Tag Archives: cooking

Banana Flowers and Other Edible Parts

22 May

Being a bit less mobile than usual, I thought I’d use the opportunity to choose a photo I’ve previously taken and see if I can learn more about the subject. What you see below is commonly called a banana flower or banana blossom (photo taken at the United States Botanic Garden). I’ve always been struck by this part of the plant, a deep-red appendage that dangles below the bunches of bananas. Though we like to think of the banana plant as a tree, it is technically a perennial herb, albeit a really big one; it dies down to the ground after the plant flowers and produces fruit. The inner part of the stem of the plant (which is actually a false stem consisting of leaf sheaths) is edible, as are parts of the flowers–they are considered vegetables and are popular in Asian and tropical cuisines, where they are used in salads, curries, stir fries, and other dishes.


The banana “flower” seen in the photo above is actually the lowest part of an inflorescence consisting of layers of bracts (the petal- or leaf-like parts) that cover rows of  flowers. The female flowers are higher up and can develop into fruit (bananas). Once that happens, the inflorescence elongates and produces a terminal male bud. Here, the redder (and tougher) outermost bracts of that bud have opened upward, revealing yellow-tipped male flowers underneath and paler closed bracts below.

Different parts of the banana flower (or bud) can be eaten: the innermost bracts, the florets (once the stamens and tough covers have been removed), and the inner core, or heart. The tougher outer bracts are often used as serving plates for dishes made with the other parts of the banana flower. I don’t have easy access to banana flowers, but if you do and want to experiment with them, here are some resources:

To read about the ornamental Golden Lotus Banana/Chinese Dwarf Banana, see this post. To read about the difference between Musa (bananas), Strelitzia, and Heliconia, see this post.

And here are some additional banana-related photos:

1) A banana leaf unfurling at the Eden Project in England. Each leaf emerges from the center of the banana plant in the form of a rolled cylinder. Once the last leaf has emerged, the plant produces the inflorescence, which starts off pointing skyward, but then falls over and dangles as it gets heavier and the female flowers develop into bananas.
2 ) Banana bunches on the plant (with the terminal bud having fallen off). Some bunches can contain 200-300 bananas each; the largest one recorded by the Guinness Book of World Records contained 473 bananas and weighed 287 pounds.
3) Banana transport in Rwanda.

  

The Challenges of Gardening and Cooking on Crutches

17 May

This title is misleading because it sounds like I actually have been able to do some gardening and cooking since breaking my ankle three weeks ago and being diagnosed with deep vein thrombosis three days ago. Sadly, that has not been the case. Hence this lovely photo of one of the many weeds that have now taken up residence in the garden. And the absence of any photos (or blog posts) pertaining to new garden initiatives or new dishes. But I can write about things happening in the garden of their own accord (future posts), as well as recent lessons learned, many of which involve crutches (this post).

Weeds

1. When crossing a street, look left, right, and DOWN. Or else your ankle could go one way and you could go the other, with unhappy results.
2. You will develop a love-hate (mostly hate) relationship with your crutches.
3. Crutches are made to transport mainly one thing–you. But you have been used to transporting multiple things yourself with the help of both your hands and feet, one of which can no longer be used and the other three of which are valiantly trying to to keep you upright and semi-mobile. This poses certain challenges.
4. Namely, how to transport hot beverages. A beverage tray for crutches would really come in handy. I was able to carry a number of things on crutches via the-tuck-the-item-into-my-waistband-and-hope-my-pants-don’t-fall-down method, but I didn’t dare try that with a cup of tea.
5. Not being able to use one foot means you will develop really good balancing skills on the other one. This came in handy when I leaned over on one foot to pull a few weeds from the edge of our patio the other day, though the neighbors may have thought I was practicing some bizarre new form of Tai Chi. The downside to all this balancing on one foot: your injured leg muscles will disappear while the muscles on your other leg will fill out quite nicely, leading to a lovely asymmetrical look.
6. If you are like me, crutches will also allow you to discover muscles in your arms that you didn’t know existed. That’s another plus: increased upper body strength for improved gardening efficiency. But if the muscles in your injured leg ever start aching, pay attention. What I thought was a calf muscle that was strained from limping around too much three weeks post fracture turned out to be a blood clot.
7. If you should ever have the misfortune to end up with deep vein thrombosis after a fracture, you will find that all things considered, the fracture might actually be the less painful/scary of the two. Part of the reason is the blood-thinning medication you have to inject into your own stomach twice a day, which feels as if you were being stung by a bee each time. It is really not fair to bees.
8. Finally and most importantly, be immensely thankful when your body works well. All the many parts, including the humble foot, make even the simplest things possible–yet it’s so easy to take those parts for granted.
9. Ditto for the family members and friends/coworkers who turned into nurses, chauffeurs, and advocates at a moment’s notice. They make everything possible, too.