Banana oat pancakes were my fanfare for 2023. I lined up all the ingredients on my parents’ glittery red countertop (it’s not the only part of the new house that will be evicted but it will potentially be the most satisfying) and methodically measured everything into a jug then whizzed it all into a gloopy batter with the hand blender. It was like teaching myself to cook again.
I’ve just returned to France after an outrageous three-week Christmas break in the UK. Yes, you read that correctly – three whole weeks of nothing more urgent to do than finishing a puzzle, watching episodes of Poirot, and eating cheese and crackers. Work deadlines were muffled, their aggravating sharp corners cushioned by my general Christmassy contentment. As a result, I am so relaxed that typing this blog post has taken days!
Christmas in Somerset
Christmas in Somerset involves a lot of rain as you might have guessed. Gaylord, who came with me for his first British Christmas, needed little further confirmation of the UK’s egregious weather but whenever there was sun or at least daylight which quite honestly didn’t stick around for long, he’d be outside befriending the neighbour’s sheep. Yes, we were deep in the country where people have pet sheep and apparently there is no need for street lamps or pavements for that matter. Torches were required for any night-time wanders, which turned out to be an event in itself on Christmas Eve.
Christmas Eve used to be the night Fiona and I would open an early present yet now the two of us are framing 30 years old we need to find alternative entertainment. Gaylord celebrates Christmas on the 24th which we enjoyed together in New Zealand, but there we had a summer garden party with barbequed chicken wings and guacamole. Glancing outside in Somerset, it was raining and dark by 3pm. However, the village had plans for us all on Christmas Eve.
Every year, the villagers gather together for a quaint Christmas Eve sojourn, traipsing between houses singing carols, drinking mulled wine and eating sausage rolls. It was such a cosy prospect, but all that rain made it a little dreary, so we zipped ourselves into raincoats and clomped up the hill in wellies with a feeling of trepidation. We needn’t have worried of course. Standing in a neighbour’s (beautiful, Gaylord and I still talk about it) kitchen, we sipped hot mulled cider, munched on those promised sausage rolls and some smoked salmon canapes, and the raincoats came peeling off. Even travelling between the houses became inconsequential thanks to the local farmer’s horse box.
Along with some new neighbours, Gaylord and I clambered into the horse box which still had a block of hay inside and simply had to cling on while my parents were offered the comfortable seats in the truck. The farmer wore wellies which was maybe why we hurtled down those country lanes, the horse box clattering and bouncing, and if you were that unlucky one (me) to board the horse box last and there to be no more leaning room against the metal-slatted edge, the only option it to press your hand to the ceiling and pray.
At each stop we were offered more mulled wine and more sausage rolls, and Dad and Gaylord each counted all the Agas we encountered, and soon all that mulled wine made the journey less treacherous and more like a gentle roller coaster.
As we’d had this seasonal escapade on the 24th, I couldn’t seem to muster the energy for one on Christmas Day – not that it was even on the agenda with all the eating we had to get through – and then on Boxing Day, I found myself still in my dressing gown at around 2pm after a particularly gruelling day of finishing a puzzle. It was such a lazy time in the peace and quiet of the countryside, in my parents’ new house with flagged-stoned floors which gently slope downwards – you can see the gap between the floor and skirting boards – and the sacred Aga with the kettle that whistles shrilly to alert you to tea time (many times per day apparently).
This peace was just the ticket for me and I soon found it easy to not look at a to-do list or even take pictures of my food (I know! What is the world coming to). There was, of course, plenty of it – this is a food blog after all – and we ate parsnip soup with a side of cheese scones flecked with pieces of salty bacon, chicken biryani and carbonnade flamande, chocolate self-saucing pudding, my Dad’s prune and date cake as a lighter version of the traditional Christmassy one, and then on Christmas Day the table was practically buckling under the weight of it all – turkey, homemade cranberry sauce and bread sauce (which was fairly unusual for a Frenchman, but what do they know, they eat frogs’ legs), roast and mashed potato, sprouts fried with parmesan, breadcrumbs and garlic, pigs in blankets (average sized ones), stuffing (probably the only food made by yours truly – as I said, I was very relaxed) and at least two boats of gravy, plus the table was scattered with chocolate coins, I suppose should one want a palate cleanser. There were crackers and crumbled paper crowns, this new-fangled event called the King’s speech, a merry fire roaring in the stove, and then Round Two of food which involved a cheeseboard. Could you need anything more?
Here’s to 2023
I don’t mean to state the obvious, but 2022 was a year. On this blog, it was the year of pastry – flaky hand pies, apple pie and even pain au chocolat! – of homemade clotted cream which didn’t work, crumpets, all those Raid the Fridge lunches, and sticky gingerbread marshmallows. I ticked recipes off my bucket list, wrestled with this old blog to make it look a bit less tired, a bit more sparkling, and ate a rude amount of French cheese and processed meat so now I’m on an anti-inflammatory diet for the start of 2023 which means no cheese, no processed meat, no fried chicken burger that Gaylord is making for his dinner tonight, and no fun.
The 2023-Ally will be a different creature to the Allys of the past who counted their five a day in the form of French pastries. There is light at the end of the tunnel though, dear reader, don’t fret as my sweet tooth won’t go without a fight. That’s why I made banana oat pancakes to ring in the new year (and I treated myself to some pink peppercorn plums on the side).
Banana oat pancakes
Most mornings at my parents’ house, I poured myself a bowl of bran flakes which I topped with a couple of dollops of stewed apple. Most mornings, this sedated me. The morning of the banana oat pancakes was not a normal morning. You see, I had a recipe to trial and a craving, something that hadn’t overcome me for three weeks. I even went to the supermarket with my mum to buy the ingredients. I craved oaty pancakes, warm and earthy from oats, little speckles breaking up the soft texture. The torpor of Christmas was over and I was back in business… making quite possibly the easiest pancakes ever.
You see, all the ingredients are popped in a bowl or jug, you then stick in a hand blender and whiz it until smooth. And Bob’s your uncle – all you need to do now is scoop out large ladlefuls of banana-oat batter and cook them in a hot frying pan. They puff up rather prettily and then can be stacked on a plate before covering in maple syrup, Nutella, or in this case, poached plums in pink peppercorn syrup.
On this anti-inflammatory diet of mine, I can’t eat sugar. Believe me, no one is cursing the gods more than me right now. Ripe banana in the pancakes offers some sweetness, yet for me and my rebellious sweet tooth, we are addicts and need more of a hit. Therefore these poached plums are made with a mere squeeze of honey, a moderate amount for a breakfast that could easily pass for a dessert. The pink peppercorns and star anise add a wintery sprinkle of spice to the plums’ flavour, and the syrup is a rather suggestive hot pink, who knew healthy could be so pretty?
So, banana oat pancakes are my surprisingly healthy and easy start for 2023, one to ease me into this anti-inflammatory malarkey. If the rest of the menu follows suit, then sign me up!
Banana oat pancakes with pink peppercorn plums
- 2 bananas ideally ripe with brown spots
- 2 eggs
- 100 ml milk I used oat milk
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 130 g rolled oats
- 2 tsp baking powder
- ¼ tsp salt
For the plums:
- 300 ml water
- 40 g honey
- A pinch of pink peppercorns
- 1 star anise
- 5 plums
- Start with the plums. Combine the water, honey, peppercorns and star anise in a sauce pan. Chop the plums in half and, if they're not too stubborn, gently remove the stones. Submerge them in the syrup and place the pan over a high heat to bring it to the boil. As soon as you see bubbles, reduce the temperature to low and cover the syrup with a piece of greaseproof paper.
- Simmer very gently for 3 minutes then check on the plum halves. If they are still a little firm, keep poaching for another 2 minutes. Poach the plums for a total of 5 minutes then remove the pan from the heat. If the plums have collapsed, remove them from the syrup and leave them to cool on a plate.
- In a large bowl or jug, add the bananas (ideally ripped into chunks), eggs, milk, vanilla, 90g of the oats, baking powder and salt.
- Using a hand blender, puree the lot of it until all the banana is mixed in and the only lumps are little pieces of oat (you won't be able to puree it all). Stir in the remaining 40g of oats.
- Heat a non-stick frying pan and add whatever fat you feel you deserve – I used cooking spray because I've been so greedy this Christmas, but normally I always deserve butter. Let it melt and start to sizzle, then pour in a ladleful of pancake batter.
- If you frying pan is big, you can cook two or three pancakes at once. Cook them on medium heat and flip them over with a spatula when there are bubbles on the uncooked surface. Repeat on the other side until the pancakes are golden – around 2-3 minutes on each side.
- Pile them up on your plates and top with the poached plums and some syrup, a drizzle of honey and a sprinkling of icing sugar.