Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Best Banana Bread Ever!

       Who doesn't love banana bread?? Banana bread is the best way to use up old black bananas, the blacker the better. Well one of the ways, the other would probably be banana cake... or hummingbird cake!
         I've plopped a bit of butter on the slice above for photography purposes but this recipe really doesn't need the extra butter because it's nice, rich and moist. Unless you feel like you really need it, then I won't stop you ;) I had been searching around for banana bread recipes and have not moved on since I landed on this one. I actually originally came across it on the blog Ohh-Look by Belle which was taken from an old issue of delicious magazine, but have tweaked it over time and always use it as more of a guide than following it exactly.
        I've made it time and time again and every loaf that comes out of the oven doesn't take long to disappear, which is why I always bake two at a time. I know there are many recipes out there that take their claim as the best banana bread, but trust me with this one. It's the most easiest recipe ever, melt, mash and stir. Exactly what I like. And I've even had a request for it so here it is.

Recipe: Banana Bread
1 1/3 cups self raising flour
1/2 - 1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
2/3 cup brown sugar
150 grams chopped walnuts
3-4 large over ripe bananas
2 large eggs lightly whisked
1 - 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
100 grams unsalted butter, melted and cooled

1. Preheat oven to 175 degrees celcius, grease and line a small loaf tin.
2. Sift all the dry ingredients into a bowl together with the sugar and chopped walnuts. Stir until combined.
3. In another bowl, mash the bananas and then stir in the melted butter, eggs and vanilla.
4. Fold the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients until just combined.
5. Pour into the tin and bake for one hour or until golden and a skewer inserted comes out clean.

        I've actually made my banana bread with sugar bananas and it gives a very different texture and taste compared to using regular bananas. I actually prefer the banana bread made with sugar bananas and even Ryan agrees it gives a much sweeter and better textured loaf. As they are generally smaller than your regular bananas I add a couple extra just to make sure there's enough banana in there.
        With the Queensland flood at the beginning of this year affecting the prices of bananas I guess I can count myself lucky that we have a sugar banana tree at home which has been giving us plenty of fruit all year round. Sometimes mum will also bring home the blackened bananas which have failed to sell at my uncle's grocery store, score for free bananas!

        Walnuts, I looooove walnuts and Mum says that they are what make the banana bread. I actually use a packet of whole walnuts and roughly bang them with a cleaver so that they are not all completely crushed or chopped. It helps to add another texture to the banana bread. And I usually add plenty of nice fragrant cinnamon.

        Um yes, mashed banana and melted butter looks really appealing. But I love the fact that I don't have to wait to soften the butter (or over do it in the microwave), and creaming the butter is just too tedious of a task.

        I find that if I grease the loaf tin well I don't need to line it and it just pops straight out. Tap it a couple of times on the counter to move any air bubbles around and up to the surface.

        I always love the moment when the timer tells me they are done. And then I pull out two of these beautiful loaves from the oven. The smell around the house is just blissful.

        It's always hard to resist temptation not to wait, hot straight from the oven is best. That way you get a nice thin crispy edge and a wonderfully soft fluffy interior with bits of crunch from the walnuts.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

[Angie Travels] - Dubai and Egypt (Cairo)

(Top: Dubai Airport (biggest in the world), Bottom: Dubai Highway)

        Good Day Habibi! If you've been following my blog you'll know that I've been overseas for a month and have had the time of my life visiting 5 countries over 4 weeks. It's been about 6 weeks since I've returned home but it has been a hectic 6 weeks. The first few weeks were spent recovering from jet lag, exhaustion and trying to get myself off cloud 9 (dreaming of still being in Paris) and we've also had many events to attend and people to catch up with. The few weeks after that have also been tough for my family with the loss of an aunty to cancer. And to top all that off, all my spare time in the last two weeks has been taken up making my very first wedding cake, and a special first birthday cake for a good friend's little boy.
         It's been quite a task to find the time and energy to sort through my thousands and thousands of travel photos and trying to conjur up the energy and time to compose a blog post is another great task in itself. It's only taken me about 6 weeks to complete this first instalment on my travels. So here goes...

        (Left: Burj al Arab, Right: Burj Khalifa)

        On the way to Cairo, we stopped in Dubai where there was a 7 hour transit stop for our connecting flight. Our trip organisers Harvest, had kindly arranged for a coach (well 3 to be exact) to take our group around to see the city sights. Dubai is an extremely hot place, with maximum temperatures of around 40+ degrees celcius. It may have only been about 4 or 5 in the morning when we left the airport but I could feel the heat hit me in the face as I walked out the sliding doors.
        The city itself looked very artificial, there were so many high rises and everything was very modern in design. Ryan even went as far as describing it as 'having no soul'. It was all show but no substance, it was the biggest and the best of everything e.g biggest airport, biggest mall, tallest building etc. but didn't feel all that warm and inviting. It was like a concrete jungle in the middle of the desert. I would have liked to see the old Dubai. Probably doesn't help that we saw most of Dubai from the comfort of an air conditioned bus though.

(Top: Dubai Marina, Bottom: The Atlantis Hotel)

        As it was still quite early in the morning, and also being Ramadan, there was not very much activity going on around the city and everything was still closed. We mostly stayed in the coach with a few pitt stops at significant landmarks or places of interest. Shame as it would have been fun to go into some of the places or poke around some of the shops. The photo doesn't show it that clearly but Dubai marina is the also largest man made marina in the world (surprise surprise).

(Top: Entrance to the Souk Madinat Jumbirah, Bottom: Inside the Souk)

        We stop by the Souk Madinat Jumbirah which is a large indoor 'market', or shopping complex modelled on an Arabian theme, to use their toilets and also walked through to some points of interest inside the complex. Disappointed that all the stores were still closed but I loved the architecture of this place.

(Top: Man made canal inside the complex with a view of the Burj al Arab, Bottom: Stores and restaurants surrounding the canal)

(Top: Supermarket Bottom: Antipasto items)

        And what about the food you might ask? They tried to take us to McDonalds however as it was closed due to Ramadan, we were taken to a supermarket to grab a 'snack'. It was similar to the large chain supermarkets (Coles, Woolworths) back home in Sydney. Even though we were fed breakfast before we landed, travelling does take a lot out of you and sustenance is needed. Ryan and I just grabbed a couple of things to keep our energy levels up. As it was Ramadan, we were instructed to take our food back to the coach and eat on onboard as it was disrespectful and rude to eat around people who were fasting.

        (Top: Spicey corn and rice salad Ryan and I shared, Bottom: Box of baklava which we were lucky enough to sample)

(Top: Entrance to the 'Gold Market', Bottom: Gold/Jewellery shop with security guard out front)

        We were taken to the 'Gold Market', which is just store after store selling mainly gold and other jewellery. There were also other little stores selling clothing and various other items. It was definately a market environment here with a lot of haggling to be done (and being ripped off if you weren't on your guard). This area also seemed to be the poorer side of Dubai, a big contrast to the slick looking concrete jungle we had seen all morning.

(Top: Dubai Aquarium - inside Dubai Mall, Bottom: Biggest candy store I've ever seen)

        And of course we couldn't stop by Dubai without checking out the world's largest mall. It's just a quick (and long) walk through to the other side where we get a spectacular view of the Burj Khalifa. Inside the mall is also the Dubai Aquarium which is just mind blowing, just look at that first picture above to see how big it is. And that's just the outside of it. Opposite the aquarium is also the biggest candy store I've ever seen, we admired from afar though.
        We then head back to Dubai airport where we grab some lunch before boarding our flight to Cairo (and get fed by Emirates again).

(Top: Outside Cairo airport, Bottom: Cairo highway)

        Arriving in Cairo and walking out into the airport was quite a huge culture shock. You could tell it was a culture dominated by men, and as a foreigner  (and a female) you stuck out like a sore thumb. The men would seriously undress you with their eyes which made me feel ultra self concious. Cairo, capital of Egypt, looked the complete opposite of Dubai. You could see that Cairo was nothing like Dubai on an economical scale. And I think that being surrounded by desert did not help for the appearance of the city either. A lot of the buildings appeared very dirty (or dusty), helping aid the impression that it was a poor country.

(Top: Streets of Cairo, Bottom: Spotting a pyramid in the distance)

        One thing that caught me by surprise as we drove through the city to get to our hotel was how close the pyramids were to the city. As soon as I spotted a dark triangular shadow in the horizon, my heart skipped a beat and I almost squealed like a little girl. I studied ancient Egyptian history in high school and have always dreamed of visiting Egypt but I guess I never actually thought that dream would come true so soon in my life. And spotting that little dark triangle in the distant horizon just made me realise one of my dreams was about to become reality.

(View from our hotel room)

        It was an exciting moment waking up the next day. I woke up quite early which was surprising because I barely slept a wink in the past 24 odd hours since we left Sydney, I thought I would have slept like a log. I do always have trouble sleeping in new beds though and probably because I was also super excited to know I was going to be ticking off one of my dream experiences.
        I could see the pyramids in the distance from the balcony of the hotel room which I shared with two other girls. I went out and sat on the balcony watching this dark triangle come to life as the sun rose in the sky. It was an amazing experience and I knew that it would probably only ever happen once in my life time.

(Largest out of 3, Pyramids at Giza)

        Things get even better with our first official day in Cairo. Leaving the office to embark on my 4 week adventure was quite surreal as I've never been away for so long before and it felt completely weird saying good bye to everyone. I was told something along the lines of 'in a few days time you'll be standing at the foot of a pyramid looking up and thinking 'wow' '. And when I stood at the foot of that pyramid and craned my neck up to see the top of it I thought to myself 'wow' and remembered what was said to me on my last day of work.
       I was absolutely giddy, kept grabbing Ryan's hand, pinching myself to just see if it was all real. It was absolutely amazing, to stand in front of this enormous structure, something I had ever only seen on documentaries and in text books. It was an absolute high light to start off my big adventure.

(Ryan and I in front of one of the smaller pyramids)

        We also got to go down one of the smaller pyramids, there wasn't much to see as it had been cleared out and the walls were bare but it was a cool experience to be able to walk into something that was only once a flat square diagram to me.

(Left: Sphinx, Right: Pizza Hit 200 metres from the Sphinx)

        We were also taken to see one of the last standing Sphinx in Giza. Was a little disappointed as I had imagined it to be a lot bigger. Still, it was pretty cool to see one in real life. And as I was informed by a food blogger that apparently there was a Pizza Hut only about 200 metres away from the Sphinx, we just had to see it for ourselves so our tour guide asked the bus driver to drive past it. It was closed for Ramadan though. 

(Left: Papyrus scroll production demonstration, Right: Previously made sheet of papyrus)

        We're taken to a papyrus house to check out some art works and for some souvineer opportunities. It was interesting to see a demonstration of how a papyrus sheet is made. There were many beautiful hand painted pieces, however I left empty handed.

(Top: St Joseph's Cathedral, Bottom: The inside of the cathedral)

        A pilgrimage is not a pilgrimage without daily Mass so after our visit to the papyrus factory, we high tail it through the city to downtown Cairo to St Joseph's Cathedral. It was quite a beautiful cathedral, the first of many more that I will see on my trip.

(Falafel pita sandwich)

        Our culinary experience in Cairo was limited to our hotel food, which was quite mediocre. That was until our kind tour guides provided us with some falafel sandwiches for lunch after Mass. One bite into the falafel and Ryan and I were in love. Crunchy on the outside, soft and fluffy on the inside, it was nothing like what we had experienced back home. The falafel in Cairo were out of this world!

(Top: Pita bread sold on the streets in mass, Bottom: Prickly mangoes in a cart)

        I did envy the locals, if only we were able to eat like the locals did without any repercussion. Would have been happy eating falafel sandwiches if they were all as good as the ones our tour guides bought for us.

(Left: Nunnery of Saint George, Right: The Hanging Church)

        So our pilgrimage of Egypt continues after Mass where we visit Old Cairo (Coptic Cairo) to see all the sacred sites important to Christianity in Egypt. We visited the St George Convent, St Barbara, The Hanging Church, and Abu Sarga. The Hanging Church got it's name because it was built on the southern gate of the Roman fortress.

(Abu Sarga, St Sargus Church)

       Abu Sarga is the oldest church in Egypt, it is believed that the crypt of the church is where the Holy Family took refuge while they were in Egypt.

(Top: Streets of Cairo, Bottom: Street side market)

        It was quite fascinating just observing the lifestyle of the Egyptians as we drove through the city.

(Cairo farm landscape with the city and Great Pyramids in the background)

        It's been a long and exhausting day, we're taken back to the hotel where we get the choice of free time to swim in the pool, or to stay on the bus which was heading off on a shopping expedition for essential oils and cheap t-shirts. Ryan and I decided the pool looked too good to say no to, and I'm glad we chose the latter.
        The next day is an early wake up call and a very long bus ride to St Catherine and Mount Sinai.