Banana Bread Oatmeal and Little Lessons

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Having just finished Buddha Brain by Rick Hanson, it’s come to my attention how disengaged and out of focus we tend to be in our stimulated environments, especially in fast-paced cities such as London. Somehow we are always trying to do more in less and less time, and this has potentially devastating lifelong consequences. It’s blind attention. Some days we go through the motions and feel rewarded or successful upon ticking off multiple checkboxes. But life isn’t a checklist, and isn’t supposed to be. How crazy are we to think we can be both productive and happy going about life in this robotic, stress-fuelled way?

This audiobook sort of links to the one I’m reading now– Whole, by one of my idols T. Colin Campbell. All this stress increases risk of certain diseases and accelerates ageing. Food of all things is so underrated in its effects on our mental and physical health, as well as the way we behave towards and learn from others. How could we use food to help us live better lives?

There are a few strategies about both food and lifestyle that I have included in the past few years, each starting at different points in my life, but all practiced towards the same degree. For example, I have done yoga and meditation for 2 years now, but only started mindful eating a few months ago. Naturally I am a rather indecisive person (4-5 delicious Gail’s vegan muffins or a manicure kit? Help??), but these techniques put the minute decisions into the broader context of life better, helping me achieve a better, more logical state of mind.

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The most incredible vegan sorbets and ice cream (coconut, deep and rich dark chocolate, raspberry and lemon basil) at Ballabeni in Munich!

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  • Make eating a meditation. Eat slowly, and savour every mealtime. Put your fork down between each bite, don’t have blazing screens on for at least 2 out of 3 of your meals, talk to a friend or loved one. Think about where each ingredient on your plate came from. This process clears your head, refreshes the mind. You know you are putting good things into your body. The pictures above are from my recent trip to Munich to see my boyfriend and his family. Every morning welcomed me with fresh bread and jam. Each bite was more alluring than the last, a chunk of fresh hope and energy for the day’s next few steps. Even if it’s a slice of cake, remember where that cake came from, each sweet mouthful airing your body with life and energy. It may not be the slow sustained energy you get from your daily bowl of oatmeal, but it’s food to savour and enjoy all the same, and by practicing mindfulness, you’ll get used to treating your body better, and crave cake a few times a week, not twice a day. And on that note…
  • Include some source of protein and fat at at least 2 of your meals. This way, you are satiated and don’t mindlessly snack on sugary foods throughout the day (I have had enough experience with this, ugh). I bake once a week and indulge in whatever experiment that day holds, but my diet is primarily a whole foods, plant-based (WFPB) one, and I testify to moderation as salvation  Having had a turbulent relationship with food in the past, particularly my early and mid-teens, WFPB has healed me from the inside-out. Nothing else is more satisfying, refreshing and nurturing. Best part? You can be incredibly creative with any WFPB food! Flax in your baking, carrots in your cake, rich cocoa in your hot chocolate… go mad.
  • Immerse yourself in nature once in a while, and move your body. This is especially important if you live in an urban area like London. In Munich, the forest and her sharp air was particularly surreal despite the stroll’s brevity.  Sometimes, there is nothing more beautiful or necessary. Exercise is equally as important to keep the mind fresh and strong.

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So here is a little breakfast bowl that I made last week. It’s not your traditional bowl of oatmeal, but it’s just as wholesome and only a tad more fancy. It’s the perfect way to start a mindful day. This was further jazzed up with a matcha bar bite I bought at a café, but that;s optional. The focus here is the natural sweetness of the banana and the thick, almost rich flavour it lends to the oatmeal. Watery business begone. Back to basics, the best way.

Banana bread oatmeal (serves 1)

Ingredients

45-50g (about a half cup) oats (I use a mix of porridge and whole rolled oats for texture)

1 banana, half of it mashed, the other half chopped into coins

120ml (half a cup) each of plant milk of choice (I use almond and oat), and water

1/2 tsp cinnamon

pinch of salt

some crumbled banana bread

2 tsp each of almond butter and maple syrup

Directions

In a saucepan or microwave-safe bowl, mix the oats, salt, mashed banana, milk, water and cinnamon together. If you’re using a saucepan, bring the mix to a boil, then lower the heat a little and stir until you get a thick and only slightly gloopy consistency. If you’re using a microwave, microwave on high for 2-3 minutes. Take it out in between (after 1.5 minutes) just to stir it and make sure nothing bubbles over, because that may happen if your microwave is especially strong.

In a pan heated on medium heat, lightly oil the base and place your banana coins in the pan. after 30 seconds on medium heat, flip over to check if they’re nice and brown. Heat them a little longer if they’re not. Flip and caramelise the other sides. Place the banana coins on your hot bowl of oatmeal, top with the crumbled banana bread, almond butter, maple syrup, and if you want, a splash more plant milk. The cold milk seeping into the thick and gooey, hot oatmeal is divine.

One Bowl Banana Coconut Mini Bundts

 

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Sitting here at midnight, only thinking about the transience of so much. Day by day, shadows work their way around my feet. Before I’ve even come to terms with fact that term time is almost up, people in other unis have started summer, champagne bottles are being popped. Hyperactivity everywhere.

With all the frantic house-hunting and exam stress (and worrying over the efficacy of actual study technique), there’s comfort in the close strong bonds you know you always have with loved ones, and the smell of something warm and sugary rising in the oven. I knew I had to use my one precious, scratched mini bundt pan at some point before the end of first term. I hauled all my stuff from Singapore for a reason, right? Yeah, it’s been a while, but mea culpa.

Before I move on, a few things that’ve caught my eye this week. I do feel more inclined to share what I read regularly on this platform, which is pretty much everything nutrition/science-related:

Fascinating

Darya keeps linking the best, most informative and relevant articles

‘good science writing is not just about about turning over conventional wisdom about complex things.’ So much yes.

Love this man. A great retelling

And now.

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The fluffiest, softest mini cakes you will ever make, stuffed with mashed banana, topped with a coconut milk icing.

Now with blogging comes honesty. I’m not kidding when I add the ‘you will ever make’ bit, because they really truly are.  I just can’t kid when it comes to this sort of thing. Despite its ease and speed, this recipe has yielded the softest cake texture I have attempted by far. Stuff of cloudy dreams. I hate overhyping something, but the excitement is all too real right now. THE absolute best bit?

It’s all made in one bowl, just a bit of mixing, no elbow grease or sweat or fiddling whatsoever. No worrying about whether you have to ‘make time’, because you will have the time.

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These little cakes really are quite special. Perhaps it’s the irresistible fluff factor, or the mashed banana in the middle, making it a triple-layer banana hit. Probably both, not forgetting the slightly balmy, creamy addition of coconut. The next time I make these, I’ll add more coconut extract for an extra exotic kick. The delicacy of the crumb in this cake deserves the trueness of flavour.

You definitely don’t need a mini bundt pan for these, and can do the same thing in a mini muffin tin, or spread the batter in a square tin and bake for the same amount of time, then cut little squares/whatever your wild heart desires out of the final product.

And if you’re in the mood for more…

Feeling like cookie butter?

Or perhaps a little lemony?

Clearly I’ve run out of humour.

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One Bowl Banana Coconut Mini Bundts with Coconut Icing (makes 12-14 mini cakes)

Ingredients

For the cakes:

60g soft, unsalted butter

1 1/2 mashed bananas (should amount to a half cup)

an additional 2 mashed bananas for the filling

225g (1 cup) white sugar

2 eggs

60ml each of coconut cream and coconut milk

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

190g (1 1/2 cups) all-purpose flour mixed with a half tsp of baking powder (alternatively, use self-raising flour)

quarter teaspoon of salt

 

For the coconut milk icing:

2-3 tbsp coconut cream (or use coconut milk)

75g icing sugar

 

Directions

Preheat your oven to 180C (350F) and butter your mini cake/bundt/muffin tin. In a microwave-safe bowl, heat the butter and mashed banana together in a microwave to add a little caramelised effect to your already-ripe bananas, around 20 seconds. Pour contents into a larger bowl (makes mixing a bit easier later on), then add all the other ingredients for the cake, except for the 2 mashed bananas which you need for the filling afterwards.

Spoon a tablespoonful of batter into the bottom of a well in your tin, add a teaspoon of mashed banana in the middle, then fill the rest of the well with batter. Bake in the preheated oven for 18-20 minutes (mine were fine at 18). Whilst they are baking, mix the icing ingredients in a bowl and set aside. It’s hard to test for doneness due to the moist banana filling, but a little poke into the sides with a wooden skewer should reveal a mostly clean tip. A few moist crumbs clinging to the tip are fine; these cakes are pretty fragile and need to rest in the tin for a good 20 minutes before removing anyway.

If using a mini bundt pan, use a serrated knife to cut the tops off (these make wonderful little snacks). Loosen the edges with a blunt knife (just use a normal dinner knife), then tip the pan over to remove the little cakes. You don’t need to do this if using a normal muffin or cake tin. Drizzle with the coconut icing and top with coconut flakes. Fragile, sugarplum fairy-esque teatime treats await.

 

 

Chocolate Banana Mascarpone Sandwich

Sundays can be more magical than you ever think them to be.

A quickie, because I want you to make it now, or at least soon, before the magic of what you see above dissipates. Chocolate and banana is a sworn classic, at least to me anyways, and this sandwich has all the goods and more. I wouldn’t call it ‘chocolate and cheese’, because that juxtaposition looks and sounds sacrilegious, because I might as well say ‘chocolate and cheddar’ and make you all gag.

Saturday night made me too pink from the drink. With a late start on Sunday, something easy but lush was much needed. Thrown together in haste, but well astonished afterward. I must thank the gooey, perfect, sinful result of melting chocolate, mascarpone and gooey ripe banana mashed between commercial brioche.

Easy sin.

Chocolate Banana Mascarpone Sandwich (serves 1)

Directions

Heat a pan on medium high heat and ready a generous knob of butter. On one slice of brioche, spread a thick layer of chocolate spread (nutella/chocolate peanut butter/chocolate spread) and layer on slices of banana. On the other slice, spread a thick layer of mascarpone, and then layer on either one big square of dark chocolate or many small chunks of chocolate. Sandwich the slices together. Place butter in preheated pan, spread around a little, then place one side of the sandwich on the hot pan. Leave for 2 minutes, then flip to cook the other side. The surface should be a golden-brown.

Slice on the diagonal (it’s a rule), admire the oozing chocolate and then bite right into the middle while still hot and moist.

White Chocolate Caramel Banana Bread

Because we all know banana bread is actually cake.

Side note: I’m back!!

An apology is necessary and expected. The past few weeks have been an absolute blast, busy busy busy, what with moving to London to embark on a very science-y and exciting adventure. Early lectures, lots of note-taking, and the constant fear that I’ve done nothing to deserve a place in this wonderful university. The people are amazing, the work intriguing, and nothing beats the nighttime kitchen adventures, midnight study sessions and later-night parties. Nothing I say here could ever fully justify the experiences that have been thrown at me as well as those which I have yet to encounter. It’s still incredibly surreal; like a dream come true, yet somehow better.

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A modification on one of my previous banana bread recipes, this one has a gallant twist with the incorporation of white chocolate and caramel. If ever I do this again, I’ll be sure to add in a nuttier texture or more earthy flavour component to up the ante of everything else going on in the picture. It’s the sweetest pick-me-up, and a one-bowl wonder. Don’t you love the easy stuff? Remember: I’m all about simple. Sometimes. Ok, most of the time. With college matters whirling around my head, this loaf was a nice and easy break, which took no time at all to put together and bake. Feels good to get into mixing, picking ingredients and experimenting again in the kitchen. Made it with one of the sweetest people I’ve met here, and everyone loved (and then attacked) it. Crowd-pleaser. Bananas. White chocolate. Caramel. Good play.

Now, it feels like home.

White Chocolate Caramel Banana Bread (makes 1 loaf)

Ingredients

3 ripe bananas, mashed

1 1/2 cups (190g) plain white flour

2 1/2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

1/2 tsp salt

1 egg

1 tsp vanilla extract

1/3 cup (76g) melted unsalted butter

2 tbsp milk

2 heaping tbsp caramel sauce

1/3 cup (68g) white sugar

3/4 cup white chocolate chips (I cut up a good bar)

Directions

Preheat your oven to 180C (350F). In a large bowl, mix together the mashed bananas, milk, sugar, melted butter, egg, salt and vanilla. Then add in the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, milk, caramel sauce. Finally, gently stir in the white chocolate chips. Pour into a greased loaf and bake for 50-55 minutes. This one was ready by 53 minutes.

To serve, slice up and serve with more caramel, marmalade (a touch I personally adore) and more chopped chocolate. I’m guessing whipped cream or ice cream would sort out any lonely evening, too.

Chocolate and Banana Mug Cake

It’s a big one, literally and metaphorically.

Above you may observe chocolate in one of its natural habitats (for it has many, obviously), with a cashew butter topping and chocolate shavings.

A moist, fudgy-in-the-centre mug cake, with mashed banana in the centre for optimal gooeyness. A little firmer on the surface, but easy to break into to reveal a tender, soft belly. I don’t think there’s anything much that beats a piping hot, warm, fudgy chocolate treat first thing in the morning, especially if the whole mixing and microwaving process is this easy. Maybe I should spill the beans upfront– I’ve never made a mug cake before. I always felt as if doing so is a total, embarrassing cop-out; why microwave (does that word chill you to the bone and bring to mind grease-framed images of ready-made meals or bad takeout?) when you can put to good use your lovely and probably very expensive oven?

Although I appreciate and prefer a traditional fudge cake made in the oven, all 50’s aprons and 30-minute labours, this sort of recipe is perfect for one those mornings when you want to feel indulgent, but just… Don’t want to spend all that long being a princess.

Chocolate and Banana Mug Cake (serves 1 very hungry person)

Ingredients

25g all-purpose flour

2 tbsp cocoa or cacao powder

2 tbsp white sugar (I used coconut date sugar)

1 egg

3 tbsp milk (any sort; I used almond here)

2 tbsp veg or coconut oil, or melted butter

small handful of mini chocolate chips

half a banana, mashed

Directions

In a bowl (not the mug you’re making the cake in), whisk together the flour, sugar and cocoa/cacao powder. Take a tablespoon of this dry mix and toss it with the chocolate chips in a separate saucer, just so they’re coated with the flour mix. Mix in the rest of the ingredients except for the mashed banana (egg, milk and oil, then the chocolate chip and flour mix).

Grease your mug and pour in half of the chocolatey mix. Put the mashed banana on top, then add the rest of the chocolate mix. Microwave this on high for a minute, or check the doneness with a spoon at the 45-second mark. Poke and prod to see if it’s done to your liking; take it out a little earlier if you like that little extra fudge! Keep in mind that you must watch it like a hawk because this cake does rise a little, and if you’re not careful, it might collapse or overflow, especially if your microwave is on a particularly high heat setting.

Top with whipped cream, or nut butter, and enjoy with iced coffee or a glass of cold milk. Alternatively, douse the entire thing in cold milk and enjoy as a sort of bread pudding! It’s perfect for breakfast. Or have some as a small snack and keep the rest for later, for some things are never too late to microwave.