I got an email from a reader last week that made me think. And then smile. She mentioned how she liked my blog because it was about food while simultaneously being nothing about food. The more I thought about it, the more I realized she’s probably right. If you really just wanted a quick granola recipe, there are many other places you’d probably go first. But here we are. And it’s late on Tuesday night and it kind of feels like fall rather than summer and my sixteen year old dog is snoring at my feet. I’ve made a fresh batch of granola for the morning, there’s a giant mosquito buzzing around my desk that I can’t seem to catch, I’m drinking lime fizzy water from a straw and wishing my sister a happy first day of work tomorrow. So, yeah. I like talking to you about baking and salads and homemade ice cream. But I also liked talking to you about books and yoga and how amazing afternoon naps are. About movies and wacky seasons and travels. And hopes and family and pretty dishes. All that. Hopefully you’re down. I’m guessing since you’re still reading this paragraph, maybe you are.
Coincidentally, I’ve been powering through a book that’s relevant to this idea of being about something while not being about it at all. Have you read Murakami’s What I Talk About When I Talk About Running? On the surface it’s a memoir about Murakami’s long-distance running career. But if you asked me what the book was about, I probably wouldn’t even mention running. Instead, it’s about finding happiness in what you do, questioning why you commit yourself to certain activities, “the blessed right to grow old” and change. It’s a sweet exploration of one man’s passion and how it has seeped out into every other area of life. It makes you think about yours: passion and life, that is.
“I didn’t start running because somebody asked me to become a runner. Just like I didn’t become a novelist because someone asked me to. One day, out of the blue, I wanted to write a novel. And one day, out of the blue, I started to run–simply because I wanted to.”
There’s this kind of loose logic to Murakami’s life narrative that I admire. While it’s quite structured with running schedules, book tours, and teaching gigs–it’s also quite spontaneous in that he follows the pulls that lead him towards happiness or fulfillment. He doesn’t question them. He doesn’t try to make much sense of them (because how can you really make sense of getting up at the crack of dawn to run 26.2 miles?). The blind following of those pulls and tugs: we don’t do that enough. At least I don’t. It’s much easier to excuse them as too whimsical or expensive or unrealistic. But lately I’m all about diving in. Right now I have friends that are starting their first business, beginning new jobs, being published, getting married. There are thresholds everywhere I turn and it’s exciting and full of risk and craziness and blind dives without looking back.
It doesn’t always have to be marathons or marriages we’re talking about here. It can be as small as trying out a new granola recipe because you’re pretty sure it’ll knock the socks off your mornings in early August. That’s what I did today. Many of you may remember the buzz around this time last year when The New York Times published their recipe for Olive Oil Granola. I never tried it because I’m basically married to my own recipe which I created while, coincidentally, training for my first marathon in Colorado. But lately I’ve been curious–what if I took the components I love about my granola and blend in olive oil, maple syrup, and kosher salt as the New York Times does? Well, a whole lot of goodness happens. That’s what.
So I’ll leave you with this simple, adaptable, morning-changing recipe and a quote from Murakami. He should have the last word here.
“And I hope that, over time, as one race follows another, in the end I’ll reach a place I’m content with. Or maybe just catch a glimpse of it”
I love making granola in a convection oven because it cooks evenly and you don’t end up with burned bits around the edges. So I’ve included cooking times for both a convection and a standard oven here. This recipe is also forgiving, so feel free to use your own mixture of nuts and dried fruits. And play around with different olive oils. It’s amazing how a fruitier oil honestly conveys that taste once baked. I’m hooked.
Preheat the convection oven to 275 or the standard oven to 300 F. With the exception of the cherries, mix all the ingredients together in a big bowl and spoon out onto a large, rimmed baking sheet.
–Convection Oven: 35-40 minutes, stir every 15 minutes.
–Standard Oven: 45 minutes, stir every ten minutes so granola doesn’t stick to the sides of the pan and burn.
Granola will be done when it’s golden brown and well toasted. Remove from the oven and stir in the dried cherries. Let cool completely. Serve with dollops of plain yogurt and fruit.
Winter Soups and Stews
If your house is anything like ours, last week wasn't our most inspired in terms of cooking. We're all suffering from the post-election blues -- the sole upside being Oliver's decision to sleep-in until 7 am for the first time in many, many months; I think he's trying to tell us that pulling the covers over our heads and hibernating for awhile is ok. It's half-convincing. For much of the week, instead of cooking, there'd been takeout pizza and canned soup before, at week's end, I decided it was time to pour a glass of wine and get back into the kitchen. I was craving something hearty and comforting that we could eat for a few days. Something that wouldn't remind me too much of Thanksgiving because, frankly, I can't quite gather the steam to start planning for that yet. It was time for a big bowl of chili.
Last weekend it was so windy – apocalyptically stormy, you could say – that our tent at the farmers market was uprooted by gusts of wind that were not messing around. I wasn't there, but apparently despite being heavily weighted down and with four customers holding onto each corner, it quite literally blew down the block. Sam, from across town, was reporting trees falling on every block and traffic lights out across the city. The next morning on a walk with Oliver around Green Lake, we were met with that same biting wind and ended up retreating for a hot chocolate instead. 'Tis the season in Seattle: we all get a little giddy and ahead of ourselves when we spot the cherry blossoms and daffodils, and I always trick myself into thinking that with the start of daylight savings time, summer must be right around the corner. In truth, before we had Oliver, we'd often travel somewhere sunny for a little mood boost around this time of year. When I moved from California, many friends – other (empathetic) 'expats' now living in the Pacific Northwest – recommended this: if you know what's good for you, they'd all say, go find the sun in February or March, and we would follow that advice faaaaaithfully. But with a baby, this just isn't where our priorities are this year, and I've found myself relying on other antics like buying out of season strawberries, drinking white wine with dinner, buying a new pair of sandals that likely will not see the light of day for the next two months, and making big, colorful pots of feel good, springy soup. Let's not kid ourselves: Cherry blossoms or not, Seattle's no Palm Springs when it gets down to bathing in the sunlight. But if you step outside onto your little porch, smell the honeysuckle blooming, take notice of the longer, lighter days and think about how you simply can't wait to see your baby crawling around on the sand when it's warm enough to stroll down to the beach, it starts looking better in its own light.
We returned home from San Francisco on New Years Eve just in time for dinner, and craving greens -- or anything other than baked goods and pizza (ohhhh San Francisco, how I love your bakeries. And citrus. And winter sunshine). Instead of driving straight home, we stopped at our co-op where I ran in for some arugula, an avocado, a bottle of Prosecco, and for the checkout guys to not-so-subtly mock the outlook of our New Years Eve: rousing party, eh? They looked to be in their mid-twenties and I figured I probably looked ancient to them, sad even. But really, there wasn't much sad (or rousing, to be fair) about our evening: putting Oliver to bed, opening up holiday cards and hanging them in the kitchen, and toasting the New Year with arugula, half a quesadilla and sparkling wine. It wasn't lavish. But it's what we both needed. (Or at least what we had to work with.) Since then, I've been more inspired to cook lots of "real" food versus all of the treats and appetizers and snacks the holidays always bring on. I made Julia Turshen's curried red lentils for the millionth time, a wintry whole grain salad with tuna and fennel, roasted potatoes, and this simple green minestrone that I've taken for lunch this week. Determined to fit as many seasonal vegetables into a bowl as humanly possible, I spooned a colorful pesto on top, as much for the reminder of warmer days to come as for the accent in the soup (and for the enjoyment later of slathering the leftover pesto on crusty bread).
One of the things I wanted to accomplish before really returning to work in earnest was to print some of our honeymoon photos and get them into an album. This project has taken far longer than expected as I find myself daydreaming about the craggy streets of Naples and meeting up with our friends Mataio and Jessica for a late night slice of pizza which we ate sitting on the sidewalk before embarking on an aimless but wonderful stroll of the city. There are photos of our balcony by the sea, most with tanned limbs, sandy sandals and a Campari and soda gracing the periphery of the frame. There was the little grocery store up the hill from our apartment on the Amalfi Coast that had the sweetest, tiniest strawberries and the best yogurt in little glass jars. Tomatoes drying in the sun, Aperol spritzes and salty peanuts before dinner at the bar across from the church square where all the neighborhood kids played kickball. As I sit here typing this now, photos remain scattered on my desk and it's likely they may not make it into the proper slots in the album anytime soon. Of course, they have me dreaming of sunshine and long days with little agenda, but they also have me thinking about the simplicity of our meals in Italy and how truly easy it was to eat well. Coincidentally, a few days ago Rachel Roddy's lusty new cookbook (can we call it lusty?!), My Kitchen in Rome, arrived at our doorstep. Clearly it was time to set the photos aside and get into the kitchen.
And suddenly, it's fall. I find that realization always comes not so much with the dates on the calendar as it does the leaves on the ground, the first crank of the heat in the morning, the dusky light on the way home from an evening run. Because we were gone on the train for nearly a week, I feel like fall happened here in Seattle during that very time. I left town eating tomatoes and corn and returned to find squashes and pumpkins in the market. It was that quick. And so, it only seemed fitting that I make this soup, one that has graced the fall table of each and every apartment (and now house) I've ever lived. In fact, I'm surprised that I hadn't yet made it for you here, and delighted to share it with you today.