It is possible that cautious optimism that it will not always be winter is warranted.
The daffodils are ready to commit. The robins are back. The pesky birds nesting in the eaves outside the window by my bed are hard at work at sunrise every morning, 7 days per friggin week.
This is the time of year that I find I have grown entirely tired of eating, and cooking, and especially shopping for food. Before spring begins in earnest, here in the north east we are down to the bottom of the barrel of foods that have overwintered, like apples and squash, and despite our global economy (surely it is not winter all over the world?) all the produce in the market looks like it was dragged here behind the truck instead of inside it. Nothing imported looks good. Nothing local is up. We are sick of soup, and do not want to hear anyone talk about “seasonal eating” because this is the season when there isn’t much to eat.
It’s a good moment to clean the slate and clear the system out. The change of season always is. But every time I reach for the re-set button, I find myself pretty quickly in a lather of confusion. Go whole grain? Go paleo? Go vegan? A juice fast lasts about a day before I become homicidal, plus it can bankrupt a person in this zip code at this time of year. Between the plethora of philosophies and the lack of tempting ingredients, my virtuous plans often go astray.
I was happy to see this piece in Bon Appetit about making yourself a tasty lunch, for a couple of reasons. One, it reminded me that the road to table happiness for me often leads through the territory of some kind of inspiring condiment. Two, it has some groovy suggestions for simple, appealing ways to eat well. Three, it reminded me that I have often wondered if one could make a savory granola. (The world never tires of pointing out that there are no original ideas anymore.)
I set to work immediately leaving the useful launching pad of their recipe behind, and made two versions that were appealing enough, and different enough, to help me see that it is pretty hard to go wrong and a good amount of fun could be had. One batch used their notion of an egg white as the glue, and that does produce a handsomely shiny product. For my egg-intolerant sister, whom I like to feed, I subbed a chia-seed slurry to hold every thing together, and it worked just fine, though it was less shiny to gaze upon. One batch engaged their same oaty base, and one (hello, Paleo houseguest!) employed coconut instead. This seems like a handy concoction to have around, to toss on top of salads or rice bowls or empty hands seeking snacks.
Guidelines below. Have at it.
inspired by Bon Appetit, April 2014
makes about 3 cups
- 1 c rolled oats, or coconut ribbons or flakes
- to this add a scant 2c c of nuts or seeds, e.g. 1/2 c each of three of these: sliced or slivered almonds, coarsely chopped pecans, cashews or walnuts, pumpkin or sunflower seeds, shelled unsalted pistachios, or pine nuts, plus a 1/4 cup of sesame or flax seeds
- 1 egg white OR
- 1 T chia seed, bloomed for a few minutes in 1/4 c water
- 1/4 c olive or coconut oil
- 1-2 t maple syrup, agave, or coconut sugar
the spice mix:
- 1 tsp kosher salt (or something salty, like the liquid from a jar of preserved lemons, or tamari, etc)
- about 1 T of mixed spices (see below for suggestions)
Heat the oven to 350. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment or a silicone sheet
Combine the dry ingredients. Combine the wet ingredients. Combine the two mixtures and toss well; taste and adjust the seasonings (I didn’t do that with my version 1, and ended up wishing for more flavor).
Spread it out on a rimmed baking sheet lined with baking parchment, and bake it, stirring a few times to prevent scorching at the edges and get a nice even toastiness, for about 25 minutes. Cool it, and store in an airtight jar.
My version 1 had pine nuts, almonds, cashews and sesame on a base of oats. The glue was the chia slurry and olive oil, with a teaspoon each of sesame oil, tamari and preserved lemon gravy added to it, and the spice mix was about 1/2 a teaspoon of black pepper, a pinch of cayenne, and a teaspoon of fresh grated ginger.
Version 2 used coconut as a base; the nuts were almonds, sunflower seeds and sesame seeds. I used an egg white and coconut oil, and added a teaspoon each of cumin, coriander and brown mustard seeds, along with 1/2 a teaspoon of fennel seed and a shake of ground fenugreek, and a scant teaspoon of korean ground red pepper which is very handy stuff to have around–lots of chili flavor with medium heat–and some fresh grated ginger. You can crush the seeds a little or leave them whole.
Sorry I’m late. I’ve been stuck at a four-way intersection, notorious all over the globe for short-circuiting sensible behavior. Mine was the place where a fresh wave of grief, my loony agreement to costume the 8th grade play, a very busy season writing and organizing, and a small farm animal in my kitchen all came together. None of these things could have been managed without friendship, and I am absurdly rich in this resource, but the pace of life has felt aerobic even so.
My friend Suzi once said to me, as I explained a day that seemed arduous but possible, “there’s the logistics, and then there’s living through it.” Meaning yes, it is technically feasible to drop your kids off at school, travel 2.5 hours to attend a one-hour event, get back on time for 2:30 pick up, then get dinner on the table and hit the class meeting at 7. But then there is the state of mind and body that will result, which ought to be part of the calculations.
As this past week unfolded, I did find a few stretches of time where I was not scheduled to be doing anything, and I began to interrogate myself about why I still felt so overwhelmed. A couple of days were a lot like the one described above, but others were not. It was the task of trying to yank my brain around to writing that revealed to me that time was not the issue. The problem was one of total mind saturation. So many separate tasks, mammals, timelines, calories and physical objects were milling around my cranium in need of tracking and monitoring that there was no open space to breathe into any creative thought.
This naturally leads us right to potatoes. Tamar Adler sings the praises of setting your week up right by roasting a whole bunch of stuff and stacking it neatly in the fridge. If you want to follow the roasting tangent, Melissa Clark wrote a similarly inspiring bit about the merits of roasting things to eat right away. Roasting, in my opinion, is the joint as far as making things tasty fast, but my tangent of the day is not roasting so much as little gifts that your idle self, when it is comparatively idle, can give your busy self when she comes around later looking for something to eat–and you know she will, probably with a few more hungry pals in tow.
So, if at any point you find yourself with the oven on for some other purpose, or just find yourself with a span of an hour or two that you can bookmark the end of, bake some potatoes. They can be baking potatoes or Yukon Gold potatoes or sweet potatoes or yams. I don’t care. Cool them down and tuck them away.
One subsequent day, when time is tight, get busy for about ten minutes with those potatoes. Split them and scrape them out and load them up with all kinds of nutritious tidbits, then bake them again.
Now you’ve done something pretty great. Now humans dashing through your kitchen at high speeds can grab one and be pretty well sustained. More inert persons can stumble down to the kitchen and get nourished while your attention (or your body) is elsewhere. With a salad and maybe some soup, seated people can call them dinner. They are tasty at room temperature and comforting when warmed up again, which they tolerate well, so you can even tuck the finished product away for another future crunch.
An act of sustaining friendship, from your self to yourself, with the attendant ripples of good effects for others that friendship always produces. I can hardly call this a recipe. Just an idea. Customize it to your market, pantry and taste.
Prick or X the potatoes, and bake them until tender. Even if you are planning to do all the steps in one go, do let them cool a little before proceeding. (Speaking of acts of kindness to the self, as well as acts whose lingering effects could be felt for some time.)
When you can interact with the potatoes without altering your fingerprints, slice them in half and scrape the flesh (leaving about 1/4″ in the peel) into a bowl.
Mash this up, and add to the mash any or all of the following that you have, or anything similar that you like from the list below (amounts are per potato):
- about 1/2 c finely minced greens (any combination of baby spinach, kale, chard, basil and other fresh herbs, etc)
- 1T golden flax meal (oat bran, wheat germ, sesame seeds…)
- 1/4 c buttermilk or plain yogurt (coconut milk, cashews whizzed with a little water, soy milk…)
- 1/4 c grated sharp cheese (parmesan, cheddar, etc)
- 1t olive oil
- Any little nubbin that seems savory and appealing: capers, olives, minced up ham or bacon, smoked tofu….
- Salt & pepper, paprika, cumin, chile powder to taste
Mix it all well, scoop it back into the waiting shells, and festoon the top with some more grated cheese, maybe a sprinkle of paprika or sesame seeds, and bake those bad boys until golden.
In the blink of an eye, or rather the long, cramped blink of a shuffle through airport security, some hours in an improbably airborne metal device, and another set of shuffles (is that my bag?), we have gone from winter wonderland to tank tops. This is blessedly disorienting. It has been quite some time since my last vacation, Father.
As always, the period before departure gave me cause to wonder if in some earlier episode I have angered the gods of vacation. There were the snowstorms, which of course we could not take personally. Our dog ruptured a tendon in his knee. Our sheep began lambing two months before such an event was anticipated, and into deep snow and freezing temperatures. And to drive home the point, one lamb was rejected by her mother and left to our attention. It’s a tall order to find good care for such an impressively precarious house of cards.
It is also tough to feature how a creature fitting the description of the teeny lamb (winsome, petite, fuzzy, floppy-eared) could be rejected by any mammal with a beating heart and/or shred of parental instinct. But she was one of a set of twins and her sister was far more lively and strong. However much I’d like a sheep to think like a person (‘let me spin this forward: no, I’d be lambing right when they want to go away. We’d better not’), they are hardwired to think like sheep, which means like prey animals. Things are starkly practical for them. ‘This one looks like the winner; that one can’t support the cost/benefit math,’ goes the process, I think, though in another dialect.
We often have a lamb that needs a little warming or other attention to get it going on the right path, but this one was really in the red. Half the size of her sister and barely strong enough to stand, she was not up to the hunt for a teat she could hardly even reach. We spent two days trying to reunite baby with mama, but mama was having none of it. A large part of that time was also spent milking said mother so the baby could eat, which sounds bucolic and charming but was more like a bar fight. A friend described trying to milk a fully-coated sheep as “hunting for a button in a pile of sweaters,” which is accurate as far as it goes. It’s just that it’s an unwilling pile of sweaters with hooves and a very heavy, hard head, and you (perhaps equally unwilling, and thinking quizzically of your college degrees in subjects quite at odds with the circumstances) are flailing around with her in a small space littered with sheep crap, your enthusiasm further compromised by the thought that you see your vacation receding over the horizon line.
We called a truce and parted ways with one lamb apiece. If you have ever wondered, I am here to assure you that yes, you can fashion a lamb’s diaper out of an old pair of ballet tights and some cut-up towels.
Of course all these events made everyone very hungry. The lamb’s needs were met with a bottle every three hours, leaving me with half a carton of buttermilk, among other collateral effects. I woke up one morning last week with buckwheat and blueberries on my mind, and ended up making these muffins three or four times, partially to get the recipe written down but mainly because I wanted to keep eating them. There is something very satisfying about buckwheat—good for you in a palatable way. The blueberries get all jammy in the muffin, which is sweet but not terribly sweet, and it’s all very fueling. I made them with GF flour and regular with equally happy results. Because the good buttermilk (no gums or stabilizers) that I could find was non-fat, I added ¼ c of cream for a richer & more tender muffin, but you could certainly use all buttermilk instead.
buckwheat blueberry muffins
- 1 ½ c AP or GF flour
- ½ c buckwheat flour
- ½ c sugar (white or coconut)
- 1 t baking powder
- ½ t baking soda
- pinch of salt
- ¾ c buttermilk + ¼ c heavy cream OR
- 1 c buttermilk
- [1-2 T of additional milk or buttermilk; see below]
- 1 egg
- 4 T butter, melted and cooled
- 1 c frozen blueberries
Heat the oven to 400 and lightly butter a 12-cup muffin pan.
Combine the dry ingredients well. Beat the egg into the milk or milk + cream. Lightly combine the dry & wet mixtures with a few strokes, then add the butter and continue mixing just until just incorporated. If the batter seems very tight (the GF flour was more prone to this for me), add a T or 2 of milk along with the blueberries and stir both in. Do not over-mix.
Divide the batter among the 12 cups, and smooth the tops a little. Bake 12-15 minutes at 400, and turn the heat down to 350 to finish baking until lightly golden and springy on top.