Last night, it started snowing. Feather-light flakes were falling from the sky as my boyfriend and I left the house to walk to town for dinner. We lingered over dim sum - gorgeous cloud-like cha siu pork buns; sticky, ginger-spiced prawn dumplings; wispy fried taro paste croquettes with a creamy and delectable meat filling - for about an hour and a half. When we emerged, we found the snow whirling fast and furious through the air, and at least two inches on the ground. Fast forward three hours later to exiting the cinema, and I was sinking in snow halfway up to my calves. There was a sweet and beautiful silence all around as we trudged home, stopping for a childish detour to run madly over a pristine patch of virgin snow, tutting at people attempting to drive, and incredulous as we spied girls sporting bare legs and heels. (If you are one of those types, I honestly would love to know how you do it - email me).
Despite the bitter chill and the surprising effort required to walk for forty minutes in deep snow, I treasured that walk home. There was an eerie light in the sky, a ceiling of fluffy snow clouds stained with the glow of numerous street lamps. Cars made barely a sound, gently rolling and fumbling along; echoes of shouting and general weekend revelry were swallowed whole by the lavish carpet laid out by the clouds; everything subject to the capricious whim of mother nature. Sometimes I think we get ahead of ourselves in this modern day and age and need a thorough coating of snow to remind us that we are, in fact, very lucky to be allowed to remain on this planet, given that we are in fact completely at the mercy of forces beyond our control.
This morning, my garden and the surrounding houses looked like some feature from an old stately home that hasn't been lived in for years, where everything has been covered in dust sheets rendering it featureless, bleak, unrecognisable. My favourite part of snow is the flat light that comes with it, making the everyday seem otherworldly and allowing the landscape to sprawl on almost indefinitely in meandering white waves. Almost indefinitely, of course - it was broken everywhere I looked today by excitable children building snowmen and igloos.
For breakfast, I made waffles.
Perfect winter fare, given their association with skiing and colder climes. There's nothing like a steaming hot waffle, replete with butter and sugar and smothered in something even more calorific, to warm you from the inside out on a cold day.
These are not just any waffles, though - they're banana oatmeal waffles. Essentially, banana porridge in waffle form (and far healthier than the buttery Belgian kind, which seem a little too indulgent for breakfast, even when it is minus two outside). The recipe is a simple porridgey mixture of very ripe bananas (the kind I had to ask my parents not to throw away as they sat blackening and mouldering in the fruit bowl), milk, oats and cinnamon, plus a little flour, baking powder and an egg to help bind it all together and make it turn fluffy and lovely in the waffle maker.
I served these with a generous drizzle of maple syrup, plus toasted pecans and some blueberries. If I'd had some bananas that weren't almost liquid inside their skins, I'd have sliced them over too. They were gorgeous - crispy on the outside but moist and fluffy within, with a delicate banana flavour. The crunchy pecans and tangy blueberries were a perfect combination, along with the necessary sweetness of the syrup (I didn't add any sugar to the batter, so they needed those caramel notes to lift them a bit).
I couldn't resist taking these outside and photographing them against the beautiful blank canvas that was my snowy garden. Naturally, my cat decided to take a great interest and get in the way. Fortunately at the last minute she decided that waffles weren't quite meaty enough for her feline tastes, though you never know with these animals - my other cat is a big fan of blue cheese.
It's been a real case of trial and error, experimenting with my new waffle maker (a Christmas present). The first batch I made were flabby and awful, as the heat setting wasn't high enough. They looked rather like greying, rubbery teatowels. Subsequent attempts were OK but had a tendency to go soggy as soon as they emerged from the machine, I suspect due to not leaving them to cook for long enough. Finally I think I've cracked it - cook them for longer than you'd think necessary to give a nice crisp exterior, then put them in a warm oven to stay hot. Serving them one at a time helps, too - stacking them up means the underlying ones go a bit soggy.
And of course, the key to turning an average waffle experience into a great one is simple: liberal amounts of maple syrup.
These are lovely - the slight banana flavour, the contrast with the crisp pecans and the sharp bite of the berries...just perfect for a snowy winter morning, accompanied by a large mug of tea and two hilarious cats whose attempts to negotiate the snow never fail to amuse, every year.
Do you have any favourite foods to cook when it's snowing?
Banana oatmeal waffles (makes about 6 waffles, enough for 2 people):
- 2 very ripe bananas, mashed
- 1 egg
- 100g oats
- 5 tbsp flour, sifted
- 5 tbsp milk
- 1 tbsp melted butter
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 1 tsp baking powder
- Toasted pecans/sliced banana/maple syrup/blueberries, to serve (I'd recommend all of them!)
- Icing sugar, for dusting
Pre-heat your waffle maker. Whisk together (preferably using an electric whisk) the bananas and egg, then add the rest of the ingredients. You want the batter to be fairly thick (a little thinner than it would be for American-style pancakes), so add more flour or oats if necessary, or milk if you think it's too thick. It's really a case of trial and error - if the first waffles don't come out quite right, adjust the mixture.
Spoon about 3 tbsp of the mixture into your waffle maker (how much you use depends on the size and shape of your waffle maker, but you'll probably know how much mixture yours takes if you use it regularly). Cook for 4-5 minutes until crispy on the outside. You can put the waffles in a warm oven while you make another batch, or cook them to order. Scatter with your chosen toppings, drizzle with maple syrup and dust with icing sugar, then serve immediately.