The librarians at our local library are so helpful! When I, Frank, find myself lugging several bags brimming with children’s books to the trunk of the car, I might occasionally grumble that the librarians have been too helpful.
One day, librarian Ginny helped my eldest gather dozens of books on orcas. Her first-grade teacher Mr. Somers-Glenn had gotten her into the habit of using books to create Google Slideshow presentations about her research, and she felt like she needed to read as many as possible. (Continuing the ocean theme, a few weeks later my spouse, Kirstin, borrowed a bevy of books on whale sharks in preparation for a big art project.)
Later, librarian Sam helped my youngest to find gentle graphic novels — very helpful when she was first dipping her toes into independent reading! The “Bunjitsu Bunny” series is full of clear-eyed moral philosophy and felt equally fun for both the children and adults in our household. I’d highly recommend them!
And when I was blathering (again!) about my fondness for golems, librarian Cidne recommended the fantasy novel “Foundryside,” which has an incredibly clever system of magic: objects are inscribed with words that reshape their responses to the laws of physics. (Even in our world, computer programming is rather like golem-crafting, with language causing inanimate objects to enact all sorts of life-like behaviors.)
And yet, even with our weekly trove of library books, my children sniff about the house for unexplored books like ants at a picnic. I was reading “Everyone’s an Aliebn When Ur a Aliebn Too,” a surprisingly tender-hearted book of simple cartoons with Twitter-esque misspelled dialogue, and had set it down only for a moment when I looked back to find it clutched between my eldest’s hands.
The same thing happened with a new cookbook that we’d been sent to review. I’d read part of it, set it on the kitchen table, then returned to find my child already midway through.
“Banana peel!,” she squealed. “There’s a recipe for cooking banana peels!”
This sounded unnerving to me. Rather like the time my child found a review copy of a hummus cookbook, smuggled it into the car, and then every time I drove her places began to chant the ingredient list of a chocolate dessert hummus. I’d often forget where I was going and miss my turns.
Still, my child is persistent. Eventually we fried some banana peels.
The conceit of this cookbook, Ellen Tout’s “Complete Book of Vegan Compleating” (available at our library!) is to attempt to use every part of the plants that you bring into your home. By eating the woody stems of asparagus (sliced thinly), making fabric dye from avocado peels, or cleaning countertops with leftover lemon rinds, we can reduce food-system waste.
I thought this was interesting, like trying to pay careful attention to the amount of packaging that we throw away when we shop online or at local stores. Our foods do create a lot of waste! Whenever I prepare a head of cauliflower for stir-frying, soup or roasting in the oven, I chuck a lot of leaves and stemmy bits into our compost bin.
Unlike disposing of plastic packaging, though, I don’t feel so bad about composting vegetable scraps. My family’s compost spinner makes good dirt that we then use for gardening. And we’re counteracting a little bit of the topsoil erosion caused by all our species’ construction projects.
Spreading compost often triggers a vertiginous view of prehistory in me. The surface of our planet began as entirely rocky matter, and that’s still how volcanic islands are born. Only after many generations of plants growing and dying and decomposing will a layer of recognizable dirt begin to form. Topsoil growth rates are measured in just inches per millennia, but forests left alone cause the Earth itself to swell!
So, we cooked a banana peel, dressed up in savory flavorings. I thought it was a bit strange, and probably would have had more fun eating it if I didn’t know that it was a banana peel. Like if somebody else had cooked it and surprised me? I also can’t fathom eating as many peels as our family eats bananas: there are weeks when we go through a banana per person per day! That’s a lot of peels! But they turn into dirt pretty quickly in the compost spinner, and that feels good enough for me.
Banana Peel Bacon
From Ellen Tout’s “Complete Book of Vegan Compleating”
Vegans eat all kinds of things, but to be honest the adults in this household were a little trepidatious upon reading that banana peels are edible. This sandwich topping was crispy, sweet, and savory, with only the very slightest flavor hint of its tropical origins. To be clear: there are other vegan bacons with more direct correlations to traditional bacon. However, the crunch and tang of these was a welcome, if cognitively confusing, addition to a sandwich.
Banana peels prepared from 1-3 bananas
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 teaspoons maple syrup
1 teaspoon water
½ teaspoon garlic powder
½ teaspoon smoked paprika
1 tablespoon cooking oil
Apparently, this recipe works best with the peels from extremely ripe bananas, already mottled brown. To prepare the peels, cut off the very ends, scrape away the white inner lining with a spoon, and slice into long strips that are about an inch or two wide (which is probably how they started, since that seems to be about the width most people end up with when they peel a banana).
Make a marinade by mixing together the soy sauce, syrup, water and spices, and soak the banana peels for at least 20 minutes (or overnight).
Warm the tablespoon of cooking oil in a nonstick or well-seasoned cast-iron pan at medium-high heat, then add the banana peels. Fry the peels for at least a minute on each side, up to about three or four minutes if you’d like them to be quite crispy. Then serve, perhaps without revealing what they are until after your diners have taken a few bites? Although the appearance will probably give them away.
Banana Tahini Smoothie
So, if you’re going to cook some banana peels, you’ll be stuck with bananas as the leftover waste product. And, sure, you could just go ahead and eat these. But this smoothie recipe is also a good use, delicious and healthy.
Our household always used to freeze bananas by putting them into the ice box, peels and all. We’d do this every time we accidentally let a bunch of bananas get riper than we enjoy for eating, and then we’d take them out to peel whenever we needed frozen bananas for drinks or desserts, using a fancy knife technique. Bananas can keep a long time this way, with the peels protecting the insides from freezer burn, but our fingers would get very chilly when we tried to peel them!
A friend recently convinced us to start peeling our bananas before freezing them, perhaps chopping them into thirds or quarters so they’d easily fit into the blender, and this is much more convenient. They store well in airtight bags, especially if you’re likely to use them within a few weeks or so.
1 cup soymilk
1 frozen banana
2 tablespoons tahini
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon vanilla
Put everything into a blender and nuke until smooth.
Halloweeny Roasted Cauliflower
You don’t have to serve the cauliflower florets atop a circle of beets in place of the brains of a zombie head-shaped bed of rice, but you could! It’s October, y’all!
½ head cauliflower, cut into relatively large florets
1 beet, peeled and thinly sliced
½ cup lemon juice (from 1 large lemon)
1 tablespoon miso paste
2 tablespoons olive oil
½ cup water
1 teaspoon allspice
1 teaspoon black pepper
Stir together all the ingredients in a large bowl and let sit for a while, at least an hour but maybe overnight. If you can, stir them around a few times while they’re sitting so that more portions of the cauliflower can be dyed red by the beets.
Transfer to a baking dish with the beets layered on top and bake for 35 minutes at 400 degrees.