cookbook travels and banana bread squared

A show of hands here–who brings cookbooks home from their travels?

Even with the rise of the electronic recipe (my 11-year-old daughter Googles recipes, despite her mother’s large cookbook collection), paper cookbooks remain popular vacay take-homes. They give travelers return trips, even if just in mind and taste buds.

Opening Makers Mark® The Special Touch cookbook, a Kentucky purchase, I smell the bourbon of distillery tours. When the pages of Savoring San Diego are flipped, I see the ubiquitous flowers of that fair city. The Montana Cookbook brings back a sense of open land and Simply Colorado invites visions of rocky mountains.

While relatively close to home, the city of Duluth was another vacation spot worth remembering. (Culinary details from last summer’s camping trip recorded here.) An especially impressive restaurant stop was The Duluth Grill, and their cookbook told the tale of evolution from Ember’s franchise to one-of-a-kind comfort-food haven. The parking lot garden speaks volumes to their emphasis on fresh, locally sourced, and sustainably raised ingredients.

The book’s $30 price tag gave me pause and I left without, knowing I’d find it online for far less. Except I didn’t. The Duluth Grill Cookbook was available only on the restaurant website. I kicked myself (and certainly deserved a kick for not supporting small business when I had the chance), but found redemption in a friend who was making a quick trip that way. She, too, is a big fan of this much-loved restaurant and agreed to bring the cookbook back for me.

sauce with bookJust last week, then, I finally held a copy of this beautiful and lovely book in my hands. To prove its worth, I immediately set out to make Tofu and Walnut Marinara (taking a pass on the walnuts). It was hearty, flavorful, and packed with good-for-you veggies. Two days later it tasted even better and I know I’ll be making this sauce again.

now THIS is a tofu marinara sauce

now THIS is a tofu marinara

beet lemonade and it was really quite good

beet lemonade and it was really quite good

I have my eye on the Ratatouille recipe as well as the Buffalo Tofu Strips, both dishes I enjoyed while there. I’d also love to make their Beet Lemonade, though will have to riff on their standard Lemonade recipe as they do not share the beet version I was so enamored with during my visit.

Minnesota’s bitter cold winter called for a baking recipe, so I also made TDG’sr Chocolate Chip Cookies. In the same manner as an earlier cookie adventure, I experimented with each baking sheet, sprinkling some unbaked cookies with chocolate salt, some with vanilla salt and also mixing in marshmallow bits and even leftover movie popcorn that was sitting on the counter just asking to be poured into the remaining batter. Even without my improv, these cookies were amazing and hit all the right sweet, salty, tender, crisp notes.

cookies

because one photo of these amazing cookies would not have been enough

because one photo of these amazing cookies would not have been enough

So here’s to cookbooks and here’s to travel and here’s to those cookbook gems we find when we travel. If you’re looking for the recipe for either the sauce or cookies, let me know in comments or at deLizious facebook and I’ll pass them on your way.

And speaking of sharing recipes, I’ve been on a bit of a banana bread binge lately after finding two renegade recipes on favorite food blogs that demanded to be made. The Cottage Grove House rocked my world with Rye Whiskey Banana Bread

there's rye whiskey in my banana bread!

there’s rye whiskey in my banana bread!

and Shanna over at Curls and Carrots kept my spirits up with Rum-a-Dum-Dum Banana Bread. Thanks, ladies, for two fabulous loaves!

rum-spiked banana bread

rum-spiked banana bread

movie star banana bread or Andrew McCarthy is all grown up now

I’m continually amazed that the 1980s were so terribly long ago. It doesn’t seem more than a handful of years back that I was wearing baggy pinstripe Zenas (!) and listening to the likes of Toni Basil. (For a hysterically funny take on how time flies, Becky’s thoughts on such things is so worth a read.) Children of the ’80s are all grown up by now and have since realized that shoulder pads perhaps weren’t the smartest fashion move (though I think they might be coming back–hoo boy) and big hair was, well, too big. Those who claim the ’80s as their “formative years” now have smart phones, real jobs, families.

Consider Andrew McCarthy, leading man in classic ’80s cinema: Class, Fresh Horses, Weekend at Bernie’s, Mannequin (an underrated movie if there ever was one), Pretty in Pink, St. Elmo’s Fire. Food for fun won’t focus on the movies (my blogging buddy, amb, can help you there–she’s the best), but rather the fact that Andrew McCarthy is also all grown up now. He’s a food writer!

Imagine my surprise when I first saw McCarthy’s byline in Bon Appetit just a few months back. I quickly looked him up online and besides noting that he has aged very well, I learned he is Editor-at-Large for National Geographic Traveler and has won boatloads of awards for his writing. (Admittedly, he writes more on travel than he does food, but in my world Mr. McCarthy is a Food Writer.)

The March ’13 BA features his tale of traveling twisty and narrow roads in search of the best banana bread on the planet. A land-locked Midwesterner, I hadn’t known that Hawaii is said to be home to the very best of the banana breads and I enjoyed reading McCarthy tell of his visits to a handful of off-the-beaten-path roadside huts known for this all-American quickbread. The recipe for Julia’s Banana Bread was given, citing it as the top banana of the banana bread world.

When sharing this story with a friend, I learned of her trip to Hawaii a few years back when she, too, went on a pilgrimage for this bread, inspired by tales of locals. Hours after setting out, her party finally made it to the tiny hut only to learn Julia’s was out of bread for the day. A downer for sure, but now thanks to the all-grown-up Andrew McCarthy, Julia’s banana bread is available to all.

Calling for the most basic of ingredients (eggs, flour, baking soda, sugar, salt, bananas, oil), it was an easy loaf to whip up. I’ll admit to fighting urges to tweak: oh, how I wanted to add a pinch of cinnamon or ginger, a handful of chocolate chips, sub out half of the all-purpose flour for whole wheat. But I stood strong, if only out of respect for McCarthy and his craft.

Sticking to the formula was worth it. Largely because of the 1 1/2 cups sugar, 3/4 cup oil, and 3 eggs, it is arguably the best banana bread ever. Sweet, freckled, moist, likely what you’d find if you looked “Perfect Banana Bread” up in the dictionary. To children of the ’80s–or whatever decade you call your own–I strongly advise you to bake up your own loaf of tropical paradise. For those who want a more authentic experience, watch this bizarre YouTube clip just before eating your first slice. This never would have been possible back in the ’80s.

beautiful banana bread

beautiful banana bread

by the slice

by the slice