Banana Coconut Mini Cakes

B800FD1A-BAE0-4A7F-BCCB-B5CC5DC7A546The hardest part of self-actualisation is that of  discerning what to accept and what to reject– of the world and of  ourselves– as we build the architecture of our character and stake out our stance in relation to our aims and obstacles’– Camus

Recently I’ve been thinking about habits. Today’s mantra shall be this: kicking old habits is just as important as incorporating new, good ones. We all have our good and bad habits, but sometimes the balance just isn’t there. I, for one, may see a scatter of crumbs late at night on the kitchen floor but oh god, it’s late, and I can do it tomorrow morning. It’s not the most serious crime, but little things do add up to be a lot. Doing things like making my bed and preparing my clothes the night before does wonders for saving time, space and maintaining cleanliness throughout the week, day by day. That’s the miracle of habits. Little actions that change routine that change you for the better. Currently working on bettering myself, to be better around others, too. It’s hard, but worth it, I feel. We are capable. And keep being grateful.

So here’s what I wrote last week in my diary about this cake: “Banana coconut cake with miso frosting! So moist and cute and tender. Might have to change the frosting a tad but I’m happy-dappy for now. There’s a flow to it, it’s enticing and dreamy and moody. Happy-dappy”.

Well firstly, wow I sound quite silly whenever I write about how excited I am about some new experiment in my personal diary. Did I really write ‘happy-dappy’ twice? Secondly, wow this cake is good. Like, really darn good, and I can’t wait for you to experience this banana-ful love all over again, from my kitchen and oven to yours.

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Simple, really. You start off traditionally, mixing the wet and dry ingredients separately. Once everything is incorporated, and you pop the thing in the oven and make the frosting. Everything is cooled, then the frosting begins.

I didn’t mean to put miso in there (as is the case for so many random ingredients in my other bakes), but this is what gives the lift, the interest. Banana and miso?? Yes, it works. Please try it. Ingredients of the earth. All from nature. What is so wonderful about baking from home is that you know exactly what you’re putting in it, be it a simple or more complex bake. No chemicals, pesticides or what have you. Flour, sugar, plants… plants! It’s so wonderful, don’t you think.

I was listening to the podcast ‘On Being’ the other night (highly recommend, by the way), and there’s one part which talks about how there’s a link between being in awe of nature and altruism. Just witnessing the greatness of this universe perhaps makes us feel more like we should help one another along in society, keep us afloat in the raging seas, the beautiful yet turbulent grandeur of Mother Earth.

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Banana Coconut Mini Cakes with Miso coconut frosting (makes 4 mini cakes or 1 large 8 or 9-inch cake)

Ingredients

1 and a half bananas, mashed

45g dark/light brown sugar

30g white/coconut sugar

30ml (25g) vegetable oil

1 tbsp vanilla bean paste, or sub with vanilla extract

60ml plant milk of choice (I like using oat or rice milk

145g (little more than a cup) plain flour, or use half spelt/whole wheat flour

1/2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp baking soda

pinch of salt

30g desiccated coconut

 

For the frosting:

130g butter

5g miso paste

150g icing sugar

handful of desiccated coconut

 

For the layering (optional):

a sliced banana

more desiccated coconut, the amount here is up to you

 

Directions

Grease an 8 or 9-inch springform pan and preheat your oven to 180C. In a large bowl, mix together the banana, sugars, milk, vegetable oil and vanilla paste/extract. In a separate, medium bowl, briefly whisk together the dry ingredients– flour, salt, coconut and leavening agents. Tip this into the wet mix and stir everything together until all is just about incorporated. Bake this in the oven for 25 minutes, or until a wooden skewer inserted comes out clean.

While the cake bakes, make the frosting by beating the butter and miso together with an electric whisk, then slowly add the icing sugar until you get a smooth and thick frosting with bits of miso strewn throughout. Add the coconut and mix briefly. Place the frosting in the fridge until ready to use.

Once the cake is totally cool, or about a half hour later, use the lip of a glass cup to stamp out circles in the cake. You will get about 4 circles, so two mini cakes. Once the cakes are stamped out, add a dollop of frosting onto one cake, then add a few banana coins and a sprinkling of desiccated coconut on top. Place the second layer on top, then frost the top and add more desiccated coconut to decorate. Alternatively, you can leave the cake as is and frost it right there and then, or just frost the 4 circles individually without layering them, to get 4 separate open-faced cakes. These cakes will last 3-4 days in an airtight container in the fridge. If you’re just making the cake by itself, you can store it at room temperature for the same amount of time and in the same way.

Matcha Coconut Adzuki Bean Tart

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The week in a nutshell?

Well.

Perhaps an abundance of small happenings and details that cumulated to form the realisation that the smallest changes can indeed lead to drastic changes. Things like goal setting and reading affirmations out loud (even if just in a whisper) have a tremendous impact on how you start and go through your day. Meditation. Another thing I’ve gotten into again, more recently. So many things which, just 2 years ago, I may have scoffed at, brushed aside as heeby-jeeby, loco, substance-less stuff. An amazing Harry Potter exhibition at the British Library, and finally becoming a member of the Wellcome Library. Delicate, lasting pleasures.

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I here conclude that centre of mind should be centre of gravity. Slip-ups happen, a day isn’t always that great, and that’s ok. Walk off the woes. Write. It’s about returning to those small, good things, and staying confident in their life-giving properties which may only be discovered upon closer inspection. Like pouring tea into your teacup, or savouring your first bite of dinner, or reading without your phone buzzing. There is a secret bonhomie even in the most inane things, or inanimate objects.

So I made this tart on Monday, and there is one last slice in the fridge. Waiting there for me, as I sit here typing in Waterstones. Stiffened just to the right degree, with a thin blanket of coconut cream gently melted before the drizzle, and lovingly homemade sweet red adzuki beans. Can you tell Japan is still on my mind?

With matcha, coconut, black sesame and adzuki bean, there’s a lot going on, but there’s a lot going on well. Ecstasy possessed me upon my finding these beans in a health shop near where I stay. They take quite a while to cook but the result is so worth it. These rigid, dark beans are harder, darker and smaller than your normal red kidney beans, and add a nice firm texture to any soft, sweet dessert. Dense and more earthy in flavour. In fact, you could throw these guys into your lunchtime salad or pasta and it probably wouldn’t be half bad (here’s to a new idea for tonight). The filling is not too rich, achieved by mixing coconut cream, coconut yoghurt and plant milk in the right ratio. You could do it all just with coconut cream, but that would totally overwhelm the addition of matcha. The light blend ensures all the flavours come through at the same time. As I wrote in my journal that day, it is ‘so sweet, matcha-y and creamy…!!’ Clearly I was too excited to English properly. Also, no baking needed! Just a little fridge hibernation, so make this the night before to enjoy the next day, or in the morning if you’re the sort who has time at home, and enjoy later on.

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A creamy matcha coconut tart with a black sesame crust and sweet adzuki beans (Japanese red bean)

Matcha Adzuki Bean Coconut Tart (makes one 7/8-inch tart)

Ingredients

For the crust:

35g roasted black sesame seeds

2 tbsp (50g) tahini

8 large medjool dates (120g)

100g raw cashews

 

For the filling:

2 tbsp matcha powder

150g coconut cream, from a package or scoop out the solid bits from a tin of coconut milk, and save some extra to drizzle on top

150g coconut yoghurt or any other plant-based yoghurt of choice, e.g. soy/almond etc

120ml almond milk (or any other plant milk)

50ml (45g or 3-4 tbsp) maple or agave syrup

4.5g (about 1 tbsp) agar powder or vegan gelatin

half a teaspoon of fine salt

 

For the bean topping:

100g adzuki beans (pre-soaked for 2-3 hours, or you can soak them while your tart is setting in the fridge)

5 tbsp granulated/coconut sugar

water

Directions

Using sesame oil or any other oil/margarine (sesame works well here because it matches the flavour of the crust but you don’t have to, really), liberally brush the base and all corners and crevices of your tart tin. Your tin should have a removable bottom. The liberal oiling is important because it’s easy for the sticky crust to stick to the sides! Now in a food processor, blend together all the ingredients for the crust. Wet your hands to stop so much of the batter sticking to them, and press the mixture evenly into your tart tin. Use the bottom of a glass to help, if you want. Set aside for now.

In a saucepan, whisk together the ingredients for the filling. Place on high heat and bring to boil. Once it is boiling, immediately reduce heat to low, let the mixture simmer for 30 seconds, then take off the heat. Pour this on top of the prepared black sesame crust and spread evenly. Place the tart into the fridge to set nicely.

Meanwhile, make the adzuki beans. Wash your saucepan. Take your pre-soaked beans and place them in the saucepan. Fill with water until the beans are just covered, then cook on medium-high heat for an hour. Now go read something, chat with your mum or watch an episode of Friends. When you come back, the beans should be relatively soft. If not, cook for another 10 minutes. There should still be a little resistance when you use a wooden spoon to break a few beans. Now add the sugar and stir until everything is dissolved. Take off the heat and set aside.

Finally, drizzle some extra coconut cream on the tart, then top with the cooked beans. Et voila! Serve cold from the fridge and enjoy with some green tea or coffee.

And to end on an inspirational quote…

‘Consistency is the playground of dull minds’

Black Sesame Waffles and Lemon Curd

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Do you feel the same emotional high as I after creating a meaningful breakfast? Such that it ceases to be a shallow acquaintance in the morning, disappearing as fast as it appeared– head to table, then head to door. It’s so much more than that. It’s a tuning into the senses, savouring a myriad of plant-based foods that nourish and lighten the soul, the abundance of classic and sometimes unexpected flavours colouring the rest of your day with creativity and comfort.

Just as how some people have shaped and supplied your existence over x number of years, food too mirrors this truth. In clashing flavours, harmony is found.

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There’s no ‘right’ time to treat yourself. Lately I’ve been re-focussing once more on the importance of routine, which really does free up a lot of creative head space during the day. Suffice to say that, upon the first moments of rising, after a cleansing elixir of which recipe I modified from various parts of the Internet  (1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar, juice of half a lemon, top up the rest of my 750ml glass with filtered water, mix mix mix), meditation, a short workout and mini journalling session, a generous, flavourful, exotic breakfast is always welcome.

Black sesame, matcha, red bean. These are the flavours which still call to be delivered on an almost-daily basis. The magical trip to Japan was bookmarked with earthy flavour, soil and icy freedom etched in the wintery grey skies. These waffles are a throwback to some charcoal waffles I used to travel far for back in Singapore, though are richer in traditional goma flavour instead of being just, well, black. The use of activated charcoal here helps the colour, though that is optional. What makes it special is a black sesame paste made of finely ground black sesame, maple syrup and sesame oil. The ratio of the paste is much more coarse than that for the actual waffles, but as long as you get a relatively coarse, all-black paste then you’re set and ready to go.

And this lemon curd! Ah lemon curd, something I have unconsciously craved for so long and have failed to substitute with various tangy yoghurts and the morning lemon wash, has finally made a sturdy comeback. All vegan, all delicious, creamy and silky. I used agar powder since I did not have vegan gelatin on hand, but use the latter if you do have it. The agar promotes a more jelly-like flavour so use much less of it. Another great thing is that you can make both waffles and curd at the same time, and not waste time making one thing after the other. If lemon curd isn’t really your thing, these waffles would pair well with most anything else– this morning I coupled a toasted one with tahini, frozen fruit and maple syrup, the white pasty sesame-y tahini (yeah, to think I speak and type English) amping the roasted, toasted flavour of the black sesame paste in the waffles. The lemony curd cuts through this pastiness, a sunny break.

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Crispy, chewy black sesame waffles with lemon curd (makes 6 medium, or 5×6-inch waffles)

Ingredients

90g all-purpose flour

90g oat flour (store-bought or process 90g oats in a food processor; alternatively substitute with another flour of choice, be it plain, spelt, or perhaps a gluten-free option)

35g cornstarch

1 tbsp baking powder

1 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp salt

2 tbsp sugar of choice– I used coconut, you can use plain/brown/maple/golden caster

Optional: 1 tbsp activated charcoal powder (you can get this in powder form, or cut open the capsules to release the powder inside)

1 tsp vanilla extract

For the black sesame paste: 65g roasted black sesame seeds+ 2 tbsp each of maple syrup and sesame or vegetable oil

2 tbsp vinegar or lemon juice

1 tbsp melted vegan butter

350ml plant milk of choice (I used almond; you could use soy/cashew/oat)

For the lemon curd:

The juice of 1 lemon

3 tbsp cornstarch

1 tbsp agar powder, or 2 tbsp gelatin powder

a light pinch of turmeric, for colour (literally just the tiniest smidgen)

a pinch of salt

3 tbsp maple syrup (or agave nectar)

3-4 tbsp plant-based yoghurt (I used soy)

240ml plant milk of choice (I used almond)

 

Directions

First, make the black sesame paste. In a food processor, process the black sesame seeds until fine. This will take quite a while, perhaps at least a couple of minutes (well it took a while for me, at least). Once they look quite fine, add the maple syrup and oil and pulse again until everything is well combined. The paste should be dark and sticky.

In a separate bowl, weigh out all your dry ingredients and mix together well. Add the charcoal powder, then all the wet ingredients. Mix everything together until just combined. The mixture should be moderately thick, dark, and have speckles of the black sesame paste. Heat up your waffle iron according to its instructions and ladle in your glossy, dark batter. Do not put too much or the batter could seep over the sides once you close the lid. Wait for at least 3-4 minutes before opening the lid and checking. Mine does not need flipping over so I only had to close the lid for a couple more minutes again.

While the waffles are cooking, you can combine the ingredients for the lemon curd except for the yoghurt in a small saucepan. Mix everything together well then bring the contents to a boil. Once boiling, take the pan off the heat. This part is important! It may look as though the mixture is still very liquidy, but that’s how it should be. Leave it to cool while you deal with the waffles. After half an hour, take a spoon and mix the curd. It should be a little jelly-like, or at least thick. Add the yoghurt and mix to lighten the colour and smooth the flavour (otherwise its a little too intense).

The waffles and curd will keep for up to a week in your fridge, or you can freeze both and heat up either whenever you want. Serve with each other, with maple syrup and fresh fruit. Bliss, at its true finest.

A Very Fishy Ramble

Before I blabber on nonsensically, I would like to first tell you about the literature blog Ruru and I set up for the benefit of all literature-loving peers: sjiinookofbooks.wordpress.com. Belles-Lettres was a good way to go. A feminine start to our bright passion! So do go and support us.

So now. Gotta shout it from the rooftop, hollering till my lungs fail and collapse and dissolve into the dense air. Declare it loud and proud. Before I proceed, I must warn you that this post might be extremely non-sequitur, since my mind likes to twirl and fall off a direct one-way path.

I have a very, very fishy fetish. Quite literally, too. I mean I can be fishy at times habits and personality wise but this, my friend, is an entirely different matter altogether. Most people cringe at my ghastly penchant for any animal with an attached edible head and most importantly, brain. For who am I kidding, that’s the best part! No incertitude there I promise.

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Little twins. These two guys look very similar, though really they aren’t. One’s from Sushi Tei and the other, Ichiban Boshi. I actually prefer the former, since it bore more crunch and sourness (two things which encourage a great deal of guilty pleasure whenever I do feel like ordering this.) Squeeze on all the lime and liberally apply some crumbled radish or ginger or both. Cast away the knives and forks and all sense of common dining etiquette. Crack your knuckles and exercise your joints a little, just to get ready for the task at hand. Smile and tuck in like how our ancestors did thousands of years ago. We were born to do it like savages.

One bite of fish head warmed and softened by an ooey gooey light grey brain and slighter darker pituitary gland plops angels in the backdrop of this harmonious dream, singing an ecstatic chorus of fishy glee and rounding out my senses, forcing me to even close my eyes just to savour the wondrous saliferous joy of fish head. Fish tail and stomach is good, don’t get me wrong, but the joy of popping those bulging eyes of translucent, wobbly jelly is simply indescribable. You eat around the perimeter of the head before cracking the very middle with your teeth and swallowing the tender chewiness of that brain. Carnal? Yes. But oh so painfully pleasurable.

And why on earth am I suddenly talking about this?

It got me thinking, as I sat down to another round of head gorging last night, as I sucked on crab roe and bit into a chicken head’s brain for the first time in my life. (I am now extremely proud to say that I, Alexandra Lim, am no longer a chicken head virgin.) Heads bring me such inexplicable joy and excitement it’s ridiculous, childish, absurd. Never mind the weird looks my friends give me, or the slight twerk in my heart as a little show of guilt whenever I imagine that animal as an unborn embryo cooped up in its promising shell before the first signs of cracking. But by gum I just love it. Not just me, of course. Many share the same fishy passion as I, though I’m pretty sure the majority don’t. It’s like the whole durian thing again. And may we all just admit that messy eating is the best thing ever.

But how do we really perceive something to be ‘odd’ or ‘strange’ in the first place?

Bring on the TOK (Theory of Knowledge) talks. I was listening to my ex-math teacher Mr S a few days ago, on human perception and ideals in realism, or how we assume things to be the way they are in the real world. Hell, we are humans with two eyes and a nose and mouth. But how on earth can we take that to be normal with our partial comprehension of the ever strange and glorious world which surrounds us, and which we face on a daily basis? All these shapes and silhouettes make up a minuscule fraction of what actually exists, that is, if we take all those scientific conjectures to be full-on true. Incredibly shattering just to think about this one side of a notion. We looked at the story of Helen Keller, who was an extraordinarily gifted woman in spite of being BDD (blind, deaf and dumb). But to her, this never was a disability, since she never could fully or freely experience the other three senses. She was trapped in a mental gate lock which only her helper Annie Sullivan could pull her out of, with unbelievable persistence made doable by the miracle of love. Nothing is strange or odd or a disability if one has never experienced the fullness of life without any shortcoming. We must be pretty miserable creatures since we only possess only 5 out of a possible 1000 senses. Just because we don’t live in darkness and can enjoy stuff like foie gras terrine.

Charles Baudelaire said that ‘strangeness is a necessary ingredient in beauty.’ Looking at it one way, I like fish because ever since I was younger I’d crave the simplistic and pure white flesh of the red snapper or the juicy amber goodness of the common salmon. I saw no joy in much else, except peas perhaps, which my father would pour on the ledge of my high baby chair as a toddling duckling. Pick and mash and mush and happiness galore. Nothing strange about eating fish head, but maybe what gives it an odd edge is the fact that I find it almost to be just like a drug. I have to have it at least twice a week. Ice cream is similar, though not half as much as my love for fish head and gory bits and bobs which people pick out and happily leave on their little places. And I now come to my second honesty claim: I am a dreadful picker.

Can you imagine how annoying it is for me when I’m surrounded by people at a table who don’t lick out the bone marrow of chicken thigh bones or don’t polish up every little strand and nickel of fish hanging limply on their scales? It’s chaotic mental paranoia. I’m almost afraid that by not engaging in this OCD with bony bits, they might actually miss out on a fleeting taste of heaven. So strange but absolutely part of me. This is the sad way my mind works. Only natural to feel my brain cogs turn and clack when I see a pile of abandoned onions or half picked at fish or chicken bones. I become fretful and worried. I think I even started sweating once. No, Baudelaire, this is not a beautiful trait of mine, but I have indeed almost come to embrace it once or twice, as I feel so accomplished when I feel  the fish head snuggling in the pit of my stomach, not gone pitifully to waste. But it’s sad how I only enjoy these leftover, unwanted nicks and nacks. As if by eating them comforts the inanimate things into knowing that no, they are never always abandoned.

So to me, this is normal, and to other people, strange.

To people who wear a lot of makeup regularly, such habit comes  naturally, but i find it the oddest thing in the world to wake up at 5 every morning just to perfectly conceal that one red smidgen of a dot on your upper cheek.

People like white chocolate, but I (and Ruru of course) find it so one-dimensional.

People throw on a purple or green blouse or dress as and when they feel like it, but I just can’t bear to. Unless I actually feel an aggressive chemical connection, of course. Now that’s an exception. All these things I find strange, strange, strange, but the only thing which separates me from you is our perception of the world and all the existing things in it.

And I find the combination of familiarity in all the stored memories of my existence as well as a cold oddness inherently beautiful.

‘There is no excellent beauty that hath some strangeness in the proportion’ – Francis Bacon