Cranberry Almond Granola – Homemade Christmas Gift!

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I get hits on this blog because of the title, like anyone, but one thing seems to be a little deceptive – people come here looking for those soup mixes and cookie mixes that look cute in mason jars and are nice presents for people. The recipe for the cookies or the soup comes with the jar, so I guess “recipe in a bottle” is a reasonable thing to search if you want to make those as gifts!

This year, though, I did give one gift in a jar: granola. In college, I learned to love granola for the thick crunch of it, the fact that it masked some great fiber and fruit under a cereal-like exterior, and it livened up my vanilla yogurt. I figured out that the difference between oats and granola was just a few mix-ins and some careful baking, so I tried it. My homemade granola, straight from the grubby dorm kitchen, was delightful and made our institutional walls feel a little warmer when I was sharing it with friends.

Using pinterest, I found this recipe, which seemed like a great start. I used all whole unsalted almonds and dried cranberries instead of blueberries, but I used coconut oil for the fat and maple syrup for the sweetness, and mine came out delectable. I’m using it in my mother and father’s Christmas gifts, and I still have some at home for when we return from our travels. It’s a food I associate with being far from home and trying to make it on my own, but it’s pretty nice to share it with the people who got me to the place where I could feel independent and strong. Christmas with family when you are all adults is a nice time to acknowledge the many roles that you’ve had in each other’s lives, and to celebrate those places.

39. Ricotta Pancakes

I have been thinking about my friend A lately. She’s works for the church I attended while I was in Spain. Spain is not a very church-going country (a lot of Catholic masses in Madrid are mostly grandparents and small children), but in the middle of Madrid there was a church called Oasis, which means the same thing in Spanish and English. People from all different branches of Christianity came together to think and pray and read together, and challenge each other’s assumptions about spirituality. I loved every minute of it, and have been seeking that kind of community since I got back from Spain. A was integral: she led the Bible study I attended, and she took girls like me under her wing as we got used to living in a new place. She knew about loneliness in a foreign land, and she wasn’t afraid to be real about both joys and hardships.

A had me and another girl over for pumpkin pancakes one morning that I remember vividly – her apartment has come to represent home for me in Spain, since it was a constant and I lived in 3 different places during my years there. Settling into a comfortable chair with a plate of pancakes and looking out the window and watching life flood by in Malasaña (her neighborhood) is still one of the things I miss the most. Both A and I have moved since then, but one of the great qualities of food that I appreciate is that specific recipes anchor me to a place and a time that I won’t get to revisit.

I had a container of ricotta in my fridge last week, probably meant for a lasagna but I happened to see The Kitchn’s post about Ricotta Pancakes

and I was so excited by the idea that I just had to do it. The process works pretty much like they say in the recipe, and I got to use the stand mixer to make real STIFF PEAK EGG WHITES and it was so easy. That’s a very long sentence but it accurately expresses how happy this stand mixer makes me about cooking and baking.

Husband and his friend D gobbled these pancakes happily with a strawberry reduction since we were out of syrup. While a lot of work (definitely not instant Bisquick kind of time frame) they were totally worth it on a lazy Sunday morning. A would have had trouble with them – she’s lactose-intolerant and vegan – but I am sure we could devise a work-around to fill her tummy too. We always managed when we lived in Spain. 🙂

Food Memory: Fresh, Tiny Bell Peppers

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The combination of rain and sunshine didn’t do our bell peppers that well this year, but in early October a few late and small peppers came from the plant before frosts took it. They were bitter, like all the thick flavor of a full sized bell pepper had concentrated into these tiny versions, but they made me smile because they seemed awfully tenacious. I hope to help my garden need less resilience next year, but it makes me smile to think at how the plants were fighting to survive, not fighting me. It puts me on good terms with Mother Nature on these frigid days.

Food Memory: Family Fondue Night

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2014 was a hard year for my in-laws in some ways, because of losses of beloved members of the family. However, there were also ways in which the year was incredibly sweet, because in loss they bonded around each other fiercely, becoming closer than ever through creating memories and sharing evenings together on back porches. One especially perfect September day stands out – J had been getting Husband and I to look for fondue pots all over town and we’d gotten enough of them to have a blow-out fondue night for the family – look at this spread! The dessert fondue was double dipped – you could spear a marshmallow, dip it in caramel, and roll it in graham cracker crumbs… to die for! What was more wonderful, though, was the way we lounged outdoors all evening listening to music and periodically dancing to the 80s jams, and the way the chimenea was stocked with wood to keep a fire going all evening. It was the way this family rallies around each other to create joy; in no small part, this joy convinced me that joining this family would be a wonderful choice (Husband himself had something to do with it too 🙂 ).

Food Memory: Food Truck Flavors

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Most people don’t love sitting on the curb to eat their meal out of a paper-board box, but when it’s part of a food truck rally, it becomes a much more exotic notion. While travelling, Husband and I visited a food truck rally that allowed us to see a huge variety of trucks, and what I liked best was that they tended to specialize: instead of trying to serve 50 different meals, they had 3 meals with a couple customizable parts. What food trucks lose in gas efficiency (brick and mortar don’t have to pay gas to move around!) they gain in inventory efficiency – they can pretty regularly stock up and sell down all their supplies. It also makes me feel like I’m getting their most delicious fare, because I don’t wonder if the other 49 menu items are better. Having a big squad of food trucks allows a group to buy multiple items and sample a wide variety of dishes, creating a down-home version of the high-fallutin’ “tasting menus” of fancy dining. If you want variety, these rallies are where its at!

Food Memory: Many Cupcakes for E’s Wedding

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One of my college roommates, E, got married 2.5 years ago, and this picture of bags of marching cupcakes down the hall in her home reminds me of how much food plays an integral part in social rituals. While flowers and lights, dresses and invites, all play a huge role in the way a wedding happens, the dinner or snacks, drinks and dessert that are served are almost always planned down to a tiny margin for error. E chose cupcakes for portability (they didn’t need to be cut!) and, in this case, because they tasted amazing. It was fun to be a part of the backstage for her wedding; at the time, I was probably far more blissfully ignorant of how hard she’d been working than I should have been, but I got my comeuppance 1.5 years later, when I found myself biting into my own cake samples and choosing what would be served at my wedding.

Food Memory: State Fair Togetherness

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It isn’t always better because it’s deep-fried, but the state fair in a Southern state is always going to try to deep-fry whatever you throw at them. I don’t actually enjoy these foods objectively (that day, we ate the fried nutella, which was just a warm version of a chocolate croissant in the end), not more than other foods or the foods themselves minus the puffy brown batter, but I feel like there is something unique to Southern families, a kind of anticipation. This anticipation has us buy lumps of indiscriminate dough and look at each other, forks poised. We think that someone will back out, will say “this is going to kill our arteries.” But this game of chicken ends and we try the food, and our mouths are full of richness so thorough that you should never eat it, but if you are going to eat it, you should definitely share it with someone else whose eyes are just as full of glee and rebellion as yours are.