Skip to content

Posts from the ‘Stories’ Category

the guinea pig speaks

Recently it seems that Spree’s Grateful Guinea Pig has gone silent on us.  So for those of you who’ve noticed his absence and missed this endearing little rodent, I thought I’d share a recent page from his travelog –

a letter sent home to family from the Guinea Pig in Provence… 

I’ll keep my own remarks to a minimum, but certain things he says bear correction explanation. (You’ll see them in red.)

____________

Dear Family –

Time marches on and we find ourselves at the end of September. As previously reported, we’ve migrated to the north and east of the lovely St. Remy. We’re finishing up three days here in the Vaucluse/Cotes du Rhone region of Provence.

As you know, the faire Spree is partial to markets. Here in France they refer to them as marché. The uppity folks here insist on making up their own words for everything, anoyyyyying! (I assume you’re not to be fooled…Guinea loves the French!) You might recall we went to Arles to visit their marché, and though we liked Arles very much,  the marché wasn’t quite so inviting; we did manage to break multiple vehicular (!!!) and social morés in the process though so the day was not a total bust. (Among other things, SGGP got to practice his cursing, which, when the mood strikes, he so enjoys.)

On our way to Vaison la Romaine, we consulted the Oracle of Rick Steve’s to see what marchés we might intrude upon along the way. Carpentras drew the short stick. Aided by our trusted disembodied friend, Charlotte, the GPS lady, we navigated to the middle of Carpentras – a large village or small city. We stumbled right into the marché but were late for the party which means that you can stay but your vehicle is unwelcome. I could tell that Sister Marie Antoinette had her mouth soap at the ready, but she went unprovoked on this day. Mind you, there were plenty of sighs, nose noises, Guinea grunts and gee willikers to be heard but the Sister’s personal Maginot line ( look it up ) was not transgressed. Mobile vespers were avoided this day. (It’s probably obvious to all and unnecessary to mention…the Guinea Pig grew up Catholic.)

We drove round and round looking for a small flat wth a view for our vehicle but none was to be found. Ultimately we landed in the parking lot of a supermarché, how ironic.  So we packed up all our gear and took to the friendly and inviting aisles of the street market.

Now, my idea of a marché was that there would be row upon row of locally grown, plump, luscious and colorful produce and flowers. The growers would lovingly dress the displays of bounty and invite all to engage with them. There was some of that to be sure, but there were also stacks of shoes on display, jeans, trinkets, bric-a-brac, and small appliances.  I was underwhelmed but Spree was fascinated and so eager to take everything in through her eyes, her open heart, her nose and mostly her ginormous camera lens.

I was a ways ahead of her, gliding along with my compact Sony digicam, starting to notice some sneers, snarls and snootieness.  (I have to insert, this was by no means the norm!) This was business to these marché merchants – if you ain’t buyin, buzz off. The lovely Spree was giddy, smiling and enthralled at being one with the indigenous peoples and desperately wanting to share their story (and the entire experience), through her pictures and words.

I strolled past a stall that had little bundles of dried lavender in sachets, some clusters of lavender flowers tied with string, and  plump, ripe purple and green figs in cartons. I raised my camera just as a woman glared at me from behind the stall and finger-waved, saying, “no photo!” Doing my best Dale Carnegie impression I put my hand on my chest and said pardonnez  moi, bowed slightly and retreated.

Unaware of the dangers,  Spree sauntered innocently and smilingly behind and raised her Canon howitzer and snapped one quick shot of the (irrresistible) figs. Apparently this was all it took for the Miss Congeniality of Carpentras to go all postal on the unsuspecting Spree. The woman reached down below the table, rummaging urgently through a knapsack to pull out and point directly at Spree, a … Wait for it……………….CAMERA! She waved it violently back and forth,  threatening the innocent Spree, Madonna of Shannon, with unholy imaging. Spree’s eyes were like saucers! The woman aimed her point-and-shoot, only centimeters from Spree’s face, and snapped the trigger several times. It was clear the Taliban had finally made it to France. (Guinea, that’s a little harsh!) Spree was shaken, (that’s no overstatement) her humanity had been insulted and her Canon had been nullified, NON!

So much for the romance of marché.

. . .

Luckily we reversed that event today with a visit to L’Isle sur la Sorgue’s Marché de Dimanche. This village is in the Luberon area of Provence, east of St Remy and Avignon. It’s a more rural, hilly and even mountainous area. L’Isle sur la Sorgue has several canals and streams running right through the center of town, making it feel a bit like a small-scale Venice.

This marché was everything we imagined.

It had street after street lined with produce, olives, breads, cookies and pastries, cheeses, mushrooms, fruits, flowers, fish and other seafood, meats, sausages and charcuterie, music (live), handmade crafts,  antiques and OMG, the people. They love their marché and they bring their dogs. (Watch your step there, Guinea!) The sun was out, the music was great, the people were friendly and welcoming, the smells were incredible!

We spent hours tooling around, sampling, ogleing, (buying!) interacting and a lot of people watching, a favorite French pastime.  We were relieved that Dale Carnegie lives on and we had some very warm human moments. (More than we could count!)

In the afternoon we drove deeper into the Luberon and visited a hilltop town called Bonnieux. It’s a very small village carved into a hillside with narrow streets and no parking to speak of. Read more

Berlin on foot

Years ago, I visited Germany’s Bavaria and thought when I first set eyes on it that I’d just discovered what was surely meant to be my home all along. Where we were, nestled among the foothills of the Alps, was a charm unlike anything I’d ever seen before. Cows, their hollow bells clacking as they swayed side to side, were led through quiet streets by men in short leather pants, embroidered suspenders, tall socks and loden-green feathered caps. The architecture too seemed out of a fairy tale. Buildings were painted white, freshly every year, some decorated with murals, and it seemed that from every window hung flowers overspilling their wooden planters. Shop windows were filled with eiderdown comforters, traditional Bavarian/Alpine clothing, kitchen wares, and the most elaborate cakes and marzipan confections I’d ever seen. Each late afternoon or evening whole families (all ages) picked up their walking sticks and strolled through the hills. Their voices rose like a murmured chorus through the woods. It was a hum I’ll never forget. The leaves were turning, the air was clean and Autumn-crisp, and the lakes shimmered. It was idyllic. Pretty much

(People actually lived like this!)

But…

Berlin is a large and vibrant city

 (and – I was kindly reminded – Berlin’s no Bavaria – and if you yodel, people will stare.)

We were to launch our vacation from Berlin where my husband was called to business. We arrived a couple days in advance of his meetings to acquaint ourselves with the city by walking it. We were to have four full days there, but weren’t driving so our acquaintance with this bustling modern city would be  limited to what we could get to on foot. By no means could we see it all. The weather was beautiful so we chose outdoors. We walked the streets and parks and bridges. We missed museums and what I hear is a thriving art and music scene. But what we saw and tasted made an indelible impression.

Berlin – I hadn’t known – got its name from the German words for bear and little. And as we moved through the city, we found little bears everywhere. There’s quite a fondness here for their little mascot.

Bear statues, each with the same basic form but painted uniquely, were seen all over the city. The one outside our hotel was “wearing” Marlene Dietrich. (For those of you too young to know – as am I too of course –  Marlene was a famously sultry, satin & silk, smoky-voiced German actress and singer – of the 40’s I think.) Here she is outside our hotel at the entrance to the bar that bears her name –  (though only a quick shot with my phone, I couldn’t resist) –

~ ~ ~

Most of us probably think of vacation as a bit of an “escape”. But the escape that this trip offered wasn’t to begin for me here. You visit Berlin, and first it strikes –  and then it settles on you, hard – Berlin’s is not a feint history – it’s one of such enormity that I struggle still to put into words the effect it had on me.  Some of the most brilliant heights ~ and the most depraved depths ~ of humankind’s time on earth were lived in and around here. And everywhere you walk in this city, its history is evident. Berlin’s gravitas does not – cannot – escape you.

The Brandenburg Gate was completed in the 1700’s as a triumphal arch and was the gateway through which people would enter the city. Though a great number of buildings were destroyed during the war, many that still stand speak loudly (as this does) of Germany’s once-imperial greatness.

One imperial address was that of the summer palace of Sophie Charlotte (Queen of Prussia & grandmother of Germany’s beloved Frederich the Great.)  The palace was finished in 1705. Though not readily apparent, every attempt was made to be mindful of avoiding “excesses” during the construction of this summer home. Sophie had learned by way of Marie Antoinette’s unfortunate example that “the people” don’t take kindly to royal over-indulgences. (Keep this attempt at  “understated elegance” in mind as you stroll through the next photos of the Sophie Charlottenburg Palace.) Though the palace was hit by airstrikes during World War II and completely destroyed by fire, it was meticulously rebuilt (from photographs) after the war.

The vast grounds behind the palace are some that Berliners feel are their “own”park now and have become a favorite spot for family picnics, frisbee-throwing and – we were told – even (shudder-gasp!) pot-smoking.

Sophie did love her Blue & White porcelain! All walls in this room were covered with it. (Notice too the 3-D borders that extend past the painted parts of this large and elaborate ceiling mural.)

The host of angels carrying the crown was meant to denote that Sophie’s royal status was divinely conferred.

Read more

the story of the Scarlet Egg

It is told, that in a time long ago, among the rock-strewn hills of Greece, a young woman was seen walking to market, carrying a basket of eggs she’d collected. The hems of her skirts were dusty. Her shoulders were stooped, her step was slow and heavy. Her face bore a great sadness. A group of men passing by stopped to ask, with concern, “Why so sad, lady?”

“Have you not heard?” she answered, surprised at their ignorance. “Christ our Lord has died and been buried!”

“Have YOU not heard?!” they asked, amazed.”Christ was buried, but He has risen!”

“Risen? from death? This can’t be! If you speak the truth, may these eggs I carry turn red!”  And before her very eyes, they did. Her basket of pearl white eggs had suddenly turned brilliant scarlet. And she, now believing the news she’d been given, exclaimed, “He has risen!  Indeed, He has risen!”  And she ran home to tell the news.

“Χριστοσ Ανεστο!”  (Christos anesti!)

Our father grew up, and married our mother, in the Greek Orthodox Church. Up until the time they married, Easter at our house was overseen by the big Bunny, who, along with whichever of his assistants he called upon, hid the eggs and filled our baskets with jelly beans, chocolates and crayons. We loved it – of course. But when our Dad entered our lives, carrying with him his wonderful Greek traditions and the stories to explain them, suddenly, Easter had a meaning. In Greek culture, traditions around Easter are especially rich.  As our Yaya would say to Mom, “Is not so big Jesus was born, Ruth. Is big He rose!” Of all the Saints’ Days and all the other religious holidays they celebrate, without question, Easter is supreme. There’s no holiday more festive, more family-oriented, nor is there one in which the people feast as long, as much and as happily as they do on Greek Easter.

Easter in the Greek Orthodox Church frequently falls on a date different than the one on most calendars, so our family celebrated twice!

Only some of the traditions made their way into our lives, but those traditions have stuck, now into the fourth generation since Yaya.  And the Scarlet Egg from the story plays a starring role.

First, let me begin by saying, it’s no small feat to turn a white egg scarlet. You may get a lovely shade of bright pink, but honestly, are we impressed? In a photo below, you’ll see the packet of dye I used this year. I picked it up at the local Greek deli (Foti’s in Portland) where our Dad used to buy the feta and olive oil, and where my brother and I sometimes have lunch. When I left the shop with the packet of dye in hand, the owner wished me good luck! And I knew what he meant. As important as it is that the eggs be red, the real challenge is yet to come!

 

Read more

our last days in Sedona

Coming into Sedona, you don’t miss it. This place announces itself without an ounce of self-consciousness. It’s riotous, full of absolutely everything southwest and some that tries hard to be. It wasn’t until close to the end of our trip that we actually stopped in. Funky, up-beat singing-out-loud music, room after room of color explosions, statuary, pottery, icons, spices, ornaments, jewelry, chilies and garlic braids hanging from rafters, cactus (living and make-believe), cow skulls, every sort of kitsch and wanne-be art, and some really cool stuff. We didn’t buy a thing. We had such fun!

~ ~ ~

Changing gears completely (and thankful we had an hour or so to do it in) we visited Montezuma’s Castle.  The site was inappropriately named because it had absolutely nothing to do with Montezuma – but the namers were rather clueless on that point. It was inhabited by people commonly referred to as the Sinagua between 1100 and 1400 c.a. Then, like so many of the settlements (now ruins) in this part of the world, it was mysteriously evacuated.

One wonders why. It sat in such an idyllic setting. A lovely little valley, treed, alongside a gently rolling river. Crops of corn and cotton were planted on the valley floor. The adobe-bricked buildings, most of them perched high up and inside the cliffs, faced south to take advantage of the solar warmth in winter, while being shaded from the searing heat of summer. It was a spot well-chosen.

We saw beehives, laden with sweet honey, perched inside openings in the cliff.

Swallow nests lined the ceilings.

You could picture them living here. You could almost hear their echoing voices.

Read more

pomegranate-pear salad with cheese & walnuts

And how inspiration may oddly strike

When I take a “day off,” I love to pack up my camera and go exploring. Where I end up is often left to whim or chance, with little or no conscious attempt to lay out a plan ahead of time. Day before yesterday was such a day. Dressed for whatever weather may come, my camera bag loaded, car gassed up, I headed out. As it turns out though, all day long it was the grayest of days. No rain, no peeking sun, no moody fog. Just gray. Utterly flat, not a highlight or a shadow to be found anywhere. My camera never left its bag.

When I take a “day off” and am on my own to wander, my second favorite thing to do is amble through antique or second-hand stores. I’m never looking for “fine” things – nothing expensive and rare, but rather more common and sweet. A peace overtakes me as I comb the aisles. Most often, I buy nothing at all.  (OK, this is confession time, so get ready for it.) Every once in a while though, a nostalgia rises so strong that I’m nearly overcome by it. This is a bit embarrassing, but sometimes tears will swell – and even fall – and my heart does pirouettes. The day before yesterday was such a day.

My car had driven me to a little town that’s pretty much an antique itself, as quaint as can be without even trying very hard. I went into one of my favorite stores – upstairs, downstairs, room after room of other people’s lives laid bare for strangers (like me) to see, to finger, to turn over in our hands and examine; books inscribed with faded pen in loving words; tablecloths and bedspreads with histories and the stains to prove it; wooden telephones that hung on kitchen walls no longer standing; wicker doll carriages that little girls pushed beside their mothers’; toy rifles, cowboy hats and vests with fringe; large wide wooden bowls, like our Yaya’s, where yeasted dough would rise on the counter in a sunny spot. Uncommonly lovely remnants of people’s “ordinary” lives. Sometimes it just makes a person cry.

Upstairs, past an extraordinary, imposingly large dining table, set as if for a huge family for Sunday dinner, or maybe Thanksgiving with aunts and uncles and cousins, there stood a simple, painted open bookcase. On it, stacks of mismatched dishes. It was the color that first drew me, my eyes seemingly hungry for red. When I first saw it, mixed with pale cream as it was, I think I might even have let out a little gasp. I know I made some sound. And my heart did that thing I told you about. And my eyes welled up. And I was a goner. I believed or pretended  that I had a decision to make. But really…it was already written.  There wasn’t a chance I was leaving the store without a couple of these loveliest (to me) strawberry plates.

~ ~ ~

I think perhaps Amit had planted a pomegranate seed in my mind a few days ago.  I couldn’t quite shake it.

And when I saw these sweet little dishes, I knew, they were destined for a salad such as this.

~ ~ ~

For most salads I won’t specify amounts. What I like in this salad is a mix of greens – the delicate appearance of the watercress, with its arching stems and little leaves, and the pale prettiness of the endive, and the soft big cupping leaf of the Bibb lettuce, all make for a beautiful contrast. But baby Romaine leaves or a mixed spring blend would also work. Be your own guide as to the amounts of each you like. This would be a lovely salad on a Thanksgiving or Christmas table – or anytime while pomegranates and pears are still in season.

Pomegranate-Pear Salad with Blue Cheese and Toasted Walnuts

  • 1 pomegranate
  • Bibb or Boston lettuce, washed, dried & torn
  • Endives, washed, dried and sliced lengthwise
  • Watercress, washed, dried and thicker stems removed
  • 1 Red Pear (or apple if you prefer), thinly sliced
  • Cheese – blue or Gorgonzola (or perhaps goat cheese if you’d rather)
  • Walnuts – toasted long enough to have a toasted-walnut taste (at 325°F for 10 or 15 minutes – watch carefully & taste)

the dressing:

a simple balsamic vinaigrette, proportions of 3 parts olive oil, 1 part balsamic, with salt and pepper to taste. (You might remember I was given a gift of  pomegranate balsamic and naturally I couldn’t resist using it here! Another perhaps equally good option – a pear balsamic. But any balsamic will do!)

another option for a dressing: a raspberry vinaigrette – 2 parts olive oil to 1 part raspberry vinegar, zest of orange, a touch of maple syrup, finely diced red onion, and salt to taste.

Read more

A diet of adrenaline

Rising this morning in a dense fog not typical for me, I made a slow but straight bee line to my chair in the living room. There I sat. Though my eyes wandered out the window, there was no intention behind  them, and I’m not sure I actually saw anything. I sat some, and then I decided to sit some more, waiting perhaps for a thought to form, or an inclination to do. Nothing really came to me and so I wrote:

All the adrenaline I’ve produced and consumed over these last couple weeks has me pretty exhausted. Right now I’m wondering: do I really want to rise from my chair? Who will bring me my breakfast? What if I have to go to the bathroom? Then what?          : )

I need a friend to take me by the hand and put me on a forest path and then I would know what to do. I would take a step. And then another.  And then finally, maybe I would breathe. 

Does it ever happen for you this way? Life presents you with something that calls for your full attention, all the resources at hand, or maybe even your full heart and mind, focused and present for what is being asked of you. Or, let’s say it’s a much milder mishap and you’re simply thrown a curve ball after a long string of pitches straight across the middle of the plate. What do you do? Usually we’re faced with a menu of options, and frequently we’ll grab at the thing closest or most familiar. We’re all doing the best we can, right? And sometimes the best we can do is simply cope with what we have. Sometimes gracefully. Other times, not so much. Us, being human. Sometimes, it’s just one foot in front of the other, until we have a rhythm going again. I know some of you out there have done what I’ve done, and fed on too much adrenaline for a time, and then after days of that, come to a crashing halt. What do you do then? Who, or what, do you reach for?

 

Knowing we were having our dear Zack for dinner tonight, I wanted comfort food for us all. Each of us has need of a slow and easy meal around the table tonight. What would it be? The avgolemono soup of the previous post would have fit that bill perfectly (especially since my husband is all sniffle-y with a cold.) But, first of all, we didn’t have any, and secondly, if we did it would have been growing cultures by now, so whatever dinner would be, it would mean starting from scratch. Getting to think on a blank canvas (or from an empty refrigerator) can be liberating (or intimidating.) So, thinking: first, warm in the belly, then, cool on the tongue…tonight’s dinner will comfort, from start to finish:

Indian Fish Stew on Basmati Rice

Toasted Pita Triangles

A Minty Cucumber & Yogurt Salad

Strawberry Sorbet

I’ll share photos and recipes tomorrow.  Now, I return to my comfortable kitchen to wash and slice,  measure, pour and stir. To breathe, smell and listen. That’s one sweet way to put one foot in front of the other and find our way back home.

[You can find the recipes referenced above at the top of the blog in the “slider” menu.]

Yaya and Grapefruit

I’ll be honest with you. I’ve never really considered grapefruit rinds as anything but garbage…or, more recently, compost material. I’ve lumped them right in there with coffee grounds and egg shells. But recently I learned something that set my whole grapefruit world-view on its head. Oh, they’ll still end up in the compost…but perhaps not always anymore.

A little something about my Greek Yaya. I think it will help you understand the great surprise I had a few days ago when my mom told me something of her I hadn’t known before.

Yaya was the matriarch of the family, and the only female in the house in which my dad and his three brothers grew up. By the time I met her, she was already in her late-60′s, early 70′s? I’m guessing here, because, being only ten-years-old myself, she looked pretty darned old! Besides her husband, our Papou, who was at least fifteen years her senior, she was by far the oldest person in my world. I wondered even then though, how does a person so old manage to be so full of life? So young? She was exuberant and outspoken. She knew what she wanted and generally just how to get it. She laughed big. She had a big heart, full of praise. That was Yaya. She always wore dresses, always! and they were always dark. She wore support hose with elastic tops that sometimes rolled down around her legs. And big black shoes. Her hair, which must have been very long, was always twirled into braided buns. (Her hair held an endless fascination for me! The thin ends of those long braids reminded me of an artist’s paint brush, dipped in yellow. They weren’t blond. They were a true and very beautiful lemon yellow! But the rest of her hair, the most angelic white! I always secretly wished to see her hair down around her shoulders, but I never did.) Yaya was, I guess you’d have to say, squat. Matronly. Big-bosomed. And she gave the most amazing hugs! Like a great feather bed with arms.  And she never hugged without at the same time cooing (or sometimes even shrieking) her delight in us! My brother Don and I would run up and down her staircase and slide down the bannister, and this made her so happy! She loved the loud noises of children!  “No make it them be quiet – is nice!” she would tell our parents.  Her Greek was vastly better than her English, but even so, she knew how to be funny in her second language, and she often was. Incense perpetually burned at a small altar in her bedroom, beneath the icons of patron saints and Jesus.  It was partly for that reason that her house always smelled so very different from our own. But it was also the bread baking, the homey “soupas” and “cassa-row-les” and other foods, quite exotic to me at the time. Much of what I first saw of Yaya was in the context of her kitchen, and as mother to my dad who adored her. I never considered who her friends were, or what she might do when she wasn’t with us (besides cook all day and pray – both of which were intriguing mysterious to me back then.)

So, do you now have a little picture of Yaya? Then can you imagine her sitting at the round wooden table in her parlor? With her lady friends from the Greek Orthodox Church? And on the table, plates of candied grapefruit rinds? And kourabiethes (a crescent-shaped butter cookie)?  And stiff, dark, thick coffee in short cups? And OUZO, that licorice-flavored liqueur, in thimble-sized glasses? And the ladies yakking loudly and laughing! Ha! I loved this new expanded picture of my Yaya!

The more I contemplated it, the surer I became that I simply had to find out what candied grapefruit rinds and ouzo taste like in the same mouthful. And that’s what brings me here, to this place where I’m ready to share with you some food.
(See following post – Kourabiethes cookie May 9.)

Orange Flowers

My mother reminded me of something yesterday that I’d nearly forgotten.  She said that when (our grandpa) Papou first came to this country (and to Oregon) from his sunny home in Greece, it rained and rained and rained. For thirty-nine days straight, it rained. And on that gray and soggy thirty-ninth day, Papou swore, “If it rains one more day,” because that, of course, would be the proverbial fortieth, beyond which no human could possibly endure another, “I’m going back home!”  And he spoke the words with such a Greek passion, who could have doubted him? When Papou woke that next morning, the sun shone and it shone with such a brilliance that he declared, “This now is my home!” And he stayed. And a young woman came to him from Greece and she became his wife. And together they raised a family of four strong boys. Who would have thought that one sunny day could change history? But for me, and my brothers, it did.

I was the first-born in a marriage that was troubled. And yet I was one of those rare and lucky oneswho, after my parents divorced, received a real Dad when a couple years later my mom remarried.  One of those four sons of Papou and Yaya, Jim, knew what it meant to be family. He fell in love with our mom, but he loved us kids instantly.  It took a little longer for us to realize we had in him a Dad. He was in no hurry.  He won us over with his humor, his faithfulness, his sincerity and patience, his teaching, his stories and sometimes even his food.

I was a shy ten-year-old when my parents married. One day, my new Dad brought me something. It was an orange. A simple, ripe, juicy orange. But when it came to me, offered in his hands, it was a gift! It was a little treasure, an opened lotus flower, offered up tenderly just for me, because he loved me. And I can remember back, it was in that instant that something turned in me. I knew that someone thought I was special. And in that moment something else happened, though I didn’t realize it until years later. I can look on that open-hearted orange flower as the first time I thought of food as a gift, as a language through which we can express love. And so it is, these decades later, I sometimes still think of my Dad when I am putting love on the table.

I offer this month of April in the fondest possible memory of my Dad, and in celebration of all things citrus! Spree would like to declare it Citrus Month (and I think she just did.) So keep coming back for main course recipes, pasta and rice dishes, salads, marinades, preserves, desserts and beverages.  Even a soup from my Papou and Yaya’s homeland!


A Fruity, Nutty Kind of Granola

I mentioned in an earlier post that we have two granolas we enjoy for breakfast. But this is the one full of memories and sweet associations.  This is the one we have a history with. It’s a rainy morning and I have a new batch baking now. The aromas floating through the kitchen take me back years and plop me down at an old wooden table, with its slightly creaky top – a table that was once “Yaya’s” and around which her four hungry boys gathered to be fed. (The third of these would one day be our Dad.) Many years later, it was the round, creaky table where my girls and I ate our meals and grew up together. Often our breakfasts would include small bowlfuls of creamy-smooth yogurt on which this crunchy granola was toppled, theirs with an extra shimmer of drizzled honey. We’d eat, planning our days, sometimes practicing spelling, finishing math or editing essays, chattering or giggling with mouths still full. There was a lot of happy around that table.

My daughters have the same honeyed aromas filling their kitchens these days, and new memories are forming in other cute little heads. In fact, today three little girls eat around that very same creaky-topped table, ambered and dented with years of living.

Even after all this time, my husband and I love when a fresh batch of granola is pulled, all crackly hot, from the oven. We can barely wait for it to cool. I suppose by now it’s obvious, this is the granola we favor.

Spree’s Golden Granola

Preheat oven to 300°F.  Into an ample-sized glass or metal cake pan, scoop the following:

  • 3 cups rolled oats (the slow-cooking, old-fashioned sort)
  • 1 cup unsweetened coconut, shredded (see NOTE)
  • 1/2 cup chopped raw almonds (or hazelnuts)
  • 1/2 cup raw sesame seeds
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened raw wheat germ
  • 1/4 cup of ground flaxseed (optional)
  • To the above ingredients stir in
  • 1/2 cup honey (or real maple syrup, or 1/4 cup of each)
  • 1/4 cup canola oil
  • Stir to combine well, and then add
  • 1/2 cup raw sunflower seeds

Pop the pan into your oven and plan on cooking for about an hour (though it may be to your liking in less), stirring every 15 minutes or thereabouts to toast it evenly.  When it’s the kind of crunchy that suits you, remove and cool.  Once cooled, add a total of

  • 1 cup or so of dried fruits

My favorites: 1/2 cup dried apricots, chopped raisin-size (I have a strong preference for Trader Joe’s apricots, full of tangy flavor); 1/4 cup dried cranberries; and 1/4 cup or more of raisins.  But I also like dried cherries or blueberries in place of one or two of the others. Make it as fruity as you like.  Like all good granolas, it’s nice on yogurt with fresh fruit, or in a bowl with milk, or out of the hand for a quick little munch.

NOTE: The coconut you’ll see featured here is from Bob’s Red Mill – these ribbons of coconut look pretty, toast up beautifully, and put a distinct bite of coconut in your mouth.

~ ~ ~

for a printer version of this recipe, click here.

~ ~ ~

More love on the table

Approximately once a month, Sicily and I get together for a “baking date.” She’s a DELIGHTFUL nine-year-old, wise and funny, big-hearted and passionate. And like me, she loves to get her hands in the bowl.  A couple weeks ago, we were making a gingerbread cake for her to take home to her family. It came time to “sift together the dry ingredients” and she looked to me with hopeful eyes, “Can I use my hands?”  ”Absolutely!”  So with her clean fingers she began sweeping and parting and stirring the silky flour and the spices through the sieve into the bowl beneath.  Shaking the last bits of flour dust down, she lifted the sieve, and – cross my heart! – THIS is what was waiting:

Both our eyes widened, and I said, “Look at that, Sicily!  You’re putting love in your gingerbread!” And she said, “Quick, Nana, get your cell phone. Take a picture!” And so I did. And so it goes…from Sicily’s hands, to the table, with love.

(This post first appeared in March 2011. The gingerbread we baked together was made just before Valentines Day, which made the occasion of this heart in a bowl doubly serendipitous. That recipe will appear in a later post.)