Monday, February 27, 2012

Daring Bakers: Healthy Mini Chocolate Chip Banana Muffins

The Daring Bakers’ February 2012 host was – Lisa! Lisa stepped in last minute and challenged us to create a quick bread we could call our own. She supplied us with a base recipe and shared some recipes she loves from various websites and encouraged us to build upon them and create new flavor profiles.

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I love bananas, especially when they’re dressed with a spoonful of peanut butter and sandwiched between two slices of bread. But I have a thing with bananas: I don’t like to eat them ripe. They have to be firm and plump and homogenously yellow, without a speckle of brown indicating impending ripeness.

So what to do with five overly ripe bananas? Make Mini Chocolate Chip Banana Muffins, of course. These muffins are healthy enough to eat for breakfast and decadent at the same time, thanks to the disproportionate amount of chocolate chunks littered over top.

Everyone has their own banana muffin/cupcake/cake/loaf recipe and I myself would be hardpressed to try a new recipe, but try these. They're unbelievably healthy (if you refrain from littering obscene amounts of chocolate chips over top, but really who can help themselves) and they're delicious. The fact that my younger brother Kyle devoured half a dozen of these for breakfast proves it. I tweaked my mom's recipe for banana bread, substituting the oil/butter with applesauce, using whole wheat flour in place of white, and adding ground flax seed and oat bran.

Click below for the recipe.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Lemon Loaf Cake

It’s that time of year again. No, not the beginning of the new school year, or even a new semester (since I go to a full-year school), but that time of year when we choose our courses for the following school year. It’s a scary thought that this will be my last Bubble Day, the last time I ever have to painstakingly comb through the Choices guidebook. In the wise words of Michael Jackson, this is it.

Next year this time, I’ll have finished all my university applications and will be waiting, anxiously, for a response. I will be on the last leg of the race, on the homestretch. I’m almost there; I can feel it with each new obstacle, with each new issue, with each new question that I don’t know how to answer.  

Choosing seven of my eight courses was pretty easy (aside from determining whether to take French again or not). The last course I’m not so sure about. Should I take another academic course on top of my already intense course load, or should I schedule in a bird course for relaxation? Accounting or cooking? Writer’s craft or studies in literature? Critical thinking or philosophy? Decisions, decisions. 

My younger brother Kyle is having an even harder time deciding on courses. Deciding on courses for grade eleven is pretty crucial because it determines what kind of courses one can take in senior year, which determines what kind of programs one can apply to for university. So far, he’s decided on three courses, two of which are mandatory. He flirted with the idea of taking a fifth year in high school.

“I’m going to go ask Dad about what he thinks,” he said enthusiastically. A couple minutes later, he re-entered my room.

“So,” I asked, “what did Dad say?”

“He said, ‘I want to break free,’” he replied with a straight face. I spat out the drink of water I was taking and burst out laughing. Only our father could quote Queen when confronted with his children’s questionable academic futures.

“Was he singing?” I asked between giggles.

“Kind of,” Kyle replied. “Just when I was beginning to like school, it slaps me in the face again.” Kyle said, smacking his head against the desk. I stifled a laugh; the tone of this conversation starting to resemble the spilled coffee incident. “Why are you so prepared?”

The truth is: I’m not prepared, in any way. The only thing that I’m a thousand percent certain of is this Lemon Loaf Cake, and that’s because I’ve already made it. It’s already happened. It exists.  

The only other thing that I am a hundred percent sure of is that I will be going to university. Aside from that declaration, I don’t know what I am going to major in or what I want to do “when I grow up.” At this point in my life, I’m still entertaining the idea of going to graduate school to become a lawyer or a doctor, but my mind doesn’t really extend past those four years.

I know that nothing is set in stone and that life never works out the way you want it to. I know that what I envision right now may not be what really happens. I know that everything isn’t always going to be this good or bad or familiar. And I’m okay with that. I’m okay with not knowing what will happen or where life will lead me. I’m okay with not knowing what my purpose in life is—yet. I’m okay, because I know that I’m doing absolutely everything that I can right now to “prepare” myself for the future (as if one could ever “prepare” oneself for the future).

I’m keeping all my doors open because I know that at least one of them is the right one.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012


Friday is a beginning and an ending, like a cool autumn day giving way to winter. It’s the beginning of the weekend and the ending of a stressful week at school. It’s the day that I know I can get through for the mere reason that the following day is Saturday. Of course, the weekend never seems long enough.

On Friday mornings, I roll about lazily in my warm bed. Five more minutes, I tell myself, eyes closed, as I hit the snooze button on my alarm clock. Of course, five minutes turns into ten which turns into twenty which turns into half an hour. I can’t help it; after a whole week of getting up early, my body just wants to go back to sleep. I dash out the door and pray that I make it to French class on time, lest I receive another look from my teacher for being late.

Second period is history. I love my class, despite the changes that had to be made to my timetable to accommodate the course. Not only is my teacher awesome, but history is one of my better subjects. But as the seconds tick into minutes and there’s twenty minutes of class left, I can’t help but look forward to lunch.

During my lunch period, I eat and I hang out with some friends who I rarely see otherwise. As the bell rings, signalling the end of third period, I get up reluctantly and head to my fourth period class, math. This year, I have a good math teacher, and although I sit near my friends, who can’t seem to keep quiet, my grade percent has gone up about ten percent.

Then I go to photography class. I feel pretty ambivalent about photography class. On the days that I shoot a good roll and end up with pictures that look great and are processed correctly, I love photography class and can’t wait to get into the darkroom. But then there are those off days I can’t seem to manipulate my contrast filters properly to produce a correctly exposed photo.

After last period ends, I stow my photos, still wet from chemicals, away in my locker and grab my gym clothes from a friend’s locker (which I wouldn’t have to borrow if our lockers weren’t only 8-inches wide). I change quickly and dash to the fitness room, hoping that I’m not too late for dragonboat practice.

I don’t stay for the whole practice though. At 4:30PM, I leave and change back into my day clothes. I shove my bag back into my friend’s locker and grab a black backpack containing my George Brown Uniform, a baking scale, and various other kitchen tools. Exhausted and starving, I drop by a Second Cup and buy an overpriced sandwich on my way to the subway station. I board the train and then a couple stops later, I hop out and wait for my best friend Jenny to meet me. Then we take the subway together down to George Brown College, where we have just started a new baking course. This time, we’re doing breads.

I love bread, but only when it’s still warm from the oven. Store-bought bread is convenient, yes, but I crave the freshness and taste of homemade bread. So far, we’ve made plain white bread, butter-crusted bread, and French sticks (which are basically like baguettes) and I have to say that I’m really enjoying this course. The best part is the hands-on experience of working with the dough. It’s just so... soft and squishy and pudgy.

After the class is over, Jenny and I take the subway back home. By the time I get off at my stop, it's eleven o'clock and I'm starving, despite the rolls that I had probably eaten during class. As the reward for getting through the long day, I drop by my favourite sushi place and treat myself to a dynamite roll.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Crispy Herb Roasted Potatoes

I grew up surrounded by food. My parents cooked. My grandmothers cooked. And I picked up baking. My brothers, they grew up in front of a computer screen. They don't like being in the kitchen unless they have to be, but even so, I think it's safe to say that the foodie-ness of the rest of the family has rubbed off on them. Just the other day when we were making tacos, I caught my younger brother reprimanding my cousin on his (lack of) cutting skills.

"If you cut like that," Kyle said, referirng to the obscenely dangerous hacking motion that Alex seemed to favour, "you're going to get the vegetables all over the place." He picked up a piece of chopped carrot that had gone astray and proceeded to show him how to tuck his fingers in properly.

I had shown Alex the same technique five minutes ago. A good effort on Kyle's part, but Alex just didn't seem to get it. I shrugged it off. He had promised not to cut any of his fingers off and as long he kept his promise, how he chopped the carrots was his business. I mean, obviously, was going to take some time.

My other brother is by no means a cook, but at least he knows how to feed himself. He can scramble eggs and fry up bacon better than I can, probably because that’s what makes up the bulk of his diet. His true specialty, however, are his Crispy Herb Roasted Potatoes, a preparation which he learned from our mom.

These potatoes are taste just like fries, and the best part is that they're baked, not deep-fried. Slightly crispy on the outside, and creamy on the inside these  fries are definitely better than anything you could buy from a fast food restaurant.

Click below for the recipe.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Apple Pie

Historians are academics who learn about past societies through the examination of artefacts. In a sense, the uncovering of a treasured clay pot circa thousands of years ago is akin to digging around one’s trash and unearthing a prized plastic jug. Then, by definition, I am a historian, having spent an hour of my life doing the latter late Thursday night.

Don’t worry, there’s a story behind this.

Ironically enough, it all started with my desire to take enriched world history instead of academic. In order to fit the enriched class into my timetable, I had had to switch English classes and subsequently, switch teachers. I ended up in Ms. M-‘s class and in order to win brownie points, I joined her installation art club. It’s a pretty awesome club, aside from the fact that I have to go through people’s trash periodically.

Last time, it was plastic water bottles that we were looking for. Luckily, the recycling bins at school were filled to the brim with plastic water bottles. This time, though, we needed large plastic containers with handles, like laundry detergent jugs. “It’s not that difficult,” Ms. M- said. “Just look through the trash on garbage day; honestly, no one cares.”

Well, the people walking across the street probably didn’t care enough to call the cops on my cousin and me sifting through other people’s blue bins, but they did credit us with strange looks, quickened footsteps, and whispered comments. Surely two teenagers who are prowling the streets at night looking through their neighbours’ trash can be up to no good.

After a good hour walking around the neighbourhood in the dark , we finally amassed enough containers. The next morning, I brought the containers to school. Of course my teacher was away and I was stuck with two garbage bags filled with recyclables that would never, ever, fit into my locker.

It was not a good day.

But this apple pie? Totally made my day better. One bite of buttery, flaky, pie-crust-y, apple-y goodness erased all the dull memories of trudging up and down four blocks in the cold. There’s nothing quite as therapeutic as making old-fashioned apple pie, except, maybe, making bread.

Click below for the recipe.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Vacation: Snow

In my opinion, the best part of vacation is not the destination, but the journey. It's the excitement of getting away from real life, the freedom of escaping that I love. The only thing that got me through the stressful school term (among other teenagery things) was the thought of two school-free weeks. During the winter holidays, I slept; I read; I spent long hours doing absolutely nothing. I also went on a ski trip to Quebec with my family and some family friends.

This year we went with another family and shared a house with them. C- and B- are a year younger and a year older than me respectively. Our parents are old friends and over time I've come to think of C- and B- as extra brothers as if I don't already have enough Y chromosomes in my life with two biological brothers and a boy cousin.

On Monday morning, our families set out to that mountain in Quebec, luggage piled high in the trunks of our mini vans and SUVs. Seven hours in a confined space with my family? No problem, as long as I've got a couple hundred songs on my iPhone and a pair of working headphones.

The next morning, we all woke up early to go skiing. We ate a quick breakfast and loaded into the cars. As we drove along the snow-packed dirt road, I glanced outside at the bare tree branches which were coated in a thick layer of ice. Sitting in the passenger seat, I suddenly noticed that our car was veering off the road towards the right and into a ditch. "Dad...?" I said, panic rising in my chest. The ride was getting progressively bumpier and all I could think about was the fact that that car was our seven hour ticket home. There was a huge bump as our SUV ran over what I later discerned to be the only two-feet tall rock on the side of the road before finally coming to a stop.

I got out of the car immediately to survey the damage. The back and front bumper was missing plastic and the muffler had fallen off completely. All the other internal damage which wasn't visible was left to my imagination and I worried about how we'd get home if the car was broken.

C- and B-'s family, whom had been tailing us, pulled over and helped us push the car. After a couple minutes, a white sedan stopped and a French guy and his son offered to help us push the car. My faith in the world, which had been shattered by the cars that had passed us by, was restored. To my great relief, we finally got the car out of the ditch.  

"Did you take pictures?" my dad asked half an hour later, when he'd ascertained that the car was okay to drive and we'd gotten it back on the road. I replied that I had snapped a few pictures for posterity's sake, but that I had stopped to help push the car afterwards. "You should have taken more photos. We need to remember this moment!" he responded.
Well, it's good to know that next time we run into a ditch and everyone is pushing the car, I should be on the other side of the road taking pictures. I think his wallet's definitely going to remember the gaping hole where $700 should have been had they not gone to car repairs.  

That night, us kids discovered that there was a hot tub in the backyard. Epic win after our long whirldwind of a morning? I think so. Promptly after we ate dinner, we all ran tip-toed across the snowy pathway barefooted and jumped into hot tub.

The rest of the trip passed by in a blink of an eye. I went snowboarding; I went skiing. I felt my fingers and toes began to hurt from the cold in the minus thirty degrees Celsius air. I felt the condensation of my breath freeze on the ski mask I wore underneath my helmet until it became a sheet of ice on my face. But the snow, the sleet, the wind, the  coldnone of it mattered because I was in my happy place.

Monday, February 6, 2012

KANPE Tea Flavoured Shortbread Cookies

In the third grade, we made potpourri pouches as an arts and craft project at school. As twenty eight-year olds grabbed fistfuls of dried, scented flowers and stuffed them into colourful drawstring cloth bags, I remember thinking that I wasn’t a potpourri person. Not only was I worried that the flowers would spill out of the bag and make a mess (I was a pretty OCD eight-year old), I also disliked the artificially spicy-sweet scent of the dried flowers.

Even as a third grader, I knew flowers didn’t actually smell like that. Just like how I know teenage boys don’t actually smell like the gallons of Axe that they spray on themselves. Same goes for the girls that reek of perfume; really, one mist is all it takes to convince me that you smell nice. My favourite scent is definitely the soap and laundry detergent combination. It’s clean and classic. In fact, I think it’s downright sexy.

Other things that smell good without being too obvious are lily of the valley flowers, fresh from the garden; the smell of homemade bread baking in the oven; and KANPE Tea fromDavid’s Tea. I don’t even drink tea; I actually bought a couple tablespoons of the tea to make cookies as a present for a friend’s birthday. Her family had gotten her tea from David’s Tea as a gift, so to follow suit, I made KANPE Tea Flavoured Shortbread Cookies.

These cookies are phenomenal. They are rich and taste mysteriously of hibiscus, mango, and cinnamon. The cookies smell like butter while the tea itself is reminiscent of the potpourri pouch I made in third grade, but so much better.

Who needs smelling salts when there’s David’s Tea?

Happy nineteenth, T-! 

Click below for the recipe.

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