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.

Classic Baked Cheesecake

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‘We die and decay– or are burned– to come up again as wheat or roses, which in turn may form the bodies of future generations of people. Decay is the inevitable and necessary consequence of finite corporeal mortal life.’– Slightly morbid but beautiful quote of the day.

Lots of school, lots of reading, lots of fun. A lot of hesitation, but my head throbs with the chilling promise of a new day, each day.

So I could describe the entirety of my childhood in terms of cheesecake. It was definitely, undoubtedly, completely, a significant part of the reality I encased myself in. There was no such thing as no cheesecake twice a week, and yes, it did my soul a world of good, it was a chunk of my world and sometimes the world itself, when I didn’t feel like facing the real one. This was before I knew anything about the reality of the dairy industry, before I knew how much better it felt to put into myself a real damn cheesecake. A harmless, do-good cheesecake. So I was determined to make one. A proper one. A baked, New York-style cheesecake, soft, dense yet fluffy on the inside, firm and lightly browned everywhere else. They say anything made vegan is a compromise, which is true only if you’re not aware of what goes on in the food you enjoy on a day-to-day basis. Here is a cheesecake I made twice because I got so passionate about it. The ingredients are simple, the product flawless.

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Whilst meddling about experimenting with Minimalist Baker’s infamous recipe, I realised I could make the crust and filling, leave it in the fridge to set and then bake when I wanted it to (you don’t have to leave it in the fridge before baking though, I just did so due to time issues). Baking it together, without changing the temperature halfway, yielded an equally delicious and beautiful result.

No hint of hubris. It’s just a good, dense, flavourful vegan cheesecake.

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Classic Baked Vegan Cheesecake (Serves 8-10, adapted from Minimalist Baker’s stunner of a recipe)

Ingredients

For the crust:

70g (about a half cup) rolled or porridge oats

90g raw almonds (optional:sub with cashews)

pinch of sea salt

2 tbsp coconut/brown sugar

60g coconut oil, either melted or at least at room temperature

 

For the filling:

120g (1 cup) raw cashews

250g (1 cup) coconut cream

220g (about a tub) vegan cream cheese

1 tbsp cornstarch

150ml (half a cup+ 2 tbsp) maple syrup

1 tsp fine salt

juice of one lemon+the zest of the lemon

1 tsp vanilla extract

Directions

The night or day before you bake the cheesecake, put the cashews for the filling in a bowl and cover with water. Let soak overnight on your counter or in the fridge. You can also do this for half an hour if you have the time earlier on in the day.

The next day, drain the soaked cashews and set aside. Preheat your oven to 170C and ready a 9-inch springform pan. In a food processor or blender, put in the ingredients for the crust and whizz it up until you can press the crust with your fingers and they stick a little. The crust should not be too oily to touch. Press this into a 9-inch springform pan and put it in the fridge to firm up a little while you make the filling.

Briefly wipe down your blender/food processor (don’t go all out to clean here yet!) and whack in your filling ingredients, including the soaked cashews. Blend everything together until you get a smooth, white creamy product. There are usually still bits of cashews after blending for a minute, so continue to blend until everything is smooth and bit-less. Pour this on your crust and then bake for 50 minutes. Check at 50 minutes– the top should be lightly browned. If not, continue baking until you see a light golden colour on top.

Remove, let cool on the counter for a half hour before moving it to the fridge to set a little more.

Enjoy with some vegan whipped cream or coconut yoghurt. Beautiful on its own as well. Dana did such a fantastic job with this recipe, and I’m dying for everyone else to try it! My favourite pairing is with berries and basil, as may be observed in the picture just above the recipe.

My Favourite Thing This Week x Pumpkin Turmeric Scones

Fall is here and ready to take over. Over my mental and physical worlds and everything in between. The first week of school has come and gone instantly, as if the mind-bending philosophies we were taught and lengthy pauses of appreciation they induced, workshops and field trips were as transient as my last 5 inhalations and next few exhalations. Earlier this week we went on a tour of the beautiful Chelsea Physic Gardens in the heart of London, which showcased most magnificently the vast and (if I do say so myself) underrated variety of medicinal herbs, spices and other botanical wonders. No skipping the Asian and other ethnic varieties either, which was what impressed me most. Rice? Sake? They had it all. This is a gem of a place and do encourage anyone in London to give the place a visit.

This ‘favourite thing’ should be more of a thing. Weekly, perhaps? Favouritism aside, it allows for reflection on a lot of things that have happened the past week, letting this physical reality overlap with hardcore introspection.

I want to talk about Paperless Post, which represents everything I adore. The bibliophile and letter fiend that I am always hesitates to replace technology with traditional scrawling (I am still that one in lectures with a pad and pen, struggling to match speed of brain with that of the lecturer’s tongue) in any case, especially for the sake of convenience. But Paperless proves to intensify one’s creative streak with its thousands of templates and quotes, designed by world-famous artists and graphic designers.

I gave it a shot by sending a few trial birthday invitations to my family and a few friends over the weekend… even though my birthday is in November! Here’s the silly one I designed. The site essentially lets you choose and design your own virtual postcards, invitations and birthday cards for those closest to you. It’s so easy– just set up an account using your email address, then choose your design, customise it by adding different fonts, colours and backdrops, and use their smart online tools like RSVP tracking and guest messaging to ice the cake. Ok, how cool is that… Forget any other platform, this is all you need. Why use Facebook when you can send beautiful, personalised invitations to the lucky select few? Birthday or barbecue, the extra 5 minutes choosing a deliciously good-looking template that represents you and what your event is all about, is worth it.

I spent a good few guiltless hours on the weekend playing around with templates, and was thoroughly impressed with all the designs on offer. It saves time, effort and a little sanity. To cut it short, Paperless is stressless. Everyone who received my card was touched by the design and caption of the card, and all it took was 5-10 minutes! I personally love how you can add whatever pictures or photos you may already have on your computer to your invitation. To be clear, this post is published in partnership with them and Anagram Interactive, but I will continue using this platform to send thoughtful, meaningful cards and invitations to those nearest and dearest. Whatever your creative or aesthetic style, there is something for you. Click here if you’re interested!

Now. Second favourite thing the past week?

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I’d say ‘today it’s turmeric’, but really it should be an almost-everyday thing. Pumpkin is everywhere and in everyone every fall, so for tradition and comfort I incorporated it too, but turmeric is the real showgirl here. The impressive little kicker has proven anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory properties, all thanks to its main component curcumin. I’ll be honest, I wasn’t the biggest fan of its pungent, gingery flavour upon first trying it, but I’ve grown to love its warmth and pepper. It’s pretty simple to incorporate turmeric into anything, be it scones, or porridge, or a savoury curry, its grounding aroma doing much to calm all the senses. Just this time last week I thought scones would be the most welcoming fall treat, something ultra buttery, flaky and hearty. Simple, sleek, marginally sexy.

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With a special double glaze– plain classic and fiery turmeric. It’s this turmeric glaze that is worth the hype. The intense spicy drizzle carves dimension and excitement into the buttery formula of the plain, spiced scone. Any worry about the foreign and disconcerting pairing of this exotic spice with the traditional breakfast item will be alleviated. Just you try, and see.

 

Pumpkin Turmeric Scones (makes 8 medium-sized scones)

Ingredients 

240g (1 1/2 cups) plain flour

150g (1 cup) rye flour

35g (1/4 cup+ 2 tbsp) sugar (white or coconut)

2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp baking soda

2 tbsp turmeric latte mix or 1tbsp turmeric+1/2 tsp cinnamon+1/2 tsp cardamom

100g (1/2 cup+2 tbsp) vegan butter (cold)

60ml (1/4 cup) soy or any other plant-based yoghurt. Alternatively, you could use applesauce

3 tbsp pumpkin purée

100ml (a little under a 1/2 cup) plant milk (I used almond)

1/2 tsp vinegar

For the turmeric glaze:

100g icing sugar

2 tsp turmeric latte mix, or just 1 tsp or ground turmeric

1.5 tbsp almond milk

For the plain glaze:

100g icing sugar

1 tbsp almond milk

 

Directions

Preheat your oven to 180C (350F). Mix the milk and vinegar in a bowl and set it aside to let curdle a little. Meanwhile, combine all the other ingredients except the yoghurt and pumpkin purée in a bowl. Use your hands to mush the butter into the flour, which is actually very easy if you use vegan butter (yay!). Then add the milk mix and yoghurt. The final mixture should be moist but firm.

Tip the mix onto a liberally floured surface and shape into a disc. Place on a lined baking sheet and cut into 8 equal pieces, as can be seen in the picture above. Brush the top with almond/any other plant-based milk and bake in your preheated oven for 25 minutes. How easy was that?

Whilst it is baking, make the two glazes in separate bowls using a small fork as a whisk. Once the scones have finished baking, let them sit on the counter to cool for at least 10 minutes before drizzling with both glazes. Bon appetit, my fall friends!

Lemon Yoghurt Bars (classic, fast, easy)

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Sweet, tangy, gooey lemon yogurt bars with a dense and buttery base. 

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again– nothing gets me like a good lemon dessert. Lemon bars in particular are my absolute favourite. I’d say lemon meringue pie too, but that does require the extra meringue component, and if you so wish for some lemony satisfaction at any point of time during the week, these do the trick in a wink without requiring you to whip out any fancy kitchen gadget.

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Adapted from The Hummingbird Bakery’s cookbook, so kindly purchased by my friend as a birthday present, I couldn’t resist trying these guys out. The recipe looked much to easy to pass up, and there’s never a time I’m not in the mood for lemon bars. With too much yoghurt on hand, I decided no harm would be done if a minor twist was made. Worth it, to say the least. The yoghurt adds a mild creaminess to the body of the lemon bars without subtracting any tang or sharpness.

Crust? Easy. Forget blind-baking and the works.

Filling? 2 minutes max, after weighing some 200g of sugar and squeezing a lemon, I guess. Zilch effort.

Term is winding down, coming to an end. There’s always so much to do here, and see, and enjoy. Friday night shenanigans balance all work-related stress and unrelenting fear of missing out or not knowing enough content. Despite the roller coaster, I must say that there are always the constants that get me through. Morning routines, cup of black in my hand, the oven hum, people with the brightest and most interesting personalities, House of Cards (which I just started and can’t get enough of)…. Missing home is a secondary emotion. Christmas and family and home are calling, but this already feels somewhat like home.

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Lemon Yoghurt Bars (makes 16-20 evenly-sized rectangular bars, adapted from The Hummingbird Bakery cookbook)

Ingredients

For the base: 

290g all-purpose plain flour

70g icing sugar

large pinch salt

220g unsalted butter, melted

 

For the filling:

200g white caster sugar

3 eggs

4 heaped tablespoons plain yoghurt (greek works fine too)

120ml (slightly less than half a cup) freshly squeezed lemon juice

half teaspoon vanilla extract

 

Directions

Preheat your oven to 170C (325F) and grease a 9×9-inch square pan.

Mix all ingredients for the base in a large bowl and press into the bottom of the pan– take your time here for it’s a bit sticky, but it gets easier after all the gloop actually unsticks from between your fingers. Bake for 20 minutes. In another bowl, whisk together the ingredients for the filling. Pour into the half-baked crust and bake another 15 minutes (at the same temperature, leave the oven on when you’re pouring in the filling). Once baked, leave to cool completely. You may place in the fridge to cool faster, but the bars will set up fine after an hour or so even at room temperature.

Cut into even bars and serve!

Lemon Curd Muffins

If there’s anything I’m a true sucker for, it’s lemon anything. No really. I love chocolate and a lot of other sweet things, but when it comes to citrus-based desserts, my salivary glands go haywire and my head fills with buttercups and sunshine.

Fluffy, white lemon muffins with a lemon curd belly, topped with a lemon curd-sugar coating

What do I like about these muffins? Well. You mix the wet ingredients together, you mix the dry ingredients together, pour one into the other and voila, you have perfect golden muffins in a matter of 15 minutes or less. I mean it’s really not any harder than perusing the morning paper or making a cup of coffee. If you can tie your shoelaces, these are a piece of cake (got that). Wake up, make your coffee, work, take a half-hour break, and maybe during that time you can make these without breaking a sweat. There is just no excuse now.

I had to satisfy the lemon fiend in me a couple of days ago, and did so well with these muffins. I had an incredibly hard time labelling this either a muffin or cupcake, because although this one ticks the boxes for all things which make a muffin, well, a muffin, the insides reminded me more of a cupcake than anything– light as air, pale, tender and not as dense as any muffin you might come across. It’s 80% muffin and 20% cupcake in technique, but 100% cupcake in texture. The crumb is neither robust or rigid, but holds up enough to provide the perfect amount of bite. Add this to the mix of half-molten lemon curd centre and sugar-crusted, sharp-tongued top and you’ve got yourself a winner.

Just for general info, muffins generally:

  • have a domed top (as is evident above)
  • a denser crumb
  • little if any frosting (usually a sugar coating such as this one)
  • require the wet and dry ingredients to be mixed separately before one is added to the other, instead of the typical creaming method utilised in the making of cupcakes.

Therefore, I present to you the cuffin.

Delight is a synonym for that wonderful lemon curd-sugar topping, which once again couldn’t be easier. Delight is also a synonym for the feeling you get when you bite into a soft, white, lemony bit of cake, rounded off with the sharp notes of homemade (or store-bought, that’s good too) lemon curd. Sharp on soft. White and black. It’s meant to be.

Lemon Curd Cupcakes (makes 10-12 cupcakes, adapted from here)

Ingredients

For the cupcakes:

200g self-raising flour

100g white castor sugar

pinch salt

1 egg

75ml vegetable oil (canola/sunflower is good here)

zest of one lemon

juice of half a lemon

120ml whole milk

60ml (1/4 cup) lemon curd, homemade or store-bought

For the lemon curd topping:

60ml (1/4 cup) lemon curd

70g white sugar (granulated/castor)

Directions

Preheat your oven to 190C (375F) and grease a cupcake or muffin tin. In a large bowl  whisk together the whole milk, egg, oil, lemon zest and lemon juice. In a medium bowl, briefly whisk together the self-raising flour, sugar and salt. Pour the dry into the wet mix and mix everything together until just combined with a wooden spoon. Using a tablespoon, half fill a mould in the tin with some batter, then use 2 teaspoons to put a small dollop of lemon curd in the centre, then fill to the 3/4-mark of the mould or case with more batter. Repeat for the rest of the cupcake moulds. Bake in the preheated oven for 12-15 minutes (mine took 13 minutes exactly). Check at the 12-minute mark; a wooden skewer inserted into the side (because the centre has lemon curd) of one should emerge clean. They should be nicely domed with a golden top, and no cracking on the surface.

Whilst these are baking, make the topping (YUM). In a small bowl, microwave the lemon curd until warm but not totally liquidy. Put the white sugar in a shallow dish and set these two aside until the cupcakes are done baking. Once they are fully baked, leave to cool for 5 minutes before rolling the tops in the lemon curd, then rolling again in sugar.

Devour, and know that life is good.