Sunday, July 27, 2008

History Doesn't Repeat--It Rhymes

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.

Serves: 2

* With thanks to Mark Twain for the title of this post.


StickyGooeyCreamyChewy said...

Bananas and coffee sound like a really interesting combination. It looks delicious, especially with ice cream!

My husband and I went to Santa Fe a few years ago. We loved it! The food was amazing! He wants to retire there!

Giff Constable said...

love the photos in this one Sarah :)

redmenace said...

These pictures are amazing. Lovely work!

Grace said...

you must've gotten my share of interest in historical landmarks because i just don't have any! i keep trying to stir some up, but it just doesn't happen. :)
meanwhile, YUM. i do love me some nanners.

Teresa Cordero Cordell said...

Sarah, he bananas in coffee bean syrup look delicious. I want to try that. Thanks for sharing.

Foodycat said...

That sounds great - and lighter than my other fav banana desserts!

One of the things I love about London is the history. Every street I walk down has the blue plaques, or there is an association with a novel I have read, or my grandfather has an association from when he worked here as a young man.

Sarah said...

Stickygooey--isn't Santa Fe great? I could move there tomorrow. I love the beauty of the desert!

Giff--thank you so much!

Redmenace--thank you too!

Grace--Ha! You know, I think it all started for me right after my family took a road trip through east Texas and saw the "World's Longest Footbridge," which was duly marked. I realized then that you can find some wacky stuff out there in this country, and there's always someone who feels that it should have a marker.

Teresa--Hope you enjoy the recipe! It's pretty tasty (if I do say so myself).

Foodycat--I lived in London for a year during college and loved every single minute. Right next to my university library was an excavation site for a Roman-era bath (or something), which was underneath an 18th century building. I love those big blue circle markers! (Goodness, I am a geek). I envy you!

Krysta said...

sarah... those are some beautiful pictures!