Granola For Christmas: You’re Welcome

Would you like me to solve all your holiday gifting issues in two words? 

Homemade granola.

THIS stuff.

Okay, the average child or teen might not thrill to that. But I guarantee you anyone from college-age on up will say one of the following to you:

“This is great! I get so overwhelmed with sweet stuff over the holidays, it’s nice to have something healthy.”

“I grab a handful on my way out the door to work.”

“I keep it in my desk at work. I have to hide it from my co-workers.”

“I keep it in my freezer. I have to hide it from my housemates.”

“We eat it on everything. I don’t have time to make it, and the good stuff is so expensive.”

“What do you put in yours? Can I have the recipe?”

“What a great idea. I’m doing this next year.”

That last one? Maybe by the time you’re done reading, you’ll be saying that yourself. But why wait? There’s still time THIS year. 

The VERY best thing about granola (and face it, there are no bad things, unless you burn it…oh, and I hate getting sesame seeds stuck between my teeth) is that it is ridiculously flexible. There are very, VERY few rules to granola. So think of this as less of a “recipe” and more of a guideline.

I start with 8 cups of plain rolled oats (NOT instant) and 6 cups of assorted nuts & seeds. Usually I opt for equal amounts of pecans and almonds (whole), walnuts (rough-chopped), pumpkin seeds (pepitos) and sunflower seeds. I’ve also used unsweetened coconut, cashews (the Mate doesn’t like ’em), and hazelnuts (sometimes hard to come by), and sesame seeds. (Got real tired of those little boogers.)

“There’s too many nuts in my granola”….said NO ONE EVER.

Mix all that dry stuff in a giant bowl. If you’re on a budget or don’t adore nuts, use less! Or fewer. Or both.

You also have choices in your oil & your sweetener. You want one cup of each, but which kind? Honey’s the classic; it makes a stickier, clumpier granola. Maple syrup has that wonderful maple flavor & aroma, plus it’s easier to clean the pan afterward, but if you like clumps, don’t use maple. (Also, it’s pricier.) Sometimes I’ll go half-and-half, depending on what I have.

If you like a bit of salt flavor in your granola, I’d recommend one full cup of olive oil–it gives it that nice, savory nuttiness. If you don’t care, and want to go a little cheaper, use a cup of canola. Often, again, I’ll go half-and-half. (I was once gifted granola made with butter, and it was delicious…but I don’t know how long it would keep.)

Heat your cup of oil & cup of sweet stuff in the microwave for a minute or so, enough to make it nice & liquidy. Then add a couple of Tablespoons of vanilla. (Mmm…your house will smell like cookies.)

Mix your wet thoroughly into your dry. Then add whatever spices you like. These days I’ve been using about a tablespoon each of cardamom and cinnamon. Salt? Totally depends on taste. I think I probably add about a Tablespoon. Maybe more. I like salt.

Mix thoroughly & spread EVENLY into two large pans. Notice mine are two different materials, so they bake differently. (Try not to have your layer of granola thicker than one inch if possible.) I usually start one on the lower rack of the oven, then switch.

All tucked in & ready to bake!

What temperature? How long? That TOTALLY depends on your oven and the size of your pans.  But I go 375 degrees for 10 minutes, stir, switch racks, another 10, stir, and then…bake till done!

Getting toasty on the bottom–time to stir. But I do like a little variegation in mine.

Wait, though–what about the raisins? Hmph. Me, I don’t care for raisins. I respect their longevity in Anglo cooking (“plum pudding” = raisins, people). I thank them for their long service. And…I don’t put ’em in my granola. Instead I use 2-3 cups mixed sultanas (GOLDEN raisins–whole different beast!), cranberries (YUM) and/or whatever signature flavor I think the person I’m gifting will enjoy. Candied ginger. Dried cherries or blueberries. Chopped dried apricots. Etc. (I wish my favorite, dried mango, worked, but I’ve found it too dry.)

Sultanas, yes. Raisins, no. But that’s just me.

Let the granola cool before mixing in the fruit. If you’ve used honey, stir the granola a bit as it’s cooling so it won’t stick as much. And–duh–let the granola cool thoroughly before bagging it. This recipe makes two huge bags, or three less-huge.Well-sealed, it keeps for weeks, or longer in the freezer.

Play around with your own varieties and let me know, okay? You’re welcome, and (as all your giftees will say) thank you!

 

 

This Is Your Brain On Proofs: Why Proofreading Is–Or Isn’t–Like Making Bread

Ever wonder what someone’s brain sounds like after ten straight hours of proofreading proofs?

 

Exactly what it says.

“Proof. Poof. Why do they sound so similar?”

“‘The proof is in the pudding!’ Shouldn’t that be, ‘The proof is in taking a BITE of the pudding?’ I mean, plenty of pudding LOOKS great, but don’t judge a pudding by its looks, right? That would be like judging a book by its cover. Which people shouldn’t do. Which is why I’m currently proofreading these proofs.”

No cover-judging!

“And you know when they say ‘pudding,’ they mean dessert, right? Those ol’ British Commonwealth types, they actually ask their mums, ‘What’s for pudding, then?'”

“Hope they get their just desserts. I mean puddings.”

“You know what else proofs? Bread. Or anything with yeast in it. That’s what we bakers call the rising part: proofing. Isn’t that the OPPOSITE of what I’m doing now? I’m poking holes in my own prose, deflating its presumptions of quality.”

Proof of bread proofing.

“Or am I? I mean, proofing my proofs IS helping their overall quality rise in the long run, right? Well, yeah…but only after I make all those corrections. So the proofs have to flatten themselves in humiliation before they can rise. What’s the bread equivalent of proofreading?”

All THESE corrections.

“Did you know that the German word for ‘test’ is ‘PRÜFUNG’? So guess where ‘proofing’ comes from? And, yup…’proving.’ All these words have to pass their test. Just like the bread does.”

Proof of croissants proofing.

“If I quit proofing these proofs too soon, will they go ‘poof’ and prove me a fool?”

“And don’t even start me on loafing puns.”

Happy Whatever of July

“Does Canada have a July Fourth?” goes the riddle. The answer still makes me chuckle. (I’m not writing it here; if you don’t know it already, think about it.)

My own personal riddle goes more like, “When does July Fourth end?” Answer: “Are we there yet?”

OK, maybe that doesn’t qualify as a riddle; pretty sure riddles are funny. My point is, for people who work in the tourism/food industries, Independence Day is one killer holiday. And when it falls on a Tuesday (which is generally the best day for small food businesses to close), what should be a three or four-day weekend suddenly becomes a week-long tunnel. (In the case of Holly B’s Bakery, where I work, it’s a tunnel of Love & Butter.)

20 to a pan. On July 4 we baked 19 pans…and still ran out.

Not complaining! It’s great work. I’m just throwing this out there to remind everyone to be kind to their servers this week–they are probably exhausted.

(And to explain why I’ve been AWOL for a week. I’m back…and might even have something intelligent to share by the next post!)

Till then–Happy Birthday, America! Now I’m going back to bed.

Reuse, Recycle, Renew Your Appetite: “Upcycling” Cooking Boo-Boos

If you’re like me, you HATE throwing away good food. The more you need to toss, the more you hate it. So imagine the loathing that accompanies needing to compost an entire 20×30″ pan of overbaked brownies, for example. This tragedy plays out all too commonly in commercial kitchens.

But it doesn’t have to!

At Holly B’s Bakery, we are becoming (we modestly think) the masters of up-cycling “useless” food. Let me give you three scrumptious examples.

Example #1: those overbaked brownies. We tossed them in the Cuisinart with a little butter to glue them back together, then pressed them into a buttered pan as a pre-baked crust…which we then proceeded to top with dulce de leche cheesecake filling. Sprinkle with sea salt…bake…heaven.

Honestly, it’s more like cheesecake frosting on a brownie. Only more so.

Example #2: over-toasted Cappucino Bars (our name for espresso shortbread with tiny chocolate chips and a cinnamon-espresso glaze). Once more into the “Cuize” with…wait for it…a glob of ganache (a.k.a. the essence of a truffle: dark chocolate melted with whipping cream). And a healthy dash of Kahlua. Form into balls, dip into more (much more!) ganache with toothpicks, and voila…Kahlua Truffle Balls.

Even better than they look. Seriously.

Example #3 isn’t due to an overbake, but rather a scraps problem. When you cut croissants from dough, you end up with bits. Lots of bits. What to do with them? After only a couple of weeks of croissant-making, we were drowning in bits.

Too…many…bits!

So…we baked them. Note: please force yourself past this part of the process. If you stop here and just start eating warm croissant bits, all is lost. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Mmmm…the bits…the bits are calling me. DON’T GIVE IN.

Once baked and cooled, we bag them and freeze them until it’s time to make strata. Guess what? It’s always time to make strata.

Strata before…

Strata = croissant bits (Most people just use stale bread–I recommend this! Much healthier. A little less delicious.) + beaten eggs + a little milk or cream + tomatoes (fresh, canned or dried) + cooked greens of any kind + sauteed onions and mushrooms + mozzarella. Topped with Parmesan. Baked till brown and bubbly.

Strata after. Yes please.

And the best part is feeling so good about avoiding waste! No, I’m lying–the best part is eating your creation. But that no-waste thing is pretty cool.

So…what do you think? Pretty droolly, right? Got any delightful/delicious food-upcycles of your own to share?

Resisting the Tyranny of Christmas Materialism…Or Not

Diamonds = true love. Therefore, lack of diamonds means…?

Owning a home = success. So renting means…?

Top-end equipment = mastery of craft. So crappy stuff means…?

We’ve probably all struggled against these Western constructs at some point. Maybe we’ve found comfortable alignment, maybe we’ve rejected the whole shebang; probably somewhere in between. But nothing raises my love-hate complex with materialism more than Christmas.

I had it all down this year. For my Mate and Sons One and Two: a special book, or an article of clothing I’ve heard them wish for. Everyone else: homemade granola.

Christmas list? Checked off. Christmas shopping? Done. Y’all can fight over my parking space at the mall.

The Mate and I have talked; he feels the same. I wasn’t expecting any gifts less modest than what I’m giving him.

And then my electric mixer broke.

You have to understand something about mixers. There are KitchenAids, which START at $250, and then there are the cheap, hand-held kind–$25. I got a cheapie as a wedding present 29 years ago. It worked fine, but I always told myself, “When this one breaks, I’ll get a KitchenAid. I’m a great baker. I should have great gear.” It lasted 16 years, but when that cheap mixer broke (in the middle of a cake), I zipped out and got a new one…for $25.

“It’s good enough,” I told myself. “Why spend ten times that much? And I’m in a hurry. A KitchenAid…that’s a commitment. I’m not ready.”

“Y’know, REAL bakers have a KitchenAid.”

“I’m a real baker! I’m a big girl! Just look at all the incredible pies and cakes I’ve made over the years with my cheap-ass hand-held.”

“Right. So don’t you deserve the good stuff now?”

“I’m not buying into your materialistic orthodoxy! Good enough is good enough!”

“Oookay…But you could have a blue one. Or purple. Just sayin.”

Fast-forward nine years. It’s Christmas season, and Cheap Mixer #2 breaks–again. In the middle of a cake. I’ve just congratulated myself on successfully fighting off the Demons of  Buy-Buy-Buy. But I have a choice to make.

This time, I caved. Or triumphed. Whichever way you choose to look at it. But from the pride with which I’m now displaying these photos, I guess you know which way I’m looking.

Who's a big girl now? I'm a big girl now!

Who’s a big girl now? I’m a big girl now!

Lesson? I’m going to try and be less judgy about materialism. If something new and expensive makes me or someone else feel fulfilled…I’m going to consider why. That might be enough.

ka

 

 

The ??th Annual What I’m Thankful For List

Thanksgiving is still several days away as I write this. But the more I contemplate the fearful unknowns and the ugly knowns of my country, the more I feel like turning back into a third grader and writing my I Am Thankful For list. This is one is completely off the cuff; I’m not even wearing cuffs. Just letting my mind ramble over bright spots. Like…

–having a job where I get to work with interesting, supportive people, and to make stuff like this:

(Courtesy Stephanie Smith and Holly B's Bakery)

(Courtesy Stephanie Smith and Holly B’s Bakery)

–having friends to sing with at (very nearly) the drop of a hat:

(Photo: Anne Whirledge-Karp)

(Photo: Anne Whirledge-Karp)

–being able to enjoy other people’s dogs vicariously, since we no longer have one:

"Which hand has the treat?" "Both?"

“Which hand has the treat?” “Both?”

Road Trips to visit Cute Cousins (more on this later):

"Quick, hide their ice chest! Then they can't leave!"

“Quick, hide their ice chest! Then they can’t leave!”

Will I be doing more of this in the coming months? Yes. Does it help? Yes. Yes. Yes.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. Count whatever blessings you can, and be careful of one another.

Oh, and if you’d like to share some of your blessings here, I would love that.

Meatza Or Prepples: What’s Your Favorite Foodword?

Probably I’ve been working too many hours next to an oven this summer, because I’m finding ridiculous amounts of joy in making up foodwords with my colleagues at the bakery. For example…

Prepples = apples prepped for pie

Meatza = obvious

Charden = what everyone’s garden turns into this time of year (unless it’s zucchini, but that doesn’t make a good foodword)

Loafening = making loaves slowly

Strompost = what we call our compost, which is taken home by the family of my colleague, Laura Strom

Plumble = a plum crumble (the best kind!)

Rhuberry Rasbarb Squares

Ready to be turned into plumbles, rhuberry rasbarb squares, and...blue -peach scones...bleach scones? Maybe not. (Photo by Stephanie Smith)

Ready to be turned into plumbles, rhuberry rasbarb squares, and…blue -peach scones…bleach scones? Maybe not. (Photo by Stephanie Smith)

I’m sure there are more, but you get the idea. Your turn now: what foodwords have you or your family invented?

 

Good Pie, Good Pie, Until We Eat Again

What’s better than pie? Pie with a nod to Shakespeare.

I’m traveling now, back east for my annual Girlfriend Get-together. Which means that, before I left, my summer life was even more hectic than usual. This is how I spent Friday, my “day off”:

Good pie, good pie.

Good pie, good pie.

I don’t know the folks whose wedding I baked for, only that they were both men. I baked happily in my own kitchen, putting the extra sweetness of good wishes in with the blackberries and nectarines.

That crazy rush behind me, now I’m sitting in the airport thinking about extra sweetness. It’s easy to find; even easier to increase. In a jostling crowd of strangers (even weirder-feeling when you live on an island with a year-round population of 2,400), I look for the little details that bring me pleasure.

That TSA guy has awesome dreadlocks. (I tell him so; he smiles.) That young red-haired woman is reading To Kill a Mockingbird. (You go, young woman!) That large family appears to be heading to Mexico, maybe on a family visit; I love the way the younger kids seem to be reassuring their elders. That Samoan-looking woman smiles directly at me; maybe she’s doing the same thing I’m doing.

Wherever you are today, whether you’re having a mad-rush kind of day, or humdrum-dull, or peaceful , or sad, may you find some sweetness, or bring some to someone who needs it–or both.

I’ll be back in a week.

 

That Wicked, Wonderful Weed: My Blackberry Obsession

They’re ba-ack.

They’re everywhere.

Blackberries.

These days I can’t ride my bike in increments longer than 100 yards without wanting to stop again. “Ooh…look at those clusters! These are definitely plumper than that last batch I just stuffed in my face.” Or: “Hmm, those were a bit sour. Better stop for some sweetening-up.”

Bike gloves and blackberries: made for each other

Bike gloves and blackberries: made for each other

But even more than roadside grazing, blackberries mean one thing to this girl: PIE.

It’s not that I need to be eating blackberry pie, or any kind of pie, on a regular basis.  I work in a BAKERY, OK? But this time of year, the urge to collect berries for my freezer is like a squirrel’s to store nuts: I NEED them. The feeling is strangely desperate. What would happen if the summer passed and I ended up with a freezer free of blackberries?

Ahh....all is well.

Ahh….all is well.

I don’t know. I can’t imagine such desolation.

For 10 1/2 months of the year, blackberries are a noxious infestation of thorny horror. Ask anyone who’s tried to clear them, or hike through them, or pretty much go anywhere near them. But during blackberry season, they suddenly represent bounty: the sweetness of sharing, the safety of plenty in the cold times, the memory of years and years past where I did just the same…reach for the berries, freeze the berries, bake the berries…repeat.

Is there a lesson in there? Probably. But I’m too busy picking and baking to figure it out. Anyone?

Confessions of an Imperfectionist: On Second Thoughts, I’ve Nothing to Confess

I am proud to call myself an imperfectionist. Are you one too? Take this simple test to find out.

  1. When frosting a cake, do you skip the “crumb layer” and just start slathering that stuff on there?
  2. When sewing, do you skip the basting step, and use as few pins as possible?
  3. When doing carpentry, do you conveniently forget the mantra, “Measure twice, cut once”?
  4. When practicing a piece of music, do you more often than not say “good enough” and move on?
  5. Do you like yourself anyway?

If you answered No to any of these, congratulations–you have standards. If you said Yes, welcome to my world. Imperfectionists unite!

Nothing like working in the worlds of food, crafts, or arts to remind me how much I don’t care to push myself that extra step. After fifty-some years, however, I have found the one area where I can’t stop polishing, tweaking, fixing, de- or re-constructing: WRITING.

It’s hopeless. I’m a words girl. When it comes to words on the page, good enough is never good enough.

I think I know why. Writing was my first success, something people have told me I’m good at since grade school. Therefore continuing to improve has a high promise of reward, and I think the urge is deeply rooted in my psyche. Adult stuff like sewing? I’d have to work WAY too hard to get any compliments there.

(courtesy bernijourney.wordpress.com)

(courtesy bernijourney.wordpress.com)

Come to think of it, I’ve had compliments on my pies from a young age too. So there you go.

Yup--perfect.

Yup–perfect.

Am I on to something? Anyone else out there a perfectionist in only SOME areas? What are they, and what accounts for their special place in your otherwise imperfectionist life? Note: all you perfectionists out there, feel free to chime in too.