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February 19, 2013

Consolation

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September 21, 2010

"Banana": A poem by Alison Pick

Banana

Call him honey, call him
love, anything sending out
the high clear light

          that is yellow.
                    Sunshine. So close

to white, the purest
of snow, granular
sand he toddles over, bucket
in hand.
          Sugar. Come back
from the edge, my darling,
          my dear,

and he does, brandishing mud
like a flower,
stacking your name like a tenuous
tower of blocks:
ma ma ma MA.

Call this true love.

Even on the longest of cloistered
afternoons when he reigns
in his highchair (call him
The King), the tin cup
          dumped back onto the floor, banana
pushed back through his teeth
as though through a sieve;
          in your mouth
the names clatter–
          Sweet Pea, Sweet Cake–
like the rattle he shakes in his fist.
As though he desires
to be nothing
but the clear yellow light

he knows himself to be. Buttercup,
          Angel,
call him what he is:

your Baby. Your Baby. Your Baby.

(from the collection Question & Answer: Poems, by Alison Pick).

July 13, 2010

Yes we have some bananas

It’s been more than a month since I last discussed being obsessed with bananas, and so much has happened since then! My quest for banana biodiversity in The Annex turned up plantains in Korea Town, and plantain chips at Sobeys (which tasted just like potato chips, which is sad when plantains are so much better). Eventually, I found baby bananas in Chinatown (and they are sweeter than the Williams Cavendish we’re all accustomed to), and red bananas at WholeFoods (and they even more so, delish). I also learned that banana biodiversity is limited due to more complicated factors than I initially supposed– we don’t find the Gros Michel banana anymore, because they’ve been wiped out by Panana Disease, and other kinds of bananas are pretty much impossible to export.

I read Banana: The Fate of the Fruit that Changed the World by Dan Koeppel, and was relieved to find that the banana obsessed spot the globe. In some countries in Africa, people depend on them for sustenence. North Americans have made them more popular than the apple. In Leuven Belgium, a whole research centre is devoted to preserving the banana, which is under threat due to being a) sterile and b) susceptible to disease. I also learned what it means that the plant is sterile, and how it grows anyway (from clones of itself that come up in the roots). I learned that India is pretty much banana central in terms of biodiversity, but because export is where it’s at banana-wise, local varieties are being pushed out to make room for the Cavendish.

I learned that the Cavendish banana gets its name from a connection to Chatsworth House, now home of the last Mitford sister (and aren’t the Mitfords connected to everything?). What banana republic actually means, and how United Banana (now Chiquita) used its influence to have the US government overthrow the government of Guatamala in the ’50s. The terrible treatment of banana workers, which continues to this day, but companies take no responsibility for because they only sub-contract these workers. That a strain of Panana disease has hit Cavendish plantations in Asia, and if it arrives in North America, bananas are in trouble. That genetic modification is the only way to save the banana, which doesn’t even have the same points against it as most GMO arguments, due to the banana’s unique placement. I want to try the lakatan banana one day.

And now I will copy the recipe for plantain quesidillas which have been rocking my world lately (and it also makes a very good pizza topping). I got the recipe from a handout at the Royal Botanical Gardens in Burlington, and it’s absolutely delicious.

1) In medium frying pan over med-high heat, heat 1 tblespn veg oil. Add 1 plantain coarsely chopped (though I used 2) and saute until golden, about five minutes. Transfer to bowl and set aside.

2) Heat 1 tblespn in saute pan, add 1 med chopped onion and saute until golden, about 4 mins. Add one cap of rinsed black beans, 1/2 cup fresh cilantro (which I never used, subs parsley), 3/4 teaspoon of ground cumin, 1/4 teaspoon of cayenne pepper (which I never used), and saute until mixture is heated, about 5 mins.

3) Mix bean mixture, plantains and 1 cup of grated cheese and, using potato masher, mash mixture until it forms a thick paste.

4) In pan, heat small amount of oil over medium heat. Place one tortilla in pan, spread on bean and plantain mixture, and top with a second tortilla. Heat until bottom tortilla is golden brown and cheese is melting, about 4 mins. Flip and heat reverse side. Remove from heat, cut into wedges and serve with sides of choosing (they recommend sour cream and/or salsa, I never used sides).

June 6, 2010

Literary Bananas

The most recent object of my fruit obsession was the wondrous pomegranate, and before that I was nuts about avocados. For the past six hours, however, I can’t stop thinking about bananas. It’s not the first time– when I was pregnant, I ate bananas all the time, and obsessive-compulsively baked with them. Yum, those trimesters were banana pancakes, banana bread, banana cake, banana SPLITS, and my daily snack of a banana stuffed with chocolate chips melted for thirty seconds in the microwave.

This latest banana fixation is a bit different. It all started a few weeks back when we visited the Royal Botanical Gardens, checked out their banana biodiversity display, and learned that there actually exist thousands of varieties of banana, that sometime in the middle of the last century the “Cavendish” was decided as the banana of choice for exporters, and these days it’s the only banana around. Which means that bananas in general are threatened, because biodiversity has been completely undermined and as the Cavendish is under threat by a menacing fungus, we may be on the fast track toward the banana version of Silent Spring.

And then today I ate a plantain for the first time in my life. I fried the pieces, using this recipe, and topping it with sheep’s milk feta from Monforte Dairy, and it was the most extraordinary treat I’ve had in ages. I was so busy marvelling at the flavour that I scarcely noticed my husband polishing off the whole plate of them, and he’s just lucky I like him a lot or I really might have considered divorcing him. Instead, we decided to go out and find another plantain, and so tonight’s after-dinner walk was devoted to seeking out banana biodiversity in The Annex neighbourhood.

Results were poor. We went to five grocery stores and found nothing but Cavendish varieties. Finally, at an Asian grocery store at Bloor and Palmerston, we found another plantain. (The first one had come from Augusta Fruit Market in Kensington. I wonder if we’d sought banana biodiversity in Kensington, perhaps we’d have better luck? But I doubt it). We both do remember seeing red bananas at our local grocery store once years ago, and we bought them, but either red bananas are terrible or we didn’t let them ripen, because neither of us remembers this experience positively.

Plantains though, oh wow. And bananas in general– like anyone with a baby, I bow down to these. We had a fun snack of black beans and bananas a few weeks back, that suggested to me that the lovey fruit is more versatile than I ever imagined.

Anyway, now I am going to read the book Banana: The Fate of the Fruit That Changed the World. (And you can bemoan these hyperbolic titles all you want– heaven knows that I have–, but it’s sort of nice that when one becomes obsessed with any object, one can rest assured that a recent book has been written devoted to it. These are not such terrible times in which we live, save for the banana biodiversity threat, but I digress).

Have been thinking about other literary bananas too– did you know that the term “banana republic” comes from an O Henry short story¬† (though I do, only thanks to Wikipedia)? The first one I could think of off-hand was the bananafish, from “A Perfect Day for…”, which (allegedly) had six bananas in its mouth, tragic being that it was. I think literary banana peels are quite ubiquitous, but I’m not sure they count. It’s the flesh that I’m talking about. And there’s Banana Yoshimoto, who is probably the most literary banana going. But I can’t help thinking there must be a whole bunch more out there (ha ha).

Um, this post is also certifiable proof that I lead a life much unencumbered.

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