Sunday, June 27, 2010

"When the Moon Hits Your Eye..."

Just in case the title of this post didn't give it away (I do understand that not everybody is a Rat Pack/Dean Martin fan--the horror!--and also that not everybody will have seen "Moonstruck" more than a few times in his or her lifetime, which, you know, you should think about fixing if you haven't), today's post is going to be about pizza. Warm, gooey, delicious pizza. More importantly, pizza with a bit of a twist since, as my mother pointed out to me today when I was making blueberry lemon pancakes for breakfast, "You just can't use good old tried and true family recipes; you always need to be changing things." On the one hand, that's a completely fair assessment of my character and this is not the first time I've been accused of a need to "reinvent the wheel." It's also highly reminiscent of my need in the Slavic library to create "new and improved" Library of Congress call numbers when the system isn't suiting my steadfast belief that all Nabokov books should be shelved together. But, on the other hand, I'd like to mention that she really liked those pancakes. In fact, she heated up the leftovers not too long ago for a little evening snack. To my credit, I didn't say I told you so, but I can't say I didn't smile...and maybe a little smugly, but clearly in a good-humored way; this is, after all, the woman who gave me life. However, we're talking about pizza here, not generations of hard-headed women verbally duking it out in the kitchen and insisting that she knows better, if not best. :)

My basic point here is that it's important for you to understand that, when it comes to my family, we take our pizza very seriously. I know the secret ingredient used in my great-grandmother's pizza dough, despite the fact that I've never produced it in my life (maybe on my next visit; perhaps to be revealed in a winter post); I also know that we use brick cheese instead of mozzarella and that I prefer this too. And I generally can't think of pizza without having an image of a boisterous and rowdy Italian-American family (stereotypes, I'm sad to say, do often exist for a reason) sitting around a table, out-talking each other and munching away at thin slices of pizza with homemade tomato sauce. Which is why it's a little surprising that I decided to go the route that I did: polenta pizza with spinach and the Greek cheeses (clearly, I am a Benedict Arnold not only to my family, but to my "heritage" as well....alas, it must be so) that I love: Feta and Kasseri.

While I have to admit that this pizza might not be for everybody (polenta is, after all, never going to be entirely crispy and textured, even if you let it brown in the oven. According to Wikipedia, "mush" is one of polenta's aliases), it makes for a nice alternative to standard pizza crust. Mainly, it charmingly removes the possibility of having the eternal debate over the benefits of a thin crust compared to a thick one (in my humble opinion, these matters should be decided based not only on one's mood, but also one's location). It's also light and tasty, which, given the current high humidity levels on the east coast, is just what the doctor ordered for a summer afternoon meal....with a nice, icy bottle of beer to top it all off. I started reading Beloved recently and, besides being intrigued by the odd happenings at 124, I also amazingly fell upon a line that embodies my thoughts on this meal and, oddly enough, is appropriately about corn (taken in context, however, it's overtly sexual, but pizza and amore often go hand in hand...or so the song goes): "No matter what your teeth anticipated, there was no accounting for the way that simple joy could shake you." And as we all know, simple pleasures are often the only kind worth having; try it and see if you don't agree.

Greek-style Polenta "Pizza" (adapted from Mark Bittman' s February 18, 2009 "The Minimalist" column)

Yields up to 8 slices (depending on how the pizza is cut)

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, more for pan
1/2 cup milk, preferably whole
1 cup cornmeal
2 tsps. of both freshly chopped chives and oregano
1-2 Roma tomatoes, sliced finely (optional)
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
Freshly ground black pepper
1 small onion, chopped
1 pound spinach, washed, trimmed and dried
6 oz. grated Kasseri cheese
4 oz. crumbled Feta cheese

-Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
-Brush a layer of olive oil on a pizza pan or cookie sheet.
-In a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, combine milk with 2 1/2 cups water and a large pinch of salt. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium, and add cornmeal in a steady stream, whisking to prevent lumps from forming. Turn heat to low and simmer, whisking frequently, until thick, 5-10 minutes. If the mixture becomes overly thick, whisk in more water (mixture should resemble a thick oatmeal).
-Stir 1 tablespoon oil into cooked polenta and spoon it onto prepared pan, working quickly (note of warning: the polenta will stiffen if you dally). Spread it evenly to a thickness of about 1/2 inch all over. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and the freshly chopped chives and oregano.
-Cover baking sheet with tin foil and put it in the refrigerator until it firms, an hour or more (the polenta can be prepared the night before).
-Place polenta in oven and bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until it begins to brown and crisp on edges.
-In the meantime, put two tablespoons oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and allow it to soften for about 4-5 minutes. Add garlic and cook for an additional minute or two.
-At this point, add the spinach to the skillet and sauté, sprinkling it with salt and lots of pepper.
-Take polenta "shell" out of oven and place the slices of tomato on top, before sprinkling the "shell" with the two cheeses.
-Spread the onion and spinach mixture evenly on top of the cheese; drizzle with another tablespoon olive oil.
-Put pizza back in oven for 4-5 minutes, or until cheese begins to melt.
-Cut into slices and serve hot or at room temperature.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Going for the Greens

And thus, without a wing,
Or service of a keel,
Our summer made her light escape
Into the beautiful.
-Emily Dickinson

So, not only is today the first day of summer--an occasion worth celebrating--but we're also now several posts into this blog and the good old guilt has already started to set in; go figure, huh? That didn't take long at all! But I warned you about this at the beginning; any soul that would choose to devote her life to Russian literature in any shape or form clearly isn't operating according to standards of normalcy (nope, most things connected with Russian have a touch of the messianic about them and it just so happens that it extends itself to the scholars who toil away trying to make sense of the madness). The main reason for the guilt is that, after the news about the article and the resulting scones, I sent my adviser an email; within in a day, I got back a very sweet and supportive response, telling me that this kind of rejection was normal and that I should use my current momentum for the dissertation......Right, that dissertation that I've been thinking about every day, yet doing little to bring to fruition. Seriously. If we were to tally the things that have been accomplished in the month of June, it would read: Books read for work purposes: 0; Cakes baked: 5; Prospectus pages written: 0; Blog posts: 4. I'm trained to see patterns and thus the one before my eyes is slightly troubling since numerical data alone shows us that my current momentum is spent almost exclusively on measuring cups of sugar. :) Besides my belief that hope springs eternal and, more importantly, just as Scarlett bravely says at the end of Gone with the Wind, "Tomorrow is another [work] day," I know that all is not lost. After all, being aware of a pattern already means that you're halfway there to fixing it! And speaking of patterns, as I also started to notice another somewhat alarming one (that this blog has thus far solely been about dessert!), I decided something savory and healthy needed to be both shared and prepared--largely for your sake, but also for mine. That's not to say, however, that dessert can't also be healthy and "green." It's really a question of perception. :)

My big cooking adventure of the week was yesterday--Father's Day. And what inspired my Father's Day menu (in my opinion, food always makes an excellent gift; it's ultimately so much more thoughtful than going to the store and picking up any old thing!) was the abundance of fresh vegetables I found myself in possession of: mainly green beans and zucchini. That's the beautiful thing about southwestern PA in the summer; sometimes you're just driving along and you come across an area off the highway where a farmer has set up a stand with the most delicious and fresh offerings (and they're equally easy on the wallet, which in these times is nothing to scoff at). The zucchini came from just such a place and as soon as I saw it I knew what fate would befall it; it was destined to turn into one of my mother's favorite cakes: the Chocolate Zucchini Bundt Cake that had plagued my youth (I could never get over the fact that a vegetable was being used in a dessert; I'm happy to report that, in recent years, my palate has taken a turn for the better and I can now appreciate all that zucchini can do for a cake...especially when it's combined with chocolate). I'm getting ahead of myself, however. Dessert comes after the salad.... In some cases, I'm a stickler for order....unless I've had a bad day and some form of cake or dessert just magically morphs into dinner; happens to the best of us.

To complement my secret theme of "green reigns supreme", I also decided to make the salad that, a few months ago when I hosted a pre-exam dinner party at my apartment, somehow stole the show. Trust me, I never saw it coming; I'm quite fond of this salad, but I didn't realize how green beans, chickpeas and random spices topped with parmesan and a Dijon mustard vinaigrette could top Vegetarian lasagna, Lemony Lentils and a Blueberry Tart. And maybe, ultimately, they didn't (no reason for me to feel competitive or hierarchical on behalf of the food; there are limits to my own irrational behavior), but the point is that I never saw so many people happily crunching on green beans. It's clearly a mother's dream, although something tells me that young children, unlike adults, wouldn't be swayed by the mustard dressing and herbs (especially Tarragon with its anise-like aroma). Then again, as I read an article not too long ago on American children and the rise of bento box lunches, I'm not going to make any assumptions about the younger generation, whose palate might all-around be even more advanced than mine.

Green Bean and Herb Salad
(Adapted from "Recipes for Health" in the NYTimes)

Yields 4 servings

1/2 pound green beans
3 ounces mushrooms, cleaned, trimmed and sliced thin (about 1 1/4 cups)
1 15-ounce can of chickpeas, drained and rinsed (NB: I'm crazy about chickpeas, so I tend to add more; clearly, you can mix and match as you see fit)
2 ounces shaved Parmesan (about 1/4 cup)
3 tablespoons chopped fresh herbs, like chives, oregano, Italian parsley and tarragon
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1-2 tablespoons sherry vinegar (I like my dressing a little more vinegar-y, rather than oily)
1 teaspoon sea salt
3 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 small garlic clove, finely minced
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Freshly ground pepper

-Steam or blanch the green beans for four to five minutes, and then cool in a bowl of ice water. Drain and trim the stems. Cut the longer beans in half.
-Combine the beans, mushrooms, chickpeas, Parmesan and herbs in a salad bowl and toss to mix.
-In a small bowl or measuring cup, whisk together the lemon juice, vinegar, salt, mustard and garlic. Whisk in the olive oil.
-Mix the dressing into the salad before serving.

Chocolate and Zucchini Bundt Cake

Yields 8 generous slices

1 cup vegetable or canola oil (I prefer the latter)
2 cups sugar
3 eggs
2 cups flour
1 tsp. salt
2 tsps. baking soda + 1/2 tsp. at the end
2 tsps. cinnamon
3 heaping Tbsps. cocoa
2 tsps. vanilla extract
2 cups grated zucchini
3-4 ounces of finely chopped dark chocolate

-Preheat oven to 350.
-Grease and flour a bundt cake pan.
-Cream oil, sugar and eggs in a mixer (preferably a standing one, though a hand-held one will also do the trick)
-In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, baking soda, cinnamon and cocoa.
- Add dry ingreidents to the sugar mixture, mixing well and making sure to scrape the sides of the bowl at least twice.
-Add grated zucchini and vanilla and mix.
-With a spatula or spoon, gently stir in the chopped dark chocolate and the final 1/2 tsp. of baking soda.
-Pour into greased pan and bake for 60 minutes.
-After removing from the oven, let cake cool for 10 minutes and then carefully flip it onto a waiting dish.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Sweet Smell of...Rejection

I didn't plan on blogging today, nor did I anticipate that, in addition to making a fancy schmancy version of Tuna Noodle Casserole (a few leeks and a cup of Gruyere can go a long way) for me and my brother, the day would end with a decision to make scones. But since it's summer and spontaneity rules, I decided to go with the urge and see where it would take me. After all, since I'm currently on vacation in southwestern Pennsylvania, my options are somewhat limited: I can read, watch TV or a movie, take the dog for walk, cook or bake....and then read, or turn on the TV, again get antsy and decide to move around for a bit. I would repeat this a third time to really drive my point home (and maybe even in a different order), but I'm sure you've already started to get the picture. :) While it may seem like I'm complaining, really I'm not. The simple truth is that I love doing any and all of these things; plus it's my vacation, which means it's my duty to live well and be lazy. It's just that reality managed to intrude today since I happened to get a bit of bad news regarding an article I had sent off for submission to a journal (as promised, this blog will not just be about food, but about how one can use food to cope with the perils of graduate school), and so I wanted to do something a little out of the ordinary. Scones, being something I have loved since my college days when my friends and I would regularly go to Alice's Tea Cup on the Upper West Side, yet rarely make because I've never thought my own could live up to the glory of those I've had while out and about, seemed just the thing I was looking for. In short, it was time to conquer the scone.

Interestingly enough, the funny thing about the news that I had received (not really all that negative or unexpected since any author knows his or her work has flaws; it was more that the second reviewer clearly lacked imagination, was unwilling to see past her own textual bias and, frankly, appears to lack knowledge of both the visual medium and Japanese history. But, hey, nobody's perfect) was the timing. You see, I'm currently reading and loving every minute of A Homemade Life by Molly Wizenberg, the blogger behind Orangette and, after just having finished the chapter in which she discusses how she came to leave graduate school to follow the culinary pursuits that were closer to her heart, I checked my email and, boom, the fateful epistle was there. And before you get any ideas that I'm about to do something stupid or rash, let me stress that, of course I'm not leaving graduate school!!! I'm just being slightly dramatic here (seriously...even a blog needs some form of narrative momentum or gasp-worthy moment). I do, however, recognize that I wouldn't be human if it didn't bother me a little; after all, who likes rejection? Rejection can be appreciated only waaaaaaay after the fact when you have somehow managed to turn it into a life lesson that you are certain you will never least not consciously and probably not at all willingly.

But you know, despite the fact that I love my work, it was definitely one of those food for thought (not at all intended as a pun; word of honor!) moments. Grad school isn't easy, people's standards are high and varied, things are always ridiculously competitive and, more importantly, the sad reality of the writing process is twofold: 1) you will never be able to please every reader and 2) no piece of writing will ever be 100% perfect. Which is exactly how I came to this whole food thing to begin with: not only does something that tastes good to one person usually taste good to another, but also it's just for me. It's my escape from the madness and the place where I'm the Czarina behind it all. I decide the recipes, I tinker with them as I like and I enjoy the fruits of my labor, eating them, but of course, in moderation and then sharing the rest with my friends. It's comforting and fun; maybe ideas can be rejected, but cupcakes, cookies and scones rarely are (and, oh yes, I should mention that I've always been a bit of a people-pleaser). :) This is also part of the reason that I went with scones to begin with; tomorrow's breakfast is already taken care of. Even if today included a few snags, I wanted to start tomorrow morning off right. It just so happens that I'm one of those people who firmly believes in the power of pastries. Years of experience have taught me that, if the day begins with the luxury of a fresh and crumbly pastry, it's as good as having a talisman around your neck. Just call it my secret to guaranteeing a good day.

Scottish Scones (adapted from Molly Wizenberg's recipe in A Homemade Life)

Yields 8 scones

2 cups flour
2 tsps. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
4 Tbsps. cold butter cut into thick chunks (though the recipe called for unsalted, I used the salted and just held off on the 1/2 tsp. salt)
3 Tbsps. sugar
2 tsps. grated lemon zest
1/2 cup dried cherries, cranberries and blueberries
1/4 cup chopped pecans
1/2 cup half and half
1 large egg

-Preheat the oven to 425.
-Whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt.
-Rub the butter into the flour mixture with your hands, pinching until there are no chunks of butter larger than a pea.
-Whisk in the sugar, lemon zest, nuts and dried fruit.
-Mix the egg and half and half together, beating it with a fork
-Pour the wet ingredients into the dry mixture and stir to combine (N.B. even if some of the flour mixture remains at the bottom of the bowl, it's ok; ignore it)
-With your hands, squeeze the dough into a rough mass (don't worry if the dough isn't firm at this stage)
-Move the dough and any excess flour at the bottom of the bowl to the countertop and knead until it just comes together (Molly's sister's Scottish friend--feels weird to be acting like I know these people, but a food memoir just invites this level of intimacy--stresses that the dough should be kneaded no more than 12 times; consider this the golden rule of the recipe)
-As soon as the dough comes together and appears firm, pat it into a rough circle
-Cut the circle into 8 wedges
-Place the wedges on a baking stone or a baking sheet (for the latter, use parchment paper)
-Brush half and half on the scones with a pastry brush
-Sprinkle turbinado sugar on top for that little sparkly something extra :)
-Bake for 10-14 minutes or until golden

(Scones should be stored in an airtight container)

Sunday, June 13, 2010

What's in a Pie?

About four years ago, when a college friend was visiting me, we happened to go see the movie "Waitress." To be honest, despite having a special place in my heart for Keri Russell (season 1 of Felicity was quality television; I don't see how anybody who was there for this show's beginning could disagree with me), I wasn't entirely crazy about it. Sure, it had its moments, but I would ultimately have to say that the acting was overshadowed by the pie; that may seem like a strange thing to say, but they were quite majestic looking and their names--from "I Can't Have No Affair Because It's Wrong & I Don't Want Earl to Kill Me Pie" to "Marshmallow Mermaid Pie"--were truly inspired. And I say all of this as a die-hard cake girl because, trust me, when it comes to the eternal great questions like pie vs. cake and Tolstoy vs. Dostoevsky, I have always clearly favored the more seemingly scandalous and decadent of the two. But like most eternal questions that seemingly pit two extreme opposites against each other, force you to choose between them and pledge your diehard and lifelong allegiance, it's really never quite that simple.

I'm not really sure how this change has come about, but recently I've found myself obsessed with the idea of pie. Maybe it has its roots in the pie baking party a dear friend of mine invited me to before my second written exam and that I, out of a feeling of deep fatigue and general nervousness, decided not to attend and so I'm now trying to make up for lost experiences? Maybe it's because pie--being light, airy and fruity-- really does suggest some element of summer? Then again, I'll actually make a small confession here and say that I'm not entirely sure (besides my deepest convictions and the secret cake-lover's club card that I've been carrying with me for many years) that I've ever actually disliked pie; I certainly never turned down the numerous (and always delicious) pies that I would avidly watch my grandma bake for holidays, birthdays and just because. Especially if it was accompanied by a scoop of ice cream or whipped cream (and, to be frank here, would you?). I just think that in my mind I would always turn my nose up at it thinking it was an overly simplistic and uninteresting dessert. It might be how they say that girls have to like bad boys before they can actually find and appreciate a good guy: my young and naive self would look at pie and think about how dull it was--crust, filling and a topping--in comparison to other more "complicated" and flavorful desserts. Let me just say that I realize how absurd that sounds; it doesn't even begin to allow for the nuances of meringue and cream pies, but I'm ok with saying that maybe I was just being stupid(ly biased) and also that perhaps this newfound interest in pie is really just a sign of both my maturity and somewhat enlightened perspective. However, I'll spare you a continuation of the metaphor. :)

To celebrate my initiation into the world of pie lovers, I decided, with the help of the grandmother whose pies I can only aspire to emulate with much practice (I can't roll a perfect circle of dough to save my life, but there is more maturity to be gained in the years to come), to go crazy in the kitchen and produce no less than 4: 3 cherry cheese pies and 1 blackberry. I have no shame in admitting, despite a general belief in modesty, that they were everything a pie should be and more. Even with the patched crust that my newbie hands produced.

Cherry Cheese Pie

Fresh cherries for topping:

Yields enough for three pies

3 cups cherries (pitted and sliced in half)
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
2 Tbsps. cornstarch (dissolved in water and whisked)

-Place cherries and sugar in a pot and cook on high for 3-4 minutes or until boiling.
-Add 2 Tbsps. cornstarch and whisk together.
-Once mixture looks both thick and smooth, remove move from heat and let cool.

Pie crust:

Yields 1 pie

2 cups flour
1 cup shortening (this pained me, but if it must be so, it must be so. This is the recipe of my Italian namesake and thus will not be tampered with)
1/4 cup cold water
Pinch of salt

-Preheat the oven to 425.
-Add flour, salt and shortening to a bowl and mix them together with a pastry blender until the dough resembles pea-sized balls.
-Add cold water and mix with hands.
-When the dough feels moist and integrated, shape it into a round disk, move it to a floured surface and begin rolling.
-You should (ideally) roll the dough to a 12-inch circle that is about 1/8 of an inch thick.
-As you roll out the dough, look to see if the dough is sticking to the surface below. If necessary, sprinkle flour under the dough to keep it from sticking.
-Carefully place dough onto a 9-inch pie plate and press down.
- Depending on how well this whole process has gone, you may have to trim the dough from the sides to patch up a crack here or there or to make up for potentially uneven rolling. However, if everything is in order, simply fold the dough under, making a tiny ridge and then flute (i.e. pinch ) the edges.
-Poke holes into the crust.
-When making a cream or a cheese pie, you must cover the dough (preferably with another pie plate, but be sure not to press down) while it bakes so it will not shrink into itself.
-Place in oven and bake for 10-12 minutes.
-Remove pie plate cover and bake for 2-3 minutes longer or until golden brown.

Cheese filling:

Yields enough filling for 1 pie

1 block of cream cheese
1 cup powdered sugar
1/2 pint whipping cream

-Beat whipping cream until light and fluffy with peaks and then set aside.
-Cream the softened block of cheese and add the powdered sugar. Cream again until they are mixed well.
-Add the whipped cream into the mixture and gently fold.

At this stage--once the pie crust has been baked and cooled, the cheese filling mixed and the cherries cooled--it's quite easy to assemble: Simply place the cheese mixture into the waiting arms of the pie crust, smooth it and then repeat the second step with the cherries. You won't be disappointed in the end result. It might just make a pie lover out of you as well...or make you admit what you've always known.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Something like a good rotation

"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).


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