Tuesday, January 31, 2012

peanut butter and honey granola

I was raised with a father and two brothers who would eat almost anything, and in monstrous-large portions, too. I was pretty much just like them—in middle and high school (until I became obsessed with starving myself), I finished up all the leftover food on my friends’ lunch trays, earning myself the nickname of The Garbage Disposal. (My friends also, in high school, called me The Oatmeal Child, an example of foreshadowing considering I now routinely buy oats by the 50-pound sack and make granola twice a week, along with many batches of oatmeal—cooked, baked, and steamed—and a plethora of oaty baked goods.)

It’s come as quite a shock to my food-loving system that my current dearest and nearest family members don’t eat with abandon. They have preferences and aversions and all the verbal skills necessary to tell me so. Many times, their opinions feel like a curse, a battle to be fought, a force to be reckoned with. (Wait. I said that wrong. I'm the force to be reckoned with.)

However, I’ve had a good 15 years to acclimate to their most unusual behavior and I’m beginning (yes, I’m a slow learner) to realize I kind of (once in a while, maybe, sort of) appreciate it. My family can taste the difference between baked and cooked brown rice, differentiate between pizzas baked in aluminum and insulated pans, and when the apples in the apple crisp are still slightly crunchy, they don’t say, “Oh yay, apple crisp! Sweet!” and munch-crunch it down—they ask me to put it back in the oven because they want it to taste right.

It can be tricky to figure out how many of their opinions are just their hang-ups and how much is actual good advice, but I’m listening to them more, or at least noting their comments, because they are helping me to hone my skills. I have to work to get their approval, and as someone who is more easily pleased, this can be a good thing. (I still expect them to eat most things.)

All that to say, I tried a new granola yesterday.


My oldest daughter—the nit-pickiest one of the whole bunch—went out of her way to inquire about the ingredient list because she thought the granola was “awesome” (or “fabulous,” or some such word that I can’t recall at the moment), kids in general kept sneaking tastes, and my husband—a diehard basic granola fan—told me he was excited for breakfast. The man does not get excited, people. Nor does he think about food. That he was thinking about food and getting excited tells you how monumental this granola is, or at least how much he liked it.  (Also, my family’s exuberance is perhaps directly proportional to the great many recipe flops they endure. Quite possibly, they were giving me lots of positive reinforcement in hopes I’ll lay off the weird-tasting foods.)

As for me, I thoroughly enjoyed the granola. I kept snitching tastes out of the oven while it was baking (and I’m never tempted by uncooked granola), and I’ve been snaking on it constantly. It’s the honey, peanut butter, brown sugar syrup flavors that keep calling me back.

And the crunchy almonds.

And the wisps of toasted coconut.

And the oats.

Signed,
The Oatmeal Child

P.S. I always wondered what granola bars would taste like as granola. Now I know.

P.P.S. Except, not really. Because granola bars have chocolate chips, a variety of nuts and seeds, vanilla extract, and the like. So perhaps there’s another stunning granola experience in my future?


Peanut Butter and Honey Granola
Adapted from Julie’s blog Dinner with Julie

This is extra delicious with cold milk on top. It probably has something to do with the peanut butter undertones.

Also, my granola did not get as chunky as Julie’s. Next time I’ll reduce the amount of oats and/or squeeze the uncooked granola into clumps and then try not to break them up too much when stirring.

5 cups rolled oats
2 cups chopped almonds
1 cup coconut
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup honey
½ cup creamy peanut butter
1 cup dried fruit (I used dried cranberries)

Toss the oats, nuts, coconut, and salt together in a large bowl. In a small saucepan, combine the brown sugar, honey, and peanut butter over medium-high heat until creamy. Pour the wet ingredients over the dry and stir to combine. (The wet ingredients were quite thick, almost like cookie dough, so I had to use my fingers to blend it together.) Put the ingredients into a 9 x 13 baking dish and bake at 250 degrees for 60-90 minutes, stirring every fifteen minutes. Cool to room temperature, add dried fruit, and store in an airtight container.

This same time, years previous: mayonnaise, rock-my-world cocoa brownies, Nana's anise biscotti, cream-topped homemade yogurt

Monday, January 30, 2012

the quotidian (1.30.12)

Quotidian: daily, usual or customary;
everyday; ordinary; commonplace















*trying to take silhouettes: I still can’t figure it out
*more card playing, with a cat centerpiece
*the royalty, crafting their paper crowns
*this week’s fort: a wind tunnel—all four kids, plus sleeping bags and cat, fit inside
*after the neighbor lady stopped by with a bunch of old magazines
*writing letters to city council members to request their support of the library
*sucky oranges (that’s what we called them when I was growing up): cut the top off of a juice orange, stab it all over inside, and suck as much juice out as possible before tearing it open and eating out the innards
*a fast lunch: leftover mashed potatoes + several beaten eggs = pancakes
*muffin experimentation: not a winner (though I learned something, so it’s not all failure)
*washing dishes: their assistance is no longer token
*babysitting: notice how she attached the pacifier to her sweatshirt
*bedtime stories: he reads the girls the mermaid books they crave, bless his heart
*musical beds

This same time, years previous: curried lentils, orange cranberry biscotti

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Friday evening fun

Last night I cried my eyes out while reading to the kids. We were nearing the end of our book, a story about a happy family with six rollicking kids. It was a safe story, I thought, cute and well-written.

And then the little brother crashed his bike, severed his brain stem, and died.

I cried for two and a half chapters. What I really wanted to do was to put the book down, go to my room, and bawl my eyes out. Instead, I persevered, voice tight, tears streaming down my face, nose running, long pauses, the works.

My older daughter listened with her head pressed into my arm, her shoulders heaving. My younger daughter, curled up on the chair, cried with her hands over her face. My littlest kept whimpering, “I don’t want to read this book anymore, Mama.” And my oldest repeatedly offered to take over the reading. At one point he suggested we read something funny. “How about Matilda?”

Losing one of my babies is my worst fear, my deepest heart pain. Just one thought of one of them not growing up is enough to make my eyes start watering. I can’t go there.

But then I did. With no warning, I plunged right into a grief so profound I can’t even imagine it, and the breath was sucked right out of me. It was awful and ridiculous.

I feel like I’d for sure shatter into a trillion little bits if one of my children died, but I know better. I would keep going. And so I plowed through the pages, reading about the uncle who told the oldest brother that there was nothing wrong with him for not crying. It’s like each of us has just been handed a steaming bowl of sorrow, the uncle said. Some of us start eating it right away, but others wait till it cools a bit before digging in. Either way, everyone has to eat what’s in their bowl.

I read through to the very end, even though it was more than I normally read—there was no way I wanted to extend the agony.

But even after the kids were in bed, I couldn’t shake the achy sad.

It was a good book, though.

This same time, years previous: Gretchen's green chili, shoofly cake, my real name, gripping the pages, ode to the Titty Fairy

Thursday, January 26, 2012

housekeeping

In the spirit of full disclosure, I wasn’t making regular rice krispie treats. The ones I wrecked involved, along with rice krispies, marshmallows, and butter, potato chips and Rolos. They should have rocked my world, but alas, I didn’t have enough marshmallows so I cut back on other ingredients to balance everything out. But my guesses were sloppy and harried because I was in a frantic rush to eat rice krispie treats now. The treats ended up being so hard and dry that they rubbed the skin off of the roof of my mouth and three days later I’m still in pain.

***

This warm weather is making me grumpy. It’s stupid to gripe about the weather because I can’t do anything about it, but it’s not supposed to be 60 degrees in January!

When it’s winter, I want winter. I want cozy fires and snow and lots of hot chocolate and thick sweaters.


Instead, my kids wear shorts and go outside in bare feet, and one evening we had strawberry daiquiris after the kids were in bed. It’s just wrong, plain wrong (though the daiquiris were good). It makes me feel like the end of the world is nigh, which is not a pleasant feeling to have.

***

I must have a word with you about vacuuming and window washing. Perhaps it’s a confession, perhaps it’s a clarification, but:

a. I vacuum multiple times each day. The other day I vacuumed four times, I think. (Also, I can never spell "vacuum" correctly.)

Back when we were living in our small house in town, my husband and I argued constantly over sweeping the floor. I wanted it to be done every night—crunching on crumbs gives me the willies—and he thought I was obsessed and crazy. So, because neither of us had (has) learned the art of Giving In, we argued and fought until eventually, somehow, sweeping the floors became an evening ritual. It was beautiful thing.

Then we moved to our new house and my husband insisted on installing central vac. I thought he was going overboard, spending all that money when a broom and dustpan worked just fine, but he’s the carpenter and so now we have central vac. And I love it. I just grab the hose off the hook in the hallway, push a button, and zip the pushy thing over my floors and, voila!, they’re clean. It’s addictive and simple and I vacuum all the time.

Note: The upstairs gets a thorough vacuuming every other week, if we’re lucky.

b. A reader (Hi, Margo!) noted my obsessive window washing.

When we moved to this place, we—I mean, my husband—installed a lot of large, easy-to-open windows. Large, floor-to-ceiling windows let in lots of glorious light and attract sticky fingers, fly poop, and splatters (for those above the kitchen counters).


So, I’ve taken to washing them with some regularity. The ones in the kitchen get washed about once a week. Clean windows brighten the house and my mood, and furthermore, window washing is an excellent task for belligerent children, of which I have four. Yay, me.

Most days, I feel like my house is falling down around my ears. Clean floors and sparkling windows help me to pretend it’s not.

What’s your cleaning obsession? (Notice I did not say, "Do you have..." I'm on to you, so 'fess up.)

This same time, years previous: flourless peanut butter chocolate chip cookies (look at that! I just made these, adding chunks of the ruined rice krispie treats to the batter), random thoughts

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

five things

Thing 1: multigrain
I made a double batch of this mix the other day. I would’ve made more, but I was running out of certain flours.

To answer all your questions (I hope):


a. I buy my flours from our local grocery store and Frankferd Farms, a Pennsylvania co-op that ships each month. I placed an order yesterday, and along with the cheeses, salt, and soy sauce, I ordered barley, kamut, corn flour, millet, soft winter wheat, raw wheat germ, quick oats, brown rice, and wild rice. There will be lots of baking in my near future. Brace yourself.


b. I grind my own wheat in my handy-dandy nutrimill electric grain mill. I also use it to grind up yellow popcorn for cornmeal. I have groats, millet, quinoa, and rye berries in the freezer. I can put all of these through the mill to make flour (I think), but haven't yet.


yes, I'm aware that the bowl is too small

c. I’m beginning to get the hang of this multigrain mix. I’ve added it to waffles, pancakes, and bread. Both the color and texture are light, and the flavor is sweet. I suspect you could add a bit to most homey baked goods, like muffins, cookies, quick breads, and the like.

Having such a variety of grains in our diet makes me feel sophisticated. It’s invigorating.


Do you have a favorite multigrain blend that you use for baking? Please, share your secrets.

Thing 2: the matter with muffins
My husband and I are having a muffin war, and it’s not as cozy as it sounds.

He has recently announced that he doesn’t like—gasp!—the muffins I’ve been making for well over a year. They are my very favorite muffins, the ones I serve to everyone.


ginger, peach, and white chocolate

I think he’s beyond ridiculous—these babies are good—but then I start wondering if maybe I’m losing my taste buds.

Have you made these muffins? If so, what did you think? Should I disregard his cantankerous self, or should I find a new favorite muffin?

It'd be nice to have some reinforcements, not that I’m operating under the illusion that I’m going to win him over, or anything...

Thing 3: clothes
Last weekend, my husband and I sent our kids in four different directions and then went clothes shopping for five hours. He was out of everything—socks, work jeans, t-shirts, dress shirts, etc.—and the kids needed odds and ends.

We hit up the thrift stores first. Right off the bat, I landed a coat.


I’ve been idly looking for a coat for several years, so I was pretty pumped. My mother, the thrifting queen, found me a coat last week, a nice black one, but she's in WV and I won’t see her before I head to NYC and that’s what I needed the coat for. Because you can’t really go north to the big city with just a brown vest. So I bought the brown leather coat, and then I went into another thrift store, found a super-soft, gray cape/shawl, and bought it right up.

So now I have three coats, my husband has clothes without holes, and there is no more money in the clothing envelope.

Thing 4: Ethiopian food
I made chicken wat and injera for supper last night.


It was fab, but I was the only one who thought so. I don’t know what’s wrong with my family.

Thing 5: published!
See the little “published!” button up top there under the header? Click on it and you’ll find a running list of my Kitchen Chronicles articles.


Bonus Thing: rice krispie treats
I made rice krispie treats and they turned out awful.

Last night, I sat at the kitchen table and watched while my husband gnawed on a block of failed marshmallow goo and ranted about my ineptitude.

"I can't believe you screwed up rice krispie treats," he said. "You write a cooking column for the paper and you can't even make rice krispie treats. For crying out loud."  

Chomp-chomp.

"Rice krispie treats are so basic they're not even included in Cooking One-oh-One. They're more like Cooking Point Zero Zero One."  

Chomp-chomp.

"These really are terrible. You sure are something else, Jennifer. I'm impressed."

This same time, years previous: corn tortillas, grumble, grumble, movie night

Monday, January 23, 2012

the quotidian (1.23.12)

Quotidian: daily, usual or customary;
everyday; ordinary; commonplace














*an after-church wrestling match: nowadays, my husband struggles to hold his own against our four wildkids. In fact, he and my older son had an impromptu wrestling match at the day’s second church event (which was informal, but still—wedgies were involved!) (confession: passing by the skirmish, I was tempted to deliver one myself). Afterwards, I overheard some girls giggling about how the son beat up the papa. Hon, your glory days are fading. Watch out.
*a steaming sample: I’m learning to make risotto. No one is crazy about it, so I don't think I have it down pat yet—because isn’t everyone supposed to adore risotto? I will persist, so enlighten me with your favorite risotto recipes, pretty please.
*solar panel handiwork
*breakfast, thawing
*a modern day sledge: otherwise known as the upcycled fort
*we let them tool around the field a few times before putting an end to the gas-guzzling, natural-world-destroying game
*an early morning read-aloud: when I refuse to read my older daughter’s book selections (like mermaid mysteries, ugh), she hounds her papa till he caves
*another early morning with books: a fresh batch of library books buys me a good thirty minutes of blissful quiet
*one of the many varieties of card games that have been cluttering up my floor: it looks peaceful, but oftentimes the fun ends in an angry game of throw-them-down-and-stomp-off.
*clothespin doll creations
*the princess and the compost bucket: she wears this gown all the time, constantly, without ceasing, nonstop, and perpetually
*multitasking: eating supper while preparing to go snow tubing by putting on every article of clothing she owns (almost)
*the multigrain bread before it became multigrain

This same time, years previous: chocolate cream pie, on thank-you notes, pink cupcakes, in no particular order

Friday, January 20, 2012

multigrain bread

I was recently—as in yesterday—pointed in the direction of a series newly available for streaming on netflix. Four products get manufactured in each episode of How it’s Made. It’s utterly fascinating, and the kids and I now boast a two-day-old ritual of watching one episode after lunch, like an informational dessert. And then the kids watch it again in the evening because they just have to show their papa.

Yesterday, we witnessed the production of tinfoil, contact lenses, bread, and snow boards. Today, it was CDs, pantyhose, mozzarella cheese, and florescent lights.

That factory bread bothered me. The voice over dude called it a multigrain bread, but it was as white as a sheet of paper. I was all like, Are you kidding me? and Where in the bloomin’ world do they get off calling THAT pasty stuff multigrain? Get OUT.

Maybe it was a mixture of many glorious grains THAT JUST HAPPENED TO HAVE THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS, COLOR, AND TEXTURE BLEACHED, PRESSED, AND PROCESSED OUT OF THEM. I really have no idea. So, you know, whatever.

But those plastic bags of nutritious bread wannabees got me to lusting after real multigrain bread—soft bread flecked with bits of germ and tasting of a whole slew of grains. So I took Bernard Clayton's (I'm loving this new book) Cuban bread—an all-white (oops, I'm guilty), chewy-sweet affair that I'd already made a couple times—and bastardized it into something much more hippie and wholesome and mother earthy-like.


I sure showed them. Take THAT, you smarty pants factory. All your bells and whistles and you STILL can’t hit the mark, ha!


However, grainy loveliness aside, what's so intriguing about this bread is the process. It's fast, as in blink-your-eyes-once-and-you're-done fast.


The steps are as follows:

a. mix up the dough
b. let it rise
c. shape it
d. set a pan of boiling water on the bottom oven rack
e. put the bread in the cold oven and turn it on to 400 degrees

Forty minutes later, you have yourself two gorgeous, crackling boules cooling on the kitchen table. Amen, hallelujah, and pass the butter. From start to finish, it takes no more than two hours.


It's so good, it disappears right speedy quick, too.


My family can put away both loaves at one meal, no problem.


Multigrain Bread
With inspiration from Bernard Clayton’s New Complete Book of Breads

1 cup multigrain mix (see below)
1 cup whole wheat flour
3 ½ cups bread flour, plus more as needed
2 scant tablespoons dry yeast
2 tablespoons brown sugar or honey
1 tablespoon salt
2 cups hot tap water (but not so hot it will kill the yeast)
cornmeal, for dusting

Mix together all of the ingredients—except for one of the cups of the white flour. Once well combined, add the remaining flour. Knead for 3-5 minutes. Set the dough in a lightly oiled bowl. Cover and let rise until doubled, about one hour.

Fill your tea kettle with water and bring to a boil.

While the water is coming to a boil, turn the dough out on to a floured surface. Cut in two pieces and shape into round boules (or long loaves, if you prefer). Place the boules on a buttered baking sheet that’s been lightly sprinkled with cornmeal. Dust the loaves with flour. Using a knife, slash an X in the top of each loaf.

Pour the boiling water into a baking pan and set it on the bottom rack of the oven. Place the bread on the rack above it. Close the oven door and turn the oven to 400 degrees. After 30 minutes, rotate the pan and bake for 10 more minutes, or until the loaves are burnished and crusty.

Multigrain Flour Mix
From Good to the Grain by Kim Boyce

Note: this recipe was also posted here.

Once you start adding this mix to your baked goods, you’ll want to make everything multigrain, so I highly recommend doubling, tripling, or even quadrupling this recipe. It adds a sweetness and flavor that plain old whole wheat does not have. I guess that’s the point.

1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup oat flour
1 cup barley flour
½ cup each millet flour and rye flour

Pack into glass jars and store in the freezer.

This same time, years previous: chuck roast braised in red wine, hitting puberty, peanut noodles, on not wanting

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

polenta and greens

Another Kitchen Chronicles is out today. I’m in the middle of figuring out where to put these articles so you can access them. Maybe another blog? Or perhaps a facebook fan page? In any case, I will repost the recipes here (that is, the ones that I haven't already written about).

Today’s recipe was Cheesy Polenta with Sauteed Greens.


The greens came from my mom and they lasted a whole month in the fridge. When she and Dad came to visit last weekend, she brought me two more bags. Thrilled, I was. Now I can cook me up some vitamin-packed leaves whenever I’m feeling depleted. Which, this week, has been constantly.


Cheesy Polenta with Sauteed Greens
(This recipe first appeared in the Daily News Record on January 18, 2012.)

Sauteeing results in firm, full-bodied greens. If you prefer them softer, steam them instead, and be sure to finish them off with a drizzle of brown butter.

the polenta:
1 cup chicken broth or water
1/4 cup coarse cornmeal
a generous pinch of salt
2-4 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Bring the broth to a boil. Sprinkle in the cornmeal, whisking steadily. Stir in the salt. Reduce the heat to low and allow to simmer, stirring occasionally for 8-10 minutes, or until thick. Stir in the cheese and taste to correct seasonings.

the greens:
2-3 cups torn hardy greens, such as kale, collards, mustard, etc., stems removed
1 tablespoon butter
pinch of salt

Melt the butter in a skillet, and add the greens and salt. Using a fork, toss the greens until they have brightened in color, softened, and slightly blackened in places.

Spoon the polenta into a bowl, mound the greens on top, and sprinkle with freshly ground black pepper.

This same time, years previous: snapshots and captions, Julia's chocolate almond cake and chocolate butter frosting, five-minute bread

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

educational thoughts, kind of

This is the view out my kitchen window (or from my deck, rather).


Hang on a sec. Let me get a different lens.

There. That’s better.


The oldest two tore down the (hideous) plastic-and-wood fort this morning while I was visiting with a friend. I think they said they are upcycling the materials into a car.

They did not use the word “upcycle.”

Legos. That was what I thought of when I looked out the window. They’re just playing Legos, but on a bigger scale. 

Or Tetris, now that I think about it.

Maybe life is just one big Tetris Lego game. We spend our days figuring out how to fit things together: people, furniture, food, car parts, words...


***

Then my friend left and I called the kids in from their giant Lego Tetris game and we watched this youtube video: Seven Lies About Homeschoolers. The kids loved it, especially the ending.

***

My daughter has still not gotten the hang of reading. She loves words—copying them, listening to them, playing with them—but she isn’t able to (easily) decode them.


Sometimes I feel completely confident with our decision to let her learn at her own pace. Other times, I freak out, but only on the inside.

Despite her inability to do something as basic as reading, she is sparklingly confident and happy, much more so than I was at her age. This gives me peace.

***

FYI: when a homeschooled kid (who happens to live in my house) plagiarizes, all hell breaks loose.

A simple 'F' would be so much easier.

This same time, years previous: snapshots, kiddisms, getting in fixes

Monday, January 16, 2012

the quotidian (1.16.12)

Quotidian: daily, usual or customary;
everyday; ordinary; commonplace














*snow blocks: the white stuff is scarce this winter---to make the most of it, we bring it inside (not my idea, but it worked)
*the latest in fort technology: a hanging nest
*new bookshelves: tired of a bed full of lumpy books, he built himself a solution. It's crooked, which pains him a little, but it serves the purpose most famously
*baking, baking, baking: Cuban bread (delightfully chewy), bran date bread, granola
*such a dork
*recipe creation: still needs some tweaking, but it's close
*Bible quizzing: the competition is fierce; the kids are having a blast
*transport for a sick child: she needed to use the bathroom but could not possibly get to her feet---her brother (not me) was sympathetic to her plight
*a pre-supper snack
*reading/reciting poetry for Baby Cousin's dedication
*freezing temps and bare toes: who needs shoes anyway?

This same time, years previous: quick fruit cobbler, cranberry relish, spots of pretty, inner voices, the bet