Fear Of Food Waste Has Made Me Start Cooking (And I Hate Cooking)

I've even begun baking my own banana bread – yeah, I was surprised, too.
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My fridge used to be a parody of thirty-something solo living: a plastic carton of Sainsbury’s soup, a bag of pre-washed salad and punnet of cherry tomatoes (both plastic, obvs), a grubby looking square of parmesan, and an M&S G&T tin. But in the past year, we’ve run so many articles here at HuffPost on food waste that I really am trying to do better – for myself and for the planet.

I can track my journey (yes, I used the j word) via spinach. Where once I chucked out packet after packet because I’d let them turn to spinach soup, I’ve started picking out every last usable leaf before the bag goes in the bin. More recently, I’ve realised I can buy huge handfuls fresh from the market that taste better and cost less than pre-washed stuff. Told you it was a journey.

Still, it’s only spinach. There must be more fun to be had in the fight against food waste? People, I give you banana bread. Seriously, take a slice. I made it last night and it’s smiling at you. Or raising a wry eyebrow at the very least.

Last night's batch, fresh from the oven.
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Last night's batch, fresh from the oven.

There’s really nothing more unappetising than a rapidly browning banana and yet – this is the magic bit – banana bread recipes actually need your bananas to be on the turn (because they’re all the better for mashing up). How do I know this? I found myself googling ‘how to use overripe bananas’ one night as I stared curiously at my fruit bowl. Yes, I’ve changed.

As someone who belongs to the “can’t cook, won’t cook” tribe, previous baking efforts have been limited to Betty Crocker cake-in-a-box kits, which even then I managed to mess up. Nor do I own much kitchen paraphernalia. But all you’ll need for this is a big bowl, a loaf tin (mine cost £1.75), greaseproof paper, and a set of scales – or failing that an old school tea cup, which is the perfect size for measuring out your dry ingredients. If you’re anything like me, you’ll also want a recipe that keeps things very simple. This one, adapted from BBC Good Food, does that.

Measure 140g butter, 140g caster sugar and 140g self-raising flour (that’s one cup’s worth each), plus two eggs (beaten), two bananas (mashed) and a teaspoon of baking powder. Pre-heat the oven to 180° (fan 160°). In a bowl, cream the sugar and butter with your fingers then, using a spoon, fold in the eggs with some of the flour, then the bananas and baking powder with the rest.

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It’s really that simple. Even I can’t mess it up. Pour the mixture into your greaseproof-paper lined tin, bake for 30 mins or until a skewer comes out clean, cool for 10, and then enjoy a slice of your miraculous creation with a cup of tea. To borrow a line from one of the greatest films ever made: “Honey, you baked!”

I can’t tell you how satisfying I find this whole process: equally mindful after a long day at work or a cosy winter weekend afternoon. Not only that, but you’ve got a means of currying favour with your colleagues the following day or – if you do as I do – a readymade snack for yourself for the rest of the week. No more buying expensive packet cakes or biscuits. And you’ll have enough of the dry ingredients to make another batch of the bread before you need to restock.

Now, I realise this is basic cooking common sense to many people, but it’s real behavioural change for me. Food waste can feel like an insurmountable mountain, but we all have to start somewhere. And I’m not the only one.

My colleague found two festering apples in the bottom of her fridge last week that she managed, with a pinch of cinnamon, to turn into a delicious Christmas crumble that’s “really, really nice with vanilla ice-cream”. And I’ve recently discovered the joys of pappa al pomodoro, a hearty Italian soup that you have to make with stale bread (or not at all). Sorry, birdies. And Sainsbury’s.

So, next time your bananas are looking a bit like this, you know what to do.

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