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Maybe he's right

This is the fifth granola recipe I’ve posted on this blog. Five. Five! Four more than anyone needs! I cannot be stopped! I’ve turned into your annoying great-aunt, the one who tells the same boring story about Eisenhower every Thanksgiving, over and over and over and over and over. I even have the requisite small crotchety dog and a banana-yellow Formica kitchen, circa 1960. My transformation is complete.

I’ve been making granola regularly, at least once or twice a month, for something like fifteen years. I’ve gone through several recipes and versions, from the lowish in fat - a tragic notion that, I now believe, goes against the whole concept of granola - to the intricately spiced, thoroughly nutted, and generously sweetened. For a while, this 2008 version was the recipe that I hewed most closely to. It’s simple, solid, and though it does involve chocolate, I don’t know, it still feels like a sensible breakfast to me.  (And I’ve decided that there are far more dangerous delusions to harbor.) Two years ago, I found the Early Bird recipe, and then I got on a roll with that. But before long, I started to wish it were less sweet, and then I made the batch size larger, and then I started making it without the seeds, because I never seem to have any, and before I knew it, my slow paring-down and tweaking had shaped it into something else entirely.

I wasn’t going to write about it - I will remind you: FIVE GRANOLA RECIPES - but Brandon keeps nagging, asking me if I’ve written about it and why not. He thinks it’s the best yet, and maybe he’s right. My mother is also hooked on it, so that’s something. It’s the only granola I’ve wanted to make for the past year, if not longer. It’s deeply toasty in a way that verges on savory, rich enough to make me look forward to breakfast but not too rich for everyday, and most importantly, it has the strange, mystical ability to make coffee taste even better than it already does at seven o’clock in the morning.

Like the Early Bird recipe - and like my friend Megan’s wonderful Marge Granola - I use olive oil for the fat component, because I like the savory quality it brings. In the sustained heat of the oven, its grassy, vegetal flavors mellow out, so there’s nothing remotely salad-y tasting going on in the finished granola; the olive oil just gives it a deeper complexity than other vegetable oils can. And while you could maybe use less oil than I do, I like that it’s satisfying enough to stay with me for a few hours, and I like the way the oil helps the oats and nuts to crisp and crackle. Do what you will.

Also like the Early Bird recipe, I don’t use any spices. I like to keep it quiet, to leave room for the gentle, warming flavors of toasted nuts and oats. I also use maple syrup as my sweetener, but unlike Early Bird, it’s the only sweetener I use. And while it does look and sound like a lot of maple syrup, it’s less sweetener per cup of oats than almost any other granola recipe I’ve tried. I should also add that I used to sort of choke when I thought about using anything more than a tablespoon of maple syrup at a time, because it’s so whoppingly expensive, but its flavor really does make a difference, a dusky sweetness. At Delancey, we mail-order maple syrup from Stannard Farm in Vermont, and it’s wood-fired(!), dark and very subtly smoky. The way I feel about it borders on the evangelical.

As for the dry ingredients, there are the usual rolled oats, and whatever combination of nuts shows up in my cabinets that day, and a decent dose of kosher salt, and always some big flakes of coconut, the kind that crunch like wafers. And I measure the oats and nuts by weight, so it’s easy to throw together quickly with no measuring cups and, YES! YES! GOD YES! fewer dirty dishes and spills. I’ve even managed to make a batch of this granola with June around, weighing and stirring and slipping it into the oven so fast that she hardly had time to get feisty and start hanging on my legs, yelling EEEEEEAT. I can’t say that about much else.

P.S. I wrote a lot of this post at Delancey, where "Get Outta My Dreams, Get Into My Car" was playing on Spotify. And before that, it was "Uptown Girl." I don’t really have anything to say about that, other than yeeeeeeow, it was great.

Granola No. 5

You can use any nuts you like here – or even seeds, if you want to. That’s the beauty of measuring by weight: as long as you use about 400 grams in all, it doesn’t matter which nuts or seeds you use or how much of each. I most often use almonds and walnuts, which I coarsely chop, but I also like to throw in some pecans now and then.

About kosher salt, take note: I use Diamond Crystal brand, which is less salty than Morton. If you use the latter, you’ll probably only want to use about 1 ½ teaspoons.

600 grams (6 cups) old-fashioned rolled oats
100 to 150 grams (about 2 to 3 loose cups) unsweetened coconut chips
400 grams nuts (maybe 3 to 4 cups? see headnote), chopped if you like
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 cup (240 ml) maple syrup, preferably Grade B
2/3 cup (160 ml) olive oil

Position racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven, and preheat to 300. Line two rimmed baking sheets with parchment.

Measure the dry ingredients into a large bowl, and stir well. Add the maple syrup and olive oil, and stir to evenly coat. Divide the mixture between the two prepared sheet pans, spread it out, and bake, stirring the granola and flipping the pans once or twice, until golden brown, about 40 minutes. I generally check on the granola every 15 minutes as it’s baking, and I gauge its doneness by color: in particular, I’m looking for the coconut chips to toast and for the whole mixture to achieve nice, even browning.

Allow to cool completely, then transfer the granola to airtight containers. Eat with plain yogurt (my favorite), milk, or on its own. You can store it at room temperature for a couple of weeks, easy, but if you use it more slowly than that, consider freezing some of it.

Yield: I’ve never actually measured, but probably about 3 quarts.


April 23

In the time since you and I last spoke, I’ve been to New Jersey and back for my sister-in-law’s wedding and, in the name of research, have eaten a lot of New Jersey bagels and New Jersey pizza. It was hard. And while I continue to dig my way out of the giant to-do list that accumulated in my absence, I wanted to quickly remind you: tonight, a crew of musicians is performing original music inspired by my first book A Homemade Life. 8 pm! The Royal Room! 5000 Rainier Avenue South! Seattle! Come on out! The whole concept is one of the weirdest, best things I’ve ever heard of, and I can’t wait. I baked four Winning Hearts and Minds Cakes for the occasion - five, but we sort of accidentally ate one - and I’ll be there to sign books and talk a bit. High five, Bushwick Book Club! See you tonight.

P.S. I wrote a little post for the Bushwick Book Club blog in which I share what I’ve been reading and listening to lately and out myself as John Green fangirl.


That word is eat

June has mastered a new word, and that word is eat.  It’s one of many things I like about her.

Because Brandon works most nights, I get up with June most mornings. I have developed a condition that my friend Andrea calls Bionic Mom Hearing, so I sleep with earplugs and a pillow over my head. It’s a sight I think you would enjoy. But she manages to wake me up anyway (MAAA! MAAA!), so I get a bottle of milk from the fridge (prepared the night before, a small gift to my future self), retrieve her from her crib ("UP! UP!"), carry her across the hall to our bed, lie down and listen to her little mouth working at the bottle and feel sentimental for 2.5 minutes before she starts yelling for me to unzip her sleep sack ("OFF! OFF!"), help her climb down from the bed ("DIT DOW!"), and follow her down the hall in search of a book ("BUH! BUHHHH!"). She is a blur of hair.

I struggle to figure out how much to write about her here, or how to write about this weird new parenting gig.  For the first 32 years of my life, I didn’t think I wanted a child; I wasn’t even remotely interested until, very suddenly, I was. And now here I am, in the thick of it, seeing my everyday - and my cooking, because it’s the anchor of my days - through the lens of this very different life. So I’m feeling it out, I guess: how to write now, how to write in a way that Old Me wouldn’t be totally bored and annoyed with, while acknowledging that New Me is... a new me. I like the new me better than the old one, in ways that I never expected: I had no idea I could be so patient! Able to read the same book fifteen times without screaming! Willing to walk around with chewed-up graham cracker smeared on my coat! I also never expected to spend so much time thinking about applesauce, and more to the point, Judy Rodgers’s roasted applesauce.

I’ve written about Zuni Café at least a half-dozen times on this site, which strikes me as a lot for someone who grew up in Oklahoma and lives in Seattle. But because my mother’s twin sister Tina lived near San Francisco, where Zuni is, and because I spent a lot of time at Tina’s house as a kid, a teenager, and in college, I got to eat at Zuni Café a few times in my formative years, and I do think it formed, and informed me. Judy Rodgers’s cooking was simple, seasonal, understated, and somehow also bold, the flavors so spot-on, so confident, that they made a deep impression. In a lot of ways, The Zuni Café Cookbook taught me how to cook. You can imagine then, how thoroughly I had my mind blown out of my head when, four years ago, after I wrote about her polenta, Rodgers (Judy? Can I call her Judy?) sent me an e-mail. (!!!!) She passed away last December, but it makes me happy to know that June will eat in her restaurant someday, and that she’s growing up eating Rodgers’s excellent applesauce.

It’s basically impossible to make anything elaborate for breakfast when June is around. And that’s fine, really, because I was a cold-cereal person long before she showed up. So cold cereal it often is! Or, if I was a superhero the night before and made a batch of oatmeal, we’ll have oatmeal. Or, if I was a superhero a few nights before and made oatmeal, so that I could later be a superhero and make leftover oatmeal muffins, we’ll have leftover oatmeal muffins. And if not, I try to at least make sure there’s applesauce and plain yogurt.

I live in a state of many apples, so, I don’t know, I got into the habit of making applesauce. It feels wrong to buy it at the store when I can get good fruit at the market on Sunday and turn it into applesauce in barely half an hour. For a long time, I used a stovetop method (much like the one in this ancient post), and sometimes I added half a vanilla bean, which I like a lot.  But then Kristen Miglore, the genius behind Food52’s Genius Recipes column, wrote about Judy Rodgers’s roasted applesauce. Like most of Rodgers’s recipes, this one is dead-simple, but all about the details. It’s just apples, sugar, salt, and butter (and maybe apple cider vinegar, though I haven’t needed it yet), and the sugar amount is much lower than other recipes I’ve used, because oven-roasting helps to concentrate the apples’ sweetness. You peel and quarter them, toss them with a tiny bit of sugar and a tinier bit of salt, dot them with butter, and you’re mostly done. (The only tricky part, if you can call it that, is seasoning the apples, because you’ll do it to taste: you might use one teaspoon, or you might use two. As tricky parts go, it’s not tricky.) In the oven, the apples soften and caramelize at their tips, and they also dry out slightly, which I like, because it makes for a pleasingly chunky sauce, one that June can eat with her hands, if that’s how the morning is going.

In any case, making applesauce is one of those brainless tasks that I can do once a week, while having a glass of something after June is in bed and before we are in bed, and the next morning, when I hear her through the earplugs and the pillow and the sleep, I feel good for having done it.

P.S. Seattleites! Listen! Delancey and the Pantry are hosting a Friends of The Seattle Public Library cookbook sale on Saturday, May 3, and Sunday, May 4.  There will be hundreds of cookbooks, priced as low as two bucks, and your support helps the library. Come! And in other news, The Bushwick Book Club has written songs inspired by my first book - I can’t believe I just typed that sentence; AWESOME - and they’ll be performing them at the Royal Room on April 23, at 8:00 pm. See you there?

Judy Rodgers’s Roasted Applesauce
From the Zuni Cafe Cookbook and Kristen Miglore’s Genius Recipes

3 ½ to 4 pounds apples (Rodgers uses crisp eating apples, like Braeburns, Pippins, or Galas; I used Pink Ladies)
Pinch of salt
1 to 2 teaspoons sugar, or to taste
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into slivers
A splash of apple cider vinegar, optional

Preheat the oven to 375 F.

Peel, core, and quarter the apples. Put them in a (ungreased) baking dish just large enough to hold them in a crowded single layer. (I find that a 9x13 dish is perfect.) Toss with a little salt and 1 teaspoon of the sugar. (Unless they are very sweet, in which case you might not need any sugar at all.) If they are tart enough to make you squint, use 2 teaspoons of sugar. Dot the apples with butter, cover tightly with aluminum foil, and bake until the apples start to soften, about 15 to 30 minutes. Remove the foil, raise the heat to 500 F, and return the pan to the oven. Leave the apples to dry out and color slightly, about 10 minutes more. When the tips of the apples are golden and the fruit is tender, remove the pan from the oven, and coarsely mash the apples. (You could use a potato masher, but I just use the back of a wooden spoon, and I leave mine very chunky.)  If you like, season the applesauce further with salt and sugar to taste, and then consider a splash of apple cider vinegar to brighten the flavor. (You can try a drop on a spoonful to see if you like it; I haven’t found that my applesauce needs it.)

Yield: about 3 cups of applesauce