Banana Cake with Caramel Icing

Banana Cake with Caramel Icing

 

This recipe for Banana Cake with Caramel Icing is a good one to make when you don’t want to make a special trip to the supermarket for any ingredients before you start cooking, as you will probably already have everything in the pantry. I made two loaf cakes, but the recipe would make one big cake too.

You can probably tell by the picture that I didn’t line the tin properly. Instead of cutting the baking paper to suit the bottom of the tin, I pulled off a longer strip of baking paper and poured the batter on top, which meant the baked cake has a ruffly curtain sort of look. Not the effect I was going for, so from now on I’ll make the effort to line the base of the cake tin only and grease the sides with butter.

Banana Cake with Caramel Icing

60 m butter

1 C caster sugar (you could use white sugar)

1 tspn vanilla extract

1/4 C warm milk

1 egg

3 bananas, mashed

1 and a half Cups plain flour

1 tspn baking powder

1 tspn bicarb soda

Beat the butter, sugar, vanilla and 2 tablespoons of the milk together until light and fluffy, then beat in the egg and banana.

Using a metal spoon stir in the flour, baking powder and bicarb soda, then the rest of the milk.

Pour the batter into the lined cake tins and bake at 170 degrees Celsius for around 45 minutes. Leave the cakes in the tins for five minutes before turning them on to a wire rack. Ice the cakes with Caramel Icing when cool.

Caramel Icing

1 C brown sugar

2 tblspns milk

1 tblspn butter

1 tspn vanilla extract

Place the sugar, milk and butter in a saucepan and cook over a low heat until the sugar is dissolved (stirring constantly). Bring the mixture to the boil, then simmer very gently for about five minutes. Keep a close eye on the mixture as it can burn quickly if it is too hot. Remove from the heat and mix in the vanilla extract.

 

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The Charming Quirks of Others by Alexander McCall Smith

I read somewhere that Alexander McCall Smith writes his books almost as quickly as other people read them.

I can imagine this being the case. His books always make me feel as if I am inside some one else’s mind, watching their thoughts jump about. The character’s thoughts flit here, then follow another thought for a while, then you get sidetracked and head off somewhere else, then another thought pops up and off you go with that, then you slip back to where you left off from an earlier thought, and all the while you are circling around the main characters and the actual story.

I’ve read quite a few books by Alexander McCall Smith. I’ve never managed to feel very affectionate about the characters in The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series, but I do enjoy The 44 Scotland Street series and The Sunday Philosophy Club Series, which The Charming Quirks of Others is part of.

Isabel Dalhousie is the main character in The Charming Quirks of Others and she is a lovely character. Her mind scampers around from topic to topic and gets sidetracked by all sorts of interesting ideas, which you never see coming. Isabel is a philosopher and her ideas and conversations (or McCall Smith’s) are much cleverer and more interesting than any I have or overhear on the train home from work. Today, everyone in my train carriage eavesdropped on a young woman who was telling a friend over the phone about the problems she was having with her boyfriend, who disappears for days at a time when he goes off drinking. Unfortunately the woman’s phone connection dropped out before she could announce her next move, and we were all left wondering if she intends to stay with him or not.

The slightness of the actual story of The Charming Quirks of Others does not really matter, as enjoying time with the characters (or eavesdropping in their minds) is the whole point. Many of the characters have also appeared in other books in the series and are familiar. The name of the book is misleading however, as Isabel is the only character with ‘charming quirks’. Other characters are likeable but not particularly quirky, or quirky but unpleasant.

A great many of the characters are entwined in the way that people who come from small communities are, where your and your neighbour’s grandmothers were first cousins, or your sister and your next door neighbour used to sit next to each other in school. McCall Smith makes you  feel that if you were chatting with the characters, you would find a connection or two also.

In The Charming Quirks of Others, Isabel is asked to conduct a discreet investigation into three candidates for the position of principal at an Edinburgh boy’s school. Each has a history which may make him unsuitable for the position. One of the candidates is the new boyfriend of Cat, Isabel’s neice. Cat used to go out with Jamie, who is now Isabel’s partner and the father of her little son. Jamie has an entanglement of his own, with a fellow musician who has only months to live. The woman wants Jamie to be her lover, as she has never had a relationship with a man. Isabel is such a generous woman she actually considers sharing Jamie in order to give the dying woman her wish.

The events in The Charming Quirks of Others resolved themselves to my satisfaction. Also, if anyone is wondering, I think the young woman on the train will continue her relationship with the boyfriend who goes walkabout when he is drinking, because she would already have left him otherwise.

 

Serpent’s Delight by Ruth Park

This is the second time I’ve read Serpent’s Delight, by Ruth Park. I’ve also read The Harp in the South, Poor Man’s Orange and Playing Beattie Bow by Ruth Park more than once, and I enjoyed those as much on the second reading too.

Ruth Park was an New Zealand born, Australian writer. Her most well known novel, The Harp in the South, like Serpent’s Delight, tells the story of a devoutly Catholic family in Sydney during the 1940’s, 50’s and 60’s. In Serpent’s Delight, the youngest daughter of the Pond family, Geraldine, tells her family priest she has had three visions of Our Lady, the Virgin Mary.

The story of Geraldine’s vision spreads like wildfire throughout the Pond’s community and the family are quickly over run by people looking for miracle cures. Not every member of the family or of the community believe Geraldine’s story and they all cope with the attention in different ways. Pa Pond gets in a fight with a workmate who says Geraldine is crazy. One of Geraldine’s sisters, who has more children than she can cope with, asks Geraldine to pray for a ‘special intention’ for her, without telling the younger and more innocent Geraldine that she is asking Our Lady for her not to become pregnant again. Other family members quarrel with Ma Pond, who is particularly devout, when they suggest Geraldine is lying about having visions.

The characters in Serpent’s Delight are completely believable to me, and their voices are real. The Pond family tell each other to “shut up,” but they stick up for each other to outsiders. They gossip and squabble and make up, they have horrible relatives and dear friends. Despite their faults, the more I read, the fonder and more protective I felt of the characters.

Each character has a journey in this book. The book concludes with some of the characters happily moving into new stages in life, while others have to learn to accept their lot. Just like in real life, there are tragedies too. 

In years to come I’ll re-read Ruth Park’s novels for a third time, because they are like visiting with family from a bygone time.

Wangnoo Slice (Wanganui Slice?)

Wangnoo Slice (No Bake)

Wangnoo Slice is the first recipe from my project to make every recipe from the Magnificently Simple Marvellous Slice Recipes book.  I’ll give you fair warning straight away though, this slice is delicious. If you (like me) can eat sweetened condensed milk straight out of the tin, Wangnoo Slice could even be described as dangerous.

After some research (I love Google), I’ve come to believe that the name of Wangnoo Slice was mis-spelled in my recipe book by the person who submitted the recipe (name unknown), as I found similar recipes from New Zealand called ‘Wanganui Slice’.

The original recipe uses Copha (a vegetable fat shortening made from hydrogenated cocolnut oil), but as I don’t like Copha’s waxy texture, I’ve adapted the recipe using chocolate to suit my taste. I have put the recipe for the original base using Copha at the bottom of the post, because using Copha, icing sugar and cocoa is a cheaper option than chocolate if you are on a budget.

The Magnificently Simple Marvelous Slice recipe book is from an age where the author assumes you know what you are doing in the kitchen, so they don’t always give you a method to follow. When this recipe got to the part about icing the slice, the only direction given was “ice with chocolate icing.”

I’ve included the chocolate icing recipe I used, which is adapted from an even older cookbook, The P.W.M.U. Cookery Book from 1904.

Wangnoo Slice

Base

4 Cups crushed cornflakes

200 gm milk chocolate

1/2 Cup coconut

Mix the melted chocolate into the cornflakes and coconut, and then press half the mixture using a metal spoon into a lined slice tray and refrigerate. (BTW, he who eats all of our leftovers made this slice tray for me about 20 years ago, and it has seen a lot of service in that time).

Wangnoo Slice base

Filling

200gm sweetened condensed milk

2 Tblsns golden syrup

85gm butter

1/4 Cup brown sugar

1 tspn vanilla extract

Place all ingredients into a saucepan and stir over a low heat until the mixture thickens.

Making Caramel Wangnoo Slice

Spread the caramel mixture over the base, then spread the remainder of the cornflake mixture over the top and press down to make a flat surface. Refrigerate before icing.

Icing

1 Cup icing sugar

1 Tblspn cocoa

1 and a half Tblspns water

Place all ingredients into a saucepan and stir until warm. Pour over the slice then refrigerate until set, before cutting into squares.

Original Base using Copha (can be used instead of the Base recipe above)

4 Cups crushed cornflakes

1 Cup icing sugar

125gm Copha

1/2 C coconut

2 Tblsons cocoa

Melt copha and mix with dry ingredients before spreading half of the mixture into a lined slice tin.

New Project – Make Every Recipe from this Recipe Book

MS Cookbook

Maybe I’m slightly obsessive, but I’ve always wanted to work my way through a recipe book, making every recipe from cover to cover.

When the movie Julie and Julia came out, I was beside myself with joy, to find that I wasn’t the only one who shared this compulsion. Julie and Julia was based on a blog called The Julie/Julia Project, where Julie Powell documents working her way through Julia Child’s recipe book, ‘Mastering the Art of French Cooking’.

My preference is baking with sugar (and to be completely honest, Julie Powell’s project is so far beyond my cooking abilities that I wouldn’t even enjoy the challenge she set herself), so when M recently gave me the cookbook in the photo above, I knew I had found my own recipe book to make every recipe in.

The book is titled Magnificently Simple Marvellous Recipes and was a fundraiser sold by the Geelong Multiple Sclerosis Auxiliary around 30 to 35 years ago for $1. There are 47 recipes, and nearly all of them appeal to my sweet tooth.

M is going to be so happy she gave me this recipe book once she starts getting samples!

Cat and Mouse by Gunter Grass

Cat and  Mouse by Gunter Grass is the story of a schoolboy, Mahlke, told through the eyes of one of his peers, Pilenz, who is Mahlke’s fellow classmate, altar boy and would be friend.

The story starts during the second world war in Germany, when the boys are entering their teenage years. They live in Danzig, which is on the Baltic Sea, and with their friends, regularly swim out to and hang around a sunken ship in the harbour. At first Mahlke begs to come along with the other boys, but very soon he the best diver of them all, able to bring up treasures from the ship and is admired by them all.

Mahlke is extremely competitive. He pushes himself until he can do the most knee-springs at school, although his form is not so good as the school gymnastic champion’s, and he alone is able to dive far enough into the superstructure of the sunken ship to create a haven inside an air pocket within the ship, furnishing it with a gramphone player and records and decorations which he swims over to the ship from the shore.

The other boys, particularly Pilenz, hero worship Mahlke and at some point he becomes ‘the Great Mahlke.’ 

The boys also admire the war heroes who visit their school to address them. Mahlke sees these men as competition for his hero status and during one speech, steals a medal belonging to one of these men.

There is a feeling of unease throughout the whole book. Mahlke’s father is dead, he lives with his mother and aunt and he is obsessed with the Virgin in the Catholic church. He is strange looking with an enormous Adam’s apple. In the beginning of the story, Pilenz sets a cat onto Mahlke’s Adam’s apple, which the cat thinks is a mouse. Although Pilenz and the other boys are obsessed with Mahlke, he is always separate from them and I felt that while they hero worshipped him, they didn’t actually like him.

As time goes on Mahlke joins the Labour Service and from there, he joins a Battalion and, as expected by Pilenz, became a war hero who won the Knight’s Cross, and earns the reputation of having had an affair with the commander’s wife.

The book ends with Mahlke being unable to live up to himself either, and he becomes the mouse.

I didn’t enjoy this book. Cat and Mouse would probably be called good literature by people who know more than me, (the edition I read was published by Penguin, which is usually an indication of a good book), but good literature is not always enjoyable to read. I found the story to be very depressing and wouldn’t read another book by Gunter Grass.

Jam Drops

Jam Drops

Nana C used to make these biscuits which are an old fashioned favourite, perfect for afternoon tea. Mum said she used to make aroudn one hundred of them at a time. I think Nana’s recipe used coconut. This one doesn’t, but it is still nice.

Jam Drops

125 gm butter

1 C caster sugar

1 tspn vanilla extract

1 egg

1 and 3/4 Cups plain flour

1/4 C cornflour

1 and 1/2 tspn baking powder

2 Tblspns milk

Rasberry jam

Cream the butter and sugar, then beat in the vanilla extract and the egg.

Fold in the flour, cornflour and baking powder using a metal spoon, then mix in the milk as required. (Sometimes this recipe is dryer than other times, maybe because of the size of the egg. If the mixture is still too dry, add more milk).

Roll the mixture into teaspoon sized balls, then press your thumb into the middle of each to make a well. Scrape some jam into each using a teaspoon and knife.

Bake at 160.C for approximately 12 to 15 minutes, until the biscuits start to colour. Let the biscuits cool on the tray for a few minutes before moving to a wire rack.

Makes about 40 biscuits

Cafe Martini at Wangaratta

Berry Pavlova Martinis

When I was growing up, the Hume Highway between Melbourne and Sydney meandered through dozens of little towns and several cities that are now bypassed. Travellers used to park their cars in front of milkbars in little towns that only had a main street to buy an ice cream and stretch their legs, or to get a mixed grill for lunch from a service station cafe. It used to take up to an hour during the holidays to get through the twin border towns of Albury and Wodonga and there were motels and caravan parks in every town for travellers.

We always stopped at Holbrook and climbed the submarine (mind you, Holbrook is at least a six hour drive from the sea), stopped again at Gundagai to look at the statue of the Dog on the Tuckerbox and again at the Big Ram at Goulburn. There was also all of the Ned Kelly tourist traps at Glenrowan including the big Ned Kelly (Australians like big tourist attractions), an aeroplane museum at Wangaratta, a windmill near a hotel in some little town I’ve forgotten the name of which was supposedly a ‘House of Ill Repute’ (we didn’t know what that was but stared out of the car window at the windmill and hotel anyway) and the Ettamogah Pub. It always took us two full days to get anywhere and it’s a wonder our trips didn’t take longer.

These days the Hume Highway is a dual lane separated highway that goes all the way between Melbourne and Sydney without going through a single town. I expect the travelling time would be at least half of what it used to be.

Usually when we travel we pull in to rest stops on the side of the road or fuel up at the huge service stations in the middle of nowhere, and quickly get going again, in a hurry to reach our destination.

Recently though, we were on our way home to Melbourne from interstate and as we had a holiday the next day, pulled in to Wangaratta for a meal and randomly chose Cafe Martini, at the Bull’s Head Hotel.

Martinis 2

What a find! The staff were friendly, the decor was lovely (the photo above is of plates which have been signed by anyone remotely famous ever to have eaten at Cafe Martini) and the menu was good. He who eats all of our leftovers had the Pork Belly with salad and chips and enjoyed it enormously. I had Garlic Prawns on Rosti and if I had been at home, would have licked the sauce from my plate.

Then came dessert. I ordered the Chocolate Roulade and he who eats all of our leftovers ordered Berry Pavlova. When the desserts came out, he who eats all of our leftovers looked sorry for himself and scraped off all of the berries, so I offered to swap desserts with him. He should have known better than to order it, because the waitress warned him the pavlova came with a berry sauce and he hates berries, but his loss was my gain. I scraped the berries back on again in order to take the photo at the top of the pagevand dug in.

The Berry Pavlova was the best I’ve ever had (sorry Mum). The pavlova was lovely and crisp, just how I like it and the berry sauce was a wonderful mix of sweet and tart.

Chocolate Roulade Martinis

He who eats all of our leftovers was just as happy with his (my) Chocolate Roulade (photo above).

Entrees at Cafe Martini are about $15, mains between $15 and $30 and desserts about $10. I can’t wait for our next trip up the highway to visit again.

Why We Write edited by Meridith Maran

Why We Write, edited by Meredith Maran is a book of 20 interviews with well known authors.

I found the chapters by authors whose works I have read (Jodi Picoult, Isabel Allende, Armistead Maupin and Terry McMillan) more interesting than those I had not, as I felt I already had a personal connection with them (although I recognise these are one-way relationships. I often feel as if I know an author after reading their books, all though of course I don’t).

Several constants came up again and again in each interview. The first was that all of the writers interviewed were compelled to write. Nearly all said they would write even if they could not make any money from writing (and quite a few do not make a living from their writing and have to work, usually teaching). One writer, David Baldacci, said he would write, even if it were illegal. I expect the other interviewees would agree.

Each writer also stressed the importance of sitting down and writing. No messing around waiting for inspiration to strike, no getting sidetracked by the internet or housework or whatever else is going on in the household. They all emphasized that in order to write, you actually have to sit down and write. It sounds obvious, but having the persistence to actually write is one of those things that is easier said than done.

The crafting was the third point that most of the interviewed writers talked about. They agreed on the importance of the actual words selected, the order of each word and how they sound. They all valued revisising their work and, although they did not like doing so, were prepared to discard work (previously written words).

After reading Why We Write I’ve found a few authors whose books I’ll look out for. I’m looking forward to reading A Visit from the Goon Squad, which won the Pulitzer prize, by Jennifer Egan in particular. Also A Million Little Pieces by James Frey and Water for Elephants, by Sara Gruen. Happy days ahead for me, with new authors to look forward to reading.

Chicken and Corn Lasagne

lasagne

This recipe for Chicken and Corn Lasagne feeds eight people (or four people twice, or two people four times – you can do the maths).

80 gm butter

3/4 C plain flour

3 C milk

1 Tblspn olive oil

1 Tblspn butter

1 onion, finely diced

1.2 kg minced chicken

3 C corn kernals

3/4 C cream

375 gm lasagne pasta sheets

3 C grated mozzarella cheese

1/2 C grated parmesan cheese

Melt the 80 gm of butter in a large saucepan, then mix in half a cup of flour over a low heat. Pour in the milk a few tablespoons at a time, stirring continuously to keep the mixture smooth. Continue stirring over a medium to low heat until the sauce thickens. Allow to cool while you cook the mince mixture.

Cook the onions in a frypan  in the oil and butter for few minutes before adding the remaining flour. Add the chicken mince and cook over a high heat until browned. Stir in the corn and cream and continue stirring until mixtrue thickens.

Grease a large lasagne tray or two slice trays. Line the bottom with a sheet of pasta and spread two cups of the chicken mixture over the top. Sprinkle half a cup of mozzarella over the top, then repeat with two more layers of pasta, chicken and cheese.

Pour the white sauce over the top and sprinkle the remainder of the mozzarella and the parmesan cheese over the top.

Bake uncovered for 40 minutes at 160 degrees Celsius.