Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Homemade Granola... It's Not So Granola After All

Nick and I have been hiking nearly every weekend to get in tip top shape to tackle Mount Saint Helens. While the vast majority of the hikes have us down and back in a matter of hours without needing much more than water, we've been tackling more difficult hikes that might require a break at the summit and a few more calories. If you're like me, you may have an overabundance of rolled oats, nuts and dried fruit laying around in the pantry that seem to never go away. Why not make granola?

It's not as difficult and hippie as it may seem. Granola is super easy to make, even for the baking-challenged. It's an incredibly simple and delicious way to get rid of excess oats, raisins, nuts, dried cranberries, coconut and even the extra 1/4 cup of chocolate chips that you have laying around in a plastic baggie and managed not to consume during a late-night, sweet tooth binge.

Here is a great basic recipe that you can use with stuff you may have laying around the house: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/alton-brown/granola-recipe/index.html

However, you don't need to follow this recipe exactly as long as you have the proportional measurements right. I replaced the cashews with peanuts and pecans, nixed the coconut and sprinkled in cinnamon and nutmeg. In addition to raisins, I added dried apples to make an apple crisp granola. You can take an basic granola or granola bar recipe and make it your own with leftover bits of baking stuff around the kitchen, which I somehow seem to magically accumulate.

I'll be enjoying some of my homemade granola plain and on top of a mountain, but you can eat it as cereal or sprinkle some on top of yogurt or oatmeal.... either on top of a mountain or in the comfort of your own kitchen.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Did the Chicken Have Friends?

Some pretty & yummy produce from the QA Farmer's Market
Delicious and exotic smells waft from trucks off in the distance. You amble closer to be delighted (and perhaps slightly annoyed) at the giggling children running around underfoot. You come across to a neat row of white shelters containing rows of rainbow-colored produce, freshly baked bread and pastries, homemade jars of jam and fresh pasta. Everyone around you is happy and unusually chatty for a more reserved Seattle. Somehow a farmer's market can make change your mood and make you instantly happy.

I'm a huge advocate of perusing your local neighborhood farmer's market - and it's not just because you want to make sure your chicken was free-range, organically and vegetarian-fed and had plenty of happy chicken friends. Here's why:

1. You eat with the season. Eating seasonally is healthier for you in many ways. Apparently eating crops grown during the right growing seasons help the produce present more nutrients than those not grown during the appropriate season. Since the product was from local farms, the produce was harvested closer to its peak freshness which helps make it yummier and more nutritious. Also, local produce has less of a carbon footprint which means it didn't pollute the planet more on its way in a truck from Peru.

2. You try vegetables and things you might not otherwise cook with. Last week I saw interesting produce like lemon cucumbers, two different varieties of kohlrabi, cute clumps of romanesco and garlic shoots and flowers. This isn't stuff you would find at your corner Safeway and you can expand your palate by trying it. If you don't know how to prepare some of the unusual produce, you can ask! The folks who work there always have recipes and recommendations of how to use their product. Aside from fresh vegetables and fruit, some market butchers have unusual cuts of meat, fresh fish, artisan cheese and breads that you might not normally encounter. Markets can help you eat adventurously without getting beyond your comfort zone too much.

Colorful and awesome things!
3. You get to meet local farmers, bakers, artisans, musicians and awesome people. You learn so much about the produce, products and farms which brings you closer to what you eat. It's nice to know that the purple potatoes and kale you bought were grown in Fall City - only 15 minutes away from your office at Microsoft in Redmond. Plus, you know that they were grown from a small family farm rather than a giant industrial conglomerate. The chicken and speckled eggs you purchased were from happy chickens that roamed freely and were chased by toddlers and bumbling puppies rather than put in impossibly tiny cages in a stressed environment. It's nice to meet your neighbors and realize that one of them bakes specialty pies at the market from a recipe handed down to her from her great aunt. We ate Mexican food on the grass the other day and realized that the small acoustic band was performing great covers of 80's and 90's hits. My pal Beth commented that had I not already figured out my wedding music already, they would be a great option for a band during the cocktail hour. Meeting these wonderful people not only connects you to the food you eat and cook, but also introduces you to wonderful people whom you can support.

A bunch of rainbow carrots & romanesco I purchased
4. The food trucks and vendors use market ingredients. Many of the food trucks and stands selling tacos, Indian rice bowls, grilled cheese sandwiches, falafel and pizza utilize the fresh ingredients found from the market. Have you ever tried a quesadilla brimming with kale, fresh squash, beets, peppers and onions? It's AWESOME. I can't exactly go to Qdoba and get the same, can I?

5. You get to dine al fresco for cheap. Most farmer's market fare is reasonably priced and is delicious. I think it's super fun to hand Nick a $20 bill and tell him to bring us back with something tasty to eat and drink. He comes back with something mouth-wateringly yummy, brimming with market ingredients and often oozing with cheese, along with fresh lemonade. There is always change... just in case we feel like sharing some ice cream for the walk home.

Nachos from Los Agaves. Oh so much yum.
Check out where and when your local farmer's market is and go to it with an open mind and a hungry stomach.

What's in season right now? http://www.seattlefarmersmarkets.org/ripe-n-ready

Washington Farmer's Market Association: http://www.wafarmersmarkets.com/washingtonfarmersmarketdirectory.php

Seattle Farmer's Markets: http://seattlefarmersmarkets.org/

Our local market! http://qafma.net/

Roasted ginger carrots, roasted romanesco and an heirloom tomato gratin - served with meatballs. The only thing not from the market were the meatballs.