"A good rotation. A rotation I define as the experiencing of the new beyond the expectation of the experiencing of the new. For example, taking one's first trip to Taxco would not be a rotation, or no more than a very ordinary rotation; but getting lost on the way and discovering a hidden valley would be." - Walker Percy (The Moviegoer)
To be honest, I was never much of a cook; partly because I never had to be (with a family that had once been in the pizza business, baked their own bread, made their own noodles, ravioli, and could rival a bakery in terms of cookie output, my thought was my contribution would have been superfluous) and partly because I never had much interest. I loved food, i.e eating it, but I didn't want to have to bother with the precision of it--the need to measure, to chop, to balance flavors; it somehow seemed tedious to me. My food laziness largely continued throughout college, save for a two week period during which I decided to make goulash (of all things, why goulash? The world is full of mysteries) and a few other random recipes. Though I enjoyed it, my culinary experimentation didn't last long since I was graduating and moving to Japan, where I lacked an oven, literacy (how to cook with things you couldn't even identify?) and real appliances.
Things really didn't begin to change for me until I found myself in graduate school, drowning in reading and writing and desperately seeking some outlet. However, let me just say that, while every sane person inherently understands that his or her job should not be all-consuming, grad students--particularly those in the first year--are not sane and therefore rarely understand this and, even if they do get it on some level, they still can't really implement non-academic things into their lives without a strong sense of 1) guilt (in the field of Slavic, this guilt is even more intense since it's fostered by the misery of the novels we read and love) and 2) fear of failure. Clever being that I am :P (irony is key here, people), I decided that outfoxing my own guilt could be achieved if I did something practical and healthy; the conclusion that I came to was, what is ultimately more practical than cooking one's own meals, eating well and saving money? Yep, yours truly is not a graduate student for nothing and so I learned to love the joys of cooking to procrastinate.
Four years later, here I am in the post-PhD exam stage of my academic career, still cooking and no longer feeling guilty about it (but I will most likely eventually--you know, once the blog starts cutting into my dissertation writing time-- start feeling guilty, at least about the blog, but that just goes without saying). In fact, many a cupcake baked by me has been consumed over discussions of Hertzen, Bulgakov and Gogol. My now-dissertation adviser even once told me that I will be "remembered for my cupcakes" (I took this to mean that they were simply the embodiment of the brilliance and creativity that I display in class discussions; my job is, after all, to interpret language, so I don't think this is too much of a stretch).
Though cupcakes are, I suppose we could say, my specialty, I'm actually starting this blog off with two recipes that instead have meaning for me in the life I've created for myself amidst the madness of paper writing, teaching and attempting to be a happy human being (don't worry; there will be many cupcake posts to come): homemade granola and banana bread. Why? Because breakfast is wisely, yet cliched-ly, the most important meal of the day, especially when you teach at the crack of dawn. Also, I like food that can masquerade as a snack and that is easily portable. More importantly, this banana bread saved my life during my second four hour written PhD exam when I was certain that the only possible alternative was to run from the room and call it a grad school day; yep, it's that good. Possibly even magical.
"Everyday Granola" (adapted from Molly Wizenberg's June 2010 article in Bon Appetit)
Yields roughly 5 cups
3 cups old-fashioned oats
1 cup coarsely chopped nuts (your choice; I went with slivered almonds)
1/2 cup unsweetened shredded coconut (if you prefer something sweeter, go for the sugary stuff)
3 Tbsp. packed brown sugar
3/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1/4 tsp. salt
1/3 cup honey
2 Tbsp. canola oil
1 cup dried fruit (assorted and/or otherwise; cherries work like a charm)
-Preheat oven to 300 F. Line baking sheet with parchment paper.
-Mix first seven ingredients in a large bowl.
-Heat honey and oil in a saucepan over medium low heat; remove when smooth.
-Pour liquid mixture over dry ingredients and mix well.
-Spread on a baking sheet and bake until golden. Stir every 10 minutes for about 40 minutes so that the mixture bakes evenly.
-Remove from oven and let cool before adding the dried fruit. Store airtight and enjoy!
"Banana Bread with Cinnamon Crumble Topping" (adapted from the September 2008 issue of Bon Appetit that featured this recipe from Bakesale Betty, an amazing bakery in the Temescal area of Oakland)
For the bread:
1 1/2 cups flour
1 cup sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
2-3 medium mashed bananas
2 large eggs
1/2 cup canola oil
1/4 cup honey (or molasses, depending on the flavor you're seeking)
1/4 cup water
1/2 cup walnuts (optional; I happen to prefer the crunch)
For the topping:
2 1/2 Tbsp. packed brown sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon
2 Tbsp. sugar
-Preheat oven to 350 F. Butter and flour a bread pan.
-Whisk flour, sugar, cinnamon, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl.
-Whisk bananas, oil, eggs, honey and water in a large bowl until smooth.
-Add the dry ingredients to the wet mixture and stir to blend.
-Add walnuts/nuts of choice.
-Pour mixture into pan.
-Mix the topping in a bowl and then sprinkle over the batter.
-Bake bread until a cake tester comes out clean, about 1 hour.
-Cool bread for 30 minutes in the baking pan.
-Turn pan on its side and slide the bread out carefully (this is tricky since the topping is, by nature, fairly crumbly).