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.

Red (Adzuki) Bean Hand Pies

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So I brought these little hand pies to my mum and two friends for a taste test, and we were all floored. One of my friends, who doesn’t have the biggest sweet tooth, started off with an ‘omg, these are incredible’, before pausing and commencing to talk specifically about the balance in texture and flavour of his delicate, puffed-up pie. ‘I like how it’s mildly sweet and soft in the middle, and crazy crisp everywhere else. Not too sweet either. Whoa.’ I couldn’t agree more. As my mum and I shared one, a tingling warmth rippled through my being. There is nothing like sharing a delicious treat with those you love.

London’s cold spell was brief and impactful. Harsh winds and cancelled train rides aside, the most beguiling thing was to watch my gloved hand traverse the page in my diary, just this time last week. Not once did I ever have to write in my diary with a shivering hand.

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And so comfort had to be in tow. No question about it. Tinker tinker, tinker tinker. A brief encounter with the adzuki bean reminded me how powerful it can be in conjuring up such profound memories and nostalgia. Native to the Himalayas and Southeast Asia, it is especially common in Japan, where it is used in a variety of different desserts. Red bean mochi and red beans scattered in my ice kachang were some of my favourite desserts as a child, ones I appreciate now more than ever in London, where Asian desserts are still rather uncommon. If one is so lucky to find them, they still tend to bear ridiculous prices. Another reason to make these yourself at home!

The best thing about these hand pies, cute filling aside, is the delicious, outrageously crisp crust. Complementing it is the just-right sweetness of red bean paste, smooth and sticky. You could customise the filling by adding things like soft dates (deglet/medjool) and nuts for some interesting dimension and a different mouthfeel.

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Red Bean Hand Pies (makes 10-12 little hand pies)

Ingredients 

For the red bean paste:

200g (1 cup) adzuki beans

240ml (1 cup) water

pinch of salt

200g (1 cup) granulated sugar

 

For the puff pastry:

280g (about 2 and 1/4 cups) plain flour, and have a little bowl with some extra flour set aside for sprinkling later on (sub: half white and half whole-wheat, or use a gluten-free flour such as coconut or rice)

120ml (1/2 cup) vegan butter (sub: coconut oil)

120ml (1/2 cup) cold water

pinch of salt

1 tbsp sugar

 

Directions

The night before you make the pies, soak the adzuki beans in the water. In the morning, drain the beans, place them into a saucepan. Add fresh water to the saucepan until there is about an inch of water covering the beans. Turn on the heat and let the beans come to a boil. Once at a boil, reduce to a simmer and cook the beans for about 45 minutes. During this time, start making the pastry. You could use a food processor but I prefer using my hands in a bowl to get a good feel of the dough. In a bowl, mix together the flour, sugar and salt. Add the butter/coconut oil and squeeze it into the flour until you get floury clumps. You don’t have to make sure everything comes into clumps, you should just have a relatively dry and crumbly mixture. Add a quarter cup of water to start, then add the rest slowly until the dough just comes together in a large clump. The mixture will be quite dry. Add more or less water until you get to this point. Put the dough in a bowl and place this in the fridge.

After 45 minutes of cooking the beans (give them a stir every once in a while), add half of the sugar and salt. Continue cooking for 15 minutes. Squeeze one of the beans– if it breaks easily then you’re on the right track. If not, never mind, just continue cooking until most of the beans are easily smushed (I LOVE that word). Continue cooking until most water is evaporated. Add the rest of the sugar and cook for another 5 minutes before taking the pan off the heat. Use a fork to smush the beans more into a paste. Leave the beans to cool in the fridge; this is also when the paste (termed anko in Japanese) will thicken.

Preheat your oven to 190C. Lightly flour a work surface and, using a rolling pin, roll out your dough until about half a centimetre thick. Using the edges of a glass cup, cutters or a measuring cup, cut 5-inch circles in the dough, starting from the edges to save space. Take your bean paste from the fridge and place a heaped teaspoon of the paste in the centre of one circle. Wet your finger to draw a thin layer of water along the borders of the circle surrounding the paste, then place another circle of dough on top. Pinch the pie along its sides to seal the pie. Using a fork, make little fork marks (or claw marks, as I like to call them) around the edges, then flip the pie and do the same on the other side. Repeat until dough is finished. And now for the important part!! Brush the tops of the pies with water– this will make the tops super crisp once out of the oven. Then sprinkle some sugar on the tops, and place the pies in the preheated oven. Bake them for at least half an hour. Check on them at 25 minutes– if they are already golden-brown take them out, but mine took 30 or so minutes.

 

Gin-roasted stuffed pears with yoghurt

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I call it a grand break. A super grand one. I don’t want to sound hubristic, but damn this was one irresistible breakfast.

I like sticking with familiarity on most days– oats, toast, my beloved french toast. The classic stuff. But sometimes change awakens and broadens your horizons, and what oftentimes seems like an alarming shock to the system turns out to be inspiriting.

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So you buy a pear. That’s the first step. The first step in this magical process.

Take a knife, cut it in half. Then take a melon baller and core it, or be like Alex and not actually have one of those, and use a knife instead to cut out little half=spheres from each half. Chop up some almonds and dark chocolate (because chocolate and pears! Unfortunately the picture above was before the chocolate stuffing bit), then stuff the middles with the mix.

Then you roast it with gin, cinnamon and honey. After some research, I found that roasting something for 15 minutes retains the most (around 40% of whatever you’re using) alcohol, so I tested it, and it turned out sublime.

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Then you eat this lump of caramelised, tender deliciousness with thick Greek yoghurt, drizzled with whatever you want. That day in particular necessitated honey, a little almond butter and this divine mango chutney that a friend recently purchased for me (hi Claire!!).

The warm, firm yet soft pear complements the creaminess and sourness of the yoghurt just perfectly. Nuts provide crunch, the cocoa and cinnamon add a sultry dimension, one of apt luxury.

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Gin-roasted stuffed pears with yoghurt (serves 1, but can be scaled up or down)

Ingredients

1 firm pear (Bartlett/ Concorde)

4 tbsp unflavoured or flavoured gin (I used gooseberry which is sweeter, so you might need less with something unflavoured/stronger)

small handful (around 1 oz or 28g in total) of chopped almonds and dark chocolate

1 tsp ground cinnamon

1 tbsp honey

80-100g yoghurt (of course this bit is completely up to you, but this ratio works well)

topping options: honey, maple syrup, berries, more nuts

 

Directions

Preheat your oven to 180C (350F). Cut and core your pear (or, as I said earlier, be like me and forgo the melon baller, instead using the same knife to just cut half-spheres in each pear half).

Add one tablespoon of gin to each ‘hole’, and leave for around 30 seconds to let the pear soak it up. Then add your mix of chopped almonds and chocolate to each half. After filling, add one tablespoon of gin to each half again, drizzling all over the pear. Sprinkle on the cinnamon and drizzle the pear with honey.

Place in the preheated oven and roast for 15 minutes, no more and no less. If your pears don’t lie flat, use a knife to cut a little bit off the backs of the pear halves so that they do.

Remove from oven and serve with yoghurt, together with whatever toppings you want!