though I never gave it much thought before reading this blog last week.

Katy Waldman, in slate.com’s language blog, makes the case that there are more precise and less offensive alternatives. I’m still wrapping my head around the “offensive” part, but the other adjectives she suggests strike me as less precise, not more.

The great thing about the word “classy” is that it can combine meanings of proposed substitutes like “elegant” and “courteous.” When it’s used admiringly to describe someone’s behaviour, both style and intent are implicit.

But some people find the word classist and offensive, because its origin lies in a description of the upper class. I confess that – much as I dislike stereotyping – I have trouble seeing it. I believe that wealth and access to education aren’t necessarily correlated with class, and that lack of money and education don’t preclude it.

I don’t think “classic” means the same thing. But language evolves, and I may think differently in the future.

“Classy” has yet to fall into disuse. I’m sad to think that it might. What do you think?

 

What I read on my way to Japan

I usually read at least one book when I’m away on vacation, and more often than not it’s fiction. But on my way to Japan for a two-week trip that began at the end of November, I started with The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing.

Keeping my clutter manageable is an ongoing issue (it took five months after I was downsized to deal with my work stuff and get it out of my dining room).

So, naturally, I was drawn to this book when I read about it online in The New York Times.

The author is a 30-year-old Japanese decluttering guru who advocates a clean sweep approach to paring down your stuff: go through everything once and for all, and get rid of anything that doesn’t bring you joy.

She prescribes a category-by-category method (instead of room-by-room), and advises starting with clothes and working your way through categories that are progressively more difficult to make decisions about.

Her approach appealed to me, and felt natural: I’ve always liked to start with easy tasks, even when I was a student doing homework assignments. It’s kind of like warming up before a workout.

Also, I like her what-sparks-joy criterion. It makes the first few decisions easy, and gets the momentum going.

I started going through my clothes this past weekend, even though there are always so many things to do after a trip that I wondered if I should wait.

But I realized that editing your possessions after a trip makes sense. You have to make the same kind of decisions before you go away, ideally packing only what you need. If you do it right, you realize you can get by very well without everything you have at home. So you’re already in the right mindset.

Reading the book on the plane to Japan provided a low-key introduction to some aspects of Japanese culture that only became apparent once I was there. As a North American, I found it strange that Marie Kondo, the author, anthropomorphizes her possessions, treating them as if they have feelings.

But when I learned more about the Shinto religion, particularly the belief that everything has a spirit, the book just seemed more “Japanese.” On a day trip to Mount Fuji, for example, a guide told us that in the samurai period, people believed the mountain would get angry and erupt if women climbed it.

Kondo places a lot of emphasis on how to fold clothes, an allusion not just to origami and the proper folding of a Japanese kimono, but to folding as an inherent part of Japanese culture, something I noticed in the wrapping of purchases.

I feel as if my new organizing project is an outgrowth of my trip. It will be interesting to see where it takes me. According to Kondo, some of her clients have found new career focus (and even new life focus) after organizing their homes. Getting rid of items like books that no longer reflect current passions can make evident what is most important, because that’s all that’s left. I guess that’s why “life-changing magic” is part of the title.

 

 

 

An “alternative” birthday cake

Life has gotten in the way of blogging recently, and one of the things that took  time was planning a big family dinner to celebrate my husband’s birthday earlier this month.

He told me in advance that he didn’t want an unhealthy birthday cake with overly sweet icing. I took it as an interesting challenge, and headed online to search “healthy birthday cakes.”

The ones I liked best weren’t actually cakes – they were fruit, usually watermelon.

This is what I ended up making – Ta-da!

watermelon cakeIt got a lot of oohs and ahs, and nobody was disappointed that it wasn’t a “real” birthday cake. We had one of those too, for my sister, as well as a couple of other baked desserts.

Before attempting a (literal) fruitcake, I studied online images and directions. My two main sources were this blog post on estherodesign.com (I thought her cake was stunning), and this YouTube video, which shows how to cut the watermelon. I cut mine freehand, so my circles weren’t perfect like the one in the video.

There are a few things I learned along the way. See below.

How to Make a Watermelon Cake

1. Choose a good watermelon. This is harder than you might expect, especially in winter. Not all supermarkets carry whole watermelon. A friend suggested I try Coppa’s Fresh Market on Dufferin Street, which not only had a big selection but also a very helpful and friendly produce guy who told me which one to buy. Actually, there were two helpful and friendly produce guys. The first one referred me to the “real” melon expert. I told them what I wanted the melon for, and I think they found it an interesting challenge too. We looked at the sizes and shapes of the watermelons to figure out which ones would work best. The watermelon I took home was slightly narrower at the top, and “Mr. Melon” told me to use the wider end for the large drum-shaped base of the cake. He estimated that the melon I bought weighed about 15 lbs. It was enough for three tiers, with leftovers.

2. Try to ensure that your melon doesn’t roll around in your trunk like mine did. A box would have been a good idea. No harm done, but I did wonder if the melon would end up too bruised to use.

3. “Mr. Melon” said to cut the watermelon a few hours before serving, to prevent the juice from draining out. I didn’t listen to him, because if I ran into a problem, I wanted time to buy another melon. Instead, I cut the watermelon a day ahead of time, but wrapped each layer in paper towels to absorb moisture. I wrapped the largest one with plastic wrap, and slipped the smaller layers into Ziploc bags. It worked out fine.

3. When I put the pieces together the day of the party, I used a couple of child-sized chopsticks to connect and stabilize the layers of the cake. Online instructions suggested skewers. I decorated the “cake” with blueberries, cape gooseberries, sliced kiwi, and starfruit.

4. I was hesitant to use toothpicks to attach the fruit that I was using to decorate the cake, because I didn’t like the idea of someone possibly ingesting one. I used a few, and I think it’s hard to miss them, especially if you leave them whole, so I don’t think I’d worry about that if I was making the cake again.

5. As an alternative to toothpicks, I used whipped cream as “glue” for some of the fruit. It was fun and tasty, but toothpicks alone would have resulted in a cleaner, more professional-looking cake. In the picture, you can see the cream oozing out the edges at the base of each tier. Also, you need very little whipped cream if you want to use it the way I did. The leftover cream was a decadent accompaniment to the healthiest cake I can imagine. I can’t remember the last time I had real whipped cream! I made it myself, using whipping cream, icing sugar and vanilla, and I remembered to chill both the beaters and the bowl first. It was delicious!

6. I also hollowed out circles on the sides of the cake with a small melon baller, thinking that I could fit the gooseberries in the indentations without needing to use toothpicks. It worked for some of the gooseberries, but not others.

7. The entire cake was very heavy, and I thought it wiser to not carry it with lit candles!

My ten-year-old niece told me that dessert exceeded her standards. I couldn’t ask for higher praise!

 

 

 

An evening with Jodi Picoult

Last week, my son and I went to hear Jodi Picoult talk about her latest novel, Leaving Time, at the St. Lawrence Centre in Toronto.

It was a delightful evening – quality mother-son time, fun with family friends who also attended, and a talk that resonated for me as a writer. Not to mention that admission to the Canadian Living “VIP” event included a signed copy of Jodi’s book, a lovely dessert spread, and a giveaway bag.

GetInline

From left, Ryan, me, Jodi, and our friends Laurie and Susan at the signing table.

As a writer and freelance journalist, I left feeling inspired. A few months ago, I tried my hand at writing a short children’s story, and the experience made me think that maybe I do have the imagination to attempt fiction – even adult fiction! I certainly enjoy reading it.

I loved hearing how Jodi came up with the idea for Leaving Time, the story of a 13-year-old girl who enlists the help of a psychic and a detective to find her mother, an elephant researcher who disappeared years before.

It started with an article she read about elephant mothers and daughters who stay together their entire lives. The article piqued her curiosity at a time when she was dealing with her own feelings about her daughter leaving the nest for college.

The back story captured my imagination. To research something purely out of interest, and spin it into a novel – an entire fictional world – is an enticing idea.

Research for a novel would draw on my journalistic skills, and now that I’ve had a taste of using real life as a starting point for fiction in my children’s story, I see new possibilities.

Not that I’m unhappy writing non-fiction. On the contrary, it makes me very happy. And I do want to finish my memoir on the year I lost my dad, which I’m about half-way through.

Jodi Picoult has written 22 books, approximately one a year (the same number of years that I worked as a full-time reporter!). On working days, she said, she edits what she’s written, then continues writing, fuelled by coffee until she stops in the late afternoon. Repeat often enough… and you have a book!

I told my son, who is one of Jodi’s biggest fans, that – with luck and longevity – I can write 22 books too. Maybe I should start drinking more coffee.