Saturday, April 21, 2012

Honey Lime Vinaigrette

I'm trying to recall the last novel I read that left it's mark on me in the recent past. I've read many that I've liked just fine, and were entertaining enough to keep me turning the pages, but nothing that's lingered with me for days or weeks or months after the final page. I remember many years ago finishing To Kill a Mockingbird for the first time and I immediately wanted to start reading it all over again. What was it that made me want to do that? I should read it again and see if I feel the same way more than 20 years later.

One character that has stuck with me is Enzo from The Art of Racing in the Rain. This book is told completely from the perspective of a dog. I'm well aware that this sounds really hokey, and I'm not sure a non-animal lover would get very far with it, but I found the dog-narrator (dogarrator?) extremely  endearing and I think of him often. I have found authors that have descriptive or storytelling styles that I like. Richard Russo and Geralidine Brooks come to mind. I also will turn to Anita Shreve if I'm in a reading rut and looking for a story to get me on track.

I recently joined a book club, and so far I've been to two meetings. I finished both books, one of them being one I recommended, and they both fell in the category of "meh". Two or three stars out of five. The books were Breakfast with Buddha and Little Bee. Again, entertaining enough that I finished them and it didn't feel like a chore, and in Little Bee there was some descriptive language I enjoyed, but I didn't like any of the characters in either book. I am, on the other hand, enjoying the book club itself. It's a great group of women, and if the book isn't a winner, then we move onto eating and chatting.

The way this book club works is whomever is hosting is responsible for making dinner or getting takeout for everyone, and we meet mostly on Sunday evenings. We meet monthly-ish, but cut back a bit in the summer. We've decided our next meeting will be a Friday night in a bar with outdoor seating to shake things up a bit. I hosted our last meeting and had a really evening. There were only five of us and I made Mexican Rice Bowls (see previous post) and a spinach, mango, pepita salad to go with it. I made this dressing which was a good companion to the salad and I will definitely make it again.

Honey Lime Vinaigrette

1/4 cup fresh lime juice
2 tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black (or white) pepper
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup canola oil

1.  I put all ingredients besides the oil in a jar with a tight lid, shook it to blend it. Then, added the oils and shook it up again.  You could also use a blender.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Granola - Cooks Illustrated

Recently I was at the register in the work cafeteria paying for my lunch when I became conscious that I was avoiding using any of the quarters in my change purse. This isn't something new. In fact, I've been doing it for almost 25 years. First, it became a necessity in college. In order to do laundry on campus, one needed quarters.* Then, for many years, I lived in apartments without a washer or dryer, so there were evenings spent in the laundromat. (I vaguely remember when at first, I thought that would be an enjoyable task because I could hang out and spend a relaxing evening reading, etc. while getting all of my laundry done at once. Oh, how naive that was.)
Then, I upgraded a bit to an apartment that had a washer and a dryer in the basement, but that still required quarters to operate. For a period of time, I got in the habit of going to the bank and buying rolls of them to have on hand, and that felt comforting to have a solid supply.
These days, I am still merely a renter, not an owner and therefore I can't classify myself a "big girl". But, we do have a washer and dryer all to ourselves that do not require precious coin to run and I can do laundry to my heart's content. I must admit, that still feels pretty liberating to me. When I need to wash something other than necessities - my place mats, for instance, it no longer causes me stress.
So, why am I still hoarding quarters? I spend a lot of time in Cambridge and I often drive there. Parking at the meters requires -guess what? They have yet to turn over in most parts to machines where you can use any kind of currency or credit cards to pay for parking. I can't count how many times I've searched under the seat of my car hoping some quarters had found their way down there because I desperately needed some to fill my meter and didn't have any of the necessary currency in my wallet. It's difficult enough to park in Cambridge or Boston without adding this element to it.
So, maybe there will come a point in my life where I can throw caution to the wind and use quarters without hesitation, but for now, I'll continue on this way of life. I will also continue eating the same breakfast most mornings. I keep intending to start juicing with the very expensive appliance taking up valuable real estate on my kitchen counter, but alas, here's another recipe for my old stand-by: granola with rice milk, a bit of yogurt and some fruit.

I've posted a prior entry for a granola recipe that is very similar. But, this one comes from Cook's Illustrated test kitchen and it's become the one I make regularly. The only difference is that this one adds a little more fat (oil) and sweetener, but it makes the texture and taste a little better.

*I'm sure my mother is chuckling to herself thinking that I never actually did my own laundry on campus given the amount of it I brought home during visits, but had I possessed enough quarters, I probably wouldn't have brought any home :-)

Nut and dried fruit granola
1/3 cup maple syrup
1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
4 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup vegetable oil
5 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
2 cups nuts, chopped coarse (the recipe called for just almonds. I like a mix of cashews and almonds. I find walnuts to be a little too strong tasting)
2 cups raisins or other dried fruit, chopped ( I use golden raisins and dried coconut)

1. Adjust oven rack to upper-middle position and heat oven to 325 degrees. Line rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.
2. Whisk maple syrup, brown, sugar, vanilla, and salt in a large bowl. Whisk in oil. Fold in oats and nuts until thoroughly coated.
3. Transfer oat mixture to prepared baking sheet and spread across the sheet into thin, even layer (about 3/8 inch thick). Using stiff metal spatula, compress oat mixture until very compact. Bake until lightly browned, 30 to 45 minutes, rotating pan once halfway through baking. Remove granola from oven and cool on wire rack to room temperature, about 1 hour. Break cooled granola into pieces of desired size. Stir in dried fruit. (Granola can be stored in airtight container for up to 2 weeks).