New Orleans and beignets. Boston and clam chowder. Chicago and deep-dish pizza. It’s funny how certain cities and their food can be so intertwined. Memories of a special dish conjure up more than just the food we enjoyed, but also the people we enjoyed it with and the places that are meaningful to us. So that’s why, when my daughter’s friend Colleen Oakes came to visit and she mentioned that her new novel, Elly in Bloom, was set in St. Louis, I knew I needed to cook something to celebrate our mutual love of the famed “Gateway to the West.”
While St. Louis is my hometown, Colleen lived there for only a few years while her husband was in seminary. We reminisced about our experiences in the city, and while many things have changed, it is still the varied and beautiful neighborhoods that make up the heart of St. Louis. There’s University City, flush with college students, hip eateries and urban flavor and design. Soulard, a neighborhood on the rise, filled with gorgeous, old buildings – a haven for artists, gardeners and young couples.
Then there’s Ladue, with its old mansions and sweeping lawns and Clayton, with its mix of colleges, seminaries and parks. Different neighborhoods even feature different cuisines – Dogtown is centered around Irish pubs, while The Hill is famous for family-owned Italian eateries. Of course you can’t forget downtown St. Louis, with its famous arch and The St. Louis Cardinals as well the nearby Grants Farm which is the ancestral home of the Busch family and home to the gorgeous Clydesdale horses that represent Anheuser Busch.
My ex-husband and I spent the first few years of our marriage in St. Louis and not long before we left to move to North Carolina, we had dinner at Houlihan’s (I could not remember the name of this place for the life of me until I saw my friend Kristen with the Dine and Dish blog mention it and a lightbulb went off!) with several of our friends as a going away party. I don’t recall what I had for dinner, but dessert was something that I had to recreate. Crepes ala Bananas Foster are simply delicate crepes filled with vanilla ice cream and topped with mouth-watering, warm Bananas Foster. I love this so much I woke up the next day and I meant business.
First I located a cookbook with a recipe for Bananas Foster and then I bought a crepe maker (which I long ago relieved my kitchen of). I won’t deny that might have been a bit spontaneous considering we were MOVING but I felt a burning need to remember the dish, the night and the warm ambiance of great friends; maybe I thought all of that would be replicated in North Carolina with just this one special dessert.
This was the perfect dish it seemed to bring together myself, Colleen and St. Louis for a post that featured, while not a dish synonymous with the city, one that was a favorite of mine and just seemed fitting for announcing Colleen’s first novel. I asked Colleen and my daughter Emily to join me in the kitchen. I loved making this fabulous dessert with the girls.
They took turns swirling the batter to create light, crisp crepes and then we made the Bananas Foster topping and to their delight, fired it up, en flambé (I tried to capture it but that flame was gone in a flash!). Scoops of vanilla ice cream nestled inside the crepes and the banana topping drizzled on top with just a sprinkling of toasted pecans finished it off perfectly. The sweet warmth of the Bananas Foster paired with ice cream is just sublime and takes me right back to that night in my home town before I embarked on a new chapter in my life.
While we cooked, Colleen filled me in about her book. She and my daughter have been writing partners for quite a while, and having her book published was a huge accomplishment for her. The novel tells the story of a young woman who comes to St. Louis to start her life again after she finds her husband cheating on her. She opens a boutique wedding florist business in the city and surrounds herself with flowers and new friendships. As a bonus, her new next door neighbor just happens to be a gorgeous musician who has an eye for curvy Elly. Just when she feels that she is finally moving on from her past, she discovers that an extravagant wedding contract, one that could change her financial future, is more than she bargained for. With the help of her friends, staff and the occasional well-made Italian sandwich (a woman after my own heart), Elly bravely agrees to take on the event that threatens to merge her painful history with her bright new life, and finds herself blooming in a direction she never imagined.
It’s a charming tale that I know women of all ages would love so Colleen has provided me with a giveaway for one of my readers. It’s not a gift with a huge monetary value but it is a hugely meaningful one. Seeing my daughter’s friend embark on such an exciting venture brings a combination of wonder and amazement and I wish her all the best in this endeavor!
I thought I still had that old cookbook but sad to say it could not be found; the good news is it was simply a re-creation straight from the source, Brennan’s in New Orleans. In 1951, Chef Paul Blange created Bananas Foster; the scrumptious dessert was named for Richard Foster who was a frequent customer of Brennan’s and a very good friend of the founder, Owen Edward Brennan. Add some dessert crepes to their recipe and voila…perfection!