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.
Early Fall Baking
Last weekend we went apple picking up near Yakima, a good three hours east of Seattle. We drove over to Harmony Orchards with our friends Brandi and John and met up with many other groups and families to amble about the rows and rows of apples in the unusually warm sun. We missed the annual picking last year as we were on our honeymoon, but the previous year was the one in which we made the colossal mistake of picking over 70 pounds of apples. I've never made so much applesauce in my life. This year we practiced restraint in bringing home a cool 38 pounds and after getting them all situated in the basement, I started to leaf through a few cookbooks looking for a great apple recipe -- something, preferably, that used quite a few apples, wasn't too sweet and could double as breakfast or dessert (really, the best kind of recipe). And that's exactly what we have in these Custardy Apple Squares.
It turns out that returning from a sunny honeymoon to a rather rainy, dark stretch of Seattle fall hasn't been the easiest transition. Sam and I have been struggling a little to find our groove with work projects and even simple routines like cooking meals for one another and getting out of the easy daily ruts that can happen to us all. When we were traveling, we made some new vows to each other -- ways we can keep the fall and winter from feeling a bit gloomy, as tends to happen at a certain point living in the Pacific Northwest (for me, at least): from weekly wine tastings at our neighborhood wine shop to going on more lake walks. And I suppose that's one of the most energizing and invigorating parts about travel, isn't it? The opposite of the daily rut: the constant newness and discovery around every corner. One of my favorite small moments in Italy took place at a cafe in Naples when I accidentally ordered the wrong pastry and, instead, was brought this funny looking cousin of a croissant. We had a wonderfully sunny little table with strong cappuccino, and, disappointed by my lack of ordering prowess, I tried the ugly pastry only to discover my new favorite treat of all time (and the only one I can't pronounce): the sfogliatelle. I couldn't stop talking about this pastry, its thick flaky layers wrapped around a light, citrus-flecked sweet ricotta filling. It was like nothing I'd ever tried -- the perfect marriage of interesting textures and flavors. I became a woman obsessed. I began to see them displayed on every street corner; I researched their origin back at the hotel room, and started to look up recipes for how to recreate them at home. And the reason for the fascination was obviously that they were delicious. But even more: I'm so immersed in the food writing world that I rarely get a chance to discover a dish or a restaurant on my own without hearing tell of it first. And while a long way away from that Italian cafe, I had a similar feeling this week as I scanned the pages of Alice Medrich's new book, Flavor Flours, and baked up a loaf of her beautiful fall pumpkin loaf: Discovery, newness, delight!
I am writing this on Saturday afternoon on a day when we had big plans to conquer pre-baby chore lists, but Sam's not feeling great and my energy's a little low so it hasn't been quite what we'd envisioned. My goals for the morning were to repot a house plant and make some soup and I've done neither. I will say that the sweet potato and fennel are still sitting on the counter eagerly awaiting their Big Moment -- it just hasn't come about quite yet. Sam and I were both going to attempt to install the carseat, but it started to look really daunting so we abandoned ship; it's now sitting proudly in the basement, also eagerly awaiting its Big Moment. So it's been one of those weekends -- the kind you look back on and wonder what it is you actually accomplished. At the very least, I get the chance to tell you about this hearty cranberry cornbread. I know maybe it feels premature in the season for cranberry recipes, but hang with me here: slathered with a little soft butter and runny honey, there's nothing I'd rather eat right now on the cool, crisp Seattle mornings we've been having lately.
I rarely make muffins at home and never order one when I'm out and about as I find they're often far too sweet and never truly that satisfying. I realize, too, in looking back at my cookbook that there's only one muffin recipe throughout. Case in point: I'm tentative on muffins. But not these. We've been pretty thrilled to have this healthier version of Morning Glory muffins on the counter this week; they have little bits of apple, raisins, walnuts, and grated carrot and are cloaked in a buttery oat crumble topping -- quite the opposite of your boring coffeeshop fare. I thought long and hard about doing a Valentine's post, some festive cookie or confection that would be share-worthy this weekend, but the more we talked about what our weekend would really look like, it involved something special for breakfast instead. I don't remember the last time a Valentine's Day fell on a Saturday, so we have big plans to have breakfast in bed and if your plans are even remotely similar, these muffins would be a fine inclusion.
I generally work on weekends. It's something I've come to terms with only because I know it won't last forever. I write. I bake. But those two things don't always pay the bills, so I work retail on the weekends and dream of the day when I'll have a Sunday like this one: