Monday, August 31, 2009

- Better than OK at the Corral: Drive in movies Wimberley style

This past weekend Don and I had an experience well worth the price of admission. Now it should be said up front that we expected to have a great time watching Julie and Julia. But the best part of the evening turned out to be the venue, and that's saying something.

The Corral Theatre is a Wimberley landmark. We paid $5.00 each to gain entrance to an open-air enclosure that did bear a striking resemblance to a corral, although the fencing was solid, presumably to muffle the sound of cars on Ranch Road 3237. We brought beach chairs with us, not knowing how much seating would be available, but opted to sit in the 1950s vintage green metal lawn chairs … you know, the kind that gently rock as you lean back.
Those who preferred the assorted resin chairs sat a little farther back. All told, there were probably a hundred folks on hand to watch Julie and Julia, while munching popcorn, soda and candy from the concession stand, sold for the blissfully retro rate of a buck a pop. Bargain prices notwithstanding, some of those in attendance strolled in with their own coolers containing beverages and snacks, all under the benevolent eye of the proprietress who welcomed each guest.

The movie was scheduled to begin at “dark thirty,” which we learned was about half an hour after sunset as the stars began to prick their way into the sky and the moon settled into the branches of a live oak. The screen, a white-washed mosaic of masonite, and the fence-mounted speakers were a distinct improvement on the standard megaplex fare, and the gentle breeze was better by far than any air conditioning system yet invented. The old projector stuttered at the beginning of each reel, lending an authenticity and sense of fun to the whole enterprise.  There was one pause in the action, about 30 minutes into the film.  As the lights came up, one of the teens from the concession stand walked down the aisle and pulled ticket stubs from a bowl in order to award free tickets to some lucky movie-goers. But at $5.00 a head, we’ll be back, freebies or not. Heck, I’d pay twice that in a New York minute.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

- Shelter Island, 1969

Grandma Munson always made her own bread, enough to last a whole week. She scooped flour into her mustard yellow earthenware bowl to a line that only her eyes could see. Running water over the inside of her wrist until it was just the right temperature, she filled a chipped china cup halfway with lukewarm water, then added yeast and sugar. Turning back to the earthenware bowl, she spooned in pillows of lard and strewed salt with no discernable measure. Rubbing the flour and lard between her fingers, she told me how butter was scarce during the Great Depression and the ration-card days of World War II. Oleo was tasteless, little improved by adding the packet of dye intended to mimic the rich yellow of real butter. And so she became accustomed to using lard, with its earthy animal essence, smelling like wet puppy on a rainy day.

Forming a well in the center of the flour laced with lard and salt, Grandma poured in the bubbling yeast and more lukewarm water, stirring it all with a long-handled wooden spoon. As the bread dough gathered, she took the bowl up in her left arm, inching her right hand down the handle of the spoon to get a better purchase, pulling the bread dough up and out, snapping it like some great elastic band. Then dumped the mass onto the floured counter, dusting her hands and the mound of dough with more flour, kneading the bread into submission. She left the dough to rise overnight, covered with a damp dish towel. Waking the next morning to the smell of yeast and fresh brewed coffee, I came downstairs to find her placing new-formed loaves in six bread tins, lacquered from years of baking.

But not all the dough went into the tins. Butter sizzled in a black cast iron skillet as Grandma plucked one nugget of bread dough after another with a fork cocked between her palm and ring finger. Flipping the walnut-sized bread cakes in the pan until golden brown, and then onto the platter for serving, she sent me to the cabinet to fetch the blackstrap molasses for dipping and for Pop Pop’s coffee. We ate breakfast around the dining room table, where Pop Pop outlined our chores for the day: there were summer apples to rescue from the deer, tomatoes to pick, and knives to sharpen for the fish that would surely be arriving later in the day, the next door neighbor having already promised a share of his catch in exchange for some vine-ripened beefsteaks.

Pop Pop called them his bluefish tomatoes because he put fish guts and heads into the ground before planting them each year. “Like Indians,” he told me, “nothing wasted.” The plants grew big and tall on an elaborate wooden scaffold that held them up to the sun, the whole surrounded by chicken wire to keep out the deer. The grass under the apple trees, still wet with dew, recorded the evidence of the midnight marauders: half-eaten apples and tracks just outside the tomato enclave. Shaking the trunk of each tree, Pop Pop pointed to the new fallen apples, pippins he called them, directing me to gather them up so Grandma could make pie. Then he turned his attention to his tomato vines, chortling over the size of this tomato and that one. Cradling one in the palm of his hand, he hefted it up and down, declaring it to be a whopper, a pound and a half at least.

Carrying bushel baskets laden with apples and tomatoes back to the house, we stopped at the asparagus bed, where Pop Pop drew out his pen knife and nipped the thickest spears close to the ground, placing the asparagus on top of his basket. We entered the back door to the scent of baking bread, heavy with the promise of lunch. After washing the apples in the sink, I sat on the stool watching Grandma peel, quarter, core and slice them into green-tinged wedges, the knife blade flashing in her hand. She blessed them with sugar, freckles of cinnamon and a touch of cornstarch, then turned to making the pie crusts. Once again ladling flour, salt and lard into the earthenware bowl, she cut the lard into the flour with two knives drawn past each other like dueling swords. Running the tap until it was icy cold, Grandma shook a shower of water over the bowl, drew the pie crust together, rolled it thin and draped it like elegant linen into each pie tin. Filling the tins impossibly high with apple slices, she draped a second crust over the top of each, pinching and turning, pinching and turning to seal the apples within.

Pulling the loaves of bread out of the oven, Grandma rapped them with a knuckle to be sure they were done, then turned them out on to wire racks, leaving them to cool on the back porch. The loaf tins she returned straightaway to the cabinet, the mahogany veneer of baked-on grease undisturbed by soap and water. The pies took their place in the oven, whiffs of burnt sugar and apple juice layering over yeast and lard as they bubbled and browned. The bowls washed and put away signaled time for lunch. And I was granted a prize: the heel of a still-warm bread loaf, slathered with butter and dusted with sugar, all chased with a tall glass of cold milk.

As promised, the neighbor-man arrived in mid-afternoon with bluefish for our dinner, leaving with the lesser tomatoes after a being treated to a discourse on the genesis of the largest bluefish tomato, destined to be served at Pop Pop’s table. Putting the still-twitching snapper blues in a bucket, Pop Pop selected two knives from the drawer and took them out to the barn as I trailed behind. There he filled a tin cup with water from the rain barrel and hung it over the grindstone. A slow steady drip, drip, drip of water fell through the hole punched in the bottom of the cup. Sitting astride the grindstone bench, Pop Pop’s foot pumped the treadle, starting the massive wheel turning, water flying as the stone gained speed. As he drew each knife against the stone, a keening wail joined the rhythmic thump of the treadle, now high, now low, the blades moving back and forth. Holding the knives up to the sunlight, Pop Pop tested the blades against his thumb, making me wince in anticipation. No blood did he draw, but found the blades to be worthy. Spreading out newspapers on the bench, he scaled the fish, a shower of sequins leaping into dusty sunbeams. Then dispatched heads, fins and tails with the heavy carving knife, and eviscerated each fish with the filet knife. On the way back to the kitchen, entrails and offal were buried a short way from the garden, in the plot allotted to the next year’s tomato harvest. “Always rotate crops,” he said, “just like the Indians. Don’t forget.”

Who could forget? The smell of butter browning flour-dredged fish, thick slabs of tomato, tender crisp asparagus. And better, apples reduced to a thick sauce encased in a crust that shattered in the mouth, releasing salt and sweet bathed in the rich earthiness of pork fat. Washing and drying dishes and silverware, folding linen napkins into napkin rings to be used the next day and the next day and the next day. All the days flowing together.

Bread Knots for Two

½ cup bread flour (for openers)
1 Tbs. wheat gluten
½ tsp. kosher salt
One splash of Unio olive oil (instead of lard)
½ cup lukewarm water
½ Tbs. yeast
½ tsp sugar

Run water over your wrist until it is just this side of warm. Sprinkle the yeast and sugar over the water, stir in with your finger and let it sit for 5-10 minutes.

Measure the flour, gluten, salt and olive oil into a small food processor. My old stand-by is a Royal LaMachine I, purchased when I was too strapped (more like too tight) to afford a Cuisinart. A couple of years ago I bought one on eBay for Melissa’s birthday … but I digress.

Pour the yeast into the food processor and process while slowly adding more flour until the dough just clumps into a ball. Take it out, dust it with flour (it should be pretty soft and sticky) and hand-knead it into a flattened disk. Place in a bowl, cover with a damp towel and let it rise for an hour or two.

Divide the dough into eight pieces (break it in half, break each half in half again, and finally break the four pieces into eight … hopefully all about the same size). Hang the finger-sized pieces of dough over the edge of the bowl to rest.

Fill the bottom of a small cereal bowl with a puddle of olive oil (a few tablespoons), a sprinkling of kosher salt and some garlic (powder or fresh, strictly optional). Dredge each piece of dough in the oil, twist into a simple knot, and place on a cookie sheet.

Cover the bread knots with the damp towel and let them rise for another hour (if you have that long … I often hurry things along by putting the cookie sheet in a warm place). Pre-heat the oven to 400 and bake for 10-15 minutes or until golden brown.

Apple Pie (adapted from The Joy of Cooking, 1975)

3 lbs. Granny Smith apples
2/3 cup sugar
1 Tbs. cornstarch
1/8 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. vanilla
2 Tbs. cream

1 ¼ cups of flour
1/3 cup lard, chilled (best is partly frozen)
½ tsp. kosher salt
2-3 Tbs. iced water

Peel, core and slice the Granny Smith apples into a large bowl. Stir in the other filling ingredients and set aside while making the pie crust. BTW, I only make a top crust, my reasoning being that the bottom crust is always a sodden mess and just doubles the caloric guilt anyway.

Process the lard into the flour and salt until it is somewhere between pea-sized and corn meal. Transfer to a mixing bowl, sprinkle with ice water and gather together into a loose ball with your hands. It’s better to add a little too much water, as it is easier to remedy a sticky crust with a little more flour than it is to salvage a crust that is too dry.

Place the apple filling into a pie plate, roll out the crust, drape it over the apples and fold the crust up and over the edges of the pie plate. Cut slits in the crust, brush with a little cream and sprinkle with cinnamon sugar.

Bake at 450 for 10-15 minutes, turn down to 350 and bake for another 30 minutes, then put a cookie sheet on a rack under the pie plate to catch drips. Keep checking every 5 minutes until the filling is visibly bubbling and a thin knife blade inserted into the apples meets no resistance. The apples should be soft to the point of chunky applesauce (IMHO).

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

- Double the Pleasure, Double the Fun: Weddings and Birthdays 2

The Ackert family doesn’t do anything by halves. It wasn’t enough to have one wedding last, year … we had two. Meghan and Paul were married four months after Meliss and Jake.

Then we up and moved away from our long-time home in Williamsburg.  As a result, I’ll get to make Meg a birthday cake for the first time in about ten years since Austin is only 30 miles from Wimberley. She hasn’t placed an order yet, but I’m guessing she’ll want Vanilla Vanilla Cake.  I actually earned an award with this cake, back when I was a Girl Scout (which is to say, a very, very long time ago). Another cake won first prize for decorating, but mine got honorable mention for taste. As with the Peach Cobbler, this recipe has Bisquick in it, which is weird because I like to think of myself as a "scratch baker" and a "whole foods" locavore-wannabe.  Translation:  I do whatever works best for the recipe at hand.

In any case, the recipe came from my Grandma Barnett (my dad’s mom) and is one of the few that I haven’t messed with too much over the years. Grandma always made it in a loaf pan (hence the original name “Mom Barnett’s Loaf Cake” in my mom's recipe file), although it can also be made in a tube pan or a 9” x 13” sheet pan ... I've even tried layers and cupcakes from time to time. It has a terrible tendency to collapse in the middle, but you don’t want to overcook it because it’s better too moist than too dry. Meg likes it iced with vanilla and has always called it Vanilla Vanilla Cake. If I’m making for myself, I ice it half in vanilla, half in chocolate, because I can never decide which I like best.  BTW, if it does get a bit dry, a scoop of vanilla Haagen Dazs helps.

Vanilla Vanilla Cake

½ cup Land O Lakes butter with canola oil
1 ¼ cup sugar
3 eggs or ¾ cup of Better'n Eggs (pasteurized so you can lick the bowl)
1 ½ tsp. vanilla (remember, Nielsen-Massey)
3 cups Bisquick
¾ cup milk

Bake at 350 degrees, 45 minutes for a loaf pan, 30 minutes for a tube pan, 20 minutes for a 9”x13” pan

Vanilla Icing (update: now I make Smitten Kitchen Buttercream)

½ cup butter
1 tsp. vanilla
1 lb. confectioner’s sugar
Milk or cream as needed

Melt butter, add vanilla and half the sugar. Beat with a handmixer, adding sugar and milk (or cream) until you reach a spreadable consistency.

Chocolate Icing

1/3 cup butter
2 or 3 ounces of unsweetened chocolate
1 tsp. vanilla
1 lb. confectioner’s sugar
Milk and/or coffee as needed

Melt butter and chocolate. Add vanilla and half the sugar. Beat with a handmixer, adding sugar and milk and/or coffee until you reach a spreadable consistency.

Note: If you plan to ice the cake with both vanilla and chocolate icing, cut the recipes in half.

- Just a Trifle: Weddings and Birthdays 1

Melissa is my Valentine child, born on February 14th (the day she was due, which I very much appreciated at the time).  Having a birthday in the middle of winter had its problems.  Aside from having to share "her day" with the rest of the world, it never failed that some significant invitee to her birthday party would succumb to whatever contagion was active that year.  Grandma, Papa, Dad, Meg, friends ... you name 'em, she missed 'em.  Everyone except me.  I had to be there to supply the cake.

Her perennial birthday cake request had cake in it, but wasn’t actually a cake at all. What she almost always wanted was Strawberry Trifle. As with most of my recipes, this one morphed over the years, but the biggest challenge was finding good berries in February. So I would grab any I could find within a week of the party.  But once I found them, the other big challenge was to keep them from spoiling.

Well, Melissa married Jake last year and she now lives in St. Louis, so I don’t actually get to make birthday cakes for her anymore, but I still try to make a trifle for us.

Strawberry Trifle, aka Melissa's Birthday Cake
(some assembly required)

Cream filling
2 large boxes or 3 small boxes of Jello “cook and serve” vanilla pudding (NOT instant)
5 cups of whole milk (I use less than called for so the pudding will be thicker)
1 ½ cups heavy cream (unsweetened)

Cook on stove or in microwave until thickened
Put in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap on top to prevent a skin from forming
Cool thoroughly in refrigerator
Whip heavy cream (no sugar) and fold into pudding

Fruit Filling
2-3 quarts of strawberries, hulled and quartered (more is better)
2 Tbs. sugar sprinkled over berries and gently stirred in

Nuts (optional)
2-4 oz. slivered almonds toasted for 5 minutes at 350 (be careful they don't burn)

Sponge Cake
6 egg whites
6 egg yolks
1 cup sugar
¼ cup hot water
1 tsp. vanilla
1 cup flour
1 ½ tsp baking powder

Whip egg whites into soft peaks
In a separate bowl, beat the egg yolks and sugar, then mix in water and vanilla.
Fold flour and baking powder into yolk mixture
Fold egg whites into yolk mixture
Bake in an ungreased tube pan at 350 for 45 minutes

Decide if you want to make one large trifle or two small ones and divide accordingly.
Cut sponge cake in half horizontally and sprinkle with Amontillado sherry to taste (just stick your thumb in the bottle and spritz over the cut side of the cake)
Put a little pudding/cream in the bottom of the serving bowl(s)
Layer cake, strawberries, almonds and cream filling, in that order, twice.
Refrigerate for a couple of hours before serving if possible.
Garnish with sweetened whipped cream and whole strawberries if desired

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Food is love

At the 2004 Eastern Virginia Writing Project, Emily Pease gave us a simple assignment:  write about forgiveness.  This is what I wrote then ... five years later, it still rings true.


When all else fails, bake cookies.

That was my mom's mantra when I was growing up. It was a useful strategy in a house with two children and no television ... my father's edict based on his belief that broadcast media were intrinsically evil, in spite of his employment on Madison Avenue. Or perhaps because of it.

On rainy days when my brother and I had exhausted the amusement potential of blocks and records and board games, we resorted to bickering.

"Did so."

"Did not."

"Did so."

"Did not."


Sometimes she punted by sending us to the neighbors, who had televisions and more relaxed standards for child-rearing. Sometimes she stayed home, no doubt savoring the silence. Sometimes she went with us, to sit over coffee and cigarettes with the other moms, until the combined forces of too many children in too-small a space resulted in the inevitable and we were all back at square one.


Sometimes she baked cookies. Opening a bottle of vanilla extract is all it takes to trigger the memory of the school bus yellow bag of Nestle's Semi-Sweet Morsels. Preheating the oven ("Why Mom?"). Kneeling on wooden chairs at the red and white oilcloth of the kitchen table. Plopping bars of Imperial margarine into the green Pyrex mixing bowl (hearing the trumpet voluntary as an imaginary crown appears on my head).

Greasing the cookie sheets by rubbing traces of margarine from the inside of the golden foil wrapper. Carefully measuring tablespoon after tablespoon of brown sugar and white sugar, six of each. Sniffing the vanilla bottle, never daring to taste it. Cracking egg shells on the edge of the bowl, wrinkling my nose at the slimy cold wetness of the egg whites. Sifting flour and baking soda and salt together ("Why Mom?"). Sneaking chocolate chips out of the bag. Spooning lumps of dough onto the cookie sheets. Licking the beaters.

Bliss. What better way to divert attention, ensure peace and quiet? Buttery warm crumbs of sweetness and liquid chocolate. Icy cold milk. It never failed.

So why reinvent the wheel? When my own two daughters exhausted the amusement potential of Barbie dolls and cassette tapes and board games and television, they inevitably resorted to bickering and I to cookies. I must confess that I skipped a step or two. Too impatient to measure out sugar in tablespoons I quickly converted quantities into cup measure, the sooner to get to the end product. For product, not process, was what I was about. And the eggs? All that salmonella lurking in wait, prohibiting the licking of beaters? No fear. I used Second Nature Better'n Eggs, duly pasteurized and patently safe for raw consumption. For what was the point if not to lick the bowl? And indeed, why even bother with all the fuss of greasing pans and preheating ovens, scooping dough and juggling hot pans? Let 'em eat cookie dough! It never failed.

It was a point of pride with me, being the mom who let everyone eat cookie dough. I was a hero in my own hometown, a legend in my own time. I never counted the cost, the calories, the cholesterol. Who cared? The kids were happy, I was happy. Bliss.

And now they've grown up, become teenagers. No wait, one is 21 now. How did that happen? Angst reigns. Like all parents, I goof, make mistakes, screw up royally. And then owning up to my mistakes, apologize when it is called for, which is more often than I care to admit.

"Why can't you get it right the first time, Mom?"

Why not indeed? We, as parents, never actually set out to infuriate our children, though they believe otherwise. Recently I read Robert Farrar Capon's book Kingdom, Grace, Judgment in which he said, "When I crippled my children emotionally (or when my parents crippled me) it was not done out of meanness or spite, it was done out of love: genuine, deeply felt, endlessly pondered human love -- flawed, alas, by a self-regard so profound that none of us ever noticed it." And I could relate.

Which is why my mantra is: When all else fails, make cookie dough.  Because the inevitable inevitably happens.  So when all is not well in the small world called home, cookie dough is the signal to one and all that forgiveness is humbly sought. And my daughters know that to accept the cookie dough is to offer a gift:  to forgive yet again.

They haven't turned me down yet. 

Chocolate Chip Cookies, the DJ Montague version
(makes 6-8 dozen)

2 8-ounce tubs Land O Lakes butter with canola oil
1 pound box Domino light brown sugar
3/4 cup white sugar
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 cup Better'n Eggs, scant
4-5 cups unbleached white flour
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp kosher salt
24 ounces Nestle semisweet chocolate morsels (none other)

Cream butter, sugars and vanilla, then beat in eggs
Mix in baking soda, salt, and 2 cups flour
Fold in, 2 more cups of flour, then slowly add enough
flour to keep the dough from being sticky
Fold in chocolate chips and scoop onto a greased cookie sheet

Bake at 350 for 7-8 minutes in a convection oven or
10-11 minutes at 360 in a regular oven, until edges are brown
Leave on sheet for 5 minutes, then put on a cooling rack
Perfect for tea parties or with a glass of ice cold milk

- Eastern Virginia Writing Project 2007: Poetry and peaches

For Peaches

On a Carolina highway,
air rippling with early summer heat,
my thumb
seeks the reassurance
of soft flesh
ripened to perfection.

Rose and gold and palest jade
rim the edge of heaven,
nexus of sand and sea and sky;
the sunrise a recapitulation
of summer sun imprinted
on fragrant orbs.

Silver blade in hand
I cleave flesh
into wedges drenched with juice,
sweetened with sugar,
freckled with cinnamon.

Then open the oven
to air rippling with heat
that will meld
flour and butter
sugar and cream
into a cobbled bed;
a perfect end
for peaches.

Peach Cobbler

1/4 cup melted butter
1/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup Bisquick
Splash of heavy cream

Combine and press crust into an 8x8 pan, then top with
3-4 cups sliced peaches mixed with
2 Tbs sugar with a pinch of cinnamon
1/2 tsp cornstarch or instant tapioca

Bake at 400 until peaches are bubbling and crust is lightly browned
N.B. This recipe has never been followed exactly, rather it is an approximation to be modified as you will

- Priming the Pump: Shrimp Pasta

Since I want to bulk up this blog with some content, I'm going to dig out some writing from our Williamsburg days. This recipe is for a must-have-dish when the Ackert clan heads to the Outer Banks each June.  It was discovered during a business trip with some fellow librarians to Kohler, Wisconsin, home of the “Toilet Wall of Fame" (aka the Kohler Design Center).

After learning more about bathrooms than we ever needed to know, we tried to find a simple place to eat for dinner and happened on an Italian restaurant in a strip mall. The menu was agreeably low-priced with entrees around eight dollars (this was 20 years ago). We made reservations and returned several hours later dressed in jeans only to find that we were in a high-end bistro with incredible food; everyone else was dressed to the nines. Who knew that Wisconsin restaurants charged one-third as much as Williamsburg restaurants did?

The Shrimp Pasta I ate that night was made with linguine, asparagus, olives, sun-dried tomatoes and prosciutto, along with an abundance of shrimp, cream and parmesan. The recipe that I cobbled together once I returned to Williamsburg has gone through many, many permutations over the years, so whatever ingredients you do or don’t put in, it’s really not possible to mess it up … unless, of course, you use bait shrimp.*

Shrimp Pasta

1 lb. pasta (linguine, rigatoni, fusilli ... your choice)
2 lb. Carolina shrimp (10-25 count, no farm shrimp allowed)
2-3 cups of fresh tomatoes, cut bite-sized (beefsteak, grape, plum ... as red and juicy as you can find)
1 to 2 cups of heavy cream
1 to 2 cups of half-and-half (regular or fat-free)
1 cup or more of fresh grated parmesan (parmigiano reggiano if possible)

  • Prosciutto, shredded
  • Scallions, thin sliced
  • Kalamata olives, chopped
  • Garlic butter
  • Fresh white corn, boiled and sliced from the cob
  • Asparagus, cooked al dente and cut into 1" pieces
  • Sun dried tomatoes, cut in small pieces and softened in the heavy cream
Cook the pasta al dente in salted water
Peel and steam the shrimp, cut into bite-sized chunks
Simmer and reduce the heavy cream until thick and fragrant
Add half-and-half as needed to keep the cream from over-thickening
Prep additions as desired
Mix everything together in a very large bowl ... it doesn't hurt to let it sit and meld for awhile

Serve with red wine (Malbec is my current favorite), cold beer (Bass Ale anyone?), or a Mexican Martini (the Texans' answer to Margaritas ... just add olive juice).

* What's with the bait shrimp? 
Well, that's another story.  On many of our Outer Banks vacations, Meg was "odd man out" since she was at least three years older than most of the other kids who came bundled with our former college friends and erstwhile co-vacationers.  So Meg would bring along a friend of her own to keep her company.  One year, not sure she wanted to join us for a meal of steamers (soft shelled clams), Meg's friend Jessica opted for some steamed shrimp instead. Not knowing that someone had stashed bait shrimp in the fridge, we didn't give any credence to the kids' table comments about the "really little shrimp" that Jessica was diligently trying to peel.  It was only after dinner that we discovered the regular shrimp still sitting in the fridge and the bait shrimp nowhere to be found.  Jessica survived to tell the tale, and is now happily married and a proud parent in her own right.

Monday, August 24, 2009

- Time to Cook: Garrison Trail Granola

One of the advantages of not finding a job right away is having time to get creative in the kitchen. Goaded by the disappearance of my favorite granola from Ukrops in the months leading up to our departure from Williamsburg, and my lack of success at finding an acceptable substitute in Texas, I decided to try making my own. Two batches later, I'm ready to release Granola: The Recipe (version 1.0)

Ingredients are key, especially the olive oil. Okay, I know you're shaking your head. Olive oil in granola? But trust me on this ... or at least trust the New York Times, source of the recipe inspiration. And if you do indeed trust me then you must use the best Spanish olive oil, which you can get from La Tienda in Williamsburg (yes, they do ship to Texas).

Likewise, the other ingredients should be as free from processing as they can be. If you read the Omnivore's Dilemma (as I just did), you'll understand why.   So here's the recipe. I'm sure it will change, but for now I can promise it will go well with yogurt and fruit (fresh or dried) for breakfast, or with vanilla Haagen Dazs drizzled with olive oil and sea salt for dessert.

Garrison Trail Granola (revised 4/29/2012)

1 lb. or so of rolled oats (or an 18 ounce box of Quaker Oats, not the quick cooking kind though)
1/2 raw pumpkin seeds (be sure all seeds and nuts are raw and unsalted)
1/2 cup sunflower seeds
1/2 cup flax seeds
1/2 cup cashews, chopped coarsely 
1/2 cup pistachios, chopped coarsely  
1/2 cup hazelnuts, chopped coarsely
1/2 cup unsweetened coconut flakes (not shredded if possible)
2/3 cup maple syrup (100% pure, preferably Grade B)
1/3 cup olive oil 
1 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. vanilla extract (I use Nielsen-Massey)

Combine the first four ingredients in a very large bowl. In a smaller bowl, combine the maple syrup and olive oil, then microwave on high for 1 minute. Whisk the salt and vanilla into the warm syrup and oil, then pour over the dry ingredients. Mix well and spread into two large cookie sheets with sides.

Bake at 225 for two hours (or more). Turn the granola every 20-30 minutes so that it toasts evenly. Let it cool and store in air-tight containers.

- The View from Wimberley

Today marks one month since Don and I arrived in Wimberley, Texas.  The boxes are (mostly) unpacked, the pictures are (mostly) hung, and reality is starting to sink in ... we're here to stay for awhile.

It's hot and dry in a record-setting, not-since-the-1950s sorta way.  There have been more than 60 days of triple-digit heat this summer ... fortunately we've only been here for half of them.  Besides, the air is dry and the wind is usually blowing, which helps.  We've also learned that getting things done in the morning before the heat of the day is a pretty good idea.

In my favorite picture so far, this roadrunner made an appearance on one of the backroads a few miles from our house. 

Update: In 2010 we moved just outside Wimberley to a five-acre homestead in Summer Mountain Ranch. We still love roadrunners, but now we just have to drive through the neighborhood to see them. Life is good.