History: it's one of my favorite subjects. I've always been one of those people who is interested in dates. For some reason, when I read about a historical event, I calculate the years that have elapsed since that event. I won't pretend that knowing how much time has passed since then adds anything to my understanding of the event; it's just one of those things I do.
I particularly love "on this spot" markers; the ones that commemorate a long-demolished estate where a Very Important Treaty was signed, or a statesman was born. I'm intrigued with the way those round-shouldered metal plaques pop up out of nowhere and teach you something.
In Atlanta, my home for several years, you can find yourself stopped at a downtown intersection next to a plaque identifying This Spot as the site of a major Civil War battle or troop encampment. Staring out into the dark, kudzu-entangled ravine next to the roadway, you can tune out the traffic and telephone lines and see another era. You can picture smoke from weary soldiers' campfires, and the steam from horses' breath rising in the chill of the morning.
Reading these markers, you can try to see what they saw, so many years ago, those people in history.
I like to think that the historical plaque marker people would appreciate that their efforts paid off for at least one person. Their precise attention to detail should be rewarded. I used to drive past one plaque that wanted me to know that "west of this point 75 feet" was the residence used by General Sherman during his occupation of Atlanta.
No, the house was not right here; it was 75 feet from here. To the west, okay?
I got to thinking about all of this because one year ago last weekend (exactly one year ago last weekend), Steve and I spent a long, lovely weekend in Santa Fe, New Mexico with my parents. The four of us roamed through the town's stucco-walled streets, happily reading about four centuries of recorded history (at least that's what I did). This dessert reminds me of the excellent meals that we had while there.
Bananas in Coffee Bean Syrup
Adapted from this recipe in Food and Wine Magazine
2 cups water
1/2 cup whole coffee beans
1/2 cup sugar
Two 3-inch strips of lemon zest
One 3-inch cinnamon stick, broken into pieces
2 firm, medium bananas
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
Vanilla bean ice cream, for serving (alternatively, plain yogurt is also delicious)
In a medium saucepan, bring the water to a boil, then add the whole coffee beans. Simmer the beans over medium-low heat for 20 minutes. Add the sugar, strips of lemon zest and pieces of cinnamon stick and simmer over moderate heat for 10 minutes or until syrupy.
Meanwhile, peel the bananas and slice them 1/2 inch thick on the diagonal. In a shallow dish, gently toss the bananas with the lemon juice.
Strain the hot coffee syrup through a fine strainer, reserving a few beans in the syrup, then pour the strained syrup over the bananas and let stand until cooled to room temperature. Cover and refrigerate until thoroughly chilled, about 2 hours. Spoon the bananas and coffee bean syrup over a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream, add a few reserved coffee beans for garnish, and serve.
* With thanks to Mark Twain for the title of this post.