That Time I Almost Joined the Peace Corps, ‘My Hands Are Bananas’, and Smitten Kitchen Goes for the Win with Butterscotch Banana Tarte Tatin

Creative Commons Image. Credit: John Fischer.
Creative Commons Image. Credit: John Fischer.

As part of the Peace Corps application process, potential volunteers undergo a medical clearance exam before the placement board moves forward with country assignments.

When I submitted my application, I was twenty-seven years old and in good health; I expected to chug right through the exam and make my case for a Mongolia assignment. (With a background in writing and rhetoric, I know my way around a good argument.) Unfortunately even I couldn’t argue against the medical board’s decision to hold my application until I had impacted wisdom teeth excised. Damn you, science!

So began a two-month ordeal with a botched surgery that was mistreated and that left me on the edge of sepsis. Word to the wise: when it comes to surgery in the head region, get yourself to a reputable physician or dentist.

During the initial procedure, I lay back in the dentist chair, imagining a two-year stint living in a yurt on the Mongolian steppes. Meanwhile, the dentist was going to town on tooth removal, unwittingly infecting my face with hungry bacteria. (He only admitted fault after I went in for emergency surgery with another doctor and learned he’d been dishonest about the severity of the situation.) Part of the shady out-of-court settlement included a visit to a cosmetic surgeon to repair the side of my face that had done battle with the bacteria. Who knew volunteering for the Peace Corps would lead me to plastic surgery?

During the delirium of failing antibiotics and a bottle of Percocet, I happened upon this Youtube video that had recently gone viral.

Its Youtube view count increased exponentially while I was ill. Thanks, Percocet.

While watching “My Hands Are Bananas” doesn’t cause me to laugh hysterically as it did during the fifty times I watched it in Reno, this off-kilter comedy will always remind me of the gauzy, good old days when a minor out-patient surgery turned me into a sideshow freak capable of brokering a law suit settlement and navigating the truly bizarre world of Reno cosmetic surgery. They don’t Reno “Las Vegas, v. 2” for nothing.

So, thanks, “My Hands are Bananas.” If the makers of that little piece of quirk were my friends, I’d invite them over for a slice of the banana tarte tatin featured in today’s post. I can’t recommend Smitten Kitchen recipes enough; her desserts are winners.

As for almost joining the Peace Corps? After weathering the medical visits and Nevada legal system while working two jobs, all in anticipation of teaching in Mongolia, the Peace Corps placement board assigned me to China, where I’d already worked for a school year. Thanks, Peace Corps.

That winter I wound up on a fellowship in Malaysia instead, and while I lived by the sea rather than in the high desert, I still gained a lot from teaching outside of the U.S., meeting a group of folks who are still very dear friends. Thanks, crazy dentist?

Creative Commons image. Credit: Ohconfucius.
Creative Commons image. Credit: Ohconfucius.

Below you’ll find the recipe for Butterscotch Banana Tarte Tatin. Sounds fancy, but it’s actually more like a glorified puff pancake than a traditional French pastry. Replace the pancake batter with puff pastry dough, caramelize the bananas in brown sugar and a splash of bourbon, and let it do its thing in the oven. Less than a half hour later, you’ll have yourself a dessert game changer.

Don’t forget to brush your teeth after you fight for the last piece of tatin. No need to court dental disaster, folks.

Butterscotch Banana Tarte Tatin
Image by author.

Butterscotch Banana Tarte Tatin
(from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook)
Serves 6-8

Ingredients
– All-purpose flour, for work surface
– 1 sheet frozen puff-pastry dough, thawed in the refrigerator for 1 day (I made mine from scratch, using this recipe.)
– 3 TBS unsalted butter
– ½ cup packed dark-brown sugar
– ½ tsp sea salt flakes
– 5 large ripe bananas (preferably without speckles), peeled, halved lengthwise
– 1 tsp vanilla extract
– 1 TBS bourbon
– Vanilla ice cream, for serving

Butterscotch Banana Tarte Tatin
Image by author.

Directions
1. For this recipe, you’ll need a 9-inch skillet heavy enough so you fear dropping it on your toes. Preheat your oven to 400°F.

Butterscotch Banana Tarte Tatin
Image by author.

2. Roll out your puff pastry on a floured surface to a 9-inch circle, and trim if necessary. Transfer the pastry to the fridge until needed.

Butterscotch Banana Tarte Tatin
Image by author.

2. Melt the butter in the 9-inch skillet over medium-high heat. Stir in the sugar and salt. Cook, swirling the skillet occasionally, until the mixture turns medium amber, about 3 minutes.

Butterscotch Banana Tarte Tatin
Image by author.

3. Arrange the bananas in the skillet, overlapping them slightly. Cook, without stirring, for 3 minutes. Drizzle the vanilla and the alcohol of your choice (if using) over the bananas, and cook them until most of the liquor has evaporated and the liquid has thickened, about 1 ½ minutes. Remove the bananas from heat.

4. Place the pastry round on top of the bananas, and transfer it to the oven.

Butterscotch Banana Tarte Tatin
Image by author.

5. Bake until the pastry is golden brown and puffed, about 25 minutes. Remove the tarte from the oven, and carefully invert the tart onto a serving plate. In the words of Ms. Perelman, “Don’t even think about serving this without vanilla ice cream.”

0 Comments Add yours

  1. Crystal says:

    My Hands are Bananas has to be the weirdest thing I’ve seen in ages – I can just imagine how funny it would be on Percoset! And as I said before, I too am in love with Smitten Kitchen. I’ve been checking out cookbooks by Nigella Lawson (three words: Honey Bee Cake) and John Besh (My Family Table), which I’ve found really fun and useful. Although I can’t recommend John Besh for vegetarians.

    1. gwynnem says:

      Honey Bee Cake sounds right up my alley. I’ll always have a special, banana-shaped space in my heart for the makers of “My Hands Are Bananas.” 🙂

  2. One of those unexpectedly long and winding journeys… character building right 🙂 Those bananas look delicious, and I can’t wait to try and make my own puff pastry!

    1. gwynnem says:

      Seriously. 🙂 I still think about this dessert. Thank goodness my puff pastry recipe makes enough for two batches. Good luck on the recipe! It seems time consuming, but it’s totally doable.

  3. Cathy says:

    Yummy! I’ll have to try that. I have got the Smitten Kitchen book now, but haven’t had a chance to try anything out yet! 😀

    1. gwynnem says:

      Cathy, you may want to make this when you have company. Otherwise, it might become a one-person dessert. 😉

  4. Fig & Quince says:

    Gwynnem! WHAT a story! I was glued to my seat reading! Yay for you and boo for the bacteria and shady doctors.

    1. gwynnem says:

      Thanks, Azita! What doesn’t kill you gives you writing material later. 😉

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