We leave for an Easter trip to Poland in two hours and for once, gasp, I am all packed, the house is clean and I’m sitting here waiting patiently for Allan to come home with smoked salmon and rolls so that I can make some lunch/pack a supper for the airplane* and do the dishes before we head out. Somewhere in Ontario, those who know me best (Annie, Anna, Lydia, Mom, Jane) are nodding approvingly.
This past Friday evening we finished another term of school and I crawled out of a very dark hole of assignments and exams, emerging squinty-eyed, to find that Spring had arrived (though not its hallmark warmth), Easter break had arrived and – best of all – brother Henry and sister-in-law Diana had arrived!
I spent Saturday doing some ‘recovery’ things. I baked a cranberry-orange-walnut loaf. I took a nap. I read a book. I declined Allan’s invitation to accompany him to the gym. I had dinner Henry, Diana and Diana’s family. I had ice cream with Jenn and Stephen. I Skyped my parents. I Skyped Allan’s parents. The last few days since then have been a blur of ‘catching-up’ things (laundry, e-mails) and fun things with Henry and Diana like visiting Stonehenge and Bath.
Last night, in advance of my birthday, Henry treated us to a guided night photography walking tour of London, and we snapped some awesome and very iconic pics.
More updates and pics from Poland!
*Side note: Allan and I had a good laugh the other day about how we had identical experiences as kids with our moms insisting on packing lunches instead of buying when we went out. I distinctly remember having to exit the gates of Wonderland at lunch and walk to the parking lot to sit in our car and eat packed sandwiches. I yearned for my parents to splurge on hot dogs and funnel cake like the other families. Ditto all the snacks that the other kids got to have – pudding cups, Gushers, Dunkaroos, etc. I was convinced that my lack of these treats had to do with my family being Asian (and frugal) but Allan assures me his mom always packed food too and he never got processed snacks in his lunch either. It’s only taken us 30 years to realize what our moms knew all along: junky food is crazy expensive and not always very delicious (let alone healthy – Allan and I scanned the ingredients on a package of Handi-Snacks the other day and were very grossed out). Moms, we hope it pleases you that we are publicly saying “You were right.” Thanks for not letting us eat so much garbage, and for teaching us the value of saving your money for the good stuff. Do you think our own future kids will catch on any sooner?
Isn’t it funny how three days in a row of the same supper would push our limits but we can eat the same breakfast every single day? Allan and I have creamy yogurt (homemade, by him) and crunchy granola (homemade, by me) every morning with only a few variations: sometimes with berries, sometimes with soy milk, sometimes mixed with All Bran.
I suppose making my own crunchy granola puts me firmly in “crunchy-granola” territory but before visions of tree-hugging, drum circles and peace signs start swirling in your head, let me tell you the reason why I make my own: store-bought granola sucks. It comes in two varieties: cheap, lacking in substance (being mostly oats with few nuts) and overly sweet, or expensive, artisan-type granola packed with delicious goodness…but still way too sweet.
I have tested no less than a half-dozen granola recipes, usually each more than once, with all producing varying levels of good-but-not-awesome results. One recipe had a sandy texture, the instructions not so much for granola than for individually toasted oats and nuts that didn’t bother to mingle with each other. One batch was a sticky mess, so moist that it took on the shape of the container we stored it in (J & S – I think you got a batch of this…sorry). None of them clumped in a pleasing manner.
And then I found this recipe. It is so good that I’ve been making it every 1.5 weeks (except for one momentary lapse in judgment when I made the sticky recipe and vowed to never stray again), which is how long it takes us to go through a batch. The secret, I firmly believe, is an ingredient I haven’t seen in any other granola recipe – applesauce. It not only imparts a very faint, naturally sweet, fruity flavour to the granola, it also promotes just the right amount of clumping, something I haven’t achieved with other recipes even those using lots of syrupy sweeteners. Best of all, the applesauce stands in for the cups of oil that other recipes call for, reducing the fat in this recipe to two scant tablespoons. I can’t find jarred applesauce here (are British babies not fans?) so I made my own – okay, I made Allan do it – by peeling, coring and chopping apples, then dumping them in a saucepan with a splash of water (to prevent burning), popping on a lid and simmering it on low-medium heat for 20 minutes until tender. A potato masher then makes quick work out of the apples.
Even before I moved to the UK I was a proponent of weighing ingredients for baking not only for its improved accuracy but also for the fewer dishes to wash (you literally just dump ingredients into a bowl, zeroing the scale as you go along) and the lack of having to chase ingredients (like bouncing sesame seeds) across the kitchen floor as you make a mess scooping things from bag to bowl. If you’re still unconvinced about kitchen scales you can find a recipe for this granola using normal cup and spoon measurements here.
In my never-ending quest to cut fat and sugar out of baked goods that purport to be healthy I’ve left the honey from the original recipe out completely and dialed down the brown sugar by half. I’ve also swapped brown rice syrup for maple syrup and I use a mix of chopped nuts totaling 250g (my favourites are almonds, walnuts, Brazil nuts, pecans and hazelnuts). I adore the taste and crunch of sesame seeds but found that with the original amount you wound up feeling like you were eating a bowl of sesame seeds so I’ve halved this amount too – but, as you wish.
I’ve found baking granola to be more of an art then a science. You want to dry the granola out and toast it slightly without it getting too brown. I’ve come up with a method here that works for my oven in London but suspect it’ll need to be adapted to each kitchen. In general, just keep checking, stirring, rotating the pans and turning down the temperature if things get too toasty. And as you do, your house will start to fill up with the scent of warm cinnamon, brown sugar, nuts, oats and maple syrup. Allan doesn’t like dried fruit in his cereals so I don’t add any but I think dried cranberries would be great (though store the granola and dried fruit separately so the granola stays crisp, mixing only in your cereal bowl just before eating).
The BEST Granola
Adapted from Nigella Lawson
- 450 gram(s) rolled oats
- 120 gram(s) sunflower seeds
- 60 gram(s) white sesame seeds
- 175 gram(s) apple sauce
- 2 teaspoon(s) ground cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon(s) ground ginger
- 120 gram(s) maple syrup
- 50 gram(s) brown sugar
- 250 gram(s) roughly chopped nuts
- 1 teaspoon(s) salt
- 2 tablespoon(s) oil
Directions: Mix everything in a big bowl. Spread onto two baking sheets and bake at 325F for 30 minutes. Stir granola, switch the positions of the sheets and bake for 20 minutes more. At this point take granola out of oven and check if it is done; it should be golden brown and the clumps almost completely dry to the touch. If so, take it out of the oven and let it cool while continuing to dry out completely. If not, turn the oven down to 300F. Stir granola and return the baking sheets to the oven (switching positions again) and continue to bake, checking granola frequently (every 5-10 minutes) for up to 40 more minutes.
The first thing I thought of when I woke up this morning was, “Whoa, it’s March!” The second thing I thought of was, “Whoa, Allan and I have been married for six months!” Both were equally surprising and pleasing to me.
I made a few attempts today at reflecting on all the amazing things we’ve done and experienced in the last six months and each time my mind has wandered away from the flashy excitement of all our trips and the energy of living in London to the daily patterns of married life that I’ve come to expect and love. The past six months have been characterized not so much by the highs of special events but by the routine of lovely things that just were not part of my day before I got married: The smell of coffee in the morning. The e-mail I’ve come to expect from Allan at lunch telling me how delicious the leftovers were. The hugs when we get home from school. The sound of The Band or The Beatles playing from the kitchen as Allan does the dishes. The TV show we watch in bed at night. The murmuring about our day as we drift off to sleep. These are the things I’ll remember the most from our honeyyear.
We get asked a lot whether it took some time to adjust to all the life changes we made in the span of one month, and we always say that it’s been surprisingly easy and smooth. We don’t expect that marriage will always be like this (one might say that we are in our honeymoon phase, har har) but for now we’re still basking in the warm glow of discovering the little pleasures of being married.
It’s been six months and Allan and I have found a quiet, steady rhythm for our lives. It will change as we transition from the structure of full-time classes to exams, and then from the frenzy of exams to writing our dissertations with no structure to our day at all. But we will adapt together, changing our rhythm but beating together, our days bookended by the smell of coffee in the morning and quiet conversations at night.