Archive for April, 2012

April 25, 2012

Variations on a Theme: Homemade Granola

 

On camping trips, our menu varied, but my mom would always pack three camping staples in the cooler: chili con carne for our first dinner at camp (who wants to cook on the first night when there’s so much set-up to do and so much excitement to be had in the great outdoors?), a 2-pound block of Tillamook cheddar cheese with Dad’s bread, and homemade granola.  Nowhere do those food taste better than on a campground.  Mom mostly only made this granola when we went camping, rarely anytime else.  I’ve been breaking my cream of wheat habit and eating this granola for breakfast these days, because the whole grains and dried fruits fill me up so I can last until lunchtime.

The recipe is originally from the Menonite cookbook “More with Less,” but my mom and I have both adapted it for our liking. And that’s the great thing about this recipe: its endless variations. I mix it up a little each time I make it, but the base always stays the same: oats, honey, oil.  It’s easily scalable, so feel free to double or triple the recipe (if you have a convection oven and multiple large cookie sheets, you can make up to three batches of this at once!).

The only tricky thing is keeping track of the cooking time. You might think that a minute here or there doesn’t count, but trust our experience here: it counts. Keep a timer, and don’t wander too far from the oven when the granola is baking. And lastly, don’t skip a stir, it’s necessary to make sure everything is coated and bakes evenly.

Now go get creative, and let me know what you come up with! And as camping season gears up, remember to pack this easy breakfast along with your sunscreen.

 

Homemade Chewy Granola
Yield: 6-7 cups (depending on added ingredients)
Time: 20 minutes, including prep and baking time

Note: I’ve broken down the ingredients by round that they get added to the baking process.  This will help for when you choose variations. The only ingredients you have to have are the oats, honey, and oil – and are marked with asterisks.  Otherwise, feel free to mix things up!  If you want a crunchier granola, use less honey (but not less than 1/2 cup)

1st Round
6 cups whole rolled oats*
1/2 cup wheat germ
1/4 cup flax seeds (if seeds are already toasted, add in 2nd Round)
1/2 cup walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, sunflower seeds, or nut/seed of your choice (if nuts are already toasted, add in 2nd Round)

2nd Round
2/3 cup honey*
2/3 cup vegetable oil*

Last Round
1/2 cup dry fruit (currants, dates, raisins, apricots, cherries, blueberries, raspberries, go wild – but not too wild, I usually only put one of these in at a time)

*Required ingredients

Baking Directions:
Preheat oven to 350F. Line a large cookie sheet with parchment paper (important: even if your cookie sheet is non-stick, this stuff sticks and you’ll thank me later for telling you about the parchment paper).

Mix 1st round ingredients together and bake on lined cookie sheet for 10 minutes.

Take out, add 2nd round ingredients, stir to coat evenly. Bake again for 5 minutes.

Take out, stir ingredients, and bake again for 4 minutes.

Take out, stir ingredients, add Last Round ingredients, and bake for 3 minutes.

Remove from oven and let cool. Enjoy!

Suggested nut/fruit combinations: walnut & currant (pictured), pecan & date, almond & apricot, hazelnut & cherry

 

April 11, 2012

The Aesthetics of Coffee

 

When I was little, I would beg my dad to let me make his coffee after he got up from his afternoon nap. He’d always get up before dawn to get work done before my sisters and I arrived “on the scene,” as he’d say. So a coffee post afternoon nap was necessary (as was the pot of coffee in the morning pre-dawn).

I loved making coffee: filling up the carafe with water (two cups on the carafe equaled one of my dad’s mugs), taking out the old grinder, measuring out just the right number of beans, covering it and pressing the button, shaking and grinding for exactly 30 seconds (count them!). Then pulling out a fresh paper filter (always brown, never bleached) and folding the edges just so in order for it to fit in the basket. Scoop out the grinds – one for every cup, plus one “for the pot.” And then the clicks: the clicking down of the lid after filling the water reservoir, the click of the filter basket closing, and the last few clicks of the carafe sliding into place before the click of the “on” button and the glowing red light signifying magic was about to happen.

Slowly, the smell of coffee would permeate our kitchen as the water percolated through the machine and dripped into the carafe: what a delicious smell, so extraordinary, so luxurious, so different from any other smell! Pouring the cup, and just enough half and half.  Nowadays my dad drinks his coffee black, but back then it was hypnotizing to watch the colors swirl together, the dark liquid turning shades of tan as it swirled together, like a moving picture of the galaxies we’d study in school.

Once I took a sip of the coffee before giving it to him, and my magical coffee world came crashing down around me.

How could something so wonderful, so amazing, so satisfying to prepare taste SO VILE???

My dad smiled, and told me it was “an acquired taste.”

Over the years growing up, I decided it wasn’t worth my effort to acquire the taste for coffee. I was content with the process of preparing the coffee for my parents, and watching them sip the bitter brew.

In high school, my older sister started drinking coffee and would beg my mother for a few dollars to buy a latte before school at our student-run coffee shop (“Why on earth would you pay two dollars for something you can get at home?” was always my mother’s response).

But I, I just coveted those students who got to make the coffee (the job title “barista” had not made it to my hometown yet). I would look for summer jobs in coffee shops around town – the best cafe was fittingly called “The Coffee Shop,” where my friends and I would sit for hours playing ERS and sipping chai lattes (what I wished coffee tasted like). But none of the coffee shops would hire me – not because I didn’t like the taste of coffee (I never got far enough to tell them that), but because they needed someone who could work longer than a three-month-long summer.

It wasn’t until college, when I got a position as a barista in the college coffee shop, that my world changed. I discovered the art of making espresso, tasting the deliciously nutty shots, making the perfect steamed milk. I spent several years working in coffee shops, and over that time developed a taste for the deliciousness of coffee in addition to the added pleasures of preparing (and drinking) espresso drinks. I never let myself get too addicted to caffeine though: it is a powerful addiction that sneaks up on you. I’d switch to decaf early on in my shifts when no one was looking, and I’d often take “weeks off” from drinking coffee entirely. My coworkers thought I was crazy, and I probably was. It only takes a week for coffee’s addiction to leave your system, but it’s one of the hardest weeks ever.

Now, I look back at my relationship with coffee and I realize that for me, drinking the coffee has always been an afterthought. More important was the preparation: the ritual of measuring beans, grinding them, foaming milk, pouring the mug, and serving it to others (or later wrapping my hands around my own mug to smell the steam). It’s the ritual of coffee.

The ritual was always more important, that is, until this past week. I’ve woken up every morning with a foggy head and pressure that has lead me to cup my head in my hands at the kitchen table while David fixed his breakfast and cry out “Why does my head HURT so much??” as the hot water kettle rattled away heating my water for my French-press coffee.

This morning it hit me: I think it’s time to de-caffeinate and start over. I’ve never done this without still getting to experience the ritual of making coffee for others. Next week is going to be a long week. I think I’ll miss the ritual the most.

 

The above photo is of my friend A’s coffee that she made me one morning while I was visiting her on vacation. It was one of the best homemade espressos I’ve ever had!