Tag Archives: chemotheraphy

Banana & Macadamia Nut Cake

 I might be recovering from chemo and to be perfectly honest with you, I could barely walk today and felt like I’d survived another direct hit by the proverbial Mac truck. However, there was still that part of me which is so averse to waste that even in the midst of this near death experience, I couldn’t ignore the pile of rapidly rotting bananas in the fruit bowl. If you bake, you’ll know exactly what I’d talking about. It’s like hearingTarzan calling out as he swings through the jungle “AHHHHH!”  except in this instance I’m not hearing the call of the wild. Bad bananas means that I’m hearing “banana cake”.

After all, you can’t throw out bad bananas. You can’t even feed them to your worms without feeling guilty. That is, the worms in your worm farm.

Throwing out rotten bananas, waiting until your bad bananas are so far gone that they are no longer edible, is almost a capital crime…even if you only care a teeny weeny, little bit about the environment. If you are trying to reduce your environmental footprint from a brontosaurus print down to a much more environmentally friendly ant print, the very least you can do is salvage those bad bananas. It’s all a matter of duty that has nothing to do with whether you even like banana cake. If you buy bananas and they go bad before you’ve used them for their intended purpose, you have no alternative. You must make a banana cake!!

We all know the rules.

As my grandfather said to my mother and my mother said to me: “Waste not, want not.”

So before being condemned to burn in hell for letting my bad bananas go to waste despite being decimated by chemo (Okay so I am exaggerating about the effects of chemo but I have been exceptionally tired today), I decided to grab Miss and give her a quick lesson in how to make banana cake.

The original banana cake recipe comes from the Margaret Fulton Cookbook which was first printed in 1968 and my edition, which has a relatively youthful Margaret Fulton on the cover, was printed in 1991. Last year, she celebrated her 90th birthday and she is still cooking!! I have never met the great Margaret Fulton but I have to admit she feels a bit like a surrogate Grannie who has shared so much of herself in my cooking adventures. You can check out her website here: http://www.margaretfulton.com.au   That said, this is the first time that I’ve actually read the introduction to the cookbook but it appears that I’ve absorbed her intentions by osmosis:

“Cookery is now accepted as one of the creative arts, andone by which women can express their own individuality. Never look on this cook book as a rigid set of rules, but rather as a starting point. Once a dish has been mastered, be adventurous- give it the stamp of your personality by adding your favourite flavours or your choice of garnish.”

This is exactly, what I have always done with her banana cake, which I have been making ever since high school. It started out by decorating the top of the cake with slices of banana arranged in circles and sprinkling the top with brown sugar. Since then, I’ve added coconut, chocolate chips, sultanas and pecans. It turns out that the kids don’t like sultanas in cooking and aren’t mad keen on dark cooking chocolate either. So I’ve revisited an old friend tonight and the basic banana cake was reborn yet again.

I have doubled the original recipe, which will make a 20 cm round cake and 9-12 muffins. We ate the cake straight out of the oven with ice cream for dessert and the kids can take the muffins to school for recess tomorrow.

I don’t think I’ve told you about our new recess challenge but I’m trying to bake something both kids will actually eat. Last week, they had Strawberry Coconut Slice using our very own homemade strawberry jam and Miss came home from school and said she preferred her milk arrowroot biscuits with butter in the middle to our home made excellence. I was shocked. Plain Jane has no appreciation for good food whatsoever…the pleb!

I know many parents would probably be thrilled that their children aren’t billboards promoting childhood obesity and would much prefer slapping a bit of butter on a couple of Milk Arrowroots to home baking. I should be thankful perhaps that our daughter has such simple tastes. It’s certainly much easier than baking…especially when I am having chemo. But if you’re a cook at heart, you pour so much of yourself and so much love into your cooking that you know packet stuff just isn’t the same. It isn’t a part of you…your love. When you cook for your child, your love somehow fuses to the food molecules and is absorbed and becomes a very part of your child nourishing and nurturing each and every precious cell.

When your child rejects your cooking, you know they’re rejecting your love and indeed YOU.

I need to keep baking until I find the missing key to our daughter’s heart. Open sesame! She will magically open up like Aladdin’s cave and all that treasure will be mine. After all, isn’t that what the relationship between mother and daughter is supposed to be?!!

I just need to keep trying, searching for that ultimate perfect recipe.

At least, I know Mister loves banana cake. Good on him although he isn’t usually so easily pleased either!

Tonight, it was Miss and I working together to make the banana cake.

Speaking of madam, there was some insurrection in the ranks tonight.

As everybody knows, there is only room for one chef in any kitchen. Even though I am teaching  my kids to cook and am expecting them to stand on their own two feet, they haven’t graduated yet. I am still the master…the chef. They are still very much the apprentices and if it wasn’t for the dog, they’d be at the very bottom of the food chain.

My daughter doesn’t fancy life at the bottom of the ranks and has long considered herself something of a Master Chef. In the past, this has included rejecting any kind of recipe and making her own mixtures using her own ideas of what goes together. She was somehow above the rules of cooking. Surprisingly, a number of these mixtures weren’t too bad and could even be considered edible. That said, she still needed to learn the ropes. Moreover, she needed to learn how to follow a recipe and not always be in charge!

Tonight, her path towards world domination continued as she attempted to demote me to the role of apprentice and appoint herself as Head Chef. The cheeky upstart! However, her ideas of what it means to be Head Chef were rather unsustainable.

These are her words: “You’re the apprentice Mummy. You have to do the work while I play on the computer. I’m the Head Chef!”

Something tells me she wouldn’t be Head Chef for very long with that attitude. She’d be sure to have some kitchen equivalent of Mutiny on the Bounty.

You will notice that this banana cake is a variation of a basic butter cake. It is based on the traditional creaming of butter and sugar. While creaming butter and sugar together seems rather basic, there are a few important points to consider…

Firstly, use butter which has been softened to room temperature. I am writing this at the peak of a hot Australian summer where I reckon the butter would melt within a few minutes so I’m not going to suggest how long it is going to take your butter to “warm up”. When you can cut through the butter easily with a butter knife without resistance, the butter is ready. Be careful leaving the butter out of the fridge for long on a hot summer day as you don’t want it to melt.

Secondly, when butter is creamed with the castor sugar, the sugar grains cut through the butter and aerate it, creating air bubbles. These air bubbles mix with the rising agent helping the cake to rise well and also give the cake a light texture.

Finally, the mixture is creamed, when it has doubled in volume and is pale, off-white in colour.

Recipe for Banana & Macadamia Nut Cake

250g butter

1.5 cups castor sugar

2 teaspoons vanilla essence

2 eggs

4 ripe bananas

3 cups SR Flour

½ cup milk

½ teas bicarbonate soda

Ingredients for Topping

2 extra bananas, sliced

Roasted Macadamia Nuts

Brown sugar

The apprentice sitting on the bench.

The apprentice sitting on the bench.

Directions

1. Take the butter out of the fridge and allow to warm to room temperature.

2. Grease and line tin with baking paper and set muffin tins up with patty papers.

3. Set oven temperature at 180ºC.

4.Cream butter, then add sugar and vanilla. Beat until the mixture pales and sugar has “dissolved”.

5.Crack eggs into a cup one and a time removing any stray pieces of shell with a teaspoon. Add the eggs to the butter and sugar.

6. Mash the bananas in a bowl, then add to creamed mixture. Fold in the sifted flour. Dissolve the bi-carb soda in the milk then stir into the mixture gently but thoroughly.

7. Add coconut.

8. Pour mixture into greased round cake tin and muffin tins.

9.Arrange banana slices in circles on top of the cake.

10.Cover the cake with roasted macadamia nuts.

11.Sprinkle with a generous covering of  brown sugar.

12. Bake the round cake for around 40 mins and the muffins will take 15-30 mins.

Happy Cooking!

Love & Best wishes,

Rowena

PS Please note that meal preparation has gone on the back burner at the moment. We are currently enjoying a stash of meal kindly provided by our Church. These came at a very good time as my last session of chemo has knocked me out. Wasn’t sick and my hair hasn’t fallen out but I’m exhausted.

PPS I should also let you know that our worms didn’t go without. They enjoyed the banana skins and egg shells. Everyone was happy except the dog.

Chemo Sonata

Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata is almost fused to my path, my journey, memory. Well, to be perfectly honest, we’re only talking about the first movement. It seems to be a genetic family trait that we only manage the first movement and don’t seem to progress.

My childhood resonates with Moonlight Sonata. It is my father’s piece…his song…his dance. Dad runs like clockwork. He’s largely methodical. He has his routines and used to have “a place for everything and everything in its place” once upon a time. Dad didn’t concern himself with the things like feeding children and dogs, closing windows, settling rowdy children for babysitters or applying makeup before it was time to go out. He was just ready. This meant that while Dad was waiting for Mum, he sometimes calmly and often impatiently, sat down at the piano and played Moonlight Sonata its soft rhythmic tones contrasting with my mother’s rush and bustle.

One of my most precious memories of my grandmother Eunice Gardiner  http://www.smh.com.au/comment/obituaries/a-musical-career-honed-in-the-laundry-20090823-ev2w.html who was an accomplished concert pianist also involved Moonlight Sonata. She was in what you would call her twilight years. Her memory was failing in all sorts of ways as her bright intelligence and wit were not so gradually being attacked by the cruel ravages of Alzheimer’s Disease. She told me a story about how her older brother Les had asked her to play Moonlight Sonata at a party he was having when they were young. Although she was a brilliant pianist, apparently she too only knew the first movement of Moonlight Sonata at least from memory and when she didn’t play on, he brother apparently remarked “even I can play that”. After telling this story my grandmother went across to the piano and tried to recall Moonlight Sonata and instead went on to play a patchwork of snippets from a range of highly complex pieces including Chopin’s Raindrop Prelude. I wasn’t really into music at the time and didn’t know what any of the pieces were but I was amazed at how she’d somehow stitched all these complex pieces together like the squares of a patchwork quilt. Strangely, I somehow loved her more than ever then and was very touched by a musical gift that somehow transcended human frailty and the ravages of disease.

I learned the piano for many years and while I haven’t kept it up, I will usually sit down and play Moonlight Sonata on what used to be my grandmother’s Steinway Grand piano whenever I visit my parents. I tinker away from memory with many repeats and returns trying to kick start my memory and faltering fingers. I still like to believe I can play even though putting two hands together to even play C Major scale these days, is a challenge.

Playing Moonlight Sonata after chemo.

Playing Moonlight Sonata after chemo.

Quite often, I visit my parents  after trooping down to Royal North Shore Hospital for medical appointments and treatments. I was playing Moonlight Sonata after my latest chemo treatment last Thursday when I noticed my hands on the keyboard with the tell-tale bandaid “spots”. It had taken three attempts to get the canula in, largely because we were trying my more resistant left arm so I could write with my right. In the end, we gave up but I was lucky because I was still able to write. I am a determined soul and like most writers, quite the addict. I must admit that it does seem rather crazy now…pen pushing while you’ve having chemo pumped into your veins which perhaps could have used a little rest. All the same, you are who you are.

Anyway, I asked Geoff to photograph me playing the piano with my hands covered in my spots. It was another one of my laugh or cry moments and I mostly saw the humour of the situation. I love photographing hands and also love using the piano as a photographic prop. I have numerous photos of the kids’ hands in various sizes tinkering away on the keys.

Miss aged 15 months at the piano.

Miss aged 15 months at the piano.

A duet Easter 2007

A duet Easter 2007

I also asked Geoff to film me playing.  Not a perfect Moonlight Sonata but my version just how I always play it going over and over and over the various bit of the first movement and back to the start stumbling through the notes in a fusion of emotional expression, a question for perfection and even a touch of moonlight on a dark night. Another reminder that things don’t always have to be perfect and that it’s more important just to have a go and do what you can.