Banana and Oat Pancakes

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People always laugh at my putting oats into everything – but I do.

I add it to savoury dishes, to desserts, in drinks and, as this recipe will show, in breakfast or brunch pancakes. Why? Well, rather than using flour which leaves me feeling bloated and uncomfortable most of the time, oats fill me up, leave no nasty side effects and have very little flavour which means they can be used in most recipes. Oats are high in fibre and antioxidants however they do contain gluten, unless you buy gluten-free oats. The gluten content is very low though.

Eating oats carries many benefits, amongst others:

– stabilising blood sugar
– enhancing immune system
– removing cholesterol from the blood system

(read more here)

Bananas are, like oats, a great source of fibre and naturally sweet which means no added sugar is needed.

This recipe developed because we, as a family, had the habit of always eating pancakes together on a Sunday morning. Life is so busy, especially with three children and all that comes with them, and Sunday mornings were our quiet time. Our family time. But it was very sugar filled and ultimately we agreed that this must change. So the challenge was to create a treat, in the children’s eyes, that would be healthy. Banana and oat pancakes were born!

Banana and Oat Pancakes (makes three small, round pancakes)

1 ripe banana (the more ripe, the sweeter the pancakes)

1 egg

2 tbsp whole rolled oats (or any oats you have)

Coconut butter for frying (coconut butter is magic! Read more here)

  • Mash the banana in a bowl with a fork
  • Crack the egg and add it to the banana – stir the two together
  • Add the oats – if you prefer more dry pancakes you can add three tablespoons
  • Heat a teaspoon of coconut butter in a frying pan
  • Once melted and the pan is hot, add the pancake batter creating three round pancakes using a large spoon
  • Fry for a few minutes then flip over and fry for a further minute or so.
  • Transfer to a plate and eat either as they are or drizzled with Greek yogurt, honey and some goji berries (or any berries for that matter).
  • They will be fluffy, sweet and keep you satisfied for many hours. Enjoy.

Coconut butterRaw pancakesready

Yum - a sprinkle of shredded coconut.

Thai Impressions

DSC_0508Thailand was never a place I wanted to visit. I yearn for some destinations, dream of them, plan holidays in future years but Thailand has never made that list. Not sure why.

Then, my mother in law bought a house there, and suddenly it was the next destination. That was four years ago and we have just been back for our second holiday. How do I feel about the country now? I could live there, permanently, without giving it a second thought! Why? Well, the list is long but topping it….it has to be….it has to be:

  • The Food. It has to be the food that tops the list! The colours, the flavours, the philosophy under which meals are prepared, the scents that tickle your nostrils and massage your palette. Amazing. If you dare to let go and try things that look strange; things that come out of odd leaves, containers and pots then you are in for a treat.
  • The People. Respectful, not pushy, at peace, not stressed, happy, kind, accommodating. Always a smile, always ready to help. We have a lot to learn in the west
  • The Weather. Average 30 degrees C in February. Nice. No further comment.
  • The Activities. Diving, kite boarding, snorkelling, go-karting, fishing, cooking classes, animal shows, morning market, night markets, fish markets, walk-in streets, trekking to tops of water falls and skinny dipping in them, riding elephants…. We did all of these and could easily have done more.

We took a few hours worth of cooking lessons from a fabulous Thai lady who ran a much acclaimed Thai Restaurant in Australia for 20 years. Short, stout, strict, and bossy as anything, but passionate about ingredients. About when to stir and when to leave, about pestle and mortar, about using every little bit of the raw materials – out of respect for both nature and the client who is to eat the dish. From the lesson came three dishes and I will share them on the blog. Mouth-watering yet so simple and quick to cook!

Before I start recipe writing I want to share my favourites pictures from our trip. Hopefully they will draw you in and let you feel just a little of the magic that is Thailand. It truly is a place where your soul can rest and re-fresh; when you have time to think and focus; a place where stress does not seem to exist and most importantly, to a food lover like I am, a place where the food you find at little road stands is simply divine and different. Where the best local restaurants are nothing more than a wok on fire and you walk through the chef’s living room to be seated. Completely different; completely fabulous!

Enjoy the gallery….and share your experiences! Have you been to Thailand? What was your best bit?

Italy. Simplicity. Dry bread, garlic and tomatoes = Bruschetta!

It has been too long – I have missed cooking, taking photographs and sharing with those that care to read it! I promise never to leave a two month gap again….

So, we went to Italy. Not just anywhere in Italy – we went to Tuscany. Not just anywhere in Tuscany – we went to Florence; and Florence is my favourite place in the whole world. Cannot for the life of me explain why, but the place fills me with joy, with promise, with excitement. The rolling hills, the flavours of the food, the people, the architecture, the colours…no where like it. No where.

It was a family trip (I am lucky enough to have a sister-in-law living in Florence) and we made the most of it. The majority of  the holiday was spent eating and laughing….makes me smile to think about it.

Quality time with the children and extended family and a magical place to stay (Lebbiano Residence – have a look) from where we ventured into the Tuscan country side and spent hours in the nature. The children caught tadpoles and frogs, we taught them to row a boat in the lake, trekking in the woods, catching fire flies at night and finding a hidden park that was, and I kid you not, like a fairy tale come true.

This one needs translating – will live by this…..

In The Park You Can

– inhale clean air
– listen to the silence
– stretch out in the sun (lie down)
– dream
– love
– play
– make up
– think
– slow down
– observe
– taste/enjoy
– doze/nap
– forget/lose time
– come home feeling peaceful
 

 and the food….the food….the food!

Best of all – simplicity. With nothing but paper plates and a lot of love and patience we had the best meals I have had in a long time. Eaten outdoors, with family.

Eaten indoors, on little stools – amazing!

 

So simple – the line in front of the restaurant a very telling thing…My daughter who is only 7 and claims to not like meat – well – a Bistecca Fiorentina at Mario’s….and she is converted!

If you are ever in Florence go there!!! Da Mario – behind San Lorenzo – close to Zaza (another good restaurant).

I want to leave you with a recipe – one of the simplest I know – and probably one of the tastiest too! Bruschetta. Dry bread, olive oil, tomatoes and garlic – fresh garlic – by the clove. Nothing more, nothing less.

Bruschetta

Loaf of dry bread
Fresh, ripe tomatoes cut into small pieces
Extra virgin olive oil
Red onion (can be omitted)
Basil (can be omitted)
Sprinkle of salt
Garlic – cannot be omitted – peeled cloves, sliced in halves
 
  • Slice the bread – it is fine if it is horrible and dry (just not mouldy…)
  • Place under a grill – or on a hot BBQ (perfect for summer – if we ever get one!) until dark brown and crisp
  • Place bread on plate
  • Rub sliced, peeled garlic straight into the bread
  • Throw a large spoonful of tomatoes on top of it (precut in a bowl – if red onion is wanted add it to the tomatoes in small pieces)
  • Drizzle with olive oil
  • Sprinkle with salt and a few basil leave
  • ENJOY!

If you are in need of relaxing, of a break or simply of re-falling in love with life, with your children, with your partner, with food – go to Florence! Stay at Lebbiano Residence, eat at Mario’s, go for walks, see the sites….it is a little bit of magic for the soul.

If you cannot afford to go – make bruschetta at home, put on some Italian music and pretend…! Not quite the same but hey – better than nothing!

Family dinners #1 – Oat, cheese and veg meatballs

What are family dinners??  Essentially meals that work for both children and adults – without being too scary for the child and too boring for the adult. Meals that are quickly prepared, healthy (give or take sometimes!) and tasty. Often the protein side of the meal is the same for both little and big and by simply substituting the side dish the whole meal becomes more adult friendly. I hope you will find it useful and inspiring…and with some luck…cut down on your need to think of two evening meals a day (hence also more economical). And who could not do with saving a bit these days…

Why this blog series?

Whether or not my memories are correct I cannot say, but in my mind evening meals (when I was a child) were had together – mother, father and siblings – and it was a time to catch up and be together. No different plates of food for different individuals around the table, not one parent eating alone later. No – one meal. No fuss (or maybe there was but I have erased that bit!).

When we had our first daughter my husband purposefully changed (or managed) his working hours so that he would always be around for dinner time. We sat together every evening. With our second child we managed to keep this going – maybe not every night, but most. The third one – slightly more tricky. We try. We try very hard because we believe it is fundamental to our family’s happiness that we have this time together around the table.

For one it is a great and relatively pain-free way of teaching table manners – they always watch us eat and hence learn by looking. Secondly, it means they always have a varied and healthy meal – one I put quite a bit of energy and attention into making as I know my husband and I also want to enjoy it. Lastly, and most importantly, I really enjoy sitting around a full table and looking at my family. Makes me happy.

I know that not everyone is able and lucky to be home early enough to eat with their children. I know many find it painful and prefer eating alone with their partner. But I am pretty sure that those cooking the evening meal would love to just cook ONE meal a day and not have to find inspiration for two…(one for children and one for adults!).

Hence this blog series.

This first recipe I love. I have made meatballs since I was 12 or 13 and it is easy. Very easy. You can throw pretty much anything into the mixing bowl and not ruin them. Make them tiny and put them on skewers to make it fun for the children. Make them large and flat, stick them into pita bread with some salad and they become burgers. Make them small and round and they go well with pasta and tomato sauce. Make them standard size and they are lovely with a salad, oven baked chips, rice, cous cous…. They are even great cold – I often have them on rye bread for lunch the next day. Oh and almost forgot – they are healthy!! At least the way I make them.

This particular combination is relatively new – oats being used rather than flour to make them healthier and lighter in the tummy. Enjoy!

Oat, Cheese and Vegetable Meatballs

500g mince (I often use 250g beef and 250g pork as this gives great flavour. 500g minced beef can be used though)
2 grated carrots
1/2 an onion finely chopped
1 crushed garlic clove
1 egg
125g porridge oats
1-2 tsp salt
1 big handful grated cheese
2 tbsp olive oil
Milk to combine – 1 small cup maybe – trial and error!
Lots of fresh, finely chopped herbs – whatever you have! I love sage and thyme (my garden is full of it)
 
  • Pre-heat oven to 200C (by using the oven you cut down on fat (no frying) as well as wasted time spent in front of the hob.
  • Let the children pick the herbs if you have a veg garden – mine love chosing which ones to use. They are getting really good at it. Let them pick the leaves off the stems (hateful job honestly but they seem to love it. Keeps them occupied for ages!) – chop them finely.
  • Place all the ingredients, except the milk, in a big mixing bowl
  • Stir….let the children stir…
  • Add milk slowly until the mixture comes together to form a huge meat ball.
  • Depending on what shape/size you want there are a few ways of making your meat balls. Two table spoons work well for the perfectionist… Hands work well for those that don’t mind getting stuck in, and teaspoons great for making tiny ones.
  • Dip the spoons in water, scoop up some meat mixture, shape between the spoons and lay on a lined baking tray (greaseproof baking paper works best, aluminium OK).
  • If using hands, scoop, cup – lay on tray. Remember to wash hands well afterwards….
  • Place the baking tray in the hot oven and cook for 20ish minutes – if tiny a lot less, if huge a bit more…The best test is to take one out, slice in half and if the meat is no longer pink they are done.
  • Serve with anything!!! I usually serve mine either with pasta or with home-made oven chips and salad.

(You can really experiment with this one! Chilli works, mozzarella ball stuffed into the middle probably yummy, grated courgette, mushrooms – sky is the limit)

Give them Advent Memories…

How many advent calendar fillers are you hunting for this year? Has it caused you grief? Cost you a fortune? Lacking inspiration? So I ask you this….Why all the sweets? All the silly little gifts? Apart from the cost and stress in finding them….do they really give your children anything valuable? Maybe a bit of excitement, but then they end up binned.

This year I wanted to do something different. I wanted to make advent memories. Advent fun. Advent surprises and treats – but in the shape of activities we will be doing as a family!

The idea is simple – either make up the activities yourself (or with your partner) or ask your children what activities they love. Then write 24 little notes – these can include:

  1. Television Dinner Treat (let your children have dinner and a film!)
  2. Swimming trip
  3. Walk in the woods with hot chocolate at the end
  4. Cookie Baking Session
  5. Crafting Session
  6. Cinema trip

I am sure you will have your own ideas!

Write them up, get little clips and make your fronting numbers – I used glue and glitter but you could just as easily stencil and draw or stamp images…many choices!

Hang the line somewhere easily accessible and open a new adventure and memory every day!

(PS – The quick ones have noticed I have not included the Sundays below….these days we give ours a gift – just so they have a little parcel now and again)

Nothing beats the classic Pesto

Pesto – just hearing the word makes me hungry; takes me to Italy, to thoughts of parmesan, garlic and gorgeous bruschetta, stuffed ravioli and fresh pasta recipes. I think dip, I think bread sticks, I think green, healthy…. Really, I just want it! So when the thought hit me the other day I had to make it!

A family food – yes, my children love it (I put a little less garlic in when they are having it with us and sometimes dilute it slightly with cream cheese in pasta dishes) – and very versatile. Can be used for any occasion! I like it as a dip, often just eat it by the spoon (!), and sprinkled over ripe, red tomatoes. Some people add it to their soup…never tried…but not one to judge!  It can be a simple dish but very much an extravagant one…never boring though!

It is, and I know I say this about most of what I cook, so easy to make. Ridiculously easy in fact. If you don’t believe me, try it!

I have made pesto this way since I was 13! My fabulous step mother, very good in a kitchen, taught me how to make it and I have never looked back! This makes enough to cover 500g pasta. Don’t worry about left overs! Keeps well in a jar in the fridge.

50g pine nuts
50g parmesan cheese in small chunks
2 cloves of garlic – peeled – ( this is the child friendly version! Add more if you like!)
A lot of basil….I love it….probably the equivalent of 1 large pot or two bags if you buy those
Pinch of salt (be careful not to add too much as the parmesan is salty on its own – may even be omitted)
Extra virgin olive oil…enough to make it smooth, but not so much that it covers everything. You will see what I mean as you pour it into the mix. Start slow – you can always add more later. I probably use about 120ml, give or take!
 
  •  Chuck all the ingredients, but only a glug (equivalent to about 1 tbsp) of the olive oil, into a food processor. If you do not have one, get one! 🙂 No, just kidding! If you don’t own any chopping machine you will have to do that bit of the job yourself, quite finely, and put it in a pestle and mortar. Squash away! Will be a softer pesto but the flavours will be there which is the most important. Or, just leave quite rough and ready. All good!

  • Start the food processor, or your arm, and add olive oil in small quantities as it churns. The mixture will change from dry to wet – from lumpy to smoothish and from separate colours to a sea of green. Smell it! Stunning right? Basil….yum!
  • When you think it is smooth enough – most people have a preference – stop the machinery or your arm! Stir a spoon through it. If it feels good you are done! If it feels or looks a bit dry, just add some more olive oil and stir through.
  • Put it in a jar in your fridge and use as and when you feel the need to smile!

Note

This is a really cute gift! Put a nice ribbon around your jar, maybe a hand written label, and give it as a housewarming gift with grissini (or posh breadsticks) as I call them!

Finally, make sure those around you have it too, especially your partner if you have one! Garlic is best when shared!!!  If you have no idea what I am on about, try being in close proximity to someone who has had garlic when you have not….let me know how it was!

That Giving Feeling


“There needs to be a special kind of feeling that allows a family to carry on…it’s not something that thrives off others, because it’s something that gives” – this is a snippet taken from a really simple but beautiful Japanese book (Amrita by Banana Yoshimoto) I read recently and I cannot seem to shake it.

For me that snippet provoked thoughts of community, of togetherness, of honesty, of selflessness, of compromise, of love…. It really made me stop and think, think not only about myself in the context of my family (as in husband and three children) but also my parents, siblings and wider network.

So what is that feeling that makes a family carry on? How can it be created, who creates it? Does it mean that one cannot be an individual and selfish ?

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