Yesterday I saw the title of an article in a cooking magazine. “We’ll Show You How to Spend LESS Time in the Kitchen!”, it barked. Are you kidding? Thanks but no thanks. I KNOW how to spend less time in the kitchen; my quest is how to make my time in the kitchen more enjoyable. Because I already take pleasure in it. I finally went to The Fresh Market, which recently opened in our neighborhood, to see if all the hubbub was justified. I liked it. It’s extremely well laid out, and tres, tres jolie. And y’all know, pretty is very important in my kingdom. I gauge a good market by whether or not they carry two items. Mahlep, in seed form or ground, and nigella seeds. Fresh Market carries neither. But I did like it. I took my time, working my way through produce, and I’ve got to say it looked good. I was happily surprised by some pretty decent pricing. As we’re eating less and less meat, organic has become, well, more important. We eat salad for dinner at least four times a week so when a green, leafy is on sale I give thanks and then I buy a couple! But then I found myself smack dab in the middle of the bakery section thinking, “I don’t want to work anymore. I want to create. I want to fiddle with doughs and flavors. I want to play with fruits and scents. And textures.” Mentally stamping my Delman encased foot while changing a line from one of my favorite movies, I thought, “But cha can’t, Blanche. But cha can’t!” Well, a girl can dream. So, to make myself feel better, I bought some big, fat, shiny dried cherries. And some sweet sunflower seeds. I bought lavender, pistachios and raspberry honey. Now I’ll be happier in the kitchen. I’m playing with homemade granola. This past Christmas Jimmy made me VERY happy by researching and giving me a spectacular serrated chef’s knife. He researched it by asking a friend, “Hey, tell me about that knife you’ve got that Alicia wants?” It doesn’t get any easier!! For all involved! And makes my time in the kitchen more pleasurable. Years ago we redid the kitchen and Jimmy suggested since I spend a ridiculous amount of time in there that we bite the financial bullet and get the sink of my dreams. And, boy howdy, did I! You could bathe two large babies in it with room for toys! It’s black, matte and sleek. And still gives me a swell of pleasure when I turn around from anywhere in the room and see that spectacular inky hole. Money well, well spent. I have five or six cutting boards, and love them all. Hardwood, bamboo, small to large, each gives me pleasure just by being supremely functional. A kitchen should be a place of enjoyment, free of anger and tension. We have the rest of the house for that. Truthfully, a bit of thought and planning in the kitchen can turn things around. It adds to the contentment. Think of how much nicer it looks when, in June, you get rid of that tall stack of Christmas cards. You know it’s true. It’s hard to toss them when they’re the Yuletide photos of family and friends so I take the special ones and use them as bookmarks in my cookbooks. There must be at least three or four of the Schloss’ in my “The Olive and the Caper” volume. Megan, Emily and Zach will forever be in grade school in my kitchen! And my aunt in Puerto Rico, Titi Myrna, sent us a gorgeous card some years back of a typical Puerto Rican Christmas feast. It lives happily in “The Art of Caribbean Cookery”, presented to me in 1970 by another aunt, affectionately named “Madrinita”. Engagement announcements, precious thank you notes, Christmas cards, class pictures, baptism invitations, they all make me happy! And they make terrific bookmarks for those favorite recipes.
Years ago we brought back bottles of Metaxa, a beautiful, Greek brandy-like spirit from one of our summer trips. Lots of memories THERE! Metaxa is distilled twice, wed with aged muscat wine from Samos and Lemnos, blended and aged in handmade oak casks. It’s a real sipper and poli divine! (Poli – the word for “very” in Greek, poh-lee, accent on the second syllable.) We also brought back bottles of Ouzo, specifically Barbayannis, an aniseed liquor which many people mistakenly shoot, but which is also a sipper. The bottles we brought back are gorgeous. Absolutely splendid labels, rich in color and filled with happy memories. I kept the empties, then and now, filling them with liquid dishwashing detergent. I don’t want some mass-produced-made-for-the-masses cheap piece of crap gracing my sink. I don’t want mediocrity in my kitchen. It looks poli splendid, gives me such pleasure, and don’t nobody else have it. Rum, wine, champagne, it will all look crazy good. When I was in college, my friend BL, AKA Betty Lou, had a gorgeous, deep red runner in her kitchen. That is brilliant. You ain’t got no little ones? Put something outstanding on the floor. It will make your heart sing and make that small space welcoming yet add that surprise wink of sophistication. I always have music playing, always, classic rock, salsa, whatever helps me prepare a dish and enjoy the color of the food, the sound of chopping, or the scents of aromatics. I love my time in the kitchen and look forward to Saturday afternoons when the weekly demands have been met and now I owe no one anything. This is my time. I pull out my good flours or chocolates. My good vanilla or the Greek oregano I thought I was smuggling back. Whatever floats my boat that day. Even if you’re not crazy about cooking, a good-looking kitchen will make that first cup of coffee you pressed even better. At 6:00 in the morning it’s dark out and utterly still in my house. I look around me and don’t pretend my house is sumptuous or lavish but I love it and think it’s pretty terrific. And most splendid. I WILL make that olive foccacia, some chocolate chocolate-chip pistachio biscotti or whole wheat coconut ginger scones.
Yesterday Jimmy brought home some stunning irises. I put them, yeah, you guessed it, in the kitchen. I look forward to my time in the kitchen. I L.O.V.E my time in the kitchen. Oh, hell yeah, it’s time well spent, and I want more. This is kind of a base granola recipe that I’m crazy about. I don’t keep any sweets in the house with the exception of baking chocolates, so it can get a little sketchy and tense here when I have a craving and am not quite ready to pluck out an eye to sacrifice to the diet devil. Thankfully, this is just sweet enough to talk me down. There is a little bit of brown sugar and a bit o’ honey, just the right amount. I’m on a dried cherry kick right now along with raw, unsalted pumpkin seeds. They’re both rich and gorgeous, most pleasing to the eye and the palate. You can use any seeds or berries as well as mix up the spices. I think lavender and orange zest would be wonderful together. Or pear with dried raspberries and almonds. To add more flavor and brightness, add fresh citrus zest to the dry ingredients and the juice of the fruit to the wet ingredients. Try this cinnamon, cardamom, coriander mix.. it’s quite the exotic blend. Really, the combination is endless. These are soft bars, I’m just not crazy about that break-your-teeth hard stuff. So, I use some egg whites to bind the granola together and help it hold its shape. (It still kind of falls apart.) So, so good, though. So, so good!
Soft Granola Bars
- 3 cups old-fashioned oats
- 1 cup dried cherries, or dried fruit of your choice
- 1 cup chopped or sliced almonds, or nut of your choice
- 1 cup raw pumpkin seeds
- 1/2-1 cup wheat germ
- 1/2-3/4 cup honey or maple syrup
- 1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
- 1/4 cup vegetable oil
- 2 large egg whites
- 3 teaspoons cinnamon
- 2 teaspoons ground cardamom
- 1 teaspoon ground coriander
- 1 teaspoon salt
- Preheat oven to 325°.
- Line a 12 X 17 jelly roll pan with tin foil leaving an excess of a few inches to hang over each end of the two short sides.
- Spray tin foil with non-stick spray.
- In a large bowl combine all the dry ingredients, including the brown sugar and mix well.
- In another bowl combine all the wet ingredients, mixing well.
- Pour the wet into the dry, stirring until all the dry ingredients are well coated with the honey, oil, egg mixture.
- Transfer the mixture to the prepared pan and, using wet hands, press the mixture firmly into the pan, making sure it’s reasonably level, and pressed into all corners.
- Bake about 35-45 minutes or until a dark golden color. The baking time varies depending on your humidity level.
- Cool on a wire rack but still in the pan.
- When cool use the foil as handles and transfer to a counter. Using a sharp knife, a pizza cutter will not work, cut lengthwise into six strips then crosswise into four strips.
- Store in an airtight container or, as in our house, a gallon size freezer bag.