Wednesday, October 6, 2010

I'm Back

So after rashly diving into the "blogosphere" (I really hate that word, by the way.), I had a momentary, month- long panic that I had nothing of worth to say and no one would ever read this and who really has the time to blog etc. and so on. But after suffering through another bout of "what am I doing with myself" angst, I felt inspired to write once again, get some momentum going, and see what happens. My darling girl is at school, big boy is "napping", and, let's face it, I am not going to actually vacuum today. I have no excuses.

Do you remember the big scandal in 1992 when Hillary Clinton, when asked about her ambitions and work history, explained that she thought being a working mom was an important role for her to play? And then, in an ill-advised moment of candor, continued to say something like, "I suppose I could have stayed at home and baked cookies." Cue the media frenzy. At the time, I remember chatting about this in my house. (I would have been 20ish..) And, uncharacteristically for me at that age, I said that I hoped to one day to stay home and make cookies. My mom has reminded me of this on only a few occasions since -- she is a very kind woman. I was remembering this prescient, off-handed comment in my past as I contemplated my existence as a stay at home mom. I don't bake cookies all that often, except at holiday time when my kitchen turns into a 24/7 bakery, but I do cook every day and I have found that this practice is one of the most satisfying parts of my life. I have discovered that cooking has helped me actualize some of the things that I value most: Like eating together as a family, learning about different cultures, establishing a healthy "food culture" in the home, supporting local and/or sustainable food producers, passing down the culinary "arts" to my own kids.

But as the title of this blog suggests, I am not a precise cook, by any means. I love to read recipes, food magazines, food blogs & websites, but I do not regularly whip out a cookbook and follow the instructions to produce a dish. Rather, I might make a recipe following the directions once, and then improvise the next time. Or more likely, I might read a recipe, try to understand the basic technique involved and then riff off the author's original idea. Dave argues that only an already good cook can cook like I do, but I don't quite agree. I think that as long as you have some basic kitchen skills (how to saute, how to roll dough, how to cut an onion etc.), you can buck up, be a fearlessly improvisational cook. Of course, you may suffer through some bad meals, or a few times where you inadvertently cooked 4 quarts of cheese sauce, but more often than not, you will make something yummy and will be more likely to cook it again because you did it without the constraints of a recipe.

Granola is a great example of a food that you can make with minimal effort, and even less attention to detail, and achieve delicious results. I was inspired by Mark Bittman's recipe. The basic idea is to combine some combination of the following:
  • 4-6 cups old fashioned oats (try buying them in bulk -- much cheaper)
  • 1-2 cups nuts/seeds
  • 1/4-1/2 dried, unsweetened coconut
  • spices like cinnamon, alspice, nutmeg plus a dash of salt
  • 1/2 to 1 cup sweetener - maple syrup, honey, agave or some combination 
Spread the mix onto cookie sheets and toast in a 350 oven for 15 min or so. The idea is to toast, not cook the granola. Let the mixture cool a little and then mix in a cup or more of dried fruit. I usually use this as an opportunity to empty all of the almost used up bags of raisins, apples, apricots that are floating around my pantry. This stuff will keep for weeks in a jar or ziploc bag. It makes a great gift. Give it a try -- it's much cheaper and healthier than store-bought granola. Here it is. Thanks to my dear friend Val who recently gave me a jar of her version of homemade granola as a belated housewarming present. (I didn't want anyone to get the idea that  I had a decorated jar on hand.)

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