"Sek bao mei?"
No matter what time my mom or dad calls, the first question is inevitably, "Have you eaten?" Instead of saying Hello, asking someone about the last time they filled their stomach is a common greeting in Chinese culture, particularly among older folks. I've grown so accustomed to it that I've never challenged its peculiarity, until the question was directed to me in the middle of the night due to the time difference between where my parents are and where I live now. I recognise that as their way of saying "How are you?" so I assure them of my wellbeing by counting all the wonderful new food discoveries I've made since moving to California.
Talking about food, much like the sharing of a meal, is an effective social binder. The basic act of feeding oneself, and the derivation of pleasure from it, is a topic that bridges differences and gaps, or in this case with my parents, time and distance. My excitement over a simple bulbous vegetable with a liquorice flavor (fennel!) informs them that I am eating and cooking, and by extension, taking good care of myself. Such details concern parents.
A couple of weeks ago, my mom called to ask if I had an easy recipe for a cake that has no refined sugar in it. I told her about my successful sugar substitution attempts with fresh fruit purees, and went on to describe a healthy loaf cake I often make for breakfast. It was nice exchanging baking notes with my mom. Now, I don't know if she would call herself a baker, but she was definitely a feeder, as I imagine all mothers are.
I'd like to say I learned to cook from my dad, who was a chef back in the day, and the food connection with my mom came much later, in my adulthood, when she would show up at my studio apartment with half a dozen plump dragonfruits and a whole butter cake, slathered with frosting so rich it made my head spin. She was a simple baker, that's what I remember, and through simplicity she became quite adept. Before we hung up, I promised I'd document my healthy loaf cake recipe for her. It's simple and has become my go-to recipe for emergency cake situations like morning cravings, impromptu guests or homemade food gifting without sacrificing nutrition for taste.
This holiday season, there is no inappropriate time to ask the question: "Have you eaten?" May we all eat well and full!
Fresh Fruit Whole Wheat Loaf Cake (Refined Sugar-Free)
This easy loaf cake relies wholeheartedly on fruits for character: mashed bananas, grated apples and pears, chopped raisins, and for the icing of the cake, so to speak, slices of in-season fuyu persimmon. The mashing, grating and chopping of the fruits are integral steps to ensuring the overall balance of moisture and flavor in the cake. Makes 1 loaf.
1 cup (130g) all-purpose flour
1 cup (140g) whole wheat flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 cup vegetable oil (I used extra virgin olive oil)
1 cup mashed ripe banana (about 2 large bananas)
1 cup grated Fuji apple and Bosc pear (about 1 large apple and 1 large pear), liquid lightly squeezed out so it's not watery
1/2 cup raisins, chopped and lightly covered in flour to prevent sticking
1 fuyu persimmon, sliced (optional)
Preheat oven to 350° F. Oil a 8 X 4 loaf pan and set aside.
Mix the dry ingredients in a medium bowl and set aside. In a large bowl, beat eggs well. Add the rest of the wet ingredients and mix thoroughly until combined. A hand mixer will be useful here. Gradually add the dry mixture into the wet mixture and fold with a spatula until everything is fully incorporated. Add chopped raisins and mix.
Pour batter into the loaf pan and spread evenly with the spatula. Knock the pan against the worktop once or twice to level the batter. Arrange persimmon slices on top.
Bake for 1 hour or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove from heat and let cake sit in the pan for about 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Slice according to desired size and serve.