This is an unusual one for me. I am all about sugar. I mean, I eat a lot of vegetables too, but when it comes to cake, I am a purist – it’s got to be full of butter and sugar. That’s what cake is about, right?
A few weeks ago one of my colleagues went on a sugar free diet, and a couple of the others were just generally trying to ‘eat better’…I think we’re always striving for this in my office, but there’s a pretty consistent balance between the amount of cake and the amount of fruit consumed – recently there has been a pretty steady stream of Creme Eggs being consumed. But, I digress! To my colleague, sugar free meant no cake, so I decided to look into making sugar free cake (because an office without sugar is no fun).
And behold! I found a recipe that I like. This is pretty straightforward, and I’ve played around with it a bit – most recently I have added chocolate to it, because that still counts as low sugar, right? But what I’ve found is that in banana cake you don’t really need sugar. Granted, it makes it look a bit more appetising (for whatever reason this cake has come out a slightly grey shade of brown every time I’ve made it), but it tastes just as good because bananas are super sugary, especially if you leave them until they’re really brown. I’m not going to start advocating a sugar-free lifestyle, but, this banana bread is pretty good if you want to try it.
One of my goals for 2017 is to find more sustainable alternatives to the least sustainable things that I use on a regular basis. This generally means things that create waste where it could be avoided. I already buy most of my fruit and vegetables from the market, avoiding plastic there. In the absence of a place where I can bulk buy dried foods in Cambridge (most of what goes in our landfill bin is plastic wrap), I started to think about other ways to reduce waste around our house, and when I’m out and about.
Over the last 6 months or so, I have made four notable purchases which I feel have not only lessened my impact on the earth, but are either more cost-effective or practical (or both) than the previous alternatives.
KeepCups, or reusable coffee cups are becoming much more common – most coffee chains offer reusable cups, and some give discounted prices for using a reusable one instead of a paper cup. For the longest time I didn’t realise that paper coffee cups weren’t recyclable, and I would always throw them in the recycling bin. After watching Hugh’s War on Waste and being told that in fact they weren’t recyclable, I decided to get a KeepCup to avoid creating unnecessary waste. I don’t buy coffee to take away that frequently, but my colleagues regularly buy coffee from the shop next to our office and when I got one it seemed ridiculous to be getting coffee in a paper cup when the shop was about 15ft from our office.
KeepCups start from about £7.00 (the regular size starts from £10.00), and you can design your own, allowing you to choose from a wide range of colours to mix and match the different elements of your cup. They’re also currently doing a Star Wars series of themed cups, y’know, if you’re into that.
- Chillys Bottle
This has been my favourite and most useful purchase by far. I take it with me everywhere. It keeps cold water cold for 24 hours, and hot liquid warm for 12 hours. Great on a hot day when you want some cold water, or keeping your coffee hot for later. They’re not cheap, but the amount I’ve used it over the last few months, it’s definitely paid for itself. Mine cost £30 – I would guess the average person would manage to buy 30+ bottles of water in a year, so it is saving me money. I bought one for my boyfriend as well with his initials on it (because, custom).
Falafel is a labour of love. It always takes longer to make than I anticipate, but is wholly worth it once it is done. This recipe is adapted from the Guardian’s ‘how to make the perfect…’ series, and whilst I’m not entirely sure it’s perfect, it’s pretty damn good. This recipe uses a mix of chick peas and fava beans, but if you’re struggling to find fava beans (or dried broad beans, to go by their other name), I don’t see why you can’t just use all chick peas. I can’t say I understand enough about the intricacies of falafel making to understand why one is preferable over the other.
I spent much time searching around various shops to find fava beans, to no avail, so (as previously recommended) I went to Hodmedod’s and found them there. Hurrah!
Unfortunately a mishap occurred with this batch – possibly not blended for long enough, or the beans weren’t dry enough, but they were a nightmare to shape into balls, and after they immediately fell apart in the pan once I started frying them, I gave up, smushed them all down and made a different sort of falafel, one that looks like a giant bowl of brown sugar. This was achieved by pouring all of the mixture with a few tablespoons of sunflower oil and baking at 200C for about 20-25 mins (turning the mixture occasionally). It’s better in this form if you want to make wraps, because unlike when they’re round, it doesn’t all collapse so easily. So, accidental discovery, would recommend. But you can also follow the correct traditional method below.
One final recipe note: I have to split the ingredients in half and make in two batches because my blender doesn’t fit all of it in at once – at least not for it to effectively blend. If you too have a not-huge-blender, you may want to consider this.
This has become one of my staple lunch options. It’s straightforward and fairly quick to make, and you can switch the different items based on what you’ve got around. This recipe is based on Anna Jones’ ‘At Your Desk Salads’ (from A Modern Way to Cook) – which is an excellent chart of ingredients in six different categories that you can mix and match to create a salad. So the base of this is quinoa, with pepper, spring greens, cornichons, pumpkin seeds and a pesto dressing. I won’t list all of the various options here, but another variation I’ve done recently is brown rice with carrot, lettuce, sesame seeds, capers and a soy sauce/maple syrup dressing.
A Modern Way to Cook has rapidly become one of my favourite cookbooks. In the past I have bought recipe books and cooked one or two things out of them, and then they just sit on the shelf, very occasionally used. So for a while I have refused myself cookbook purchases because it’s not worth paying about £25 for a couple of recipes. This time though, I found the book in the library, and I took it for a test run before investing. For the longest time I didn’t even realise my library had cookbooks, and now I know I think I will always borrow before buying. We cooked out of A Modern Way to Cook pretty much solidly for a week, and I realised that it was going to be a worthwhile investment, because there’s so many new, different (and quick!) recipes to try. Not eating meat has meant I’ve had to invest a fair amount of time into looking at what else I can eat that is good for me, balanced and healthy, and this book is possibly one of the best I’ve come across (also Ottolenghi’s Plenty, which will be discussed at a later date).
For the last few years I have made January a full-vegetarian month. This year is no different, and it’s usually about this time that I write something about it. Last year I wrote about how much I hate labelling myself as something based on the food that I choose to eat. And now I feel that enough time has been dedicated to wondering if I’m making good food choices (although, realistically, I will continue to think about it frequently) – I’m going to widen my view a little.
Not eating meat is one of the most straightforward ways of cutting your carbon footprint. But what about the other stuff? Waste is a huge problem, but much more challenging to tackle because it’s pervasive – most things are packaged in non-recyclable plastic, things are single-use, disposable, made for ultimate convenience. Whilst I think we’re pretty good at recycling and reducing waste in our house, I know there are ways we can do better. So this is what I’m going to be looking at this year. By no means am I going to end up with a ‘zero waste’ lifestyle – I know others advocate this, but for me, in the same way that I don’t think I’m capable of being vegan, I don’t think I’m capable of living zero waste. So instead, I am going to start where I am and look for the changes that can be made. Finding sustainable alternatives to the least sustainable products that I use, finding better companies to purchase from who align more happily with my values. I’m hoping that small steps like this will make for more lasting change. I’ll still be writing about baking, but I’ll be writing about this too.
The last month has been crazy, full on crazy. I went to Stockholm a couple of weeks ago, and it was glorious. I never get tired of visiting Scandinavia, it’s like this paradise where everything is just lovely and full of coffee and pastries, and they have museum exhibitions about brewing beer (yes!). It also looks like this:
On returning, we had friends staying for the Bank Holiday weekend, and then had a huge pizza party which was great, albeit very messy, because when you make 3kg of dough, and get your approx. 20 guests to all make their own pizzas, it gets…ugh. My kitchen. It was the biggest clear up job ever, and mad props to Laura and Hayden who did loads of it whilst I was still at the pub. We had some cool pizzas though – including macaroni cheese pizza, potato pizza, and banana and harissa pizza (which surprisingly worked).
Anyway, now that I’m finally less insanely busy, it’s time to write about those banana and toffee cupcakes I mentioned a while ago. I love banana cake, and I’m always looking for variations to increase its general awesomeness. This is a tale of first world problems, whereby the little Waitrose near my house stopped selling the banana and toffee cupcakes I had grown to love. They still sell them at the one 4 miles from my house, but that is no use to me. So I decided to try and make some myself. I’ve made these a couple of times, and I will say it’s still a work in progress. I think I’m basically hoping that one day they’ll taste exactly like the Waitrose ones, but in the meantime, these work pretty damn well as a substitute.
Summer is here! (It’s forecast to rain tomorrow, but 3 days of sunshine and 20+ degree heat is good enough in the UK). To celebrate all the sunshine and possibility of sitting outdoors without a jacket, I made some delicious, delicious syrup. It was one of those recipes you see and think to yourself “I need that in my life”. And I wasn’t disappointed. I took some rhubarb from my parents’ garden, bought some strawberries and a lemon, and a cute milk bottle, and after very little effort, I had this:
It’s great as a summer drink mixer – use 2-3 tbsp of syrup and add sparkling water, or my personal preference, bitter lemon. If you’re feeling like you need some alcohol, add 2 shots of gin, and maybe a few crushed mint leaves. Beautiful.