A Season for Baking

I know that fall has arrived and feels like it has already passed in many parts of the country.  Now that we are in Chapel Hill, the signs of fall are less abundant.  You have to search for auburn leaves crackling in the wind. While the grocery stores are filled with mums, winter squash, and pumpkins I am wearing short sleeves and sunglasses.  My windows have been open all day and the dogs have been basking in the sunshine.  The only hint of real autumn is the crisp air in the morning.  The temperatures are dropping at night into the forties only to climb back into the mid-seventies by late morning.  I feel pulled and dragged back and forth between summer’s sunshine and fall’s ingredients.  What foods are “in season” here?  There’s a whole new cooking learning curve for me.  Good thing the farmer’s market is just a brisk Saturday morning walk away.  In the meantime, I am taking advantage of the cool mornings and evenings to crank up the oven to make some “every” season favorites.





Since the first time I made homemade granola, I haven’t spent another penny on a box or bag of it.  It takes a little bit of time, but it comes together quickly and easily. You mix up the ingredients, spread them on a cookie sheet, and bake on a low heat until golden brown and your house smells like sweet, roasted nuts and oats.  It doesn’t get much better than this.

First chop up 2 cups of nuts.  I used 1 cup of cashews and 1 cup of almonds this time, but you can use anything you like.  Mix them with 3/4 cup of shredded, unsweetened coconut (You can leave this out, if you have coconut haters at home, but I suggest you try it.  I have converted many a coconut hater with my granola). Finally add 3 cups of old fashioned oats, 3/4 t of salt, and 1/4 cup plus 2 T dark brown sugar.  I have used regular brown sugar before, but the dark gives a lovely depth of flavor.

In a separate bowl combine 1/4 cup plus 2 T real maple syrup, honey, or agave with 1/4 c oil and mix well with the dried ingredients.  Spread it on a baking sheet with a lip or a 13×9 baking pan.  Bake at 250 for 1 hour and 15 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes.  I find it is best to keep track of how long it’s been in the oven.  I use my dry erase board to keep track of the minutes, burning your lovely granola will not be lovely.  After the first stir, you will notice that the house is beginning to smell heavenly.  This is only one of the reasons to make your own granola.  I don’t think a candle company has replicated this aroma.

After an hour and fifteen minutes, the granola will be golden brown and the nuts will be wonderfully toasty.  If you can wait, let it cool.  If not, grab a handful.  You will not be disappointed.

Feel free to add your own flair.  I generally mix some ground flax seeds to the granola after it comes out of the oven.  Adding cinnamon, nutmeg, or other spices to the mix is also lovely.  Raisins or other dried fruits are a natural addition to granola.  A bit of vanilla extract or vanilla bean infused in the liquids can’t be wrong.

Personally, I eat my granola every morning with a bit of Greek-styled yogurt and local honey or a bit of fruit.  Someday, I will have to share with you how I make my yogurt so you can know how amazing that process can be and how delectable the outcome!  The Philosopher drowns his granola in milk and adds fresh berries or bananas.  Since it’s fall, roast up some apples with cinnamon in the oven and top them with some granola and a little vanilla ice cream.  Simple apple crisp!  Toss your granola in your homemade trail mix, toss a few pieces in your pancakes after pouring them on the griddle for another breakfast treat, or give it away as a gift.  People love granola, yet most don’t realize how easy it is to make!  Last year, a good friend made homemade granola and packed it in gift bags for the holidays. Yep, that’s a great gift!

Store your granola in a container with a tight-fitting lid.  One batch usually lasts a few weeks around here.

So dear readers, wherever you are and whatever season your body thinks it is, cook and eat well.  How are you enjoying the changing seasons?






The Diet: Day 1

Breakfast:  We began with a hearty bowl of homemade granola topped with sliced bananas and blueberries.  Oh and some unsweetened almond milk.

 It was quite a filling breakfast and even after my workout, I was full.

Lunch:  I had a late lunch that matched The Philosopher’s packed items.  We ate lettuce wraps with fresh veggies and homemade hummus (I will share various recipe options soon!), quinoa salad (lime juice, tomatoes, red peppers, cilantro), and a granny smith apple with almond butter.  According to The Philosopher, we never have to buy peanut butter again, regardless of the outcome of the diet.  He is hooked on almond butter!  I also packed a few cherry tomatoes and broccoli florets in my backpack to get me through class.  Tonight I had a Happy Hour event for an organization I used to work for.  While it was great talking and seeing everyone again, it was hard to watch everyone else eat pizza and drink beer!  I rushed home to make dinner before the temptation grew too great.

Dinner:  I adapted a recipe for Spinach with Coconut (or Spinach Thoren) from “Savoring the Spice Coast” by Maya Kaimal.  Here’s what I did:

Prepare 5 oz (half a bag) of spinach and one bunch of kale.  Dice one onion or shallot.  In a bowl combine 3/4c grated unsweetened coconut with 1 t cumin, 1/8 t cayenne, 1/4 t tumeric, 1 fresh green chili sliced lengthwise, and 1 t garam masala (you can usually find this in the spice section, I made my own.  See recipe below).  I added 1/4 cup of water and mixed this well.

In a wok or large skillet, I melted 2T coconut oil until melted.  Next, I added 1t mustard seeds and cooked them until they began to pop.  I added the onion and sauted just until tender.  Next, I added the kale and cooked until wilted, then I added the spinach.  When the spinach just began to wilt, I added the bowl of spices and coconut and continued to cook until the greens were tender.  I cooked brown rice earlier in the day (1 c rice, 2 c water, 1 t safflower oil) and refrigerated.  I tossed the cooked rice with the greens and coconut mixture to coat and warm completely.  I would suggest removing the green chili before serving (oops!  Lesson learned!).  Even with bites of chili, this was yummy!  I think I caught The Philosopher sneaking thirds!

So far, the best thing about this diet is the coconut oil.  Who knew that lurking in my supermarket was this luxurious fat?  Tomorrow it will be used in a baking experiment.  You can vote, apple pie or maple bars?

Thoughts: Today’s menu is easily reflected in many that we have eaten in the past.  Overall things didn’t feel strange today.  So far, the hardest thing is when I wanted a little snack:  a handful of potato chips, a chocolate chip cookie, or a cup of coffee on my way to class are all off limits.  I think the key will be to build up allowable snacks in the house so we don’t feel so boxed in with our choices.

The other important news is that tomorrow I will be cooking with my friend Cathy, owner of Photo Kitchen.  We will prepare dinner (and dessert!) together and she will be on hand to actually provide professional photos!  About time this amateur photographer asked for help, huh?  Stay tuned!

*Garam Masala

Grind 4 whole pieces of star anise in a coffee grinder (or a mortar and pestle) and measure out 2 teaspoons.  Reserve the rest for a future use (I don’t yet know what that is–sorry!).  Grind 2t fennel seeds.  Combine ground star anise, ground fennel seeds, 2t cinnamon, 2t ground clove, 2t ground cardamom, and 1t ground nutmeg.  Combine and store for up to 6 months.

Turning an Oops into an Ohh

Elimination Diet: 15 hours, 28 minutes

As I told you all, I was going to attempt to make granola bars for our breakfasts.  I adapted a recipe that I had used before, hoping that agave would act like maple syrup and stevia would act like sugar.

Almost Mistake #1:  It is hard to cook without my usual ingredients.  I almost sprayed the pan with vegetable (soybean) oil. 

Almost Mistake #2:  I accidentally purchased non-allergen free cashews, so I couldn’t use them in my granola bars.

Almost Mistake #3:  I bought a variety of dried fruit:  craisins, raisins, apricots, mixed berries.  The craisins and mixed berries had added sugar.  Thankfully I caught it, but only after adding it to the nuts.  I had to pick out all the dried fruit just in case I mistook a blueberry for a raisin.  (See the pile in the back of the picture?)

Actual Mistake #1:  Granola bars never set.  They maintained a crumbly, yet delectably yummy texture (and they smelled great!).

Actual Save #1:  Turning granola bars into granola.

If you would like to make gluten-free, peanut-free, sugar-free granola, here’s what I did:

3 1/3 c oats (read the packages carefully, many are not gluten-free)

11 packets of Stevia (or ~4 T)

2/3 c oat flour (simply put oats in blender or food processor until a light powder forms

1 t salt (I left this out since my nuts were salted)

1/2 t cinnamon

1 c raisins

1 c flax meal

2 c coarsely chopped nuts (I used almonds and pistachios)

1/3 c cashew butter

1/3 c almond butter (you could just use 2/3 of a cup of either butter alone)

4 T safflower or grapeseed oil

1/2 c agave

2 T water

First stir the dry ingredients and nuts together.  In a separate bowl, whisk the oil, agave and water.  Add both bowls together with the nut butters and stir together well.  This is where you should not follow my directions.  You should turn the oven onto 250 and layer some of the mixture onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment.  Bake, mixing every 5-10 minutes until golden brown.  I am not sure how long this will take total to bake.  I pressed mine into a 13×9 pan first baking 35 minutes, hoping they would be bars when finished.  Then I baked on a cookie sheet an additional 15 minutes.  I suspect it will take about an hour.   Just be careful, burnt granola does not turn into an ohhh!

I think I missed the vanilla I usually add (vanilla often has alcohol and sugar, making it a no-go).  I think that for my next batch, I will add a vanilla bean to the wet ingredients and let it meld together happily for a bit before stirring together.

New breakfast plan?  Granola with almond milk and fresh fruit.  Blueberries and bananas see like a good place to start, huh?

I am trying to get some prep work done for the next few days.  I just finished cooking some garbanzo beans for hummus in the pressure cooker and am soaking more beans for dinner tomorrow night.  For now, I am going to sip my last cup of coffee for a while and enjoy a final egg.  Tomorrow morning will arrive very quickly!

Wish us luck!