Thursday, 27 February 2014

Fairtrade Banana cake with peanut butter frosting

So, it's Fairtrade fortnight and as I mentioned in my last post, I decided to enter the #banananut bake-off organised by my friends at Liberation Foods. I'm not taking it too seriously or anything... but the 'creative process' (how fancy) has occupied my mind for the past couple of days! I even spent time yesterday sketching out the decoration of the frosting!

I decided to use my banana bread recipe (because it was so good) but to tweak it a bit and make it a bit 'healthier' by adding pumpkin and sunflower seeds for crunch... and then I came across a peanut butter frosting recipe and decided that would fit perfectly!.... my only problem was that I had run out of my last jar of Harry's Hill's Fairtrade peanut butter... and I didn't think I would find another Fairtrade pot in my village, but luckily, just this morning I had an e-mail from my lovely Traidcraft local contact, Jean, who sets up a stall to promote and sell Fairtrade food and crafts in my village cafe every month or so... reminding me to pop by... and so we did and luckily found a jar of Liberation's Crunchy Peanut Butter! so, all systems go!...The kids had a great time playing with Jean and for me, as always, I was so inspired to meet the incredible people who volunteer so selflessly for our 'cause' and without whom the movement would have never achieved as much as it has to date...

But back to baking... the recipe for the cake is:

285g plain flour
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
½ tsp salt
110g butter
200g Fairtrade caster sugar
2 free-range eggs
4 Fairtrade ripe bananas, mashed
85ml buttermilk (or normal milk mixed with 1½ tsp lemon juice or vinegar)
1 tsp Fairtrade vanilla extract
100 g pumpkin seeds
100g sunflower seeds

And for the frosting:

1 cup of Fairtrade icing sugar

1/4 cup of Fairtrade crunchy peanut butter

1/4 water

1 ts vanilla extract

And for the 'special effects' we bought ready to roll and use icing and with the help of my daughter's play dough set we made super fun cake decorations,,,,

I guess the cake must have know it was made for a good cause, because like Emilia said, it came out smiling!

And so... drum roll.... here is our beautiful creation!

Fairtrade banana cake with a crunchy peanut butter frosting 

Maybe I'm not quite ready to sign up for the great British bake-off yet... but I am very proud of this one and we all had great fun!  

Monday, 24 February 2014

Banananut bake off ! watch this space...

My good old friends at Liberation Foods have launched a great FAIRTRADE FORTNIGHT COMPETITION: the 'Great Banana & Nut Cake Bake Off’ - which is an invitation for people to bake a cake using Fairtrade nuts and Fairtrade bananas, plus whatever else grabs the imagination. (more details here or #banananutbakeoff) for a chance to win some fairtrade goody hampers.

I am not one to shy away from such fun challenge... so I have decided to enter... and I have decided not just to bake a cake... but also to DECORATE it....

Beware... this is what happened last time I tried to decorate a cake:

It's my little man's 1st birthday cake. Obviously a dinosaur (NOT). 

Thursday, 20 February 2014

Fairtrade homemade granola

I recently read an article where Cafedirect's new MD explained how his strategy to strengthen this Fairtrade company  included, among other things, getting the message across to consumers that Fairtrade was not an 'act of charity'.

This statement really got to me and I made me think about what we really understand by 'charity' and why it often seems to have negative connotations. The way I see it, charity is essentially an act of 'kindness' towards someone in need... and so I don't understand why we feel the need to distance ourselves from such a noble attitude?... especially when it seems like, if anything, we are bombarded on a daily basis by news of the terrible acts that we humans are capable of committing.

I guess it has to do with the fact that we take great pride in achieving things independently (I see that all the time with my 1-year-old, who insists in feeding himself, going up the stairs unaided, etc) and perhaps there is also something about not depending on others in order to reach our goals. I completely understand both, and if I transfer this to how producers might feel about us purchasing their Fairtrade products, I can obviously understand that the reason for deciding to pay a fair price for a products is not, or should not be, about doing anyone a favour, but simply because it's the right thing to do.

But, bottom-line opting for Fairtrade is an act of charity because it involves a conscious decision to, through our purchasing power, 'help' others in their struggle to earn an honest living and provide for their families.

And we all need such acts of kindness, perhaps, us who are lucky enough to live in developed countries don't have livelihoods that depend on others making such decisions everyday,  but I do think that we still do very much need such small acts of kindness in our everyday lives, whether it's a kind word of encouragement  from your mother before a big day, or a smile from a stranger when you are about to lose the plot while juggling 2 babies, keys, your wallet and 20 bags at the checkout, or the act sharing that cup of tea with your best friend after a though day (or night in our case!).

I think in a way they are all small acts of charity, and even though they might not involve a donation of money, they involve giving some sort of  boost,  and we should not feel too proud to say that we all need one more often than we'd like to admit. For me, choosing a Fairtrade product is like sending a smile to all those hard working producers out there, not our pity, but instead our encouragement and understanding, and the message that we do also want to be part of a fair system where they can feed and look after their families in the same was as we can in our side of the world.

I'd like to think that the recipe I chose this time around is a little bit like such acts of kindness:  to ourselves, because we are opting to eat a super healthy combination, and to others if you choose like I did, to make a big batch to share with your friends.

300 gr of oats
250 ml of honey (I used a delicious local Kentish one)
50 ml of vegetable oil
3 tablespoons of water
50 gr Fairtrade Brazil Nuts
50 gr Fairtrade Pecans
50 gr dried coconut
50 gr pumpkin seeds
50 gr sunflower seeds
50 gr Fairtrade Almonds
100 gr dried apricots


1) Heat the oven to 140 C

2) Combine all the dry ingredients in a bowl

3) Heat up the honey with the oil and water in a pan, until it gets very runny.

4) Combine it with the dry ingredients.

5) Spread on baking paper or non-stick baking sheets, and bake for 40 minutes, mixing it around every 10 minutes or so, so that it doesn't solidify.

6) It will still feel soft when you take it out, but it will harden once you let it stand for a few hours.

The Verdict
An absolute winner for me. I chose the nuts and seeds I had in the house left from previous recipes and some sent by my lovely friends from Liberation Foods (, but you can add any nuts of dry fruits that you prefer.

It's really delicious served with some plain yogurt or with milk and a banana or to just snack on as you wonder around the kitchen looking for something slightly naughty!. I think they also makes lovely homemade gifts to share with friends.

Friday, 7 February 2014

Fairtrade Banana Bread Recipe

It was my father's birthday recently. He lives in Bolivia and I haven't seen him for almost 2 years. Distance and the passage of time are especially hard for me when birthdays come up.

The days leading up to his birthday and a few after it, I found my mind drifting through various childhood memories, like visiting my grandfather's house in Obrajes, where my family spent most Saturday lunch times with the whole extended Castillo Clan (20+ people), and which was the most amazing house for any child to explore, with many secret closets and staircases and terraces to play the most incredible hide and seek imaginable, and where  my siblings and I grew up so close to our cousins and uncles and aunts. What a blessing to have had that time and to now have such memories that will bind us close together forever.

Of course such memories are completely connected to food, but among the many food memories that flashed by, this one jumped out: 'Queque de Platano' or Banana Bread, which I remember eating throughout my childhood as a little treat when it was time for tea, and we had to come in from playing out in the garden (tea time in Bolivia is a cup of tea and little something to eat mid afternoon) and which, in my view, could not represent more vividly the feeling of  the warmth and comfort  of 'being home'.

It's a very simple recipe, for any old day, it's not a cake - that's fancy and needs a special occassion - this one is just a little treat for a day that is not really special, other than for the fact that you are home, you are well and warm when it's cold outside, and you have a nice cup of tea in your hand that's needs company.

And so here it goes, but as always beforehand a little word about my Fairtrade ingredient: Fairtrade Bananas.

Bananas are a big deal in the UK. I remember being surprised by this when I first moved here, since they seem to be the country's favourite fruit and somehow a bit of a status symbol and definitely a sign that you are interested in being 'healtly', You can still see them being sold in coffee shops and supermarkets  for up to a £1 EACH, which is extortionate; and which could not be more different in Bolivia where they are, I guess because of their abundance, a bit of a poor-man's fruit.

Anyway, Fairtrade Bananas have had a very high profile in the UK, and  this year's Fairtrade Fortnight efforts will be focused on them (will touch more on this in future posts). There has even been a phenomena called the 'banana wars', which is a very famous trade quarrel between the US and the EU, where the US made a huge fuss about a EU scheme that offered banana producers from former colonies in the Caribbean special access to European markets.  Of course, Bananas are crucial to the Caribbean economy and half the population even now rely on them to meet basic needs such as food, shelter and education. Without the demand for Fairtrade bananas in the UK and Europe,  islands like the Windward Islands (Dominica, St Lucia and St Vincent) would be in real economic trouble. There is much more information about this on the Fairtrade Foundation's website:

But aside from the positive impact of the Fairtrade banana trade in the Caribbean, I was moved recently by learning about the impact that Fairtrade is having in the Colombian banana plantations. The Colombian armed conflict has been affecting thousands of people since the mid sixties, and of course that includes smallholder producers, who are simply trying to make a living and who get caught in the crossfire. What moved me was the descriptions of producers who explained that now that they are able to make a 'decent' living from the sale of their bananas to Fairtrade markets, they could resist joining the armed conflict, which for many people living in the countryside, for a long time, represented the only option for an income. Yes, guerrillas have been the main 'employers' in the region for many years, but now that farmers can support themselves they can opt not to be part of the conflict they loathe. Of course, it's not all rosy, because they still suffer threats and violence from armed groups who want them to join them or who want to get their hands on their incomes. But standing together in their cooperatives, they feel stronger and less afraid of them. Perhaps by buying more of their bananas, more and more 'guerrilleros' will leave their groups and join cooperatives instead. Wouldn't that be great for Colombia.

And so, here goes the recipe (adapted from a BBC one):


285g/10oz plain flour
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
½ tsp salt
110g/4oz butter, plus extra for greasing
225g/8oz caster sugar
2 free-range eggs
4 Fairtrade ripe bananas, mashed
85ml/3fl oz buttermilk (or normal milk mixed with 1½ tsp lemon juice or vinegar)
1 tsp vanilla extract
250 grs of walnuts

Preparation method

1) Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4.

2) In a bowl, cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy.

3) Sift the flour, bicarbonate of soda and salt into a large mixing bowl.

4) Add the eggs, mashed bananas, buttermilk, vanilla extract and nuts to the butter and sugar mixture and mix well.

5) Grease and flour a loaf tin and pour the cake mixture into the tin.

6) Transfer to the oven and bake for about an hour, or until well-risen and golden-brown.

7) Remove from the oven and cool in the tin for a few minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely before serving.

Ta da

The verdict.

Oh yes, a little slice of home. Definitely one to bake over and over, specially to cure the odd homesickness attack.