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.
On Monday our little family of three is headed to the airport at 6 am to board our first with-baby cross-country trip. We'll be visiting Sam's family in New Jersey for a few days, then renting a car and driving over to meet up with my family at my mom's lake house in the Adirondacks. Sam's younger sister and her kids have yet to meet Oliver; my grandpa has yet to meet him, and Oliver has yet to take a dunk in a lake, see a firefly, or spend quality time with energetic dogs -- of which there will be three. A lot of firsts. This week my family has been madly texting, volunteering to make certain meals or sweets on assigned days while we're at the cabin and it got me thinking about really simple, effortless summer desserts -- in particular, ones that you can make while staying in a house with an unfamiliar kitchen and unfamiliar equipment and still do a pretty bang-up job. I think fruit crisp is just that thing.
In a few short weeks, we're headed to New York, Vermont and New Jersey to visit family and see my sister Zoe get married. In starting to think through the trip and do a little planning, I found Oliver the cutest tiny-person dress shoes I've ever seen (and he's quite smitten with them), sussed out childcare options for the night of the wedding, and found what feels like the most expensive (and last) rental car in the state of New Jersey. I try very hard not to be one of Those People that begins lamenting the loss of a season before it's remotely appropriate to do so, but this year, as we'll be gone much of September, I've felt a bit of a 'hurry, make all the summery things!' feeling set in. So we've been managing increasingly busy days punctuated with zucchini noodle salads, gazpacho, corn on the cob and homemade popsicles (preferably eaten shirtless outside followed by a good, solid sprinkler run for one small person in particular. Not naming any names).
Somehow, in what seems to have been a blink of an eye, we have a six month old baby. In some ways I can't remember a time we didn't have an Oliver, and in other ways it's all a blur broken up by a few holidays (a Thanksgiving thanks to grocery store takeout, and our very first Christmas in Seattle), a few family visits, a one-day road trip to Portland, a birthday dinner out, a birthday cake, weekend drives to nowhere in particular, swimming at the pool with Oliver, weekly get-togethers with our parent's group, doctor's visits, hundreds of walks around the neighborhood, hundreds of cups of coffee, dozens (or more?) of scoops of ice cream. Most of the worrying about keeping a baby alive has made way for other concerns, and Oliver's need for constant stimulation or soothing walks and car rides has been traded for stretches of time playing with a new toy or checking out his surroundings. In truth, it's thanks to that tiny bit of baby independence that this humble, summery cake came to be in the first place. So we've all got an Oliver to thank for that. Or, really, we have a Yossi Arefi to thank, as it's from her beautiful new cookbook that I've bookmarked heavily and am eager to continue exploring.
A triple berry summer crisp made with oats, quinoa flakes and hazelnuts. Summer in a skillet.
I had a weak moment on our honeymoon in Italy when I decided that I should be making gelato for a living. My enthusiasm for Italian gelato wasn't surprising to anyone. I'd done extensive research, made lists, had Sam map out cities in terms of where the best gelaterias were. I took notes and photos and hemmed and hawed over flavor choices: Sicilian Pistachio! Chestnut Honey! Sweet Cheese, Almond and Fig! In truth, on that particular trip, I cared far more about treats, sunshine, and cobblestone walks than I cared about famous landmarks or tourist attractions, often leaving the camera back at the hotel in favor of my small black notebook which housed detailed jottings on dessert discoveries in each city we visited. Our friends Matteo and Jessica happened to be in Naples on the one night we were there, and we all went out for pizza together followed by a long stroll around the city. At some point the conversation turned to gelato (as it's bound to) and Matteo brought up the famous school in Bologna where many renowned gelato artisans study. My wheels were spinning. Maybe we should visit Bologna. I should see this school! I should talk to these students! I could make Sicilian Pistachio; Chestnut Honey; and Sweet Cheese, Almond and Fig each and every day of our lives. Or at the very least, travel to Bologna to learn how and then come back to Seattle to take our Northwest city by storm. Well here we are six months later, back to reality, and the impetus to pack up my bags and head for Bologna has subsided for the time being ... but not the unwavering gusto to sample. That part will always be with me. It's been awhile since I mixed up a batch of ice cream at home, but the other day a beautiful new cookbook landed on my doorstep and I flipped right to a recipe for dark chocolate sorbet with toasty, salty almonds. I didn't need much convincing.