You know what I like more than the smell of a cake baking in my oven?
Very few things, to be honest.
Unless said cake is not only delicious, but also the ultimate way to turn a bunch of over-ripe bananas into the sweetest treat.
Which is why banana bread is the most genius cake recipe there is.
Yesterday, after having spent the vast majority of the afternoon laying on the sofa in a desperate attempt to try and digest the feast of a lunch we had at St John’s, I spotted said bunch of sad-looking, brown, not very appeeling bananas in the fruit basket, begging to be made into banana bread.
How could I say no?
Banana loaf is seriously one of the easiest things to bake.
It’s very adaptable -as long as you have bananas, you’re good, quite healthy as far as cake go, packs in a lot of fruit and good-for-you things, yet it make for such an indulgent breakfast/snack/pudding.
I’m not sure why it is, but it seems like bananas are somewhat magic when it comes to baking and allow for quite a lot of substitutions/omissions, which is great if you have food allergies or preferences.
Or very bare cupboards.
No eggs? No problem (maybe add a bit more mashed banana if your batter’s too dense).
No dairy – it works perfectly fine with margarine too.
Want to reduce the sugar? Go ahead.
Switch the baking flour for a gluten-free one? Since banana bread is quite dense, it doesn’t really matter.
Want to make it extra indulgent? Nothing’s easier! Simply add chocolate chips or crushed nuts to the batter, swirl some Nutella through, serve with a nutty or caramely ice cream… There are so many options!
So few ingredients, so many possibilities… Just bananas!
When it comes to Valentine’s Day, there are two kinds of people.
The ones that loooooove it – they start thinking about it the minute Christmas has come and gone, count the days, make elaborate plans, buy presents… And the ones that hate it – it’s too commercial they say, why celebrate love only one day of the year, they ask.
And then there’s the rest of us, stuck in the middle and sort of lost about it all.
The Valentine’s Day haters are probably right – there’s no reason why any and everyone should go above and beyond to showcase their love on February the 14th. But at the same time, why not take the opportunity and make the day a touch more special than your average Wednesday?
Enters the low key Valentine’s day.
The idea is to seize the chance to celebrate the ‘Day of Love’ with the one(s) you, ahem, love, but without making a big deal of it.
A loosely-planned evening at home (over-crowded, over-priced restaurant meals are a hard-no for me) with simple treats to celebrate love in its simplicity. Something intimate, and all about making the most of your Valentine(s).
Depending on what feels ‘specials’ to you, you might decide to get food to take away or delivered.
Or you might want to try your hand at cooking a simple but delicious meal.
This year, my BF’s actually in charge of V-Day cooking. He’ll be making my absolute favourite dish –pasta carbonara. I’ll put together a walnut salad. Then we’ll have ice cream (I’ve gotten my hands on the limited edition Haagen Dazs Cherry Blossom*, which I tried in paris last summer and can’t wait to have again!) and watch a movie (possibly Moulin Rouge because it’s been too long).
And that’s it. Not too different from our usual weekday evening routine, but still something a bit different to be excited about.
And truth be told, I can’t wait!
Are you team No-Valentine’s, All-Out Valentine’s or Low Key Valentine’s? I’d love to know how you plan your ‘day of love’!
Great low-key Valentine’s (or any other date!) recipes
The last leg of our November Cuba trip took us to Trinidad, a little town in the middle of the island, famous for its multi-coloured colonial old houses and cobblestone streets.
And now that I look back at this trip, it’s the Cuban place I most wish to return to (mainly because I was so sick by then I feel like I missed out on so many things).
A Unesco site since 1988, Trinidad is easily accessible from Havana (it’s a 4h, 30CUC pp affair and the views on the way are incredible). And it’s the sort of pastel-coloured, fairy tale place that needs to be seen to be believed.
But that’s not all! Architecture, nature, beach… There’s so many great things to do in Trinidad that fully justify adding the city to your Cuba itinerary.
1. Wander around the beautiful pastel-coloured streets
There’s a reason why the whole of Trinidad is a Unesco site and it’s because every corner is absolutely gorgeous!
From the technicolour colonial houses, to the intricate forged iron window frames and the ever-green mountain background, the entire city is an Instagram dream come true – absolutely no filter needed!
So put on your walking shoes (those cobblestones are no joke!) and make the most of it.
2. Trek the Parque el Cubano and swim in the Javira Waterfall
With the gigantic Parque Natural Topes de Collantes to the west, trekking opportunities abound in Trinidad.
The easiest (and shortest) one will take you through Parque el Cubano up to the Javira waterfall, where you can swim into the natural pool below it, which is really quite a fantastic way to spend the day!
3. Climb San Francisco de Asis bell tower
Located by the very pretty Playa Mayor, San Francisco de Asis is the best spot to get a bird’s eye view of the city.
Vertigo-averse folks will want to stop at the first level, where the wide terrace offers fantastic views of the city, the mountains and even the sea.
And if the weather’s all sorts of crazy you’re lucky, you might even catch a quadruple rainbow!
4. Have a few of the Trinidad’s signature Cachanchara cocktails
Created in Trinidad in the late 1800s, the Cachanchara is considered to be Cuba’s oldest known cocktail.
The no-fuss recipe, originally used as medecine, calls for simple ingredients -rum, lime and honey- and is traditionally served in clay cups.
Strong but perfectly balanced, it’s well worth switching your default mojito over for.
5. Bask in the sun on Playa Ancon
Blue water. Golden sun. Does this really need explaining?
6. Try La Botija’s Cuban-style fried rice
I’m not going to lie and pretend like the food in Trinidad (or in Cuba, really) changed my life. To be honest, I ate mostly rice and plain bread anyway (such glamour!).
That being said, the arroz fritto at La Botija was one of the best things we had and comes in very generous portions.
Also on the plus side, the restaurant is open quite late, there’s live music being played throughout the day and a weird-but-intriguing drink selection (the Ciego Montero pineapple soft drink is goooooood!)…
PS. If you’re looking for a great place to stay in Trinidad, this is the Casa we stayed in. Robe & Nina are the sweetest hosts and the breakfast was beyond fantastic!
I was the kind of student who put a lot of pressure onto herself and that required a lot of exausting mental work. So I needed to find a way to give myself a break and relax, and baking was just that.
Ensued as many as 6 types of cakes a week being baked, which was really quite a lot for a family of 5 to go through. Thankfully, my siblings’ classmates and mine were always willing to land a hand on the eating front.
From that baking frenzy, I kept the unshakable feeling that cake makes many bad things better, as well as a handful of ‘best in show’ recipes, amongst which this simple lemon cake one.
A simple lemon cake is a baking classic- and this recipe is perfect on all fronts.
Pressed for time? It literally takes minutes to whip up and can happily be made the day before. Plus there’s no need for syrups or any fussing about.
Don’t have any fancy equipment or ingredients / not in the mood for a lot of washing up? All it takes is basic ingredients, one bowl and one baking tin.
Not very comfortable with baking projects? It’s basically impossible to ruin (you could even put all the ingredients in a blender).
Scared it’ll be dry and/or boring? Do you really think I’d still be making this recipe after all those years if it wasn’t the most incredible simple lemon cake ever?
I’m talking big on zesty flavours, moist and absolutely perfect both with a cuppa for afternoon tea or a spoonful of Greek yoghurt for breakfast and brunch!
I never thought I would ever get to sleep on a military bed under the stars in the middle of rural Africa. I never dreamt of being invited to attend a film festival in the presidential tribute no less. I didn’t expect to get cold in 25+°C temperatures. I didn’t think I’d ever have a discussion about how many animals would be a suitable offering from any suitor wanting to marry me. Or that I would have to explain in great details that living in a developed country didn’t automatically make me rich.
In the winter of 2007, I took the plane for the very first time together with a team of students from my high school. We were on our way to the capital of Burkina Faso, Ouagadougou, and from there to a rural area an hour’s drive away, where we would stay for two weeks on a rural development mission.
Unlike what many would expect from a ‘once in a lifetime’ story, it wasn’t a glamourous experience. It was boiling hot (45+°C when the sun was at its highest), there was no running water, no electricty, no phone connection.
Every task was more complicated than it should have been.
No running water means we had to arrange from water from the nearby lake to be delivered every two days, and then treat it with many filters and chemicals to ensure it was drinkable. For two weeks, water tasted like bleach. There were also no showers, and the toilets were of the dry (and smelly, because 45°C temperatures tend to have that effect on things) kind (and home to a family of scorpio).
No electricty meant waking up early to make the most of daylight as there was only very limited lighting after sunset (our generator would only provide for about 4h of it). We cooked over an open fire and had to get groceries every day since we had no ways to stock them. We all got sick from the heat, dehydration, poor sanitation or a combination of all of the above.
Cultural gaps made for many a fascinating discussion.
We fought with the local welders, who wouldn’t explain why there were getting so behind on fulfilling orders. We later found out it was because if they had made enough money to sustain themselves for the week by say Thursday, they would simply stop working until the next week.
We talked with local students, who asked us how it was to live in France and ‘be rich’. Followed a 3 hour passionate debate on why we weren’t actually rich and how standards and costs of living somewhere affects disposable income.
A few of us were proposed to against various amounts of chickens, goats and even cows. The prospective husbands fully expected us to be thrilled. And to be able to pay for a plane ticket to France and a few electronic gadgets for them.
We sang and drew with school kids. We helped our guard to carry a used mattress he was very excited about having bought (and pretended not to hear him and his lady friends making good use of it the following nights). We lost every football game we played again the village’s teenagers.
We ate strawberries in February and the sweetest mango I’ve ever had. We slept outdoors, staring at the upside-down moon and counting the stars late into the night.
We took bet on how many of us it’d take to go around the village’s biggest baobab (12!!).
We fought over who’d get the limited strawberry flavour Fanta at the local bar. It was horrific and nobody liked it but still, every day, we fought for it.
My bag almost got stollen but my then-boyfriend jumped off our running car and catch up with the thief. My parents’ camera, who was never meant to have to face 40+°C temperatures, died after a week.
We were invited to the African Film Festival opening ceremony, where we fully humilited ourselves by wearing terrible clothes amongst the crème-de-la-crème of the continent cultural icons.
We came back from our African adventures tired but wiser, covered in orange dust but with new perspectives on life and the world. And with a brand new appreciation for the little every day thing we wouldn’t even have noticed otherwise (oh, the life-changing magic of a light switch after 2 wekks without electricity!).
Coming back was hard, finding the words to explain what it was like was even harder. 11 years after, I still struggle with it.
It was surreal and a true, once in a lifetime experience. It wasn’t one bit glamourous, and I hardly have any photo of it, but it was the sort of things money can’t buy, which makes it even more precious.
This blog post has been written as part of this month’s #travellinkup, which theme was ‘once in a lifetime travel experiences’. If you’re a travel-addict, make sure you join the monthly #travellinkup, hosted by Adventures of a London Kiwi, SilverSpoon London and Follow Your Sunshine. Every month, there’s a new fun travel brief to share stories of your adventures!