Easy Granola

I had plenty of time to putter in my garden this weekend – weeding and thinning out all those new seedlings. And thinning out some of the larger plants. I’m not completely sure, but I think I pulled up a few baby rutabegas (or possibly turnips?), as well as some beets and parsnips (the first parsnips I’ve ever grown, or eaten). I’m planning to roast them all up, as per my favorite way to prepare root vegetables.

Tomorrow is the last day of my birthday challenge. I made it to yoga every week, and hit most of my workout goals. I only slipped up once on the dairy front (and it made my stomach hurt, so it wasn’t even worth it). It really wasn’t too much of a stretch to not eat meat, dairy, or sugar. I didn’t have any cravings – although I yearned for cheese a bit. And really, I just don’t like being a picky eater. It takes all the fun out of eating at restaurants, or spending a weekend with friends eating good food (my girls’ nights comes standard with baguette and cheese). So I’m really looking forward to having the freedom to sprinkle a bit of cheese on my dishes! I’m also curious how my body will react to re-introducing meat and dairy. I can’t say I felt vastly better this month, which I think is because I eat so many vegetables normally anyway. If I was coming off a meat and dairy laden diet, I think this month would have shown a much bigger difference.

My mom used to make granola from scratch all the time when I was growing up. So I’m not sure why I don’t make it very often. We’re talking like once every few years! Its probably because there’s a great grocery store two blocks from my house that carries a wide variety of delicious (expensive) granola in its bulk bins. But that’s really not a great excuse.

Since I’ve been trying to avoid refined sugars, buying granola got a whole lot harder (and more expensive). So I decided that now, more than ever, was the time to make my own. I was scouting the internet for some good vegan camping recipes, when I stumbled upon this granola recipe at Dirty Gourmet. I happened to have all the ingredients on hand, which made it even more perfect!

I’ve made versions of this 3 times now in the past month. I also referenced a recipe in the Moosewood Restaurant “Cooking for Health” cookbook I got for Christmas. My favorite way to eat granola is on top of a thick green smoothie (Backyard Bowls style) or with a bit of almond milk. (My current green smoothie consists of frozen banana, berries, and mango, with chard, kale, broccoli, lettuce, cabbage, mandarin, hemp seed, chia seed, and berry juice.)

The best thing about granola is its flexibility – you can easily swap out the nuts and fruit for what you have or what you like. Maple syrup and honey (or brown sugar or agave) are all very easily substituted for each other too.

Easy Granola

1/4 c honey

1/2 c maple syrup

1/2 c safflower oil

1/2 tsp salt

3 cups rolled oats

1 c almonds (or 1/2 c almonds, 1/2 c cashews)

1/2 c coconut flakes (I like the big ones, unsweetened)

1/2 c sunflower seeds

1/4 c flax seeds

1/4 c hemp seeds (optional)

1/4 c dried cranberries (optional)

1/4-1/2 c dates chopped up

Preheat the oven to 325. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper sprayed with cooking spray.

Combine honey, maple syrup, oil and salt in small saucepan. Cook over low heat until its warmed up and liquidy. Remove from heat.

Combine the rest of the ingredients in a big bowl. Stir in the honey mixture to coat. Spread it out on the baking sheet in an even layer. Bake, and stir at 15 minutes. Check at 30 minutes to see how browned its getting – you want it golden, but not burned. Remove from oven and cool completely before storing in airtight container. If you like it chunky, don’t stir it while cooling.

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Fabulous Sandwich

I know that many of you believe that Santa Barbara doesn’t have winter. But we do. Maybe not raging blizzards, but we get our fair share of rain (in the good years), and the temperature does drop. The sun doesn’t rise quite as high in the sky, which means that swaths of our garden beds don’t get direct sunlight in these winter months. The soil also can get cold, and stay wet with repeated storms. All of this adds up to plants that just don’t want to grow very fast, and seeds that huddle in the soil, not quite ready to germinate.

All of that changed last week with the beautiful weather that came upon us in paradise. Perfect 70 degree days and warm abundant sunshine brought out the best in all of us, and those seeds have been popping up left and right in the garden! Spring does come early in Santa Barbara, and it is awesome to witness its transformative powers in my own backyard. One of my favorite parts of the day is coming home from a trail run in the morning and wandering the yard with my watering can, checking in on all these plants in my circle of friends.

Over the last few weeks I’ve been taking in inspiration for fabulous sandwiches. One was here, and the other here, on Muddy Footsteps. Another a friend made over the weekend while camping in Joshua Tree. And tonight, I finally managed to put it all together and make my own fabulous, vegan sandwich.

I absolutely love all of these ingredients on their own. But together they create a delicious symphony in your mouth, leaving you feeling completely satisfied and licking your fingers. These ingredients can of course be swapped for your own tastes and what you have available. But I think the components need to include something creamy, some greens, sprouts, and at least one roasted vegetable. Good luck, and may you be inspired!

How to make a fabulous vegan sandwich

Split a ciabatta roll in half, and toast lightly (or not at all, if its very fresh). Layer ingredients in a similar order as below.

Bottom to top, left side:

Hummus (I used a dill mint variety from the farmer’s market)

Roasted butternut squash (mashed up)

Thin slices of baked tofu (I like Trader Joe’s teriyaki flavor)

Roasted bell pepper (I prefer yellow, orange, and red, never green)

Bottom to top, right side:

Avocado, mashed up

Salt

Sundried tomatoes, julienned in oil

Sprouts

Lettuce leaf

Slap together and enjoy (warning: VERY MESSY!)

Peanut Butter Cookie

All was going well in this birthday challenge of mine. “This month of no meat, dairy, or refined sugar is going to be a cinch!” I proudly told myself.  Until we went to dinner at the Sojourner Cafe over the weekend.  Surrounded by menu choices filled with ingredients that we couldn’t eat (like cheese), but sounded really good, was very hard! Granted they had plenty of vegan options, and we did have a nice meal (their gingered tofu wonton pillows are hard to beat). But the experience deflated my enthusiasm a bit, and put me into a mindset of limitations where I didn’t want to be.

In the interest of trying to get out of that mindset, I decided to make a few recipes from The 30 Minute Vegan cookbook that I picked up at the library. First I made vegan mac and cheese, which used nutritional yeast and soy milk to make a thick sauce to mix in with macaroni and some sauteed vegetables. Matt was hesitant, but ate a few servings. And I thought it tasted even better heated up the next day for lunch!

The big hit, though, was a peanut butter cookie recipe. A thick dough of peanut butter, maple syrup, spelt flour, and oats baked into a cloud of peanut butter goodness, floating us right out of our funk.

I think the key to any change is focusing on the positives, and not looking at it through a lens of limitations. If I ran a 50k focused on all the negative aspects of my training – I would never make it. The point of this birthday challenge is to kickstart habits that will last far beyond January. And let’s face it – this household is going to be eating desserts in the future. So while maple syrup is definitely a sugar, I would consider if far superior to your typical refined cane sugar, so I’m not going to sweat it.

Peanut Butter Balls

1 1/2 cups peanut butter

1/2 cup pure maple syrup (recipe calls for 3/4 but 1/2 was enough sweetness for me)

1 1/2 tsp apple cider vinegar

1 tsp vanilla extract

1/2 cup whole spelt flour (I bet all purpose would be just fine)

1/2 tsp baking soda

1/2 c rolled oats

1/2 c chocolate chips (options – I didn’t use any)

Preheat the oven to 350. Whisk together the peanut butter, maple syrup, vinegar, and vanilla in a bowl. Add the flour, baking soda, and oats, and stir well.

Use a nonstick cookie sheet or lightly oiled sheet. Use an ice cream scooper to scoop out batter, forming a ball. Leave about 1-2 inches in between. Bake for 8-10 minutes (mine were more like 20 min because I had bigger scoops), until they are starting to brown on the bottom.

Shaved Fennel Salad

One of the disadvantages to having a birthday right after the holidays is that most people are tired of celebrating and eating so much rich food. Its understandable – usually I feel that way too! So to celebrate my birthday this week, I decided to host a potluck based on my birthday challenge this month. I asked my friends to bring their best healthy dish (vegan or raw got extra points!). And wow, did they bring it! We had a stunning array of food: rawsagna,  sweet potato soup, kung pao tofu salad, raw lemon bars, pears with raw honey, roasted brussel sprouts, roasted beet relish, shaved fennel salad, and peanut butter chocolate cookies.

My first week of birthday challenge went really well. I felt great, full of energy and zest for all the beautiful vegetables piled in the kitchen! We started each day with a filling green smoothie, I ate leftovers and more vegetables for lunch, and for dinner? More of the same. I made a delicious and very easy baked squash and millet dish (courtesy of Mark Bittman via 101 Cookbooks here) that I would then add broccoli or greens to round it out. I hit all my target workouts for the week, and found that I can run for about 2 hours on one green smoothie!

The sun was out all week, and it was really refreshing to spend time wandering around the garden, checking out all my plants. It felt like I was catching up with old friends… seeing the tiniest of broccoli heads emerge, discovering plump pink-blue blueberries, and weeding to make room for some tender seedlings to grow. I also started seeds for peppers and eggplants (I can’t believe its time already!), and a few other winter plants that I haven’t had much luck with starting in the ground (no chickens in the garden = more bugs to chow down on seedlings). My favorite seed source is Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, for their mouthwatering variety and beautiful catalog.

In trying to decide what to make for my birthday potluck, I stumbled upon this recipe for a shaved fennel salad with red onions and oranges in my favorite vegetable cookbook “The Vegetable Dishes I can’t Live Without“. What an odd combination of ingredients, I thought! What really intrigued me, though, was Mollie Katzen’s comment in the book that “I actually like it for dessert.”  How could I not try it?

If you have a mandolin, this is the time to pull it out. The thin-ness of the onions and fennel is key! While I wouldn’t go so far as to call this dessert-worthy, I thought it made a nice light side to our already healthy potluck spread. And it would be tasty on a bed of romaine too!

Shaved Fennel with Red Onion, Olive Oil, & Oranges

1 large fennel bulb, shaved (chop off the top fronds and cut out the core, then slide it on the mandolin to get a cross-section cut) (4-5 cups)

1/2 medium red onion, shaved (about 1/2 cup)

5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1/8 tsp salt, to taste

3 oranges – peeled, seeded, and sectioned (I cut my slices in half)

A handful of fronds from the fennel, snipped into tiny pieces

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Combine the shaved fennel, red onion, olive oil, and salt in a medium-sized bowl and toss with a fork.

Add the oranges and stir gently. Cover and chill until cold. Just before serving, toss in the snipped fronds. Top each serving with a few grinds of black pepper.

Looking ahead to the New Year (and an easy soup)

Life can get so busy sometimes, that its easy to just forget about goals set in the past or what I’ve accomplished. The other day I took a look at my “Life List” and realized that I could tick off at least five things – wow! (It had been probably a year since I’d seriously looked at the list.) I tend to just add things when I think of them, and then usually forget. It gave me a really good feeling, that I could cross these goals off my list. They were:

1. Climb in Italy (September 2009)

2. Climb Cathedral Peak in Tuolumne Meadows (July 2010 – not only did I climb it, but I LED the whole thing)

3. Figure out how to combine passion for outdoors with helping people (August 2009 – started working for Wilderness Youth Project)

4.  and 5. Run a 50k trail race (I’ve done three in the last year, and also ticked off the next goal – run a 50k in under 6 hours!)

6. Backpack in San Rafael Wilderness (October 2010 – girls trip out to the Manzana Narrows)

While I’m not really one for New Year’s resolutions, I now believe strongly in the power of setting goals. Setting a very specific goal means that you then need to devise a plan on how you’ll reach that goal, and if you go so far as to set it in writing on a calendar, that really holds you accountable. While I haven’t always been successful (I dropped out of my first 50k attempt), the failure can provide additional motivation to accomplish it.

My 29th birthday is coming up in a few short days, so I decided to take on a month-long birthday challenge that will hopefully set me up for some longer-term habits to support my running and climbing goals for the year. While we eat healthy most of the time, I’d like to really ramp it up and see how my body responds. I’d also like to be more consistent about writing and certain aspects of my athletic training.

1. Eliminate meat and dairy (we’ll still eat the few eggs our chickens are laying), refined sugars and grains. Increase raw meals (green smoothies, salads, etc) and do 2 new raw recipes a week.

2. Write something every day (and post to Garden Eats at least once a week!)

3. Follow a strict training plan for the entire month, that includes strength training, yoga, and track workouts every week.

Because this is a food blog, I suppose I should include a recipe, right? This one is incredibly easy – and perfect for a cold, windy, rainy day like today. Over the weekend I finally tried a meal my vegan housemate had been raving about – sauteed walnuts and kale over brown rice – but today I didn’t have brown rice, so instead I put the kale and walnuts over a ready-made soup from Trader Joe’s. The soup isn’t vegan – so its a good thing my birthday challenge starts tomorrow! This would also work as a camping recipe (the original version over rice worked well this weekend – I used Trader Joe’s already cooked brown rice).

Tomato & Roasted Red Pepper Soup with Kale and Walnuts

Trader Joe’s ready-to-use soup of the same name (although there are probably other ones that would work just as well)

Handful of kale, chopped up

Small handful of walnuts

1-3 garlic cloves, chopped (optional)

Heat enough soup for one bowl. Saute the walnuts in olive oil until they begin to sizzle. Add in the kale and saute another 1-2 minutes, adding the garlic in at the last 30 seconds. Top the soup with the kale mixture, and enjoy!