Maybe it’s the dampness in the air when a storm’s a-brewing. It reminds me of those lush and languid days in Hawaii, Central America and the Caribbean — where one can easily make a habit of exotic fruit for breakfast, lunch and happy hour.
When I lived in Hawaii, I watched in amusement each and every time sweet papaya and mango tumbled onto our roads and into our yards. I had arrived on Maui with no job, no car, and no place to live — but with all of this tropical fruit raining down on me, I felt confident that I would not starve. One of my favorite memories, is of the day a friend and I took a short cut through Maui’s pineapple and sugarcane fields on his dirt bike, riding unmarked trails and gnarly single tracks from Kihei to Ulupalakua. I got to see and feel the island’s magic, in a way I would not have experienced otherwise. We ran the risk of getting shot at or chased by bulls, but we had so much fun drinking in exhilarating sights and smells that are not accessible by a typical tourist rental car.
Another memorable tropical foodie adventure came about on my second trip to Costa Rica. My friend Jean was living there at the time, and had 10 glorious days off from work. We rented an SUV and took off on a loosely planned adventure, zigzagging from the edge of Nicaragua all the way down to the Panamanian border. A “must-do” on Jean’s list was a trip to Tortugero, where turtles come to lay their eggs. It was the classic Maine “You can’t get there from here” situation, in that there is no road to Tortuguero. You needed to either fly or hire someone to bring you by river boat.
Jean had arranged for a co-worker’s second cousin’s friend (??) to meet us on the Dole banana docks at sunrise. All we knew was that his name was “Johnny.” Does this sound like the beginning of a bad made-for-TV movie to you? Because even though I wasn’t yet completely freaked out by our previous encounters with tarantulas and spiders . . .
. . . snakes, policemen, would-be pickpockets (not to mention the craziest drivers on the planet), there WAS something a bit unnerving about the prospect of meeting a complete stranger in the middle of nowhere, and having him take you down a long, crocodile-infested river to a rustic cabin with cots and mosquito netting. Did I mention that my cell phone didn’t work, and I don’t speak any Spanish?
So, here’s what I learned: Sometimes you need to just go with the flow, stop trying to control everything, and let yourself have an amazing day. Johnny showed up at the docks on time, and was the best guide we could ask for. He could spot a toucan or howler monkey a mile away. He pointed out vultures flying overhead, and brought us to see wild horses and a very large family of sleeping bats (yup). He shimmied up a palm tree and whacked open a few coconuts, so we could drink the sweet milk as we glided down the river toward our evening accomodations. This was a first rate adventure with a first rate guy.
So in honor of Johnny-the-machete-wielding-coconut-man-from-the-banana-docks, I present to you “Johnny’s Coconut Banana Muffins,” inspired by Johnny and adapted from a recipe I found via The Barefoot Contessa. These are muffins you’ll want to make when you’re craving cupcakes, but looking for a healthier alternative you can eat for breakfast. They are brimming with omega-3s, antioxidants and fiber, given all the walnuts, banana, flaxseed and high fiber cereal.
I find that having banana “chunks” along with the mashed bananas gives it more banana flavor, and the cereal clusters and coconut make a really great muffin top. It’s carrot cake’s Costa Rican cousin, without the frosting. Give ‘em a try — Johnny would be pleased! Pura Vida, and Bon Appétit!
JOHNNY’S COCONUT BANANA MUFFINS
- 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/4 cup ground flaxseed
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 teaspoon baking power
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 stick (4 oz) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
- 1 large egg
- 1/2 cup milk
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 1 mashed ripe banana
- 1 banana – medium diced
- 1/2 cup chopped walnuts
- 1/2 cup Go Lean Crunch cereal (or favorite granola)
- 1/2 shredded coconut
- Additional shredded coconut and and cereal for topping
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Line 10 muffin cups with paper liners. In a medium bowl, sift together flour, flaxseed, sugar, baking powder and baking soda. Mix in melted butter and blend. In a separate bowl, whisk together eggs, milk, vanilla and mashed bananas. Add to the floor mixture, and mix until just blended. Do not over mix. Fold in diced bananas, walnuts, cereal and coconut. Fill each muffin liner, and top with extra coconut and cereal. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until the tops brown. Serve warm — plain, or with honey or butter.
YIELD: 10 Muffins