Bananas

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Bananas present an interesting problem to those in the UK who try to eat both seasonally and locally. Unless you have a super heated and large greenhouse it is highly improbable that you will be able to grow your own bananas, even if you do manage it they are unlikely to fruit. Furthermore, as far as I can establish there appears to be no one trying to do so in this country on a commercial basis.

As for seasonal, well once you’ve accepted the fact that bananas have to be imported then they are pretty much available all the year round… So what are you to do ? Well you either ban the carbon traitor from your diet or you accept that fact that you are unlikely ever to achieve carbon neutral nirvana and salve your conscience a bit by buying fair trade. The other thing you can do, having accepted that you’d rather not live without bananas in your life (which my friend Wingnut is more than happy to do, considering them as “the evil yellow devil herb”) is to make sure that you don’t compound the carbon sin by letting them go to waste.

If I haven’t got the time to incorporate banana into muffins, cake or breakfast pancakes prior to freezing then I have been happily skinning them, quartering them and sticking in a plastic bag for several years now. What I had not tried until recently was to follow the Economy Gastronomy trick of freezing them whole, skin and all. For those that try it please note, if you are in a hurry the skin is difficult to get off, and if you leave them to defrost you end up with a nasty black slime all over your work surface….they also take up more room then their quartered brothers.

We are ODing on bananas at the moment as in addition to buying a large bag of bananas at the weekend I decided to start clearing out the freezer prior to Christmas and the first thing I was confronted with was a number of EG style frozen bananas. So I have been working my way through recipe books. I didn’t try on this occasion, but I have in the past tried Nigella’s healthy banana muffins. (the original recipe doesn’t have the chocolate)  My recommendation is “don’t”; they sacrifice taste in the pursuit of healthiness, would rather eat less and enjoy some flavour (interestingly her Banana and Butterscotch muffins are nice).

Alternatively a healthy muffin that is surprisingly nice are the Banana Bran Muffins from “Economy Gastronomy” – yes there is a reasonable amount of sugar in them, but they do make over 24 reasonably sized muffins and the mixture keeps in the fridge so you can make them in advance and cook them when ready and freeze your leftovers. Disadvantages are they are more complicated than usual muffins and take longer to cook. Recommendation from Spider is that they are nicer warm.

Nigella’s Banana Bread is nice, thought Tessa Kiros’ banana bread from “Apples for Jam” would be nicer due to use of brown sugar but there was no marginal difference. Susan Austin’s Banana Pancakes are what breakfasts were invented for, and they freeze. I’ve also tried the Banana and Oats Smoothie from Leon:Allegra Mcevedy which…I am hoping to tempt Spider with at the weekend.

Finally this is more a serving suggestion than an actual recipe and has been known in my family for at least 35 years as “Banana’s Valentine”. Take a skinned banana. Sprinkle with dark brown sugar. Pour over a reasonable amount of evaporated milk, leave to stand for a few minutes. Eat with enthusiasm.

I’ve never been to Durham

I have been pretty low recently, so low that a number of friends expressed stated that they had been worried about me. Things have been getting me down, but it is thanks to these friends (and family) that I am not sinking. I owe a lot to my friends and weirdly it’s been my “new” friends who have been there for me when I’ve needed them.

The weekend was full of lovely hi points. It was Teenager’s birthday and we had made a cake. I say “we” as Spider was helping with the icing, primarily by eating the cola bottles bought for decorationjuly 2009 002. The cake was Nigella’s Coca Cola Cake (How to be  Domestic Goddess) – which was very very nice and incredibly easy to make…it is however quite a flat low cake, and it stuck to the foil which lines the tin to stop the mixture seeping out and all over the oven…so I iced it on a plate and used the icing to hide the fact that the cake was in several pieces!

We were visited by the Fairy Gothmother, who is always happy to talk cake and has now a page on Facebook called “Cake District” she was bearing lovely gifts, late birthday presents for me and presents for her goth son…she also waved her fairy gothmother’s wand in the direction of Amazon, sprinkled fairy dust and lo and behold they delivered a copy of Economy Gastronomy to our address…or at least they will do as soon as it gets released!

On Sunday we invaded Flapjack Queen’s house to ask them to come for a walk and ended up spending most of the day there – when we did finally get out we discovered a hedge of “wild” plums in the allotments out back and introduced the children to the delights of pick your own fruit grinning conspiratorially at each other as the sticky juices ran down our chins and on our fingers.

Back at FQ’s palace we made plum crumble (plum and pecan (HtbaDG), a big one for the family and a small one for a lady up the road who no doubt picked the plums in the 1930’s when she was a teenager…I love the continuation of  history you get in a village. FQ made a banana and blueberry muffin cake and sent me away with half of it in return for my plum crumble.

So thank you friends, and in particular Fairy Gothmother, Flapjack Queen and Wingnut (who introduced me to geocaching which gets me out of the house) – all of whom it turns out are graduates of Durham university…

New Zealand and Niggles

My boss is off on holiday tomorrow to New Zealand for a month and leaving me in charge. He has spent the last 2 weeks worrying me about his job and worrying himself about leaving me in charge and as a result we have been niggling away at each other and mildly getting on each other’s nerves.

Part of this is jealousy on my part as I haven’t been away since last May (all of 2 days as we came home the afternoon of the second day when I discovered we had gone over the overdraft !), and especially so since New Zealand is where I spent my honeymoon – 9 happy days going round NZ in a camper van. Oddly enough it was also the first place that Husband and I shopped together for food because despite having been together for over 3 years at that stage, we had never really shopped together having kept 2 separate homes in 2 separate towns some 30 miles distance.

Due to the storage facilities in the van our meals had to be relatively simple and its something that we are coming back to whilst we are paying back the debt. So far this week we have had stew with dumplings (twice), jacket potato with left over bolognaise and sausage, mash and brussel sprouts – tomorrow is bubble and squeak…and no recipe books were harmed or even used in the making of the meals !

I am dreaming however of some memorable meals from our honeymoon

  • a byo place in Auckland called Mama’s where I had venison and Husband had lamb shank and where we liked the look of each others dinner so much that we went back the next night and reversed the order
  • Tea and cheese and bread in a layby just outside of Christchurch – it was a great view
  • wine and a simple snack lunch at the Babich winery outside of Auckland whilst playing boule
  • a very strange steak and pepper sauce in Queensland and a conversation that went like this “is there actually any pepper in this sauce”  “no sir, its pumpkin, its the chef’s speciality…”

We’ve never really celebrated valentine’s day but I think I may, if I have any Amazon sales this month try and save enough money for 2 lamb shanks and a bottle of Babich and try and recreate the memories – failing that I can always do bread and cheese and buy a packet of Dilmah tea bags which they now sell in Sainsbury’s.  I think we need something to put smiles back on our faces.

I know nothing about the cuisine of NZ except that it appears to be the home of the muffin and somehow, much as I love muffins I feel that a 3rd posting about them would be overkill…

Are Muffins the ultimate budget cake ?

You may have spotted that my posts so far this year have been alphabetical. I needed to keep posting but I knew that it was unlikely that I would be cooking anything worth talking about for awhile due to lack of time and lack of money…so thought I’d challenge myself.

As it is the black dog has taken up residence in the house and I have run out of plain flour…hence 2 posts in a row about muffins. The great thing about muffins is you can use almost any flour, any type of fat (although you might not get quite so nice a flavour with lard), and put anything in it. You can also tart them up into something a bit special with icing.

They are the ultimate baked goody for the credit crunch, and you can freeze them ! I am surprised that I have managed to restrict myself to only 2 books dedicated to these lovely little morsels of heaven (mind you there are enough recipes elsewhere anyway) . These are Perfectly Simple Muffins: Steven Stellingwerf and Muffins Fast and Fantastic: Susan Reimer. Of the 2 I would say that Muffins Fast and Fantastic is the most useful as it has a great section at the beginning giving advice as to how to tweak the given recipes to work best for alternative types of flour or fat. Also there is a great section about freezing and the best methods for defrosting.

Savoury muffins are a revelation. I had never considered these until I came across the Welsh Rarebit Muffins in Nigella’s Nigella Bites but since then they have become a regular addition to my freezer stash for emergency packed lunches. I tend to make some standard size muffins and some fairy cake size especially for Spider as I’m not sure he could manage a full size one as yet

Unfortunately I am finding it hard at the moment to have sufficient PMA (what management books call “positive mental attitude”) to drag myself into the kitchen to try and bake myself happy…but when I do I shall be making some cheese and herb muffins for next weeks lunches.

Home Baked thought for the week. Management would get more out of their staff if they actually talked to them and then listened to what they said in return… unfortunately some seem to think that stressing you out is the best way to make you perform !

Roll on pay day, its always easier to feel positive when the bank account is not so empty…

Even a Tart has a lemon in her fridge…

as Nigel Slater memorably said in one of his books (think it was Real Food) and then went on to explain that amongst other things it was indispensable for G&T’s. For me admittedly the lemon in a G&T makes the drink simply “summer in a glass”, the very sight of it just cheers me up , although bizarrely our family always drinks its gin with limes…today I could do with one as I desperately need cheering up, but I have to wait until Saturday (I’m on a once a week alcohol regime)…

I knew the economy was going wrong when the price of lemons went up – for as long as I can remember they have been about 18-20p as have limes – when they went up to 30p it was obvious something was wrong – and I object even to  paying the lower price as Dad used to grow them…but that was a long time ago “and in another country…”

When we returned to the UK, lemons most usually appeared in our kitchen in the form of Jiffy lemon – confusingly the same name as the lemon scented  sink cleaner (now CIF)…but towards the end of the 80’s they became more common in shops and I think I would find it hard to cook without them. They are one of the ingredients that I let myself off the “buy local, buy seasonal” hook for.

Tonight I need cheering up, if the finances ever recover then I’m taking the family off to Italy, to Sorrento where the lemons grow (and near Versuvius as they all have volcano obsessions) but only if we have enough airmiles…I’m not holding my breath though as just when you think you are drawing ahead of the game someone knocks you back down again…

In the meantime I appear to have lemon grass, a lemon, lemon squash, lemon essence and lemon oil in the cupboard and a recipe for cake involving SR flour (as that is all I have left in the cupboard apart from wholewheat bread flour) in mind….

If you google “nigel slater” and lemon you get a wonderful recipe for lemon polenta cake. I recommend the article itself purely as a spirit cheering exercise, it really makes you smile and feel better – but I have no limoncello and no polenta so it’s lemon muffins for me (recipe to follow when I have time to type it in).