in that split second | peanut butter & banana trail cookies

It feels like it's been a long time since I last visited this space. The boring truth is that there aren't that many readers and since things are pretty hectic with exams and week of work experience I thought I'd just post less. I have these cookies and some muffins that I baked ages ago - there's a bit of a weird time lag since I actually had prepared the other (muffin) post a couple of weeks earlier, but whatever. Anyway, I just thought I'd say hi. 

I have been working on this post for three weeks,  maybe that shows the extent of my exam-fatigue (which is a thing). I had my first law exam on Thursday... criminal law. We were with the marketing (as in the course, not PR ha) people which was apparently where all the cool kids were and they left after an hour, all the law losers were still scrambling, it was amusing. The questions were ok I guess. Hard to say. Fingers crossed for the foreseeable future, lots of waiting for 11:11. If you have a spare wish, direct it here. Just over a week until the next paper (but I'm working next week so it doesn't really count). It's going to be so strange when it's all over - I'll be so free. I can't remember the last time when I just woke up and thought wow, I have the whole day ahead of me to do whatever I like. School weeks from September to February/March aren't as bad as around exam time, it's been the case for the past couple of years. It's such a peacetime - wartime thing: when I study, I study. Everything pretty much comes to a hold for a couple of months, it reminds me of those books you read about the world wars. There'll be people saying they'll go on picnics, clean the house, plant roses, whatever, once the war is over and the peace is back. It's a bit like that for me - hostility, from March onwards. I say I'll delete 1000+ extra photos on Lightroom, repot one of my indoor plants, tidy all my papers, cuddle the dogs a bit extra... once the exams are over.

Someone, when they found out I was doing law, recently asked me what I was going to do to celebrate the last of my exams. Funny thing is that I have always found the end of the school year so anticlimatic, even when I was young and in school. It would just... finish, and I would go home, and wonder what to do with myself. It has felt even stranger in the years when I've studied hard, really crazy hard, for months because I literally forget how to live a civilian life, if that makes sense? Like if I'm doing anything else I'll unconsciously feel this guilt until I realize that the exams are done and I don't have to study any more... really strange. Anyway the first day of the summer will come and go, particularly since Layla and I are leaving for Rome the day after my last exam. So I guess I get a holiday to celebrate. No wild parties or anything, as I said last time I don't really do those. But sometimes I think it would be nice if I did because I'd really have that 'free' feeling - that it doesn't matter that your head is pounding and you need to lie immobile in bed for most of the next morning, just because you can.

In a way maybe it doesn't matter, because freedom and weightlessness are so heady. I remember something I said to my sister a few years ago, when we were running through the ruins of an abandoned French chateau in the rain, it was on a high hill that looked over rolling green fields and craggy escarpments. Deep in the heart of the Champagne region and because of the bad weather the whole medieval castle was quiet as a still life, and the hills and pastures seemed so still too. I said to her, this is what I need, now and then. Maybe that's why I'm different from other people my age but I was... so swept up by the fresh, wet air; the adventure of it, the emptiness and space, it made me so feel alive, something about obscure moments like those. Simple, so surreal, I wonder whether they actually happened or if it's all in my head. Other than another week of work in August I don't need to think about law, or read another statute, or find an academic text... and that's really powerful. Not at first, it'll be like the early hours of the aforementioned party, too eager to do too much. But after a week or so, I'll find myself with nothing really to do. Nothing to do! Now that really is something. That's enough for me.

The last few weeks counting down to exams are rough - almost out of material to study, but not feeling like I know enough, an awkward week in a law firm in between.  I tell myself to keep my eyes on the horizon, which is blurry, abstract and far, but exists, always. There are times when you're driving in the dark and it's been raining and the wipers haven't cleared the water from the windscreen... there'll be these fuzzy pillions of light in the distance. You'll know what they are just because the shapes are familiar - traffic lights, usually, and then the wipers work and you're waiting, the engine purring at a standstill, under the lights. I'm there, in that split second before the wipers sweep across and the roads are clear and empty, and neon signs for shops are streaking past, you feel... wired. Or maybe that's just me. Open stretches of road, either metaphorical or not. Emptiness, relief, contemplation... at this point, that's enough. 

“One should always be drunk. That’s all that matters. But with what? With wine, with poetry, or with virtue, as you choose. But get drunk.”  Charles Baudelaire

Did that just bore you? Yeah it just bored me too, sorry about that but ugh these exams. If I thought glaciation was bad, I hadn't met vitiation. Anyway. Trail cookies, in the spirit of (prospective) summery events like picnics, road trips, hikes etc. These cookies travel well and use aaalll the pantry staples, so you can pretty much make them now. You probably have some black bananas somewhere... Aaaalso I originally made this for my baby Suzi's second anniversary waaay back in early May; that is the day she came to us two years ago. My monkeys go crazy for the pb + banana combination but if I was making these for myself I'd probably use any nut butter but pb (I'm not crazy about it) so feel free to switch in any nut/seed butter you/your dogs/your kids like, but just be sure that it's the totally natural variety (palm oil, sugar and salt are meh* ok) and reasonably smooth (stir the oil back in). I somehow managed to make these cookies gluten and egg free, which is incredibly rare for me, but if gluten isn't an issue, feel free to use spelt flour or even whole wheat in place of the flour + flax meal. If you are going the gf route, the flax meal is really good as a binder/absorbing agent, so I wouldn't replace it. You can just whizz flax seeds in a blender/food processor or similar handy tool. And bananas are the only sweet thing here, so make sure they're super ripe, they won't be overpowering.  I hope you try these little pucks this summer, they come together super fast and are probably the most virtuous cookie around. Thank you guys for your patience (and support), I can't wait to be back here (and in the kitchen) a bit more regularly. 

Love and cookies xx

*meh is such a great adjective, am I right?


peanut butter and banana trail cookies

makes 15-18 medium cookies  // gluten free + vegan (how did that happen??)

3/4 cup (75g) oat flour
3/4 cup rolled oats (75g) (gf if needed)
1/4 cup flax meal (28g) (ground flax seeds)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 medium sized, super ripe bananas
1/3 cup (5 tablespoons) natural peanut  butter / nut butter of choice
1 tablespoon coconut oil, solid is fine


Preheat the oven to 200'C, 390'F. Line a baking tray with parchment paper and set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together the oats, flour, flax meal, salt, baking powder and cinnamon. 

In another large bowl mash your peeled bananas with a fork till they're pulpy, a little chunky is fine. Add the pb, coconut oil and vanilla, then stir well with a wooden spoon so the batter is smooth.

Pour the wet mix into the dry and stir firmly with a wooden spoon until well combined. Using a medium cookie scoop or a heaped tablespoon of dough, place mounds of dough on the cookie sheet.  Flatten each cookie (moist hands work well here) so they're more like flat pucks. They don't spread much, so you won't need to leave huge amounts of space between.

Bake for 10-15 minutes, until set and slightly golden. Cool on a wire rack, or enjoy warm.

The cookies will keep well in an airtight container for 5 days and will travel great too.  


on-the-go snacks

under your skin | (chocolate chunk) almond butter blondies

nutmeg and pear | chocolate chunk almond butter blondies w/muscavado (gluten & dairy free)

It was their time maybe 11pm; our time 4:30am. We'd been up all night revelling under blue lights, watching James Bond fall off trains on someone else's screen, drinking orange juice that was more concentrate than anything else. We were so tired we could barely stand, pale faced, red eyed, static hair. We sat on the back seat of that airport transfer bus and we couldn't stop laughing, neither my sister nor I can remember what it was, but it was that strange buzzy euphoria. A heady cocktail of jetlag, stale air, tingling excitement. Traveller's high.

nutmeg and pear | chocolate chunk almond butter blondies w/muscavado (gluten & dairy free)
nutmeg and pear | chocolate chunk almond butter blondies w/muscavado (gluten & dairy free)

Midnight in Mumbai. There is something about that subcontinent that is - addictive. The most powerful feeling is the one after you get off that long flight, you test those jelly legs again, onto the dingy carpeted shoot. It hits you in a wave of warm night air. Suddenly you're no longer half conscious but fully present, you've joined the one billion who call this place home. The runway is darkened and you can see over the high airport walls and into the shanty towns adjacent where life rolls on. It's black out but there's an assault of colour, activity. Girls in cheery saris fetching water from wells, garish plastic buckets in hand; boys wear spin-off Sahara cricket shirts and ride bikes; a cow under the yellow glow of a streetlight. The baggage handlers and ground staff sleep on the carts, piles of leather flip flops lining the concrete. It's the same as years ago, when we used to visit, we sit in the domestic terminal waiting for another flight. We sit with the priests in white robes, faces dotted in sandalwood; with the MacBook-toting businessmen back from the States, with the extended families complete with four generations all dressed for a wedding. Sleep, my mum tells us. How can we, when we're in the one city that never does?

How is it that my earliest memories of travels are flecked with the incessant ringing of Nokia mobiles? Of the sweet Air India air hostesses who'd pinch my cheeks and give my sister and I extra yogurt? Of straining my neck on cold airport benches, watching a shop assistant eat a chapati out of a polystyrene container? How is it that the country manages to get itself so deeply under your skin?

blondies 6-1.jpg
blondies 8-1.jpg

India often comes up in conversation. The good, the bad, the ugly. I talk about the good, talk about the bad, drift off by the ugly. Drift to the place where life never stops moving, where the country is a living breathing organ, each jammed road a pulsing vein. Thousands of cells in each fancy high rise, each concrete village house, each intricate temple. What's the greatest problem for India, people ask me, hearing I've lived there. The corruption? The poverty? Neither, I think. It's greatest problem is that you keep going back. Once you try it the first time, you need that high, the buzz that comes from walking off the plane into a hot night. Of taxis that drive into the central reservation, of painted cows and painted trucks. Where people throw color at you and bless their new cars, where they drown their gods and celebrate light . It's been 3 years, it's time for a hit. 5 weeks and I'll be back, back for my fix. Once India's in your blood, you just can't get it out.

Yes, 5 weeks till the Christmas break and our trip to India for 3 weeks of sun! Also, the irony, I know, writing about India and then making blondies. Probably should've been a post about Stockholm or something. Anyways, blondies are, um, blonde brownies. The almond butter in this recipe makes all the difference to using something like coconut oil: in the toffee color and the fudginess of the squares. (Fun fact: did you know that the fats found in nuts and similar foods - the 'healthy' fats - help balance blood sugar?) Light muscovado sugar also adds to the toffee-effect but if you can't find it, you can use an equal amount of brown sugar instead. They surprisingly hold up well for being gluten-free, so I may freeze the rest for our trip. If they last that long, 'cause these suddenly looked a lot more fun than kale and eggs for dinner Hope that an adventure is on the cards for you and blondies either way. Big hugs xo

nutmeg and pear | chocolate chunk almond butter blondies w/muscavado (gluten & dairy free)

(CHOCOLATE CHUNK) ALMOND BUTTER BLONDIES

 makes 9 regular or 12 minis // gluten & dairy free

gluten & dairy free blondies: soft and fudgy from the almond butter, with a little vanilla and plenty of chocolate chunks. Muscovado is an unrefined sugar (it retains natural minerals) and adds a hint of caramel which goes so well with these squares of goodness

1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons brown rice flour (140grams)
1/2 cup oat flour, certified gluten free if necessary (90g)
2 tablespoons flax meal (14g)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup almond butter* (160g)
3 tablespoons milk of choice (45ml)
2/3 cup light muscovado sugar (100g)**
2 free range eggs
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup coarsely chopped dark chocolate (75g, 2.65 ounces)


preheat the oven to 180’C/350’F. Line an 8x8inch square pan with parchment paper, leaving some overhang

in a medium bowl, combine the two flours, flax meal and baking powder. Set aside

in a large bowl (or the bowl of a stand mixer) add the almond butter and milk. Using an electric hand mixer or a stand mixer with the whisk attachment, beat until milk and almond butter are combined

add the two eggs and continue to beat till silky and smooth; add the vanilla and sugar and continue to beat again till smooth. 

add the flour mix to the almond/egg mix and use a spatula to gently combine, scraping down the sides. Gently fold in the chocolate chunks so they’re evenly distributed.

pour the batter in to your lined pan, it will be very thick and sticky and will stick to utensils, so scrape and go with it. Refrain from eating all the batter before it’s baked (note to self)

bake for 18-20 minutes, the top will be light golden. You’re going for a fudgy effect so err on the side of underbaked: allow to cool in the pan ten minutes, then allow to continue cooling on a rack and they will firm up. blondies teach you patience, who knew

for a clean cut, allow them to chill in the fridge for a bit and clean the knife as you slice, they will be firm enough to cut. Cut into 9 normal squares or 12 minis would be cute. 

the blondies will keep in airtight container in the fridge for 3 days but will freeze well. Brownie people, decide: do blondes have more fun?

notes

*almond butter is becoming easier to find in most supermarkets, or online. I think in a pinch you could use natural peanut butter, but the taste would change completely. You can make your own by grinding almonds in a food processor. If nut allergies are an issue, I’ve heard sunflower seed butter has a similarly neutral taste.
**as I already said, I like muscavado sugars for their complex flavor and also since they are less processed (the molasses is never removed – in normal brown sugar, the molasses is removed, then ‘painted’ back for the color). I think you’ll find them in most supermarkets, or online (gotta love amazon). For sure, feel free to substitute brown sugar in the same quantity whenever you see muscavado listed, and vice versa.
PS. They’re sticky customers at first, don’t panic, they need some time in the fridge.


nutmeg and pear | chocolate chunk almond butter blondies w/muscavado (gluten & dairy free)

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