Saturday, 20 April 2013

Like a proper 'nana?

Bananas are a marvellous fruit and, like me, you probably include a bunch in your shopping trolley.

But how many of us think about how they are grown?

One Kiwi business just down the road from where we live has not only thought about it but have been active in ensuring the farmers and plantation workers who grow their bananas receive a fair living wage and that toxic chemicals are not used in their cultivation.  All Good Bananas operate out of a suitably banana yellow corrugated iron shed in Grey Lynn.
All Good Banana Headquaters in Auckland and the distinctive wrap
 "Good for growers. Good for you"

All Good Bananas first grabbed my attention in the local community newspaper where I read they had become the first New Zealand business to be named amongst the World's Most Ethical (WME) companies.  That is sure an achievement for a company that employs just ten staff, especailly when other companies recognised are commercial giants like Marks & Spencer in the UK and Wholefoods in the US.

All Good Bananas website convinced me that I should change my banana buying habits.  On the website you can search where their bananas are sold all over New Zealand.   To my friends in Dunedin, Taste Nature sells them.
On their website you can download a variety of posters

Bananas are versatile.   They make a smoothie rich and creamy, boost a winter breakfast when allowed to just warm through in a pot of hot porridge, and can be your pre packed lunch on the run.   When the skin turns brown and spotty, welcome them to the world of baking and muffins or banana cake.

My bunch of All Good Bananas were used to make a quick, easy and delicious dessert for our friends Julia and Graham.

Orange Flamed Bananas

1 banana per person...about 25 gms of butter...heaped Tbsp of honey (or to taste)...
brandy or any preferred liqueur (if you wish to flame the bananas)...1-2 oranges.

Heat about 25 grams of butter in pan add honey or raw cane sugar, stir and let it bubble,
Gently slide in Bananas cut in half lengthways. 
I used Waitaki Honey that perfumed the kitchen wonderfully while I cooked the bananas.
This honey was featured on my posting "Waitaki Honey with Plums and Basil"

Cook until the bananas begin to change colour

Then add the juice of 1 or 2 oranges 

I used Contreau liquer with complemented the orange flavours

Served with hokey-pokey icecream and some honey wafer shards

To buy All Good Bananas you usually pay $3.99 a kilo which is $1 more a kilo of non Fair Trade bananas.  The dollar difference ensures that growers know the price they will get and the premium they are paid has resulted in community projects, like building schools.

Angel Iniguez, a grower from Equador,  has a message for  banana consumers in New Zealand: 

The important thing is to keep helping us by buying our Fairtrade bananas. We are small producers and by buying our bananas, you are helping us and the workers on our farms to progress. If you don’t buy our fruit, we can’t look forward to better times and keep taking care of the environment!”

My friend Julia is an excellent baker and generous with it.  She's always whipping up a cake for someone at work or a friend who is celebrating a birthday.  I thought of Julia when I wanted to find a different and good banana cake.

Alison Holst's biography with Barbara Larsen
(who has a great eye for a story).  Alison a Dunedin gal first
appeared on our TV screens nearly 50 years ago for a series titled
"Here's How" made in Dunedin  Dowling Street Studios. 

Julia suggested a recipe from home cook doyenne, Alison Holst who has written over 100 cookbooks. Alison has named it Crazy Cake - not sure why, but then Dame Alison has earned the right to call a recipe anything she wants.  It's a chocolate banana batter cake.  Julia has successfully tripled the recipe and cooked it in a roasting dish as a celebratory cake for a large crowd.

I believe the best cakes are made by creaming butter and sugar with eggs, but I have to admit this cake was delicious, very easy and light.   I think it's the combination of vinegar and baking soda that gives the batter the lift to make the cake light.   The addition of banana ensures a moist cake.

Crazy Banana Cake

Here are the dried ingredients in the bowl, and the water, oil
and vinegar ready to be added.  How simple is that!

Turn on the oven to 180 C.

Prepare the dry ingredients and sift:
1 1/2 cups flour
1 cup of sugar (I used 2/3 cup)
2 Tbsp cocoa
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt

Add the wet ingredients:
2 Tbsp Malt Vinegar (I didnt have malt so I used Red Wine Vinegar)
1 tsp vanilla essence
3/4 cup water
1/2 cup of vegetable oil

Bake for up to 40 minutes (could be sooner).  If you start to smell cake -or if its starting to shrink from the side of the tin, that's a sign that it could be ready .  Otherwise test with a skewer if you are unsure.   I used a 20 cm ring tin, and daughter Tansy iced it with a delicious icing that included melted chocolate, Dutch cocoa and a dash of cream.

As this was Peter's birthday cake I did use the best ingredients I had - cold pressed sunflower oil, red wine vinegar and Dutch cocoa that I couldn't resist purchasing at the Parnell French market.   The man selling the cocoa advised me to use less oil or butter when baking with the Dutch cocoa because it is so high in cocoa fats compared to what we usually buy here.   So for this recipe I took the oil down to 1/3 cup.

It may have been Peter's birthday but 2 year old Beau also wanted
the birthday moment of blowing out the candle.

  • Per capita New Zealanders eat more bananas than any other country 
  • Bananas combat depression, make you smarter, cure hangovers, relieve morning sickness, protect against kidney cancer, diabetes, osteoporosis and blindness 
  • Rub the inside part of a banana skin on a mosquito bite and it is said to relieve an itch (I'm going to try that!)
  • Inside banana skin can also be used to put a great shine on your shoes 
  • Bananas help overcome depression due high levels of tryptophan, which is converted into serotonin - the happy-mood brain neurotransmitter
25 Powerful reasons to eat bananas

I never knew that bananas could lift your spirits.

By buying bananas grown without exploitation of the environment or the people growing them, then you will feel doubly good.

I've decided that I will pay the extra and buy All Good Bananas from now on - even if it means a few less bananas - quality not quantity.

All Good Bananas have 4% of the domestic market share.  Remember, their website lists who stocks them.

Go on... find yourself a proper 'nana!

Sunday, 7 April 2013

The Big Easy and harvest time in Hawkes Bay

The Big Easy - I liked the sound of that as a sports event - cycling from Church Road vineyard in Taradale to Black Barn vineyard near Havelock North via a number of eateries. I heard the words vineyard to vineyard very clearly, but failed to think too much about how I was going to accomplish the 43 kilometre ride.

The offer of free Hawkes Bay Gala apples along the way certainly kept me going.
My photo of apples at Te Koha Organics
We had warnings of possible hazards.....
But I think that was a bit of an exaggeration

You see so much when you cycle.  From the tracks I got an opportunity to see orchards, vineyards and farms up close.   Here I was in Hawkes Bay at harvest time.

Cycling past at first glance I thought this was a paddock of
stones but on a closer look...
It was a field of pumpkins ready for harvest

But to digress... to the Hastings Farmers Market.   

Many varieties of squash for sale at the
Hastings Farmers Market every Sunday.
In warmer weather all the vendors, like wagon trains in a western, form a circle inside the showgrounds under the shelter of large trees. In winter they ply their trade under the grandstand and in a nearby building.  

I went to the market to find inspiration for an easy autumn produce dinner. So many delicious products to choose from!  I couldn't go past the locally produced artisan dried pasta from Pasta Love and I chose a Pappardelle made with Rosemary picked from the pasta maker's garden.

Pappardelle is a flat broad pasta usually 2-3 cm wide.

Next I was attracted by the vivid colours of Orcona Chilli 'n Peppers.   Their site has some good information on the health properties of chillis.

I especially like the orange peppers and this one shaped with my initial.

And to keep with the autumn harvest theme what better choice than mushrooms from The Te Mata Mushroom Company 

The Te Mata Mushroom company website has some good information
on vitamin D and mushrooms

While cutting up the vegetables get ready a pot of boiling
water to cook the pasta (this is the longest part of the process)

With the addition of spring onions and basil from Monica's home garden I was ready to start the Pappardelle.  Slice up 4 small spring onions, and two orange peppers, a good handful of basil and as slice as many mushrooms as you like.   This was enough for three of us.   

I don't usually peel mushrooms - just wipe their surface with a damp paper towel - but if the mushrooms were a little older then I would peel them.

While chopping up the vegetables, put on a large pot of water and bring to the boil, add about 1 Tbsp of salt once the water is boiling.
I was lucky enough to find in Monica's pantry Al Brown's Orange Chilli Oil,
but you can use any oil
First of all heat from cold a couple of cloves of garlic in olive oil.  Once the garlic begins to sizzle, add the spring onion and then the sliced peppers. 

The pasta takes about 9 minutes to cook so now would be a good time to add the pasta to the boiling water (ideally feeding it into the water so that the water doesnt stop boiling).

Now add the sliced mushrooms and cook until juicy and soft.   If you think the mix needs some more liquid then add a half cup of water from the pasta water.   Pasta water is good because the flour gives the water a light thickening quality.   When the pasta is cooked, keep aside some pasta water to add to the sauce.   Just before serving add the basil and about 1/4 cup of grated parmesan to the sauce.  The cheese gives a creamy-ness without adding cream.   

I prefer to keep the mushroom flavour rich and not diluted by cream but you could add a dollop of cream, sour cream or creme fraiche if you like a creamy sauce.

Pappardelle is derived from the verb "pappare" which means to gobble up.  The three of us certainly gobbled up this light and tasty sauce on top of the really good pasta. 

Back on track with the Big Easy

The day before on The Big Easy bike ride after the 30 km mark, we were looking for time off the saddle and for an opportunity to gobble something more substantial than the free apples offered on the trail.      

These grapes had just been uncovered from their
netting protection ready for harvest at The Bivvy vineyard
Biking along the stopbank with river on one side and vineyards and orchards on the other we came upon a foodie's oasis at The Bivvy Vineyard.  

The food truck in the background, long tressle tables
and a shade cloth for customers
How special it is to buy wine from the winemaker and to be in among the vines, with a food truck serving up fresh food.  We enjoyed a glass of 2010 Bivvy Voignier and a salmon and salad wrap or a late summer salad with melon, salmon and feta.

Looking up from The Bivvy to the cycle track
All credit to the organisers of The Big Easy.   Somehow they managed to get this event up and running in 6 short weeks. It attracted 700 riders, a mix of locals and visitors, for the inaugural  Cycle the Big Easy. How fortunate are the people of Hawkes Bay to have local councils with the vision to provide a network of purpose made cycle/walking pathways away from vehicle traffic. These pathways are comparable to those you find in cycle orientated countries like the Netherlands.

43 kms was about 13 kms too far for me - I was exhausted.
On completion of the trail we got free entry to a concert at the Black Barn vineyard starring The Beat Girls and enjoyed excellent wood fired pizzas and Black Barn wine. Meanwhile our bikes were being wrapped in blankets and taken by Conroys moving trucks back to Church Road where our day began. After the concert we too were given a ride back to Taradale in a bus.   All this for $25 per person!  

Harvest time is a lovely time to visit The Bay. If the organisers decide to do The Big Easy Cycle trail again next Easter, I am sure this would attract bike riders from all over the country.