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it’s not a spring renewal, it’s a summer one

By on Jun 23, 2014 in cooking, love, salad, vegetarian | 0 comments

It has been a while, has it not? Asparagus season is swiftly passing, and with it my urge to channel the Spargelfrau of Germany and prance merrily amongst the green stalks. Strawberries with all their intoxicating floral scent have arrived, leaving me with faintly stained fingertips and a culinary endorphin rush. Farmer’s market tables, being slightly delayed this year from the long winter, are suddenly exploding, tables heavily laden with a chorus of greens, oranges, and reds, every table calling out to the person hungry for fresh vegetables after the long winter. And where have I been, you might ask? Working. Working. And then working some more. But with this begins a renewed effort to maintain a regular round of postings, both of my own devising, and visiting folks who make such delicious things as, well, beer. Because beer is always in season.   I have been thinking of you, dear readers, these past mute months. I have made things, eaten them, consumed them. I have occasionally photographed them, and then more often than not, I have just plow through the cooking so I could get to the good stuff and be done with it so I could eat and get back to work, work, and more work. And so I present to you a recipe not of my own devising at all (but of course I modified it to my own tastes.) A recipe that transcends seasons, as it can be a comfort and remarkably hearty in the cold, as well as lighter and filling without weighing down the gut in the warmer months we are now so blissfully sailing through. And it is… lentil salad. I know, I know, the idea of lentil salad for some brings forth some horrific affair of muted brown colors and the bland vegetarian fare of the 70s-era variety. Or at least, it did for me. The last time I encountered a lentil salad it involved a well-meaning effort from an ex-boyfriend’s father who wanted to welcome me into their home and was accommodating his daughter’s vegetarian ways. Which to him meant lentils. And it was a pile of mushy brown lentils topped with some vinegar and oil. There might have been a scrap of carrot.   But did you know that there are many, many types of lentils? And they really don’t need to be mushy at all? Brown and green, the type we mostly know, the type I like to use in a nice pilaf. Red, which fall apart beautifully in soups. And the now more readily available ones with enticing, sexy sounding names like “French green” and “Beluga”, smaller, more saturated with color, glistening, more toothsome than the more standard fare. This recipe originated from one of my favorite sites, the Kitchn. I scanned the recipe, looking for something that I could make easily that I could then pack every day for lunch. And something vegetarian, as I have a weird tic and really do not, for the most part, enjoy meat reheated in a microwave, which is all I had available there. I knew I could get French Green lentils fairly easily, but then my eyes lit on the amount of sun-dried tomatoes, and I almost called the whole thing off. They seem to be one of those things you are supposed to like. People seem to ooh and ahh when something involves a scrap or two of these desiccated vermillion bites. Me? I will confess… I really do not like them. Something in the process of drying makes them so cloyingly sweet I think they overwhelm everything in their immediate vicinity. I am convinced that simply placing them next to my coffeepot would cause my delicious brew to be tainted with their syrupy sweet flavor. And in looking at this recipe, in looking at all the other lucscious things therein, I decided that I needed to come to the defense of the warm walnuts, the crisp sweet peppers, the showers of mint and parsley, and I had to chuck the tomatoes.   And it was delicious. There was a lovely balance of sweet and savory, none being too bold or meek, and it had the added lunchbox benefit of being a salad that improved with age. The week I ate it (because believe you me, this recipe made enough to last solo me for a week and not tire of it) the weather yo-yoed between chilly dank and perfect sunny breezes, and somehow this salad bolstered my spirits every single day. The rich earthiness of the lentils felt delightful on the grey days, and the bright tang of the peppers and onions, the fresh hit of mint and parsley spoke of the promise of the warmer days that inevitably really did come.   So try it. Try it using their original recipe, if you are a fan of sun-dried tomatoes, or try taking them out. They have optional cheese involved, and much as I love me some cheese, it didn’t seem right after the tomatoes were gone, and without it was flatout vegan.   And with that, I have a head of lettuce soaking in the sink right now, slowly releasing dirt as it is fresh from the ground. So I can eat the sunshine now here in leafy form. And photograph it. And write it. Because I am back, ready to eat! Colorful Lentil Salad with...

distilled

By on Apr 28, 2014 in craft, libations | 0 comments

Back in October, Koval Distillery here in Chicago let me come on over, but unlike my other local craft food things, this has become a bigger operation, so I did not have the luxury of hanging out and chatting with the few people there that day (there was a lot of whiskey quietly aging in barrels that day, so not a lot of activity.) But I did get a few pictures, and then promptly forgot to write about them. So my apologies to you and Koval, but I have no write-up, no waxing poetic over the almost mythic sounding combination of “heads, hearts, and tails” that comprise all distilling, that I first learned about at a Koval Distillery tour years ago before they expanded into the operation they are now. No pithy little homage to their way of looking at a grain and saying “I can distill that!”, resulting in whiskeys very specifically based on a single grain, like oat, millet, or rye, each with a distinctly different profile and range of flavors. No sad moment of remembering that bottle of dark millet whiskey that graced my shelf for a while. No mention of the distiller showing me how they take hearts (or was it the tails?) from one round and steep rose hips in them to create their sublime rosehips liqueur. No no, none of that. Just a few pictures of some very shiny stills and some lovely barrels, being disturbed from their rest by a nosy...

i shall eat all the green

By on Apr 10, 2014 in cooking, salad | 0 comments

Yesterday I drove home from work. With the window down. To those who live in a warmer clime, this may seem nothing, but to anyone in the northern half of the U.S. this winter, you know it is a big deal. The sensation of a warm sun and gentle air felt like a welcome madness. This morning I noticed fresh green grass beginning to force its way out of the ground, brazenly challenging Nature to snow on it. And Nature will likely oblige. But you see, the sun has warmed. The air is gentler. Hope springs eternal. Deep within my stocking feet, my toes are involuntarily flexing, imagining the day when they can be freed to the open air and sink deeply into fresh green grass. This hope runs in a giddy undercurrent through my brain, wrapping verdant tendrils around neurons frozen by this brutal winter, causing them to awake and demand green. To see green. To smell green. To eat it. Enter the Freekeh salad from The Kitchn. “Freekeh?” you might ask. To be sure, the only reason I had heard of this was because I live around the corner from a Middle Eastern market, even though I never knew what to do with it. It is a grain. Wheat, to be exact. Wheat in toasted green form. So this green wheat gets combined with chickpeas, warm spices, and deep green collard greens to create a salad of hopeful spring. When you cook freekeh (labeled “frika” at my market,) you will have to stop and take pause. It actually smells like a fresh cut field of hay. If I closed my eyes, I could imagine late summer sunlight spilling carelessly out of the simmering pot. It is a remarkable thing. It does not taste like fresh cut hay, or at least what I assume hay tastes like, having never actually eaten it, but it does have a lovely fresh nuttiness I have not encountered in a grain before. Then comes the dressing, a heady mix of olive oil, vinegar, tahini, and a generous round of a spice mix known as za’atar. Again, I luckily live around the corner from a Middle Eastern market that sells this in large packages, but it can be acquired online fairly readily, or you could make your own, should you be so inclined (and when I run through this giant pile of it I now have, I will be making my own!) Mix the fresh chew of the freekeh and the warm tang of the dressing with the fresh air of thinly sliced raw fennel, a fair quantity of chickpeas, and a pile of raw collard greens, and you believe for a moment that the mere act of moving fork from plate to mouth will cause trees to bud outside your window. Spring is pressing itself upon us. Why not help it along?   Mediterranean-Spiced Freekeh Salad with Collard Greens and Chickpeas (straight from The Kitchn)   Serves 8 For the salad: 1/3 cup (45 grams) sesame seeds 1 cup (185 grams) freekeh 1 bunch collard greens, de-stemmed, leaves thinly sliced (about 2 cups) 1 cup (170 grams) rinsed and drained chickpeas 1 small fennel bulb, quartered, cored and thinly sliced For the dressing: 2 small garlic cloves, finely minced 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil 3 tablespoons tahini 2 tablespoons lemon juice 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar 2 1/2 tablespoons za’atar 1 teaspoon ground coriander 1 teaspoon ground allspice Pinch sea salt and ground pepper Warm a small, dry saucepan over medium heat and add the sesame seeds. Toast until fragrant and light golden-brown, 6 to 7 minutes. Shake the pan periodically to avoid burning. Once toasted, pour the seeds onto a clean plate and aside to cool. Bring a medium pot of water to boil and add the freekeh. Bring back to a boil, then cover the pot and reduce the heat to low. Simmer for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the grains are al dente. Drain excess water and set aside. In a large bowl, combine cooked freekeh, collard greens, chickpeas, and fennel. Whisk together garlic, tahini, lemon juice, red wine vinegar, and spices for the dressing in a small bowl. Season with salt and pepper. Toss the salad with the dressing; season with additional salt and pepper as needed. Sprinkle the sesame seeds over top before serving. Enjoy room temperature or cold. Cover and refrigerate leftovers for up to three days.   (And I’m not going to lie… I would make more dressing. Just do it. Trust...

oatmeal made alluring

By on Mar 15, 2014 in breakfast, for one | 0 comments

Oatmeal. What, not tantalizing enough? Nutella. Now I have your attention. You love it, right? Everyone does. I make it from scratch on a regular basis. But one cold winter morning, I had none. And I wanted it. And there was no way I was venturing out into the zero degree morning to get the ingredients to make some. Rummaging about, I decided to make oatmeal, a lovely bit of steel-cut oats I make on a fairly regular basis. Oatmeal, notably, is not nearly as sexy sounding as Nutella. To put it in perspective, my mother refers to my steel-cut oats with the not so flattering moniker of “Colon Blow,” but she means no disrespect to their flavor (or nutritional value.) After years of making them, despite knowing the time it takes to make them, anything less seems like eating lightly seasoned wallpaper paste. As I pulled out the ingredients for the base oats, I clapped eyes on my unsweetened cocoa powder. Bump down a shelf, a few hazelnuts from the last batch of homemade Nutella hanging out in a plastic bag. A quick swivel of the head and bananas came into view. Pre-coffee neurons shook off sleep and began to fire, waking that part of my brain that remembered the main thing that makes unsweetened cocoa powder actual chocolatey goodness is sugar, and OH MY you are going to add brown sugar to that oatmeal! And wait! Nutella is simply cocoa and hazelnuts, a few hazelnuts wouldn’t hurt, so let’s just toast some of those up, and, well, there should probably be fruit, so why not some sliced bananas? And while we’re at it, why not sauté up those bananas in a little butter, get a little of that glorious Maillard effect on them, get them all shiny, releasing the warm tropical flavors from within that might, just might, for one moment, make you forget the frost slowly creeping up the insides of your kitchen window. You see, the beauty of oatmeal is the blank palette it presents to you. It can be as simple as a swath of real maple syrup and a touch of brown sugar. It can be juiced up with finely diced granny smith and a swirl of cinnamon. It can go a touch off path and be laced with dried figs and cardamom. Or, on a cold morning where you crave chocolate but have none at your immediate disposal, you can fake some chocolate hazelnut goodness. Winter isn’t letting go quite yet, and there are some cold mornings ahead, so why not experiment a little with some steel cut oats of your own? Add in some raisins, some craisins, some nuts, some berries, see what you like. A personal favorite is adding fresh blueberries in while it simmers. They explode and turn the whole thing purple. Just one piece of advice: if you are serving this to others, leave the “colon blow” moniker out of the picture. Steel-cut oats: Serves 1 generously, so just multiply up from there: Scant tsp. of unsalted butter 1/3 cup steel-cut oats 1 ¼ c. hot water 1/3 c. milk (I use whole, the flavor and richness is better) 1Tbsp. brown sugar (or more, to your taste) 1 ½ tsp. unsweetened cocoa powder (for the chocolatey option) pinch salt maple syrup (optional) Add-ins to your liking (dried fruit, whole fruit, nuts, spices, etc.) For the banana, I sliced up a whole one into 1/2” slices, ate 1/3 of it, and sautéed up the other 2/3 in a small skillet with a bit more butter. In a small saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Toss in the oats and cook, stirring constantly, until they start to brown a little and you get a lovely nutty smell coming out of them, about 1-2 minutes. Once the oats are smelling all nutty, pour in the hot water, lower the heat to a simmer, cover and let simmer for 15 minutes. Go make a pot of coffee. After 15 minutes, pour in the milk, and add in any dried fruit or blueberries, if you are swinging that way today. Cover and cook for ten more minutes. Remove from heat, stir thoroughly, then add in the brown sugar, salt, and a touch of maple syrup (an excellent universal sweetener.) Add in any nuts or spices you like at this point. For one serving it doesn’t take much. A pinch of two of spice, a few nuts. Stir everything up, taste, adjust if you need to, then find a quiet place to sit and eat. And ignore the snow outside. (I occasionally go a little over the top and toast some nuts in a 350 degree oven for five minutes before I add them in, and occasionally melt a tsp. more butter in a small skillet and sauté up fresh fruit before I throw it in. It makes a lovely addition.)...

preserved sunshine

By on Feb 8, 2014 in love, preserving, process | 0 comments

(This was originally written (and promptly not posted) before I went off on a film shoot for several weeks that involved many a night shooting overnight, outdoors, in the coldest winter in 30 years, where I redefined how cold I thought I could be. So it seems doubly true, especially as I watch yet another volley of snow fall from the grey sky.)   There is a wonderful episode of Doctor Who where they reference the solstice in December, saying it is celebrated because it is “halfway past the dark.”  This is a lovely sentiment, but as a Midwesterner, let’s be honest. It doesn’t feel that way.  Yes, after December 21st, the days technically do start to get longer. But that just gives you more daylight time to watch the flat grey expanse of winter that is January and February. Maybe this is why so many New Year’s resolutions are broken. You start out with this ideal of the fresh start in January. Maybe you stick to them all through January. Screw the grey skies and frigid cold, you are doing this! Then February hits. The grey skies are still there. It feels like they have sunk a little lower. You sit on the couch, under a nice blanket, and from your cozy position you eye the sinking grey sky and think… “oh just one more episode of Breaking Bad…” Your resolve cracks. The lack of sunshine begins to wear on your psyche. By the end of February, that couch has become an extension of you, and you wonder why you keep living in such a cold, icy place.   The thing is, the grocery store does not help this much. Veggies start to look as disinterested in being there as you are. You are pretty sure that half-wilted pile of swiss chard would also like to be catching up on some episodes of Law & Order. Even in our age of shipping veggies and fruit willy nilly all over the country, by the end of February, it’s looking pretty grim. The one thing that is great this time of year? Citrus. Glorious citrus. Brightly colored orbs of tangy, juicy flesh, reminding you of a warmer clime far from here. Somewhere sun is shining on citrus fruit. Secretly, you get a little jealous. Enter the lemon. I am a huge fan of the lemon. The bright acid hit of its juice is a welcome addition to almost everything. The zest has a seductive aroma that brings even the biggest humbug a momentary bump in mood. Recently I learned of this beautiful thing called a preserved lemon. The concept is simple, based on the ages old phenomenon known as preserving. Salt, lemon, and time combine to create a moment of preserved sunshine that you can eat. The origins are from the Middle East and Northern Africa, and I have to stop and applaud these people. There is a particular tang to a preserved lemon that instantly fills you with culinary light. Or maybe that’s just me. Every time I sprinkle a bit of minced preserved lemon on a dish, each bite drives that lowering grey sky away, inch by inch. There are, of course, many recipes out there, but I started with one from Judith Jones. Take four lemons. Almost quarter them, leaving a bit at the end to keep it held together. Jam the inside of the lemons with kosher salt. Massage them deeply, taking long deep inhales of the glorious lemon scent. Let them sit for a day in a jar. Take 8-9 more lemons and juice them right into the jar until the juice covers the salted stuffed lemons. Cover, and let sit for three weeks. And that’s it. To use, just pull off a quarter of lemon, cut out the pulp, and use just the peel. Every time I crack open that jar, any troubles I might be having get pushed aside by the bright sunny aroma that comes forth. What to do with the lemon, other than inhale the aroma? Chop up a bunch of veggies. Potatoes, zucchini, red peppers, onion, maybe some mushrooms. Douse them in olive oil and a bit of salt and pepper, and let them roast. Near the end, add a load of chickpeas and a fistful of finely chopped parsley, and dill if you are lucky enough to find it. Top it with some harissa, if you have some made, and the minced preserved lemon. And that’s it. In the dead of winter, my bowl is glowing with flavor. So try it. Go start it right now, and when February comes, you will be ready to combat the grey. (note: so sorry… I meant this to go up earlier, but you can still get it in time for March, since that damned groundhog says we will still be having deep winter then.)...

the nuances of brain juice

By on Dec 3, 2013 in craft food, love, process | 7 comments

When I was 14, I started to drink coffee while at camp, thin bitter dark coffee dosed heavily with packets of hot chocolate mix. When I was 17 I was an exchange student in Denmark, where my host father looked me in the eye and declared that he was going to teach me how to drink proper coffee (and alcohol,) because if I learned how to do it in the U.S., I was going to learn to do it wrong. When I was 23 I lived in New York City and became enamored of the barrels of beans at Porto Rico Imports in the Village, making a pilgrimage from Brooklyn every time I ran out. When I was 27 I did a grad school project for an interactive media project called “The Obsessive Compulsive’s Guide to Coffee.” Now, at age 38 I have a kettle that heats my water to precisely to 200 degrees, which I slowly pour into a french press with precisely 4 tablespoons of beans for two cups of coffee, then let sit for 4 minutes, which I can now do without using a real timer, and I drink it black. Slowly. I say all this because even with all that evolution and slow learning, I know approximately nothing compared to the eloquent Tim Coonan, owner and roaster at Big Shoulders Coffee. Go ahead and look up Tim Coonan. You will find he has been a chef in some of the finest places in the world. He was at Spiaggia here in Chicago for nine years. And when you drink his coffee, it is not a fanciful mélange of bean and foam, a place where you will find beans excreted from a civet cat wreathed in such mystery and exclusivity you expect there to be armed guards around the cup of coffee. You will drink coffee. With flavor. No-nonsense and yet highly nuanced flavor. On a grey Saturday morning, Mr. Coonan was kind enough to let me come in as he roasted his last batch of coffee for the day. I was there at 10:30AM, and he had already roasted 100 pounds of beans. I walked in the door of his coffee shop and was immediately embraced by the heavenly scent of freshly roasted coffee. I had recently been introduced to this glorious scent by my cousin, owner of  Cimarron Books & Coffee out in Colorado who has become entranced with the coffee bean and had bought a home roaster to do experiment with roasting. The scent of roasting beans wafting through their house was for me akin to living inside a glorious caffeinated bakery where I was not sure I could inhale deeply enough. So walking into a place where they just roasted 100 pounds… well it was beyond any kid in a candy store analogy you have ever envisioned. Way beyond. Right in the front window of Big Shoulders sits a commercial roaster, all vivid, shiny, and green. Tim began to work on roasting a batch of Ugandan beans. He explained the stages, such as first crack, and we watched the beans shift from green to brown, far more swiftly than you might imagine. His eyes constantly flicked between the beans and his nearby laptop, where he had charts for previous roasts of this bean, and a gauge showing temperature. His nose was watching even more keenly. Despite the careful gauging of temperature and time, checking against previous roasts, a lot of this really does still come down to the nose. He said there are machines where you can just program a profile for the roast you want and let it go, but there are so many variables that can affect the batch that day he prefers to watch every roast and do it all manually. I asked about dark vs. medium roasts, and what I had heard about West Coast vs. East Coast roasts, and his answer was not really what I would have expected. I knew about dark roasts being really more about char than coffee, but when it came to the other descriptives, he spoke of how we keep using words like “terroir” and these other coastal definitions, but they are really borrowed from other parts of the culinary lexicon. We don’t really have language yet for just coffee. Terroir is about wine, and about where it is grown, the environment around it. While there is definitely something to that in coffee, it goes farther. It also is what the farmer does to the bean after it is harvested. There is a farmer in Mexico that lets the bean ferment just a little in the bean, giving it this lactic flavor that is unlike anything you will experience in coffee (no civet cats required.) Tim was kind enough to have the folks at the coffee shop make me a couple of cups of coffee, from a couple of batches he really liked. We stood next to a wall where he had some of these beans in glass jars, and he held up an Ethiopian to smell, which smelled pretty much like I expected (still lovely,) and then he held up a jar of this Mexican coffee with the fermented bean, and I think all of my neurons, faithfully fueled by coffee for many a year, did a double take. He said the first time he had this coffee, he had a...

sweet, sweet snow

By on Nov 25, 2013 in craft food, libations, process | 0 comments

Once upon a time, on a sunny fall day on a quiet street in Chicago, a food blogger walked up to the gate of a long and low brick building. Before her was an aging metal panel of buzzers, and a tattered piece of paper taped over half of them with alternate instructions for only certain parts of the building. After a brief head scratch, the food blogger decided to move onto more modern technology and call the person she was meeting. A minute later, a tall woman with cropped red hair and improbably merry round black glasses popped out of a door a half block down the long and low brick building and yelled “RACHEL!” One would somehow like to think all this craft and local food happens in fabulously rustic kitchens or perfect retro factories with just the right amount of hipster grunge, but really? Sometimes it happens in a long and low brick building, and frankly, I don’t give a damn, because the end result is delicious. The tall woman in question is Melissa Yen, creator of Jo Snow Syrups. I had seen her out and about at the Chicago street festivals, doling out snow cones using what appeared to be a vintage ice shaver (it’s not vintage, it’s just a Japanese company that happens to make them look vintage.) On a particularly hot day at one of the festivals, I circled her booth like a parched vulture until finally the line was short enough, and dove in. My first experience was the tangerine lavender honey syrup drizzled over shaved ice in the classic little paper cone we all know from childhood. But this was no purple flavor or blue flavor. This was that smooth round sweet of tangerines, that little tang of honey and undercurrent of lavender rolling about, and I swear my core temperature dropped 10 degrees while my eyes rolled backwards from the pleasure of cooling down in such a scrumptious manner. A couple of months later, on a chillier September day, I encountered her again at a fair and tried the cantaloupe cardamom (which she thought was a bit too cardamom-y,) and I spied a bottle of woodruff syrup, a wonder I had encountered at a bar in Brooklyn a month before. I chatted with her a bit about how she was so much more than a fancy snow cone purveyor, and she graciously agreed to come have me hang out for a bit one fine day. And finally that fine day arrived. I made my way down to the door at the end of the long and low brick building, and upon entering, the first thing that hit me was the scent. Of granola. She uses part of the kitchen that Milk & Honey Granola uses, and there were several ovens full of granola roasting away, letting loose a homey scent of oats and sugar. We donned some very fashionable hairnets and went into the corner where she and two women were working away. Despite the proximity to the ovens full of tempting granola, I was drawn like a cartoon following an animated scent trail to her giant “tilt skillet” (a giant vat where they actually cook the syrup in enormous quantities that has this crazy motor setup that will slowly tilt the skillet over so they can empty it out into kettles for bottling.) Inside she was steeping cardamom rose water syrup. Let me pause here a moment. When I usually think of flavored syrups, it usually involves flavors hatched by a chemistry lab somewhere in New Jersey, bearing little resemblance to the flavor of the object in question. Purple flavor is purple flavor, not really grape. So when I say Melissa was steeping cardamom rose water syrup, I mean I was staring at a vat of syrup with an incredible quantity of whole cardamom pods and some cinnamon sticks steaming away, releasing a scent that really was within a hair’s breadth of causing me to float up and along in a state of ecstasy like a Looney Tunes character of old. Apparently the little old ladies at the Middle Eastern market look at her like she is insane when she buys 22 pounds of cardamom pods at a time. Fair enough. But this is totally my type of mad scientist insanity. On the table was a bin of figs from the day before, when she had been working on syrup for cream soda, for Farmhouse, a local restaurant. Actual figs, no weird chemicals involved. This is not to say there is no chemistry. Of course there is! It’s food, there is always chemistry involved, but not necessarily chemistry involving strange foreign substances emerging from a lab. Right when I got there she was testing the pH level of the cardamom rose water deliciousness to make sure it was at the right level, since it has to be at a certain level to ensure shelf stability. The only thing she uses to alter the pH is citric acid. Earlier in the day they had made and bottled some of the concord grape syrup, which is definitively not purple flavor. In fact, it isn’t even really all that purple. Sort of a glowing purply-red, like the best parts of a sunset, leaving me to occasionally just gaze at it wistfully. While waiting for the cardamom to be ready, Melissa pulled out...

crunchy granola, sans hacky sack

By on Nov 5, 2013 in baking, experimenting, love, snacks, vegetarian | 0 comments

Granola. You know what just popped into your head. You do. I will bet it has nothing to do with cityscapes, suits, ties, evening gowns or limos. I will bet it has something to do with mountain landscapes, flannel shirts, hiking boots, and possibly white boy dreadlocks. And there is good reason. Granola is not sleek, nor is it sophisticated, likely not drunk with a martini while wearing heels. But it is really, really, tasty. Years ago I witnessed Alton Brown whip together granola on his show “Good Eats”. At the time I was an absolute acolyte, worshiping at the Food Network altar, dutifully engaging in the ritual drooling required of all viewers, back when they actually showed you how to cook. There were many, many things done on his show I could not do in a crappy apartment kitchen in Brooklyn (and frankly still can’t now in my tiny Chicago kitchen,) but granola… that I could do. I followed his recipe exactly, and thought it was tasty. I wrote it down, I sent it to other people, I never strayed, fearful that… well I honestly can’t say what I was fearful of. Secret agents employed solely by Alton Brown busting down my door and confiscating my spatulas? A team of granola-sniffing hounds arriving at my door, ratting me out the second they smelled ½ cup of sugar instead of the required ¾ cup? Oats programmed to spontaneously combust if they were not actually stirred exactly every 15 minutes in the oven? On the day I finally broke with the recipe, none of this happened. I didn’t break with it that much. Just a little. And then a little more. And at this point, I do not know if I strayed far or I am only a few tablespoons of oats off. I have made it so many times I can’t remember. And homemade granola is so delicious, so much lighter and full of life that I can’t bring myself to buy even the fancy stuff at Whole Foods. Frankly, after years of making my own, even the “high end” stuff feels like it might break my teeth from the rock hard oaten gravel found within. So of course I had to figure out granola bars. Granola bars proved a little trickier. Recipes abound, and there seems to be no through line. One called for a whopping two sticks of butter, another for piles of goopy corn syrup. I do love butter, but don’t relish the idea of a bar that left my fingers shiny and slick. And I want to avoid corn syrup. The first batch I ever made used granola I had already baked. I am fairly sure you could have used them in light construction projects. The next batch was oatmeal gone horribly, goopily wrong. And then I started to figure things out. A hair less oil. Something other than solid oats to fill it out. 50 degrees less, 25 degrees more, 35 minutes more, 10 minutes less, score them 5 minutes after, 15 minutes after, use an 8×11 pan, use a 9×13 pan, a never ending parade of oaty delights. My colon wept, wondering when the assault would end. And then finally, one day, it all clicked into place, and I found the ratio. Ingredients, times, everything sunk into place, and a crispy bar that held together (until you bit in, then bits of it become a bit graceless, but as per the previous associations, I am fairly sure no one is eating granola in an evening gown,) but did not threaten to carve up the inside of your mouth like a Christmas roast, but not goopy, leaving you with sticky hands you are unwilling to swipe across your smartphone screen. OK, maybe that would have been a nice break, we do spend too much time on those damned things, but I digress. I had it. Granola bars. Ultimately, for all the research and experimentation, it ended up being not far off from the original granola recipe, with a few adjustments to make the whole thing hold together. And it means much like regular granola, I will never buy granola bars again. But I might figure out how to pair one with a martini. Granola bars makes 12 bars, roughly 1 ½”x3” each Dry Ingredients 1 ¾ c. whole rolled oats (I do not use quick-cooking, I use regular) 1 ½ c. puffed rice cereal (no, I do not mean a certain cereal championed by a trio of elves, go look in the natural food aisle. I probably wouldn’t eat this on its own, but it lightens this up a bit) ½ c. pecans (or other nut, if you like, but you don’t have to, this is just what I prefer) ½ c. unsweetened flaked coconut (important: do not substitute sweetened shredded coconut. Find the unsweetened stuff.) 2 Tbsp. flax seed (because it totally makes it healthy. Also totally optional) 1 ½ tsp. kosher salt ¼ c. dark brown sugar ½ c. dark chocolate chips (again, optional, but… it’s dark chocolate, so why would you not want it?) Wet Ingredients scant ¼ c. sunflower or safflower oil (I like these better than canola, as they are light but with a touch of warmth to them, but you can use canola if you like) ¼ c. brown rice syrup (found in natural food places, call it...