Growing up, my mom didn’t drink very often, but when she did it was usually from one of those miniature bottles of wine that equals about a glass. (For a long time I’m pretty sure that I thought all wine came in tiny bottles.) I can still picture the Lilliputian bottle labeled Mumm Cuvee or Cook’s, nestled alongside the ketchup and salad dressing in the refrigerator door. Then, once a year, she’d drink a beer. It was usually on a rare, sultry Seattle summer day, but it was an event so incongruous that it always caused me to pay attention. When I went away to college and she opened her own bakery she made a habit of keeping a single bottle of beer chilled in the walk-in freezer, which she cracked open when the stars aligned in some mysterious configuration that only she knew. “Why don’t you drink beer more often?” I remember asking her one day. “Because sometimes you just want something once a year,” she responded, as if the answer was blindingly obvious.
This is how I feel about banana splits. Once a year, when the mood strikes me just so, I want nothing more than to eat a banana split for dinner. (Admittedly, when I was pregnant with Abra, this urge overcame me multiple times a week during the sweltering days of my third trimester, but luckily I was too tired to do much about it.) For someone like me who suffers from too much self-control, there is something wonderful about letting go and eating dessert for the main dish. It’s a fairly harmless way to let loose, and a reminder that the world doesn’t spin off its axis when I ease up on the reins for an evening. I have a friend who lets her children eat cake for breakfast once in a blue moon, and they are completely thrilled by the novelty. Indeed, the fun is in the infrequency, and when you only do something once a year, you can really do it up right.
There are some excellent banana splits to be had around Albuquerque – I am especially partial to the one at Slate Street Café, which is crowned with cashew nuts – but nothing beats a homemade ‘split. It’s hard, however, to make your own banana split at home because the allure of this dish is its variety – three different sauces atop three different flavors of ice cream, capped off with whipped cream, nuts, and a cherry, all saddled between a perfectly ripe banana. The trick, I discovered, is to con one of your talented friends into doing all the work for you, which is exactly what I did a few weeks ago.
Tim was scheduled to come over for dinner last Sunday night – we are slowly working our way through the Ad Hoc cookbook and I had planned a menu of barbecued chicken, mashed potatoes, and collard greens – and I had just made a batch of strawberry buttermilk ice cream from Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams at Home, an incomparable collection of recipes. Inspiration struck after spotting a bunch of ripe bananas in my fruit bowl and finding myself with de facto strawberry sauce leftover from the ice cream base. When Tim arrived with homemade caramel and chocolate sauces, finely diced pineapple, candied pecans, fresh whipped cream, and Bing cherries, dinner suddenly seemed secondary, and I ate half of what I normally do in anticipation of dessert.
I have been carefully documenting Abra’s first culinary experiences the way most parents record more traditional developmental milestones, and I ran for my camera when I realized that this was Abra’s first banana split. With camera at the ready she eagerly dug her spoon into the bowl, first going after the half-moons of bananas, then tackling the chocolate ice cream. But I think her favorite part was the whipped cream, for which she kept asking, “More! More!” When the ice cream had thoroughly lathered her face in a creamy chocolate beard, she turned to me and said, for the first time, “Happy.”
We all agreed that we should have just had the banana split for dinner. But the summer isn’t over yet.