Once More, With Granola

We’re coming up on a long weekend.  Our school system has been generous, giving the children not only President’s Day, but the Friday prior as well.  Four whole days in a row, and we’re taking advantage of it by going on a little road trip.

Most of you probably know that traveling with children can be tricky.  Some kids are great – strap them in a booster seat, give them a book, some crayons and paper, or a movie, and they’re good to go (that’s my oldest).  Some kids, on the other hand, require a little more, shall we say, attention.  They get wiggly, antsy, bored, and, last but not least, impatient.  This can manifest itself in many ways.  In our case, our youngest expresses his displeasure by yelling, throwing toys and kicking the back of the seat in front of him.  Also, he’s not much of a car sleeper, so this behavior can go on indefinitely.  Pleasant.

Sometimes, snacks help.  Actually, most of the time, snacks help.  If he has food, he’s pretty happy.  That’s why I spent most of this morning attempting, once again, to make granola bars.

I say attempting, because I’ve tried and failed with granola bars many times.  This time around was a semi-success, which is good because we’re leaving tomorrow and I don’t have time to try, try and try again.

I wanted these to be relatively nourishing, since they will be our primary snack of choice over the long weekend.  Whole grains in the form of rolled oats and freshly ground flour, combined with unsweetened dried cherries, a very ripe banana, some raw Tupelo honey (courtesy Savannah Bee Company) and sucanat (dehydrated sugar cane), along with a relatively small amount of expeller-pressed coconut oil and some toasted cacao nibs come together to create a nutritionally-dense granola bar.

Also?  Tasty.

Banana Split Granola Bars
prep time: 10 minutes
bake time: 40 minutes
yield: 12 bars

Ingredients

  • 3 cups rolled oats
  • 1/3 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon unrefined sea salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 cup cacao nibs
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 1/4 cup sucanat
  • 1/4 cup expeller-pressed coconut oil
  • 1 very ripe banana, pureed
  • 2 cups dried cherries
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla

  1. Preheat oven to 300F and butter a 9×13-inch baking dish.  Line it with parchment paper and butter the parchment paper.
  2. Combine the oats, flour, salt, soda and cacao nibs in a large bowl.
  3. In a saucepan over medium heat, combine honey, coconut oil, sucanat, banana puree, and dried cherries.  Cook for a couple of minutes, until coconut oil has melted and sucanat has dissolved.  The cherries should also plump slightly.
  4. Remove from heat and add the vanilla to the liquid ingredients.
  5. Pour liquid ingredients into dry ingredients and stir to combine.
  6. Press the granola mixture into the prepared pan and bake at 300F for 40 minutes, or until golden brown.
  7. Remove from oven and allow to cool in the pan.
  8. Once cooled, remove from the pan and slice into 12 bars.
  9. Enjoy!

These weren’t perfect – they still managed to fall apart somewhat when I went to slice them.  However, the flavor is really good, and the texture is nice and chewy.  The cherries, cacao nibs and bananas combine to give a flavor profile reminiscent of a banana split – sweet, tart, chocolatey – without being dessert-like.  I think they would be especially good with a cup or so of chopped nuts thrown in (I left them out because my husband might decide to try them, and he’s allergic), and maybe a touch more fat in the form of butter, peanut-butter, or just more coconut oil (I think the fat helps to bind them at room temperature).

I think these, along with some popcorn and sliced fruit, will go a long way toward taming the beast-like child on our road trip tomorrow.  Which will go an even further way toward maintaining my sanity.  And that’s a good thing.

Streusel-topped Cranberry Orange Muffins

Friends, I just can’t accept the fact that it’s the middle of December.  I just. can. not.  How is it that there are fewer than two weeks until Christmas?  Where has the month gone?  I need for time to just slow down. Take a breather. Relax.

Seriously.

For one thing, it just doesn’t feel like December.  It was 65 degrees outside today.  There I was, out in the garden, picking collards and broccoli and lettuce.  Relishing the warmth. Feeling slightly off kilter because it IS December, after all, and my garden is still offering up all sorts of goodies.

December.  Last year it snowed on Christmas.

I’m kind of torn.  I love the fact that the kids can still play outside in the afternoons, but I miss having a fire every night in the fireplace.  I love the lovely greens still coming out of the garden, but I would also love it if it snowed one day soon.  I want the best of both worlds.  I guess I just need to learn to be thankful for what I’ve got.

I had a meeting the other morning at the school where I used to work.  I was supposed to be there at 8 a.m., but Atlanta traffic had other plans for me.  As I was sitting there, surrounded by every commuter in the metropolitan area, I praised the fact that my new job is three miles from my house.  I used to drive 50 miles round-trip.  Every day.  Now it’s ten at the most – and that’s because I have to drop the little one off at day-care beforehand.  I know I’m thankful for that.

Because it was an 8 o’clock meeting, I wanted to provide some goodies that we could munch while we chatted.  I had recently dried a bunch of cranberries in my dehydrator, and candied some orange zest using honey in place of the granulated sugar.  I love the combination of orange and cranberry, so I decided to bake a variation on this crumb cake I made last year, but making muffins instead.

Streusel-topped Cranberry Orange Muffins
adapted from the Tate’s Bake Shop Cookbook
prep time: 15 minutes
cook time: 35-45 minutes
yields: 1 9-inch square cake
Ingredients
For the topping:
1/2 cup sucanat (or firmly packed dark brown sugar))
1 cup old fashioned oats
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into tablespoons
generous pinch of salt
For the batter:
2 cups freshly ground flour (or whole wheat pastry flour)
1/2 cup plus honey granules (or granulated sugar)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup sour cream
1/3 cup half and half
2 large eggs
1/4 cup coconut oil
4 large pieces candied orange peel, chopped

1 cup unsweetened dried cranberries, reconstituted in 1/2-cup of  apple cider

  1. Preheat the oven to 350F.  Line a 12-cup muffin tin with paper liners.
  2. In the bowl of your food processor, combine the brown sugar, oats, cinnamon, and butter.  Pulse the it until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs.  Set the mixture aside in the refrigerator.
  3. Add the reconstituted cranberries, along with the liquid, and the candied zest to the food processor.  Process until the berries and zest are chopped
  4. In a medium bowl, combine the flour, 1/2 cup of sugar, baking powder, cinnamon and salt.
  5. In a large bowl, co tmbinehe sour cream, half and half, eggs,  and oil
  6. Add the flour mixture to the sour cream mixture and stir just to combine.  Fold in the cranberry mixture.
  7. Spoon the batter into the prepared muffin tin.  Sprinkle the topping evenly over the batter.
  8. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until a cake tester or toothpick comes out clean.

What’s nice about these is that the muffins themselves are not too sweet (the tart cranberries take care of that), so the sweet streusel topping really contrasts nicely with them.  The original recipe called for using fresh cranberries that have been chopped in the food processor, but I think the dried ones work equally as well.  I definitely like the addition of the candied zest.  They were a big hit with my kids, and with my fellow meeting attendees.  I think they would also be a delightful addition to your holiday breakfast or brunch table, if you do that sort of thing.

Pie Is Meant To Be Shared

After almost 30 years in the same house, my husband’s parents made the decision to pack up and move 600 miles south.  From northern Virginia to north-eastern Georgia; from the suburbs of D.C. to the suburbs of Atlanta.

It can’t have been an easy decision to make – to leave the place you’ve called home for three decades (longer, really, if you consider they lived in Maryland for a while before their time in Virginia) and relocate to a completely unfamiliar area.  I mean, we’re about an hour from them, and my husband’s brother and his family are also about an hour away, but they’re faced with making new friends and establishing new routines after thirty years of the familiar.  And despite the fact that they did it, in part, to be closer to their two oldest sons, to their grandchildren, a change like that can be daunting.

The moving truck came to their house on Thursday and loaded up all of their belongings.  Their plan was to leave early Friday morning and drive straight through, arriving sometime Friday evening.  The moving truck would arrive early Saturday morning to unload everything.  It was a bit of a whirlwind, and I knew that they would be exhausted when they got here – from the drive, from the general stress that moving can cause, and from the emotional fallout that can come with a change like this.

Here in the South, we have a tradition of bringing food to people in times of stress.  It’s our way of offering comfort, of helping to bear some of their burden, of nourishing them – both physically and emotionally.  When a baby is born, we bring meals to the parents so that they don’t have to worry with cooking during those sleep deprived first few weeks.  When there’s a death, we offer an assortment of funeral casseroles to sooth the grieving family.  Food is love, but it is also often the last thing people want to think about when faced with a stressful situation.

Given their time frame, I figured they wouldn’t really have time to go grocery shopping before breakfast on Saturday, so on Friday I drove out to their new house (don’t worry, I didn’t have to break in – we had a key) to make a special delivery. I put together a basket with an assortment of jams and jellies, a loaf of bread, some scones, and some fresh fruit.  I also wanted them to have a lunch or dinner option, so as I was making lasagna for our dinner on Thursday night, I put together a second pan to take to them on Friday.

And last, but not least, there was cherry pie – delicate short crust filled with pitted sweet cherries and natural sugar cane, dotted with just a bit of butter, and enrobed with another layer of crust.

Baked until golden brown and bubbly, I guess it was my way of letting them know just how happy we are that they’ve chosen to move closer to us.  That we recognize the huge step they’ve taken, the things they’ve left behind, and that we welcome them with open arms.  Can you really bake that much meaning into one little cherry pie?  I think you can.

You see, the thing about pie is that it’s meant to be shared.  Sure, you can make individual pies, hand pies, mini pies, whathaveyou. But essentially, and at its core, pie is meant to be shared.  You take a lovely, whole pie, and you slice it up and you sit down at the table, and you share.  And you don’t just share the food, but you share words and stories.  You share life over pie.  So this pie – this beautifully imperfect cherry pie – was more than just food.  Because today, when we went and visited them after their exhausting 14-hour drive and their early morning truck delivery, we sat down with my husband’s parents in their new home and we shared their new life with them over pie.

Cherry Pie
prep time: 20 minutes
bake time: 50 minutes
serves: 8-10

Crust

  • 1 1/4 cup white whole wheat flour
  • 1 1/4 cup quinoa flour
  • 2 tablespoons honey granules
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 sticks butter, frozen
  • 6 tablespoons ice water

Filling

  • 5 cups bing cherries, pitted
  • 1/4 cup natural sugar cane
  • 1/4 cup corn starch
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  1. Preheat the oven to 450F
  2. Place the flours, honey granules and salt in the bowl of a food processor.  Pulse to combine
  3. Cut the frozen butter into small pieces and add to the food processor. Pulse until mixture resembles coarse meal
  4. Slowly add ice water until the dough forms a ball.
  5. Divide dough in half and wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate until ready to use.
  6. Combine the cherries, natural cane sugar, corn starch and vanilla.
  7. Roll out half the dough and press into a 9-inch pie pan (it’s very delicate, so work quickly and carefully).
  8. Pour the filling into the pan.
  9. Roll out second crust and place on top of filling.  Fold edges of top crust under the edge of the bottom crust and crimp.  Cut slits in top crust to allow steam to escape.
  10. Bake at 450F for 10 minutes, reduce temperature to 350F and bake for 40-50 minutes more – until crust is brown and filling is bubbly.
  11. Allow to cool before serving.
  12. Share and enjoy!

Peaches and Cream

It’s farmer’s market season, and that means my Saturday mornings are spent perusing the vendor booths in the parking lot of our town’s city hall.  Choosing the prettiest heads of cabbage, and the plumpest pickling cucumbers, the brightest bouquet of zinnias, and the peaches with the prettiest blush on their fuzzy cheeks.

This morning, I found myself with two very ripe peaches staring up at me from the kitchen counter. Their skins were just beginning to get a little loose, and I could smell their sweet ripe scent without lifting them to my nose. They really needed to be eaten or used in some form or fashion. We’d ploughed through the other seven in the bunch, and these were the last two stragglers. They’d been slightly under-ripe when I’d brought them home on Saturday, but now they were threatening decomp on my counter.
When I glanced at my Facebook wall, I noticed that Foodimentary had posted that it was National Peaches and Cream day.

Well, then.  I guess that was my answer.  Peaches and cream.

So, I halved my peaches and removed the pits.  I dropped one half of each into 2 half-pint mason jars, and topped those with 1 teaspoon of salted butter, 3/4 teaspoon of sucanat (you could use brown sugar if you don’t have sucanat) and the leaves from a sprig of thyme per jar.  I topped that with the other half of the peach.

I made a sweet biscuit dough, comprised of 1/4 cup of flour, 1 tablespoon of sucanat, 1/4 teaspoon baking soda and 1 Tablespoon of butter.  I brought it all together with about 1/4 cup of buttermilk and divided the batter evenly between the two jars.  I baked them in a 350F oven for about 15 minutes, or until the topping was golden brown, and I could see the peaches had softened and the liquid was bubbly.

I allowed them to cool a bit, then poked  holes in the crust with the fat end of a chopstick.  I carefully poured a couple of tablespoons of cold heavy cream into the jar and allowed it to soak into the crust and down into the peach syrup.  Then I ate it.  And I knew I had done the right thing.

Individual Peaches and Cream Cobblers
prep time: 5 minutes
bake time: 15 minutes
serves: 2

  • 2 peaches, halved and pitted
  • 1 Tablespoon plus 1 1/2 teaspoons sucanat, divided
  • 1 Tablespoon cold butter, cut into small pieces
  • 2 teaspoons softened butter
  • 2 sprigs of thyme
  • 1/4 cup white whole-wheat flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 cup buttermilk
  • 4 Tablespoons cold heavy cream
  1. Preheat your oven to 350F.  Have two half-pint mason jars ready
  2. Prepare the batter.  Combine the flour, 1 tablespoon of the sucanat, and the baking soda.  Cut the cold butter pieces into the flour mixture until it resembles coarse meal.  Add the buttermilk and stir to combine – do not overmix.  Set aside.
  3. Place 1/2 of each peach into  the mason jars. Top each half with 1 teaspoon softened butter, 3/4 teaspoon of sucanat the leaves from the thyme sprigs.
  4. Place the other half of each peach on top and spoon half the batter into each jar.
  5. Place the jars on a pan and bake in the preheated oven for 15 minutes, or until brown and bubbly.
  6. Remove from oven and allow to cool a bit.
  7. Just before eating, poke holes in the crust of each cobbler and pour 2 tablespoons of heavy cream into each, letting it soak into the topping and down into the fruit and syrup.
  8. Eat and enjoy!