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Sometimes You Really Do Just Need A Banana

by Carilyn on January 23, 2015

When I was about twelve I, like most girls that age, started to fill out. No surprise. Except that I was a competitive swimmer being coached by a young, daughterless man who didn’t have the first clue about how to deal with young girls and their weird, sprouting bodies. He put me on a diet. I was made very aware that getting bigger was bad. I watched during practice one night as a girl a few years older than me was made to swim with a five pound weight tied around her midsection so she’d “know how it feels” to be carrying around extra weight.

But my body kept growing no matter what my coach said. It kept growing no matter how many bad dreams I had about drowning because I was trying to swim with a weight strapped to my stomach. It kept trying to become a woman even though I was being told it needed to stay a little girl so that I would be the best swimmer.

One day, after a three hour swim practice, my second practice of the day, I ate a banana. But I was still hungry, so I ate another one. I saw my mom and the maid exchange looks. Clearly there had been conversations about how much I should, or should not, be eating. I was embarrassed. And pissed. Really pissed.

And so began that uncomfortable dance so many young girls begin to have with food – I’m hungry, I want to eat, but my body is changing and nobody seems to know what to do with it, especially not me. And that makes me feel bad and angry.

This dance continued through much of my teens until my mom, who is always the smartest one in the room, figured out that my coach was off his rocker and that my athletic abilities (or lack thereof) were not being nurtured by a constant, unrelenting focus on diet. Learning to feed my body what it needed was what was important – something she had always taught us – and she kicked herself, and then my coach, for forgetting that vital piece of life survivalness.

But I wasn’t convinced. My coach had to be right, right?

So, she found me a new coach, a food coach, to rewire my brain back to the way it was before all the tinkering. He told me, “Eat what you want – whatever you really want – for one month and let’s see what happens.”

“Are you freakin’ crazy?” I said (or something like it, but much more polite because I had not yet developed a potty mouth).

“No. Your body knows exactly what it needs if you will just listen. I’m guessing, when you wanted that second banana (I’d told him the sad, sad banana story), your body needed a lot of carbohydrates and potassium because of the three hour workout you’d just had. Your body knew exactly what it was doing.”

I left his office in a huff, as only teenage girls can do, because clearly he was a demented lunatic who knew nothing about competitive sports and even less about girls and food and getting fat. What a weirdo.

But some little voice inside me, and the gentle, loving voice of my mother, told me he might just be right, that my body may very well know what it needed.

So I did what he said: I listened to my body and ate exactly what I wanted. At first, that meant a lot of chocolate milkshakes. But after a few days, after my guard was down and the voice of my coach was getting softer and and softer in my head, I started craving other things – broccoli, fish, peanuts, steak, and yes, cake. I didn’t crave one specific thing, I found. I craved so many things! And because I knew I could, no, I was supposed to eat whatever I wanted, I just ate as much as I wanted and then stopped. Stopped.

You see, because I knew that I could eat whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted, that sense of lack was gone, that sense of you can’t get enough of what you don’t really want was gone. Food no longer had to be chased, fled from, feared, obsessed over. Food was…just food.

Since that day, almost thirty years ago, I’ve never had a weight problem (knock wood). I love to move, so I eat to have the energy to do that. I have a longstanding love affair with cake, but also with Brussels sprouts and cauliflower. I get moony over movie popcorn and beet juice smoothies equally. It just depends on the day, or the workout, or my hormones.

I feel very lucky that I came up against that voice so young, and that I had a smart mother in my corner, because it made me bang up against a scary part of myself that can make or break me. That voice that pushes me to work harder, keep moving, try always, can be the same voice that can lead me down a dark road if I’m not paying attention.

Sometimes we have to listen deeper than the voice in our heads, the voice that pushes or pulls. Sometimes we have to listen to the voice in our heart, our solar plexus, our gut, the one that tells us, yes, I need another banana.


* This bread pudding comes from one of my favorite cookbooks, The Gilbert Scott Book of British Food, that I picked up on a whim while I was in London. Some of the recipes just make me go ewwww, but most of them look scrumptious, especially the desserts. The book is worth it just for the photos and the names of the recipes (Spotted Dick, Brummie Bacon Cakes, or Yorkshire Parkin, anyone?)


Caramelized Banana Bread and Butter Pudding                                                                                            (adapted from The Gilbert Scott Book of British Food)


3 eggs

1/2 cup heavy cream

1 1/4 cups whole milk

1/4 cup brandy


Bread Pudding

1/3 cup corn syrup or maple syrup (the recipe calls for golden syrup, which is a very specific kind of syrup found in England, but I couldn’t find it in Los Angeles and wasn’t willing to special order it)

1/4 cup brandy

2 very ripe bananas, sliced lengthwise

2 Tbs. softened butter (for greasing the pan)

1 loaf of brioche or challa bread cut into 1/2 inch slices

heavy cream for whipping or pouring on top

melted dark chocolate for drizzling on top


Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

For the custard: Beat the eggs and then add the cream, milk and brandy. Set aside.

Heat the corn syrup until it boils and then add the brandy. Mix. Carefully place the sliced bananas into the hot mixture (caramel sauce). When golden, turn over to caramelize the other side. Remove pan from heat.

Line standard loaf pan with parchment paper and butter well. Place a layer of bread in the bottom. Pour the custard over until it just covers. With your fingers, press down the bread to help it absorb as much custard as possible. Add a layer of the sliced bananas and caramel sauce. Repeat until all ingredients are used. Let sit for a few minutes to allow the bread to absorb the custard.

Bake for 45 minutes or until custard is set.

Cool completely. When ready to serve, slice and toast. Drizzle with melted dark chocolate and heavy cream




Leek Fritters

My Bluebird troop was a mixed bag.  And I mean that in the best way possible.  We had big girls and little girls, girls with parents who were divorced, girls who lived with their grandparents.  We had rich girls and poor girls.  We even had a girl who would later decide she didn’t even want to be a girl.

One of the best parts of all this diversity (besides the fact that it meant that we weren’t forced to only do crafts like some of the lamer Brownie troops – yes, we did have a chip on our shoulder that we were not Brownies, but rather, the lesser-status Bluebirds) was that we had girls who were Jewish, girls who were Christian, and some who were both.  And you know what that means: we got to celebrate every holiday times two – Hanukkah AND Christmas, Easter AND Yom Kippur, and pretty much every other holiday where it’s “pair” could be found (and those our leaders made up).  We were a holiday-celebrating group of red, white and blue eight year olds.

And we could eat.  While there was always some sort of snack provided at the end of every “meeting”, which was, frankly, the highlight of the whole experience (Was it just the ‘70s, or do adults still have to bribe kids with snacks to get them to make dream catchers out of yarn and kaleidoscopes out of toilet paper tubes?), the best snacks were always those that were part of some “cultural” lesson, usually one centered around a holiday.

There was gingerbread at Christmas, which served the dual purpose of being edible and a craft (turned into a lopsided doghouse), peanut butter and jelly on matzo during Passover, sugar cookies at Valentine’s (where we learned some “Italian” culture by hearing the story of St. Valentine) and my favorite, potato latkes at Hanukkah.  Really, fried potato pancakes beat Chips Ahoy and grape Kool-Aid any day of the year.

Usually our Bluebird troop meetings were held at one of the homes our Troop Leaders, Mrs. Munsinger and Mrs. Perry.  But, for the Potato Latke celebration, I’m sorry, I mean the Hanukkah celebration, we had our meeting at Lisa’s house.  Lisa was one of my best friends, primarily because she lived a block away from me (proximity being one of the main determining factors of friendship when you can’t drive), and her unrivaled coolness – she rocked Bear Traps platform sandals and pierced ears ages before the rest of us. We did everything together, including share holidays and histories. In the years to come, I would end up attending Hebrew School with Lisa more often than I attended my own Confirmation classes, such was the bond that was formed at age five by us both living on streets named after spacey things (mine: Satellite; hers: Borealis).

So, because Lisa was Jewish, Lisa’s mother was our “guest” leader for the Hanukkah celebration. Up until that moment, I had never thought of Mrs. Roth as being much of a domestic type.  In the three years Lisa and I had been friends, I had never seen her cook a single thing.  Their kitchen table was only used, as far as I knew, for Lisa and I to make lists of all the movie stars we were going to marry when we were rich and famous.  Food in Lisa’s house came from the kitchen pantry (King Vitamin cereal, Ding Dongs, peanut butter) or the freezer (tacos made by the maid and pizza).  I went to our Hanukkah meeting with very low expectations on the snack front.

But when I got to Lisa’s house, something was very different.  It smelled like food.  Like food that was being cooked.  Like good food that was being cooked.  Things were looking up.

Before we got to the snack though, we had to go through the requisite “learning” part of the whole Bluebird experience.  Sigh.  What were we going to do that day?  Create miniature menorahs out of pipe cleaners?  Reenact the Maccabean Revolt against the Seleucid Empire while dressed in bed sheets?  I knew we weren’t getting to that good smell without paying the piper.

But Mrs. Roth turned out to be the best kind of hostess/Bluebird leader.  Instead of some sort of craft project or boring lecture, she taught us the dreidel song, and while we played, she told us the history behind Hanukkah, and then fed us all the latkes and applesauce we wanted.  Take note troop leaders, that is how it is done.

To this day, I remember the dreidel song, the meaning of Hannukah, and still love latkes.  Now I make them for my kids and bore them with stories of my childhood and the importance of each of our histories – their own and the histories of all who have gone before.  They pretend to listen only because they want me to keep making the latkes.  Whatever it takes.  Like Mrs. Roth, I know how to get my lesson across most effectively.


**You can find a million recipes for great latkes.  This recipe is a little different because it uses leeks instead of potatoes.  The result is a more “mature” pancake, but one that my whole family loves.  I usually double the batch and freeze half because they are so good toasted when you want something savory for breakfast but don’t have a lot of time.


Leek Pancakes (adapted from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook – one of the absolute best!)

3 large leeks, washed and chopped (use only the white and pale green parts)

3 scallions, washed and chopped (use only the white and pale green parts)

1 tsp. salt

¼ cup flour

1 tsp. baking powder

1 tsp. cayenne pepper

1 tsp. black pepper

1 large egg, lightly beaten

Vegetable oil for pan frying


Boil the chopped leaks until tender, about 4 minutes.  Drain well, then pat completely dry with paper towels.  While leeks dry, whisk together salt, flour, baking powder, cayenne pepper and black pepper.  Add the scallions and leeks.  Add the beaten egg.  Fold together until blended.

Preheat oven to 250 degrees.

Pour 4 Tbsp. of oil into a frying pan over medium heat.  When oil starts to shimmer, gently drop large spoonfuls of dough into hot oil.  Do not crowd the fritters – only fry a few at a time.  Fry until brown, about 3 minutes and then turn over and fry the other side.  When pancakes are golden brown on each side, transfer to a paper towel-lined plate.

After all pancakes are cooked, transfer to a baking sheet and let warm in the oven until time to serve.

Enjoy with sour cream mixed with a dash or Worcestershire or lemon/garlic.






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