Sunday, July 25, 2010

Changes are afoot

I know it's been awhile- and it will be a while longer. Big changes are coming!

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Homemade Granola

Almost every morning for breakfast I eat fruit with yogurt and granola. I started this when I was in weight loss mode because it was easy to adjust the portion of each item depending on how many calories I wanted to consume. Granola is one of those things that I always told myself I would make at home if I ever got the chance to stop doing the 9 to 5.

Now that I have made it a number of times I can tell you- don't make the same mistake I did! It is so incredibly easy to do and the benefits of making your own are many. For one, you can control the amount of sugar and fat that go into it. (Store bought is generally much higher than homemade) And best of all you get to customize it to your own individual taste and how you like to use it.

Below I've given you a blueprint (similar to my fried rice and risotto entries) for how to start making your very own granola at home. Granola is so incredibly versatile and forgiving that once you begin playing with it you will start to learn what proportions of each item you prefer. Keep in mind that although it may look like a lot of steps it actually only takes about 10 minutes to throw all the ingredients together. It does take a bit of time in the oven- but you can be doing plenty of other things while it's in there.

Here's what you will need:

4 cups rolled oats (not instant!)
2 cups other hoo-ha (nuts, seeds, coconut, etc)
1/2- 1 tsp salt
1/2- 1 1/4 cups sweetener + fat (sweetener: honey, maple syrup, brown sugar. fat: non-flavorful oil such as canola or vegetable or butter)
Optional: Spices and flavorings (vanilla, cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg, etc)
Optional: 1 cup dried fruit (raisins, cherries, chopped apricots, craisins, etc.)

Because I primarily eat my granola as an accompaniment to fruit I like to keep it as simple as possible so I know it will go with whatever fruit I choose to pair it with. (1 nut, 1 sweetener, no additional flavorings, no dried fruit) However, if you like to eat your granola plain with yogurt or milk, or to snack on it out of hand you may want to get a bit more adventurous with your add-ins.

1. Set your oven to 250

2. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. (if you don't have parchment you can grease your baking sheet but really- you should buy parchment! It is cheap, reusable and has a million applications)

3. Chop any nuts you are using. I like my nuts to have a presence in the granola without doing a number on the roof of my mouth so I size them accordingly. These pecan halves I just cut in half. Almonds I'll chop pretty small. Often recipes call for you to use sliced almonds so if you have those on hand or don't mind spending the extra money to buy them at the store that's a great option.

4. Put all your dry ingredients in a large bowl. This is typically the oats + nuts, seeds coconut* etc.** The ratio is completely up to you as long as you total 2 cups. Here I just add two cups of straight up pecans. You could do a cup of pecans and a cup of walnuts. You could do a cup of pecans, 1/2 cup almonds, 1/4 cup green pumpkin seeds, and 1/4 cup wheat germ. I mean seriously, your options are endless. And really, you could put more than 2 cups of stuff in there the proportions I'm giving are more of a launch pad than anything.

5. Add salt. At least 1/2 a tsp and no more than 1 tsp. We don't want salty granola! (Unless you make it really sweet, then you could have sweet and salty granola..mmmmmm) Stir well.

5(b) Add spice(s) as you prefer. Start with no more than 1/4 teaspoon of each on your first try and then you can adjust to taste. (if using vanilla, add it with or after the wet ingredients) Stir well.

6. Now it's time to combine your wet ingredients. Again the ratio is completely up to you. Keep in mind the more sweetener the more clumping. I have tried it with as little as 1/4 cup each of fat and sweetener (not much clumping, barest hint of sweetness) A good starting point would be 1/2 cup of each. Pictured I have 2/3 cup sweetener (maple syrup if you must know) and 1/4 cup fat (canola oil) because I am crazy like that. Sometimes recipes call for you to heat them first but I've made it both ways and can't really see a big difference. If you are using butter and are melting it anyway I guess you might as well but otherwise why dirty a pan?

I think the important thing is to make sure the fat and sweetener are well blended so that they will evenly coat the dry ingredients.

7. Add your wet ingredients to your dry ingredients. (BLORP!)

8. Mix that shizz until it is well blended.

9. Pour the mixture onto your (parchment lined!) pan and spread out evenly

10. Stick it in the middle of your preheated oven and bake for 1 hour to 1 1/4 hour stirring occasionally to make sure everything gets well toasted. (I like to set my timer in 15 minute increments so I don't forget about it)

11. Take it out of the oven, add dried fruit if you choose, stir and let cool. After about 10-15 minutes give it a stir. Depending on the amount and type of sweetener you used it may be stuck together and you might have to knock it around a bit to get it into the size clumps/pieces you want. You will notice mine is not clumpy at all. (Don't wait too long or you may end up with a giant granola bar!)

12. Once it is cooled completely store it in an airtight container. It will last on the counter for 10-14 days but if you keep it in the fridge it will last a month or more. (As if you would need to!)

* For some reason almost every granola recipe calls for shredded coconut, but almost no commercial brand of granola has coconut as an ingredient. Why is this? A mystery I will never know.....(PS. I'm not a fan of the coconut so I never use it)
** If you use brown sugar as a sweetener it can also be added to the dry ingredients. However, if you choose to do it that way it's a good idea to add 1/4 cup of liquid sweetener such as honey or maple syrup to promote clumping. Brown sugar can also be melted over med-low heat and added with liquid ingredients.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Keeping You Posted

Exciting updates...

We've accepted a slot for K at a school that has recess, gym twice a week, music and art once a week. Hopefully they will have a small class size as well. There is still a chance that Miss D could be offered a second round spot in a gifted or magnet program but we are feeling pretty good about the school she will probably end up at- even if it is a bit of a hike.

For those of you not in the know, the volunteering I will be doing is with a Teen Leadership group. The group started an organic garden last year. This year they received a grant to expand the garden, start a farmers market in their neighborhood, and do some community workshops. I will be using my training expertise to help them develop and execute the community workshops. I am toying with the idea of taking on contract training work once Miss D is in school so this will be a good test as well as something to put on the ol' resume. I got my first taste of working with the teens yesterday when Miss D and I put in some labor cleaning out some of the beds. Should be interesting!

Out of the blue, we were presented with the opportunity to visit my sister and her family (along with my parents) in FL for Memorial Day weekend. We are so excited as we haven't seen each other in over a year. The cousins will get to play together and everyone will get to meet Bubba for the first time!

Of course, now I have a month to get the kid to sleep in a crib....sighz.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Happiness is...

Both kids in bed by 8

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Spring is Spronging

The weather is all over the map, the flower beds are full of weeds to be pulled and spring is here again.

We are truly fortunate to have had some incredible spring weather. Generally spring in Chicago is cold and wet until June when it is suddenly scorching.

I have been taking the Bubs for lots of walks and Miss D has had much playground time.

Last weekend, I got the bright idea to move the swing upstairs and the Bubs has been sleeping 7+ hours at a stretch at night in it. Wish I had thought of it a month and a half ago- but very, very grateful and starting to feel like a human being again. At some point he will have to transition out of it but we'll cross that bridge when we come to it.

Now that I have hit a groove with my new SAHM lifestyle, I am really enjoying it. There are still never enough hours in the day to do all the things I want to accomplish. But I appreciate being able to spend all this time taking care of my family in a way I wasn't able to when I was working.

I am even thinking about fashion again a little! I finally got all of my wardrobe out of my daughters closet and back into mine. So very many work clothes. Not very appropriate for the mom on the go. I have lost most of the weight (maybe 5 lbs to go to get to pre-baby) but of course my body is not the same. Now that i am rested i don't really have an excuse not to be finding a few moments to do some crunches, and yet, I haven't found them yet! ;)

Friday, March 26, 2010

Public School

Husband and I have been obsessing the past two weeks over which (if any) public schools* Miss D will be accepted to. I applied to about 30. So far I have received 2 acceptances (from schools who accepted everyone) two waitlists and one no. The clock is ticking and you have to let the schools know by mid-April if you want the slot or not. It's enough to drive anyone batshit!

If you were wondering what public school in the urban market is looking like these days, here is a list of things you may be surprised to learn the children are not entitled to:

RECESS: Many schools do not offer recess. I visited one that only has it during the warmer months (during the winter they have free play in their classrooms, but no running around time). There is another local school where the teachers got together and voted to offer recess to the children, because they felt it was important, but the teachers are not paid for the recess time.

GYM: Many schools do not offer gym at all. Others may have it once a week or on a limited basis.

LUNCH THAT IS LONGER THAN 15 MINUTES: Seriously. 15 minutes to eat.

ARTS: Music, Visual Arts, Drama, etc. I guess this is no surprise. If your school still offers even one of these, it is probably because you have a strong parents group that has raised the funds for it themselves.

ATHLETICS: See above


This is why people move to the suburbs.

*If you're wondering why I don't have my daughter attend our neighborhood school, it's because we live in an immigrant-heavy neighborhood and the school is majority ESL.