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.

Oatmeal Date Pancakes

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Straight up, no fuss.

Post-flight mornings warrant simplicity. Being back in Singapore is still very surreal– everything still feels the same, yet somehow different. Anyways. 13-hour flights typically leave me feeling a little bloated, distended, out of sorts. So all I want to come home to is my morning ritual comprising the papers, iced coffee, and a standard bowl of my favourite banana-based oatmeal. Yet somehow this morning I opted out of this bowl ritual in favour of something more texturally interesting. I craved that same fluffy texture, but it needed a robust edge. Heck, just something with edges. It needed fork and knife action.

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Was intrigued by why I favour oatmeal over other breakfast foods some days, or just when I’m especially hungry in the morning. It’s well known that the stuff keeps you feeling fuller for longer, but it’s only recently that I discovered that it has to do with a particular fluid property: viscosity. It’s the viscosity of oatmeal, that sticky, runny texture it has like glycocalyx on epithelial cells, that provides the feeling of satiety. Specifically, it’s the degree of initial viscosity in the mouth and subsequent viscosity in the GI tract that influences the release of appetite hormones. A high initial and subsequent viscosity, apparently best provided with instant oatmeal, will prolong fullness. My current favourite oatmeal is this one. It’s incredibly voluminous, nutritious and chock full of texture.

It’s all almost a bit silly. A good silly. Why would you straight up fry a perfectly good bowl of oatmeal? Oh, the wonders of a little pan action. The frying provides a crisp outside, while the inside remains fluffy and a little chewy, depending on how you cook the oats in the first place. The torn up bits of dates provide a good deal of goo and sweetness in each little pancake. These oatmeal pancakes are the halfway mark for proper versions of either oatmeal or pancakes, and I’m ok with that sometimes.

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Oatmeal Date pancakes (serves 1; makes 4-5 mini pancakes)

Directions

Make one serving of your favourite porridge or old-fashioned oatmeal: In a bowl, mash up half a banana, then add 45-50g (around a half cup) of porridge or old-fashioned oats, half a cup of milk of choice (I adore almond), and half a cup of water. Alternatively, you could use either just milk or water for the liquid bit. Preheat a pan on medium heat and ready some butter. Cook the mixture over the stove or in a microwave until you get the consistency you like. I like to microwave mine for 2 minutes, let stand for 30 seconds, then microwave again for another minute to achieve the perfect, just-under-thick consistency. Take out your oatmeal and stir in a pinch of cinnamon, salt, and brown sugar.

Once cooked, add a knob of butter to the hot pan and let sizzle. The butter should not brown or burn, indicating the right temperature. Ladle spoonfuls of oatmeal onto the pan and use the back of the spoon to flatten into a circle if it’s on the thicker side (as I like mine). Add the bits of date (optional) to the surface of the batter. Let cook for 2 minutes, then slide a spatula underneath to see if it’s done. Flip and let the second side cook for 1 1/2 minutes. Remove using the spatula and let cool on a paper towel while you cook the rest.

Serve as a stack, topped with peanut butter, more date bits, and maple syrup. I added some homemade raspberry chia jam for some tangy oomph.

 

Beetroot Raspberry Porridge

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There was a sort of comfortable weirdness when I woke up and powered through a few weekdays, one of which I had to endure after 3 or so hours of sleep. It’s nice to trick oneself into thinking one is being productive burning the midnight oil, disastrously accompanied by bad snacks and waking up much earlier than everyone else, but the truth is that there’s always some form of give and take. So although I relish the time when no one else in halls is awake, it just doesn’t permit copious reckless nights. Yeah, you can’t have everything. Funny though, the routine has instilled within me a sense of adventure, a branching out of my little cocoon. The familiarity of routine does the same too, and has been proven to inherently generate creativity let alone being almost enlightening on certain occasions, but its disruption has so far proven to be worth it.

Late nights aside, sometimes random events re-instill that keen sense of belonging in the world. Almost self-regenerating. There are pockets of insight, creativity and adventure in every new street I wander, every friend I have over (hi Ruru!), every new café I visit, every baking adventure, every book I open. Do check the link out– Eagleman is an expert in his field and in the art of writing.

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The gorgeous Ruru, who may here be observed drinking green juice like the true Cali girl she is

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Just a little update on my french toast series– the french toast scene has been seriously overwhelming!! It’s what I’ve been getting up to when I’m not trying to memorise various facts on the Biology of Integrated Systems. I won’t reveal specific details or my personal opinion on the dishes for the sake of a comprehensive bird’s-eye view of everything in the future. So that’s that.

Going back to what I was referring to in the first paragraph on sleep cycles, there’s nary a fixed opinion on whether it’s best to be up much earlier or much later. I’m always up incredibly early, and one of my fallback breakfasts before the full light of day chucks me into the reality of (thankfully enjoyable) lectures, tutorials and lots of cold, is porridge. Usually toast, sometimes porridge, but when I do make the latter, it’s the most warm and delicious satisfying bowl of goodness. London always seems to be awake, but somehow there’s a sacred, solid peace just before the sun rises, usually between 7 and 7 30am.

This is when I hit the stove or microwave with my new favourite porridge oats, which I know sounds like child’s play but there’s simultaneously such satisfaction in a simple bowl of ready-made porridge, and what with having to travel with Charing Cross now and then, there’s less time to hover over the stove with totally unprocessed oats on the hob. This recipe is a simple twist on my favourite oatmeal recipe since forever, which utilises mashed banana and a simple method for optimum flavour and texture. Click on that link if you wish to try a classic oatmeal recipe that won’t fail your morning tastebuds.

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Beetroot raspberry porridge (serves 1)

If using a microwave:

Mash half a banana with a fork in a microwave-safe bowl, then add a half cup (40-50g) of porridge oats or rolled oats, half a cup (120ml) of milk of choice (I used almond here), and half a cup of water. Add a teaspoon of beetroot powder, or if you don’t have that on hand, a tablespoon of beet juice works just as well. Add a handful of fresh raspberries, then briefly stir everything together so the beet powder dissolves into the liquid. Microwave on high for 3-4 minutes; check after 3 minutes and stir a while, if it doesn’t thicken up as much then chuck it back into the microwave and heat for another 30 seconds, or until you get your desired consistency.

If you prefer the hob:

Do the same as above, except have all ingredients in the saucepan. Bring everything to a boil on high heat first, then when the bubbling gets rather vigorous, bring the heat down to medium and continue stirring until you reach your desired consistency.

Serve with chocolate, more berries and maple syrup. The pairing of chocolate with berries and beetroot is marvellous, I tell you.

Make This Oatmeal Now (updated recipe with a twist)

I thought I had it all figured out, given the number of times I’ve made oatmeal in my life. Overnight, hot, cold, lukewarm (ew), apple-pied, black sesame-ed, peanut buttered, I’ve done it all. I even wrote a post about it here exactly a year ago, yet I only just discovered what I think is the perfect method for making the thickest, creamiest oatmeal ever. Trial and error does pay off sometimes. It’s more reliable, oats coming out perfect every time. Mind you, this method is preferable is you like the super thick and gloopy sort, but even if you don’t, you just have to take your oats out of the microwave a little earlier.

Catch– it involves the microwave. I can hear the disappointed sighs. They’re boring into the screen already, reaching me, slaps in the making.

I get it, I do. I used to think the only way to achieve the perfect, creamy consistency for oats is to do it the proper and old-fashioned stovetop way. The whole process just makes more sense, it wants you to feel like you’re doing it the better way, doesn’t it?

Funnily enough, this microwave method not only yielded the most desirable consistency, it also seemed to enhanced the flavour of mashed banana, the one ingredient I always put in before cooking my oats for added sweetness and creaminess.

No wait. Just do.

Directions 

The night before, mix together a half cup of rolled oats, half cup of water, half a mashed banana, and a half cup of milk of choice (I always use a mix of whole and almond) in a relatively large, microwave-safe bowl (because this mixture will se. Leave this in the fridge overnight.

The next morning, put your bowl in the microwave and microwave on high for 2 minutes. Take a spoon and mix, then put in the microwave for another minute. At this point, your oatmeal should be noticeably more voluminous and thickened, depending on the power setting of your microwave. Microwave in 30-second increments until you have oatmeal that seems to have more than doubled in volume. Just check your oatmeal every 30 seconds, mixing well between each spurt of heating. Err on the side of caution here.

And you’re done! At this point, you can add whatever you want. My standard toppings are more banana, a heaping tablespoon of almond butter (cashew/peanut/almond), blueberries for a nice tang to cut through the sweet goop, and plenty of honey or maple syrup. Once the oatmeal is a little cooler, I also add a dash of cold, whole milk.

BUT. In this case, I highly recommend trying out this kaya and coconut twist. It’s the sort of combination I’ll be coming back to again and again, for the flavours are close to my heart and it’s a nice break from your typical snack of kaya and butter toast!

The Twist

You should now have a thick, creamy, voluminous mass in your hands. Take the other half or a whole banana and slice it down the middle. Butter a hot pan and fry the banana on both sides. Place the caramelised banana on top of the oats, then add a heaping tablespoon each of almond butter and kaya (I love Breadtalk or Yakun, and my grandma makes a mean one too), a generous drizzle of maple syrup, coconut flakes and a dash of whole milk. Mix everything together, admire the glorious mess, then tuck in happily.

Thick and Creamy Oatmeal

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Ok first off, I know the picture above does not match my ‘thick and creamy’ description well, but I swear it’s the case underneath that thin blanket of granola. Looks, my friend, are all too deceiving.

When I was younger, my mum would make oatmeal at least twice a week. She chopped up some bananas and plopped them on top, and the whole bowl was lovingly drizzled with honey. I love my mother very much, but sometimes the mush , what I typically called it, just wasn’t endearing enough. I tolerated the placid, pale blobs, stuck in this one-dimensional oatmeal paradigm of mush and banana and milk. That was all to it, right? There was one point in my life when I just stopped making the stuff altogether. But over the years I’ve learnt a myriad tips and tricks on how to get the best out of your oatmeal. I remember first starting out, all gleeful with my little bowl of instant mix and water. Goodness, have I grown. Oh, the oat experiments I undertook. From the overnight health indulgences to lavish peanut butter and jelly variations, topped with banana, granola and more honey. You know, just for the heck of it. Now, I make it practically every morning, if those french toast and egg cravings are slightly subdued.

Mango and chia, topped with peanut butter, smothered in granola and lightly doused in whole milk
Mango and chia, topped with peanut butter, smothered in granola and lightly doused in whole milk
Almond butter and grapes
Almond butter and grapes (snack portion)

Nourishing, almost spiritually fulfilling. So easily, ridiculously adaptable. You can do anything with these bowls of utter heaven. I bathe my mornings in sacred rituals of sorts, with English Breakfast tea and hardy toast, sourdough if possible, but sometimes, all I need is a big bowl of Thick and Creamy for happiness to ensue. Equipped with the right ingredients and just 10 minutes hovering over the stove, I doubt any of you will look back. Honest to God. The texture this recipe yields is divine, almost pudding-like, so the reduced liquid is thicker than what you would get if you just plopped the bowl into the microwave for a few minutes (and no, the microwave never yields quite the same desirable consistency). I can’t love the stuff enough.

peanut butter, blueberries and maple syrup
peanut butter, blueberries, maple syrup and whole milk

Thick and Creamy Oatmeal (serves 1)

Ingredients

1/3 heaping cup (around 40g) of rolled oats– I use Bob’s Red Mill Rolled Oats

one cup (240ml) almond milk/ any milk of your choice, or just half that amount, with half a cup of water. Have some extra milk on hand.

half a mashed banana (preferably ripe; this is the key ingredient! It acts as a natural sweetener and adds to the whole wholesome effect of divinity in a bowl)

*optional: one egg white and/or a heaped teaspoon of chia seeds

Desirable toppings: Peanut butter, almond butter, cold whole milk or heavy cream, the rest of that poor banana, chopped apple/ blueberries/ whatever fruit you like, really.

Sweeteners: Maple syrup, thick honey (I typically use either manuka or this lovely truffle one from our trip to Rome last year), agave syrup (though I find that its flavour doesn’t quite live up to the other two), crumbly brown sugar

Grab a small saucepan and dump in your rolled oats, milk and water mixture, and mashed banana. Turn the heat to medium-high and let it come to a rolling boil. This takes a few minutes on my stove, so during this time, I go make a cup of tea and ready the papers or something. Prepare your toppings. Cool, relaxed, oat-minded. Once it has come to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer. Take a wooden spoon or just your normal metal spoon and start stirring. Stir it every once in a while, and you will see the mixture thicken as it continues to bubble and boil.

As it thickens, the bubbles will become fatter and look as if they are trying to force their way through the surface, as the oats lose their rigidity and try to absorb all the available liquid. At this point, you may wish to add an egg white and chia seeds, but do so quickly! They both add wonderful thickness to the oats, in such a short amount of time. Talk about some protein package, too. Once it looks as if all the liquid has absorbed, add more milk and continue to stir. If they already look creamy enough, remove the saucepan from the heat and pour into your bowl to initiate the cooling process. They should eventually look pale and thick, the oats broken down significantly, yet retain a slight chew if you take a small nibble. When you pour the mixture into your bowl, they will continue to cook and thicken a little more. After waiting around 5 minutes, feel free to add more milk. I like to add whole milk; I find it so much more luxurious and delicious compared to soy or any other alternative. Once it’s fully cooled (if you can wait that long), add a dash of cold cream or whole milk, and top with your desired toppings and sweeteners.

My favourite ritual involves stirring in a tablespoon or so of lush, natural peanut butter or almond butter right after the cooking, since it adds the most decadent creaminess and depth of flavour to your already creamy bowl of oats. I highly, highly recommend this step. Please, I implore you. Then add the aforementioned dash of cold milk. Go on. Do it. I then stir in a tablespoon of honey, and add a handful of fresh blueberries and raspberries, if I have any of those in the fridge.

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Truly the queen of Thick and Creamy. Truly makes my mornings.